Category Archives: consumerism

Home Economics for the 21st Century

If my Google Reader inbox today is any indication, there seems to be a movement calling for schools to reinstate Home Economics classes.

This article appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Bring Back Home Economics Education (pdf file)

I absolutely agree that bringing back a revamped version of Home Ec is a great idea. Now, I suspect Home Ec went away as an understandable reaction to the gender role stereotypes of the 1950’s and ’60s.  There is often a fine line, however, between reaction and over-reaction. Reflexively swinging to the opposite extreme rarely solves a problem. If anything, it creates new problems.

Feminism, as I subscribe to it, is simply a state of independence– being able to take care of yourself, with or without a man. That may be oversimplifying (and probably to some, underestimating) the matter. Nevertheless, “taking care of yourself” without a doubt includes being able to feed and nourish yourself, as well as manage money responsibly. These were the two pillars of traditional home economics.

Even more than before, parents and caregivers today cannot be expected or relied on to teach children how to prepare healthy meals. Many parents never learned to cook and instead rely on restaurants, take-out food, frozen meals, and packaged food as basic fare. Many children seldom experience what a true home-cooked meal tastes like, much less see what goes into preparing it. (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig)

Am I saying that feminism necessarily means malnourishing yourself and your children? Not at all.  But boasting the inability to cook as some sort of feminist merit badge strikes me as foolish, that’s all.  It is something women should think about, at the very least.

There may be other factors contributing to the widespread inability to cook healthy meals at home. In the absence of home cooking, for example, heavily processed convenience foods have stepped in to fill the void… and to fill stomachs. Far be it for me to suggest some nefarious food industry conspiracy behind this. I’ll just say that for consumerism to work as a way of life (as it has in America for some 60 years), it has been necessary to discourage responsible money management and to encourage poor eating choices.

Just think about the long-term benefits of teaching young people how to live healthy and sustainable lives:

An informed generation of children may also influence the eating habits of US families, just as tobacco education causes some students to discourage their parents from smoking. Ultimately, as this generation of school-aged children and adolescents reaches adulthood, they may serve as positive role models for their children and, through their longterm purchasing habits, ensure healthful food choices are readily available in homes, supermarkets, and restaurants
throughout the country. (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig)

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Filed under budgeting, consumerism, cooking, food, frugal, menu planning, money, money management, personal responsibility, simplicity

Today’s blog brought to you by….

I think you’ll enjoy this informercial. I certainly did.

And sure, the audience is laughing, but I wonder if it’s uncomfortable laughter…. 🙂

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Filed under budget, cheap fun, consumer debt, consumerism, credit cards, frugal, insanity, money management

Of Handbag Hounds and Frankenpuppies

Let me state this from the get-go:

I LOVE DOGS. ALL DOGS.

Well, little yappy dogs annoy me, but I wish them no harm.

I grew up with dogs. For as long as I can remember, my family always had a doggie companion. I would love to have a dog right now, but at this time in my life I can’t:

1. I can’t afford to keep a dog.

2. This isn’t my house. The people I live with might not want a dog in their home.

3. And even if they did, I’ll be in school and working. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

4. Who knows where I’ll be living a few years down the road? “No pets allowed” would break my heart. Let me be more settled before taking on such a responsibility.


So for now, I will lavish love and affection upon other people’s dogs.

Joshua

Jake

Roseblossom (AKA Moochie McBeggarson)

.

When I am in a position to seriously consider responsible dog ownership, I will go to the shelter and rescue a homeless doggie and prove to that lucky dog that not all humans are assholes.

Case in point: Designer Mutts

Recently, someone was advertising “LABRADOODLE” puppies for sale in the local newspaper.

Labradoodle = Labrador Retriever + Poodle.

Awww…. How cute. They’re fluffy and non-shedding and great for people with allergies!

OK… it happens sometimes. The neighbor’s dog gets out of the yard, a mystery litter is born, and there are varying degrees of shame and amusement involved before all is said and done.

It happens.

But, wait. These “Labradoodle” puppies in the paper were selling for $900.

NINE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS.

Labradoodle

I remember when they were called mutts… mongrels… Heinz 57… Sooners… And people were just giving ’em away!

Apparently, “Designer Mutts” are all the rage these days. Who’da thunk it, but all those stupid would-be heiresses carrying around Accessory Animals (or Handbag Hounds) aren’t the worst of our worries, after all.

