sometimes less costs more

My original shopping philosophy was that it was better to spend less money so we would have more to give and save. I have since realized that sometimes less costs more. Here’s why:

1. Justice

“Before you’ve finished your breakfast this morning, you’ll have relied on half the world” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

This quote revolutionized the way I looked at shopping. I saw the quote on Oxfam International’s “Make Trade Fair” page shortly after discovering the concept of fair trade. It now seems obvious, but I had never before thought about the broader implications of my purchases – that what I buy, for better or worse, supports what people are paid and how they are treated.

“Did you know 70% of the world’s supply of cocoa beans come from West Africa where there is an estimated 15,000 child slaves who harvest them?” (Not for Sale, Chocolate Campaign)

This is hard. It is much easier to buy a brand I love, or a cheaper product, but I am making an effort to be more aware of the true cost of what I buy. I sometimes like to think of a purchase as a little political statement, a quiet protest against injustice.

For more information, I recommend:

Oxfam International’s Trade Campaign
Free 2 work, which has easy-to-read report cards for companies
Food, Inc.

    2. The “3 R’s” (but mainly reduce)

    Reducing what I use has meant some higher up-front costs – reusable water bottles, bags for produce and groceries, containers for lunch, or simply forking up more money for a pair of shoes that will last me ten summers, instead of just one.

    As someone who has always thought it’s a bit goofy to pay for water, buying the reusable sacks and such was easy. I have carried a nalgene around for almost a decade, and I am now that girl who stuffs purchases in my purse instead of taking a plastic bag, but I’m okay with looking a little weird. It was the shift in buying things that would last, versus the temporary and trendy that was a little hard. I now try to think of items in terms of lifetime costs. For example, last December I bought a Vitamix blender, which is not cheap. However, after killing my first blender in under a year of rigorous use, I knew the seven-year warranty would be better long-term, for both our wallet and the earth.

    I know shopping second-hand is also environmentally savvy, but I’m still working through some resentment at the overpriced, hipster thrift stores. Baby steps.

    3. Quality of Life

    This is not nearly as noble as justice and the environment, but quality of life is something we now consider. We do not spend money on a lot of things. We do not have cable, an iPhone, a Wii or a plethora of other “essential” items. After living a year with quite literally the bare necessities, we came home to more than we wanted. We also spent our time in Rwanda eagerly anticipating all the longed for purchases we previously denied ourselves. The result? Less stuff, a lot more points on our credit card. The process of downsizing was not inexpensive. We decided to spend money on things if it meant we would better use what we already had. So, for example, instead of a “guest room” where only the only guest was clutter, our second bedroom became an office. It cost more, but we now use every inch of our home.

    Considering quality of life also means we go out to eat more and spend more time in Houston’s theater district. We do not spend what we do not have, but we are okay with buying more than just the bare necessities if it will add to our quality of life.

    I know our spending habits are not perfect. I still buy unethically made, environmentally unfriendly stuff that I won’t really use. My hope is that we simply get a little better, one purchase at a time, even if it costs a bit more.

    I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. What shapes your shopping philosophy?

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