Spending


Not all that long ago, I remember reading about how the paradigm had shifted between the weight tendencies of the rich and of the poor.  While I seem to be unable to relocate said article, the gist of it was this: in the 18th century, a heavier man or woman was considered more attractive.  Their plumpness was indicative of their societal stature, and only the wealthy had some extra meat on their bones.  Meanwhile, the poor and poverty-stricken members of society tended to be quite thin, even malnourished, because of their inability to afford enough food to be gluttonous.  These days, it is more often the well-off members of society leaning on the lean side, while the less fortunate often seem to be a part of the ever-increasing rate of obesity.

The article was an interesting read, and pinpointed several possible reasons for this.  One of them suggested that healthy, fresh food is more expensive and less accessible to those with limited resources.  And with this, I completely agree. 

Each week, R and I review the sale ads for our 3 major grocery stores.  We typically choose the two with the best deals, then plan our menu around them.  One of these stores always makes the list, due mostly to their unbeatable deals on produce.  The problem is, this store is very inconvenient to reach from our home.  The other problem with this store is that the prices on everything else is more than the average supermarket.  We end up driving over 10 miles through a heavily congested traffic artery for well-priced produce.  The reason we do this? 

Fresh, quality produce is expensive.  Too expensive for us to eat as much as we would like, were we to purchase it at the nearby supermarket.

Coming from the almost impossibly eco-friendly NW, we had been hearing murmurs about investing in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  The idea is that many members of a community will purchase a “share” in a local farm, many months before they see anything from the harvest.  Once the harvest cycle begins, shareholders will receive a box of fresh produce, usually weekly, throughout the growing season.  The farm is provided with a secure market before ever planting the first seed.

We were intrigued.  We even did a little bit of searching, only to find that every single nearby farm had sold out their shares many months before.  When we moved here, R resumed his search and, when he found a farm he liked,  insisted we jump on the bandwagon earlier. 

I was reluctant, at first.  It’s a sizeable investment in an uncertain product.  As “shareholders,” we assume a risk, right along with the farm, and there is a possibility that the harvest will fail to be plentiful.  But once he broke down all the benefits for me, it was hard to say no.

  • The cost of our share is $520 for the two of us.  Whoa!  I know.  But the harvest cycle is 26 weeks, and it ends up costing us only $20/week.  We currently spend quite a bit more at the distant grocery store each week.
  • Did I mention the farm is 100% organic?  The over-$20/week we spend at the store most certainly does not include organic produce.  I guess our cheapness outweighs our desire for toxin-free food.
  • We are supporting a community business, and ultimately helping our own local economy.
  • No longer will we feel compelled to embark on a ten-plus mile journey for fresh, affordable produce, saving us time and gas.
  • Our weekly box of produce is harvested no more that 36 hours before it is ready for pickup.  Imagine how fresh produce tastes when it hasn’t had to endure days worth of extreme refrigeration while in transit to its destination.
  • The CSA sends out a weekly email that includes various recipes, uses, and preservation tips and techniques for the items included in that week’s box.  This came as a huge relief to me, as I had never even heard of some of the crops they are growing!
  • And since I had never heard of some of the crops, I was concerned whether or not I would like it.  Lucky me, the CSA provides a “trade box” at each pickup location (5 of which are in my neigborhood alone!), where members can leave items they don’t like, and take items they do.
  • My final nagging concern was that I could not choose my own produce.  If I wanted corn this week, and my CSA box included only eggplant, my choices would be to a) go to the grocery store and buy some corn, letting the eggplant wither away in my produce drawer, or b) get a little bit more creative with my cooking.  The latter sounds more fun.

We haven’t yet received our first weekly box.  But we have received many messages from the farm, updating us on the status of their crops.  And so far, they all sound like veggies that I can sink my teeth into.  Literally.

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It’s beginning to look like I will be moving back home, and sooner than I had expected!  Our projected move date is October 5.  Wow.  There has been a pull for me to be closer to my family for some time now.  And though R’s family is here, he’s willing to give it a shot. 

