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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Putting Principled Buying into Action

Last week ,when I talked about my gift shopping for my daughters, my discussion was about trying to find products that were made by my own personal standards. To be specific, not wanting to buy from countries whose government treats some of its people reprehensibly or from companies who support causes that are in opposition to my own beliefs, as well as wanting to buy from American small businesses whenever possible to keep money in fellow American's pockets.  It was mentioned in the comments that I was fortunate to be able to shop by my principles. 

I am fortunate. But I'm not spending more money than previously on categories like gifts, clothing, and household needs while I practice principled buying.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share how we afford to shop by our principles and deal with the often higher cost of products that are American-made, small business-made, or imported from countries that provide a fair wage to their workers. If my budgets for gifts, clothing, and household items have not risen, and I'm avoiding buying the super cheap stuff that comes from some countries, something has to be different with my shopping, right? 

Here's how we're doing it. We're using those tried and true frugal methods to save on some items, so that we can afford to buy those more expensive other items from companies and countries that are on my personal "approved" list. 

  • I am repairing, refurbishing, and repurposing as much of our clothing and household items as I can, so that I postpone replacing items further into the future. I've currently got 1 pair of mittens, a sock, a pair of blue jeans, and a bath rug in the mend pile. If I were to buy all of those items new, I'd spend well over $100. That same $100 will pay for replacing a piece of clothing or a household item that is past repair and bought according to my principles.
  • I have been asking for basic clothing items and necessities as my gifts for Christmases and birthdays. Last year for my birthday, I received a pair of basic leggings and a sweatshirt. For Christmas, I received a requested headband and hair conditioner. I used a gift card from my birthday 2019 to buy new underwear. And I used another gift card from Mother's Day 2018 to buy my everyday shoes. Money I didn't take out of our budget is money that can go toward principled buying.
  • We're also turning to thrift stores for many items. Thrifts stores do more than just prevent stuff from ending up in landfills or provide merchandise super affordably. Thrift shops often have a charitable cause or benefit a needy group. Thrift shops provide job training for folks that have had a hard time breaking into the job market, fund homeless shelters, fund non-profit rehab centers, sponsor soup kitchens, and subsidize childcare centers for lower income families. Thrift stores don't operate to pad wallets of stockholders or CEOs. Their prices would be much higher if that were the case. Instead, their focus is on helping people. Shopping thrift stores saves me money and makes me feel good about my choices. And the money I save by buying a needed thrifted top or saucepan compared to buying new is money that I can put towards those more expensive principled purchases.
  • I'm also shopping online marketplaces for gently-used or new-condition items. Online marketplaces are like garage sale Saturday every day, but with a phenomenally large selection. I like that by buying an item from an individual seller, I put more money into that person's pocket and less into a large corporation's. And I save some money in the bargain. 
  • We are still shopping at Dollar Tree for some items. Dollar Tree has a surprising amount of Made in USA items. I just check labels on everything. I needed a new box of envelopes. Same brand, but one set of envelopes were security envelopes and the other set were plain envelopes. The plain envelopes were made in the USA and the others were imports. I bought the plain ones.
  • When it comes to giving gifts to others, I am reducing the number of gifts, overall, and prioritizing the items most wanted so that I can shop by my principles. The bonus -- buying and giving less means that fewer items might wind up on a closet shelf or in another giveaway box. When I first set out to shop for some small gifts for my daughters I was thinking spa items. I had thought about some bath soaks, bath bombs, maybe some bath oil or shower gel, a loofah, a bath brush, a shower cap, and some chocolates. As it turns out, by buying only American-made, small business, or marketplace items, I was able to buy 1 bath bomb, 1 packet of bath soak, 1 bottle of shower gel, 1 chocolate bar, and 1 shower cap (small business-made) for each daughter. I spent the same amount of money that I would have spent on a larger selection of cheap imported items, but I think I did more good with my money. Will my daughters mind that I didn't get everything on my list? Not at all. Here's another one -- I needed a $15 to $20 gift for someone recently. I chose to buy coffee beans from a company that donates a share of its proceeds to a cause that is close to my heart. The recipients of my coffee bean gift were delighted to receive the coffee and happy to hear about the cause the purchase benefitted. (This is a cause that they also support.) I am taking the same amount of money that I would have spent, but directing it toward companies, organizations, or people of my choosing.
So that's how we're affording to buy clothing, gifts, and household items in a principled way with the same size budget we've had for years. The harder category to shop in this way is food.  I have a post in the writing that I'll finish up for tomorrow on that.

