Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The cost of being cheap

There's an underlying irony of living cheaply in an affluent country that niggles me.  It's the bothersome truth that my frugal-ness is quite closely related to my neighbours extravagance.  If I didn't live in a country that regurgitates its products every six months there wouldn't be the abundance of second hand and recycled goods for me to select from.  Furnishing my home for under $500.00 with one weekend of perusing the local thrift stores would be a lot tougher if everyone was on the same mission.  In other words, my success in living cheaply is directly connected with compulsive shopaholics and their perceived obsolescence of their stuff.

But there is a deeper thread that's even more disturbing.  It's the concept of "subsidized goods" - the idea that my "good deal" comes on the backs of many other less fortunate people.  The elderly cashier that is working for minimum wage with few or no benefits.  The third world worker that is assembling some electronic product on an assembly line for pennies a day.  Or, as recently brought jarringly into focus, the migrant worker in Ontario working on a chicken farm and sending his meagre earnings back home to his family in Peru.

My $4.00 Second Hand Garden

Then my pathetic attempt to distance myself from the obsessive shopper seems profane against this stark reality of the horrific cost for my "new" extraneous gewgaw, no matter how "cheap" or "recycled" it may be.  Many, many people have contributed to the cycle of goods that churn their way through the queue of consumers in my world, no matter where on that chain I may be.  Just because I shop second hand doesn't mean I'm all that different from any other shopper in my neighbourhood.

And there's the rub.

Some benefit of living in a rich, affluent world with our prolific shopping habits should somehow trickle back into those cultures that indirectly support my cravings for stuff.  So what if I find a great second hand deal on a mahogany table and chairs.  Or a wonderful buy on Nintendo DS at a garage sale.  I am quite thrilled at the $100 bargain on the table or the $20 DS for my kid.  And for a moment I feel penny-wise and proud.

But then there is that indirect subsidy angle that needs to be addressed.

"Made in China"

So here's where I'm at.

Kiva, a non-profit organization that uses the internet to connect microfinance organizations with individuals, allows people like me to lend as little as $25.00 to struggling entrepreneurs  in all different parts of the world where life is a little more than simply going to work and shopping.  Most of these struggling business people are women seeking to earn enough money to feed their families and possibly, if there is any left over, send their kids to school.  My efforts to purchase carefully and cheaply, recycling and reusing someone else's refuse can now not only remove me from the consumer cycle of new products but can also provide a little chump change to assist someone that lives in a totally foreign world to mine.

Like Mushkiniso, a divorced mother that would like to buy some watermelon seeds for her farm.

Or Kalbubu, a 56 yr. old widow with a 7 acre farm in Kyrgyzstan that would like to add to her herd of five cows, two mares and one work horse.

Maybe it'll be enough to keep them off an assembly line.

And that makes my nights in my second hand bed just a little sweeter.

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