Thursday, December 20, 2007

How To Make The Holidays Last. In A Bad Way.

I work in the financial services industry. I give credit.

That might surprise you if you're a long time reader of this blog--you know how staunchly opposed to debt I am.

I sometimes dream of getting out of my current job and finding one more in line with my personal beliefs. A job where I don't make anyone more unhealhty, and I don't add to anybody's debt.

Well, I was standing in the customer service area of a major retail chain today. Five days before Christmas, and the customer service station was bustling. The crowds didn't surprise me. I normally avoid stores around the holidays precisely so I can avoid that kind of scene.

What did surprise me was this: The masses of people weren't exchanging gifts or returning broken merchandise. They were all, almost to a person, there to apply for credit.

I listened as all around me their new credit limits were announced. The kid who couldn't have been more than 20, but who had a two year old in his cart got $2,000. The middle aged Hispanic couple got $2,300.

All of the normal tricks of the credit card companies were being employed. The young man was careful to make sure he'd been approved for the 0% APR--it was only afterwards they told him it would only apply to some of his purchases. The middle-aged man wanted to cancel the free trials of magazines that would automatically renew onto his card after a few weeks, but the salesgirl mostly ignored his broken English, and his wife really wanted to get home.

And in my mind's eye I could almost see all of them being lured into a pit by the salespeople, clutching the products their credit would purchase, telling themselves they needed them, that they were necessary, that the things would make life easier or happier or calmer or somehow just better, and with a better life it would be so much easier to climb out of the pit.

Well, it's not true. Climbing out of the pit is never easy. Every farmer and fruit grower knows there's not a thing in this world that is created from nothing--you've got to put labor in for whatever you get. Blood, sweat, and tears.

And the price of having it now is even more blood sweat and tears than if you'd just worked for it first.

Many retail chains are now at a point where they operate their store fronts at a minimum of profit, or even at a loss, because the value they get from all the financing is so great. Who needs to make a profit now when there's 10, 15, or even 20% to be made off that purchase for possibly years to come?

Other chains realize they no longer have to charge what people can afford. They can charge what people are willing to charge. So they're not having to keep prices down to what people can pay for something, since they can always swipe their cards.

So while I might wish to become not just debt-free, but to separate even my livelihood from being connected with that gnawing monster, I know I'm cutting myself off from huge swaths of occupations at one swipe.

In fact, what I really want to do most is teach and train--not a very lucrative proposition in a society that's been taught to value having more than knowing.

So here's to you having a holiday where the memories last longer than the bills, retail stores getting back into the business of selling stuff, and me finding a job that doesn't leech off people.

Ho ho ho.

1 comment:

Jim Purdy said...

Wow! It's so easy to pile up the credit card debt, and so hard to pay it off. My weakness is all the books I buy from Amazon. Now I need to buy a whole bunch of bookcases. Anyway, I need to work on my finances by cutting back on things. I guess I need to buy a truckload of financial advice books from Amazon. (: