I grew up schlepping stuff from chain stores with my mom. To her credit, she instilled in me a pragmatic shopping ethic: Always look for a good deal no matter where it’s found. So at an early age I learned the skill of finding Saks quality at Old Navy prices –– even if it meant hitting up New York’s Chinatown. Nowadays as I, my mom and millions of others feel the effects of a lackluster national economy, it’s tempting to shore up the family budget by shopping only at Target, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s and other big-box chains. After all, my bucks need to go the distance, and with one-day sales and other enticing throwaways, it’s all too easy to restrict spending to these places.

But lately I’ve found that scoring the same deals is possible at smaller stores if I’m willing to do the sleuth work. As I’ve started to embrace the idea of shopping locally, I’ve discovered unique New Orleans-based stores with unparalleled character and helpful proprietors and staff who genuinely appreciate any business that comes their way. I’ve made a commitment to spend on Magazine Street, at independent booksellers and at local entertainment venues in an effort to contribute to the local economy, one VISA swipe at a time.

No more dodging herds of feverish shoppers at Lakeside Mall. No more headaches from looking for parking within the distance of two football fields. And certainly no more frustration from standing in long lines at Winn-Dixie to buy two measly items. Now I shop at locally owned grocers:  Dorignac’s, Langenstein’s and Rouses. And for retail, I’ve got a group of favorites I like to frequent. But regardless of where I put my dollars, it’s reassuring to know that as it trickles down, at some point the act contributes to local character and prosperity; funds city services … well, given the corruption here, maybe on a lesser scale; invests in sustainable development; encourages product diversity; and fosters a sense of feeling rooted in the community, among many other benefits.

It’s nice to break pernicious spending habits in favor of being a more conscious consumer. I guess this is fresh in my mind because of an experience at the Art for AIDS event this past weekend. As part of attending the event, we were granted two of the most creative and unique Christmas ornaments I’ve ever seen; both were made by local artists. I’m pretty sure I’d never find something on par at Kirkland’s or –– the horror! –– Walmart. We plan to give away the ornaments as holiday gifts, a much more genuine gesture than, say, some tchotchke from T.J. Maxx.

My mom might think I’m crazy, as she sashays through Lord & Taylor and Big Lots. But this year we’ll give her a holiday gift she won’t be able to find anywhere else but some obscure place down here. And that’s invaluable, right?

Because in the end, all the stuff I buy immediately depreciates in value anyway. And what good is stuff if it’s not producing income or of sentimental value? In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”… and when we “roll it back,” we have stores like Walmart to thank for that.