Mike and I are both reading the book Your Money Or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez right now. It has both of us thinking (I know, never a good thing!). As you may have gathered from previous posts, we are fans of Dave Ramsey, and his Financial Peace University has been tremendously helpful in getting us out of debt and on the right track for the future. I can't say that I've ever really wanted to read another book on personal finance, but this book kept popping up in conversation from people I admire, so I thought I'd give it a go.
I don't plan on doing any kind of full-out book review or book club-type discussion on this blog (if that does interest you then check out the book club at Simple Mom). However as topics come up that really get me thinking I'd love to delve into them here. Regardless of whether you're familiar with the book, I'd love to hear your comments if anything gets you thinking as well.
So here's the first thing that's got me thinking . . .
The authors have this to say about our consumerism:
"We have absorbed the notion that it is right to buy – that consuming is what keeps America strong. If we don't consume, we're told, masses of people will be thrown out of work. Families will lose their homes. Unemployment will rise. Factories will shut down. Whole towns will lose their economic base. We have to buy widgets to keep America strong."
I made a special trip up to Pendleton last weekend to shop at a children's store that was having a going-out-of-business sale. I was never a frequent shopper there, but I've made a few purchases now and then. I always enjoyed talking to the owner. She had great taste, and filled her store with upscale clothing, quality shoes, and environmentally-friendly toys. Everything was 40-60% off, and I found some great deals. I asked her why she was closing, and like many other retail businesses these days, her sales just aren't what they used to be. She was at the point where she needed to purchase her spring lines, and she just couldn't justify the expense when she wasn't turning a profit anymore.
My initial reaction was sadness and a little bit of guilt. Could I (or should I) have shopped more? Could I have been a better supporter of the small business person? How many times did I purchase things for the kids at Gymboree, Kohl's or Target, when I might have been able to shop with her? I like to think that I will always choose local over big box, but when you're committed to a budget, that $10 that I save on Amazon can make or break a category in the budget.
When I read this a few days later, I couldn't help but wonder if I myself have been brainwashed. Is it really my responsibility to save someone else's bottom line? And at what cost to my own family? $30 here, $20 there, it all adds up. It robs us of the ability to save, so that when the time comes Mike and I can retire and not depend on any person or institution to help us make it month to month. It robs my children of money saved for college, so they can pursue their dreams and begin their life unencumbered by the trappings of debt. I think of the extra time it takes just to maintain all the stuff we think we need.
And when is enough stuff just that – enough? My kids are more than adequately clothed. Are we really not consuming enough, and therefore partly to blame? I hardly think so. In fact, I think we have been over-consuming for so long that we have encouraged a glut of retailers when we really only need a few.
I'd like to think that as we go through this economic downturn, perhaps we'll come through the other side as more conscious consumers. That we'll buy less, but we'll buy better. That we'll stop and think before purchasing, and ask ourselves what impact our purchase will have on those around us. That we'll be able to come up with a new kind of economy and financial mindset in America, one that doesn't depend on draining every last drop out of us to make it strong.
As always, your thoughts and experiences are always wanted.