The nation’s political situation feels, when I’m not optimistic, like the nation is wrecked. It’s never been perfect, but it’s always had fantastic ideals worth striving for. It has always proclaimed it was exceptional for its freedom, its liberties: a point I always thought was nonsense (we’re not exceptional, we’re like much of the rest of the world) but the country’s dedication to an ethos of liberty and justice feels utterly abandoned lately. Combined with my busy schedule and the financial exhaustion of the two kittens when they were in the vet’s weekly, well, I’ve kind of abandoned my frugality. I’ve been wrestling with unfrugal politics. Continue reading A Personal Impact of Awful Politics: I Haven’t Been Frugal, and I Miss my Kitchen
I’ve seen a number of posts in my Twitter feed lately that follow similar patterns. In what I’m assuming is intended as benevolent helpfulness, they encourage readers to save. “Save for retirement, even if you only make three nickels!” is (my) exaggerated version. Today I saw some that suggested the only barrier to saving is self-discipline. These kinds of posts struck me as troubling, and I think PF (personal finance) bloggers need to take a deep breath and a step back to evaluate some.
Chiefly, my criticism is this: posts like that deny the very real problem of class in America and show little empathy for that problem. If I’m making, say, $30k a year, saving for retirement–and surely for early retirement–is nearly impossible. If I live in a less-expensive area, maybe my odds improve, but overall? $30k is very little in our country, and even less so if that person has a spouse or kids or even, hell, pets. $30k is barely enough to begin to save an emergency fund for some people. No amount of budgeting in the world will make much difference if expenses–food, rent, transit to work–are average. Telling people–as some have–to move for better-paying jobs ignores how costly moving is. First month, last month, security–these add up to thousands of dollars in many cases, and that’s not including something to haul one’s stuff. It’s also denying that people want more than just to save for retirement–living near family, for instance, might be worth far more than being isolated someplace in order to save money. A little empathy aforethought might change what this piece was up to entirely.
And while sometimes indeed what stops people from saving is willpower, just as often it’s likely a combination of events that leaves a person in the red or paycheck to paycheck. Class is a very real part of our world, and it’s compounded in America by other factors like gender, sex, and race, all of which lead to lower paychecks than white men receive. We know that 2/3 of Americans don’t have much of anything saved for an emergency, and it’s not always because of willpower: it’s because of a lack of funds to begin with. Significantly, a $1000 emergency–say, the refrigerator croaks–is 31 days’ worth of work for someone making $25000 a year (Pew Charitable Trust study, cited in link above–$25000 is just over the official poverty line for a family of four). Setting aside that money may be nigh on impossible for someone making $25000. Average income in America is a little over $56k, which means many people are making well below that amount (by some estimates, up to 14.5% are below the poverty line). Deepening one’s ability to understand where people are coming from–finding some financial empathy–will go a a long way to being a better advocate for people interested in personal finance issues, and better able to figure out what people actually need rather than what one thinks they need.
Relatedly, it’s time to chuck the “just pull yourself up from your bootstraps” narrative. It’s been a persistent part of American culture for decades, but it lacks awareness that everyone’s bootstraps start in different places. White, educated men in certain geographical markets and without prior roots in poverty have the easiest-to-pull bootstraps, as they’ve got the most overt privilege, systemic and otherwise. Everyone else starts lower. For many, the straps themselves barely exist. To assume otherwise–to say or imply, “I did it, why can’t you?” about any given topic without qualifiers–suggest that you either haven’t recognized that we don’t all have the same bootstrap pullability, or an unwillingless to recognize it.
So, take this as a piece of constructive criticism, PF bloggers. Before you offer, however well-intended, a suggestion that anyone if they tried hard enough could FIRE or hell, just retire someday, or save far more than they already do, think about the position of privilege you’re coming from. You’ve been blessed. No doubt you’ve worked hard, but sometimes hard work alone doesn’t cut it. Keep that in mind as you proffer advice for the rest of us. Work on developing empathy for what $30k means for some families and for the complicating factors in people’s lives. Empathy is as good as gold in terms of social currency.
