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Taking Time

The last few days I’ve been doing the difficult job of making fundraising contacts for my son’s school. It’s usually not terribly easy to make these calls, even when local businesses are flush with cash. This year it’s painful.
My son’s school has a yearly performance which features a program with ads from local sponsors. This is a big feature of the school’s arts program. People who have only been involved with public schools might not realize what the reality is for private schools. My son’s school charges 80% of the money it needs in tuition. It then has to go out and find the other 20%. They do this for a good reason: they keep the tution artificially low so that families like ours can just (almost) fit it into our budget. And they also raise donations to cover the families who can’t afford the tuition even where it is. Of course, there are wealthy families at the school. And I know that they give more than their proportion to the school, and I’m grateful to them. But most of us aren’t wealthy enough that a monthly tuition deduction from our bank accounts doesn’t hurt. So we help the school with our time.
My son’s school has a focus on environmental science, and they have invested a lot in becoming as “green” a school as they can. So I contacted local green businesses that I knew, in good years, would love to advertise in the program. The parents and community that our school attracts are their perfect demographic. This year, however, the answer was the same: We’re already struggling. But please call us next year.
I’ve also contacted, so far, a couple of the local “biggies” — businesses that in good years are almost always willing to give at least a token to local schools. Their “please contact us next year” replies were similarly quick.
This ties into something that’s been on my mind a lot, which is how we can cut our household budget. I keep contemplating what we can do without, even though our income hasn’t gone down. It just seems the prudent thing to do in times like these. The problem is, we don’t really live extravagantly, and all the things I think about cutting would have an immediate effect on a local person or business. And then my husband reminds me: what we really need to be doing now is holding down the fort. If we haven’t seen our income cut yet, we should keep our spending up to normal amounts because it feeds back into the whole ailing system that’s reeling not only from all the bad decisions from the past, but the sudden frugality of the American consumer.
We’re all thinking twice before we buy things. And that feeds back into the whole reason why we’re cutting expenses. If you decide you should cut back on clothing expenses, for example, and all the women who shop at the same local store do the same, that’s a lost job for at least one employee at that store. When that employee loses her job, she has to cut her spending. So she and a bunch of other clients stop paying to have their hair cut. And so on down the line it goes.
Patricia Marx is a very funny writer who publishes in the New Yorker. She has a style of article she writes for them that pretends to be a shopping guide, and really is a shopping guide, but also has a point embedded into it with a lavish slap of humor on the top. Her article about buying American-made products made me laugh, and was also food for thought.
I am a staunch supporter of buying local when we can. I don’t go to stores that clearly charge outrageous prices, but I am willing to spend somewhat more at a local store, knowing that it will feed back into our economy. But buying American-made? That’s becoming harder and harder. But it’s worth a try. I love that even at the bins in the health food store, I can see where things come from. I am happy to pay a slightly higher price for my flax seeds grown in the U.S.A. over the ones imported from China. I am trying to take more time to actually look at labels and consider: where is my money going? Who is it supporting?
And so it comes back to time. Somehow I am taking on more work than usual, homeschooling a child, and fundraising for a school. The cool thing is, time just ticks along, no matter what the economy is doing. My contribution is, if nothing else, grabbing all the long space between each of those ticks to do what I can. Hopefully things will get better, but if there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that Americans will slow down and start to notice where their money goes. And think about it. And act.

Posted in Parenting.

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