If you’re ever lacking for a topic of conversation at the next soccer game or blasé dinner party you attend, there’s always the fragile state of our nation’s economy to spark a little back and forth.  This I know firsthand, because it recently happened to me at one of those home jewelry parties that I get invited to from time to time.  This one, however, was more or less an obligation, (aren’t they all, oops, sorry!) and I attended as a favor to my husband, as it was a client of his who was hosting.

What sealed the deal was the fact that he insisted on giving me a little spending money to take along, after all, you can’t just show up at these events for the free wine and cheese (been there done that).

Because I’ve done these home parties in my own circles dozens of times, I know the drill well.  Grab a bit of refreshment, kibitz and mingle, freshen up the refreshment and then head over to the sales table.  Once the business at hand is taken care of you must quickly find someone to engage in deep conversation with before buyer’s remorse begins to settle in. (How many silver bangles, seal and lock storage containers or soy candles do we really need?)

Somehow, I missed the refreshment stand and ended up directly in front of the merchandise.  There was certainly a little something for everyone, but those little some things all started at $100 and went up rather steeply from there.  If I were to get out  buying one of the cheapest, pardon me--least expensive pieces on display, I would’ve had to choose earrings that were the size of door knockers in which case I’d need to also purchase a weighted vest to keep me from toppling over when wearing them.  No thanks.  I decided I needed to find one of those cool refreshments and browse again later.

Not really knowing anyone at such a gathering has its pros and cons.  The pro being you don’t need to feel pressured into buying something because no one there can judge you for how much you did or didn’t spend.  The con, however, is that you have to work a little bit harder to dive into conversation with complete strangers especially if you are only window shopping.

This presents an opportunity to casually observe and listen—something I’m already quite used to in my house full of kids.  The pie-plate earrings were picked up and put down again and again as everyone frantically discussed the economy (probably not the best timing for a home jewelry party).  It wasn’t the fear of what was happening to their 401 K plans or having to pay the hefty increase in grocery and utility bills that had everyone in a panic it was how they were going to say "no" to their children’s materialistic requests.

This was a mixture of ladies who had high-paying careers as well as worked part-time and were now facing a family-budget crisis causing them to shudder at the thought of having to break this news to their kids.  Yikes!  Last time I checked, my kids would rather eat than play polo—if they’re safe, warm and full, I don’t see a problem.

As I watched the sterling table gathering dust I started thinking about the recent bail out plan that Congress just passed.  The economy is currently plastered with such doom and gloom that the only things thriving are the Eeyores of our world.  Don’t hate me, but I can’t help myself but look at these dire financial times as an opportunity to enjoy a little of Pooh Bear’s honey, that being family bonding instead of just focusing on all the bailing going on.

Many kids, however, probably won’t see the value in this simple thinking of mine especially if they are used to joining nearly every club, activity or hobby that suits their fancy.  That doesn’t even include the regular expectations of spending extra-curricular time at the movies, skating, eating out, shopping for brand names that will make them part of the "in" crowd and purchasing cutting edge electronics that many adults don’t even have yet.  Pandemonium amongst families may soon resemble that of Wall Street if our kids have to make some serious adjustments to the lifestyles that we have let them become so accustomed to--but only if we let it.

Not to worry—I’m not suggesting we all stand together around the kitchen table holding hands and singing Kumbaya, but maybe families can get into the habit of cutting a costly activity or two and even a shopping spree here and there and instead just learn to spend some free time together, without shelling out a cent—talk about real value!

After an hour or so of nibbling, sipping and smiling I exited the home party empty handed but completely free of guilt.  Instead of leaving with jewelry I didn’t like or need, I left feeling excited to get back home to my kids.  Parents everywhere will always have tough financial choices to make that won’t necessarily make their children happy, but when it comes to careful spending hopefully we’ll all learn to invest time in one another, not just in material things or our monetary status—regardless of what the economy dictates.