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From ‘buy nothing’ to retro toys: Contrarian Christmas

November 25, 2013

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James Gandolfini, left, and Ben Affleck star in Surviving Christmas.

Fourth-quarter sales at retailers, and consumer spending on other goods and services like holiday feasts and travel, are important components of the economy and legitimate stories for business writers.

But every once in a while you get that contrarian urge to rustle up something a bit different.   So with the annual shopping and consumption frenzy about to kick in with full force, here are a few ideas that might satisfy the craving for a quirky Christmas angle:

Buy-Nothing Day. 

That’s an alternate moniker for the shopping stampede that retailers have conjured up over the past decade or two with Black Friday earlybird deals and other gimmicks.  Buy-Nothing Day bills itself as a worldwide protest against consumerism, with the United States version taking place the day after Thanksgiving and elsewhere taking place the Saturday of that weekend.  It was created by Vancouver, Canada-based Adbusters, a social movement; here’s a link to the group’s site for last-year’s Buy-Nothing Day; apparently they aren’t quite up to speed for 2013 but perhaps that’s a story in itself.  Check the Twitter hashtag #occupychristmas as well.

You might seek out anti-consumption groups in your area, or people who are trying out The Compact — another movement which involves the pledge not to buy anything new for an entire year — here’s a link to their Yahoo! Group page — and it might be interesting to run a personal finance piece about how people involved in these pledges handle the holidays.   How to find these people?  Here’s a state-by-state map of frugal bloggers from the Money Saving Mom site; no guarantee they’re doing The Compact but you might get leads.  BuyNothingNew.org, which appears to be a personal blog, also posts a list of minimalists’ sites and blogs; you might check them for leads to folks in your area.

Practical presents. 

In a similar vein, interesting gift themes like re-gifting, exchanging used goods only (items from thrift stores, used books, or even personal possessions the giftee has admired) are things I’ve read about over the years and that might make interesting fodder for personal finance and small business stories. (Are resale shops, old book stores and eBay sellers in your area doing better or worse this holiday season, and what does that say about consumers and/or the economy?)  I’ve seen some signage that promotes regifting, modeled on the “reduce-reuse-recycle” emblems, but one site, Brain Pickings, is taking it to a new level with an “I Endorse Regifting” free downloadable icon suitable for cards, wrapping paper and the like, it meshes the red “cause” ribbon with a heart and the cyclical arrows of the recycling theme.


Personal finance pieces generally focus on over-spending at the holidays; in the contrarian vein you might want to look at how tightwads handle the holidays.  Here’s an interesting academic paper about people and their spending patterns. Here’s an article based on the same researchers’ findings; one story it suggests to me is the marketing tactics the prompt people to spend more than they planned.  The way “holiday” items are packaged, prices, displayed, etc.  — you might talk with experts in the advertising field, consultants, psychologists and others about how consumers can be cognizant of tactics aimed at boosting the size of their tab.

Back to basics. 

Even as electronics and gadgets steal the spotlight, I’ve seen displays of old-fashioned toys such as the Slinky along with wooden blocks, wooden trains and jacks.  This New York Daily News article says that retro toys are among the top in Google searches these days.  Is this a mini-backlash against video-everything and who’s leading it, parents or kids?   While you’re at it, look at how are independent toy stores faring; the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association might direct you to members in your market.

And if all this gets you in the mood for a Bah-Humbug Holiday, NPR has pulled together A Contrarian Christmas Movie list.


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