Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spend Reports #14 and #15: Christmas blackout

With the Christmas crazy season, I have fallen behind in both writing for and thinking about my blog. Predictably, with Christmas approaching, my spending is up. I'm not expecting the January credit card hangover to be too bad since I have been using debit a lot.

I've been dreading writing about what I'm buying for Christmas and how much I'm spending. Itemizing every single present I've bought and posting about it doesn't seem very Christmas-y. Saying how much I'm spending on presents doesn't seem very Christmas-y either.

Theoretically, someone could do the math and figure out roughly how much I'm spending per person. Theoretically, you might say, but who on earth would actually do such a thing? Bear in mind the kind of family I'm from. My dad once counted every single carrot, pea, green bean and piece of corn in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables because he felt the photo showed more carrots than were actually in the bag. He then wrote a letter to the vegetable company complaining that the photo was false advertising since there were far more carrots on the bag than in the bag.

So, for the month of December, I've decided to do a truncated version of my usual spend report. I've named all the locations where I shopped, but I haven't named any presents and the amount doesn't include the price of any Christmas presents.

Overall, shopping only in New West for Christmas has been a relief. One night early in December an Old Navy commercial came on blasting away about some great deal on jeans or sweaters and I was glad when I realized I didn't have to pay one moment of attention to it. I didn't have to go to the Old Navy Website to figure out if the deal was being offered in Canada. I didn't have to drive to Metrotown to fight my way through crowds to see if I could get a stripey sweater or whatever the heck they're selling this season for $10. I haven't had to pay attention to the stacks and stacks of Christmas flyers in the paper either.

I do feel though my Christmas shopping in New West has been somewhat of a failure. I had every intention of checking out every cute-sy store in New Westminster and I did check out some (as I wrote in this post for 10th to the Fraser). I found lots of things I liked for myself and I bought stuff for myself. But in terms of finding stuff that fit the people on my Christmas list, I did not do so well and ended up sticking mainly to chain stores, including Wal-mart, for many of my gifts.

Still, I did buy Christmas presents at places I have never considered before, like the Van Dop Gallery and the Fraser River Discovery Centre's gift shop. And I haven't been tempted to go shopping outside of New West. (We did buy our Christmas tree in Richmond as that's a family tradition to go to the same place every year. We also went to a Vancouver Giants game as we got discounted tickets through a reading program at my son's school.)

From Dec. 3 to 9, I spent about $550 in New Westminster (excluding Christmas presents) on/at: 

From Dec. 10 to Dec. 16, I spent about $370 in New Westminster (excluding Christmas presents) on:

  • Groceries at Safeway and Kin's
  • Christmas cards at London Drugs
  • Baking supplies at Galloway's
  • Lunch at Graze
  • Stamps at Queensborough postal outlet

 Also bought items at:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spend Report #13: I can resist the mall, I can't resist a party

Christmas ornaments from Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Van Dop Gallery
I had another busy shopping week (mostly) in New West. I thought I would be all prepared and early with everything for Christmas this year (I think this every year), but whoops, all of a sudden, it's December and I'm suddenly feeling very far behind (this happens every year too).

I did a post for Tenth to the Fraser about some of the places I will be shopping in New West this Christmas. I like giving and receiving Christmas presents that get used up or used often. I make an exception for Christmas ornaments, which don't get used every day, but they do get used regularly every year. I found lots of shiny, pretty ornaments at Lofty Living, Cadeaux and the Van Dop Gallery.

Now, it's true confession time: I left New Westminster and bought stuff in not one, but TWO other cities. I also broke my pledge to avoid Wal-mart for the entire month of November by buying some craft supplies for Beavers there on Nov. 29. (I know, I was so close!)

As for my other shopping sins: I went with some friends to a wreath making workshop at Garden Works in Burnaby and out for dinner after. Our financial planner does a movie day every year at Silver City Coquitlam. The movies are free, but the snacks aren't and even at 10 a.m., the popcorn was impossible to resist.

It was funny going to Garden Works because in addition to shopping only in New West, I've pretty much been staying only in New West for the past two months. Driving along Lougheed Highway seemed to take so long and the Garden Works seemed incredibly far away. I ended up driving past the entrance and had to circle around to get in. I felt like a tourist.

I felt quite guilty during the wreath making. I bought the bare minimum to do my wreath and shielded my eyes from all the (I'll admit) tempting merchandise. I felt less guilty about the dinner because after two hours of sticking tree branches into peat moss I was cold and hungry.

I knew it would be tough for me to stick to my New West only rule at this time of year. I can resist the mall, but I can't resist a party and these were more social occasions than shopping expeditions. Other than that, I have nothing to say in my defence. Go ahead and pillory me. (But bear in mind it's Christmas, when we should all be keeping the words of that delightful old carol in mind, the one that says, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, be kind to wayward bloggers." It goes something like that. I can't recall the exact words.)

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 2, I spent about $735 in New Westminster:

  • Coffee and food at Starbucks
  • Ornaments at Cadeaux
  • Groceries at IGA and Donald's
  • Ornaments and soap at the Van Dop Gallery
  • Christmas present for my son and ornaments at London Drugs
  • Pulled pork sandwich at Graze
  • Food at McDonald's
  • Craft supplies at Wal-Mart
  • Kitchen faucet at The Ensuite (on Braid Street)
  • Dinner at Boston Pizza

I spent about $40 in Burnaby:

  • Wreath making at Garden Works
  • Dinner at Soho Bar and Grill

I spent about $25 in Coquitlam:

  • Popcorn and pop at Silvercity Coquitlam

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spend Report #12: Soap, glorious soap!

Soap and other goodies from Pure and Juicy Bath
Twenty-four. That’s how many bars of soap I have squirreled away in my bathroom. That’s why my husband groans a little when I tell him I’m going to a craft fair.

Other people go to craft fairs to buy Christmas presents. That’s why I claim I go. I really go to buy soap. My habit started off with the Body Shop’s glycerine soaps, especially satsuma. I was pretty loyal to their stuff for quite some time, but then I started trying other types and now I'm a hardcore bar soap user. I dabble a bit with some French bars, but what I really love is pure B.C. gold. There are a ton of fabulous soap makers in B.C.

One of my favourites is Naked, made on Bowen Island, but I'm always on the look-out for more sources and craft fair season is when I feed my addiction. (See how close I was to making a lame joke about having "a good, clean habit," yet deftly avoided it? See how I got it in there while claiming to avoid it?)

This year I discovered Juicy Bath Soapworks at the Herbert Spencer Elementary craft fair. I got four bars, including chocolate covered strawberry, which my husband initially thought was fudge. I stopped him before he ate it.
I also bought a bar made by Pure Daily Essentials (based in Langley) at Urban Academy's craft fair, along with some of their skin care products, which are gentle and smell great too.

It was a good shopping week in New West:
From Nov. 19 to 25, I spent about $750 in New Westminster (please remember, and I'm addressing my husband here, I had a couple of really slow spending weeks!). Close to half was spent at local, independent businesses and/or on locally or Canadian-made items.

