A Rather Scathing Post So Prepare To Be Offended

I had been under the impression, given what I was seeing on the web and the protests in the streets, that an anti-consumerism movement was building in our country. I was seeing petitions sent around to encourage Target to rethink its Thanksgiving night opening. I was seeing backlash against the box store race to see who could open the earliest on Thanksgiving. I was reading commitments everywhere to shop locally and avoid the stores on Black Friday.

I think we are a county of Big Talk and No Action.

We can talk ourselves blue in the face about the horrible commercials (Crazy Target Lady, anyone?), the insane opening hours, the burden put on employees forced to work overnight (meaning they have to be sleeping during the holiday so they can be up all night), and the fact that stores are having to hire off-duty police officers to work as security, but our actions speak far louder than our words.

Given that Black Friday set a sales record this year, and the fact that 14 million MORE people participated than in 2010, I would say all of that anti-consumerism rhetoric was worthless.

I know it is the tradition of some families to shop together the day after Thanksgiving. But what was once a quaint and friendly experience has spiraled into some sort of macabre race to the bottom of civilization.

I withheld my dollars on Friday. I didn’t spend a dime. According to one Salon.com columnist, that makes me “nutty” as I was willfully damaging our economy (while out of the other side of his mouth, he bashes the same consumerism, but that is the advantage of being a hypocrite, I suppose), but even though I was antsy and a little cabin-fevered, I was not going out to engage in ANY commercial enterprises. It was a protest of my own.

Saturday was Shop Small Business day (coined a couple of years ago by American Express so consider that for a moment!). The sentiment is better, but it is still a celebration of crushing consumerism. My family did venture out on Saturday and we engaged in the most local activities we could think of. We visited Maymont Park in the heart of Richmond, and gave a tiny bit of money to the foundation there, while engaging in a very family friendly and physically active activity. From there, we ate lunch at a local non-profit restaurant called Positive Vibe Café. The restaurant works to train people with disabilities in the food service industry to help them find meaningful employment. The rest of the afternoon was spent with friends, celebrating the 4th birthday of one cute little guy named Noah.

Don’t get the idea that I am opposed to spending money or giving generous gifts at Christmas. I am opposed to indebting myself at a 15% interest rate to create a mirage of wealth and prosperity when that is not the case. I am not opposed to getting gifts from a big box store, I am opposed to huddling in the cold dark, waiting for the magic moment the doors open and rushing in for a smash and grab style of shopping, hoping not to get injured in the press of bodies. I am especially violently opposed to the one-upsmanship you see among some families over who can give the most expensive gifts.

I recently saw an article that said giving handmade gifts for Christmas is a tremendous faux pas and a horrible embarrassment to both the giver and receiver. I was so disgusted with the article that I didn’t go beyond the opening paragraph to see what gifts the writer felt were not embarrassing, but I would bet they recommend things like fancy jewelry or electronic gadgets.

Here’s my feeling on the matter. If I give a handmade gift to a family member who is too embarrassed by it to be gracious about it, then maybe we have a fundamental problem in the foundation of our relationship. I can spend $10 on a ball of sock yarn and make a unique and beautiful pair of warm and comfortable socks, or I can spend $10 on some random, plastic tchotchke. Which one is really more valuable? What has been hard on my pride is the deluge of gifts we have received from our families while in turn, we hand over a pair of socks, or a pillow, or a shawl, and a gift card, and while opening a bag with an $80 comforter or $40 curtains in return. So yes, I can understand the embarrassment factor in that.

For me, though, it has become an embarrassment I have to accept because I am unwilling to swipe a credit card so we can do a little better at Christmas by our families. When we committed a couple of years ago to get out from under our credit card debt and not live on credit anymore, it put quite a crimp in our Christmas gifting style, unsurprisingly. We turned to handmade gifts and smaller things like gift cards to restaurants to give our families, all of which have been well-received, and I believe they understand our effort to be self-sufficient and not debt-burdened, even at the expense of nicer Christmas gifts.

The comment made at the Salon.com article I cited above by Mr. Leonard about not shopping really set me off this morning (as you can probably tell from this rant).

The full quote is as follows:
Let me be clear. I am not opposed to vigorous sprees of retail spending. For the sake of the U.S. economy, I would love to see a robust Christmas shopping season and I plan to do my part. I find the notion that we should “occupy Black Friday” and withhold our consumer dollars as a way of hitting back at the 1 percent just nutty. Voluntarily subtracting demand from the economy hurts us. A general consumer strike would result in more layoffs and pay cuts and bankruptcies and foreclosures. Sure, Wal-Mart would take a hit, but so would Wal-Mart employees.
(First, I am so over the tired little phrase “Let me be clear.” Thanks a lot for that one, President Obama!)

Unemployment is still very high, incomes are much lower than they were several years ago, and the economy IS teetering right now, leaving many people to wonder if they will still have jobs in 2012, so for many people, the only way to have a “vigorous spree[] of retail spending” would be to do so with a credit card. One of the many things (and there ARE many things) that got us into the Great Recession in the first place was people spending more than they could really afford, and kicking their debt can down the road in hopes that their incomes would rise over time. (See subprime mortgages for more detail.)

When I say Occupy Christmas, I don’t have any specific demands or a legislative action plan or anything. What I mean is I want people to spend within their means, don’t allow pressure from marketers, media, and peers to force you into a “Keeping Up With The Joneses” situation. I don’t want to tell anyone what or how to give Christmas gifts. What I want is to see all of us take a deep breath and step back from the insanity we saw across America last Friday. Think. Don’t let commercials and marketing whip you into a frenzy.

Christmas shopping should not require bringing along a homemade pepper spray neutralizer or wearing a Kevlar vest.

I guess we can at least say no one died this Black Friday, right?


3 responses to this post.

  1. I feel you. Our family eliminated credit cards around the same time yours did. I worked on Black Friday, and spent quality time with my children on Saturday. I decided after the Christmas presents that I had saved all year for were stolen, that we would not be replacing them if it meant we had to go into debt. The children have enough things, but there’s always more room for love.

    Be proud of your hand made gifts from the heart. Anyone ungracious enough to look down on such a treat does not deserve them.


  2. We withheld our dollars this weekend, too! I prefer sleep AND a general sense of personal space while shopping. We ALSO enjoy remaining credit card debt free.


  3. I admit that I spent money on Friday, only because I wanted to set up my kiln, so I bought a rack. But I agree with you. Especially since we just took the family to Disney World for a week, I’m definitely not going overboard for Christmas. Mostly we buy for the kids anyway, and give food gifts, gift cards, or handmade thing to other family. It really cuts down on the craziness and the worry. The Black Friday crap is really out of control.


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