Updated on 04.11.08

Saving Money Versus Saving the World

Trent Hamm

Carrie (yes, that Carrie) writes in:

How should we balance frugality with social/environmental responsibility?

I could go to Amazon.com or Sam’s Club and buy all my dry goods there very inexpensively, or I could go make my purchases at a locally owned grocery, where I’ll pay more, but my purchase power makes a positive contribution to the local economy. I could buy a product that is cheap, but that has a more significant impact on the environment or personal health (things like laundry detergent or household cleaners). I could buy blue jeans made by someone who gets a living wage in a good working environment, or I could by cheap jeans made in a sweatshop in Eastern Asia with child labor.

Also, should one’s circumstances have an impact on this balance? Heavy debt vs. no debt, age, family demographics, etc.

Part of the question, I think, relies on the definition of frugality, something I talked about a while back. Wikipedia defines frugality as follows (with my own emphasis added):

Frugality (also known as thrift or thriftiness), often confused with cheapness or miserliness, is a traditional value, life style, or belief system, in which individuals practice both restraint in the acquiring of and resourceful use of economic goods and services in order to achieve lasting and more fulfilling goals. In a money-based economy, frugality emphasizes economical use of money in meeting long term personal, familial, and communal desires.

Quite often, frugality is considered mostly in the personal or familial sense of the word. What choices can we make that will maximize the economical use of my money, or the money for our family?

But our dollars go further than that. Our spending choices have a communal effect as well. Choosing to spend in the most economical way for our family might lead us to shop at Wal-Mart, but that might cause the local corner grocery to close and thus have a negative effect on our community. It might be more economical for our family to buy jeans made by someone in a sweatshop, but communally, you’re not only encouraging sweatshop labor, you’re also reducing opportunities for those working in more welcoming but less brutally efficient environments.

It all depends on your focus and personal perspectives. One family might decide that the cheapest prices are always the best and thus put their personal and familial aspects above the communal. Others might be socially-minded and thus look for opportunities to put the communal aspect first.

Here’s an example: fair trade coffee. It’s more expensive than regular coffee at the store. A person who focuses on personal and familial aspects of their frugality would probably ignore it and buy the cheapest coffee available. A person who focuses on communal frugality would have to make a different judgment call – perhaps that person feels that an extra dollar spent on the fair trade coffee is the best way to efficiently express their communal desires.

Frugality isn’t about what’s cheap. It’s about finding the best value for your dollar. The catch is that the word “value” has different meanings for different people in different situations.

The equation changes, though, in times of economic hardship. For almost everyone, if there are financial difficulties, familial and personal aspects become more valuable and communal aspects become less so. If a person is having difficulty putting food on the table, by all means they should choose to buy the least expensive clothing.

For me, personally, the best frugal tips are the ones that hit all three of these areas. For example, I’m a huge proponent of energy independence – cutting energy use where you can. This is a personal and familial savings in the form of a lower electric bill, but there’s also a communal savings – I’m responsible for less CO2 and mercury emission. That’s why I find value in experimenting with things like LED bulbs – they’re very expensive up front, but they don’t produce much waste in their manufacture, they last almost forever, and they use less than a watt to produce a ton of light. To me, there’s a value there, especially if the light output is decent at all.

Similarly, I dream of living in the country and installing my own wind turbine. We live in Iowa where there is almost constantly enough wind to keep a turbine going, and two turbines could fully power a home and usually result in an excess that could be sold back to the electric company. Is it frugal in the personal or familial sense? Possibly, but probably not. Is it frugal in the communal sense? Almost assuredly – my carbon footprint would almost vanish.

In the end, what does value mean to you? Do you put importance on the communal value of something, or does familial and personal value trump all? There is no right or wrong answer, just a different sense of what frugality means to you and a realization that someone else’s values might tell them that a different choice is the most frugal one.

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  1. “Frugality isn’t about what’s cheap. It’s about finding the best value for your dollar. The catch is that the word “value” has different meanings for different people in different situations.”

