Voting with Your Dollars

With the Occupy Wall Street movement gaining momentum across the country—from Wall Street to Oakland to demonstrations here in town—it’s clear the American people are fed up with the way things are now. For some, the “occupy” mentality is a nuisance. For others, it’s a mantra. At heart, it’s the idea of the old-school Main Street filled with “Mom ‘n Pop” stores—when, back in the day, you went downtown and bought bread from the baker, meat from the butcher, and nails from the hardware store. And all those people, and all the people they employed, made a decent living providing those products and services.

Nowadays, we have the convenience of lots of different goods and services under one roof. We can do just about everything we need in a few box stores… but at what cost? (People tend to focus solely on financial costs, and forget all the others: health, social, moral, etc.) The easy answer is to insert here a Top 10 list of “Why to Buy Local” and call it a day. And most of the reasons are true: it’s good for the environment, good for the tax base, it supports your neighbors (who in turn support your kids’ teams, area trail projects, and local nonprofits), it encourages entrepreneurship, and it helps create a diverse local culture in your town. But that list isn’t enough.

What many people don’t realize is that when you spend your dollar, it’s a vote—and you vote multiple times each day. You decide who gets your money, who will be successful in the world of business, who will grow, who will have the most influence, and ultimately, who will wield the most power. Whether you like processed meat from a box store or organic grass-feed beef from the local ranch, you’ve decided which company—and which industry—to support. Your dollars are on their way to those in power. You just chose what percentage of those dollars will be kept locally.

These days, it might be a hard choice and your budget might more strongly influence where you shop. While it’s true that times are tight for most of us, what if you changed just $10 of your monthly spending to a locally owned and operated store? Just $10. A month. For a year. What if everyone around here did it? If everyone in Gallatin County (~90,000) shifted $10 a month to a locally owned and operated business, just over $6 million would go back into the local economy. If everyone in Park County (~15,600) followed suit, over $1 million would go back into the local economy. And if everyone in Madison County (~7,000) did it, about half a million dollars would go back into the local economy. All told, that’s well over $7 million for economy of southwest Montana for only $10 a month.*

Over $7 million a year! (And that’s when you shift just $10 of your spending—imagine the results if you did more.) Nobody’s asking you to give up the next few weeks or months of your life to occupy something. You don’t have to spend Saturdays crusading around town preaching the buy-local mantra. It only takes a moment. The next time you’re going to save some of your hard-earned money by visiting at a box store, stop and think if you could help yourself, your neighbor, your community, and spend it locally. Let that thought occupy your mind, and maybe, if enough people follow suit, all the protesters can leave Wall Street and on the way home, pick up some steaks from a local butcher.

* (All calculations based on 83% of the population being over 18, spending $10/mo for 12 months, with 68% of the revenue remaining in the local economy. Based, in part, on the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics.) 

Mark Bossinbrook owns and operates the Bozeman edition of Rely Local. Find a list of locally-owned businesses around southwest Montana at