Free Box Economics

On my way home from selling some magazines at Powell's, I happened upon a whole street's worth of free piles. First one, then another, then another. The second one was the jackpot, though. I saw the chair, a tall swiveling kitchen chair; it was just what I've been looking for, meant for my youngest son. He loves to swivel and has been asking me for a chair like that. “We'll keep our eyes out!” I've said, meaning exactly this.

I began the delicate process of affixing it to my bike (thankfully achievable, as I had no children with me and the long-tail cargo bike) and, as I tightened the straps, a couple of guys pulled up to load the couch a few feet away. “Great find on the chair!” one of them said. “I wanted it. But you earned it by coming with your bike.” He paused, then launching into a rave about the wonders of free piles, and we compared housefuls of free stuff.

“But that's not the only reason to do it,” he said. “Getting free stuff means creating less demand for crappy furniture.”

“Totally!” I said, riding away with my chair and my over-the-top Portlandia score — an Oregon Kickball Club jersey — and I contemplated.

Having demand for crappy furniture: Isn't that patriotic?

Last Sunday, I listened to a radio show which was mostly concerned with the financial crisis, and whether “we get the banks we deserve.” One of the theories was that the crisis occurred not because of a problem in the housing market but because we just wanted to buy so much stuff. Bethany MacLean, author of a book called All the Devils Are Here, said, “One of the great myths about the crisis is that it was a [crisis] of homeownership,” Maclean said. “Everybody says this is what happens when you put people into homes and they can't afford to pay them back. This was never about homeownership. Most risky loans that were made were so-called cash-out refinancing so the people could withdraw equity from their homes in order to spend it.”

I found myself remembering the times presidents (especially George W. Bush, but this is definitely a bi-partisan campaign) have encouraged us to go out and shop to stimulate the economy. A phenomenon occurred here in Portland, Oregon, the hometown to which I moved back shortly after 9/11: organized flights sent to New York City to shop. They were called “Flights to Freedom” and the message since then has been very much, “it's patriotic to consume.”

But here was MacLean, saying that it's our fault that the banking crisis occurred, and not for any other reason than we wanted to buy more stuff. Using that logic, patriotic consumption could be blamed for the crash in our economy and the dip in our GDP. But even typing this statement has me feeling radical and daring. How could it be?

Consumerism has longer-term costs

It's easy to see what the benefits are of buying things, of taking part in what some call the “cult of growth”: as more people buy things, GDP increases, businesses get all hot and heavy about the future, they borrow money to make new factories and employ new people to make more things to buy. Then those people have money to buy more things. Then Emma, who owns a house, sees all the great things Lauren has bought with her new job, and she goes out and applies for a credit card (that she can get because of the equity in her home) so she can buy things. And the business owners jump up and down, clapping their hands in glee, while the credit card issuer's CEO pays cash for a new top-of-the-line luxury sedan. And the cycle continues.

But don't these things come with costs? Of course they do, but we're often conditioned to ignore the systemic costs of growth. When we think of our economy growing, we don't typically ask, “but how much carbon will be emitted as those people go to those new jobs and drive to those new shopping malls and how much will that cost us?” When we think of a new housing development, while we may mourn the pretty, wild spaces that are being paved over and the developers may have to pay to have the little red-tailed frogs moved to another wetland, we still do not ask if the disruption to the ecosystems will cost us money in two or three decades. We think of the immediate costs and benefits and we abstractly mourn the immediate loss of pretty, old buildings and swampland. But we don't look very far down the road.

And consumerism has its personal costs, too.

Consumerism has been called an addiction, one that “saps our financial resources, well-being, and hope.” In my home, the years we have been more consumptive than creative; when I have spent more of my time acquiring things than making them, and when I have made and spent the most disposable income on stuff; are the ones I regret most. My husband and I still argue over the money spent on our wedding and honeymoon, money we really shouldn't have spent, and we've talked here before about how arguments over money break up a lot of marriages.

