By Cora Gold, Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist
The prices of life’s necessities, like housing, health care, and food, continue to soar. The Great Resignation aside, salaries still haven’t kept pace with inflation for a long time – and more and more families feel the pinch each month when they balance their checkbooks.
The problem compounds when you want to be eco-conscious and do your part to address climate change. Suggestions like “walk to work” sound doable unless your schedule demands hopping from one gig to the next or commuting longer distances. And the price of organic produce? Forget about it.
However, it is possible to save cash and the planet at the same time. Here’s how to live more sustainably on a budget.
1. Cut Down Your Energy Bill
Drafts only qualify as pleasant breezes when you intentionally crack a door or window. Otherwise, they’re leeches sucking up your utility dollars like vampires and making you uncomfortably cold.
If your windows are ancient, you might have no choice but to spring for a full replacement. The same goes if the condensation between panes grows so thick you can’t see your front porch. However, don’t despair. Opting for newer, energy-efficient models can save you 25% on your home heating and cooling costs.
What if you’re among the nation’s many struggling renters, and your landlord says no to upgrades? Caulk can stop many minor leaks and costs less than $20 at many hardware stores. Most jurisdictions allow you to deduct the cost of minor fixes from your rent.
However, if you think your particular property manager will raise a stink, you can go for the ultimate economical and ecological fix. Do you have an old candle jar with bits of wax still clinging inside? Remove them by pouring boiling water into the container and letting the excess float to the top. Use it as a makeshift caulk to fix that leak, saving energy and pennies.
Your doors, likewise, can cause hot air to escape in the winter and cool air to escape in summer. However, you can address it in several ways. Weather-stripping costs little and is easy to apply. You can also get crafty with old pillows, blankets, and T-shirts, creating cute homemade draft-stoppers.
2. Go Solar a Little at a Time
You might already know that the federal solar energy tax credits are slated to expire in 2024 unless Congress renews them. However, deadlines don’t matter when you don’t have the cash for a full install. Plus, there’s the pesky problem of not wanting to pay your hard-earned money to enhance your landlord’s property if you rent. What do you do if you want sustainable energy?
You have two options. One is to invest in portable panels. A single 100-watt panel might be enough to power your refrigerator, depending on size. A small setup could fuel your home office needs each day. Best of all, you can take your panel(s) with you when you move – or declare home prices so ridiculous that you’d prefer RV life over perpetually enriching your landlord.
Another option is to switch to a solar energy cooperative. In these scenarios, groups band together to produce solar power, letting apartment dwellers buy into their grid. Ace Hardware uses such a model to fuel its stores. Individuals can buy into large cooperatives like Amicus and Arcadia Power.
3. Start a Compost Bin
Fertilizer costs a pretty penny at the nursery. Why pay for multiple bags when you can make it at home for free from your scraps?
It doesn’t take much savvy or space to build a compost bin. You can build one for free using wooden pallets that you can pick up gratis at nearly any hardware store.
Your second hurdle is researching what you can place inside. A solid rule to follow is to stick with plant-based scraps. Wilted lettuce, banana peels, and unbleached tea bags make the cut. However, you shouldn’t include any leftover food containing meat or animal droppings, as these can contaminate the soil.
4. Grow Food and Herbs Without Hitting the Nursery
Browsing your local nursery is a superb way to get gardening ideas. However, if you want to live more sustainably on a budget, why not plant what your family already eats?
What do you do? One trick is learning to save the seeds from your organic produce. It takes a bit to get the knack of preserving and sprouting them into seedlings, but you have a steady stream of organic produce once you master the art.
Another option is learning to propagate various plants from cuttings. Many soft-stemmed herbs sprout with no guidance from you other than placing the stems in water. Home chefs have become accidental gardeners when they noticed their fresh oregano growing roots and placed the plant in the good earth.
5. Learn How to Shop Secondhand
Who doesn’t need a little retail therapy now and then? However, heading to the mall and stuffing garments made in sweatshops into plastic bags hardly qualifies as sustainable. Nor is it kind to the plastic you carry in your wallet.
The solution? Thrift stores, yard sales, and estate sales. You can find absolute treasures for pennies if you know where to look. You’ll often find the best steals in upscale neighborhoods. Scour your local classifieds, plan your route, ready your cash, and spend Saturday morning stocking your closet with secondhand designer duds on the cheap. The planet and your wallet will thank you.
Maybe walking to work isn’t practical for you. However, you can still cut back on your emissions by getting savvy with your driving. You can also save cash.
Instead of making several smaller trips, combine your excursions. Can you grocery shop on the way home from work instead of heading out later? If you have worked from home since the pandemic began, can you choose one day a week to do your shopping and plan your route to cover the least total mileage?
Another pro-tip for extra savings if you permanently traded in your commute? Look into auto insurance that charges you based on the total miles driven. Carriers such as MetroMile adjust your monthly fees accordingly – the less you get behind the wheel, the less you pay. The extra financial incentive gives you an additional reason to be more sustainable with your travel habits.
Recycling is a glorious way to preserve raw materials by reusing them. However, processing consumer goods back into a usable form still takes energy.
Repurposing is an even more sustainable solution. That empty 2-liter bottle becomes a handy way to keep your patio fly-free without toxic pesticides. That old T-shirt transforms into the perfect artist’s smock for your 3-year-old Picasso.
Before tossing anything in the bin, consider whether you can put it to another use. Even unusual objects like old toothbrushes transform into handy scrub brushes for addressing grout stains.
How often do you make an impulse purchase of anything – from a latte to a new outfit – simply because you see it on sale and have a credit card on your person? Try an experiment for one week. Take your debit and credit cards out of your wallet and give yourself a cash allowance.
Why? Because you’re far less likely to impulse-spend when you have to count out greenbacks using cash. Psychologists explain that it’s less painful to part with future money than that you already have in hand. Whatever the reason, this habit can save you a tidy sum. It also prevents you from buying knick-knacks you don’t need that eventually become landfill fodder.
If you’re fortunate enough to swing a family vacation, take it. Countless scientific studies show that doing so improves your mental health and even boosts your productivity when you return to work.
The downside is that all travel entails deepening your carbon footprint. However, you can take steps to make your next getaway greener. Start with your choice of lodging. Seek hotels with eco-friendly features such as lights that automatically turn off when you leave the room and refillable toiletry canisters instead of tons of tiny plastic bottles.
It’s a toss-up whether to drive or fly. The most sustainable choice depends on your overall journey’s length and the type of vehicle you choose. An electric car might make the greenest choice for a holiday a few towns over, but planes make more sense for cross-continental travel.
If you want to inspire a love of sustainability in your children, why not make your next trip an eco-journey? You can often find discounted rates when part of your travel involves helping a village plant trees or improve local access to clean water.
Live More Sustainably on a Budget
While more and more people are becoming environmentally conscious, many of us can’t afford to make major life changes to reduce our carbon footprint. When you factor in the high cost of many products billed as “eco-friendly,” you might wonder how on earth you can address climate change on your budget.
Fortunately, you can combine cost-effectiveness with going green if you use a bit of savvy. Embrace the nine tips above to live more sustainably on a budget.
About the Author
Cora Gold has a passion for writing about life, happiness and sustainability. As Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist, she loves to share her insights and find inspiration from others. Follow Cora on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.