Thursday 10 November 2011

Thrifty v. Ethical

Thank you so much for all your support & kind comments on my Buy Nothing New Month challenge & frustrations. Calico Kate asked if the experience had changed how I thought about purchasing...

Yes, I think it has but I've been left with a nagging concern...

Is it possible to be both thrifty and ethical?

The dictionary didn't have the answer but it did tell me that;

Thrifty means- carefully managing money/resources, frugality

Ethical means- conforming to accepted standards of conduct & morality

Some clarity had been offered but no real answer (especially on the ethical front- that just added more confusion)

In a recent post from the Non-Consumer Advocate  (thanks for the tip Sue!), there was an interesting link to a New York Times article entitled Eco meets the Economy. It was good to know that other people were thinking like me & battling with a similar dilemma.

Then, a few weeks ago, I watched a programme where the presenter was dressing a woman in new clothes & shoes from the high street, a complete new outfit for just £50. Yes, that is thrifty but is it ethical?

I don't often get wound up & annoyed (actually that's not true I often find myself shouting at the radio these days but that's in the privacy of my own home) but seeing that programme really got me thinking...

I want to be both thrifty & ethical. Sometimes it's hard to be both at the same time, compromise is needed. A middle path has to be sought, a personal line has to be drawn. After lots of ongoing discussion with Mr TH we have started to draw our line...

To be more thrifty, we will;
  • think before we buy (do we really need to buy it?)
  • buy in bulk where possible (& reasonable) to reduce costs
  • grow more of our own vegetables
  • try to re-use/recycle/mend more
  • try to reduce costs on travel where possible, by walking, bicycling or using public transport rather than the car

To be more ethical, we will;
  • buy local &/or seasonal produce wherever possible
  • try to buy fairtrade (or equivalent) when buying imported goods
  • only buy fairtrade (or equivalent) when buying luxury goods (coffee, chocolate, etc...) 
  • try to ensure that sweatshop labour has not been involved in the manufacturing process of any new clothes (I know that this can be difficult to do- I think I need to spend a few hours doing some research online for this one...)
  • buy meat from our local butcher because we know that is local, ethically sourced & it tastes really good (but it is more expensive so we will therefore eat less of it)
  • buy fish that has been ethically caught & is not endangered 
  • try to further reduce the amount of rubbish we are responsible for in landfill
Gratuitous picture of coffee and chocolate...

This is where we have drawn our line. We are well aware that we will frequently encounter clashes between thrift & ethics...I don't know how we'll get on but we're going to do our best!


The Coffee Lady said...

I enjoyed this post, because whilst I've read quite a few thrifty blogs there are often unanswered questions about ethics. For example, of course I prefer cleaning with vinegar, lemons and baking soda, which are often promoted as thrifty - but when priced against Lidl's own-brand cream cleaner they are not actually cheaper at all. The decision is not just about price.

Most of my decisions are made on price: for that reason I very rarely buy chicken, because I don't like it enough to buy ethically-reared chicken. I do buy meat locally, but that often turns out to be cheaper anyway because I can buy exactly what I need rather than a pre-weighed tray.

Annie Cholewa said...

Brilliant post, and a dilemma I struggle with myself (and may do more so with probable redundancy looming for my other half next year ... eek!).
If you're able to make your own clothes sale purchases of organic fabrics and eco friendly yarn can be a good way to go.
Living in a village a long way from town for us alternative transport methods are limited, but we do have a lovely farm shop selling home grown veg which I have vowed to use more.
At the end of the day I suppose you just have to do the best you can with what resources you have. And try to make it fun along the way!

Knitlass said...

In many ways being thrifty *is* being ethical - because you are generally consuming less, and over-consumption is a bad thing. But of course being thrifty does not necessarily mean being ethical, not does it necessarily mean thinking only about price. After all you might spend more on something because it will last longer or be more reliable. We sometimest buy a free-range chicken which costs ct. £10, but don't mind that because we are thrifty with the meat and make it stretch to several meals, and use the carcus to make a stock. So, it's £10 well spent in a local shop buying meat from a local farm and feeding my family with good food.

Food is one thing, but clothes are another. I am getting much better acquainted with my sewing machine, and doing a lot more stitching. Old trousers of mine quickly become new trousers for my son. And, if I have to buy new things, then I go for good quality clothes from a shop/label I trust - and I PLAN my wardrobe so that I am only buying things which I need and which will 'go' with my existing clothes. I often remind myself that today's bargains will be replaced by tomorrows bargains!

Thrifty Household said...

Thank you for your comments- I'm relieved that you're also having difficulties with the thrift v ethics situation...

