Between Thanksgiving Day online shopping and a trip to the “big” US Navy NEX in Japan yesterday, I am officially and finally done Christmas shopping. Though I finished my shopping there, I was extremely disappointed with the “sales” at the NEX. They advertised as if they were doing great sales, but my friend and I didn’t find the sales to be very good (25% off on things like clothes and shoes isn’t an incentive to buy, in my opinion). The NEX is meant to provide us with American goods at very fair prices, which they deliver in the day-to-day sense. Because service members are paid far less then their civilian counterparts, the military supposedly tries to make-up the pay difference by providing NEXes, commissaries, and base services at a less expensive cost; I think that they deliver on this, too. Keep in mind that our most junior service members make less then $19,000/year.
My point with the Black Friday sales is pretty fair, though — for many of our service families here, the NEX is THE ONLY AFFORDABLE PLACE to buy American Christmas gifts for their loved ones. Many of our service families live paycheck-to-paycheck, not because they manage their money poorly, but because of our military pay scale. If the NEX isn’t providing sales during the holiday season, these families can’t give their kids a holiday (be it Christmas, Hanukkah, etc). In Japan, families can’t simply run to Toys R Us to find a better deal or order goods from the States because the shipping rates are astronomical. I can’t help but feel like the NEX is gouging us a little. Sure, they could not run any sales, and it’s within their right to do so, but the organization that runs the NEXes overseas (run by our very own US Navy), should really do us a favor and give us some real sales on Black Friday and in December.
My husband and I are lucky – he is an O-3 and we do not have dependents (minus the dog!). I am a very expensive wife and he enjoys expensive electronics, but we do not live paycheck-to-paycheck and we do not need the NEX Black Friday sales in order to afford Christmas gifts. Thus, this is not a selfish rant on my part; I am advocating this position because there are a lot of families who do need these sales in order to purchase gifts.
Someone who has not been stationed overseas may think that I am making an argument for a super consumerist holiday, and I’m not. My stance is this: When you live on the other side of the world, far from your family and friends, holiday traditions become extremely important. Holiday traditions are something that keep us connected with all those we love who are so far away. The ones who have it most difficult are the children. While some may be too young to know the difference or to care, many of our older children, who are suddenly uprooted and moved yet again, emotionally need these holidays. And, for better or for worse, the winter holidays are expensive. I think that it’s important that families are able to celebrate the holiday season with all the traditional “stuff” — including gifts, decorations, and family meals — while they’re overseas.
I am very thankful that the NEX exists, and that we have one on our small base. I shop there on a weekly (sometimes daily!) basis. I love our little Home Store and our NEX Depot. I love that we even have “freshly cut” Christmas trees and holiday wreaths sold on base. I appreciate all that the Navy does for us service families, but sometimes I wonder if they could do just a little bit more. Maybe it’s impossible to have big sales here because of the cost of shipping the NEX goods overseas, or maybe the people who run the NEXes have never been stationed overseas to understand the need. Whatever it is, I hope that things are better next year. In the meantime, I wish there was some way to donate children’s gifts to families in need who are stationed on this base. I will ask around to see if such a thing exists.