To buy or not to buy … that is the (ethical) question!

50 pound notes
To buy or not to buy

Did you know that last Saturday (24th November 2012) was UK Buy Nothing Day? How did you spend the day? Chances are shopping was involved as it’s getting close to Christmas!

I actually did manage to buy nothing last Saturday. Although I have to admit that the torrential rain probably had more to do with it than a commitment to buying nothing, as the weather meant I didn’t go out.

However, it got me thinking about the power we hold within our purse and how we spend our hard-earned cash.

I previously blogged about the principle of Ahimsa and the food we eat.

Living a life without causing harm

This yogic principle, of Ahimsa, or non-violence / not harming others, can just as readily be applied to anything we purchase and the extent to which we engage in the whirlwind of materialism and consumerism Western society apparently depends on.

(A particularly relevant point at this time of year with so many Christmas gifts to buy and so much pressure to spend, spend, spend…)

There are so many ethical minefields around spending money.

Local, organic or fairtrade?  Individual shops or chains? Do you pay an ethical premium? Can you afford to? Do you boycott brands with dubious ethical principles? How do you even get to the truth of the matter anyway?

And what about the latest controversy – companies who legally (but immorally) avoid paying their fair share of taxes? Can you avoid them completely anyway?

So what can you do?

First off, ask questions about the production of the goods you buy. Where do they come from? How have they been produced. Is there a more ethical option you could purchase instead?

Could you make it yourself? (Home-made sloe gin for Christmas anybody? Knitted woolly scarves all ‘round!) Could you purchase a second-hand version? (I love vintage chic, aka combing charity shops for that unique piece of clothing nobody else can buy … any more without a time machine!) Or perhaps share something with others? (How many lawnmowers does one street really need sitting in garden sheds for 99% of the time?)

Also, question yourself about the amount of new things you buy – do you really need yet another pair of black shoes? (Ahem, a question rather too close to home 😉

Try putting together a list of things you could change easily e.g. buy fairtrade coffee and chocolate.  Then do it.

Identify local shops or ethical businesses you could support by switching your custom from global brands or big national chains. Then do it.

Then think about things which you could change with some effort, e.g. travelling to work by public transport, instead of the car. Then do it.

Identify which changes you’d like to make but you know you’ll find challenging e.g. becoming vegetarian or vegan,  changing your bank account, buying less stuff.

Note what the difficulties are. Are they external?

For example, financial restrictions might mean you can’t afford to buy everything organic and Fairtrade (including clothes). Could you instead regularly swap to organic or Fairtrade for just a few goods?

Or are the blocks internal?

E.g. you find it difficult to stop buying excessive amounts of new clothes because they’re a comfort because you’re not happy in other parts of your life. (That was me a couple of years back!)

Be honest. And, if you want to, make the changes you can to live a more ethical life; put Ahimsa into practice.

Your decisions do make a difference

And acknowledge that we are connected. Every time you make a purchase, you are connecting to people in this country and across the world you will never meet – you are affecting their lives.

Whatever your budget and buying choices, acknowledge that connection and be grateful and thankful for the work and effort that other human beings have contributed (and yes, even sacrifices made) to enable you to buy this item you want or need.

And acknowledge that nothing in life would be possible without the earth providing and giving its precious resources and materials.

We live in a web of interconnectedness. Simple decisions like what type of coffee you choose to buy or whether or not you really need the latest smart phone do have consequences.

You are not powerless: your decisions do affect the people and world in ways you may never think about.

So this Christmas, buy with awareness, be mindful every time your purse or credit card comes out.

See how you can put Ahimsa into practice … and begin to change the world.


Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.

{Photo credit: Images_of_Money / Foter / CC BY}

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