Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shopper herds, a rant

I didn't buy anything yesterday. Nothing at all, not a coffee, not a stick of gum, not a 52" LED television complete with Blu-Ray and net connection. But this was only accidental. If the installers had finished before darkness, I'd have finished paying for 3 doors and 2 windows.

The one thing for sure I avoided was a shopping frenzy with herds of people out for "deals". I don't like crowds at the best of times, and these frenzied mobs are only just short of becoming riots. People have been trampled to death in them. Is it really that important to get a few dollars off some piece of consumer junk? Do people really need those items they've been lining up for hours for? How many people actually think, I actually need to get such and such, and on Black Friday it will be on sale at a particular store, and the discount is such that it's worth lining up for hours? Or have they just been seduced by the endless advertising - SAVE x % NOW, and think they have to buy something so they can say they have saved money?

That's a pretty perverted notion of how to save money. When I was a small child I spent some time with my Granny. I clearly remember a shopping trip to the local store. She knew the price of everything, to the penny. If it had gone up since the last time she bought it, she asked if the price was a mistake. She checked every brand to see if one was cheaper. She could figure out in her head, instantly, if a bigger container for more money was a better deal, and if it would work for the serving sizes she used. She knew what was on sale. She watched the cashier like a hawk, and corrected her several times. Once home she checked the tape against every item. She wouldn't buy anything if she could make it from ingredients. Her way of saving money was not to spend it unless absolutely necessary.

I later figured out she would have gone through the depression as a young woman and there is no doubt in my mind the experience shaped her for life. I don't need to ask her what she thinks of these Black Friday sales, since on this topic we are of one mind. Put politely, it's herds of people buying cheap junk they don't need, and spending far too much time and money doing so.

There is a careful distinction needed when talking about material goods. Some of them have become almost indescribably inexpensive for what you get. Most electronic things fall into this category. Many other things have just become cheap, as in cheap junk made by the lowest paid workers that can be found. This is most things now, unless you are a very careful and discriminating shopper. In the town I grew up in there was a guy that could fix appliances. He had a space that was full of semi-working stuff, and could scrounge parts to make something work. That isn't possible any more.

Even cars. Until fairly recently many guys of my acquaintance would "work on cars." They bought used, fixed them up cheap, drove them for a while, fixed them up if needed, and sold them when convenient. That's still possible, just barely, but it's a way of life that is gone now. For starters you need a computer degree and expensive diagnostic equipment just to figure out what, exactly, is wrong. But even the technicians (they are not called mechanics anymore) don't fix it. They replace a part with a new one, and we consumers pay through the nose for it.

I visit friends and it seems their homes are full of stuff. As I was working on the Great Vapour Barrier repair project last winter, I was astonished anew almost every day by being forced to confront, dust, move, and put back all sorts of our stuff. Some of which hasn't been touched in a decade or more. I contrast that with my current office roomie who has gone through times in his life with almost nothing.

Part of the problem is that the stuff is so cheap its easy to go get more of it, on a whim. The other part of the problem is that many people are spending a great deal of ingenuity on figuring out ways to push people's buttons to buy more stuff. Advertising is everywhere, and some of it is diabolically clever. Then there is the current mentality where it's almost not allowed to buy something unless it's on sale. I don't know if the increasing number of people working for lower wages is part of it or not, with them feeling they have to wait for a sale to afford something they want.

In my mind, that is the huge part of the problem, the something they want. Consumers are all about satisfying their wants, and thanks to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on tv, their wants are endless. There is a crowd mentality, a keeping up with the Jones that is right out of hand. This happens at all income levels, from the obscenely wealthy, to the very poor.

Lets look at the wealthy. They have so much money they can squander 10's, even 100's of millions on a yacht they might not ever use. They have homes all around the world. I guess it's a measure of my inadequacy that I can't figure out how to live in more than one house at once. Now look at the poor, particularly the poor in North America. It wasn't so long ago, even here, that the poor starved in the street. Think on that a moment, they got hungry, got sick, and starved to death. There were a few charities around to alleviate the suffering, but there was a lot of suffering. In many ways these days, the poor today live better than the middle class of my childhood. I think we need to take a look at the definition of poverty.

The other thing that pisses me off is people who should be well off, even very well off are not. They might look it, living in the big house, driving the fancy car, wearing the nice clothes. Borrowed, all of it. About the time we got married we were wondering why all these people could afford to buy all this stuff and we couldn't. Well, the price of oil dropped, lots of people lost their jobs, and suddenly they didn't live in that big house or drive the fancy car anymore.

When I read about people making a lot of money that none the less have nothing for retirement, I scratch my head at things they've chosen to spend money on. Money they don't quite have, by the way. It's all gone on toys, and lifestyle frontage. Their life is like a Potemkin village. All hat and no cows. I have no sympathy for these people. None at all. In some ways I kind of like the dramatic cycles of the Calgary economy. It shakes out the stupid people.

So I see the video of the hordes pouring into a mall, I only feel sorry for the store staff. That must be a day of complete hell. They must have done something terrible in a previous life to deserve that, but I can't imagine what. The hordes, the gullible hordes, will get their just dessert sooner or later.

In other news the door and window installation is complete and looks good. We are very pleased. There is some interior painting to be done, but we had planned to paint after this anyway. A doorbell had completely escaped our minds, but we found one to match the handle set, so that's good.

