Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Consumed


Consumption can be defined as a progressive wasting of body tissue and I think that's what our country is suffering from at this moment. We are wasting away as we eat our own tissue. I'm writing this having just read an NPR article about how we save less than ever before, spend more than ever before, and run mountains of debt and credit. The Republican candidates would have me believe that these conditions are the problem only of our government, that liberal spend and tax machine that is taking our money, but I think that we have met the enemy and he is us.

Yesterday, an hour after I had written about how much I loathed the large Ford Escape truck I had gotten from the rental car agency, I spent $104.00 at the grocery store. I recycled the receipt shortly after getting home, but here are some facts about it that I'm sure of:

  1. On the receipt were items adding up to about $20 that were non-essential. 
  2. Some of the items should have been replaced with more expensive versions so that my shopping would have been more responsible. 
  3. At the bottom, under payment, it showed that I had used my credit card. 

The non-essential items seem essential in the moment of shopping. They include a few bags of snack chips that my wife likes to pack for the girls lunch. They are at least organic and as good for us as I think any packaged food like that can be (which is to say, not very, but c'est la vie). Still, they could easily be replaced. We could bag popcorn that we make ourselves. We could bake a cookie. We could do something from scratch that would taste better and save money.

Popcorn is the perfect example of that. 24 ounces of unpopped, organic, popcorn costs just under $3. A large bowl big enough to feed a family of four requires half a cup of corn, two tablespoons of oil, and heat from our stove. A pan is nice too, but I already have one. My guess is that for about $10 total my family can make at least ten large bowls of popcorn, probably more like fifteen. Organic microwave popcorn, in the same quantities, costs $78 from the same store. That and we would be saddled with the bag to recycle and be unsure of our ingredients.

That's one example, but it will suffice. I'm sure that there are $20 worth of items on that list that could have been done without. That would have saved money.

The second item on my list would have involved spending more money but consuming less. I decided against buying organic, cage-free eggs; organic, sweet-cream butter; and whole corn meal because they were each more than double the cost of the non-organic versions. I wish I had saved the $20 above and spent it on the better items. I would have consumed the same amount of food but not the same amount of cost to the hens, the cows, and the land. Maybe that sounds foolishly naive and idealistic, but it's true. The extra money spent would have been well worth it.

Finally, the credit card. I've gotten used to the convenience of credit, lured by the offers of points, and seduced by the convenience of one monthly bill. Fortunately, I married a brilliant and disciplined woman who ensures that we pay that balance every month, but I have convinced her that the convenience of paying for everything that way is the way to go. It turns out, that convenience costs too much.

There are easy ways to stop consuming as much. I know most of them by heart, have read them from the writing of smart people, and I've even written about them myself. Yet, there are so many of these habits that I struggle against still. I just can't seem to ween myself off them. I can't quit the drug. I could write a lot more about what you should do, but once again it is a matter of what I will do, what I'm willing to let go, and what I'm able to change in my life.

Over the next month and into the new year I'll be working on those things, making changes and keeping you posted. If nothing else, wanting the change is a good first step. Writing about it, well, that's not a bad second step. Doing it, that's the ballgame. For now, in this moment, since I'm not spending anything at all and only consuming enough electricity to write, I'll write on.