Some people have been absolutely wiped out by the recent economic turmoil.
Most of us, though, still have our jobs. So while we may be scared, we’re doing okay for now.
What should we be doing?
Here are seven ways you can take care of your community and take care of your own finances.
1. Buy local: Now is not the time to save $1.78 on a book by shopping on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t employ your neighbor, donate to your local school, host a local book group, or order takeout from your favorite Indian restaurant. Really push yourself to see how local you can go. Do you buy the coffee roasted across the country or the coffee roasted by the local coffee guy?
I know this might cost a little bit more at times, but right now your community needs you more than you need the 37 cents you might save on a light switch by buying it from Home Depot.
Don’t stop with being a locavore-be a locaholic.
2. Give generously: In my family we are increasing our charitable giving now, especially to groups that care for the poor. Many people who used to donate for these charities are now going to them for help. That means they have more demand and they have fewer contributors.
We are continuing our support of other nonprofits as well. We love our local NPR stations, and we want to keep them on the air.
Finally, charity is important now, but don’t forget justice. Caring for the people hurting in this recession is important, and we also need to address the causes of poverty and the structures that were leaving people behind even before the recession. That means supporting groups that are advocating for policy changes to provide for the common good.
3. Cultivate simple tastes: Yes, fine wines and fancy cheeses are delightful, but so is a simple grilled cheese sandwich. It’s even better if you make it with local cheese and fresh bread from a real neighborhood bakery. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find things to delight you.
4. Learn to cook (and especially how to cook beans): When you cook from scratch you save money. At eighty cents a pound for local, organic dry black beans, simple foods like this are a tremendous value. They taste better, too.
5. Food not Lawns: It’s amazing. You put a few seeds in the soil, give them some water and some care, and they turn into food. All for free! And you don’t have to mow it! We still have a lawn, but our garden is taking up more and more of it.
6. Love your library. Checking out books and movies from the library is a lot cheaper than Netflix and Nicola’s Books, and that’s even after factoring in my occasional late fees. Check out your local museum, or catch a music show at a local coffee shop or bar. There are plenty of ways you can enjoy yourself that are free or very cheap.
7. Buy used. Consignment store clothing, thrift store dishes, and Craigslist appliances are all great ways to save a bit of coin. It can be fun to see the crazy stuff at the thrift stores, it sure beats the predictability of the big box stores. And a lot of what’s for sale is practically new. Compulsive shoppers, shirts that were the wrong size, and people who would rather donate than pack when they move keep the thrift stores stocked with good-quality merchandise.
Of course, all the standard financial advice still holds. Eliminate credit card debt. Keep an emergency reserve fund. Live within your means.
We are facing some tough times ahead. Getting through them will demand more from us: more money for charity, more time to learn how to save money, and more discipline to keep our financial houses in order. We can get through this if we show the commitment to care for ourselves and the compassion to care for our community.