    This is why conversations about frugality and personal finance are always hot topics. Discussions about finances will never get old until (unless) we come up with a universal perception of “value”. How likely is that to happen???

  2. Khaki says:

    It is certainly a matter of making choices on how to best utilize limited resources, isn’t it? The limited resources include money, time, and natural resources. Very individualized choices on a complex matrix of priorities, opportunities, and availability, no?

  3. 60 in 3 - Fitness and Health says:

    The funny thing is that being frugal is almost always a perfect match for being socially responsible. Your coffee issue? The solution is simple, don’t drink coffee. Drink water which is cheaper, better for you and better for the environment. Walk or ride your bike instead of driving. Buy at a thrift store instead of the department store. Don’t buy if you don’t need. These are all hallmarks of people who are financially AND socially responsible.

    The key item is unnecessary consumption. Eliminate that and you benefit both your wallet and the world around you. Don’t just switch to the “better, more responsible” good. Eliminate it altogether if possible.


  4. Andy says:

    Save the cheerleader, save the world.

    Sorry, your title just made me think of Heroes. Anyway, in all seriousness, one question I have is how much are you helping people in sweatshops by not buying their products? I really don’t know how exactly the economics of it works, but it seems like there are a few scenarios. There could be enough of a boycott on sweatshop goods that the companies rage wages so they are not boycotted anymore. Or, the companies could go out of business, in which case the workers don’t have jobs. What is the best method to combat this?

  5. Heidi says:

    Excellent point, Tyler! I was going to say the same thing.

    A marketer’s job is to package “value” in lots of appealing ways – but your own values must determine how you allocate your resources (dollars). Two different things, but there is no one right answer.

  6. shannon says:

    Costco is better politically than Sam’s Club. I shope at the local Costco and buy organic/natural products. They stock a local fair-trade organic coffee there too. I buy TP that is recycled paper, and environmentally friendly cleaning products there too.

    Other than that I get my produce from a local CSA, and milk from a local dairy.

  7. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    I think this dilemma is another excellent reason to buy used products as much as possible. Besides being cheaper, and better for the environment, buying used clothes (for example) makes the ethical implications attached to other cheap clothes irrelevant. After all, the sweatshop only profits from the original sale of the item.

    Having said that, I’d buy something made of fur or with a visible Nike logo (for example) even if it was second hand. Even though I’d know I hadn’t supported something unethical with my purchase, other people wouldn’t know that, so they might assume that I’m being a hypocrite (if they know me) or think that fur or Nike stuff is fashionable (if they don’t know me).


  8. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    Correction to the second paragraph in comment 5:

    I’d be RELUCTANT to buy used fur or Nike…

  9. Paul says:

    Trent, this is by far your best post ever. I always think about the environmental impact whenever I buy anything and I am glad to see you posting about that aspect of frugality as well. I 2nd the motion about buying used items. My wife will often go to a thrift shop, spend $20, and come out with enough brand name clothing (some still with the tags on!) that I believe her when she says it would have cost over $100 new. On another note, I always look at the packaging of what I buy to try to make sure it is recyclable. Thanks for the great post Trent. I think you made the right decision being a full-time writer.

  10. Johanna says:

    Please consider this when thinking about whether to purchase an item that may have been made in a sweatshop: With few exceptions, people are not forced to work in sweatshops. They choose to. Why do they choose to? Because, as hard as it is for us to believe, it is better than the other options available to them. Do you really think you’re helping these people by taking away the best of their (bad) options?

  11. Miranda says:

    Great post! We have enjoyed slowly replacing our household goods and our food with more environmentally friendly fare. To us, the value is better on a variety of levels.

    I think the point about VALUE is a good one. Frugality is about value. But so many people focus on cheapness. What good is something cheap if you have to keep buying it over and over and over again as it wears out/breaks? Saving money in the long run is a big motivator for us.

  12. Nathan says:

    I really like this article Trent. I think the main idea is- you have to know what you WANT to do with your money. And spending it on things that matter to you is what life is all about. We don’t just make money to make money. We use it to live life.

