The REAL housewives of Instagram – do they exist?

This morning, I listened to this episode of NPR’s The Hidden Brain in which they talked about the power of advertising. The idea being is that we are being advertised to and we don’t even realize it. They discussed a unique way of advertising to people through social media accounts such as Instagram. A light bulb went on inside my head, and immediately I thought, “Those mommy Instagrammers!” Their #ads and #sponsored content and how they show up every once in a while in my feed, talking about product ABC and how much it has improved their lives. Oh, the holy trinity of marketing have appeared in the supposedly simple lives of non-famous moms around the country.

For the past few years, ever since I became a mom, I entered the world of social media where I kicked Facebook to the curb and became active on Instagram. It was through photographers accounts and links in their accounts that I found many moms on Instagram. These moms are (no surprise there) white and middle class…at least, that’s what it appears to be from their pictures. They also appear to be stay-at-home moms, although that’s not always the case. Some moms do have jobs outside the home, but they don’t talk about their jobs. Instead, they post pictures of their glamorous, well-decorated “minimalist” home with fancy floor tiles and high end refrigerators and soft, comfy couches from West Elm. Even worse is when they post pictures of the outside of their homes–it makes you feel like the house you live in comparison is minuscule and ugly, because oh my gosh these homes are HUGE. It makes it seem like all they do all the time is decorate, decorate, and decorate.

Whether or not they actually occupy the majority of their home is unknown to me. Sometimes they display pictures or other household items that are so beautiful that I’d think, “Did they just buy that for the picture? Or clean it up for Instagram?” These acts, I realize now, are all tactics of implicit advertising.

Sometimes there would be links to other Instagram business accounts or coupon codes at checkout. For example, “I love these @briarhandmade bonnets! Avery loves it too. You can get one for your little one on their website for 20% off with the code SAVEME20 at checkout!”

Sounds familiar?

Yep, all this time I’ve been advertised to, and although I can’t say that I actually used any of the codes to save me money, but I have visited the business’s Instagram account as a result. And because I viewed their Instagram feed, I was tempted to follow them, so I did. It wasn’t until the other day I realized that I have followed over 100 accounts, and around 40 them are mommy accounts and/or business and mommy accounts (the ones who are moms who also have a business). And I wondered to myself, “How is this benefiting me? What joy do I get from seeing these perfect homes with their somewhat adorable children?” (Trust me, some of those kids are just downright ugly, but the moms sure know how to correctly take a photo of them in the right light so they appear to not be so ugly).

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Spring 2018

Armed with this knowledge, I decided to unfollow about 30 of them. The exception to that is photographers who are also moms whom I’ve never met and the moms that I’ve actually met in person (around five). I kept the photography-related feeds because as a photography enthusiast, I enjoy looking at beautiful pictures of landscapes and food. It gives me inspiration, whereas looking at the unattainable mom ideal in my feed gives me anxiety. After all, I am not a middle class, white mom in my mid-to-late thirties. I’m a lower class mom in my early thirties. I live in a small two-bedroom apartment, where I sleep on the couch with my husband (our kids occupy the two rooms for a reason), and our closets, bathroom, and kitchen are the size of a standard walk-in closet for most people.

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I love my kids, but I also don’t want to monetize them.

Just as the advent of Facebook and how people have expressed themselves online went in a downward spiral, I feel that Instagram is becoming that way too. Oftentimes, we are shown pictures of what is, when that is not really what truly is. Take, for example, one of the moms mentioned in the Hidden Brain podcast–despite having pictures of herself using the Google pixel phone, she is still an iPhone user, she admits. It makes me wonder just how much of it is just for show, and how much money these moms actually make every time they post something linking it to a product or another Instagram account.

With the popularity of parenting blogs, it feels like the “mommies of Instagram” is its own exclusive club, one that I’ve tried desperately to portray in the past five years. I’ve learned to edit my iPhone photos to reflect the light airiness of the things that I’m portraying and used hashtags to make sure people find me. But I have yet to figure out how an “average mom” from the suburbs can garner 50,000 followers when she doesn’t seem to have a blog, a professional portfolio or a website. I wish I knew. But at the same time, I am also glad to let them fade out of my feed forever.

