Do We Really “Need” It? A Former Student Says NO.

A student from a few years ago just came to mind as I began to notice how many people around me were saying what they “needed” for Christmas. “I really need black boots because all my other pairs are brown…I need a TV for the bathroom…” ? Then, I noticed I too was inappropriately using the same word…“I need to get Christmas hand soap”… “I need poinsettias for the living room…” Um, no I certainly do not “need” them. They are yet another decoration on top of an already well-decorated house.

My student was 23-years young and she entered the class armed with creative graphs and charts on actual boards, along with PowerPoint slides. The class was tasked with offering a “persuasive” presentation, their chosen position requiring data, personal experiences, evidence or other concrete material to support their stand. This student’s claim was that the modern couple in contemporary America did not need the income they professed to need.

Hmmm. I leaned in. This one might be truly interesting. She was so young to determine that she didn’t “need” a new-built house by 27. So young to claim that kids should have one parent at home and for most, they did not “need” the second income. On that note, my eyes darted around the room, certain there would be protestors following her controversial comment. When I began college teaching 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything of her words because people tended to simply accept whatever family choices their friends, neighbors and co-workers made. Now, students are so offended that all statements – conservative or liberal, happy or sad, ethical or unethical, etc. etc. etc.-lead to someone expressing offense.

After making a few controversial claims (as required in stating a “position”), she proceeded to support her points, beginning with the story of her grandparents. They lived on one income, grandpa worked without a college education and raised two children. The story was compelling, with grandpa ultimately retiring close to being a millionaire after owning a fine home and putting his kids through college. He was not an entrepreneur, but a laborer. They did not live in squalor but a nice middle-class neighborhood. She emphasized that they did not go without, but had plenty including the occasional family vacation.The presentation wore on, charts with credible sources showing the average income in 1950, along with the prices of several products used daily then and now. She compared prices, inflation, took into account the skyrocketing cost of vehicles and housing and contrasted everything against the incomes. Upon completion, there was an overflow of cash among modern couples after the “needs” were met. Where did this overflow go? To the new “needs”: everything from $500 birthday parties to regular manicures, pedicures, multiple devices per person, per household, overseas vacations for spring break instead of trips to Florida, new cars every two years…and on it went. High school senior trips are no longer using district budgets for a fun field trip, but parents are expected to hand over a thousand for a senior trip to France.

We fell into the too-much-spending more times than I care to admit while raising our children. When I was growing up, my parents and step parents would have never given such luxuries a thought, let alone paid for them.

These “new needs” are the norm. Unlikely that many people will end up millionaires on two full time incomes, let alone one household income with the way we spend.

She effectively argued that the cultural beliefs Americans espouse profoundly affect how they handle their money. The cultural belief system, regardless if flawed, emotionally harmful or even if it causes neglect in marriages or parenting, is one of the leading factors in “needing” more money and stuff. Although excruciatingly unpopular in the modern college classroom among peers who vehemently disagreed with her fundamentals could not deny the power of the data.

Just like the next girl, I have been guilty of buying more than I should during Christmas. Perhaps a combination of age, maturity and having older kids, I don’t splurge like I once did. But compared to half the world’s population, many in poverty, yes, I still spend more than is necessary. When kids are little, there is thrill and excitement that’s still worth every penny to me. But, little kids also don’t “need” much to truly be joy-filled.

As individuals dwelling on this planet (even though we’re not of it), it’s natural to want cool stuff. Collectively, no matter how devout or grounded we are, we periodically look over the fence to see what’s up with the seemingly greener pastures next door. We know better, but we still occasionally ponder our choices. Frankly, bigger homes have more space and that’s not a bad thing. Convenience household items that we don’t necessarily “need” honestly make life easier. But, at what emotional, spiritual and relational costs?

The points are priorities and balance. As Franklin Covey says in his famous Habits books and in First things First, if everything important is cared for first, then go get the rest.

I’m a fan of setting goals – earning anything you want…a degree, income, achievements…they are part of life. What my student reminded us all of that day is that the earning requires balance.

What were once “treats” are commonplace. What was once “special” is now expected. And for those who still can’t earn enough to get those treats and special-everything, it makes them feel bad. It really shouldn’t, but it stings. Pulling back from the cultural norms is necessary to regain some perspective. That is hard during a season when we spend hours online shopping and walking through beautiful stores enticing us with all sorts of things we never knew we always wanted!

God knows what we “need” and fulfills more wants than we give Him credit for.

He knows we want to spoil our kids and surprise someone special with a “wow” gift at Christmas. There is nothing wrong with those things and I embrace them. During this holiday season, I’m just going to retreat every now and then, so I can fully give thanks for what I already have.

You’ve Been Christmas Shopping When…

You need the loose change out of the car tray to buy coffee – because you’re out of cash.

You’ve walked the equivalent of two miles in stores and parking lots.Your lower back announces the consequences of carrying those packages while walking the two miles.

After finally getting back in the car, you glance in the rearview to see glitter on your cheeks!

