Friday, November 25, 2011

No Mall for Me Today: A Black Friday Message

Today is Friday, and it's simply the Friday after Thanksgiving to me. A cherished day off from work, time to sleep in, take the dog to the park, walk off that second helping of green bean casserole and corn pudding, read my book from a thrift shop, and watch a library DVD on an old television set. No doorbusters for me. Besides, I like the saying, "It's not a bargain if you don't need it." Fred and Ginger look just fine on that set, the money in my savings account from not buying a new one I don't need - even finer.

I consider if Lucy on A Charlie Brown Christmas was right after all - is Christmas run by a big eastern syndicate? She told Charlie Brown it was. His soul was dispirited by how commercial Christmas has become. Mine is too. Just another mall holiday?

"We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy," The Chicago Tribune lamented on Christmas Eve 1986. Looking at the cover page of the Thanksgiving edition of The New York Times in 2011 - the lead photo was people camped out in tents waiting for $200 television sets at a Best Buy in Texas, I'd say that statement feels accurate as ever. Amid the worst economy since the Depression, shopping is still a national sport and such a priority?

Angela Barton pens one of my favorite blogs, My Year Without Spending, and featured in "This is How Non-Consumers Shop" a poster: "WANTED: People to Take Control of their Money This Christmas." The poster urges us to take cash out of the banks and use that instead of credit cards, support independent shops and services, spend time instead of money. I wholeheartedly agree with all those things. I pay cash for almost everything and am not chained to a credit card company who controls my life. I'm in control of my own life. If economic hardships fall, do all those people camped out for televisions have money to get them through it?

Another favorite blog of mine (and maybe favorite title of a blog ever) is Consciously Frugal. "Frugal" - but with a conscience. Not just I want it cheap and I don't care about the impact on our fellow man, animals or the planet. In the documentary the 11th Hour, I loved this definition of frugality,

"I think we have to reintroduce an old term before the industrial revolution: frugality. Frugality does not mean poverty. Frugality means the wise use of resources. The meaning of the industrial revolution was that nature was turned into a resource that was endlessly abundant. It's not true."

Like nature, our banks accounts are not endlessly abundant. Frugality should not have a stigma. Say it with pride, not shame, "I am frugal." I do.

I resent the constant media drum that our economic good times are tied to people going to a chain store for some Chinese made television set or sweater made in a country most Americans couldn't find on a map. Someone interviewed on Fox News about a month ago had the gall to say what a good thing sweatshops are and if they didn't exist the women in them would have jobs as prostitutes. So see aren't they lucky slaving away to make the American cheap fast fashion?

I save, but when I spend, I as much as possible support independent and mom and pop shops and restaurants, main streets, charity thrift shops, farms, the arts and such. I've been making an effort to seek out American made goods when I need to buy something new. That is my declaration of consumer patriotism. I'm not a perfect consumer, and don't make the ideal choice all the time, but I am a retailer's worst nightmare: a consumer that asks questions. Consumers stopped asking or caring why things aren't made in the United States and about the conditions of the people who make them, which is why you rarely see a made in the U.S.A. label on what all those Black Friday shoppers are purchasing, and have to look for a vintage clothing item for a union label.

Ben Stein gave a commentary a few years back about what makes for a "good" holiday season and he creates clarity on what really matters most. I'd like to see headlines like "Record Donations to Food Banks" instead of one about record demand, or "Animal Shelter Adoptions Up" instead of how many people are disposing of their pets. That would be a pretty good Christmas to me.

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