That's really only a start. In my family, buying stuff doesn't only lead to arguments over money, but arguments over stuff. We argue a lot about how to store our stuff, who has too much stuff, whether we should throw stuff away, whose fault it was stuff was ruined/stolen/lost, and most importantly, what the purchases say about our values. So far, our marriage has managed to stay together, but I know plenty of families who break up largely because of differing consumer values; this has a huge cost on the system, from the environmental costs of keeping two separate households, to the increased likelihood the family members (especially the mother and children) will end up in poverty and creating a drain on the system, to the costs of the judicial system to deal with all those divorces.

The more we want, the more hours we must work, taking time away from family and decreasing both well-being and health. I'm sure you could work with me to enumerate the personal costs of consumerism. They're almost unlimited.

This chair is a huge deal. Do I dare sit in it?

When I think about it back at home, this chair — and the others at my kitchen table — are pretty radical. I'm rejecting the idea that I must buy a new chair from IKEA or a furniture store, one that's made in a factory by workers who earn a wage (living or no), and purchased at a retail store whose workers are also paid. I brought it home on my bike, oil companies and American car manufacturers be damned.  I did not create any new demand for new things.

But I saved an inestimable amount of future costs, from the disposal of the old chair to the environmental costs of manufacturing and shipping, to the health costs of workers who manufacture and ship these products, right down to my own feelings of well-being and not-argument. I don't have to ask my husband for money to buy a new chair; we won't argue about money, today.

I set my five-year-old up in “his” “new” chair, and ask him what he thinks, and as the smile breaks over his face, I think, “I'm raising a radical kid. Poor thing,” and I have to admit I'm pretty proud of his delight.

More about...Economics, Frugality

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Adam Hathaway
Adam Hathaway
7 years ago

Not that I ever felt that I was in the minority here but I am glad to see that you found the message to shop as preposterous as I did. I mean really how the hell can you say that it is Patriotic?

Lee
Lee
7 years ago
Reply to  Adam Hathaway

It cracks me up because almost everything “patriotic” for sale in NYC is made in China! 🙂

soledad
soledad
7 years ago

Nice article. And the chair sounds cool!

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

If you’re looking for parties to blame for the flame-out of the economy, there’s a line out the door of worthy candidates. But there is no question that our consumptive ways, encouraged by Big Business, Big Government and Big Money carry a healthy portion of that load. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we are mending our borrowing ways. Here’s a chart by the New York Federal Reserve showing the decline of personal debt: http://bit.ly/DebtDrop I say fortunately or unfortunately because, exactly like you said, slow growth has caused employment to take longer than ever before to recover from the preceding recession, as… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

Over the years, we’ve trash picked plenty of furniture items. And we’ve been proud of them and the money we’ve saved. To me, I’m not sure I see much moral difference in acquiring stuff for free or if I’d paid for it second hand. It’s all stuff and falls under the larger umbrella of consumerism, doesn’t it? Certainly, all my five year old would know is that he got the chair he’d been wanting.

Also, you’re still fighting about wedding and honeymoon costs? Yikes! Maybe you should put that money you saved on the chair towards marriage counselling.

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

Perhaps it’s selfish of me, but I’ve always been more concerned about my own and my family’s economics, versus the economics of the country or the world. I figure that I can influence things best by not buying the crappy new furniture, or the ill-made McMansion, or the clothes that fall apart about the time they’re no longer stylish. For the past 20 years, I’ve gotten most of our clothing, housewares, and furniture at thrift stores, garage sales, and trash piles. We bought an older home for 2/3 of the cost of a similar new one. I’ve raised frugal kids… Read more »

Kate
Kate
7 years ago

I absolutely loved this article.

Nicoleandmaggie
Nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

Wow, this eerily ties in to our deliberately controversial post today on whether or not GDP should be a measure of success.

However, I’d like to point out that money is fungible. You’ll be spending the money you didn’t spend on the chair on organic tomatoes or something and thus do your part buying other goods and services with the money you saved.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

Good point! That shift in perspective is a good way to guide my spending. I need to choose wisely every time I spend my money. I need to make sure that what I am buying fits in the framework of how I want to live my life and align with my values. I already do that but I slip up every once in a while and this idea should help me bring it into sharper focus.