Shelters everywhere are filled with mixed breeds just biding their time until euthenasia.

Meanwhile, people are INTENTIONALLY MASS-PRODUCING MORE MUTTS…. and selling them for large amounts of money to stupid people looking for another Fashionable Lifestyle Accessory?

::::: BREATHE IN…, BREATHE OUT…:::::

Shift gears….

Now, I know that purebred dog fanciers are serious about the genetic purity, but according to a CNN article about Designer Mutts

The labradoodle could be eligible for American Kennel Club recognition if there are at least 300 of them in at least 20 states with three documented generations of labradoodle to labradoodle mixing. A national breed club is also required.


So, people are lobbying for mutts to be recognized as an actual breed of their own.

I really look forward to watching the Westminster Dog Show and rooting for Bob’s Mangey Cur Crawled Under the Fence and Violated My Poodle in the Dubious DNA category.

Finally, legitimizing mixed breeds as entirely new breeds unto themselves could be a real problem, considering

….purebred advocates relish knowing what to expect from their pup since the reliability of doodle dogs’ looks is not 100 percent.

“The problem is the lack of predictability,” Lainie Cantrell, spokeswoman for the AKC, said of labradoodles and other popular mixed-breds. “That’s the whole point of a purebred dog and the benefit of a purebred dog is that you typically know what you’re going to get.”

I want to just throttle someone right now.

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For your disapproval, here are some other actual trendy cross-breeds:

SCHNOODLE (Schnauzer + Poodle)

GOLDENDOODLE (Golden Retriever + Poodle)

COCKAPOO (Cocker Spaniel + Poodle)

YORKIPOO (Yorkshire Terrier + Poodle)

DORGI (Dachshund + Corgi)

BAGEL (Bassett Hound + Beagle)


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Filed under consumerism, designer mutts, dog breeding, dogs, doodle dogs, goldendoodle, insanity, labradoodle, materialism, pets

Keep it simple, keep it basic

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about the evils of single-serving packages (you know, the 100-calorie packs of Oreo-flavored air puffs, Cheese Nips, and so on).  The mark-up on re-packaged junk food is just staggering!

I imagine food manufacturers sitting around a conference table and conspiring how to charge even more for their products.

“Say, fellas. This may sound crazy, but… hear me out. Now… what would happen if we repackaged the Goldfish crackers in such a way that we could charge double for them?”

And they’ve found a way. Kraft Mac & Cheese in the blue box has long been a symbol of cheap food… but now they’ve perverted that with their “Easy Mac” in single-serving microwavable packets.

What’s next? “Gourmet Ramen 2 Go”?

Well, friends… Not only has junk food has been soiled in this way, but also basic foods!

Corn is corn is corn.

The truth is, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between one brand and the next.

For most products, store brands are the same exact thing as the name brands, only minus the pretty packaging and advertising subsidy.

Corn is corn. It grows on stalks, in  a place like Iowa.

And how can you really “brand” corn, anyway?

That’s like saying the maple trees in my backyard are a better brand than the maple trees in my neighbor’s yard.

People fall for it, though. *shrugs*

Case in point:
Birdseye “Steamfresh Vegetables”.

This is just a trainwreck of evil marketing.

You see, kids, Clarence Birdseye’s ghost has developed a magical type of corn that can only be steamed inside this magical plastic bag!

(Pssst! You can steam ANY frozen vegetables in your microwave. You don’t need that special bag to do it.)

Let’s compare prices by weight (the all-important unit price):

  • 12-ounce Steamfresh corn:    $2.79 (or $3.72 per pound)
  • 16-ounce store brand corn:    $1.19 (or $1.19 per pound)

Somebody at Birdseye probably got a huuuuuge bonus to figure out how to charge THREE AND A HALF TIMES more for the same corn!

I don’t believe the special steaming bag costs them that much more to produce, and nobody asked for my opinion during the Research & Development phase, so I’m not paying for it. Furthermore, I’m not paying 3.5 times the price of regular frozen corn to cover Birdseye’s costs in rolling out a new advertising campaign.

One more example of basic commodities being perverted for higher profits.

Rice: a crucial staple, inexpensive and nutritious, the dietary basis of many world cultures.

I can buy a two-pound bag of Uncle Ben’s whole grain brown rice for $2.79. That bag lasts me a long time, it’s full of fiber and protein, and is truly yummy.