 

Why are so many millenials hesitant to have kids?

On a cloudy Wednesday morning last month, I signed up to do some volunteering with my coworkers. About seven of us showed up, and after our task was completed, we walked to a restaurant across the street from the volunteer site for lunch. While waiting for the food, conversations began about a variety of topics. At one point, one of my coworkers, a 29 year old female, declared out loud that she felt no desire to have kids whatsoever.

“I mean, I love kids and all, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be a good mom, but I just don’t feel any need or want to have kids,” she said.

Another coworker, a white female in her mid-thirties, echoed the sentiment. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I feel like I’d rather be a very good aunt.”

A second coworker chimed in, “I’m still on the fence about it,” she said.

A few murmurs went around table. Of course, mine was not one of them. I remained silent. After all, I was the only person at that table who have kids. I felt like the odd (wo)man out.

When I was 23 years old, I got married. Fresh out of college, I married my high school sweetheart. We’d already been together for six years by that point. Like many smart twenty-somethings, we decided to wait a few years before having a kid. We figured we were still very young and not ready yet. Thus, we had a couple of years of childless freedom, where waking up at 9 a.m. was normal on the weekends, and we could go anywhere we wanted without having to consider logistics thoroughly, as one would often do when there is a kid involved.

When my daughter was born, I had just turned 28 ten days prior, and my husband was 26. Therefore, we thought we were pretty “normal.” We had reached at point where the consensus was, “Even though we’re not ready financially, we are ready mentally, so we’re going to do it.”

Jumping into parenthood in your late twenties was something that I thought everyone from my generation did. Little did I know that a few years later, I would come to discover that a lot of people from my generational cohort do not feel the same way.

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The reality is this–more and more people are delaying parenthood. Take, for example, in a recent survey done by Discover.com illustrates this ambivalence towards parenthood has a lot to do with age and people’s perception of their maturity. They found that out of 1000 people born between 1981 and 1997, the older the person the more “ready” they feel for parenthood. Feeling like you’re ready is a major personal accomplishment. The majority of 19 to 27 year olds do not feel ready at all, whereas those ages 28 to 36 feels somewhat ready. [Keyword: somewhat… because nobody is ever truly 100% ready].

I wondered to myself if geography plays a role in child rearing. After all, where I live (the Pacific Northwest) people’s political views tend to be more liberal, and along with that comes a new wave of feminism in which women (and men) are delaying parenthood for the pursuit other goals, because it makes them feel empowered to be able to choose. Nowadays, it’s quite common to see parents of toddlers with gray hair at the playground and libraries (two places that are always filled with kids). This realization is unsettling to me. It makes me feel even more out of place in this parenting journey. Perhaps if I was a thirty-something ten years ago, I mused, I would’ve seen more parents my own age, but nowadays I do not. I see parents who have obtained higher education (masters and Ph.Ds), began their careers many years ago, and have purchased a home and have money in savings. In other words, they are more “well-off” than I am. Their gray hair gave way to the years of maturity demonstrated in their age and their wrinkle lines, the result of the careful planning of their lives.

I discussed this observation with my husband, and he agreed. We both felt like a little fish in a big body of water, who somehow managed to swim away from its own territory and are now lost in the sea of much older, larger, and more aggressive fishes.

So it’s not surprising that my 29-year-old feminist coworker feels empowered by NOT having kids. After all, statistics show that not only do millenials feel that they’re not ready yet, but they also want to pursue personal goals such as buying a home, getting a pet, having money in the bank, and having a stable, well-paying career before having kids. As if having all of those things will ensure that you will be a great parent.

Never have this evidence been so evident last year, when my daughter was in her first year of preschool. At the time, we took her to the university daycare center where my husband was a student. My daughter, although new to the social realm of preschool, made friends quickly. One day, one of her friend’s moms invited us over to their place for a play date. She also invited two other boys and their moms.

While our kids played in the other room, the four of us sat in the living room and talked. We talked about a variety of things that our children did, what they did for extracurricular activities, and so on. As I sat there and observed the other moms, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, they must be at least 5 years older than me.” Turns out, two of the moms were around 10 years older than I am. One was a lesbian mom whose partner was also slightly older. Another mom had a husband who became a college professor before the age of 30. And the mom who invited us over was in her early forties, I presumed, because she talked about how there isn’t much of an age difference between her and her husband, and when I finally saw her husband later, he resembled an older version of Homer Simpson.

