Our Black Friday #OptOutside plans were put on hold due to a nasty cold. I’d love to say that we stayed inside watching Netflix instead but alas, we had to venture out to the store for more Kleenex. We waited until we thought the Black Friday madness would be over (around 4 PM) and walked next door to Walmart. The one thing that I noticed right away was that nearly 24 hours after their Black Friday Sale began, there was still a LOT of stuff left. Was there no mad dash to scoop up baskets full of bargains (only to bring them back the day after Christmas)? Did we suddenly turn a consumer corner this holiday season? Or is it more likely that this store simply ordered too much stuff for a town where 15% of residents live below the poverty level? One of my fellow shoppers had a better answer: “Nobody likes to shop here. They all go to Hendersonville. That’s where all the good stores are.” (Because I was genuinely curious, we later drove 9 miles to the Hendersonville Walmart and found that they were indeed wiped out of their Black Friday bargains.)
While in the store, we did rummage through a bin or two of the baby items – not for the purpose of gift giving though. We bought 3 sleepers, 7 pair of socks, and 2 pair of mittens for our great-niece, who has taken to sleeping over on Friday nights now that her mom has a new job. We spent a grand total of $10 on Black Friday deals. When I mentioned our spending to my niece, her roommate immediately chimed in, while rolling his eyes, that he’d spent $250 on just 2 items for his girlfriend and intended to spend a lot more before it was all over. I mention this for a very specific reason, which I’ll get to soon.
On Saturday, we felt well enough to go letterboxing. Midway through our day, I received a very disturbing text message: Do you think I should take out a loan for Christmas? Thankfully I was not behind the wheel of our car when that message from my niece popped up on my phone. I might have caused an accident. My immediate reaction was probably pretty comical to the people nearby – lots of arm waving and screechy voice ranting that ended with a vow to buy calendars for everyone I know. The calm, reasonable me picked up the phone to ask why she was considering such
ridiculousness an idea. “Um…so we can have money to buy gifts for the baby. Last year we were on a budget and we only got her one thing.”
Before I seem like a hard-hearted person, let me say that I do understand. It’s hard enough to be a teenager. You’re almost predisposed to want everything you see simply because someone else has it and that person is cool. It’s even harder when you’re a teen mom and you want your child to have things too. Who am I kidding! It obviously doesn’t get any better with age – given that 39% of American households have credit card debt. (And nearly 70% of Americans view non-mortgage debt as a necessity in life!)
I tried to offer both practical and loving advice, encased in the hard truth that when you can’t afford your own living expenses, taking out a loan to buy “stuff” is a very bad idea. Sadly, financial education is severely lacking in this country and we have a great many young people, especially here in the South, that think that Christmas is not Christmas if you can’t “afford” to “provide” gifts for your loved ones. I put those words in quotes because I hear them all the time, as if providing gifts is the same as providing food, shelter, and clothing. Sometimes I just want to scream – IT IS NOT THE SAME!
Worth is not measured by one’s ability to purchase an excess of consumer goods on the largest consumer holiday in America. Love does not come in a box. And Santa is no less magical if he brings your child one present instead of an entire aisle of Toys R Us.
For the past few years, Angie and I have enjoyed a very simple holiday season with lots of good food, relaxation, and very few gifts exchanged. It truly has been the most wonderful time of the year for us. Since moving back to Tennessee though, we’ve found our ideal holiday being challenged at every turn. Everyone here is so stressed out over the holidays…or perhaps more precisely, their unpreparedness for the holidays.
Christmas falls on the same day of every calendar year – December 25th – yet it seems to come as a complete surprise to so many people (members of my own family included). And thus ensues a lot of begging, borrowing, and sometimes even stealing to “provide” all those “necessary” presents on Christmas morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against gift giving. I’m not even against elaborate holiday displays. In fact, I love driving around on Christmas Eve looking at light displays. What I am against though is borrowing money to buy things that you don’t need in the name of Christmas and teaching children that not only is this acceptable, it’s normal. (Where do you think my niece learned this behavior? My sister had the worst habit when her kids were small of putting hundreds of dollars worth of stuff on layaway every year and then begging the rest of us to help pay it out.)
I know that no matter how much I rant about it, there will never be a societal shift to minimalism or voluntary simplicity as a way of life. America is a consumer culture and sadly, to a lot of people Christmas is a celebration of consumerism. Gandhi said to “be the change you wish to see in the world“. For us that means walking the talk. We can’t very well advocate for a low-consumption lifestyle while standing in line at Walmart, now can we? No! So I’m tossing out this challenge to ourselves and anyone else who feels the holidays are out of hand. Don’t go shopping in December. Don’t step foot in a store that isn’t a grocery store. Not Target, not Walmart, not Kohl’s, not even Dollar General. It will be hard but we’re willing to give it our best shot. What about you? Do you think you could do it?
To my niece, I want to say just one final thing. As a mom, you’re the gatekeeper of a new generation. You have the power to shape your family’s future right here, right now. Spend money for the things you need. Spend time with the ones you love. Remember that joy is contagious. If you’re happy, your child will be happy too. This gift alone is greater than any you can buy at the store.