The Dilemma of Wallet vs. Idealism

by Katy on May 30, 2008 · 9 comments

When frugality and green living intersect, it’s a thing of beauty. The perfect bike commute on a spring afternoon, lowering your electricity usage with CFL’s, growing your own tomatoes. These actions not only save you money, but also help to decrease your environmental impact. No dilemma here.

What about when making the right choice for our planet costs more money. Should we choose environmental responsibility or financial responsibility?

Here in Portland, Oregon you can choose your electricity rate. The “Green Source” plan relies on wind and solar power and costs 8 cents/ kilowatt hour (kWh). The regular plan costs approximately 5 cents/ kWh (4.4 cents/ kWh up to 250 kWh, and then 6.2 cents/ kWh beyond 250 kWh). Essentially then, that’s 8 cents vs. 5 cents. We use about 500 kWh per month, so that would be an extra $15.00. Multiply that times 12 and you’re looking at an extra $180 per year. That’s a significant amount of money. 

Here is where my dilemma crops up. Because you see, I have not actually made the switch to the “Green Source” plan. I just can’t make myself do it. Maybe if I were debt-free and money were no object I could, but that’s simply not the case. (My fixer-upper house is quite the greedy money-pit).

This green living vs. frugality issue predicament comes up in many other areas of our lives as well:

  • Locally owned salon for a $30+ haircut or $6 for a tacky national chain?
  • Discount online bookstore or small neighborhood one? You get the gist.

What to do, what to do?! How many people out there are choosing more expensive “green” options when they still have debt?

I welcome all responses in the COMMENTS section below. 

-Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Elinor May 30, 2008 at 10:09 am

I too understand the conundrum facing those who what to do things ‘green’, local, small chain stores, etc. I too have debt that I am desperately trying to pay off. My conundrum is with local or chain hair salon. Add to that I live downtown, in a revitalizing state, and would love my dollars to go downtown, but I need the dollars, so I chose to go to the chain salon out of downtown. I figure I will get to my goal of going to the downtown salons someday.

On books, I say Library first, Used second (forgoing exact sources). As long at the book isn’t new, I’m OK with most sources, as long as there isn’t a commute in it for me.

I also have trouble with the Craigslist/Freecycle stuff, and driving to get the darn things. The closer the better, I guess.

These are all issues facing us who what to do good for the world and ourselves. Such a struggle.


Rebecca May 30, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I second the library for books. There are very few books that I need to *live* with forever.
For hair care, look for inexpensive locally owned shops (same for manicures)– they may be in a store front rather than a salon, but they do exist. Or if you can, and I do, cut and color your hair yourself. I admit it’s an acquired skill, and not for everyone. I also use natural henna dye instead of chemical based hair colors.


thenonconsumeradvocate May 30, 2008 at 7:18 pm

My first choice for books is always going to be the library. But last summer the 7th “Harry Potter” book became a “need” at our house. We actually did not have a choice of where to buy it that day (Tillamook Fred Meyer) – but this was a dilemma I did give a fair amount of thought to at the time.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


MJ June 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

Imagine my horror when I paid the extra to go with green power in NJ, then read that the company I’d gone with supported politics I deem unacceptable.

Anyway, I got it right the second time and have opted to spend more to get solar and wind power. It does cost more. At a time when all energy costs more.

For hair, I go to a posh local salon…but to a student. She learns and I get cheap, fancy hair.

One strange conundrum I’ve faced was about eggs. In my nearby supermarkets, all the “organic” eggs came in plastic cartons. I ended up choosing cardboard over organic in that case.


Anne June 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

When we got the option for 100% green energy here a few years ago, we chose the all green energy from our Washington, DC, provider. It costs a bit more but I have a clear and happy conscience. You must be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi. I believe in that.


DG July 4, 2008 at 5:02 am

What a wonderful site this is!!! The beauty of being a nonconsumerist is that, once the practice is followed for a while (and not a long while), it becomes very natural. Now, I find going to a store and paying full price (gasp….) for anything is downright uncomfortable, and basically unacceptable. Thank you for your dedication to nonconsumers everywhere.


slb725writer July 10, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I just found your blog, and am enjoying it very much so far. I do have a couple of suggestions:

1. Is there a local cosmotology school. If so, ours charges 5 dollars, and we can get a girl who is ready to graduate and knows what she is doing.

2. Same for “building” schools for your fixer-upper. Perhaps you have a Job Corps that you could contact. Those kids really do know what they are doing.


BohoBelle August 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

In the supermarket, I just try not to look at the price differences.

Eg. Organic free range eggs are usually double the price – but because I’ve already made up my mind that I’m not going to support caged hen producers – I just reach out and grab the ones I want (carbon carton luckly).

Its too difficult to see the price difference everytime and go through the whole negotiation in your head everytime you shop.


Maggie Fleet May 24, 2021 at 3:40 am

I understand perfectly. Our car died in April 2020, and since we were stuck at home (both retired) during COVID, we decided to slowly look for a car & not rush it. We researched and looked for months, and finally found “the” used car we wanted, a 2015 low-mileage Prius.

Though it was 30% more than we had planned on paying, we bought it & appreciate it every time we can pass by a gas station without thinking whether or not we needed to fill it up. We also like the idea that we can use the car as a small generator during power outages. 🙂

Sometimes spending money is the best way to save money and the environment in the long term, but we have this dilemma daily, on just about anything we have to buy.


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