Are Your Frugal Ways Hurting Us All?

by Carrie Kirby on 10 March 2008 59 comments
Photo: glindsay65

Usually we feel virtuous when we save money. But as the economy teeters in that uncertain territory of possible recession, suddenly we are being implored to spend. With prices going up and incomes uncertain, the instinct for many of us is to cut back on spending; yet if everyone does that, a recession seems certain.

 This situation makes me think of others when frugality can be seen as a virtue or a vice, depending on how you look at it:

1) Shopping discount stores

I love me some Target, but I will not shop at Wal-Mart because of that company's well known anti-union policies and labor problems. I try to sit on a high horse and enjoy my Target shopping, content that I am doing The Right Thing. But am I? A friend who worked in the fashion industry and knows her factory audits blogged this:

 "Personally, i try not to shop at places where the pricing is too good to be true. because if the price is too good to be true, my knee jerk reaction is that some kind of cheap, possibly sweatshop, labor was involved."

Hm. Can Target sell an $12 sweatshirt and still pay the person who sewed it fairly? I don't know, and since the answer might make me stop shopping at Target, I'm not sure I want to know.

2) Buying everything on sale

Like so many Wise Breadders, I rarely pay full price for anything. Often that tactic allows me to buy foods that are organic, coffee labeled "fair trade," or cosmetic products not tested on animals.  I thought I was being smart AND doing The Right Thing.

Then I had the privelege of interviewing Bill Center , retired US Navy Rear Admiral and then-president of the Washington Council on International Trade. His point of view was that if you wait until what you want to buy is on the clearance rack, you are not telling the retailers that you like this merchandise. If Macys couldn't sale all those organic cotten Save the Whales Tshirts and had to discount them, they won't order more.

Hm again. When I buy on sale, am I sacrificing the ability to vote with my dollar?

3) Always buying the cheapest available

 I am concerned about my family and its future. I stay home with my children because I think it's best for them, but it causes family finances to be tight.

Because of this, I don't always buy the organic food that I know is best for the earth, nor do I buy a car that I can be sure was union-made, nor do I spring for the recycled, bleach-free diapers.

Could I truly not afford this stuff? Or am I just being stingy? Certainly the truly moral thing to do would be to give up coffee altogether if I can't afford the ethically correct coffee, but I have not done that. Far from it.

One area where I always pay the extra price of kindness is eggs. Once I saw videos of chickens crammed into coops, one on top of the other, I could never again bring myself to buy eggs that are not cage free, even though they cost more. I think if I saw more firsthand examples of how my buying habits could be hurting others, I would either find the cash to buy the right thing or do without. This is an area where I am trying to improve.

4)  Taking advantage of free offers

I recently joined my local Freecycle group, and again was feeling virtuous. After all, I was helping keep stuff out of the landfills.

But once I started jostling with other (presumably) middle class residents of my town for free kids' toys and kitchenwares, I started to wonder: What would we do with this stuff if we were not freecycling it? Would we really throw it in the trash?

Our local Salvation Army does regular pick-ups, so I'd probably be giving the stuff to charity rather than giving it to other people who may not be all that needy. And why should my neighbors be giving their stuff to me when they could be giving it to someone more desperately in need?

5) Try it at the store, buy it online

We all love having local businesses. So logically we should buy everything we can in the remaining shops in our downtown areas, lest the whole world turn into the continuously repeating scroll that you already see from the nation's freeways: Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot.

Sometimes I'm good about buying locally, even though it nearly always costs more. But I have also been guilty of visiting local stores to try out a stroller or some such, compare the color and heft in person, and then going home to order it much cheaper online. Am I responsible for the monotonization of America? Or do these local stores just need to get more competitive to survive in the wired world?

6)  Paying the Full Balance Each Month

I thought I was doing the smart thing and ensuring my family's future by refusing to carry a balance on my credit cards.

But am I depriving depriving CitiBank of its ability to make a living? Am I the real reason behind the current banking crisis?

OK, that one is a joke. I actually can't find any ethical ambiguity to paying the bills on time.

Does saving money ever propell you into ethical dilemmas? How do you get out of them?

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Guest's picture
Guest

Regarding #4. I have done quite a bit of freecycling lately, always on the offer end. I had to pause and wonder when a college-aged girl drove about 50 miles round trip in her new Hummer to pick up a little bag of hotel soaps and shampoos. Maybe I should have saved those items for somebody who needed them more?

One of my problems is that I want to know that my un-needed items are going somewhere that they will be appreciated. I prefer to give directly to other people (or to organizations like food/clothing banks that distribute directly and don't re-sell). Salvation Army and similar organizations seem like such a bottomless pit where you have no idea how your donation of clothes or toys is going to help.

Guest's picture
ryan

i understand your arguments, but i see this as the "buy american or the terrorists win" type stuff.

i refuse to pay more for a car because it was union made in the usa, to my own detriment. I will not be without something so that a line assembler can make $45 an hour. that is not capitalism.

