Tag Archives: consumption

Joint Book Review: Affluenza by John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor

51kepAY4UfL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_Affluenza:  The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graff, David Wann, and Thomas H.  Naylor gives an in-depth analysis of America’s consumption issue, and provides solutions for how best to address the problems such rampant consumption causes.

Amanda’s Take

I enjoyed reading Affluenza–it was equal parts disturbing and motivating to me.  The tidbits about society’s obsession with over-consumption and how that impacts the environment were particularly striking to me, and made me want to strive to be more cognizant of my environmental impact.  Since I place family in high importance, I was also struck by how much of a (negative) impact our current level of consumption have on American family life.

I read the second edition (as did Ronnica), but despite the dated information, I doubt the overall trend has changed.  The biggest takeaway for me was that we as a society consume far more than is healthy.

In an unusual twist, this book came out after two documentaries of similar names and content.  Since I enjoyed the book so much, I hope to check out the films in the near future.

Ronnica’s Take

Reading the 2005 edition of Affluenza makes me realize that this disease of over-consumption has been with us much too long.

I love the issues this book raised, but to be honest, I struggled through the book. I found the framing concept of the “affluenza” disease clever, but a bit cumbersome. I kept wanting the book to go deeper, but that’s just not what it was.

Still, Affluenza does a good job of linking together the disparate symptoms of our over-consumption and how it is harming us.

We can all benefit from examining our consumption, taking a step back and simply being thankful for what we already have.

Amanda’s Buy Little Month Wrap-Up, January 2016

unnamed (13)January was “Buy Little Month” in our house.  Ronnica sang the praises of intentionally minimizing purchases, so I figured…why not try it?

We did not keep records as meticulously as she did, instead opting to track expenses as we would ordinarily.  Rather, our thought processes were what we took note of more than anything.  “Is this a need or a want?” is something that crossed my mind whenever potential purchases came up.  (I think this is how Riley thinks on a regular basis, Buy Little Month or not, so this month really benefited me more than anyone in that regard!)

That said, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that not much changed in how things went–we didn’t save a great deal of money (although if one considers what has been saved via the new grocery shopping method alone, we did pocket an extra couple hundred dollars).  It turns out, one of our financial strengths is that we tend to be pretty intentional and thoughtful when it comes to purchases.

What I did appreciate about our Buy Little Month exercise was the fact that it was good to refocus on our financial goals at the beginning of the new year.  I don’t know that this is something we will actually sign on to do again, but making sure we continue to stay on the same page as a couple is always a good practice.

Be sure to come back on Thursday to read about Ronnica’s Buy Little Month experience!

Avoiding Upgrades

I love new gadgets as much as anyone. My first taste of being on the leading edge of technology came when I was 10, and I was excited to be the first among my friends to get a Discman.

Technology has come a long way since then.

Just now I tried to count the number of cell phones I’ve had since I got my first one in late 2001. As far as I can remember, I’ve had 8 cell phones, which means they have had an average lifespan of less than 2 years.

Why do we feel the need to go through items through quickly like the good consumers that corporations want us to be?

I know that products aren’t built to last or be repaired by average joes like they used to be. But they still last longer than we usually allow them.

My laptop may be 7 years old, but it still does what I need to do: let's me surf the internet and write this blog.
My laptop may be 7 years old, but it still does what I need to do:  surf the internet and write this blog.

In the last year, I’ve changed my thinking about electronics. Yes, I would like all the bells and whistles that come with the latest gadgets. But are they worth it? I’ve come to value the money in my savings account more highly.

I’ve decided that my rule for replacing something is when it stops doing what I need it to do and I’m no longer able to repair it back to that point.

When I frame it that way, it takes a lot of pressure off not to feel I have to have the latest. If it weren’t for my job, I probably wouldn’t have any idea what the latest is.

I don’t know when my phone or laptop while stop working. Hopefully I can still use them for some time to come. But I’m saving up for my next devices, anyway, so that I will have the money for them when the  time comes.

If more of us reject throw-away culture, more corporations will be motivated to cater to our buying desires, creating products that are made to last.

Joint Book Review: Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

enough is enoughThis month’s book review is of Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In this book, the author’s propose replacing our “more” economy with one of “enough.” This principle is called the steady-state economy.

They also propose replace GDP with a measure called a “happy planet index” that takes into account life expectancy, subjective measures of happiness and ecological footprint to achieve it.

Amanda’s Take

Although I agree with the over-arching tenets of Enough is Enough  (“enough” is the new “more”, building a sustainable economy, etc.), I found myself doubting the practicality and feasibility of the authors’ proposed solutions.  While we can all take a stance in our day-to-day lives of making enough be enough, it seems that the solutions proposed by the authors would be better presented to governing bodies.

