Saving money and the environment: Where green and frugal meet

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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Momma @ Momma's Blog
Momma @ Momma's Blog
11 years ago

We’ve implemented almost all of these steps at our house. I’m still trying to sell the rest of the family on the No Paper Towels thing.

Our family has been composting vegetative waste for about a year now, we’re growing some of our own food, and sewing/repairing clothes that normally we’d have tossed out for the sake of a button or a seam coming out.

Last Earth Day we decided that we could make better decisions with our resources for 365 days a year and not just focus on it for one day. It’s been good for our whole family.

ObliviousInvestor
ObliviousInvestor
11 years ago

Excellent tips, Beth.

Here’s a question for you (or anybody else): Do you have any suggestions for something that’s reusable that can be used to wash dishes (that is, something other than a disposable sponge)?

We’ve tried using dish rags, but they just don’t seem to get the job done if you’ve got something really stuck on a pan.

amanda
amanda
8 years ago

hi! try looking at ‘pampered chef’. a few years ago i bought a set of 3 plastic pan scrapers that pair nicely with a dish rag. The are firm and scrape off any tough/hard items on pans, plates etc.
If they don’t sill sell them, or you don’t want to spend the $…try and old debit/credit card.

Lily
Lily
11 years ago

Thanks for this post! Yep, frugality and (real) green living go hand in hand. I’ve been on this journey for some time now and it’s exciting. There are many ways to be green. For example one can: – learn to use less chemical products to clean house, they are bad for our health and bad smelling. Try the old-fashioned ways, like cleaning vinegar, baking soda etc (just be sure you get the right info on how to use them! – I’m sorry, the sites I know about this are in Italian) – if you do have to buy eco-products, make… Read more »

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
11 years ago

@ Oblivious Investor — Check out the review post I just did on Scotch-Brite’s Greener Clean line. The soap loaded scrubbers (not really a sponge) are the best things I’ve found for cleaning dishes. They are disposable, but are biodegradable and they are made from recycled soda bottles. I have also used a plastic dish scraper (available at Bed, Bath & Beyond & through Pampered Chef) that works well at scraping off gunk. Hope that helps.

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

I’m saving so much money by no longer buying commercial cleaning products and toiletries – as Lily suggests above, vinegar and baking soda work just fine. Also – borax, cornstarch, herbal infusions and decoctions, some favorite essential oils.

Get Annie B. Bond’s book “Better Basics for the Home” from the library – recipes galore for everything you need to keep a clean/green home, garden, and body. I make my own toothpaste, facial cleansers, moisturizers and deodorant. Takes minutes. Guess what? They work better than store-bought. Cheap and green. Ingredient lists overlap, so you’re storing less crap too.

Nicki at Domestic Cents
Nicki at Domestic Cents
11 years ago

Great post Beth!

Chelsea
Chelsea
11 years ago

ObliviousInvester, we use two things that you might find useful. One is 7th Generation’s all-natural sponges — they use, sponges. And then Whole Foods has another sponge for scouring that often replaces the brillo pads; it’s expensive and doesn’t last long so I went back to brillos, but would love to actually know of one that works. Sorry to hear the dish rag doesn’t work — I remember them from when I was at my grandmother’s house and never remembered them being useful. (I was always so relived to be home & have a sponge!) Beth, lots of people have… Read more »

Khürt Williams
Khürt Williams
11 years ago

All these suggestions are great. The one I like the least is the “turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees”. I see it everywhere but … no source ever gives a reference point. A few degrees from what? The cloth towels instead of paper towel suggestion left me thinking a little more. I have kids so spills are a regular occurance. More things going in the laundry means the washing machine will be going more ofen, using more water and energy. That increases costs and has an environmental impact as well. We use recycled paper towels. Also at what… Read more »

LizS
LizS
11 years ago

These are some great basic tips. Living in Australia I have always been very mindful about saving water. I was amazed the first time I saw my (Canadian) husband leave the tap on whilst brushing his teeth- it had been drilled into me since birth almost not to waste water- we simply don’t have enough to waste it. Some of the things that I’ve noticed are more common in Aus than in the US: – planting native gardens. We aren’t allowed to water our gardens, wash our cars or hose pavement so planting gardens that ate adapted to a dry… Read more »

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

For some of us– every day is Earth Day . . . we cut back and conserve each and every day.

