I’m going to spend a minute or three on my soapbox (I’m writing this on a Saturday morning after three cups of coffee on an empty stomach, and the kids are still asleep… you know I’ve gotta ramble), then describe a method which, if you’re up to it, can help you to take on little or no debt this Christmas season, yet still buy gifts for the people you love. My personal version of layaway, if you will.
What Happened to Layaway?
It’s been almost a year since Big Daddy Wal-Mart finally gave in and killed its layaway program. It was a necessary business move, as the traditional purpose of layaway- to allow folks to spread the pinch of buying expensive items or multiple gifts over a period of months- has vanished into the smoky abyss of personal debt, or to use the word we’ve all bought into due to its more huggable connotation, credit.
That abyss has opened up for the same reason that our economy has “grown” so extraordinarily since World War II, and that is that someone, somewhere has gradually convinced us all that it’s perfectly fine for individuals and governments alike to spend money they don’t have. Illegitimate Spawn of The New Deal, perhaps.
In addition, our enslavement to personal debt has evolved hand- in- hand with our inability to handle the concept of delayed gratification, a concept which was a part of life for our parents, but which our children can’t even comprehend (hang on, Dad, I’ve gotta switch lines on my cell phone and pause the iPod for a moment so I can take this other call). It’s an important concept which Scott Peck wrote very lucidly about in The Road Less Traveled, and if you’re into that stage of your personal journey, it’s a book I’d highly recommend.
Debt Is Bad, but “Credit” Is Good? Propaganda 101
Did you notice that happening? Me either. The specter of personal debt, which to our grandparents was anathema (especially after the Great Depression), to us is not only acceptable, it’s desirable. Heck, not that long ago there were still debtor’s prisons! How did we get from there to here?
As with all so-called “progressive” societal change, it took place over a number of decades and started with a brilliant manipulation of the language. George Orwell wasn’t right just in a symbolic sense; in many ways he was describing exactly what goes on every day.
We think in language. Much eastern philosophy is based on the forgotten fact that we are capable of so much thought beyond concepts which language can describe, but that’s another subject.
By manipulating the words we use (and think), we can be made to unconsciously take on a particular attitude or position about a subject, favorable or unfavorable, without even realizing it. We think it’s our personal opinion, when in fact it’s an opinion that has been given to us.
This is what used to be called propaganda, but in the greatest self-makeover in history it is now known by its more favorable moniker, marketing. Get people to think and speak in your terms, and they unknowingly adopt your opinions as their own. For instance, anything that ends in “-phobic” automatically connotes “bad,” or at least unreasonable, and the use of that suffix is very effective at changing people’s attitudes simply by getting them to use (and think in) those terms.
Imagine if we spent the next three decades universally referring to people who don’t eat meat as carniphobic instead of the we’re- so- enlightened- don’t- you- want- to- join term vegetarian. Geez, who on earth would want to be a carniphobe? And so the graduating class of 2045 would be 99.9% meat-eaters. (By the way, I just came up with this example off the top of my head, but Beef Association, take note and feel free to send me a check).
Are You Ready To Stop Your Addiction to Deficit Spending?
It takes years to break the habit. To get into a position to even have that option, frankly. But those years are well-spent, and once you’ve broken the bonds of enslavement to the consequences of your past impulses, you become much stronger in deciding whether to act on (or more importantly, to not act on) new impulses.
In fact, you finally learn the true feeling of “I want it, but can I afford to pay for it in present dollars (cash), and do I really want it that badly?” And that power is awesome.
To use the propagan…, er, marketing technique I described earlier, learn to think of yourself and others like you, who have reclaimed their financial power, not as “Debtophobic” or “Creditophobic” (which of course would be unreasonable, un-American even). Instead learn to think of yourself as a freedom-o-phile. Someone help me here, there’s got to be a catchier word. But you get the point. It’s a positive thing.
Refusing to add debt for Christmas is just one step, but it’s a very significant one. And you can still buy nice gifts without taking on debt, by paying for those gifts over time, in advance, just like layaway.
Next time you’re going through the checkout at your major retailer of choice, buy one of these reloadable gift cards. Start out with 20 or 25 dollars. Then, each time you pass through the checkout line in the future, get out that card and have them add five or 10 dollars to it. That’s often less than the sales tax on your other purchases, and you’ll barely notice it. (And you are paying for these purchases, not charging them, right?).
If you start this scheme in the summer, or even at the end of September (!), by the time those big Christmas sales hit, you’ll be able to knock out gifts for the majority of people on your list, all prepaid and at sale prices, no less. No interest, no buyer’s remorse. You’ll be purchasing with full-powered current dollars, not future dollars which have been depreciated by a print-happy Federal Reserve and by the interest due The Master (aka the banking system).
Keep the card, and start the five dollar gig in January next time. Get cards from two or three major retailers. By the time the next Christmas rolls around, you can give more nice gifts to more people than you ever imagined (you don’t have to cut so many off the list due to lack of funds, you can do it just because you don’t like ‘em!), and guess what… you can get to a point where you even have money left over!
It’s very liberating. The politicians don’t want you to do it. The retailers don’t want you to do it. The Federal Reserve doesn’t want you to do it. And the banks sure as hell don’t want you to do it.
Think about it- are those the people you want to please? Be a true anarchist. Pay your debts. Take personal responsibility. Take your power back, and just watch ‘em all squirm!