Well, it looks like we're all going to get a check in the mail, as part of the "economic self-stimulus, please masturbate the economy into some state of excitement so we can pretend the fundamentals aren't as frigid as Condoleeza Rice" plan.
And since the government, instead, of say, paying down its ridiculous debt or investing in something we might need, like renewable energy, is sending it to you, in the assumption that as usual, we'll blow it all on porn and beer. But that might not be entirely wise, and I feel honor bound, as your Friendly Neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix to offer some helpful suggestions about what to do with the money.
For those of you who live in other countries, where their governments, when on the verge of financial collapse, don't send you checks and accellerate the proces, while spraying imperialist goo all over the rest of the world, all we can do is pity you. And wish desperately we could move to your country. How do you say "I am not personally responsible for my country's economic or foreign policy in Finnish again?"
Now I would dare say that things are, fiscally speaking, going to hell in a handbasket - I don't claim to be an expert. My friend Roel is, though and the blog he shares with a couple of similarly knowledgeable sorts http://www.theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/ is an excellent place to go for all the crappy financial news. Now it may be that this particular economic crisis will pass a la kidney stone, and we'll go on to later climate and peak oil crises, but it is also not impossible that this is the beginning of those crises.
We are being handed the cash for one more climactic shopping trip - and here I am with my black boots, riding crop and firm demeanor proposing, that just perhaps, you might want to think about this as the last big burst before a very, very, long dry spell. So here are some suggestions to spend your money.
1. Forestall foreclosure. Pay the mortgage, and then use what strategies you have to keep your house: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/05/how-to-keep-your-house.html. Or, better yet, if you are already teetering on the cusp of foreclosure, consider getting in touch with these people: http://www.youwalkaway.com/index.html. They don't seem to charge much - you could come out of this with enough cash to put a downpayment on a rental. If you are secure in your home, perhaps invest in some extra fold-away futons, warm blankets and spare towels so that when your family and friends who aren't so secure lose their homes, you can all live together comfortably: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/08/brother-in-law-on-your-couch-vision-of.html
2. Send it to Haiti - here's why: http://depletion-abundance.blogspot.com/2008/01/i-often-say-that-worst-excesses-of-rich.html My own favorite Haitian relief charity is the Mennonite Central Comittee - they've sponsored a number of programs that I know some of the players in, and they are generally a really good charity.
Here's information about their Haitian programs: http://mcc.org/haiti/
Heifer International and Doctors Without Borders are also excellent Charities that work in Haiti
3. Buy livestock. Seriously, food prices are rising rapidly. Your annual organic milk costs could probably be covered if you had a cow or a couple of really teeny, super cute Nigerian Dwarf goats. Same with your eggs for chickens. Here's Edson's essay about what he's thinking of doing with his economic stimulus:
Poultry are excellent starter livestock, and many people can have them even in cities. Heck, I've heard of people keeping them in apartments. If you are dreaming of poultry try here, and buy something in danger of going extinct: http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/
4. Say goodbye to wealth and the growth economy by indulging in its very worst excesses. I shouldn't suggest this, of course, but the reality is that who am I to criticize if your dream is to go into hard times with painted toenails and botox injections, or the knowledge that you actually have been to see spring training. So take your 800 bucks and go drink 100 year old champagne, or buy that original live recording of the Led Zepplin studio sessions. Go for it. Just remember, you can't eat commemorative plates.
5. Get your teeth fixed. Seriously, dentistry is one of the big worries, and millions of Americans can't afford it now. It is a fairly energy intensive process: http://transitionculture.org/2007/07/24/peak-oil-and-dentistry-the-final-taboo This might be a good time to get everyone a checkup, or that root canal you've been needing.
6. Endow your local peak oil group. If you don't desperately need your tax refund, and perhaps that's true of some of your fellow peakists, get together and put the money into your local peak group. Money buys power and influence in our society, and also enables you to do common good projects. Consider asking everyone who can to put half their refund into a collective good account, designed, for example, to make micro-emergency loans in the community, or to fund solar panels for the local clinic.
7. Get together with others and buy a farm - remember, "farm" doesn't mean "1000 acres in Iowa" - consider a foreclosed upon rural property, for example, with 5 - 20 acres. There are a few of them out my way, and I'm willing to bet there are some where you are. The reality is that rising food prices are pushing land prices way up - we're starting to see what Aaron calls the "tertiary effects" of our energy crisis here: http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/buying_and_selling/article3283083.ece
Note the reasoning here - high grain prices look likely to persuade farmers to actually *sell* their land, and get out of farming, so that people can "invest" in land. Hmmm - we might need people who know how to farm sitting on dirt even more than expected.
