Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts on Black Friday

That title is a bit of a double entendre, actually.  These are both thoughts about Black Friday and thoughts that I am having/writing during the morning of Black Friday.  It works for me.

My relationship to Black Friday has changed a bit over the years, due to a couple of reasons.  One is the change in my income/status caused by the loss of my last full-time employment a couple of years ago.  Even now, when I'm in better economic shape thanks to a good part-time job, I'm not nearly as up on BF as I used to be.  There's also my realization that I simply have way too much stuff.  I really don't need any more.  Really.  That's one of the reasons that I started re-selling.

On the other hand, as a re-seller, I have a bit of a vested interest in any day where people go out and buy stuff.  I just want them to buy it from me.

We used to be dedicated BF folks.  We'd plan our day, get up early, wait in line, etc. I do need to make it clear, however, that we never lined up the night before, never shopped on Thanksgiving, and never, ever got into the madness at Wal-Mart.  We may have been dedicated, but we weren't fanatic.

The past couple of years, I've gotten up early for the Half-Price Books gift card giveaway, shopped there, and then gone home and gone to bed.  This year, I'm going to go for their sale, but I've kind of given up the idea of getting that 100 dollar gift card.  It just ain't gonna happen.  We will be heading over there later, as it's kind of my one-stop shopping for holiday gifts these days, but not until a more reasonable hour.  

There's a lot to Black Friday that can be seen as unsavory, or at the very least should give one pause for thought:

  • It's out of control.  It's not just the insanity at Wal-Mart, either.  Wednesday evening, we stopped at the grocery to pick up a couple of things for Thanksgiving dinner.  There were folks already lined up at the K-Mart next door.  That's out of control.
  • It encourages excess, whether it's greed, consumerism, or bad behavior.
  • Where does the money go?  Who truly benefits from this frenzy?
  • What about the workers?

Given all this, is there another way to "do" Black Friday?  One alternative is an outgrowth of the Occupy Movement called Buy Nothing Day.  It's an extremist kind of reaction, and, like all such reactions, it's got a few problems.

For one thing, it's indiscriminate.  The organizers make no distinction between corporate big boxes and small, locally-owned businesses.  The smaller you are, the less able you are to take the hit of no one buying anything from you.  I fully admit to the inherent self-interest in this comment.

It's also overly simplistic and idealistic.  A couple of pages about BND postulate that it will lead to the decline of the capitalist system.  Really?  While I do think we all should approach our interactions with the system carefully and thoughtfully, I think we do so in order to make those interactions as ethical and decent as possible.  It might in the end lead to societal change, but that's more of a happy, unintentional result, rather than a goal.

It's limited in scope.  I know that BF is an easy, bloated target of consumerist madness, but there are 364 other days of the year where we exist as economic beings.  If you're actually going for societal change, then your efforts need to be made on more than just one day a year.

Finally, it's not always practical.  Food.  Medicine.  Gas to get to work.  There are things that have to be purchased on any given day, including this one. 

I've kind of been thinking about this ever since I heard a news story about BND last year.  Unfortunately, I didn't get around to writing anything at that time, so now is that chance to get it off my chest.  What I'd like to see is a spectrum of "days" developed to counter not only the frenzy of BF, but the whole holiday season.  This is an approach that can also be carried on throughout the year, if someone chooses.  Here are some ideas:

Buy as Little as Possible Day:  A retooling of BND that takes into account necessary shopping.  It could also be called Necessities Only Day.

Buy Local Day:  Make a point of doing the bulk of your shopping at locally-owned businesses.  Keep more of your money in your hometown.

Shop Small Day:  This one already exists.

Shop Secondhand Day:  Yard sales, thrifts, flea markets, etc. would be the focus on this day.  Extending the life of items, putting them back into use, and keeping them out of the landfills are concrete ways to counter the "must have more" consumerist mentality that pervades BF.

Make it Yourself Day.  Use What You Have Day. Give Back to the Community Day. Shed Your Excess Stuff Day.  Buy American Made Day.  There are all kinds of ways to extend this model throughout the year.  You could sit down with your 2013 calendar and identify several of these deliberate days throughout the year, maybe even several a month.  This is a way to make conscious economic decision-making a regular part of your life.

Once again, I acknowledge that there is a lot of economic self-interest in several of these suggestions.  What do you think?  

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