Conscious Consumerism: Broke College Kid Edition

by Audra Brulc

Money. I have none of it. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. But the problem is, when you have no money, it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re spending what you do have in a socially responsible way. Our current economic system pretty much forces us to prioritize cost over morals, so the idea of “conscious consumerism” has become a hot topic lately. And that’s great, but here’s the thing: a lot of alternatives just aren’t that feasible for people living on a fixed income. Yes, I would love to buy shirts and shoes made exclusively from fair-trade, organically harvested items for the totally reasonable price of $85. Unfortunately, I have about $24 left each pay period after my living and academic expenses are factored in. As a result, I’ve had to look for the little ways to dig my heels in and resist completely giving in to the cold embrace of heartless capitalism. I’ve gathered some of these tips here for our readers, and though some of them might seem pretty obvious, it doesn’t hurt to think about new ways that we can integrate these habits into our patterns of consumption.


1.) Embrace Your Local Hipster Hideout Coffee Shop

Wait! Please don’t roll your eyes, snort derisively, and close the tab! Hear me out. I am a flagrant over-consumer of caffeine. I know my coffee, especially here in Norman. I know my shops, too, as I’m always on the hunt for the perfect studying-with-coffee ambiance. I used to be a pretty open hater of non-chain coffeeshops, insistent that Starbucks would always be the slightly burnt but more affordable option. (Am I allowed to say that here? Will I be hearing from their lawyers?) However, while you still might pay a little more at a smaller, local operation, both the coffee and the environment are usually far superior. This might not be news to anyone, but ending our reliance on large chains and constantly trying to shift to local businesses when possible is definitely worth it.

2.) Support the Arts (No, Really, You Can Do It)

Feminist Sticker Club

This is a pretty specific tip, but it’s cheap as heck so I’m throwing it in here. One of the wonderful women I work with told me about the Feminist Sticker Club, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For a cool $2.50/month, you get a snazzy new sticker designed by an activist artist that touches on some aspect of (intersectional!) feminism. Last month, the theme was self-love, and this month’s sticker proudly promotes trans-inclusivity. Even though I’m broke AF 90% of the time, I’m a sticker fan. Like, a HUGE sticker fan. Like, I’m running out of room on my laptop to express my opinions so that people know what they’re getting into before they even approach me. This is a great, low-cost way to support badass artists, and I actually have found that these stickers are even better quality than retail sites like Redbubble.

I have a few opinions. Like five, tops.

Going to local music shows just to support the artists and their art

As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t have the money to see my favorite artists (looking at you, Florence Welch) at an expensive music festival (directly at you, ACL). But do I have an extra ten bucks after payday to buy a ticket to a local, artist-driven showcase? Sure, why not! Even if you’ve never heard of an artist, going to their show with a few friends can be a fun, cheap night out – and you might even discover someone who will completely rock your world. (Is that a pun? It’s not supposed to be a pun.) I was lucky enough to experience this a few weeks ago at Oxford Karma’s Endless Summer event, and now I already have plans to see one of the performers, Samantha Crain, next month. I risked $10, and in return gained some lovely memories and an artist whose lyrics shake my very soul. Not a bad tradeoff, in my opinion.

Decorate your lair/space/enclave with prints and drawings from friends/local artists instead of buying mass-produced, often culturally-appropriative things from Urban Outfitters

Okay, I guess I pretty much showed my hand with this subtitle. As we move into the realm of tentative adulthood and start decorating our overpriced apartments, the desire to nest in a cool and aesthetically appealing way is strong. There are approximately 82 million reasons not to support Urban Outfitters, but from a pragmatic standpoint, things like this horrendously overpriced lamp are just one of many. When it comes to decorating, there are actually plenty of ways to think outside the box! Local shows and festivals provide a great opportunity to meet the people or organizations producing artwork, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done what you can to support your local art scene.

3.) Book It

When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks
When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks

This also might not be new information to most people, but lately I’ve realized just how many sites are available that provide cheap used textbooks and novels. It’s not always immediately apparent, but there are a lot of sites besides Chegg (which I’m still a fan of, don’t get me wrong) that provide even better prices for used books. I think it’s amazing that the world of used books has reached the internet – as Thrift Books points out, buying used textbooks and novels keeps books out of landfills and greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Also, while I realize that some may regard Amazon as one of the Worst Things Ever, sometimes it is the best or fastest option. For those times when we have to resort to its almighty stocking powers, we can at least use their charitable giving option, Amazon Smile, to do a little bit of good while we’re there (and retain Amazon Prime/Student shipping options). Below are three of the sites I’ve had luck with!

4.) Decolonize Your Meals

Because coffee just isn’t enough for me, let’s talk meals as well.


With a little creativity and a tiny bit (like, ten minutes, I swear) of planning, even us broke college kids can take steps to decolonize our diets. No, groceries aren’t cheap – but that’s where the creativity comes in. Here’s what I’m suggesting: instead of stocking up solely on pasta and Prego, for one meal a week, get the ingredients to make something vegan if you’re not vegan. Make something Mexican if your family is totally assimilated and you’re not about that shit. A package of fideo noodles and a can of crushed tomatoes are about as simple as it gets and available at most grocery stores, but they also represent a meal that my great grandmother passed along to my mother, her granddaughter-in-law. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be different. Substitution is a way to change your mindset and purchasing habits, which can ultimately lead to a shift in how we consume and approach food.

5.) Make Like Macklemore and Embrace Thrifting

Just kidding. I would never endorse Macklemore references on this blog. And really, I don’t think I even need to say it, but don’t discount (hehe) hitting up local thrift stores the next time you’re in need of some new-to-you clothing. The stigmatization of thrift store shopping can come from intensely classist assumptions, intentionally or not. If we really want to minimize our consumption and turn our support away from the often-unjust fast fashion industry, what better way to do it than putting reuse first?

The man has a point.

I get it. You’re not always going to find exactly what you want at a thrift store. But you might find a custom-made “Bob’s Wife” sweatshirt, and, in the process, you’ll be making reuse the norm while supporting local charities and small businesses.

Did you think I was kidding? Think again. This is serious business.

Bonus for Normanites: Guestroom Records’ $5 CD grab bags

I’ll be totally honest: the first time I went to Guestroom, it was in some sort of abstract hope that I would walk away magically cooler and more in tune with my own musical sensibilities. Do I have a record player? No. Do I have any money to buy a record player? Definitely no. (You’ve gathered that by now.) However, I was and am pee-your-pants excited about their CD grab bags, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. For $5, you get a hefty and very random assortment of CDs to enjoy. Not every single one might be a winner (unrelated note: is anyone interested in a thirdhand copy of the Twilight: Breaking Dawn score?), but it’s a fun and cheap way to support a smaller business and expose yourself to some random new artists.

Thanks for reading, y’all. I hope some of these suggestions have empowered you to seek affordable transitions to conscious consumerism. Comment below with your own tips!

One thought on “Conscious Consumerism: Broke College Kid Edition

  1. Audra, This is so refreshing and creative. I especially love the patronizing of a local coffee shop. We have a new one in our neighborhood and now I am definitely going to go there, motivated by the idea of putting your ideas into practice! I am also excited about the thrift shop tee shirt idea. This is a much better conversation-starter than the expensive options of buying a dog or renting a cute toddler. Just think, somebody could say to me, are you really Bob’s Wife? And I would say, no, I’m just wearing this brand new fabulous red tee that she wouldn’t be caught dead in and gave away! Your ideas are really fun on the cheap, and I hope you will think up some more fun economic ideas for the creatively-challenged!


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