Let’s not just “do it” for the day . . .

retired
retired
11 years ago

Scrubbing pots and pans is not enjoyable. I soak mine most of the time but I also have a OXO Nylon Palm Soap Brush. Another way is to deglaze the pan. Simply pour water or other liquid to make as sauce, in the hot pan this lifts most of the solids. Top your dish and enjoy your meal. The pan is not as dirty to begin with. I have used the dish towels from Costco for over a year, yes they do pile up but I rinse them well and dry them if I have wiped up anything smelly. I… Read more »

Will Crowthers
Will Crowthers
11 years ago

I agree with you Beth that frugality and green-living are closely tied as buying less is not only good for the environment but it is also great for your wallet. One area of waste I don’t think gets nearly enough attention is the trend of unnecessarily upgrading electronics to newer models when the originals still fit our needs. Not only is this a huge waste of money and a waste of our natural resources to build these new electronics, but electronics can be very harmful to our environment when improperly disposed of. Take a look at my post on wasteful… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

Some good tips and a reminder to make every day an Earth Day.

SF_UK
SF_UK
11 years ago

@ Oblivious Investor – I use a combination of these two for washing up (although I get supermarket brand, not brandname) For most items I just use a plain plastic scouring pad like this: http://www.3mselect.co.uk/showproduct.aspx?ProductID=1168&SEName=scotch-brite-heavy-duty-flat-scourer The advantage of this is that it doesn’t have the “spongy” bit, which goes manky and gets easily worn, and so it lasts for ages (at least 6 months). When it gets too manky for washing up, I usually retire it to bathroom duty. For the odd items that need a less vicious approach (mainly non-stick items), I have one of the sponge-backed scourers, like… Read more »

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

We recently bought a Brita water pitcher and a Pur filter for our kitchen faucet (even the cats drink filtered water now). Both of these purchases have eliminated the tons of bottled water we bought. Our recycling bin and bags are now much emptier. Plumbing repairs in our upstairs bath not only fixed a leak but the new pipe, showerhead, and faucet also increased the water pressure and we finally have HOT water in our 1920s house. I no longer have to run the shower 5 or more minutes to get hot water from the basement. Can’t wait to see… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
11 years ago

On the “no more bottled water” front, I suggest if you’re really paranoid about tap water (and I’m not, but I live with people who are), supplementing your non-disposable water bottle with one of the handy-dandy Brita tap filters that fit over your faucet. They let you switch from filtered to unfiltered, which means both I and my roommates are happy, and there’s no more reason for bottles.

Zman
Zman
11 years ago

For cleaning dishes, pot and pans we use plain nylon netting which is available, by the yard, whereever fabric is sold. Many colors, inexpensive, washable, drys quickly and has a “bite” that removes moderatly dried-on food. Not biodegradable, but very re-usable and doesn’t harbor bacteria, etc. like a sponge or dishcloth.
Terry towels as a replacement to paper towels sounds viable. Get over the habit of one swipe and toss, like done with paper towels. Rinse the thing well and re-use, dry or not. It will be 2-4 days before you really need to launder it.

Kristen
Kristen
11 years ago

I’ll have to look up the BBC America channel, but here is a great link on less toxic alternatives to use in the home:

http://www.co.clark.wa.us/recycle/documents/Publications/InHomeGarageWeb.pdf

I have found my local gov’t to have some fantastic resources in this realm.

60 in 3 - Health and Fitness
60 in 3 - Health and Fitness
11 years ago

Don’t forget that being frugal and green can also be healthy for you. Drive less, walk more and you save money, pollution and your body. Drink tap water rather than sodas and you save money, reduce your waste and reduce your waist. Every time you consume less, you help yourself, your wallet and your body.