As many of you know, Friday–my usual money post day–was a busy day. I sewed most of the day while I had time and easy access to my stuff, because Friday afternoon was kitten adoption time! We’ve been planning on adopting new felines to be companions to our resident cat, Jane, since June. She’s been lonely since our other cat, Charlie, unexpectedly passed. When we got back from vacation we went to a local shelter and picked two out. They were on vet hold a bit, but are now quarantined in my sewing room/office.
Adopting from a shelter is a wonderful thing. You support pets that would otherwise be homeless and free up shelter cages for more animals. Sadly, those cages are never emptied. The litter our kittens came from was shipped from South Carolina to our New England state. I’m not sure what the story is there–perhaps it’s the best way to get them into no-kill shelters?
While adopting adult cats is usually fairly inexpensive–they’re much harder for shelters to place–we’d tried that with Jane before and it was a no-go. Kittens, on the other hand, are expensive.
Here’s the breakdown across the last few days
Adoption fee/each: $175. They’ve had some basic vet provision but need a second distemper shot. I could bring them back to the shelter a half-hour away for free, but one of them pooped in the crate while traveling, which meant both needed to be cleaned when I got home. I don’t think we’ll be doing that trip with them again–they’ll go to our vet.
Food: $95.75. I ordered five flats, 24 cans each, of kitten food from petco. We buy the fancier stuff, I admit–stuff by Blue pet foods. I became turned off of major US brands after they had multiple fatal recalls a few years ago. This food should be more pricey than it already is but I ordered it as a repeat delivery–my first–so I got 20% off. That’s why I ordered so much of it. It’ll keep us in kitten food nearly the rest of the year. I also splurged and got them a fancy climbing tree: https://s7d1.scene7.com/is/image/PETCO/ so that was $45.
So, in purchases made so far (the bulk of which were necessities), we’re looking at $500. Good lord.
Now let’s look ahead to the next week.
Upcoming vet appointment: Both kittens have colds, which could be feline herpes (it’s a respiratory illness, common in shelters, and viral–goes away on its own) or a bacterial infection. The shelter’s visiting vet wanted both of them on an antibiotic, but didn’t leave any for them. The shelter figured they’d be better at our house than there and that I should call them Saturday about the anti-b. Saturday came and went, they had no word from their vet. Sunday came and went. This morning I figured the heck with this, we’re going to our vet. We have an appointment for both, which they’d need anyway as new pets. This is likely to run around $300 if they need prescriptions, and if they get their vaccine (they may not if they’re too ill, which means we’ll need another appointment). Then they’ll need to be spayed/neutered (one of each)–I can’t remember what that ran a few years ago, but somewhere around $300 is likely as well.
I’ll be honest–we go to a vet we love and trust (they only do cats!) but it’s likely more expensive than others. But our cats are our babies. We’ve lost two under pretty tragic circumstances so I do my damndest to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.
But clearly, adopting kittens is not for those without the means to do so. In our experience, kittens always have some complications that cost $$. Charlie had feline herpes and went to the vet several times before the herpes went away–it gave him conjunctivitis needed an Rx for his little eyes. They have all kinds of needs, and toys are the least of them. Before you adopt a pet, do some real math and determine what your plan is. They’re too sweet to deal with you having to change your mind later.
Well, folks, today is a much better day than I anticipated, as the ACA remains the law of the land, Medicaid remains intact, and I won’t anticipate my premiums skyrocketing more than usual next year. Let’s talk about health care anyway, and then maybe we’ll get a politics-light weekend.
Health care is a feminist financial issue.
The “Health Care Freedom Act” drafted at lunch yesterday but GOP senators and voted on around midnight last night permitted states in most cases to strip away the essential benefits the ACA determined. Many of those benefits apply to women. Free annual gynecology visits and maternity care (I’m not sure of the cost there–still copays? no copays?) and just two examples. The big one, hard fought, was accessible, free birth control. You still needed an insurance plan for these benefits (another issue–access and affordability are still not what they might be, or are in other countries) but still: that the ACA mandated coverage of basic women’s health needs was a tremendous jump forward. One of the reasons Mr Tenacious and I have the plan we have (work-sponsored) was because it became super affordable once, for example, my annual gyn visit was without copay, since it’s the only regular appointment I make.