Three years ago, when I moved to the Northwest, I was seeking a life-experience.  My biggest fear was that I would find myself stuck in the same place for the rest or my life, never doing anything, or being anything.  And so, I quit my comfortable job, stuffed my car with all the books, photos, and journals that would fit, sold the rest of my belongings, and started driving.  Several weeks before, my mom had accompanied me out here to find an apartment, so at least I would have somewhere to lay my head when I arrived. 
 
I remember that first day I arrived.  Once I had my hands on the key to my new place, I excitedly rushed in the front door.  The place was perfect for me; a small, 1940’s one-bedroom apartment.  Hardwood floors, vintage details, and a front and back door that both led out to lush courtyards.  After driving for two days, all I really wanted to do was take a shower.  And that was my first realization that, in my hustle to get rid of anything that can be replaced, I got rid of some “necessities.”  Like a towel.  And shower curtain. 
 
Fast-forward several years, and arrive at today, as I’m preparing to move back.  Once again, I am racing through the house, gathering things to get rid of to make the move a little easier.  On many occasions, I have made a valiant effort to “de-clutter.”  And I think I did a very good job of getting rid of everything that I didn’t need when I moved up here to begin with.  But the problem is, it doesn’t last.  I cannot seem to sustain my minimalist ambitions.  My inability to keep clutter at bay is evidenced by the fact that here I am, three years in the future, with a whole bunch of junk. 
 

R and I were discussing our financial preparations, and, remembering my shower curtain predicament, I suggested we carve out a “replacement” budget, which we can use to buy the items that we get rid of for the sake of the move.  At which point, he completely altered the way I’ve been thinking of, and have always thought of moving. 

 
“I think it is a mistake to think that we are getting rid of all of this stuff, and we will replace it with newer and better stuff once we arrive at point B.  It is more like we are reducing our possesions in order to live a less-cluttered, more minimalistic lifestyle.”
 
And it occurred to me that every single time I have ever moved, I have viewed it as an opportunity to get new “stuff.”  And I gradually accumulate more and more “stuff” until it is time to get new “stuff” again the next time I move. 
 
So we’re getting rid of a bunch of “stuff,” a large portion of which has been collecting dust in the basement for the past 2 years we have been co-habitating.  I mean, literally, untouched.  We’re taking to the pages of Craigslist, and half.com to try and purge our home of all of the crap we’ve gathered.  With any luck, we’ll be able to fund a portion of the move with the profits from the “stuff.”
 
And I’m going to try really, really hard not to replace it all. 
As I waited in line at the grocery store several days ago, my eyes scanned the shelves lined with candies and tabloid magazines.  A headline on the cover of one of the magazines, I believe it was a Woman’s Day, bragged about the 184 Ways to Save Money! that could be found inside.  I internally snorted a bit, and wondered why I would spend money of a magazine telling me how to save money – and besides, I could find all the tips I need on any one of the PF blogs I visit. 
 
It got  me thinking – do people still buy these printed magazines?  I’m sure they do sell some– if their sales flat-lined, I sure hope they would reconsider the monthly publication.  But I certainly don’t buy them.  And I don’t typically subscribe to them.  With so much of the content being digitized, it feels like a blatant waste of money and resources. 
 
It’s not that I dislike magazines.  For a housewarming gift, my mother generously subscribed us to a cooking magazine.  I love to cook, and I so enjoyed paging through the glossy recipes and articles.  When our subscription was nearing the expiration, we received a bill for renewal.  Imagine my surprise at a $30 price tag for 6 issues of the magazine!  A high-quality magazine, sure, but was it really worth $5 an issue?  After much consideration, I took to the web to look for an online version.  After minimal searching, I stumbled upon a goldmine!  While they did not have the full issue in online format, they had a lot.  As in, a lot more than I could possible want, need, or have time to explore.  They had recipes, cooking tips, gadget reviews, even archives – the kind that don’t collect dust on my bookshelf.  So we decided not to renew.  And there have been times when I miss the excitement of seeing a new issue in the mailbox, but I believe the $30 is better spent elsewhere – like on the ingredients to make some of the gourmet dishes within the (digital) pages.
 
