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Is Thanksgiving Being Taken Over by Consumerism?

Published November 22, 2021

7 minute read

David Ning

By David Ning

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. It’s one of the simplest of holidays. You can celebrate it without a lot of fuss — and without the need for elaborate décor or expensive presents. Thanksgiving has long been considered a holiday mostly untouched by consumerism. After all, what is less consumer-based than gathering with family and expressing gratitude?

Unfortunately, times are changing. Consumerism seem to be slowly but surely encroaching on Thanksgiving. With the exception of the pandemic (when physical stores were completely shut down), retailers have been pushing to expand store hours for years. There is no longer any pretense that Thanksgiving is sacrosanct. These days, it’s all about moving on to Black Friday as quickly as possible.

Profits Above Everything

I think it’s a shame that Thanksgiving is being pushed aside in the name of the almighty dollar. How many of us are giving in to tendencies toward mindless consumerism in the rush to “get a good deal”? This is a time of year that prompts people to spend money first, ask questions later.

Our normal conscious spending seems to basically disappear once the holiday shopping season starts. And that season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. It’s already been weeks since I started getting holiday deal offers. In fact, I got an email in late October that already claims to be offering Black Friday deals. Come on! Isn’t that a little too early?

What About Gratitude?

The point of the modern Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day in which we express gratitude and give thanks for all that we have. It’s a time to be with family and share. The idea of Thanksgiving is one of giving, not of taking.

While Thanksgiving can get expensive without proper planning, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. For some, the Thanksgiving dinner is a group effort, in which multiple people bring items to share. You shouldn’t have to go crazy with your Thanksgiving spending.

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The Giving Message is Slipping Away

Pro-consumerism trends seem to be running roughshod over Thanksgiving. Rather than taking a day (just one day!) to banish the consumer culture, we no longer even get the full 24 hours. But we can’t blame stores alone. Clearly there is a demand for the stores to be open. They are still making money, obviously, or else they would close. Unfortunately, there will likely still be people happy to give up family time in queue up for the latest door crasher item at Best Buy or Walmart

The fact that so many people want to shop on Thanksgiving has a ripple effect. It means that employees are also needed to staff stores, taking them away from their own families too. The whole thing takes what is supposed to be a day of thanks and reflection and turns it into just another shopping day — a greed-fest in which people (sometimes literally) fight over items that really aren’t that great.

Celebrate Thanksgiving Thoughtfully

Thanksgiving Day is approaching. I know the grocery list is growing longer, but are you going to succumb to the pressure of the holiday consumerism? From food purchasing and preparation, to travel and accommodations (plus gift shopping for Christmas), you’re probably spending quite a bit of money this time of year.

Make sure to plan for it in your budget. Yes, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate and be thankful, not to be pinching pennies or worrying about money. However, a bit of prudent financial planning will allow you to do just that, without stressing about the bottom line. Hopefully these tips for saving money on Thanksgiving will help.

Don’t Buy More, Don’t Buy Less

If you’re concerned about what Thanksgiving dinner is going to cost you, you aren’t alone. The cost of putting out a traditional spread is projected to be much higher than last year, due to inflation. And that’s if you even had a Thanksgiving gathering last year, since many of us skipped it due to the pandemic.

You may have to spend more on your turkey due to higher food prices, but don’t go too crazy and overspend. Remember all the previous years where there are plenty of leftovers? Base your meal planning on how many people you’ll be serving, not simply on what you’ve always made. Leftovers are great if you can use them before they spoil, but there’s no need to be wasteful. Think carefully on the portions from past experience and use that as a guideline.

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Make It Yourself

There are plenty of ways you can save money on the Thanksgiving meal. If you want to trim back your spending, consider making everything yourself. It will probably taste better and be healthier for you while saving you up to 75% of the cost of prepared foods.

Besides, handing down family recipes and spending time in preparing the meal will only increase your enjoyment of the holiday. Plus, food you prepare are often healthier for your body. The food won’t be filled with additives and chemicals that may give some people a headache. At the very least, you won’t have to continually reach for water because you feel so thirsty from all the MSG.

