Consumerism and Choice
All the consumerism that is infiltrating everything right now has given me the push I needed to get back on this blog that has been sorely neglected for the past year or more.
I love gifts, I really do, but the constant hammering that we need this and that and more and more really disgusts me. Our family is very frugal and, to be honest, it was not only by choice when we started, but it is a choice we would make now given any sort of economical circumstances. We purchase what we need, when we can and try to buy things that will last a long-time, be reusable or repairable and that will enhance our lives. We try to buy second-hand when it is possible and logical.
When I think about frugality, I think not only about items but services and food. It can be hard to strike a balance between the best price and quality. The balance between the two is what I call: the best deal. Sure you might be able to buy 1 gallon of ultra-pasteurized, homogenized whole milk at Walmart for $2.50 or $3.00, but to me, this is not the best deal, only the best price. The best deal to me, is the raw milk that we purchase from our local farmer for $12/gallon, because we can drink it without ill health symptoms, like my husband who gets gastro-intestinal complaints from pasteurized milk. Or whipping cream, again, we can purchase one pint of ultra-pasteurized, homogenized from Walmart or Winco for around $1.50, but to me, the best deal is paying $2.50-$275/pint to purchase locally produced, low-pasteurized cream. There are so many food examples I could list, that this will have to suffice. I intentionally started with a food example, because food is the most essential thing that anyone could buy aside from paying for a place to live. I believe to most Americans our family’s food expenditures are disproportionately large compared to our income. However, it is vital that we eat well and stay healthy; we don’t have health insurance and I believe that many, though not all, health issues can be addressed through a healthy diet, consisting of whole foods purchased locally and organically, when possible.
For a non-food, services example, we could purchase unlimited data and text cell phone plans for our whole family and get fancy smart phones, but that just isn’t the best deal for us. I don’t feel that having the constant stream of data in our hands all the time is beneficial for us and it’s not necessary, so having limits on texts and lacking the ability to surf the internet on on the go, is good for us and it’s cheaper for us, too.
When we purchase clothing and shoes, we nearly always look at our local clothing consignment store first. The one exception to this is gifts. When it comes to gift giving, clothing is big on the list, because then we splurge on something nice from Hanna Andersson or Lands’ End and those items last for many years, through multiple children and we don’t end up buying so many toys that may be used for awhile and then discarded. I purchase cloth diapers used, if possible, and use them through multiple children. The money up front is not insignificant, but for the price of several packages of disposable diapers, we have many years of diapering covered and that is the best deal and price for our family. When we purchase tools, we try to buy things that don’t contain plastic and have parts that can be replaced so that we can use them for a number of years. When we buy toys, we purchase them from our local toy store because I know that our business really matters to them and we buy toys that will last a long time and through multiple children, generally with not much plastic. We don’t purchase many electronics or household appliances and when we do, we choose carefully. Our TV’s are all more than 10 years old. We use our computers until they nearly kick the bucket. We replace our cell phones when they die, not only to get a newer model. Two family members have ipods, one of which was a gift. We don’t have a lot of fancy kitchen appliances. The ones that I purchase are high quality brands that were well researched before purchase. I recently got a deep fryer that my husband received used but free from a customer that is closing up shop. It had been an item that I wanted, but not enough to buy because I couldn’t justify the cost or resources for something that would be used occasionally. We saved this from the landfill, however, and that works out just fine for me.
This is how we live our lives, simply and frugally and when I see statistics that show Americans spending $52.4 billion over Black Friday weekend, I find it mind-boggling. So many people can’t afford enough to eat. So many people lament that they can’t afford to buy vegetables, meat or dairy either locally or organically, but they surround themselves with unnecessary items and services that drain their bank accounts. $52.4 billion! How many of those gifts will be used a few times and discarded? I’m not a grinch, I love to give gifts, thoughtfully. I make handmade gifts for my children each year, buy them books and toys from our local toy store and other things from stay-at-home crafters or small businesses and leave the big retailers for the few things I can’t get around here. But we gift gifts with much restraint and moderation.
This is clearly a situational symptom of the greater disease of rampant consumerism. We Americans have got to get our purchasing impulses under control. We pay for it dearly in many ways: our debt levels, over-flowing landfills, inability to nourish bodies properly, dependence on fossil fuels, and the emptiness that results from opening a whole lot of nothing. Let’s re-learn the importance of holiday tradition, the happiness of a couple of meaningful gifts and the importance of surrounding ourselves with love rather than things.