Don’t Pretend Family Values Are Important to You if You’re Shopping on Thanksgiving

Look. I know times are tough, no matter what the economists say. I get it. My family is part of the bottom 64% of American families, too. Like many of those families, we don’t have a lot of cash on hand for stuff like Christmas presents. I have a pretty strict budget I stick to for presents for our five kids, my husband, and our extended family, which means deals are an amazing way to stretch that money.

But I’ve never shopped on Thanksgiving Day. Not once.

If you’re one of the over 30 million people expected to be standing in line Thanksgiving evening, waiting for the crazy rush to begin at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy or some other store, please stop saying you’re for family values, because it’s just not true. While you might love your own family like crazy, you don’t give a damn about the idea of family values.

How do I know?

Because your consumerism on that day means you’re okay with pulling the employees working at Best Buy or Target away from their families — on Thanksgiving — so you can shop. You’re okay with putting your quest for a $129 4K TV or your need for a new phone on the cheap in front of the hopes of the grandmotherly Wal-Mart cashier, who just wants to spend a traditional holiday with her loved ones.

We All Need to Take a Stand

Thanksgiving is one of America’s last big holidays that revolves around community and family. It’s a rare time when even the busiest of us slows down and spends precious time with our dearest family members and friends, literally breaking bread over a communal table. We’re not focused on giving anything or getting anything; we’re just trying to reconnect with those people that we love, who sometimes drive us crazy, that we often don’t make enough time for in our day-to-day lives.

But more and more these days, Thanksgiving is getting corrupted by the blatant consumerism creeping into previous family-only time.

Retail establishments imply they are only responding to demand. If that’s true, we all have to stand up and demand they wait a few more hours to open up so their employees can enjoy the same time with their families that we enjoy with ours.

No, They Don’t All Want to Be There

I’ve had this conversation before with friends. Invariably, someone will defend their Thanksgiving spending habit by stating that “I have a friend who works at ‘X,’ and they want to work Thanksgiving, because they get premium pay when they do. Without that pay they can’t afford to buy Christmas presents for their kids.”

Let’s break that down.

First off, not all workers are paid a premium. Wal-Mart employees are not. Target employees get time and a half. So do Best Buy employees, but some say it’s still not worth it. Secondly, when they do make a premium, it’s typically 1.5 times their base hourly pay, which usually makes them ineligible for overtime pay for the rest of that week unless they work over 48 hours.

Most companies won’t pay overtime on top of another “extra.”

That means the employee isn’t getting anything extra at all unless they’re working limited shifts; they are simply getting what the law requires for overtime work. And companies know that on Black Friday week, even many of their seasonal part-time employees will be racking up the hours and would qualify for overtime regardless.

If we all said no to the craziness of shopping on Thanksgiving, which didn’t even exist before 2012, retailers would simply go back to opening up early on Black Friday, giving the majority of employees a chance to spend most of Thanksgiving Day with their families. And guess what? Since the crowds would shift to Friday, workers would still likely receive the same sort of incentives their store currently offers for Thanksgiving work in order to ensure coverage during those busy store hours.

Additionally, many companies require employees to work on Thanksgiving, no matter what the circumstances, and no matter how far in advance an employee requests time off. Even year-round, full-time employees.

If these workers don’t show up, there can be significant repercussions, up to being fired.

So while you may have that one friend who wants to work on that day, there are likely dozens upon dozens of workers who are being coerced into missing out on family time for fear of losing their job.

Maybe it’s the Whole Retail Industry

Finally, if that person truly needs that one extra premium day of pay to buy presents for their family (a premium that most likely amounts to less than $75 over a regular work day) doesn’t that show just how retail wages are broken? According to, the average pay rate for a retail sales associate in the US is between $10.13 and $14.31 an hour, depending on state. If you believe in family values, shouldn’t you also believe in a living wage that allows families to survive and thrive?

And yes, I know someone will say that retail — like fast food work — is primarily done by young workers who don’t need to support families. But it’s not. A full 77% of retail workers are over the age of 24, with the median age being 37.8 years.

If you truly support family values, prove it. Don’t support the consumerism that is threatening to eat up the traditions of families beyond yours. Instead, stay home and spend time with your loved ones. All day. Shopping can wait until Friday.

Free time: Medium writer, Mom to 5 kids and 8 cats, Editor/Founder of Fortune Not Found. Day job: Tech writer (under Marla Keene). Past life: bookshop owner.

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