The Real Cost of Cheap
As is so well illustrated in the short video above, many of us in wealthier nations are attracted by "cheap". Saving money and finding a "deal" has become a virtue in the U.S. While I too try to spend wisely and save money, I have come to realize that everything has a cost. You have heard the saying, "there is no such thing as a free lunch." Well, I have learned there is no such thing as a "cheap buy" either. Somebody or something always pays the cost.
By U.S. standards, my family is not considered wealthy. (In fact, we fall just below the Federal Poverty Level!) But the more I study and learn about extreme poverty and exploitation in many developing countries, the more I feel like I live like a queen. My family is healthy, and we have doctors to go to and insurance to cover the cost when we are not. My husband and I both work at jobs we love. We have plenty to eat and never worry about where our next meal is coming from. But the same cannot be said about the estimated 908 million people in the world (World Bank) who live on less than $1.90 a day. And too often I have been guilty of unwittingly benefiting from the exploitation of those same people below the global poverty line so that I can have what I want "cheap". Over the past few years I have had my eyes opened to the human trafficking, forced labor and sweatshops behind many of the products I used to buy. Some products remain "cheap" by taking advantage of the poor. And the more I learn, the less I feel right about using others (even those hidden at the bottom of a long supply chain on the other side of the world) just to get what I want. I would far rather have less because I have to spend more for each product I buy than to share in the guilt of exploitation. (See James 5:4 below.)
The video above proved that many people would think twice about buying that cheap shirt if they really knew where it come from. This website contains many links which can help educate you on where the stuff you buy really comes from and who is paying the cost. But rather than discourage you, we want to help you find an alternative type of shopping which brings new meaning to every item you purchase. (See our Shopping Guide) Purchases that promote rescue rather than exploitation; quality rather than production deadlines; people rather than price; and dignity rather than degradation.
All too often, not just people, but also the environment pays the price for our culture's obsession with cheap. Wasteful factories cause pollution, Destructive commercial fishing and farming techniques destroy water sources, ocean life, rain forests and wildlife. Cheap products often break and hit the trash shortly after they are bought, only to be replaced by another cheap product and start the cycle all over again! But shopping through the businesses we recommend helps support the "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle" idea. The vast majority of their products were not made in factories, but were handmade and all were produced in an environmentally-friendly manner, many from recycled and "upcycled" materials. And I have found there is another "green" benefit to this kind of shopping. These products were produced with love and attention to detail, not by underpaid factory workers trying to meet strict deadlines. As such these items are made to last and will not hit the trash a week after you buy them! Because the workers are making a livable wage, I sometimes have to pay more for my purchases. But then I also take better care of those items, which helps them last longer yet! So instead of making the environment pay for my "cheap" buy, I am helping the environment as I shop!
You CAN make a positive difference in the world just by making simple decisions about which product to purchase. (See "Change One Purchase") Every time you shop, you "vote with your dollar." In recent years, much of the blame for pollution and exploitation in factories and farming has been laid at the feet of big businesses. Boycotts, lawsuits and legislation have their place, and they typically target retail stores or companies at the top of the supply chains. I do believe businesses should make responsible sourcing choices and I support those who do.
But the reality is, businesses are not at the top of the supply chain. We are! Businesses who care only about "the bottom line", even at others' expense, are probably not going to change their attitudes any time soon. But, here is the catch: we control their bottom line! In a free market system, everything is about consumer demand. When a particular style jeans are popular, that style is stocked in all the department stores. When consumers care about the environment, products made from recycled materials start popping up. When customers start buying "organic" food, even Walmart starts its own organic line. What if we as consumers starting saying "no" to cheap and "no" to exploitation? Instead of companies competing in the "race to the bottom" to keep transporting their factories to the country with the cheapest labor, maybe factories would stay put and build better jobs in communities. Just maybe, life would get better for those on the bottom of the supply chain simply because we at the top say we care! Yes, it is a dream, but one I believe worth pursuing.
If you would like to increase your "purchasing power", write to the companies behind the brands you normally buy. Ask where they source their materials or ingredients from and let them know you care about more than just price. Also write to the companies who are doing things right and encourage them to continue. Let them know that customers do care and not to give up the direction they are going. Most customers do not take the time to write in. So your letter, whether positive or negative, will weigh a lot heavier than just one vote and be considered to represent many customers' feelings.
You can also ask the retail stores you shop at to carry products which you know are ethically sourced. Doing this will help the companies you support sell more products and make your shopping easier! Many of the organizations featured on this website also sell wholesale. (Click here to find a retail store in your area already selling products featured on this website!) By convincing the retail shops in your area to carry their products, you not only will be helping some incredible organizations change the world, you also will save on shipping costs!
Join me in the pursuit of a dream where enough customers stand up and demand care (for people and the environment!) instead of cheap. Together we can change the world by how we shop. And you will find that you will not only change the world, but yourself as well. Changing your shopping habits creates a new appreciation for what you own and the products you buy.
After all, as the Bible puts it:
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."(Philippians 4:12 NIV)
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."
(I Timothy 6:17-19 NIV)