Something to Stay Thankful For

11/28/2011 10:45 am EST


Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

The very fact that Americans have a holiday weekend where we can eat well and shop should be cherished, writes personal finance expert Terry Savage.

Like most Americans, you probably spent Thanksgiving weekend eating turkey once or twice, then sitting stuffed on the couch watching interminable football games, or dozing off to be roused only when a touchdown was scored.

You may have ventured out to do some holiday shopping, getting caught in the crush of people seeking great deals on stuff they may or may not need.

Hey, this is not a story with a moral. If that’s how you spent a few days, it was relaxing and fun. If you were the cook (and dishwasher), it was pleasantly exhausting. And if you have a job with a retailer, you were certainly too busy to think about global issues.

And that brings up a question: What would happen to the world’s economic and political woes and wars if we just didn’t think about them? It’s not an idle question.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. But Canadians have their Thanksgiving holiday in October, so they were busy building a pipeline to the West Coast so they can export the oil that America doesn’t want badly enough to allow them to build a pipeline into our country. In the Middle East, militants killed dozens in Yemen, NATO attacked Pakistan killing 24 soldiers, and the Arab League voted to sanction Syria.

The Occupy Wall Street movement moved to London, where protestors set up a tent city in the heart of the financial district. Germany and France are still trying to fix the euro, and European banks are still scrambling to borrow money in a bond market that is demanding high interest rates as a huge risk premium.

All while we were dozing on the couch.

Even at home, as the campaign for the Republican nomination draws closer to the Iowa primary, the networks were reduced to rehashing the foreign affairs debate from earlier last week. Newt Gingrich remained a strong contender, and no one could stoke a fire on the immigration issue. Presumably the candidates, and their supporters, were also dozing in front of the marathon of football games.

The only economic issue that could rally interest was the extent of the deals being offered on Black Friday, which started Thursday night—and the number of people heading to the mall to take advantage of them.

ShopperTrak predicted a more than 6% increase in sales, based on foot traffic in the stores. But it remains to be seen if those sales will be profitable ones for retailers, or just loss leaders that put them in the red for the season.

For many consumers, the mania of the shopping season will end in the depression of January, as the bills come due. But this is the season for thinking of the here and now—if any thinking is done at all.

NEXT: Getting Used to It


Getting Used to It
This is the fifth holiday season in which we’ve faced economic challenges and uncertainty about our financial future.

  • In 2007, we had just seen the market take a sharp drop from its August peak.
  • In 2008, the holiday season began just after the September collapse of Lehman Brothers.
  • In 2009, after the market made its lows around 6,700 in March, we were swept into the holidays with a report that the recession had ended in July—something no one believed.
  • And last year, the holidays came in the midst of ever-rising unemployment numbers.

This year, we know we’re mired in slow growth, a stagnant housing market, a leaden job market, and a scary stock market. Not to mention an imminent financial collapse in Europe.

But we’re still going shopping.

In fact, every year at this time, people hit the malls to spend billions of dollars in just a few weeks. This year, it’s estimated that we will find more than $11 billion to spend. Gosh, compared to the problems of the rest of the world, things aren’t so bad in America.

We still go shopping. We still have a choice of political candidates. We still believe in our system, sort of. And we still have football—at least for a few more weeks. No wonder the US dollar is so strong.

A lot of people around the world want what we have. We should treasure that—even if we aren’t thinking about the world’s problems. And that’s the Savage Truth.

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