I hit Wal*Mart the day after Christmas 2008, looking for presents for Christmas 2009. I found a cute Santa mug, a Santa plate, some scented candles and ornaments, and a bamboo tray loaded with bath and body products reduced to $7.50. The tray itself was worth that, I reasoned, and I needed a body polisher bad, not to mention bath crystals and a rubber massage thingy. Yes, I bought it for myself, but when I got home and opened it, there was a curious sticker on all the potions and lotions: Do not apply around eyes or lips. Keep out of reach of children. Hmm. So now I’m freaked out, wondering if I’ll go blind or kissless…or if the poison will go directly into my bloodstream when I nick myself shaving.

There’s been so much talk of dangerous products coming out of China, yet so many items are made there. My Wet n Wild lipstick? Fabrique` en Chine. The wide-mouth thermos my husband got for his lunch? Made in China. My black velour sweater? You guessed it. I read an amusing article about one family who tried to go without buying Chinese products for a year, how difficult it was not only because of prevalence but pocketbook. Things cost a whole lot more when they don’t have those three magic words on the label.

And even if what you buy is made/assembled in the U.S., there’s this: almost 80 percent of the worldโ€™s wheat gluten (found in most breads, cakes and cookies) comes from China, and 80 percent of all sorbic acid (a preservative in almost everything) is made there too. I’ll never look at a Twinkie quite the same way again.

In these tough economic times, many people want to buy American, shop locally, shop green, concepts which should be easy but aren’t. Most of us are being conservative with our money. As someone who used to easily spend $25 a week on books, I spend much less than that a month now. I haven’t been to the movies in ages, or out to dinner anywhere fancier than our local Chinese restaurant, LOL. Yum to chicken lo mein and crab rangoon.

Has the economic downturn affected your entertainment choices? Are you buying fewer books/reading less? Got any tips for stretching my allowance? I’m working on a display for the library and looking for ideas teens can use to consume less and conserve more.

And just because I’m hungry, what do you order when you go out to eat?