Living in Society

Skipping an Annual Shopping Tradition


There is not a lot of money to spend on frills at the end of each month. I wrote about this before and while we hope to pay off our outstanding consumer loan this year, an unexpected expense could complicate things. Like many people we live on the edge between financial survival and ruin.

There are broader implications than our single household.

Last year, 48 percent of household expenses were programmed. That means property taxes, water, electricity, sewer, refuse hauling, road maintenance, insurance, telephone, cable T.V., car loan payment, and broadband. There is no escaping these expenses.

Sixteen percent of expenses were food, sundries, gasoline and cash expenses. One can economize here, but all of these categories are necessary. Our food expense is lower because we regularly use produce from the garden.

The balance of our expenses (36 percent) was what I call household operating expenses. This includes clothing, household repair parts, auto repairs, health co-pays, writing expenses, gardening, donations, and anything unexpected that pops up during the year. Sometimes things break and an outside contractor is needed to make furnace, electrical or other repairs. Contractors are not cheap.

I used to go shopping when the Super Bowl was televised. It was a tradition. I’d wait until the neighborhood got quiet, start the car, and drive to the mall to walk deserted passages and browse. It was my personal equivalent of Black Friday. I’m not sure how much I spent on such shopping trips, but not much. The message was more how anti-sports I became after seeing the Iowa Hawkeyes play with coach Ray Nagle back in the day. Sports was and is a waste of time in our household, unless someone we know personally is playing.

With no money left at the end of each month, and we had to take out a loan to pay for some unexpected expenses. Shopping out of tradition doesn’t make sense with a personal loan. It is better not to buy anything extra other than what we need to get by.

I compare this with the post-war boom during the 1950s when large companies banked on a consumer society. The population boomed and people were buying new homes and equipping them with modern appliances and furnishings. The car culture took off. Today, with so much of our expenses programmed and necessary, combined with replacement items, this has to be taking sales away from merchants who once relied upon them. We bought a used car last year, and will buy a major appliance or two this year, but such purchases can’t be driving the economy, at least not in the same way. Cars and appliances are made better to last longer these days and that has to hurt replacement sales.

We are going through the house to purge stuff we don’t need. So much of what we cared about for years, isn’t anything our child wants. We have the room to store old things, although there is nothing wrong with some empty space. I keep thinking I could need, use, or repurpose. I need to let go. It is hard to get a purge started, and we are not ready to call the waste management company to arrange for a dumpster. However; that day is coming.

The Super Bowl will continue to be a non-event here. We’ll make the usual meals, yet we won’t do any shopping outside our normal stocking levels to prepare. I’ll skip a traditional shopping trip that shouldn’t have been a tradition at all. I’ll be better for that.