Spending money wisely. Why where we shop is as important as what we buy.
Have you ever considered all the power you have when you spend money? When it comes to spending money wisely, there’s power not just in what you spend your money on, but where you spend it. This is true both a leader’s personal and professional lives.
Most of the time we think it’s wise to get the best item at the lowest price. While that is the main consideration, it’s not the only one. Who we do business with makes a difference.
AM I SHOPPING IN A WAY THAT CREATES THE WORLD I WANT TO LIVE IN?
Perhaps you’ve heard it said “vote for the world you want to live in” when choosing political candidates. Similarly, we can leverage our economic power if we ask, “Am I shopping in a way that creates the world I want to live in?”
Some people take this to a crazy extreme. No, we don’t need to see the family tree of an organic chicken we’re about to buy. But at the other extreme, most of us don’t think at all about the power of our money. We miss the opportunity to improve the world around us. Here are a few examples of how we can have influence with little or no additional cost:
LOCAL VERSUS CHAIN STORES: Our staff has a favorite teriyaki restaurant. There are a lot of nearby chain places for a quick lunch. We go to them sometimes. But most of the time we go for local teriyaki. . . not just for the good food, but because there’s a family behind it. They work very hard. They are part of our community. We’re going to spend our lunch money somewhere. . . why not help the industrious family next door? Our regular business helps provide the steady customer base the restaurant needs to thrive. We have similar power to help simply by buying at the local sporting goods store that sponsors our kids’ leagues. . . and helping area growers by buying at the farmers’ market. It takes very little effort to choose local over chain. Just our presence at local stores means something significant.
NON-PROFIT VERSUS COMMERCIAL: For years our family kept money with one of the big banks. They had locations all over. That was convenient. But we started hearing about the bank’s questionable business practices. We realized that by keeping our money in that nation-wide bank, we were “voting with our dollars”. In a small way, we were enabling the bank’s arrogance and bad business practices. So we closed our accounts and moved them to a local credit union. Credit unions have a simple business plan of using local money to lend to local businesses/people. It turns out that we haven’t missed a beat with our banking. We feel great about credit union business practices and are pleased to support them with our deposits. Other opportunities to do business with cooperatives/non-profits include hospitals and fitness facilities (YMCA, community parks/golf courses).
COMPANIES THAT HELP: Most of us are familiar with TOMS Shoes (buy a pair, give a pair) or with fair trade producers like CuraCoffee (profits used to provide dentistry in coffee farming communities). Buying from companies like these may cost a little more. However, you know that your money is going to do good. This is a nice alternative to some large corporations. Big stores sell for less, but may lack transparency and quietly support agendas with which we may disagree.
It’s not just retailers that help. One of the most interesting business models I know is called the church extension fund. The only thing these non-profit organizations do is raise funds to build churches. They do it by offering to pay regular people (investors) interest on savings accounts. That money is then lent to growing churches, that repay at an interest rate a few points higher. The couple of interest points earned covers the extension funds’ operating costs and allows them to accumulate more money to loan churches. It’s a simple and effective use of money as a tool. Church Development Fund and The Solomon Foundation are great examples.
Along those same lines is another great money tool. . . the microloan. The way it works is that non-profit microfinance organizations accept money from people, then make loans to small businesses in developing countries. This access to capital improves the lives of families and the health of entire towns. Because the money is repaid, it can be loaned out again to help more people. Kiva and VisionFund are two examples.
SPENDING MONEY WISELY: BOTH PERSONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL FINANCE
Asking “Am I shopping in a way that creates the world I want to live in?” doesn’t just apply to our personal finances. As leaders, we can also think that way for our organization. Our church kept its mortgage with Church Development Fund (the church extension fund mentioned above) for years. In part, this was because we knew our church’s mortgage payments were ultimately being used to help grow more churches. Our church does business with several local companies for the benefits of relationship and supporting our area community.
Each of us votes with our feet and with our dollars. Making a difference isn’t complicated. It can be as simple redirecting the dollars we’re already spending.
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A brief history of microloans:
TED Talk – The Kiva Story told by founder Jessica Jackley:
The CuraCoffee Story (podcast):