Holiday. Fun?

With the arrival of December, many people experience angst over the approaching holiday. For some, this has to do with awkward, difficult and/or impossible family relationships, which come into focus under the cultural expectation of family togetherness at this time of year.

However, consumer debt is a more pervasive source of December dread. Yesterday’s news reported on Bank of Canada concerns about increasing levels of consumer debt. The Globe & Mail referred to “insatiable borrowing,” quoting a senior director of Equifax, a major credit reporting agency: “Following a frenzied start to the festive shopping season with more to come in the countdown to Christmas, we can expect the consumer debt to rise even further. Tis the season, so we can anticipate credit cards getting a strong workout throughout December.”

Living in a consumer culture puts us under enormous pressure to spend mindlessly. And our ready access to credit cards has been the marketers’ dream, fuelling the attitude they want us to have: What the heck, spend beyond your current capacity because you can.

Naturally, they love it when we pay their 20% interest for years and years. However, the financial consequences are far beyond what most people imagine. The system is complicated and complex, and there is much we don’t know. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that students generally thought that if they made the minimum payment on a credit card, they weren’t in debt. By using their cards and paying the required minimum, they thought they were doing the smart and adult thing. However, that is an illusion. It takes a shocking length of time to pay off debt Continue reading

Financial Literacy: Crucial for all of us

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. This annual event acknowledges the need to educate ourselves in a crucial area of life—how to navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

This initiative came out of the work of a task force that travelled the country to assess the state of financial literacy in Canada.  My submission to that task force expressed the view that all post-secondary students should be required to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate.

I was pleased that the final report of the task force recommended that “…all provincial and territorial governments integrate financial literacy in the formal education system, including…post-secondary education and formalized adult learning activities.”

Realistically, this is unlikely to happen. But Continue reading

Something to think about…

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True freedom comes from exercising autonomy over our lives. The consumer culture discourages us from thinking for ourselves, preferring that we adopt the cultural story about how to live.

Our challenge is to detach ourselves from the cultural story and look at the illusions surrounding freedom and choice.

  • Has the use of credit given you freedom or put you in bondage?
  • Is it an either/or question?
  • If it’s “both/and,” what makes the difference?

It’s something worth thinking about if we want to make our own lives.

Reference chapter: “Power and Money” in Conscious Spending. Conscious Life.

Like gift-wrapping a tap-dancing elephant…

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My friend Maggie has a way with words. She says that attempting to describe my book is like trying to gift-wrap a tap-dancing elephant. She’s captured the dilemma perfectly! Continue reading

Walking Our Talk in a Consumer World

Once-we-have-recognized

Singer Neil Young has been in the news recently—first for his outspoken criticism of Alberta’s oil sands and then for not walking his talk. In a recent article, Licia Corbella of the Calgary Herald reported that Young’s five large tour busses were all left idling for an extended period even though only one was occupied. They were parked outside the venue where he was speaking at a press conference about man-made global warming. Apparently there is incongruence between Young’s talk and his actions.

The same could be said for most of us. Continue reading

A book I’d have written if I hadn’t been writing mine

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Part 4 of my book Conscious Spending, Conscious Life is about health, safety and integrity of the future. It covers food and toxics, among other things. People are often surprised that I included health in a book about consumerism. But the truth is, food has become the ultimate consumer good—commercially grown, highly processed, and heavily marketed.

Navigating the consumer culture—unharmed—is a tricky task these days. Remaining healthy is one of the challenges. Despite relative wealth and an abundance of food products in North America, we continue to become more and more unhealthy.

Much of what we call “food” really isn’t. The dictionary defines food as “material that is used by the body to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes, as well as to furnish energy.” In a consumer culture, it is so easy to make poor choices and eat a lot that fills us up but doesn’t support our bodies in carrying out vital life processes. The choices we make can end up haunting us sooner or later.

When we become conscious of what we eat and try to do the right thing, we’re faced with confusing and conflicting information to sort through. While I was writing my section about food and toxics, I was frustrated by not having enough space to say everything I wanted to.

So I’m happy to tell you about a book I discovered Continue reading

Recycling is not enough.

Recycle Bin

Recycling has become a license to waste, allowing us to avoid taking responsibility for our consumer choices. We soothe our consciences by dropping our excesses into a recycle bin and having them carted away. End of story; nothing more to think about. Continue reading

Courage to change

Laurana with Julie-001

I recently met a young woman who is buying nothing for a year. Julie Phillips (photo) was giving a talk about how this came to be (serendipity, like many of life’s most remarkable moments) and about her experiences during the first six weeks of being propelled into a #DIYLife.

Julie Phillips is certainly not the first person to spend less money and do more for herself,
but I was struck by several defining aspects of her story: Continue reading

Excess & Chaos

I recently arrived at the end of two relentlessly and unexpectedly chaotic years. It was all I could do to keep my head above water. I coped by hurriedly chucking things into cupboards any which way, abandoning cleaning routines for a lick and a promise, stacking files on surfaces (floor included) instead of putting them away—you get the picture.

Finally I gained some breathing space and have spent the past couple months bringing order out of the chaos. Continue reading

Capturing the Essence without Going Nuts

We live in a culture of excess. Over the top. Hyperbole. It’s a challenge to maintain perspective, or what my grandmother referred to as a sense of proportion. Blowing things out of proportion was not a cool thing when I was growing up. Yet it so easily happens. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon… Continue reading