Tis the $eason to be $pending. That's the less-than-spiritual message retailers are blasting from radios, TVs, billboards, newspaper and magazine ads, circulars, direct mail, Facebook walls, tweets, and e-blasts (have I missed any media?) in these last weeks before Chanukah and Christmas.
Far be it for me to put a damper on spending when the economy clearly needs some good old-fashioned consumer consumption - the more conspicuous, the better.
Yet, speaking personally as a professional in a field (namely, print journalism) that was disappearing before our very laptops even before the meltdown, I am sure I am not alone in confessing the most creative writing I do these days is balancing my own checkbook.
But I have found a way to have my consumer cake and eat my holiday fruitcake too. When I first heard the phrase "inconspicuous consumption," it sounded like an oxymoron, especially coming from a California-based luxury hotel CEO I hold in high regard. By all logic, he should have been promoting "exorbitant expendituring," but there is something of the Buddha in this gentleman. And when I got to thinking about it, I realized that he was onto something that makes very good sense from a Buddhist perspective. Inconspicuous consumption - I.C. for short - is more of a Zen attitudinal adjustment than budgetary. Indeed, I.C. may be the new P.C.
I.C. is not about spending less or wearing a fake mustache when you run to the mall. It's about spending wisely, spending for the right reasons, spending not to feed your face but to feed your soul - and others' souls.
Herewith, then, a guide to spiritual spending that is not likely to be proposed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
#1: Buy to enlighten, not to impress.
Things that have worth inform, motivate, inspire and teach you something that shifts your paradigm, and can mean something personally. Gucci and all other brand names have no intrinsic value or meaning other than that which we assign them. We usually buy them just to keep up with the Joneses, the Schwartzes or the Patels. Some enlightening gift ideas might come from this website: Educational Games.
#2: Buy quality over quantity.
Good stuff lasts longer, to put it most simply. Yes, you pay a little more but amortized over the time it ably serves you, you come out the smart buyer. Compare the lifespan of K-Mart tube socks, $12 for a dozen, against the $30 pair of Mephisto socks I bought in 2004 (that can practically walk by themselves by now). Yes, Mephisto is a brand but brand schmand: this was about quality, not hype.
#3: Make anonymous gifts.
I love the "Curb" episode ("The Anonymous Donor," season six, episode 52) when Larry David and Ted Danson both make generous gifts to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Then Larry finds out Ted made his gift "anonymous," making Larry look like a royal celebrity egoist. Larry justifiably boils over, though, when he learns Ted outed himself to several people as the "anonymous donor." "It's faux anonymity," Larry fumes. Why does it feel so right to give anonymously? Because then the motivation is guaranteed to be literally selfless.
#4: Buy things that leave a small carbon footprint.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus who knows from green. And if your Santa does not have a green clause, you can elucidate (and illuminate) him with energy-saving light bulbs. Or with some surfing before he boards his sled. For starters, Wiki now has a green page dedicated to techniques for reducing carbon usage that "cost nothing, zero, zilch, zip," as the page enthuses. To measure exactly how much damage you already are causing to the planet, the Nature Conservancy can help you calculate. And for those dreaming of a green Christmas, click here.
#5: Buy local products and produce.
One more way you can deplete the environment a little less. Veggies and manufactured products that don't have to travel 2,000 miles save gas and therefore the environment, as does not having to drive to some suburban mall to buy them. You'll save even more ordering online, though someone else will still have to drive the merchandise to your home. Lots of towns and communities have launched their own "buy local" campaign. BigBoxToolkit.com provides a PDF file on how to start your own Buy Local Campaign.
#6: Buy small.
Recycled E.F. Schumacher? Probably. The British economist, who argued as early as 1970 that a modern industrialized bigger-is-better economy is unsustainable, would love being considered a recyclable. "Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful," he wrote in his book of essays, subtitled "Economics As If People Mattered." The E.F. Schumacher Society can explain it better than me but at the level I understand it, buying bulk brown rice looks cheaper at the checkout counter, but it will take up shelf space and probably become a science experiment before I get down to the last grains. On a larger scale, imagine the costs of that brown rice sitting in a warehouse in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
#7: Buy, buy.
There may be a tendency to scrimp and save this holiday season, understandable since this is still a time of great economic uncertainty. So Law #7 may seem counter-intuitive. But I believe we as individuals can generate our own micro-economic stimulus plan, and let it expand outward from there, especially if we follow the 6 previous laws. Look, conspicuous consumption got us into this mess; I truly believe inconspicuous consumption can get us out.
Follow Perry Garfinkel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Perry Garfinkel