Guest's picture
Frugal Feminist

Ryan:

Buying an American car (and paying more for it) so that an American worker can make $45/hour IS capitalism--or at least the American version of it. The idea is that if you buy that car, then that auto worker can afford to buy some other American-made whatzit, afford outrageously expensive American healthcare, afford to live in a McMansion, etc.

What I am doing--trying to live within my means, live without debt, save the environment--is actually very UN-American in economic terms. This is a country that thinks we are only "winning" if the economy is constantly growing, never stopping to realize that it can't just grow forever.

As to the original post--I just don't buy that much, on sale or otherwise. But when I do, I try to remember who made it and how they are being treated. So, yes, I *do* buy the fair-trade chocolate and the unbleached, recycled paper and the organic produce, even when it is not on sale.

As for buying at thrift shops and such, that is just another form of recycling--keeping things out of landfills is a *good* thing no matter what it does to the capitalist economy. It's *not* my job to keep the mall open.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a slightly different pang of guilt when it comes to giving my things on freecycle. By me giving my things away, I am not allowing myself to be a pack rat. However, I can't help but wonder each time if I'm just helping someone else perpetuate their need to collect things.

Guest's picture
Manda

I completely agree. My mom has dealt with compulsive hoarding for many years; consequently I find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum, compulsive purging. I stopped doing freecycle because for one, I had neither the patience nor sweat equity (lol), and two, I had several instances where someone came and seemed to get a rush from simply acquiring the things in my living room. I couldn't have that on my conscience, so I donate items to shelters (men's shelters, for example, are in desperate need of just about everything).

Guest's picture
Brandon

I was pretty shocked by number 1. My wife works as Target and loves it there, however, Target is just as anti-union as Walmart. All that bad press that Wal-Mart gets can really be applied to all big box retailers, and if you look at Target they aren't much better that Walmart over all. Please read over this for more information:
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13508

Guest's picture
meghan

Very true... Today Wal-Mart is an industry leader in getting organic products to market, turning all that urban sprawl into energy efficient space and developing new breed of truck that is ultra efficient... does this all still perpetuate consumerism? yes. but Wal-Mart is making a true effort to changing itself and getting these products more mainstreamed... the days of target being better than
wal-mart are over i think.. target is just riding on its chicer rep/products and method product line..

Guest's picture
Spencer

I've decided to try, whenever possible, to buy meat that has been raised locally, humanely and sustainably. This usually means that I'm paying between 4 and 8 dollars a pound, even for hamburger. So, I just buy less of it, filling in the calories with veggies. I'm eating healthier, treading more lightly on the earth, condemning fewer animals to short, miserable lives, and encouraging the farmers to keep up the good work. And I'm not really spending any more money, just spending it differently.

And, yes, it still hurts a little to walk past the $1 hamburger and $1.98 ribs in the supermarket. But in the long run, it feels good.

Guest's picture
Guest

$1 hamburger and $1.98 ribs! Do you live in 1975??? ... (Insert Laughter here).

Guest's picture
Guest

I understand and agree with some of the listed questions, however I think that being "too" frugal is a very minor issue in the US's economy issues. I think in fairness that if the heads of state and corporate leaders want people to spend more, then I feel inclined to ask them to maybe spend less.

Guest's picture
Guest

I tend to freecycle stuff that I can't donate elsewhere. Like the boxes from our last move. And I'm about to list a plastic swimming pool that has a small enough crack for GW to refuse it but easily patched by someone more industrious than I.

Guest's picture

Carrie--
I really appreciated both the thoughtfulness and the beautiful honesty of this post, for it's not often that people a) examine the impact of their habits on others and b) admit that they are lacking in some areas.

I had a serious moral awakening when I started drinking coffee in college. I walked into Wal-Mart (oh, the shame!) and noticed that those nice large cans of coffee were only $4 apiece. There must have been hundreds of them. Then I thought about all the Wal-Marts and all the other supermarkets and the sheer volume of coffee being produced, and it dawned on me: there's a lot of brown hands working very hard every day for next to nothing so that I can have my $4 can of Folgers.

What pained me even worse was that I knew if I paid the people the fair cost for their labor, I would not be able to afford coffee. But by drinking the coffee I could afford, I enabled this unjust system to remain in place. In fact, I encouraged the system to remain in place.

I then generalized from there and felt overwhelmed. At the end of the day, I still drank coffee and buy other similarly procured items. I don't know if it's better to do this while knowing the cost on others or whether it was better, morally speaking, when I didn't know the cost.

Keep up the good work and let us know if you reconcile the dilemmas.

Guest's picture
Alexandra

I also think it's too cheap not to buy at least some books and magazines. Cutting back on subscriptions and trips to bookstores is one of those things that frugality websites are recommending. But how are publishers going to publish books if nobody will pay for them? Ditto for plays and movies. If you admire a director or an actor, or you want to have the arts alive in your area, invest some money in the arts.

Guest's picture
Alexandra

I also think it's too cheap not to buy at least some books and magazines. Cutting back on subscriptions and trips to bookstores is one of those things that frugality websites are recommending. But how are publishers going to publish books if nobody will pay for them? Ditto for plays and movies. If you admire a director or an actor, or you want to have the arts alive in your area, invest some money in the arts.

