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iamthemob's avatar

How can a person with limited income become a more responsible consumer?

Asked by iamthemob (17147points) September 21st, 2010

Let’s face it – it’s easy to be responsible when you have the money to do it. “Buy organic and local” is great for food if you want to spend 2–3 times as much sometimes – but if you can’t, that’s a problem. And if you can’t really afford much in the way of clothes, furniture, products, etc., K-Mart, Wal-Mart and the other Mart form superstores become it because you need them to use their economies of scale and integration techniques to subsidize your purchases.

What are affordable ways that I can choose to buy items and food that cause less harm to the environment, international human rights, employee rights, etc.? What are the cheapest resources? Are there ways that purchases can be subsidized? And where are these resources national?

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51 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Every one of us, no matter the income, can live a simpler life. When we switched to organic and vegan diet, our grocery bill didn’t go increase all that much (it increased some because we started shopping in Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s but the difference is worth it) and by giving up the car, taking up biking, growing veggies and building a lot of our stuff (Alex is a genius in making furniture or clothing or anything, really), we saved loads of money. I agree that if, for example, one wants clothing for their children that is guaranteed to be free of toxins, one has to pay more but, again, I just buy less pairs of pajamas and socks but I feel better. I think one can prioritize when beginning this journey of being more conscious and realize that sacrifices must be made but that it’s not that hard to make them. Of course, there are people whose very location and low income makes it next to impossible to avoid fast food chains or corporate evils like Walmart and that’s why each of us needs to assess our privilege and work towards bringing support to community markets, to changing nutrition in schools, to lobbying for parks and bike lanes and exersize programs, to CookShop classes in specific neighborhoods, to working with faith-based organizations in particularly impoverished areas, to bring awareness – these are some of the things I’ve done to make sure everyone can make healthier, more conscious choices. I think we should consider what’s available to the communities we live in and go from there. I am lucky that I am mobile and can go to the city and get some groceries – not everyone can.

iamthemob's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir

So be an advocate as well as a consumer – essentially, work the problem from both ends. Good suggestion!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob We can’t afford anything less, at this point – we must recognize there are access disparities.

YoBob's avatar

As far as buying local goes, check into your local farmers markets. You get the best/freshest produce available produced by mom and pop farmers in your area at a prices that are generally less than you pay in your local mega-mart.

Also, cut down on pre-packaged foods. Buying ingredients fresh and making them fabulous costs less, is healthier, and is greener.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob

What are the cost differences, you’ve found, between farmers markets, organics at larger stores, and mass marketed food products?

YoBob's avatar

Let’s take salsa (or any other tomato based sauce, for example). Even during the height of the season the only tomatoes available are not very flavorful unless you want to spring for the extra cost of the “on the vine” varieties they carry. Since I am making salsa a minor blemish on the skin of a tomato is a non-issue. However, the mega-mart must be sure that all of the tomatoes they carry are perfectly blemish free otherwise they are unlikely to sell. At the farmer’s market since you get to talk directly to the grower you can explain that you are making sauce and don’t mind a few blemishes on the skin. Often the grower will have a bin of “seconds” that (s)he will sell for cheap.

The result: A large bag containing more very flavorful locally grown tomatoes than I know what to do with for $5:00 than the couple of plastic tasting hot house grown ones I could buy at the supermarket for the same price.

I don’t have a price list at my fingertips, but it has been my experience that during the growing season the prices are better at the farmers markets because you are dealing directly with the grower and cutting out the middleman (your mileage may vary).

GladysMensch's avatar

For just about everything except food: garage sales. I’ve furnished my house, and clothed my kids for 10 years through garage sales. Check craigslist and the local paper and only go to those with stuff you’re interested in. Do your homework before you go out… don’t just drive around. Go to neighborhood sales with many sales in one area.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob

Awesome suggestion – I think that’s a lot of the problem – we don’t necessarily think outside the box and communicate our needs to the seller (we don’t think that there’s something else available they’re not showing, and they might know of a cheaper way to help us get what we need done.)

iamthemob's avatar

@GladysMensch

So you take the “reduce consumption of newly produced goods” approach. Cool.

