Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Sustainable Stimulus: Not All Spending is Equal

Experts tell us that consumer spending needs to be robust to keep our economic system from collapse. Can we be appropriately patriotic, while holding true to sensible values like sustainability and fiscal responsibility? We are in uncharted territory, and many of us - even if gainfully employed - have given in to our natural impulses to reign in spending. But, yes, there are ways to make an economic "contribution" without purchasing made-in-China Plasma TV's, daily lattes at Starbucks, or a new car - just to name a few of the purchasing categories which are in free-fall.

Not all spending is equal. The point is to keep dollars circulating, not necessarily to produce more stuff. Spending money on services keeps people earning dollars, and you get the benefits. Since construction is down, it's a great time to do upgrades on a house, especially ones which enhance your home's efficiency and conservation. Those stimulate the economy but they're essentially investments which pay back. Insulate, replace windows and doors, hire people to caulk, and a painter to throw on a few coats of insulating paint - and you can even get tax breaks. Hire folks to build you raised vegetable beds and a compost to make good on your intention to raise vegetables.

Take some yoga, treat yourself to a massage, acupuncture, Reiki, or go to a spa for a stress-relieving day. Hire an organizer and take the time to go through your surplus. Soon gardening kicks off - there are loads of talented landscapers around. This is a great time to plant a few trees, especially in strategic areas so they will shade your home in summer and let the sun shine into your home in winter. Double green: you're adding carbon sinks and paying for the trees and the labor. That would help both earth and economy.

OK, so you'll skip that plasma TV. But how about springing for a capacitor? This small appliance (like the Kvar, which our electrician recommended), when attached to your electrical junction box, improves efficiency. They run around $500 and quickly pay for themselves with a 10-30% drop in electric usage. Now is a good time to replace old energy guzzlers like dehumidifiers and refrigerators. Our twenty year old dehumidifier not only was sporting colonies of mold, but used so much more energy than modern models that the cost of the new one was recouped in one summer. Maybe this is the season to start biking? Gearing up with the bike, helmet, gloves, bike lock, and spandex shorts will definitely nurse the economy, while you exercise, improve your health, and take a car off congested roads. Win-win-win.

How about supporting crafts people and artists? Check out www.Etsy.com, a website where artists post and sell their wares at very reasonable prices. Like fresh waffles? Buy a waffle iron, and keep batter in your refridge. Way cheaper than buying frozen waffles, and man, it will smell great every morning. Love those lattes? Buy an espresso machine! Take advantage of off-season prices and take your sweetie to a Bed and Breakfast. In this economy, what goes around comes around.

Keep those dollars moving, wisely.

Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr


Anonymous said...

Betsy, I don't usually comment, but I love this sensible post!

Betsy Teutsch said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks. It's great to know who is out there paying attention. This is a version of my monthly column for the Weavers Way Shuttle, The Simplicity Dividend.

Unknown said...

Of course, there are different kinds of spending. For example, some people just buy everything they see and overspend while others try to live beneath their means and buy only what they really need. All the people spend money in a different way and have different attitude to money and spensing. Some people say “easy come, esay go” and buy unnecessary things and pay bills in expensive restaurants while others try to save and have a limited budget. We all have financial habits and they directly impact our spending style.Lots of consumers shop with a help of credit cards and instant loans online today but I think that it’s worth to use these products only when it’s necessary but not just when you want to buy another useless thing.