As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

The 3/50 Project: Help Your Local Economy

This is a guest article by Emily Guy Birken, author of The SAHMambulust. In this article, Emily explains and reviews the 3/50 Project, a movement designed to boost local economies.

The presents have been given out, the wrapping paper has been cleaned up, and Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday from American Express are just distant memories. Now may not be when most people are thinking about shopping, but it’s the perfect opportunity to commit to really help small businesses in your area for 2012. And what do small businesses need more than anything else? Loyal customers.

This is the basis of The 3/50 Project, spearheaded by Cinda Baxter, a retail consultant, professional speaker, and former retail business owner. Back in 2009, after hearing several reports about how patronizing local brick-and-mortar stores could help the economy, Cinda wrote about the achievability of economic recovery if we all simply commit to being good customers to independent retailers.

BakeryFrom that blog post, a movement was born.

The idea is very simple. Pick three local, independently owned businesses in your area — businesses that you would be sad to see shut their doors — and plan on spending $50 total per month among those three businesses. That’s it. The movement does not ask you to spend more than you already do. Just plan on $50 of your monthly expenditures going toward local businesses.

It is important to note that sometimes you will end up spending a little more money by purchasing locally rather than at the neighborhood box store or online. However, paying above bargain-basement prices means that you are also helping your local economy — a fairly easy trade-off in most budgets.

What’s exciting about making this commitment is the fact that it could contribute to our financial recovery. According to the statistics provided by The 3/50 Project website, every $100 spent in local brick-and-mortars results in “$68 return[ed] to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays [local]. Spend it online, and nothing comes home.” Imagine the boom to the economy if everyone simply chose to spend some of their money locally.

The 3/50 Project is specific in how it defines an independent business. Though a franchised store may have a local owner, it is not one of the local businesses that The 3/50 Project is aiming to help. As a franchisee, the owner of a fast food restaurant, for example, can benefit from national ad campaigns, preferred vendor lists and large-scale price negotiations. This project is looking to help the independents who are relying on their own unique brand, pay their own expenses for marketing, rent and other operating costs, and operate from a storefront, rather than their home, a kiosk, or the internet. The full description of what constitutes an independent retailer is available here.

Deciding to try The 3/50 Project in your community does not mean that you have to give up your Starbucks coffee or your cheap groceries at Wal-Mart. There is room for national chains, internet shopping, and local stores in your commitment. This is an opportunity to be mindful about your spending, which should always be a goal of responsible personal finance. Why not help your local economy while you’re making savvy spending decisions?

Photo: Calgary Reviews
3/50 Project

Updated December 30, 2011 and originally published December 29, 2011.

About the author

Emily Guy Birken is a freelance writer, recovering English teacher, and stay-at-home-mom. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana, with her mechanical engineer husband and infant son. Her musings on life, parenting and money can be found at The SAHMnambulist and Live Like a Mensch. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Cejay

I can think of two merchants that I would like to do this with. A bakery and a natural food store and restaurant. I am not sure about the third business. I must admit that sometimes I feel torn between helping out a local business and helping out my wallet by trying to get the best bargain. Does anyone else feel that way?

Reply to this comment

avatar 2 qixx

I find that with most of the local restaurants i visit the quality is much better than many chain restaurants. That should make this much easier to do. It just means we have to eat 2-3 times a month at these places instead of just once.

Reply to this comment

avatar 3 tbork84

I absolutely agree that restaurants are the best way to accomplish this. And seeing as eating out is my one real monetary vice, turning a negative into a positive would be a nice way to justify eating out a few times a month.

Reply to this comment

avatar 4 shellye

I feel that way too, sometimes. I think this is a great idea. There are a few local shops I patronize regularly (restaurants, shoe repair, tailor and cleaners) but I don’t know if I spend $50 a month because I only use them when I need their services, or, in the restaurant’s case, when we all feel like eating there.

But I think this is a great idea that I’m going to try to incorporate in the new year!

Reply to this comment

avatar 5 Anonymous

This is a terrific idea! I’ve got a Thai food place and an independent, used bookstore already in mind. Coming up with a third probably won’t be too difficult either.

Reply to this comment

avatar 6 Donna Freedman

I try not just to patronize local businesses when possible, but also to pay with cash to save them the credit-card fee.
Oh, and it should be “plan on spending $50 per month AMONG those three businesses.”
— Donna “Grammar Geek” Freedman

Reply to this comment

avatar 7 Ceecee

This is a great proposal. And I agree with Donna, I try to pay small, local businesses with cash. It is better for my budget and their bottom line. I hope this gets lots of press.

Reply to this comment

avatar 8 Cejay

$50.00 among the three is easier. I will just have to stop at the bakery each week and get something fo church, a treat for the girls in the office or something for bunch. The cakes are so good that the one I took to a Christmas party was demolished. I think everyone had a piece and were fighting over the crumbs.

Reply to this comment

avatar 9 wylerassociate

this is something I can embrace, I try to shop at local restaurants, shops when I can. It’s always a good thing to help support our local small businesses.

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these