It's the little things that add up over time.
We like talking about frugality at TreeHugger because it’s where practical lifestyle decisions intersect with environmentalism in an unexpected way. You might be trying to save money, but the very act of pulling back from consumerism is helpful to the planet because it means you’re consuming less, reusing more, and not driving production of new goods.
Sometimes, money-saving decisions are big and obvious, like passing on a fancy vacation or a new car (all of which have great environmental benefits). Often, though, it’s the little things that add up over time. What follows is a list of ‘life hacks’ that can amount to respectable savings as the years go by. These are things I try to practice in my own life as much as possible. Some come from an article on this topic from The Simple Dollar.1. Learn how to preserve vegetables, like tomatoes.
Every fall, I buy 60 lbs of tomatoes from the organic farm that supplies my weekly CSA share. I spend a couple evenings canning them. It’s a lot of work, but it gets easier with every year that passes, as I refine my techniques and listen to loud music. Because I only have to purchase the tomatoes and new lids, it’s cheaper than buying canned organic tomatoes in BPA-free tins, which are quite pricey at my grocery store. You can do the same for peaches, applesauce, tomato sauce, etc. Read: Canning tomatoes: a late-summer that's deeply satisfying
2. Make your own coffee and take it to work in a thermos.
Swinging by the coffee shop may seem quick while you’re on the way to work, but it’s arguably faster to switch on a coffee maker at home that’s already been set up the night before. You’ll pay far less for a pound of fair-trade, shade-grown coffee beans that you brew yourself than a fancy store-made latte of the same caliber – and you won’t have always have to remember that reusable mug. Read: How to save money on your coffee habit
3. Buy neutral, versatile clothing.
Trent Hamm makes this suggestion in his article, and I quite like it; it fits in well with the minimalism/capsule wardrobe trend that has taken off recently. Clothes in neutral colors can be paired easily and you won’t need so many:
“This simple technique enables you to get far more value out of your wardrobe, as almost everything goes with everything else. You can easily mix and match items to give the appearance of a large wardrobe without actually having too many garments.”
4. Drink tap water.
If you live in most of North America, this should be a no-brainer – and yet, puzzlingly, it is not. Forego the bottled water (it’s an environmental nightmare and a financial scam) and drink it from the tap. Ask for tap water when you’re out at restaurants. Fill your reusable water bottle at airport water fountains before traveling to avoid crazy markups. If you can’t handle the taste at home, get a filter.
5. Eat food at home.
There are a lot of layers to this suggestion, but it starts with preparing your own meals at home, from breakfast to packed lunches to dinners. When hosting, invite people over for a potluck dinner party, instead of going out to a restaurant. Do the same for a night of cocktails; everyone can pitch in for the mix and booze, and it will still be far cheaper than hanging out at a bar.
6. Use the library.
I once had a friend ask how I managed to support my reading habit financially; she hadn’t understood that the only way it’s doable is because of the library. Libraries are a wonderful resource for many things, from books and movies to unusual things like fishing rods and tackle for kids (yes, mine actually has this). Read: Why going to the library is one of the best things I do for my kids and the planet
7. Plant trees around your house.
This should be the first thing you do upon moving into a new house, if there aren’t already lots of trees. It will provide shade, thereby reducing air-conditioning costs in the summer; it will protect your home from the elements, reducing wear-and-tear; and it will add value to your home in the long run, since people pay significantly more for shady, mature lots. Last but not least, it’s beautiful.
8. Visit the thrift store first.
If you need to buy something, see if you can find it somewhere other than a department or hardware store. Thrift stores are treasure-troves of goods and an excellent place to scout out common things like dishes, glasses, linens, bed sheets, footwear, small appliances, and, of course, clothing. If you can’t find what you need, then buy it new – and you’re exactly where you would’ve been if you had gone straight there. Read: Today is National Second-Hand Wardrobe Day
Share a ride with coworkers. This doesn’t have to be a regular thing; even just once or twice a week can make a difference. You’ll save money on gas and wear-and-tear on a vehicle; you might get some great conversations, a friendship, or time to work on other projects.
11. Use a clothesline.
It never fails to astonish me how many houses don’t have clotheslines. It’s basically free money, after all! Sunshine + wind = clean, dry, bleached clothing, at no additional cost. Hanging and taking down clothes is a great job for kids. In cold months, set up indoor drying racks. Read: Take advantage of sunshine to do your laundry
12. Simplify your hair routine.
Hair care can eat up a big chunk of one’s monthly budget. Consider changing your style (i.e. growing it out) to make it last longer between cuts. You could stop coloring your hair, as it is extremely expensive, or quit using shampoo, another pricey buy. Try baking soda and apple cider vinegar, not washing at all, or simply cut down on the number of washes you do. (I’ve managed to extend mine to weekly, which has been a great relief.) This eliminates plastic bottles and nasty chemicals from the waste stream.
13. Do your own food shredding.
It’s far cheaper to buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself, than to buy it pre-shredded; plus, it won’t have any nasty additives to keep it ‘fresh’ and separate. The same goes for vegetables like carrots and cabbage. If you can do it yourself, you won’t have to pay the markup and can avoid the plastic packaging.
14. Carry around $100.
This is an intriguing suggestion I read on Huffington Post. By carrying a large chunk of cash instead of a debit or credit card, you’ll be inclined to think twice about making purchases, especially small impulse buys that would require you to break the bill. The harder it is to buy, the easier it is to resist.