Try Pot Luck Instead

Anyone who’s ever hosted Thanksgiving will tell you that cooking for a big group is one of the most complicated tasks ever. From planning portions to buying ingredients, to the actual cooking and serving, it can take a whole week or even two of planning to actually be ready for the big day. Even worse, it’s usually just one or two people in the house doing all the work.

Since there are often multiple families that come together for a Thanksgiving dinner, why not share the workload? You can’t really share responsibilities for the turkey. However, you can definitely have your guests be in charge of dessert, various side dishes, or appetizers. You can even go pot luck on the drinks, putting someone in charge of the bar. And if you have a family member that simply cannot cook to save their life? It’s not unreasonable to ask them to chip in with a small cash donation towards the more expensive parts of the meal.

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Consider Thanksgiving Meal at a Church

For those who need it, there are plenty of opportunities to get a meal. Many churches understand that times may be tight for some, so they offer Thanksgiving meals for the masses. For some, it’s an opportunity to share a meal together with others. For others, it’s an opportunity to celebrate thanksgiving without busting the budget.

It’s also a great opportunity to volunteer, if you can budget in the time. It’s not a lot of work, and you are helping make a real impact on the local community. So whether you need to receive a bit of charity this Thanksgiving, or you’re willing to donate to those who do, look to your local worship centers.

Travel: Plains, Trains or Automobiles?

Thanksgiving Day travel can be a large contributor to your costs for the whole event. So don’t fail to account for travel expenses in your budget — especially since both airfare and train ticket prices have gone up significantly. If you have a choice and don’t mind planning for more travel time, it will probably be more cost-efficient to drive to your destination this Thanksgiving. On the other hand, gas isn’t exactly cheap these days either.

Planes and airports are expected to be ultra-packed this season. You should probably factor in how comfortable you are among crowds, since we’re still in a pandemic. Of course, you shouldn’t just assume that airfares will to high to handle. Check last minute prices and compare them to the expense of driving (fuel, wear and tear on your car, potential hotel expenses). Flying might actually be cheaper.

What About Christmas Gifts?

Black Friday Cyber Monday are likely the best chances to score a deal, if you are looking for a gift. However, there’s no need to go and wait in line. Almost all of the deals are available online, so you won’t ever need to step foot into the chaos and fight traffic.

However, there’s a good chance you want to get the kids’ shopping done early this year. This is especially true if there’s one specific toy that the kiddo really wants. That’s because almost everything popular is expected to be sold out, with the supply chain fiasco and all. If you are absolutely dead set on a specific gift, then I suggest you try to find it early.

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Be Grateful

Finally, if you don’t do anything else at all, do this: Be thankful! Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday but it can also be very stressful. Studies have shown that simply taking the time to remind yourself about what you’re grateful for can be therapeutic.

It’s really simple to do. Just get a pen and paper and write down two things you are grateful for every day. Alternatively, you can also type it out on the screen (use a notepad app on your smartphone) or even say it out loud. You’ll be happier and less stressed out. That alone can help you control wasteful spending.

What Will You Do This Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Day only comes once a year. Don’t let tight finances keep you from enjoying it. Plan ahead and make this year’s feast even better than before. Just keep in mind that the time spent with your family will always be worth the expense.

There’s nothing wrong with getting deals and enjoying the best prices. However, I still maintain that I want my Thanksgiving to be an island of repose in the midst of a consumer-driven holiday season. I don’t overly get excited about shopping any time of the year, to be honest. Even still, it seems like all this excitement over shopping on Thanksgiving is a bit much. Maybe it’s just me.

Of course, it’s my choice. I don’t need to participate in the rampant consumerism (and I won’t). If enough people stayed home, maybe the stores would actually close and employees could enjoy the day with their families too. What about you? What do you think? Are the deals on Thanksgiving worth venturing out for?

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David Ning

Experienced Finance Writer

David is a published author, entrepreneur and a proud dad. He firmly believes that anyone can build a solid financial foundation as long as they are willing to learn. He runs MoneyNing.com, where he discusses every day money issues to encourage the masses to think about their finances more often.

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