When women’s health care is affordable and guaranteed, women are able to do much more in their lives. When we control our own fertility, we can make sound choices about our futures. We can plan our careers; run for office; and create families with children when and if we want them, not just when it happens to happen. While there has been a lot of rhetoric about why the ACA is bad and needs repeal, this point hasn’t been explored so much: that repeal is directly oppressive to women and their advancement. Perhaps that isn’t so much an accident, though I feel like a conspiracy theorist suggesting so.
During the second world war, the government sprung for day care all over the nation to facilitate women’s work in factories. When the war was over, rather than have a debate over the merits of better sex parity in the workplace and ignoring that many war-working women wanted to stay working, the government shut those free daycare centers down, lickety-split. The consequence was that women stopped working. The lack of women’s health provision (among so many others) in the various repeal-and-replace bills feels similar. While the ACA promises more social, political and work advancement for women when they don’t have to worry about unintended pregnancies and undetected cancers, the r-and-r bills shut those paths down.
A small coincidence that women who left the GOP’s position on health care faced threatsfrom their party (those are three separate examples: two involving violence).
While you may be healthy and able-bodied now, that doesn’t guarantee you will be forever. In the same way singles like me pay for schools for kids I don’t need (I have cat–she rejects education), we pay into health care so as to cover those of us who need it. If we learned nothing from this week’s health care roller coaster, it’s that we all need more women in the senate and the house. We need good, accessible, affordable health care for them to do so. All we need is the political will for both.
It’s Friday again! Today’s episode of Finance Friday is about a situation that folks who have either gained weight, lost weight, or have generally seen their bodies change have to deal with: rebuilding their wardrobe. As I’ve mentioned before, my body has changed a lot in the last couple of years that I’ve been weightlifting. And here I am again–it’s time for a wardrobe rebuild before the fall semester starts.
Last summer, I bought new pants for the fall term only to have them all barely fit in the spring. Most of the stuff I’d gotten the year before–beloved, seriously expensive stuff from Stitch Fix, for example–I donated when it no longer zipped over my lower half. I bought new shorts this summer as only one pair I had last year remained. My jackets don’t fit as my shoulders have broadened, and my blouses don’t fit over my biceps. Now don’t get me wrong–I love my strength. I love my muscles. But I hate replacing clothes every few months. It’s expensive and irritating. So I have a new plan so that I can replace my wardrobe with enough flexibility that hopefully, I won’t have to do it again anytime soon.
The perk of having to have a wardrobe rebuild is that I can use it as a chance to plan, essentially, most of my clothes deliberately. I’m aiming for a modified capsule wardrobe–a moderate amount of clothing, nearly all interchangeable (ie, tops can swap with other tops with all of the bottoms). Outfits can be changed up with accessories: I have lots of scarves, costume jewelry, shoes, and so forth for that.
So far, I’ve replaced my multiple too-small work-suitable jackets with a Prime Day purchase: a nice trench I scored for a fraction of its MSRP at $35. I used my head, looked at the size chart and the comments, and made sure to size appropriately, rather than buying the size I have usually been. It arrived Thursday and it fits my shoulders beautifully and my biceps well. Hopefully it will last a long while. I’ll try not to spill coffee on it too often.
I’m a skilled seamstress, which allows me to tailor much of the rest of my new wardrobe. I’m making it primarily out of knits. Thus they’ll stretch if I grow a bit, and I can take them in if I shrink a bit. I’ve made myself two pencil skirts using the remarkably easy and FREE pattern at Patterns for Pirates–one’s a charcoal knit (Ponte de Roma is the fabric type), so easily paired with any top, and the other’s a pink and black gingham, for fun. I lined the front of both with a little Power Mesh, cut to a smaller size and stretched to provide just a little belly smoothing. The charcoal I’d bought last year, so that’s not even on my cost tally this year, and I got the pink gingham and mesh from Purple Seamstress for $25 shipped. The mesh will last me through probably four or five skirts.