As Ronnica notes in her review below, the authors do state that it is simply impossible for all seven billion people on this planet to implement each of their solutions; as such, I would have preferred a more concentrated approach, tailored more to what an individual can do.  The solutions Dietz and O’Neill propose are doable, but only if entire governing bodies back them and aid in implementing them.

A prime example of this is found in Chapter 6–“Enough People:  Curbing Population.”  Certainly providing methods of birth control and promoting education among girls would aid in stemming the population boom in our world, but only with mass mobilization among every person on this planet…and even then there is no guarantee that everyone would go along with certain elements of the solution.

Overall, I found the book to be thought-provoking, if not always relevant to the ordinary person.

Ronnica’s Take

I have little training in economics, so I can’t really judge the merits of the theory espoused  in this book. However, I will comment on the foundation it’s built on.

I absolutely love the idea of pursuing “enough” instead of “more.” This begins with each and every one of us. I don’t know how to get 7 billion others to do the same thing (though some of them undoubtedly already are), but I can live my life (including my failures) openly in front of others. I can make better decisions and be an encouragement in the areas where I have influence.

The authors make an excellent point that it’s not possible for the entire world population to continue to pursue more forever without great peril to us all. And we’ve all seen the studies that we Americans are not necessarily happier than those who live in countries with less wealth.

One statistic mentioned is that once a country’s national income reaches $20,000, there is no additional happiness to be had from additional income. I think if we take a moment to reflect, we can all recognize that to be true.

May we all be content with “enough.”

Avoiding Ads

zillions cover
Yes, it was a very 90s magazine.

As a kid, my favorite magazine was Zillions. This was a magazine produced by the makers of Consumer Reports designed to mold kids into being savvy consumers. My favorite part were the cartoon-like illustrations of the hows and whys of advertising.

We all know (if we stop to think about it), that advertisements are designed to make us act in a specific way: buy a product, watch a show or desire to be associated with a specific brand.

Globally, companies pay $500 billion a year on advertising. These companies are smart: they use advertising because they know it will help them sell more product.

I have nothing against advertising necessarily, but I want to choose for myself what I buy (or simply choose not to buy). Whether I acknowledge it or not, advertising has a strong pull on me, particularly ads designed to evoke an emotional response. I’m not especially gullible, but ads often dig in deep to accomplish their goals.

Advertisements are everywhere. In almost no practical context would it be reasonable to avoid them altogether. Still, I can take action to limit my exposure wherever possible.

For example, I do not watch television advertising. If I can’t fast forward through it, I mute the television and turn my attention elsewhere until they’re over. No, I don’t even watch the ads during the Superbowl.

When I do experience an ad, I often pick it apart to weaken its grip. How does this ad want me to feel? What does it want me to do? What cultural lie does it depend on (or what truth does it distort)?

These questions are good for other forms of media. If we’re going to fight our culture’s over-consumerism and me-first attitudes, we’re going to have to question what messages we take in.

August Project Check-In

6757849129_54c4f1ab10_mAlthough this post is set to be published on August 14, I am writing my first Amanda’s August Project Check-in on Tuesday, August 4.

The reason:  holy smokes, y’all, I’m learning a lot about where our money goes.

Some highlights thus far:

1.  I spent all of my “fun money” for August by Day Three.  Husband and I both get a few bucks each month to spend (or save) on whatever we want.  This isn’t a huge amount of money, but I learned it can go up in smoke pretty quickly.  I chose to spend mine on morning coffees and treats, and before I knew it, poof!  There went my money for 31 days…on the third day of the month.

Lesson learned:  Taking a few minutes to plan where I want my money to go can result in less impulse purchases.  Or I can quit coffee, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  I can also make my own coffee at home for a lot less…and still get caffeinated.

2.  Communication with others in the household is crucial.  This one is more of a reminder than a lesson learned, but it was great to get a refresher.  If only one person in the household knows where the money is going, or spends without consulting the other people in the house first, then it can be all too easy to 1) be left in the dark, and 2) see your bank account dwindle rapidly.

3.  Budget.  You had to know this was coming, right?  Also more of a reminder, but if you don’t tell your money where to go, then it will be gone before you know it (see Highlight #1).

Stay tuned for more take-away lessons from AAP!

Photo by http://401kcalculator.org

Trying Terracycle

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are good you have encountered baby food pouches at some point.  This handy pouches  are also great for the busy adult who wants a quick bite to eat on-the-go.

But they aren’t so great for the environment.

There are ways around the environmental impact, of course; there are devices that let you whip up some homemade food and put it in reusable pouches, and while more economical (certain pouch brands can get a bit pricey), for various reasons, this may not be the most practical or feasible for your situation.

It seems like Terracycle was made for just a time as this.

I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!
I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!

While I have not had an opportunity to take part in the Terracycle program fully yet–I am still “collecting waste” (pouches my son consumes)–this seems like a win-win for all involved.  After signing up for a “Brigade” (or several, if you wish–because they don’t just collect pouches!), you collect the items you intend to send in to Terracycle; ultimately, these items will be upcyled into any number of awesome products.

