Mindful family spending

Most of us try to be mindful about how we spend our money. We compare prices, and we evaluate things like ingredients, features and benefits. As parents, we’re not only being prudent stewards of our family’s finances, we’re also setting an example for our kids. 

That’s why it makes sense to take mindful spending to a higher level: Discuss with your family not only how spending money affects you personally, but also how it affects others — and the world. Our choices make a difference.

In other words, our spending decisions come with consequences.

That’s a concept you can talk about with your kids — even young kids. When you buy the 32-ounce soda instead of the 12-ouncer — because, hey, it’s only 10 cents more! — you may experience a health consequence. When you buy a plastic water bottle, there’s an environmental consequence. When you buy a fast-food chicken sandwich, you may be supporting the unethical and unhealthy treatment of animals.

Here are three ideas — that easily resonate with kids of all ages — for minimizing the negative consequences of our spending decisions. 


Buy less

This is pretty easy to talk about with kids. Every time we don’t buy something, we’re saving the earth just a little bit. We’re helping cut down on the number of things that get made, used and discarded. Every little thing we buy adds up. Even food produces waste in the packaging. When you’re at the store with your kids or online about to click “Add to Cart,” discuss the following questions: Do we really need it? Could we get by with less of it? Or could we buy it less often?


Buy products that don’t harm

Most kids know some products are bad for you, like alcohol and tobacco, or food with lots of sugar or bad fats. They might not understand how other ingredients can be bad for them such as dyes, chemicals, corn syrup or added hormones. 

Other products aren’t bad for the person who consumes or uses them, but they’re bad for the environment — things like plastic bottles and items with excessive packaging. Also: Pesticides or farm chemicals may not always reach consumers, but they can directly affect the health of farm laborers.

If your kids are old enough to understand these issues, even on a rudimentary level, involve them in your shopping decisions. Here are some questions to talk about at the grocery store:

Was it produced locally? Locally produced food uses less fuel in shipping and provides jobs for people in your own community. It’s usually fresher, too.

Are there any added hormones? Some studies have linked animal hormones to increased risk of cancer in people. The safest thing to do is avoid meat and dairy from animals treated with hormones (or at least minimize the amount you eat).

Is it made with organic ingredients? Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. 

How were the animals treated? Phrases like “Animal Welfare Approved,” “Certified Organic” and “American Grassfed Association” mean the animals connected to your food were more likely to be treated humanely.

How were the workers treated? Look for the label “Fair Trade,” which means workers were paid and treated fairly and worked reasonable hours (and no child labor was used). 

How much packaging is used? Items packaged for individual consumption, like pudding cups, produce a lot of waste.


Learn about companies

This is another concept that’s pretty easy for kids to understand. Ethical companies are those that try hard not to harm the earth, people or animals. However, while the concept may be simple enough to discuss with kids, it’s a bit more of a challenge to find out how every company you buy from operates. 

Luckily, you don’t have to do that. Instead, ease your way into it. If you hear of a company that does something particularly good — or bad — you can buy from them or not, depending on what you hear. 

Talk about these issues with your family and make the decision together. You can often learn a lot simply by typing “Is X company ethical?” into a search engine. 

If you want to investigate corporate ethics on a product-by-product basis, check out the GoodGuide app (free for iPhone and Android). Simply point your smartphone camera at various bar codes to get health, environment and society ratings for each product and/or the company that makes it. 

The Better World Shopper app ($1.99) gives companies and products grades based on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.

It’s rewarding to show kids that in all three of these areas, even a small change makes a difference. Your family can feel good about being mindful and being part of the process of making the world a better place.