Dear Dollar Stretcher,
In light of the recent arrests of illegal workers hired with the full knowledge of Wal-Mart, some have called for us to boycott their stores. Will you share your thoughts on this?
I understand that small time boycotts (a handful of people in each community) will never register with the powers of the world's largest retailer. I would like to do my part, but where do I draw the line? I'm cost-conscious and my best grocery value is with consistent Wal-Mart shopping. However, if it's at the expense of someone's job, am I being fair to pinch a few pennies?
Additionally, Wal-Mart is the only store in my area that sells general merchandise. If I want a spool of thread or a pair of pajamas, I have to drive 15 miles one way if I don't shop at Wal-Mart.
There's a huge trickle-down effect. If our local Wal-Mart has declining sales, our county loses revenue and people lose jobs because our shopping will have to be done in the nearby city.
Ellie in Virginia
Ellie sure asks a big question. Let's begin by finding out a little about boycotts.
According to BoycottCity.org, the practice began in Ireland and targeted a ruthless landlord named Boycott. All of his tenants were so upset that they refused to have anything to do with Boycott and his family. The practice came to the U.S. in support of labor movements. And in the 1960's, it gained popularity as a political tool.
Over recent years, you've seen more boycotts. That's because they appear to be working. However, you won't find many statistics because companies are reluctant to comment on boycotts and certainly don't want to admit that they work.
The purpose of a boycott is to get an organization to change because of an organized refusal to continue to do business with the company.
For example, Ellie feels that Wal-Mart shouldn't hire illegal aliens. Boycotters argue that an organized refusal to shop at Wal-Mart will cause them to stop the practice. Please note that I haven't studied Wal-Mart's hiring policies, so I don't have a position on this particular boycott.
But I do believe that in a free market systems it's fair to vote with your money by financially supporting businesses that you admire. Or to withhold your business from companies you disapprove of.
Now on to the question of whether Ellie should join this particular boycott. To decide, Ellie needs to consider how important the goal is to her, whether the boycott could help achieve that goal, whether her personal sacrifice is worthwhile compared to the goal, and if an alternative strategy would be better.
Ellie's goal appears to be to protect the jobs of American workers, primarily in her hometown.
Can a boycott help achieve that goal? Even though Wal-Mart may be the largest company in the world, a boycott could be successful. But, as she points out, it would take a large number of boycotters to affect Wal-Mart's bottom line. So good leadership of the boycott is required.
One position for Ellie to consider is only shopping at her local Wal-Mart if that store meets her standards. Each store's sales and profit figures are measured separately. So it might be easier to affect a change in her local store. And, if her real concern is local jobs, then a national boycott might not be necessary.
Plus, it is possible that boycotting the local Wal-Mart could cause them to lay-off her neighbors. For every job saved, the boycotters could cost two or three.
Now for the toughest question. Is the goal worthy of the sacrifice? If she abandons Wal-Mart, it would mean driving further to buy household items. No big deal if she visits the city regularly. But it's a different situation if her car is troublesome and she rarely leaves home.
What about the difference in cost? For Ellie, paying a little extra may be no big deal. But for a family just barely able to pay the rent, those pennies might mean missing a meal.
Plus the poorer family probably spends less in Wal-Mart when they do shop. So the wealthier family will have a greater impact on Wal-Mart even if their sacrifice is less.
Finally, Ellie should consider the alternatives. A visit to the local store manager could reveal that the store isn't hiring illegal aliens. Or she might want to ask if the local paper would do an investigative piece on Wal-Mart's hiring practices. Another option would be to continue to shop at Wal-Mart, but to set aside the money saved for a contribution to the local food bank. In most cases, it's wise to exhaust other options before resorting to a boycott.
Boycott issues aren't often easy. You can't mathematically calculate the "right" answer. So the bottom line is usually a decision about what is important to you. And that's a question that only Ellie can answer.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
Sign up for our free eNewsletter Dollar Stretcher Tips.
Looking for an answer to a frugal living question? Click here to ask a
Dollar Stretcher Stretchpert!
Copyright 1996 - 2013 "The Dollar Stretcher, Inc." All rights reserved unless specifically noted.
Contact the Dollar Stretcher at:
PO Box 14160
Bradenton FL 34280
"The Dollar Stretcher, Inc." does not assume responsibility for advice given. All advice should be weighed against your own abilities and circumstances and applied accordingly. It is up to the reader to determine if advice is safe and suitable for their own situation.