Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sixteen Tons

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store.
 -- from the Song "Sixteen Tons"
as sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Merchants call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" for a reason since it marks the day that stores  traditionally go from operating "in the red" or at a deficit to "in the black" or at a profit. Not coincidentally, Black Friday also marks the official beginning of the season of consumer excess called "Holiday Shopping." 

For consumers, rather than marking the return to profitability, Black Friday marks the return to indebtedness. The old joke is that on Black Friday, we stop being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past -- the bills for the last holiday season -- so that we can begin being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Presents -- new bills run up to pay for current season.

Sadly, some continue to be haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past long past the Christmas Presents and well beyond Christmas Future as new bills are added to the unpaid balances which were added to the unpaid balances of holidays past. Like the proponent in the song, the modern consumer continually digs himself deeper and deeper in debt until he "owes his soul", if not to the company store, at least to the credit company.

It is written somewhere that, when you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Refuse to yield power to the ghost of Christmas Past. Remember, although it may spend like cash, credit is debt, and debt haunts the future. "Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul..."

Scale back. Get creative. Make some gifts. Buy local. Pay cash. Don't dare use credit. And remember, the point is let the recipient know "I love you", or "I'm thinking of you" or "I appreciate what you do." It's not about you saying "I am the greatest" and it's not about buying love..

I challenge you to find, for every person on your list, the one gift that can perfectly express your thoughts without using credit.  

So, what is that perfect something? 

How will you not spend next year haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past?