Wal-mart No More

Over time, we all start developing patterns in life that we follow simply because they feel comfortable. We follow these patterns even though we don’t always remember why we made the choices that led to them in the first place. We did the research, we made the choice, and we just lean on the idea that at one point it was fresh and new and we trust our past selves for making that call. 

I think too often, we all do this. Too often, out of habit and trust for those ingrained patterns, we just keep on keeping on–living the choices we made yesterday. Or, living the choices someone made for us when we were young. And, that’s culture, right? The way we cook our food, the holidays we celebrate, the places we live, and on and on. Even the places we shop. 

We do all these things with little thought, and usually, we forget there’s even a choice to be made. It’s what’s there, it’s what’s convenient, it’s simply what we do. 

Our goal on this blog, and for those who decide to do life with us, is to challenge and be challenged by these habits. We will make choices with awareness, putting the ideals we have and the legacy we want to leave at the forefront of our decision making. We live a life in which we TRY to be intentional, and we constantly alter our path to ensure we continue in the direction we want to go. 


Choices

For over two decades, we have intentionally made our life as low-impact as possible, yet sometimes we still realize that we don’t always remember where our habits originate. We have to take time to recollect the information we originally used to make certain choices. While we are sometimes emotionally rocked by being called out on the bad habits we still have, we try to fully embrace these moments with an open mind. We SHOULD revisit our choices as often as possible. 

Recently, someone asked me why I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and I had to drum up all the information we used to make this choice. Thank goodness for kind, patient, friends who whole-heartedly want to understand and love us in spite of our perceived oddities. After that initial discussion, the topic came up several more times in the past few months, so now seems like the right time to publish a more public explanation. Perhaps this can also be a file I can return to in the future, to reconsider, or elaborate on, as our path continues to evolve

Whether or not my thoughts about Wal-Mart resonate with you or influence the choices you make, I at least hope to inspire you to remember that you are indeed making a choice. You are making a choice with every dollar, a choice that shouldn’t be taken for granted. These choices you make, ALL of them, not just shopping at one big box store, have an impact on your life, on the planet, and on those around you.

The choice we made not to frequent this particular store was a process, just like every decision we make to live a lower-impact lifestyle.  The reasons behind taking our business elsewhere are many, but I’ll focus on just a few here, not so much in order of importance as in the chronological order in which the information began to affect our decision-making.

Drew worked at Wal-Mart for the first four years of our life together, and a year before that to get through college. When he started his job, it was merely a seasonal way to earn money for tuition. He started during winter break as a cart-pusher making ten dollars an hour. At the time, that was a good wage and is representative of what the economy looked like at that moment in history. He was encouraged to stay with Wal-Mart, even after earning his degree, because it is said that hard-working individuals easily work their way up the ladder into management positions and high salaries. So, he did just that. After putting in years as a cashier, he moved on to managing toys, children’s clothing, and, his favorite, the lawn, and garden center. All of these roles were extremely stressful and majorly demanding, but the pay was hardly substantial. However, it was stable. There was never much fear of losing his job because Wal-Mart wasn’t going away.

Wal-Mart also lures you in with ‘perks’ like employee discounts and stock options. So, what’s the bad part? They work it. Like most corporations, they make every effort NOT to pay their employees a living wage. They keep as many employees as possible under full-time hours in order to avoid paying higher salaries and benefits. It is a calculated strategy in which they formally train employees about how to take advantage of government subsidized programs like MediCaid, WIC, and Food Stamps. Yes, Wal-Mart actually holds meetings with employees about using these programs to make up for the low wages they pay. One element of training includes remaining unmarried so as to qualify for more of these benefits. Wal-Mart couldn’t exist without these government programs to fill in for what they withhold from their employees. Instead of paying a living wage, they offer insubstantial perks, like a 10% store discount, from which they continue to profit off their underpaid employees who lack fair paychecks, full-time hours, and healthcare. In the end, consumers are paying in tax dollars what Wal-Mart refuses to pay their employees, in spite of earning massive profits. In the end, it is a choice that only fosters a cycle of poverty and the exportation of jobs from the United States to foreign manufacturers.

