Where does the Money Go?

In April I wanted to do a money inventory.  Budgeting, recording, penny pinching – none of these things are new to me.  Over the last five years of my life I’ve gotten fairly good at sticking within budgets I’ve set, so I wasn’t really interested in how much we spent, so much as I was interested in the ways we spent it. After all, you can tell a lot about what a person values by observing their spending habits.

Well, these are some of the things I would say I value that I think money can buy:

Preparedness and Peace of Mind

Family Memories

Friends

Community

Health

Education.

But, as it turns out, do I spend my money on these things?

When it comes to Peace of Mind – I spent a fair amount of money this month buying up tools for organizing the house.  I mentioned that I read some books about organizing, and after doing the types of assessment recommended – such as figuring out problem areas – I purchased some storage containers and made plans to buy a cart to store our “current projects.” It turned out organizing gave me a lot of peace of mind.  I had been thinking we needed to move before we could deal with some of my house woes.  Actually, some of them were just the result of, to put it one way, bad design.

My new craft space

We spent money on friends when we went out to eat once, and when we took a hike in New Hampshire to celebrate my birthday.  But… that was it, and it wasn’t that much.  Actually, seeing how few times we spent money buying gifts for others or taking others out to eat (or even inviting them over to eat) made me remember that I want our main family mission to be hospitality – and we’re not living up to it.  We can do better – we just have to figure out how.

The Fire Tower at Pawtuckaway State Park, NH.

Healthwise I finally buckled down and made a purchase during the last week of April I’ve been contemplating for about 6 months.  I bought the p90x DVDs used on Amazon.  This is cheaper than a gym membership and the odds of me doing it are very high.  I’m pretty motivated when it comes to doing exercise DVDs, and I’m planning to start the program on May 14th.

But… we didn’t spend much on family memories, community, and education.  When Steve and I first got married we joked about eating ice cream every Monday at the ice cream store for the rest of our lives.  We had just spent a blissful summer doing that and it is a really good memory.  Thinking back on that I really want to bring it back.

We could certainly spend more money in our community – not just by giving to charities but by purchasing more things downtown.  In Salem I bought a few things at Scrub, Lifebridge, and of course my weekly coffee break at Jaho, but not too much more.  As I’m looking to upgrade my wardrobe this year, I want to make more of an effort to purchase clothes at some of the boutiques downtown.  I probably also need to look into some of the other non-tourist non-eatery type businesses downtown as well so I can get an idea of what else I could buy there, instead of at Target or on Amazon.   Spending money within the local downtown helps out businesses and the community.  If you want to know more about this, I wrote a post about it here.

How do you match up your values with your spending?  What areas could you improve on?

Plaid Friday

Fashion Faux Pas or new Green Idea?

On Friday morning I was reading the Derry News at my in-laws table, still woozy from friends, family, laughter and pie the night before.  That’s when I saw the third page article about Plaid Friday.

Plaid Friday?  Plaid’s not going to do anything to hide my bulging Thanksgiving belly,  What happened to slimming Black?

Well, it turns out Plaid Friday is one alternative to Black Friday (the other I’ve found focuses on buying nothing on Black Friday).  According to the Plaid Friday website

Plaid Friday celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses. Plaid Friday is the fun and enjoyable alternative to the big box store “Black Friday”, and is designed to promote both local and independently owned businesses during the holidays.

The website lists about 200 participating businesses, approximately half in California (Oakland being the creative center of this movement), and the other 100 across the United States.  On their blog, the first post is about Somerville’s Chocolatier Taza and their participation.

When it comes to Christmas shopping (or shopping in general), there are a couple desires jostling harder than the guy cutting the lines in front of Walmart.  One is to get good deals on as much stuff as possible.  Another is to find the perfect gift for people we love.  Often another is to make an ethical purchasing choice.  While purchasing from local businesses is not on the same moral scale of boycotting products made with child labor, such considerations about purchasing has racheted up on consumer consciences in past years due to newspaper articles, studies on changing consumer behavior, and simply more focus on sustainable living pervading American society.

