Skip to main content

Ethical Shopping on a Budget

From affordable fashion to saving energy, welcome to our guide on shopping ethically while saving money and the planet.

With a recession looming we asked our readers for their tips and tricks for shopping ethically on a budget. We received 1000s of ideas and life hacks to help save the planet for less.

We couldn’t fit them all into one article, so here is a rundown of over 40 ideas that we think are the most useful and easy to achieve.

We start with 5 golden rules, then look at some general advice, before taking a more in-depth look at a range of sectors from ethical fashion to energy saving.

The 5 golden rules for savvy, money-saving, ethical consumers

These top five tips were suggested by many of our readers:

  1. Buy less but better quality
  2. Go out to the shops less often and avoid shopping as a leisure activity or retail therapy
  3. Buy second hand where you can  
  4. Buy things that are easily repairable   
  5. Before you buy, ask yourself if you REALLY need it?

Buying second hand

As we say above buying second hand is always a great option. Hundreds of people that responded to our survey suggested this, finding things for free or swapping items. Platforms mentioned include: Ebay, charity shops, Freecycle, Gumtree, Freegle, or Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

“Bought 2 good armchairs from Ebay for £25 and still using them 10 years later. Steam-cleaned them and they came up beautifully.” - Susan from Ely

“I set up a neighbourhood Facebook group and people share things and post when they're looking to buy something second hand (managed to get a pestle and mortar this week after ours broke...from the back of a neighbours kitchen cupboard who had never used it!)” - Clare from Portsmouth @southseamum

Below we list some more specific tips and tricks sector by sector.


Clothes shopping on a budget

When it came to clothing, the overwhelming message from our readers was BUY LESS.

image: sewing machine leicester fast fashion

“I have implemented a shopping ban on new clothes.” - Hannah (@betternotstop) From Glossop

“If I need to replace an item then once the charity shops are open I can look in them. Otherwise no new clothing for the next 12 months.“ -James from Bristol

Other suggestions included buying second hand from Depop, Ebay and charity shops such as Oxfam (who also have an ecommerce site to save a trip to the high street).

Clare from Portsmouth went a step further and "Organised a school uniform swap table in our local library" - a great idea as kids often grow out of school uniform while it’s still in good condition.

Those who are buying new are shopping savvy. Jane from Nottingham always waits “for the sales to get reductions on online ethical clothing companies (e.g. people Tree).”

Some are also repairing old clothes, learning to sew and patch up old clothes.

Cheaper household products

With household products there were a variety of ideas that usually revolved around making your own products.

image: ethical bathroom with bowl bath and wooden features eco friendly plants

A few of our readers mentioned soapnuts. Louise from Kendal said “I make laundry liquid from them (takes 20 mins once every couple of weeks) and a kilo bag (£12) lasts a year.” That’s a huge saving!

According to Jane from Surrey, you can also add them straight to the wash. She says “Just add 4-5 nuts in a small cloth pouch that can be closed. Throw the pouch in with the clothes and wash as usual. Each batch of the 4-5 nuts lasts 6 washes or more. When the nuts look faded and dry, chuck them in the compost. Clothes come out clean and smelling neutral without any detergent smell. Great for people with sensitive skin.” Easy as that...

Soapnuts’ big rival among our readers seemed to be Ecoeggs. According to @heatherlmichell from Stalybridge, they have “Excellent cleaning power and Fresh linen smells lovely. Even older family members (staunch traditionalists) have converted!”

Others, such as Silvia from London are making their own cleaning products. She says that she uses white distilled vinegar, re-using empty bottles: “no more waste and a saving of about £100 for the year.” She adds that “Vinegar is so versatile and great against limescale, mould and it leaves your taps shiny! A good combination is white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and a few drops of tea tree essential oil: with £8.50 all together you can make at least three bottles of cleaner.”

Health and Beauty on a shoestring

Our readers are very much cutting down their use of health and beauty products to save money and the environment.

image: soap bars ethical eco friendly bathroom products

Here are the 4 most popular ideas.

  • “Switch to soap in the shower - less packaging plus soap is generally cheaper, and lasts a long time.” - Sophie from Oxford
  • “Switching from sani pads to a menstrual cup, no more waste and a saving of about £250 a year.” - Anna (@annafelixdixie) from Porthtowan
  • “I no longer pay for haircuts. I use a Crea Clip ( and cut my own hair every 6 weeks.” - Hanna from Glossop
  • “I have hugely reduced use of things like moisturiser and stopped wearing make-up except on special occasions.” - Aimee from Bonnybridge

Others were ditching cosmetics altogether, but we know this a bit much for some people and isn't always possible.

Food and Drink that doesn’t cost the earth

This is an area where cutting consumption can be tough: we all need to eat! For food and drink, it is all about refocusing spending and of course cutting down on expensive meat consumption.

buying an apple

“Eating meat-free has hugely reduced my food bill, but if we get meat it is from a local butcher and free range. This is more expensive then the supermarket so only ever a treat.” - Hannah from Glossop.

Many others had cut out meat completely.

Price comparison between meat and plant-based proteins

We had a quick look on a supermarket website to check out the price difference between beef and tofu.

Diced Beef - a relatively cheap cut - is £7.86/kg, while a block of Tofu is £5.05/kg.

Black eyed beans and red lentils were around £2/kg.

However, you may want to compare protein levels. 

Stats from ASDA 07/07/2020

Cutting food waste

Many people also found that moving to online grocery shopping helped to cut shopping bills and waste.

“Ordering groceries online has the advantage that you only buy what you need. It means less food waste.” - @anushaiyer from Cambridge

Others also suggested buying in bulk, instead of smaller packets, which ends up being more expensive

Peter from Stroud took this a step further. He created a local group to buy wholefoods direct from Suma (or Essentials), at wholesale prices. “Needs a minimum order of £250, but several households can easily reach that total if they shop together each month” he told us.

Best Buy company Suma offer a really good service for this. They can give individual invoices under one order going to one address, so you can easily work out who paid for what. It’s great for cupboard groceries such as chickpeas or pasta. It also helps to cut down on packaging.

Lots of people suggested cooking from scratch, Phil from Kendal, Laura from Christchurch and Jane from Nottingham all reduced their spend by cutting out the ready made meals and sauces. Others went further and are now baking their own bread and making their own plant based milks.

For fresh fruit and veg people were turning to local shops.

Giulia from Dorchester told us that she has cut food bills this way and helped save the environment. “I now buy fruit and veg from the local farm shop, and only once a week: local is cheaper and less carbon footprint (also useful as they deliver), and by buying once a week only I ensure I use up what I have. I noticed I have wasted less food and saved money.”

“Be flexible in habits depending on what ethical items are available cheaply at the time. For example, buy seasonal fruit and vegetable not imported items.” Jenny from Pyworthy

Other people were very keen to use up all leftover food, so there was no money wasted. “On the day before you shop, use up every veg you can by making soup or a ratatouille or a vegetarian casserole. Once new veg are in the fridge the older ones look unappetising and get left,” said one reader.

Growing your own to save money

Growing your own veg is also popular among readers. Rowena in Devon told us, “I’ve grown all my veggies and plants from seed this year, and plan to save the seed for next year as I chose heritage type seeds. I’m also composting like mad and making leaf mould as well as comfrey and nettle fertiliser to reduce what I need to buy from a garden centre.”

Meanwhile Laura from London ( @myfairladle ) is not letting anything go to waste. “Regrowing food (spring onions, lettuce, cauliflower) rather than throwing away the stalks”

Also mentioned was by Barbara from Essex as another good source of information on growing fruit and veg.


“Get foraging” says Lucinda from London “It is possible in cities! There is wild garlic on Tooting Common in spring and the elder flowers are just starting to bloom. I'm going to be picking some on Monday to make elder flower cordial. Just remember to always leave some for others.”

Energy and tech with a lower impact

It can be easy to reduce energy bills to save money and the planet and many of our readers were doing this.

image: better digital events

“Switch to greener energy. You can usually get a better deal and some companies are committed to not hiking up their prices.”

Turning the thermostat down and putting on an extra jumper was suggested by a number of people. 18oC was a temperature suggested by many readers that kept a balance between saving money and keeping the house warm in winter.

Bulb was one supplier mentioned by readers as a cheaper green option. Look at or the Energy Saving Trust for more advice.

Many people cut down on petrol costs by walking and cycling more, while Mary from Newport @MaryEFreeman even sold her car.

Other suggestions included ditching the tumble dryer, not getting mobile phone upgrades and turning the wifi off overnight.

Making instead of buying presents

Lots of our readers had ethical gift ideas and many were making (or planting) presents for friends and loved ones.

“Make presents don't buy them - bake a cake, plant up some herbs, make a chutney...” - Rosie from Worcester @rosievenner

“Making birthday boxes for friends/family with homemade bunting, biscuits, a compilation cd and peg dolls made by the children.” - Jane from York

“Making your own gifts is really fun, much more thoughtful, and if you get creative it can basically be free. I made a friend an indigo tie-dyed t-shirt for her birthday, I've made body scrubs from ingredients in my kitchen cupboard and recycled jams jars, and I am propagating some of my plants to give to friends in recycled pots. Homemade chutneys and baked goods also make wonderful gifts. Making your own cards with pressed leaves or flowers costs next to nothing.” Lucinda from London

Our favourite advice

Our favourite advice came from Caroline in Loughton, “Find joy in nature and walking, its free...”

Teresa of Newcastle-under-Lyme also had a great idea. She uses a combination of Ethical Consumer and Money Saving Expert websites to inform big purchases.

Whatever your budget these tips can help you to cut down your weekly or monthly spending while staying as ethical as possible.

We’d love to hear from you.

Share your ideas with us on Twitter or Facebook (remember to tag us in @ec_magazine).