In the current economy I have learned to appreciate an activity akin to window shopping. I call it shop-lifting. I go to shop but lift my consciousness and character awareness more than my wallet. For instance, the other day I was standing in line at the Card Factory Store when I overheard a customer behind me explain the items spilling out of her hands.
“My husband’s 50th birthday is coming up. So, we decided to write 50 things we love about him and put them in a decorative vase he can keep on his desk at work,” she said.
Now that’s a gift! I thought. Cheaper than the latest iPad or the next high-tech communication gadget, but a communication of something so much greater – love.
It reminded me of when I was on a shopping fast in November, following the advice of financial fitness guru Michelle Singletary. She suggested a 30-day no-spending fast. She also suggested that you not even go into stores, tempting yourself. I did not want to over-deprive myself. So, I went into stores with the idea that I could only lift ideas and enjoy the experience of exchange by watching others engage in it.
Once, while in a dollar store browsing near the check-out, I overheard the cashier’s conversation with a customer and became intrigued.
“Your hair is beautiful. Were you always blond?” she asked.
“Yeah. Since I was a little boy,” he said.
For starters, I never knew people’s hair changed colors except for turning gray. So, without spending a dime, I learned something. But there was more as I listened.
“My husband’s hair used to be dark like his,” she said, pointing to another customer. “But as he got older it turned white. It’s beautiful.”
It sounded like she enjoyed growing old with her husband. I found that encouraging for my own marriage. Encouragement – free.
I moved to the back of the store so I could whip out my pocketbook journal and make a note. But while I was back there I noticed something else. A family – parents and kids – talking about what else they should put in their “gift baskets.” Curiosity got the best of me and I drew on my old reporting skills to find out more.
They belonged to the Chesapeake Christian Fellowship Church, which sends Christmas gift baskets to “third world” countries. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, is in charge. The mother, father, and their two sons, each carried a box filling it with toys, candy, and other treats.
“We have a lot, so why not give to somebody else?” the mother told me when I asked about their motivation.
Without spending a dime, I was inspired, and reassured that we’re not all a bunch of self-seeking, greedy, can’t-get-enough, no good people in America.
Shopping without spending allowed me to collect encouragement and inspiration that lifted my spirits higher than a new pair of heels would have lifted my frame.
Another day during the 30-day spending fast, I went into a gift shop, browsing for ideas of gifts I might buy in the future. Instead, I got a great idea of a gift book I can create. I rushed home to write down my idea and more inspiration flowed. I followed up with a little research about how to market it. Made a list of publishers to pitch it to.
I had loved shopping, justified it as retail therapy for so long, I am pleasantly surprised and thoroughly delighted these days to experience shopping of another sort. I spend less money these days, enjoying so many other aspects of the shopping experience. I chat with the store workers now. I laugh at their jokes. I enjoy samples at food stores and have outgrown my shyness about asking for a sample before I buy something. Guilt.
Yesterday I was browsing Whole Food, which I love because of the abundance of samples at the ready. After a few samples of fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh squeezed lemonade, chocolate-cherry coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and toffee-covered pretzels, I really was hungry for a purchase. I bought only a $3 jar of tomato sauce and left without feeling guilty. The guilt I may have felt for enjoying so many samples and spending so little cash was lifted as I realized the store did what it intended to do, which was provide a customer with an experience that would ensure my return again and again, and I did what I intended to do, which was – spend more wisely.
In the interest of full disclosure, when I was a kid, I was once caught shoplifting, in the criminal sense. I had everything basic I needed at home, food, water, shelter, family support. But I envied my friends who had designer clothes and Tinker Bell lotion and lip gloss. I stole Tinker Bell lip gloss and lotion and got caught. Thankfully, my mother did not find out until I told her years later.
Shop-lifting this new way is alleviating my envy of others who still seem to have more – more job security, a bigger house, more financial wealth, etc. I am realizing that I have so much more than I realized. My mother tried to tell me this, of course. She insisted that I shop in my own closet. Now I, do that, too. I realize that I have all the pieces and colors to create my favorite look for any occasion. I also realize that I have things to give away. I have more than I “need.”
What are you shopping for? Beyond the basics, what are you really hungry for?