    However, on a side note:

    I’m not sure that I agree with the whole “fair trade” coffee thing. It sounds like such a good thing in theory, but in reality the economic implications aren’t always what we intend.

    It basically creates an artificial price floor.

    You can see a similar price floor in Iowa and Indiana and other farm states where American Farmers are given subsidies for their production of corn or wheat… the farmer decides to produce more corn or wheat than what is needed and then acres of it sit in the field unused and unsold because the price-point is wrong.

    If a market is working correctly, when supply increases, the price is supposed to fall. But instead, we keep an artificial price floor in place. It encourages additional third-world farmers move into coffee than the market actually needs. So, instead of producing something else they could use or sell (like corn or wheat) they’re making coffee that no one wants at that price point. It sits there, unsold and then the farmer is just as bad off as he was in the beginning. And if he does sell it, the difference is so small (most of the time), it doesn’t make enough of a difference to really influence the situation.

    More farmers escape poverty when they’re allowed to compete in the free market instead of the “fair trade” market, which is honestly just a way for suburban Americans to feel “better” about themselves.

  13. I think you’re right that frugality ties more into value than cost. After all, where is the value in buying the cheapest item if it breaks after the first use?

    I’ll say that while I like to support the little guy and the local guy (Ace Hardware vs Home Depot when possible, etc), I am also irritated when major brands try to use heart-tugging claims to sell more product. I know I might come across as brash, but here’s one example that I often discuss with my wife.

    The Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Research logo is slapped on a wide array of items – from cereal to clothing to floor mats. I’m all for broadening awareness of an issue for public good and I’m all for charity. Often you’ll see a big square proclaiming that “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this product will go to research Project X.” Now read the box. Find that fine print. How much is a portion? Most of the time they don’t say. A portion of a dollar might be $0.75 or $0.01. Maybe even a fractional cent. But hey, the ad worked and the company made money with increased sales.

    When you truly know where the money goes and how much of it is being sent, I think it’s great to buy products to support a good cause. Sometimes, though, you’re better off just mailing your charity a few bucks and skipping all of those pink-labeled items you don’t really need.

  14. Michelle says:

    Nathan, that is interesting. Do you have any sources you could cite?

    I buy fair trade, but I don’t really understand the complexities of agriculture. I have generally assumed that it is like when I buy organic locally produced food — I pay more because that’s the real cost of producing the food. I have never considered that fair trade is a subsidy, although that makes sense.

    It is difficult to make the correct decisions when something is produced so far away that I have no chance of seeing for myself what is happening. I can’t exactly buy “farmer sold free market” chocolate at the local farmer’s market. Buying meat is so much easier because I can visit the farm I buy from and see for myself that the cows are happy.

    Also, I have read that fair trade chocolate does not use slave labour.

  15. Brenda says:

    Actually, Nathan, Fair Trade is not like subsidies. Subsidies are based entirely on volume which, as you said, encourages the production of more than is needed.

    Fair Trade is based on quality. There are very high quality standards that coffee must meet in order to receive the Fair Trade price. If a farmer is growing poor quality coffee, he isn’t going to get a Fair Trade price.

    Fair Trade is also not just about the price that the farmer gets. It’s also about farmers working together in a democratically run cooperative that uses some of the income they receive through their sales of Fair Trade coffee to benefit their communities. For instance, one community in Tanzania that I have visited used some of their income from Fair Trade sales to run electricity to their village dispensary so they could have refrigerated medicines available. So entire communities benefit when farmers get a fair price for their crops.

    When it comes to Fair Trade chocolate, I highly recommend Divine Chocolate. It is the first farmer owned chocolate company in the world. So not only do the farmers get a fair price for their cocoa, they also benefit from the sales the chocolate bars produced from that cocoa.

    Lutheran World Relief does a lot of great work in Fair Trade. Their website at http://www.lwr.org/fairtrade has a lot of great information. And they just came out with a new video about Fair Trade chocolate called “From Bean to Bar”. They also offer “study tours” that take you to countries like Nicaragua so you can meet coffee farmers, even stay with them on their farms, to learn about how Fair Trade does bring them benefit.

