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I read a lot about decreasing spending (duh!) and hunting for the best deals on items (food, clothing, etc). But I also read about how those super-low-cost items come at a price — usually to someone else. Clothing for example is known for being manufactured in less-than-safe buildings, paying the workers an unfair wage for their time. As the New York Times reported, a cheap manicure comes at the price of an exploited worker. Even cheap food is grown in second or third world countries, potentially harming the environment and exploiting workers who will work for less.
I cringe a little bit when I read or hear about someone who, while paying down debt, found a great deal on a pair of jeans, for example, and in the back of my mind while I am happy for them for getting their finances under control, I wonder why those jeans were so cheap — likely because the person making them was paid unfairly and/or the environment was harmed in the process.
Then I look at my own budget and am dismayed at how much we spend on food and clothing sometimes, even though I intentionally seek out products that are manufactured in an ethical manner. Those items cost more and I tell myself it’s OK for it to take longer for us pay down our (very low interest rate) loan if I know that our money is not funding things I am uncomfortable with.
How do I reconcile these two things? I want to find a great deal on a thing I want or need but there are consequences to others for my purchase of the least expensive option.
The obvious answer is that I should either 1) just not buy new things (e.g. shop at thrift stores, though less easy with food) or 2) budget for the more expensive but ethically sourced item(s). I just wonder if when we idolize the reduction of debt at all costs, does that not pressure ourselves (and others) into making compromises at the expense of others?
What do you think?
Interesting, right? When Joanna and I read this email, we looked at each other and did a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ expression — it had just never even crossed our minds. Now obviously our quest for getting the best deal has some limits. We’d probably avoid buying like-new electronics at too-good-to-be-true prices from a shady street vendor knowing that the items were probably stolen. Or if a company was caught in a PR disaster over abysmal factory conditions, we’d probably look elsewhere to do business. But to be honest, we’ve never really lost sleep over thinking about how that screaming deal we got on X product might have come at the expense of someone or something.
Thinking about this a little more, we realized our “ethical buying code” is pretty limited. Whenever possible, we try to be America- made products. And if a company includes a social good component to their business model, like Warby Parker or TOMS, we’re much more inclined to give them our business knowing we’re contributing to a cause. But that’s about it. After reading this reader’s email, it has us wondering if we shouldn’t be a bit more conscious personally as consumers.
What’s your take? Has this ever crossed your mind? If it has, what sort of suggestions do you have that allow your ethics and budget to live in harmony?