The realization that these parents probably graduated college before I even began high school stayed with me for awhile.

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Many of us forget that women have a biological clock. This clock certainly will not slow down even if you have a big house, your student loans paid off, a stable career, a savings account, and so on. So often I hear tales of infertility, and I wondered to myself–did these people thought that their fertility was invincible, that they can just easily get pregnant in less than a year once they deemed themselves “ready”? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where your body and your mind may not agree. It is incredibly heart-wrenching to wait so long to have kids, only to wait even longer to have them. At that point, you just hope for a miracle of some kind.

My mom is a perfect example of a “fertility miracle.” Unlike her sisters and sisters-in-law, she was told by doctors after having her second kid that she would never have another one. This was difficult for a 27-year-old woman to hear. But she trooped on and went about with her life. So it was a great surprise to my parents when I came to the world ten years later, when she was 37.

Because I was born to an older mom, and one who worked a lot, I had an unstable relationship with her. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t like other moms who were always around, taking care of everyone, making sure I had enough kisses and snuggles. She put food on the table, and kept our family from sinking even further into poverty, but as far as the relationship factor was concerned, it was nonexistent.

Thus, armed with this experience, I knew that I didn’t want to wait until my mid-thirties to have children. I knew that waiting was the right choice, but only up to a certain point. Waiting so long because you want to achieve other extrinsic goals first was not something I considered. Simply put, I knew that I wanted to be able to relate to my kids better, and felt that I could only do so if I was a younger mom.

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James, circa March 2017, 10 months

As millenials are projected to beat Baby Boomers as the largest generation ever, as indicated by the Pew Research Center, we must think about how these attitudes on child rearing will affect FUTURE generations. If millenials at their prime childbearing ages do not children, many family lineages will stop there. Once the said millennials reach old age, they will not have children or grandchildren around to take care of them. Instead, they will have to rely on those (other millenials’ children) to take care of them. I can imagine a certain level of loneliness will ensue when those no-children millennials realize that perhaps having children wasn’t such a bad idea after all, but nonetheless it’s too late. I imagine that a certain level of guilt will accrue in their minds, but then again, who am I to judge?

I think the best way to describe having kids as this–my husband once said, “You don’t know that you want a baby until you have one, and when you finally have one, you don’t know how you could possibly live without them.” I know I can’t convince my strong-willed, independent millennial coworkers have children, but I can definitely say that having them changed my life for the better. I know that if I had waited until I felt “mature enough” personally, then that moment will most likely never happen.

Want your kids to be a better reader? Talk to them more

One chilly Thursday morning in January, I dropped my daughter off at her preschool. After saying goodbye to her, I ventured into the Family Resource Room, nestled to the side of the school’s main lobby paneled with wall to ceiling glass. It was there that I saw three women strike up a conversation with each other. All three appeared to be in their mid-to-late thirties with short brown hair and average height. As they talked among themselves I overheard one of them saying that they were a little early for “SMART time,” meaning reading time; hence, that’s why they were waiting in the room.

SMART stands for Start Making A Reader Today, one of the largest and most successful nonprofits in Oregon. Every year, they bring together thousands of individuals into elementary school classrooms to read books to children from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. However, it should be noted that SMART tends to focus mainly on inner city schools, lower performing schools, and schools with a high concentration of minorities and children of color, including African Americans.

The three women continued talking amongst themselves about a variety of subjects, one of which I caught was the perils of obtaining childcare. One woman noted that someone she knew had to take their kid to work once a week because of a babysitter snafu…and the talk went on. As typical as their conversation seemed to be, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “It can’t possibly be that the only type of people who care about reading are white, middle class women.”  Where is everyone else?!? I imagined that if any of them had children of their own, their kids must be at least 15 years old. Perhaps their kids have already left the nest, and they’re feeling lonely. Or perhaps they’re not that old. Maybe they’re just stay-at-home moms who have the means to go volunteer every week at an inner city elementary school filled with African American children, just to make themselves feel better about contributing to society.

Later that evening, I talked with my husband about this observation. Our conversation quickly molded into the subject of storytimes at the library, something I do on a regular basis. He asked me if this racial representation also applies to storytimes. The thought of who attends storytimes isn’t necessarily something that I think about often; it was only when he brought it up that I began to realize that yes—the people who typically bring their children to storytimes are white, middle class women! Most likely stay-at-home moms, sometimes fathers. Oftentimes, they look much older than me. But then again, I look like I could be my kids’ babysitter.

I’m no stranger to literacy. I’ve been reading to my daughter since she was about 14 months old, and now at the age of four (almost five), she is a fantastic reader. She is well beyond the reading level of her peers, so much that her teacher this year was beyond surprised because she is only one out of two children who can really read amongst her 15 classmates.

Of course, I’m not here to brag about my child’s reading abilities, because that would seem selfish. Research has shown that reading to your child at an earlier age sets the stage for their academic and professional development later down the road. It enforces certain skill sets such as critical thinking and analysis, as well as written communication. The sooner the better, they say, so they don’t fall behind. That is why I began when Lily was just a year old, and why I’ve also introduced books to my son, who at 17 months doesn’t appear to be too much into books yet—however, he is slowly starting to engage with them.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, an organization that collects data for educational purposes, they noted in their July 2017 report that about 43% of adults read at Basic or Below Basic levels, as compared to 57% of people who can read at Proficient or Intermediate levels. Digging deeper into this statistic, you might be surprised to find out that Hispanics are part of the majority—41% of them read at Below Basic level, followed by African Americans at 24%. This is really troubling, because a large majority of minorities and people of color cannot read good enough to be able to do basic, everyday tasks such as signing a form, balance a checkbook, compare ticket prices, and use a TV guide to look for certain information, according to the National Center for Education Statistics report.

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freepik.com

At Lily’s school, the evidence is there—roughly 34% of the student population is African American, followed by 30% Hispanic, the rest is variety of multi-racial, Caucasian, and Native Americans. On a global scale, approximately 757 million adults are illiterate. Girls account for the majority of this illiteracy rate, with two thirds of the world’s women unable to read. This is startling because there are many more girls than there are boys in the world, and girls play a pivotal role running the household as well as in the real world. Women can conquer the world by owning their own businesses, doing their own taxes, and managing their own employees.

I’m not saying that educating boys aren’t important—I’m simply saying that the gender educational gap has been long withstanding. We all know that many girls, particularly in the poorest parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Africa, have less advantages when it comes to obtaining an education. And part of obtaining an education means learning how to read. It all comes down to granting independence for girls, and unfortunately, many countries are not ready to do so.

Of course, the problem is not just a global problem. It’s also a United States problem. By the age of five, one third of children entering kindergarten lack the skills necessary to be successful in school, and this number increases dramatically by the time they’re in fourth grade. The disparity comes from a lack of early literacy. Language development is the most pivotal from birth to age three, when babies’ brains are the most malleable because they’re developing fast; hence, vocabulary development plays a role in reading achievement by third grade, according to SMART.

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Reading was a big thing for me growing up—I had a father who was a voracious reader. Despite the fact that we lived in a poor country with limited resources, he read the newspaper every single morning, and he’d read books every chance he got. Thus, I can attribute my love of reading to him. Both of my parents believed in the value of an education, but my dad was key in developing me into a lover of books.

Luckily, the skills that I gained from reading at an earlier age helped me in my English studies after my family immigrated to America. Due to a miscommunication, I was enrolled in a regular classroom, not an ESL class, and it was there that I sat with a volunteer reader (none other than a blonde hair, blue-eyed white middle aged woman whose name I’ve long forgotten) who read books to me as a way to help me learn English (this was after they figured out my lack of English skills and it was too late to put me in an ESL class), and later on, encouraged me to read by myself.

It was that kind of support that gave me the confidence to further learn English on my own. During my free time at home, I watched TV shows with subtitles on, listened to American music on the radio, and read as many young adult novels as I could possibly get my hands on, always with a dictionary in tow. That method proved successful, for I became proficient in about a year and a half. It’s still my preferred method of language learning today—to immerse oneself in the culture and language with as little assistance as possible. I believe that an average person like me has the brain capacity to figure things out when I didn’t have too many resources, like an after-school tutor.

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After the conversation I had with my husband, and the realization about the scarcity of non-white parents showing up at story times and children’s events, I began to question why. WHY are there hardly any people of color volunteering to read in schools? Despite what I do, why am I still a minority, both at the physical level and the cultural level? Are there any underlying reasons as to why this is happening?

I read that the first three years of a child’s life are the most critical for language development. Babies learn from the words that they hear and the touches that they receive from their caregivers. Research has shown there is a link between vocabulary development and socioeconomic backgrounds. By the time they’re three years old, babies from poor families will have heard 30 million words less than their more affluent peers. A Stanford University study found that amongst 18 to 24-month-old children, there is a language gap between the rich and the poor. The rich were defined as those with an average annual income of $69,000 per year, and the poor with an average income of $23,900 per year. The study found that children who came from higher socioeconomic backgrounds understood more words by the age of two than children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The reason why? They speculated that children from lower income families had parents who talk less to their children, hence the 30 million word gap by age three.

“The greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.” – Tina Rosenberg, The New York Times “The Power of Talking to Your Baby.”

Unfortunately, this word knowledge disadvantage continues well into fourth grade. Kids from lower income backgrounds tend to fall behind their more affluent peers, and the struggle becomes harder as they get older. More children continue to fall behind by the time they enter grade school, with minorities and people of color fall into this category the most.

Now, let’s think about this for a second. Is it really true that white, middle class parents talk more to their children or is it because they have the means to hire nannies, and require the nannies to speak and play with their children, thereby relinquishing the responsibilities of teaching their children about language? I may not be rich, but I am aware that “rich” parents are rich for a reason—they work long hours to be able to provide for their families, and unlike their lower class peers, they actually have the ability to hire help. Tutors, nannies, enrichment classes—you name it, they can afford it, whereas low income parents are struggling every day to pay for the bare necessities like food, shelter, and clothing.

It’s not to say that low income parents don’t have the time to talk to their children—it’s how they talk and what they say. Parents who are on welfare typically have multiple children, and oftentimes, their talk involves an authoritative or scolding tone, such as, “Stop hitting your brother!” or “Clean up your toys!”

I’m going to declare right here and now that I do not consider myself part of that trend. As with many parents, my husband and I exhibit a certain level of authority when it’s necessary, and other times, we talk a lot as a family. I’m not a big talker but my husband is, and this was passed down to my daughter. So, while I think there are some truth to the study and the statistics above, I also think that it is not representative of a lot of families in America, especially ones who are minorities. Just simply talk to your children more sounds great in theory, but one must take note of the privileges that rich kids have—being that their parents are more educated and have less children; therefore, the stakes are higher for these kids.

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I wondered to myself –what would’ve happened if I didn’t have a parent who was so into reading? I would’ve become a statistic, a stereotype. Of course, the statistics mentioned above do not reflect wholly on the number of low income parents out there who are avid readers and writers. And my experience at my daughter’s school is in no way reflective of the reality of literacy, but there is some truth to it, I believe.

In a way, I am a statistic, but I’m trying not to become the obvious statistic—that because I don’t make that much money means that I don’t have the time or money to give the gift of reading to my children.

As an adult or parent, regardless of your socioeconomic background, I believe we can ALL play a role in supporting children’s literacy. We need to. Our future depends on it. For birthdays and holidays, instead of giving them the latest gadgets or toys, give the gift of books instead. And instead of going to the mall, a compendium of material things, head to the nearest library for story time—they’re free events that allow children to socialize with each other and hear stories. Finally, instead of simply tucking your child in bed at night, make time to read to them. They say that it only takes 20 minutes of reading each night to a child at least 3 times a week for it to make a difference in their life.

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Every night, we ask my daughter to pick out books—usually 3 books, because that takes up 20 minutes of reading—from the stack of books that I choose based on her reading level at the library. It’s a ritual that we’ve done for years and will continue for many more. As a working mom nowadays, I don’t have as much time to take her to the library as I used to, but I make an effort to go at least once a week for story time and other children’s related events. She gets incredibly excited each time, and I believe it’s a culmination of the hundreds of times that I’ve taken her in the past.