Next, I took advantage of a sale at Joann Fabric and Craft to get more of the charcoal and some black Ponte de Roma as well as a McCall’s pattern to make some wide-leg pants. They’ll end up coming in at about $22 a pair. That they’ll be adjustable with their stretchy though formal enough goodness has me hoping they’ll make it through at least a couple of years. (I got a nice Ibotta rebate on this, too–we’ll talk about that another day.)
So, assuming my skinny pants still fit (super stretchy poplin), with these two pants and a few skirts, I should be good with bottoms for a while.
Squeezing into Shirts
In addition to several surviving tops from last year, I picked up two blouses on thredup for a song. They’re classic in styling, one black, one white. They were already inexpensive enough but I found a 40% discount code I could use as a first-time buyer. I got them both for $13. That black blouse and the gingham skirt are going to be smashing together.
I have some shirt fabric in an online cart but I’m not read to pull the trigger yet. They’ll replace the too-small ones I bought on clearance a few years ago that do not fit at all now. Stretchy knit fitted tops are my go-to. I also have some sweater fabric in there to make myself a nice cowl neck.
All of these pieces should be easily swappable for nice, professional outfits. I can wear them to work, to conferences and casually. All told, I shouldn’t spend more than $150 to replace my wardrobe, and replace it well. Here’s hoping, anyway.
Good weekend, readers! Today I’m going to talk about side gigs. If you read financial blogs and forums at all, you’ve seen this phrase. The gist of discussion tends to go like this: lower your expenses as you will in order to better your savings rate (or whatever), but at some point you can’t (or won’t) lower any more. At that point, assuming you want a better savings rate or more money for your ferret farm or whatever it is you’re up to, you need to increase your income. Get a side gig–a second job, generally less intensive than the first. But how we frame the concept of side gigs carries class and sex assumptions that need unpacking.
The Gig Economy
In America, we increasingly have a “gig economy” wherein people freelance for work. This has occurred for a couple of reasons. One, because of lack of choice, and two, because the nature of the work people want to do can necessitate that kind of self-employment. (Plug for universal health care to make self-employment and gig living easier goes here–it would be infinitely easier to be working gig-style or as an entrepreneur if you didn’t have to worry about medical expenses, dammit). The phrase “side gig” can be related to this economic situation. It is not necessarily reflective of broader, more long-lasting trends in America’s employment and economics scene, however. Greater complexities are missing, and their absence is troubling.
One piece that is missing in many discussions of side gigs is that the concept itself assume a middle-class status. It assumes you have a primary gig, the one that pays you reasonably well and likely gives you health benefits, maybe a retirement plan of some kind, paid sick days and the like. It negates the fact that for many people, two jobs was a way of life, with poverty the consequence of missing either. Plenty of people for decades have worked two jobs to make ends meet; neither of those jobs would be side gigs, neither secondary to the other. They’re necessities.
This assumption of middle class status-shades a lot of finance blog writing, including mine, but I want to own it. I know I’m often making that assumption. I fully understand there’s a difference between side gig for added savings and a person working two jobs to put food on the table, and that the latter are often trapped in jobs that don’t come with benefits or decent hours. America loves to point fingers at those people, laying responsibility for their situations to poor choices when the reality is nearly always far more complicated. In any case, while I get why we talk about side gigs (I have a badass one, myself), we need to at least be cognizant that two gigs is the norm for a lot of folks.
Another issue with the way we conceptualize side gigs is sex. Here are my thoughts, generally malformed and in need of work:
Women chronically earn less than men. The wage gap persists. If we talk about pursuing side gigs as a way of rounding out the primary gig, are we abandoning to some extent the real problem–that primary gigs don’t often pay enough, particularly for women? That there are penalties for time to raise kids, but that putting them in day care can cost the mother’s near-entire salary (which is one reason why moms tend to stay home more than dads–it’s the patriarchy reinforcing financial traditions that then reinforces social ones).
