Oprah, you’ve got it wrong

by Cinda Baxter on March 3, 2009

in Economy, Rant, Real World

oprahYesterday afternoon, a friend called, asking if I was near a television. “You’d better see this” was all the explanation she gave when telling me to turn on Oprah.

Having now watched the program, I’m almost as speechless.

Almost. But not entirely. Once I get started on her latest wide-sweeping suggestion, it might be hard to shut me down, so buckle in folks. I’m up on my soapbox, and I’m ticked off.

Today’s episode was titled “Simplifying Life and Living with Less.” That concept, I’m fine with, assuming it’s approached realistically. As is the case in most elements of life, complete and absolute extremes are rarely wise moves.

The show began on a positive note, reminding the audience that the things we own don’t define who we are. That in times of financial challenge, it’s important to be responsible. That “stuff” doesn’t equate to “happy.” All true, all things I agree with.

The next suggestions drove things right off the cliff, however, as she suggested viewers not buy anything but perishable food items for a week. No more evenings out. Stop shopping for anything other than absolute necessity items.

Those suggestions might help a family here or there, but the damage done by that kind of all-or-nothing approach is as dangerous as the all-or-all mentality that got us into this mess. Slamming the brakes on any spending not critical for human survival will shut down local business, bankrupt the local tax base, and put more people on the unemployment line than if we just behave responsibly.

Yup. That’s right. Behave responsibly. I’m not saying everyone should keep spending like it’s 1998 or turn their backs on establishing a budget. Not at all. My personal opinion is that we were long overdue for a wake up call-—me included.

Buying in moderation comes with a lot of positives. It keeps locally owned businesses open, which stabilizes the tax base, which keeps money in employees’ hands, which they then spend in local businesses. Full circle. The engine continues chugging ahead, albeit at a slower pace.

Telling viewers to cut out all non-essential spending is irresponsible. How long do you suppose most folks can actually hold to such an austere lifestyle? Hey, it’s hard enough to stay on a diet without tumbling right off the wagon and into a bag of Fritos. What makes Oprah think this crash-n-burn diet with the checkbook is going to play out any different?

What our economy needs is moderation. Learning how to live within our means. Spending with thoughtfulness and responsibility.

What we don’t need is for someone with such an influential voice to holler “Shut it down.”

Related links:
Seth Godin mentions The 3/50 Project
Save the economy three stores at a time
Let’s get The 3/50 Project on the Today Show
The Project 3/50 bag stuffers are here
CNBC host Erin Burnett reminds us the battle is about more than just money
Enough with the carnage
The 3/50 Project grows legs
Want to be a 3/50 Project rock star?

Karen March 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I am really wondering what one of the major engineers of the “Obama to President “train is trying to do — undercut the very person she helped elect as the next miracle for our economy and country? But if you listen closely to the conspiracy theorists, that is what it will take for Obama to be able to push through all his social welfare programs and political philosophy mandates. No one would even think this was a good plot for a movie, but it does make you wonder every now and again. An economic stimulus bill on the face of it sounds good, but when you start throwing around nationalization of private segments of the economy (banks, housing mortgage lending, automobile manufacturers, healthcare provider systems, and education) you start tinkering with the very fabric of our economic system. And I am still wondering why Microsoft treated Nancy Pelosi and the Gang in the House to chocolate bars t celebrate after they voted for the stimulus bill? Do they all love chocolate that much — ok, that IS a possibility. But then,hmm……hospitals and doctors will need computers and programs to comply with the new required digital reporting of all procedures, medications, and health history of patients. Wonder who is going to get that software writing contract……………
To be sure, Oprah has done some quite strange things in her time. Not the least of which is to quit eating beef and start porking up!

Des Bennett March 4, 2009 at 1:39 am

I have thought that Oprah has been off the deep end for quite some time now. When are her viewers going to wake up and start thinking for themselves?

claire wagner March 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

I agree that Oprah is wrong on this one (as she is on many things, hence my reason for not watching her show). However I find that your recent posts essentially dissing all home based business is really no different. In this critical time we need to support local business (which you seem to support) however that also includes home based businesses. If you are suggesting that we only support local retailers but not also home based business, then really you should have no complaints against Oprah.

Melissa Hill March 5, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I admittedly am an Oprah fan. I don’t agree with everything she says but I am a fan.

In this instance I think it is very interesting that the creator of Oprah’s Favorite Things and the O List has publicly encouraged an economic ‘anti-stimulus package’. This is a very mixed message.

Kerry March 5, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Again, on home based business. With all do respect to cottage industry, I cannot understand Claire’s comment as to how a home based business supports it’s local ecomony. Hiring employees, paying property tax on commercial space. etc? In my mind, home based business seems to support it’s owners existence, rather than give back to the ecomomy to which it resides.

