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Thrift: It’s Not Just For Your Granny Anymore: Another in a Continuing Series of “The Guide to the Economically Depressed”

food1Ok, you get the fact that life as we know it is over. You also get that things could get a whole lot worse in terms of your life as a consumer before they are going to get better. What you don’t “get” is how you, as an individual, are going to navigate through this period until we all somehow come into the sun (cue sfx of birds singing and cash registers ringing).

A big part of the problem is that the whole concept of “being thrifty” got thrown out the window in about 1982 – that’s as close as I can come to a date when certain people — who before could not put their hands on a credit card for love, money, their first born or anything else — all of a sudden became a “desirable market.” The reason I know this is that when the DH and I were young, foolish and early married, we couldn’t get a credit card despite two jobs that together earned us $25K in 1979.

By 1985, when I was working at a different job and also serving on the loan committee of my company’s credit union, we were packaging “credit card consolidation loans” for people already in the hole (and taking away all their cards except for Sears so that they could get a new furnace if they needed one).

But, I digress — before this period, there were a lot of people out there who had “thrifty skills.” Yes, there were folks like the grannies who were washing and saving plastic bread bags. I don’t see that really as thrift – that’s recycling. Thrift was knowing that buying your lunch out was a big mistake. Thrift was knowing that buying crappy clothes and shoes was NOT a good way to go.

What happened to that? Well, besides the whole “loose credit” thing (and we know what that has done to us), what also happened was: Walmart, Payless, Target, H&M, etc. etc. all around the world. It is not just us here in the US of A who have been seduced away from thrift…but people all over Europe as well. The engine that serves all of those “cheap goods at cheap prices” is all the manufacturing that takes place in places such as China, Vietnam, so called American Samoa, etc. And we won’t go into here the effect of having that engine out there…and not within our national borders any longer. Suffice it to say that finding an American made pair of leather shoes is a chore.

So, what is thrift in today’s “buy and throw away” environment? We won’t get into your 401K (which looks as if it’s on life support at the moment – we all have this issue). Let’s look at the actual stuff of daily living.

Rule 1: Think of yourself as a diabetic: plan how you are going to put things into your mouth that will nourish you and get you through the day…and do it ahead of time. Diabetics do not walk out of the house and, on an adhoc basis, purchase stuff as they go along. The ones I know plan out and take stuff with them to work, school etc. They are not at the mercy of whatever coffee shop or restaurant happens to be out there inviting them in when they feel hungry.

How to put this in motion and what makes it thrifty: If you are single, this is not so easy. This is an opportunity to get together with friends, do some planning, buy stuff in bulk, cook it up, put it in the fridge and be ready for the week (and how great is that).

This works the same way for families as well: once a week, sit down, actually discuss “what do we want to eat this week,” make out the shopping list, buy, cook or package, and get ready for the week. Yes, it takes time away from watching tv and football and going out drinking with your friends (unless you want to combine drinking with your friends with cooking, which is actually a great idea). But it saves time and stress and money.

The last time I bought a take out salad that had cheese and nuts in it, it cost me $7.50. Trust me, you can do this from ingredients that you buy at the store for a whole lot less and you will eat better; you will have control over what you eat, how much you eat, etc. I used to spend about $50 a week on lunches and coffee. I don’t spend that any more. That money goes into the bank and accumulates.

That, my friends, is thrift. It is worth your while to do it and it puts money in your pocket (or keeps money from jumping out of your pocket and into someone else’s pocket). Thrift – it’s the new black.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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