Buying Stuff Does Not Help Animals

Whether you celebrate an end-of-the-year gift giving holiday or not, you can’t escape.

Buy, buy, buy.

But there’s one message that has you and me in its laser sights to tempt us to spend:

Help animals today. Ten percent of your purchase goes to (pick one—save homeless kittens, end elephant poaching, spay and neuter feral dogs).

Stuffed white bear.

If you buy me, you’ll help to save animals. Yeah, right.

But buying stuff is not the best way to help animals.

How Buying Stuff Affects Animals

When I think about how our massive consumer world economy affects animals (human and otherwise), it makes my head spin.

Many consumer goods are made from plastics and other materials derived from petroleum. Yep, massive oil fields that disrupt acres of habitat are not just providing energy. They’re also providing raw materials for cameras, pillow stuffing, compact disks, weed killer, windbreakers, and a raft of other consumer goods.

Once the oil comes out of the ground, it’s shipped around the world. In the worst situation, a tanker goes aground and leaking oil kills birds and sea creatures. In the best scenario, noise and other disturbances caused by boats affect the normal behavior of whales.

oily bird

One victim of a Black Sea oil spill.

And let’s not forget all those container ships that bring finished goods from China to North America.

Are you starting to understand why I don’t get too excited about that cute stuffed polar bear (made in China) whose tag says that 10% of the sales price will go toward to a conservation charity if you buy it?

Cause-Related Marketing

Consumer Reports published an excellent story on cause marketing. You know, those products that entice you to buy them because part of your purchase will be donated to a nonprofit organization?

Breast cancer cause marketing on box of cereal.

Think before you pink.

I found one point very interesting.

A researcher found in a 2011 study that people who bought products using cause-related marketing actually gave less in direct donations to worthy causes. And the “gift” made them feel worse than if they had made a direct donation because it’s less altruistic.

Which means that you’ll feel happier if you donate $30 to a nonprofit that protects polar bears than if you buy a $30 stuffed polar bear whose maker donates $2 to the same nonprofit.

And if spending money is often about trying to increase our happiness, we should get the “biggest bang for the buck.”

Buying With Animals In Mind

I’m a tortured capitalist.

Our massive consumer economy makes me ill. But I also recognize how much I benefit from it.

The bus I ride to the grocery story wouldn’t be built if our only businesses were local. A grocery store filled with goods means I don’t spend my days growing my own food.

And I love watching creative entrepreneurs and artists making useful and beautiful things.

Mary Hone Photography is having a sale.

One of my favorite artists is having a holiday sale. Click to find lovely and meaningful gifts.

Most of all, I love buying gifts for people I love.

Can I walk a middle ground? Get the best enjoyment of giving gifts while lessening the damage I do to humans and other animals?

I think so. Here are a few ideas.

Buy Meaningful Gifts

Seeing generic or joke gifts on a store display make me crazy. If you don’t know or like someone well enough to find a gift suited just to them, maybe you shouldn’t be buying them a gift at all.

Buy Things That Last

Nothing bugs me more than buying something just to have it fall apart. Thank goodness for online reviews. If someone else has bought the same product and had it fall apart on them, they’ll let you know online.

Every time you replace a broken item, you’re contributing to the demand that keeps massive manufacturing and shipping going.

Of course, if you really want things that last you’ll consider older products.

Buy Used

I’m not at all offended if someone buys me a gift from a thrift shop. In fact, I’m thrilled.

Especially since older items often last longer than new products. And lightly used items from a high-end company may be a better buy than something new but cheaply made.

Best of all, when you buy used, you’re keeping old products out of the waste stream and creating a lower demand for new products.

Thrift store sign.

A sign that makes my heart go pitter patter.

Buy Products From Companies That Don’t Hurt Animals

Lara Elizabeth of My Rubicon Days and Jessica of My Imperfect Dog have collaborated on a Pinterest board of companies that sell  force-free dog products—no shock collars, pinch collars, etc. I learned a lot just by checking out the boards.

And if you look for the leaping bunny logo that designates cruelty-free products, you can search their website to see if the companies you buy from have found an alternative to animal testing.

Buy Local

Buy warm socks from the llama farmer just outside of town and you’re giving a good life to a herd of particular animals while getting a great gift that didn’t travel half way around the world.

How many artists, farmers, and small entrepreneurs are selling wonderful items right in your backyard?

Buy Experiences Instead Of Stuff

Recent studies show that people feel happier when they spend their money on experiences than when they buy stuff.

If you buy someone concert tickets, they experience joy from anticipating the event, the enjoyment of the concert itself, and happy memories afterward.

Or even better, choose an experience that directly helps animals.

My sister recently returned from a vacation in Mexico. What she talked about the most was taking part in a volunteer project to help hatchling sea turtles. Maybe your gift could be going with someone you love to build nesting platforms for ospreys. Or signing up with your partner to socialize cats or walk dogs at your local shelter.

Baby sea turtle.

A baby sea turtle.

Buy An Alternative Gift

My town has an annual Alternative Gift Fair.

Local nonprofits gather to ask for donations for worthy causes. You can make the donation in the name of someone you love and present them with a gift card.

Would someone on your gift list prefer having a donation made to support the medical needs of senior dogs in shelters over getting a fruitcake or singing bass on a plaque?

Don’t Buy, DYI

And finally, can you repurpose something around the house into a special gift?

My sister got all the artistic and crafty genes in our family. But I did manage to make a tug toy for Mike and Honey by braiding leftover scraps of fleece I had hanging around the house.