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but there’s something there I can’t yet put my finger on.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a lot of baggage with the concept of the side gig. It comes with assumptions about class, and I think what I’m leaning towards is that it comes with assumptions of (masculine) gender. What are your thoughts? Should we modify our conversations about side gigs, and if so, how? What are our assumptions and our own baggage in these conversations?
Good morning! With July on the horizon, I thought it might be fun to share a six month check in. This check-in is based on our budget, track and spend spreadsheet, which you can download for free and use yourself!
Our sheet has several major categories for spend tracking. We deduct as we spend from each category’s assigned value. The biggest category is just called “Stuff.” From here we deduct, say, spending at the comic book store; gifts; hotel stays; pretty much all the stuff of everyday life. We gave this category $5k for the year, and we’re not yet at the halfway point. Woohoo!
This category includes any spending on home repairs/home needs. We allocated only $2k, since we’re not renovating anything, and we’ve spent most of it already. The purchase of new dressers for our bedroom last winter is the culprit. I got them on super clearance and they’re nice hardwood bureaus, but still, money’s money. We may well go over our budgeted amount, depending on oil prices in the fall. We’ll see.
One category we’ve overspent dramatically in is pet-based. This is a sad story, though; we’d budgeted enough for food and cat insurance (yeah, I know) and some vet appointments, but had no way of anticipating how the spring would go. We’d tried to add a third cat to our clan. This went horribly, and put one of our cats in the vet’s office for several hundred dollars’ worth of services; the organization we’d worked with didn’t even offer to refund the fee we’d paid for the new cat. Then our injured cat suddenly died a month later, and we had him cremated and returned to us. His passing then led to a very thorough checkup for cat #1. The overage here is pretty much meaningless to me, given that it was born of so much sorrow.
Other Annual Categories
We’ve barely used our clothing allowance–we’ve spent about $500 this year and probably won’t spend too much more. We keep a running tally of work expenses for deductions next spring, so we don’t worry too much about that area. We’re just about at our usual charitable giving threshold because of the fee paid to adopt the cat that didn’t work, so we’ll likely end up over the top in that area too.
Dining Out and Groceries are our major monthly categories. They get a designated amount and we spend that amount down. And down. and into the next month. We’re bad at these categories.
Together, dining out and groceries get about $800. I’m thinking that if I’m honest, I need to budget more here, at least for the summer. Mr. Tenacious and I are both home during the summer, and occasionally we have days where we need to get out of the house as the proverbial walls close in. We have more outings with friends, too. We have no willpower to say, “nope, we’ve hit our threshold” on those days–in the dining category, we just deduct the overage from the next month, and the next month, and so on until we probably won’t have any dining dollars for December. Mr. Tenacious also isn’t as keen on saving so much for saving’s sake as I am, and I don’t like to argue about it at this point. So, um, this area may need some attention.
So there you have it–the Tenacious household’s six month accountability check-in. The good news is that these categories are built for post-saving spending–we automatically deposit into our savings account and 401k, and the extra money I get from work for a program I run during the summer offset the impact of suddenly paying off the mister’s student loans. The only loan we have remaining (besides mortgage) is my car, and at a 3.5% interest rate, I don’t worry too much about it.
So let’s hear your six month check in! How are you doing at mid-year? Are you saving and spending where you hoped to be? What’s gotten in your way?
Hi all. I was going to write a standard Finance Friday post for today, either about Ibotta or a mid-year “how’s that budget?” check-in. But I am not feeling it. I’m not feeling like much. Current events have me beyond frustration.
I suspect to a large part I’m preaching to the choir here. If you’re interested in feminism, you probably care about people, and you probably care that the state not work in ways that deliberately hurt people. So you’re probably just as frustrated as I am with the senate bill (I don’t think we can call it a health care bill).
While we don’t have the CBO score yet, it’s pretty clear that the ramifications of the bill will be to limit people’s access to and ability to afford health care. As a nation, that’s pretty much saying that residents don’t have a right to be healthy, an idea most western democracies did away with decades ago. This bill will disproportionately harm those who are not wealthy. It will likely disproportionately harm women, since Maternity Care need not be included as mandatory provision of insurance policies. And god help you if you’re just a middle class male–one bout with cancer or other serious illness, as proposed “lifetime limit” caps mean that you’ll be SOL when the insurance you buy won’t pay for rudimentary stuff after you’re better, because they’ve already spent what they’re going to on you.
Imagine what that would mean for a child with cancer: a whole uninsured life.
Now this whole shebang is supposed to make health care cheaper, but it won’t. It won’t for most people, and it won’t for all of us when emergency rooms become the choice for care again–something we all pay for eventually.
This is a bill, in the guise of a libertarian passion for what government should and should not do, that will lead to harm for many, many Americans, and really only benefit the most wealthy among us. That it was negotiated in secret and a full version not released tells you that even those who are writing it know it will be hated. So then you have to ask: why do it? Is it just a racist response to the last administration? Do they think Americans are dumb enough to say, well, we wanted it repealed, and now we have even less than prior to the ACA, yay!
The ACA has its problems, absolutely. But this is not a solution. It’s nowhere close. It’s a bill written out of spite and designed to grease the palms of people and companies who donate huge sums to campaigns for guys like these, so that they might benefit (there are some nice charts circulating to that end). It’s the work of greedy, horrible people akin to 19th century assholes who saw anyone as less robustly wealthy as themselves as some kind of moral inferior who deserved penury.
I don’t even have the words for the despair this makes me feel. And I don’t know what kind of financial thinking any of us can even do with this. Can one, even with a 99% savings rate, ever be financially independent if they’re one disease away from uninsurability in a country that evidently sees illness as a moral failure?
America was once better. Only eight months ago, really. “MAGA” should become our slogan for the pre-45 era.
On this Finance Friday I’d like to introduce you to Ebates, one of my favorite little shopping gadgets on the interwebs. Ebates is essentially a nearly-instant rebate program which mostly awards percentages of the purchase back to the buyer. Those percentages can add up pretty quickly, especially when Ebates features sites offering double percentages. They deposit the money (what they call the “big fat check”) to your paypal account quarterly. Currently I’ve earned $127.51 in a couple of years, and there’s nearly $20 in my account ready for the next deposit. If you’re going to spend money, I figure, opt for smarter spending.
Here’s the way it works:
First, set up your Ebates account and navigate to the site where you’d like to shop from their website or through their app. I’ve learned the hard way they won’t otherwise reward you. You can’t say “rats, I forgot to go to your site first!” and expect they’ll pay you (I tried). I have a handy Chrome extension, though, that lets me know whenever I’m on a site if there’s an Ebate for it–that way I’m far less likely to forget to get my cash back.
Ebates Enables My Laziness
My favorite way to use Ebates is to use it with stores’ order-and-pick-up services. This week, I’ve done that twice. Once, I used it to order a grill part at our local Ace Hardware–I received an 81 cent Ebate and only had to pop over to the Ace counter to pick it up. I also use Ebates for pickup at Target–it’s a paltry 1% Ebate, but hey, 1% is 1%! Once again, I order online and go to Target’s service counter for pickup. I use my Target RedCard, too, to save another 5%. Saving money on necessities (better a $25 regulator than a new grill!) makes me happy.
And let’s be honest: in many households, women are the ones who take care of making sure to stock necessities. (We could probably make a case for the feminist use of Ebates, but I think it might be a stretch.) Sometimes, because I am the one who does the purchasing and puts the effort into making sure we use services like Ebates, I stash that money for use on something fun for me. (Cough, Sephora, cough.) I end up with a nice little sum after Christmas shopping, for example, so I’ll take that and combine it with gift cards to splurge on something I might not otherwise purchase. Now *that* feels like smarter spending.
My other favorite Ebates use is for work travel. I book on my own flights and hotels and whatnot for work travel to be reimbursed later. Ebates partners with Expedia, so I use that service to get all my travel needs met in one place. When I booked a trip for myself and two students this year–about a $2k adventure–by clicking through Ebates first, I received about $35 of free money!
I wouldn’t recommend Ebates if I wasn’t a huge fan.
I love Ebates because I love free money. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, you can follow any of the links herein. They’re affiliate links, and I’ll get a little something-something when you make a purchase. Everybody wins!
