Many people want to get better control of their budget and spending in the new year. For many people, incomes haven’t kept pace with the “need” to purchase items to fit their lifestyle.
One way that my husband and I have noticed inflation or decreased spending ability of our money in what we purchase is in the packaging – items such as food are in smaller containers with about the same price as before so you are getting less. Another way we can see inflation is that items are of poorer quality or of a nature requiring frequent replacement – this is called planned obsolescence. If you have a pair of shoes that fall apart as little as a couple months to a year after purchasing them – that is what we mean. It doesn’t matter that you got a “good deal” on the shoes if you have to keep buying many pairs because of their defective nature. Quality – from everything from food to clothes to tools and appliances – has seemed to have a general trend of going downhill.
Another factor we see is that big business has seemed to “gobble up” a lot of small businesses. We have let this happen – by letting our government have a very complex tax code in which big companies can be highly profitable but pay next to no taxes and also when we give preference to a multi-state or multi-national giant corporation over our locally-owned stores. If we had a flat tax system, it would actually be much more fair. We not only have welfare for the poor, we have welfare for the rich.
We think we are getting a good deal by going to the huge stores – but we aren’t. When small and medium size companies are being shafted with unfair tax rates of bigger competitors and with regulations they can’t absorb like many different taxes to file, health insurance mandates and minimum wage requirements not conducive to their type of business — they tend to fold, shrink or move elsewhere. And big business seems more likely to use automation – eliminating more jobs. They will “use” a high minimum wage to get rid of their competitors – and then they will automate! We went to a common burger chain near us that is in nearly every state in the country, and they now have computers at the table to enter your order and pay your bill if you wish! I’m sorry, but this is not a dining experience, and I do not plan to go back.
Another way the common man is being robbed is that you can’t make money on your money anymore — unless you ride the highly volatile stock market roller coaster. Interest rates in banks are deplorable! If you have a 5 year CD, you might make 1% a year. That is losing money! Retirees and those close to retirement used to be able to live off money in CDs – but now they cannot. So even our savings and retirement tends to be at the mercy of said big corporations who care about the bottom line the most, even if they screw the consumer and fail to provide enough family-wage jobs long term.
So now what? What can we do to resist the economic enslavement that we see where we are seemingly led to the shiny objects that we are told to buy, while we don’t seem to be getting ahead? I think the answer is to get back to basics — and embrace the consumption habits of our forefathers. Think Little House on the Prairie, which documented Laura Ingalls Wilders’ parental family of several children surviving summer and winter in frontier life in Wisconsin. Their story took place about 140 years ago, and they not only survived but thrived.
Here are some guidelines for spending that I have adopted, inspired by our forefathers. [Personal note: recently I bought an American made vacuum cleaner, and it met the categories of 1, 3, and 4. I am happy with the product so far.]
- Used – buy or obtain used goods. This is just economic good sense. You usually get more “life” out of an object per dollar spent this way. And in a lot of cases things made 5, 10, or more years ago are of better quality. Used items usually are disposed of when someone is trading up to something else. Our forebears would have children wear older siblings’ or cousins’ hand-me-downs. This encourages good traits in us – to reuse, repurpose, and recycle.
- Ingredients – buy the components for making something, not the finished product. Is it cheaper to buy a can of Folgers coffee – or espresso drinks for a month? Coffee beans or ground coffee is actually an ingredient, even though it is pretty simple to make coffee. We need to think more this way. Sometimes however buying ingredients will not be cheaper. If I buy cloth and materials to make an outfit for a child, it might not actually be cheaper. But it would be uniquely designed for the child, and I would gain in the experience of making something from scratch. I would have something unique and keep developing my own skills. Think of other areas where you could use ingredients rather than finished widgets — cooking, gardening – seeds and mulch are ingredients to making harvestable crops, or lumber and screws to make a bookcase or item for your home. Buying ingredients is a great way to both be creative and develop your basic skills.
- Less than 200 employees – give preference to buying from a company of less than 200 employees. Isn’t it great knowing you are supporting your local community in a more direct way? Many times when you purchase this way you will look the owner of the company in the eye, and they will seem to have a personal concern for you. Sometimes a local company will have more flexibility with their smaller suppliers, and they will spend more time with you, answering your questions. The mechanic I go to is not a chain and so it is almost always the same people that we deal with every time. I believe they take great care of our cars and I feel like they are honest to deal with, I had quit going to a chain because I didn’t feel like they were honest or even listened to me to fix my original problem. But even dealing with local vendors – I will still question and occasionally bargain with them.
- Quality – buy items that are verifiably of high quality. We have seen a big deterioration of quality in many things, but there are still companies that produce the quality we are looking for at a reasonable price. Sometimes price and quality are a mismatch. Some luxury cars are more likely to break down on you, and some expensive vacuums are more likely to need warranty repair. Sometimes the item we seek may be used or often it may be new. Maybe we are looking into a North Face jacket or want to purchase a new bicycle. Whatever the item — research, research, research! Never rush into a purchase, and only buy things that you believe will stand the test of time. This will often be the one time where I might deliberately purchase from a large company.
I hope these tips have helped! I would personally stay out of the stores that make you dizzy when you step into them. One of the stores I think of is one where the corporate symbol is something one shoots at, hmmm. The other company has a name which involves dropping 3 letters from ‘martial law’. Are they telling us something, like we are zombies or slaves? They might have cheap prices, but sometimes you don’t get what you expect, and sometimes you bring home more widgets than you expect. Do we really need all of that? If we can’t buy truly locally or buy components to make something, maybe we don’t need it.