Ask Dr Per Cap

This is a newsletter that is put together by Shawn Spruce who is a consultant who lives in North Carolina, but does a lot of work in Montana.  I will post the latest edition as they come in.



          Paper Towel Worries



Dear Dr. Per Cap:

Do you think it’s smart to stock up on paper towels and toilet tissue in case we have another shortage like when Covid-19 hit this spring?

Signed, Thinking Ahead


Dear Thinking

That depends on if we see a second wave of coronavirus this fall and how serious it gets.

But first let’s talk about what caused the shortages that cleared the bulky paper product aisle at Walmart faster than the family restroom after grandpa takes a double dose of Ex-Lax.  Moreover, why are so many stores still understocked, unable to catch up after last spring’s paper towel shortages?

It starts with how most businesses operate today using a strategy called “just-in-time inventory” which allows them to produce or stock only enough goods to sell quickly.  Rather than producing and storing surplus goods for future sales, just-in-time inventory allows businesses to run lean thus saving money and increasing profits.  However, there’s a downside to this approach that gave us a rude awakening earlier this year when stores ordered between five and ten times their normal weekly amount of paper towels.  During an emergency when people stockpile there are shortages.

The good news is that toilet tissue supplies are pretty much back to normal so you can probably ease up on your quest to find a modern alternative to that old Sears catalog grandma kept in the outhouse.  Ughh…I’m showing my age.  However, paper towels are still running low with people cleaning more during these health and safety conscious times.

Unfortunately, fixing the shortage isn’t as easy as telling paper towel companies, like Proctor and Gamble, to crank up production.  Just-in-time means factories today aren’t even designed to produce and package surplus goods.  Factor in distribution centers that are quickly overrun plus stores with small loading docks that can’t fit extra truck deliveries, and we’re talking about an entire supply chain overwhelmed.  Alleviating these challenges requires manufacturers and stores to radically redesign equipment and infrastructure along with longstanding ideas about how to run businesses.

So get used to living with limited supplies of paper towels on store shelves for a while.  And if coronavirus comes roaring back I think we’ll see a repeat of last spring.

But let me pose a crazy question.  Do we really need disposable paper towels in the first place?  Back in the day we all got along just fine with dish clothes, sponges, mops and other non-disposable cleaning products.  Yeah, yeah I know the Sears catalog wasn’t non-disposable but you know what I mean.  In the grand scheme having enough paper towel should be one less issue to stress over.

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. For more information, visit To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email




                Status Symbols




Dear Dr. Per Cap:

My sister and her boyfriend are always bragging about stuff they buy – new truck, nice furniture, trips to Disneyland.  And she constantly posts on Facebook about their perfect life.  I love her but she makes me feel crappy.  How can I deal with these negative feelings when I can’t afford the same things?

Signed, Can’t Keep Up

Dear Can’t Keep Up

It’s good that you’re able to acknowledge the frustration and pain you feel over your sister’s boasting.  Flaunting material possessions and other status symbols is truly annoying, but sadly very common these days.  Some Native folks are eager to play the Keeping up with the Yazzie’s game.  Back in the day it was a little easier to turn a blind eye, but that’s harder now with social media blasting us from all directions.

I also think we have a habit of dismissing unabashed consumerism as traits more common in white society.  However, I’ve been around long enough to see that for better or worse many Natives have bought into the American Dream hook, line, and sinker.  Fancy cars, clothes, electronics – Indian Country I’m talking to you.

But let me focus on your sister.  For starters don’t believe everything you see on people’s social media.  Research shows people exaggerate, embellish, and in some cases just plain lie on social media to make their lives appear more exciting, glamorous, and happy.  Let’s also think about what’s really driving her behavior.  She might not have the perfect life she’s trying to project and overcompensates by spending money and posting pictures.  Not sure that makes you feel any better but hopefully it’s a start.

I also know you might not be able to ignore her.  You probably can’t just unfriend her and she probably even expects people to like her posts and not doing so could cause issues.  When all else fails there’s also the novel idea of telling the truth “Hey, I’m happy you are doing so well and can enjoy so many nice things.  But it makes me feel bad when I know I can’t afford those things.  Could you maybe ease up a bit?”  Yeah, I’m thinking that’s a pretty risky approach too.

I really do think people like your sister are searching for validation and acknowledgement.  Somewhere inside they feel like they don’t have that great of a life….ok, enough of the arm chair psychology.

Here’s my advice.  Keep living smart, save money when you can, don’t believe everything you read on Facebook, and remember the important things in life don’t come with leather steering wheels and 4K resolution.  It’s also better to have $500 in a $20 purse than $20 in a $500 purse.  Just sayin’.

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. For more information, visit To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email


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