There’s more to personal finance than raw numbers. If everyone based their personal finance decisions solely on the math, there would be no need for personal finance books. (Or personal finance blogs, for that matter.) We’d all be rich. In reality, our money decisions are influenced by psychology, by emotion, and especially by personal values. For every financial transaction, we each weigh a variety of personal values to arrive at a choice that makes sense in the context of our world view.

For example, it’s important for me to support local businesses. I believe that buying local products from local merchants fosters community by enriching my neighbors, by supporting their endeavors. Buying locally often costs more, but it’s a financial price I’m willing to pay.

I do not avoid Wal-Mart, etc. completely. Nor do I shun all national brands. But where possible, I support local businesses over megacorprations. Often the choice is easy. When shopping for produce, Oregon is rich with local fruits, berries, and vegetables. Kris and I go down to the local farmers’ market a couple of Sundays every month during the summer.

Sometimes the choice is more difficult.

I collect comic books. (Or, more precisely, bound compilations of comic books.) There’s a comic book store five minutes from my house. I often wonder if I should support it despite the fact that:

  • The staff is surly and unhelpful;
  • The store doesn’t stock much of the stuff I like (I have esoteric tastes); and
  • The store charges full retail price.

If I shop online, I can find the titles I want, and generally at a savings of about 30%. In practice, I do a little of both. I make most of my major purchases online, but I buy some small stuff at the local store.

This issue is on my mind because I’d like to purchase an bike trainer, which would allow me to ride my bicycle indoors on cold, rainy Oregon days. (This is part of my ongoing wellness program.) Quality trainers aren’t cheap. The model I want costs $300 at a local bike store. I can order it from Amazon for $250.

It’s a tough decision. If the local shop were charging $270, I would buy it from them without question. If Amazon were selling it for $200, I would order it from them without question.

I have a few other options, of course:

  • I could buy a less expensive model.
  • I could be tough and bike outside in the winter weather.
  • I could try to find a trainer on craigslist.
  • I could wait and save, watching for other opportunities.

All things being equal, I suspect most people would choose to buy local. But each of us has a different price at which local is no longer an option. For some, this point is immediate: they’ll always buy the cheapest option, regardless of other factors. Others — and I know a few like this — will buy local no matter the cost.

But where is that point for me?

(As with many ethical issues regarding money, this debate is irrelevant for those with low incomes. They don’t have an option.)

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