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Michelle and I managed to go out to dinner tonight. It wasn’t an elaborate affair, just a restaurant she wanted to try. Afterwards we ended up at Target.

She gathered a few things for her classroom and I, in typical fashion, went to the clearance sections. Most of the things I want are purchased online. I go to the convenience store and grocery store, but that is about it. I haven’t been inside a Walmart in years, and when I went to the mall last month I came home sick. Seriously. It was as if I had been interred with unvaccinated masses. Whatever it was it kept me out of commission for a week.

So I’m standing in the men’s clothing section of Target and thinking, “What do I need?”

Underwear. Not just any old stuff. I needed Ex-Officio. Target does not carry $30 underwear. A quick search online revealed Ex-Officio uses a nylon/spandex blend. Champion and Jockey both have the same thing, and they were on clearance. I also walked out of the store with two shirts, a pair of fleece-type bottoms, and a lightweight pullover (which I will sleep in on the trail). All of it on clearance. For just a few dollars more than one new pair of Ex-Officio briefs I cleared my list. But why?

I’m still a slave to consumerism. I would have gone to REI and thrown down more money for items that are made in the same factory as the stuff I bought at Target. It is psychological.

“If you buy it from an outfitter it means it is specifically meant for the outdoors. It’s better than what you can buy at another store.”

That is true for some things, but not all things. Some of the crap we needed to accumulate was very specific; tarps for hammocks, compression sacks, sleeping bags, shoes, backpacks. Other things are not. Who cares about the underwear? If it is the same material it is the same underwear. The company does not have a magic stitching process that makes it better, because the item is sewn in the same factory as all the other underwear. The only difference is the label.

I recently read a forum post where “Patagucci” was mentioned. This is the term used for designer label outdoor gear that costs more than it should, and does not perform any better than an item that costs less. Patagonia is making a killing with the new “Lumberjack” look that is making a come back. I went into my gear bin to find out if I owned anything with a Patagonia label. I don’t. I’m not sure if that means I am too frugal or made poor choices.

Here is what I do know. We have first world problems. It stems from our desire to have a thing, and it could be any old thing. Take vegetables, for instance.

We have friends that will only shop at Whole Foods. We are told the products there are more natural and therefore better for us. We buy our vegetables from a grocery store at times, but we prefer the curb markets that populate our area (woe to Cobb County for closing that family store). The vegetables we buy at the curb stands are less expensive than Whole Foods, and they are also the surplus… of what Whole Foods did not buy from them! True story.

I have a friend and his wife will not buy any other bread other than Nature’s Own Honey Wheat. I told her the store brand honey wheat was the same thing only in a different bag. How do I know this? Because I worked at the bakery where it was made. If we needed to have 500 more loaves of a particular store brand honey wheat I simply had the people change the bags until we hit the number, and then it was back to Nature’s Own.

It’s like that with a lot of things. Some people have caught on, and the market has responded. Aldi’s, a chain of grocery stores, does not sell any name brand items. They also require you to bag your own groceries, but so what? It’s cheaper.

I think the economic collapse of 2008 made many people reconsider what they were doing with money. It is a volatile relationship, and it can make or break families. I also think some people are stuck in the old way of thinking. If a washing machine breaks they go to an appliance store and purchase a new one. We almost did that, but stopped and thought about it. For 70% less money we can buy a used one that had been refurbished. Clark Howard is my idol. He tells people to buy used stuff all the time. And use coupons. I imagine his wife might be a little pissed off, because their furniture probably does not match, but they are wealthy. He claims he only buys used cars, and will not get rid of one until it has reached close to 200,000 miles. I believe him. He takes his staff on a vacation every summer, to Europe or an exotic locale, and he pays for it. It ain’t cheap to fly the staff, and interns, for a national syndicated radio program.

I’m glad my thinking regarding possessions and money has changed, and Bailey has the same ideas. Michelle has always been frugal, but my son and I tend to be indiscriminate with money. Now, as we find ourselves concerned about ounces and grams, we look to every day items that can do something. I hope after this adventure we maintain that mindfulness.

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