Tracy (the other one)
Tracy (the other one)
7 years ago

I haven’t read the GDP post, but I agree that any economic system that equally weights ‘units of value’ of (for example) tobacco grown, cigarettes bought, and growth in medical treatments for lung cancer…is monumentally screwed up IMO. Our whole economic system is screwed up due to that, and due to the difficulty of correctly valuing externalities and long-term values or costs, among many other problems.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

That’s a really great point! We’d love it if you’d come join our discussion. 🙂

Rosa
Rosa
7 years ago

or maybe on chair refinishing – either supplies, parts, or someone else’s labor.

We do save *some* of what we don’t spend on new stuff, though. And theoretically our bank then invests it in the community somewhere.

Belligero
Belligero
7 years ago

Cheap semi-disposable consumer junk isn’t cheap in the long run.

Laura
Laura
7 years ago

Just be careful what you pick out of the trash – the college neighborhoods around here have a huge problem with bedbugs because of mattresses and couches left outside too long before being taken. Otherwise, yes, always look for reused/recycled first.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Laura

My cousin owns a company that finds bedbugs for people with a bedbug sniffing dog. She says that the biggest bedbug carrier is used books!

Allyson
Allyson
7 years ago

As a used-book glutton, that may be the single most frightening sentence I’ve read all year.

Josetann
Josetann
7 years ago

Just moderate heat will kill bedbugs. 113 degrees takes 8 hours, 118 degrees takes 90 minutes, and 122 degrees is instantaneous. So, put those books in the front of your car on a hot summer day while you’re at work/shopping/whatever (maybe even the dash, but be careful it doesn’t get TOO hot). For mattresses…I dunno…wrap them in black garbage bags and sit outside on a hot summer day? Freezing can work too, I don’t have the exact temps, but 0 degrees Fahrenheit should do the trick.

Kay
Kay
7 years ago

Used to do more trash picking around the end of the school year in college – my BF still uses a desktop computer he found on top of a dumpster (with the original HDD intact!) 2+ years later. As I contemplate an Ikea purchase for new living room furniture (the stuff we have is literally older than myself and, while beloved, becoming quite uncomfortable to sit on), I have to admit that I wish it were easier to get gently used furniture, similar to the gently used car sales model. But what are the chances of finding a good, COMFORTABLE,… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

You could try a consignment store- they’re going to be more expensive than a thrift store, but they typically carry much nicer stuff. Then there’s always your local Craigslist…

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristen

I’ve never had much luck in consignment stores – the prices are too high. Don’t know if that’s particular to the consignment stores I’ve tried. If I’m going second hand, I’d rather scour yard sales, thrift shops, and Craig’s List – the quality is not always good (you have to sift through a lot of junky stuff), but when it is, I’ve found the price to be much better than consignment shops.

Tom
Tom
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristen

thumbs up for craigslist. I bet most areas get dozens of couches a day posted on there.

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  Tom

While I don’t have a problem with Craigslist itself, it becomes problematic when you are trying to please 2 picky people when it comes to the way a couch feels. I can’t easily go to every person’s house that lists and sit on their couch to see if it’s something I actually want to buy… and when you’re talking about a couch+chair+ottoman combination, it gets trickier. Meanwhile, I basically can’t sit on the furniture we have. So time isn’t always on your side, either.

Thrift/consignment/Craigslist… awesome for some things… not always an option though!

sara
sara
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

I recently bought a loveseat and matching couch at a Habitat re-sale store. I paid about 150 and another 60 or so to a couple of young men I knew with trucks to move it for me. The habitat re/store had much, much nicer stuff than my local thrift stores and gave me an answer I could trust re:bedbugs. The furniture is certainly sturdier than ikea furniture — i have had plenty of Ikea furniture!– as well.

Courtney
Courtney
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

Another option, if you don’t find any used furniture by the time you’re ready for it, is Home Reserve. It’s an online company (I can’t remember how I found it, but I got a loveseat and chair from them about 3 1/2 years ago). If you have kids or animals that are hard on furniture, this is the place to get it because you can take the covers off and wash them if Junior pukes on em, or Fluffy mistakes the arm of the chair for her chew toy you can replace the foam. Also, if you get tired of… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

Somehow the photo got lost but here is my post of a wood headboard that I found on bulk trash day and refurnished and repurposed. The project cost $0 dollars although my husband did use gas to pick it up. http://adventures-of-sam.blogspot.com/2012/08/headboard-project.html I can tell you that I was raised by hippie parents and one of our favorite summer activities, as kids, was going to the dump where we would find furniture for our summer cabin and for fun too. I can’t tell you that as an adult I’ve rejected consumer ways, but I can still spy a great free find… Read more »

PawPrint
PawPrint
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

For some reason I can’t see the photo. I get the little red X in the corner.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  PawPrint

Yeah the photo has disappeared from my blog, I’ve get to add it again when I get home.

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

Be careful trash picking. My parents live in Michigan where there is a $.10 bottle deposit, so they pick up cans and bottles to return. One day my Mom saw some bottles/cans in a garbage bag so she reached in barehanded. She got pricked by a used needle/syringe. Because I have a Masters in Public Health and worked as an epidemiologist (before quitting to be a SAHM), she called me at my desk at work. She was hysterical. She was laid off from work at the time and so was my dad, so they had no health insurance. I directed… Read more »

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

Really glad your mom was okay!

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

And in some areas recycling belongs to the City when it is put out at the curb.

http://adventures-of-sam.blogspot.com/2012/08/recycling-bandits.html

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

I pick also, and don’t like a house full of stuff. If I have plenty of cash and want to support the local economy I patronize local farmer’s markets and mom and pop restaurants. After all, you have to eat!

Amy
Amy
7 years ago

I envy you that you live in a place where people so casually discard of useable items. I am in a more rural area, and in my opinion, by the time the clothes and household items hit the shelves of the few second hand stores we have they are pretty much spent. I have not had much luck finding things when thrifting(I’m picky though, I don’t need a houseful of free or cheap second hand things – it’s all just stuff and clutter at the end of the day). Thought for pondering/debate – while I love the buy it used… Read more »

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

All you have to do is watch an episode of one of those hoarding shows to see the truth in this comment. So many of them justify their hoarding/stuff collecting because they got items for free or almost free. Then their house literally piles up with these free/found items.

Whether you’re buying firsthand or secondhand or zillionthhand… you’re still practicing consumerism by needing to acquire STUFF!

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

It depends what you are getting, and why, doesn’t it? You’re assuming that anything that is available secondhand is available because someone is upscaling to something they don’t need. I’ve trash-picked, secondhanded, and picked up at auction all of my kitchen chairs for 20 years. Some of the secondhand stuff was junky (cloth-covered chair I got out of the library discards after it had been used 20 years, and then passed on to someone else later), some broke, and right now we’re struggling with our chairs because we moved into a smaller house and thus the larger captain’s chairs I… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I was thinking the same. I grew up in a household that loved clutter (if did not outright hoard). As a result, I’ve become cautious about the things I bring into my own home. I won’t pick up free/cheap stuff just because it’s there and I *might* use it – or just because I want it. That stuff adds up and transforms into clutter, and becomes costly in its own right in terms of my time, mental health, and modest living space (no way could I fit a random swivel chair into my 700 sq. ft. home, no matter how… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
7 years ago
Reply to  MamaMia

it really requires being comfortable with some empty spaces – there’s a difference between picking up a chair because you can imagine someone really liking it, and Sarah’s telling her little boy “if you really want a swivel chair, we’ll watch out for one”. The difference is that there was an empty space in their house where a swivel chair would fit.

Using the criteria you’d use on a new purchase is a great way to make those spaces happen.