Do you know if there’s anything like that online? e-bay, amazon.com etc. are available, but is there like a “garagesale.com” or something like it?

(p.s. – COPYRIGHT MY IDEA IF NOT! ;-))

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@iamthemob Prices at the farmers markets are considerably lower in season. Usually about ⅔ of what I used to pay at the supermarket. Organic’s usually run about ⅔ (or higher) more than the supermarket, but for some things I’ll make that sacrifice. You have to adjust for the difference in perishibility. The organics and farmers market produce tend to go bad much quicker than supermarket produce, which is more than a little scary when you think about it.

GladysMensch's avatar

@iamthemob
Craigslist.org is basically your best bet for all things garage sale. It’s free to list and has no limit to the amount you can say (unlike the local paper). However, we usually use both craigslist and the paper for scouting, because some people are still afraid of the interwebs.

Cruiser's avatar

I am currently a member of FreeCycle.org and members basically swap unwanted unneeded items instead to tossing them in the landfill. I have seen everything you can imagine get swapped out and best part is you can get rid of your stuff pretty quickly too!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Here’s a better price example: Tonight we’re having corn on the cob, bruschetta, and a salad. The corn was from a local farmer at the farm market, the other two were from the organic food store. The corn was $2.00 for a half dozen ears so three meals from that, the tomatos were about a $1.00 each, one is more than enough for the bruschetta, and the salad mix was $2.79 for the container, which will yield three salads apiece for each of us. Throw in 40 to 50 cents for the incidentals so about $3.00 for a meal

iamthemob's avatar

This is a weird example – but considering that a lot of the problem is overconsumption, wouldn’t another way to reduce costs be to ensure that you’re eating appropriate portion sizes? And instead of buying drinks, just drinking water?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob It’s not a weird example – awareness of correct nutrition would solve some problems.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Simone’s answer reminded me of one other thing: leave off the butter and my meal is also vegan.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The challenge is that it takes a lot of time to research and look at the value from all angles. There are often factors that a purchaser does not take into consideration.

Cost of the item: the price, the utilities involved to use it, and to make/fix it yourself
Materials used: is it man-made, recycled or organic? Is it damaging to the environment to use it?
Manufacturer: their process to make it, where the materials come from, the transportation process, supporting an independent seller instead of The Man or another country
Quality sometimes it is a better investment to spend more for something that will last longer
(There are probably many more factors that should be taken into consideration.)

While it is really difficult, if not impossible, today to find a product that meets all of the criteria above, maybe a good place to start is by learning the facts before we purchase something, and do more recycling. One of the reasons recycled products can cost more is because we aren’t doing enough of it.

Definitely purchasing more items that come from a previous owner. And I’m surprised that no one has mentioned bartering. I would have gladly baby-sat my sister’s children for some of her homemade mustard and pickles.

iamthemob's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer

nolo.com has a book called “The Sharing Solution” which I think speaks (I have it but haven’t read it yet) to the issue of a new class of bartering that can be inferred form your last paragraph above…:-)

anartist's avatar

“On the vine” is not necessarily better. Local farmers’ markets are best for good fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want out-of-season, only reason to buy in supermarket. Go to health fairs and marathon or 10k pre-events—lots of giveaways. Spend more on good food, less on furnishings and clothing.

Higher-quality furnishings than Target or KMart offer [even antiques] are available second-hand. Take up yard-saling and thrift-store shopping as a hobby. anything from table linens and china to nice wooden furniture and light fixtures. Be wary of stuffed things, never buy used mattresses Better quality clothes and handbags are also available second-hand. Follow craigslist for yard sales, sales of specific items, and even free giveaways. Save this way and spend the money on good food, new mattress, broadband internet, other things you need at good quality.

If you live somewhere where you can use ZipCars it will cut down on your driving but allow you a car when you need it, and even a van to haul when you need it.

Learn to make your own salsa and hummus and other things. Learn how to preserve.

