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Conscious Consumerism: How to Practice and How it Saves Money


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In today's fast-paced world, being a conscious consumer is more important than ever. While I admit I'm not perfect or do everything in the most sustainable way possible, becoming a mom back in 2020 made me want to do better in terms of what and how much I consume. Conscious consumerism doesn't have to be this strict ethos that controls your life; rather it's about understanding the impact of our choices and making informed decisions that align with our values.

In this blog post, I'm going to explore the concept of conscious consumerism, and my journey to shopping more sustainably, and I'll provide practical tips on how you can incorporate it into your daily life, too. Since this is a personal finance site, I'm also going into a bit more detail on how being an ethical/conscious consumer also saves me money. More money, I'd wager, than couponing any day of the week.

My Own Journey to Conscious Consumerism

When I went back to work in 2018 after being a full-time blogger for nearly five years, I took a marketing job at a company that sold plastic crates as a shipping alternative to corrugated cardboard. Up until that point, I'd never really thought about the impact of online shopping in terms of how much waste it adds to landfills or the carbon it puts into the environment.

I've already prioritized living with less as a way to curtail my own shopping addiction, but you still have to shop, right? When I do, I want to spend consciously, and so I decided to implement the following steps into my routine — I do most, or some combination of the following steps anytime before I purchase.

And this is a very “light” take on conscious consumerism. A beginner's guide if you will. I know I don't do nearly enough education and research on items like my son's toys, my own clothes, etc. etc. But I wanted to consume more mindfully in a way that makes sense for me, my own free time, my mental bandwidth, and so on.

Even small changes can make a big difference. I promise.

How to Practice Conscious Consumerism

Educate Yourself

The first step towards conscious consumerism is educating yourself about the products you buy. Take the time to research brands and companies, their values, and their production processes. Look for certifications like Fair Trade, Organic, or Cruelty-Free, which indicate ethical and sustainable practices.

Try, (Again, if you can) to support companies that prioritize ethical sourcing. Look for products that are made from sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or recycled materials. Consider the working conditions of the people involved in the production process and choose brands that ensure fair wages and safe working environments.

My education in conscious consumerism started by following hashtags on social media for sustainable living and shopping. Also P.S. Do you know how bad fast fashion is for the environment? Holy shit.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

One of the fundamental principles of conscious consumerism is reducing waste. Opt for products with minimal packaging or packaging made from recycled materials. Embrace the concept of reusing by investing in reusable products like water bottles, shopping bags, and coffee cups. And of course, always recycle whenever possible.

Take this one step further and any time you need or want something new – look for it secondhand online first. Anytime you buy secondhand than new, you're practicing conscious consumerism and doing something great for the environment at the same time.

How this saves me money: I shop for clothes secondhand a ton, which lowers my 5% spending rule that I allot in my budget for clothing spend. I also got a free 8 ft faux Christmas tree one of my neighbors was giving away during a move, which saved me close to $300 this season.

Support Local and Small Businesses

When possible, support local and small businesses. I struggle with this because of the convenience, ease, and pricing of “big-box” online retailers. But the truth is that small business often has a smaller carbon footprint and contribute to the local economy. By choosing to buy from them, you're not only supporting ethical practices but also fostering a sense of community.

How this saves me money: Okay, so sometimes it doesn't save me money to shop locally. But let's not pretend that putting more money into the hands of small business owners isn't one of the most powerful things you can do with your dollar. Rather than giving it to Amazon or Walmart (who, let's be real, don't need it), you're helping an SMB owner pay their mortgage, fund a holiday for their family, and hire workers.

Consider the Lifecycle of Products

Think beyond the initial purchase and consider the lifecycle of the products you buy. Choose items that are built to last, reducing the need for frequent replacements. Sometimes a cheaper item is the only thing in your budget, but if you can afford a higher-quality item, it may make better financial sense to repair and maintain your belongings instead of automatically replacing them. When it's time to dispose of something, explore recycling or donating options.

How this saves me money: One of the most sustainable things you can do is to use all of your products before buying something new to replace it. Things like shampoos, body products, groceries, etc. Limiting waste is a big part of conscious consumption and this goes beyond groceries into every consumable item you own. Practicing this “must use up everything before I buy a replacement” helps ensure my personal care spending stays low and I'm not buying multiples of items I won't use.

Conscious Consumerism + Food Choices

Conscious consumerism extends to the food we consume. Opt for locally sourced, organic, and seasonal produce whenever possible. Support sustainable farming practices and consider reducing your meat consumption, as the meat industry has a significant environmental impact.

How this saves me money: What's the bare minimum I could do to limit consumption and save money? I strive for a “Meatless Monday” when I meal plan and lowering my meat consumption also helps to reduce my grocery bill. I'm not perfect, but I'm getting there and feel really good about this small change-up. My cheese-and-bread-loving toddler certainly doesn't complain. I also try to eat up leftovers in the fridge (far more than in my 20s when ordering takeout was the default.) And let's not go into how much money it saves to eat at home rather than going out.

Live Minimally

Now that I'm in real estate, it never ceases to amaze me how much “stuff” people keep in their houses. While I recently did have to become a “storage unit person” because my mid-century home is limited on storage space, living minimally is one of my core values and I think I do pretty okay with it. I don't have large closets filled with items I can't remember. It's easy for me to find something I've stored if I need to. I despise clutter.

Here's how I lived without a car for a full 18 months.

How this saves me money: I sell things whenever I'm done with them and try to limit the things I hold onto purely for sentimental reasons. Reselling items I no longer need or want not only puts money back in my pocket but ensures the only things that stay in my home are items I truly love and use. For example, I recently sold a bunch of kiddo's old playroom toys, which helped fund Christmas and decor for his new bedroom. It's like “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but you're getting cash to achieve the things you actually want.

Vote with Your Wallet

So, I think the big misconception about “conscious consumerism” is that you have to spend less, but that's not really the idea. To me, I think conscious consumerism is really about using your money to support companies that align with your values and avoid those that don't.

By consciously choosing where to spend your money, you can encourage positive change and hold businesses accountable for their actions. Every purchase you make is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.

The TL:DR

Practicing conscious consumerism is a journey that requires ongoing effort and awareness. By educating ourselves, reducing waste, shopping locally, and limiting meat, we can easily make an impact on the world around us.

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