Opt out. It’s the best way to stop supporting companies and industries that produce products that pollute us- fill our food with untested chemicals, pollute our soil with pesticides, sell meats tainted with superbugs, fill canned food and personal care products with endocrine disruptors, fill the landfills with cheap plastics that break shortly after purchase, and fill people with hormones and medications that wind up in the water supply. The best form of protest is to not support these companies with your dollars. Or if you must purchase from them, minimize what you must buy. Buy local, support artisans and home-based businesses, use natural health care providers, use personal care products you could eat, make your own cleaners, support ethical food companies and the like. When you do purchase commercial products, purchase them from reputable deals and choose ethical companies to support.
The journey to not putting money into the pockets of people and companies who don’t support your chosen lifestyle begins with frugality. Frugality combined with a positive attitude is a gateway to self-reliance and opting out of the current food and business structures as you discover the freedom that exists in not being tied to big ag, big business or damaging food and products that cost you your money and your health.
The Gateway Drug: Frugality
Our long journey to opting out of big business, becoming minimalists, being prepared and reclaiming health began as one simple idea- frugality. And it began long before we ever thought about the problems with the consumer culture. It started out so we could save money to pay off our debt. When we first married thirteen years ago this week, that debt was my car, a small amount of college expenses such as textbooks on a credit card and a college loan of a few thousand dollars. What did that look like? Couponing, making our own products, buying in bulk when on sale- all to save money. At the time, I didn’t think about self-reliance or opting out of supporting big ag or big business. I was just looking to stretch the budget as far as possible so we could pay off my student loans quickly. We had agreed that we wouldn’t start a family until the debt was gone, as we would be living on a single income once I had a baby. I wanted to start a family, so that gave me great motivation to get moving, and move fast.
When I had to purchase something, I only purchased on sale. If I could make something instead, I’d do that. When I’d make my own cleaners or laundry detergent, I wasn’t thinking about keeping money out of the hands of chemical companies and pollution producers or keeping chemicals out of my body- I was thinking about how much more money I’d be able to send in on my student loan that month. Getting out of debt was a major motivation, and the side effect was that I wasn’t feeding the consumer culture and the big businesses that don’t work in my best interest. I just didn’t realize it at the time. To tell the truth, at the time I didn’t see anything wrong with chemicals, processed products or the like. I just wanted to save money.
When I went to the farmer’s market, it never crossed my mind that the farmer I was buying from would get more profit selling directly to me than he would selling to a middle-man. I didn’t even think about the additives placed into canned, diced tomatoes at the store. I just knew when I bought a whole case of tomatoes and canned them myself, it saved me money, the flavor was amazing and the quality of the product was much better. I never made the connection until later.
Businesses exist to turn a profit for their shareholders, not to turn out top quality products that don’t cause harm to the people who use them. Cheap ingredients, no matter their effects, rule the day. What most people don’t realize is that many food and household product chemicals have never been tested or independently reviewed. They’re GRAS- generally regarded as safe. Their manufacturers don’t have to prove they cause no harm. Instead, the consumers are left unprotected in a system that values companies and corporate profits over the people who use the products. But companies can’t make money without consumers, so opting out is the best way to change the system. When you do spend your money, spend it wisely.
You can become frugal, you become a minimalist, become self-reliant or even to use an old phrase, ‘turn on, tune in and drop out.’ No matter your reasoning, the change is the same- quit buying corporate products at your own expense. Your wallet and your health will thank you for the change, your family will be better off and society will benefit from one more family not consuming the damaging products.
Attitude is Key
The key in this whole lifestyle is attitude. Are you happy to be opting out and not supporting big ag when you grow a garden? Does it make you happy to make your own cleaner instead of buying something from the store that costs ten times more with an ingredient list you can’t pronounce? Are you content to take the extra time to hang a load of clothes out on the line? Are you happy with using the internet for entertainment instead of buying DVDs and movie tickets?
Enjoying the changes you make is the key to long-term, lasting happiness with your choices. You can become a miser, hating the choices you’ve made, telling your kids how awful the extra work is to spend time outside hanging clothes on the line. You can resent wearing last year’s coat instead of buying something new. You can complain that you don’t have the biggest cable package or the latest cell phone. You can instill an attitude into kids that spending money equates with love and pleasure and that you deserve luxuries and the credit card bills that come with it. Or you can show them that contentedness and happiness while living within your means go hand in hand. I choose happiness and a peaceful spirit over material goods.
Later, after paying off our debt and starting a family, we had our family biofuel business go under. We were again left with debt to pay off. I had since moved to real food and I knew about the additives and other issues, so my resolve was further strengthened to avoid putting money in the pocket of big business, all while working hard to pay off the debt. We strapped ourselves back down, cancelled the cable, tightened down the grocery budget, went back to line-drying clothes, and again worked to get the debt paid off.
Now, our only debt is our mortgage and a small amount owed to a family member who didn’t want us to wait to get our daughter into a dental appliance while my husband was unemployed. They purchased the appliance up-front and we are now paying them back. Just as with any other debt, we are working as hard as we can to pay it back as quickly as we can, happily hanging clothes out on the line, growing a garden, cooking from scratch and the like.
We still live frugally to stretch our funds and be able to afford things we value more than physical goods. We followed the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt. Now that Jeff has a job again, we are working to re-build our savings and further our financial goals.
Quantity or Quality
When I do have to purchase something, I look for good quality items, preferably used, that will last. For furniture, I look for items that are sturdy antiques or pieces that are easily repaired if purchased new. I always know up-front that it’s going to cost me, either in cash or in time, but the results are worth it.
Surely I’m not the only one who has noticed the quality of consumer products has taken a nose dive in the last three or four years. Socks I purchased in high school are just now starting to wear thin, but socks I purchased two years ago were that thin to begin with! It seems all of the socks and underwear are gauze-thin and practically see-through today unless you purchase very high end items.
