Our economy is still struggling. We see it everyday with continued layoffs, further drops in the housing arena, jittery stock markets, and a stubborn unemployment rate that doesn't want to budge. All of these are coupled with the most negative political atmosphere since the gloomy days of the Great Depression. Money affects everything we do. Like bright sunshine or a dark, ominous cloud constantly floating overhead, money represents a huge part of what drives us from birth until death. It's the reason why most roll awake in the morning, draining 95% of the population's minds with periodic worry. However, companies continuing to put the squeeze on us financially aren't helping to pull our society from the financial doomsday course it's traveling on.

Like so many, I've been watching how companies are giving us much less for the money we spend. Slowly, and they're hoping invisibly, they've been putting a little less in that can of beans you buy, the piece of cake your sweet tooth craves, and the amount of tread on those new tires you just slapped on your aging Ford or Chevy. They're thinking we don't notice, but we do. And as a result, my buying habits are constantly shifting to the vendors and producers of goods and services that I feel still give me the best bang for my buck.

Up until recently, most of the grocery items I buy have been at the red-and-white themed store known as Target, or Tarjea' as many refer to it. It's always been a good discount retailer, giving many like me an alternative to the crowded parking lots of Wal-Mart, which I'll admit, I loathe going into. For years, the prices always seemed fair, stores clean, and the staff normally friendly. But, having that annoying micro-eyesight when it comes to sales stickers, I've started noticing the slow growth of their price points. I'm kind of a creature of habit and tend to buy some of the same items on a routine basis; so when my favorite gourmet cheese dip went from $2.99 to $3.99, individual cake slice grew from $1.99 to $2.99, roll of paper towels leapt from $.99 to $1.19, and gallon of purified water rose from $.89 to $1.09 within the span of a month, I started taking notice. But, the main difference is that the amounts inside these items have shrunk. Look at a bottle of water or 2-liter container of Coke. Before, their total quantities would almost rise to the rim, now their noticeably an inch lower, or more. And that bag of cheetos or gallon of ice cream you can't live without, they're filled with more air than ever before. Again, the geniuses who control product manufacturing and distribution think the consumer isn't watching, but believe me, we are.

Did you see the news lately about the wonderful banking industry? Although they've changed their minds (see the link below), Bank of America tried charging customers $5 a month for using debit cards. Really? And this is for what? The right to spend the money which WE, your customers, already own and just happened to allow your institution the privilege to house. What's next, a charge to speak with an actual human being inside your lobby while purchasing one of your interest-bulging CD's? Think back to the archaic days before ATM's, when customers were forced to go inside and utilize banking employee's valuable time. The banks sure found a way to make money back then despite us dirtying up their lobbies, now didn't they?

This overcharging and ripping off the consumer is soaring out of control. Yes, yes, the costs of doing business are skyrocketing thanks to the geniuses in Washington with their ever-increasing regulations and uncertainty in the political landscape, but, does the consumer always have to bear the brunt of others mistakes? Overwhelmingly, Americans are the finest people on earth. Most pay their taxes, abide by the laws, and do their best to be good citizens. We expect those in power, either in government or private industry to behave the same, treating the consumer with the respect deserved, and earned. So why is it they're always pushing the limits with us? What makes them think the masses and population as a whole are playful items they can toy with like a child lost inside some video game? And what gives them this right to play God with the money we earn through our hard work, blood, sweat, and entrepreneurial abilities? They think we're somewhat helpless, and will always go the way of the trendiest ads on TV. But, never forget, we the consumer hold all the power and are the ultimate authority. Our checkbooks, and our votes, hold the golden keys.

Just like everyone else, I'm only one person and have limited ways of fighting back. But, what companies never seem to remember is the consumer always has a choice. It's called the free market, capitalism, and the right to choose just who, when, and where we do business; the very economic principles of what America is all about.

So, when you push that steel buggy with those annoying clanking wheels down the food aisle next time, take a long, hard stare at the items you're purchasing. Feel their weight, shake them, and if you can see the amounts inside their plastic containers, compare them with your last purchases. The results might surprise you. And it's a very sneaky way to grab those hard-earned nickels and dimes you have rolling around inside your pocket.

Bank Of America Article