Image credit: Ryan Hyde, used under Creative Commons license.
From Vicki Robin's thoughts on your money or your life to 11 lifestyle choices that might protect against inflation, we've seen lot's of advice on specific green activities that can save you money. But I've been pondering a slightly different question—is saving money in and of itself also a green thing to do?The reflection comes from my own recent personal efforts to become more aware of how I spend money, and what I spend it on. Having sat down and analyzed all my monthly comings and goings, it occurred to me that the very process of taking stock of your finances is a fantastic way to analyze your consumption patterns—and hence a big part of your environmental impact.
From gas consumption through vacation spending and clothes shopping to groceries, there are obvious expenditures that have major consequences for the environment. And even if you try day-in and day-out to be aware of what you are using and why, making a financial budget can still be a revealing way of getting the big picture view of your, and your family's, lifestyle choices.
Having gotten that big picture view, the next step is, of course, to start cutting back on those "problem areas". And while your spending in dollars on any particular item is not going to be an exact proxy for its relative environmental damage (read up on externalizing environmental costs for more on that topic), it can still be a useful metric for figuring out which areas to tackle first. If you spend $250 on gas each month, it might be time to start there. If you work from home, but splurge a fortune on clothes, you might want to visit the thrift store. Even if the chosen area of focus isn't your most significant environmental impact, picking something that is also costing you money can be a great motivator for both going green and saving some bucks.
But all this goes further than simply analyzing relative spending. I would even argue that tackling areas of spending with seemingly little environmental significance—for example cutting down to a cheaper cell phone plan, or opting for a more economical cable package (or giving up the TV all together) can also be an act of environmental awareness. In a culture that pushes us to earn more and more money so we can consume more and more stuff, getting a handle on everything we spend—and then taking charge of our lives and living them the way we really want—may in fact be the best thing we can do for the environment.
Whether you are in search of living simply as an alternative American Dream, a believer in a no growth economy, or a fan of the moneyless man—the first step in shaping how you relate to money in the future is understanding how you use it in the present. Your wallet will certainly thank you, but I suspect the planet might too.
More on Money, Finances, Wealth and Sustainability
Material Possessions Are Not Evil: Learning to Love Your Stuff
Get Rid of the Wall Street Mafia Says Economist David Korten
The Economics of Happiness as a Response to Environmental Crisis
Living Simply: An Alternative American Dream