Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Cheaper Really Better?

Two posts I've read tonight have me thinking...

First, Aimee at Living, Learning and Loving Simply posted this today about our personal purchasing power. Second was the post here from Sallie at A Gracious Home about rebates and coupons. Several of the comments on Sallie's post I thought were right in line with Aimee's post.

While our family does not currently NEED to be frugal there was a time after our first child was born, and I left full-time employment to be home with him, that we were living on about 36K a year with two large fixed expenses that totalled nearly $1100 a month. There wasn't much left over at the end of the month I can tell you! I very briefly tried to work the rebating/double couponing thing. I very quickly figured out that I was actually spending MORE money trying to play "the game" (as Sallie calls it.) For one thing I was spending more time in the car driving from store to store to get the rebated product or to the store that would maximize my coupon savings...for another I was buying multiples of product that I would then forget I had or that would go bad before they could be used...last, I was buying things that weren't satisfactory quality-wise so they would go half-used before guiltily being discarded in favor of something else. So I stopped playing the game.

Even after all of this I still couponed for quite a few products, using them in the store I was shopping at that week. At some point I realized that most of the foods manufacturers provide coupons for are invariably not very good for us. I also realized that I could buy fresh foods MUCH cheaper than the frozen or pre-packaged stuff. A whole bag of onions, one green pepper, can of black beans and bag of rice would make multiple meals for a fraction of the cost of those boxed/frozen black bean burritos. This is when I learned to cook. By no means am I a gourmet cook. Most of what I learned I got from watching Food Network (love Sara Moulton!) and cookbooks checked out of the library. I stuck to simple, readily available ingredients and recipes that could be put together quickly. In the last few years I've realized how very affordable the farmer's market is (IF I can resist the gourmet cookie lady's Cream Cheese Brownies!) and how much cheaper it is to eat in season.

Now to link the comments on Sallie's post to Aimee's post. There was a mention from one commenter about how glad she is to have a Super W-M in her town now since it's presence keeps grocery prices down. As Aimee says our purchasing power counts. Those lower prices come with a cost; social costs that are far higher than the few extra cents we would pay for a 1lb bag of onions or box of Bisquik if we shopped the local grocer. W-M is able to suppress prices by paying lower wages, keeping the majority of their workforce classified as part-time, thereby rendering them ineligible for company contributions to health-care, forcing favorable pricing from their vendors to the point that the only way they can meet W-M pricing demands is to compromise quality, and, of course, doing everything in their power to eliminate competition. We pay for all of this socially. It is virtually impossible to make ends meet on fewer than 30 hours a week at $7-8 an hour. These employees make up the difference by either working multiple jobs or using public assistance. The cost of public assistance is obvious. Next time you are in your local W-M look around at the employees. If the vast majority of them aren't single mothers I'd be surprised. If they are working multiple jobs who is watching their children? Driving out local competition hurts us socially on two fronts. It reduces choice for the consumer. What will happen when W-M becomes the only choice? Something tells me they won't be so keen to keep prices low! In fact, there is some evidence for this already in the few small towns where they have 100% of the grocery market. Worst of all it takes away a decent, livable wage for that W-M worker. Not everyone can or is able to attend college. We need non-professional jobs that pay living wages. Historically, those jobs have been found at local businesses and in manufacturing. I don't think I need to talk about the safety issues that arise from vendor efforts to keep prices as low as possible. The media has had pleny of fodder for that topic recently. And, by the way, if the vendors are forced to the Far East to meet pricing demands there goes the other source of living wage jobs-manufacturing!

Everything, and I mean everything, is connected. The price you pay for any consumer good has a ripple effect. We can't be perfect. I haven't stopped shoping Target (and, honestly they are only slightly better than W-M), I haven't completely stopped buying "Made in China". I do think twice about "Made in China" products. As a side note, I find it interesting that the vast majority of them are completely unneccessary! And I have made a concerted effort to buy locally this year. Next year I will challenge myself a little bit more...remember, it's a journey!

1 comment:

Jen@The Cottage Nest said...

Marianna-
This a very persuasive thought provoking post. I thank you for it. I think we all have to what we can. Every person can make a difference. I'm personally trying to do some of this too. We try to give our money to individually owned businesses where possible. I think the coupon argument is a interesting as I always clip them. I use less and less of them recently as I'm trying to avoid prepackaged food as much as possible too. I have also been stuck in the cycle of shopping the ads and running to too many stores and I'm just sick of the time it is consuming. I do try to plan it around other errands so that I'm not just wasting gas on a single trip. I'm always looking for ways to cut my costs on groceries as it is our largest cost aside from our mortgage and that is money I could be using for other things.

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