The way I buy

This post was directly inspired by two things:

1)Lingering elation over the Strange Folk weekend

2)A couple of wonderful articles in my most recent issue of Bitch.

I realized that I’ve been going happily along, lah-de-dah-de-dah, buying and consuming in the ways that all of us do (more than some, less than most, lah-de-dah-de-dah), following my own little rules and guidelines and intuition (and yes, whims – lah-de-dah-de-dah), but I’ve never really tried to sit down and lay it all out.

I must admit, it’s a very complicated system, this idea of “What I Buy.”  It’s tied to my morals and personal convictions, as well as financial situation (read: not wealthy), selfish desires and (very occasionally) convenience.  And, like all good complicated systems are, it’s always changing.

Most of my consumption rules fall into three categories:  Companies/Stores I Avoid (and why), Companies/Stores I Seek Out (and why), and Companies/Stores I Have No Strong Feelings About.  Being a rather opinionated person of strong convictions, the third group is by far the smallest.

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Sometimes, I Avoid or Boycott stores because I don’t like the company’s overarching beliefs and policies and how they express them.

~I don’t buy Nestle products, because I don’t support their efforts to kill babies in developing countries (OK that statement might be a tad melodramatic, but I dare you to read up on the issue and tell me you don’t agree).

~I don’t shop at Hobby Lobby, because their owner is a right-wing lunatic nutjob and besides, they put out the Christmas decorations *way* too early.  It’s only relatively recently, though (like, within the past year-ish) that I’ve cut them completely from my patronage.

~As a general rule, I don’t buy from places that stick a Jesus fish or bible verse on their signage, because I think it’s a shallow tactic to try and draw in sheeple; trying to build their business on guilt and a false sense of commonality rather than producing a product/service that’s actually worthy on its own merit.

~WalMartNeed I say more?

~Best Buy used to be on this list, due to a grievance I suffered about 7 or 8 years ago when I was denied a rebate for no reason, but I’ve put on my big girl pants and gotten over it.  I still think they’re overpriced, though.  And I’ll shop elsewhere first.

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The Seek Out list is rather happier, I think.

~I get a lot of my clothes from LLBean, because I’ve found, over the years, that their quality is second-to-none.  Any time I’m buying an item that I intend to use for years, and need it to last, I’ll turn to LLBean first.  Furniture, winter boots, bags.  I’m confident and comfortable with their return policy (a few Christmases ago, I received a sweater that, after washing and drying flat, shrank nearly 6″ in length.  They paid return shipping and gave me a full refund, no problem.), and appreciate their continued dedication to quality.  Plus, it really helps that they’ve started carrying some cuter clothes lately – It’s not just the staid-old-lady-type stuff anymore 😉

~I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s, but that’s no secret.  The employees are friendly, and I love that I can freely shop there without always checking labels and prices – their foods are made with wholesome, simple ingredients and I know the prices will always beat the big grocery stores.  Aldi (owned by the TJ’s founder’s brother) is similar, but I do check ingredient labels there – they don’t always steer away from the preservatives and HFCS there ;-).  About 95% of our groceries come from either Aldi or Trader Joe’s, with remainder from the convenient overpriced grocery 1/2 a block from our house.  And every time I do buy from that grocery, I end up pissed – “I spent $3.99 for milk that’s sour 3 days later?”.

~Most all of my yarn comes from one of my favorite local yarn shops, Knitty Couture and Knitorious.  I also like Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe in Columbia (though I haven’t been back since they changed ownership), and Stitch Knitch, The Studio, and Yarn Shop and More in Kansas City.  All are local businesses, and buying local is very important to me.   Between these handful of shops, as well as assorted Etsy sellers, most of my yarn dollars turn around to directly support individuals.  Though I’ve gotta admit, I will shop from Knit Picks every once in a while.

~Let’s talk about Etsy.  Etsy has many fans, and a few critics.  While I admit that paying for Fedex/UPS/whoever to ship and deliver Etsy purchases isn’t exactly the greenest practice, that’s not a problem that’s unique to the Etsy site.   My own opinion is the relatively minor environmental detriment is outweighed by supporting the “cottage industry” which Etsy facilitates.  I have great respect and admiration for the artists’ work, and I support them by buying (and enjoying!) their products.  I like to think it also helps a wee bit when they show up at local festivals (thus saving the shipping costs for me), and I’m able to do my part to drum up business by linking them for all 2 of my non-local readers.

