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SOUDER: Christmas shopping brings joy to the world (‘til the bill comes)

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Sometimes the shopping is fun, but the goodness doesn't quite last.

By Chuck Souder

Well, another Thanksgiving Day and another Black Friday is in the books. Unfortunately, this year Black Friday broke its ever-stretching bounds – starting on Thursday evening and continuing through Sunday, as many stores were promoting “Black Friday Weekend” sales.

I, for one, abstained from the madness this year (as I have almost every other year), so I didn’t secure any of the “door busters” that all retailers seemed to be offering. I figured I had enough unfinished home improvement projects at my house without going out and busting anyone else’s doors.

Actually, my wife and I did go to Walmart late Friday morning, long after all the serious shoppers had dispersed. We spoke to the family from our church who was ringing the Salvation Army bell, checked on a couple of special sale items we were hoping beyond hope were still in stock (they weren’t), and then left with the only “must-have” item on our list that was still on the shelf – brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts!

And in case you were wondering (and I know at least someone was), the Pop-Tarts were not a Christmas present. They were simply the next day’s breakfast for our son.

Though we were somewhat let down that we couldn’t find the other things we had hoped to get, we weren’t too disappointed because we knew how the game is played – it’s the early bird that gets the worm, or, in this case, the $89 television.

For others, however, I know that the whole Black Friday shopping experience can be a frustrating mix of long lines, sometimes rude salespeople and items that aren’t quite as advertised.

I heard about a man who was walking down the street and saw a sign outside a shop that read, “Talking Dog for Sale.” Intrigued, he entered the store to learn more. Though he was more than a bit skeptical and felt very foolish for doing so, he addressed the dog directly.

“So, what have you done with your life?” he asked.

Much to the man’s amazement, the dog replied in fluent English.

“First,” began the dog, “I was a rescue worker in the Himalayan Mountains. Following that, I served my country by sniffing out bombs and explosives in Iraq. Now, once a week I volunteer at a local nursing home by reading to those whose eyesight is failing.”

With a gasp of amazement, the man asked the store owner why he would want to sell such an extraordinary dog.

“Easy,” the store owner replied, “the dog’s a liar – he never did any of that stuff!”

Sometimes things aren’t as advertised. That simple truth is worth remembering during this Christmas gift-buying season.

I’m not sure what your perspective is on the typically ridiculous retail aspect of this time of year, but I’m the type who doesn’t take much pleasure in shopping unless I know for sure I am getting the very best price possible.

That is why, even after getting a 4-star hotel room for $49 on Priceline, I wonder if I could have gotten it for $45. It’s why, after I buy a car or a TV or even a sweatshirt, I continue to look at the sales flyers that come in the mail and search the Internet to see if I got the best deal or if I should have waited a little longer. (If you’re thinking it would be fun to shop with me, you haven’t been paying attention.)

On the other hand, perhaps you are one whose motto is “When the going gets tough – the tough go shopping!” Or maybe you have a t-shirt like the one I saw that said, “It’s not shopping – it’s retail therapy!”

Some time ago, my wife was going through the glove compartment and came across a birthday card she had received months earlier. Opening it up, she was excited to find a Kohl’s gift card that she had accidently left in the envelope and had since forgotten about.

The change in her demeanor was noticeable and immediate – it was amazing how the promise of going shopping, especially with “found” money, brightened her day. Of course, in her mind the timing was perfect because Kohl’s was offering $10 of “Kohl’s Cash” for every $50 you spent that day. And as the store’s ad (and my wife) says, that’s like getting paid to shop!

Many have bought in (no pun intended) to the idea that buying things will make us feel better. And I admit, sometimes it does. For awhile. Until the credit card statement comes.

By then, the fleeting joy of the purchase has passed, and you’re hit by the stark reality that “the more you buy the more you save” might be true on a percentage basis, but in total dollars it is actually “the more you buy the more you spend.”

That’s a marketing slogan you’re not likely to hear, but it is, of course, true.

Why is it that we are so eager spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need? For some, it’s to impress people we don’t even like anyway. For others, the hope is that somehow the next big purchase will bring us the lasting joy and contentment that has been missing in our lives.

Perhaps you are like Larry the Cucumber of (well-deserved) VeggieTales fame. When confronted by Bob the Tomato with the question: “How much stuff will it take to make you happy?” Larry replied: “I don’t know, how much stuff is there?”

The continual quest for more stuff has become synonymous with the American way of life, but it is an empty pursuit.

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

The point is that the most important things in life aren’t “things” at all.

In addition, the Bible makes it clear that it is not wise to spend more than you have. Though the Bible is loaded with other helpful and practical truths about money, if only this one simple rule were followed, our lives (and our country) would be much better off.

So this Christmas, don’t overdo it! In fact, use cash (it’s that green paper stuff) instead of your credit card. That way, when you run out of money, you’ll know you’re finished shopping.

The temporary euphoria you may feel after finding that “perfect” gift isn’t worth the headaches and arguments it will cause when the bill comes due.

Though the advertisements may sound enticing with the promise of a more fulfilled life, remember: It’s not only talking dogs that lie.

 

Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org. Find other columns by Souder at www.SentinelNews.com/columns.