No Holds Barred: Making it through Full-Blast Holiday Sale Hell!

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Detail of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1515.

Let’s face it, this exhausting holiday season started last July. The hard sell originated after Independence Day. I was getting “dings” on my phone hourly for hot “Xmas in July” sales from stores I never knew. It didn’t feel like the world was in a financial wobble — despite grocery prices skyrocketing, mortgages at nosebleed levels and overblown restaurant tabs.

We are now in full-blast holiday sale Hell, and it’s never looked more desperate. Look at Neiman Marcus’s latest Christmas Catalog which always made news with outrageous gift features. Their biggest offer for $510,000? You get to be made into a Disney “character” in an animated short. You get a tour of Disney Studios and a chance to hang out with the creative team. But aren’t we already living cartoons of ourselves? Where’s the lift off?

Your Wish Come True: A Disney Animation Experience. Yours for only $510,000!

Or for $195,000 you can “dance” (do a walk on) with the American Ballet Theatre. You get to rehearse with the dancers, present flowers to the lead dancer at the finale, and keep your own ballet shoes. These two experiences are considered “a markdown” compared to Neiman’s holiday ideas of the past. But remember, “There’s fantasy in every gift.”

But regular retail started gunning their engines at Halloween. Predictions for record sales have been all over the place since retail has been dropping of late. Some lower income people are now tapped out of their savings, but higher income still has tons of stashed cash. It is hard to gauge. But let’s get real, how much stuff do we really need after the post COVID shoppalooza of the last two years?

I’m beginning to think everybody I know has EVERYTHING. Remember when it was so hard to gift that unique person who “has it all?” Nowadays … we all do. Just look at the Goodwill stores across the nation. A week after any holiday their bins are loaded. By January it will be a glut of pink Barbie paraphernalia and rip-off versions of Uggs.

Sometimes I find myself blaming Oprah for all the holiday credit card debt. Once she publishes her annual “Oprah’s Favorite Things” it becomes an Amazon Cyber Monday (and now “gift giving Tuesday”) blowout. And a lot of it is repeat items; running shoes, throw blankets, cross body bags, suitcases with removable wheels, hand wipes, colorful ear buds, cozy slippers and, of course, a lavender candle.

MUST HAVE Dock and Bay pet towels. Just say NO! (as tempting as it is!)

ENOUGH!! How many sport tank bras do you need, even if they are now 20% off. And what exactly is 20%. Is that such a deal? Isn’t that just the tax? So now, that TheraFace Pro microcurrent facial brush is a mere $319. Beats wireless headphones is “a steal” at $170. But don’t we already own at least some verions of these? And finally let’s not fall for the MUST HAVE Dock and Bay pet towels for a mere $24.

It’s bad enough with all the Thanksgiving food I didn’t eat. I tried pawning it off on anyone who came to my door. I even considered paying someone, but finally, a friend offered to toss it all in the outdoor garbage can. Regifting is getting hard to do. It made me think — with “giving” is it really the thought that counts. Or are we all just on a reject merry-go-round?

Sure, we all loved to shop. I get it. Especially this time of year it is all about that sport. But I lost my shopping chops when COVID hit. Frankly I haven’t gotten my mojo back. Shopping isn’t an escapist diversion anymore. I got older and the world changed. The holiday doesn’t look so “Ho Ho Ho” to me.

In fact, I liked the Wall Street Journal headline a month ago of “Ho Ho Huh?” The gist was, it is a bad signal for the economy that people aren’t spending money — but great for shopper’s discounts.

My Fly Orbb (don’t ask) came damaged and two months late.

And discounts rule. They always do. The only Christmas purchase I made was for the popular (probably the 2023 Xmas gift) — Fly Orbb. How great I thought — a drone that spins, climbs and floats and flashes colors — marked down from $50 to a mere $27!! I ordered it in September. I just received it, badly packaged and shipped from China. It was semi-damaged. I can’t even regift it. But yesterday, I saw a stack of them at Home Depot for $9 a globe. I can see these piling up in a Goodwill bin already.

I have always been advised never to pay full price on anything. Wait for the sale. Everything gets reduced at some point. By Christmas Eve everything is slashed to 75%. But at that point, isn’t the thrill gone? And what is left is damaged.

I’m not an economist, but I can feel the recent financial ebbs and flows. I didn’t spend $15,000 on a Taylor Swift concert or a blowout trip to the Greek islands. For many, “experiences” are the hot ticket. Music festivals and concerts at $800 a ticket are winning over handbags and shoes. As long as the “pricey experience” can live up to the hype — consumers will be there.

The time doesn’t feel right to be left with only a T-shirt as a souvenir.

“Adventures” bring more bang for the buck than STUFF. And especially traveling … until you get stuck for five hours in an airport delay debacle or that Ritz Carlton suite escape was eclipsed by disappointing service. Buyer’s remorse can even arrive after blowing $150 for a gourmet pizza. Those old “feel good” YOLO blowout purchases can hit rock bottom — especially now.

In the last two weeks of this consumer frenzy, I watched my phone tally 60 sale notifications in an hour!! I felt like I was being stalked! Harassed! It made me reconsider “the fun” of shopping — “the joy” of spending.

I used to get a weird kick out of those reports on Black Friday’s door busting stampedes for 90-inch TV screens. Talk about shopping as a blood sport.

But those days are gone. Now Black Friday (imagine we still call it that) is every day. And the rash of smash and grab store thievery has taken over those Black Friday “running of the bulls.”

Those were the days!

But get ready … get your shopping game faces back on for the post-holiday sales which will be up and running by December 31st. Personally I am looking for a gadget that can block all sales notifications on my devices.

Oprah, can you help me with that?!

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