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Stay Calm, Buy Smart
by Edna Nelson
2009-02-03 09:50:29
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Have you ever considered that maybe this economic recession is the best thing that ever happened to us? The past decade has been all about spending, lending, production and self satiation with material goods. We have seen huge cars, private jets, mega markets and someone ready to lend whenever we might want to spend. For people who are used to taking money for granted this recession means putting ones feet back on the ground and really seeing money for what it's worth. When we get down to it money is just a tool that we created to facilitate our ability to do trade. Psychologically many people associate money with freedom, self worth and overall security losing these things are what people are most threatened by when facing the reality of the current economic forecast.

In the media there is a lot of talk about what the average consumer should do with their money, in Finland there are advertisements encouraging people to spend, and in the US there are advertisements encouraging people to save. People are wondering what to do with their money when no one knows where the economy will go, and it seems like doors are closing fast. Tons of folks are losing their jobs and those with children have the extra pressure of multiple mouths to feed. Hopes for the future are becoming blurry and everyone seems to have their own advice. Here is mine: surviving the crisis is not about whether you spend or save, it's about how you spend, and when you do; put your money where your mouth is.

The power of our spending money is high in this time of scarcity. Business owners are really watching how and where consumers are spending, they will follow our prompts. If we spend on Eco-friendly products, fair trade products, healthy foods, and switch to environmentally progressive electricity providers the market will respond. Healthy foods can be found at good prices, frozen vegetables are great if you compare prices (and some say they are even healthier), and the more we buy the lower the prices might be able to go. I bought some soy milk for 50% the other day, thanks to everyone else who buys soy-milk so the supermarket ordered a little too much. I love how the vegetarian selection grows in my local supermarkets, and as prices and variety change, my quality of life improves, along with my buying power. A friend of mine runs an Eco-shop and fantastically she is still open thanks to the few people who smartly put their money where their mouth is and spend where it counts.

I would advise meat eater's to seriously consider the idea of adopting a vegan, vegetarian, or vegetarian leaning diet. Not only because animal products usually bare a pretty large carbon footprint, but also because they are expensive. Add up the amount of money you spend on animal products a month, and then consider what you would save by cutting that sum in half, or even subtracting ten percent? I was having a mostly fruit and vegetable based diet over the most recent summer, I drank a lot of water and tried to stick with whole grain products when it came to carbs like rice, pasta and bread. It was CHEAP and really healthy. Now, I have added cheese to my diet and I can say that it is the single most expensive item on my shopping list. I can't imagine what would happen if I would add a steak or two to my shopping list, I wouldn't have any money left to party!

Buy locally and/or from smaller shops and companies. If you are concerned about people keeping their jobs put your money where it will make the most difference. If you shop at local markets, and boutiques you might be able to help insure that the person/people and family/ies who makes a living off that shop will make it through the next month and hopefully go on to use their spending power smartly as well. Larger companies employ more people in total but there is no job insurance that you can see when you patronize them. Buying all your produce at the local supermarket does not insure anyone's livelihood the company might still choose to close that location or fire a certain number of the employees, or change their farms even if it is doing relatively well in order to gain more profit. Investing in shops with fewer infrastructure jobs or employees in general improves your chance to re-enforce job security.

If you me one huge problem that has created this crisis is the huge bonuses and salaries CEO's, and other high ranking corporate heads have taken and designed the market around. This consolidation of wealth has lead to the limit of the average consumer's ability to spend, and created a great need to lending. If people had more fair wages across the board debt might not be such a big problem for so many of us today. On top of it all the same corporations and their highest earning employees get huge tax cuts, and now bailouts keeping them afloat, taking away from the economy. Corporations are laying off thousands and giving their CEO's raises in the same breath. Tax-payers are compensating Company executives for their trips around the world, when most of us don't even have money to go on vacation. Grab this issue by the horns and try to support small businesses as much as possible.

If you are a small business owner cooperate with other small businesses for your supplies when possible. Create a ring of support if you don't already have one. Try alternative employment situations if you can only offer part-time work pairing up with another shop might create a full time opportunity for someone. Small businesses are fantastic because they can benefit lots from operating ethically, without all the red tape. Get people interested in what you offer and refer your customers to small businesses you approve of when you can. Make your shop unique so people have more fun visiting you than going to the local chain store.

Changing our relationship with the clothing industry can make a big impact on our wallets and world as whole. Letting it be known that we don't need to buy everything that comes out on the shelf, is not only a way we can affirm our own sense of self, but to cut down on consumerism and pollution. Spending time in second-hand shops and means you can get more for your money. People who are really savvy about second-hand shopping can find vintage designer goods which re-sell for 3 times what you might have paid at the second-hand shop. This method of acquiring goods does not support corporate needs, or production consumption ratios but it is better for the environment and gives job security to those who run the places. Buying second-hand is a nice way to spice up your wardrobe cheaply; some places even sell clothing by weight! Second-hand shops are often also income sources for humanitarian organizations which will surely need our support as the economy affects the most vulnerable of us.

