Ethics vs Modern Economic Realities

A question for you, is it possible to maintain ethical shopping practices on a budget?  I have been trying for the last year to maintain an equilibrium between these two ideals, to buy products that are as local as possible and ethically manufactured by companies with strong ethical and environmental practices, yet doing so within fairly tight budget.

 And I would say I was doing pretty well until recently.  In my efforts to meet these goals I did a number of things, I started growing some of my own food – can’t get more local than that – and ordering some things through Aussie Farmers Direct (I would highly recommend these guys).  I also got myself a guide to ethical supermarket shopping so I wouldn’t have to spend hours reading and deciphering every label myself as well as researching the parent company etc.  This was incredibly useful and made me switch to a few new brands (Cedal toothpaste for example – Australian made and owned) though sometimes with a little extra added to the cost.

However, my budget has now become even tighter as I just received my last pay packet for a while – I’ve officially been on annual leave for the last three weeks and am not entitled to paid maternity leave from me ex-employer having worked there less than a year.  I think it is fantastic that we now have a national paid maternity leave scheme – though there is still room for improvement on that front – however from now until this baby arrives we’re down to one income and not much to fall back on after our last stint as a one income family.  I try not to stress to much about these things, but I couldn’t help myself when I realised that my two year old daughter had more in her bank account than I did, granted this was only for a few days, but still it was scary.

 We have had a close look at the whole budget and have trimmed where we can – reducing out health insurance costs, only buying zone 1 train tickets and walking the extra distance to get to the nearest zone 1 station, shopping at meat and ckicken wholesalers and eating less meat in general and making sure we fill up the car on the cheapest days.  But it’s still not quite enough and it seems the grocery budget is the only area we can make any real savings.

So after a few sleepless nights I came to the conclusion that my ethics might have to go on hold until I get back to work some time next year.  My head is telling me to suck it up and start buying generic brands and cheaper imported products.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a shopping snob, I don’t buy brand names because they look better or represent some kind of superiority to others.  I buy them because I am more likely to be able to buy Australian made, and the profit is going to a certain company, rather than one of two giant grocery monopolies we have in this country, that can afford to out-price smaller manufacturers and force them out of business, thus increasing their already astronomical market share.

I buy certain brands because they care about their workers and producers and give them a fair price for their efforts.  And I buy them because they take responsibility for their environmental footprint and work in more sustainable ways.

So with my head telling me what I will HAVE to do to live within our new restricted means, can I ignore my heart and turn off these ethics that I have held quite strongly for some time.  I guess the next trip to the supermarket will be the test.

I think this is where generations past really had an advantage over us.  Firstly couples could afford to live in the city, own their own house and a 1/4 acre block at that and have three, four or more kids, fairly easily on one income*.

Secondly, they didn’t have to scour the shelves of the supermarket looking for Australian made, because Australia did still MAKE STUFF and our famous brands had not yet be sold to huge multi-national companies.

 Now it seems impossible to live in a smallish two bedroom + study townhouse with a smallish backyard in a suburb on the wrong side of the tracks on a single professional salary.  Even with two professional salaries (granted teaching isn’t the best paid of professions) and no kids there wasn’t loads left over.  I’m starting to feel there is something wrong with this picture.

* I thought I should add a little footnote here to say that I know this was not the experience for all families, that there has always been poverty and those less fortunate in our society (especially if you happen to have a darker skin colour or had migrated to this country from elsewhere) who did not have the luxury to own their own house or feed their kids the way they would have liked.  And perhaps in the past their plight was even more difficult than it would be in today ‘s s.ociety

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