One way to satisfy all three of these could be with Plaid Friday sales; maximizing as many of these values and goals as possible.   What I like especially about the movement is that it presents a “third alternative” to either buying from “Big Box” stores, or not purchasing anything at all.  Yet it subtly addresses the fact that the way our society is structured at the moment, people will be consuming goods others have created, whether they be bought or borrowed.  As Mark Twain said, “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

So whether you choose to wear plaid or black when shopping, see how much you can find in your local stores first.  Then try the big boxes.  Finally, perhaps think twice before venturing into a retail establishment at all.  In the slightly twisted words of Michael Pollan “buy goods, mostly necessities, not too much”.  Research show that experiences bring more pleasure than goods, and these experiences can be found in your own locales via theaters, restaurants, or salons in the area.

Consider checking out the 3/50 Project webpage for more details about another “buy local” movement which has been around since 2009.

Costly Community

Cheap Community vs Costly Community. What’s the difference?

I wonder if you are familiar with the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He has most recently been described richly by the biographer Eric Metaxas as a “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.”  At my college, his book “The Cost of Discipleship” was required freshman reading.  The very first chapter of the book opens with the denuciation of “cheap grace.”  Christianity is founded on the premise that Christ died to reconcile the world with God, repair creation, and atone for sins.  This he did by extending grace to all through his death and resurrection.  In the words of the televangelists “It’s a free gift!”

And yet, Bonhoeffer quickly and succinctly, on page one, begins to define what grace truly implies.  It requires contrition for sins, desire to be delivered from sin, confession and discipleship. (Which, if you are looking for a great post on discipleship in the New Testament, look no further than this post by a very thoughtful Anglican friend on mine.)

What does this have to do with Community?   Only that I see community lauded as the cure for our frenetic lives over and over on plenty of environmental and progressive websites.  I see it as the punch line of do-goodism, and the sincerest answer to our consumer culture of individualism. Great. It very well could be.

Like grace though, I think there are two types of community, cheap and costly.

Paradoxically “Cheap” community seems to be mostly about spending money in order to feel good about your purchases and bolstering the local economy.  The farmer’s market,  local restaurants or bands, or businesses.  I don’t want to sounds as though I’m against any of this, I’m not.  In fact, I wrote a whole post about how great I think it is, and read that Small Mart book about how local shopping bolsters the local economy.  Something which spending money at big box stores doesn’t.

However, I find it a little fishy that when we talk about community, we are very often saying something to the effect of “come support your community” and really meaning, “come spend money.”

Community is people, and people are not money.  Mostly community is composed of lots of people who either don’t have money, or think they don’t have money.  So when we talk about supporting our community, we should talk just as much about meeting our neighbors, volunteering in our schools, walking each other’s dogs, babysitting each other’s kids, and picking up each other’s trash.  That’s costly stuff, but doesn’t involve money.

Instead of emphasizing spending money over helping people, lets rebalance our talk and our time to reflect what community really is, people.  I belong to the non-profit Parents United of Salem, which is about connecting parents with one another and founder Sarah Gaddipati recognizes that “people’s time is as important as money.”  This is one example of what community could look like, encouraging those in every stage of parenting.

In effect, what I think we should be cautious about when discussing community is emphasizing the aspects which are most likely to bring about quick tangible rewards to ourselves, like delicious products, and glossing over those which involve sending our kids to schools which don’t rank number one in the state.

Pumpkin Farming and Community

I have been busy the last three days hauling roughly 2000 ripe pumpkins with a cadre of international friends and learning how to make tofu from soy beans.  That, and reading The Small-Mart Revolution (by Michael H. Shuman).  Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but pumpkin picking, piling, wiping, and moving is repetitive, mindless work.  Since it took a total of 8 – 10 hours to complete a 4 acre field, I have also had time to formulate how best to sum up this book for the discerning community participant, which is y.o.u.  What follows are several “what you can do” points from the book (and more can be found here), a whirlwind of Massachusetts local information on farming and food, and some observations and ideas on retail and community living in Beverly.

