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The Economic Stimulus Package: Socially Responsible Spending

Whilst acknowledging that the forthcoming Federal Government stimulus package must contribute to the reinvigoration of the economy and support employment, this article suggests ideas on how to spend your $900 in a way that adds to the economy in a socially-responsible or ethical way.

Many Australians will use their stimulus payment to reduce their credit card bill or other debts, and this is an absolutely compelling and valid use of the payment. However, for others the temptation will be to snap up a new flat-screen TV or latest fashionable outfit.

Some of the ideas below will benefit you directly — you will get your new pair of shoes — but you’ll also be improving our society, not just our economy.

It would be preferable to spend your money in stores that are Australian owned and that sell Australian made products. For example, if you spend at foreign-owned department stores, you’re helping keep Aussies employed at their stores (which is great!), but the money spent will also be sending big bucks overseas. Also remember that if you buy over the internet, you could be buying from overseas.

I’m a big believer in karma — so spend wisely!!! Do one of these things or do all of them to ensure you’ve contributed to an OVERALL positive impact for Australia rather than just pumping money into the economy. By directing your money into more charitable outlets, send a message to the Australian Government that our country is not defined by our material desires but rather by a concern for people too.

Here are some ideas about how you might use all (or part) of your stimulus payment:

1) Buy twenty pairs of shoes and give them to organisations such as Soles4Souls (www.soles4souls.org), or make a cash donation. Footwear is a basic need that most of us take for granted every day. A pair of shoes protects feet from scrapes, cuts and contaminants that lead to potentially serious health issues for people who cannot afford them.

Alternatively, if you buy yourself a nice new pair of shoes, do so on the condition that you donate a pair of your old (but still in reasonable condition) shoes in return.

2) Similarly, many large retail or department stores have end-of-season sales where clothes are sold below cost just to get rid of the stock. For example, I saw quality tracksuit pants on sale the other day for just $6 — a tiny investment for something that will help keep someone warm in the middle of a chilly winter’s night.

3) Buy a trolley load of non-perishable groceries and donate them to the Exodus Foundation (or a similar organisation which helps the homeless and/or struggling families). You can get an overflowing trolley load of stuff for $200 that can help up to six families of four who otherwise would not have eaten or cleaned that week. Over 100,000 people in Australia are homeless and living below the poverty line.  So, before you buy yourself a shiny new television think of the people who won’t even be eating that night, let alone sitting down to watch television or even taking a shower. Sorry about the guilt trip, but a fact is a fact.

Check out this site for an example of the type of goods that are needed:

4) Finally buy those green grocery bags you’ve always said you would or buy a spare set to keep in the car so you are never caught without them at the shops again. A $10 investment for half a dozen bags could prevent you from contributing to the (over) 6 BILLION plastic bags used in Australia alone every year.

5) If you need to upgrade a computer or any associated equipment and now have the money in your hot little hand to do it go for it! But make the condition that you will donate the replaced item to an organisation that will refurbish the item and send it out for use by community members who can’t afford to purchase them themselves. For example the Computerbank Project www.computerbank.org.au refurbishes used machines and distributes them to low-income individuals and families. There are organisations in each state of Australia who also do this. Google it! At minimum find out where you can drop off your old computer locally for recycling.

6) Take your elderly relatives out for lunch in your community dining locally and spreading some joy to relatives who might not have the opportunity to interact socially or who simply would enjoy your company. Depression amongst the elderly is an often undiagnosed and unnoticed problem. You could bring happiness to someone who is isolated or alone.

7) Use the money to cover the costs or fees associated with re-financing a loan that may not be right for you. It’s not an immediate injection into the economy, but will set you up for when times get even tougher and could save you thousands over the term of your loan.

8) Go ahead and spoil yourself with a new piece of clothing but think of it as a replacement and donate two items from your closet in return to the Salvo’s or Vinnies. The same applies to books, jewellery, kitchenware and other general household items.

9) Buy a water tank and/or go solar! There are government rebates that apply to some of these purchases and you’ll end up saving yourself money in the long run by running a more energy-efficient household whilst also reducing your personal carbon footprint.

10) Buy some native trees or plants for your garden. Native plants generally require less water and maintenance than non-natives and can provide a valuable habitat for native animals.

11) Join http://www.simplesavings.com.au. Membership is only $47 for the first year and you will save that same amount countless times over with the vast amount of tricks and tips available online. At minimum, sign up for their weekly (free) newsletter and check out the Tip Sheets available free on their website. By adopting a more cost-effective lifestyle, you will no longer continue to feed the unrealistic material drive of our current society. People who spend more money than they earn suffer the consequences of massive debt and disintegrating relationships. Simple Savings shows you how to lower your expenses and reduce stress.

12) Take a week off work! Consider the stimulus payment your pay for the week and go volunteer somewhere instead. You’ll still be spending your money via your normal weekly expenses, but contributing to your community, your state or your country at the same time.

13) Alternatively, take the morning off work (considering part of your stimulus payment as reimbursement for the unpaid hours off work) and donate blood. You could save three lives — all for an hour of your time.

14) Buy toys or gifts that you will donate at the end of the year to Christmas gift-giving appeals.

15) Party! Invite your friends over for a BBQ or a dinner but ask that they bring items to donate to a charity of your choice. You’ll be spending money by buying food and drinks, plus they’ll be spending money by bringing an item to donate. For example, hold a dinner party, but ask that everyone brings a pair of shoes (see suggestion one) or five non-perishable food items (see suggestion two). If you have 10 people over for dinner, you could help feed a family for a week.

You’ll enjoy each others company (care of the Australian Government!) and help the charity of your choice at the same time.

16) Donate to a local community infrastructure project. Find out what fundraising is going on in your local area (at a school or sports club for example) and support it! Infrastructure creates both short-term and long-term jobs and has a positive impact on your local community. 

17) Write a Will. For those of us who don’t have one, this is probably something that has been put off or added to a to-do list for later. Use the money from the stimulus payment to get a Will created properly. At minimum, buy a Will-Kit from the post office and do it yourself. Consider allocating a proportion to a charity or community group whose work is close to your heart.

18) Before purchasing anything with the stimulus money, ask yourself these questions:

a. Do I actually NEED this, or do I just WANT this?
b. Who benefits from this purchase? Me? My family? My community? My society?
c. What is the bigger picture behind this purchase? Where does the money spent go to?

Have you ever purchased something that was so cheap you wondered how the retailer could possibly make money from it? Once you factor in the cost of materials, manufacture and (often overseas) distribution how can a USB thumb drive only cost $5?

If you have pondered this thought, I highly recommend you watch The Story of Stuff. It’s an excellent short documentary about the reality of production and consumption patterns: www.resistance.org.au/resistance/storyofstuff.

There are also several Facebook groups about the Story of Stuff to check out.

For the record, I have no commercial interest in any of these recommendations and suggestions.

This article first appeared on the website for the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia