Have you ever wondered what it means to be a conscious consumer? It simply means being aware of how your consumption affects society. Because it does. Your consumption affects society. It is an exciting time to be a consumer. Not just because there are more options literally at our fingertips, but because there are so many socially responsible businesses.
The first time I voted with my dollars
I remember being a poor college student shopping at the local co-op in Jackson, MS. I don’t even know how I found Rainbow Natural Grocery Co-op. This was during the dawn of Facebook, when it was used solely on college campuses and before it was used for business networking. I probably found it through an ad in the Jackson Free Press, a publication that I read religiously each week. Regardless of how I found Rainbow, I was in love the moment I walked into the co-op. It was the only place in town to take recyclables for free, and since our college campus didn’t have a recycling program at the time (I later started the program), I found myself dropping off my recyclables at least once a week. Then I’d casually walk through the aisles of the probably-reasonable-priced co-op thinking that I’d never be able to afford life as an environmentalist. Everything seemed so expensive at the cost of saving the environment. Yet, I was committed even then to voting with my dollars. I’d save up money to buy the big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s so I could use it for everything from cleaning my dorm room to cleaning my body.
While a lot has changed since my college days, I’m still a conscious consumer. Even though I’ve been living this way for nearly 20 years, I didn’t know that conscious consumption was a real term until a few years ago. It’s taken me a while to wrap my mind around the mainstream understanding of conscious consumerism. To me, it was always a natural thing to do. I wouldn’t spend my money any other way. As silly as this sounds, I woke up one day realizing that if I really wanted to make a difference through this blog, I could do it by touting conscious consumerism.
Every single one of us has the power to change the world just by changing the way we shop. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
First off, what is conscious consumption?
Simply put, conscious consumption means that you are aware of how your consumption impacts society. This can be anything from supporting small, local businesses to not supporting the fast fashion industry due to the fact that the industry supports cheap labor and easily disposable clothing that doesn’t last.
Conscious consumers are conscious about the social impacts of their spending. They look at where their money is going when they buy something and make decisions to buy products from companies that pay fair wages and make environmentally sound decisions.
How to be a More Conscious Consumer
Go back to the 3 R’s
Think before you buy.
Can you reduce your spending by not buying a new product?
Can you reuse something instead of buying a new product?
Can you recycle an old version of what you want/ need before buying something new?
Once you answer those questions, then you can move to the following.
This goes back to the reduce part of the 3 r’s. Do you really need it? If not, don’t buy it.
It is perfectly okay to embrace minimalism and only buy what you need.
You don’t have to have the trendiest things to be cool. You can be cool just by being you, minimalist and all. You can learn more about minimalism here.
A neighbor once complimented me on an outfit in front of her preschooler. I was super excited to brag about it being a secondhand thrift find. I love buying secondhand. Her preschooler innocently pipped up, “Isn’t the thrift store just for poor people?”
No, dear preschooler, the thrift store is for all people. I truly cannot afford to buy the slow fashion designers that I love, yet I pick them up all the time at consignment stores, thrift stores, and Goodwill. I will never be the person who spends hundreds of dollars on one item of clothing, even if it is “good for society and the environment”.
But guess what I can do?
Find the same damn items for 1/10th of the price at a thrift store. Score.
Don’t be ashamed to buy used before you buy new. Even if you can afford to buy new, you are doing a good thing by buying used. Most thrift stores support charities and keep old items out of a landfill. You are never doing a bad thing by supporting secondhand shops.
When we have the money, we always support local over big box stores.
Repeat, when we have the money.
To me, paying a little extra to support a small business is very similar to civic duty and charity. No, I won’t even try to argue that it is the same, but it is a way for me to keep my money in our community.
By keeping my money in the community, I am able to make my money go further than it would on Amazon or through Target and Walmart.
For every $100 you spend at locally owned businesses, $68 will stay in the community opposed to $43 when you spend at big chains.
