Apr 22 2008

Being frugal, socially conscious and green: Can we have it all?

Sometimes, when we try to be frugal, we aren’t always socially conscious or environmentally friendly at the same time.

We might choose to shop at certain stores, buy goods wrapped in too much packaging, etc., because the prices are lower. But at what cost?

For example, it’s widely understood that Walmart’s employment and business practices are questionable. Employees cannot unionize and wages are low, to name a few fairly indisputable facts. In addition, products on Walmart’s shelves might have been made by child laborers or adult workers who are treated poorly in factories. Can you say with absolute certainty that that’s not the case? I can’t.

I can’t speak to the integrity of most stores I shop at, actually. But, it’s something I need to investigate further.

The price of many items on Walmart’s shelves are lower than you might be able to get elsewhere.

For the shopper that’s trying to stretch a dollar the furthest, it seems as if she’s stuck. She can either pay possibly lower prices to best provide for her family, or she’ll choose to shop at a locally owned store or stores where wages are fair, but paying more out of pocket, perhaps.

Or maybe instead of choosing a cheaper product with lots of unrecyclable packaging, she’ll opt for minimal packaging, or wrappings that can be reused or recycled–no matter the initial price. I recently read about a company called Styrophobia, based in Hawaii, that sells biodegradable, compostable food containers as an excellent (but pricer) alternative to Styrofoam.

I hope that we can simultaneously be socially conscious, make decisions that don’t have a negative impact on the envrionment, and make purchases that are good for our bank accounts.

In the long-run, I would argue that being frugal is also choosing to be environmentally friendly and socially conscious. As frugal folks, we’re supposed to be good stewards with what we have (and how we choose to spend our money). We’ve got to be frugal with everyone’s resources, not just the ones our immediate family uses.

A few ideas:

— Buy secondhand at thrift stores or yard sales.

— Whenever possible, we can use our own grocery bags or tell the cashier “Ya know what? I only have three things. I don’t need a bag.” And when they were spacing off and forgot that you just said that and give you a bag anyway, you take your items out of the bag and leave it to hopefully be used again.

— Find alternatives to Walmart and Sam’s Club. I don’t shop at Walmart, though I have in the past. Where I live now, somehow I’m pretty far from the nearest store, so I’m not even tempted to go. If I ever join a warehouse club, I’ll opt for Costco, where the wages of workers are much more livable.

— Familiarize yourself with the corporate practices of stores you frequent. This can prove difficult, but it’ll likely be worthwhile.

What else can you add to the list?

I don’t have all the answers. When I shop, I try to get the best deals I can. I have some wiggle room in our budget now, so I feel more able to “vote” with my dollar wherever I choose. I really need to work on becoming more environmentally friendly and socially conscious.



8 Responses to “Being frugal, socially conscious and green: Can we have it all?”

  1. Sometimes being frugal and green requires an investment…for example, I realized we were buying a large container of yogurt every week. After 52 weeks, that’s a lot of containers that my community doesn’t recycle (#5’s). So we made the investment (14.99) and bought a yogurt maker. In the end, it’ll save us money and reduce waste.

    I think it’s important to look at the long term big picture instead of the quick fix of shopping at places like Walmart :)

  2. I make sure I take my own shopping bags to the stores, being a teacher means I’ve got a zillion and one free totes.

    Being eco-friendly is important to me so I try to recycle as much as possible. This means I cart a ton of stuff up to school each week as my apartment doesn’t recycle.

    One thing a lot of people don’t recycle is packing peanuts. These work great in potted plants to fill up space at the bottom (unless it’s got huge roots) and save you money on buying top soil.

    Another idea is to walk to do your errands, it’s something you can do if you live relative close and won’t have a direct impact on the amount you have to spend.

    A’s last blog post..I bond, you bond?

  3. There’s a video on the following link that you really should watch…

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

  4. That’s great! I try to take bags to the store and buy healthier and less wasteful products. But it is difficult, especially when a lower price is staring you in the face. I’m hopeful that someday, in our lifetime, enough consumers will want those quality products at a reasonable price and in an environmentally-friendly and healthy manner that this dilemma will at least mostly disappear.