Kathryn
Kathryn
7 years ago

I have a friend who is a sociology professor and author of the book and blog “Empire of Scrounge” about the joys of dumpster diving and the rebelling against our throwaway society. He has outfitted his own home and closet with his finds and donates other stuff to a local charity and homeless shelter.
He inspired me to do the same and I have to say it’s pretty fun.

http://empireofscrounge.blogspot.com

PB
PB
7 years ago

It helps to come from generationally thrifty families, too. I have three chairs that belonged to my great-great-grandmother that we still use and cherish, and various other things from great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents on both sides of our family. We value the knowledge that these items have been cared for by family hands, and the stories that have come with them. That being said, they are also a lot sturdier than many newer things. My daughter recently took my childhood dresser off to college (after painting it red and gold). The only money she spent for storage and self-expression was… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  PB

Same here, I have a beautiful set of end tables that came from my grandfather’s executive office when he retired. My grandparents had them in their home for many years and then passed them on to me.

He claims they told him he could have the furniture from his executive suite. Hard wood with leather tops, I don’t know how much you would pay for something like them now.

Bella
Bella
7 years ago

I loved this article. Yea Sarah, you’re raising radical kids – hopefully they won’t catch on till their too old to know any ‘better’. And hopefully you guys will come to a reckoning (setttling of accounts)on all the past financial baggage so you can move forward as a family. Good luck!

lmoot
lmoot
7 years ago

Loved the article as well! We (Americans) have become a nation of consumers, but we’ve stopped producing! I too think it is insane that we see GDP as a measure of sucess. I think a balanced budget and balanced economy is the standard to achieve. I know that our gov knows this, but all they see America as is a chess piece in the world games, and our power over all others is pinnacle. One of the causes for why we are a nation of consumers is because things are no longer made with quality in mind. A sad, sad… Read more »

Maris Olsen
Maris Olsen
7 years ago

Lovely. Raising kids with an awareness of the total cost of consumption is so important in this world today. As a society, we have lost the ability to distinguish (or care!) between a “need” and a “want”, and there are so many people who cannot or will not attempt the simplest repairs to salvage something that is already in their home or closet. I teach sewing, and had a wonderful young student who was able to repair her own snowsuit last winter because of taking sewing lessons and having a sewing machine available. Wonderful life lesson, right? Thanks for the… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
7 years ago

“Free piles?” Consumptive behavior?”

Call the doctor!

Dallas
Dallas
7 years ago

Very good points, especially about the equity-sucking home refis that fueled the bonfire. But it was Alan Greenspan’s job to keep all this under control by limiting the supply of money, and he did not do it. (There were those who saw this at the time, including the Economist editors who constantly nagged on the topic.) Mr. Bernanke is worse. All the “causes” we read about are actually effects of that prior cause — too much money looking for bad ways to get spent. Had the money supply been under proper control for the last twenty years, we might have… Read more »

Michelle
Michelle
7 years ago
Reply to  Dallas

You have a good point. A lot of these busts have occurred due to people looking for places to stash money – not all of them, it turns out have been good places. Interestingly, not all of the money being invested in the American stock market (and then the housing market) is American money, however. At least some of it is foreign money that has been invested here thinking that the American market is safe. I agree completely that a lot of this mess is due to Greenspan’s policies (and that the Fed now is just as bad, if not… Read more »

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
7 years ago

Our economy is certainly one driven by consumer spending. That is why we are encouraged to go out there and spend, spend spend! Even cutting tax rates isn’t meant to help you get by, it’s meant to help you spend.

I remember listening to Presidents talking about getting a tax cut and how we should go out and spend that money. Why not save it? Why not invest it and have it grow into more money?

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

If you’re saving at a bank, that bank is lending your money to people who want to buy something.

If you invest it, you’re likely giving it to companies who make products for people to buy.

There is still consumerism involved any way you slice it.

Old Guy
Old Guy
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

All purchases are not consumerism.

Eric
Eric
7 years ago
Reply to  Old Guy

Then who decides what consumerism and what’s not? How can one tell? Is buying a house that’s too big consumerism? Who determines its too big?

