Since growing up outside a small Midlands town where jumble sales were a major event and it was a mile's walk to the nearest bus stop, I have always loved a bargain. Discounts, sales, free gifts, Ebay, Home Bargains, Asda Smartprice - bring 'em on. I enjoy the challenge of living frugally and making my money go further.
Yet the more ethical, Mother Earth-loving, eco-worrier is uneasy with this kind of consumption. While I'm saving pennies, who is losing out? Who made the things I'm buying? Who profits? If I don't try to live more ethically, I can't moan about the state of the world. I have to set an example to my children, so I need to put my money where my mouth is.
But, we're a one income family, with two children. It's so hard to buy eco-products and organic food when they cost much more than their bargainous counterparts. On the one hand our bank balance is saying we can't afford to live a truly green lifestyle; on the other hand, the planet is depending on everyone to do just that.
"The main way we can care for the earth is by using less of its precious resources", says Marie Sherlock, in her book Living Simply with Children. Here are my tips for living ethically on a budget; I hope they'll inspire you.
BANKING. When NatWest, with whom I've banked for over a decade, wrote to me to let me know they were no longer offering any interest on my current account balance, I suddenly lost interest in them. It doesn't cost anything to switch bank accounts, although it does take several weeks, so you need to prepare for the change over. I am in the process of switching to the far more ethical Co-op bank. It doesn't matter if you don't have a Co-op bank branch near you, you can use the Post Office or the internet to manage your account.
SUPERMARKET. I am still stuck in the supermarket habit but have recently changed from Sainsburys to Waitrose. This is something I truly felt we couldn't afford to do. However, I was keen to support the John Lewis Partnership's ethics (Waitrose is part of John Lewis). Instead of having shareholders, the Partnership is owned beneficially by its employees; Waitrose believes that "the long-term future of the Partnership is best served by respecting the interests of all our stakeholders: Partners, customers, suppliers and the wider community. We look actively for opportunities to improve the environment and to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities in which we trade."
I have found that by shopping online each week, I have managed to spend about £25 less per week than I was spending when I pushed my trolley round Sainsburys. This is partly because Waitrose's least expensive range (Waitrose Essentials) is such good value, but also because I can keep an eye on what I'm spending, it's easier to stick to the list, and there's no clothing range to tempt me. With Waitrose Delivers, delivery is free when you spend over £50, and they often offer discounts to loyal customers.
DOUBLE-UP. Look for natural, ethical and eco-friendly products that have several uses, instead of buying lots of different items. Weleda's Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash is one such example. It'll save you buying a shampoo and a separate shower gel for a start. And although it's been dermatologically tested on infant skin prone to eczema and dermatitis, Weleda's Calendula range is perfect for adults too. So there's no need to buy separate products for each member of the family. What I especially like is the natural fragrance - it doesn't smell like a baby product. There's a fresh, lavender top-note, an underlying fruitiness, and a floral base that leaves hair and body deliciously fragrant, cleansed and soothed.
DON'T SHOP. Make sure you and your kids have better things to do than go shopping. Going round the shops and spending money can become a treat or a hobby, when in fact it is just consumption. The high street is designed to make you feel special, guilty, inferior, superior, indignant - whatever it takes to get you to open your purse. So comparison-shop, get at least three quotes, and buy on-line whenever you can.
SWITCH. The money you save by using comparison sites to get the best deal on insurance, utility bills and so on, can be spent more ethically. Saving over £400 recently by using Moneysupermarket.com to switch my home, contents and car insurance providers, means that I have £400 extra to spend on eco-versions of the groceries etc that I'd normally buy.
BUY USED. If your self-image does not depend on the type and quantity of possession you have, then you can handle buying second-hand. It's a great ego-state, very liberating - and cheap! Books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, bedding, furniture, cars, bikes, toys; none of them have to be new. If I can't find an item I want second-hand on Ebay, freecycle, amazon or local charity shops, I take that as a sign that I need to reconsider whether I really need it.