  16. tambo says:

    We’ve gone from living at or just below the poverty line to the middle of the middle class bracket in less than two years. When we were broke, all that mattered was the out of pocket cost. For example, we owned a ’89 pickup free and clear – my husband’s dad gave it to us – and it got crappy mileage, but it was very inexpensive to insure, there was no car-payment, and really all we had to worry about was gas. Sure, we bought quite a lot of gas, but it was still cheaper than a car payment and full coverage insurance. Fast forward a few years, times change, and we’ve purchased a new Toyota Hybrid.

    Now that we’re not struggling just to survive, feed the family and keep a roof over our head, we can afford to be more communally responsible. We have quite a few CFLs, spend a good portion of our warm-weather food budget at farmers’ markets, and we have the ability to make a wider range of consumer decisions based on criteria not based solely on desperation.

  17. Stephanie says:

    Trent, nice post!

    Nathan: that doesn’t make any sense to me. My understanding of fair trade products was that the middleman simply gets a more reasonable cut of the profits, and the worker gets paid a fair wage. Exploitative working conditions exist when a company sells its product at 200 times what it costs them to make, thus shafting the worker / farmer out of their share of profits and making the big corporations more wealthy. I don’t see how that situation could be described as “the market working correctly.” Fair trade practice is meant to correct this imbalance. The farmers make more, the middlemen make less. It’s not about the price falling or rising, it’s about fair distribution of profit.

  18. Maggie says:

    Excellent post, and so true about what is frugal to one is not the same as what is frugal to another because of our own ideas about a variety of factors, not just money, but getting from our money the most of what matters (or, as you said, has the most value).

    That said, as rising costs continue to outpace rising paychecks for lots of folks, I find myself being forced to make money the main factor above anything else. In order to afford gas and higher cost of groceries already bought at the cheapest bag it yourself place in town, I have to do things like buy laundry detergent for $1.98 (Sun) that will do 40 loads (well enough for my needs) because I can’t afford to buy detergent 5 times the cost (or more, amazingly enough) that might save the world one clean shirt at a time (or whatever it’s supposed to do).

    When this situation changes, hopefully before long, then, too, my way of practicing frugality will also change.

    Loved Johanna’s point, too.

  19. Stephanie says:

    Also, I wonder if more fair trade practices were embraced, it would level the floor even further? I.e. if coffee wasn’t regulated more heavily than corn or wheat, but they were all equally regulated?

    I think coffee and chocolate are more of a concern for 3rd world farmers because so much of the land has been unicropped this way, for sale to the first world. The global market has already artificially swayed many third world countries to produce these crops over anything that might be more immediately useful to them: corn and wheat for their own consumption, for example.

  20. imelda says:

    I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “the word ‘value’ has different meanings for different people in different situations.” Certainly, this is true. But that mentality leads to deciding that, in effect, whatever you’re most comfortable with is the best decision. And I don’t buy that.

    Carrie is asking her question because she knows, according to her own values, that certain products are produced immorally. She knows that by purchasing them, she is supporting an action that she objectively condemns. But she’s not sure she’s willing to make the sacrifice it takes to do something about it. That’s what it’s all about–you have to be willing to sacrifice something for what’s right.

    Fact is, she already knows what her values are–she clearly values saving the environment and supporting local commerce. Now is she going to put up or shut up? That sounds harsh, and isn’t meant to be judgmental–just honest. I struggle with this everyday. I just became a vegetarian for environmental reasons, but am painfully aware that I ought to be a vegan. It’s not a question of whether I value what’s cheaper and easier over the environment– I know what’s right. I just need to find the strength to act on it.

