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Buying Ethically and Shopping With “Values”

Guest Post by Carrie from Frugalistic Mom

On frugal blogs, we talk a lot about how to get more stuff for less money. But lately, I’ve been thinking more about how to allocate my budget in ways that I feel better about.

I would love it if I could afford to buy only the products I feel the best about — and maybe I will achieve that one day! However, I am not going to go over budget just to purchase these products. Here’s how we’ve started buying products we feel better about without increasing our budget:

I realized that we didn’t need as much as we thought we did.

I used to buy meat for each dinner of the week, and lunch meats for sandwiches. Then I started reading about factory-farmed meat, animal cruelty, and environmental degradation.

Our family decided to cut back our meat consumption to three or four meals a week, in order to free up more money in our weekly grocery budget for beef that we buy directly from a farmer we feel good about. The same goes for shopping locally instead of through mass retailers or online.

I stopped comparing apples to apples {literally and figuratively}.

Organic apples are more expensive than conventional – no question. But when compared to other food, pound for pound, organic apples can still be purchased pretty affordably.

Once I stopped comparing the organic price to the conventional price for every little thing, and just thought about what I was spending per pound for my food, I stressed less about the expense for the good stuff.

I prioritized our values.

Most of us can’t afford to buy the best of everything. I don’t buy all organic, even though I know this would be ideal in terms of environmental protection. I don’t buy all organic produce. Instead, I use the list from the Environmental Working Group to determine which produce is most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and I buy those organic. I buy conventional produce for all the rest of my produce purchases.

I put my money into what matters to me, not into showing off.

When my first child was a baby, I felt like everything that went into her mouth – and especially into the snack bag I handed her on the playground – had to be organic or the other mothers would think I was terrible.

I remember even buying organic cookies for her. Now that I’m a mom of three with more confidence in my own choices, I laugh about that. My baby didn’t need cookies at all, much less organic ones. And I don’t care what the other moms think, as long as I feel good about what I’m feeding the kids.

I make it at home when I can.

I’m no do-it-yourself diva – I can barely cut paper in a straight line. However, I realized that some products are so easy to make in an environmentally friendly formula that it’s really no trouble – like spray cleaner out of vinegar and baking soda.

I’m not a very good gardener, but those who are can do a lot toward easing the environmental burden of their diet by growing organic food at home. When I do price comparisons between do-it-yourself and store-bought, I try to remember to consider the social or environmental cost of the product – not just the dollar amount.

I make easy switches.

When I read about the child slavery involved in conventional cocoa beans, I decided not to buy chocolate. And to be honest, I was upset at the prospect of not purchasing our usual chocolate treats. However, once I got over the shock, I realized that kids love lollipops and other candies too. I can splurge to buy a couple fair trade chocolates for the kids, but otherwise I’m sticking to non-chocolate candies for now.

There are plenty of other foods that also come with a heavy human rights price, but since conventional chocolate isn’t a necessity, it was one of the easier choices to make.

I gave myself a pat on the back for choices that just happen to contribute to a greater good.

I’ve been buying nearly all of my kid’s clothes – and an increasing number of my own – second-hand. I do this to save money, but also because buying second-hand is more environmentally friendly, too.

I consider part of my shopping budget as charity.

If you buy the cheapest of everything without thinking about the consequences, and save thousands of dollars each year to donate to charity… are you really helping create the world you want? I’m not saying we should stop supporting charities, but instead, try supporting a retailer that operates according to your values. This can be as powerful as a direct donation.

With all that said, I understand that thinking about the ethics of what you buy is not going to fit into everyone’s budget. If I could barely afford enough groceries to get through the week, I would not waste one minute thinking about organic versus conventional.

And of course, not everyone shares my family’s values. You may go out of your way to support a retailer that I don’t feel comfortable supporting, or vice versa. I’m not trying to convince others to stop buying conventional chocolate or start buying organic. My point is that if there are things that bother you about what you’re buying, you may be able to find a way to shop with your values.

Carrie Kirby blogs about being a realistic frugalista in Chicago at Frugalistic Mom.

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  1. says

    Thanks for this article! It was encouraging. My husband and I are beginning a similar journey of discovering how things are made before we buy them. It’s a little overwhelming, so we’re just starting with food. We recently stopped buying meat after learning how it is processed. We’re planning to buy a house in a couple months where we can have a deep freezer and purchase healthier meet at an affordable price in bulk.

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