It was a tradition, something my mother and I did together on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We would spend the morning leisurely perusing the sales and then have lunch at I. Magnin’s, the august department store at the base of Union Square in San Francisco.
My mother always insisted I put on my best Sunday dress, perhaps the plaid one with green and blue squares. I wore white stockings and my black patent leather shoes and carried a hand-me-down purse in which to keep some tissue, a piece of gum, and the five dollar bill my grandmother had given me for my birthday the summer before. You see, back then, we dressed up to go into the city. More importantly, we dressed up to shop.
These days, the day after Thanksgiving is no longer a chance to “leisurely peruse” anything. Now, its all about Black Friday and waiting in line at midnight for the doors to open and racing to be the first to get the 75% off deal. Don’t worry about the stampede, most won’t get hurt. Don’t worry if you actually even want what you get, it’s on sale! As for dressing up? That would just impede your ability to be the first in the race to said sale.
Some call it smart shopping — all those deep discounts on the hottest items of the season. It’s hard not to get excited.
And the truth is, we are trained to do so and have been for generations. You’ve probably read about it in books such as Lizabeth Cohen’s, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America but by way of review, after World War II, government and industry were desperate to find a way to kick-start the economy. Their brilliant idea? Planned obsolescence: the notion that manufacturers should build things that are meant to break. Couple that with a great marketing campaign and suddenly not only do you want that new thing … you need it. For anyone who owns an iPhone, you know exactly what I’m taking about.
All this pent up demand, all this consumerist frenzy, can wreak havoc on relationships when it comes to managing money. And when it’s combined with the emotional punch of the holidays, the bubbling over of tensions can lead to blowouts. It certainly did for us.
For years, my husband couldn’t understand why I so desperately wanted to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I told him it was the sales and explained how fun it was to find that bargain. Finally, He Who Truly Hates To Shop agreed to join me.
You know what? It wasn’t fun.
As we went from store to store, his frustration with the crowds, his frustration we were spending money, his frustration with “all the waste!” just became too much. “This is ridiculous!” he complained.
“You’re such a Scrooge!” I yelled at him.
Instead of yelling back, he stopped, took a breath, and asked if I was really enjoying the day. I wasn’t, but it wasn’t because of my husband. I realized I was trying to recapture those special moments I had with my mother growing up. Once I finally understood why shopping the day after Thanksgiving was so important to me, it wasn’t that important anymore.
Now, I don’t shop on Black Friday. Instead, we go hiking or volunteer at the food bank or gather with friends to make turkey soup. I’m working hard to create memories for my children that don’t rely on buying things. I tell them it’s good for their relationships and their wallets.
What are your emotional buttons when it comes to shopping? Does Black Friday send you into a frenzy? How do you control impulse buying over the holidays?
By the way, if you’re looking for something to do on Black Friday that doesn’t include shopping, check out The Light Bulb Conspiracy, a 2010 documentary about how planned obsolescence is effecting our planet. That’ll keep you out of the mall (both online and on foot), at least for a little awhile.