Here are some things I believe about spending money:
- Saving money is important – at least until I can get my crystal ball to show the future accurately.
- Additional money should be given to effective charities to alleviate suffering and aid redistribution that states fail to do effectively.
- Local independent businesses should be supported.
- Artists should be supported.
- Physical things I buy should be produced ethically – minimizing harm to the environment, paying fair wages to all involved in the production process, made by companies that do not practice tax evasion, and made to last, preferably a lifetime, giving the environment another break.
- Sometimes I deserve a little treat.
- Gifts make people happy and I like that.
- Avoiding consumption is good for the environment.
The problem? B. to g. conflict with a., and a. plus c. to g. conflict with b.
The solution? A shopping ban.
I have decided not to buy physical things for the time being. “The time being” is a terrible SMART-goal, but I want to carry on the ban as long as possible, ideally forever, making not buying things the new default. However, I may also be moving in with my boyfriend at the beginning of next year, which will lead to some purchases – neither of us owns a pot, for example, and we like home-cooked meals.
Not buying things saves money and the environment, which means it is in line with a. and h. It also means there is more money to allocate to b. thorough g., including e. as that will take effect if I have to replace a truly vital physical item, e.g. if someone steals my bike or all my underwear goes up in flames. Ideally, all extra money would go to b. (effective charities). But I’m not there yet, nor do I think I ever will be. I currently give 10% of my part-time income, which will increase as my income does. But I’ll probably never get to the point where I live as frugally as possible and truly give as much as I could. Firstly, I’m too risk-averse and need savings in order to sleep well, and secondly, the other things on the above list are important to me, too. I’m not a perfect effective altruist, but I do more than most people and plan to do more in the future. That has to be enough for now. If my expectations of myself are too high, I’ll end up giving nothing at all and going on a fast-fashion binge, which is not in line with anything on this list.
The shopping ban is a compromise that helps me allocate resources to all of the above. It started in August (minus a tiny slip-up of buying an ethically produced top that was not replacing anything and without which I would not have had to go naked) and I am already reaping the benefits. I started supporting more local businesses – the realization that there is only on non-chain grocery store in my neighborhood was eye-opening and I now no longer feel bad for going to cafés.
I have to replace my fall sneakers, but found an ethical company, meaning I can do so without guilt. Since not buying stuff has saved me money, I’m not too appalled by their price – having realized that I’m not paying the true labor costs for fast fashion items has explained the stark difference. Now I’d actually feel guilty about buying cheap shoes. Condition e. fully satisfied.
Saving money has also led to gifts-for-no-particular-reason for friends from local businesses – in line with c., d., and g. Before the shopping ban, I was far less generous. Now that my spending is aligned with my values, it seems that I actually want fewer treats (f) – my favorite treat now is going to the library and I’m happy to pay the small fees for reserving books. I consider them more like charitable donations to keep one of my favorite institutions alive, so the treat is basically free.
As a reminder, I have taped little messages into my wallet: “Support this business?” “Ethical?” and “Be generous.” They are the six-word summary of this post.