Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for December, 2006
Once again, the holiday shopping season is upon us--a good time for a purposeful look at where our shopping dollars go, and what kind of community we want to build.
1. Local stores more fun! And this is a newsletter about fun, after all. The element of surprise and discovery is almost completely lacking in a big-box chain store, but in a small local shop whose inventory is carefully chosen by the owner, you can find all sorts of unexpected treasures. And with food stores, you may find a wider assortment of fresher, locally originating, and organic products.
2. In a local store, you can build a relationship. Isn't it nice to be greeted by name by the owner and be told, "oh, I just got something in that your spouse will just love--let me show it to you!"
The owners and clerks get to know you as people, and the smart ones know how to make you feel special.
3. Dollars spent locally support and maintain your own community. They create jobs, they keep your downtown healthy, and they build a community that's worth living in. And surprisingly, you can often find merchandise at comparable prices from your local merchants.
4. Your community is unique, and local merchants understand this. What works in Toledo won't be the same as New York City or Bentonville, Arkansas. But some of the large chain stores are trying to make the whole country--the whole world--into one kind of consumer they can supply without regard to regional differences. I consider the "mallification" of America and the world to be a threat to our regional cultures.
5. An endless sea of big-box stores is bad for the environment, for road congestion, for development patterns, and a lot more. The open spaces are being eaten up, the downtowns are being drained of their vitality, and the soul cries out for something more!
6. Local merchants care about your community. They will donate to your school athletic team, buy an ad in the program of the local community theater, and work with activists on community improvement campaigns--not because they want to make themselves look good through a carefully channeled PR campaign, but because the owners of these stores live and work next to you.
Personally, I try very hard to buy local whenever it's feasible. I've bought major appliances from local shops that were actually better priced than offerings from large department stores. In season, I get pretty much all my produce from an organic Community Supported Agriculture local farm (fresher and a whole lot cheaper than any supermarket), supplemented by a local farmer's market, and a good chunk of my groceries from a locally-owned odd-lot discounter. Most of my book purchases are from local bookstores. My business is a member of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies http://livingeconomies.org/, and I'm an active member of the local Chamber of Commerce.
To support local businesses, I'll sometimes pay a little more--but I'm not a purist. I did just buy a camera from a mail-order house, because it was about $110 cheaper than buying the same camera locally. And I do shop at national chain supermarkets. But if the price difference is minor, I buy local. And as I've noted, sometimes it's actually less expensive to do the right thing. So when it makes sense, I buy local stuff from locally-owned stores. And when it doesn't make sense, I try to support businesses I feel good about--which means I simply *don't* shop at Wal-Mart (I could do a whole article on 20 reasons why Wal-Mart is not a company I will support).
Related Reading from the Frugal Fun Tips and Positive Power Spotlight
Shel's e-book, "The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook," includes 38 pages of great ideas on bargain shopping. The book is 280 pages of powerful frugal fun tips for a mere $8.50. To learn more, please visit http://frugalfun.com/pphtoc.html
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