Giving and Receiving: The True Meaning of the Holidays


    The other day I received an e-mail from someone in Indiana who wanted to know my opinion on the upcoming Buy Nothing Day – the annual anti-consumerism event celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.

    If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a brief primer.

    Buy Nothing Day is an informal day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. Participants refrain from purchasing anything for 24 hours in a concentrated display of consumer power. The event is intended to raise awareness of what some see as the wasteful consumption habits of First World countries.

    Back to the question – what did I think about Buy Nothing Day and more specifically, should organizations participate in the promotion of such an event. While I agree with the premise, I also believe there is another road – something south of Shut-It-Down Drive and north of Spendthrift Circle.

    Make no mistake about it: hyper-consumption has taken deep root in America. With the average credit card debt per household at $9,000 and the after-tax savings rate now in negative territory for the first time since 1933, our day of financial reckoning is upon us.

    Shortly after the 2004 presidential election, Zogby International polled Americans from coast to coast and asked them to rate the top moral values crises facing our country. Contrary to popular mythology, the number one answer was greed and materialism.

    But hold the phone. Haven’t we been told that it’s patriotic to spend ourselves into oblivion – especially in the final six weeks of the year? After all, who wants the economy to suffer or their 401k to tank because somehow we "got religion" and decided it was time to ease up on the gas peddle of consumption.

    Nearly $250 billion will be spent in the U.S. between Thanksgiving and December 31. And thousands of daily advertising impressions will yet again create the mirage that happiness is somehow linked to buying more stuff we don’t need.

    Our ability to share with others, be it a cause or an organization, is in direct proportion to our financial capacity. If our balance sheets are so full with debt, how can we respond to the needs of the world?

    Is there a satisfying middle – something between hiding under a blanket on November 24 and sprinting from store to store in a manic frenzy? Finding a healthy balance between sharing with others, saving for a rainy day and spending within reason is a tough nut to crack. Recently, I found an example of this in a very unlikely place.

    This fall Stephon Marbury, an NBA star, introduced his "Starbury Collection," a sportswear line of nearly 50 items – the most expensive of which is a pair of basketball shoes for $14.98.

    Marbury’s reason for endorsing the line of affordable gear is that he wanted to alleviate the pressure on children and parents to spend serious cash on trendy clothing and sneakers. When the deal was announced, Marbury talked of growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with parents who struggled to make ends meet and provide for seven children.

    The Starbury line is so popular they can’t keep it in stock.

    Imagine if this were the norm rather than the exception – purchasing things we can afford that reflect our values to create capacity for other financial choices.

    It’s almost too simple. Buy a little less and help change the world.

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    sed author, award-winning speaker and national expert on family finances and the effects of mass marketing on young people. A top-performing financial advisor and vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 financial services company, he founded Share-Save-Spend LLC, an organization that helps people of all ages develop and maintain healthy financial habits. His book, Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM, was released in 2003 by publisher John Wiley & Sons. Nathan is vice-chair of both the National Institute on Media and the Family and Minneapolis-based YouthCARE boards. Visit, e-mail [email protected] Copyright © 2005 Nathan Dungan. All rights reserved.


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