There’s a common misconception that having an eco-friendly lifestyle means you have to spend a lot of money, but that simply isn’t true — many green lifestyle changes are as light on the earth as they are on your wallet.
Here is a list of some conscious lifestyle habits that will be good for your budget and for the planet.
1. Buy Less
You do not need to buy anything to get started with an eco-conscious lifestyle. The most important thing is actually to buy less!
While buying cute glass jars might fit the ‘zero waste aesthetic’, making use of any which jar and container you have is actually the most sustainable choice.
And, when you do need something, see if your family and friends could loan it to you or if they would sell/give it to you.
Use up every last drop of that shampoo, toothpaste, or soap. Try to see if there is another use for the packaging that the last thing you purchased came in. Ended up with plastic? See if you can find another use (or three) with it.
You can also check your local “Buy Nothing” group (often hosted via Facebook groups) to see if anyone is giving away something that you may need.
And before you fork over major cash for those infrequently used items (ladders, power-washers, etc), check to see if you can borrow from a neighbor. Or, you can rent what you need at a nearby home and garden store.
The idea of “conscious consumerism” is too often limited to where you buy from, but it’s also about how much. No matter what brand you’re buying from, excess consumption is going to have a heavy toll on the planet.
Of course, there are times where we do need something and in those cases we should try to make as intentional purchases as possible. But buying stuff we don’t need from conscious brands is not actually eco-friendly — and it’s certainly not budget-friendly!
2. Shop Secondhand First
Looking pre-loved first is always a good decision! And it’s a habit that could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the year.
While you may not always find everything you need secondhand, you might just be surprised at just how much you can find.
Browsing your local thrift store or charity shop is a low impact way to find items secondhand, but this isn’t always accessible or convenient, so you can also expand your search by looking at online secondhand stores.
For anything & everything:
- Facebook Marketplace
For fashion:18 Online Secondhand Stores to Buy and Sell Pre-Loved Clothing]
For furniture & home goods:
- Apartment Therapy Bazaar
- AptDeco (available in NY, SF area and Philadelphia currently)
- OfferUp and apps like it
This is just a sampling of the secondhand marketplaces that are out there! Next time you need something, just type in “used X” and you’ll probably happen across a site with what you need.
Just watch out for ads in these searches — sometimes companies will advertise new products alongside used ones on Google or on sites like eBay and OfferUp.
3. Invest in the Highest Quality That You Can
I know that this one might not seem like it actually belongs in a guide about saving money, but hear me out!
Investing in a higher quality product one time that will last you for decades is going to save you money in the long run compared to purchasing a cheap version of that product every year for the next 10 years.
While high-quality items are usually more expensive, there are two caveats here.
A) Not all expensive items are actually high quality. You might just be paying for the brand name or the convenience of something. Buy Me Once is a great resource for finding items that have been vetted and are truly high quality. Some products on their site even come with a lifetime guarantee!
B) You can still find quality items for an affordable price by looking secondhand. While vintage items can get quite expensive, used furniture, clothing, etc. can often be found at a fraction of the retail price. It can be shocking to see what people are willing to sell for cheap or even give away, especially when they are moving or redecorating.
Spending that bit more upfront for quality (aluminum over plastic, 100% cotton vs. a cotton-poly blend, solid wood furniture over plywood, etc.) will pay dividends of savings over time.
This isn’t accessible to everyone as it requires having a certain amount of disposable income at any one time, so if this isn’t possible for you, don’t sweat it! Do what you can with where you are and what you have. Every step counts!
4. Find Reusable Versions
Similarly, paying a bit more for a reusable version of your everyday essentials can save you a TON of money over the years.
Some of my favorite reusable swaps that save money are:
Using a reusable water bottle (and filtration system if needed) instead of getting plastic bottles
Getting period underwear, cloth pads and a menstrual cup instead of single-use pads and tampons. [Read more about menstrual care swaps in this guide.]
Cloth towels instead of paper towels. It’s actually crazy that paper towels are even a thing when you think about it. We’re paying to have trees cut down just to use something that is just an inferior version of a towel. While you want to keep a paper towel roll on hand just in case of big messes or when you can’t get to laundry, they definitely do not need to be used as hand towels or dish towels on the regular.
You also don’t even necessarily have to buy anything for this — you can cut up rags of old t-shirts or bath towels!