At the same time, when times are tough or I can’t find a way to support local, we shop the big box stores. I draw the line at Costco just because I can’t. No explanation needed. I just can’t do that type of consumerism.
You do you. I still love Walmart (I was born in Arkansas so it feels “local”). No judgment here if Costco is your jam.
You have to draw your own conscious consumerism line and not worry about what other people think of your decisions.
Support your CSA
I cannot stress this one enough.
Support your local community supported agriculture.
CSAs operate off the support of the community. Think of it as a minimally risky investment. As a CSA supporter, you pay upfront before the growing season. In essence you help the farmer buy their seeds. Then you reap the benefits of what they grow. You invest in their product and receive much more than you would if you’d paid for produce weekly.
If you can’t afford to invest in a CSA, but have one near you, you can still purchase their produce through farmer’s markets or directly from the farms.
Most even support the EBT program! And yes, I’ve personally had an EBT card and used it for local agriculture at our farmer’s market. “Food stamps” should be and can be used for real food!
You are never too poor to be a conscious consumer.
Research & Support B Corps
Once you are certain that you do need to buy something brand new, research before you buy.
Some things to research:
- Customer reviews- Have other consumers been happy with the product you want to buy? Does the product last the test of time? For example, I have no clue if Lodge is environmentally responsible as a company, but I do know that their products last over 100 years. To me, that speaks volumes. I want products that I can pass down to my kids.
- B Corps- Is the product your looking for produced by a B-Corps? Benefit Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their workers, suppliers, community, and environment to use their business as a force for good. Sure, they are still out to make money, but these companies are much more socially responsible than many other businesses.
Choose quality over quantity
Quality is always better than quantity.
Unless you are 5. Then quantity will always trump quality.
I’m willing to bet you aren’t a 5 year old. So in this case, I’m going to advise you to buy things that will last a long time. As my husband likes to say,
“You get what you pay for.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have learned this for myself with cheaply made products even when I knew better!
Do your best and don’t feel guilty when you can’t do it all
Just do your best.
I truly believe that it is more impactful for all people to be somewhat conscious of their consumption instead of having a handful of people be super strict conscious consumers.
Do you love supporting a few fast fashion shops because you’d rather spend your money on a CSA? Go for it!
Don’t care about food, but love clothes? Support slow fashion and fast food.
You have to do your best with the money you have. Just be mindful of your impact.
Conscious consumption can save you money
In an even broader definition, I like to add that conscious consumption means that you are aware of how your consumption affects your own mind and lifestyle.
In an age of abundance and indulgence, consumption can make us feel as if we are nothing more than machines designed to consume new products that are supposed to make our lives easier when, in fact, added consumption just adds to our daily stresses.
Less consumption equals more brain space to do the things you really want to do.
When we step outside of our mainstream media programmed brains, we can see that living simply and buying less, also allows us to save money.
In a sense, being a conscious consumer should save you money, not make you spend more. I plan to dive in deeper on this subject in subsequent posts.
For now, just think of this fact: spending more on high quality items that last longer can save you money as opposed to buying cheap crap that will fall apart in a few months or weeks.
Yes, you may spend more upfront, but you will save more in the long run. And yes, I understand the dilemma of low income folks not being able to spend more upfront. However, we all have the ability to buy less and save more in order to make purchases for the future.
For example, I haven’t bought a new phone in 5 years.
There is no shame in making the decision to live with less luxuries in order to save money for necessities.
What does it mean to “vote with your dollar”?
Voting with your dollars is not a new concept. In fact, this idea has been around since the 1950’s. Voting with your dollar is an analogy for every dollar spent being a vote for what you believe in as a consumer.
We all have the power to tell corporations how we want to live our lives.
Corporations work for consumers, not the other way around.
We don’t have to be mindless consumers. We can make a difference just in the way we spend our money.
Are you going to be a mindless consumer? Or are you going to make sure that every dollar you spend is going towards something you stand for?
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