Books, library or second-hand. Netflix can replace a lot of expensive movie outings. Find free cultural events in your neighborhood. I just went to “opera in the park” Verdi at the Nationals’ Stadium. Granted, it was not an opera house and the opera was on a Jumbo-tron but the whole experience was interesting and there were lots of giveaways by the sponsors.

If you have expensive prescription needs and no health insurance, often the drug manufacturer will subsidize your prescriptions.

I am lucky. I live in DC on Capitol Hill with modest means [I bought my condo when times were better] and there are endless interesting things for free in walking distance.

diavolobella's avatar

I purchase a lot of my clothes from Goodwill. I don’t do this because I have no other alternative, but because it’s an intelligent choice. You would be flabbergasted at the clothes you will find there. In my particular town, many of the stores such as Target, Gap, Old Navy, etc., send their unsold merchandise to Goodwill. On every visit I come away with something brand new with the retail tags still on it. I’ve gotten skirts and dresses from White House/Black Market with the tags still on them that retailed for $120 for a mere $4.99. I found a beautiful wool Banana Republic winter coat last year that looked like it had never been worn and paid only $14. The store overstock items are wonderful, but I also find current styles and really great bargains among the used clothing. Part of the enjoyment for me is the “treasure hunt” aspect as well. I also make a point of donating my older clothes or those I simply don’t wear to Goodwill, so it’s sort of a cycle. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to buy underwear or shoes from Goodwill for sanitary reasons, but regular clothing from Goodwill is a great bargain. You can also find many clothing bargains on Ebay.

As far as food goes, see if you have a local farmer’s market or tap into friends and acquaintances who have gardens since they will often grow more than they can use.

Books, CDs and DVDs can be obtained from the library or from online swap sites.

iamthemob's avatar

When you buy stuff from organizations like Goodwill, isn’t it important to make sure that the organizations structure is also one that you find morally appropriate?

Consider the Salvation Army. I will no longer purchase from them because of their anti-gay rhetoric, which I only recently found out about.

For Goodwill, if they are getting stuff from places like Target and Old Navy, do those organizations get charitable tax advantages from their “product dumps”? That’s a smaller thing, but if they do, then purchasing there is one step away from purchasing from the corporation itself, different from purchasing from an individual previous owner.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

^ I agree. I have been donating belongings to a variety of charities for the last year, and do the research on the company before doing so. I’ve donated almost all of my work clothes to a local one that focuses on aiding abused women in getting a job and becoming self-sufficient. It sounded great on the surface, but still checked out an independent web site that gives more detail on the realities of different charities.

Another thought: seek out estate sales. With people now so spread out, some family members that live far from the deceased and just want to move as quickly as possible. I once considered starting up a business to help people deal with the emotional ordeal by being a third party to handle the details and taking a commission on what gets sold.

CMaz's avatar

I so hate that saying. “responsible consumer”

A “responsible consumer” is not being a consumer at all.

It’s marketing, a back door way to convince you to buy more stuff.
As long as you are a “responsible consumer”.

diavolobella's avatar

@iamthemob It’s true that it might be one step away from buying from the corporation itself, but it’s better than those items being purposely damaged and then thrown into a dumpster by the corporation who originally sold them, as many corporations do. At least they are donating the items to Goodwill and the profit Goodwill makes from those items pays for the programs and services they provide to their clients. I don’t have a problem with corporations who contribute items to charity getting a tax break for it.

My point in mentioning the “new” items that can be found is because many people don’t like the idea of buying other people’s castoffs so they won’t even consider Goodwill. I don’t have a problem with buying used. If telling people that new items can also be found at Goodwill gets them in the door long enough to see everything that is available, new and used, and gets them over their resistance, it’s worth mentioning.

iamthemob's avatar

@ChazMaz

Thank you for criticizing the question, negating the point, and being unhelpful at the same time!

You are absolutely wrong. We cannot stop being consumers, as we are unable at this point to produce everything we need to live without a drastic population culling. Therefore, we must rely on others to produce something that we ourselves will consume. The fact that we want to consider both (1) our production itself, and (2) who we purchase from and what they are doing to make or get the product, and try to even out the harm or even create benefit, that’s being a responsible consumer.