Cloth napkins. Another big waste of paper are single-use napkins. Skip the paper and go with the (much softer) reusable alternative: cloth napkins.
Reusable bags. This one won’t necessarily save a ton of money (though stores have savings programs for bringing in your own bags: 10 cents off per bag at Whole Foods and 5 cents off per bag at Trader Joe’s and Target), but it’s such a simple switch! And you might even have tote bags laying around your house already that you could use.
There are many many more reusables that can save you money, but those were just a few of my favorites.
5. Reduce Food Waste
This is a huge one! 108 billion pounds of food — worth over $161 billion — is wasted each year in the United States alone.
One study found that the average American consumer wastes $1,300 per year on food that goes to waste.
Produce and fresh foods going bad too soon?
It’s important for us to know how to store our food for maximum freshness so that it doesn’t go bad before we’ve had a chance to eat it!
Don’t know what to cook with what you’ve got?
Supercook is a really neat resource that allows you to enter in the ingredients you have, and then it searches the web to find you recipes to make with those ingredients.
Have food “on the edge”?
Get creative! Use veggie scraps for a veggie soup or stock, turn stale bread into croutons, make a banana bread out of slightly-too-ripe bananas… you get the idea!
Closed Loop Cooking has plenty of ideas for cooking with food scraps, unconventional often-wasted parts of foods (like banana peels and almond pulp), and produce that’s near its expiration.
Food going to waste on the regular?
- Have a use-it-up week each month dedicated to using the food you have left in your pantry or fridge.
- Do some rough meal planning for more intentional grocery shopping
- Before buying a “deal” or getting a super sized version of something for a better price, be realistic about what you or your family can actually consume. It’s not really a deal, if you have to toss half of it away at the end of the week!
6. If It’s Broke, Fix it!
When something breaks, tears, or rips, try to repair it instead of donating it or tossing it out. There are YouTube tutorials for seriously everything!
And iFixit has in-depth repair guides for just about anything in your household, from appliances and tools to tech and medical devices. It’s a fantastic resource to have bookmarked on your browser.
7. Conscious Laundering
Save water, energy, time, and money by simply washing less! Washing machines and machine dryers are energy-intensive appliances, so using them less frequently will be lighter on your planet while also reducing your monthly energy bill.
Concerned about smells? Check out this guide to getting rid of smells without a washing machine.
When you do wash, wash on cold, since about 90% of the energy used by a washing machine goes to heating the water.
Drying less can also be a game changer. Grist even reported that dryers might be the biggest energy waster in your home!
You can air-dry your clothes instead by line drying them or using a collapsible drying rack. My collapsible drying rack is one of my favorite items to use because it’s just so smart! These racks let you air dry even in a small space.
And air drying allows me to keep my clothes looking good for so much longer.[Check out this post for more sustainable clothing care tips.]
8. Ride Green
A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the EPA. And, as you know already, the typical vehicle also costs a whole lot of money!
While you may not be able to give up a car completely (though if you can, definitely go for it!), are there some ways that you could reduce the amount that you drive?
Are there places you can get to by public transit?
Could you bike to shorter distances?
Could you carpool with a co-worker or peer to work or school?
Even replacing a car ride with these alternatives a couple times a week can make a big different on your monthly budget — and carbon footprint.
9. Be Energy Smart
The average American household spends $1,368 on electricity annually. But there are some easy ways to reduce those costs!
Unplug devices when you’re not using them. Keeping electronics plugged in when you’re not using them, like TVs, video game consoles, and computers can still suck energy — and cost you money. In fact, about 10% of the average electric bill is just from devices that were turned ‘off’!
Go efficient when buying new. When you need a new appliance, look for the most efficient version you can.
Go lighter on the A/C. If you have air conditioning, could you leave it a couple degrees higher than you’re used to? Perhaps using a small portable fan can keep you cool without using so much electricity. Or maybe you could just dress cooler!
And same goes for the heat! Save money on your electric or natural gas bill by keeping it a few degrees cooler and throwing on a sweater and thick socks.
*Note: Please take or leave whatever shifts you are able to do! Only you know your unique situation and time, money, ability, medical conditions, etc. can all be barriers. You don’t have to do 100% of this list or be perfect to get into an eco-friendly lifestyle. Do what you have with what you can where you are!
Are there any other eco-friendly lifestyle changes you’ve made — or just habits you’ve always had — that have saved you money?