The Best Black Friday Deal Is Freedom

Fall visit to a local farm.

Fall visit to a local farm.

As Thanksgiving approaches each year, I find myself contemplating America’s beginnings. We all know there are some serious social problems with this nation’s roots—I’m not going to get into that today. But why did so many choose to immigrate here?

Freedom & opportunity.

Religious freedom, economic freedom, political freedom, social freedom, and the freedom to take new opportunities.

Certainly America hasn’t always come through on these promises. But I find it more than a little ironic that here we all are, a 240 years later, discussing financial freedom as if it were a novel concept.

When did the American Dream turn into an over-sized house and two over-sized cars, for over-worked, over-whelmed, (sometimes over-sized,) in-debt rich people? That doesn’t sound like freedom to me. In fact, the Proverbs aptly proclaim that “the borrower is slave to the lender.” American’s $11.85 trillion dollars worth of personal debt is the very antithesis of the original dream. (Of that total, $890.9 billion is credit card debt.)

farmer boy

Check out this Financial Freedom Manifesto, delivered over a century ago to an audience of two, and recorded in the final chapter of the classic children’s book Farmer Boy. The main character, Almanzo, was offered an apprenticeship by the wagon-maker. This would have secured his financial future, but at a price the title farmer boy is unwilling to take:

“You’d have to depend on other folks, son, in town. Everything you got, you’d get from other folks. A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent son, on a farm.”

As I read this to our four-year-old, I couldn’t help but think of the Financial Independence/Early Retirement movement. Farmer or not, people are longing for a long-gone freedom and are paying off debt, becoming self-employed, or “retiring” early to reclaim it.

My husband, an engineer by day and wannabe-farmer by evening, certainly resonates with some of this sentiment. As a diehard Little House fan, I hardly have grounds to disagree. But we both noticed the statement suggests the myth of the overly independent American. The apostle Paul improves upon Wilder’s description in his own Financial Freedom Manifesto:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

The True Secret to Financial Freedom is contentment. And what’s the secret to contentment? According to Paul earlier in the chapter, it’s gratitude and—not total independence–but dependence on the One who can meet our needs despite any circumstance:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6).

Secular sources are discovering this same truth. Just yesterday this New York Times piece highlighted research that demonstrates choosing to act grateful makes people feel happier.

So as we approach this Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the original American Dream, which was about freedom and opportunity rather than excess and consumerism. I’m not sure how the meaning of the holiday morphed from being thankful for survival to Black Friday hype, but let’s take a moment this year to be content with the food and covering that we have (1 Timothy 6:8). Let us thank the One who has entrusted us with these good gifts (James 1:17) and the many advantages we enjoy. After all, if you’re reading this weblog, you’ve most likely won the lottery of life.

Let us find the freedom that comes from contentment, discarding the nightmare of greedy materialism and the chase for an elusive “enough.” Here’s how I plan to celebrate the freedom of gratitude this Thanksgiving. I invite you to do the same:

Write down what you’re grateful for this week. Next time I catch myself comparing, complaining, or grumpy, I’ll look back on my Thankful List and–you guessed it–be thankful.

food drive 2

Give to the needy. One way to give thanks is to acknowledge how much we’ve been given and then to share. This year, my four-year-old son initiated a food drive “for hungry people.” I’ve been humbled by his reminder that not everyone has enough, and it’s worth working hard in part to have something to share (Ephesians 4:28). He’s been enduring “boring” chores like vacuuming and putting away silverware in order to earn money to buy food for the drive. Of course, there are many ways to give to the needy this holiday season, but I encourage you to volunteer time, money, food, talent, or whatever you have to give someone else a reason to give thanks.

Tell someone you love how much they mean to you. Too often we equate “thank you” with a pleasantry, and our expression of gratitude never goes beyond a polite recitation. Whether in person, on the phone, or in a hand-written note, find a way to dig deeper than a ritual and surprise someone with thankfulness that is specific, personal, and heartfelt.

Looks like we’ve all got our work cut out for us! I’ll let you get to your thanks-giving.

What are some other ways to keep the meaning of Thanksgiving in focus? Why do you think the “American Dream” shifted over time?

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30 Responses to “The Best Black Friday Deal Is Freedom”

  1. Hannah says :

    I love these suggestions, and it’s really wise to point out that the opposite of consumerism is gratitude and contentment rather than freedom. Love it.

  2. Holly says :

    I can’t stand Black Friday and plan to stay home again this year. It goes against everything Thanksgiving once stood for. I also hate crowds =/

  3. MrRicket says :

    Thanks for reminding me that I have so much. Also, I have realised that these days are just marketing excuses for us to spend more.

    Thanks for your article.


    • Kalie says :

      I suspect that a lot of the “Christmas shopping” that goes on during these highly marketed days is really “Christmas shopping for myself,” which again departs from the original meaning of these holidays.