Karen March 6, 2009 at 8:30 am

I think it may be time for all of us who participate in the bricks and mortar end of retail to really think about why we are where we are and not “at home” in our “home studio”. Since the name of my store is New Orleans At Home, I do have some ambiguity. What can I do in my store that I couldn’t do at home? What is it that makes me want to unlock that door each morning and flip on the lights? Wouldn’t it be easier to just walk into the “studio” and get down to work? Well, it would. BUT – for me, and I suspect for a lot of others, there is the magic and passion that comes from having that store. It is your special world into which you invite commerce, friends, creativity, profit, and the community. It is the public statement that you are a viable and visible part of the community. It is the public part that really says it all. You are willing and wanting to put it all on the line every day that someone can walk by or open the door and come in. It is your stage, your canvas, your bottom line. For some, that would be an impossible thing to even contemplate. For us, it is the real challenge and the real thrill. Rather than trying to justify my existence, or spend time fretting over what the rest of retail is doing (i. e. home studios, internet) I have come to realize that my real competition is whatever someone else might spend their cash buying. It is the automobiles, jewelry, clothes, books, and yes, stationery with which I compete. And if I concentrate on what I do best my time is better spent. I have learned the hard lessons that retail teaches us – there is no such thing as “fair” unless we are the ones producing fairness; there is no such thing as the perfect vendor who will always stand behind you and support you come Hell or high water ( and believe me, I know about the high water part!); and there will always be something that is causing me to lose sleep at night. Think back 2 or 3 years and see if you can remember what it was that was such a worry for you. Every day brings a new challenge.

To sum it up – it seems that in the stationery world the lessons that I learned in the home textile world are just being put on your table. There isn’t a vendor around that wouldn’t accept an account if it would better the bottom line. Some are more up front about it, others will sell you down the river. But what comes around goes around – or however that goes! Just do the best you can, enjoy everyday, think outside the notecard box and do something bold. Start a pen pal club (see Cinda’s blog) and teach youngsters all about the joys of paper and pen. Have a “design a note” contest at the local schools. Get your best vendor to donate big time (discontinued stationery? cards?) to a local retirement center or hospital through you and your store (I just made that up, but it sounds good – in fact I made them all up, but see, that is the fun! That is what we do!).
Most important, don’t loose faith. You do what you do because you love it. Your store is your stage, and you are the star. Time to just start singing!!

Ghost of henry hyde March 6, 2009 at 9:15 am

Karen: I agree with your sentiments about bricks and mortar. I have both kinds of business and both have their strengths and weaknesses. There’s nothing like human contact and only the B&M approach really gets you that. Good luck with your bidness!

Gregg April 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Just stumbled on this article…I gotta disagree with Cindy. I think what the nation needs most is to break the habit of spending beyond means. The very best way to do that is to “reset the levels”, so to speak, by stopping all spending for awhile — but only long enough to forget the old habits and allow new ones to arise. For some people, this may be a few days…for others, a month. What we DO NOT need is to flip-flop back & forth between underspending and overspending, like a bad diet (and I think that’s where the diet metaphor ends: unlike dieting, forgoing spending for awhile will not cause a rebound).

susan hayes May 17, 2009 at 5:36 am

I saw that show and thought the same thing. Small business is what makes this great nation tick. I emailed Oprah (whom i love) and told her that she was sending the wrong message at the wrong time. If everyone listened to Suzy Orman and started going out only ” ONcE a Month”, that would, negatively, impact our economy tremendously. The hospitality industry makes up almost 1/4 of our nations economy.Imagine what an impact that would make!!! So many people rely on it’s survival. She was SOOOOO wrong. Thank you for your thoughts. susan hayes

Jamie Harkins June 7, 2009 at 10:07 am

I have to say I agree with Gregg…I am a huge supporter of local independent businesses, with a caveat. That caveat is only ones that are doing business in a responsible way. You think you’ve seen bubbles? Wait until the real bubble bursts when companies all over the world can’t just ignore the social and environmental costs of what they produce…we consumers have been getting off easy for decades! We have got to stop the over-consumption that is leading to the decline of every living ecosystem on Earth. I think Oprah’s point is very useful – people won’t stop buying forever, but it will teach them that they can “need” less. And what little I still do buy does come from local stores…but to be honest, a local store importing tee-shirts from sweatshops is no better than a big box doing the same thing.

stanley July 9, 2009 at 8:20 am

Cinda, your article states that Oprah suggested people do this for a WEEK.. Sometimes we gotta turn it all off and reboot. I doubt that anyone would or could last longer than a week of buying nothing but food items.

Oprah’s not perfect, that’s for certain. If she was suggesting to stop all spending until further notice, I can see why you’d get alarmed and want to sound the warning. But as stated in your own article, she just suggested taking a week and showing ourselves what is really needed and what is not (as needed). I went through a period years ago where I tried to stop all “unnecessary” spending and it ended like a train wreck. Having dessert every day is unnecessary. Having dessert isn’t. Buying hand made soap for every person I know is unnecessary. Buying it for myself is not.

What our economy needs is moderation. Learning how to live within our means. Spending with thoughtfulness and responsibility. You wrote these last two lines. And I agree with you. Thanks.

Editor’s note: ”My bad” for not further explaining the program’s message in the original post. Oprah’s suggestion was to start with one week, then expand beyond that, with the goal of creating a new no-spending lifestyle. Definitely more than just a short term reboot. Sorry I wasn’t more clear about that back in March when this was written.

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