This is a guest post from personal finance writer Gwendolyn Pearce.
I'm considering building a chicken coop.
I'm thinking about this choice because paying over $5 for a dozen eggs seems ridiculous. Especially when compared to the carton of bleach-white generic eggs beside them for $1.04. But I take the $5 eggs every time because they are free-range and organic and (despite the debate on whether organic is actually better) I feel they are worth the price. I'm willing to pay five times the amount because I can't stand the idea of chickens crammed together so tightly that they can't move. I want my eggs to come from chickens that scratch and run and chase each other. Happy eggs come from happy chickens, right?
Hippie mysticism aside, buying cruelty-free products is a value for which I'm willing to pay more. But do I have to pay more? Is there a way to lower the cost so I can have my moral cake, er, soufflé, and eat it too?
Even if I used mostly found materials, my father-in-law's carpentry expertise, and my sweat labor, there is still, at minimum, the cost of chickens and feed. Not to mention the time commitment and the entire other discussion about possible chicken vet bills. Is this really any way to go about saving money? No, it isn't. My romantic notion that I could construct a chicken coop in the backyard of my suburban home, be knee-deep in eggs and have it be cost-effective was quickly dispelled by all my research.
So, I accept that this is an area where I have decided to pay the price that aligns with my values. I stopped complaining about the price of the eggs and embraced that I am making the conscious decision to spend my money in this way.
But let's take a look at another area of my life where my moral values regularly affect my pocketbook.
In 2010, Americans spent $33.3 billion (or 6.7 million cartons of free-range eggs) on cosmetics and beauty products. So, compared to what one could spend on department store cosmetics and fancy beauty creams, I didn't really worry too much about getting in and out of Target with all my products for just under $60. For this amount, I would have a three- to four-month supply of face cleanser, moisturizer, toner and night moisturizer and a small handful of cosmetics that easily lasted 6 months. But then, I began doing research on companies that conduct animal testing and discovered that, if I wanted to stick to my moral guns, I wasn't going to be able to shop the cosmetics aisles at Target or Walmart very easily. There are a couple of good options, such as Burt's Bees, Alba and Yes To Carrots, but I would certainly be paying more than I was paying and I wouldn't have near the selection.
How much more? Here's a cost breakdown of the products I would buy to convert my cosmetic collection from traditional to cruelty-free products:
(Note: all product comparisons are for the same amount of product)
Facial cleanser: $4.38 for 5 oz.
Toner: $5.39 for 7 oz.
Day moisturizer: $10.88 for 2 oz.
Night moisturizer: $14.67 for 2 oz.
Foundation: $3.92 for .28 oz.
Eye shadow: $10 for a palette of 4 colors
Mascara: $9 for a .3 oz. tube
Facial cleanser: $10
Day moisturizer: $15
Night moisturizer: $18
Eye shadow: $30
It would cost me a grand total of $131! More than double the amount I was paying for the same amount of product. I think 118% is a high “trying-to-be-a-better-person” tax. If every decision that I make from a principled place instead of a fiscal one will cost me an additional 118%, I'll be broke in two months.
Since most of these cruelty-free products center around natural ingredients, this had to be an area where I could find some creative solutions to uphold my value but not pay more. Here's how I ended up (I've adjusted to match the quantities in the original cost out):
Homemade facial cleanser from castor and olive oils: $3.30
Homemade facial toner using apple cider vinegar, water and lemon juice: $0.56
Day moisturizer from store-bought aloe vera gel: $0.66
E.L.F. eyeshadow: $12
E.L.F. foundation: $22
E.L.F. mascara: $3
Night moisturizer: $18 (When it comes to night moisturizer, which has more complicated ingredients, and since I almost flunked out of high-school chemistry, I'm not about to go the DIY route! Nor am I having success finding quality cruelty-free products for less than the original solution. So, I'm adding that one back in at the original cost.)
Grand total: $59.52.
Not only was I able to uphold a value that I have made a priority in my life, I didn't have to spend additionally to do it.
While I certainly won't get rich from these decisions, this examination has made me acutely aware of how many consumer decisions I've been making on auto-pilot. An important tenet of GRS is to be cognizant of where our hard-earned dollars are going. If it's a dollar that we're not saving, then it needs to count for more than a dollar. Now my money counts for something a little more, I buy my supplies and, hopefully, I send a message.
I'd like to hear from the GRS audience: When do your morals cost you more? When has frugality won out and forced you to compromise something you would rather do differently if money was not an issue? What successes have you had in achieving both? And if you have a chicken coop, I want to hear about it.