Being green and healthy isn’t just a hobby for the rich!

Gal

Sandy Bruning
Sandy Bruning
11 years ago

Liked the article – gave very good incentives to do more — very true about not having to buy the most expensive ‘green’ cleaners, etc on the market – watch what they actually do and why you would use them. My husband and I are just ‘two’ now and try to do a lot of the things mentioned – I sew and so our clothes do get repaired (something, believe it or not I am not crazy about), but do. Hope Beth keeps up with her articles to help us all.

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
11 years ago

Lots of great ideas here in the comments. @Chelsea (#7) — I have two young children, so I do a lot of laundry. Any towels I use don’t hang around long before they are washed. If one gets really wet, I wring it out and hang it over the handle on my stove until it dries. We are a family of four and have about 12 cloth napkins. I don’t have to wash them after each use, though, because some dinners are less messy than others. @Khürt – I have a high-efficiency, front loading washing machine (we bought it when… Read more »

Joey
Joey
11 years ago

Agree with #8 on the necessity of specifying what to turn the thermostat down from. It’s like giving the suggestion to “lose weight”. Without context, it’s worse than useless.

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
11 years ago

Hooray, I love learning about more green, frugal bloggers! I write about the “green” (money/eco) pairing at my blog, too, and so I have a few suggestions in response to readers’ questions. @ObliviousInvestor, have you tried a scrub brush? I let dishes soak then scrub them off with a scrub brush. Brushes are available that are wood with bristles, or that have replaceable heads. The brush lasts much longer than a scrubbing sponge. For stainless steel or glass, you can use steel wool, too. If you purchase wine, you can scrub with the stretchy wrap they put around bottles. Or… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

One tip–stuff sticks less in heavier pots, and if you don’t use extreme heat in cooking. And both dishes and pots clean up better if your cooking isn’t too greasy, also a plus on the health front. I find I can generally get by with a dishcloth, though some things need to soak a bit. I don’t wash the cast-iron skillet at all. I also use a dishpan and throw the dishwater out the back door like my grandmother used to–very simple greywater system and keeps the sink drain less gross. I do occasionally find a spoon on the lawn,… Read more »

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

Have to add that I love micro/miracle towels (not sure if that’s the right name). They do everything – great for dusting, washing, and drying. You can dry glasses without any lint. I used them to clean the bathroom and had to use much fewer chemicals (just water cleaned the faucets and the inside of the medicine cabinet which had gotten kind of disgusting). In the kitchen, I just wet them to clean counters, stove, etc. They also pick up water like nothing I’ve ever seen (great for wiping and drying the tub and sink after cleaning). Then just pop… Read more »

Khürt Williams
Khürt Williams
11 years ago

@Beth (#21) – We are a family of four as well. Our top loading washer has been acting up and I am debating whether to have it repaired or replaced with a high efficiency front-loader.

@Cheap Like Me (#27) – I was referring the to heating to the home not the hot water heater (our hot water heater is set to a comfortable level). Turn down the thermostat a few degrees makes no sense without knowing a reference point.

Khürt Williams
Khürt Williams
11 years ago

With regards to the tap water filters: I have had an Amway under the sink water treatment system in my home since 1994. The system cost me just under $400 back then (current prices is about $380) and attaches to any existing faucet. The filter cartridge last about a year (or 1320 gallons) with regular daily use (we are a family of four) and cost about $80 to replace.

The system is now sold under the eSpring brand. Check it out here:http://www.espring.com/

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

@ Khurt and Joey – I recently read an article which specified a temperature for the thermostat: 68 degrees F in the winter and 78 degrees F in the summer. Of course, this can vary widely depending on your climate and personal preferences (which is probably why most articles hesitate to suggest specific numbers). Basically, adjusting by two degrees makes a significant difference in usage whether you usually set the heat at 74 F or 70 F. I personally keep my heat at 64-66 F in the winter and my air at 76-78 F in the summer, because these are… Read more »

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

We don’t have a Brita faucet filter, ours is by Pur. You turn a lever for unfiletered or filtered water (don’t need to rinse dishes in filtered water). But I do love having a Brita pitcher in the fridge for cold water whenever I want it. No water gets wasted in the sink.