Guest's picture
Guest

Wow, I just finished reading a Wisebread entry about how gasoline is cheap compared to other things, and now an entry about how being frugal may be bad for us.

Was Wisebread recently acquired by Fox?

Guest's picture

I've learned to avoid paying full price for clothing. I used to justify paying full price on the grounds that my size (mens XL) was usually gone if I didn't jump on something I liked, however I shrank to a mens L so now I can wait for an item to go on sale.

Be careful when buying the cheapest available item. Certain items can be treated as commodities, while other items might be worth a premium. I'd rather have a $100 coffeemaker that will last half a lifetime than a $20 one that I'll trash in a couple of years.

Green buying is all about buying local, not whether a given product is organic. It does the planet no good if Wal-Mart offers organic lettuce grown in California on shelves in Wisconsin since such a process still uses vast fossil fuel resources to move the product to a store shelf. If you care about the planet, buy locally grown produce at a farmer's market. I always get a chuckle at the Whole Foods customers who arrive in a Land Rover and hold up organically grown blueberries flown in from Chile in the dead of winter and think they're doing their bodies and the planet something good.

Guest's picture
Mrs. Chef

BRAUN coffeemakers last longest, best quality, reasonable price, under $25.

Mrs. Chef

Carrie Kirby's picture

just today i passed a store selling 59-cent/pound chicken quarters

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't see how spending less can be bad for the economy. It's not like I'm going to take any savings and hide them under a mattress. If I save on something, then I'm going to buy something else, or invest it in an economy that is amidst a credit crisis. How is that a bad thing?

Guest's picture
DivaJean

Have you really tried to give a significant amount of stuff to Goodwill or the Salvation Army lately?

They are VERY picky. Our SA will not take: books, toys with "use" showing, chairs or furniture with any wear or the bottom dust protector off, etc.

And then there are items they historically don't consider- like plants, food, etc.

FreeCycle in my area is very active and saves tons of stuff from landfill. Charities don't want a lot of the stuff that seems to go around.

Guest's picture

Whether you give something to Freecycle, or Goodwill, etc (and a LOT of middle class people shop at those places too, and pick up some amazing buys) you are probably doing an all-around good thing. Everything rescued from a possible resting place in some landfill is also something not being mass produced immediately, saving resources. I think my frugality here is well-placed. And I don't know where you are, but around here I have NEVER seen the shelves and racks at the local thrift store sit empty. More stuff is coming in than most places can sell or give away, and I don't mind keeping it moving. Multiple streams are more efficient in this case than just one picky or overwhelmed Salvation Army per county.

The other end of the decision making process comes down to what it costs in real consequences when we save money on purchases. I must have cage free eggs, natural meat, as much local and organic food as the budget will bear. Not only do I prefer to buy these personally, I know that if people who CAN afford to spend a little more on responsibly produced food will do so, that that will help those farmers and growers stay in business, make more of these choices available, and eventually help ease the price down for everyone (or help it ease upward more slowly if that's the direction everything is going.)

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

Guest's picture
Scarlett

I found this post insiteful.
1. I hate Wal-mart too and have begun trying to shop for most things at grocery stores and using coupons and then buying everything else at more specialized stores.
2. I also agree about waiting until it is on sale. I think there is a difference between buying something at a store wide sale and on clearence. And still every once in a while I will shell out more for organic, made in the use, etc. or something else I think is worth paying for.
4. My local GW warehouse is overflowing with stuff that will rot before it hits shelves. I have taken good quality clothes there to see them heaped in a pile with things that smell like smoke and mildew. At least with freecycle, I know they will be used for a time and keep someone from buying new and sending mine to a landfill. I also sell nicer used clothing on consignment or find a source where it can be distributed immediately. My local career center takes business clothes to outfit their client base with appropriate clothes for interviews.

I feel like I am saving money in other places to buy local, handmade and things that are important to me.

Guest's picture
Liz S

If something is unreasonably cheap, there's always an unsavory reason. Child labor? Poor environmental practices? Unsavory sources for raw materials?

We must all learn to consider the full costs of our purchases. The 39 cent head of lettuce is cheap today, but how much more will we pay in the long run for the environmental cleanup? A $3 head of romaine or a $15 organic t-shirt is a vote for the future.

Sustainability isn't a trend - it's a return to a mode of life that never should have been forgotten. Everything is interdependent.

Guest's picture
Guest

I stopped freecycling because almost all of the people who came for my stuff were just planning to resell it. Or, people offer to take away everything in order to get the one thing they really wanted (and presumably throwing the rest away). That's not in the spirit of freecycle.

Guest's picture
KentuckyFriedEagle

it always makes me LOL when I hear people say that they hate Wal-Mart but love Target.

