As Earth Day approaches, retailers will be boasting eco-friendly products, but living a life devoted to the environment doesn’t have to mean buying pricey, sustainably grown, organic, local coffee or a brand-new hybrid vehicle. In fact, little choices we make every single day can be good for the planet as well as our pocketbooks.
“Being green does not have to be expensive—quite to the contrary,” says Leah Ingram, author of Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In and the Suddenly Frugal Blog, which frequently covers the topic of being simultaneously environmentally conscious and thrifty. “In fact, in most cases the lowest-cost option is also the most environmentally friendly.”
Food and dining
1. Swear off individually wrapped foods: cheese sticks, applesauce, raisins, yogurt, breakfast cereal, instant oatmeal, soup-in-a-cup—even soda and juice. The smaller the package, the higher the per-unit price, and the more junk for the garbage truck to haul. Instead, buy the largest container available and divvy into portable packages for lunches and road trips.
2. To save on energy costs when cooking small items, fire up your toaster oven instead of the conventional oven. And remember: For warming, microwave ovens beat conventional.
3. Eliminate meat from your diet one day a week. Meat, chicken, and fish are usually far more expensive than other forms of protein (dairy, beans, nuts, tofu) and more environmentally taxing to raise, slaughter/harvest, and ship. Plus, a healthier diet could mean better health—and fewer health-care expenses.
4. Compost. By turning food scraps into mulch, you reduce contributions to the landfill and improve the quality of your soil, which in turn promotes healthier vegetation and improves air quality. Plus, it cuts the need for costly and toxic plant fertilizers.
5. Cook. Instead of turning to takeout, restaurants, or prepared foods from the store, cook from scratch. It is far thriftier and greener.
6. While you’re at it, cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers in meal-size containers. You gain efficiencies in food, energy, and labor by whipping up giant loads of stew, pasta sauce, or roasts. Keeping a stockpile of your home cooking in the freezer is a cheaper, healthier, and greener alternative to frozen or restaurant meals.
7. Wash and reuse empty food jars and plastic containers instead of buying plastic containers.
8. Likewise, tote around a reusable mug. Many coffee shops—Starbucks included—offer a discount when you bring in a reusable coffee cup.
9. Say no to bottled water! Wash and refill bottles with tap water—filtered if you must.
10. Invest in cloth napkins. These lovely linens replace the lifetime expense of buying paper products, which have a big carbon impact in their production and disposal.
Home and personal goods
11. Create a neighborhood co-op for rarely used tools. Think you’ll only use a chain saw once every few years? What about a belt sander or pressure washer? Coordinate these big purchases with friends or neighbors. Since they are used so infrequently, you won’t face a custody battle, and you’ll reduce the environmental impact created with each purchase.
12. Skip the expensive “green” cleaners and rely on vinegar, baking soda, and club soda. Cheap, simple, and easy on the earth!
13. Buy (don’t build) a smaller home. Mansions are cool and all, but the construction alone requires an abundance of environment-taxing materials, plus proportionally expensive and toxic heating bills.
14. Put on a freakin’ sweater. You’ve heard it before: In the winter, park your thermostat at 68 degrees, and adjust your apparel if necessary.
15. Become an eBay/thrift store/garage sale devotee. Used goods are cheaper than new, of course. But they are also greener since they do not produce the pollution generated in the manufacture and shipment of new products.
16. Get a library card. When did we stop checking out books and start spending our hard-earned dough on forest-destroying hardcovers and DVDs shipped around the world?
17. Invest in high-quality, classic styles. Whether it’s clothes, furniture, or accessories, save up for some fantastic pieces that will last for years—maybe even the rest of your life. Going classy will save you big bucks and save the earth by eliminating the need to produce and dispose of consumer goods. Plus, you get to enjoy fabulous belongings before passing them on as heirlooms.
Work and commuting
18. Think before you print. There’s a good chance that most of what you print on your home printer can go on the clean side of scrap paper—driving directions, coupons, to-do lists. Also remember to save money on printer cartridges by selecting the “fast” and “gray scale” options for most print jobs. Increase the margins to reduce page count—and paper usage. Even better, see how much printing you can eliminate by sending information (directions, lists) to your smartphone.
19. Designate one day per week as green-commuting day. Bike, walk, use public transit, or carpool to school or the office. Saves cash on gas and pricey wear and tear on your vehicle. The earth (and your fellow breathers) will thank you.
20. Keep your old car running, opposed to buying a new set of wheels. A 2004 study by Toyota found that 28 percent of a gas-powered car’s carbon dioxide emissions are generated during its manufacture and transport to the dealer.
Emma Johnson lives in New York City, where she writes about the intersect of money and life. She is a contributor to coupon site RetailMeNot.com.