No, it’s not instant rice. Yes, it will cost you a whopping 20 minutes of your day. But it’s really not that hard to cook, despite what you may think. Even unapologetic stovephobes can make nice fluffy rice without burning it.

Now, Uncle Ben’s having a little bit of an identity problem. Elsewhere on the shelf, you will find…

….Uncle Ben’s “Ready Rice”. 

It’s pre-cooked, vacuum-sealed in its little pouch, and waiting for you to nuke it.

Yes, I tried it out of curiosity. No, it does NOT taste good. Vaguely oily, and a strange aftertaste.

Again, let’s compare the unit prices:

  • 2-pound bag (dry):      $2.79 (or $ 1.40 per pound)
  • 8.8 ounce Ready Rice: $1.29 (or $ 2.35 per pound)

But wait. Those numbers aren’t exactly right, are they? We’re comparing dry rice to cooked rice here.

Keep in mind that dry rice triples in volume when it cooks. So that two-pound bag of dry rice is roughly equivalent to SIX POUNDS of cooked rice (bringing the cost down to a mere 47 cents per pound).

I would break this further down to the cost-per-serving, but I’m afraid I’ll completely blow your minds.

I’ll just let that sink in.

Conclusion: Keep it simple, keep it basic.

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Filed under business, consumerism, evil, excess, food, groceries, money management, packaging, rip-offs, shopping, waste

How hard is it to count out 51 Goldfish crackers?

Some days, depending on my hormone levels, a trip to the grocery store can send me into a rage. I really get myself all worked up about the sly things manufacturers do to charge more for less.

If the package says “100-Calorie Packs”, “To-Go”, “Ready”, or any other variation on pre-measured single-serving portions, you will be paying too much for it. Not to mention the excessive packaging to burden our landfills.

Today, I read about a study on this very topic. It seems the Center for Science in the Public Interest has determined that Cheese Nips are by far the worst offender– customers pay a 279% mark-up on the 100-calorie packs!

“Hundred-calorie packs are an ingenious way for companies to charge consumers more for less,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson. “Manufacturers get the best of both worlds–they make more money, and they look like they’re helping people control their weight.”

Link

It’s nice to feel vindicated, although I wonder how much of a grant this think tank received to state the obvious.

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Filed under budget, budgeting, consumerism, excess, food, groceries, money, money management, packaging, personal finance, rip-offs, saving, shopping, waste, wastefulness

Out of sight, out of mind.

The thing with watching my money is, as with babysitting an unruly toddler, I have to watch it every minute of the day, or else it gets into trouble… quickly and unexpectedly.

As soon as I forget to record an expenditure or two, I feel things sliding out of control, like I’m in a trance of sorts. I have just enough self-awareness to realize I need to keep my finances tightly (obsessively) reined in until I’ve learned discipline.

I also realize that the “unruly toddler” mentioned above is not money itself, but my own reckless spending impulses.

I’ve recently cobbled together a low-tech money-management system, based on my own special set of sometimes-contradictory neuroses and several techniques I’ve read about elsewhere.

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1. Budget Envelopes

When I (finally) got my last paycheck ($400) from THE PREVIOUS EMPLOYER WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED, I skimmed $100 off the top and deposited it in my checking account. Boom. Gone. No touch.
I divvied up the rest of the cash in envelopes, earmarked for specific expenses: Phone (I’m good through the end of October), Gasoline ($10 a week for six weeks into the future), Food, etc.

I even budgeted myself $20 a week for miscellaneous expenses (“Week ending 8/24”, “Week ending 8/31”, etc). I organized the envelopes in an accordion-style file, and stowed it away in a safe place.

My mom always used to say that money burns a hole in my pocket, and I’ve come to realize she was right (about this, and about many other things, too). If I’ve got money on me, I will spend it. It’s so true to say “out of sight, out of mind”… if it’s not in my wallet, I forget it even exists.

2. Dollar dollar bill, y’all

Any loose change and one-dollar bills in my purse or wallet go into a jar at the end of the day… and forget I ever had it. Even if I throw only $1.50 a day into that jar, that will add up to: $10.50 a week, $42 a month, $504 a year.

3. Cooking the books

That semester I took Financial Accounting I wasn’t entirely a waste, because I’ve devised my own half-assed bookkeeping system, and it works for me.

I divided up a notebook (10 cents at Wal*Mart) with colored tabs. Each section is devoted to one area of my finances: Wallet (cash), Checking, budget envelopes (Gasoline, Phone, Food, Weekly miscellany).

