• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Charge!

The arrival of extreme shopping season.

November 21, 2013

In Economics, we talk about the idea of being willing to borrow whenever the utility gained from acquiring a product immediately is greater than the utility lost from the income used to pay interest on that purchase. This idea never fails to remind me of a scene from my favorite TV show growing up, the Flintstones. One scene that I often recall from the show occurred whenever the characters Betty and Wilma decided to go shopping. They would look at each other and pull out what I assume was a prehistoric version of a credit card, and gleefully yell “Charge!” Obviously, there were things they wanted to purchase immediately that made it worth paying some interest  so as to be able to purchase them now. I can’t help but think of this as we approach Thanksgiving in the coming week, and wonder what price we are willing to pay for the coming festivities.

As we enter the early winter season that was once known as “Advent”, I am shocked to learn what some retailers are doing to best to secure customers shopping for the big holidays to come. We are used to hearing that the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, and in recent years it has come to be called “black Friday”, since it is the day that brings in enough sales to assure businesses a successful, or at least a solvent, fiscal year. However, a few years ago this shopping spree began to encroach on the day of Thanksgiving itself.

I recall one of the first times that stores began to be open on the evening of Thanksgiving itself. I was sitting at my parents’ dining room table with my family, which at that time still included my grandmother and my sister. Looking around the room at those gathered, I naively believed that things would never change, that everyone would always be there to share good times. As we finished desert, the discussion turned to the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving. We all decided that we would not take time away from family festivities to go shopping. With both my grandmother and my sister now forever missing from Thanksgiving feasts, and my mother facing perhaps her last set of holidays (although, to be fair, we have been saying that for many years; she is quite the “Timex” watch that keeps on ticking), I am infinitely grateful that we did not decide to leave our family in order to find bargains. The greatest value was to be found in the togetherness we shared, not in things we could purchase. Alas, it was togetherness that was much more tenuous than any of us could have imagined.

This year the extreme shopping season has taken on a new twist. It seems that some stores, especially “big box” stores, are planning to be open all day on Thanksgiving Day, offering bargains for shoppers who come to shop who would otherwise be home enjoying time with their families. I am disturbed at this, but am most disturbed at the thought that some workers at these stores do not have a choice as to whether or not they come into work on a day that is traditionally reserved for time with family. Of course, not every store is doing this, and I have heard some workers say that they view this is an opportunity to earn additional income, but I have to wonder if anyone would choose to work on Thanksgiving if they had the opportunity to safely decline doing so. Further, I wonder about a consumer culture that leaves some workers with such a difficult choice.

As you might guess, I have no intention of spending Thanksgiving Day shopping. However, I am curious as to whether my readers will be shopping inn the days in the coming week. Will you be shopping on Thanksgiving Day, on Black Friday, or, perhaps, on the convenient “Cyber Monday?” Or, like me, will you put off most of your shopping until your classes are over and your grades are turned in?

Wishing all of my readers a wonderfully Happy Thanksgiving!


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