So at this point, you’re better off financially if you purchase fewer, quality pieces of clothing over having more items to choose from that won’t last as long. I’ve personally gone to a wardrobe of only a few pieces that mix and match. Goodwill and consignment stores in the very high-end areas of my town often have classic looking items that are new with tags or barely worn. I haven’t needed to purchase new dress clothes in a while, thanks to Goodwill.
For casual items, I go with classic lines that are flattering on me and will work no matter the trends. Finding my style has helped me tremendously in knowing what to purchase that looks best on me. I don’t have to have a closet full of clothes, since most women go back to the same few outfits that they really feel they look great wearing. Instead, just go for what you know is great on you and skip the stuff that is just ok. Carol Tuttle’s Dressing Your Truth can help you with this. She’ll show you how to pick what looks fabulous on you. I haven’t purchased her full program, but what I have learned from her newsletter list and free class have really helped me change the way I look at clothing for the better. And now everything fits in my closet without a struggle.
Another way to save is to turn to purchasing used, high quality household items in good shape. My son has a small bedroom and he needs a desk in his room. We couldn’t find any way to squeeze that in unless we purchased an armoire with hanging space and then built a custom desk in his closet. It would be a better use of the space because he has few hang-up clothes and he can’t reach the closet rod anyway. Most of his oddly-shaped closet is just wasted space that he uses to stuff toys in, so I was happy with the idea of making it useful.
Jeff set out on Fridays after getting off work to locate the right piece of furniture. After a couple of weeks of looking, he found a huge armoire that is solid wood. It cost us $50 at the Habitat for Humanity store, but it’s huge, heavy and very well-built, having been a TV armoire at a well-known, luxury hotel. The manufacture date on the back was 1984, so it’s definitely got the dated paint job and drawer pulls going on, but the lines are classic and it can easily be updated to look modern. It’s that lovely buff color with peach fading and some flowers. If you lived through the 80s, you know it was a very popular look in its day. But it isn’t dinged up or damaged, it just needs a little TLC and a fresh coat of paint to make it look sharp again.
It’s the perfect choice because it’s got about the same footprint as a dresser, but it’s much taller so it is a better use of vertical space. With a change of hardware, gutting some of it to make it into a hanging space, adding a few shelves to the other side, using a little wood putty to fill in the girly carved flowers on the four corners and some paint, it will look good as new and will be a solid piece of furniture that will last for years. So for $100 between the purchase price and materials and a few hours of time, we will have a classic, sturdy, well-built piece that he can take into adulthood. To purchase something comparable right now would run several hundred dollars and would contain some particle board, meaning the piece wouldn’t last as long or wear as well. If I’m going to invest time or money, I’d rather do it on something that can be passed down to my grandkids.
Having too many things in your house creates clutter, robbing you of valuable time, energy and mental resources. I find the fewer things around me, the more mentally clear I am. Cluttered rooms lead to cluttered thoughts for me. I have difficulty sitting down and concentrating on my job when there is clutter around me. A tidy room leads to a clear mind where I can work without distraction.
Having excess of anything leads to more time in cleaning, decision making and the like. I hate spending more time than is necessary cleaning anything. I hate to dust. My rule for everything that goes into my home is that I must love the item more than I hate cleaning it. No knickknacks, no dry-clean only clothes. No clothes that require hand washing unless it’s for a special occasion. The only exception I make is with family photos. I keep plenty of family photos around because their value is higher than the work it takes to keep them looking nice. I do also keep some candles around that have a lid, so I don’t have to try to dust the wax, since our power goes out randomly and for no good reason, even in good weather.
Disorganization is a thief. Did you know that if you spend just 10 minutes a day looking for lost items, that is almost 61 hours a year that you’re not going to get back? If you’re a parent, I’d bet you spend more time than that a day looking for stuff. I know I have! To stop the problem, we’ve created a system to make sure that everything has a spot it calls home and to help make sure things land where they belong. Practicing minimalism and making sure everything in your home has a place it belongs can go a long ways towards minimizing the time you spend hunting. Having one or two times a day where everyone looks around to find anything out of place and puts it away can help maintain the system. For our family, we do it during morning chores and again each night after dinner. Even with us being home al the time since we homeschool, we still need less than 10 minutes a day to put everything where it belongs, and it helps train the kids in knowing where everything goes so they’ll eventually learn to do it anyway.
My education in frugality began with The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced ‘decision’). It’s an awesome book, even though it’s somewhat dated, having been released 15 years ago based on a newsletter than ran from 1990-1996. It will give you lots of inspiration for ideas that you can do to help lower your budget, recycle and reuse things. Most libraries carry this book, I recommend you check it out.
Another book that is really good for helping you get control of your budget is Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. The book does have a religious slant about using money, but that part is easily skipped to get to the meat of budgeting if you aren’t religious. Dave’s method is what we have used to get out of debt. We continue to use his envelope method of budgeting. His suggestions for budgeting during times of uncertain income, such as when we were going through unemployment and with my income varying wildly, were a huge help to me. Again, get it from the library instead of purchasing the book.
In the coming weeks, we’ll go over Black-Belt Tightwaddery ideas for all areas of life. Saving money while eating a real food diet is only the tip of the iceberg. We’ll cover budgeting ideas, cooking from scratch, creative frugality, cutting household expenses, organizing, avoiding chemicals, making your own instead of purchasing processed items, opting out of the consumer culture and much more. We’ll go through every room in the house, every section of the budget, and show you how to become more self-reliant in the process. We’ll even show you how we made over the armoire for my son’s room.
In the comments below, tell me the area of your budget you feel needs the most work and why.
Photo credit: $5700 by AMagill, on Flickr