8. Buy a musical instrument. Have you always wanted to learn the violin? Do you play a nice saxophone, but don't have one? Even in hard times, there are reasons to celebrate, and music makes celebrations. If the economy tanks and you are out of work, a. subway busking becomes a more economically viable choice (although pianos are tough for that) and b. you'll have time to practice, or to bug the kids into it.
9. Hookers. Lots of hookers. Or one really expensive one. Now where would a farming Mom like me find a hook...er someone willing to raise my beds. I'd never heard it called that, but perhaps I was unimaginative. Either way, I knew that Crunchy Chicken could be counted on to help me with all my pay to play needs, over here: http://www.crunchychicken.blogspot.com/. Now it isn't clear to me that Crunchy actually can schedule his arrival at the homes of my heterosexual female and gay male readers, but she's an enterprising sort, so you never know. For my lesbian and male readers, I'm afraid you'll just have to do your own bargaining - Matt Savinar isn't yet offering these services on his site www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net - any day now, though, I'm sure ;-).
10. Food. 700-1200 bucks will buy a lot of stored grains and beans. And you can be virtually certain that the food you buy today will appreciate in value, probably much faster than your investments. http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10252015 (the link is useful for the graph, not the stupid boosterism). What today buys hundreds of pounds may buy only half of that. If possible, buy direct from farmers, ideally local farmers. If you can't find what you need, try www.waltonfeed.com. If you don't need food for your own storage, consider donating some of it to your local food pantry.
11. Give it to people who will fight the biofuels boom. http://www.foodfirst.org/ is one possibility.
12. Be ready in case the lights go out. In a period of increasing economic stress, utility bills can be tough to pay - even more so as the price of electricity rises. The example of South Africa: http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3576#more is not quite what we're facing, but there are reasonable causes to be concerned about having enough electric power to go around, including increasing droughts, which put stress on coal and nuclear generators. In addition, as times get tighter, sometimes we have to make hard choices - the electric bill or food? Let's be clear - the electric bill should always be the first to go. As I've argued before, it isn't necessarily grid problems that cause the power to go out:http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/02/it-isnt-gridcrash-that-makes-lights-go.html . So it wouldn't be unwise to figure out ways to make do without electricity. That means an investment in solar powered battery chargers, rechargeable batteries, a woodstove in cold places, solar lanterns, a hand washer... Check out www.lehmans.com for the best in non-electric supplies.
13. Make your yard feed you. Invest in perennial plants like jerusalem artichokes and groundnuts, buy blueberries or gooseberry bushes, buy a good sized stock of seeds (great prices at www.fedcoseeds.com among other places) and regular or sweet potatoes, a couple of sacks of greensand, rock phosphate and anything else you might need. Put in drip irrigation, dig a pond, or add dryland plants if you anticipate drought. Vary your seed order, try something new. Buy in larger quantities - you can always donate extras to a local community garden.
14. Dig a hole and bury the money in the ground. Seriously, that's starting to look safer than many banks.
15. Clean up good. Those of us who are in those "married until we die or kill each other" relationships don't always seem to understand the plight of the single person. But who wants to go into an unending economic depression alone, with no one to fight with about the money you don't have? So if you are looking for love, now is the time to join that singles website, get a really good picture of yourself taken, or maybe get a decent haircut. Take a day off work without pay, and really work on that personal ad - remember, "Angry, anxious SWF terrified to go into apocalypse alone" is probably not the best start. Put a good face on things. And if you are married, try and stay that way for the following reasons: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/02/12-reasons-to-stay-married-after-peak.html
16. Superinsulate. This is likely to be a pricey project, but you could get a start. Check out the information here: about how to get started. http://www.affordablecomfort.org/ Whether your home is hot or cold, this will save you money in the longer term.
17. Invest in a really good bike. A lot of the bikes that are lying around aren't meant to be ridden long distances, for years at a time with minimal maintenence. I'm no expert on this issue, and won't try to advise you - instead, find a good bike shop and talk to people there. I personally covet one of these:http://clevercycles.com/store/?c=web2.67 and they have fascinating collection of family bikes at the same site.
18. Buy yarn. It has many uses - if you have enough, you can insulate an entire room with it. Not to mention that we're all going to need to make socks: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2005/02/great-sock-rant-of-05.html. Here's more about why knitting is an essential skill in hard times: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/09/knitting-for-apocalypse.html But you don't really need all these justifications, because the simple truth is that if you buy yarn, then you have yarn. What's not to like?
