I am trying to live a Frugal Life, but have reached a dilemma: Sometimes buying the least expensive item sacrifices my ethics - - for example, buying items from the local dollar store that obviously have been tested on animals or made by child labor in other countries. Is it possible to live a truly Frugal Life while also practicing an ecologically and ethically benign consumerism? Sometimes is it better for society as a whole to spend a little more on a "progressive" product, like fresh organic produce?
I find that it is possible to live frugally and in accordance with my personal ethics. I do not support animal testing, so I feel that spending a little extra for cruelty-free products is well worth it.
The same goes for organic produce, when I can get it. I do my best to support our local farmers market, where I can get fresh vegetables from local farmers. Some are organic farmers and some are not. I have my favorites among the farmers and sellers, so I patronize them even though there might be a stall across the aisle with tomatoes 5 cents cheaper per pound.
While frugality is a personal choice, I don't think it has to be a selfish one or one that causes you to live in a manner that compromises your values. If I'm so caught up in saving those precious pennies that I lose my ability to feel sick when I see pictures of animals being held in stocks while cosmetics are dripped into their eyes or kids being forced to work in horrid conditions for meager pay, I'm not the person I want to be and no amount of money is going to buy me a conscience, a heart, or a soul.
As for the dollar stores, take a look at what you're buying. Cheaper isn't always better. What's the point in buying a dollar spatula that's going to melt and disfigure after one use? You get what you pay for. The only real way to stop the production is to stop buying the merchandise. I haven't ever found anything in the dollar store I couldn't live without. What I have found is a ton of cheap junk designed to fall apart at the first opportunity. I do my best to shop wisely, frugally and ethically.
In all honesty, one of the best ways I have found to combine my frugality and my personal ethics is to invest in a book of stamps. If I don't have the means to financially sup- port the causes I believe in, I can at least lend my voice by writing a letter. I also believe in volunteering time. When I can, I purchase those fund-raiser items I know I'll use. I could have spent less than $13 on a t-shirt if I'd really needed one, but the $13 I spent for the local-police-force-footrace-to-support- the-Special-Olympics shirt is, to me, a good investment in ways that transcend money.
As far as buying items made in other countries, you might as well get rid of your TV, VCR, and a lot of other stuff, not just clothing. In regards to the "not tested on animals" stuff, believe me, it has all been tested on animals at some point in the past and some company is taking advantage of someone else's work at that point. In other words, these environmentally conscious companies are using for the most part chemicals that have already been proven safe years ago. I am not in favor of animal testing, but these new companies are just trying to make a buck by climbing aboard yet another trend.
I wanted to respond to the lady who wonders how she can be ethical and still remain frugal. This is a problem my household has successfully addressed. It's hard to pass up cheap detergent and cleaners by Proctor & Gamble and cheap personal care by Helene Curtis, but if you truly want to maintain your ethics and avoid exploitive and tortuous products, you need to be creative and explore other options. You can call or e-mail PETA and AAVS and they will send you a list of companies who do not test on animals and the number of "mainstream" companies who are ethical in their treatment of employees and animals will surprise you. For example, Revlon, Aveeno and Lever (at last look) do not test on animals and are not much more , and in some cases are cheaper, than their less kind alternatives. The judicious use of the products produced by these companies will take care of most household and personal care needs, and you can still find coupons in the newspaper for them. Additionally, safe homemade cleaners using vinegar and baking soda are actually far cheaper than store alternatives and will not compromise ethics.
It's easy to handle the problem of purchasing products which create and exploit human misery--don't buy them, no matter how tempting. Actually, if you look at the problem rationally, Nike shoes are really expensive. There are a lot of alternatives to Nike shoes which do not exploit the people of Thailand. The quality of Kathie Lee clothing, sold through Walmart, is not good enough to justify any price tag, no matter how cheap. Magazines like Mother Jones and websites, like Boycott These Companies, will tell people which companies are violating people and the environment. In the largest global economy in history, there are alternatives to everything. In the mass culture of America, it is hard to get away from advertising and the convenience of dollar stores and huge mass retailers which stock items made by terrible companies, but an ethical person, devoted to their cause can find other avenues which do not break the bank. Also, buying less clothing and stretching the dollar so that it can afford better quality will cut down on worn out clothing and is environmentally sound.
Frankly there are some items which cannot be cheap, so using less is the only option. I am aspiring to be a total vegetarian, but my spouse still eats chicken and turkey. He eats very little of it because at 4.99 a pound on a good day, free range is very steep. But by no measure can we purchase the cheap 39 cents a pound chicken, knowing the hideous practices of such companies toward the chickens themselves and their importation and abuse of illegal aliens who do the sickening work. Finding a toothpaste which wasn't tested on animals was difficult, and the one I finally found, Tom's of Maine, is very expensive compared to Crest. However, in an article by Amy Dacyzyn about dental needs and toothpaste, I realized that I only needed to use one quarter inch of product on my toothbrush, which substantially offsets the cost. This is only one example of how anyone, with a little creativity, or in my case, the ability to research a better answer, can be ethical without escalating costs.
