Today you are likely to buy something. Most of us do that daily.
What are you getting for your money?
Most of us look for “value for money” — but we have odd ways of doing that.
We’ll jump in the car (convinced it’s something we can’t do without, period, and so since we own one we’ll use it whether it makes sense or not at this moment) and off we’ll go.
We’ll go looking for the lowest price, no matter what that costs us.
Keeping your money at home
The first decision we need to make, before we calmly hand our money (or our plastic) over, is where to hand it over.
Spending that money in my neighbourhood does more for my community, in most cases, than spending it in some other neighbourhood.
If I do the groceries, and stop at Better Bulk, at Royal Butchers, at Alex’s World of Cheese, at Celena’s Bakery, at Janny’s Fruit & Vegetables, and only buy from chain stores what I can’t get from these, I’m keeping my neighbours in business. Their families get to prosper.
If I went directly to Valumart, or Loblaw, or Sobey’s, or Metro, their shareholders might prosper (and of course the store manager and his/her employees do have incomes) but any of those chains might turn around and decide that sacking 1/3 of the store staff to add another 2¢/share is a good idea — something that won’t happen when the proprietor and one or two others are the store.
At least those shareholders are in my country. If I were to head off to the WalMart Supercentre, or the CostCo, the profits would head off out of the country.
I feel the same way about coffee. Starbucks and watch the money trickle off to Seattle … or Seb’s Cappuccino or Red Rocket Café and watch it stay right here?
(That both Seb’s and Red Rocket make a significantly better latté than Starbucks — better coffee, better barista training by the owner, more care taken throughout — is glorious. But then, what else could you expect in places where they come to know you?)
Keeping your money in quality
A great cup of coffee gets drunk, leaving only memories behind.
A great steak or piece of cheese gets eaten.
Many other things we buy persist. If quality (of the food, of the experience) matters, so too does quality of goods.
My pots and pans come from a company in Prince Edward Island. They are lifetime investments. They weren’t cheap, but they were far from the most expensive on the market. (The only disappointment in the line was the Teflon-coated frying pan — and the disappointment is with the Teflon and how quickly it wears down, not the pan itself. The next frying pan bought has a ceramic coating: same non-stick properties, same “wipe off” cleaning as Teflon, without the chemical breaking down or the scars showing up as it wears.) Some are ready to enter their second quarter-century of service.
My knives are Henkels from Germany. Again, lifetime investments, with more than a quarter-century of mileage on them. Nothing wrong with buying from international suppliers if you get quality.
My children, when they were young, had Brio toys from Sweden. If and when grandchildren come, the Brio can come out again. And again for theirs, and no doubt the generation beyond that. Years of hard play and not a chip in the paint, not a spot of rust, everything as good as new. Worth every penny (and worth adding onto).
In our neighbourhood, there’s an appliance repair shop. Not only does it make the thought of buying a reconditioned appliance a better deal, it’s good to know things can be repaired, not replaced. That’s worth supporting.
Our containers used to be all plastic. Now there’s a large number of glass ones ready for use. They freeze better, microwave better, seal just as well, and will probably last us the rest of our lives.
Yes, quality costs (although many items were bought on sale: we were willing to wait to get our price). Some do come even from China (although my usual sneer of “cheap Chinese junk” is generally applicable to most, I’m willing to buy a quality item produced there).
Not hiding other spending to get value
When I used to own a car, it was quite common to make several trips in it a day. The “convenience” meant I didn’t plan ahead.
Now I don’t own one (haven’t since mid-2009, and don’t miss it in the slightest now). But I do plan more carefully.
I’ll take my little rolling cart for groceries with me to the farthest stop, and walk all the way back, popping into shop after shop in sequence. Before going, I peruse the flyers from the chain stores, and my list says “buy this here, and that there”, so that I get the sale prices without doubling back.
I get my exercise, the local merchants get my business (I’d never stop, pay the parking meter, jump in and out at that many shops if I was driving), I get good prices and spend where I want to: in my neighbourhood.
If I look back ten years ago, when we lived in a suburb with big box stores with “ample free parking”, I’d spend much more, on much less quality, simply because finding a parking spot, and slogging through those monstrosities, meant that I tried to do as much as possible while I was there. (It never stopped me having to go to at least one other big box for something I couldn’t get … and usually a third trip to a local shop later in the day, also by car.)
Today we live better, live healthier, and contribute more to our community, with better quality for ourselves. That’s value for money — and we’re spending less than ever doing it.
Sitting down with yourself, asking “what makes a community liveable”, getting there if you don’t already have that in your life, and then figuring out how to get value for yourself is a lot of work. No one can do it for you, though.
If you don’t? You’ll keep slogging down the highway, keep circling for parking, keep giving your money to people from far far away who don’t give two damns about your community.
I know which I choose!