Almost everything is consumerism IMHO.

lmoot
lmoot
7 years ago
Reply to  Old Guy

Actually, Old Guy is correct. Not all purchases are defined as “consumerism”. And the act of consuming does not mean you are participating in consumerism at the moment. Consumerism is the ideology or justification of the purchase…hence the “ism”. The World English Dictionary defines consumerism: World English Dictionary consumerism (kÉ™nˈsjuːməˌrɪzÉ™m) – n 1. protection of the interests of consumers 2. advocacy of a high rate of consumption and spending as a basis for a sound economy Consumerism promotes over-consumption. If you buy a new cellphone because your older one is not functional, it most likely is not consumerism. If you… Read more »

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago

I think there’s a problem if too much pressure is put on people by the government to go out and spend their money on things that they may or may not want or need, rather than encouraging the population to make responsible choices for their own lives.

At the same time, there’s plenty of onus on the consumer him or herself. I mean we have to be critical of the messages we get from our government, and quite frankly if we just follow what our governments say to do blindly and without critical thought we deserve what we get.

Megyn @Unstuffed
Megyn @Unstuffed
7 years ago

I always feel conflicted when a post has a great message yet their advertisements send the opposite message. So much for being truly radical…

Erika
Erika
7 years ago

Awesome post, Sarah. The best I’ve seen on GRS in awhile. Keep it coming from this one, JD!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  Erika

JD!

Who?

Russell
Russell
7 years ago

I’m currently reading a book called “In Cheap we Trust”. It explores the myth of American frugality, as well as the myth that consumption is the driver of the economy. Spoiler: that idea only really took off after WWII.

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago

You know…for the past several months the immediate image that comes to mind when reading this blog and the comments is that classic South Park episode with the “smug cloud” . Just sayin…….;-) I could just be reading too much into the comments…it just seems that so many are just consumed with “out moralizing” everyone. And while I don’t doubt anyone’s good intentions (I mean that…I really don’t)….much of this “moralizing” is so misguided…for example…closed down sweatshops=increased child prostitution in many cases (Bangladesh, for example) I have no problem with people living their lives in accordance with their values…I just… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

The problem is that most consumers are not living within their means. They are spending on credit, and I’m sure most of the GRS readers agree that “within” your means does not mean that you can merely cover the bills, it means you can cover the bills, while saving for retirement, and an emergency account, and pay for things like health insurance and life insurance. It’s unbelievable that you rarely hear the gov push for saving in 401k, and just saving in general. They don’t say “spend spend spend…but only after you’ve saved up 6 months e-fund and contribute at… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
7 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I loved this comment. They teach Keynesian economics in all of our schools. It has taken over our economy (hence the boom/busts). It’s a spiraling effect because the universities (like Harvard) want to send their alums to high positions in government (like Bernanke). The government likes Keynesian economics because it allows them to manipulate markets in their favor (for votes). So, the people in government (whom we elect) then hire more Keynesians from these universities, providing the universities with more incentive to teach this nonsense. Saving drives the economy, not spending. Saving provides capital for entrepreneurs to start new businesses.… Read more »

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

“much of this “moralizing” is so misguided…for example…closed down sweatshops=increased child prostitution in many cases”

This sounds like pretty awful logic on your part. I’m not 100% sure what you think your point is but it doesn’t seem like a good one at all.

Addie
Addie
7 years ago
Reply to  jim

even though X may lead to Y in this case, one must also consider what life was like in parts of the world before such sweatshops existed, and what it would be like if those with power stopped taking advantage of relationships with corrupt governments and destroying the natural resources of countries where the sweatshops are located.. if the sweatshops could close entirely and natural resources were restored, how such children would live – as prostitutes or as children with a decent chance at overcoming systemic poverty? I’m not saying i have all the answers, but saying “sweatshops making less… Read more »

Bella
Bella
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

I think this is a very interesting comment – that point out that every decision this global economy has far reaching and often unintended consequences. But I am really curious about the child prostitution claim. I’m really wondering if it really went up – or are more children pulled into it? And what is the solution then – are there just too many children born in poverty?