When ready to send in, you print off a shipping label (most Brigades have free shipping, but there is a cost for some), drop it off, and within a few days, points are awarded to your Terracycle account, which can in turn be donated to various charities and nonprofits.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Anything to reduce the load on our planet, especially when it is relatively simple, seems like a good stewardship move to me!

Have you done Terracycle before?  Any hints, tips, or tricks you would recommend to this Terracycle newbie?

How it Works: Kill-A-Watt

We talk a lot on here about going green and saving green–both important elements of stewardship (which is obviously the theme of this blog).

So today, I want to introduce you to a nifty tool to help in this ongoing endeavor of going green and saving green.  I happened across the Kill-A-Watt awhile ago at our local library, of all places.

A device that combines two of my passions (green living and being thrifty)?  Color me intrigued.  I checked it out the day I learned about it.

unnamed (31)

The premise behind this device is to plug your electronic items into it for a period of time (a minimum of two minutes and a maximum of 24 hours per appliance).  After entering in your utility rate (as found on your electric bill), you use your electronic doodad like you usually would, except it is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt.  The longer the appliance is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt, the more accurate the reading.

By the time you are done, you have a better idea of not only how much energy your device or appliance utilizes, but also how much each item costs you to use.

My findings haven’t been too staggering or surprising; they have basically confirmed that which I already knew:  phantom energy is a real thing, bigger appliances use more energy than “little” ones, and good golly, we use a lot of electricity in this house!

Even though it may not reveal anything too especially earth-shattering, the Kill-A-Watt is a fun gadget to use, and adds actual dollars to your electronic devices.  Check it out!

Joint Book Review: Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter

downloadWhere does the stuff you get rid of wind up?  For many, any thought regarding a piece of trash or recycling ends at the dumpster, but in Junkyard Planet:  Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, Adam Minter goes to great lengths to show what and how junk is recycled into new items.  Having grown up in a family of scrap dealers, Minter approaches the “trash trade” like you might expect:  with an eye on reuse and finances.

Amanda’s Take

As I read through this (surprisingly engaging) book, I found it hard to get past one thing:  just how much STUFF humans (specifically Americans) consume.  Were it not for all that we obtain and then throw out, there would be no basis for this book.

Another interesting idea for me was the over-arching theme of the book:  what happens to the “stuff” we throw out.  Some of the places that the trash ends up surprised me; I guess I thought that everything landed in a landfill or recycling center, but beyond that, I never stopped to wonder (as Ronnica notes below).  I was certainly surprised at some of the locations Minter traveled to.  To think that some of my trash has traveled farther than I have is pretty mind-boggling!

This book served as a great reminder that what some may consider trash, others consider not just a treasure, but their livelihood.  While I appreciated a new perspective on recycling and all things junk, I became an even more fervent believer in just reducing my consumption at the outset–an idea which Minter does touch on throughout the book.

Ronnica’s Take

A few years ago while I was watching the recycling center scene in Toy Story 3, I remember thinking, “Why have I never thought about how they sort recyclables before?”

Junkyard Planet answers the curiosity that Toy Story 3 sparked in me.

As opposed to most books we read on stuff and consumerism, I found it interesting how much Minter takes a relatively pro-junk stance. Given his background, that makes sense.

While I’m rather anti-junk (in theory…don’t take a look at my kitchen table right now), I actually think his perspective helped him see the good in the recycling industry while not being shy about pointing out the negatives.

I think the biggest takeaway from the book for me is that I shouldn’t be so quick to throw something out. Everything can have a second life.

Make It Do, Amanda’s Take

In preparation for the next phrase in our “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” series I brainstormed what I “make do” with…and was sort of amazed at what all we manage to make work in our household.

The two that top the list, though, are our kitchen and our car.

First, let’s go through a brief tour of our “vintage” kitchen, because in this case, a picture truly is worth a thousand words:

unnamed (16)

The other side of the kitchen isn’t noteworthy–it houses a “peninsula” (not an island) and a few cupboards and the microwave.  You get the idea.

It’s safe to assume our yellow counters, orange flooring that’s coming off, and the mismatched purple backsplash isn’t going to win us many design awards.

But this kitchen, dated though it may be, is functional.  Do I want to gut it?  You bet.  But right now, it is simply not in our budget; we’d rather spend our money on other things, like experiences.  So for right now…we make do.

On to our car.  I’ve written on here before how we have made one small car work for our family, but it is becoming more of a challenge, especially now that both dogs are full-grown, and lengthy summer vacations are on the horizon.

But as with the kitchen, while our car situation may not be ideal and can be downright uncomfortable, the car still does what we need it to do, and a bigger car is not practical for us on many fronts, including (but not limited to) the financial front.

We make do with what we have.

Tomorrow Ronnica will share what she makes do.  Stay tuned!