I don’t only blame Wal-Mart for getting to this point. Their slogan, ‘Save Money. Live Better.’ is enough to intrigue any penny-wise individual. We ALL want to keep our money in our pockets. In order to under-cut other establishments, Wal-Mart has set a new standard; a standard that everything else comes after the lowest price. This is the driving force behind all they do. Customer service, employee happiness, quality, ethical production, and local impact are ignored because the company is doing all it can to minimize prices for the consumer, and be THE store people shop at. I don’t think this was Sam Walton’s vision, but when low-prices are your first priority, this is where the road leads.

Out of sight slavery, is still slavery

I do, however, blame Wal-Mart for sweatshops. They make a conscious decision every day to buy products produced overseas in conditions that are unethical and downright dangerous for factory workers. It’s not OK to benefit from this type of labor, even if it is overseas, or across the border where we can’t see it. It is simply not OK.  It’s time to be responsible and realize that our choices affect the well being of people and families around the globe.

I could go on about the way I FEEL when I walk into a Wal-Mart. The neon-lighting; the toxic smells; the rows and rows of items I don’t need somehow jumping into my cart; and not a single employee available to help me in ANY WAY. But that’s all just my personal experience and I suppose there are local establishments that could make me feel the same way. 

Remember those American jobs I mentioned? Wal-Mart drives prices down, forcing many American manufacturers out of the country, or out of business, just to save a few cents here and there. Local purveyors, often demonized as ‘middle-men’, are put out of business after decades of serving their communities. I would rather pay a few cents more for every item I buy, knowing that my purchase benefits the local economy and not some high-paid executive or foreign manufacturer. And yes, I said everything I buy. And yes, my finances are good now and I feel free to make that choice, but this is not a new choice. We haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart since Drew quit in 2007, back when we were still personally subsidized by Uncle Sam. Simply put, we decided we’d rather have less, and do more good. You do not need to be rich to make these choices, you just need to change your priorities. (here’s another story on this kind of destruction)

WalMart takes & takes. We’ve known many store managers and they are all trapped. They get great pay and great benefits, but are literally on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and often work upwards of 80 hours per week. They are run ragged and threatened at every turn with replacement. This is a technique Wal-Mart also uses with product vendors–bringing them in so they grow their company, then telling them they’ll be dropped if they don’t lower prices, forcing them to send jobs overseas or close their doors. It is truly predatory behavior.


Pay less, get less

The truth is if we are always paying less, we are always getting less. Everyone is. From the sweatshop workers and the environment, to the store managers and the customers themselves, we are all paying a high price for low-cost products.

While you may not feel compelled to #quitwalmart yet, I hope you will consider ways to have this kind of impact with your hard earned cash. My goal in life used to be to keep every dollar possible in my own pocket. Now my goal is to have the biggest impact with every dollar I spend. This goal is one reason we work exclusively with doTERRA oils. doTERRA collaborates with wellness advocates that are passionate about connecting people with safe and natural products. The company also works with a global network of growers and their families to make sure both the earth, and the humans creating the products we use, are treated with respect and dignity.  Other essential oil companies cut out these vital partnerships in order to offer lower quality products at lower prices.  

When it comes down to it, I think the REAL issue is values. Value what you buy, value how it’s made, and value the people involved in the process. 

Ultimately, I don’t blame Wal-Mart alone. We the people have demanded it with our purchases. We are convinced that cheaper is better. We are herded like cattle toward the ‘Spend Less. Live Better.’ mentality without really making the choice for ourselves. We are voting with our money. We must accept responsibility. Of course, there are other stores that have similar practices, and we can make better choices about those places, too. If we take the time to educate ourselves and grasp the power of our choices, we will have a giant impact not just on our future, but our current economy as well. The economy of our communities, neighbors, and friends; an economy based on our values. 

Finally, I don’t blame you for shopping Wal-Mart (or any of the other stores that fuel our desire to spend less), or for feeling overwhelmed by disillusion. The truth is that our modern society makes this model acceptable, so it’s replicated in many other stores like Dollar Tree, 5 Below, Target, and even Costco.


The Hope

If all this is getting you down, know that THERE IS HOPE. If we, the people, had something to do with this entrenched cultural norm, we can also set it aside and do better. Now you know better, too, so use this knowledge to change some of your habits, however small. Use this knowledge to dig a little deeper, just as we are on a mission to do ourselves. Our everyday lives make an impact, let’s stop pretending they don’t. 

Want to learn more? This article expands on the inner-workings of the Wal-Mart business model.

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