The Real Cost of Cheap Flip-Flops

I used to think I was getting a great deal when I found flip-flops for under $2 a pair. Until I found out how much they really cost. For me, it was 1 MacBook Pro computer, 9 months of mild shoulder pain and limited use of my shoulder, 1 microscopic shoulder surgery, a 3 day migraine from hell (including 2 emergency room visits) and still to come, 2-3 months of physical therapy. I’m just glad the migraine part is over, and hope that I never have to endure pain like that again.

Are you wondering, what does this have to do with me?

Simply put this ordeal reminded me that there are hidden costs to everything we buy. This includes production materials, labor, environmental impact, packing, shipping, and the ultimate destination of the materials (which is hopefully passing down to the next generation). Next time you are adding something to your shopping basket (real or virtual) think for a moment about what it takes to produce that item and how long it will last. Hidden costs can be anything as seemingly innocuous as unnecessary waste in landfills to the devastating death of a child who contracts an antibiotic resistant strain of e-coli (see Kevin’s Law).

If you’re starting to head down the thought track “that’s too overwhelming” toward “I give up”… Please, read on. You can turn this into a simple task by picking one item at a time and taking a few minutes to dig a little deeper into the hidden costs. For larger purchases, you probably don’t go out and spend huge amounts of money without doing a little research first, right? Well, just incorporate a few minutes to learn about how it’s produced and if there are any more sustainable options out there. For everyday purchases, pick one or two items at a time and try to learn more. It might be a good idea to start with the things that you purchase often. This is a great way to start making small changes that can add up; as the saying goes, “Vote with your dollar!”

Here are a few ways I’ve changed my purchases:

  • Think quality and value over time. Avoid plastic when there are wood, glass, stainless steel or other natural alternatives. The materials last much longer (making the purchase cheaper in the long run) and you typically won’t expose yourself to as many chemicals.
  • Buy food from the source. Generally a smaller/local farm will be more sustainable and you can ask questions directly of the people who produce the food.
  • Try to buy reusable instead of disposable. I recently purchased unpaper towels and love them. I use them for everything I used to use paper towels for, wash them in the sink and hang them to dry. They dry really fast (no stinky smell or mold) and are great even in an apartment with no washer/dryer on site.
  • Buy handmade items. One hidden cost of many mass produced items is the tiny wages workers often make. When you buy a handmade item from the maker, you can be sure who you’re giving your dollar to.
  • Learn about labels such as fair trade, certified organic, grass feed, free range, shade grown, post-consumer recycled material, free and clear, etc and start to purchase items with the labels you want to support.

Have you made any changes in your shopping after finding out about a hidden cost?