  21. Scott says:

    At the surface level, purchasing online can save a lot of money when compared with buying locally. But I think that any savings is quickly lost. When you buy locally, you reduce the carbon emissions caused during transport (good for the Earth) and help sustain a retailer who can assist with new sales and repair (good for the local economy). Does Amazon deal with repairs? Um… no. Many of our household appliances could be repaired instead of being discarded in favor of a new replacement. It’s unfortunate that the sector of our economy responsible for product repairs has literally vanished. The only repair services left are those that deal with products deemed too expensive to replace outright, such as cars and homes. Reusing/repurposing/repairing is an honorable way to help the environment, the local economy, and your wallet.

    Besides, you might soon need to take the few dollars saved by shopping online and use them to purchase a better fence or security system to keep the unemployed service & manufacturing works from robbing your home.

  22. Carrie says:

    I think you’ve summed it up quite nicely, Trent. I find myself struggling to balance the two, especially as I’m working towards a better understanding and practice of personal finance, and growing in understanding of the human impact on the world around us.

    In my church we use the term “stewardship” a lot, and I think that it really addresses the concept of finding balance in all that we do. We need to be good stewards (caretakers) of money and the environment (and many other things, such as ourselves, our families, and our possessions), and sometimes we have to make hard choices for our personal situation .

  23. George says:

    Sometimes, there is very little difference between frugality and being cheap. I worked for a rich guy. He did not want to spend a lot of money on lunch so he usually either ate an apple, or a bag of popcorn or a hot dog.
    However, as people are being laid off from jobs left and right, with gas prices going up to $4.00 per gallon, and housing market dropping, and unemployment rising, it really is a good idea to be frugal. There is a very good book that I have read in the past called ,”The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley, and William D. Danko
    Frugality is something we should teach our kids.

  24. Johanna says:

    Nathan: You raise a reasonable criticism of fair trade, but the problem is that the alternative is even worse, because the market doesn’t always work the way rich economists want it to work. If a coffee farmer who’s not making any money could easily switch over to growing something else, and if coffee consumers bought their coffee directly from coffee producers, then fair trade schemes would not be needed in the first place, because there would never be more coffee farmers than the market could support.

    But a coffee farmer who’s not making any money by definition doesn’t have the money to acquire the skills and materials needed to enter another line of work. And because only a few large companies control most of the coffee trade between the many producers and the many consumers, the producers don’t always get the price that consumers are willing to pay the way they would if real competition existed at every level.

    There are problems with fair trade – and with trade in general – that I as a consumer just can’t do anything about by myself. So my solution is to buy fair trade products whenever I can, and also to donate money whenever I can to organizations like Oxfam that work for general poverty relief.

  25. Ryan says:

    I can help but being pessimistic when it comes to fair-trade stuff. I’d hate to think I was buying more into hipster culture than a just economic system.

    My current personal solution is this: conserve as much of my resources as possible by buying cheaply (whatever the brand) and cutting out unnecessary purchases. I plan on giving an increasing percentage of my income (over the course of my life) to poverty relief and developmental programs.

    In this way, frugality helps me meet my goals–and not by dictating what I ought to purchase.

  26. Lisa says:

    Great post! I really do enjoy your posts!

    This is exactly one of the topics of my blog: living responsibly without breaking the bank.
    It spawned from this gnawing feeling I get in the back of my mind every time I get a great deal. Am I getting this deal because someone overseas is getting a raw deal- being exploited? I lose sleep over this.


  27. Tim says:

    Really interesting post that has implication for my personal and professional finances. I work at a nonprofit human rights organization… and I’m constantly thinking about our office’s choices about consumption. If we buy fair trade coffee, recycled paper, and use union labor to clean our office… we’re using a lot more of our (limited!) resources on overhead. But… if we skimp on costs, we’re not being “socially responsible.” The same is true of my personal finances. Because I’m working in the nonprofit sector… I’m sacrificing a bit of income… which means my family have less to spend at home. It seems hypocritical to spend all day working to improve conditions for people in the developing world… only to come home and contribute to labor exploitation through our purchases. So… our buying habits are definitely subject to ongoing debate.

  28. You have hit on a key concept in:

    >Frugality isn’t about what’s cheap. It’s about
    >finding the best value for your dollar.

