15 Money Saving Tips to Support Your Ethical Fashion Habit

Five years into this ethical fashion journey, I still find that the most difficult barrier to buying from more ethical companies is price.

Firstly, we’ve been conditioned into buying things in high quantities at low prices, so it’s hard to change our mindset. Pair that with high inflation and stagnant wages and it feels almost impossible – and, in fact, may be impossible – to inch up our cost-per-item from $20 to $100. Then there’s a third concern – for me at least – that some ethical companies actually charge customers an inflated price just because they can.

When I first started out, I worked part time at a coffee shop making something like $17,000 a year, so I simply couldn’t afford artisan products. I relied heavily on thrifting and thoughtfulness to get by. And that’s ok!

But thanks to some recent job changes (like moving to full time) and freelance income, this year I’ve been able to save up for higher quality goods. But even that takes a lot of time and effort to get right, because I don’t want to throw down two days’ wages on something that isn’t precisely what I want or need. I’ve made some costly mistakes.

The point is, it’s difficult to be an ethical consumer when you don’t have a lot of disposable income, and we can’t blame ourselves for personal financial situations that are influenced and impacted by politics and capitalism. The good thing is that there are many ways to be thoughtful and intentional in the way that we choose to shop, and middle income folks may have an advantage because we really have to think hard about what we buy.

If buying from ethical and independent companies feels unattainable to you, but you’re in a lower-middle class bracket like I am, try these money saving tips to save just a little more for your ethical wishlist…

1. Cut your own bangs.

My tips: Pin your hair back on each side of your head, make sure to form a subtle arc where your bangs touch your regular-length hair line, then use a fine tooth comb to visualize the line where you’d like to cut. Invest in a pair of sheering scissors and snip from the center, moving out in each direction until you’ve completed the first trim. Correct discrepancies as needed.

2. Dye your own hair.

Try using eco-friendly and healthy henna instead of chemical dyes. Read my tips here.

3. Make coffee at home.

Create a morning ritual. I prefer using a French Press or a Pour Over because it’s slower and more intentional (and the coffee tastes much better). Also, consider investing in a coffee grinder and buying whole beans. Making good coffee will help you resist the temptation to buy it elsewhere.

4. Buy used books or visit your local library.

Better World Books, local used book shops, and the library are great, low cost ways to get your reading fix. I buy almost all of my books at the thrift shop where I work!

5. Get a digital antenna instead of buying cable.

Make a one-time investment in a digital antenna and get access to lots of local channels, including network TV.

6. Consign or sell your old clothes.

Sell off your high quality goods at the beginning of each season so you can invest in essentials you really need. Get my reselling tips here.

7. Carpool.

Save money on gas by seeking out carpools to work, events, and religious services.

8. Look for household items and appliances at thrift shops.

Household appliances are things people neglect to look for at thrift shops, but they’re readily available. From air poppers to coffee grinders to French Presses, you can find gently used, everyday tools secondhand.

9. Buy used tech.

Reduce demand for sweatshop goods and save hundreds of dollars by buying iPhones, cameras, computers, and more secondhand on sites like Newegg and B&H Photo.

10. Do your nails at home.

Clip, buff, and paint your nails at home. You’ll get better with practice!

11. Wear less makeup and opt for powder over cream.

I know this an intrusive ask, but I’ve saved a lot of money by foregoing products like CC Cream, Mascara, and Eye Shadow. I also benefit by using powder foundation and blush, which lasts a lot longer in terms of both usage and shelf life.

12. Buy all-purpose lotion.

Instead of splurging on face cream, moisturizer, body lotion, and more, buy a big bulk pump bottle of all-purpose lotion for your daily needs and save the specialty items for seasonal dryness. I recommend Cetaphil for bulk lotion and face wash.

13. Consider subscription boxes for gifts and decor.

If you need to stock up on ethical gifts, consider buying a subscription box from GlobeIn or CauseBox and breaking up the contents to give to friends and family.

14. Buy clothes during off season.

Wait until mid-year and end-of-year to buy high quality, ethical goods at a discounted rate. Delayed gratification is also a good habit to get into. Look out for my seasonal sales roundups for discount codes.

15. Prepare lunches and other meals in bulk.

Make a simple meal like Red Beans and Rice or Lentil Shepherd’s Pie at the beginning of the week and portion it out for the next few days. You’ll save a lot of money and time. See my Pinterest Recipe Board for vegan and vegetarian suggestions.

Bonus: Go out to eat when there are Happy Hour Deals and take advantage of customer loyalty programs.

I never want to trivialize financial insecurity. And I don’t mean to suggest that a few lifestyle changes will make your ethical goals suddenly attainable. But it’s always worth it to aim for the kind of thriftiness that does no harm instead of relying heavily on cheap, sweatshop goods.

If these tips are helpful, I’m glad! If they’re not, no worries. The important thing is to be kind to yourself and others as you move forward on this ethical journey.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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