Tag Archive | "holiday shopping"

Black Friday Bargains in a Rotten Economy: At What Cost?

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Target, the mega-department store, plans to open its doors at 11 PM on Thursday, November 24th.  In case you don’t have a calendar handy, that day happens to be Thanksgiving, the one day of the year when most Americans gather to celebrate the fact that we are Americans enjoying American freedoms — even in this rotten economy.   In a bid to beat their retail competitors who, for the past few years, have opened for businesses at 2, 3, and 4 AM on Black Friday, Target has trumped them.  But they are not the only Big Box retailer to do so.  Wal-Mart and Toys R Us are opening, respectively, one and two hours earlier, and the list of early-birds-catching worms retailers does not end there.

This may be great news for those hard pressed in this economy to create a loving (read: present-laden) Christmas or Chanukah for their families.  All these folks need to do, in order to reap the greatest savings and trample their own competition, is cue up in front of the stores at, say, 6 or 7 PM on Thanksgiving, when most other folks are just sitting down to warm pumpkin pie, a little music, a little football, and some good conversation.  All the shoppers have to do is huddle deeply into their parkas, sip hot cocoa sparingly from their thermoses, and dance in place, watching the stars come up in the deep bowl of the sky.

Once the stores’ doors are flung wide, the ensuing scene will rival that of Charlton Heston’s classic Moses parting the Red Sea for the Israelites.  Surging throngs will rush to grab and propel shopping carts down aisles normally dark and dormant at that forlorn hour.  They will propel them like drunken drivers, heedless of their fellow commuters.  Half asleep and tryptophan’d to the gills, they will make hasty decisions concerning their purchases.

They’ll battle with their fellow shoppers to snatch up the hottest toys, electronics, cologne, fashion accessories, CDs, and a thousand other presents and stocking stuffers (actually, more than a thousand, if we count SKUs and not product classifications).  They’ll wait on long lines, contending with pissed off cashiers who have every right to be pissed off.

Then these savvy shoppers will speed home, unload their booty in their garages, and slap police tape over their garage doors, admonishing their loved ones not to step a foot inside and spoil the surprises.

As dawn breaks on Friday morn, spilling its roseate rays upon nearly-naked trees, warming the cold Earth, as geese take wing, honking and heading South, these smart shoppers will fall into bed, numb, exhausted, nursing Excedrin Headache Number 99.  Their Circadian rhythms will be out of whack and they’ll be testy with their family members the rest of the day, for those family members refused to buy- in to the Black Friday madness.

Those family members and indeed, those neighbors who remained ’round their own Thanksgiving tables, will rise late, enjoying the warm memories of the day before, their hands wrapped ’round steaming mugs of coffee and leftover pumpkin pie.  They’ll crack open a book or call or friend to catch up or even meet that friend for lunch.  Some will haul the Christmas and Chanukah decorations down from the attic.  At a leisurely pace and aided by small sips of eggnog, they will begin to adorn their homes in preparation for the next major holiday.

With the utmost of tenderness, they will slip cherished, heirloom baubles from their tissue paper nests.  And as each bauble is hung upon the tree, or as each Menorah is taken out and lovingly polished, these folks will feel as if Thanksgiving has extended itself one more day — one more day to feel grateful, one more day to feel human.

So, who wins here, and who loses?  In the wise words of Shirley MacLaine, “Perspective is everything.”  Indeed, it is.

When the Big Box retailers lure you away from your loved ones on Thanksgiving Eve with promises of amazing savings, you may want to look twice at what you are actually saving, and what you are losing.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chanukah are not just about the great food and the great presents.  They are not about giving your kids what they demand without a clue as how hard you busted your ass to buy those things, just so that your kids can “fit in.”  It’s not about buying your mother-in-law an exquisite present, and thus making her look bad, because she still buys you crap for Christmas, ‘though you’ve been a part of her extended family for 20 years.

America’s fall and winter holidays are about keeping certain days sacred, because those days allow us to slow down, think, and enjoy what is good in our lives — despite the rotten economy.  If you still have a roof over your head and food on your table, if your health is relatively sound, as is the health of your loved ones, and if your brain functions in a critical thinking manner, you are blessed.  If your heart functions in a way that is compassionate to others, and if you put that compassion into action, you are rich beyond measure.

If you doubt me, try it.

Rush into Target on Black Friday, or Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys R Us, et cetera.  Empty your pockets, wear yourself out, get angry at other people doing the exact same things that you are doing.  And then watch what happens to those presents you bought a week, a month, or more down the road.  Watch the worth attached to them by their recipients, by the way that those gifts are viewed and treated.

And then, sometime between Black Friday, Chanukah, and Christmas, reach out to your loved ones with a piece of yourself, rather than a wrapped present.  Reach out to a stranger in need to lend a hand or even a few bucks or an unexpected meal.  And then tell me what made you, and everyone around you, happier.

Un-Breaking the Bank on the Holidays

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Are you, like millions of other Americans, banking on the holidays to break your bank?

