This is a guest post for Earth Day from Beth H., who writes about saving time, money, and the environment at Smart Family Tips.

Going “green” has a bit of a bad rap. As soon as marketers realized it was profitable to be green, suddenly all sorts of products flooded the marketplace with eco-friendly claims. It can be overwhelming. Is it really necessary to buy all this “stuff” to be green? Are these products really as green as they say they are? We’re in a recession — I can’t go into debt to save the planet!

The good news: At its most fundamental, being “green” is nothing new. It’s actually built around a very old philosophy of consuming less, buying only what you need, using things until they’re worn out, and wasting not. Unsurprisingly, frugality and green-living are closely tied. You don’t have to buy expensive “green” products in order to be environmentally friendly. The real goal is to mind your consumption, and that’s good for your wallet and the planet.

Where to start?

Reduce consumption
Think of all the things you consume in a given day — or a given week. What can you use less of? I’m not talking about self-denial. As J.D. mentioned in a prior post, it may not really be necessary to use two tablespoons of cocoa instead of three. But on a larger scale, can you use less or use things in a different way to avoid waste? Some areas to consider:

  • Fewer Disposables. Try using fewer paper towels and paper napkins. I picked up a package of 50 terry cloth shop towels at Costco for the same price as a mega-pack of Bounty paper towels. The shop towels are the perfect size for a paper towel replacement (and more absorbent), and that one-time purchase will last indefinitely. I can’t say that I never use a paper towel for anything, but I use far fewer now than before. We’ve also started using basic cotton cloth napkins almost exclusively. They’re just as easy as paper napkins and far less expensive in the long run.
  • No more bottled water. Consider buying a reusable, BPA-Free bottle and fill it with tap water. Most bottled water is tap water anyway. If you don’t like the taste of the water that comes out of your tap, consider an inexpensive filter. Depending on how much bottled water you and your family drink, you could see tremendous savings here — not to mention the positive impact on the environment when you reduce the number of plastic bottles coming out of your home.

Conserve
When you conserve resources, you’re not only helping to ensure there will be resources left for future generations, you’re saving money, too.

  • Water. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. If you have children, teach them to do this as well. Install low-flow shower heads. The newer models don’t sacrifice water pressure like the older ones used to. Wash full loads of clothes and dishes. Consider a rain barrel if you have a garden. The benefit: lower water bills and a happier planet.
  • Energy. Turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees. Set your hot water heater temperature to no more than 120 degrees. Arrange errands so that you drive less.
  • Food. Plan meals so you waste less food and make fewer trips back and forth to the store. Grow your own. J.D. and Kris have written a lot about their garden project. Having your own garden not only saves you money on food, but conserves resources — your food doesn’t haven’t to travel long distances to make it to your table.

Remember that most of the time, being frugal is being green. Reuse what you can, and try to wear things out. When you do buy new products, try to purchase items that are more efficient and have the least packaging. And of course, recycle. Happy Earth Day!

J.D.’s note: For more on this subject, check out this article from the archives: Want to save the environment? Buy less stuff.

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