Mindful Consumerism

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I am a fan of the clichéd phrase “Vote with your wallet.” To me, this saying does not mean that only those with money have a voice, or that money equates to power. I’m well aware that we can never spend our way to happiness or paper our way to peace of mind. But I do think mindful spending can send a powerful message.

“Mindful consumerism” or “ethical consumerism” applies to everyone. As the website www.ethicalconsumer.orgnotes: “A growing numbers of ordinary people and families are now thinking about the impact that their shopping has on people and the planet. The latest research suggests that 75%  of the population now shop ethically at least some of the time, whether this be buying free-range eggs or shopping locally.”

Really, anyone can mix up his or her own cocktail of what they deem to be “ethical spending,” based on what he or she feels is worthy or important. This is evidence of a free market economy at its finest.

The downside, of course, is that sometimes buying local or specialty items is cost prohibitive. No argument there; it’s difficult to go over budget when a cheaper option is available. And who hasn’t agonized over the really nice leather boots versus the Target leather books that will likely last one season versus maybe five.

Each purchase we make is dependent on so many things: cost, region, necessity and convenience. It becomes a personal matter. But the great thing is, it seems that the gap between quality and price is lessening as more options become available.

The internet is fascinating in that it easily provides so many insights and options affecting consumers. Places like Etsy, an online marketplace that corrals crafters from all around the world into your living room, are picking up speed.

Within Etsy’s cyber-bazaar you can easily shop for tea towels from your home state or fall in love with a sketch from an artist in Sweden. Additionally, Amazon is finally adding search filters like “Made in the USA,” making it easier than ever for shoppers to compare not only prices, but product origins and a company’s ethics, if it is of interest.

Of course these online shopping venues are far from perfect. But the trend seems to lean heavily towards transparency. It’s not out of the question anymore to message a vendor and out-right ask “Where is this product made?” The whole process becomes much more intimate. After all, if this information is just there, why wouldn’t a consumer take note?

Today’s marketing practices further increase companies’ openness by listing a product’s ingredients and materials, providing a company’s backstory, and inviting live dialogue about their offerings or services. Again, it’s not a perfect scenario; some web comments are plants while others make bogus claims (a ‘gluten free’ label on a pack of sea salt comes to mind). Still, it’s a start…and a vastly different way of shopping than what we’ve ever had before…one that I think younger generations in particular are taking to heart.

Probably one of the best things we can do in the name of “mindful consumerism” is to simply consume less, or at the least, practice the art of  “everything in moderation.”

Find treasures at second-hand shops, fix things up and repurpose when possible, reuse and otherwise get crafty—another area where the internet is a boon. Have you ever been so broke that you had to (and I mean had to) get really creative with your finances? I have. And I’ll tell you, that’s when some of my best ideas came to fruition.

If instead of thinking about another purchase as a simple swipe of the credit card we saw the act as a small example of what is important to us, we may surprise ourselves. We may choose simplicity over decadence, quality over quantity. We may hunt for something special over something easily attained.

Here and there we may splurge, but then what is life without some variety?

The story was originally published on August 12, 2014

Summery

Have you ever been so broke that you had to get really creative with your finances? Sara Schreiber writes about her experience when she has had to be smart and mindful in her shopping desires.