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Yeah, I’d like to see actual evidence about this too. All I can find is an opinion piece on the Cato institute titled ‘Child Labor or Child Prostitution?’ by Thomas DeGregori
Cato is a conservative think tank. They don’t cite any actual solid numbers or even evidence about child prostitution but just make an argument about protectionism.

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago
Reply to  jim

LMAO at Cato being a “conservative” think tank!!!

You DO realize that they endorse legalized abortion, gay marriage, drugs, and prostitution? They also endorse open borders and are critical of corporate welfare.

They are a Libertarian think tank……MASSIVE difference.

And no….didn’t know about their study. I have read several papers on this (there is also my personal experience…but people are always more impressed with “papers”)

There is some good info on Bleeding Heart Libertarians, though.

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  jim

OK so they’re libertarian. Big whoop-dee-do.
Fiscally conservative is what I was meaning.

Still theres no actual evidence nor data to support the idea. Just borderline fearmongering editorialization from a LIBERTARIAN think tank with an agenda.
I’m not saying its a lie, but when someone makes such sensationalist claims I’d really prefer to see real data not just claims or allegations.

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Jennifer, thanks for speaking up. I was floored by how much positive feedback this post is getting. I’ve been a consistent reader of GRS since its second year, and it’s a post like this that makes me feel like we’re just growing apart. On the other hand, there still are other GRS posts that speak to me, but alas not this one.

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

News flash! Child prostitution is a form of child labor. At any rate, I don’t know of any anti-child labor NGO that doesn’t also advocate (STRONGLY) real-world solutions to the kind of poverty that creates child labor. Solutions like: education, local food security, democracy, and jobs training & opportunities for adults. (After all, when employers can only employ adults, productivity increases thanks to superior adult skills & efficiency, profits rise, wages rise, and the now-empowered adult citizenry is in a better position to contribute to society – incl. by paying the taxes that build schools & hospitals for poor children.)… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Sometimes I feel a little lost too 😉 For example, I own a cheap table and chair set from Ikea. Am I driving the consumerist machine. Hmmm. Does it help that I bought it used, not new? Does it help that I spent 1/2-1/3 as much as I would have on a nicer used table and chair set while I was in debt reduction mode? Should I have done away with the table and sat on the floor to eat instead? (And ask my guests to do the same — assuming it’s still okay to have guests when you’re paying… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

I agree with you, but I usually tend to just keep quiet (or hit “like” on comments such as this). Maybe other readers do the same.

Lyn
Lyn
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

A thousand times like on this comment. I have felt exactly this way reading the posts and comments over the last few months and you have expressed it perfectly!

Many many thanks for your words.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

Haha I loved this story! Clever and added some information as well. I often find myself struggling between the consumerism argument and what I really want. Will my sole actions make any difference at all? I commend you for acting this way and being as proactive as possible, and it seems like your raising someone who will continue your thriftiness into the future.

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

I’m a bit of a minimalist, plus I hate shopping in general so I own very little. Still, articles like this irritate me, I think because they’re often written by people whose livelihoods don’t depend on consumerism. It’s easy to tout the benefits of buying less if you’re a writer and your income comes from clicks. We use the phrase “consumerist economy” and gloss over the fact that there are real people behind that phrase with real jobs who need others to spend to survive. Previously I worked for a newspaper. When housing and automotive (and local businesses) took a… Read more »

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Vanessa, you’re absolutely right — so many jobs today depend on consumerism. But I think that is the writer’s lament: that this is what the world has come to. True, but sad. Big picture: this thing we call consumerism attained its identity in the 1950s, as television became established and TV advertising drove more people to buy more stuff. Everyone looked and saw, lookee here: we grow the economy and “everyone benefits” when we do this. From the VP of Sales at General Motors to the person selling furniture at retail, tens of millions of jobs depend on people buying… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I think Sarah buys plenty. She’s mentioned many higher priced consumable items that she values and therefore buys. I think it is important to spend in ways that align with our values. The main power we as consumers have to shape the marketplace is to be conscious about our spending. I personally have different values from Sarah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect her decision to avoid purchasing things she doesn’t think improve her life or society at large. I think it’s really unfair to label any expression of this mindset as smug. And if we never changed anything… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Fair point, but military tanks built in Ohio are not something the general public buys! 😉

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  MamaMia

MamaMia –

Speak for yourself – I have one in my driveway right now! 😉

jim
jim
7 years ago

On the other side of the coin we have a consumer discarding perfectly good items when creating that free pile.

