Several weeks ago I changed my spending habits – this change will not help the economy in general, but I expect it will help my own economy. The idea is not uniquely mine. I am borrowing it from a woman I heard on NPR. (You can hear the full interview at http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/08/26/mm-the-great-american-apparel-diet/). The interview made me take action on something that was already on my radar.
As I listen to radio reports on our spending and as I think of all the things I have and my family has I am appalled. For several years, I have not sent gifts to grandchildren since I cannot possibly purchase anything for them that they don’t already own. As I think about holidays, it occurs to me, for the thousandth time, that we (a general “we”) have too many things. When contrasted with so many millions from around the world, what we have is obnoxious and unnecessary.
Not to tell people what to do, I decided to do my part and stop spending except for essentials: food, medical, car repair, church, housing and utilities. I thought I was ahead of the curve, but apparently a “spending hiatus” is the newest craze among the thirty-somethings and who knows which other groups are on a “spending diet.” Perhaps if I care more about our country, I will go into debt rather than stop spending.
But, what I care about is how I live and what I think I need to purchase. This is not zero-sum. I did not start out without anything and there are some new things in my closet that were needed for summer. I waited until I was almost on vacation to purchase them. They will last through the rest of Indian Summer and next year too.
I think this moratorium on spending is preparing me for the next great challenge: living for one week on the equivalent of a week’s worth of food stamps: $21.00. This is somewhat akin to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. I will use only that food that is part of my preplanned menu, even charging myself for salt. And, like Ehrenreich, I am only doing this for a short time. She lived on her predetermined amount of money, supplementing as possible with jobs, for three 30-day stints. I will start fresh, with good health and stored up stamina and wear myself down by the end of the week. Unlike families who do subsist with food stamp supplements, at the end of the week, the experiment is finished. Completed. I don’t have to face months or years on that subsistence food plan without hope of ever getting to a place where food is not that precious commodity, or where fresh fruit is not a luxury.
Fruits and vegetables are abundant now as are farmer’s markets; therefore, during my week, I should be able to eat fairly well, I plan to eat vegetarian – even vegan – to save money. Good thing I have a good education so that I know how to eat well without meat – not all people do.
Yesterday was Labor Day and the CEO of one company in Ohio has forklift drivers who make $20 per hour (about $40,000 per year). The CEO is demanding that the forklift drivers take a 50 percent pay cut. New annual wages: about $20,000 before taxes. Forty thousand dollars is not much money on which to raise a family; $20,000 puts families below the poverty level and they join millions of other who are labeled as working poor. They must depend on food stamps to eek out the constant of needing to eat three times a day. These families need food stamps – or a different CEO.
I cannot do anything about either the food stamps or the CEO. I can only learn for myself what it means to live such a fragile lifestyle.
I cannot change the world. But I change myself and I can preach to my congregation and those outside the choir. If being a Christian in this world is not all about acting on our care of the poor and needy, then we are not fulfilling our mandate to be Jesus-people.