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How to shop ethically without breaking your budget

Most of us want to get the most value for our money when we’re buying things. At the same time, one aspect of our purchases that many of us care about is ethics. What are the ethical implications of our purchases?

That kind of ethical concern can take on a lot of forms. Perhaps you’re concerned about the environmental impact of the things you buy. Are they manufactured in an environmentally friendly way? What about the packaging?

Others might be concerned with the treatment of animals. Does the company treat animals in an ethical fashion?  Many of us are concerned about the ethical treatment of workers. Are the workers at the factories or in the fields paid well? Are they treated well? Sometimes, we find ourselves making purchases with a bit of a guilty feeling.

At other times, we even avoid purchases or spend more on purchases to avoid those ethical dilemmas.

All of these feelings are complex, and they’re made even harder when we’re concerned about our money, too. How do we balance all of these ideas and concerns without spending tons of money on the most ethical goods?

Here are strategies to use.

Don’t buy

The first strategy is easy. Just stop buying stuff. If you don’t need something, don’t buy it.

This choice makes it easy to spend less money and thus keeps money in your pocket. It also guarantees that your money isn’t going to unethical companies, either. It also means that you’ll have plenty of money to support a much smaller number of more ethical products and services, and since you’re reducing your purchases, you have more time to pay attention to the purchases you do make.

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You can achieve all of that by simply saying “no” more often. Stop buying things you don’t need.

Buy secondhand, swap, trade and repurpose

Another strategy to use is to simply buy items secondhand. Once items are being sold secondhand, your acquisition and use of them has far less ethical consequence because you are not buying a new product fresh from the manufacturer. You don’t support a manufacturer by buying its product secondhand; rather, you’re just supporting the local thrift store, the person running a yard sale or the person selling on Craigslist.

This is particularly important when your concerns are more environmental in nature. Buying secondhand is a great way to simultaneously minimize the amount of junk that makes its way into landfills, minimize the number of new items being produced and also minimize your own expense.

Decide what matters most to you

It is essentially impossible to find an ethically “perfect” good, product or service. Almost all production causes waste. People aren’t ethically perfect. Even if a particular business does a lot of things well, they can’t be sure about the entirety of all of its supply chains. You can find an ethical problem with essentially every producer of goods and every service provider if you look close enough.

What you have to figure out is what matters most to you. Figure out one or two ethical issues that matter the most to you and focus on making ethical purchases with regard to those specific issues. Lean into those issues and don’t worry as much about other issues.

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Perhaps you care about how much of a company’s manufacturing and sourcing comes from America above all else. Or, maybe, you care about how the company treats all of its employees and all of its sources with fair wages and good treatment. Maybe you’re most concerned with companies minimizing the environmental impact of its production and products and want to avoid big polluters and waste producers.

There is no truly wrong answer here. Whatever it is that concerns you the most, lean into that.

But aren’t those other issues important? Sure, but if you try to lean into every possible ethical concern, you lose the time and ability to understand and adequately research how each company you might buy products and services from addresses the ethical concerns you care about the most. Choose one or two and really understand them front and back. That way, you know you’re making ethical choices on the core issue or two most important to you.

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