Sunday, 17 March 2013

Do Ethics or Economics Dominate Your Spending?

This has been a bit of a concern for me for a number of years now. In an ideal world I would  be able to shop ethically and do my bit to live a cleaner, healthier, greener life without impacting on our planet, but in reality, when hard times bite some sacrifices have to be made in order to stretch the budget. I have given up and gone without some things, but struggle not to feel guilty about other choices I make when shopping.

There are some marvelous bloggers out there that are really doing their bit - 2 of my favourites are the lovely Jen and her family over at My make do and mend year who is not buying anything new for a year (apart from food, some toiletries and underwear for her family) and The Pughs over on A year without supermarkets who are doing exactly that. Both of these familes are a true inspiration and are well worth a read.

I guess the big question is "Can you shop Ethically on a tight budget?" There are lots of websites telling you how you can slash your bills,live frugally and have cheap food etc, but how ethical are they?
I was watching Superscrimpers on TV during the week and they tested 3 shampoos to try and work out which was the best value for money, buget (supermarkets own brand), mid range (Herbal Essences) and a designer brand. They worked out the best value for money was the Herbal Essences, but I was sitting there thinking I wont buy that because of their animal testing record coupled with the fact that I try and avoid products with certain ingredients.  So, shopping can be a bit of a minefield and I thought Id share some of the dilemas I face on an almost daily basis while trying to juggle  Ethics vs Economics. As a one wage family who currently have very little to spend on food each week (as prices increases in Gas, Electricity and Petrol are really biting) , we need to get the most out of every penny.

Toiletries and Cleaning Products.

There are any number of chemicals and nasties in these that I try to avoid, SLS, parabens, irritants, surfectants and these can be harmful not only to us, but also to the marine enviornment, as they all wash down the sink and into waterways, rivers and the ocean (even if the water is treated).
I have given up nail polish all together because of the formaldehyde in it ( and I refuse to pay stupid prices for the stuff that is formaldehyde free). I do spend a bit more on shampoo which is SLS and paraben free, but use coconut oil as a moisturiser on my face, hands and body, use a crystalised antipersirant (aluminium free) and make some of my own beauty preparations.
I also tend to use home made cleaning products and avoid harsh chemical products. Sure, you have to use a bit more elbow grease, but it seems a small price to pay.

Firstly, I really hate the term ' Organic' , I prefer to use 'free from' meaning free from pesticides, herbicides etc. Now in an ideal world I would shop at a Farmers Market, and support Local Farmers, buy Fairtrade products etc. In reality tho, Sheffield's Farmers Market is only once a fortnight in the city centre on a Thursday (not realistic when you dont work in the city centre and only get 30 mins for lunch). I love the idea of a veg box from local farmers, but as the cheapest one they do is about 3/4 of our weekly shopping buget, that aint gonna happen. Local butchers are also more expensive (tho the meat is much, much tastier).
The latest bee in my bonnet is with the price of milk. As a Farmers daughter, I know how hard it is to for them to make a living and I dont like the idea supermarkets selling milk for £1 for 4pints. I can see how a family on a budget who go through a lot of milk can find this a great saving, however, I really dont mind paying £1.29 for our milk.
So, with food, we are shopping and eating with the seasons (dont even get me started in the use of the Greenhouse Gas methane to ripen tomatoes in greenhouses!). Im also growing some of my own veg but havent got enough of a veg plot to be able to keep us in veg year round (and then theres the whole 'peat free' thing if I have to buy any compost for containers as we dont make enough of our own).
I dont tend to stick to one place for my food shopping. We are luck to have lots of shops near us, so we can chase the bargins round to some extent. Our local Tesco (sorry Team Pugh!) have the scanners you take round with you now and this is great for  seeing exactly how much youve spent, but then the Lidl at the end of the road is great for fresh veg as well, so in that respect we are very lucky.