In other news, I finally, after two days off, got back on the fitness bus. Spin first, 2 hours, the first half going from warm up to a steady endurance pace, then to high spin high power intervals above 400 watts. Then not instantly, but fairly quickly after, I was out for an hour run. Nice and steady, 9 K in an hour, roughly. Now for a blogger party! The cookies are baked. I'll go downstairs and choose the wine now.


  1. I agree with you 100%. The Black Friday phenomenon is complete insanity. I also hate being in large crowds which is just another reason (not that I need it) to not partake in the madness.

  2. Do your studies indicate if there were any shopping mobs at the Huge Roman Erections? Glad to see you're still reading.

  3. I feel the exact same way! We have become such a consumerist society and it's all BUY BUY BUY. Did you know that for Halloween, some people on my FB gave their kids PRESENTS!?? Like wrapped gifts with toys and clothes?? FOR HALLOWEEN!!! Like WTF? Halloween is about candy and costumes, not toys.
    In North America, we have managed to commercialize every single holiday and in each generation I believe that kids get more stuff every year... bigger, better (questionable), more expensive. When I was a young teenager, I would help my mother with the Christmas shopping. She had a budget of $200 per child (max $250) and we were HAPPY. I dated a guy when I was in my teens and I was horrified when he told me that his cousin's parents take out credit in the winter to buy all the Christmas gifts. This just seemed insane to me. Although while I was growing up, the whole idea of credit was a mystery. My mother did not own a credit card. If we didn't have the money, in cash, we didn't get it. Growing up in a single parent family for the most part, she worked full time and did her best to provide. There was always good, healthy food on the table and a warm roof over our head. We had a car and she would never deny us extracurricular activities. When I was 12 I started to babysit and when I was 14 I started tutoring and would buy my own clothes (by choice because I knew it wasn't easy for my mom). I think it really taught me the value of the dollar rather than just getting whatever I wanted. In Grade 11, my mom really badly wanted to send me on a class trip to NYC. We were given a price and when we went to the meeting about it, the price was even higher (like about $600 higher), I told her I didn't need to go... it wasn't worth it. In hindsight, I do not regret that decision in the least because the next year, she was able to help me out with some things I needed for prom and throughout university would periodically buy me groceries (and beer), so I think that the mutual understanding of the importance of the dollar went a long way in our relationship.
    Fast forward to now. I do like to have nice things and believe in paying for quality items. However, some people are insane. I know people who have brand new vehicles every 2-3 years. I believe in paying off my mine (although my husband is planning to upgrade in the spring, at least my car will be fully paid for and we won't go upside down on equity!). I know a family who are constantly buying more things, but the crazy part is that it is all on credit! Monthly payments, credit cards, take out the equity in your home... insanity. Another phenomenon is buying a new house. So many people I know have bought a house.... two or three years later, they decide that house is not good enough and they buy a bigger, better, more expensive house. CRAZINESS. Although there are lots of times I wish we had a garage, we won't be upgrading anytime soon. I once worked with someone who was moving into their 4th house in 6 years (all mortgaged). How does one do that? I have no idea.
    And yes, the sales. To me, it is not worth my time, energy or the stress of it all to be out there among the thousands of people trampling for the best deal. I will check out sales sometimes, but I never go crazy and I don't live by the philosophy "it's not what you spend, it's what yousave" because guess what? If you are putting that purchase on credit and not paying it off in a timely manner... it's going to cost you way more than it would have if you had the cash for it and paid full price.
    Wow. Sorry for the long ass comment, but this post really tugged at my heart strings because I 100% agree with you!

  4. The only thing I bought on Black Friday was a pint of beer. i went for a bike ride in the unseasonably warm weather, and stopped in the local brewery for a pint. I didn't even shop online.

    I completely agree with all of this. I have been planning my future house. I believe it will be around 400 or 500 square feet. We don't have kids, aren't having kids, why would we need more room than that? Saving up for some land to build it on... the idea is to build or buy a house outright, without enough room to accumulate too many things.

    My current living conditions dictate that when I buy something new, something old has to go. I have cleared shelves of books that someone else will appreciate (donated to the local library), I go through my clothes and shoes every month. I see these mobs of people, and I don't understand it at all.

    OK, maybe a little bit. I WANTS it, precious. But I don't BUY it. I get over it, or find a way to make it happen.

  5. I like long comments! There is another semi-rant brewing about the relationship between cost and quality. I will need a graph. I expect a lot of triathletes will be wincing after that one. And another on being "upside down" on a mortgage. There should be a course in high school (there wasn't when I was going) about credit, and credit cards, and the extortionate rates of interest they charge. Our last credit card bill was a bit larger than normal, but still paid in full. Then I noticed the fine print that said if I made only the minimum payments, it would take more than 44 years to pay off. There is a very real chance I might not be alive 44 years from now. Then again, you never know, I could be winning my age group to go to Kona for the first time, and need to put the plane fare on credit.

  6. There is only the two of us, our house is about 1400 square feet. In retrospect, maybe the basement was a mistake. It's full of stuff. I like the mentality of something old going to make room for something new, but it's tough to do in practice. One has to be ruthless. Books. We have thousands of them. Some are old friends. Both of us sometimes get in the mood to read some particular bit of something, and it's nice to go downstairs and try to find it. The CDs? I'm seriously contemplating going through them to find which ones have been ripped to iTunes, and giving them away. Maybe doing another backup...

  7. No kidding. My husband and I were talking about the Black Friday thing and got to talking about Boxing Day sales and how insane that is. I wonder if Boxing Day sales will start making the creep earlier and earlier in the morning until stores are open on Christmas Day evening! Totally do not agree with that....


Looking forward to reading your comment!