Are Your Frugal Ways Hurting Us All?
Usually we feel virtuous when we save money. But as the economy teeters in that uncertain territory of possible recession, suddenly we are being implored to spend. With prices going up and incomes uncertain, the instinct for many of us is to cut back on spending; yet if everyone does that, a recession seems certain.
This situation makes me think of others when frugality can be seen as a virtue or a vice, depending on how you look at it:
1) Shopping discount stores
I love me some Target, but I will not shop at Wal-Mart because of that company's well known anti-union policies and labor problems. I try to sit on a high horse and enjoy my Target shopping, content that I am doing The Right Thing. But am I? A friend who worked in the fashion industry and knows her factory audits blogged this:
"Personally, i try not to shop at places where the pricing is too good to be true. because if the price is too good to be true, my knee jerk reaction is that some kind of cheap, possibly sweatshop, labor was involved."
Hm. Can Target sell an $12 sweatshirt and still pay the person who sewed it fairly? I don't know, and since the answer might make me stop shopping at Target, I'm not sure I want to know.
2) Buying everything on sale
Like so many Wise Breadders, I rarely pay full price for anything. Often that tactic allows me to buy foods that are organic, coffee labeled "fair trade," or cosmetic products not tested on animals. I thought I was being smart AND doing The Right Thing.
Then I had the privelege of interviewing Bill Center , retired US Navy Rear Admiral and then-president of the Washington Council on International Trade. His point of view was that if you wait until what you want to buy is on the clearance rack, you are not telling the retailers that you like this merchandise. If Macys couldn't sale all those organic cotten Save the Whales Tshirts and had to discount them, they won't order more.
Hm again. When I buy on sale, am I sacrificing the ability to vote with my dollar?
3) Always buying the cheapest available
I am concerned about my family and its future. I stay home with my children because I think it's best for them, but it causes family finances to be tight.
Because of this, I don't always buy the organic food that I know is best for the earth, nor do I buy a car that I can be sure was union-made, nor do I spring for the recycled, bleach-free diapers.
Could I truly not afford this stuff? Or am I just being stingy? Certainly the truly moral thing to do would be to give up coffee altogether if I can't afford the ethically correct coffee, but I have not done that. Far from it.
One area where I always pay the extra price of kindness is eggs. Once I saw videos of chickens crammed into coops, one on top of the other, I could never again bring myself to buy eggs that are not cage free, even though they cost more. I think if I saw more firsthand examples of how my buying habits could be hurting others, I would either find the cash to buy the right thing or do without. This is an area where I am trying to improve.
4) Taking advantage of free offers
I recently joined my local Freecycle group, and again was feeling virtuous. After all, I was helping keep stuff out of the landfills.
But once I started jostling with other (presumably) middle class residents of my town for free kids' toys and kitchenwares, I started to wonder: What would we do with this stuff if we were not freecycling it? Would we really throw it in the trash?
Our local Salvation Army does regular pick-ups, so I'd probably be giving the stuff to charity rather than giving it to other people who may not be all that needy. And why should my neighbors be giving their stuff to me when they could be giving it to someone more desperately in need?
5) Try it at the store, buy it online
We all love having local businesses. So logically we should buy everything we can in the remaining shops in our downtown areas, lest the whole world turn into the continuously repeating scroll that you already see from the nation's freeways: Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot.
Sometimes I'm good about buying locally, even though it nearly always costs more. But I have also been guilty of visiting local stores to try out a stroller or some such, compare the color and heft in person, and then going home to order it much cheaper online. Am I responsible for the monotonization of America? Or do these local stores just need to get more competitive to survive in the wired world?
6) Paying the Full Balance Each Month
I thought I was doing the smart thing and ensuring my family's future by refusing to carry a balance on my credit cards.
But am I depriving depriving CitiBank of its ability to make a living? Am I the real reason behind the current banking crisis?
OK, that one is a joke. I actually can't find any ethical ambiguity to paying the bills on time.
Does saving money ever propell you into ethical dilemmas? How do you get out of them?