What's Your Favorite Consumer Empowerment Tip?

One of our favorite themes at Casual Kitchen is consumer empowerment, and it's a fundamental article of faith here that consumers have far more power over big companies than they think.

After all, companies that make overpriced, unhealthy foods absolutely cannot sell them without our consent. We consumers, by our very act of consumption, are the ones who complete the circle.

Long-time Casual Kitchen readers intuitively understand this, but there are many consumers out there who struggle to grasp this important concept. As a result, they simply give their power away.

We can't have that. So today I'm sharing my favorite consumer empowerment tips, and at the end of this post I'll open it up to you, dear readers, to join in and share your favorites with all the readers here at Casual Kitchen.

CK's Top Five Consumer Empowerment Tips:

1) Be a contrarian: stock up on things when they're unwanted, out of season, or in oversupply.

2) Never be an early adopter.

3) Avoid TV and other media, and respond to media-based advertising with deep and open cynicism.

4) When you see any product being heavily advertised, think about the enormous cost of that advertising, and then think of yourself paying for that advertising when you buy that product. Before long, you'll see heavily advertised products for what they are: destroyers of consumer value.

5) Recognize that no company forces anyone to buy anything. Even the most evil or greedy company relies on us to consent to buy their products. We consumers complete the circle.

Readers, what's your favorite piece of pro-consumer advice? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Julia said...

I totally agree with point number 1 -- whenever something's on sale, I stock up and freeze it. But... (and I'm sure you knew this was coming) I would offer a caveat to the "out-of-season" suggestion. Produce out of season is rarely cheaper, and even if it is, it is usually inferior in taste and quality since it was shipped from far away. When buying produce -- always go for in-season. And buy at the farmers' market... even if it seems more expensive, the money you spend will stay in your community and be reinvested.

girlwithgreenhair said...

I agree with Julia that buying produce seasonally and locally at your farmer's market is the best way to go. For the same price as four combos at a fast food place, you can get an entire chicken and a couple different vegetables at a farmer's market, for example, which is far healthier and better-tasting.

Something else I do to stretch my consumer dollars even further - after eating a roast chicken, save the carcass. The extra meat can go into chicken salad or a stew, and then you can boil down the rest into a wonderful stock. Definitely a better investment than a Happy Meal! I do the same with bones and gravy/drippings from hams and pot roasts.

Matt @ SpoonMatters said...

I took "out of season" to refer to non-food items in this context, like buying a space heater in the summer when everyone else is not lined up begging for one.

But I will add "shop at the farmer's market" to the list of top tips. I bought a 1/4 bushel of grapefruit last week (14 medium to large grapefruit) for $2.98, and at my favorite grocery store the same fruit was "on sale" at 2 for $3!

Plus, I use some of my grapefruit for juice, getting 1 cup of juice per individual fruit. That would be 14 cups of juice for $2.98 compared to 8 cups for $3.69-3.99 in the store.

So another tip would be to look at the cost of production. How much would I pay to have someone else create citrus juice for me?

Daniel said...

Julia and Matt, yes, you're both right: fruits/veggies should be stocked up on when "in season" but I was referring to consumer products in general, as in Matt's example. I could have written that tip a bit clearer.

Nice to see some good ideas right away, keep them coming! What other insights do readers want to share?


K said...

Well, this may not be exactly what you are looking for, but my #1 tip: effective complaining.

Let me be clear from the start: I'm not trying to gouge the company, or get something out of them. I merely will not let poor service pass by in a store I frequent.

Generally, my rule of thumb is to either wait a day or two, then go back (this lets me cool off if I'm upset, and figure out the best way to state my complaint), and ask to speak to a manager or supervisor. I calmly explain what happened, and say that service like that is likely to influence future purchases.

Most time, it falls on deaf ears, but there have been times where I have either received free product or a discount - again, this isn't my goal, but it is a symbol that the company is actually listening to my complaints, and might possibly take steps to prevent an occurrence. And I make sure to tell them their response (even if it is only an apology) will make me want to shop their again.

Even when it falls on deaf ears - at least I know I've tried to do something, rather than accept poor service in silence.

Barbara | VinoLuciStyle said...

Buy in bulk. It's a misnomer to think that you have to have a large family to get value from a warehouse membership. I won't deny, I've put shelving in my garage that allows me to stock the six pack of cannned goods and the gallon of vegetable oil and more but the savings I realize each year are worth it.

Beyond that I agree with other readers; I buy items on sale or out of season and that sometimes means waiting and not succumbing to HAVING to have it now.

But I don't know about the complaint and try to get it free route. Free has costs across the board. Every time some one person gets something for free those costs are reflected in what consumers pay. Using this method as policy (and the reader sounds like this is a regular occurrence) is not something I see as empowering as much as manipulative!

Jenna said...

For me, something that has helped save a ton is a useful tip in most aspects of life - don't get caught up in needing the pretty or the perfect.

A local health food store and farmer's market combo has, like more and more stores, a quick buy section for produce that is a great resource to seek out. Pretty red peppers can go for $4.89 a pound (I don't pay that for grassfed beef!) but if I don't mind cutting around some wrinkles and spot where they bounced, I can get a back of 4 for $1. Huge bags of scratched squash for a quarter. Same deal with banged up cans and boxes (long as it's just surface damage, not proof the container is failing). Get past needing picture perfect, and not only will the budget ease, but meals can get a lot more varied! (The $1 on 5 lb of eggplant made me tapdance quick and figure out a capanota recipe that my husband now loves.)

Janet C. said...

Two tips as far as food goes:
1. Get off the grid! ie, grow your own or make your own. You get the satisfaction of making it yourself AND you save money! Plus gardening is relaxing!

2. Search out ethnic markets for items such as spices and even for food items such as produce, canned goods, etc. The label might be in a foreign language, but garbanzo beans are garbanzo beans. You can use them in other-than-Mexican cooking even if the label is in Spanish!