How to Live Green on a Budget
An eco-friendly lifestyle shouldn't take a toll on your wallet.
Whether you reside in a bustling city or a rural community, living green not only benefits you and your family, but it also helps the greater environment around you. Best of all, those big-scale changes begin at home: According to Indy Srinath, an urban farmer and content creator, practicing eco-friendly habits starts right in your own backyard. "For example, instead of simply eating foods that are organic and grown without pesticides, I like to grow my own vegetables organically so that I can share them with my community, regenerate depleted land, and build better soil by composting plant materials and food scraps from the produce that I grow," she shares.
This process is affordable and easy, to boot. All you have to do is begin. One of the best ways to approach a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is by taking small steps to become more sustainable. "I'm a first generation American—my parents immigrated from Guyana to America in the 1970s—and many times I look back on the habits they instilled in me growing up," Krystal Persaud, the founder of Grouphug Solar, says. "They were all about only buying what you need and can afford and using it until it's broken. My mom has the exact same dish soap bottle from the 1980s that she refills. She was zero waste way before it was cool!" Megan McSherry, the creator of AcTEEvism, adds that simply being aware of regular actions like this can minimize impact in the long run. "It's about keeping the environment in mind as I go about living my life," she says. Ahead, our experts detail even more ways to live green on a budget.
Grow Food from Home
"Growing herbs at home can be one of the easiest ways to begin gardening (no green thumb required!)," Srinath says of this affordable, environmentally friendly habit. "I always recommend that people start with herbs that they commonly use like basil, cilantro, or mint. These herbs, at full maturity, don't have to take up much space, so they are perfect for growing on windowsills or countertops if you have limited space." She shares that the herbs commonly found at your local grocery stores are packaged in plastic, with non-biodegradable ties, and are also sprayed with pesticides so they can survive the shipment process. "By growing your own herbs at home, you are reducing plastic packaging waste that ends up in landfills, honing your gardening skills in a fun and rewarding way, and eating locally (right from your own countertop garden!), which reduces fossil fuels used in shipping."
Make Use of Excess Food
McSherry notes that limiting everyday food waste is another way to make a positive impact on the environment—and your wallet. One of her tips? Make use of the food you would normally throw out (which ends up in landfills, thus emitting greenhouse gases). "Of the food that gets disposed by households, much of it is usable or has been usable—either food goes bad before it is eaten or parts of food aren't used in traditional recipes (like broccoli stems or beet greens)," she says. "Eating all of the food you buy before it goes bad and finding creative recipes to make the most out of your food scraps—like making veggie broth from the ends of onions and carrots—will save you money and reduce the amount of food headed to the landfill."
Another way to ensure food scraps don't end up in landfills? By composting—which can also help your garden as an all-natural fertilizer. "While it might seem like throwing away food scraps like banana peels or coffee grounds is harmless to the planet, in reality, you are sending it to a place where it might live forever alongside non-compostable items like Styrofoam or plastic cups," Srinath says. "While a banana might never break down in the landfill, it will most certainly break down in your home compost where you can control air flow as well as the amount of organic materials you introduce to it."
Buy in Bulk
Rather than heading to the store and purchasing several small packaged foods and goods—buying in larger quantities can make a big difference. "Purchasing grains in bulk tends to be drastically cheaper than single use or smaller quantity foods," Srinath shares. "Purchasing in bulk will also save you trips to the grocery store, which reduces your fossil fuel consumption and saves you money on gas in the process." When buying food this way, you can then store it all in glass or ceramic jars to create a greener kitchen and pantry, she adds. Or you can even use the packaging from the items you buy in bulk to reuse at home.
Shop at Farmers' Markets
"Shopping for foods at your local farmers' market is often cheaper than buying organic at larger grocery stores, as well," Srinath adds. "Produce at farmers' markets tends to be cheaper because everything you purchase there is in season and local, meaning there is no inflated price for shipping produce from far away." She adds that in the process of connecting with the farmers in your community (while socially distancing, of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic), you may even find more deals and reduced prices as you become a regular customer.
Switch to Renewable Energy
Consider changes in your energy usage on a day-to-day basis—as this is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and your utility bills. Persaud says that when you use energy in your home, you are basically renting electricity from a utility company. In turn, this means you are paying monthly bills without owning anything. If you invest in your home to install solar panels, you can create your own power source. "There is an upfront investment to install them, but long term you'll save thousands of dollars," she says. "You may not have to pay a utility bill ever again. If you don't own a home and are renting—you can still benefit from solar energy. You can subscribe to a community solar farm, where the solar panels are installed offsite, and save 10-15 percent on your monthly electricity bill." You can even try GroupHug Solar's Window Solar Charger ($119, grouphugtech.com). This product hangs in a window to charge frequently used devices and is a great way to introduce renewable energy into your lifestyle.
Invest in Heirloom Products
When choosing products to buy, ask yourself this question: "What are products you have to replace frequently?" Persaud poses. "For example: plastic shaving razors. Each individual razor may be cheap, but if you have to buy them every month, the costs add up," she shares. "If you buy a stainless-steel razor with razor replacements, it may cost $30, but you will never have to buy a razor ever again." In turn, you will be saving more money in the long haul and limiting waste. This is also important for other everyday products, like paper towels, plastic straws, or cotton rounds that are single-use. Instead, start using fabric kitchen towels, reusable metal straws, or washable rounds as eco-friendly alternatives.
"Investing in higher quality clothing that will last longer, instead of cheaper clothing that you will have to replace consistently, is a better choice for the environment and your wallet," McSherry adds. "While it may seem like an expensive investment to choose a $200 pair of jeans when $30 jeans exist, you are paying for the quality of the material and the quality of the design." These higher-quality buys will allow you to keep clothes for years rather than a season or two.
Join a "Buy Nothing" Group
When in doubt, you can simply not buy anything whenever possible to save money. "I'm part of a 'buy nothing' Facebook group in my area," Persaud says. "Everyday people post items that they don't need any more and are giving away for free." So, instead of throwing some of your household goods away, you can give those same products another lifecycle. "If there is a product, piece of clothing, or something you are tempted to throw away—post it on there first!" she adds. "Not only will you save money, but it also feels good to be part of such a generous community."