I spent $750 at/on:
  • A & W
  • Hand cream at Adriana's in Royal City Centre mall
  • Toiletries at London Drugs
  • Bloco set at Pedagogy Toys
  • Christmas ornaments at Lofty Living
  • Candles and holders at a PartyLite party
  • Lunch, an eggnog latte, and fair trade coffee beans at the Village Coffee Lounge
  • Coffee and sandwich at Starbucks
  • Snack at Tim Hortons
  • Groceries at Safeway and Donald’s Market
  • Massage
At Herbert Spencer craft fair:
  • Cutting board
  • Soap and lotion by Juicy Bath
  • Christmas ornaments
At Urban Academy craft fair:
  • Tea
  • Pure Daily Essentials soap, skin care kit, and face mist
  • Cookies

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spend Report #11: Another slow shopping week

It was another fairly slow shopping week and mostly full of chain stores. (Still no Wal-Mart though.)

I sent my husband out to do the big grocery shop since I was still sick in bed. He got to use my grocery list template, which I created in one of my rare Stepford wife moments.

I wanted to improve my efficiency at grocery shopping. My usual procedure was to make a list in any old order, then go up and down each aisle, scanning the list to see which items were in that aisle. That meant I went up and down each aisle, whether I needed anything from it or not. So I made a template organized by aisle. The template includes the most common items I buy in that aisle. When I make my list, I just need to delete the items I don't need that week and print it out. Then I know exactly which aisles I need to visit and which ones I can skip.

My husband was fairly stunned when I told him about the grocery list template. He's used to my lackadaisical (and somewhat contemptuous) attitude to housekeeping and the housewifely arts. Example: when the topic of ironing came up early in our marriage, I paraphrased the line from the English Patient: "A woman should never learn to iron and if she can she shouldn't admit to it." (In the movie, the statement was applied to sewing, which works for me too.)

From Nov. 12 to 18, I spent about $310 in New Westminster on:

Pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton
Taco Del Mar
Advent calendar at the Lindt store in Queensborough – only $6!
A baby gift at Carter's/OshKosh B'gosh in Queensborough

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Donald's Market and River Market Make Local Shopping an Adventure

I'm only in my second month of my shopping in New Westminster adventure and frankly, it was starting to feel like not such an adventure. I was starting to go stir crazy, especially as I watched the Canadian dollar climb in value and saw all the glossy, tempting Christmas flyers starting to arrive in the paper. I was getting pretty bummed about not being able to make a quick cross-border shopping trip to Bellingham or even a quick cross-border shopping trip to Burnaby.

Today all that changed. Today I got my local shopping mojo back. Today I went to the grand opening of Donald's Market at the River Market and saw all that potential New Westminster civic and business leaders have been talking since time immemorial realized.

I'm not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical.  What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it's doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there's a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.)

I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvellous place is in New Westminster. I went to San Francisco for the first time in August and visited the Ferry Building Marketplace. The River Market reminds me of that market, but I won't have to take a plane to get to it. It's right here where I live, in my city. And I think the River Market actually has a warmer, more organic atmosphere than the Ferry Building Marketplace. Maybe that's because the River Market is not quite finished yet. I found something rather charming about the work-in-progress feeling of the place.

I was pleased to read in the Record that the Market's management is being very careful and choosy about its tenants. I used to visit the Quay fairly often and always got a, "Close, but not quite," feeling about it. There were some bright spots among the tenants, but overall, the place didn't have a bustling, happening atmosphere. I think that's why I was getting a bit bummed about my local shopping: there are bright spots, but overall, New Westminster felt, "Close, but not quite."

Seeing the River Market confirmed to me again, all New Westminster needs to do is build on what we already have, to build a critical mass of exciting shopping options. Seeing the River Market confirmed to me that it can happen here and it is happening here. Local shopping is an adventure again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spend Report #10: Finally, the secret of not spending money

Last week wasn't a good week for shopping or anything else. I had a cold, so I was stuck at home most of the week with few opportunities to blow cash. So, finally, I've learned how to hold on to my pennies: be very, very ill. No need for anything life-threatening or exotic, just a cold bad enough to keep me curled up under the covers for most of the week—that kept my wallet closed. Funny how I managed to still eat out quite a bit. That's because in the early stages of the cold I was in denial about how sick I was, so I kept going out. By Thursday though, I took to my bed and didn't get out until Monday. So it's a pretty lame spend report, not much interesting on there, save, of course, for the wonderful pulled pork sandwich from Graze.

From Nov. 5 to 11, 2010, I spent about $115 in New Westminster:

  • Starbucks – I like the new version of the Cranberry Bliss Bar and it turns out I like eggnog lattes too. I usually avoid those types of drinks because they're usually too syrupy and because I don't really need to like any more high-fat food and beverages.
  • Avalon Dairy milk and pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton. If you haven't gone yet, what are you waiting for!?!
  • Indian food at Naan Bites in Queensborough. Good concept—Indian fast food—and tastes good, they just haven't quite got the "fast" part of "fast food" down yet. Still the place smells so good, I didn't really mind the wait.
  • Bread from McGavin's Bread Basket in Sapperton
  • Glue sticks
  • Groceries at Price Smart
  • Dinner at A&W

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Spend Report #8 and #9: Local stores need my dollars more than Wal-Mart

I got behind on my spend reports, so I decided to combine two into one. By the end of October, I realized I was still mostly sticking to chain stores, so I've decided for November to avoid Wal-mart.

Shopping locally seems more important than ever, given news of the Orange Room's closure and a perhaps shakier-than-hoped-for-revitalization of Sapperton. I'm sure Wal-mart will survive without my dollars for the next month; local stores need my dollars more.

I wish I had an unlimited budget, but I don't, so I'm also thinking up some ways to promote more local businesses through my blog, even if I can't buy something from each one every week.

Spend Report #8 and #9

From Oct. 22 to 28, I spent about $490 in New Westminster:
  • McDonald's
  • Toiletries at London Drugs – Including made-in-Canada shea butter hand cream for $1.99.  
  • Slider at Royal City Curling Club – not a mini-burger, some type of thing curlers wear on their feet; for my husband.
  • Gas 
  • Groceries at Safeway and IGA
  • Craft supplies at a dollar store and Wal-mart 
  • Dinner at Boston Pizza
  • Lunch at the Heritage Grill on Columbia St. – I'd never been to this New West institution before, but I'll be back. I had a yummy lamb burger and the fries are great. This Columbia St. venue hosts many events and groups including a documentary night, Philosophers' Cafe, Green Drinks, GIN (Gay In New West) Nights every Saturday and lots of live music
  • Boots at Army and Navy for my Halloween costume

From Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, I spent about $280 in New Westminster:
  •  Halloween make-up and costume items at Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharmasave on Columbia St., London Drugs and Wal-mart – I really think New West needs a Halloween superstore. An existing retailer—hello Salvation Army? Dollar store owners? Army and Navy?—could operate it as a pop-up store just for the Halloween season.
  • Lunch at Quantum Deli and Bistro on Sixth Street
  • Scones and a cappuccino bar at Bella Bakery
  • Bread and coffee at Farm Cottage Bakery in Sapperton
  • Puzzle and CD at Pedagogy Toys
  • Three pumpkins at Yin Leong Farm in Queensborough – Can't make a more local purchase than this! Bought here, grown here, about five blocks from my house.
  • Pulled pork sandwich at Graze in Sapperton – You must go here. That sandwich was so good, I'm still thinking about it a week later.
  • Coffee and a cranberry bliss bar at Starbucks
  • Sushi at Tora Sushi in Queensborough
  • Groceries at Price Smart.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Local Brands or How the Internet Gave My Husband Beer

I have all sorts of thoughts flitting through my head about local retailers, branding, and marketing in the age of social media, so bear with me if this post is a little scattered. I promise, I do have a point or five, though I may make them in a round-about, not-entirely-clear fashion.

Point one: Brands matter.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Not me, brands don't affect me." Yeah, well, you're wrong. That's what we all think and we're all wrong. I'm reading a bunch of books that explain how and why they affect us. Brands affect our brains. Or how about this story, where the mere act of carrying around a Victoria's Secret bag affected how the bag carryer felt about herself?

Point two: Local brands matter.

My husband has loved Creemore beer for a long time. It's a brand of beer not available in B.C. It used to be a small local brewery located in Creemore, Ontario. It's still located there, but it's now owned by Molson. Technically, it's not a local brand anymore, but it was when my husband started loving it. And when we visited two summers ago, we saw that it has maintained its small brewery charm. On that visit we bought Creemore glasses, a Creemore hat and, of course, Creemore beer. My husband likes to call it "The Happiest Place on Earth."

My husband started using Twitter a few months ago and took to it immediately. He rarely uses Facebook, but Twitter, he likes. He likes it even more now, because through it, the Internet gave him beer.

One of the first things he started tweeting about was Creemore. Things like how Creemore was the best beer not available in B.C. How on a trip to Ontario, the first thing he was going to do was look for Creemore. Long story short, @CreemoreKaren, who tweets for Creemore, noticed all his comments and said it sounded like he worked for them. He asked if that was a job offer, she said no, but offered to send him a coupon for an eight cans of Creemore.

He e-mailed me, "The Internet gave me beer."

My response was suspicious. "Hmmm . . .  I don't know if I like this. Some strange woman (or "woman") from the Internet wants you to send her your address so she can buy you booze . . . "

Luckily, @CreemoreKaren was legit—I believe she's Creemore's marketing director—and before long my husband got his coupon. Someone my husband knew was going to Ontario and he agreed to pick up the beer for my husband and bring it back in his luggage.

My point here is that when people like a local brand, they are loyal to it. They will go to great lengths to promote it. They will go to great lengths to seek it out, even if they live several provinces away from where it is sold.

Point three: If you own a local store, you have a brand. Build it.

Your brand is not likely to be built around a fancy logo or a multi-million dollar marketing budget—that's what big brands do. I think people stick with certain big-chain brands because they know exactly what they're going to get wherever they go. People don't eat at McDonald's because it makes the best hamburgers. They eat McDonald's food because they know it's going to taste the same wherever they go.

Local brands are different. A local brand is strongest when people know it offers something they can't get anywhere else.

Your brand could be built on a sandwich—a delicious sandwich that people can get only from you.

I had an interesting exchange on Twitter on Tuesday with a number of local New West people about what I think is a great local brand in the making. It all started with my tweet: "Can't stop thinking about the pulled pork sandwich I had at Graze in Sapperton yesterday. So good."

I added the hash tag #newwest to my tweet. Before too long, someone from New West wanted to know where Graze was. Then someone else mentioned Graze has a ribs and beans night on Friday. Someone else complained that we had made the newsroom hungry and now, how were they going to put the paper out? (Though I have to say, in my experience, it's not hard to make a newsroom hungry.) I and others who had eaten there ended up making several people who didn't know about Graze curious and, in some cases, hungry.

And here's my point about marketing in the age of social media: people will build your brand for you, with or without your participation.

If you want to shape your own brand, it's probably best to participate. Pay attention to social media. If you don't know how to use Twitter or Facebook, find out how. Google "how to use Twitter" or "how to use Facebook" and you'll get a ka-jillion results.

In doing my experiment, I've searched online for New Westminster businesses and checked for those that have Twitter and Facebook accounts. There are some exceptions, but a lot of New Westminster businesses don't have much of an online presence. I realize social media isn't the only way for businesses to market themselves, but it is a way and it is usually a very low- or no-cost way.

Point Four: This is the most important point. Go to Graze at 450 E. Columbia St. (See all this free work I'm doing for a local brand? And I've only had one sandwich there!) Have a pulled pork sandwich. It's so good. The meat drips with sauce, there's a satisfying crunch of cabbage with every bite, the bun is so soft and delicious . . . it is truly food for the soul. It will leave you with a warm glow in your stomach and your heart. Graze also has a deli and grocery items and vegetarian menu items.

Point Five: I really need to stop writing about food at night. I'm so hungry right now.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why We Buy What We Buy

"If we want independent retailers to stay in business, we have to patronize them. It's that simple."
From The Mom & Pop Store by Robert Spector

My first month of shopping only in New Westminster is over. What I've learned is that it would likely be possible for me to spend the entire year shopping only at chain stores without ever setting foot in an independent, locally owned business. Of course, that's not what I want to do, but it would be possible. I did go to some independent, locally owned businesses in October, but not nearly as many as I thought I would have by now.

I told the Record I didn't want this to turn into "My Year of Shopping at Wal-Mart." Despite my perception that I don't shop at Wal-Mart much, I went there six times in October, so at least once or twice a week. Part of what I want to do over the course of this year is to change my spending patterns and habits, to re-focus them to more local stores. So, for November, I'm going to go no Wal-Mart. Let's see if I can break my Wal-Mart habit.

I've also been reading a lot about consumer behavior and why we buy what we buy.

Here's my reading list this month, with a brief summary of what I've gleaned from each book so far:
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture – I'm not too far into this one yet, but love this quote: "I do not prize the word 'cheap.' It is not a badge of honor." – U.S. President William McKinley
  • Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are – I haven't got too far into this one yet, but the author talks how pervasive brands are, despite consumers' assertions that we are not affected by marketing. ". . . we can talk all we want about being brandproof, but our behavior tells a different story. This is why I have come around to the view that there is nothing to be gained by simply believing we are immune to brands. But there might be something gained in understanding why we aren't."
  • Spent. Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior – How evolutionary psychology explains what we buy and why we buy it. Essentially, the author's theory is that we buy what we buy to signal fitness (of various types) to others. But as the author explains, evolution has already endowed us with all the equipment we need (both physical and mental) to display fitness and form lasting, meaningful relationships with others without buying a single thing. But we're all caught up in "the fundamental consumerist delusion—that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation, and cuddling."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spend Report #7: When I think I'm not spending any money, I'm still spending money

Huh. My perception was that I had bought absolutely nothing last week. In reality, I spent just over $600. Huh.
I've always had the magical ability of making money flow through my fingers like water. (My husband does not think this is a magical ability. He has other words for it, but he doesn't use them out loud.)
If my husband starts the week out with $100 in his wallet, he'll finish the week with maybe $87.75 and know exactly where and how he spent the $12.25. If I start the week out with $100 in my wallet, on the second day, I'll ask my husband if he has any money I can have.

Then we'll have a exchange something like this:
He'll say, "What happened to the $100 you had?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what did you buy?"
"I don't know. Give me some money."
"What do you need it for?"
"I don't know. Give me some money."
Then he won't give me money, I'll go to the bank machine instead and the cycle begins again.

Despite having managed to blow over $600, I'm feeling guilty about not having made much effort to get out to small local businesses yet. I feel like shopping is my job and I'm not doing it very well. (Imagine the look on my husband's face as he reads that. I am and it's making me giggle.) But I have been stuck at home most of the week doing my other job, the one that actually pays me money, so exploring small local stores had to wait.

We did go to Taverna Greka on Columbia St. last week for dinner. I'd been there before, but not for seven or eight years. And, other than the Keg, I don't think we had ever gone out for a family dinner on Columbia St. Taverna Greka has a great view of the river and the food was good, especially the dolmades and a wonderfully creamy, custard-y dessert. (I have to stop writing this blog at night, I'm getting really hungry.) We will definitely go back.

From Oct. 15 to 21, we spent just over $600 in New West.

We bought:
  • Girl Guide cookies
  • Food at the Royal City Curling Club
  • Lightbulbs and toiletries at London Drugs
  • Cleaning products at a Norwex home party
  • Groceries at Price-Smart and M&M
  • Haircut at Gem Barbers on Sixth St. (That was my husband.) 
  • Dinner at Taverna Greka, part of Zest of New West
  • Coffee/food at Starbucks
  • Scholastic book order (Someone should do a year of buying stuff only from school and kids' group fundraisers.)
  • LEGO and Halloween candy at Wal-Mart (My son saved up his allowance money for a few months to buy LEGO.)
  • Piano lessons

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spend Report #6: Almost no shopping at all

My husband, who initially was going to stick to his daily routine, has decided to participate by taking his lunch to work at least sometimes instead of always buying it downtown. He says it's partly about the shopping experiment, partly about the money.

Keeping track of our expenditures for this blog has made one thing painfully clear: we spend too much money. We already knew that, but it was easy to push to the back of our minds when we just knew it in the abstract. Writing down every expense and seeing it all on paper, week after week, makes it harder to ignore.

He is even doing his own weekly spend reports for me to incorporate into mine. His first includes every detail, including $1 in lottery winnings and the 25 cents he spent on candy at work. He says he likes writing everything down because it keeps him from spending money.

He also included the days he didn't spend anything. I could read too much into that and take it as a jibe at my own spending habits, but I'm not going to. Besides, this past week, for the first time in a long time, there were several days where I didn't buy anything either. Of course, the long weekend helped. But I've also been feeling a little disoriented. I'm not shopping outside of New West, but I don't have new routines and habits to replace my old ones yet.

From Oct. 8 to 14, I spent about $164.

I spent $53 in New Westminster on:
  • Breakfast at the Hide Out Cafe on Carnarvon St. My first time visit. Lots of lawyers and students, so fashions were a mix of rumpled suits and the boho (or is that hobo?) chic I remember so well from my own student days.
  • Stuff at Wal-mart. (Dishwasher detergent, milk, salt and vinegar chips)
  • Coffee at Starbucks
I also spent about $100 for gas ($75) and food on a trip to Kamloops for Thanksgiving.

I also spent about $11 for groceries at the Price-Smart in Hamilton.

Friday, October 15, 2010

What I would be doing if I wasn't in New West

"I have to start making a list of stuff I haven't done or gone to because of shopping only in New West," I say to my husband, while we're packing to go to Kamloops for Thanksgiving.*

"I'm not going to Gogol Bordello, I'm not going to Ghostland Observatory, we haven't given money to KEXP . . ."

At this last one, my husband give me a guilty smile, looks away and starts staring assiduously at our bookcase.

"What are you staring at?"

"I'm seeing if there's any books I want to take with me," he says.

Yeah, right. I start haranguing him, in between laughing, and use what is becoming my favourite threat: "It's going in the blog."

"YOU didn't give any money to KEXP," he says defensively, "I did."

True enough, but we had discussed making a donation during their annual fall membership drive this year and I thought we had agreed not too, because of the blog and because of the money. I knew it was bugging him though.

My husband listens to KEXP every day online. Notions of "community" and "local" are much more elastic with the Internet and I know KEXP is important to him. At any rate, it was only $20, much less than we have given in previous years.

Here's the list of what this blog is keeping me, if not my husband, from doing this year. At some point I'll figure out how to put the list into a sidebar and make it a standing feature that I update throughout the year.

Please understand, this is not a list of complaint. It's a list of potential. Money I didn't spend outside New West that I now, potentially, could spend inside New West. The odd thing is, I've bought almost nothing this past week. But more on that in my next weekly spend report.

Things I haven't done or bought and places I haven't gone that I usually probably would:

No Smaller donation to KEXP
No snacks or coffee on the way up to Kamloops
No Cowboy Coffee in Kamloops
No Senor Froggy in Kamloops
No Gogol Bordello
No Ghostland Observatory (They gave the best live show I've ever seen ** and they're coming back to Seattle in November. This one is a little complain-y. Just a little.)
No dollar-almost-at-par shopping trip to Bellingham/Seattle
No Priceline hotel for trip to Ghostland Observatory and/or shopping trip
No crazy expensive Halloween costume for my son from when it turns out he is just as happy with the $24 one from Wal-mart.

* No, I didn't buy anything in Kamloops, other than gas. And food on the way home. We weren't going to, but traffic was really bad. I'm committed to this blog, but I draw the line at letting my son go hungry. Okay, to be honest, I draw the line at listening to my son say, "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm soo-ooo-ooo hungry," over and over and over again in the close confines of our Hyundai.

** See video at top of the post, which may look like nonsense to some, but trust me, the show was epic. It included getting tickets for the Saturday show, figuring out three days before the show that it would really be better to have Friday tickets, posting a ticket trade on Craigslist, arranging to meet with Dave from Texas in Seattle to trade tickets before the show, while making sure Dave wasn't a scammer or crazy, jumping up and down for two hours at the show even when standing still because the sprung-wood floor was bouncing so hard, staying up until 3 a.m. after the show and getting up at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to drive back to New Westminster and familial obligations. Epic.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spend Report #5: Turkey Trouble

This year I am helping with crafts at Beavers, which my son attends. I agreed to do the shopping as long as I don't have to do any outside New West. I'm assured the craft items will all be dollar store stuff. Monday's craft was turkeys made out of napkins (see cute picture above). I did find everything I needed in New West, but only after visiting five dollar stores and Wal-Mart. (Why does New West have so many dollar stores? I went to five, but I know of at least two others.)

It made me wonder if I could have bought everything at one store if I had left New West. So I visit craft superstore Michaels. The answer is no. I still would have had to go elsewhere for the napkins. The supplies I would have bought at Michaels would have cost about $15 (no napkins) compared to about $13 (including napkins) for the dollar store/Wal-Mart supplies. I know there are other places outside New West to buy these supplies, but it is most likely that I would have chosen Michaels. There may be no one-stop napkin turkey shopping in New West, but there is cheap napkin turkey shopping.
It's the end of my first week shopping only in New Westminster. As I review my receipts, I realize I have spent money mainly at fast food joints, dollar stores and big chains this week. But I did discover that New West has a swimwear store. I also tried to redeem myself at the end of the week with a visit to the Royal City Farmers Market. 
Spend Report #5
I spent about $575 in New Westminster on:

  • A bathing suit at Just Swimwear on Sixth St. Bonus: the suit is made in Canada.
  • Coffee at Starbucks
  • McDonald's (twice! Eek!)
  • A t-shirt at Warehouse One in Royal City Centre. I also tried on jeans and I'm surprised and happy to find they have jeans that fit me. I'll be back.
  • Beer at the B.C. Liquor Store
  • Groceries at Safeway
  • Toiletries at London Drugs
  • Gas
  • Greek food at Opa
  • Food at A&W
  • Halloween costume and miscellaneous items at Wal-Mart
  • Butter tarts, quinoa salad, cheese and a crepe at the Royal City Farmers Market. Oct. 7 was the last summer market, but the winter market is on the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Holy Trinity Cathedral hall at 514 Carnarvon St. in New Westminster.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'm cheating on New West already

Sorry, New West, I hate to tell you this. I'm not even a week into my year of shopping only in New Westminster and I'm already cheating on you. With a video store in Winnipeg.
"Winn-i-peg!?!" I can hear you saying like those people in the Pace Picante salsa commercials say "New York City?!?"
I suppose that would make New Westminster San Antonio and Winnipeg New York City, which is kind of a strange comparison to mull over in one's mind. But anyway . . . onward to my tale of cheating and betrayal:

I have coffee a few times a week with a group of friends who were not impressed to hear I was keeping my subscription to a mail-order DVD service. My friends, or should I say "friends," called me a cheater and said I should be suffering more for my year of shopping locally.

The service is called Cinemail and it's based in Winnipeg. I order DVDs online and they are delivered by mail. I watch them, put them in an envelope and mail them back.  From what I can tell, Cinemail is a made-in-Canada success story, now undoubtedly under pressure from the expansion of Netflix into Canada. Rogers and Blockbuster, my two choices for DVD rental in New Westminster, are also undoubtedly under pressure from Netflix, but I care more about Cinemail than I do about Rogers and Blockbuster. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt either one of them offers 26 films by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Netflix doesn't either. Cinemail does.

I knew doing this shopping locally thing was going to involve many contradictions. I have dropped using Spud, a grocery delivery service, because it's based in Vancouver. That is despite Spud's commitment to local produce. On my last order, on Sept. 30, my groceries travelled an average of just 73 kilometres to reach SPUD's warehouse. That's compared to the average 2,500 kilometres SPUD says products are transported to a typical grocery store in Canada. The bagels in my order, from fabulous Siegel's Bagels, travelled just seven kilometres to SPUD's warehouse. So, does that mean by shopping "locally" all my produce is going to come from thousands of miles away? (So far, so good: Kin's seems to label the source of most of their produce and much of it is from B.C. I'm going to the New West farmer's market today, where I'm sure I'll find lots of close-to-home options too.)

Being a consumer in the 21st century is all about contradictions. I saw a card kit at a store not long ago that gave you all the pieces to make "handmade" cards; everything was pre-cut, all you had to do was glue. This blog is about me confronting those contradictions and making conscious decisions about them, not necessarily about suffering.

So, call me a cheater, call me a hypocrite; I'm keeping Cinemail. Unless . . . unless you're willing to suffer with me too. Here's the deal coffee ladies: I'll drop Cinemail if you all agree to shop in the cities you live in for one whole year too. Who's in?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Clearing out the (e-mail) clutter

Since I'll only be shopping in New Westminster for the next year, it seems like a good time to unsubscribe to a bunch of e-newsletters that are no longer relevant to me. I was surprised to find I was subscribed to over 25 retail and travel e-newsletters. It felt good to clear the clutter out of my inbox. I have wasted a lot of time on some of these Web sites; it feels good to know I won't be doing that this year. (I have nothing against these stores and their products and services. It's just that for me the Internet is a black hole and I'm always getting sucked into it.)

I have never bought anything from:
Country Village
Stonz Wear
Away Network
Maine Cottage


I rarely bought anything from:
Restoration Hardware
Garnet Hill
Thrifty Car Rental
ClearPoint direct
eBay I used to have an eBay jewellery habit, but I haven't bought anything from them for at least two years. 
Red Envelope
Harbour Dance Centre
Showbox Seattle
Living Social
Fruits and Passion

Canon eStore

I sometimes bought from:
Allegiant Air
Toys R Us
Choices Markets I love Choices and since it's right on the border with New West I thought about making an exception for it. But I had to draw the line somewhere, so Choices is out.
The Shoe Company

Victoria's Secret I like their bras, though they're so pushed up and padded, I told my husband wearing them feels like false advertising. Which led him to make a concerned face and ask, "Um, who are you advertising to?"
Cineplex Entertainment

Unsubscribed from these because they cover mostly non-New West stores and events:

(List updated Oct. 6, 2010)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My 100 Mile Super High Size Not Made in China Year of Living Biblically with no Garbage

Lifestyle experiments seem awfully popular these days. Why? I'm not sure, but I think that people are starting to notice that while the modern world offers many conveniences, there are one or two drawbacks, such as disconnection from one's community and the degradation of the earth's environment.

Here's a few, "I'm going to do this or not do that for a month/year" experiments:

Super Size Me: If not the originator of this sort of lifestyle experiment, definitely one of the first. Morgan Spurlock sees what happens to his body when he eats nothing but McDonald's for a month. It's not pretty.

Super High Me: The pot-smoking comic I mentioned before. Worth a watch if only to see just how funny and sad comics are, all at the same time.

The Year of Living Biblically: comic take on trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible for one year. Author A.J. Jacobs says he is Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian. His wife isn't too happy about some of the rules. She sits on every chair in the house during a certain time of the month because she knows, according to the Bible, he won't be able to sit anywhere.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck: two Toronto enviro-dudes see what happens to their bodies when they expose themselves to the potentially toxic chemicals found in everyday products.

No Impact Man: Should really be called No Impact Family. For one year, a New York family try to have no net impact on the environment.

The 100 Mile Diet: Lower Mainland residents Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon eat only the food produced within a 100-mile radius of themselves for a year. They didn't realize how hard it would be until they figured out almost no one grows wheat in the Lower Mainland. A worldwide sensation. Sparked a local food movement that continues to this day.

 Green Garbage Project: American couple tries to go a year without throwing anything away.

A Year without "Made in China": American family tries to go a year without buying anything made in China

Makeshift: A Vancouver designer makes everything she needs to wear for one year. Doesn't sound tricky if you know how to sew, but she means everything: shoes, bras, underwear.

Here's a link to a list of 12 more (some repeats from my list): there's a year without plastic, a guy who keeps all his garbage for a year and takes photos of it, a woman who tries to go for a year without buying anything new.

The two that have inspired me most in taking on my modest experiment are The 100 Mile Diet and the Year of Living Biblically. (Took on the local aspect from one, the comic aspect from the other; you figure out which is which.) I can't say I have tons of lofty goals, but I do know that much of what I do every day is through habit. If nothing else, this year will give me lots of opportunity to examine my habits.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Westminster Swimsuit Store Saves Me Time

Day 1 and I haven't made a break for the Burnaby border yet. Just today, I saved myself about two or three hours in shopping time by sticking to New Westminster.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a swimming class at the Canada Games Pool. I knew this would require an athletic bathing suit and I figured the chances of finding a good one in New Westminster were zero. Even when I have all options open to me, finding a suit is a challenge. In addition to needing a, let's just say, large size, I also have a long torso.

Summer was over, so Wal-Mart wouldn't be carrying any suits and I couldn't think of anywhere else in town where I could get one. Just for the heck of it, I decided to Google "New Westminster bathing suits." To my surprise, New Westminster not only has a bathing suit store, it has one that carries specialty (meaning big and long torso) sizes: Just Swimwear on Sixth Street.

Here's what I would have done if I wasn't limited to shopping to New Westminster: I would have gone online and tried to find a suit. Would have looked at Land's End, Eddie Bauer, Sears. Would have got distracted by shiny merchandise and spent an hour or so surfing store sites.

Would have been nervous about buying swimwear online, so I would have gone to Swimco in Metrotown to see if they had anything. Would have been depressed about how many suits in that store are meant for skinny people. Would have been depressed about how many skinny people there are at Metrotown in general.

Would have started looking around Metrotown. Would have shifted my hunt from bathing suit to jeans. Would have had a delusional moment and tried on "super skinny" jeans in Old Navy.* Would have been surprised by how comfy they were. Would have considered how much it looked like I was wearing jodhpurs. Would have realized that pants that aren't jodhpurs shouldn't look like jodhpurs. Would have experienced moment of clarity as I realized there is no pair of jeans in the universe that is going to give me back the butt I had when I was 19. Would have got hungry from all the shopping and gone and bought a burrito, something else that is not going to give me back the butt I had when I was 19.

After two or three hours at the mall, I may or may not have gone home with a bathing suit.

Instead, I stopped by Just Swimwear today, picked out two or three likely options, tried them on and bought a suit, all in about 20 minutes. I had lots of time when I got home before I needed to go pick up my son from school.

I used this time to watch a documentary: Super High Me, the story of what happened when comedian Doug Benson decided to smoke pot every day for a month. It's such a powerful documentary I had to make some nachos while I watched it. Perhaps not the best use of my time, but better than being stuck in a mall for two hours.

The documentary got me thinking, that instead of shopping, maybe there's something else local I could do for a year. Kidding!  It really did get me thinking how many people are doing these lifestyle experiments. I'll list some of them in an upcoming post, tentatively titled My 100-Mile Super High Size Not Made in China Year of Living Biblically.

* I actually was this delusional recently, though not while being distracted from bathing suit shopping.

Spend Reports #3 and #4

I got behind with my spend reports, so I decided to do them all just before I start shopping only in New Westminster. Maybe I got behind because I was traumatized by having to admit how much I spent in a week in Spend Report #2. (I can't even bring myself to type the amount, you'll have to read that post if you want to know.)

Someone, anyone, please tell me you’ve done the same. I did feel a little better when I went to Wal-Mart during its once-a-year anniversary sale. The bargain shoppers were out in full force and some of them were making big impulse purchases. I saw a woman leave the store with a loaded cart and a 40” TV. She said she went in the store to buy a single toy, but couldn’t resist the $398 TV. Then I pondered that while she has a big-screen TV to show for her spending spree, all I have is a duvet and public humiliation.

Spend Report #3

From Sept. 16 to 22, I spent approximately $480.

I spent about $380 in New Westminster on:
A coat, groceries and miscellaneous items* at Wal-Mart
More items at Wal-Mart including Oreos, soap, Froot Loops and a Christmas present for my nephew 
Groceries at Safeway
Lunch at Opa
Food and rides at the Queensborough Fall Fair

I spent about $100 on:
Groceries (Richmond)
Lunch (Vancouver)
Deodorant (Kiehl’s, Vancouver)
Eye cream (The Bay, Vancouver)
Metered parking – $11!!! (Vancouver)

* Includes Hot Tub Time Machine DVD. It’s a hot tub and a time machine.

Spend Report #4

From Sept. 23 to 30, I spent approximately $460. This is the week I abandon all pretense of trying to shop normally and do a farewell tour of stores around the Lower Mainland that I won’t be spending money in for the next year.

I spent about $120 in New West on:
Spent. Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior (Just $9.99 at Black Bond Books; would have been $22 at Chapters or $21 at
Produce, almost all from B.C. (at Kin’s Farm Market)
Coffee and more coffee (at Starbucks)
A DQ Blizzard (Since when do Blizzards cost almost $5!?!)
Shoes for my son (Shoe Warehouse)

I spent about $340 on:
Groceries (Price-Smart in Hamilton, the Richmond neighbourhood that borders Queensborough)
More groceries (delivered by SPUD, which is based in Vancouver)
Gas (Shell in Hamilton)
Shampoo and conditioner (Metrotown, Burnaby)
Parking and ice cream at the Coliseum (Arcade Fire concert, Vancouver)
T-shirt and groceries (Superstore, Coquitlam) **
Various items at IKEA
Sweater, shirt and belt (Marks, Burnaby)
T-shirt (Warehouse One, Burnaby)

** It won’t be hard to stop shopping at Superstore. I only go a few times a year. My husband objects to its mix of merchandise.
“Is the raw meat supposed to go on top of my clothes or do I put the meat in the cart first?” is the kind of thing he says when I tell him I've been there.
Updated Oct. 8, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Last IKEA Haul for a year

I made my last trip to IKEA today. I felt a little panicked at first and briefly considered buying the 36-pack of tea lights and/or an entire kitchen. Because over the next year I might become the kind of person who burns candles on a regular basis and my kitchen could collapse. Thankfully, logic prevailed, and I admitted to myself that while those two situations are possible, they aren't very probable. I made it out of the Swedish store in Coquitlam with just 11 items:
3 Graddsas cream sauce mixes, made in Hungary.
Legitim cutting boards (pack of 2), made in India.
3 Slom glass jars, made in China
Sparsam light bulbs (pack of 2), made in China. (At IKEA, even the light bulbs have a name.)
2 Gorm wire baskets, made in China.
Barometer work lamp, made in China.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Despite second thoughts, I will shop locally

Well, there's no getting out of this. There I am, all over the front page of today's New Westminster Record, talking about how I will be shopping locally for one year. I've been having second, third and even fourth thoughts about this whole enterprise, but I guess it's too late to change my mind now.
Thanks to Andrew Fleming of the Record for taking interest in my experiment and to Larry Wright for the wonderful photo.
I'll be interested to see what kind of feedback the story gets. I won't be surprised to get some flack for the comparison made of my experiment to The 100-Mile Diet.
As flattering as it is to be compared to Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, authors of The 100-Mile Diet, I don't think my experiment is anywhere near as ground-breaking or as complicated as theirs. They really suffered for their book. They had to give up sugar, rice, and even bread, at least until they found a local wheat grower.
I must say though, when I tell people what I'm doing, some do react as though I'm likely to endure extreme hardship. I too have moments when I feel a sense of impending doom and deprivation. No Reitmans! No IKEA! No Canadian Tire! No L'Occitane for the best hand cream in the world! Oh, the humanity! How will I ever survive?
When I think about it rationally, I realize how silly my fears are. New Westminster lacks certain stores, but there are plenty of places to shop and all its grocery stores are amply stocked. What is it about our consumer culture that makes people think going without Costco and IKEA for a year will be so difficult? That's the kind of question I will explore starting Oct. 1.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last Chance for Great Savings

“Last Chance for Great Savings.” So said the e-mail I received from Garnet Hill late on Sunday.

It’s the kind of e-mail I get from retailers every day, but this one made me anxious. It is almost my last chance, I thought. My last chance to buy anything not in New West! I panicked. I felt I must go online right away and buy something, anything. I wasted two hours online “window” shopping, seeking out bargains—a $29 sundress, $9 sandals, $18 pillowcases—I wanted it all. In the end, I bought none of it. I didn’t need any of it, and thankfully, my rational side prevailed.

I’m trying to shop as normally as possible before Oct. 1. I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff I usually wouldn’t. But on Wednesday, I could not pass up Living Social’s deal of the day —a microdermabrasion treatment at 61 per cent off. I’ve never tried it before, but as I understand it, microdermabrasion is basically like sandpapering your skin, scraping off the old, sagging, wrinkly layer and revealing the fresh, glowing, youthful layer below. That’s what I’m hoping happens anyway. Besides, it turned into a nice parallel in husband/wife spending—the same day I spend $59 on microdermabrasion, my husband (unbeknownst to me at the time) spends about $59 on Halo Reach.

Here’s my spend report for the past week, without any foolish online purchases, facial sandpapering excepted. I can spend my money foolishly enough without the help of the Internet. That is something I am learning from doing this blog: I spend too much money.
(I can just hear what my husband will say when he reads this. “I could have told you that, you didn’t need to do a blog!” Yeah, yeah, yeah.) This blog just might turn out to be a great budgeting tool. But, as you will see, not yet.

Spend Report #2

From Sept. 8 to 15, I spent approximately $1,100. (Holy crap! I know once my husband reads this post, he’s going to ask me, “Are you independently wealthy and hiding it from me? Or do you have a second and third job I don’t know about?”)

I spent about $350 in New Westminster on:
curling lessons for my son, sushi, coffee, groceries, a birthday present and toiletries at Wal-mart, loading up my New West Fitness card, and more coffee.

The rest, about $750, was spent on: (and in)
carpet cleaning (done in my home, but the cleaner was from Burnaby)
SPUD groceries (delivered to my home, but SPUD is based in Vancouver)
Photos, a duvet and groceries (Costco, Burnaby)
An Editors' Association of Canada seminar (bought online, seminar is in Vancouver)
Halo: Reach (Vancouver)
A gift certificate for microdermabrasion (bought online, will be used in Vancouver)
Raffle tickets supporting KidSport (at an event in Burnaby)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Money: the most taboo topic of all

“Well, I have to go do my spend report for my blog,” I announce after dinner.

“What?” says my husband and then he gives me a look. Or rather, A Look.

“For the first week of September. What I bought, how much it cost, where I bought it.”

I can tell he is uneasy. He explains he is concerned that people will be able to figure out how much we make if I give such detailed information. This makes me uneasy too. Just writing about this, even just thinking about this—the whole topic of money—is making me twitchy.

I do not consider myself a particularly private person. People who know me well would probably say I err on the side of sharing way too much information. However, I’ve always been extremely reticent about telling anyone how much I make. Revealing how I spend my money and how much money I have to spend is just that: revealing. I don’t want to be judged by how much I make or by what I spend my money on. Most people don’t.

But people make judgments based on money all the time. I have scoffed at friends who spend hundreds on designer handbags. I’ve never been into labels. If a brand wants me to wear its logo, I’m advertising, so, the brand should pay me. That’s always been my philosophy. But I know I have made many scoff-worthy purchases myself (hello, $85 jar of face masque in my medicine cabinet).

My husband favours doing a loose summary of expenditures. His argument is that the point of the blog is not exactly how much I’ve spent, it’s whether or not I was able to buy everything in New West. I’m not so sure. After all, one of the things I’m interested in finding out is if shopping locally is cheaper or more expensive and by how much. Of course, at the end of the year, I could just say, “Trust me, it’s cheaper/more expensive!” and never reveal how much I actually spent. But writing is always better when it’s specific.

I don’t think listing every grocery item and its price is necessary, but at some point, some specific numbers are going to need to be involved.

Spend Report #1

While I figure out exactly how much I want to reveal, here’s a somewhat loose/somewhat specific report on how and where I spent my money for the first week of September.

From Sept. 1 to 7, I spent about $620. A little over half (about $327) was spent in New Westminster. I spent money in New West on piano lessons, haircuts for my son and husband, propane, brunch, gas, and groceries.

The rest was spent in Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Vancouver and Richmond. I left New West to buy piano books and to go to Costco, the PNE and to two movies. (There is no Costco or movie theatre in New Westminster.) Almost all my spending from Sept. 1 to 6 was done outside New West. All my Sept. 7 (first day of school) spending was done in New West.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Will less cost more? At least my shoes will match

My replacement glass storage containers arrived unbroken on Friday, having made only four stops from Secaucus, New Jersey, to my door. (The original shipment started out in Las Vegas and made five stops along its way.) As I unpack them, I say to my husband sadly, "Pretty soon, no more online shopping for me."

My husband does not, I realize, look sad. He looks, in fact, positively gleeful.

"You're hoping this leads to me spending and shopping less, aren't you?" I ask.

He nods eagerly.

"There's no Sephora  in town!" he says later, while discussing the same topic.

(I have what you, and definitely my husband, might call an obsession with beauty and skin care products. Shh, nobody tell him that Shoppers Drug Mart carries some products from Benefit, one of my favourite brands. And, there's a Shoppers in New West!)

"We'll probably end up buying less stuff, but it will be more expensive," my husband says.

The less stuff part, I think I'm okay with. The more expensive part will be trickier.

It seems the equation of "local" with "expensive" is a common one. A good friend (@mforbes 37) tweeted about my blog and got this response: "If I could get that 200% raise I've been asking for, I'd only buy local stuff too," said @felixpotvin, (not, according to his Twitter profile, the real Felix Potvin).

I think @felixpotvin may have missed the part where I mention I will still be shopping at big chain stores, as long as they are in the geographic boundaries of New Westminster. But my husband knows that and he still thinks we'll end up spending more money. How much more remains to be seen.

I know I have chased down bargains online that, in the finish, turn out to be no bargain at all. Not long ago, I ordered shoes online from a store that doesn't ship to Canada. But they were so cheap! So sending them to a mail depot in Point Roberts (just over the border in Washington, about 30 minutes from my house) seemed to make sense. It would be easy for me, I thought, to zip over the border and pick them up. Even with the exchange rate and the cost of driving, I figured I would still come out $30 to $40 ahead. And my chances of finding that particular brand and style of shoes at a store closer by were slim to none.

The shoes were delivered to the depot fairly quickly, but with one thing and another, I didn’t pick them up right away. When I finally picked them up, the shoes fit, but while they were both brown, they were two distinctly different shades. Because it had taken me so long to pick them up, it was past the regular return period. I probably still could have returned them because they were defective, but I only looked at and tried on one shoe in Point Roberts. The other stayed nestled in its tissue paper nest because, silly me, I assumed both shoes would be the same colour. I had a post-paid return label, but it was only valid for shipping from the U.S., not Canada. I never did make it back down to Point Roberts to return them. So much for saving money.

Maybe shopping locally for a year will cost more, maybe it won't. I know one thing: even if I don't save money, I won't end up with a pair of different coloured shoes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where's the hardware store?

When I told my husband I wanted to shop locally for one year and blog about it, he said, "Okay." That's about all the discussion we had on the topic.

Last night, I asked him, "Does New West have a hardware store?"

For the first time, he expressed trepidation about this project.

"Uhh, you might have to expand the boundaries a bit."

I'm not going to do that, but it did make me wonder, why doesn't New West have a hardware store? And, if there is one, why is it so well-hidden, I don't know about it?

There used to be a Canadian Tire in town; that's gone now and there's a big, new one on Marine Way in Burnaby. Close to, but not in New West.
There's a Rona on Edmonds. Again, close to, but not in New West.

There's a Home Depot in Surrey, just over the Patullo Bridge. You should know the refrain by now: close to, but not in New West.

Considering there's so many hardware stores so close to New West, does it really matter that New West itself doesn't have one?  Are there any other cities in Canada with 60,000 people that don't have a hardware store?

When I lived in Pemberton, the population was well under 1,000 and it had a hardware store. When I lived along Commercial Drive, there was a hardware store. (Even hipsters and hippies need hammers.)

The first Lowe's in B.C. is supposed to be coming to Queensborough, but I'm not sure how soon it will be built. Probably not by the end of September, which means if I want to get that much-needed replacement for our kitchen faucet, I've got less than 30 days to do it!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why do this and how is this going to work?

First off, the obvious question: why do this? Why, when living in such a large, urban area, would I want to restrict all my shopping to New Westminster?

I've always been the kind of person who wants to shop locally. My desire stems from vague notions that shopping locally is good for the community, the local economy and the environment, though I really don't know that much about exactly how local economies work. I want to find out whether and how my actions as a consumer effect the local economy. You see, despite my desire, the reality is, I don't really shop locally all that much.

Most of the shopping I do in New Westminster is usually at chain stores and it's mostly for groceries or food. I go to Safeway, Walmart, Starbucks, Boston Pizza and White Spot. For most other items, including clothing, furniture, hardware, and shoes, I leave New Westminster and drive to another community to do my shopping.

The reason I leave town to shop is the same reason I think New Westminster is uniquely suited for this experiment. It's in the middle of a large urban area, but it's really just a small town (population 60,000) in many ways. But, unlike towns with similar populations NOT in the middle of a urban area, New Westminster seems to be missing certain kinds of stores and services that drives me, and has me driving, to other communities to shop. One reason I want to do this experiment is to see just what retailers and services are missing from New Westminster, as well as to find out what is here. (I've heard there are interesting stores in New West, even interesting clothing stores, but I've never set foot in one.)

I’m increasingly shopping online and a recent online purchase, along with a recent local purchase I didn't make, also helped inspire this blog. I ordered some glass food storage containers online from Bed, Bath and Beyond. My e-receipt came with a UPS tracking number and I was stunned by the circuitous route my containers took. They started out in Las Vegas, went to Salt Lake City, then Hermiston, Oregon, then to Redmond, Washington, where they finally crossed the border to Richmond and made one last stop at Annacis Island before being delivered to my house. Two of the seven containers arrived broken. I was able to return them to the Bed, Bath and Beyond in Coquitlam and the helpful staff there re-ordered the two broken containers for me. The replacement containers started out in Seacaucus, New Jersey, and, according to the UPS Website, arrived in Spokane, Washington, at exactly 2:41 a.m. this morning.

There's a little farm in my neighbourhood that sells flowers, vegetables and fruit. I have stopped there maybe twice this summer and one day, I noticed they were selling big, gorgeous heads of leaf lettuce for 79 cents. I didn't need lettuce that day (because I had a $1.25 head of lettuce from Safeway in my fridge), but thought I should stop in one day and get some. That day never came.

There's something about these scenarios that strikes me as deeply strange and wrong. Somehow, my shopping habits have become completely disconnected from my local community. It's somehow more "convenient" for me to get storage containers from Vegas than it is for me to get lettuce from just down my street. I love the idea of local shopping, but haven't gotten around to the reality of actually doing it. I hope this experiment helps me shake up my habits and, in the process, re-connects me to my community.

Not long after buying the glass containers, I was reading a blog post by Briana Tomkinson on Tenth to the Fraser.

She was expressing woe about the poor mix of retailers in New Westminster.

"I want New West to have a more varied, and well, ambitious, mix of retailers and restaurants. I want our city to stop being such an economic underachiever and create shopping districts for real shoppers."

This comment really resonated with me. If I'm typical of New Westminster residents, leaving town to buy most goods and services, that diverse and ambitious mix of retailers will never be attracted here. If the retailers aren't here, residents will keep leaving town to shop. It's a vicious, but predictable, cycle.

The sad thing is, from what I have heard, New Westminster used to be a shopping mecca. (I plan to outline this history in a future post.) I would think its central location played a big part in that, but now, ironically, its central location may work against it. It's just so easy to get everywhere from here, that people don't see the need for all kinds of stores right in town. People don't mind jumping in their cars or on the SkyTrain to head to the malls and shopping districts of Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, Surrey and Vancouver.

I know I will be eliminating a lot of choices by eliminating other communities, as well as online shopping, but I'm pretty sure less choice will actually turn out to be a good thing. You see, I have a love/hate relationship with shopping. (This will come as news to my husband, who I’m sure would say I am not only in love with shopping, but in the midst of a torrid, passionate affair with it.)

Everyone knows the thrill of finding just the right item, for just the right price. But shopping can be tedious and time-consuming too. While I love my new glass storage containers, they were kinda a pain to buy. I spent a long time online looking for just the right ones. When two of them arrived broken, I had to drive over to Coquitlam to return them. Bed, Bath and Beyond is behind all the construction on the Lougheed Highway, so I had to navigate a maze to get there. The people at Bed, Bath and Beyond are extremely (almost eerily) helpful, but the return process took a long time. I find I have this kind of shopping experience fairly often, where the amount of time it takes to find, buy and, God forbid, return an item hardly makes a "bargain" a bargain.

The bottom line? When I look back on my life, I want to say a lot more about what I accomplished than, "Wow, was I ever a good shopper."

How will this work?
Pretty simple. I'll do all my shopping in New Westminster for one year, starting Oct. 1.

Why Oct. 1? While I have a pretty good idea what my shopping habits are, I want to keep track of them before I make the switch to local shopping. So for the month of September, I'll document my usual shopping habits on this blog.

After Sept. 30, it's all local, all the time.

I do not intend to exclude any stores that are in New Westminster city limits and that includes chain stores and restaurants. However, wherever possible, I will seek out locally owned alternatives before hitting a big chain. My big grocery shops are always done at Safeway and I will continue, for the most part, to do them there.

A word about Walmart: living in Queensborough means not only living near Walmart, but having my neighbourhood defined to an extent by Walmart. Often times people don't know where Queensborough is (even people from New West who should know better). Saying, "I live in Queensborough," often gets blank looks. "Near the new Walmart," gets the dawn of recognition.

I'm the kind of person who likes to deny shopping at Walmart. "Oh, it's in our neighbourhood, but we don't really shop there much," I say. 

Reality check: I pop in there all the time. Our last vacuum cleaner was purchased there. Just bought a mirror there. When our son is invited to a birthday party, the present often comes from there. Cards, milk, magazines; Walmart, Walmart, Walmart.

There's been lots of writing done about Walmart's effect on communities. There's even a PBS special. But, for now, Walmart is a reality in my community, so I'm not going to stop shopping there completely.

Any exceptions?

Queensborough borders Hamilton, a neighbourhood in Richmond, and there is a PriceSmart grocery store there. The store has been struggling in the past few years and local residents have been trying to shop there as much as possible to keep the only true grocery store in the area alive. It's in Richmond, but I consider it a part of my neighbourhood, so I'll keep shopping there.

Under the category of, More Information Than Anyone Wants to Know, another exception is my deodorant. I am super-sensitive to most deodorants and antiperspirants and pretty much the only thing I can use is made by Kiehl's. They have a store in downtown Vancouver and unless I can find it locally (doubtful), I will continue to buy it there. I'm committed to shopping locally, but that doesn't extend to a willingness to walk around either smelly (no deodorant) or with itchy pits (using some other deodorant) all year.