Steven@HundredGoals.com
11 years ago

Here is some suggested reading from own website:

“Go Green While Saving Some Green”

http://hundredgoals.com/2009/03/28/save-environment-while-saving-money/

Happy Earth Day!!!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

I can’t be the only one who thinks the tips constantly coming from the “green movement” are ineffectual almost to the point of irrelevancy, can I? Here’s some *real* environmental problems the planet (more specifically, its plants and animals) seems to be facing: * Climate change do to greenhouse gases. We could fix this by going to all nuclear/solar/wind for electricity generation, and then banning the sale of new cars that emit greenhouse gases. No one’s doing it because it’s monstrously expensive and inconvenient. It is the *exact opposite* of frugal, and it would have a million times greater impact… Read more »

Lou Rosas-Guyon
Lou Rosas-Guyon
11 years ago

All of these can also apply to business. With your permission, I would like to quote you in my up-coming ebook “Bottom Line Green.” This ebook is for businesses that want to do their part but don’t want to spend a fortune doing it. Please let me know if I can use your words. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks! Keep up the great work.

Barb1954
Barb1954
11 years ago

Tyler, I agree with you. But the problems and solutions you listed aren’t things most of us can do anything to change in our day-to-day lives. They’re more long-term and involve changes in government and business policies. At least we have an administration in power that actually recognizes there is such a thing as climate change. There is hope for the future.

AA
AA
11 years ago

Being frugal and recycling / reusing were a part of my upbringing due to necessity. I am very glad to see so many people returning to these practices and making them a part of their everyday lives. My one caveat is that you don’t have to go out and buy “reusable” bags from every store (and *every* store seems to be offering them these days). Look around and use old backpacks or other bags. They work just as well. It seems marketers are jumping all over the green thing and some people aren’t using their heads to realize that they… Read more »

schornses
schornses
11 years ago

Paper or cloth.

I’ve grappled with this decision. Sure, cloth is reusable, but now you’ve got the water, detergent, and electricity needed to clean dirty cloth.

Likewise in public restrooms. Should I use and discard the paper towels, or should I use the electric hand dryer which is likely drying my hands by burning coal to produce the electricity. Perhaps its best that I just dry my hands on my pants.

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

great post! Every day is Earth day!!

Esme
Esme
11 years ago

Try using a loofah as a pot scrubber. I’m sure they can be picked up relatively cheap anywhere, and since they’re basically the structural innards of a gourd, they biodegrade completely. You can toss them in your composter. Even better- you can buy loofah seeds and grow your own. There are instructions on the web for how to dry and prepare them for cosmetic or potscrubbing use, and I’ve seen places that sell the seeds with instructions as well. You can easily get a dozen or more from one or 2 plants. They are a spreading sun loving gourd though… Read more »

Jeff Lee
Jeff Lee
11 years ago

Non-disposable grocery bags are my new favorite green/frugal solution.

True, the bags cost money, and the small discount that some stored give you won’t make up for the cost of the bag any time soon. BUT, you can use bags that you already have at home. Free!

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

I buy a brush that has a sharp edge on the back of it (made for the kitchen). It will scrape off a lot of the stuff that is stuck on (after soaking). Then, I use the rough side of a sponge I buy and replace when they get old and gross–one side is spongy and one side is more rough.

We don’t have brillo pads here (Poland), so I don’t have the option of them.

ObliviousInvestor
ObliviousInvestor
11 years ago

Thanks to everybody for all the dish-cleaning suggestions! Apparently I just haven’t been creative enough. 🙂

Also, as the the question asked above regarding paper towels vs cloth napkins and rags: My wife and I don’t even own paper towels anymore.

