Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ahead of the crowd

I've been reading here and there that this appears to be the year where people are going to stop mindless shopping and only buy what they need. This seems to be a really new concept! People actually living without charging up the credit cards and strolling through Target putting useless stuff into the cart every second or two. I'm amazed. Astounded. Because, you know, I've been doing this for years now. Who would have thought that I'd become trendy. Me, the person who misses half the trends everyone else is pushing. Why, I'm still wearing old Uggs and Levi jeans!

Nevertheless, this is the new fad in the blogging world. They call it being green. I call it being poor. They call it innovative and fresh. I call it depressing and boring. They feel all proud of themselves for being able to make this a 'lifestyle choice." I feel like crap that I can't afford simple things that I consider luxuries that most people consider necessities.

Like light bulbs. Those damn things are expensive. Because I'm a big believer in living green and always have been, I only use compact fluorescents. I don't have an incandescent bulb in my entire house. But the CF do eventually burn out, and I've had a rash of blown bulbs this month. Light bulbs aren't in my budget, and we are living with no light in the bathroom and no light in the upstairs hall. Plus we're down one light in the living room. To me, light bulbs are a luxury.

So when I read that people are only going to buy shoes when they need them, or only buy necessities and nothing else, I think to myself, "Nu?" It's weird, because I know these bloggers are feeling really good and positive about their decisions. But the truth is, they're just cutting back for a year and then the mindless purchases will commence again. They'll spend tons of money on Christmas presents they don't need, and household decorations that are superfluous. They'll paint their rooms different colors out of boredom and buy clothing they don't really need at boutiques. They will not change forever because they don't have to. They have the money to make choices. They remind me of those congressmen that decided early last year to live on food stamps for a week. Like a week could ever duplicate what it means to be on the same boring, bland diet year after year after year. There is no comparison. They knew that their diets would be only for a few days and yet they complained of hunger and boredom. Try living like that forever, with no hope of change.

Poverty isn't a lifestyle choice, and when I read that people are feeling virtuous and getting kudos for cutting back for a short period of time, it grates on my last nerve. Oh, if everyone cut way back, it would send a clear message to the big corporations that control this country, but the chances of most Americans tossing their Visas into the wind is what, 99:1.

I guess that if the virtuous bloggers that are making a big showing of cutting back take the money they save and donate it to food banks, I'd maybe feel like they've got their hearts in the right place. But to just say "I'm not going to buy video games and new DVDs this year" doesn't impress me in the slightest. To me, it sounds like an attention getting mechanism and a way to feel smug about their newest trendy escapade. To which I can only respond, "Ugh."

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Blogger Poppy Buxom said...

If you want to see smug, join the Compact and read the mailing list. I joined last year and made it until June or July, when my refrigerator started falling through my kitchen floor. That called for a new kitchen floor, and for some reason, I didn't feel like checking Craigslist to see if anyone had one they didn't need anymore.

Of course, I didn't join the Compact to feel smug about being faux pauvre. I joined because I was drowning in stuff. I'm still drowning in stuff, but less crap. For me, the Compact was about consumerism--how Americans seem to think the answer to a problem is to buy more stuff.

I don't donate any more money to charity than I used to, but I do donate everything I'm getting rid of to non-profit thrift stores, Church rummage sales that benefit homeless shelters, and AmVets. So some good is coming from it.

8/1/08 10:04 AM  
Blogger Dave2 said...

So if you're poor, nobody can tell you what to buy or how to spend your money... but it's perfectly acceptable to make judgements about how OTHER people spend their money?

You said it best yourself...

"I have huge issues with people who think they can run my life, or other people's lives, better than I can. What you read on any blog is only what the blogger wants you to know. I do not share everything in my life, and I certainly don't share what my day-to-day finances are. While I have no shame about being strapped, I don't think that it's some stranger's business to tell me how to spend what money I do have."

The key phrase here is: "What you read on any blog is only what the blogger wants you to know."

