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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Frugal consumerism. . . .

We're constantly bombarded with advertising and enticements to purchase consumers goods. On my commute to work, I must pass at least fifteen billboards hawking everything from new cars to furniture to garden ornaments. I get off the lightrail in the middle of downtown, and walk past Borders Books, Saks Fifth Avenue, and J.Jill before I ever get to the bus stop that will take me to campus.

I'm getting better at controlling my urge to shop---when I do shop these days, I'm paying cash, rather than using my trusty credit card. I'm also learning to be a more discerning shopper, considering not just whether those new boots will look good with my new jeans, but also whether the item will truly add value to my life.

I recently found a website called The New American Dream, which forwards the idea of conscious living and responsible purchasing. The site has a nifty little wallet-card that can help consumers snap out of a consumption-driven frenzy, by asking themselves the following questions:

Is this something I need?
• Do I already own something that could serve the same purpose?
• Can I borrow one, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?
• Was it made locally?
• Was it made with environmentally preferable materials?
• Was it made with fair labor practices?
• Will it serve more than one purpose?
• Is it made well enough to last a useful ength of time?
• Will it be easy and cost-effective to maintain?
• Will using it require excessive energy?
• Does it come in excessive packaging?
• Can I recycle or compost it when I’m done with it?
• If I’m still not sure, can I wait a month before deciding to buy it?

I'm starting to ask myself these questions at the grocery store (is that packaging recyclable? Is there an option in the bulk section? Are those coffee beans organic, fair trade?), at Target (do I really need another white t-shirt? Aren't my 'old' towels working just fine?), and at the many othe stores I either visit or pass in the course of a day. Asking myself questions such as these on a daily basis creates a new consumer habit for myself, and ultimately results in fewer purchases that I'll regret later.

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