We have 12 total cloth napkins and find that that’s plenty. (As was mentioned above, it’s really not that bad using them for a couple meals as long as you’re not super messy.)

Then we just use old rags for cleaning up spills, cleaning mirrors, etc.

subodh
subodh
11 years ago

I couldn’t help but notice that even though the idea is good the examples are kinda out of place. Consider this: One may think that buying a cart load size of paper towels from Costco is better than buying a bunch of Bounty from nearby store. In my opinion, its not. First of all, I can just walk to the local store and get those towels in a small bag. Would I be saving just a few dollars driving my big truck to Costco? Besides, that indefinite supply of towels really uses up the storage space in my small garage… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
11 years ago

We’ve also gone completely to cloth napkins and to not having paper towels. I would never have guessed without seeing it for myself that they really can come clean and last forever (this having 3 sons who love BBQ sauce!). To clean dishes, I knit cloth squares and find them abrasive enough…when they get too grungy, I use them for car washing and floor mopping and when they go beyond that, they get used for the little pets to make beds from. One thing that is my pet peeve is seeing all the new ‘green’ products that cost an arm… Read more »

Generation Y Investor
Generation Y Investor
11 years ago

I don’t know if I’m ever going give up things like paper towels but I do only purchase things that I really need (and some misc wants here and there)

Also, I don’t own a car and take the subway to work every morning. I’m planning on investing in a bicycle in a few days so I can kiss the MTA goodbye and try biking to work!

-Gen Y Investor

Carrie
Carrie
11 years ago

great tips! it kills me when i see so many “frugal” bloggers thinking they got an awesome deal buying some cheap bottled water

Wilhelm Scream
Wilhelm Scream
11 years ago

Seriously, I have never EVER understood why people leave the tap running while they brush their teeth.

AnnieOsceola
AnnieOsceola
11 years ago

Thank you all for such great suggestions. I use the natural products for cleaning too, for scrubbing dishes add coarse salt when you scrub. I have cast iron and seal with rendered lard to keep from rusting (we slaughter hogs in Jan and render the fat)I have a couple dozen cloth napkins I picked up for pennies at the thrift store. Chickens, rabbits, cows provide fertilizer for the small garden. I too have a PUR water filter, I save water bottles, rinse with a solution of chlorine bleach & water & reuse. 1 tablespoon of household chlorine to a gallon… Read more »

Makenzie
Makenzie
11 years ago

I HATE the taste of tap water- but I am anti-bottled water. My solution? Fresh lemon wedge in my water or a squirt of lemon juice! It is so much more refreshing- hides the tap water taste- and a little bit a lemon is good for you!

…and I don’t have to waste money on replacing filters all the time! Ugh!!

Jenzer
Jenzer
11 years ago

For washing dishes, I find a bit of baking soda works well as a scouring powder to remove stuck-on crud.

Hogan
Hogan
11 years ago

AA, I’m with you! I have seen TV programs where people go to great lengths to retro-fit their homes with eco-friendly flooring, countertops, tile, etc. The most environmentally friendly thing one can do is to keep using what you have, not tearing out the old stuff, sending it to a landfill, and replacing it with recycled materials! I am slowly winning this argument with my dear husband, who wants to get rid of our unnatural formica countertops and replace them with granite. Why spend thousands of dollars to just rape the earth and take her granite, just to have a… Read more »

Mike in Portland
Mike in Portland
11 years ago

Hey, I just want to object (slightly) to Will Crowthers post. I agree with him that you should not buy a new iPod merely for upgrade when the one you have works perfectly well, BUT it should be said that iPods and download-able music means countless CD jewel case that avoid the landfill AND if you are itching to get a new iPod you can send your old one to http://www.buymybrokentronics.com (of which I have no affiliation with). Not shilling for them, but there are responsible, eco-friendly ways to get rid of your old electronics.

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