The much-celebrated countdown to Christmas has officially begun, and I’m a little worried about Santa. For centuries, he has been the main man, so to speak — the guy with the workshop in the North Pole filled with special toys for every good girl and boy. While Santa has worked tirelessly for years to deliver gifts all around the world with the aid of his trusty sleigh and reindeer, he has often relied on a child’s family and friends to help him out a bit.
But with an estimated 25 million Americans without good jobs, an estimated 3.5 million homeless and talk of the inevitable fiscal cliff, I can’t help but wonder how Santa is going to fare. I see him at the mall sometimes, listening carefully to children as they recite their long wish lists that include trendy clothes, expensive games and the latest electronics. How is Santa, let alone mom and dad, going to deliver during such a challenging economy? Are they going to have to rack up more debt to make their holiday wishes come true?
Young People Feel Entitled
The National Retail Federation announced recently that it anticipates sales between November and December to increase more than 4 percent this year. While a rise in spending is encouraging for store owners, the percentage rate is actually lower than the growth in the past couple of years. Forecasts warn Americans will actually have to cut back this year on holiday shopping.
So what does this mean for Santa? How will he get by this year with the lengthy lists of needs in a struggling economy?
Statistics show that too many young Americans are deep in debt, with very high incidences of bankruptcy. While a great number of young people may not be able to save for an emergency in such a tough economy plagued by unemployment and low wages, many still believe they are entitled to designer clothes, the latest in electronics and fancy meals out. Some move back home with mom and dad because their credit card and student loan debt is just too high. How does this cycle stop?
According to ABC’s John Stossel’s report on 20/20 last holiday season, teen materialism continues to rise. Young shoppers, armed with credit cards and debit accounts, spent more than $170 billion keeping up with the latest trends the previous year. That’s double the amount just 10 years prior.
A friend of mine recently lamented about an enormous Christmas wish list she received from her two teen nieces. From iPads, the Apple MacBook Pro and smartphones, to Hollister jackets, Victoria’s Secret clothes and a French pedicure, the two lists likely added up to at least $4,000. And that’s excluding the extensive list of preferred gift cards and the treadmill.
And I don’t even want to mention the 13-year-olds who post their $700 Hollister receipts on Facebook or brag about their 10 pairs of Ugg boots worth nearly $2,000.
Learning What is Truly Important
Now, I admit to spending hours checking out the enormous 1970s Sears Wish Book of toys when I was younger. While I dreamt of the latest toys, never did I think I was entitled to them. Nor did I suggest it.
Perhaps children would have a better perspective if they were encouraged to reach out to others during the holidays instead of seeking materialistic rewards. Seeing how “the other half” lives, through volunteering, perhaps, may help the next generation understand the difference between “needs” and “wants” at an earlier age.
Extensive, over-indulgent holiday wish lists circulated to family and friends only promote materialism for the next generation. Fewer pricey toys and electronics on the holiday wish list might actually be a good thing for a country deep in debt and slightly overindulgent in the gifting department.
Instead of encouraging a lengthy, pricey list of wishes, perhaps 2012 can be the year to teach our children some valuable lessons about what is truly important and about living within our means.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].