The birthday cards and the cranky old man
(Or, the unexpectedly high costs of living)


Are you kidding me?

Has anyone else noticed the price of greeting cards lately? I mean, really? It feels like I could buy a meal for a family of six for the price of a single birthday card. (Thatís before I have to figure out the postage it needs, and if Iím sending a large card internationally we could all super-size our meals, andÖ andÖ ok, fineÖ a slight exaggeration.)

Hopped in the car to head out on some errands. One of the stops was set for picking out three birthday cards for family members. I donít know how you approach your card needs, but I take a lot of it seriously. I wish I could be better at it, but the main point is I try very hard not to send any-old-card. I invest a bit of time, read over more than a few, and truly make an attempt at finding something that connects. Something with meaning. Something that will generate a bit of emotion or a memory. I want you to smile because itís funny, or feel the intended hug. I want you to know I care.

Used to be you could care for a couple of dollars, and that included the stamp. Not so any moreÖ

Most cards these days seem to hover in the range of $4 by scanning-the-full-display average. And, what used to be an envelope with a warning if additional postage might be necessary has become a guessing game. Some cards come with puffy, bulky decorations that make them a bit thicker (and in some cases potentially fragile). Many come with contraptions that play music when the card is opened. A good number of them donít fall into what we might consider routine-size ranges. Any and all of these ideas can create a need for a second stamp, so to speak. (But I donít see many envelopes with a warning printed where the stamp would go. Seems like now you get to figure it out on your own.)

Iím not complaining about the cards or their cost, if Iím being honest. Iím trying to use it as a simple example. Why? WellÖ consider this for one segue of thoughtÖ

Letís say you know your mother or sister or friend likes a certain restaurant chain. And regardless of where they are located in relation to you, there is a place near you where you could get a gift card and a place near them where they could redeem it. For $10.50 plus an envelope and sheet of paper, you could go out and buy a $10 gift card, write them a note saying you wish you could be there with them to celebrate over an appetizer, and pop all of it into the mail as a happy birthday wish.

And while an appetizer might not seem like the perfect birthday gift, I think thatís a pretty nice touch compared to sending just a card. Right? End result for this is that when a card that plays a song will run you over $6 to buy and extra stamps to send, weíre not that far apart in cost. (And they get potato skins, egg rolls or mozzarella sticks.)

More to the point, I donít know when the transition occurred and I became a cranky old man. But the reality is simple, there are many things where I have no clue at all how the prices are being determined, but I sure feel like my wallet is being attacked to make up for a shifting marketplace or lacking alternatives.

The increases in prices for greeting cards seems to have taken place right around the times when: (1) Electronic options became available. Ideas for this would include saying happy birthday via Facebook, an e-mail, or even sending a link to an online card. (2) I started to notice less cards arriving at my birthday, which is a simple way of saying that I donít think people send as many cards these days as they used to.

Big thing for me to include here, I love cards. I love receiving them. I love sending them. I smile for hours when something arrives, especially unexpectedly, to say someone is thinking about me. I like thinking that perhaps recipients of my wishes feel the same. Cards can be awesome. Huge fan of the industry.

What Iím not a fan of is how they donít seem quite as smart or creative these days.

Did you know if you removed the cards that show or reference monkey butts, plumber butts, cat butts, or jokes about the moon (insert butt-related punchline here), you would end up taking more than a third of all greeting cards off of the display racks? (Actually, I donít know if this is true. It may not be a third. But, if youíve read this and need a card in the next few days, I can guarantee you a few moments where youíll be standing in an aisle saying something close to this: ďAnother one with monkey butts! Damn, heís right.Ē)

And, I will say Iím sorry for this should your situation be different, not that many of my needs fall into monkey-butt-appropriate moments. Yes, I can agree a monkey butt might be funny and has a place. Iím just saying I simply donít have a significant portion of greeting card needs that call for a monkey butt card.

Somehow though, when it comes to shopping of any type, Iím in the store and expected to pay multiple dollars for items such as a pack of gum or a roll of mints. I need a credit card for a small bear container of honey. And, itís darn near impossible to find a card that says what Iíd like it to say, never mind the idea that I might need to take out a loan to mail a message thatís close but not quite right.

Funny enough, I have found a solution. The post office sells cards now, and for some amazing reason Iíve noticed that they generally they have a nice assortment. Price isnít bad. As long as I bring the address with me, you canít beat the convenience of purchase than send at the same counter.

Now, if youíll excuse me, I need to go chase some kids off my lawn. (And, quite likely, prepare for the arrival of monkey butt cards from friends that think they have a sense of humor.)


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