It’s after Thanksgiving and holiday sales are upon us. The stores are doing their best to get me to buy something, so what do I choose? Part of me admires those picketers of Black Friday, who proclaim it should be a day to buy nothing. I agree whole-heartedly that overconsumption, overspending, and materialism are vices that we should seek to control.
At the same time, with our economy in turmoil, a bigger question looms: If consumer spending is the basis of the American economy, does a healthy economy require people to continue buying more than they need? Will reigning in our spending on a larger scale bring about economic collapse, or is there a better way?
The Decision to Buy
On the Friday after Thanksgiving I found myself, alas, setting foot in the nearby shopping mall after all. Ostensibly, I was there on a noble quest–to find some sandals for my husband to wear at home (he prefers sandals to slippers). But the coupons and the sales certainly enticed me to consider buying more. Like many Americans, I love to shop for bargains! And yet, many of the deals I see make me realize that none of this do I need or even want to buy. Then suddenly, I found them. Sandals marked down from $40 to $4.97 that were my husband’s size. I had to buy them for him of course. After all, new sandals are difficult to come by in late fall.
Meanwhile the incentives were beckoning to me. Stores now frequently offer coupons or incentives for customers to spend $50 to get $10 off or $10 in store credit. I happened to have such a coupon on Black Friday. And there were some fashionable shirts on sale. So instead of spending $5 on the bargain sandals, I found clothes and shoes for myself to bring the total above $50 so I could use the coupon. I had originally planned on shopping the big sale at Goodwill, but instead I entered the consumer mecca the day after Thanksgiving. Having spent so much at the mall, I wondered if I should still hit the thrift stores later. I would probably be better off just staying home and spending no more.
For myself and society at large, contentment seems increasingly elusive these days. Can I learn to be content with what I have? If I do manage to control my spending, will I be part of a trend that is damaging the economy? It might be better for things to slow to a more sustainable pace, even if it means the economy shrinks temporarily. Still, for the people in retail sectors who will lose their jobs, I wonder what the best course of action is. Somehow we must find learn to live within our means. At the same time, we must try to avert a downward spiral that spreads poverty.
I wonder if the generations like mine who have known only prosperity could not stand to learn some self-control from economic hardship. My grandparents, who endured the Great Depression, seemed to have learned how to spend within their means, even if it means a smaller house and fewer luxuries. On the other hand, many of the baby boomers are shackled with huge mortgage payments and other debt burdens. The day of reckoning for debt-ridden families and an overspent national budget seems near. Recreational shopping may soon be a thing of the past. Thinking along the lines of Ron Paul, if after painful restructuring, our economy is more solid, less opportunistic, and based more on prudent ambition than greed, we may be the healthier for it in the end.