How Much More Stuff Do We Really Need?

A reformed overspender's reflections on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

by Suzanne Gerber • Next Avenue
pile of clothes image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

At our weekly staff meeting on Tuesday, a colleague recounted a snippet of conversation he'd had with a friend that morning. She casually mentioned that she'd "forgotten to buy something on Cyber Monday." To which he replied, "You know, you’re not obligated."
 
Funny, but the truth of it is a bit depressing. Or a lot depressing. This year on Black Friday, Americans spent $52.4 billion, up 16 percent from 2011. And three days later, Cyber Monday, now in its eighth year, raked in $1.5 billion. Just in case anyone cares, that figure is up 28 percent from last year, and the bulk of the shopping was done by people at work.
 
Getting and Spending
 
So is $54 billion a lot of money? Let's put it in perspective. It breaks down to $166.79 for every single American, or about $230 if you leave out the approximately 25 percent of the population under 18.
 
That amount is virtually equal to South Africa's entire gross domestic product for 2011 ($55.4 billion). Closer to home, the most populous state, California, has an annual public school budget (K–12) of $38 billion.
 
I guess on the bright side, it's way less than what Americans give to charity ($300 billion). And yet if you look at estimates from the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, projected total sales in November and December will hit $586.1 billion, or almost double what we give to charity in an entire year.
 
On the afternoon of Black Friday, I visited an old friend. She was happy to see me but tired: She'd been up since 3:30 a.m. because she had to be at work by 5 a.m. Her employer, the arts and crafts store A.C. Moore, was giving away $5 gift certificates, and people had been lined up for hours before she arrived — clearly eager to save $5 on plastic wreaths, picture frames and yarn.
 
Is it just me, or is anybody else horrified by this shopping frenzy?
 
And, not to get preachy, but how much more stuff do we really need?

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Photo courtesy of Fotocrisis/Shutterstock.com

First Published Thu, 2012-12-06 16:59

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