Alhambra Credit Union

How to Become a Conscientious Consumer

It’s a conversation you’ve probably had a hundred times inside your head while holding a potential purchase in your hands: “Should I buy the product I can easily afford, or do I spend more on the one I know supports ethical and sustainable practices?”

No matter which decision you make, you might still walk away with a sense of guilt—either for spending more money than you should have, or for choosing the cheap product that supports questionable production practices.

Let’s break that cycle of indecision and shame right now.

Here’s how you can become a more conscientious consumer today while juggling a limited budget.

Budget first

Your budget should always come first in buying decisions. Afterall, your budget should be a plan to make you a financially stable and independent person…who can then use their resources to always choose the more sustainable—and often more expensive—option!

It wouldn’t do you any good to go into debt trying to buy all the eco labels at first and all at once. That would only lead to running on the debt treadmill and wasting more of your money on credit card interest payments.

So, while you’re working within a limited budget, consider these conscientious choices you can make now:

  • Learn to care for and repair what you already own. Stretching the life of a garment or appliance keeps it out of a landfill and keeps you from having to buy a replacement.
  • Before buying something new, work through this ladder of options first to see if you can avoid the purchase: use what you already have, borrow it, swap something else for it, go thrift shopping for it, make it, or, finally, buy it.
  • Become informed. Even if you’re not ready to make a purchase yet—or you don’t need a new item yet—you can still seek out brands that support the causes closest to your heart. Being informed is the first step to changing behavior! So, the next time you’re researching a purchase or are window shopping, see if you can discover: where it was made, if the material was sustainably sourced, what conditions the people who made it work in, what happens in the environment when you wash or dispose of it, and if the brand gives back in any way.

Choices, habits, behavior

Choices quickly become habits, which determine behavior. The ultimate goal of a conscientious consumer is to change their behavior for good, like minimizing impact and harm to the environment and supporting human rights. Luckily, the first step is small and manageable: making singular choices that support the end goal.

Start by leaving a margin in your budget every week or every month, depending on your budget strategy, between your income and your necessary expenses so you can devote additional funds to better products.

Next, celebrate small changes—like buying local produce, or buying a double walled thermos to keep your water cool and your coffee hot and break your reliance on single-use plastic containers. Like many worthy pursuits, it’s many repeated small choices that make a big difference.

With the new buying freedom that your budget allows, consider:

  • Investing in high-quality items you’ll wear and reuse for years to come. See if it can replace multiple cheaper or non-sustainable items.
  • On clothing or other fabric products, look for ethical fashion certifications that indicate the item was made under fair and safe working conditions.
  • Opt for recyclable options and pay attention to packaging to minimize waste. There are several online companies that deliver consumables like toilet paper and tissues that minimize packaging and only use recycled components.

What you’re supporting

The beauty of becoming a conscientious consumer is that through your purchases you can support a wide array of worthy causes: animal welfare and habitat protection, eco-friendly practices, human rights, supporting small economies, fare wages, and more.

If you buy local, you can talk to business owners and find out from the source about the products you’re buying and the materials and labor that go into it. Seek out companies that give back—often called “social enterprises”— by improvements in human and environmental well-being. They operate like a traditional for-profit business, except profits are used to provide things like financial, educational, or community support.

In the end, you have more power in your purchasing decisions than you might think. The key to wielding that power starts with financially responsible spending and results in a better future for our world.