The holiday season is a time of good cheer (sometimes pure, sometimes edged with a little Auntie Mame desperation), good food, and good company. For many of us, it’s also a season of heightened spending. Between Black Friday, flights home for Christmas, holiday shopping, and maybe more Seamless orders than normal when you’re too tired to cook after all the holiday chaos, it’s easy for your credit card bill to gain an extra digit or two by the time you wake up on New Year’s Day.
Heading into a season full of reasons to whip out our wallets, it’s a good opportunity to be extra conscientious about not just how much we’re spending, but where our money is going.
We have countless options for where and how we shop in today’s world. Often, you could purchase the same exact item in-store, online from the supplier, through a third-party vendor like Amazon, or secondhand. But even though you might end up with the same item, the impact of each transaction varies wildly. With the same purchase, you could pad the bottom line of a large corporation or make a real difference to an independent business.
Our daily spending decisions are mostly driven by cost and convenience. Although we may not think about it on a purchase-by-purchase level, every time we hand over our money in exchange for goods or services, we’re also bestowing some measure of financial support to the recipient, whether it be Target or the babysitter. Conscientious holiday shopping asks us to stop and think about where our spending can have the most positive impact—not just where we can get the best deal.
We’ll be spending our way through the holidays one way or another. But this year I’m challenging myself (and you!) to treat holiday spending as an opportunity to pay it forward to the businesses and causes we really care about.
Giving your dollars to local, independent, or mission-driven businesses means your holiday shopping accomplishes something more than just putting a dent in your credit card limit. It makes a small but meaningful gesture of goodwill in a season that—at its best—is about gratitude and generosity of spirit.
Conscientious shopping asks us to stop and think about where our spending can have the most positive impact—not just where we can get the best deal.
Conscientious shopping will look different for everyone based on what’s closest to your heart. But there are plenty of ways we can all make sure our spending does some good in the world this holiday season.
More and more companies are adopting sustainable practices, which means this category can touch almost every aspect of your holiday spending if you want it to.
When gift shopping, search for brands that are transparent about their production process, supply chain, environmental impact, and labor policies. For example, Everlane is well-known for their sustainable practices and “radical transparency.” Their ReNew line takes their mission a step further, using 100% recycled materials.
Shopping secondhand is a sustainability trifecta: Not only is it more cost-effective, but you’re saving orphaned clothing, furniture, and other goods from landfills and—more often than not—putting money in the hands of small businesses or mission-driven organizations rather than corporations. Browse sites like The RealReal and ThredUP, visit local vintage markets, or head to your nearest Goodwill. If you have a specific item in mind, try searching resale hubs like Ebay, Poshmark, or Facebook Marketplace before buying new.
Sustainability can also make its way to your plate. When shopping for ingredients to make Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, look for sustainable options on the grocery shelves, like organic vegetables, antibiotic-free turkey, and free-range eggs. Shop locally, shop seasonally, and consider opting for an all-veggie meal.
It’s about 50% more expensive to buy a new book from my local bookstore than it is to order the same title from Amazon. But when I buy it from the bookstore, I know I’m supporting something I care about: that independent bookstores continue to exist. To me, that’s worth an extra $10-15.
If you find yourself adding something to your Amazon cart, pause to think about where else you could buy it.* Chances are there’s a local or independent business that sells the same product and could use your support. Redirect your dollars, even if it means paying full price or sacrificing free shipping.
There’s always at least one person on your list who completely stumps you. When you need some inspiration, skip the Google black hole (been there) and head to a local boutique to spend an hour browsing. Sometimes the best gifts are serendipitous.
Don’t forget the little guys when it comes to holiday eating: Take your grocery list to your local co-op instead of a big box grocery store. Not only will you be supporting a local business, but you’ll also be supporting local farmers, vendors, and food artisans by extension.
If someone on your list is stumping you this holiday season, here’s a tip: Etsy is a treasure trove of unique, beautiful, personal gifts you literally won’t find anywhere else. In the past couple years, I’ve gifted and received a tongue-in-cheek cross stitch, reclaimed wood shelves, custom illustrations, and handmade cat toys—all from Etsy.
You can also reach out to that artist you follow on Instagram to ask if they take commissions, attend craft fairs to shop the wares of local artists, sponsor a Patreon membership for a friend’s favorite online creator, or—if you’re an independent creator yourself—gift everyone on your list one of your creations.
The holidays have long been the season of Salvation Army red kettles and charity drives. But those aren’t the only ways to support causes you care about. When working down your gift list, research companies that give back by donating a portion of their proceeds or integrating socially-conscious initiatives into their operations.
Giving someone socks doesn’t seem so bad when Bombas donates one pair to a homeless shelter for every pair purchased. Out of Print sells adorable book-themed clothing and accessories, and makes a donation to literacy programs with every purchase. Patagonia donates 1% of sales to preservation efforts protecting our natural environment.
*And when you do shop from Amazon, go through smile.amazon.com to donate 0.5% of your purchase to a charity or nonprofit of your choice—at no extra cost to you.
Conscientious shopping is something you can practice all year round. But since you’ll likely be spending more than usual anyway, holiday shopping is as good an excuse as any to get started. Individual consumer choices may not be able to create large-scale change, but they do make a difference. At the very least, directing your spending to worthy businesses, causes, and creators is an excellent way to show your appreciation and support for what they’re doing. And there’s no better time of year to pay it forward.
Molly is a writer, reader, and personal finance enthusiast living in Saint Paul with her two feline dependents and several overflowing bookshelves. She can usually be found with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.
BY Molly Geipel - November 10, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.