Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
When money is tight, it’s nearly impossible to think about anything other than supplying daily needs for yourself and your family.
With so much global emphasis on efforts to help save the environment, we wondered if there are ways we can do both — provide the basics for a healthy life and protect the earth.
Good news! We found easy strategies that can save money while also protecting the environment.
Shift Your Mindset To Save Cash and the Environment
When considering ways to protect the environment that also have a positive impact on your wallet, it is helpful to shaft your mindset.
For instance, instead of automatically buying Ziploc bags every month, you might consider washing them out and reusing instead. Similarly, plastic food containers purchased from a grocery store can be reused.
So, when thinking through this process, it’s best to understand ahead of time that the emphasis is on consuming less and using a little more elbow grease.
However, some of our suggestions that require a bit of an investment to get going will reap savings once they are set up — like seeds and tools for a garden.
Here are ways you can approach daily needs differently to help save money and lessen your footprint.
1. Buy Reusable Instead of Single-Use Items
Most of us purchase four paper-based items for our homes — paper towels, napkins, tissues and toilet paper. Not to mention many more plastic items, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
Instead of buying disposables like paper towels, use rags, or even kitchen towels to clean up messes and spills.
You could also use washcloths instead of paper napkins, which are especially handy for kids. Washcloths hold up better than fancy cloth napkins and absorb more.
Here’s a quick look at disposable versus reusable towels with the seller, price, and number of uses.
- Bounty Paper Towels (2 pack): Amazon, $6.97, 270
- Mainstays Washcloths (18 pack): Walmart, $6.50, up to 5 years
Disposable Versus Reusable Food Storage Bags
Plastic, by its very nature, is reusable, but all too often we throw it out after one use.
Sixty gallon-sized Ziploc brand bags cost around $9, and six gallon-sized dishwasher safe reusable bags cost around $14.
Math is important here. Just one of those six bags replaces more than 300 single-use bags, so, you get 1,800 uses for $14.
If you were to purchase the same amount of Ziploc bags, you’d need to buy 30 boxes at $9 which would equal $270. So that’s a savings of $256.
Here’s a breakdown of disposable versus reusable food storage bags with the seller, price, and number of uses.
- Ziploc Gallon Size Bags (60 pack): Walmart, $9, 60
- Lerine Dishwasher Safe Reusable Food Storage Bags (6 pack): Amazon, $14, 300 each/1,800 total
Water bottles are another convenient plastic item we tend to purchase in a single-use form, but purchasing just one reusable bottle can save you money over time.
As for the environmental impact — say you drink water from a reusable bottle instead of one 16-ounce bottled water a day, you’d reduce your carbon footprint by 365 bottles a year.
2. Compost Your Food Waste
Food waste is a major contributor to landfills and greenhouse gasses.
Starting a compost pile can cut down on your food waste by allowing fruit and vegetable scraps to go back into the earth, rather than rotting on a trash heap in a plastic bag.
While composting does not save you money in the short term, it does contribute to money saved on future food and increases the likelihood that homegrown food will taste incredible.
3. Grow Your Own Food
The best way to grow your own food without a large financial investment? Start from seeds.
Transplants can be tempting, but it is far more cost effective with higher yield to start seeds in containers you already have around the house — like egg cartons — and plant out in your soil once they’re grown.
Harkening back to item No. 1 on the list, you can also reuse yogurt cups, take-away containers and even half a milk carton to start seeds.
And when you have some nice compost soil from item No. 2 to fold into your existing soil each year, you’re well on your way to an inexpensive garden that could save you up to $500 on groceries, not to mention the environmental boost.
Idle electricity is a real thing. Remember to unplug appliances when not in use and it could save you up to $100 on your electricity bill each year, or about $8 every month.
Appliances in standby mode seem like they are shut off, but many still pull idle electricity when plugged in.
Use power strips for a simple way to unplug without a hassle. You can easily tap the on/off toggle with your foot.
Another way to reduce electricity use is to get outside. Unplug and read a book outdoors with natural sunlight instead of a lamp, or go for a walk instead of using the treadmill.
Your mood, your wallet, and the environment will thank you.
5. Conserve Water
A twofold approach to water can help you save money — use less indoors and collect it outdoors.
Use less water in your home by turning off the faucet while you shave or brush your teeth, turning off the shower head while you shave or soap up, and making sure you have a full load in the dishwasher and laundry before you run it.
Outside, save money by collecting rain water to hydrate your garden, wash your car, and clean surfaces.
Before you start collecting rainwater, though, check the rain barrel rules in your area to see what is allowed.
Some states even incentivize use, and once you have your rain barrel system, you can save an average of $30-$60 each month.
6. Reduce Food Waste
The goal here is similar to item No. 2 on our list — reduce food waste.
Plan ahead for your grocery store run and you’re less likely to impulse buy something you can’t eat in time and will end up in the trash. Also, don’t shop hungry.
Buying local is another great way to help out the environment. The meat and produce available at your local farmers market did not have to be transported as far, which helps the environment.
Those market prices are often lower than large chain grocery stores.
But if you don’t have a nearby farmers market, look for a fruit and vegetable stand. Often family owned and operated, these small businesses sometimes offer more than just produce and the prices are generally lower, as well.
Follow these tips and you could save $100 on groceries, and your savings helps the environment, so it’s’ a win-win!
7. Host Green Celebrations
When wedding season rolls around and you have to buy and wrap gift after gift, it’s easy to run to the Dollar Store for gift wrap supplies. But, have you thought about how all that gift wrap impacts the environment, let alone your wallet?
Instead of buying new tissue or wrapping paper for each occasion, get creative with brown paper or newspaper. (We suggest the comics for extra color.) You can also hold onto gift bags and tissue paper to reuse.
Small gifts can be presented in clean glass jars with wide tops — another great way to reuse something you’ve already purchased at the grocery store.
And what about the gift itself?
It’s easy to select something on Amazon or take a trip to Target to pick out a gift, but there are other ways to celebrate frugally and help the environment by gifting sustainably.
8. Work Remotely
While this isn’t an option for everyone, if working from home is possible for you, you can save money on everything from gas to food to clothing.
If you’re hoping to land a remote work situation, these green-friendly companies hire remotely.
According to a 2022 poll by FlexJobs, remote workers reported saving an average of $6,000 per year. That’s enough to make a significant impact on your wallet and the environment.
9. Go Carless
With ride-sharing services in full effect in most areas, and mass transit options available in some, you can save about $5,000 a year if you’re single and choose to go carless, or if you decide to become a one-car household.
Public transportation is an inexpensive alternative to getting around without owning a vehicle, but it can be hard to take the bus in many areas.
Does your area have dedicated bike lanes or safe sidewalks? You can save up to $2,000 a year on your commute.
10. Sell Your Old Stuff
Selling stuff we don’t use is one of our favorite ways to earn a little spending money.
If you happen to love shopping, especially for clothing, making a habit out of rotating your closet and selling your gently used threads can equal a sizable sum.
Better yet, use buy/sell clothing services like ThredUp and stop buying new altogether. Thrifting saves money and reusing existing garments means you’re helping the environment.
Selling your stuff isn’t just limited to clothing. Decluttr is a popular way to sell electronics, and with apps like LetGo and OfferUp, you can sell practically anything.
Now Go Forth and Save (Money and the Environment)
Fact is, this is a long list of suggestions that require a different approach to some of the most basic ways we function in our daily lives.
The good news? Picking just one or two items on the list can still buoy your bank account while also preserving the environment.