This week, I want to address a topic that was brought home to me recently. The choice of where we spend our money – in the local economy or in multinationals, matters greatly, to us all.
On a recent family day trip, we left our home outside Dublin and travelled by car to the Titanic Centre in Belfast. It is an amazing tribute to the ship which was built in Belfast at the beginning of the last century and is a hugely popular tourist attraction.
The journey took just ninety minutes, through the city of Belfast to the car park of the Titanic centre. Before going to enjoy the exhibit, myself and my companions got a cup of coffee in the franchise shop at the centre. Then, after spending a couple of hours exploring the Titanic Centre, we got another refreshment, in the same shop, before hitting the road home.
The road from Dublin to Belfast and return is a pretty straight one. There’s no need to stop off anywhere unless you want to – and we didn’t stop on the way up, eager as we were to get the day underway. On the return journey, we could have detoured into the city and spent some time there, but that wasn’t our plan and so we left Belfast having spent in the region of £10 in addition to the price of entry to the exhibit.
On our way home, we did need to stop for petrol and so pulled into a convenience store, refuelling stop on the side of the motorway to do so. While we were there, we also decided to get a cup of coffee and bun to eat en route. There was nothing out of the ordinary about our trip to Belfast. It was a lovely, enjoyable day – nothing more and nothing less.
Later in the same week, as we had some annual leave to take, we spent a few days in County Wexford. We stayed in a lovely hotel in one of the larger towns in Wexford. One of the first things we noticed was the sheer volume of traffic pouring through the town. It seemed to us that this town was a bottleneck along the way to the ferry port at Rosslare. What we also noticed was that this traffic was not stopping. It just kept on going.
As we strolled through the town over the few days, it became apparent that the car parks were empty. There was very little footfall on the streets. The town itself was empty. We met shopkeepers going about their daily business, waiting for customers to come in and buy – while outside the stream of traffic roared by. I found this quite sad. The customers were right outside the doors, but they just kept going, while the livelihoods of the business people of this town swung in the balance. What is worse, is that this was just one small town, in one part of Ireland. There are many, many others where the same thing happens day in, day out.
What I have just described is mundane. It is so normal that we rarely ever stop to think about it. My family and I travelled from A to B to get to The Titanic Centre and home again. We lead such busy lives that getting from A to B as quickly as possible is our priority. Detours are not part of the plan. Stopping in the motorway refilling station is much easier than trying to find parking in a town you’re not familiar with. It’s just easier to spend our money in multinationals. But is easier best?
I once had someone explain banking in Ireland to me in very simple terms as follows:
A visitor arrives at a hotel somewhere in Ireland and books a room for a few days stay. When he arrives on the first morning, he pays €100 for the room up front. The visitor leaves his bags at the hotel and goes off for the day to conduct some business or take in some sights.
Once the visitor has left, the hotelier takes the money he has been paid and goes around to the butcher who supplies the meat for the restaurant and pays him the €100 towards his bill. Once the hotelier has gone, the butcher takes the €100 and walks down to the grocer to pay off his household bill, the grocer is now able to take the €100 and pay off that bill he owes to auctioneer who recently valued his property. The auctioneer pays that same €100 to the photographer who took the shots for the valuation. And finally, the photographer takes the €100 and pays off his outstanding bill to the local hotel for a stand he took at their wedding fair recently.
At around lunchtime this same day, the visitor returns to the hotel and explains that due to unforeseen circumstances, he isn’t going to be able to stay for the duration like he had thought. And so, the hotel refunds the €100 to him.
This is a crude expression of what happens when we spend money locally in Ireland. When we spend money in the local economy it is spread throughout the local economy and helps to sustain us all.
Our default setting of choosing the easiest and cheapest provider of goods or services may not always be the best choice. The money I spent in the Titanic Centre in Belfast would have filtered through into the local economy. The same is true of the money I spent in the hotel in Wexford. However, when I stopped for petrol at the motorway filling station, everything I spent there left the country. That steady stream of traffic that we saw in Wexford, who probably did the same thing, also exported their money. Yes, it was quick, it was convenient, but did it help our economy? No. And, really, I put more value in supporting our economy than I do in convenience.
If 1 in 100 of those motorists had stopped in the town and had their coffee there, over time, this would have transformed the town and its community because the money would have circulated around the local area. It’s not a huge ask when you think about it, a slight deviation, but it could make all the difference to towns around the country, and our country as a whole.
We make decisions like this every day, often on autopilot. I’m suggesting we turn off autopilot when it comes to deciding where we spend our money. It might take an extra five or ten minutes out of your day, or it may cost you an extra euro or two. I, for one, think our small towns and local economy is worth that investment. What about you?