How To Shop Sustainably Without Breaking the Bank

If you couldn’t tell from the theme of many of these blog posts, sustainability and consumerism is something I care deeply about. In an ideal world, I would be able to support all the ethical brands out there, giving them financial support as they change the industry from the inside out. In a cruel twist of fate, however, I am a college student with no money. That means that my budget doesn’t exactly match up with that dream. For those of you out there like me, a broke lover of the Earth, don’t worry! Though it might not feel like it at times, shopping sustainably isn’t something that has to drain your bank account. To help you out, we’ve compiled some tips on how to love the Earth without giving up your love for fashion!

Read More: To hear more tips for quitting fast fashion, check out our article here!


Image of a rack of clothing in a thrift store

I’ve seen a new trend on TikTok of people saying that you shouldn’t tell people to shop sustainably because there’s ~no ethical consumption under capitalism~. This argument often goes on to say that shopping from thrift stores is as bad as buying from fast fashion brands because it hurts poorer communities and individuals who the stores were intended for in the first place. The idea that buying clothes from thrift and consignment stores is creating a lack of clothes for poorer communities is really not based on any substantial proof or reasoning. Thrift stores often throw out stock after a certain amount of time and, additionally, receive new shipments of clothing fairly regularly. Buying from them doesn’t take clothes away from others- it keeps those clothes from being thrown away at the end of the month. 

However, it is true that the increasing popularity of thrift stores has caused prices to go up. If that’s something that you want to avoid, try shopping exclusively at Goodwill or other charity shops. These types of stores get donations of clothes, rather than buying them from the original owners, meaning that there prices stay low regardless of demand. 


Image of a phone with the app version of Depop open

One definite downfall of trying to shop exclusively at thrift stores or charity shops is that you often have to sort through rack after rack (after rack after rack) of clothes to try and find a specific item you may be looking for. If you don’t have the time or patience for that, online second-hand sellers should be your go-to! I’ll admit that buying trendy clothes on Depop might be a bit more expensive than the ideal, but that’s because the people selling on that platform are people our age who are up to date with current trends and know they can charge fifty dollars for a tennis skirt. For alternatives to Depop that might be a little cheaper albeit less trendy, check out ThredUp or These sites are great for finding really specific things you’ve been itching to own. 


Image of models posing in workout gear from Girlfriend Collective

If you do have a bit more spending money at your disposal, check out some sustainable brands that are on the cheaper side. Before listing any, I hope it goes without saying that these are not going to be fast fashion prices. I honestly think fast fashion has melted my brain a little, because whenever I see a shirt for more than $20, my gut reaction is that it’s expensive. Then I obviously realize it’s because they’re actually paying their workers, trying to use methods and materials that don’t kill the environment, producing their clothes locally, etc. So, while they may not be as cheap as some of the second-hand options, check out brands like Girlfriend Collective, Everlane, Happy Earth, and pact for some cute clothes that come without the side of guilt! An added bonus? Supporting sustainable brands shows the fashion industry that there really is a consumer demand for reasonably priced, ethical clothing meaning that larger brands may start to shift in that direction!


Image of a clothing rack with minimal clothing on it

For those of us who get instant serotonin from our online shopping, this one might be a bit less fun than the other options. However, it’s an important lesson in unlearning all the consumerist nonsense that comes with being raised in a capitalist society. If you don’t have the funds to shop at cheaper sustainable shops and don’t have access to charity shops or thrift shops, just buying less clothing will make a huge difference. Fast fashion has doubled the amount of textile waste the United States produces and a big part of that comes from the plain fact that people are buying more clothes than ever before. But even if you are able to afford sustainable brands or access thrift stores, you should still try to challenge yourself to buy less! Putting yourself in that mindset will make sure you’re only buying clothes that you really like, leading to a wardrobe full of things that you actually would wear. In short, buying less is not only good for the budget, but good for your style too!

Read More: To hear more about the sustainability movement, check out our interview with Akilah Stewart of FATRA!


Like I said at the start, being an ethical consumer doesn’t have to be a huge financial strain. There really are options for almost every price point from cool sustainable brands like Girlfriend Collective and pact to online second-hand stores to simply challenging yourself to buy less. And as always, remember to be kind to yourself if you’re starting out with shopping sustainably! We all have consumerist worms for brains that give us serotonin when we get a great deal, so trying to cut back on shopping or switch to a less cost-effective method can be hard. Any way that we can start to think critically about our behavior as consumers is a good thing, no matter how small!