02 Jan, 2011
Shopping Embargo of 2011
Happy New Year!
Our 25 Days of Christmas is over and done. No time for a wrap-up post about it, but I will say that although it was successful I can see how it gets challenging as the kids get older! Perhaps next year I’ll make it 12 Days of Christmas. :) Regardless, I think it showed us that we CAN have regular, cheap, family fun without relying on shopping. And with that in mind I am reviving another Fishbowl tradition: the post-Christmas Shopping Embargo.
Shopping. Is it good for us, or bad for us? It’s certainly not cut and dry, is it? On one hand, the act of shopping means that we’re creating jobs. Local people are being employed, which is great. When local people are being employed those people become valuable, contributing members of our society and they make our community better and stronger. But then again, so many consumer goods are being produced overseas that one can’t help but wonder if any pros are being erased by the cons. Let’s take the dollar store for example. When we shop at the dollar store I know they’re employing 20+ people, but the things they sell are the cheapest possible goods coming right off the slow boat from China. What is that doing to our economy? And our resources? And how can we, as a species survive if the rate of consumtion overtakes the rate of regeneration? Like a colony of termites chewing through a fixed amount of resources… what happens when we run out? How many bloated queens and buzzing mounds of semi-digested wood can our world support?
I first started the Shopping Embargo on Boxing Day 2006 (!). Mark and I decided we’d do it again and I thought I’d throw out an update here on the blog.
As per previous, this is how the Embargo works:
Between January 2 and Feb 28, we will only purchase essential items for ourselves and for our family: groceries/consumables, gas, basic hygiene (shampoo, soap, but not cosmetics), medicine and essential clothing.
We will continue to spend money on events which bring us joy (and won’t end up in a landfill) like tickets to museums, movies and shows, bird seed for our backyard friends, the odd ice cream cone or square of fancy chocolate etc.
This is not necessarily a SPENDING embargo. It’s a STOP BUYING CRAP WE DON’T NEED kind of embargo.
This is where I confess that I struggle with the Shopping Embargo post every year. I don’t have much to add that’s NEW. That’s why I’m largely cutting and pasting the following text from previous years’ posts. :)
The challenge, for me, is twofold. It’s about saving money but it is also about examining my family’s needs and wants, and abstaining from buying things we don’t really need. The point is to think about the things we buy and why we buy them.
I’m not advocating we all renounce our worldly goods and live like monks. It’s not realistic, and I don’t want to live like that either! There is room in our lives for beautiful things. But if I buy myself a couch it will be a great couch. If I buy a sweater it will be one I can wash and wear for years to come. If I buy winter boots I will buy one pair knowing they will last more than one winter.
Why is the act of NOT SHOPPING so difficult to do? Is it because we’re wired to buy? Is it because when we were small and sad our mothers bought us ice cream and Barbies to cheer us up? And does it stand to follow that to deprive ourselves of our “stuff” means that there we have no other way of cheering ourselves up?
Having done this before it always surprises me how many people cannot, or will not even try to reduce the amount of their non-essential shopping. I know two months is a long time, too long for some, but I can’t help but wonder: why is this not something everyone can do? (And I am including myself here too!) It shouldn’t be this hard. It’s not like we’re talking about undertaking something that is truly physically (and mentally!) challenging, like tightrope-walking or learning how to play the violin, right? :)
In past years I know I have teetered on the borders of Needs and Wants. It’s kind of easy to convince yourself that a WANT is really a need. You can argue the details until the cows come home but it’s not my place to judge your needs and wants. I can only judge my own. You be the judge your own. :)
I love stuff, but I don’t exactly classify myself as a recreational shopper. If you are (and by “recreational” I mean that you shop when you’re bored, feeling depressed, or you shop to have fun with friends) going cold turkey might be tough. If you don’t think you can stop shopping for two months you could consider making the following small changes for the same stretch of time. Every little bit counts!
1) Consider your purchases carefully. Before you get to the register, slow down and ask yourself:
- Do I really need this? Or is it a want?
- Do I already own something that could serve the same purpose?
- Can I borrow one, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?
