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Counteracting the Social Cost of the "Big Box"

Recently, I had to make a very important purchase - a new dining set for my small, urban, one bedroom apartment. There was a lot of thought to go into it but price was (as it always is) one of the biggest factors I had to consider. I wanted to stay as close as possible to $100 for the purchase of a sturdy table and four chairs - while at the same time also getting what I purchased delivered directly to my apartment. Impossible you say? Not so when you have Walmart.com on your side (for better or worse). I found exactly what I needed - a table and four chairs - delivered free to my apartment for $129.00 (plus tax).

My dilema? It's Walmart - Evil, greedy, corporate, take-our-jobs-overseas, Walmart (in case you were confused about which one). I had to wrestle long and hard with myself and decide if the $75 or so dollars is worth the social cost and after some "desperate" justification I feel it is. This is certainly something I wouldn't share with my closest friends, to them this table was purchased "online", but I have found a way to make myself feel better about the purchase and balance out some of the "evil". It is the "social cost" that has effected me the most and my decision to buy from a faceless corporate entity instead of my local furniture store is what I have been thinking about most.

We all know it is important to purchase items locally for a reasons that are too numerous to to list but the biggest reason to do so is that the money stays local and finds its way back into the community. How can I buy local when I am on a budget though? Craigslist is one way to go - and I could have helped the environment at the same time by recycling furniture instead of buying something brand new. The problem with this is that the thought of purchasing the item, in person, from a stranger, is creepy to me. I could be murdered, raped, or even worse - have to make small talk. There's also the local retail stores but for the same thing I would have spent $75 or more for something that is comparable - with no free delivery. In addition to the higher price tag and the fact that the item would not be delivered free - I don't know where the money at my local place is going - small business owners can be some of the most interesting people in the world and for all I know the owner of "Joe's Furniture Barn" might funnel that money to Nazi sympathizers, Al-Qaeda, or even use the money at Target (and I am currently boycotting Target for my own social and political reasons).

My justification for shopping at Walmart (when they are clearly more "evil" than Target) is that I can use the money I saved in my own way, for my own causes, on my own terms, directly. I can donate all (or some) of the money I saved to my favorite local charities and create and help my own personal socially responsible initiatives. I can use the money I saved to donate directly - which will affect my own bottom line - because I can get the small tax "write off" (instead of the company I purchase from). Most importantly the chunk of money I am saving can go to the things I care about and love so it all balances out. Right?

I thought so. If you are struggling with your own purchases - think outside the box. My only purchase made at Walmart (dot com - not the store - I couldn't be seen at the store) this year was my dining set and it was carefully thought out. That $129.00 I spent will have helped me as well as some of my local charities, and while it is not a place I plan on shopping at regularly, it is an option that has helped me with my own budget goals - which is always a win.