The missus insisted that we celebrate “World Ice Cream day” with an act that would make all the ice creams in the world proud. The store manager at the local Baskin & Robbins parlour was definitely pleased with our generous order (two big buckets; takeaway) and complimented us for doing the right thing on this very honourable day. The idea was rather simple; an ice cream after every meal during the day. Unfortunately due to some flaws in execution, the ice cream became the meal. So we ended up consuming more than our month's quota of sweet, 100 per cent vegetarian, unadulterated fat, in a single day. The impact - an involuntary scream followed by a near fainting experience, after stepping on the weighing scale the next day.
I wonder who is the real beneficiary from all these special occasions; be it events of international origin such as Father's day, Mother's day, Friendship day, Valentine's day, World Ice cream day or our very own traditional Indian occasions such as Aadi, Akshaya Tritiya etc. No doubt these celebrations inculcate festive spirit and bring people together, but the trend of late is something of a concern.
My first concern is the rapid increase in the number of special occasions. I mean, where was World Ice Cream day few years back? It appears as if every year there's some new “special” day being added to the already long list of special occasions in the calendar. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but can't help imagining a mysterious Wizard of Oz, continuously churning out new concepts for celebration, from some secret factory, with ulterior motives behind each idea.
My second concern is commercialisation of special occasions. Every special occasion, it appears, invariably requires spending of some kind, as a means to celebrate. In fact, statistics collected from the United States reveal that special occasions are now a major driver of national consumer spending. I wouldn't be surprised if the same holds true for India. Is the increasing consumer spending on special occasions the reason why more of them are created and promoted? For example, take the festival of Akshaya Tritiya widely celebrated in South India and considered to bring good luck and success. But today, this festival has become synonymous with the materialistic act of buying gold. The period surrounding this day probably records the highest retail sales in the country. Investing in Gold per-se may not be a bad idea, but why buy gold for the sake of Akshaya Tritiya? And why do it every year, irrespective of the price of gold?
It's not surprising that retailers go all out to grab eye balls, increase footfall and maximise sales during such special occasions. Even banks plan special funding schemes or offers on credit cards to enable you to shop more, during special occasions, and pay later (with interest of course). Although what we see is only the ads blitzkrieg with colourful and attractive offers welcoming you to join the celebration. Behind the scenes, firms actually start planning months ahead about how to generate more sales from special occasions and have internal targets to outdo the previous year's benchmarks. The best part is, while the retailer is laughing all the way to the bank, most consumers are oblivious to this fact.
My third concern is herd mentality and the impact of peer pressure. Just like how I got cajoled by the missus into celebrating Ice-cream day (by eating out of a bucket), increasingly people feel nudged or even compelled to buy gifts, because it's a special occasion, even though they see through the commercial facade. As a result, the custom of shopping for gifts and spending on special occasions is further getting reinforced and is progressively becoming more accepted, creating a cycle for good or bad. “Good” because consumer spending helps drive the economy and “Bad” because celebratory spending often leads to overspending.
You don't need to be a Scrooge and stop spending on special occasions, but a healthy habit would be to ask oneself if it's really worth spending on. My two cents worth: Celebrate with your heart, but think with your mind about how much you are spending on it. Otherwise there is a likelihood of repenting after the event.
The writer is a finance specialist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.shyamscolumn.com.