I'm totally with you on the lemon issue Sue, I use the peel & juice in cakes & then use the leftover lemon carcase to clean the sink!

I'm a real fan of the cheap cuts of meat (& bones for stock- our butcher often gives me the chicken carcases for free!)

On the clothes front, like you Knitlass, I've been avoiding buying & remodelling/mending existing clothes where possible instead. It all takes time though & I'm fully aware that not everybody has the time or skills necessary to take this path.

All in all, it is a moral maze for me hence starting to 'draw a personal line' (whilst being aware that what is right for me isn't necessarily right for others) &, as Sue said, at the end of the day, I'm lucky to have these choices...

Not So Granny said...

Interesting questions. I think thrift is different to cheap and i would describe your approach as treading lightly on the earth.
For clothes, how would you like an invite to a local swish?

Thrifty Household said...

Am always on for swishing!

Pomona said...

I don't know if you have read Lucy Siegle's book on the fashion industry - quite an eye opener - and it made me decide that however 'cheap' I just will not buy disposable fashion from discount chains. For me, it has to be inherited, charity shop, or from ethical companies, which are necessarily more expensive - and when you read the book, you see why! So I make a bit, get a bit in charity shops, buy a very few good quality things in the sales - and if it does not make it into the sale, I do without - knowing that they have been produced more ethically, that they will last for years, not weeks, and I mend everything. In the end, I probably don't spend much more, because I buy stuff that lasts and very rarely shop for clothes.

For food, we grow much of our own, and bulk buy most of the rest from Suma (who deliver), with milk from Riverford (the only sort that doesn't give my daughter a rash!). Apart from our own, we buy a bit of meat from Fordhall, but make a very little meat go a long way. So although some things are individually more expensive, our overall food budget is very low.
We also economize in other ways, we don't eat out, buy DVDs, etc, rarely go on holiday, which keeps the overall budget down.

But one thing that does bug me is that the S/H books on Amazon are often more than the new ones by the time you have factored in postage!

Anyway, I seem to have gone on a bit - you have mentioned one of my pet topics. I will get back in my box now - phew!

Pomona x

Anonymous said...

This is something where each family has to choose its own place to draw the line. Time, space and abilities all need to be accounted for, as well as the possibility that the more obvious ethical choice may sometimes be undermined by the petrol needed to get to where it is for sale.
We all have to work out what is possible for our particular situation, and it the best we can do in some cases is to have considered an option, that is still better than not thinking at all!

Laura said...

I agree with Rachel in that it's better to be doing something than nothing. Living thriftily causes you to re-examine your consumption closely and question every item you buy, which has often led me to wonder where something comes from or how long something that appears to be a bargain will last for, which I'd never thought about before.

Buying second hand is a good way to satisfy thrift and ethics, as is making and growing your own things, and consuming less overall is good for the purse and the planet.

Thanks for such a thought provoking post, it's not something I've seen discussed elsewhere.

Angela said...

Great post and equally good comments.

Julie said...

I really enjoyed this post. I think your guideliens are very similar to what I have been trying to follow almost unconsciously for a while now - but its about time I was properly conscious about it. The meat and clothes aspects are something I definitely try to stick to.
Thanks for making me think a bit more. I'm going to get John to read your post so we can have a good old discussion about what we should be doing! Juliex

Scented Sweetpeas said...

I think we all need to think before we buy. I went to the new Open Door charity shop in mildenhall today and the man who works there said that he can't believe what people throw out - some items are new and still in boxes yet are thrown away :-( Re ethical clothes, it is not just the sweat shop labour which is bad but also the amount of resources such as water etc used to create clothes - jeans are really bad for this. I tend to buy second hand clothes as much as possible or have hand-me-ups and downs from friends and family :-)

Anonymous said...

I share the aims in both your ethical and thrifty lists and try to adhere to both. Some thoughts: I am aware that growing veg on an allotment isn't a money saver but it is good exercise in the fresh air, cheaper than the gym and the food is organic. On the other hand it is cost effective to grow your own at home if there's space. And I have also learned that I must avoid shops like Primark where I regularly get seduced by some cheap non-essential the production of which literally costs the earth.

Mrs. Micawber said...

This is indeed an engaging topic and the comments are as helpful and thought-provoking as your post! Where to begin...

I've found that buying better and more ethical food (organic, bulk, fair trade, etc) is satisfying in so many areas - budget, taste, conscience. So many people on my side of the pond think of "thrift" as using lots of coupons to buy mass quantities of processed food. I'd rather buy the best ingredients I can afford and make things from scratch whenever possible. (I think I actually spend less in the end doing that.)