    Bethany B-A’s last blog post..Geeking out in Ala Moana

  5. In addition to being responsible with what you buy, I think one of the most important things about frugality is maximizing what you already have. It makes me cringe a little when people buy things they don’t need just because they got it at a “good price.” It’s smart to stock up on the things that you know you need when you can buy them inexpensively. But otherwise, just say no! It doesn’t matter if you spent pennies on the dollar for it — it’s likely to end up in the trash.

    Also, the more you cook from scratch, the more you cut down on waste. Some health food stores will allow you to bring your own containers for bulk items. I have a string shopping bag that I keep in my car for quick trips to the grocery (because paper bags hurt the environment in a big way too!)–and it’s great, because I don’t have a ton of plastic bags to store. If I HAVE to take the plastic bags, I reuse them in our bathroom garbage can.

  6. As part of being frugal, I want to be responsible as well. I’ve made the personal choice not to shop at Walmart or Sam’s Club, for example, and go to Costco and Aldi instead. I’m learning to care where my money goes, and to think about what I purchase, consume and eat. It’s all very interesting- and almost overwhelming- but I am trying to do what I can and gradually change my habits.

    The thoughts you bring up are good. While being frugal, we need to think about how we’re impacting other people and the earth!

    joanna’s last blog post..King Corn and the food crisis

  7. I LOVE packing peanuts. I reuse them when I package my orders so I am always thrilled to get them when I order things.

    There’s nothing wrong with Walmart and if people who work there don’t like it then they can get another job. I hate the bashing of Walmart, even though I rarely shop there. They do a ton of good things in the community, not to mention providing jobs in areas with few opportunities. Are they perfect? No. But no business is…they are IN business. And who says not unionizing is a bad thing? I’d be ticked if forced to join a union.

    Anyway…I also love the plastic bags I get at the grocery store because I reuse those as lunch bags and extra “purses” when I have things to carry around. When I’m done they get put in the recycle bag.

    I still don’t know what to do with zip lock bags. I use at least 5 a day and don’t see any other alternative aside from carrying 6-8 plastic containers (not really feasible). It’s not that I’m super concerned about the so called environmental impact but it’s expensive to go through that many baggies.

    castocreations’s last blog post..Happy Administrative Professionals Day!

  8. This is an excellent topic. Personally, I believe we each have to assess the “cost” of our priorities and do the best we can. I often get caught up in the excitement of recycling and lose track of reducing and reusing. So bringing a reusable large cup with a lid (the kind that you get at Kennywood) to work has been great for me. I put a pitcher of water in the fridge and just pour myself a nice big glass of cold water when I’m thirsty and carry it back to my desk. I also brought in my own coffee mug so I spent $.10 a day on our community coffee rather than $1.00 or more for a cup in a disposable container. It is far less expensive that brewing one cup at home.
    I also try to remember to bring one of plates from home when I have lunch so I don’t waste a paper plate heating something up. One of my coworkers even thought to “reuse” a whole box of business cards that aren’t usable by writing our little coffee message of the day on the back and then recycling them.

    As for shopping responsibly, again I think it is about priorities. Unions made it possible for us all to have weekends, healthcare and reasonable work hours. Abuses exist, but union busting is a nasty business. Giant Eagle has a union and hires a lot of people with disabilities to do actual work, not just as greeters. So we feel good about patronizing them. Giant Eagle gives a lot to the community, especially the food bank. That’s our priority, but not everyone elses.

    We’ve been struggling with meat issues. We try to purchase cruelty free meat but it is expensive. We’ve taken to cooking one breast and sharing it which is better for portion control (we make an extra veggie or serve applesauce with dinner), but still doesn’t solve the ethical dilemna. I’ve considered shopping at a Kosher deli because kosher rules dictate humane conditions. I think it can be easy to get caught up in the glamour of “organic” and lose sight of the real issues.

    My final point is that we all have to recognize the impact our choices AND our resources have on other people. It is never just about spending our money to meet our needs. It always impacts someone else. There’s reason things at the Dollar Store are so inexpensive and the same is true for Wal-Mart, Aldi and everywhere else. We have to make the best choices we can and find a way to live with the consequences, but burying our heads in the sand about those consequences is not okay.

    ps: what about donations? how does frugality impact giving back to the community?

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (7), Vivienne (5) and Amelia (2) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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