Addie
Addie
7 years ago

Just a fantastic article. My views on materialism align really well with yours. I track everything I spend, not entirely just to save money, but because I am conscious of the fact that we all ‘vote with our dollar.’ Choosing to get a chair free or to buy used is so much more sustainable, and as one poster already mentioned, that money can then either go into your savings or go toward something positive like organic/local unprocessed foods. Side note, though, there are cases to me when buying something new/not a great deal is justifiable: 1) The thing you’re buying… Read more »

Jerome
Jerome
7 years ago

IKEA furniture is perfectly OK if you use it for a long time. I am presently sitting on my cheap IKEA chair which I bought 18 years ago. It has changed house 3 times and survived 2 emigrations. I doubt whether a more expensive chair would have lasted very much longer. And once I throw it away, I guarantee you, it will not be suitable for another house 🙂
For me that is one of the essential things in a frugal life: use your things carefully and long.

partgypsy
partgypsy
7 years ago
Reply to  Jerome

I agree with this sentiment. What’s the use of cheap or even free stuff, if it doesn’t work for your house/life, or gets disposed of/ruined quickly? You have to look at its lifecycle. Much of the furniture in our house are hand me downs or used. It used to be close to 90% used/hand me downs/built. Recently, we have been getting rid of some things that frankly do not work or are broken somehow. For example, we recently purchased a living room sofa. We had specific ideas for both style and length, which limited finding it used. We endedup buying… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

I have found some great used things in my life, but overall I prefer new objects that have only been soiled by my own filthy paws. Not sure why.

When I score a nice bargain from the trash pile I take it to the antique store and turn it into cash– they can restore it and find a better owner who will appreciate the stuff.

Kh
Kh
7 years ago

I look forward to the day when women stop referring to “asking their husband for money,” as this author did. That’s a sign of a messed up marriage or mentality or both. You aren’t a child who must ask for money. The household budget should be equally “yours” and if it’s not, make sure you don’t give up making your own money.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  Kh

Yes, but if you’re sharing a budget, you check with each other (we do). Showing up at the house with new chairs and a receipt (“surprise!”) isn’t really defeating oppression.

Dr. Alfred
Dr. Alfred
7 years ago

I enjoyed this article a lot. I live in Portland as well and share the culture Sarah describes. One thing that fascinates me is so few people consider the cost of “growth” on long term sustainability costs. For example for some reasons communities can find money for new streets and public services with new development but never enough money to maintain what we already have. It’s fascinating we don’t consider these life cycle costs to even maintaining our civil infrastructure.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
7 years ago

Take out the Fed, and the housing bubble never happens. Blame the “greedy banks” all you want, but they were drunk on alcohol served by the government. It’s funny you mention Bush’s “go out and shop” speech. Compare it to that of Warren Harding during the 1920 Depression that no one has ever heard of because the government didn’t try to ‘fix it:” “Let us call to all the people for thrift and economy, for denial and sacrifice if need be, for a nationwide drive against extravagance and luxury, to a recommittal to simplicity of living, to that prudent and… Read more »

J.Mill
J.Mill
7 years ago

Like. Like. Like. Like. Like.

Robin
Robin
7 years ago

Best post in recent memory

Edward
Edward
7 years ago

I agree with Bethany MacLean. People aren’t trying to “keep up with the Joneses” anymore–they’re tring to keep up with the Hiltons and the Real Housewives of wherever. The middle class is trying really hard to be the upper class. (Mostly because of the new reality TV shows in the last 10 years, in my opinion.) They spend all their money on McMansions, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, the latest iGadget, 60″ TVs, and whatever new thing they saw on HGTV that week. Yeah, those things are nice–but they’re for rich people! My mom never would have dreamed of having… Read more »

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