Guest's picture
Guest

Only the rich - or naive - can NOT buy at the cheapest/or most frugal price, ethics notwithstanding.

rstlne's picture
rstlne

If you don't shop at Wal-Mart, you'll be depriving Chinese factory workers of their livelihood. The factory will shut down. Then the workers will be idle and restless and they'll revolt. China will fall to chaos. Is that the Right Thing? :)

Guest's picture

Freecycling is amazing... and a testiment to the fact that one person's trash is another person's treasure. I once had a box of Ebay-purchased dishes arrive broken (poorly packed by vendor).... once he and I had worked out reimbursement details, I offered the shards up on Freecycle. I had over a dozen people contact me. Apparently, there are a lot of mosaic crafters/artists around here, and they use broken china for tesserae. I personally don't care if they sell their crafts afterward: my goal is to get the stuff out of my space and not into landfill... if people inject some value add into the items (fix them up, remodel them, make quilts out of them, craft them), so much the better!

When trying to get rid of accumulated "stuff":

Talk to your local womens'/mens shelters... they are often looking for clothing, soaps/shampoos, unused personal items.

Church organizations: often looking for items to help people set up apartments

Some of our local sports stores collect used running shoes for redistribution in wartorn Africa.

If you are trying to shed or acquire books, check out Bookcrossing.org.

Compost!

There are lots of alternatives to sending your cast offs to landfill... it just takes a bit more effort than depositing your stuff at the end of the laneway each week.

Guest's picture
Bean

I have this problem with my Video Game buying habits. I tend to only buy games after they've been out a year or two, and at a used $20 price point instead of the standard $50 new.

It's great on my budget, but I realize that not a single dollar of what I'm paying goes to the game creators. To make matters worse, I'm often buying games that, while good quality and good reviewed, didn't sell too well. Things like Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Psychonauts, etc. These games saw low sales and I know I'm contributing to that problem.

Guest's picture
Joe

Bean,

I am in the same situation you are. I love games and the prices are ridiculously high for many of them. I almost never buy a game when it is first released and I buy many used. I look a it this way, that used copy I take off the shelf can't be sold again as long as I have it so if there isn't another used copy available then someone else who can better afford it may buy a new one. I also look at the price difference between new and used. When a new copy of a game is selling at the bottom of the price range $19.99 then the used copy is usually only $2 less so it is worth getting the new one to give the publisher incentive to make more games but you still have the environmental consequences to think about every time a new copy is made. Paying $55 for a used game that sells for $60 new is out of my budget even though it is still about the same difference in price percentage wise. If you worry about buying things used because they hurt manufacturers then you'll never Freecycle, shop Goodwill or go to a library. You'll always be buying everything new and overpaying while causing damage to the environment. If a game doesn't sell well it is because it wasn't good enough compared to it's competitors anyway, so if the poor sales don't put the publisher under then it forces them to make a better product next time, which is good for all of us.

Guest's picture
Guest

I watched a show one time, and it showed a lady from one of the sweatshop countries, who lived in a tiny room, with hardly anything, and she worked at a sweatshop, making clothes for Walmart. She sewed on the two white stripes on the sides of black exercise pants...a pair that I actually HAVE! Seeing the face of someone who actually made my clothing was weird.
She made about $12 a WEEK at her job. The pants she sewed stripes onto, were selling for $12 a pair.

So they sent people and cameras, along with that actual woman, into a Walmart, to ask customers in the clothing section, if they wouldn't mind paying a little more for their clothing, if it meant that the woman who made them could make more money, and live a better life.
All of them said they would be willing to pay more, for her sake.

I sat there, thinking, NO! I would NOT be willing to pay more!
The whole reason I'm NOT shopping at the GAP, for my clothing, is that I can't afford it! So I'm shopping cheap, trying to make MY life, and my family's lives better. Heck...the reason I hardly ever shop at Target, even, is because they are more expensive than Walmart! They got nicer stuff, but oh well. I gotta make due!
I'm sorry, but I personally want to save MYSELF money...not give more for someone across the world.

I know. I'm gonna get clobbered with angry responses.
But I asked all my friends, and family about what they would say in that situation, and they said that they would say yes to paying more, because the cameras were on, and the sewing lady was right there. But in actuality, they would NOT want to pay more. Their thoughts were the SAME as mine.
Most of this life is "look after you and your own", isn't it?

I want my cheap stuff, and I NEED my cheap stuff. I stay at home and take care of the kids, and my Husband breaks his butt SEVEN days a week, for our family. SEVEN DAYS. I'm not kidding.
It's a running joke on weekends, when I see my family, they say, "oh...where's Jim? Let me guess.....he's WORKING???"
Saturday AND Sunday. Full days. Non stop.
But we believe that kids should be with their parents, and not have someone else raising them all day. So we deal with it.

I know the people in the sweatshops would never do anything to help MY Husband have a day off. So why should I spend more on that striped pair of pants, so MY Husband has to work harder, just so that woman can have more?

Sorry. I'm being honest, and I think more people should be honest about this stuff. Not ONE person I asked, said they'd be willing to pay more. Not ONE. And I know plenty of respectable people. They aren't all lower class, hicks, or anything.

Go ahead. Persecute me for telling the truth.