~If we’re going to spend $20-$30 to eat a dinner out (something we do *maybe* once a month, if that), then I don’t want to give that money to Applebee’s in exchange for a chewy chicken sandwich and soggy buttered vegetables.  So even if we’re in the “just a burger or whatever” sort of mood, we’ll go to one of the great restaurants here in U City, like Fitz’s or the famous Blueberry Hill, or to Ted Drewe‘s for ice cream, etc.  Again, supporting local businesses.

~Even though I’m not wealthy, and even though I do love a bargain, I’m *always* willing to pay more for quality.   I’d rather pay $170 for boots that I know will last for years, than $45 or $50 for some that’ll only hold on for a season.  I’ve had my LLBean canvas bag (linked waaaay up there) since about 1999 or 2000, and it’s just now starting to wear through at the corners.  LLBean would still probably take it back for a free exchange, but I’ve really sent that bag through the wringer and am satisfied with its durability.  Within the next couple years, though, I will be ordering – and happily paying for – a replacement, confident that the quality makes it well worth its price.

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I could go on and on, naming places that I love and support (and love to support), but I think you get the idea.  So time for the final category I mentioned above – Neutral places.

~Taco Bell.  Fast food that’s big business and bad for you, but damned if those cheesy fiesta potatoes aren’t delicious.

~Most “mall” clothing shops – Old Navy, Gap, Macy’s, etc.  I freely buy from there, but don’t usually feel any particular affinity for the brands.  I’ve got a GAP jacket that I’ve had for about 5 years and absolutely adore, and I’m not fond of how Macy’s treated the Marshall Field’s takeover, but on the whole – neutral “meh.”

~Target.  We don’t really buy much there, but it seems like somehow our once-monthly trips always end up totaling $50 or more.  Cute designs at great prices, but it all feels so…mass-produced.  Rather conflicting, y’know?

That’s all I can think of for now, but you get the idea 🙂

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I guess you could say that in general, I stick with the old adage “vote with your dollars.” I don’t choose to spend my money on brands or organizations I dislike, and I actively spend at places I do support.  I know my money is just a drop in the bucket for most of these groups, but I’ve gotta keep my conscience clean, and try to spend that money in the best way I can.  For me, that means paying a bit more if I can feel comfortable in my purchases.

I don’t expect anybody to follow my words as Law, but I do hope that this post has made you think about your own habits for consumption, and the larger ripple effect that those habits can have on your community.

I’d love to get some feedback on this post – are there any companies or brands that you boycott or seek out?  Why?

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2 responses to “The way I buy

  1. This is a question that I struggle with all the time. I live in a really remote area of northern Canada which makes shopping a big pain. I do try to support small local shops as much as possible (for yarn, shoes, clothes etc) but it can be really hard. The closest city with every day stores like The Gap is 7 hours away but I only go about once a year.
    I tend to shop quite a bit on-line from J Crew since I know what size to order and it’s really easy. Etsy is high on my list of places to look for something special for myself or gifts. Shipping isn’t something that I take into account since it’s a necessary evil when you live in the middle of nowhere.
    The one place I boycott in my everyday life is Wal-Mart. The list of reasons is really long but I doubt I’ll ever change my mind. The place is just skeevy.

    Sorry that took so long 🙂

  2. I, too, avoid Wal-Mart. It’s easier now that there isn’t one close to my house. I do visit Target too frequently. While there isn’t much information out there, I fear that Target may have some of the same issues that Wal-Mart does… which saddens me because Target has such great stuff! But I hate thinking that I might be giving my money to a place that doesn’t pay its employees reasonable wages or allow them to obtain company-provided benefits.

    Unfortunately, my eating habits are not so great and I frequent fast food restaurants more than I would like to. However, I never go to KFC. Perhaps because I never went there much it was easy to give up, but after I began to learn about the company’s severely inhumane chicken-breeding practices, I stopped going there for good. My boyfriend makes fun of me for half-believing that they breed boneless chickens. What if it’s true?!

    I really appreciate this post. I’m always looking to better match my spending (or over-spending…blech) with my beliefs system. Any and all information is always welcomed.

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