- Was it made locally?
- Was it made with environmentally preferable materials?
- Was it made with fair labor practices?
- Will it serve more than one purpose?
- Is it made well enough to last a useful length of time?
- Will it be easy and cost-effective to maintain?
- Will using it require excessive energy?
- Does it come in excessive packaging?
- Can I recycle or compost it when I’m done with it?
- If I’m still not sure, can I wait a month before deciding to buy it?
- (from http://www.newdream.org/walletbuddy.pdf … You can print these out and tuck it into your wallet as well.)
2) Do you REALLY need to buy something? Like a gift for a loved one and don’t feel like explaining the Shopping Embargo? (I only mention it because it’s happened to me!) Support small business instead of the big box stores. Here in Ottawa we have a lot of really nice little shops, run by some really nice people, many of whom have been part of this community for years. Shopping there is better than shopping anywhere else. I will go there first when I need to buy something. And still consider my needs carefully when I get there. :)
3) Don’t shop at WalMart. Why? Check out these fact-sheets if you want to get informed.
- Wal-Mart’s quest for the lowest price means the goods are outsourced to places where working conditions are often sub-par. In 2004 alone, Wal-Mart purchased $18 billion worth of Chinese goods. Bye bye American manufacturing jobs! (From here.) And I haven’t even touched on food and toy safety, or wage violations.
- The owners, the Walton family, collectively control over 39% of the company and are worth approximately $19.2 billion each for a combined total of $81.8 billion (as of March 2008). (Wiki)They’re billionaires, BILLIONAIRES, while the regular folks who work at their stores, helping them make their billions, earn poverty-level wages, you know, to help keep prices down.
- Many of their employees cannot afford proper health insurance.
Edited to add: I’ve already received one email in defense of WalMart. If anyone else is thinking of doing the same, I urge you to watch this Frontline documentary BEFORE you hit send. Thank you. Bottom line: shopping at WalMart isn’t doing our economy any favours.
4) Buy second hand.
5) Brown-bag your lunch and use a reusable mug for your daily cup of coffee.
6) Remember to use your cloth/reusable grocery bags.
7) Ditch single-use water bottles (the kind you buy at the grocery store, 24 for $3.99) and fill a reusable container at the tap/your Brita-type container instead.
8) Track your purchases. It might surprise you.
9) Need new clothes? Avoid the trends and more on good quality goods that will last. That trendy $14.99 sweater you’re thinking of buying probably isn’t going to last you until next year.
10) … better yet, consider buying handmade, or some original artwork. Buying handmade is a great way of supporting the local economy.
11) Know your weaknesses. I know now that I shop when I’m bored and edgy. Find a buddy you can go hang out with when feeling the urge. Think about other things you can do if you’re feeling tempted. Go out for a walk around the block, pick up a book, organize something, whatever!
This are a few other things that have helped me in the past.
- Just saying no to Boxing Day/Boxing Week/Boxing Month sales and specials.
- Not giving in to shopping as a form of recreation. Avoiding the malls is the best thing I can do. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?)
- Leaving my wallet at home.
- Throwing the flyers right into the recycle bin. They just remind me of the things we don’t have and create new “needs.” (i.e. “Hey, Canadian Tire has laundry baskets on sale. Don’t we need new ones?”)
- Watching less television.
- Switching grocery stores to one that ONLY sells groceries. I often shop at the Superstore, and they sell a lot more than just groceries. I need to physically avert my eyes from the displays of cute merchandise they sell there. (Sunglasses, socks, slippers, lip gloss!)
As per last year, I’m not exactly comfortable asking my readers to play along. For some people the idea of a Shopping Embargo is not a game or something to be taken lightly because it’s already a way of life that lasts all year round, but I would be happy knowing if other people are joining me. (Mostly because I like having someone with whom to commiserate!)
To keep it simple I will be updating my progress in the comments of this post. There’s a graphic in the right hand sidebar that will bring you to this post while it’s active. I’ll be tracking any slip ups and adding updates here. If you’re joining me I’d encourage you to do the same.
So let’s get started.
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