Each time I spend money, or move money from one “account” to another (such as taking $20 from the envelope marked “Week ending 8/17″and putting it in my Wallet), I make a note of the transaction, and keep a running total for each category.

At the back of the notebook, I keep a weekly running total of all categories combined, so I have a snapshot of what I’ve got. Not the most professional system, but it works for me and makes sense to the way my mind works. That’s the most important part of any system– that it’s something you can do.

4. Keep a price book

I adapted this from Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette. I keep track of the prices I pay for groceries and other products I buy regularly. I’m getting to know exactly what things cost, and it’s making me a sharper shopper. How can you know what’s a good deal, when you don’t know what things normally cost?

5. Cash only

I have a debit card with my checking account, but I’ve found that (just as studies have shown with credit cards) I tend to spend more recklessly when I’m just swiping plastic at the register.

I try to avoid using my debit card, and make an effort to pay with cash as much as possible. Debit and credit cards make money unreal– disconnected and theoretical… but physically parting with cash is real– tangible and visceral.

I personally need to feel grounded in reality when it comes to money, and that means hard, cold cash. Otherwise, I will just space out and lose track of my finances entirely. Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly why the powers-that-be encourage debit and credit cards. Think about those check-card commercials that show the lone maverick cash-payer slowing down the entire cashless-transaction-machine robot march.

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Overall, the budget is pretty tight around here until school starts and financial aid kicks in. And believe me when I say I will be just as cautious with my grant, scholarship, and Work-Study money, as well!

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Congratulations! You’re Pre-Qualified!

Y’know, it’s been ages since I got a credit card offer in the mail.

Maybe it’s because I’ve moved five times in seven years and potential creditors have had trouble finding me.

Maybe it’s because my credit stinks and nobody’s wanted me anyway.

Nevertheless.

This morning’s mail brought a real doozy. Kind of a letdown for someone who, at age 20 had two gold MasterCards, a platinum Visa, and an AmEx….

But we mustn’t dwell in the past.

Anyway, this offer found its way to me at my current street address (a single family residence), but with an old apartment number tacked onto it. I haven’t lived in Apt C-9 since 2001, by the way. Good detective work, guys.

Seriously. I would love to know exactly how many people would actually agree to the terms of the Sketchy Evil Bank MasterCard.

The Offer:

Your available credit line of $300 will be reduced by an annual fee of $150 that will be billed directly to your account. So, your initial available credit will be $170 once you make your minimum monthly payment of $20 to activate. A monthly maintenance fee of $6 will be assessed once you make your first purchase.

In English

Initial credit line: $300

Upon approval, you’re immediately $150 in debt.
Once you receive your card, you must send in a $20 payment.

Once they’ve received and processed your payment, you may activate and use your card.

Once you make your first purchase, they begin charging a $6 monthly maintenance fee.

Now, they don’t mention anywhere that they begin accruing interest as soon as they tack the $150 annual fee onto your account, but I will assume they do.

So conceivably, it could be a month before you can actually even use your new credit card… 5-7 business days here, 5-7 business days there… but they’re already charging you interest on that $150!

Some Numbers

Annual Fee 150.00

Maintenance Fee (12 x $6) 72.00

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Annual cost just to possess card $ 222.00
So basically, taking into consideration the cost of possessing this card, you really only have $78 to play with over the course of the year. Thanks, guys. I’ll get right on that.
Oh, and then there’s that pesky interest.

Other Terms and Conditions

19.50% APR on purchases

25.50% APR on cash advances

25.50% Delinquency APR for purchases

31.50% Delinquency APR for Cash Advances

5% Transaction fee for Cash Advances ($5 minimum)

$35 Late Payment Fee

$35 Over-Limit Fee

In Conclusion

In my mind, these terms verge on criminal. I’m still gagging on that 25.50% interest rate for cash advances. That’s just mind-blowingly nefarious.

These scumbags are getting $150 a year (plus interest) just for taking a chance on someone they’re probably hoping will get drunk on their own credit line and incur lots of late and over-limit fees.

I’ve seen “MAXED OUT”. I know how these people operate.

I’m not accepting this very generous offer, by the way.

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Filed under consumer debt, consumerism, credit, credit cards, debt, evil, excess, frugal, hopelessness, insanity, materialism, money, money management, personal finance, saving, shopping, surviving, waste, wastefulness