    When when my wife and I were first married we bought the cheapest toilet paper it was thin and loosely wound; thus we went through a lot of rolls. We learned later by paying a little more we could actually save money. The best value was in the slightly more expensive brand.

    Best Wishes,

  29. Great article… having this discussion with a client just the other day!

  30. Mo Money says:

    Each of us will do what we feel is best for us. We can’t save the whole world from what we feel is best for the world.

  31. MoneyBlogga says:

    For me, “value” means getting the most for my dollar. It has to be this way because of my past spending habits. I have to make up for many years of lost time. Also the fact that I have 4 dependents in college has forced me to reconcile my bad spending habits with the fact that there will not be enough money for my retirement. Making sure we have enough money to go around without going into debt is the most important thing to me right now.

    Having said that, I am making strides in cutting back in ways I never have before.

    I live in a wealthy neighborhood. I’m sure my neighbors love it when I hang out the laundry on the washing line I installed between the back walls of my house. I don’t care. I see it as being “green”, being frugal, not wasting resources – and it’s better for the clothes. It’s something I will continue to do regardless of the blank stares I get. The neighbors will get used to it because I’ve been doing it now for a year.

    We’ve also cut back on needless trips in the car and we make a point of driving 55mph. The gas lasts longer.

    We stay out of the mall and only buy new clothes and shoes when we absolutely need them. We have such a supply in the closets anyway, the supply will outlive us all.

    Food – total cutbacks right across the board.

    We ask ourselves: (a) Do we really need this item? (b) Do we already have it in the garage/closet/drawer/shed? (c) Can we borrow from friends/family? (d) Can we get it cheap at a garage sale?

  32. Todd says:

    As sad as it is to say, I don’t believe that the concept of economic protectionism (buy local) has the traction to be sustainable in most cases. Like it or not, our goods are in a global marketplace where profit is the main motivation. Consumers are going to seek out the best value for their dollar.

  33. My thing on Fair Trade and organic and the like is: “How do you know?” The fact is: you don’t. People can put anything they want on the package and until someone does a ton of expensive research to “expose” the wrong doers we’re stuck with buying whatever on faith.

    Slightly, off topic, my wife is a big recycler. YAY! She separates paper and plastic and all that good stuff. One day I happened to be home when the recycling truck came by and witnessed with my own eyes the guys throwing everything into the same vast bin in the back of the truck. As far as I know it went directly to a landfill somewhere.

    So even thought we’re trying to do good, we have no way of knowing if the “big companies” are holding up their end of the bargain.

  34. Michael says:

    If you want to be green, don’t drink coffee unless you grow it.

  35. Johanna says:

    Ken: Actually, the fact is, we DO know. That’s what independent certification schemes are for. The one for fair trade is described in detail at transfairusa.org. The “big companies” can’t use the fair trade certified logo unless they hold up their end of the bargain.

    Obviously, you have to be careful, because not every nice-looking logo corresponds to a truly meaningful set of standards. So you have to do your research. But I’ve done my research into fair trade, and I think the standards are pretty good. If you have any specific evidence of abuse of the fair trade certification scheme, I’d be interested in seeing it, but I’ve never seen any, myself.

    About that recycling truck: it’s called commingled recycling. See, they’ve figured out ways to separate the paper and plastic and all that good stuff at the recycling plant, so your wife doesn’t have to do it herself. Ain’t technology grand?

  36. John says:

    To rhymeswithlibrarian, buying used sweatshop clothing does not let you off the hook ethically. You’re simply refunding the original buyer for the remaining value of the product. So you effectively become a co-buyer of the original purchase.

  37. Dan says:

    My advice would be to go to your local community college and take a couple economics classes (micro + macro). When I went back to school a couple of years ago these were some of the more useful and interesting classes I had.

    Paying a premium for a commodity doesn’t do what you think it does…If anything it ends up lowering the commodity price (supply increases as producers seek to optimize their share leading to unsold iventory which must still be sold).