The tug toys are still around two years later and they cost me nothing but a little bit of time. Honey seems to prefer them to some of the harder tug toys we have hanging around the house.

Carolers celebrate buy nothing day.

Celebrating Buy Nothing Day.

Happy Buy Nothing Day

Every year I celebrate the day after Thanksgiving as Buy Nothing Day. It’s a great excuse to avoid the craziness of bargain hunters.

Perhaps the best way to handle gift buying season that benefits animals is to spend a day off from work to play with your dog, cat, rat, or guinea pig.

Honey the golden retriever plays with Zoe the foster puppy.

It’s play time.

After all, the gift our own animals love best is the gift of time. And there are worse ways to spend a day than playing with your dog.

Like shopping.

And buying stuff never helped a single animal.

photo credits: (stuffed bear) JD Hancock via photopin cc, (oily bird) marinephotobank via photopin cc, (cause marketing) TheeErin via photopin cc, (thrift store) quinn.anya via photopin cc, (baby sea turtle) missy & the universe via photopin cc, (Buy Nothing carolers)monkeypuzzle via photopin cc. To learn more about the photographers, click on the images.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. That is all so very true. I read an article yesterday that said if you buy from a small local company, most of the profit stays in the town. If you buy from a large big box store, only 10% of the profit stays in the town. That right there is a good reason to Shop Small.

    • And local business owners can respond to the needs of their local community as well.

      My mom complained at a WalMart that the temperature in the store was too hot. She was told that decisions about the store temperature came from Arkansas. How crazy is that?

  2. And thanks for including me in your post!!!!

  3. Mom buys gifts all year long. Why wait for the mad rush right now and not be able to find the right thing. When she sees something that would be perfect for someone’s birthday or Christmas she buys it and keeps it until that occasion. We don’t buy just to buy either. We do sometimes buy pet food like the Merrick promotion because we enjoy eating it on a holiday and they donate meals to shelters. We get a few extra cans and donate them ourselves. Buying just to buy is stupid and Mom stays out of the stores pretty much from today until the end of the year because she can’t stand this shopping craze and the crowds.

    • I enjoy being out and about during the holiday shopping season. I love the decorations and the ice carvings that stand in front of our local stores.

      But I’m with your mom t about thinking about good gifts all season long. It’s easier to pay attention to what’s important to the people you love that way because you’re not rushing around.

      It’s great that you donate food to your local shelter. Our is always looking for help too.

  4. Over the years we’ve developed a no gifts policy for Christmas. We make a family donation to a charity back in our home town. None of us ‘needs’ anything so why waste the time & money.

    • That’s a great idea. I enjoy gift-giving season too much to forego it completely. But we try to keep our giving to a few meaningful gifts along with gifts to others that need it more than we do.

  5. Great post! I have been brainwashed by advertisers and marketers. And I didn’t know how deep it went until the day I realized I couldn’t remember what I had for lunch last Tuesday, but I could remember a jingle from over 20 years ago. I still struggle with the buying urge, especially when I don’t feel good about me.

    • And it’s negative feelings about ourselves that marketers are trying to tap into.

      Luckily, we have lots of recent research that tells us that if we can resist the marketing messages for a moment, we’ll be happier giving something to someone else. Or at least engaging in wonderful experiences instead of buying stuff.

      BTW, when I remember a 20 year old advertising jingle, I worry about all the really valuable information my brain doesn’t have room for. :)

  6. Every now and then I’ll buy something from the animal rescue site IF I like it and/or need it; but that’s about it. Everything else I buy “to help animals” is in donation form to either Morris Animal Foundation, Grey Muzzle Organization, or some other charitable organization. Last year I gave some to Edie’s “Frankie’s Fund”. As for other shopping? I stay FAR AWAY from the shopping malls as much as possible throughout the year, especially between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. When possible, I prefer to shop small but don’t always have the option.

    • PS. I also give to the “Go Fund Me” type donation sites for specific dogs in need, like Jen’s Brown Newfie, Leroy, a couple of months ago.

      • I thought Edie’s Frankie’s Fund was a wonderful way to honor her pup and deal with her loss. And I know I feel better for when I give to someone else than when I just buy stuff.

        Sounds like you discovered the secret doesn’t lie in buying stuff already.

  7. I like to use the Greater Good site (Animal Rescue, Hunger etc.) for gifts and I can click everyday to help others. I am able to give the gifts, explain the site and hopefully encourage more people to click and give. Win/win!

  8. I don’t shop on holidays – I’d rather have local stores closed so the employees can spend time at home. I have always been leery of “cause” shopping – I’d rather donate directly to organizations. The commercialization of Christmas has redirected our family in helping other families that have a real need. Tiffany is cancer free, and my family is safe and healthy. What more could a girl want? Oh yeah – and I have a Doodle named Harley – life is pawfect. I need nothing!

    • And recognizing your blessings is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

      And yes, I’m with you about hoping store employees could spend time with their family. We’re not exactly talking about fire houses or hospitals here.

  9. I stopped requesting things for Christmas last year. I did it out of spite, I was annoyed with my boyfriend and just told him that I was fine and didn’t need anything. But shortly after, I realized I was fine and didn’t need anything. Instead I’d rather have something for us, for our house, for our dogs.

    And mostly, I’d like a period of time for just us. We don’t have that very much.

  10. It’s so true!! I have to say this year I am being super thrifty and other than buying the containers for my good to go in, I am making biscuits and sweets for friends and family!