Following the Money

As far as I can tell, the lesson of Great Depression II seems to be that when our stream of fake money dries up, and we are reduced to spending 93% of our income rather than 115% of our income, we mostly go back to buying things we want rather than things we feel obligated to buy.

When we had a bottomless supply of free credit, it was hard to say no to that vacation other people wanted you to take or to the social pressure to have a nice car for yourself and a sprawling campus for your tech company. Now that we have limits to what we can be expected to spend, we get to act on our values. I get the vibe that, for some people, it’s a relief to be allowed to say no again. (Of course, only for people who haven’t been hit to the degree where they can’t pay their bills. The flip side is that lots of people are getting randomly screwed, too.)

On a macro level, we get to see what it is that some people were buying more because they felt they should, not because they really wanted to. Apparently, new cars. Maybe, new houses. Stocks. Mass-produced short-life-span consumer goods. Possibly flat screen TV’s, it’s hard to tell. And apparently, corporate conventions and travel (probably the least surprising at all to anyone who’s ever attended a company off-site.)

On the other hand, bike stores and craft shops are apparently poised to do quite well.

I notice I’m doing the same thing, unapologetically. With the uncertainty of our business income, I’ve curtailed my spending on things that don’t really bring me joy — like car ownership, large retail stores, traveling more often than every 2 or 3 months, poorly made household items, and eating at restaurants that don’t interest me but I feel are professionally important for me to know.

More fun is making the mental list of what spending does bring me joy, that I now get to make as priorities in my personal budget. For me, those are:

* traditionally raised and crafted food (of course)
* handmade sundries like soap and toothpaste, free of weird chemicals (am having a difficult finding this)
* bicycle transportation
* music and books, preferably content-only like MP3s, blogs and Kindle, minimal need for fixed media (except for the romance of vinyl, natch)
* living in a great neighborhood
* well-made wine, particularly from terroir I know and like
* pretty much anything made by my friends and neighbors

Fortunately, this is a pretty good neighborhood for almost all these things, and for many others. Now we just need to get someone to open a general store featuring produce from local farms and sundries from local craftspeople, and we’ll be all set.