Tuesday, December 18, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Want

"You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need."
- Jagger and Richard ("You Can't Always Get What You Want" from "Let It Bleed")

My childhood memories of Christmas are dominated by the Sears Wish Book - their annual Christmas catalog. The catalog's toy section was every kid's destination. If a toy wasn't in there, we didn't know about it. Living in a small, somewhat isolated town in Washington, it was our window on the world of commerce beyond the pathetic collection of local retail shops.

I remember making a list every year of those must have items and then investing as much of my intellectual capital as I could spare into wishing it all to happen. More than once, I even filled out the order form, thinking I would make it easy for Santa to take care of business. Of course, it never worked out like I planned - having 6 siblings tended to spread the Christmas Cheer rather thinly. The Wish Book was the entire Christmas Present Experience - marketing, advertisement and fulfillment wrapped in one package.

Of course, the Christmas Present Experience has changed dramatically. No longer do we spend hours poring over the Wish Book, but spend hours being bombarded by advertising, surfing the web, walking the shopping malls and driving from one category-killer store to another. When your world of choice was pre-packaged and compressed into a few catalog pages, it was easy to become obssessed. It seems that the intensely covetous dreams of childhood, curled up with the Wish Book on the living room floor, have been replaced by an obssessive process, a seeking for "Just the Right Gift".

So here's my financial advice for the Christmas Present Experience. Spend less money and less time on the whole process. Reduce your gift list to those closest to you. Go to one of the many off-beat Christmas shows, or attend your local production of A Christmas Carol. Don't obssess. Bake cookies. Don't let yourself feel like a failure because you don't "deliver". Give money to charity. Get involved in micro-finance http://www.kiva.org/. Host a holiday open house. Help out at the local feeding program.

Don't buy gift cards in a last-ditch attempt to get "something" - more than 10 percent of the $58.3 billion in gift cards bought this year won't be used, according to Needham, Mass.-based consulting firm TowerGroup. (10% of $58.3 billion = $5.83 billion). Corporations are counting on you to buy gift cards - it adds to their profits.

Questions? kimm@sweetwaterinv.com

No comments: