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.