There’s another thing that caught my attention on this subject recently.  A few monthly publications have taken to the web to publish a full online version of the magazine, cover to cover.  ReadyMade Magazine, for example, is now publishing a digital editionof their magazine.  It is a cover to cover representation of the entire current issue, fully viewable within your internet browser.  This is even more exciting, due to the nature of the magazine – if you’re not already familiar with ReadyMade, please, please go check it out.  It. is. awesome.
 
And really, these online versions make a lot of sense.  Think about all of the costs associated with a physical copy of a magazine.  I know this exercise is used often when discussing the true cost of food, but I think it applies here as well.  Let’s take ReadyMade for example, just because I love them so much.  A highly talented team of writers, artists, editors, photographers, editorialists, reviewers, etc. spend weeks developing articles and layout.  Much of this is already done digitally, and everything is stored digitally.  Then, the digital issue is sent to a printer, where it is made into, by my best guess, several thousand paper copies.  The current issue has 90 pages, which ends up as about 45 pages making up the inside of the magazine.  That’s a lot of paper.  From there, the magazine must be distributed.  Perhaps the issue is distributed directly from the publishing house, but I am skeptical that the publisher would want to assume all of the responsibility of properly distributing the magazine around the country, as well as bookstores, grocery chains, etc.  To the cost of paper and printing, we can now add distribution – whether that is reached in terms of postage or fuel, it’s not cheap.  And when the magazine finally reaches the home of the subscriber, it is (hopefully) perused, then stored on a bookshelf or thrown away.  Either adding clutter or waste. 
 
Many will say they keep back issues of favorite publications for reference – and I think that’s great.  I frequently return to old magazines, cookbooks, and reference materials when I’m looking for something specific.  But I eventually run out of space, and I tire of staring at the dusty spines of long forgotten publications, and my shelves are purged of material that’s no longer useful. 
 
There is an Archive button in the ReadyMade digital publication, but I can’t seem to view archives with it.  Glitch?  By design?  Not sure.  I also wonder if the archives are available only to digital subscribers.  In any case, I will continue to check back every couple of months for the new issue.  And I think we will see more and more monthly publications taking a similar leap into the 21st century.  As their distribution costs rise, their subscribers will be less able to pay for what is considered, by most, as a non-necessity.
 
 
When I quit smoking a couple of years ago, my waistline paid a very dear price for the health of my lungs.  The sacrifice it had made seemed noble at first, but I quickly grew tired of hearing seams ripping as the seat of my shrinking jeans began to split.  It was time to do something about it.
 
After several failed attempts at shedding the extra poundage, I began keeping a food journal.  I meticulously recorded the caloric content of each and every morsel of food or beverage that passed my lips.  It was tedious, at times, but it gave me the opportunity to consider what I was eating – both before and after it had been consumed.  There were times when I would cringe as I added up the previous day’s calories, and other times when I would re-consider a tasty pastry in the morning, knowing I would have to write it down. 
 
And did I mention effective?  I lost a total of 30 pounds. 
 
Of course, I don’t attribute all of the lost weight to the food journal – I also began training for a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and was jogging 25 – 30 miles per week.  But I truly believe the food journal helped me to understand my dietary consumption patterns.  It provided insight about which foods gave me energy, and what made me feel bloated.  I was able to pinpoint the days when I drank enough water, versus the times I drank too much alcohol (talk about empty calories!).  It was like a little window into my body that I could use to evaluate what I ate.
 
As I sat in the lunchroom several days ago, I mentally calculated the number of calories in my lunch.  I also had this blog in the back of my mind.  And that’s when I questioned:
 
Why am I not tracking my consumption of other items, the same way I track the consumption of food?
 
