Not Evangelism

Friday, October 1, 2010

How Not to Waste Time, Money and Energy

One of the many stereotypes about Yorkshire, where I was born and spent the first two decades of my life, is that the inhabitants are frugal to the point of being miserly.  As much as I dislike stereotypes, I do find myself wondering about this particular one, because I pride myself on being careful with money.

For me, it isn't thrift for thrift's sake so much as about getting value. I don't object to spending money, so much as spending more money than I need to; if I can find the exact product elsewhere for less, why pay more? I distinguish between spending money and wasting money; spending is good and necessary; an exchange of cash for commodity, something that brings me benefit - value. Wasting is spending money without any value to me.

It's true that I like to get value out of what I pay for. I mean, I squeeze the last toothpaste out of the tube. I also object to paying for things I don't want, or won't use. So I don't buy pre-packaged vegetables - a bag of carrots, for example - because I don't want to pay for the packaging. And I want to buy only as many vegetables as I'll use. I don't want to throw away veggies that have gone off  because I didn't need that many; that's waste.

It's not just about the money

It's not just waste of money; I abhor wasting time and energy as well.

Many years ago I arrived home from a shopping trip and began putting the food away. I noticed how much time I was spending disposing of all the extraneous packaging; taking the fruit and vegetables out of the bags that I'd used to group them in the trolley, purely for the convenience of the checkout operator. And all the other things that were over-packaged in one way or another. At that time, I remember that ground coffee was sold in a sealed bag inside a cardboard box; two layers of packaging where one would do!

I began to see the cost of packaging in terms of time, money and energy. The moment I got home, it was costing me time and energy to throw away something I'd paid for; something that served to make life easier for a supermarket rather than me.

Ever since then I've been selective about what I buy in order to reduce the amount of packaging I pay for. And there are great deal of things that are as much about the packaging as they are about the product. Yes, some packaging is useful, but there's so much that is not, that's purely there for the convenience of the producers and retailers. Do we really need our corn flakes, for example, in both bag and box? Or does that just help fill a shelf and draw attention to a brand?

Waste is a moral issue

Sometimes I think that the drive to justify environmentalism on financial grounds (note the order of the words in "Save Cash and Save the Planet") doesn't do itself any favours; yes, cost saving is a part of it, but I'd like to think that there was a moral impetus there as well.

The triple triangle of time, money and energy is an important part of the decision-making process in my pragmatic environmentalism.  But I also make decisions on moral grounds; some of my personal principles are there because I believe they're the right thing to do.

I've a great dislike of the word profligate, meaning recklessly and extravagantly wasteful. Waste is unnecessary, just plain wrong, and practices that perpetuate waste are to be avoided.

These days I spend less time shopping in supermarkets with their neatly-wrapped coconuts, their double-packaged vegetables. When I do, I'm selective about those things I buy. I decline bags for my carrots because they don't add any value for me.

I make it a point of principle to buy only what I can use, and use what I buy.

I spend my time, money and energy; I don't waste them. And I don't do profligate because it's just plain wrong.

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