Recently I was having a perfectly lovely conversation about eyeglasses that ended on a weird note about ethics and money. I was at the largest conference in my field (the history of women), where I gave a paper and tried not to fangirl over historians I deeply admire. I was there by myself—no cadre of buddies—and spent one evening chatting with friends of a friend, which was when this conversation came up.
Class Stratification in Full-Time Academia
Academia (the phrase refers to all colleges and universities, collectively) is a funny place. A chunk of its denizens are people like me, who—through a combination of hard work and good luck—overcame the odds against being there. I don’t teach at a prestigious university; I went to a really good college, and a good graduate school, but I’m not from Harvard. Other people, um, are. And while I can’t and shouldn’t generalize about Harvardians, I’d hazard a guess that there’s a class element there—its own website notes only 16% of students have Pell grants, and 20% have family incomes of less than $65,000. Many Harvard grads, particularly from their grad programs, go on to teach at R1 institutions—that is, universities that focus on faculty research more than faculty teaching. While I would much rather teach 3 to 4 classes a term than write frequent books, those R1 universities (1-2 classes per term) tend to pay faculty far more than small universities like my own. Thus there’s class stratification among even full time academics—and this doesn’t get us started on the problem of contingent labor.
In any case, I was at this conference, chatting with some very nice Harvardians, when I complimented one of them on her glasses. “Thanks!” she said, “I like yours, too.” And we got talking about the challenge and cost of finding interesting frames I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t justify spending the $400+ on new frames for fashion reasons, so I just got these on Zenni optical for a song.” She replied, “Because of my ethics, I don’t shop there.”
The conversation pretty much stopped cold and I stood there feeling like a poor at a rich people’s party. Perhaps she didn’t realize that by implication, she suggested I didn’t have ethics, or that leaving hers unsaid put me in a super awkward position of stammering that glasses were expensive, dammit. Maybe she thought they were made with child labor, whereas I didn’t; maybe she was all about supporting a local economy. We’ll never know. I got another glass of wine and ran off to get snacks in my awkwardness.
The whole situation was further uncomfortable because it was a conversation among women. Women are notoriously underpaid in academia; those who are full time tend to be chastised for having kids whereas men are complimented, as having kids has implications for the “tenure clock.” Both of these issues have serious financial and class implications we should be working to eradicate through understanding and respecting each other, rather than, however unintentionally, undercutting each other.
I am a firm believer in shopping your ethics when you can…
but I am also keenly aware that my class position and geographic location allows me to do so. It’s also an exchange—I’ll spend more on things that are ethically satisfying to me, but consequently spend less on other things, like fancy new specs. For example, I do not set foot in Walmart. I find what Walmart has done to small towns (I lived in one and watched this happen) in terms of decimating small shops on main street, and then paying people so little that they can only afford to shop at Walmart, is terrible. I avoid it whenever possible. But I live in a suburb with lots of options; I have the disposable income to make other choices.
Similarly, I try not to buy factory-farmed meat. I strongly disagree with our current agricultural system and what it does to animals; I have a local Whole Foods, so I buy most of our meat there or from the organic department at Costco. I can do so because of my privileged class and geographic position. It’s the same reason I can support our local hardware or paint stores rather than Home Depot whenever possible.
I do, however, still buy my clothes at Old Navy. I buy my glasses online. I’m not a purist, and I realize there are ethical implications to these choices. But I am also hardly so wealthy or, frankly, so motivated that all of our purchases can be sustainably, ethically sourced. I think it’s important to support your values when you can (hello, recycled printer paper!) but it takes a certain kind of gall to speak of those ethics as though they are a given for all, or as though they do not come with enabling or limiting conditions. I might, for example, seek to support women business owners in my neighborhood, but am also aware that I can’t and shouldn’t keep visiting the home décor shops on that principle alone. Or the bakery. Good god, those cakes are delicious.
How do you feel about these issues?
Do you shop your ethics, and do you find your ability to do so both enabled and limited by your situation(s)? How do you navigate social class in your world?