Last week a regular reader posted a great comment on my blog post about free liquid syringes at Target. A Target shopper herself, she posed the question "how can we balance our desire to save money with our desire to avoid supporting the Big Boxes?" I think it is a great question, and doesn't not have an easy or perfect answer. Here is my approach.
Decide which one you want to frequent. Yes that says "one". I do not routinely shop at Big Box stores. Doing so would not keep with my frugal philosophy. The frugal upside is not just about saving money, but about saving time and resources as well. Driving to the edge of my city to save a few bucks isn't worth the gas or the time. Target caught my frugal eye with its baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula) and became a constant because it is located within a mile of my home. It is possible to walk or bike there, and we have on many occasions.
Avoid "retail therapy" where you simply wander around a store to "see what they have". Never shop without a list created before you left home. You need to use the store for your own agenda, don't let them use you for theirs. My list is almost always the same: diapers, wipes, medications, cat food and litter, and a few boxed food items.
Treat the Big Box as though it were a locally owned store. I have routinely asked my urban Target to get paper bags. Unless it is a "Super Target" they won't offer paper. I still ask though. Until they do, I bring my own re-usable bags....and they give my 0.05 cents off for each one I use. The market can be tough, and some Big Boxes are willing to make adjustments to fit the needs and desires of the neighborhood. Change may be slow, but it can still happen.
And finally, articulate your priorities. In our household that is financial health. We live below our means so that we can save aggressively for retirement and college. To achieve this we spend about $5,000 a year at Target. Knowing this makes it easier for me to decided where to shop. Promoting locally owned is great, but securing mine and my children's future is a little more great.
In the end, my opinion is that it is not so much where you shop, but how you shop that has the biggest impact on the earth. Thanks for the question. Please keep the comments coming!