October not only marks the beginning of winter, but it is that blessed month when residents of Alaska are gifted money for living in the state. Yesterday I was out at Barnes & Noble, a past favorite of mine to hang out at, and I noticed a great deal more people than normal for a Wednesday afternoon, and a lot more Alaska Native families than normal for Fairbanks. Then, it hit me.
October in Alaska=PFD spending sprees.
Before the PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend) is deposited into thousands of bank accounts the beginning of October, there are a million sales that begin with “PFD Special.” Fred Meyer, Alaska Airlines, anywhere you can think of suddenly decides that Alaskan residents need a special sale during this month (and starting in September so you can just charge it and pay it off when you get your PFD).
I honestly have mixed feelings on the PFD. Although I love “free” money, I don’t know that it is the best way to spend the oil profits Alaska generates throughout the year. Also, there are far too many people who abuse the PFD.
Military can be especially guilty of this (and since I come from a military family, trust me, I’m not anti-military at all, and that has nothing to do with my statement). For the military, there is an exception to the “must live in the state of Alaska” rule. Many military members are allowed to keep their Alaska residency, regardless of primary residence, and claim the PFD every year for them, their spouses and any children they have in or out of the state of Alaska, even if they fail to spend one minute in the state of Alaska throughout the year. This is not the purpose of the PFD, and it’s certainly an abuse of it in my opinion–but it’s legal! However, since Alaska has such a strong military presence, getting this rule changed is difficult, if not impossible.
I also dislike the mercenary attitude that comes out with the PFD. Instead of saving it for college, putting your child’s PFD (which belongs to them!) into a savings account, parents go out and spend it on snow machines, four wheelers, iPads, computers, etc. It almost seems to make the Christmas season come early (and not in a good way, but in a monetary way). Is anyone else tired of the intense focus on what we can buy next?
Perhaps I’m not one to talk, having recently upgraded a working iPhone 4 to the newest iPhone 6, as my six-month old son sits here playing with half a dozen toys that friends, family, and I have bought for him. Does he need all that? Do I really need a smartphone? Do I really need to spend money when I can save it? Does it make me happy to do so?
For a short while, I suppose their is pleasure in the purchase. But there are also pleasures in the small, free things in life, such as berry-picking, moose watching, and getting out of doors into the fresh air (provided the moose has departed). Am I wrong to think that America specifically needs to refocus upon the free things in life, the things that actually add value to our lives? Yes, I use my iPhone daily. I use it hourly. But do I need it? No. Absolutely not. Can I live without it? Yes. Would my life be worse without it? Not really. It might make certain things more inconvenient, but certainly I can live without it with some ease these days.
Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I think there needs to be a recall to value simplicity in our lives. Turn off the TV, set aside the smartphone, put money into savings for things you really need (like new tires), or new clothes when your child grows out of his.
As I enter the seventh month of being a parent, I think I have grown to be more deliberate about how I spend my time and what I am teaching my son at even this young age. I’ve turned off the TV, I read to him, I play with him–even when I have a million other things I’d rather do–and I want him to know the true value of his days. That takes a daily commitment, one which I have to daily die to myself for. But is it worth the cost? Absolutely.