Drew Tulchin and Kevin Lynn
Holiday season is upon us, and— along with it—the annual spending spree. The National Retail Federation predicts Americans will spend over $586 billion, coming to a grand total of about $750 per person spent on gifts, holiday cards, décor and other holiday expenses.
It’s difficult not to get swept up in the season of giving. This year, however, let’s all stop for a moment while we’re deciding what to buy for our loved ones and think: Does this purchase reflect my values? It’s easy to see how buying organic, fair trade or “all natural” food can be an expression of our values. But, how do we put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, for items beyond food and clothes?
Every dollar spent, whether it be on goods and services, or on your credit card, mortgage payment or auto loan, builds capital which finances our economy. It is your choice where those dollars go and whom they benefit— local small businesses or international corporations.
Here are three ways to make a local difference this holiday season.
1. Buy local
The benefits of shopping locally are well documented. According to the NM Green Chamber of Commerce (NMGCC), for every $100 spent locally, $45 will circulate throughout the community. However, if you had spent that same $100 at a national chain, only $14 would stay.
Have you visited local bookstores, clothing stores, hardware stores, local artists and others? Don’t know where they are? There are lots of ways to find them. One option is Think Local’s local business search tool: www.thinklocal.com . The NMGCC has a business directory. The Santa Fe Chamber highlights its members as well.
2. Move your money
Where is your money creating wealth for others? Is it in the hands of a multi-national corporation, or in a community-centered institution? If it’s the former, maybe it’s time to move your money. Move Our Money USA is a national campaign to get our money out of big banks and into community banks and credit unions. To date, they have mobilized more than half a billion dollars. In 2010, the NM House of Representatives voted to move all of the state’s money into credit unions and community banks, recognizing that these local institutions are financially sound and actively work to generate wealth within their communities. They are FDIC-insured, so your money is safe. Local examples include Century Bank and Community Bank NM.
Credit unions are member-owned and -controlled cooperative banks. Qualifying for membership in most of our local institutions is easy. Del Norte Credit Union and the Guadalupe Credit Union are two northern-NM-based options, and the Permaculture Credit Union accepts any member who believes in the values of Permaculture. Nearly 100 million people have accounts at credit unions, with over $800 billion in deposits. And, 2012 is the UN Year of the Cooperative.
Want to see all your options? Move Our Money (www.moveourmoneyusa.org) has a tool that lists all the community banks and credit unions in your area.
But, why is moving your money to these institutions important? These localized institutions are the true “job-creators” of our local economy, but they can’t underwrite loans to small businesses without our capital. Give the gift of financial stability to your community by having your money go local.
3. Exchange your time
What if instead of time equaling money, time just equaled time? Across the country, time banks are becoming more and more popular as communities recognize the value of traditionally overlooked and unpaid work. The concept is simple: for every hour of your time you give, you receive a Time Dollar credit. That Time Dollar can be banked and spent when you need an hour of your neighbor’s time. TimeBank USA’s founder, Edgar Cahn, calls this “community weaving.”
One of the earliest and most famous forms of time exchange is Ithaca, NY’s ‘Ithaca HOURS.’ These HOURS are actual printed scrip that many local businesses accept as an alternative form of currency. Over $100,000 worth of HOURS are in circulation. Sound like an interesting idea? Join the Santa Fe Time Bank, whose mission is to “strengthen our community by matching unmet needs with untapped resources and honor individual contributions by using Time Dollar Exchange.” Learn more at www.santafetimebank.org
Your money does make a difference
Whether you spend $1 or $1 million this holiday season, your choices are important. We can’t all make our own gifts, eat free-range organic turkey and use homemade gift wrap, which we share with our loved ones. However, we can choose how we spend our money. It can be a gift to your community, neighbors, friends and to yourself. Imagine how much good could be done—how many small businesses funded, how many jobs created, how many families sustained—if everyone were to have their money go local in at least one new way this holiday season.
How it is possible
Local solutions are possible and being considered. According to John Katovich of Cutting Edge Capital, the amount of money held in all bank accounts of all the people living in Alameda County is enough to fund the total small business requests in the US three times over. In other words, if all of the individuals in just that county were to move their money into institutions like credit unions and community banks that work to generate wealth in their communities by actively lending, small businesses across the country could afford to buy new equipment, upgrade their systems and hire new workers.
Drew Tulchin and Kevin Lynn are with Social Enterprise Associates, a consulting firm helping businesses, NGOs, government and foundations achieve financial performance, social impact and environmental sustainability. Visit www.socialenterprise.net