Today marks the start of Lent for Christians. This is a season of reflection for us and a time when many people choose to practice the discipline of fasting. Sometimes this means giving up sweets for the forty days, sometimes it means abstaining from watching TV and movies, sometimes it takes the form of going without food once a week or on specific holy days during the season.
This year, I’m trying to think more deeply about how I spend my money, so I’ve decided not to purchase new non-necessary consumer goods during Lent this year. For the most part that will mean not buying clothing, shoes, or books for the next forty days. I’ll still buy groceries, of course.
The larger point is to think about what it means when I spend money on those things and what sort of long-term impact my purchases have. This is something I’ve been thinking about over the last few years as I’ve tried to be more intentional about buying local, buying from independent sellers online, and buying used when possible. But the big-box companies are still really tempting. So I want to stop and think for a while: Who does my money go to when I buy a dress on Modcloth? (That site can be a serious pitfall for me.) Who reaps the benefits of my purchase at Amazon or Ebay? What are the reprecussions of buying my jeans at Target? Do those purchases have a positive impact? A negative one?
Maybe those purchases don’t have any impact at. Still, I’m ultimately striving not just to avoid harm, but to actually do good with the way I spend money. One of the companies that has made that easier for me in the last couple years has been Better World Books. I’ve purchased the vast majority of my books for grad school from them during the last four semesters and I feel confident that the hundreds of dollars I’ve sent their way have been used prudently. I won’t be patronizing them during Lent, of course, but I wanted to encourage other people also considering how to use money well to do so. Here’s why:
I pulled a bookmark out of my latest purchase from Better World Books this morning. The front of this small scrap of cardstock greeted me with the heartwarming picture of a Somalian woman and her child. Lovely, for sure, and the story on the back of the bookmark just warms my feminist heart to the core:
“The most dangerous thing a woman in Somaliland could do was to get pregnant, and Edna Adan Ismail couldn’t accept that. After she sold her car and used her pension to build a Maternity and Teaching hospital in Hargeisa – based in a site where mass killings had occurred during the civil war – we found out about her mission. Linking up with Books for Africa, we sent 6,000 medical and other college-level books to the nursing students there. Ms. Edna was able to train 22 new students in Community Midwifery, a new category of schooling in the community, and a crucial step toward tackling maternal and child mortality rates.”
So beautiful, right? This is just part of the positive impact Better World Books has. In addition to Books for Africa, the for-profit company also partners with Room to Read, Worldfund, the National Center for Family Literacy, and Invisible Children in an effort to forward their humble task of promoting literacy through partnerships with non-profits around the world.
Am I proselytizing for them here? You bet. So let me finish with an invitation to thoughtfulness and reflection.
Next time you’re looking online for your next popular fiction read or a textbook for a class, think about browsing through Better World Books before you head over to Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks. Their prices are fair and between the BWB warehouse and partnered sellers, they do their best to provide books in a variety of conditions and price ranges. They’re good to the environment too. The company does not charge extra for shipping, they give customers the option of paying a few cents per purchase to offset their carbon use in shipment, and they use recycled packaging whenever possible.
Sure, you might pay a few dollars more than Amazon, and I understand that can be prohibitive for some people. (Grad students included!) But if you can manage it, the impact of those dollars can be pretty inspirational.