I'm fresh off the adrenaline of scoring some insane deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Scouring the Internet for slashed prices has possessed me for the last few days. And hey, I finished my Christmas shopping.
I should feel triumphant. This is a first for me, a woman who has never completely finished Christmas shopping more than a day or two before exchanging gifts.
Instead I feel cheap, like a cheat. Christmas isn't supposed to be this easy, and it shouldn't involve this much stuff.
All my life I've stewed over finding the perfect gift for each person on my list. My inability to make quick decisions is classic Libra. On top of that, I've always strived for highly individualized gifts. Last year I set out to give each person something I handmade. I can't remember if I accomplished it, but I came close. And even though I started a couple months before Christmas, I worked myself to death trying to complete all the little gifts. The luscious, fuzzy monogrammed blanket for my mom. The super-cool stick horse for Quinn. The elephant tag blanket for Bennett, then just a baby. The ridiculous T-shirt with Metcalfville drawn on the back for Will, a roadmap the kids could drive on, thereby scratching his back. Sugar scrubs for neighbors, friends and teachers. Hand-done canvas prints of our family portraits for the grandparents.
After all the time I spent planning, chasing down supplies and assembling the gifts, only a couple were actually used. I barely had time to breathe last Christmas season, let alone enjoy the holiday spirit. So this year I decided to put in a little less effort and give myself a gift: happiness and freedom. I hoped no one would notice.
Handmade or not, this year had to be different. We're trying to sell our house. We have two toddlers. I have no time to flit leisurely from store to store, in search of beautiful, unique gifts. I wish I did, because that would mean I could shop locally more.
My solution would come on Black Friday, my moral bane and my frugal boon. I bit my lip on Thanksgiving and spread out the barrage of Black Friday ads, hoping I could find a few deals that would fit with the people I love.
I had already bought several of the kids' gifts but knew I wanted a couple more items: an easel and a tool bench. Kohl's had both, at greatly discounted prices. I sucked in a deep breath and held it as I prepared to elbow my way through the store that night. I dreaded the crowd, but I also dreaded my weakness for sales. I knew I wouldn't be able to resist coming home with a truckload full of stuff we didn't need.
My brilliant mother-in-law made a suggestion: Why don't you check online, she said.
And there they were, the two items I thought I needed for the boys. Free shipping, an extra 20 percent off and money back in the form of Kohl's cash. Cha-ching.
The snowball of my inhibitions gained speed as it raced away from me, down the avalanche of Black Friday regret. I kept looking for deals. Here's something I could buy for Will, I thought. And something for my parents! And there's something for the neighbor boys!
The problem with allowing myself to be sucked in by Black Friday was that I allowed the repressed consumer in me to unleash her desire. I have pretty strong restraint throughout the year. I don't buy a ton of stuff, mostly because if I don't go shopping and I stay away from Pinterest, I don't think I need anything. Last year at Christmas, I did OK. I still gave a lot, but there was more meaning attached, with all the handmade items. But this year, once my fingers were oiled and accustomed to typing in my credit card number, there was nothing stopping that animal urge to get the best deal. When I had finished buying for everyone else, I bought for myself. I couldn't possibly just pass Will the link to that discounted, professional grade hair straightener, because what if he had hesitated? THE DEAL WOULD HAVE BEEN LOST.
Things got uglier. I went out on Black Friday, mid-morning, advertising fliers in hand. As I waited in one line at a discount home decor store, someone screamed for 911. An elderly woman had collapsed while waiting in line. Rumor around the line was that she might've been a diabetic and had neglected to eat, allowing her blood sugar to plummet.
After an initial hush, broken only by the sound of a couple nurses cutting through the crowd to her aid, the cash registers recommenced and the lines moved forward.
Are good deals worth your life? Do we really need all the stuff we hoard around the holidays? Absolutely not, on both counts. My realization is too late for this year -- all the gifts are en route to my house. But next year, I'm planning an intervention. No shipping is always free shipping. Santa's sleigh might even fly better because it'll be so light.