A budget is not what I’m talking about.  I do keep a budget, and I record every cent that is spent out of it.  But I’m not necessarily referring to the dollars I spend as a whole.  I am thinking more about what I do with those items once I spend the dollars.  Am I getting my money’s worth?  Are these items worth buying?
 
In an attempt to demonstrate what I’m talking about, allow me to offer a comparison of good consumption, and bad consumption.
 
Good consumption:
More that 2 years ago, I purchased a stainless steel Nissan coffee thermos.  I cannot recall the exact price, but it was something I considered steep.  Around $30, I think.  So why is this good consumption?  Well, my employer does provide coffee of a decent quality – but they brew it so thick that it feels more like swallowing molasses than it does a refreshing wake-up call.  In my defense, I am no sissy when it comes to strong coffee.  R prefers his coffee so strong, that he refuses to fill our 12-cup coffee maker more than half-full – any more water than that, and his coffee is too weak.  I have grown accustomed to drinking it that way as well.
 
So instead of either walking around in a zombie-like state each morning, or buying a cup of coffee every morning and facing the “latte factor,” I began brewing my own, and bringing it to work with me in my state-of-the-art thermos.  On those rare days when we are either out of coffee, or out of time to wait for it to brew, there is a local coffeehouse down the street from my office that offers a $1 fill-up, if you bring your own mug. 
 
Now, some may say I needn’t have a fancy-schmancy Nissan thermos – any old thing would do.  But in my case, that’s simply not true.  I ride the bus in to work, and it takes me a little over an hour, from my front door to my office door.  A quality thermos is needed to keep the coffee piping hot for the duration of the ride.  My coffee craving peaks at various times each morning – I can’t have my thermos allowing the coffee to cool before 10am!  When I’m not riding the bus to work, I’m riding my bike.  The thermos goes in my backpack, with my change of clothes for the day.  So I also need my thermos to seal properly, to prevent leakage. 
 
So my thermos purchase was good consumption – I have saved countless dollars on my morning coffee, simply by purchasing a quality thermos to use for bringing my own. 
 
Bad consumption:
For Christmas last year, I visited my father in the South.  My gift-shopping had all been done well before the holiday, but I received last-minute news that my Aunt, Uncle, and their two sons would be joining us Christmas morning.  Fearing they would feel left out of the merriment as we all opened our gifts to one another, I embarked on a frenzied quest to find something for each of them to open. 
 
There was just enough time to order on Amazon and use the Super-Saver free shipping to get the package there before Christmas Eve.  So I began scouring the pages of jangle.net for something I thought they would like.  Settling on a DVD for one cousin, a book for the other, a fleece jacket for my uncle, and a nice cashmere shawl for my aunt (each item under $10), I made my way to the Amazon checkout.  Three of my items qualified for the Super-Saver shipping, but the shawl was coming from another store, and there were additional shipping & handling charges.  I noticed that shipping was free, if I purchased more than one shawl. 
 
I love the feel of cashmere.  And they had so many nice colors!  Perhaps I should get one for myself, as well?  I would save on shipping.  And there I was, convinced that I, too, should get a cashmere shawl for Christmas.  So I tacked another one to my order, and had all of the items shipped to my father’s house.
 
Christmas morning came and went, and we all enjoyed ourselves, and our gifts.  I folded my shawl neatly in my suitcase, and hung it carefully in the coat closet when I returned home.  And it’s been there ever since.  That’s right, I have never actually worn it.  Now, $10 really isn’t all that much money.  And, we can probably reduce that to $7, because I did save a few bucks on shipping.  But it was a wasted $7 that I look back upon with regret. 
 
This brings me back to why I want to track my material consumption.  The cashmere shawl disaster is just one example of frivolous spending gone wrong – I know there are many others.  Perhaps by actively monitoring the usage and usefulness of my purchases, or lack thereof, I will become more conscious of the long-term benefit before forking over the cash.
 
I think I’ll give it a shot, for a while anyway.  Keeping track of what I use might also help me identify things I can get rid of – we’re all looking to reduce the clutter in our lives, right?