One of the biggest reasons that people tout for embracing frugality or minimalism is that those lifestyles provide the money and time to live in accordance with your priorities. When you spend less, and have fewer things, you can wield your time and money as tools to sculpt a life the reflects your goals and values.
This is the main reason I want to get control of my stuff, and my money, so that I can live in accordance with my values. I am a long way from where I want to be, but I’m taking steps in the right direction.
I read a lot of blogs about minimalism, and a few about personal finance and frugal living. A lot of the personal finance and frugal living blogs that I read are about saving as much of one’s income as possible, to ensure future (or continued) financial freedom. Some have goals of retiring early (VERY early) and some just want enough in the bank that they never have to make a decision based on a lack of funds, or to do the work that makes them happy but can’t support them completely. In almost all of these cases, the main goal seems to be saving money, by any means necessary. Year long shopping bans are instituted, eating out is shunned, gift cards are used to buy other people gifts. The main idea is to save, save, save so that later (or now) you can have the life you want.
But one thing I’ve found curiously missing from the personal finance and frugal living conversations is the idea of consumer responsibility. I think we can all agree that most of the time the cheapest choice is not the most most sustainable choice, or the choice that provides a living wage for those involved in its production. And so the question arises: should consumer responsibility be a part of the personal finance and frugal living equation?
I ask this question of others because I’ve been asking it of myself. As I poke around in our monthly budget, looking for ways to save, this question comes up again and again. Sure I could save some money here and there buying a cheaper option, but that option would almost certainly be more harmful to the environment, or bypass attempts at fair trade. We like to buy organic, not just because we want to avoid ingesting pesticides ourselves, but because we know they wreak havoc to the ecosystems where they are used, leaching into ground water and contaminating the soil for miles around. We want the animals who provide our dairy and meat to be treated well, raised on the foods there bodies were designed to digest, and not treated with unnecessary hormones. We want to do this not only for our own health, but for ethical reasons as well. These products cost more, sometimes significantly more. Do we stop buying them to save money?
I know there are A LOT of other places in my budget where I can cut costs without making these hard decisions (especially when it comes to groceries), and I’m making baby steps in the right direction. But eventually, I will have to make choices that either save money, or prioritize my values. It seems that ultimately, in most cases*, the choice is “either/or” (am I wrong about this?), but never “and,” when it comes to saving money and consumer responsibility.
I recognize that minimalism and frugal living can make it easier to prioritize values. When you buy fewer clothes you can have a greater inclination to spend more on a garment that wasn’t produced in a sweatshop, or purchase something from a small, local vendor instead of from a giant internet retailer (with horrible employment practices). When you have more money, you can be more intentional with how you spend. And the most important: when you consume less, you create less waste. But honestly, I haven’t seen those ideas included in any conversations about frugal living. Of course I’ve only just started reading many of these blogs, and I’m horrible at configuring a productive string of words in a search bar, but upon closer inspection, it doesn’t seem like they happened before I started following along. (If anyone can point me towards post about this, I’d be much obliged.)
I am only just starting out on this personal finance journey; I still have to learn ALL THE THINGS. And I’m sure I’ll eventually find a balance between saving and all my other priorities, but I’m kind of incredulous that this isn’t a bigger part of the conversation, especially since most of the people achieving early financial independence seem to be well educated, conscientious individuals. For many people, the goal is to make ends meet, and consumer responsibility is a luxury they can’t afford. For those of us who have a choice, I hope we are making it wisely.
How does consumer responsibility factor into your budget?
* I know there are some cases where this is not the case, but they seem rare and subject to regional availability.