The Power of a Purchase

I grew up with parents that bought from local organic before it was a 'thing', who explained the implications of spending more money on Fair Trade coffee, and who insisted on washing and re-used our sandwich bags to cut down on our plastic waste. BTW my classmates in elementary school thought I was really odd, and a bit of a know-it-all - thanks mom. Part of what I was taught early is that ultimately we vote with our wallets. And I still believe that to this day: how I spend, even more than how I act, directly impacts the future we invest in as a society.

So recently I've been wondering about the difference between $1 spent on a Fair Trade item and the $1 donated to a good charity. Giving What We Can posted a blog post about this that got picked up by the Huffington Post. I love that effective thinking, living, and giving are getting so much coverage lately. That being said this article didn't ask my most basic question - how can I best cast my vote?

While I'm glad people are thinking about this I didn't seeing a real direct dollar-to-dollar comparison. Yes $1 can deworm two children and I know the benefits of that, but it seems like it is very hard to break down the economics of that $1 spent on a more expensive bar of chocolate that is Fair Trade.

I also agree with another commenter who mentions that my decision to buy FT goods isn't about charity, it is about fairness. I believe that people should be paid a sustainable wage, as a bare minimum. So I am also inclined to separate what I give charitably from what I spend on groceries. I buy FT not as a way to donate to a cause but because I think of it as a basic obvious truth that people should be paid fairly, therefore things cost more. This budget is separate from the budget I use to make the world a better place. FT is about doing good, donation is about striving for better than good.

That being said, I would be willing to change this behavior/ideas if there was a clearer way of comparing the two. Perhaps comparing the percentage given to improve production compared with the impact of the same money going to an effective agriculturally focused charity? Again the economic outcome of buying Fair Trade seems fuzzy and hard to track. Hopefully someone smarter than me is willing to run these numbers because I would love to know what they are.

I think there is also something to be said for feeling good about the products you are buying, and making conscious choices every day.