Adventures in Unschooling

Economics and consumerism

Posted on: November 15, 2009

I have been thinking about this post for a long time and I haven’t known where to put my musings on this subject. I didn’t think it was terribly unschooling related…that is until I realized how much more deschooling I have to do in this area. Plus I figured that any homeschooling families would know about one income families and tighter budgets.

Why do we buy? I think we have a need that we don’t see fulfilled in more constructive ways. I don’t know where this comes from. I don’t know if it’s a competitive behaviour (keeping up with the Jonese) or if it’s a taught behaviour or what.

But I know when I get depressed or bored or whatever I want to shop. I buy things I don’t need. Like skirts I can’t wear for six months out of the year or scarves that I never really wear. I spend too much money on movies (we don’t have cable so we figure we can buy the odd movie or TV season on DVD) and books. I probably have about twenty unread books in my library. Thanks to access to a library I have trained myself to search there first and that have saved me lots of dough. At least I can test drive the book before committing to paying for it. I love amazon for the better deals but I do like being able to read, hold, touch, look at a book before committing to it.

I have lots more thinking and deschooling to do in this area. Trying to convince my husband that we don’t need this or that is hard work. And sometimes I like having nice things too. I also care about the example we are setting for our kids about the value of money. And it would be nice to have a savings account instead of a shelf of DVDs.

One thing we have implemented is a cash flow system. We deposit and withdraw all of our money at the bank and keep our debit cards hidden. The plan is that as we see ourselves running out of cash we will become more prudent with our spending and more aware of how much we spend. I am also going to start implementing a money envelope system so that we aren’t inadvertently spending our gas money on food or swimming or whatever.

Our first month we would simply go withdraw more money when we ran out. This was an epic FAIL! We seem to be doing better this month but this month is a tricky one because it involves  Christmas shopping. We’ll get it figured out soon.

The long term plan is that we can make a difference with our money. If you are spending it on less things you can afford to buy a better quality one. I loathe shopping at Wal Mart but sometimes you just need your dollar to stretch further.

I am half-way through a book called Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. I think it should really be called How We Buy. It doesn’t talk about the deep psychological reasons why be buy but rather how presentation and proper design can inspire people  to spend more in a store.

He talks about appealing displays and how to set up racks to pinball people through your store. How and where to keep baskets available so that people gather them and fill them etc. The book hasn’t been completely useless as a consumer. It did make me aware that my library keeps their spare grocery bags (from bringing books home) in the “Twilight Zone” (which is right at the entrance of the library) and that because they kept them so close to the entrance I had walked right past them without ever noticing they were there. There have been many a time I have juggled a large pile of books wishing I had a bag to take and there they were the whole time!

The few tips I am taking with me are that I should not automatically take a basket unless I know I need more items from that store than I can carry in my arms. I have seen this effect many times. I call it the Dollar Store effect. You grab a basket and start dumping stuff into it because everything is just a buck or two. But all of a sudden you have $24 worth of crap from China in your basket when all you had really intended to buy was a USB cable.

The other one I have learned it to frequent the lesser visited corners of the stores. In many stores this is where they hide the clearance rack. My local Micheals has a clearance rack hidden right by the knitting section. I have been going there for seven years and only noticed it six months ago. Those sneaks! The same with Wal Mart. They have a clearance section for baby sleepers etc. that went completely unoticed with my first two children because it was at the end of the isle hidden by the booster seats. I have picked up a few sleepers there for Anna for $4 a piece.

There are lots of ways that corporations try to get you to buy. One of these ways is  the packaging. They resort to wasteful packaging in bright colours and convenient sizes to get your to choose their product over a cheaper one.

You also see health claims (like vitamin water instead of a cheaper multivitamin) that don’t make sense. Do I care that sugar breakfast cereal has calcium added? No! I care about my kids getting whole foods. Most of our foods come in simple, boring packages. Like cans of beans or rolled oats. And that works for us. The ingredient lists are simple and wholesome. If you want super foods then read labels not slogans!

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