Monday, December 6, 2010

Charity + Savings?

I've noticed a new trend in retail. Most everyone knows that times are tough, we should be saving not spending, etc. Certainly anyone who reads this blog is on that page. For a while it seemed that the trend was to tell people to spend to help the economy rebound. As we all learned more and more about the Keynesian model of economic theory--the model that got us out of the depression and the reason behind the economic stimulus bill--where you need to "prime the pump" by spending to create and keep jobs, which will then make people spend more because they'll have money, and the economy will get back on track. When this was our national philosophy, last year, it seemed like everyone was saying "the worst thing you can do right now is save, you need to spend to keep people from being laid off."

I certainly didn't fall for it, I couldn't really because I was underemployed at the time, but I do remember feeling a thrill of pride every time I did purchase something almost like there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I was doing good by buying--doing my part for the economy.

Now that idea has been carried even further in that at least one retailer this holiday season seems to be going with the message, "if you spend money at our store, we'll give money to those less fortunate." I first noticed this when I got coupons in the mail last month from Gap. Their whole scheme this year has been Give and Get, which means that when I use these awesome coupons that they sent me, I can feel even better because a portion of the money I spent goes to one of three charities.

Of course people need to remember to be charitable over the holidays, every holiday, but it makes me a little uncomfortable having it so tied in with shopping. It's the laziest form of charity. I wasn't using those coupons because I cared about the causes I was supposedly supporting (I don't even remember what they were), I wanted the 40% off. Plus, let's call a spade a spade, for all the good that Gap tries to tell people it does, their clothes are still made overseas where they can pay their workers significantly less.

Retailers will always come up with new ways to make us buy things we don't need. They convince us that we deserve it, we need it, they foster competition between us and our neighbors and they appeal to our giving nature. This is what being a discerning, savvy shopper is all about--not buying in to what they want us to think but actually thinking for ourselves about what we actually need rather than want. Saying stuff like this makes me feel paranoid and a bit deranged, but it's true. Businesses want us to spend money and they spend money making us spend more--it's just the way it goes. Home economy is recognizing a truly good deal, and dispensing with the hype.

Like I said, I love 40% off, and I did use those coupons, but I went into it with my eyes open, and did not buy more than I planned.


  1. Frankly, when a store tells me to donate to charity, it's the last thing I want to do. Sometimes I will donate, but I'd rather give my money to local charities that I know and likely need it more.