Maybe these people are cutting back not because it's trendy, but because somebody in the family got sick or lost their job. Maybe the skyrocketing expense of everything from milk to gasoline has forced them to make a lifestyle change. Maybe they've finally realized that they're living outside their means and need to cut-back to get out of crushing debt... who can tell? "Being green" is just what they are telling you... the real reason could be far different. This "trend" could just be a way that people are dealing with our crappy economy and rising unemployment.

Most people work very hard for their money, and I don't think it's fair that they should be made to feel guilty for painting their walls or decorating their house for the holidays. Having a blog, by its very nature, is "attention-getting" whether you are writing about cutting back on spending, or how much it sucks to be poor. What's smug is judging people for how they live their lives... even if the actually are being trendy... because you will never know the reason why people do what they do.

8/1/08 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Heather said...

I don't know if they have these stores in the East, but here in the SF Bay we have Grocery Outlet and Big Lots. I have found the discounted CF bulbs for $1/pack of 4.

I am now technically middle class thanks to my new marriage, business etc. But I don't think I'll ever be able to shake the anxiety and fear of being for real poor.

I do know lots of people who have issues with spending, whether they are rich, poor or in between it seems to be an impulse control problem. Or a desire for the shopping high.
Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy" is very interesting from a sociological standpoint. I read it as market research for my business, but it has led to understanding much more than that.

8/1/08 12:19 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Dave, both of the people who have been ardent in talking about their commitment not to shop for a year have plenty of money. PLENTY. Which is why it irked me, because they were like "Wow, look at this awesome concept I cooked up...not spending money on crap! I'm AWESOME!" It wasn't the motive as much as it was the way it was presented, like it was so novel that they had to actually change their blog name and focus on not spending money like it was some kind of God's special gift.

Meanwhile, PLENTY of us don't spend money because we're cheap, or because we don't have it, or whatever. I don't bitch and moan at you when you spend thousands on consumer electronics. It's your thing, I know you love them, and I get a huge kick out of seeing what you've bought next. Plus, you introduce me to things like Indiana Jones legos, something I would have never found on my own because I don't buy toys or enter into big box toy stores. That isn't to say I don't enjoy them. What you do with your money is your business. But when you start bragging about how you're so freaking awesome for not spending money, it kinda reads false to those of us who HAVE to do it. It's like Ava Gabor in Green Acres, if you know what I mean.

Tossing my mink around my shoulders!

8/1/08 12:42 PM  
Blogger Lynn said...

About those light bulbs...
go to www.estarlights.com and you can get a limited amout (5 or 6 I can't remember which) of very discounted bulbs and/or lighting fixures if you're electric supplier is participating (I'm guessing your town probably has NStar or National Grid ) I got two great fluorescent floor lamps and a few bulbs really cheap.
Check it out.

About the rest of your post, it's your opinion. I don't quite agree they way it came across was more like sour grapes to me but that's that.

8/1/08 9:58 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

Folks who haven't been poor really, really don't get it. I remember only buying shoes when mine had holes through the bottom. I remember planting tomatoes and beans not for the fun of gardening (which I do now) but because I wanted fresh produce and couldn't afford it. Now, we're frugal because we have one in college, but it's nothing like being poor.

8/1/08 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

um....dave? i read alot of blogs, and enough of these blogs that are cutting back on spending this year have made it very clear that they are NOT doing this because of neccessity (like family illness, or losing a job), but because they want to. just to let you know.

9/1/08 8:22 AM  
Blogger Ranchmom said...

I'm okay with people taking a break from consumerism. What I hope they do with the money they save is donate it to people who live like this, like we do, every day.

11/1/08 10:41 AM  
Blogger margalit said...

You go, Ranchmom! You know I love you. :-0

11/1/08 12:28 PM  
Blogger Cakes said...

Don't worry, they will write a book and there "movement" will get some new tag like "locavore" and maybe just maybe, in the end (and helped along by a recession) there will be some permanent changes. A slight modification by a large group of people could be significant(?)

21/1/08 5:50 PM  

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