Sustainable and Ethical on a Budget: 5 Steps

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Ethical on a Budget

This post was generously sponsored by DoneGood and contains a few affiliate links.

Fair Trade Month is in October. I love Fair Trade Month for a few reasons:

  1. It unites the ethical community as we swiftly move toward the Holiday shopping season
  2. It celebrates the good work of artisan communities all over the world
  3. It hits at the change of seasons, reminding me to reorient my shopping habits at the very moment I may be tempted to scurry off to the mall

Shopping, for me at least, is infinitely more stressful in the fall than in the spring. When I’m anticipating warmer days, I don’t have to do much of anything, just buy a pair of sandals and break out the swingy dresses and skirts. But colder days are a different story.

Inevitably, I put on a little weight during the carefree summer season – when you’re wearing a sack dress every day, it’s easy to stop worrying about how much you’re eating – and then cold weather seeps in and none of my tighter fitting clothing fits anymore. 

I get depressed and beat up on myself, and it’s so easy to turn to shopping to make myself feel better, which means I can very easily make irresponsible choices when it comes to what I actually need to restock. After getting to the root of that anxiety, I try to follow a couple steps to make sure I’m making the best, and most financially responsible, choices. 

5 Steps for Shopping Thoughtfully on a Budget

1. Wait until the right time.

I wait until the first cool days of the season to go through my fall wardrobe in order to make sure that I have a tangible reminder of what the season feels like. If I go through sweaters in July, it would be easy to get rid of everything (sort of like going to the grocery store when I’m full). But if I’m already breaking out a sweater here and there, I have a clearer picture of what I’ll wear moving forward. 

2. Figure out what you don’t need.

Then, I try things on, check for quality issues, and try to remember how I felt about the things I own when I wore them last time. Sometimes I hold onto things that I never felt good in. I find that it’s easier to send them off to the Donate pile earlier in the season rather than later, when I’m so cold all the time that wearing all the clothes at once seems like a good idea.

To get some extra cash for shopping, you may want to check out local consignment shops. I have started consigning some of my unwanted clothing and it’s really paid off.

3. Figure out what you need.

Once I’ve done a first sort, I look for holes in my wardrobe. This year, it was dark wash skinny jeans, black pants, a red shirt (for the choral ensemble I’m in), and fall-appropriate shoes. It was easy for me to narrow it down because I’d carefully determined what worked and what didn’t, and paid attention to what I actually wear instead of going the aspirational, “Instagram-worthy” route.

4. Shop old standbys first. 

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a list of ethical options on my Shopping Directory and through reviews and brand profiles, so I have a good foundation for finding conscientious and fair trade goods. I visit my old standbys first, then expand my search as needed.

5. Find coupon codes and more ethical options with extensions like DoneGood. 

This is where the budget part of my post comes in. A lot of my tried and true brands are partnered with Chrome extension and app, DoneGood, which means I can get deals on things I already plan on purchasing.

Like I mentioned in my DoneGood intro post last month, all you have to do is download the extension, then go to a site or do a Google search and DoneGood will pop up with alternatives, coupon codes, and valuable information to help you narrow down your shopping.

For instance, I can get a discount on flats at the Root Collective, $20 off ethical black pants at Modavanti, and $20 off a red blouse and other items at Elegantees. (Some coupon codes require a minimum purchase.)

In addition, if I do a web search for “jeans,” DoneGood gives me a list of conscientious denim companies to scan through. This is such a lifesaver for me. Even though I might be better connected than most to ethical companies, it’s a relief to have a trusted source vouch for these brands and narrow them down, sparing me hours of research. There are hundreds of brands on DoneGood, so there’s no shortage of options.

In addition to supporting ethical, eco-conscious, and socially driven companies, DoneGood is itself a B-Corp, which means it is beholden to a “do no harm” mentality not only with who it supports but within its own corporate structuring.

I’ve found that if I plan well and am honest with myself, I can make ethical choices that don’t cause significant damage to my budget. It’s a learning curve, but having access to the right resources helps.

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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