Questions to Ask Before You Shop

A campaign urges shoppers to ask whether they really want to go through with that purchase.

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A poster listing spending advice
A poster listing spending advice

Mindless spending might be endemic to American consumerism, but a credit card sleeve campaign aims to reverse that trend, or at least to slow it. A series of questions posed by the nonprofit Jews United for Justice encourages shoppers to pause and reflect on the true value and impact of their purchases before going through with them.

The credit card sleeve is designed to help people “apply their highest values during the most mundane parts of their lives—everyday purchases,” explains Jews United for Justice Executive Director Jacob Feinspan. The group is dedicated to motivating “people to take action based on their faith. Religion isn’t just about what we do when we’re sitting in the pew,” he adds.

The card sleeves urge people to ask questions before making purchases, including: “Is this something I need?” “Can I borrow, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?” “Will this purchase enhance the meaning and joy in my life?”

The questions were partially inspired by a project launched by the Center for a New American Dream called the Wallet Buddy. The Wallet Buddy, which also slips over a credit or debit card, asks: “Do I need this and do I need it now?” ”Was it made sustainably?” and “Is it worth the money?” among other questions.

Jews United for Justice also publishes a more in-depth purchasing guide for Jewish families planning big events, including bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings, who want to align their purchases with their values. The guide, called “Green and Just Celebrations,” helps families host events that are environmentally friendly, supportive of local businesses, and otherwise beneficial to the community.

“People aren’t used to spending $10,000 or $25,000 on an event, so the guide is designed to help people make those spending choices line up with your values. It could be sourcing your food locally or hiring a caterer that’s also a job-training site for homeless of formerly homeless teens,” says Feinspan.

Jews United for Justice launched the credit card sleeve as an offshoot of that larger project. Just like a prayer shawl that wraps around one’s shoulders during prayer, it serves as a “physical reminder of our connection with creation and with God,” says Feinspan.

Since the organization first started distributing the sleeves in 2008 through local synagogues, it has handed out around 8,000 of them. It also posted the wording online, so anyone who wants to create a do-it-yourself version can do so at home.

“When we hand them out, people usually say, ‘I can never buy anything again, because the answer to one of these questions is always no,’ or ‘Can I have three more, so I can give them to my husband and kids?’” says Feinspan.

The idea of pausing to ask questions before purchasing appears to be spreading: Feinspan has since heard of other organizations creating similar credit card sleeves for their members, slightly customized for their own beliefs or culture. He adds, “People are excited for tools that will help them be more thoughtful about purchasing choices, and also to help them not spend money in ways that makes them feel empty afterwards.”

Twitter: @alphaconsumer