By Michael Rau
December 9, 2008
I'm feeling a bit lost this week.
Normally, this is the time of year when writers in my field are putting out their holiday buying guides for cool tech toys. But since our nation's current fiscal crisis can be directly tied to overindulgence, I feel compelled to encourage readers to think small this year.
Technology, particularly the Internet, can be a huge help in this pursuit.
First off, I'd like to say that there is no amount of money you can spend that will mean as much to someone (other than small children who will always be disappointed that they didn't get everything on their list to Santa) as a thoughtful, personal gift.
For example, I recently used the Internet to track down a 40 year old book that I thought would have meaning to my mother. I found it through Abe Books, an online book broker associated with small used book dealers throughout the country. I got the book for $10, plus $6 shipping.
There are two points to this anecdote: No amount of money I might spend would have produced a more meaningful gift, and I could never have found this book locally. The Internet made it easy.
Surfing the Web can help you save money in a multitude of ways.
Although the price of gas has come down considerably, you can save fuel, as well as wear and tear on your vehicle, by trying to do all your shopping online.
Even if you want to get your gift locally, every chain store (and not a few local businesses) now has a Website where you can look for merchandise, pay for it online, and often arrange to pick it up at the local store at a time of your convenience.
In my holiday column from 2006 (http://dailypress.asoundidea.com/Columns/120406.html), I wrote about using the Web to find the best prices available. This applies now more than ever.
Sites like PriceGrabber, BizRate, Google Shopper, PriceScan, and NextTag constantly scan retailers' Websites to compile comparisons on prices for most anything you can imagine.
I also still love Amazon. The system they have in place functions similarly to the sites above, but take it a step further by centralizing the check-out process. In other words, you can go on their site, choose merchandise that will come from several different retailers, and pay for it all at once when you check out.
I also love the fact that so much of their merchandise (provided you spend $25) ships for free.
And speaking of free shipping, more online retailers than ever are offering such service as they compete for customers, so make sure you include shipping costs (or the lack thereof) when looking for the best deal.
But these are just methods for finding the best prices on things or saving gas. What I'd really like to advocate is that this year, in light of the state of our economy, we think in terms of simplicity and sentimentality, rather than cost.
This makes the column I wrote last year (http://dailypress.asoundidea.com/Columns/121707.html) more meaningful now than then.
In that column, I suggested going to sites such as Archie McPhee, Johnson Smith, or Edmund Scientifics, and choosing what, for want of a better term, are just “toys”.
I can think of no greater gift we can provide to those who matter the most to us than a smile or laughter.
If you know someone faced with the cold reality of our contracting economy, what do you think might take their mind off their concerns and bring a smile to their face – a sweater or an electronic yodeling pickle (an actual item from Archie McPhee)?
Some other tech-based ideas that can fit the bill:
How about a cheap mp3 player (you can find them for $10) preloaded with “your song”.
Maybe you'd like to consider a gift membership to a DVD service such as NetFlix or Blockbuster.
Although I still think they're a bit pricey, a digital photo frame pre-loaded with pictures the recipient would find meaningful would probably be a deeply appreciated gift.
My point is simply this:
Whatever circumstances you find yourself in this holiday season, I don't think just going out and spending money on a ton of consumer trash will make you feel good, or have anywhere near the emotional impact as giving something simple and inexpensive that truly comes from the heart.
Some say that it's more important than ever that you go out a spend money to prop up the sagging economy. That's tripe. It is, in fact, more important than ever, and utterly honorable, that we live within our means.
So put a little thought into the message you wish to convey this holiday season, then choose a gift based on meaning rather than cost.
Technology can be a great ally in prudent shopping, so use it to choose that one simple thing that will make a heartfelt impact on someone you love. I promise you'll come through the season feeling better about everything.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
Copyright © 2008, Daily Press