top of page

8 Ways to Shop Ethical on a Budget


Want to change the world by how you shop, but not sure if you can afford to buy fair trade and ethically-made products?  The good news is you can shop to make a difference, no matter what your budget is.  Heidi Pettigrew, from Fair Ethical Frugal, shares 8 ways she balances her family budget and ethical shopping:

Several years ago I started  a blog called Fair Ethical Frugal because I wanted to share my passion for all things Fair Trade and Ethical Fashion while knowing that most of us live in the real world of budgets and cannot spend thousands of dollars a year on clothing for ourselves.

I am a stay at home mom of two middle schoolers and being a one income family with growing kids means there is not always a ton of extra room in the budget for things that are not necessities. So how am I able to be a conscious consumer and be true to my values, while also being a good steward of my family’s budget?


1. I wear what I own.

When I started my fair trade and ethical fashion journey around 2015, I started with accessories before eventually purchasing fair trade clothing. I DID NOT throw out all of my clothes from Target, Loft, and my other favorite retailers. I continue to wear what I own and love. It has been said that the most ethical/sustainable items are the ones you already own. Throwing out (or donating) clothes that you still wear and that still have life in them is just wasteful, so . . . if you own it, wear it with pride!

2. I shop secondhand in person.

I am not one who loves the “thrill of the hunt” and digging through all of the racks, but I have found amazing deals at my local thrift stores. Here in Arizona, Goodwill has $1 tag day on Thursdays where a certain color is $1 each week and my local Savers has 50% off Mondays where everything in the store is 50% off.  My kids are 12 and 14 and they have no issues wearing used clothes because they know that the more money I save on items they need, the more money we have to spend on other things. My daughter, in particular, loves to go thrifting with me and it is always our first stop when she needs something new. 

3. I shop secondhand online.

When I am looking for a particular item (for example, today I wanted some leopard mules), I head first to ThredUp and Poshmark to find exactly what I am looking for in my size. My favorite jeans are not from a fair trade or ethical fashion company, but I know what size and style I like, so I keep an eye out for those when they pop up. Knowing how items fit me takes the guess work out of shopping secondhand. I will admit that online thrift stores are not always the most frugal option (especially since standard shipping is over $7 on Poshmark and when buying items from multiple sellers that can add up), but it is a great way to shop when you are looking for something specific.

4. I buy quality items that last.

When I do buy new fair trade and ethical fashion items, I buy quality items that I plan on owning for several years. For example, I know that my boots and shoes from The Root Collective are most definitely NOT inexpensive, but I know I am paying for fair wage jobs and I am paying for quality. My first pair of shoes from The Root Collective were purchased in 2015 and they are still holding up very well. I have boots from The Root Collective that have had to have the heel tips replaced, because I walk funny, but a trip to the cobbler took care of that.


5. I buy basics to mix and match.

I am a jeans and t-shirt person ALL THE WAY. I buy basic jeans and shirts that I dress up with fair trade accessories. I buy tops that can be dressed up or down and that can be worn with shorts, a skirt, jeans, or under a sweater depending on the season/occasion.


6. I subscribe to Fair Trade Friday.

I love my Fair Trade Friday subscription boxes.  Fair Trade Friday offers a variety of subscription clubs at various price points, including the "Original Box", the "Bracelet of the Month", the "Earring of the Month", and "Grace Case".  I currently am enrolled in all of the clubs, except for Grace Case. I get high quality fair trade items from around the world at a deep discount. Items I do not personally keep, I save as gifts. This year I was able to donate two boxes worth of items to a charity’s silent auction because they were amazing items that I had received from my subscription boxes.

7. I shop sales.

This one may seem obvious, but it is my favorite! As a few examples, twice a year Elegantees has a BOGO sale. Occasionally (generally about once a quarter), The Root Collective has a "Less Than Perfect" sale.  Every week, Mercy House Global has a flash sale item that is deeply discounted.  Follow your favorite artisan groups and fair trade boutiques on social media + subscribe to their newsletter to be the first to know about their sales and promotions. Some companies even have “Insiders” groups on Facebook where items are released early before they are opened up to the general public.


8. I choose progress over perfection.

I am not perfect, but I am on a journey. My kids ages, sizes, and the fact that they are still growing means that I do buy a lot of new clothes, mostly from fast fashion retailers, when thrifted items are not available or practical. While I am willing to save up and pay $100 for a pair of shoes I will wear for years, I am unwilling to do that for my kids whose feet are still growing. I am doing the best I can, and that’s all any of us can do.

For more tips on how to shop ethically on a budget, follow Heidi at Fair, Ethical, Frugal and check out the links below:
Affordable Gifts that Give Back New Colo

Gifts Under $30

Find hundreds of ethical & fair trade gifts that give back under $5, $10, $20 and $30.

Fashion Kids



"Top 5 Places to Buy Ethical, Yet Affordable Kids Clothes."

Baby Gifts that Give Back for $20 or Les

Baby Gifts

"Baby Gifts that Give Back for $20 & Less"

Clothes Hanging

The Ethical Edit

"Affordable Ethical + Sustainable Clothing Brands for Everyday Wear."

6 Tips for Shopping Ethically on a Budget: Still Being Molly

Still Being Molly

"6 Tips for Shopping Ethically on a Budget."

Change the World by How You Shop Logo wi

Fair Trade Under $25

"Top 10 Shops Selling Fair Trade Products Under $25"

Gifts that Give Back for $10 or Less.jpg

Ethical Gifts Under $10

Discover where to find gifts  that give back for $10 & under.

Gifts for Kids that Give Back for $5 or Less

Gifts for Kids Under $5

Fair trade and give back products even kids can afford to buy with their own allowance.

Antique Store

Shop Secondhand

How to find secondhand products--the cheapest way to shop ethically.

Eco-Stylist: Is Ethical Fashion Really More Expensive? 13 Brands You Need to Know


"Is Ethical Fashion Really More Expensive? 13  Brands You Need to Know"

8 Ways to Shop Ethical on a Budget: How to shop ethical and fair trade on any budget!
bottom of page