This past Christmas, we gave my newest nephew a book—his first one. Even though he’s only three months old, I’m hoping that his parents will read to him, thereby instilling a sense that reading is important for learning and developing the mind.

Remember that kids don’t care where you get the books from. You can scout the library stacks, go to Barnes & Noble children’s section, browse through Amazon’s enormous selection, or get it at Goodwill—it doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that you are giving the gift of books that matters more. Lastly, when gifting books or reading to a child, it’s important to be as excited as possible and allow them to ask questions. You may not realize it, but kids do model their behavior after you (the adult), so if you’re not excited about books, then why should they be?

Reading sets the stage for future success. We can’t allow kids, especially ones from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to fall behind simply because we don’t talk to them enough or read to them enough. It’s our job as adults to propel them towards common core skills that are going to be useful for them to function in society.

WARNING: price delusions ahead!!!!!

Thanksgiving is almost here. The holiday season is in full swing. A week left until Black Friday. As this infamous day draws near, I thought I should tell you about a recent shopping experience at Macys that might make you think twice about shopping during the holidays.

While browsing the store with my husband, I saw a package of Minne Mouse underwear for toddlers. I have a Minnie Mouse obsessed little girl, and I thought she would love it. The sign said it was 50% off, and on the package, printed clearly was $14.98. So naturally I deducted that it was 50% off from $14.98, making it approximately $7.50. To my surprise, when I went to pay for the item, it rang up as $26, and $13 as the final price.
Immediately I pointed out the error to the cashier. He was not familiar with kids clothing so he went to talk to a sales associate in that department. He came back five minutes later and told me that it is exactly that – 50% off from $26. I was flabbergasted. I pointed out the price tag on the ACTUAL package, and said, “Clearly that is $14.98. You can’t deny that. How is it possible that the price can be inflated that much?!?!” He said, “Sorry, you can go talk to someone else in that department.”
This made me absolutely furious. The problem was not the fact that the item was extremely inflated at the expense of the consumer, but the blase attitude of the salesperson. It makes me wonder a few things:
  • How many of the items sold at Macys (or big box stores) have extremely inflated prices? Hundreds? Thousands??
  • Do customers realize this or are they just looking at the store’s signs and being led to believe that it is a good deal when in fact, it is not?
  • Price anchoring (the process of inflating retail prices to the point where the store marks down the item to 50% or more to allude the customer into thinking that it’s a good deal, when the “after-discount” price is actually just the retail price after all) – how prevalent is it? Apparently, it’s not new. Check out this article.
  • This is clearly and blatantly a way for major retail chains to gain profits during the holidays, by playing on customers’ inability to pay attention to small details, overshadowed by their desire to shop for everyone for Christmas, that they don’t realize how much they are truly spending?
While this particular practice makes me angry, what is even more troublesome is the sales associate’s responses. In my particular situation, the associate’s “Sorry not my problem” attitude is really infuriating. It makes me ashamed to say that I once worked for Macys, way back in the day. It’s troubling that for such a large chain that prides itself on quality and aesthetics that they are not training their employees to respond to conflicts in an enthusiastic and helpful manner.
Perhaps because I’ve worked in customer service for a long time, and I’ve worked at places that have high expectations for service that is the reason why this bothers me so much. Whatever happened to the old philosophy, “The customer is always right”? In my case, I was not making things up just to get my way. My husband and I both saw the price tag as $14.98, so to blow it up to $26 and then discount it $13 is beyond the acceptable ethical grounds of retail pricing.
So this holiday season, I’ve had enough of Christmas shopping. I’ve had enough of deceitful practices of major retail chains. I’ve had enough bad customer service. Besides getting a few items for my kids (not from Macys, of course, and mainly because I want them to have a good Christmas), I’m opting to do something else. To go outside. To be with family. To SAVE MONEY. Because the holidays can definitely make you go broke. It can lead you down the road of paying back a year’s worth of purchases plus interest…and for what? For big retail businesses AND credit card companies to make money off you? No thanks.