How to shop more sustainably on a budget

There is a growing awareness that the things we buy have a huge impact on the environment. The fast fashion industry is often cited as one of the biggest polluters, but it’s not just fashion – everything we buy, from electronics to our food, has an impact on the environment. On top of this, workers in these industries are often underpaid, work with dangerous chemicals that impact their health, and are overall not being treated well.

Although there is a growing amount of companies who try to make their products more sustainably and ethically, this often comes with a price tag. A lot of us, me included, simply can’t afford to pay 100 dollars for a sweater. It often seems impossible to start shopping more sustainably on a budget. Especially when you realize it’s mostly companies that need to make the biggest changes, and not the consumers, you might start to despair and stop trying at all. However, I still believe there are some things we can do, even on a budget.

two stacks of several t-shirts and sweaters

Work with what you have

I believe the very best thing you can do for the environment is to work with what you have and buy less stuff. Of course, we sometimes need new things, but I think it is good to be conscious of what you consume and appreciate what you already have. I have written about minimalism before, and personally I think it is a great tool for anti-consumerism as well. And depending on your exact budget, buying less stuff might actually be able to help you buy something more expensive from a sustainable brand you love.

Shop secondhand

This probably goes without saying, but secondhand shopping is a great way to shop sustainably on a budget. There are no new things being produced: you’re buying what’s already there. However, it can be a bit of a treasure hunt to find nice items while thrifting, so I’ll admit it’s not a perfect solution for everyone. With my chronic illness, I don’t have the energy to shop a lot and I definitely can’t thrift regularly. But whenever I need to go into town, I always try to check the consignment store – I have better luck there than in thrift stores (which are further away and harder to visit, too).

There are also many online thrift stores these days, such as Poshmark in the US or Vinted and United Wardrobe in Europe. I personally haven’t ever used these yet as I am afraid of ending up with the wrong size, color or fabric and throwing away my money – but if you don’t mind possibly having to resell, these websites are a great option if you can’t go out to shop or are looking for something very specific.

Shop locally

Another way to lower your environmental footprint while shopping is to shop locally. By this, I don’t mean visiting local stores – in fact, ordering online can be better for the environment than visiting shops by car! But if you do order stuff online, it can be useful to check where the store is situated and from what place they are sending it. If something is sent from another continent, its environmental impact is generally going to be higher than something that is sent to you from closer to home.

I think shopping locally is something that is easy to apply to food as well: you can try to work with fruits and vegetables that are in season as much as possible, and look at where they were shipped from. Often fruits and veggies that are in season are cheaper too, so it can be a great way to cook with fresh produce on a budget.

three tomatoes on a grey counter top

Buy things to last

Sometimes we just have to buy things that might not be as environmentally friendly. But we can still make them sustainable in another way by making them last. When you want to buy a piece of clothing, you can ask yourself the question if you will wear it at least 30 times or more. You can also check the quality of the clothing you buy. Even with cheap clothing, there are ways to tell apart higher and lower quality such as how it fits and how the seams are stitched. Justine Leconte has a great video on this, which you can watch here. Taking care of your clothes well can also help to make them last longer – so make sure to keep the washing instructions, don’t wash your clothes if it’s not necessary, and fold things that need to be folded such as knit sweaters.

With more expensive things like electronics, it’s always good to look up reviews and research what you want out of for instance a new phone or laptop. Make sure you buy something that can last you for years and look up how repairable it is. I recently needed both a new phone and a new laptop, which I both want to use for at least 5 years – so I made sure I got high quality ones within my budget that are easy to get repaired if they break.

Buy more sustainable fabrics

When it comes to clothing, it can also help to be aware of what fabrics your clothes are made of. A lot of fast fashion brands these days have sustainable lines that are made with fabrics like organic cotton, Tencel, or recycled fabrics. This is often seen as “greenwashing”, and I can understand why: the whole brand is still far from sustainable, but they give the illusion that they care. However, I believe that if fast fashion is the only thing you can afford, we can at least have a slightly smaller environmental impact by opting for the more sustainable fabrics wherever we can.

Were these tips helpful to you, or do you already follow them? In what other ways do you try to shop more sustainably within your budget? Let me know in the comments!

One thought on “How to shop more sustainably on a budget

  1. These are some great tips. I’ve been trying to live more sustainably this year, and this will help me continue that. I like the idea of considering how much you’ll wear (or even use) an item before purchasing it.


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