The real cost of “I can’t afford it”

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The comment I hear the most when discussing organic food is "Oh, I can't afford it."

This is actually not a factual statement as much as it is a dismissal statement. And it's one we all use when we can't be bothered with, don't have a priority for, or aren't really interested in the topic at hand.

I have witnessed many, many a person using this exact phrase to side step everything from exercising, to eating right, to how & why they shop and what they buy, to what entertainment they engage in.

My education in this form of 'excuse dismissal' began in college. A close friend of mine, who's family was very well off (fine, wealthy!), would often use the line: "Oh I can't afford that..." as she sat in her brand new, top of the line, fancy sports car, or pulled fresh smoked salmon from Alaska out the decent sized fridge in her dorm room, that was decorated with all the latest from a high end 'home collection' store. I marveled at how easily people accepted her excuse time after time. Did they not see what I saw? A consistent pattern of using the phrase "Oh I can't afford it" whenever she didn't want to do what everyone else wanted to do?

Fast forward 30 years and it's the same. We all use the phrase "Oh I can't afford it" when we aren't interested in doing it, buying it, going to it, seeing it, having it or partaking of it. How do I know this phrase is an excuse? Because, while there are plenty of people in our country who are struggling just to get by, that is not the majority of Americans. And the people I encounter on a day to day basis are not destitute. They drive decent cars, live in decent homes, have decent jobs, and consume a decent amount of 'stuff.'

The 'Oh I can't afford it" phrase is not born of not being able to afford it for these folks, it's that we don't want it enough to actually spend our money on it.

Case in point. I am world traveler and one of the most common comments I get is:
"Must be nice to be able to travel like that...I wish I could".
I follow this comment with: "You can."
Which is always met with: "Oh I can't afford it."

The truth is, if they really wanted to travel they could. They either don't really want to travel or don't care enough about it to make it a priority. And that's really what this all comes down to, what we want to spend our money on.

Now I know some of you are protesting that if you had more money you would travel, and that 'I can't afford it" is not an excuse. The truth is, if you really wanted to travel, money would not be an issue. Plenty of people travel the world on very little money. The bigger truth is, you don't want to travel the world in the way you believe you can afford. And there's nothing wrong with that belief...however, you're not actually being honest when you say "Oh I can't afford it", it's still an excuse. The truth would be: "I will travel the world when I have the kind of money I need to travel in the style I want" or "I'm not interested in traveling the world on a tight budget." or "Saving money for traveling is not a priority for me, but if I won the lotto, I'd totally book a trip."

So why don't we just say that?

Probably because we fear it makes us look lazy, uninteresting, or just plain stupid. And now you ask, if people can afford to do the things they say they can't, are they lying about what they can afford? Not at all. This is all about perception.

We currently have 1 kid in college and 1 kid finishing up high school & off to college next year. The most common phrase you will hear me say is: "I can't afford that, I'm on a tight budget because we've got 1 kid in college and 1 on the way to college." And that is my truth...which also gives the perception that we can't afford things.  However, we are not broke or destitute, not even close. We are middle class and we can afford a decent home, decent car, decent consumerism..and this is where perception & truth meet.

Ok, so I think you've got the gist of what I'm saying here, now onto the topic at hand. What is the true cost of "Oh I can't afford it"?

I have been a sustainable food advocate for awhile now, fully understanding that how I source my food and what I spend my food dollars on, has a direct impact on me, my family, my community, the animals, plants, soil, air, water and ultimately the planet. I know that my priority is to save our planet and I'm doing that by sourcing and buying food that promotes sustainability through a variety of methods working together: farming, harvesting, producing, packaging, marketing, etc. I know that better quality, sustainable food costs more money then conventional food, so I make my food dollars my priority and things like new tv's, game consoles, iPhones, cars, & furniture are all off the budget, while clothes & household necessities are on a tight budget.

I have been calling myself a 'conscious, budget-driven consumer.' Translation: I'm a consumer who sticks to her budget, making the best use of my money while benefiting me and my interests, like planet sustainability.

Ironically, after watching the movie "The True Cost", followed by "Poverty, Inc", it dawned on me that I was indeed making budget choices in my consumerism, but not actually making choices that benefited the whole system. I too...'gasp!...was doing the "Oh I can't afford it."

Not on my food purchases...but on my clothing purchases.

I am a big fan of cheap clothes, it's one of the many ways I have cut my budget. And after watching these documentaries, I realized that the "vote with your food dollars" I am championing in sustainable food advocacy, is the very thing I'm NOT doing in how I spend my clothing dollars. My 'fast fashion' cheap clothing purchases directly impacts the system...with many negative outcomes, not just for people around the world, but also my beloved planet.

If I am a conscious consumer who is an advocate for sustainability, should I not be looking at the bigger picture of sustainability? Shouldn't I be a conscious consumer in ALL of my consuming, not just food. The same ways that conventional food production is polluting our health and well being and that of our planet, so is clothing production...and obviously it would continue on that ALL consuming has a direct affect on our world. Which means I need to really rethink how I perceive myself and act as a 'consumer'. And that's when it hit me, I don't want to be a 'conscious budget-driven consumer', I want to be a 'budget driven, sustainable impact consumer'. A person who is a budget driven consumer, who makes buying choices based on the product's & production's impact on the entire system.

And right now this whole thing feels very overwhelming...many of the ways we produce products for our consumption, are not sustainable. And much of it is in fact, long term destructive. So what's the answer? Stop consuming? Move to the wilderness and live off grid? Become homesteaders void of modern conveniences?

Hah! Not even...unless of course that is what your heart desires and would make you happy, then by all means, have at it.

What I'm saying here is, how you source your consumables and what you choose to spend your money on, has a direct impact on you, me, us, them, and everything on the planet, because it is all connected. So we need to change shit up.

We are brilliant. We have evolved humans and society to a place in history that few could have dreamed possible. And now it's time to take the next step and evolve from the industrial, polluting, consuming behaviors that have put our very existence in question, and become the generation that catapults eco-friendly, green, long term sustainable, impact consuming behaviors to new heights, making it the 'norm' for modern society.

And all you have to do is take one step at a time. Start simple. Sustainably tweak your grocery list. Once you're comfortable with that, tweak your clothing list. Got that down? Excellent, how about tweaking your water or electricity consumption (putting solar panels on our home has been a great money saver, especially as electricity rates have gone up over the years) Good with that? Great!

You get what I'm championing here, right? Don't feel overwhelmed, don't change who you are, don't sell everything you own and become a hermit. Simply start making small, effective, sustainable, impact sourcing and buying purchases, that's it. And one by one, person by person, day by day, we can evolve from the brink of no return, to the thriving of modern impact driven consumerism. We got this.

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