A localist gives tips on how to shop local

When was the last time you stopped at Target for one or two items, and walked out with only those items? Probably never. Now imagine not going to Target (or Wal-Mart, or Macy’s or any corporate-owned retail operation) at all … for an entire year. Could you do it?

Carrie Rollwagen did. The Birmingham, Ala.-based writer declared war on big business, opting instead to spend her money at local shops. She started blogging about it, thinking she would experience crazy antics on a quest to find toilet paper or shop local every day without going broke.


“I was prepared to be poor, but the opposite was true,” Rollwagen says. “I spent a lot less money.” She also found it pretty effortless to find local vendors of the items she needed via websites and social media.

It all made for a pretty boring blog, she says, but the project led her to write a Kickstarter-funded, self-published book — “The Localist” ($20) — about the economics of shopping small.


Rollwagen offers lessons in conscious consumerism without condemnation. She suggests that we acknowledge the impact our dollars have on the world and make decisions that align our spending with our deeper values and beliefs. But she says it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

“The best way to be a localist is to be local-ish,” Rollwagen says. Viewing local or small businesses or makers movement or American-made products as first choices instead of a last resort can go a long way in bringing social and economic change.

One of the biggest objections to shopping local is that it costs more, but Rollwagen managed a year of local shopping on a salary of $13,000.

“Even though I spent more on each product, I spent far less overall,” she says. How can this be? Shopping local has a way of eliminating impulse buys. It can force you to delay a purchase until you can drive to the store or find a suitable shop, and by then, says Rollwagen, you may discover your need was actually a want.

You can start moving to a local-ish lifestyle by just identifying one area in which to shop local. Rollwagen suggests food (groceries, restaurants) or art (music, movies, books) since these tend to be two of the main categories of consumption that are strongly influenced by corporate interests.

Use social media to find and share information about local businesses, she says. Ask for recommendations, give your own reviews or even connect directly with small businesses to ask questions about their practices.

Be sure to confirm that a local or small business is who they say they are. A franchise operation, for example, may meet the standard for local if it sends a small amount of profits to corporate headquarters and makes local decisions, Rollwagen says.

Mostly, she says, just try to be more aware. Know that your money matters and that you have a choice in how you spend it.

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