I’m a student and currently, the air is thick with revision stress. As a student I’m fairly restricted in my spending (yet, realistically still far wealthier than most of the world!). Although frothy coffee is often far too high on my priorities of spending, I’m pretty good with money. I meal prep, I cycle, I don’t have any entertainment subscriptions. Yet money can plague my mind.
As a Christian, I’ve come to see spending as a way of stewarding what God has given me. Everything I have belongs to God. The more I strip back my lifestyle, the more I care for God’s creation and his people, the more I see the Father.
Budgeting can be a nightmare. The tension between wanting to live gently and not having the finances to make every single lifestyle change can stop me in my tracks.
So is ethical living too costly?
My journey with a more sustainable lifestyle started by looking at my diet. I cut out meat, and have tried to buy food in less packaging. Fairtrade is my go to and organic is also a win. As well as the environmental benefits, I learnt that eating vegetarian is usually much cheaper. Once I changed one area of my consumption other things naturally followed. I realised the gravity of fast fashion and began to consider who had crafted my favourite jumper. Then there’s toiletries and household products. Switching to zero waste bathroom items wasn’t too tricky. I’ve discovered various supermarkets sell recycled toilet roll, and that more environmentally friendly cleaning products can be made at home.
Yet, finances have left me in some uncomfortable dilemmas. For instance, can I justify a pricey tub of zero waste toothpaste? Can I afford to eat more seasonally? Can my bank account foot the ethical fashion bill?
In many ways caring about our lifestyles’ impact is still a luxury. Our demand for low costs has resulted in corners being cut. Zero waste, organic and Fairtrade products aren’t totally mainstream yet. Choosing a more just way can be hard. But I believe the Bible compels us to care even when it’s costly. The ultimate act of love cost God his own son.
So to some extent, I think we have to accept that sacrifices need to be made. Despite much controversy about ethical living being for the elite few, I don’t think money should put students off. Each person’s situation is unique, yet there are ways to live more sustainably and not break the bank.
Choosing more ethical products is saving me money in the long run. For instance, I’ve just signed up to a bamboo toothbrush subscription. Every 3 months a new biodegradable toothbrush lands on my door. Although slightly more expensive than a plastic toothbrush, the product is higher quality, lasts longer and is less harmful for the planet.
Ethical living has helped me manage my budgeting. I can save money by not shopping on the high street and instead upcycling the clothes I have and buying from charity shops. I plan my food shop to reduce waste, so buy less. I’m less concerned with material things so rarely make impulse buys.
Caring about my consumption has increased my generosity, and in turn blessed me greatly. My attitude towards money has become less egocentric, instead I’m thinking about our global family who will be most impacted by climate change. I feel lighter and can see my choices influencing others.
Thinking about my spending and the purchases I make as a student is setting me up for a life of pursuing justice. God has made us holy, that is ‘set apart’. My posture towards his world and his call to justice must filter into every area of my life. I’m so grateful to be learning some tough lessons whilst at uni so that they become rhythms for the rest of my life.
Yes, caring does cost. God is the king of sacrifice. He knows a thing or two about trying to put things right. Whilst he isn’t asking us to put ourselves into financial ruin or compromise our basic needs, he does ask for mercy. In Hosea 6:6 God reminded the Israelites that he doesn’t want half-hearted religion, he wants merciful whole life worship. I know that whilst some lifestyle changes are financially out of my reach at the moment, the small changes I am making are worth it.
Maybe God will just surprise us, maybe he’ll challenge us to follow suit and love sacrificially, even when it costs.