10 Tricks To Help You Live Sustainably AND Save Money

Publish date:
July 22, 2014

Last time I shopped at the organic, local foods market around the corner, I was disappointed to find that I could barely afford… an eco-friendly hairbrush! As “living green” becomes more hip n’ happenin’ (thank you upper middle class for your interest! Now please go buy your $100,000 TESLAs and leave me and my cheapo gas-guzzler in peace), it has become increasingly difficult to live sustainably on a tight budget. Organic bananas for $1 more per banana? Uhhh….

But, over the years, I have accrued some tips on how to cut corners on your waste/consumption patterns, and save money while doing it. Who knows -- maybe you’ll even be able to splurge on those organic bananas. Maybe.

1. Reuse Plastic/Glass Containers instead of buying TupperWare.

Ever wonder why all those goddamned hipsters drink out of mason jars? Unlike the skinny jean obsession, there may actually be a logical reason behind this trend. Jars (and other reusable containers) are free with the purchase of… anything. Pasta sauce, marinated artichoke hearts, pitted olives, peanut butter—you name it, it comes in a reusable glass package.

Put the first R in RRR to good use: reuse all those plastic and glass packaging instead of throwing them away and buying more. Save them, wash them out really well, and then re-use them as cups or storage containers for tomorrow’s lunch. (Bonus: I’ve noticed a few stores that have begun offering to refill your old containers when you make purchases, rather than forcing you to buy new ones—this trend is still on the up and up, so keep your eyes open for it.)

2. Buy your yogurt in bulk.

This way you’ll be spending less money per ounce of foods and you’ll be continually gaining large investment pieces for your newly sustainable faux-Tupper-Ware collection.

3. Just Say No… To Bags.

Have you ever realized that every single time you purchase anything, whether it be $230 of groceries or a pack of gum, your items are bagged. Why do I need a huge swath of plastic wrap for a pack of gum that is already plastic-wrapped? I will admit there are certain times when having your stuff bagged by the store is helpful, but the unadulterated bagging that goes on in our society is shameful. It’s excessive. It’s entitled. It’s… causing there to be no room left for me to live in my own apartment.

Need more motivation? Bringing your own bags has been proven (by me) to help you limit yourself when you go shopping, thereby saving you money on unnecessary grocery items. It is way more difficult to impulse-buy those cute ginger bars by the register at Trader Joe’s when your bagging real estate is limited.

4. Step away from the Crate and Barrel Art.

Rather than buying that boring, mass-produced poster from a pile of a thousand at T.J. Maxx, you should get artwork from your friends. After all, that is why they do art! It will give you both exposure (them for their art, you for your good taste in acquiring art) and it will beat whatever lame blossoming-flower-over-a-magical-sunset print that you were about to buy for fifteen dollars from Home Goods.

5. Water bottles.

I couldn’t be talking about how to save money and the earth without mentioning water bottles. We have all, individually, probably consumed our body weight (and then some) in disposable plastic water bottles over the span of our lifetimes. Think about every time you’ve used one and then tossed it away—sports games, hot city days, nights at home... Where do you think all these bottles go?? (Hint: they end up chillin’ alongside the plastic bags, individual yogurt containers, and toilet paper swamps we like to call The Ocean…).

Carrying a reusable water bottle around saves you A TON of money, causes you to hydrate more often, and drastically reduces global plastic waste (as well as your part in global clean water exploitation). It may feel annoying at first to carry a water bottle around, but it soon becomes a part of you, like a good friend that’s always by your side.

6. Kick Your Compulsive Online Shopping Habit: Buy Things In Person.

Despite the world’s push that “paper-free” equals “going green,” it isn’t quite that simple. And it definitely isn’t possible to claim that buying things online is better for the environment, or the community, than buying them in person. Online buying can be the worst of globalization: buying something that is sold half a world away from a huge impersonalized warehouse sitting whoknowswhere which employs either undocumented or underpaid people to do the faceless work of packaging and storage. While this field is thriving, other fields, such as local business and small retail operations, are dwindling.

So the next time you need to buy a new hairbrush, think about walking to the local general store and purchasing it from a living teller rather than typing it into Amazon and clicking buy. While it may seem like you’re spending more money, you will be surprised to see how much less you buy if you make all your purchases in person. Something about the physicality of getting to the store, seeing the items, and interacting with a store clerk, makes the money feel more real, and therefore, causes you to spend less of it.

7. Compost.

It sounds daunting, but this is pretty easy to achieve on your own. And once you start throwing your food waste away separately, your life (and garbage bill) will literally change. The garbage won’t smell as bad, won’t need to be taken out as often, and most importantly, will contribute much less to landfills. And it is fun! Soon, throwing eggshells and melon rinds in the garbage with all the stretchy plastic grocery bags will seem abhorrent, and you’ll wince every time you’re cooking at a friend’s and don’t have the option to compost. You can either buy a compost bin for relatively cheap OR you can make your own. Look into what your city’s compost laws are, and if they don’t have a citywide compost, then get creative in your backyard/on your kitchen window! Bonus: free soil!

8. Use less toilet paper.

Ladies and gents: toilet paper adds up. There is probably an entire swamp somewhere made up of toilet paper creatures that glide along pulpy lagoons in their own stink. They don’t need more friends. Think about them (and all the money you’re spending) the next time you pull more than five quilted squares from your TP roll.

9. Relax with your flushing.

I know, the nursery rhyme (if it’s yellow, let it mellow dot dot dot) sounds so passé, but in the spirit of retro = cool, then let’s seriously analyze this jingle. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. Aka: don’t flush every time you pee! Do you know how much water and money you waste every time you hit that flusher? Just think: energy bill + water bill + wasted water = poverty and more tainted liquid for the infamous TP lagoon creatures to feed on. If you live with friends, call everyone together and maybe experiment with a flush-every-third time policy. It may seem gross at first, but soon you’ll get so used to it that you’ll start wondering how to convince all your other friends to do it too.

10. Buy fresh produce over frozen.

It may seem more expensive in the moment, but it will pay for itself in the long run, because if it is fresh than that means it will spoil, and so you’ll be forced to use it. Frozen food is the cause of much of our destructive mass-agro farming craze, and requires insane amounts of chemicals and electricity throughout every minute of its existence. Buying vegetables fresh supports farms (depending on where you buy from), and is a really good habit to get into.