I wanted to add, if my choice was to buy a small Dollar Tree gift for someone in my life or not buy a gift at all, due to a very small budget, I'd definitely buy the Dollar Tree item. I think it's more important to make another person feel good and appreciated than to satisfy principles. And if one of my family members needed clothing that didn't obviously look mended (for instance, work apparel), I'd buy a cheap import item if that is what my budget dictated. Sometimes, keeping principles means putting others' joy or self-esteem ahead of our own desires.

There are several categories for which there isn't a good American-made or small business product. We're doing our best, making changes where it is possible, and not sweating the rest.


  1. Those suggestions are good buying tips even if you aren't trying to avoid or support specific businesses. We are not big on giving gifts just to have something to open. They are usually something the person could use or handmade with some kind of personal thing-like framing a photograph. And often times they are an experience or food so as not to have more stuff. However, I will say that they are rarely as well put together or visually pleasing as what you do. You have a real talent in the area.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      We each have our own ways and thoughts about gifts and holidays. I appreciate gifts of experiences or food, too. Those sorts of gifts tend to actually be used. I often ask my kids to spend time with me one on one as a gift. As one gets older, I think one realizes how little stuff they really need and how much they really value time spent with loved ones.

  2. Lili, perhaps an answer I should know.....but how do you learn about how other countries treat their employees??
    I like buying used for other reasons also: it is keeping something out of a landfill, no new resources have to used and if it holds up well enough to be resold/repurposed then it has endurance. So many new things seem nice but quickly fall apart. I am like you in liking to support a good cause with the purchase.
    I need to be more aware. I have watched clothing and most foods for awhile to see if made in USA. But, I need to watch all purchases and learn about other countries labor practices.
    As always, thank you for your thorough articles and helping us save and learn!

    1. Hi Linda,
      I tend to read a lot of international news which prompts me to search out further information. But if you do an online search for topics like "countries with forced labor camps" or "countries with child labor" and then add in the different continent names -- Asia, Africa, South America, Europe. Also search "countries with labor rights violations" you'll get a lot of info. When I find a lot of imported products that are super cheap and all from one country, that prompts me to seek out more info. And if I have a particular brand of an item that I'm considering, such as for sneakers, I do an online search about that company's labor practices. Some major sneaker companies have been accused of using forced labor camps or child labor. The US may have a lot of faults, but I usually feel better about made in America purchases than any other country, as I know we have fairly decent labor laws that are actually enforced and a media that acts as a watchdog. But you have to check labels, because so many American companies out-source to other countries. Hope this helps.
      I agree -- second-hand items that still look to be in good condition likely were made well to begin with and will hold up for my use, too!

  3. As usual, your thought process is very comprehensive. The other commodity that makes it more challenging to shop this way is the amount of time you have available. It takes time to do the research into every aspect of this. I try to be eco-friendly with my lifestyle but I find that when I am busier, it's harder to achieve. I'm sure the same holds true for principled purchases.

    I like it that you are not looking for perfection per se, but instead are trying to gradually be more mindful.

    1. Hi Kris,
      It is definitely more time-consuming to find items that meet my goals. One other thing that I should have mentioned is that as I simply work in this direction, I am focusing more time and energy on those purchases that will have the greatest impact, such as avoiding the worst countries of origin and not worry as much about countries with fewer or lesser infractions or focusing on higher price tag items that are American-made to keep more of my dollars in my country.

  4. I love this thoughtful approach to consumerism. I need to be more mindful in my purchases. Thank you for this message and timely reminder!

    1. You're welcome, Ruthie. I'm glad this post could have meaning.


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