The coronavirus pandemic continues to illustrate the inherent structural inequalities of our economy. In addition to mass unemployment, the closing of local store-fronts and restaurants threatens the existence of small businesses, and whole industries like travel and hospitality have ground to a halt.

Millions of Americans are too financially vulnerable and unstable to participate in the economy that is disproportionately benefiting the top 10% who already own 90% of the wealth, perpetuating a trend of inequality eerily similar to what we saw a hundred years ago.

In the face of such a climate, is it possible to step away for a moment, and ask ourselves, “what work can we do to bring about the necessary change for the good of the whole?”

Economic Considerations as a Spiritual Path 

Once you embark on a journey to live intentionally, you become an example for others to observe and follow. As we work to integrate what we learn in meditation and self-reflection into every aspect of our lives, we may ask ourselves what else we can do outside of traditional spiritual practices to live a more ethical, responsible life in harmony with our neighbors and the planet. 

While our spending habits rarely feel like an avenue for spiritual thought, the choices we make as consumers have enormous impacts on ourselves, our neighbors, and the world around us. Here are five ways you can reframe your thinking around consumption choices:

1) Take a Minimalist Approach 

The philosophy of Minimalism invites us to question how many of our material possessions actually add value to our life. By clearing the physical clutter and unnecessary possessions from our life, we can all make room mentally for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution”, and space for spiritual reflection and inner growth. 

The environmental impacts of minimalism are also important to consider, as less waste is produced with this lifestyle. Considering millennials and younger generations are increasingly conscious of their impacts on the world, the minimalism trend has caused retailers to reconsider their own carbon and social footprints in order to survive in the dwindling traditional retail market. 

The biggest benefit in adopting a minimalist philosophy is a mental shift from compulsively acquiring more possessions to actively discerning whether a given item is of benefit to you. This change in thinking is not only freeing in a time of tightened finances, but also creates a framework in which all of our habitual choices can be made more intentional.  

2) Be a Climate Change-Aware Consumer 

While it may be grabbing most of the headlines, the pandemic is not the only serious crisis we’re facing. Climate change continues to accelerate with no sign of slowing down, raising the possibility of environmental cataclysm within the next century unless drastic action is taken.

A new emerging approach to consumerism suggests that if consumers around the world actively directed their spending power towards goods and services with lower carbon footprints, you could use capitalism and the power of the free market (typically considered the enemies of environmentalism) to drive a revolution towards energy efficiency.  

An interesting point to consider with products and their environmental impacts is that not only do environmentally-conscious products lower carbon footprints, but they can also save money in the long run. Furthermore, making decisions that ultimately help the environment can create a domino effect of influencing others around us to make similar purchasing decisions. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers a few tips for making informed purchases, such as choosing items with recycled or recyclable content, sourcing food from sustainable farms, purchasing biodegradable cleaning products, and avoiding overly-packaged items.

3) Support Local and Small Businesses

Circular economics is an economic model that looks to build economic, social, and natural capital. Its three main principles are 1) designing out waste and pollution, 2) keeping products and materials in use, and 3) regenerating natural systems. Circular economics hopes to eventually build “long-term resilience, [generate] business and economic opportunities, and [provide] environmental and societal benefits.” 

Supporting local and ethical businesses is a key part of the circular economic model, as the money spent at community retailers is quickly transferred back into the local economy. This symbiotic relationship stimulates economic growth, expanding goods and services at the local level instead of the money going to large-scale corporations that may not have the best interests of the community at heart. 

4) Tithing

Charitable giving has been the key to addressing some of the world’s most gripping issues. Research has shown that in order to continue the fight against things like global poverty and disease, a significant amount of capital is needed. 

The issue, as has been found by the philanthropic research group The NewTithing Group, is that many are donating “in a piecemeal fashion” and only realizing the total of their giving after filing their taxes. This method leads to a lack of perspective from the donors on their potential impact through tithing. 

Consider, instead, tithing: making the economic choice to pull 10% of your income to a cause, community, or spiritual practice that is meaningful to you. “Giving 10% of your income is a huge leap of faith for anyone. How do you start something great like tithing?” Andrew McNair the founder and C.E.O. of SWAN Capital, and author of ‘Tithe: A Living Testimony’ wrote for Forbes. “When you give to a cause that you believe in, be it a charity or a church, you connect in a higher manner to the cause.” McNair suggests that there is a lot of truth to the idiom, ‘put your money where your mouth is.’

If charitable giving and tithing are simply not financially feasible for you right now, volunteering your time to a local charity can be one of the most valuable donations you can give!

5) Consider Adopting the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Approach 

The Financially Independent, Retire Early (FIRE) model is an exercise to determine excess spending in order to limit your unnecessary spending habits and desires. And it doesn’t necessarily have to fall into the “grind until you make your money and stop working forever” mentality. 

Instead, you might consider participating in the workforce only as a means of becoming financially independent enough to live a fulfilling, experience-based way of life. The FIRE model, in turn, helps fund a comfortable future while allowing for enjoyment of the present.