Nothing is as good as locally-grown and butchered meat. (And nothing so horrifying as mass production meat - read "Fast Food Nation" or watch the movie "Food Inc." for examples.)

Unfortunately, the perceived (and occasionally real) convenience of mass produced products and food make it difficult to be both thrifty and ethical. For those women who spend most of their daylight hours earning a wage, the thought of cooking from scratch and concocting their own cleaning supplies is overwhelming.

The ethics and economics of thrift are indeed a minefield. I have read that some "fair trade" practices can upset an entire local economy and result in increased unemployment overall. I don't know if that's true (if I could underline these words I would have). But it does make me wonder if we in the West are accurately able to determine what a fair wage may be for someone in an undeveloped nation and if we're going about it the best way. (Please don't think I'm trying to undermine the Fair Trade process. It's more of an agonized "how can we get this right?" within my own mind.)

In terms of cleaning ingredients, I switched to baking soda, borax, and vinegar not for ethical or thrift reasons but for allergy reasons. I don't know if it saves me money but it surely saves me migraines! (I agree that lemons are better eaten than applied to furniture.) I even wash my hair with baking soda and vinegar, and my hair and scalp are healthier and happier than they've ever been.

One area I really struggle with is the use of plastics and plastic wraps, containers, etc. They're so hard to avoid, and I'm trying to move away from them. It is very difficult.

Thanks so much for writing this, and letting us all weigh in with our sometimes weighty comments!

Calico Kate said...

Great post as always. I'm off to a Clothes/household items swap/swish tonight so am hoping for a few new things for my wardrobe :) Can't remember the last time I brought something New new for me so often the Sweatshop bit doesn't worry me too much.
I think I come down on Thrift more than Ethics often because of finances or rather the lack of them. My rule of thumb is local or British first then organic/FT, for example I do buy Fairtrade Earl Grey tea but not sugar as I buy British.
Currently have a pash for the Co-Ops dark chocolate with orange oil (divine and just 2 squares a night) that it is FT too is a bonus!
Well done tho on your successful month and your joint efforts for the future.

Karen S Booth said...

An interesting post and we share many ethical and thrifty values.....I was brought up to love leftovers and never waste food; don't buy on the "tick" (credit); buy locally, barter ~ I remember bartering for honey with some of my chutney this year; we grow as much as we can; walk where you can ~ keep the car at home; don't buy cheap clothes as good quality will always out; buy from charity shops ~ my favourite way to shop; shy away from excess packaging ~ I buy at scoop shops often and buy refill packets wherever I can; preserve my home-grown harvest.......the list could go on and on......there is a fine line between frugal and thrifty, and that is the perfect balance to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I try to be thrifty and ethical when I can, and probably succeed as often as I fail. But just this evening, we were having a discussion about giving up the big weekly shop at the BIG supermarket, in favour of several smaller trips to shops along the Gloucester Road. I find that my biggest problem is food waste - food that we had a plan for, but then, because of random invitations, netball matches and so on, there is no one around to eat it.

On the clothes-front, the girls wear lots of hand-me-downs and I buy other things in the sales - thrifty, but are Boden and Gap ethical, I don't know. I am guilty of the occasional Primark lapse, particularly before school camp - sudden need of leggings, socks, t-shirts etc etc. How I wish they wore school uniform. At my eldest daughter's school (secondary) there was an ethical Fair Trade option for all the tops - sadly this is under threat. It was more expensive, but much, much better made.

It seems from all the comments above, that we all struggle in the same way to balance our ethics with our budgets. But as one or two people said, better to be thinking about it than not, and how lucky we are to be able to exercise such choices.

Anyway - well done Mrs TH on your month-long experiment. It seems you did incredibly well, and it has been inspiring to follow.

litlove said...

This is a very timely and interesting post. I was reading a novel recently in which there was a conversation over the ethics of buying home-grown tomatoes vs. those flown in from abroad. I had no idea that home-grown ones needed to be kept in heat and light tents because our own climate is too dreary (and unreliable) to assure growth. So once you've added up the cost of that, carbon-footprint-wise, you're better off buying them from Spain. It is all so difficult.

As for my own personal bugbear, books, I do buy a lot of second hand or cheap marketplace seller books from amazon. But I also want to support the publishing industry in a difficult period and so alternate with buying books from bookstores. Not at all thrifty, but you have to support what you don't want to lose, I think.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

This is sometimes an issue in our house where we generally live very much as Pomona describes. When we do need to buy OH is very much driven by thrift. I would rather do without than buy sweat shop stuff. When I do buy new which is rare I often buy m&s because I think their ethical stance might be more reliable than some others. I do hope I am not being conned!

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