Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

I first encountered this phrase when I was 19. Someone bought me a rubber stamp emblazoned with the phrase because I was a new hippie, a health nut, a tree hugger and yes, a rubber stamper.

It stuck with me. It is wisdom that you would get from a grandparent. It is also the antithesis of how most American consumers live today. It doesn't say buy, buy, buy. Is the lipstick half empty, but you'd like a new color? Don't use it up, buy a new one. Are your jeans bootcut when skinny is in? Don't wear them out, buy a new pair. Is the coffee table a little dinged and scratched? Don't make it do, buy a new one. Would you like a 60" plasma screen TV, but you can't afford it? Don't do without, buy it - on credit!

People were talking recently about how choosing to be frugal is seen as mental illness in our culture. An unwillingness to splurge indicates self-loathing or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yeah right. Let's talk about that again when the economy collapses or when most of the senior citizens in this country can't afford to retire. How how of whack is our society when living within your means is so uncommonplace that it is seen as the alternative, not the norm?

Tell your friends that you don't use credit cards (or you pay your bill in full each month, without fail). They may outwardly feign admiration, but they'll talk about you behind your back. The next time they plan a trip and you choose not to go because you can't afford to pay cash or you simply don't want to spend your money that way, they'll think your a little off. You're denying yourself, you're a tightwad, you don't know how to have fun.

I hear it all the time. We can't afford it, but it's Christmas, so we can't afford not to. Or, I needed a little retail therapy. Perhaps it is as honest as I'm going to die in debt anyway, so why not enjoy life now?

We've come to a place where buying certain things on credit is accepted as the way to do it. Not just mortgages and car loans, but furniture, appliances, electronics, groceries....yes, do you really think that every person who uses a credit card to buy their groceries pays it off in full each month? Do you think that the cart would have the same food items in it if that person had to pay cash? Certainly, there may be tough times and families who use the credit card to get them through. However, those families probably aren't purchasing Napa wines, organic brie, and artisan breads with their Mastercards and Visas.

It's insidious. Marketers convince the unsuspecting consumer that they need this boxed cereal, that granola bar, this instant drink...or they won't provide a healthy breakfast to their children. A shot of bacon and eggs is shown along with fat information to contrast the "healthy" cereal. Where is the shot of a whole grain hot cereal? People talk about how expensive food is. Well, actually, food in the US is cheap relative to income. Organics cost more; howver, I know of parents that feed their families a nearly organic diet for $300 a month. They aren't buying Hamburger Helper, Pop Tarts, Coca-Cola, Nutter Butters...nor are they buying their even more expensive health food counterparts: Newman's Os, Annie's Mac 'n Cheese, Santa Cruz organic sodas, Bear Naked granola.

We need a new way of thinking. We need to revive the spirit of those who didn't waste things. We need to wrestle away the power of the marketing machine. How to start? Turn off your TV, or at least find a way to watch without viewing commercials. Don't have your children watch commercials either. Talk about the fact that Madison Avenue wants you to spend your money on things you don't need.

Take the time to thrift with your children. ALso take the time to show them how expensive things are in retail stores. They aren't stupid; they'll catch on that getting the same thing for less money is a good thing (sorry Martha). Teach them about reducing, reusing, recycling. Get creative; make things out of what you have when you can. Teach them the skills to be savvy purchasers instead of mindless consumers.


  1. I can completely relate to you post on consumerism. I love the quote you posted, I've had it on my fridge for a few years now.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  2. I thought that was you...I'm sorry we missed you before you moved!

  3. Amen to that. I especially love that you addressed the way people label one OCD if she (ahem :) decides to re-use something that is commonly thrown away or "make do" with something that was not specifically packaged and loudly labeled for the specific task.