broadsideblog

A Pedicure, a Car-Wash, Some Fancy Honey. I Did My Bit Today for the Economy. How About You?

In business on August 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm
A picture of a wallet.

Image via Wikipedia

Get out your  wallets! If you don’t, the American economy isn’t going to recover any time soon. It relies on us consumers to keep it humming. So say all those beleaguered retailers. Buy something, damn it.

Funny thing, frugality. It means spending very little. Living within or below your means. Totally alien behavior for the past decade and so, so annoying to all those companies who need to us spend money, even if we actually don’t have it.

Today, with a payment finally in hand, I treated myself to a few of the micro-luxuries I can still afford, not put on a credit card and see immediate pleasure from. I blew $30 (plus $6 tip) on a pedicure and caught up with Helena, still fighting with her freshly-divorced husband and still sharing the house they can’t sell. Spent $6 getting the car washed and $1 to vaccum it; sorry, Wall Street, we’re not buying a new/used vehicle any time soon. Enjoyed a Chinese lunch for another $7 and blew the big bucks, $42.99, across the street at our local gourmet store, run by Hassan, a lovely, charming former commercial photographer who always presses tastes of cheese and candied walnuts and slices of ham into your weakly protesting hand. I spent my money on small, reliable, delicious pleasures, quickly and easily shared and savored — and spent my money within the boundaries of my suburban town. Tomorrow I’ll take in a bag full of shoes to Mike, the Russian man who runs our local shoe repair shop, and chat about life, and St. Petersburg, where he’s from.

What these endless doom and gloom macroeconomic reports leave out is exactly the sort of micro-level spending I bet many of us are still doing: local, personal, low-key. I loathe chain stores and malls but I still need stuff and I’m happy to put my hard-earned cash into the hands of people whose faces and names I know, whose personality andenergy and skill make my town a haven, and keep our local storefronts filled and functional. Call me old-fashioned, but I really treasure face-to-face, personal commerce. A chance to chat, be social, slow down and make an exchange not only of cash, but a smile, a hug, an idea, a memory.

I’m the consumer driving people like Home Depot mad because, a homeowner who loves projects, I’m not even buying hardware or paint these days. The only major purchase planned for late fall is a new terrace door, the cost of it equaled by the cost of the labor to install it by Michael, our trusty carpenter. But until I’ve lined up the entire cash cost of that purchase, $700, it’s not happening.

So this endless whining that we’re not spending is getting old. Probably like millions of Americans — out of work, underemployed, scrambling for freelance clients in a recession, fearful our still-employed spouse or partner can (and might) get laid off any time without warning — I’m trying to be smart, frugal and cautious. Paying down the credit card debt as fast as possible, since Amex just tossed me and many other loyal (hah) long-time cardholders out of the calm 9.9% fixed APR pool into the sharkpond of 15%+ variable.

Beyond gas and groceries, what, these days — if anything — are you buying or planning to buy?

  1. I like this. I’ve been adopting these same kinds of strategies.

    My biggest spree: $263 for new pots and pans (they replaced the set I’d gotten for my wedding in 1997), a telephone with two cordless hand sets and a set of food storage containers. I went to Target.

    I pulled out the checkbook after spending a week with an aunt who never met a plastic bag she didn’t keep, or a plastic container she didn’t reuse.

    The visit showed me it’s all right to replace stuff that has outlived its usefulness.

  2. Ice cream. To celebrate my roommate’s moving back in after a summer away at camp, we splurged and got cookie dough AND waffle cone fudge swirl at a quickie mart down the street. Luxurious, I know, but so worth it.

    I’m glad to hear you finally got paid, too. I read with great interest your recent post about freelancers getting stiffed by organizations who should know better. Since I’m a soon-to-be journalism graduate with no solid job lined up yet, it was really eye-opening. Do you think the treatment of freelance writers will improve when the economy rebounds?

  3. Afi, I hate to admit I’m still using the same pots and pans I’ve had for decades, although they’re in great shape, so why not? Buying Tupperware or those gorgeous new Oxo food containers is frugal enough but makes one’s kitchen feel luxurious. My one terrible weakness is stuff for the home. Linen napkins, for example.

    Leann, I wish I could say how much better freelancers will be treated post-recession but I would be lying. I’ve always kept careful track of who owes what when and have found a few clients, bless ‘em, who get me the check within two weeks, sometimes sooner. I think every freelancer needs a decent line of credit ($5k+ at a low APR) and a good attorney on speed-dial for when things get really embattled; the assumption is we don’t have the gumption, cojones or money to pull out an attorney, but a $300 lawyer’s letter netting you your check might be worth it. Slow payments have gotten much, much worse since last September, as many of my colleagues have told me.

    The only way to survive freelancing is cashflow, making sure you’ve earned so many payments that one or several is always showing up.

  4. Thanks for the good advice, Caitlin. I’ll definitely take it to heart if I ever find myself freelancing.

  5. I went to the eye doctor (does that count?) and ordered a pizza. So I’m not going to move that economic needle very far.

    Where chain stores are concerned, though–I don’t bash them. They employ a lot of people. Those people need their jobs too!

  6. i thought the problem was that people have been spending too much money?! perhaps it would be better to stick it in a savings account where it can be added with other peoples’ savings and then invested on larger projects to get the economy going again.

    buying stuff is not the answer, espcially considering many goods are not even made in the US anyway… be careful or your hard earned dollars will be flying out of the country faster than you can say ‘i should have checked the label, this was made in china!’

  7. I have to admit, books. I know, I know. I can get them at the library. A friend was chiding me the other day by saying, “you know, you can go there and read them for free.” (only he cursed when scolding me.) But at this point in my life, I barely drink, I quit smoking and it’s my last, lone guilty pleasure.

    I can’t help myself, often falling prey to a power beyond my control, frequently setting off a chain reaction of consumerism. My most recent chain reaction went like this:

    First, I read “The Coldest Winter” by David Halberstam about the Cold War, the Korean War and Communist China. I wanted more, oh so much more, so I borrowed “Red Azalea” by Anchee Min from a friend. It was fantastic and haunting. That motivated me to pick up “Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhou Ziyang,” on a recent late-night visit to Barnes & Noble. And that lead to “The Long March: The True History of Communist China’s Founding Myth” arriving just yesterday from Amazon. Phew. I kinda hope this fascination with 20th century China is over soon.

  8. Susan, the eye doctor counts if you rushed out and bought new glasses. :-) As someone who works part-time for a national chain, North Face, I can’t bash them too hard. It’s more the false media emphasis on them versus all those small biz-owners, who also prop up our economy.

    Jody, I avoid bookstores as I could go totally nuts buying books; I usually have 3 library books going at once, as I do right now.

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