  4. Cat says :

    We aren’t participating in Black Friday either. It’s actually a terrible way to “save money” because most people are wasting money instead of saving money.

    • Kalie says :

      Right–it seems that a lot of shopping is for the shopper, not even for other people’s gifts. And you’re not saving money if you don’t the item.

  5. Danielle says :

    In the past, I’ve used the big shopping days to inspire my gift-giving. It usually resulted in buying from end-caps and holiday displays. Usually these gimmicky presents were appreciated but, quickly forgotten.

    For the past few years, I’ve actually tried planning my shopping around unique gifts local artisans. I like engaging with the community instead of wandering big box stores.

    • Kalie says :

      Shopping locally is a great idea and it’s certainly nice to support community artists instead of big corporations. I imagine those gifts are treasured!

  6. Amy says :

    So true!! I was a die-hard Little House fan, too. My parents just brought my old books to me, and I plan start reading them to my daughter this winter. At the time that I read them and watched the TV show, I didn’t appreciate the lessons you pointed out, but as an adult working to pay off debt, I see them now! 🙂

    Oooh, I love those beautiful dahlias in the photo!!

    • Kalie says :

      I know, I missed a lot of these lessons as a kid, too. We are reading my mom’s book set to my son, though we might need to switch to library books so they don’t get ruined.

  7. DC YAM says :

    This is a totally dumb comment and off-topic but for whatever reason all I could think about was farm subsidies when I was reading the story about the farmer being completely independent. Can you tell I was a political blogger a few years back 😉 I think the most devastating thing about our debt is the fact that our economy is dependent on it. We are dependent on China borrowing and we are dependent on people consuming goods, regardless of whether they are of value or not. I think until we can come to terms with the fact that there IS bad consumption and that our economy needs savings, we are in big trouble.

    • Kalie says :

      Haha, your political blogging career has followed you! It is unfortunate that our economy depends on debt. Whenever I hear over-consumption as a solution to our economic problems, I think this is just not sustainable.

  8. Prudence Debtfree says :

    What a beautiful post! I was thinking, as I read the first part about Farmer Boy, that there is a fine line between freedom and extreme independence – but you addressed that point. I think that true freedom involves independence, interdependence, contentment, and gratitude. I think the shift towards consumerism happened after WWII, as many returned from a war that followed a decade of the Great Depression and turned to the pursuit of pleasure – both as a reaction against economic hardship and a self-medicating effort to avoid the psychological trauma of war.

    • Kalie says :

      Insightful point about how we got here. It makes sense and I certainly sympathize with the economic and emotional plight of that generation.

  9. Anne says :

    I enjoyed this post very much and agree whole heartedly. I think contentment is the key to gratitude and thankfulness.

  10. Abigail says :

    I think human nature is inclined to want the nicer things. It can be diverted by family teachings or church teachings, if you’re religious. But I’m sure secularization has helped people focus more on material things. And I’m completely secular, lest anyone say I’m trash talking religious folks.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that it’s part of human nature to want shiny things, and we all need reminders, regardless of the source, to focus on the bigger picture.

  11. Kristi with Femme Frugality says :

    Farmer Boy was my favorite book when I was a little girl!! There’s no question that you should strive for financial independence. Our goal as a family is to live on a completely self-sustaining homestead. That being said, however, I don’t see anything wrong with going shopping on Black Friday or any other day. I used to really enjoy Black Friday before it became crazy/morphed Thanksgiving day shopping instead. There is one item that I am looking to buy for my kids for Christmas this year and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use the Holiday deals to save at least $100-$150. I’m extremely grateful for everything that I have, and I’m not pushed by consumerism, but I have no problem enjoying going shopping on occasion.

    • Kalie says :

      Great to hear from another Farmer Boy fan!

      To clarify, I have no problem with individuals shopping on Black Friday. We’ve done it, and now I opt for Cyber Monday so I can be lazier! I’m using Black Friday as representative of our culture’s shift toward over-consumption. That’s great that you’re able to make the most of the sales while maintaining a balanced life.

  12. Femme Frugality says :

    Great sentiment! I loved reading that book as a kid. Too bad subsidation impacts farmers so heavily today.

    There is so much we can give, and I love the idea that it doesn’t have to be monetary. Happy belated Thanksgiving!

    • Kalie says :

      Farming has changed so much. I’d like to learn about the history behind the changes, especially as there is such a trend back toward homesteading.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  13. Catherine says :

    I really appreciate this article’s reference to the past as a model for what many of us are just realizing. I’m so often focused on modern life, as many of us are. I have NEVER actually contemplated the history leading up to the financial independence movement. Thank you!

  14. Our Next Life says :

    Love all of this, but most of all I love the reminder that “thank you” sounds like a pleasantry too often, so we have to go out of our way to express real gratitude to those we love and appreciate. We sure did our best to do that this past long weekend, but there are probably a few folks who might appreciate a follow-up email or card. 🙂

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