Time to back away from the bargains?


Photo by a shadow of my future self

The start of the shopping year for 2012 has begun like any other – uncomfortably busy public transport, shops so crowded you can barely move, and queues for the till that stretch for miles. That’s right everyone, it’s January sales. While it took place in the wrong month, this post-Christmas shopping bonanza was exemplified in the boxing day sales. Rather than spend time with their families, 2,000 people queued outside Selfridges in London. In Birmingham’s Bullring, people began gathering at 2am. Madness? No. This is sales. This is the tremendous power the words ‘up to 50% off!’ hold on us.

The question is, when we spend the rest of the year penny-pinching, why do we now rush to buy things we don’t need (or really want) with money we don’t really have? It might be understandable in cases of big, one-off purchases, like a fridge or a sofa from one of the many DFS sales. But the majority of our sale-buys are simply tat.

Drawn into the illusion that we’re ‘saving’ money in a sale, we allow ourselves to let loose and indulge in some retail therapy. But in reality, while the things we are buying are cheaper at this time, we’re still spending money and not saving it. Plus we have to go through the horrors (oh, the horrors) of the high-street in sale time.

One way to escape the trauma of shopping in January is to buy things online, from the safety of your own home. However, this simply avoids the problem of crowds, and really January sales seem to be a part of a wider issue of spending. Supposedly, our spending lots of money will help boost the economy.

I’m no economist, but I can wrap my head around this idea. But it also seems to me that this form of consumerism, encouraging people to buy things they can’t afford (most noticeably in the case of houses) is why the economy needs a boost in the first place. This aspect of capitalism seems to get everyone in debt, and while some are smart enough to manage it, many get out of their depth with money problems. While we once reaped the benefits of consumerism, things have gone wrong and we’re suffering for it.

But knowing there’s a problem and doing something about it are two very different things. Again, I’m no expert, but it seems there would have to be a huge overhaul on the way things are done politically, economically, and socially before any positive change can happen. One of the main obstacles in the way of change is the fact that we like to have nice things.

I’ll be the first to admit I have more clothes then are actually necessary to my life, and I’m pretty restrained compared to many. And one of the criticisms aimed at members of the ‘Occupy’ movement was that they were protesting against capitalism, but many of them are from privileged backgrounds and often tweeted or Facebooked about the protests via iPhones.

We’ve got used to having things that make our lives easier, that we don’t need but only want. If the rules of the game change then we might not be able to afford these luxuries.

If we want a world free from January sales madness, one where we are not constantly bombarded with adverts, and encouraged to get ourselves into debt for things we don’t need, there needs to be a change of attitude within ourselves. The long-term love affair with consumerism has turned sour (yet again), and maybe it’s finally time to say ‘it’s not you, it’s me….’

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