Consumer has funny feeling she's being watched

December 06, 2010|Susan Reimer

I am doing my holiday shopping and feeling eyes on me. I am being watched.

Not by Santa, who might be expected to check to see whether I am naughty or nice.

And not by the guys at the other end of the security cameras at the mall.

No — I am doing my holiday shopping with the eyes of the nation upon me. Only if I am seen hauling shopping bags to the car will the country begin to believe the recession is over.

Who am I, that anyone would want to watch me? I am a typical American consumer, and I am the straw that stirs the drink that is the American economy. And Christmas is my time to shine.

If 70 percent of the gross national product is consumer purchasing, and if 20 percent to 25 percent of those purchases are made in the Christmas season, that is reason enough for everybody to be keeping a close eye on my doings.

Apparently, I give mixed signals. It isn't clear whether my online shopping is instead of mall shopping or in addition to mall shopping. But it looks like I might spend $22 more this year than last, and the people watching me are pleased.

However, it took really deep discounts — and free shipping — to get me to open my wallet at all, because I am not very confident. Not very confident the economy will improve. Not even fully confident I will have a job in 2011.

Oh, I have been spending, all right. Like my brother and sister consumers, I have been fixing my porch or my downspouts or my daughter's car. I have been buying food and fuel and paying medical bills.

But if you have been watching carefully, you haven't seen me do much discretionary spending — and that's what drives an economy based on unnecessary consumption.

I am not confident (there's that word again) enough to spend money on a big-screen TV or a new digital camera or an iPad. Wait until those watching me look under my Christmas tree; then they will see just how insecure I am feeling.

My credit card companies are watching me, too. They are watching all of us.

In the spring, they told me my credit limits had been cut by half or two-thirds. Now I am getting letters from them saying, "We missed you!" and offering me discounted interest rates if I run up my credit cards again.

The same people who don't want government to do any spending are watching me — hoping I do. The same people who are frantic about the national debt would welcome the news that I am spending myself into the poor house.

The Chinese are watching me because if I don't buy their cheap goods for Christmas, they won't purchase "my" machine tools, aircraft or automobiles.

The retail workers and the UPS drivers are watching me because I might be the difference between a holiday job and a permanent job in the new year.

Everybody is watching me because they are hoping I do what they haven't been able to do, hoping that I kick-start the economy with my Christmas shopping.

That's a lot of responsibility.

I am watching all this watching go on and wondering: Why me?

Why does it have to be me racking up charges at the mall to make this country solvent again? Do I have to do everything myself?

Yeah? Well, just watch me.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is

    Baltimore Sun Articles
    Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.