Ready, Set, Shop

This is such a nice time of year.  Thanksgiving – the holiday where we give thanks for what we have by eating ourselves into a near coma, while making an effort to get along with family members who say things that make our heads explode.  Then comes Christmas (for most) and other solstice-oriented holidays for others: a time for giving and getting gifts, along with the opportunity for religious reflection.

Last year was a different kind of Christmas for many families, since the economic downturn was new, dramatic, and in the news constantly.  Many families cut back, and that was understandable.  Now, a year later, the economy is worse, and likely to get even worse than it is now, but the shock factor is gone.  The statement “things are bad” doesn’t even need to be made, since everybody knows it.

So, what are you going to do for your gift shopping this year?  I think a lot of families will cut back again, which is probably prudent.  One counter to that way of thinking is that we’re very likely to have, at some point, extreme inflation in our country, due to the massive debt we’ve built up in the last year, and the likelihood that the Federal Reserve will “monetize” that debt by printing lots of extra money.  That reduces the value of every dollar, and as such makes the prices of goods and services go up proportionately.

What does that all mean?  Well, if something costs $500 now, it will cost $550 after 10% inflation kicks in.  So, waiting to make needed purchases may end up costing you more, since wages probably won’t go up much.

The question of what to buy is always a tough one at this time of year.  Given the problems our economy is having it seems that anything we can buy that is made in the USA can only help.  There are two problems with that: 1. It’s hard to find things made in our country, and when you do, sometimes they cost 30% more than the foreign stuff.  2. Since financing for our huge national debt is now totally dependent on borrowing money from China, it’s in our best interest that their economy is doing okay.

All that being said, I try to buy American when I can.  A couple of years ago I spent a week trying to find a toaster that was made in the USA, with no luck.  So, it’s not always possible.  Buying from people closer to home seems like a good idea too, since local merchants give local jobs and pay local taxes to keep our towns running.

One thing I’d say for sure: I wouldn’t go into much debt buying presents this year.  If we’ve been paying attention, we know that debt is really behind all the things that have gone wrong in the past few years, and while Americans are mostly reducing their debt loads, holidays are fraught with temptation to spend more than we have.

It’s really corny, so forgive me, but really; while it’s nice to give and receive gifts, the gift of your love and affection means so much more than merchandise.  Sometimes we are uncomfortable expressing our emotions in an honest way, so we give a Hallmark figurine instead.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but a gift certificate for a January lunch together might mean much more.

To modify a phrase we’ve all heard; nobody lays on their death bed wishing they had been given a Playstation 3.  More time with the people we love – that’s what we would want.

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