Friday, June 8, 2012

Fantasy shopping spree

Every now and then, as I'm going about my ecofrugal life, an idle non-frugal thought will intrude on my consciousness. This happened today as I was on my way to the opening day of the local farmer's market, steeling myself for the high prices I knew I'd find there. (All those articles that encourage you to save money on food by buying it direct from the grower at a farmer's market are clearly written by people who have never been to one.) I was trying to psych myself up to pay $8 a pound for local asparagus and $6 for strawberries by reminding myself that supporting local farmers is a worthwhile cause, and that Brian and I had actually toyed with the idea of adding a special line item to our monthly budget for local spending (which would encourage us to, for example, spend $10 extra to buy a game from our local comic and game shop rather than getting it cheaper at And all of a sudden the thought popped into my head: "If I had to spend a thousand dollars locally in the next week, would I be able to do it?"

I admit, the very concept threw me for a bit of a loop. After all, it's basically a complete reversal of my usual thinking, which tends to focus on keeping more money in my pocket. But somehow, once the idea had occurred to me, I couldn't seem to stop myself from playing with it. Granted, it's an entirely hypothetical situation—not one that is ever going to come up in real life. But supposing, just for the sake of argument, that some mysterious millionaire who's into supporting local businesses offered us a thousand dollars out of the blue, with the stipulation that we must spend all of it at local businesses over the course of the next week, could we manage it? Could we, in the first place, bring ourselves to spend such a sum in such a short time on items we didn't need? And if so, how?

My first thought was to go for one big-ticket item. We've been looking into replacing our mattress, and $1,000 for a new one is certainly not an unheard-of amount to spend. But the only store in town that sells them is White Lotus Home, which is currently in the process of liquidating all its inventory in preparation for a move to new digs across the river in New Brunswick. I had a peek in there last month and found only a very limited selection still available, so it's unlikely that what we're looking for would be in stock at this point. So we'd have to nickel-and-dime it away (or, since we're talking about a grand here, $50 and $100 it away).

So how best to fritter away that kind of moolah? A few ideas occurred to me:
  1. The farmers' market itself could probably gobble up $50 or $100 of it. If, instead of carefully weighing the benefits of every goodie against the costs as I usually do, I simply threw caution to the winds and loaded up a bag with everything that looked good, I could probably go through that amount easily without loading myself down with more than I could carry. Five bucks for a couple of pints of blueberries, another five for quart of cherries, eight for a pound of those garlic scapes that the sign promises are "great on the grill," ten for a couple of balls of that fabulous fresh mozzarella, twenty-five for a couple of Griggstown Farm's pricey organic chicken pot pies—it all adds up. So say $100 just on that first stop. What else?
  2. We could probably spend another hundred easily at the aforementioned comic and game shop. Once again, all we'd have to do is grab anything that looked good, without worrying about whether it's worth the money. Four new board games should account for $100 handily. Maybe even throw in some comics, if anything looked interesting (though I must confess, most of them don't to me).
  3. Next, we'd go out to eat—often. Highland Park has no shortage of restaurants, and we could surely get through a lot of them in a week. Thai food, Greek food, brunch at the bagel place, smoothies at the local coffeehouse—it wouldn't be hard to spend $70 a day just on meals, so that's about another $500 right there.
  4. What about the remaining $300? We could probably spend that sum in a bookstore in a single afternoon, but that's one local business our town sadly lacks at this point. Clothes? Well, the options are limited, but there is a new store in town called The Covered Girl, which specializes in modest dress for girls and women. Not my style for the most part, but I've seen some blazers in the window that looked like they might be nice. So if I hunted around in there for a while, I could probably manage to find something to spend another $100 on.
  5. As for the other $200, our town boasts a wide selection of gift shops, including a high-end toy store. We usually stay out of them because everything's so expensive and not particularly useful, but if spending money is the whole point of the exercise, well, it's never too early to start your holiday shopping.
As I worked my way through this mental exercise, it occurred to me that what I was doing, really, was putting together a near-perfect set of rules for what not to do in real life—assuming that your actual goal, like most people's, is to keep your spending in check. Simply reverse every suggestion on this list—don't buy expensive food treats, don't eat out often, don't buy books/games/clothes you don't need—and you have a perfect primer on learning to live frugally for those who have never been in the habit of doing so.

And so, with that in mind, I came home from the farmer's market with just one pint of local blueberries, costing all of three bucks. Technically, I guess I didn't really need to buy even that much, but after all, I always intended to pump just a little bit of extra cash into the local economy. All things in moderation, including moderation.
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