Friday, January 16, 2009

Temptation, the bane of January

I had a close encounter with temptation today. Ordinarily, I’m not an aimless shopper, out to tempt myself by just wandering through stores. But I walked through a grocery store this morning, not to shop, but to get warm. The power went out in our neighborhood on the coldest day of the year. We had work to do, so we grabbed our laptops and headed for the free wifi at the store. Which they must keep at 60 degrees so the fruit doesn’t rot. After a few minutes inside, I was freezing. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I took a hike around the inside of the store. I wandered down one aisle and saw all the candies for Valentine’s Day, which is nearly one month away. But like most Americans in the middle of January, I am on a diet at the moment. Which I could blow by buying this supposedly seasonal candy. Because there’s a holiday in every month. There’s always an excuse to overindulge.

It’s the same with electronics. There’s always a sale on at Best Buy. Apple always has some wonderful new product I could purchase. Or maybe it’s time to get a satellite radio. Or perhaps I’ll go to the home improvement barn and decide that now is the time to replace my completely functional but old-fashioned-looking powder room sink and faucet. Heaven help me if I get caught looking at those new washing machines and dryers. Or maybe I’ll take that key the car dealership mailed me, and pop in and see if it starts the car they’re giving away. Of course sales people will surround me like flies, and try to tempt me to take advantage of the deals on cars available these days. Still, this is probably the best moment since the 1973 oil crisis to negotiate an automobile purchase.

We live in a land of plenty. We have a monetary system that makes it possible to eat and keep a roof over our heads even if we’re in debt. We can buy comfortable personal transportation with mere pennies down, all borrowed money. We can throw out functioning appliances and essential home furnishings just because they’re not this year’s style or color. But can we afford to? Not merely in money spent or debt piled up, but in closed off possibilities because we ignored important goals in favor of futile, fleeting pleasures. After all, Valentine’s Day chocolates are just everyday candy in a red wrapper. A new car is only new for a year. And for every electronic must-have of today, there are a half-dozen passé pieces that each of us has relegated to a drawer: pagers, cell phones, PDAs, and more. We could have financed tuition for college, a trip to an exotic land, or a reunion with far-flung family for what we have frittered away on temptations large and small.

In the world of commerce, it is always time to feast. But buying simply because we want something, because some other entity has decided we should feast, is not a good idea. It’s up to each of us to shape our own future irrespective of all the commercial pressures to buy, buy, buy. Did I get any Valentine’s Day candy? No. And I’m not going to rip out my sink this month, either, or get a new car. Once the power came back on, I was glad to go home and leave temptation behind. If you don’t want to lose your focus on your own goals, try not to be around temptation any more than necessary.

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