Guest's picture
Guest

Persecute you? NO WAY! I stand by every word you said. I am a SAHM to 4 with a husband that owns his own small company and he, too, works 7 days a week. In the summer he sometimes only gets about 4 hrs sleep. My job is to save the money, while his is to make it. You bet I'm gonna find the best deal I can on what ever we need to make his hard earned money go as far as it can!

Guest's picture
Guest

I hear you what you're saying. A lot of these posts are clearly written by well-meaning, good people, who nevertheless are used to having the luxury of a lot more choices than many folks in America. I grew up in a family too poor to even afford Wal-Mart; mostly we had to shop at super-discount stores like Family Dollar, etc. In fact, my mom was a sewing machine operator in a garment factory in those days, before retailers like Wal-Mart pressured their suppliers to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas and killed the garment industry in this country. If not for Wal-Mart, my mom might have been making your striped pants. Believe me, you still would have been getting a bargain: Mama's net pay was about $12 a DAY, compared to that foreign lady's $12 a week.

For Wal-Mart, it's a no-lose situation: they force their vendors to move our manufacturing jobs elsewhere, and any manufacturers who do try to keep employing workers here have to keep their wages low in order to be as competitive with the sweatshops as possible. So Wal-Mart doesn't just get lower prices on their stock; by helping to depress wages, they also expand the class of people who are too poor to shop anywhere but -- Wal-Mart! Of course, this goes for Target and all the others as well.

That's why I don't shop at Wal-Mart, even though I know and love lots of people who do (including Mama!). No matter how hard I work, or how carefully I watch my pennies, I can never quite keep up with the cost of living, and I think more and more people can sympathize with that experience. Maybe there's not a lot I can do to change that in the long run, but in the short run I CAN avoid rewarding the very people who are making it so.

Guest's picture
Deirdre

I live in what I feel is a quaint old-fashioned village, and it's important to me that the stores in the village survive. I can walk into town and buy a variety of things that are more expensive than if I bought them at Target or online. But I'm walking, and I'm supporting my neighbors, and I'm keeping up the property value of my home (quaint villages mean higher property value), and I'm not using gas/polluting, and I'm getting some free exercise.

It is, however, tough for me to spend $45 + tax on a book locally when I can get the same book minus tax and shipping for $30 from Amazon. It's not the bookseller's fault though. They're not marking anything up -- they're just trying to get by. Amazon buys in such bulk they can afford to make such huge discounts. I end up compromising -- I make sure to buy what I see as a fair number of my books from my local bookseller, and I order some online. (I actually get most of my books from the library -- we mostly just buy reference-type books or gifts.)

Anyway, it's far more important to me to support my local shops on every day than it is to support the Gap or Target or some other big box or chain store when they are selling an organic t-shirt. The same goes for food. I'd rather buy local meat and vegetables, organic or not, and support my local small farmers, than support huge organic factory farms that truck in the items.

BTW, I agree with the poster who points out that saving money in one place means investing it somewhere else. We've been frugal for years by necessity. The last year or so have been a little better for us financially, but we've continued to be frugal, and this January, we were able to buy our very first brand new car (talk about an ethical decision -- trying to figure out whether new was automatically worse for the environment, blah, blah, blah). So in the end we invested all that saved money in the automobile industry.

Guest's picture
Jaime

Not being frugal is what has reduced our economy into it's current poor state. And you would lay the guilt trip on us as consumers, who must be frugal to cope with the rising cost of living? Sorry, but I don't agree with this post at all.

Guest's picture
Bloggrrl

The thing is, you can pay a fortune for a shirt or whatever, and you may be paying for the marketing of that shirt, not the salary of the person who makes it. Every year, I challenge my students to find an article of clothing that is made in the United States, and usually, they can't do it. This year, one kid found a pair of socks. When we look at each others labels in class, we find that ALL of the clothes are made in countries where people are paid next to nothing to produce those clothes. So in the end, it may not really matter how much you pay for that shirt, or where you buy it. Perhaps it just boils down to which corporation you want to have your money.

Guest's picture
Guest

"I want my cheap stuff, and I NEED my cheap stuff. I stay at home and take care of the kids, and my Husband breaks his butt SEVEN days a week, for our family. SEVEN DAYS. I'm not kidding.
It's a running joke on weekends, when I see my family, they say, "oh...where's Jim? Let me guess.....he's WORKING???"
Saturday AND Sunday. Full days. Non stop.
But we believe that kids should be with their parents, and not have someone else raising them all day. So we deal with it."

All I have to say is AMEN! Thank you for your words - I am a Stay at Home Mom, too, and I love it. I am a bargain shopper because I have to be. And if I didn't have to be, I still would be because then I would be able to donate my money directly to the charities I see fit.

Guest's picture

I absolutely struggle with the need to keep my grocery bill as small as possible, and the fact that buying the cheapest food may not be the healthy choice.

I really WANT to buy fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides and other scary stuff, but that 10 lb bag of potatoes at Winco for $1.98 just calls to me every time!

I also agree that the lack of frugality is what got our country into the economic mess that we're in (and will continue to BE in, if we just pull out the credit cards to 'help' the economy).