Before the hordes of costumed trick or treaters ever rang doorbells this year, retailers and roadside nurseries had fired up the Christmas trees, blown up their plastic lawn Santas and eight tiny reindeer, and launched special sales.   Some retail merchants had even announced that “Black Friday” had moved up an entire month, in an effort to entice customers to part with their hard-earned cash.   No matter how much you may be dreading the commercial creeps of Christmas and the accompanying financial burdens, they’re coming.  And they’re coming straight for your wallet.

With so many consumers downsized and unemployed, and with thousands of others just waiting for the axe to fall, how are we going to survive Christmas?   For many of us, Christmas is sacred on many levels; it’s a day to be honored and cherished.  So, if the thought of a money-gobbling Christmas is niggling at your brain, squeezing at your heart, and making you count sheep at night, you may want to read on.

Looking back, I realize that one of the very best Christmases I’d ever had in adulthood was when I had virtually no disposable income.   My first Christmas living alone in a tiny apartment, I refused to let the Holiday-Holy Day pass me by.  With thirty dollars, I bought a little artificial tree (I hate the thought of killing real trees) and decorated it beautifully with a few choice ornaments and a string of multi-colored lights.  I baked cookies and brownies from scratch and gathered my friends for a night of trawling the mansions in Bay Ridge, New York to ooh and ahh at the show-stopping lighting displays on the houses of the wealthy.  Then we ducked back to my apartment, where I’d closed all the lights before I’d left, but had the little Christmas tree glowing in the dark.   Everyone loved the goodies, which I accompanied with hot chocolate decorated with colored marshmallows and tiny candy canes.

For my gifts that year, I — the city girl born and bred — canned.  I made steamed puddings with hard sauce, and if heaven smells better than my apartment did, it should bottle that scent and peddle it.  I “put up” conserves of cranberries, oranges, and figs: excellent accompaniments to cheese platters or as a sort of chutney for poultry and pork.  And, I made fruit-flavored liqueurs, using two bottles of relatively inexpensive vodka as the base.  I steamed the puddings in well-scrubbed Maxwell House® coffee tins and when the puddings had cooled, I wrapped the tins in green and red foil paper and glued inexpensive ornaments to the tops of the cans.  The conserves and liqueurs I poured into beautiful, inexpensive glass containers that I’d found in an antique shop in the city.  They must have been mis-marked, for I’d gotten them for a song.  Everyone was thrilled to receive my homemade goodies.  And I was spared the angst of cranking up my monthly payments and interest charges on my one and only credit card.

I may not have had much of a disposable income, but I did have more time in those days.   So, if you’re going to attempt to bake and can as I did, understand that you’ll need to start a few weeks prior to Christmas.  Many from-scratch cookies of the rolled and cut, refrigerator (sliced), and bar varieties can, if unfrosted, be baked ahead of time, frozen in pretty disposable plastic containers that pop up this time of year in the supermarkets, and thawed right in those containers.  Add a tag, a pretty bow or inexpensive ornament, and you’re good to go.

If you attempt to can food, you must research how to do this properly, or you’ll wind up giving your recipients a case of salmonella.   You must use the proper equipment, which includes old-fashioned Mason-type jars with two-part lids, a wide, deep pot, tongs, a metal trivet, and oven mitts.  Everything into which the food is ladled must be sterilized in boiling water — including those dual-part lids — and there must not be a drop of the water left in the containers before you add the food product(s).  And, the food itself must be hot when it is added to the jars.  Close the jars tightly, place the trivet at the bottom of the pot, and then give the filled jars a “bath” in boiling water, ensuring that the top of the water is lower than the bottom of the lids.  This process creates a seal around the food and prevents it from spoiling.  Again, do your own research so that you understand the entire process and don’t skip a single step!

If baking and canning are not up your alley, and neither are the time- honored arts of knitting and crocheting, you can always create a booklet of gift certificates for your recipients — and the gifts will be gifts of your own time.   You can babysit a friend’s little ones, give her a home spa treatment of a facial and a manicure, cook his family a meal, clean his house, shovel her walk, walk her dogs, plant him a garden of herbs in the Spring, wash and wax her car — all of which will be appreciated by those of us who don’t have enough hours in the day (which is most of us!).

If you are truly stuck having to buy presents from stores or catalogs, ask the people on your gift list if they are willing to do a Kris Kringle type of holiday instead.   Everyone writes his or her name on a slip of paper, the slips are placed into a bowl, and everyone takes a slip, buying a single present for the person whose name appears on the paper — without revealing “who got whom.”  Set a price range prior to picking the names.  Even if that range is $50-$75, you’ll be saving a heck of a lot of dough, and I don’t mean cookie dough, than if you followed the traditional bank-breaking method of purchasing a gift for every single person on your list.

For the last few years, my family has gone the route of Kris Kringle.  It cuts down on a lot of anger and exhaustion at the malls and it doesn’t break the bank.  Perhaps best of all, it provides us all with the time to truly reflect upon and enjoy the season — and of course, our joy in each other!

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