Saturday, March 16, 2013

Consuming - What I've learned about buying from a year of being broke.

"Pittsburgh Millionaires" was the term my friends and I used for ourselves when we graduated from college and had our first salaried jobs. I was not making ridiculous amounts of money by any stretch, but I was paid decently and coming from supporting myself as a student on 3 part time jobs in an affordable city. It's amazing how quickly you acclimate to making more than twice as much money as you did the year before.

I knew I had a cell phone bill, but didn't know (or care) how much it was because I could pay for it. I went out to eat 5 nights out of the week, because why not, I worked a lot and cooking is hard, and then I'd throw out food that went bad because I didn't eat it. I bought furniture and clothes to fill up the expanded living space I moved into. I did some fiscally responsible things like saving for retirement, paying off my credit card every month, and not purchasing a car, but looking back now, I want to know what did I do with all that money?

Some of it was really well spent. Plane tickets to Israel, and Italy and Haiti. Running shoes and marathon entries. Tickets for me and my sister to go the opera, some fantastic meals with good friends, and bottles of wine that got shared over conversations I cherish.

A lot of it was wasted on lattes I barely tasted but drank out of habit, cheap shoes from Payless or Target that I wore 3 times and hurt my feet so much I never wore them again or that fell apart within a few months, take out food that other people cooked for me even though I was perfectly capable of preparing food I had already purchased myself, late night ice cream runs, and cheap clothes I bought just because they were on sale.

Then I quit my job to start a business, and re-entered the world of supporting myself through part-time work.

Suddenly, I knew down to the penny how much that cell phone bill cost. Groceries were bought and planned and used completely. I can count on one hand the number of new clothing items I've purchased this year. Lattes became an extravagant treat. I knew exactly where the little money I had was going, and while there were things I missed, I was surprised by how much of what I cut out I didn't miss at all.

Being broke sucks. Feeling stressed about money, and adjusting your social life because you can't afford to go out with people, or do things you love to do is not fun. Luckily, things at Thread are going well, and we've even started to compensate ourselves a little. We're not at full salaries yet, and I'm not giving up the part time jobs, but I can have some disposable income again, which is so liberating. This time I am determined to make sure I'm aware of how I spend it.

The more I learn about supply chains and companies and their products, the more I become aware of just what I support when I purchase stuff. High quality, whether it's things, food, or experiences cost more. Unfortunately, we've become such a consumption based culture that we feel as though we have the right to cheap, fast, vast quantities of products all the time. We don't. Not without huge expense to our environment and/or other people.

I look at the vintage clothing my grandmothers have given me and I think, I don't have anything of my own that will likely last long enough for me to give to granddaughters some day. The more I learn about food policy and the industrial practices and medications and ingredients we ingest, the more I believe in the importance of knowing what you're eating, and where it comes from. The more I dig into supply chains of the products I buy for so little money, the more I realize I am directly supporting practices I don't believe in or want to support at all. The more I learn about landfills and the amount of money and resources being buried underground as we throw things away is terrifying. The more I've been forced to give up, the more I am aware of what I really want and miss being able to buy, as opposed to consuming out of convenience or habit.

So, moving forward I am trying to change. To focus on quality and not quantity. To focus on experience over stuff. I will budget for and pay what I have previously considered an outrageous amount of money for a pair of shoes or a beautiful piece of clothing, because it will be something that I love, and that is designed and made well, and that will not fall apart after one season, and doesn't endanger people's lives in it's production. I will pay 3 times more for the grass-fed beef, because it's worth it and because I do not need to eat meat everyday. I will not buy stuff just because it's on sale or impulsively because I can. I will put that money towards a plane ticket to see people I love, or to run a new marathon, or something else awesome that years from now I will appreciate having been part of my life experience.

Consumers hold a huge amount of power. Your purchases, donations, and the way you spend your money can influence products and policy. Make sure what you're spending it on is worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Being broke sure isn’t fun, but it does give you one heck of a life lesson. It’s good that you were able to realize all these and started changing your ways on spending. I like this line “To focus on quality and not quantity. To focus on experience over stuff,” because it applies to me as well. I am actually guilty about spending a lot on things I like at the moment but end up being barely used or thrown away, so this is something I need to practice along the way too.

    Hershel Duffey