I want to do what's best for ME (i.e. live frugally, become financially secure), while balancing my need to also live lightly on the earth. That is probably my greatest challenge (other than passing up the 50% off signs in the shoe store window. . . .)

Guest's picture
Guest

To the commenters that refuse to pay more... really? You can't spare even an extra dollar to trickle back to that worker in China? She and her family are not as worthy as yours? If you are really so broke can you not shop in a thrift store where the garments are likely to be even cheaper?
I am not a wealthy person but I don't see the point of wasting my money on cheap crap that will fall apart in a matter of weeks so that I have to go and buy it all over again.
The people in the sweatshops can't do anything to help your husband have a day off, because they are even worse off than you. I bet that factory worker would love to stay home with her children when in fact she is probably having to send them out to work from a young age. Try and have a little compassion for others, there is always someone worse off than you.

Guest's picture
JenN

I know #6 was tongue-in-cheek, but a lot of people don't seem to realize that businesses pay a percentage of each sale to the credit card company.

That's why you see "no Credit Card purchases under $X" signs in a lot of small businesses.

If you want to support an independent business, consider paying in cash, that way they aren't paying the bank a fee for cashing your check, or the credit card company a percentage that could be profits.

Guest's picture
JenN

I know #6 was tongue-in-cheek, but a lot of people don't seem to realize that businesses pay a percentage of each sale to the credit card company.

That's why you see "no Credit Card purchases under $X" signs in a lot of small businesses.

If you want to support an independent business, consider paying in cash, that way they aren't paying the bank a fee for cashing your check, or the credit card company a percentage that could be adding to their profits.

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband works three jobs. I ALSO work. Even so, we qualify for state health insurance. And still I wouldn't want to make a buying choice that hurts someone else.

Frugality isn't about being cheap, it's about making smart choices with possessions and money. Morally, ethically, spiritually, as well as financially, people have to live with their decisions. I want to teach my children about the value of people on this planet.

We don't need all this crap regardless of how cheap it is.

I think that consumer choices are greater now than ever before. Most communities have multiple places to shop for goo-gaws. Those goo-gaws come in many flavors, colors, styles by multiple name and no-name brands. It's easy to get overwhelmed and that's at the center of this post.

Guest's picture
Sarah

You honestly believe that if I pay $1 more for a shirt at Wal-Mart it's going to go back to that worker? Ha! It'll go straight into the hands of some CEO.

Given the option, I shop local but I'm not going out of my way to be environmentally friendly. As a student on an extremely limited budget, going to school from 7-4 every day and working until 10 most nights, I don't have the time or energy for it.

I've got enough guilt associated with mooching off my parents, worries about student loans, and stress about passing my program, I'm not about to feel guilty about the one part of my life (my budget) that's under control. I'm looking out for number one, sorry.

Guest's picture
Guest

Everyone says buy locally. Where do you all live that you can grow veggies and such in the dead of winter? Last summer I went to a local fruit/veg stand and the canalope was from California! I have to admit that as much as I want to vote with my dollar and be green, it is frustrating to do the research on a product only to find out that it is just as bad in another way and shouldn't be supported. I think the reason that we haven't all gone green or shop only ethically is that there is just not enough time or energy to always do this, unless you live like the Amish.

Guest's picture
Carol

You made a number of points that I had never considered before.

And I do think that in a perfect world, I would take all of those points to heart and try to consider more than just the price tag.

But....here are some things that I feel need to be said:
1)Those organic cotton T-Shirts? They were probably trying to sell them for $40 each or something like that. I think that while there are some people who are not concerned about price at all, most people who have a budget are hesitant to spend that much on a T-Shirt, no matter what it's made of. So maybe you're still voting with your dollar by not buying it until it goes on clearance, voting to "pay less" than what Macy's thinks it's worth....

2) I shop at WalMart. And I have given a lot of thought to the fact that, I could not bake bread for a dollar a loaf. I could not make shoes for $12 a pair. And I could not sew a coat for under $40. And I know the reason for the fact that I can buy those things at WalMart for those prices is not a cheerful one.
However, since we are on a hugely tight budget, I cannot feed and clothe my family without buying some things there.

On the flip side, I always check my favorite second-hand store first, when I determine I need an article of clothing or a kitchen utensil, etc. There are so many issues that can be stirred up by this debate. If I go to the second-hand store to buy a frying pan, am I hurting someone in China buy not buying a brand new one?

I vote with the poster who said that any purchase and/or donation that keeps stuff out of the landfill(s) is beneficial. And as far as the sweatshops go, if I decide to spend more money to buy the same things that my family needs, by not going to Walmart, then my family suffers, because my budget now limits me to only buying one pair of shoes (and who gets to wear them?) or maybe even no shoes at all, instead of the three (one for each person) that we really need. And at the very least, my family is uncomfortable for having to keep wearing ripped up shoes, but quite possibly, other people in the community may think (without knowing my reasoning) that since I don't buy shoes for my family when they clearly need it, I am not caring for my daughter properly. So I believe in this situation, you really can't make a good choice. I make the one that works for my family. And I don't feel virtuous about it at all, but I'm not stealing, and if I didn't shop there, the CEOs would still get rich, and I would just have tougher decisions to make.