Luckily for all of us, Shuman does not feel the need to start his book with a reiteration of WalMart as the anti-christ/devil incarnate.  (I usually put down books which waste ink, paper, and brain cells on repetitive diatribes without solutions.  Half this book is dedicated to solutions.)  As Shuman himself points out on page 7; the point of a Revolution is to “improve prosperity of every community…by maximizing opportunities for locally owned businesses… which is half the typical economy.” He also provides a statistic on page 43 that this half of the economy also provides “at least 58 percent” of jobs. (p. 43)

Jobs which are not place-based, and largely non-locally owned (ie: Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon) leech from the community (best approximated by tax jurisdiction) money which could be spent improving the community. (p. 40)  They are also plied with incentives from community builders that usually destroy locally owned (ie: mom and pop) shops.  Then he describes an interesting term I hadn’t heard before: “multiplier.”  He writes, “Each purchase you make triggers purchases by others.  For instance, a dollar spend on rent might be spent again by your property owner at your local grocer, who in turn pays an employee, who then buys a movie ticket.”  This is a multiplier, how many times the dollar is used in the community.  He says, the best thing you can do, is keep your money local.  He cites a study of “leakage” of dollars in Austin, TX. which notes that of 100 dollars spent at Borders 13 circulate back into the local community, of 100 dollars spent at 2 local book stores, 45 circulate back into the community.  The more times the money circulates, the more tax revenue it generates.  (Also, you can view the study on this blog/website.)

Then he gives Massachusetts residents a kick in the pants about purchasing things in Tax Free New Hampshire.

That, friends, is the book in a nutshell.  It’s chock full of other case studies about big vs. small business, incentives the government provides to big businesses, and how diversification is best for an area, and as previously mentioned also full of five chapters of how y.o.u can make a difference.

A riddle posed at most farms, and among most foodies I’ve lived with and talked with can be summarized like so, “How come we’re buying apples from New York (Washington, Nova Scotia, Vancouver…etc) when we grow apples right here in Massachusetts (list other places here.) and they’re buying our apples.”  To this, Shuman proposes a little slogan that’s been kicking around for awhile. “Local First.”

“Local First” says, if you can, choose to buy your apples from a local source (perhaps one of the farms the Massachusetts government lists on their website here. Or one the Food Project so kindly provides a link to here.)  And if you can, choose to buy your beer from a local source.  And if you can, choose to eat out at a locally owned restaurant.  And if you can, choose to entertain yourself with a local band.  But here I am, just listing off to you half a dozen links I know of, and you probably can’t click them all.  But if you do get the time, click of them, and this other project that is really taking off called the 3/50 project.

Finally, since I spent 20 months in downtown Beverly without a car and had plenty of time to walk around Rantoul and Cabot streets in all kind of weather, I humbly propose that there are still several businesses missing from downtown that could round out the Beverly Main Streets. (Actually, I’m sure there are dozens, but these are the items that took the most hassle to get without a car.)

1. A shoe store.  2.  A book store (if you are going to forgo Amazon.com, or even just for the atmosphere) 3. Non-used clothing.  (I’ll be honest, thrifted socks aren’t appealing to me.) 4.  Home Goods (shelving, dishes, curtains, towels and the like.  It’s either Family Dollar or the Antique Shop.) 5.  A real honest bakery with bread.  I love pies and pastries too of course, but a good loaf of bread was hard to come by.  (sorry Stop and Shop, and Cassis.)

And, I will leave you with one last great idea to support local business in Beverly (and the North Shore).  The BevCard. which is like a insider SamsClub type card providing you with deals and discounts to different shops and services.  I think this is a fantastic idea, even better than the Beverly Main Streets coupon book, but hopefully would work in tandem too.  I hope that in the next few years it will be able to provide many more links between businesses and that people will rush to be part of a great network.