The Retail Apocalypse – Can Bath and Body Works Survive? Not If They Keep Bothering Us

The bricks and mortar stores that try to sell an actual experience are still doing relatively well in the era where Amazon and other online retailers threaten store fronts across America. As part of L Brands (home to the ever-profitable Victoria’s Secret), Bath and Body Works is going strong. Yankee Candle is also under a wide corporate umbrella and continues to move forward with some hope of survival.I used to really, really love shopping at Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle. I still like them both so much, largely due to what has kept them thriving: us girls like pretty, glittery, fragrant things, beautiful packaging, gift options and products that change with the seasons and holidays. We love this because every retailer from Walmart to the local grocery store no longer specialize. You can literally purchase shoe polish, clothes, Thanksgiving wreaths and food while picking up your prescription at Rite Aid.

That’s one of the many reasons I love YC and B&BW. I can linger a while and just enjoy the prettiness of it all. It’s also seasonal shopping where my girls and I can purchase items simply to make the nest more festive during holidays.

Well, that was until a couple of years ago when both companies clearly “upped” the sales requirements for their employees.

It’s not the individual employee’s fault, and Yankee Candle isn’t terrible. Sometimes annoying but not terrible. You can also enjoy smelling Yankee Candles at several other harassment-free retailers such as Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.I now approach the Bath and Body Works entrance with great caution. My youngest daughter does not like to shop (while my oldest daughter and myself can shop all day) but the one place she truly loved going to at least twice a year was Bath and Body Works. Years ago, we would walk in anticipating the new, glittery displays of whatever new season it was, tried too many spray fragrances and joyfully ended up at the counter about an hour later with our bag full of products. We walked in with our eyes up, soaking in all the displays.

Now when I walk into Bath and Body Works, there is zero opportunity to initially look up and enjoy. I brace myself for the person (usually two) who will not only say hello but ask me a minimum of three questions. I’m not the rude customer who gives them the curt, “I’m just looking”, but after a recent visit, I might become her.

I went in to pick up something small to add to a birthday gift. I was asked three questions after the hello. I was so friendly, thanked the two different salespeople, then as I was walking further into the store, one walked ahead of me, attempting to stop my stride at a table that I was not interested in shopping at. I smiled as they explained the sales promos.

Then, at the checkout, they no longer ask the customer if they would like to leave their email address. They merely tell them to do it. Of course they do this in a cheerful “the last thing you need to do is….” way. Even though I appreciate the coupons, I’m simply not entering my email every time. These retailers have plenty of ways to track our spending and inundate us with snail mail.

Picking up my bag, the young salesgirl asked loudly, “Why aren’t you leaving your email?” Now, I was irritated. I estimated her around early 20s and just trying to make a living so I was gentle.

“I receive your coupons.”

“But we send more when you leave your email each time.”

“I’m good, I still receive coupons.” I smiled and turned around, walking away.

“There are some good promotions coming up…”

I continued walking.

With at least six feet between us, her voice got louder behind me. “It really is a great way to continue your coupons…”

I stopped and turned. She officially earned my glare, which according to my kids is really unnerving. After a few seconds, I spoke gently. “I understand you are trained to ask the email question. Continuing to nearly demand I not leave the store without providing additional information is inappropriate. You have taken away the joy I have shopping here.”

I felt bad afterward. The whole point of purchasing little extras like these (that we don’t need) is to have fun. I felt bad for the salesgirl and for my girl, because now we hesitate to walk in there. Bath and Body Works (and Yankee Candle) still offer an experience you can’t have online shopping. But, aggressive, continuous sales pitches rob shoppers of the joy.

Women like to shop. Take the fun out of it, and we’ll find an alternative elsewhere :).

Click on images for source.

 

 

 

Nike? No thank you, Dad

Last summer when my daughter’s sports season got underway, my husband surprised her with a new pair of super-cool field hockey cleats. They were hot pink and this child loves anything bright. I mean, these cleats were a visual delight to any female teen and her friends would have coooed over them.

Her eyes grew big as she observed the color. Within seconds, she politely thanked him, but she clearly wasn’t thrilled – and he noticed. As soon as he left the room, she whispered to me: “I can’t keep these.”

I knew why but my husband didn’t. I also knew that she didn’t want to disappoint her Dad who took time out of his work day to stop at Dicks and pick them out for her.

The reason? She had recently overheard my son and I talking about Nike’s past reputation for using child labor in third world countries. The company has worked to erase this image after it went viral several years ago.

The point is that my daughter, who really, really would have had the coolest cleats on the field if she kept them, did not.

For my youngest, when she saw the Nike symbol on the shoe, the bright pink instantly faded into a dreary sweat shop where she saw six year olds sewing for hours on end. While we certainly have had our share of Nike sports shoes over the years while raising kids, this one time, now familiar with Nike’s past, my daughter could not keep them. She simply overheard a conversation about a school project and corporate practices related to child labor. She is no advocate of boycotts, and is the most quiet of my three children. Yet, she has an immovable foundation of what is right and wrong, and a strength that enables her to say “no” in a world where most people say “yes” to keep the peace.

I have little knowledge of where most of my household brands are made. I will look for the Made in the USA stamp when shopping and support Hobby Lobby and Chick Fil A, who promote conservative values in a culture experiencing rapid moral decay.

What prompted this quick story and post was a news piece I saw last week called a “Christmas Buycott”. It reminded me of the Nike conversation but it’s unrelated to child labor :). Instead, it is directly related to conservative Christian values. The news story led me to the Faith Driven Consumer website. Their most recent list of the most and least faith-friendly companies can be found here.

Faith based reviews of a variety of companies here.

Christmas Buycott story on Foxnews here.