Monday, May 14, 2007

Big Purchases

I'm standing on the ownership side of a new house and a new car, even though I wanted neither. It's funny how life keeps throwing curveballs at you. The very year I dedicate to improving my spending habits and doing all I can to help the poor is the same year life changes force me to live these principles on a large scale.

There's not a whole lot I can say about buying a house. It's a necessity for life (food, shelter, clothing) and because housing is an investment, it doesn't make sense to buy something substandard or in poor condition. That would just require us to spend money fixing it up in order to be able to sell it when the time comes, or worse, to sell it for less that we bought it for.

As with anything, though, there are some basic components that should guide all purchasing decisions. We shouldn't buy outside our price range. Mortgage companies love to tell you how much more house you could buy if you wanted to, but there's no reason to be taken in by that. We should buy primarily by location, and then find a house we like within that area. Good schools, safe neighborhoods, rising property values, proximity to work and availability of public transportation are all important considerations. Secondary to that is the house itself. Obviously, there's no reason to buy a ranch if I hate that style, and a house that's well built and architecturally attractive will retain it's value much better. But buying a house out of our price range because we want to impress our in laws or the people driving by doesn't make fiscal or ethical sense.

We chose a house within minutes of my husband's job so he could spend more time with his family and less time on his commute. It's a solid house in a nice neighborhood, at the top end of our price range, but with room to grow. Our family has four in it at the moment, and we certainly hope for a couple more as the years go on. With the schools, the community and the size of our house, we could live here for 20 or 30 years and be quite happy.

But where are the poor in all this? What should I do to honor and help those who don't have the luxury of picking a nice house in a good neighborhood?

Habitat for Humanity International builds houses all over the world, for people who really need it. What a great way to take the poor with me in my new home!

Cars are a bit harder. A post on that should be coming soon.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

More Tea and Trade

I wrote the Upton Tea Company to request that they carry fair trade tea, and they wrote back this morning to inform me that the DO buy tea from several Fair Trade Certified Estates. Since they don't pay the "Fair Trade Premium", however, they can't advertise these teas as Fair Trade.

I was thrilled, and encouraged to write more letters to my favorite companies inquiring about their products. It helps get the word out, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Of Tea and Trade

Every day I buy things.

Every single day. I should have a "buy nothing" day at least twice a week, just to remind me not to consume.

At the moment, I'm contemplating my tea situation. Every morning I have a cup of tea. It's my caffeine for the day and as a mother with one child waking up 3+ times a night and the other requiring active play throughout the day, things can quickly reach DefCon 5 without my morning cuppa. But I've run out, and I need to discern first if and then where to buy more.

Ponder first Do I Really Need It?

This is always the hardest one. Tea has antioxidants and contributes to cardiovascular health. (After this study by German doctors I've stopped putting milk in my tea.) So it passes the nutrition test that requires all my food to be good for me. On the other hand, it has tannins that inhibit the absorption of iron, a problem for people like me who tend to be slightly anemic. This sort of counterbalances out the nutritional benefits. When it comes down to it, though, I drink tea because I like it. It has some benefits, but I could get by without it. That makes it an Extra rather than a Need.

So in keeping with the principles of Take the Poor With You, if I decide to indulge myself (which I will) I should give to charity equal the amount I spend.

Having made the decision to buy the tea, I need to research the company I buy from and determine Is it Ethical?

A google search of "Upton Tea" and "Upton Tea Ethics" raises no red flags, and they're not on any exploitation watch lists. But a search of the company's site doesn't turn up any results for "fair trade" either. So I have to dig a bit deeper.

I discover that there are several tea plantations around the world in which workers may sit on a governing council, wages are fair, and a percentage of the profits are returned to the community for education, healthcare, housing and opportunity advancement. There's a list of tea companies that buy their tea from these plantations, and one of them is in Traverse City, Michigan, where I spend my summers. I'm always happy to support local companies and small, privately-owned businesses; even better if they're organic and fair trade.

Light of Day Organics has a nice Darjeeling. It's not exactly cheap. 4.5 oz costs $27.50, which is comparable to some of the better organic teas, but about four times the cost of the conventional loose tea I usually get from the Upton Tea Company. They estimate about 20 cups of tea in each ounce, so this tin ought to last me three months. Compare to a box of Lipton, which runs $2.90 for twenty bags, or $13.75 for a three month supply. In essence, buying the fair trade tea is the same as buying a box of Lipton and giving equal that amount to charity, except that the fair trade tea directly benefits workers in developing countries who actually picked the tea I'm drinking, and buying fair trade increases the demand for ethical products in a way that giving to charity doesn't.

Win/Win, as far as I'm concerned. If I say a prayer for the workers every morning while I drink my cuppa, I will truly be taking the poor with me.