The term organic, when applied to foods, is loaded. In Texas, where I live, there are as of yet, no definite term definitions of what "organic" means. So be careful when buying organic foods. Find out from the grocer if organic means grown without pesticide, or if it means non-irradiated, or if it means grown locally. If the grocer can't tell you, go somewhere else until some one can tell you what they mean when they say organic. Buying locally and buying food within season will substantially eliminate cost for good fruit and vegetables. Buying locally, depending upon where you live and the size of the agricultural concern, will also eliminate the problem of purchasing food grown and picked by abused migrant workers. Buying local and growing your own vegetables will also decrease the need for irradiation, as the food will not have to travel long distances, nor will it have been grown in a country with suspect food growth and handling techniques. Buying other staples in bulk and shopping at a co-op can help offset the prices of more expensive foods.
It's hard to save money and be ethical. It can be done, though. My household is living proof. There are times when we have to make the decision to spend more money so that we can continue to walk our talk, so to speak. But we have decreased our consumption of products, explored a lot of alternatives, and in the end, we have managed to save more money than had we continued to buy Tide with triple coupons and clothes at Walmart. Just the act of making yourself look at situations differently and obtaining more information will put you ahead in the money game, because all too often, we get trapped in a tyranny of tradition. I bought Tide and Finesse for many years because my mother bought these items. Just making myself think and look at things differently gave me the power to change wasteful and harmful spending habits. Just because something has a small price tag doesn't mean it will be cheaper in the long run.
I too am concerned about the twin goals of non-wasteful and ethical living. All I can say is, the primary purpose my husband and I are determined to have no debt is so we can more consistently shop and live for the good of the earth. We want to stop wasting money on paying interest, so that we can live our values. I personally think paying interest on credit card debt is a sin. Think of how many people go to bed hungry at night, then consider the money I alone have spent on interest so that I could have a trinket or two. Yuck! All our debt reduction efforts feel good even when we pinch our pennies and cinch our belts because at least we're finally going in the "right" direction! No easy answers!!!!
In response to the Frugal vs. Ethical question, I would definitely choose ethical over frugal. A big reason for being frugal in the first place is personal responsibility, so it doesn't seem consistent to finance other people being irresponsible. We can always buy the second or third least expensive product (and maybe use a coupon?), and we'll still be saving money compared to buying the most expensive.
If it bothers you that manufacturers test their products out on animals,for instance, then don't buy their products. If enough people boycott these products, then the manufacturer will either stop testing on animals or go out of business. That's market forces for you.
"Put your money where your mouth is" makes a lot of sense, especially in our cases because each of our purchases is a bigger percentage of our expenses than the Average Joe Spendthrift. So, let's make the money we do spend count!
Frugal doesn't mean you have to buy everything just because it's inexpensive! There are many reasons you may not choose to buy the cheapest product: color, brand name, etc. After all, if you need carrots, you're not going to buy tomatoes just because they're cheaper! If you choose to support, for example, the Nestle boycott, you may very well decide to pass up the Nestle product which is on sale for 35 cents in favor of a similar product from another company which is not on sale for 60 cents. But, you may find the other product in another store for 45 cents. In this case, you haven't "wasted" 10 cents; you've saved 15! Only *you* can decide what products you need, what you will *not* buy, where to spend money, and where to save money.
Our family has also struggled with the frugality vs ethics issue. We would rather not buy cheap plastics, clothing manufactured by `slave labor' and food with pesticides. However to avoid all those types of purchases is beyond our means right now. We can still make some choices that help to combine the two. We usually start with 2 questions, need and budget. If the need is high and the budget low, we may choose the cheapest option. If there is very little difference in price, such as with organic beans and grains in bulk, we usually go with the more ethical choice.
On of the key factors in living both frugally and ethically is doing with less. Often the items at the dollar stores are things we could live without. Small carboard boxes replace plastic bins, plain paper replaces coloring books and imagination replaces all those junky plastic toys and jewelry. Organic food is difficult. You can't really consume less food but you can simplify your diet. Instead of thinking you can't afford organic food because you can't buy the meat or milk, change your diet to include more of the organic food you can afford, like lentils and rice. We have tried to buy produce in season and through Farmer's Markets whenever possible. Another option is Community Supported Agriculture. People buy shares in a farm and then get whatever is ripe on a weekly basis. And of course gardening. Even a small apartment can support some herb plants, sprouting or a tomato plant in a pot. These may not be as cheap as frozen vegies, but they are more affordable than you may think to get some fresh, pesticide free food in your diet.
Even though many frugal choices are also ethical choices, there are times when you simply have to pick one over the other. The circumstances of those decisions are so varied it is hard for anyone else to say what you should do. One person may say they can afford the higher cost choice if they paid their bills this month, another may wait until they have a solid savings account. To stretch your ideas of frugality and ethics, I suggest you read Living More With Less by a Mennonite woman. She has stories of choices people have made after living in missionary settings to combine these two goals. I guarantee you will be challenged by this book.
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