Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Recession? And Other Money Questions

We just got back from a restaurant that does not bill itself as a sports bar, though from my seat in the “quiet” section, I could see seven (7!) TV screens showing pro football games. The whole place teemed with adults shouting instructions to favorite players and cheering touchdowns, and children playing tag in the aisles. No blast horns or cow bells, but otherwise very much a stadium ambience. What surprised me ~ besides overhearing intensely serious, loud arguments about tight ends ~ was that the restaurant was so crowded.  From what I hear on the news, families are hurting financially.

Two weeks ago, I met a girlfriend for lunch on a Monday and was also surprised to find a full-to-overflowing restaurant. Eating out twice in one month is rare for me; and maybe it is for the people I saw in these restaurants, too. I can’t know if they’re charging these meals on credit cards they can’t pay off; I hope not. Perhaps they also know having someone else cook and serve their meals is an indulgence and they've budgeted for this treat. I have no way of knowing. I'm just seeing individual restaurants, not the big picture like summaries of how many more meals Pacific Garden Mission serves in recent years. I know appearances can be deceiving. But still, every time I’ve gone out to eat during this recession, I see crowds. And I wonder, “What recession?” 

Almost every week now, one of our inch-high stacks of mail-order catalogs includes a Hammacher Schlemmer wish book. Among many handy gadgets and fun toys priced relatively reasonably, they advertise a $35,000 arcade game and a $65,000 emotive robotic avatar. Do not confuse this with the $2,400 acrobatic robot. Their cheapest “stocking stuffer” items are socks priced at $19.95, $29.95, and $49.95. Oh, and the practical hands-free over-ear book light at $24.95. Not bad. When I think of stocking stuffers, however, I’m thinkin’ … oh, maybe $5 tops for each, since a Christmas stocking usually holds four to five small gifts. When I was a kid, I loved opening stocking gifts of pencils and little candies and fruit. Yes, a $200 iPhone fits in a stocking, but is that really the idea behind Christmas stockings? If only this recession could help us remember gratefulness for simple gifts ...

Remember when pre-Christmas newspapers and magazines offered helpful gift ideas “under $10”? More recently, they gave gift ideas “under $20” or “under $25.” This year, year three of our country’s recession, the articles help me find gifts “under $50.” What on earth are you thinking, Mr. or Ms. Newspaper Editor? Especially this year. With 2011 grocery prices skyrocketing, most everyone I know is cutting back on gift buying. Let’s go back to gift ideas under $10, please.

Did you read about the recent windfall for Pittsburgh drivers? A courier van’s door blew open, allowing about $100,000 in cash to float out. Last I read, only about $400 has been returned by honest citizens. How can the rest of the recipients not understand that what they picked up is not theirs to keep? It belongs to someone else! I have to wonder if our government-sponsored culture of trying to get something for nothing in lotteries and casinos might have contributed to this sad scenario. Back in the day … people actually believed the saying “There ain’t no free lunch,” and they earned their money. A good work ethic was something worth striving for. Now, after decades of watching state and local governments get income by encouraging people to gamble for other people’s money, apparently we think a free lunch not only exists, but now it's also our goal. No matter the degree to which the country’s current recession has affected the drivers who picked up that cash from the road, they can’t believe it is theirs to keep. Please tell me these people will do the honest thing. Please.


tandemingtroll said...

According to the government, the economy is improving, though I wonder how much is due to Christmas shopping. And you might be seeing an influx of people due to the Christmas season, too.

However, I do know of a family that eats out all the time. They know that eating out means they can't do other things, but that is where they choose to spend their money.

We have been eating out more on days where the restaurant will give some of the money to our cub scout pack. And because it helps our boys, we spend a little bit more than we usually would and enjoy the leftovers.

AquaJane said...

Good points, Kris.

Mary Sorrentino said...

Oh my gosh! I thought maybe it was just in the suburbs of Atlanta, but I guess it's everywhere. Paul and I often use the exact same words when we go and have a 20 minute wait in a casual dining restaurant on a Wednesday night! "What recession?"

I believe that people are just tired of doing without, and in this day and age, that means eating at home (Hmm... What happened to doing without meaning stretching the pot roast to feed a family of 8 for 2 meals?) I'm also amazed at the number of young families for whom "doing without" means keeping their old (1-2 years old) I-pod instead of getting the latest and greatest, or "making due" with their current 40" flat screen instead of getting the new 52" or 65".

It will be very interesting to see what the outcome of this record-breaking Christmas shopping season is. How much of the massive spending is being done on credit, and whether or not in the long haul it makes any difference at all, with unemployment frozen at 9+% and our massive debt piling up like mounds of snow in a Chicago blizzard. Too bad it won't melt like the snow does!