Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheap Ways to Go Green

It is often taken for granted that taking the more ecologically conscious route is more expensive. This is true a good bit of the time-- organic and natural options for items like food, clothing, and beauty products usually costs a good bit more than the conventional alternatives. There are plenty of things you can do to your home to make it more energy-efficient, but even though many pay themselves back (and then some) over the years, they still tend to require a hefty initial investment. And so, it is assumed that "going green" is something only those with money can afford to do, an unrealistic goal for those who have to watch their spending.

Which is, of course, completely untrue. There are plenty of ways to be more ecological and reduce your carbon footprint by also saving money. Many of them mean reverting to slightly more "old fashioned" ways of doing things, and might mean a little more effort, but you get the double reward of knowing you're doing something that's good for the planet as well as for your wallet. So I thought up of a new examples to share:

1. Reuse. Such a simple idea, can be used so many different ways. This is a double-whammy, as it a) keeps stuff out of landfills, and b) means not having to use resources and energy to make as much new stuff.
  • Try to take care of things better so they last longer, and not have to be replaced as often.
  • Fix things instead of buying new. Our 3yr old laptop has lately been acting reeeaaalllyyy slow, annoying me to no end. We'd been talking about getting a new one, but decided to first try adding more RAM to see if that would help. It has, significantly. Think of how many fewer computers you might buy over your lifetime if you kept each one even one year longer than you otherwise would. That adds up to a lot of big pieces of eletronic equipment not needing to be manufactured or disposed of. This advice also serves for other things, like fixing the heel on a broken shoe or sending a ripped pair of jeans to Denim Therapy.
  • Use hand-me-downs. We have several family members and friends who have young kids, and there have been many bags of baby and maternity clothes that have exachanged hands. My 6yr old niece's clothes are currently on their 3rd owner, and still going. We also have several outdoor toys that we've managed to snag as hand-me-downs from neighbors about to throw them away.
  • Buy used. My grandmother worked for a while in a second-hand shop in her well-to-do retirement community. She bought all our birthday and christmas gifts from the shop, which often were brand-new looking (sometimes with tags still on!) brand-name stuff. A friend recently told me of someone she knows who buys all her kids' clothes off, and manages to find all these great deals on super cute clothes. I've started looking, and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to find ads with pictures (so you can see the clothes ahead of time). This afternoon alone I went to 2 houses answering craigslist ads and came home with an entire 2T wardrobe for a grand total of $80. Each item averages out to be about $1.50 each. A lot of the clothes are cute enough that I would've probably bought them new for a good bit more money, anyway. Awesomeness.
2. Grow Your Own Food. Neither Zach nor myself have ever had much experience with gardening. Yet we're currently enjoying a nice little crop of cherry tomatoes, and some herbs including oregano, cilantro, and rosemary. It's tough to do this if you don't have outdoor space, but you can still find indoor herb kits to try in an apartment, and you can also look into community gardens in your area where you can reserve a plot of land to grow stuff on. A quick google search will give you plenty of resources on how to start your own organic garden. And while you're at it...

3. Start a Compost Pile. So much of the trash we throw out isn't necessarily trash at all. Recycling and reusing already cuts down your trash output, and composting will lower it even more. Amd if you've got a yard or garden, your compost will grant you nutrient-rich soil to use, instead of having to buy it elsewhere. It might cost a little to get started with a compost bin (check with your city, they might have special deals-- we got our bin for cheap that way), but then again maybe not... my parent have a compost pile in their backyard in Texas, and it is quite literally just a pile in a corner of their yard. Here again, google is a great friend when getting started. Master Composter is another good resource. Oh, and check out this article for 75 surprising items that are, in fact, compostable.

4. Make Your Own Cleaning Products. The number of eco-friendly cleaning products on the market today keeps growing, but there's also still some super cheap ways to get your cleaning done-- try baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar. A straight 5% vinegar solution is a great disinfectant killing 99% of bacteria, 82% of molds, and 80% of germs/viruses. Here's an article on with many, many uses for baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar in basic household cleaning, and here's yet another one listing 27 different ways to use baking soda. You can even opt to ditch your usual (often chemical-laden) shampoo and conditioner, and wash instead with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I myself have been surprised at how effective baking soda is at clearing up smells-- a few months after moving into our current place he got a somach bug, and puked all over one spot of the carpet. I didn't have any carpet cleaner in the house, so I feared we'd forever have to deal with the lingering smell of vomit just beside our kitchen table. Nevertheless, I cleaned up as much as I could with a towel and then covered the area with baking soda and let it sit for several days before vaccuming it up. I swear to you, you cannot see the spot at all now, and even if you put your nose up to the carpet you won't smell it.

5. Conserve Energy. This is a fairly obvious one, and also fairly easy to implement. There are loads of articles online with tips of how to reduce the amount of energy and gas you use, such as changing the settings on your computer to it powers off sooner, turning off lights, walking more, air-drying your clothes (I'm about to try the vinegar-as-fabric-softener trick to see if I can avoid the unfortunate stiff feeling of air-dryed clothes), unplug electronics from when wall when not in use (or use a power strip and turn it off, does the same thing), etc. Another option here is to see if your city allows you to select to use only green power generated from renewable energies, but even then lowering your use is still a plus especially since it helps you save money.

Anyone else have ideas to contribute on how to be green on the cheap?


  1. what a great list of ideas!

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Well I turned the vents down in rooms we dont need AC. The storage room and bathrooms.

    We use a bulk charging dock.

    We make dog food last longer my doing 1 part DG and 1 part white rice.

    Running the dishwasher/washer/dryer with only a full load.

  3. excellent post, Marcy!

    living in Phoenix has it's challenges, but i try. the mindset is fortunately changing here.

    things i do...plan errands so i drive less, turn off/down the AC during the day, air dry clothes (80% of the life-cycle energy usage of a t-shirt is the consumer's drying it!), use canvas bags, and shop at TJs and Sprouts where organic is cost-competitive.

  4. Anonymous2:50 AM

    A good post on cheap ways to go green.

    I found this website useful for Herb Gardening tips I think you guys will find it interesting too.

    James - Herb garden kits



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