Can you live on a low budget without it costing the earth?

calendar01 July 2013

Amy Ross's avatar Amy Ross

Is it possible to buy stuff that’s good for people and the environment whilst living on a tight budget? If you’ve done the CAP Money Course, have you begun to think that you need to buy the cheapest versions of products available to avoid wasting money? Your motivation behind wanting to live cheaply is great, but let me free you from the myth that this rules out being ethical as well. As a Christian, I believe there are some general principles that can help to guide our purchases and honour God by caring for his planet and our global neighbours.

First, quality over quantity always wins. If the ethical product you want to buy costs more than its cheaply and chemically produced alternative, where possible it should be carefully saved for and purchased anyway. Then simply make it last longer. For example, to buy one pair of good quality shoes made by a company that pays fair wages, sources conflict-free, renewable materials and minimises factory waste will cost more up-front but will last longer than several cheap, high street pairs and will be repairable. Sure, it requires self-discipline to save up and then make things last, but with a CAP Money Course budget and motivation to worship God with your actions, it is totally possible.

To achieve this first principle, it helps to be free from fashion! Remember, most fashion was designed to make a few people rich, not to make this planet better for people, plants or animals – do you really want to buy into such an ideology? You can buy items from second-hand shops to save clothes and furniture going into a landfill and wear less makeup to reduce the amount of chemicals ending up in our water systems and plastic packaging lying in the earth. I believe that this small sacrifice will eventually bring self-confidence in your character and convictions rather than placing it in your appearance.

Thirdly, use your 'LOAF'. The letters stand for local, organic, animal-friendly and Fairtrade. Whenever possible buy items that meet one or more of these production standards. This will go a long way to reduce your carbon footprint and to support production of resources that is good for the land, people and animals – all of which are intrinsically valuable to God.

Fourthly, (and this is a general rule of good budgeting), planning ahead is vital. Planning your time well allows you to walk or cycle rather than drive, or reduce plastic by taking a reusable drink bottle rather than buying one every time you go out. Planning ahead will make it easy for you to take reusable bags shopping and check what food can be used up at home rather than being bought unnecessarily and resulting in older produce being thrown out.

Fifthly, remember that ‘sharing is caring’. Andy Flannagan, Director of the Christian Socialist Movement, says that “in our drive to make our lives efficient, we squander cash and potential relationship by idolising self-sufficiency". Does every household really need a drill that will be used, on average, for 12 minutes over the course of its lifetime (in the UK)? There are plenty of items that are used infrequently enough that they do not need to be owned individually but can be purchased in collaboration with others; take lawnmowers, for example.

Sixthly, take some tips from your grandparents! Traditional methods of doing day-to-day tasks are often more natural, beneficial to the local economy and are less wasteful of resources than the disposable culture based on instant gratification than we have today. Using baking soda and vinegar to clean the bathroom may seem weird, but it is cheap, effective and results in far fewer synthetic chemicals polluting our soil and water. The same goes for reusable nappies, which are actually quite easy to use these days, reduce tonnes of landfill waste and save a family hundreds of pounds over the course of several years.

Seventhly, reduce unnecessary packaging. Living on a tight budget, it usually makes sense to buy things in bulk rather than in individually-wrapped, smaller portions. The good news is that this is actually far better for the environment because it reduces the amount of non-recyclable packaging waste that ends up in our landfills. 

Finally, you’ll see that even if ethical living does not cost more financially, it does take extra time, effort and self-discipline. But instead of concluding that convenience always acts as justification for compromising our ethical standards, the eighth principle is to remember that there is no such thing as ‘convenient Christianity.’ The challenge of trying to choose ethical products creates a situation where we can rely on God and show total commitment to him in the way we discipline ourselves practically in our daily lives.

So when you are ‘making do’ on a limited budget, be encouraged that it is not beyond your reach to be ethical as well as to save money!

Amy is on our 'Reach' year long internship at CAP.

She's passionate about all things ethical, sustainable and green! You can find out more about Reach here.

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