Frugal Green Living: Seven Tips to Get Recession Ready

Public Domain. Margaret Bourke-White/ Louisville Flood

There are some ideas that come around again with every economic crisis.

This post was written in 2008 during the Great Recession. Some advice may not apply today.

Years ago, George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian that a recession might not be a bad thing, and that perhaps there can be too much growth. He also wondered if we all have enough cars and cellphones, and don't need to keep making them. Perhaps he should be careful what he wishes for.

It is true that in times of economic contraction, there is less fuel burned and less pollution created, as industries make less stuff and there are fewer trucks carrying it. Russia's air got dramatically cleaner after the fall of Communism and all the old factories closed.

It is also true that almost all of the things that we preach as being good for the planet are also good for getting recession-ready: use less stuff, lower your heating bills, reduce your use of electricity, make your own dinner – all these things that make less carbon dioxide also save us money. Most of them make you healthier, too. Here are a few ideas:

Get Your Car Recession Ready

Bennett Buggy

Bennett Buggy/ University of Saskatchewan/Public Domain

The car is one of the biggest expenses people have, and one where the changes you make can have a big impact on the amount you spend and the greenhouse gases you generate.

Of course, the best thing you can do is ditch your car completely, and we have a couple of alternatives for that. The biggest and most cost-effective thing you can do is throw away the keys and live car-free. According to a 2004 American Automobile Association study, the average American spends $8,410 per year to own a vehicle. That's equal to $700 per month, and a lot of potential savings when you throw away your keys.

If you can't get rid of your car, perhaps you can find or start a car pool. Not only will you save on gas and transportation expenses, but you'll also reduce carbon emissions. Plus, you'll find plenty to gab about during stoplights and rush-hour jams, which you can turn into networking and socializing opportunities.

If you need a car occasionally but not every day for commuting, car sharing is a great option. Car-sharing services offer the opportunity to have ready access to wheels, without the hassles of paying for gas and insurance, and even finding parking.

Tighten Your Belt in the Kitchen

Preparing Christmas Dinner

Preparing Christmas Dinner/Public Domain

Here are some tips:

1. Ditch prepared meals right now: Consumers have been led to believe that they don't have the time to cook and it simply isn't true. You can have a healthy meal on the table within half an hour. Prepared meals have more fat, more sugar, more salt, more preservatives, and more garbage waste than anything you can cook yourself.

2. Plan ahead: Yes, this is going to take a bit of effort, but once you get going it will be easy. Make sure you have a well stocked pantry. Canned or dry legumes, rice, pasta, and canned tomatoes should all be on hand to make quick, nutritious meals.

3. Plan your week: Take the time to work out a menu plan for the week. Most people grocery shop once a week and they toss things into their carts, without considering what they really need. If you know what you are going to eat and you have the right ingredients, you'll be less likely to call for takeout or head out to the fast food joint.

4. Cook more meatless meals: Meat will consistently be the most expensive food item in your grocery cart. The ready availability of other protein sources allows you to expand your food repertoire and have a healthier diet.

5. If you do use meat, use less: No one needs a 10-ounce steak. Cut back on the amount of meat that you cook and increase the amount of vegetables for each serving.

Travel Locally

Broke, baby sick, and car trouble!

Broke, baby sick, and car trouble!/ Dorothea Lange/ Library of Congress/Public Domain

"If I am going to go looking for my heart's desire, I won't go any further than my own back yard," said Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Marcel Proust was of the same mind: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

They both have a point. In times of financial insecurity, perhaps it is appropriate to explore our own backyards a little more carefully. Lea Woodward from Project Woodward has some suggestions:

1. Be a local tourist: Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you probably have several tourist attractions nearby that you've never visited before. Make a list of all the tourist destinations in your area that you've always "meant to visit", and go check them out.

2. Explore new cultures in your hometown: Many of us live in multicultural cities or towns, so we don't even have to leave our comfort zone to experience a new culture. Try sampling a new cuisine you've never tried or visiting immigrant-owned stores. Once you start chatting with the owners, you'll be surprised at how much you can learn.

Squeeze Out The Last Drop

Woman squeezing laundry

Rural Electrification Administration/ FDR Library/Public Domain

Less is definitely more when money is tight; it is better for your budget and better for the environment. Squeezing out the last drop of the things that we use means that less stuff goes to the dump as well. Here's how:

1. Use less than recommended: Is the shampoo manufacturers' suggestion to "rinse and repeat" serving their interest or yours? Try using less and less each time until you figure out the minimum you can get away with.

2. Dilute it: So much of what we buy is mainly water anyways, so why not just add a bit more? When you get to the bottom of a bottle, rinse it out and use that too.

3. Get the last drop: Leave bottles upside down for a couple of hours. Roll up that toothpaste tube.

4. Use tools: Dig into corners with Popsicle sticks and old toothbrushes.

Brown Bag It

Soup Kitchen set up by Al Capone in Chicago

Soup Kitchen set up by Al Capone in Chicago/ US National Archives and Records/Public Domain

If you eat your lunch out every day, you might not realize just how much it is costing you. If you have soup and a sandwich and a drink, you are probably spending at least $10 a day, maybe more. Now think about how much further that $50+ would go if you used it to buy groceries. I don't normally spend more than $10 per day for all three of my meals that I cook at home. This is probably one of the quickest ways for you to start saving money.

There is no question that taking your lunch to work every day takes some planning, but once you get used to it, you won't find it hard. You should invest in a thermos. You should also invest in some reusable containers as well as a reusable bag so that you aren't creating more waste.

Quit Your Job

Woman typing

© Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

While quitting your job to save money may sound counterintuitive—and to folks from my parents' generation, pure insanity—Trent from The Simple Dollar estimates that his leap from 9-to-5 drone to work-from-home mercenary will save him approximately $8,000 per year. He does the math for us:

1. Reduced breakfast costs: Trent eats breakfast at work three days a week because he's crunched for time. Replacing these three $6 breakfasts with oatmeal or fruit, at a cost of 50 cents or so, will save him about $16 per week, or $832 per year.

2: Reduced gasoline usage: With a daily commute that guzzles about a gallon and a quarter of gas for 30 miles, Trent spends roughly $4 per day on his commute. Even if he has to make a similar trip every week for research purposes, he'll end up saving roughly $832 per year.