On Consumerism

The Friday after Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It has been referred to as “Black Friday” since at least 1966 (according to Wikipedia) because of “massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks” as shops were “mobbed from opening to closing.”

The Friday after Thanksgiving is also known to some as Buy Nothing Day, a day of protest against consumerism, which can be observed simply by staying home and eating leftovers. However, there are other ways to protest consumerism that will also save your sanity and perhaps even the environment. It is the perfect day to take a stand against junk mail.

A while back, I was fed up with the amount of junk mail that I was doing nothing with but moving from my mailbox to the recycling bin (through the paper shredder, when appropriate.) I did some research and found a few steps that cut it down dramatically. Here’s what I did:

  1. Opted out of pre-screened credit card offers. I used the FTC’s online form for this.
  2. Opted out of grocery ads. These usually come with a small postcard with a return address. A few moments of Googling for the sender usually sent me in the right direction to find an unsubscribe form.
  3. Put myself on the postal equivalent of the Do Not Call list. I used the DMA’s online form for this.

Now I hardly get any unsolicited mail, except when the postal carrier puts my neightbor’s grocery ads into my box by mistake. I know that some people watch their grocery ads religiously, clipping coupons and planning routes to score the best deals. That’s too much work for me. I will usually just go to the neighborhood supermarket on my way home, grab the few items that I’ll need for dinner, and be done with it.

Speaking of coupons, the self-checkout at the supermarket usually spits out a few coupons when I scan my customer loyalty card. By now, their database thinks it has me pretty well figured out: I get coupons for sinus pills and nutrition drinks. This supermarket’s loyalty card is the only one that I use anymore, and even then, I don’t carry it with me, as I can simply enter my phone number into the self checkout machine to get the discount. I used to carry dozens of loyalty cards, but that changed very recently.

Normally, retail outlets try to make it easy and convenient to subscribe to their loyalty card programs. You give your phone number to the cashier, who associates it with a card by swiping it against the scanner. You then fill out a postcard with your name and address and give it back to the cashier, or mail it in later.

I visited one shop that didn’t do it this way. They decided to eliminate the postcard. This may have been intended as some sort of cost cutting gesture or something; I don’t know. The result was that that I was required to spell my e-mail and street address, aloud, to the cashier. A frustrating and pointless waste of time for both of us.

As a result, I vowed two things: to never again visit that shop AND to never sign up for antother customer loyalty card. I would also throw away the cards I already had. And why shouldn’t I? Most of them were for shops that I rarely visited, though I received no shortage of e-blasts from each of them to inform me of this sale or that special offer— most of which I deleted unread. So I went through my inbox and clicked the Unsubscribe link in each and every one. Now the only e-blasts I get are of the shady sort that have no Unsubscribe links.

Another benefit of disposing with the loyalty cards is that my wallet is once again comfortably flat— the stack of cards to be destroyed was nearly an inch high.

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