'We want sales! We want sales!"
That's what hundreds of shoppers were chanting outside of Macy's Herald Square store in Manhattan at 6 a.m. on last Friday. Then the doors swung open and sales are what they got. Shoppers all across the country did. Great deals! But still they managed to spend 19% more this past weekend than they did last year.
How many people do you know who got a 19% raise last year? Who aren't on the City Council, I mean?
Right: No one. So what's with the boom in holiday spending?
I believe it's the diet soda problem.
Recall that ever since Americans started drinking diet soda, they've only gotten fatter. That's because they tell themselves, "Gosh, I am saving so many calories with this Diet Pepsi, I think I'll have the bratwurst 'n' brownies special."
Same goes for shopping. Thanks to cheap Chinese imports, ever more economical technologies and Wal-Mart setting the price to beat, Americans are awash in bargains they no longer seem able to resist. Two young men I met on the corner of 14th St. and Fourth Ave. had just purchased themselves 42-inch flat-panel TVs for $1,200 each.
"Isn't that a lot of money?" I ventured. No way, they replied: That amount would normally buy them only 38-inch TVs. (How pathetic.) So spending more than a thousand bucks didn't feel like a big expense. It felt like a bargain. It was a bargain. But despite what the ads say, it is not true that "The more you buy, the more you save!" The more you buy, the more you buy. And that's exactly what we're doing.
Americans are spending so cavalierly that the average household now carries $9,200 of credit card debt. Two-thirds of American families saving for college have put away less than $10,000. Meantime, one household in 11 now rents storage space. They've got so much stuff, their closets can't close.
The solution, of course, is to show some self-restraint. But that's tough this time of year, because no one else seems ready to.
"More people are giving more things to more people than ever," says trend watcher Robert Passikoff. Gift lists are not only getting longer, the presents are getting pricier - thanks, in part, to bargains!
The usual magazines suggest the usual solutions: Agree with your circle to limit the gifts. Or make them. Or bake them. Or give to charity instead.
All ideas wise and good. But in fact, all you have to do is keep two things in perspective, even as the sales beckon:
(1) A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't really need it.
(2) You don't really need it, and neither do the folks buying you that $30 state-of-the-art sock warmer.