I can’t really take the comment seriously, though, coming from a consumer.

iamthemob's avatar

@diavolobella

Good point. I’m not going to worry about it – but those will probably be my last option if possible.

CMaz's avatar

“We cannot stop being consumers,” You are absolutely wrong.

But it is “nice” that you feel trapped and owned by the system.

It was was totally helpful. ”“responsible consumer” is the same as 50% off.
A line for suckers.

Don’t be such a consumer. And, we are all consumers. Oh what a tangled web we have weaved.

You asked… “How can a person with limited income become a more responsible consumer?”
By not buying crap that you really do not need.

iamthemob's avatar

@ChazMaz

Please explain how it is possible we could all stop being consumers.

deni's avatar

I’d consider myself to be on a “limited income” and I don’t find it difficult at all to buy good food and other things I need. Definitely living in Boulder helps though. Everyone here wants to eat organic. There are farmers markets twice a week and there are three organic stores within walking distance from me, and you can also buy organic at regular stores like King Soopers. Anyhow, @ChazMaz is right. Don’t buy the shit you don’t need and you wont cost yourself a fortune. Anything premade or frozen is out. Not only are those types of food not good for you but they are way more expensive than making whatever item it is yourself. So cook more…buy less….don’t buy what you “think” you’ll eat by the end of the week. Buy what you know you’ll eat in the next few days. That way there is less chance of wasted food. Going to the store 2 or 3 times a week never hurt anyone, unless it is really far away from you and you don’t have time. And then every time you eat, your food is fresher and has not been wilting in the back of the fridge for 5 days. Soggy lettuce ewww.

Don’t go out to eat unless you don’t care about spending 4x the money to have someone prepare it for you.

As for anything else, clothing, housewares….thrift stores!!!!!!!!!!!! I have found so much cool stuff at thrift stores for under 2 dollars. Things you would buy new for 20 bucks. It doesn’t make sense not to.

iamthemob's avatar

Buy what you know you’ll eat in the next few days. That way there is less chance of wasted food. Going to the store 2 or 3 times a week never hurt anyone, unless it is really far away from you and you don’t have time.

This is very much how I’ve started to shop. I have begun asking myself “will I need this tomorrow.” If I don’t, then I try to leave it.

YARNLADY's avatar

Grow your own food, use freecycle and similar type give away sites, volunteer at food banks for a share of the food, hold swap meets that are truly swaps, and not flea market sales, do not own a car – walk, bicycle or use public transport if necessary. Do not buy any electronic gadgets – no TV, video player or such, and no electronic kitchen appliances.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, shop often, just for 2–3 days tops. Works for me.

Grow container veggies like tomatos if you have the space.

Don’t buy needless ‘stuff.’

Utilize thrift and secondhand type stores, and MAKE SOUP, lots of soup and freeze it!

Soup is healthy and infinite in it’s creations. lol

YARNLADY's avatar

@boots My brother supported himself for many years and always had plenty of goods to share with other people who are now known as “homeless”. They were called bums in his day.

kenmc's avatar

@YARNLADY Thats fantastic! I’m just not sure how it relates to what I said…

iamthemob's avatar

@boots: I was wondering the same thing – is there a mention of homelessness on either of the links?

kenmc's avatar

@iamthemob Possibly, but the idea of Freeganism isn’t related to being homeless.

YARNLADY's avatar

I meant to say by dumpster diving and then using, selling, or giving away the excess.

iamthemob's avatar

Ahh! So that should have followed “My brother supported himself” (My brother supported himself by dumpster diving…etc.).

That makes much, much more sense.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@boots Alex and I are looking into freeganism.

kenmc's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You are an awesome pair of people so I’m not surprised :)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@boots aww, thank you. i know you mean it.

YoBob's avatar

To all dumpster divers, please be sure that what you are taking is actually being thrown out.

Last weekend I was returning from a canoe trip and my ride parked on the curb in front of my house. We unloaded my son’s and my equipment along with the equipment of a friend we were carrying at the curb. I proceeded to carry our stuff in the house. One of the last items I pulled inside was a bag containing my damp tent and sleeping bag, leaving my friend’s cot and tent at the curb.