The production industry should be directed more toward things that last, things that we can mix and match stylistically and things that can-not be bought second-hand. I buy second-hand nighties, but not second-hand panties, I will take my friends used sweaters, but not their used toothbrushes, so of course there are things that need to purchased new. Be Creative, learn how to modify clothing and embellish things to make them your own. At the end of the day buying second-hand has given me more money to spend on what I must by new, more expensive lingerie, jewelry, special toothbrushes or a sewing kit.

So far one might get the impression that I am completely anti-corporate. Talking about sewing kits, and second-hand shops. But why should I be so much in support of them? Yes, there are things that should be mass produced, and in some cases it is better for the production of certain things to be centralized, maybe. But the market needs to adapt, or else we will all die (and I am not joking.). A good way to influence that change is by literally refusing to buy in. I'm just pro-community, pro-environment, pro-freedom and pro-earth; it just happens to be that the hoarding ways of corporations are exactly the opposite of all those things. I mean, wouldn't the world be so great if every corporation was replaced by an equal amount of cooperation?

If I can say one good thing about corporations it is that they employ lots of people, and if you are one of those people you might be anticipating more large scale lay-offs before the end of the year. For you I would advise getting involved in the local market as a good way to create future opportunities for yourself. Get to know your local farmers if you can, find out what your local craftsmen are up to, tap into your skills. Use your free time well, look into your spending habits, and use your health plan (if you have one) for whatever check-ups you and if you have a family (and they are covered) your family might need. Opening yourself up a little while there is still some stability is a good way to prepare your mind for quick action. Checking in on your health is a good way to get a doctor paid and help predict and lower future costs. Getting your teeth cleaned today prevents a root canal tomorrow. If you work for a big company ask yourself (if you haven't already) what you would do if you got fired today? Look into companies that ARE doing well, find out why, become a resource in whatever field you might be. See if they are hiring. Most importantly stay calm, make mindful choices about how you use your money and your time, and remember that there is always a third option.

Lots of folks make their livings through sort of marginal employment situations, freelance, part-time, black-market, unemployed, creatives, etc. In these kinds of industries the idea of job security is laughable. In the margins there isn't much to worry about, stick to your resourcefulness and keep your health up, just like you've been doing. If you are unemployed and know that your chances of getting work are low to none spend this time on self development. Get involved in the cultures and communities that interest you and that you maybe haven't had too much time to look into. Check the Internet you might be surprised at how many free events are going on in your area. If you live in a city you can probably go to more than one free event a night, and often there is free food to be found if you search with that specifically in mind.

It never hurt anyone to get into the free-stuff mindset, free theater nights, galleries to check out, free museum days, and suggested donation events, are like gold in a person's pocket. If you live in the country side become a gossip, if you don't have a car just think of it as money in the bank and hitch rides with people you trust to interesting places. Become a professional helper and use your free time to connect with neighbors and do projects that not only improve your skill level but might end in an invitation to dinner! If you have kids find fun things for you to do together, go outside, play games, and keep your mood up. Keeping busy is a good way to fight off the depression being unemployed might lead to, and if you stay social it might even lead to a job. Many great ideas have come out of economic depression; it's one of the universe's ways to put people into situations we would never put ourselves into.

If you spend nights having dinner with friends or in larger groups, cooking in bulk, and buying larger amounts of food you will be surprised at how much money you might save. Eating together facilitates community building and gets people excited about helping out. Over dinner is a good way to network, brainstorm and get your hand on the pulse, inviting people to your place for meals can also be a good way to make money if you charge a reasonable a flat rate (LOL. Forget I wrote that...). Eating together can be a real life saver, it keeps a person sane, provides us with a diet that is healthier because it increases the variety and saves electricity with one dining room light on instead of 3.

Now is the time to make our voices heard as consumers. Use your money to construct the world you want to live in. Our spending habits got us into this situation, maybe they can also help us get out. Now is the time to define what kind of environments we want for ourselves, so that when the time comes we will have resources to our disposal. It never hurts to find your local grocers, learn to cook with a vegetarian focus or get creative with your dress. When money is low we have to think about the things in life that are free: clean air, nice sun rises, good laughs, bitter tears, friendship, creativity and most of all every single moment we have in this life. Let your time be used to build community and develop your sanity. No one can say exactly what will happen with the economy try and stay calm, get in touch with yourself, who you really are, and what you are really worth. If you use the money you have today smartly you have a better chance to make it through this storm no matter how bad it might get. If you decide to focus on community, and healthy living it's likely that you will come out with more than you thought you had before.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-02-03 10:45:56
Good insightful article. Perhaps this global economic crisis is a wake-up call. On the other hand, economic disasters have brought down entire civilizations. As Kenneth Clark puts it in his very first episode of his series on civilizations: time and again we have made by the skin of our teeth and the dark ages are not very enlightening and cofortable for anybody. He also had a caveat there that for him the dark ages are only the 7th and 8th century, not the whole of Medieval times as tje likes of Voltaire misguidedly assumed. Indeed, the gods return and so does imagination and perhaps that is not so bad after all.

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