Clothing, shoes and gifts

Im not a fashionista, I really dont like shopping for clothes. Im an akward shape and I know what I like (which never seems to be in fashion). Sizewise, I dont seem to find stuff to fit (that I like) in Charity shops and I do worry that stuff from cheap shops and websites (Primark, Everything £5 etc) might not be produced in a way that pays the workers a fair wage, so I dont buy many clothes. I tend to shop on eBay (but that can be a bit hit and miss with sizes), so I kinda wear things to death. The OH tends to get t-shirts, undies and sox for pressies, so we can pretty much keep him kitted out from out local Asda (sorry again Team Pugh).
Gift wise, I tend to make lots for the ladies in our family myself. I love the idea of supporting charities like Oxfam, etc and buying gifts made from recycled stuff, but these are a bit thin on the ground in Sheffield and If I buy these online (from the UK or abroad) there is the added cost of P&P and the effect the goods are having by being shipped around the globe.  Does  buying an item produced in a Third World country to help support a community (for example)  have a better or worse effect when you take into account the 'carbon footprint' the shipping of the item produces? 

So, as you can see, I do have concerns about how I spend and what I spend on. I will admit that when economic times are tough, there are some principals which go out the window and I do worry about these.
Im trying to do my bit, recycling, reducing and reusing etc, but I get a bit disheartened as I think we all should be doing more to look after ourselves, our loved ones and ultimately, our planet.

Id love to hear of any ways you have found to live ethically on a buget, and of any tips and hints you can share as to how I can improve the way we live.
Thanks for reading.


  1. I find it really difficult to get the balance right. I recycle what I can (I wish they would use less packaging) i try remembering my bags too which is what i'm worse at!
    We don't go through loads of veg, I often buy frozen becuase i found i was throwing away more and that is such a waste. I just wish it was all cheaper. Its so easy to buy a big pack of crisps less than £1 and yet buying enough bananas for a week costs a lot more! So stupid. I am guilty of the £1 milk, which we go through a fair bit and although of course i like that becuase of my budget which is tight, I do feel guilty about it, like you say farmers do get a raw deal especially dairy farmers.
    Meal planning is the best thing, passing down clothes, maybe getting a bit crafty by jazzing up old clothes? I don't often buy clothes, I hate clothe shopping! x
    ps Letter on way!

  2. Interesting post, in recent years we have been forced to really think about what we spend and buy. Since I became ill my diet has changed loads as I cant have processed foods and lots of other nasties I didnt realise I was eating. But we dont have much money, so what we have been doing is cooking in big batchs and freezing it for future meals, so we cook from scratch but dont need to every day, this also means we buy a lot of spices etc that last longer so cuts down on the bills. We buy some meat in bulk from the butcher, we have bought half a pig and butchered it ourselves which worked a lot cheaper but we did have to save. Then we cured out own hams and made sausages etc We have also been looking at what we can forage locally and making our own neetle beer and elderflower drinks. Something else we have done is hubby has volunteered on a hunt before and we got a few quid and some free meat for that. Something else we have been looking at is bartering, we know a few people who have allotments so we are looking at making something to give to them for any veg they have left over :)

    My biggest issue is craft supplies, I am working on trying to bring that down at the moment and use what I have and continue to make gifts for people instead of buying. I am also looking at using some of my stash to crochet clothes if I can, we dont buy clothes very often due to me not being able to get out and the fact we cant afford it but things are getting desperate ;) I tend to buy second hand on ebay.

    1. Thanks for the input Hannah, some great ideas here. Im also trying to use up the craft hoarde I have. I do a wee bit of foraging myself (mainly wild garlic and rosehips), Im not sure how OH would react if I started putting all sorts of wild stuff on his plate. Keep up the god work :o)

  3. This is a very interesting post and raises some good points. Superdrug's own brand toiletries are all vegan so I go there for deodorant and toothpaste. I look in the 'world food' section of Tesco and Sainsburys where many items are cheaper (and Fairtrade). Although I don't eat meat, if you do I would say buy good quality meat and use it more of a flavouring rather than the main part of the meal (like the Chinese do). Foraging is always a good option and can be done all year. Keep an eye out for people who sell surplus fruit and veg and jams etc outside their homes, this is where a freezer comes in handy xxx

    1. Hello Fran,
      Thanks for your comments (and for reading). I tend to go for the 3pks for £10 offers when it comes to meat (and make sure its British as I dont like the production methods used in Europe), and split the packs so I can get more meals for the OH. They often have stewing meats in the offer so I can make them go even further. I only tend to have meat when Im doing a Roast (which is once in a Blue Moon these days).
      I am certainly intending to do more foraging this year, and the tip about Superdrug is also most welcome.
      Cheers. :o)