Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do

Rejecting the Consumer Economy

As Wall Street continues to fret and fuss over whether or not Americans will return to spending money we don’t have on cheap crap we don’t need, I would like to offer an idea that’s been nagging at me for a couple of years now:

How about we just knock it off?

Seriously, maybe it is at least possible that a “consumer driven economy” is complete madness and the time has now come to admit it and get real.

I recently accepted a paid project ghostwriting an E-book on 100 Money Saving Recipes for a website that aims to help people through the coming recession by sharing common sense solutions most of our grandparents took for granted. I quickly realized that most of the consumer-madness that has been driving the US economy is a fairly recent form of insanity.

For example, when I was growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, buying convenience foods was considered to be just a step up away from killing puppies and sleeping in your own vomit after a night of debauchery. No woman in my extended family would have been caught dead making Pillsbury canned biscuits. To this day, I can make biscuits, cornbread, pie crust, and muffins without a recipe, in about 3 to 5 minutes, tops.

So what, you say. (Thanks Dick Cheney.) Well, so, a dozen big biscuits made from scratch, even with the cost of flour off the charts and milk going for $4.00 a gallon, costs a grand total of about 40 cents. If you buy Pillsbury’s Grand biscuits and pop them in a pan, that will run about $2.49. So by making the biscuits yourself from raw ingredients (which after practice takes very little more time) you save yourself 84% in costs.

Maybe $2.09 isn’t a fortune. But say you make biscuits once a week. That adds up to $8.98 a month, or $108.68 a year, or, if you are about 40 years old right now and live to be 80, about $5216.64 (more or less) over the course of your lifetime that you’ll save just by making your own biscuits that taste better, smell better, and don’t have any mystery ingredients in them.

Now multiply that number by every not-very-good convenience food or drink you buy and suddenly you’re looking at a real chunk of change.

Buy Cheap Crap or the Terrorists Win!

Really?

Does anyone in the US really believe that Bin Laden & friends plowed into the World Trade Center because people here were not buying enough cheap shoes made in China and cheap clothes made in El Salvador? Yet in the days and weeks after 9/11, what did our government urge us to do? Research Islam? Try to remedy world hunger and poverty? Reach out to our neighbors to calm and help them? No, actually our President urged us to go shopping and take vacations, or else the terrorists win.

Go shopping?

The terrorists hate us because we have the freedom to shop? When we look at these kinds of statements and apply any kind of reason at all, we quickly see that run-away consumption has nothing to do with defeating terrorism, and everything to do with ruining our quality of life and making the world hate us.

Take the Lead Out of Santa

When Americans realized that some of the most trusted names in the toy business were making toddler dolls and blocks and tops with so much lead in them they would have been outlawed even 50 years ago, they were appalled, adn rightly so. But who says Christmas has to be an orgy of consumption anyway? My own family has been weary of this for several years now, and we have cut back significantly and will likely cut back more.

I remember one Christmas going to a relative’s house and watching a young child tear open present after present after present, and by about the 15th one, she screamed “I HAVE ONE OF THESE ALREADY! I HATE THIS!”

Gosh it was heartwarming.

Kids get quickly overwhelmed by stuff-orgies, and are often lots happier with more subdued scenes, at least when they are very small. Older kids can start to learn about the joy of giving. Honestly, it isn’t mean. Not that receiving presents is bad, but when it gets this out of control it is spiritually and financially destructive.

Spend Cash Only and Little of That

I work at a bank, and the most common complaint I get there is in regard to overdrafts. People like to use debit cards because they are instant and easy, and then they overdraw their accounts and blame the bank. More often than not when someone is really out of control I remind them that most places do take cash and even people who work at the bank use it sometimes because it doesn’t get them into as much trouble.

Often you can get what you need just by mentioning you need it to people. Everybody has spare stuff laying around, and most people are glad to be rid of it if they can give it to someone who has a use for it. In the past month we have acquired a dishwasher, a lap top computer, a lawn mower, and a stereo system, all from people who planned to throw theirs out. All of it was free.

When you go out and spend money just to cheer yourself up, it is really a kind of addiction. It makes you feel temporarily prosperous and in control, but the feeling is fleeting and illusory, especially if credit is involved. We are constantly encouraged to engage in addictive consumerism by TV and by advertising, employers, the government, and well-meaning friends and neighbors. We can stop anytime we want. Maybe now is a good time.

My Biscuit Recipe

Look, I know I sound like I’m 80 here, so I’m going to shut up. But before I go, here is how you can make great biscuits all by yourself in about three minutes:

Cut about 1/4 cup of shortening or butter (half a stick) into two cups of flour mixed with two teaspoons of baking powder. Cut with the butter with a fork until the pieces are very small and the flour/butter/bakingpowder mixture looks like cornmeal.

Add enough milk to make a soft dough. Don’t add too much milk–the dough should be soft and dry.

The secret to flaky biscuits is not to overhandle the dough.

Pat it out on a floured surface and cut into squares or rounds with the top of a glass. Bake in on an ungreased pan about 10 minutes or until lightly brown in a 425 degree oven.

Eat with butter and jam.

You can add a little more milk to make a sticky batter and then plop the dough on top of freshly cut peaches, blueberries, cherries, or raspberries tossed with sugar and some cornstarch, them sprinkly the top with sugar and bake for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Top with icrecream while still warm.