Rob Cobb

Conscious consumerism scales

Updated May 01, 2014

This post originally appeared as a column in The Diamondback

This week, the Do Good Challenge rewarded the efforts of terrific groups, and it rewarded them the way that matters: with cold, hard cash. Notoriety and exposure help, but money spent is the most powerful indication of what an organization cares about.

After the event, it occurred to me that in the overall scheme of the university, the sums of money we applauded so fiercely were chump change. By my estimate, the tens of thousands in prize money is probably less than a student’s annual expenses while in college.

Sure, it likely costs much more to organize the Do Good Challenge, but the sum pales in comparison to the money the bursar’s office sees. If everyone who read this column gave $100, we would far outspend the Do Good Challenge. But giving $100 to a cause seems like so much, doesn’t it?

Count with me the number of times you spend $100 each month. The first hundred goes to rent, as does the second, and the third and the fourth. If you are very lucky, it stops about there. More likely than not, you shell out closer to eight Benjamins each month to live where you do.

If you are a full-time in-state student, your tuition and fees come to about $9,000, whether you or someone else is paying. If you are out of state, tough luck: You hand about 22 crisp $100 bills to the state every four weeks.

The next few hundreds go to a mishmash of fast-food restaurants, Dining Services and the grocery store. A few more hundreds pay for books, clothes, gas, insurance and beer.

Maybe you have heard this before, maybe this is the first time: Your spending habits have a tremendous impact. Imagine how you would feel if someone gave you 15 of those $100 bills today. Pretty exciting, huh? You have that impact and more every four weeks. Every year, you are a Do Good Challenge- and- a- half.

But where does the money usually go once it leaves your bank account (or your parents’ or the scholarship fund’s)?

Rent money goes to the state if you live in a dorm. From any of the other apartments, the money goes to a big conglomerate.

Follow the money a little further and you get managers and building costs. A great big chunk of profit is left over for some business oligarch far-away.

Tuition pays teachers and staff. Beer money goes to liquor stores and alcohol companies. Food money goes to all sorts of places, some good, some not so good. Gas money goes to big oil companies and elsewhere.

What’s the point of all this number-crunching?

As individuals, we ought to be conscious and critical of how we spend money. We should make sure our spending is in line with our morality.

We should exercise our great power as consumers: the power of the purse. Write letters to companies explaining your decisions to buy or not buy on ethical grounds. Buy from the Food Co-op. Think about where your gas money goes, and let that thinking change your behavior.

For any readers with power over this university’s budget (or any other large pile of cash), you probably realize what a huge responsibility you bear. Bear it well, and make the world better.

Conscious spending is hard, much harder than spending without thinking about it. If you have never thought about where the money goes after you swipe the card, you’re not a bad person; most people don’t think about it.

But it is worth thinking about.

🤓😽 Rob Cobb
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