3) There are a lot of great thrift shops around. Unfortunately, Goodwill has decided that they are no longer in the business of being a second-hand store serving less fortunate people and bargain hunters. They have decided that they will mark their items to the price where someone "might" pay for them. I.E., the Goodwill nearest my house, in MN, charges $6.99 for a used pair of jeans. And higher if they're a name-brand. But I just bought that same brand of jeans brand new at (you guessed it) WalMart, for $8.00. What the heck? So shopping at the Goodwill no longer makes me feel anything except I'm probably padding the pockets of the executives. And also, I don't think Goodwill employees make more than minimum wage, even though the Goodwill had that pair of jeans donated to them at no cost.

The thrift shop in my town is more of what people expect when you shop for second hand stuff...Jeans are a dollar, shirts are a dollar, shoes are three dollars, sometimes very nice items are priced higher than that, but they aren't in it to "make as much money as they can." So I always try to shop and donate there instead of the Goodwill.

But anyhow, my point is, that if I had wiggle room in my budget, I would opt to make more conscience-based decisions when I shop. But seeing as how right now I could only afford that Macy's T-Shirt if it showed up at my local thrift store, well, my thoughts have been provoked, but my actions haven't.

Guest's picture
Guest

Companies will maximize profit despite your best efforts to support workers. (See Prada selling $800 purses made by Chinese "Italian craftsman") Thus even socially conscious consumers will be exploited. It might cost 10% more to produce cage-free eggs, but since you feel guilty enough to pay 100% more that's what you will pay. The chickens are probably not much happier crammed into a barn with 10000 other chickens, but the farmer, corporation, and retailer, who each receive a cut of you generosity, are.

Guest's picture
Mary

I would love to buy only organic, environmentally-friend and local products, support the arts and buy books and magazines... But my budget means I can't do it all. I'm constantly frustrated by my wealthier friends and family who are wasteful when they can afford the ethically-responsible choices I can't.

My guilty pleasure is library books. I do buy books, but I can't afford to support my reading habits. If I only read books I could afford to buy, I would have to read less rather than buy more books. (Besides, I'm saving trees!)

Guest's picture
Amelia

There is a lot to think about in the original post, it seems like no issue is as simple as we wish it was. I have a comment about laborers in developing countries, because I have spent most of my adult life in one. It is really easy to make comments about how unjust a system is, which pays people so little, but just like all the other issues that were raised, it is not as simple as it seems. First of all, there are many of us who really cannot afford to buy US made goods. I don't care what anyone says, sometimes, it's just an economic reality. At some point our ideals have to meet reality, and often, we have to compromise. Secondly, the unemployment rate in many developing countries is ludicrously high. Often, any job, is better than no job. If I pay my laundry lady $4.25 a day, that sounds like a crime, to most of you. But the lady next door pays her laundry lady less than $1.50 for working longer days and she doesn't care about her laundry lady's kids or health and doesn't bother to treat her kindly. Should I not hire a laundry lady at all, because I can't pay her a US standard of minimum wage, or am I doing what's right within this context? My laundry lady loves working for me, in no small part because I treat her as a human being ought to be treated. Is that good enough? None of these questions has a simple answer. My laundry lady makes more money, working for me, than her husband did working at a job he'd had for 20 years. He was recently fired because a fortune teller told the boss the man was untrustworthy. Go figure.

Life is not fair, but we have to make decisions based on our values and do the best we can with the information we have. You can't do a thing about what other people will do with your stuff if you Freecycle it.(We don't have Freecycle here, but I have been a member when I lived in the US) Frankly, I don't care what they do with it, as long as it isn't my problem anymore and it's not in a dumpster somewhere. Spend your energy where it can do some good and don't worry too much about the other stuff.

Carrie Kirby's picture

I have also lived in the 3rd world and am thinking about a post about the many ways to look at cheap labor. After all there are so many countries out there that have nothing to offer the world market but cheap labor, and if we didn't have this race to the bottom, they would not be able to attract any manufacturing at all. It's definitely more complicated than it would first appear.

Guest's picture
Cindy M

Sorry, but you truly can't save the world as an individual (and as I bible believer, I know it's gonna go someday anyway). Our leaders have sold us out slowly but surely over the years. ANY spending I do these days is as little as possible, and I've cut every corner I can think of. I'm within walking distance of a Walmart and a Dollar General and some thrift stores, and the evil giants certainly get my business. I buy new things seldom. Gift giving in our family is no more except for the kiddies occasionally. And $12 for a sweat shirt? Cut me a break. New ones can be had for less thn $2 on a good day in a thrift store. Guess I'm getting too old to be reading and commenting on Wise Bread. Any 50-somethings here besides me?

Guest's picture
H_Roarke

Pathetic and misguided:

“Hm. Can Target sell an $12 sweatshirt and still pay the person who sewed it fairly? I don't know, and since the answer might make me stop shopping at Target, I'm not sure I want to know.”

“Once I saw videos of chickens crammed into coops, one on top of the other, I could never again bring myself to buy eggs that are not cage free, even though they cost more.”

So, you are fine with humans being mistreated, but chickens are where you draw the line? Have you ever even been around a real chicken? They are probably the dumbest animal on the planet and are one of the few animals that the “Industrial” animal farms can use to make their case for abusing animals (so dumb they aren’t self-aware). I’m not saying that abusing chickens is ok, but this advice is obviously worthless. Spend your money saving humans first, it’s a bigger bang for your buck.

Think before you write next time.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Nor am I saying my actions are a good model for others. I'm actually just pointing out my own weakness: I'm a lot more likely to act on what I've seen than to go out and investigate what I don't know about.

Haven't you ever wished you DIDN'T know about the consequences of some action you used to take guilt-free?

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, ALL THE TIME!

If I buy fair trade, organic, second hand, local and I budget carefully for it, then I hope it's the right thing to do. That's the best I have to offer the world in terms of my purchasing. Perhaps these people take advantage of me and the producer of the goods as much as the corporate world does, but it's the closest I can come to my conscience.

Sometimes, I have little choice in my purchasing. Wal-Mart chased away all the other businesses in the small (5K people) town my husband is from. When we visit and I need sunscreen, I go to Wal-Mart even though I know they "suggest" to their manufacturers outsourcing of labor. I don't feel great about it, but I give myself a pass. I could never make the same decision in my home town of a million.

When I play keeping up with the Joneses in my head, I do sometimes wish that my beliefs would allow me to take advantage of someone else's disadvantage.

Guest's picture
sylrayj

Sometimes, I do wonder if I'm contributing to a slower economy. I'm trying to shift us from buying foods that are increasing in price, to foods that tend to still be steady. I'm going to the thrift store for clothes now, where I can - the kids and I don't need brand-new, although my husband's job needs him to have fairly high quality stuff (and I will look to see if there's anything at the thrift store for him too).

Then I look at the other people in the checkout line with me. When their cart is half as full, and their bill is twice as much, I know that the economy has lots of push behind it. Sometimes I'm in awe of other people, for having really good deals and high quality foods, and sometimes I look at what we got at a particular store and I'm very aware that I'm doing stress-binge-eating again - but generally, even then, others are spending far more.

There are new stores being built, there's an area of land being fought over for perhaps a big box store - here, at least, there are many more people spending than there are people who aren't.

Guest's picture
crossn81

I liked all of your ideas except the one about ensuring your car was union-made. I'm going to assume you and your family are strong union folk so I won't try to cause an argument, but simply state that I used to work for Honda and it was a great place to work. Their cars are quality made by individuals who enjoy their jobs and work hard for a living at near Union wages and benefits.

Guest's picture
C-LO

Hey my saturn was 13,000 NEW and I didn't even have a financing charge. Granted this was in 03, I still made sure some people in TN had some food on their plate. My car even has a sticker saying it was built in TN. it's still on to this day. I would rather my hard earned money go to the local person so they can enjoy their lifestyle (EX. local grocer , clothing store) rather then being just another layer in some guy's roll (Big Box store, China) Guess with that case it's who has the better deal.

Besides cars are a bad example. For the most part they are all big companies. Don't get that twisted with your local startup company. Imagine a locally owned coffee shop close to a starbucks. You can go to either. They both use fair trade coffee, both taste good. But if I don't go to starbucks, i'm not gonna be missed money wise or myself as a person. At the local shop however any revenue they miss of course they'll see.

Working for a local company gives you a different mindset which you can see ( unless it's a real $&!&$% to work for ) Then you can say "hey jill, what's new? How's your thesis coming along" Other then "Hello how are ya? Such and such coffee so many pumps, this temp blah blah blah)" and if you start up any talk the manager usually starts shooting dirty looks at the worker etc. Besides the local coffee shops I know have live music, Art shows, wifi (free), contribute to the local economy, and much more. I will support that before I support the same store with the same green walls everywhere I go. Why go to the mermaid if all i'm doing is making some guy in Seattle rich when I live in Philadelphia? It's proven that it's so good for the economy if anything you buy is from a 150 mile radius from your home.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree that it is sad that someone in China or another foreign country makes $12.00 a week making clothes or whatever else is sold in Wal-mart or Target. But at the same time, if we were to move said sewing operation out of that country, then that person is making $0.00 (okay, yes they could get another job, maybe) a week.

Guest's picture
Guest

While the wage rate in a factory in China may seem absurdly low, one must look at the cost of living in China. How much are groceries, rent, transportation, etc? If adjusted for these parameters, perhaps the wage, though still low, would not seem quite as inhumane as it does when one compares it to western standards.

Guest's picture
janet

You never know what these jobs might mean to people in China. If someone is very poor and doesn't have any job at all, they might be grateful for that 12 bucks a week job. Maybe (as the previous poster pointed out) that could more of a living wage there due to the cost of living there. I don't feel guilty at all for purchasing stuff at Wal-Mart. And I think it's absurdly self righteous for people to tell you how to spend your money. If you have beliefs against Wal-Mart, by all mean, live by your beliefs. Just don't push your beliefs on others.