Why I choose to buy nothing this Black Friday

it’s that time of the year again…

It’s Black Friday, a week-long holiday seemingly dedicated to the worship of materialism, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing about it. My inbox is bursting with deals I can’t miss out on from my favourite brands, and Google and Facebook’s targeted adds keep bringing up that pair of winter boots I was eyeing a few weeks ago, now supposedly on sale for 80% off. Everyone is trying to sell me something, often cheaply made and likely something I could otherwise do without.

Saving Money Makes Sense (and cents?)

Now don’t get me wrong, I do love a good deal. From an economics perspective, it’s rational to want to pay a lower price for the same product or service. I know that when I take advantage of sales, I can stretch my dollar further and purchase more than I otherwise could; I’ll admit that it temporarily makes me feel posher to afford better quality items. Alternatively, I can save the money I would have otherwise spent and allocate it to our family’s other priorities such as savings, new experiences, high quality food, travel and charitable donations, among others.

For many, it is marketed as a good time to scratch as many names as possible off our holiday gift lists without feeling too much of a financial sting.

It is easy, then, for me to see the appeal of Black Friday sales and to want to jump on the bandwagon – after all, there are legitimate bargains to be had.

What I want isn’t always what I need

And so I have been keeping an eye out for one specific thing this year: a replacement pressure cooker. I received one a few years back after trading in a decade’s worth of Air Miles that were going to expire.

After a few attempts at making homemade hummus from scratch, the silicone gasket that maintained the internal pressure tore and it become entirely useless. I looked online and called the manufacturer, but I was out of luck — the model Air Miles sent me had been discontinued and there were no more replacement parts for it anywhere. Ugh. Disappointment.

Since then, I’ve been seeing pressure cookers everywhere and I keep thinking of that hummus I could be making, or maybe even a hearty chilli. I think to myself; I have to have that new “10 in 1”, just think of all the great meals I could make with it! I daydream about how much better my life will be if only I had this one extra thing. I even told my husband about it and he sent me the link to deeply discounted one online. “Should I buy it,” he asked?

But here’s the thing, I know I probably won’t use the device very often, and that I’ve made both hummus and chilli just fine in my everyday pot. Thinking back, I probably used it 6 times over the course of 3 years. Valued at $300, those meals cost me at least $50 each if I amortized the price of the cooker over the number of times I used it.

What if I buy a new one and it turns out to be just as fragile? Not only would I be encouraging the production of an item I do not need, that I likely won’t use, but also one that is made of mixed materials that may end its life in landfill. And all this because I like the idea of what having a pressure cooker says about me. Not only is that not being careful with the family’s budget, it’s definitely not environmental.

Happiness, starting at $99.99

This post isn’t just about Black Friday, or about the pressure cooker, it’s also about the socially ingrained impulse to buy more, especially around the holidays.

We all hear the message that have to buy our loved ones beautiful, expensive, trendy, [enter adjective for desirable] gifts to show them we love them. For one, gift-giving may be one of our love languages and so we enjoy giving or getting. What’s more, we may have given generously in the past so our loved ones have come to expect gifts from us, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint.

While I won’t get into the advertising industry’s cunning schemes in this post, it all boils down to the idea that spending money on things will make us happy… after all, you gotta “treat yo’self!

Resistance is not futile

Statistics show that despite owning more things than ever in the history of humankind (according to this LA Times article, the average American home counts over 300,000 items), we’re not really happier. We’re metaphorically drowning and sometimes even physically crushed by the sheer volume of our possessions. Our pursuit for more has had resulted in the plundering of our wallets and our Earth. Around the holidays, we even do it in the name of love, which is pretty perverse when you think about it.

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop thrashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.

— George Monbiot

I share this quote because it reminds me that a new, purchased gift does not have to be a proxy for love and appreciation, and that our compulsion to give new gifts can do more harm than good. A better approach would be to continue to embrace the true spirit of the holidays; generosity, kindness, togetherness, family and good cheer and find more meaningful ways f showing it.

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

What we can do

This year, those who are more inclined towards activism will take it one step further, as Extinction Rebellions are being organized and millions of people around the world will opt out of Black Friday shopping, and march or picket in an effort to raise more awareness.

For myself, I have decided to join the millions of people around the world who are observing a “Buy Nothing Day” today to silently protest over-consumption and take a moment examine my own impulses to buy things I don’t really need.

A Buy Nothing Day, whether you observe it today or any other day, provides a unique opportunity to stop and carefully consider our own consumption patterns and drivers. We can reflect on what we consider to be a need and decide that it may in fact just be a want. Being more intentional with our purchases is the first step towards making lasting changes for a more sustainable lifestyle.

Despite all of this, it may still make sense for you and your family to take advantage of the Black Friday sales; perhaps you have been very intentional and are only buying those things that you really need and would have bought anyway. Perhaps you have reduced to family’s gift-giving footprint and are buying fewer but (environmentally, socially) better things.

After battling the urge, I finally replied to my husband’s text by saying: “no, thanks, but we don’t actually need it”. Whatever you decide to do, at the very least it’s time to start changing the conversation around consumerism and mandatory gift-giving around the holidays, a post I hope to tackle soon.

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So tell me, how did you approach Black Friday this year? What changes have you or are you considering making in the future?

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