Monday, February 15, 2016

Who's in Control?

Why do we let other people control our lives, telling us what to do and when to do it?  This question came to mind as I watched a CBS This Morning segment a few days ago reporting how retailers are “price gouging” on Valentine’s Day sales, apparently forcing people to, or at least tricking them into spending an average of $147 this year.  "We're going to spend $20 billion on Valentine's. That's up from $19 billion last year." (Yet we hear of so many people owing tens of thousands in college loan debt and so many others with virtually no retirement savings.)

If that isn’t crazy enough, the story goes on to tell how prices of traditional gifts like flowers, candy, champagne and dinner for two have, in some places, doubled in the past week, with the price of red roses rising three to five fold.  Then they give a list of prices (obviously big-city prices) for the various items.  Fifty dollars for a bottle of champagne?! – For the inside information on the real difference between an expensive bottle and more reasonably priced champagne, see my article from New Year’s Eve 2012.  Hint: no real difference.

The bottom line in the opinion of their expert:  "Men hate it because they feel obligated to top themselves. ... Women hate it because they always hate the gifts they get or, somehow it wasn't up to their expectations. So nobody's happy."  Well, that outcome is surely worth an average of $147!  Get some perspective, people!

It seems to me that the whole concept of Valentines Day, contrived or not, is about relationships; and the bedrock of any solid relationship is the willingness to compromise.  The simple fact is that nobody is holding a gun to your head telling you what you must do for this particular "holiday."  The only wishes or opinions that count are yours and those of your partner in the relationship.  And those wishes should be negotiable.

Why don’t more people take the time to discuss options instead of relying on assumptions about a loved one's expectations, expectations that may be driven by the pressure from society and advertising?  That is a reactive, not a deliberate, approach.  You do have options.  You could ignore Valentine’s Day completely.  You could celebrate it on a different day, before or after retailers have manipulated prices to deceive those among us who muddle through life in a trance, letting other people make the rules for them.  You could give a non-traditional gift.  (I bought my wife a new yoga mat for Valentine's Day, and she was very pleased; because it was exactly what she wanted, and it was on sale, not marked up.)  Is it in any way unreasonable to suggest and discuss a different type of gift or different timing?  Military families, for example, often have to move holidays and special occasions to a more convenient time rather than a specific day on the calendar.

The most important thing is to find a solution that fits your individual relationship, not one dictated by outsiders that, as shown above, often leaves people frustrated and angry, and that gives some unscrupulous retailers another opportunity to rip us off.  It may be too late for this year, but next year get some perspective and take back some control.  You can’t be price-gouged without your permission.

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