It is important to note at this point that it is bulk pickup week in my neighborhood so folks are putting out their large items by the curb, and, of course, the dumpster divers have been keeping a keen watch for cool stuff.

So… I took the time to unpack my damp tent and sleeping bag so they could dry out. This process took a grand total of perhaps 10 minutes. When I returned to the curb to bring in the remainder of the equipment I found them to be gone. I suspect that the dumpster diver crowd mistook the fact that these items were located near the curb that they were fair game. This was not the case.

So… before you freegans help yourself to somebody else’s stuff you should probably verify that it recycling rather than theft.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob

Good point. You are trying to look on the bright side, which is admirable. I suspect you just got jacked by a dick.

YoBob's avatar

Either way, my friend’s equipment is gone and I have to ask myself if, since it was in my charge at the time, I have a moral obligation to foot the replacement costs.

Not that it really matters, but the reason I wound up taking care of his equipment is that his son had an accident at the campsite the night before we set out in the canoes, I rendered the required aid (probably saved him from some permanent scars), helped him to the car so his father could get him more advanced medical attention, and took care of the equipment he had to leave behind.

ninahenry's avatar

Make sure what you are buying is having minimal impact on the environment and other people. I recommend Lush for your cosmetics. Opting for their solid versions of products rather than liquid versions as they are unpackaged so better for the environment and also preservative free due to the lack of water. Some of their products last a really long time so are cheap in the long run, like shampoo bars, and if you get 2 you can get a tin for free for when travelling. Massage bars instead of body lotions, and their skincare is amazing. You can get free consultations on skin care and hair care etc if you go in store. Their translucent/harder soaps last longer than the creamier/softer ones too.

http://www.vimeo.com/12972799 – this will sum you up on Lush as a whole
Their environmental policy

Lush are one of the very few companies who source their own materials when making products. They also do a lot for environmental, humanitarial and animal campaigning charities.

Coloma's avatar

Develop a good relationship with yourself and the ability to spend time alone enjoying simple things.

I am officially in the dead zone for my work right now and have been saving lots of cash by simply staying around the house a lot lately.

Painted some walls in my house, have been ‘winterizing’ my country place, re-arranging my house for the winter, baking some, etc.

It can be easy to spend money when one is bored, line up some thrifty ideas to keep yourslef occupied when the cash flow is slow. lol

iamthemob's avatar

@Coloma – I agree that reducing what you do can be a positive contributor, but simple things can have an unnecessary environmental impact. Painting some walls in your house, for instance, is something that, if it’s merely decorative or otherwise unnecessary, may have a greater environmental impact than doing something else would.

Coloma's avatar

@iamthemob

Mmm..I disagree in the sense that one’s personal surroundings ‘should’ be as comfortable and as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

I don’t consider painting a few accent walls to be environmentally unsound.

As always pick your poison.

I am a fine steward of my country property, use no pesticides, herbicides, feed the wildlife, create a safe haven for such, live simply, don’t run on the hamster wheel of consumerism, but… definietly believe in making my home my castle in terms of ambience, warmth and creating the haven a home is meant to be. :-)

iamthemob's avatar

@Coloma

I don’t consider painting a few accent walls to be environmentally unsound.

I didn’t say it objectively was. However, choosing to do it instead of some other method of redecorating, etc. may be. Wallpapering may be better, the choice of paint may be better, hanging a large painting that’s already used the paint may be better, etc. It’s not about claiming that one or another thing is environmentally unsound…but being a responsible consumer on a limited budget may mean not doing it at all, or putting in the time to determine the best choice because you don’t have the money to make a clearly good one that happens to be pricey. ;-)

Coloma's avatar

@iamthemob

I see where you are coming from.

Yes, that is why I painted my walls as an alternative to skipping a vacation this summer and as a way to utilize my creative and cash source to it’s maximum.

Since winter is my slow season it makes sense to me to create an environment that supports my well being since I will be spending a lot of time at home the next 4 months.

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