    It’s generally best to just let the “invisible hand” work out commodity pricing. If you want to give to charity – just give to charity.

    As far as farmer’s markets go – the pricing there is not based on the cost to produce the goods – it is based (like anything) on what the consumer will pay – in this case it is higher based on perceived quality and social values.

    On the other hand – if it makes you feel good to do these things – just move money on your budget from entertainment to food to cover the difference.

  38. InvestEveryMonth.com says:

    I think it takes a two step effort:

    First, try to be sustainable and respectful of the environment and human rights when you make purchases. Don’t add to the market for unsustainable products. Do you really need a Hummer to make you feel better as you drive 10 minutes to work on paved roads?

    Second, offset any damage you are doing by being active for the issues you are interested in. My automobile gas consumption is a small part of the overall oil problem, but my political activism for clean energy and gas free cars has influenced lots of people.

  39. Kandace says:

    As I’ve practiced true frugality over the last few years I’ve realized that in spending less and making more conscious choices, my recycling has doubled, my trash is down to less than one bag a week, I have less “stuff”, fewer utility costs, more peace and more in the bank. Living frugally is a giant step toward going green. It’s a backlash against consumerism and helps save the planet in the process.

  40. Ro says:

    Nice post, interesting discussion as well.

  41. deepali says:

    While I think personal frugality is important, communal frugality is not unimportant. They also don’t need to be at cross-purposes. Things that are “cheap” are not always – it’s just that the price structure is opaque.
    I highly recommend checking out “the story of stuff” to understand why cheap is not really cheap.

    And contrary to what someone said above, not all pricing at your farmers’ market is based on what consumers pay – it’s based on an analysis of what the farmers can actually afford (having priced foods for a farmers’ market, I can say that with accuracy).

  42. Anne says:

    Frugality is totally compatible with environmentalism when they both are aiming a the same goal: Using only what you need and cleaning up after yourself. I have a friend who was a single parent who was incredibly proud of her clothes-buying ability. She made it a habit to visit the thrift stores regularly, shopped with a keen eye and made use of bonus days and coupons. However, the amount of clothing she had meant she had to rent houses with walk-in closets so she’d have enough room to store it all.

  43. LC says:

    Johanna – I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    “people are not forced to work in sweatshops. They choose to…Because…it is better than the other options available to them.”

  44. Michael says:

    A note about Fair Trade:

    Of the high margin you (the consumer) pay for a ‘fair trade’ commodity, a very low portion actually goes to the producer. Most of the cost of what you are buying comes from value added after the initial producer sells the good.

    So when you pay that extra $1 for your coffee, you’re really just telling Starbucks that you have a lot of disposable income.

    Instead, why don’t you vote (and lobby) to eliminate subsidies for agribusiness. Really, does CONAGRA need more money? Ask a small-time farmer in Kansas how much money he gets from subsidies, for comparison.

    Trade will only be fair when we stop using taxdollars to help out our big agriculture companies.

  45. Beth says:

    I prefer to shop at my local grocery store, even though it’s a bit more expensive, because:
    1. I can walk there. No parking hassles! no traffic!
    2. They sell quality items. They offer a range, so I don’t have to buy the MOST expensive thing every time, but it’s always fresh and good.
    3. I like seeing familiar faces at the register and at the meat counter.

    I could save money if I shopped at Big Box Store, but I think the quality of the food and experience is worth it.

    Also, as a friend said once about shopping organic/local: if we don’t do it, who will? and the more who do it, the greater the demand will become, therefore (hopefully) lowering prices. that was ten years ago, so I think she was onto something.

  46. Krista says:

    What a great post. I recently got out of about 20K in consumer debt. It took almost two years and during that time I was both cheap and frugal and not so environmentally or community minded. Since getting out of debt, I have resumed my support of community business, local farmers, non-sweatshop goods, etc. I feel good about this choice because really focusing on debt and eliminating it made it possible for me to give back to the community in a responsible and positive way that I was unable to do before. For me, I just had to strike a balance with what I was comfortable with.

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