This topic can very easily feel preachy so here is my confession up front: I TRY to be a conscious consumer, but sometimes sales are too good, my budget is too tight, I don’t have the time or I just plain want something that isn’t in line with some of my consumer values.
The point is, I am aware of the fact that how I spend my money has an impact on the local economy, the nation’s economy and the global economy. (Wow! I am so influential!)
Everyone, as a consumer, has the ability to vote with their dollars. I LOVE this local bookstore near my house. Every time I walk in I feel like they somehow knew exactly what I wanted to read and they put it right out front for me to see. When I need to buy a book, I try to support them. Last month I ordered a book from Amazon because I was having Christmas timing/shipping/getting my act together problems- that’s ok too. But I don’t order all of my books from Amazon- I buy some from my favorite bookstore.
I try to buy used goods because I am rescuing that item from ending up in a landfill. Used goods are less expensive and usually just as good as brand new items, and I feel better about reducing my consumption stream. (Especially furniture. I can’t believe what people pay for new furniture when there is gorgeous used furniture aplenty!)
I secretly want to be an artist (ah, what a life). When I see an artist selling work at a market or a festival that I like, I buy it! That could be me selling paintings on the street, and I want to support people who take a risk in a notoriously difficult career path. Because of that, I never buy mass-produced art and I think my house is more interesting because of it. (I also buy frames at Goodwill and I feel very savvy when I find a nice one!)
Lots of people have problems with Walmart, but I freaking love them! (and not just because Walmart was the closest thing I had to entertainment when I lived in my double wide in Alabama). I have a background in fisheries and Walmart has an awesome and admirable seafood supply business model. I think their model should be copied by every store in the US, so I am happy to buy fish at Walmart because I support their business model.
Ditto organic yogurt- the environmental impact that Walmart has by carrying just one brand of organic yogurt is bigger than all of the organic yogurts at all of the farmers markets in America. When I am picking products at Walmart, I try to buy organic (which I admittedly don’t usually do) because I know that Walmart is analyzing its consumer data and they will supply items that their consumers are buying. Their scale of business is so big that a tiny change in their products will have a huge impact, and I feel like my dollar is being used to influence change on a large scale. But I am aware that when I buy yogurt at Walmart instead of at a farmer’s market, I am spending money on big business instead of local dairy farmers who could probably use the money more. There isn’t a perfect answer, so it depends on what you value.
I have a friend who will only buy either items that are made in America, or items that are pre-used. She wants to support the American economy, so she doesn’t spend her money directly on items that were manufactured elsewhere. She votes with her dollar. (Although she told me that she has a really hard time finding certain products (used bath mats? Ick. But try finding a bath mat that wasn’t made in China!))
I went on vacation last month and instead of booking a generic hotel we rented out a whole apartment through Airbnb. Not only was it cheaper and more comfortable than a normal hotel (and it had a stocked kitchen so we could cook for ourselves), but we got to meet the couple who was renting out the apartment. They were a lovely young professional couple who were welcoming and kind and who loved meeting people from other places. I was very happy that my money was going to this lovely couple rather than to a hotel chain.
When I was finishing grad school, I had a friend who was frustrated that the program we had finished did not put enough emphasis on her specialization. She was going to write an angry letter explaining how she wasn’t provided the resources/education she had signed up for. Instead, she decided to donate money to the program that was specifically earmarked to fund resources needed for her specialization. Do you think the administration cares more about an angry outgoing student’s opinion, or a longterm donor’s opinion? Putting some cash behind your complaints may feel counterintuitive, but it can affect the change that you want to see.
The bottom line: when you spend your money, there is some influence that goes along with that dollar. Maybe you don’t have a lot of money- but if you have any at all, you still have some monetary influence. So be aware of what you are spending on and try to make purchases that support the things that are important to you.