19. Pay down your debt. If you have old loans, consumer debt, etc... pay it down now. The US bankruptcy laws are moving rapidly towards eternal debt slavery, and that's not a role any of us want to play. As cool and shiny as the gizmos may look, pay down your debt if you can.
20. Make sure you have water. You can't grow food, wash, or live without it. Make sure you have a reliable source of water in the future. That could mean a well with a manual pump, or a cistern, a rainbarrel set up, a spring, solar direct pumping, or a public resource - perhaps a pump in a park or at the local school that can supply the community when the power is out.
21. Do your Christmas/Chanukah/birthday shopping now. Does this one sound weird, coming from anti-consumerist me? For all that a lot of us may deplore the crazy consumerism of the holidays, the "no gifts" idea is an easy one to take when you have everything you need, and live in a rich society. Gift exchange is tied into every culture, not just including, but especially poor ones. The ability to be generous to one another is part and parcel of being human. So maybe now is a good time to think ahead about what it would be like to be poor, if you haven't been, and how simple gifts might come in handy. Think useful things - a new shirt, a pair of boots, a pocket knife, a book, a special toy, a bottle of wine. Or perhaps think in terms of your ability to make something - beautiful soaps, or special traditional baked goods, a wooden toy or the above mentioned socks. Remember, gifts are going to look different in a poorer society. Don't forget to add a few things to donate - more kids will be missing Christmas next year, I suspect, and perhaps a few special trade goods that will be especially welcome among people who have done you kindnesses
22. Donate it to the George W. Bush Presidential Library. I know, I know, I hate him too, but think about what a gesture of charity this will be - have we ever had a president who needed a library more. Think what good the atlases and the beginning readers will do for him. But more importantly, think about what's going to be in those presidential papers, that sooner or later will be released (more realistically, donate your money to the people suing to get his executive order overturned). http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/opinion/28sun4.html War crimes trials, anyone? You could also give it to someone whose name you think would look better on a library - and how hard is that?
23. Build your own library. Heck, you can even call it a "presidential" library, and name it after one of the more obscure 19th century presidents. I mean who really knows whether James Knox Polk's library is in your house or not? I'd believe it. Meanwhile, if you don't live in easy walking distance of a really high quality library, build your own. A lot of us focus on gardening and sustainability books, and I certainly value that stuff - my own recommendations are here: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/12/best-books-about-nearly-everything-part.html and http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2007/12/best-books-about-nearly-everything-part_18.html, but don't stop there. Think about how valuable history books will be, as we remake our society. What about a good supply of children's books, and educational materials in case you need to homeschool your kids or grandkids during periods of disruption. And everyone may want to settle down some evening and just not think about what's happening in their world, to escape with either a trashy novel or a great one, and be swept away into another place and time. The reality is that we sell books awfully cheaply - and they may not always be so cheap.
24. A stock of things you don't really want to have to try making. Whenever we talk about stockpiling, someone notes that it is possible to make just about anything at home. Needles? Can be carved out of bone. Necessary drugs? All you need is a small home chemistry lab? Shoes? First, chase down and kill a deer... Diva cup? Just go down to the ocean and snorkel around until you get a sponge...
All of which is entirely true. And the odds are not that these things are going away anytime soon (which someone else always mentions in these discussions) so much as there might be either supply constraints or other things you need to spend your money on. It is nice to know these things can be produced at home, and if it got dire enough, some of us probably would. But, sometimes you just don't wanna make it yourself. There are some conveniences that are kind of nice- and as long as someone is sending us a check... So if you don't want to face a world without enough duct tape, menstrual supplies, wood screws or sneakers, throw a few spares in a box somewhere. When entering this category, think particularly about quality of life issues (here, again, I mention shoes), the components to fix things that you'd like to keep around that might break (my neighbor is facing our current ice storm without her woodstove for lack of a replacement catalytic converter) and things you use a lot.
25. The mind altering substances of your choice. I, of course, would be irresponsible if I advocated drunkeness, and doing something illegal if I advocated drug use. So, of course, I would never, ever do such a thing. But there's something about my nation, as it teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, giving cash to consumers to go shopping that makes me feel as though the proper response, between laughter and weeping, is probably a lost weekend, a moment of drunken, drugged out debauchery that won't actually meet any needs, improve our lives, or do anything good at all - but somehow seems to answer the state we've entered. Being a breastfeeding Mom of four, the chance of me doing so are the proverbial snowball's, but it doesn't seem like a bad response, even though it probably is. At the very least, perhaps you'd like to stock up on your preferred mind-altering substance, to help get you through the next moment of national idiocy. In fact, some seeds, or a still might not be a bad idea. Strengthens the informal economy, y'know.