As the biggest challenge the world has faced in my lifetime played out, my role was to stay home. With no medical expertise and no link to the food supply chain beyond end consumer, I was officially “non-essential”. While hard- working and clever people around the world heroically used all their energy to combat coronavirus, I sat home and did nothing. Immensely grateful, and not unused to free-riding, I felt useless.
Now the medical emergency is subsiding (at least here in New Zealand), attention is turning to the economic crisis left in its wake. Coronavirus exposed not only the fragility of human health, but the fragility of global consumer capitalism. While combating the virus was the domain of the essential few, resuscitating the economy is something we will all be called upon to do.
I expect the call to be loud and relentless, casting wanton consumerism as an act of pure heroism. Remember what it was like during the Global Financial Crisis? It’ll have nothing on this. And primed by boredom and survivors’ guilt, we’ll be more ready to respond to the call than ever before.
But before you start dutifully clicking “add to cart” at every opportunity, take a breath. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of advertisers and their plans for your money. Make a plan of your own.
There’s more than one way to be a hero
In times when record numbers of people face significant financial hardship and uncertainty, you don’t need to participate in a consumer frenzy to be heroic.
- Accepting help to feed your family is heroic.
- Deciphering forms to apply for assistance is heroic.
- Keeping up with your bills is heroic.
- Paying down debt is heroic.
- Putting something aside while you still can is heroic.
The ads on tv might not say as much, but going broke doesn’t help the economy. Don’t be guilted into spending more than you can afford.
Three steps to create your own economic stimulus package
If you’re fortunate enough to maintain some discretionary spending, make a plan for how you’re going to go about it.
Step 1 – Define the scope and amount
This is the big picture stuff. Start with deciding:
- what types of businesses, products or services you want to support
- how much you are willing to spend.
Our family’s plan prioritises supporting independent local businesses, products made locally and/or ethically, and organisations that have behaved responsibly (especially to their staff).
We estimate we spent around $700 less than usual over the five weeks New Zealand was under strict lockdown – mostly on public transport, petrol and eating out. We’ll have some ongoing savings on transport while I continue to work exclusively from home. We’d like a bit of extra buffer with all the uncertainty at the moment, so some of this money will go to savings and some of it will go to stimulus.
Do you want to spend some or all of any lockdown savings? Will you have some reduced costs while physical distancing remains in place? Are you happy to spend more than your regular budget? All these questions can help you to define the amount of your stimulus package.
Remember, you don’t need to spend all this money right away. In fact, in a few months, when the novelty has worn off and the new financial reality bites further, businesses will be in even greater need of your support.
Step 2 – Make a plan for essential spending
This is your plan for the stuff you’ll buy anyway. Make a list of all the types of things you buy regularly and how you can tweak who you buy from, in-line with the values and priorities you identified in step 1.
Could you spread your spending around more businesses? We used to buy all of our groceries from a locally owned supermarket, but instead we are spreading our purchases across a range of local stores. So I get everyday basics (milk, bread etc) from the dairy (corner shop/convenience store), cat food from the local independent pet supply shop, most fruit and veggies from a greengrocer, coffee from a local roaster, beer from local breweries and gin from the local distillery and the rest from a locally owned supermarket. There’s some additional cost and effort, but it makes a little extra go a long way.
There’s other stuff I need, I’ve worn through my socks and my son needs some winter clothes. I’ve found a small business that makes socks and will get most of the kids clothes from an independent store in my local shops. They’ll cost more than the big-box retailers where I typically buy these types of things. I also need new undies but I’m fussy about cut, so I’ll probably buy those from a department store as usual.
Step 3 – Make a plan for extra spending
Now you have a plan for your essentials, it’s time to think about any extra spending you’d like to do.
What businesses or types of business would you like to support? We made a list of all the places we’d really miss if they closed their doors. Local cafés were high on the list. Takeaways are going to be on the menu a little more often over the next few months. I also want to support my local craft shop, but I don’t really need any more yarn (or want anymore, my allotted space is full). Instead, I’m going to buy vouchers for charity craft group to use instead.
If there are businesses you want to support, but you don’t need their products and services at this time, get creative and think of someone you can gift them to.
Don’t forget charities stimulate the economy too
When you give to a charity, you not only support a good cause, you help to stimulate the economy. I made a donation to our local food bank – not only does this help people in desperate need, the food bank can spend this money immediately. This approach enables you to play your part, while avoiding consumer excess. I tend to avoid giving to huge fundraisers as they often get deluged with donations and bogged down with distribution. Instead, I seek out smaller local charities. However, all charities are forecasting a big drop in income and will be very grateful for whatever support you can give them.
How’s the situation where you live? Are you making changes to your consumer habits in response?
If you need help sticking to your plan, check out: