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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buying like the Third World

During my college years I like to take courses outside my major. It really is a wonder how I was able to squeeze out a double major in two years. There was so much interesting stuff going on and I wanted a sample of as much of it as possible.

That’s how a Journalism major found himself in a Business course. Here’s a little known secret of college. Any sort of English major does well when taking other courses. It’s not that we understand the material better than the other students; our papers are much easier to read. The professors find a decent paper a relief. After slogging through badly written papers, anything half way readable is bumped up at least a full letter grade.

I digress. On thing that stuck with me is how consumer products are marketed to the Third World. Stuff the First World buys in big containers, shampoo, laundry soap, spices, and so on, the Third World buys in single use packages. Storage is an issue. They don’t have safe places to keep all that stuff. The main problem is price. They can’t afford the 20 ounce bottle of shampoo so they buy the one ounce.

They pay a lot more money for the same stuff. It’s another penalty of being poor. People lack the capital necessary to take advantage of buying in bulk. People live day to day. There are some advantages to that as they stress less about tomorrow. On the down side, they don’t make the sort of purchases that pay off in the long run. To be fair, sometimes they just can’t do it. Buying that big bottle of shampoo may mean being unable to buy cooking oil and spices and aspirin that day.

Today I found myself using Third World buying strategies. Instead of buying a tank of heating oil, I bought 5 gallons of off road diesel to pour in the furnace’s tank. At the same time, I got a 20 pound propane bottle filled instead of filling the 250 pound tank. I did not want to tie up that much money -money I really don’t have right now. No doubt it cost me a bit more to buy in smaller volume, and there certainly was a lot more handling and effort on my part.

At one time I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying big truckloads of energy. Being on the automatic fill program that stuff just happened in the background. Of course, then the big bill appeared in the mail box and it would have to get paid.

My current purchases are even more third world than small volume purchases. My oil furnace is getting old. It won’t be replaced with another oil furnace. My propane kitchen stove won’t be replaced with another propane stove. By next winter, I’d like a good air tight kitchen woodstove for cooking and heating.

Wood has a much lower energy density than petrochemical fuels. The Third World cooks and heats with wood. Yes, in some ways I’m living like a Third World peasant.

Why did I buy diesel and propane today? To buy time. Time not gathering and processing wood allows me to do other things -like write this blog. Capital not invested in big tanks of fuel will go towards that new fuel efficient woodstove. Call it a more managed descent into Third World living.



  1. My suggestion: don't *buy* a wood stove at all. Build your own rocket stove.

    1. Good suggestion. Too bad my wife isn't too keen on them. My rocket stove project has been put on the back burner, so to speak.

      I should have mentioned there's a fair chance of getting what I want used, in good condition.

  2. I spent a few wonderful hours in the sun today, cutting up firewood for my woodstove with an amazing little handsaw... the activity was very third world and I loved it... guess you would too...

  3. I've got a good 3.5 foot German crosscut saw that does wonders. Right now my wife isn't feeling a bit unwell so I've been picking up the work she usually does too. Only so many hours in the day.

  4. sixbears we all will have to make choices in the next 10 years that will be 3rd world.Your choices now will put you ahead of those that have to due to lack of supply.Petro chemicals will go up and become scarce.Making 3rd world choices isnt a step back when you have the means to do them right and do them volentary.Most people dont get it but you do living cheaper allows you to live more! Changeing your lifestyle by choice beats being forced to by poverty. PS keep a propane camp stove and few tanks full for the days when its to hot for a wood stove.

    1. I could not live and enjoy life if I spent money on what everyone else spends money on. Keeping a little propane stove for summer cooking is a good idea and I'm thinking of a good way of imprementing it here.

  5. I used to heat my home with wood. It warmed me twice; once when cutting it and once when burning it.

  6. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)May 6, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    I think everyone who is smart will start to make some changes too. Our oil take is full, but we used the wood stove to heat the house this winter saving the oil for only hot water uses. I don't use the dryer, I hang laundry outside. Small changes in lifestyles now will make living in tomorrow's world easier. Like you, we don't need nor want what others think they must have.

  7. A lot of people will suddenly find themselves having to downsize their life. Some of us have a head start, that's all.

  8. We're living third world a lot & grateful that we recognize it's significance and prefer it to being on the consumer treadmill.

    Sweetie was going to buy some gray plastic conduit to run electrical to the washer. I said, why bother? We have a heavy duty extension cord operating it now. I use it once a week. It works; it's safely run & connected. Leave it be.

    He wanted a riding mower. Again, I asked why? The grass can only be watered once a week on Mondays. It's sparse anyway & too hot to mow. Over time, why not turn it into a desert scape, more trees, fruit trees, raised beds, etc.

    I'd much rather we got solar panels or a on demand generator that we may only use occasionally. He mentioned having a solar water heater on his boat & we could have one here. Fine. In the meantime, our only propane expense is the water heater & we wash clothes in cold water; bath in luke warm or cool and do dishes every other day. Decided to gather the materials for a passive solar water heater & set it up at some later date.

    Simplify, simplify, simplify is the best approach.

  9. Beats having to find a job. At least that's the way I feel about it.