Friday, April 18, 2008
more on buying less
As noted by at least one other blogger, simply deciding to spend less is not a very effective way to spend less (huh?). It’s true. It’s too easy to justify $10 here or $30 there if we’re only thinking about our wallets. If we start to think about the actual cost of producing the item in question, however, in terms of the packaging, the raw materials, transportation costs, disposal, social justice issues for the workers involved in production, etc. etc. etc., it becomes a lot easier to decide not to make purchases. And for me, after making the decision not to purchase for several weeks in a row, I did start noticing that I too had more money.
My shopping list has helped - I’ve already taken the shower timer off. After letting it sit there for a while, I realized it’s just another gadget. I know if I’m standing in the shower letting the water run aimlessly while I ponder the meaning of life. I also know how to get in, wash, and get out.
Obviously, I’ll buy something again in my life. When I do, however, I’ll be thinking more carefully about my purchases, and I found a useful metric for helping me to make the decision on whether or not a purchase should be made, from a financial perspective. It gets broken down like this:
Can I afford this item? Have I:
-paid off all my debts?
-put something into my retirement account this month?
-paid all of my monthly bills?
-put something into a savings account?
-set aside enough money to purchase quality, healthy food?
-donated to a cause I support?
*If I answer no to any of these questions, it means I cannot afford the item in question.
This seems a little harsh at first glance, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. There is no priority given amongst the seven items in question, they’re just all things that have to be addressed before I consider purchasing something outside the list. I like that the focus is on an overall quality of life, not just the bottom line. I’m going to adopt this, even when “Buy Nothing” month is over.
I am also going to develop a metric to decide if the world can afford for me to have this item. It’s a work in progress, so please comment! Here’s what I have so far:
Is this item:
-Something that I will use many times, on a regular basis?
-packaged minimally, and with the best materials possible?
-produced by workers who are treated fairly, in a way I myself would be willing to be treated?
-produced as close to me as reasonably possible?
-durable, and made well?
-something that can be repaired, or at the very least, recycled, if it malfunctions or breaks?
-made of materials that are sustainable/renewable?
-produced by a company I am proud to support?
*If I answer no to any of these questions, it means the world cannot afford for me to have this item.
This seems like a lot of questions to have to answer before making every purchase, but again, it’s actually pretty easy if I look at it from the right perspective. Buying items used handles almost all of these questions, assuming I’ve addressed the first question, of whether I’ll actually use the item. Thrift shops have little to no packaging, their employees are afforded the same protections as any other employee in my state, the products come from local people who no longer have use for them, and I am proud to support any business that aims to divert waste from the landfills and find it a good home instead.
The question of durability and quality of construction, of course, are relevant any time a purchase is made, new or used, and will have to be decided on case to case. In my experience, plastic stuff breaks, for example. So I’ll think long and hard before buying it these days, whether it’s new or used.
In thinking about used items, sustainability, and renewability become, in my mind, slightly less important, although still worthy of consideration, when we consider that these items have already been produced and created. We’re not really creating new demand by buying used.
If I am buying a new item, however, I suddenly have a lot of research and thinking to do. I decided though, that this is exactly the point. I do not have a right to just mindlessly consume whatever strikes my fancy just because I have the cash to pay for it. I need to be thinking long and hard about what I consume, and why. My choices don’t just affect me. The more I remember this, the more I will make choices that are good for everybody.