Be Green and Save Money: Financially Responsible and Environmentally Responsible Are Not Mutually Exclusive States

When I was in college, I used to think that being environmentally responsible was something that only the wealthy could afford. And there is a slight chance that I saw it as a snooty personality trait. If you knew me back then, you would have heard me say things like:

  • “I’d never pay that much just for a pair of shoes!”
  • “Even if I hit the lottery, I’d still buy EVERYTHING at Wal-Mart.”
  • “Why would I want to take all this time to collect empty soda cans just for a few bucks at the recycle center – it takes time to drive all way there and back!”
  • “This is so last year, so I’m gonna just toss it.”

And the list of embarrassing quotes goes on and on… The funny thing is that I always thought that I didn’t have enough money to be environmentally conscious when shopping, yet I was repeatedly spending money in environmentally wasteful ways that likely ended up costing me a lot more in the long run.

Thankfully, that has changed.

A few years ago, I read an article about air pollution that was the catalyst for change in terms of how I live and spend my money. From there, I started reading about things like how much water it takes to make a pair of jeans, how much trash the average American throws away each year, and the environmental benefits of eating locally sourced food.

What did I do?

I stopped “needing” to have the latest CD, DVD, video game, laptop, etc. You see, I was in a cycle (like many people) of getting rid of perfectly good items just to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Sounds kinda stupid, huh? The easiest way to implement this, at least for me, is to stop making senseless trips to the mall. Without fail, if I go to a shopping mall, I end up come home with something that I never needed in the first place. Usually because it is an “amazing deal.” And it may be a good deal, but it is a stupid money decision if I don’t actually need it.

I only buy new clothes or shoes if I am ready to donate two clothing items to Goodwill for every new item purchased. Not only does this keep me from spending mindlessly just for the sake of acquiring new clothes, but it also ensure that I am responsibly recycling my unwanted items by donating them to a place where other people can get use from them. I even donate furniture and other household items just so that I avoid tossing out something that might be of use to someone else. And, if all else fails, I offer it for free on Craigslist. Since I have my 1-in-2-out rule, I end up saving a lot of money since I rarely want to part with two things just to buy one new one.

I spend more for quality products that do not have to be replaced regularly – and I try to buy classic items instead of what is currently in style. I used to regularly buy shoes at places like Target and Payless because they were cheap and I could get more pairs for the money. But guess what? Not only were most of them not comfy at all, but they ended up falling apart after no time! So, that meant I was buying new shoes all the time. The consumerist in me loved it, but my wallet was taking a beating. That’s why now, when possible, I buy items that are made out of organic materials because they are usually sourced more responsibly and end up being higher quality items. Even Target has organic cotton sheets for your bed. For shoes, I really want to be able to buy things like hemp shoes or responsibly sourced leather, but i have flat feet that give me a lot of issues and I haven’t found any shoes like that to meet my needs. For now, I just focus on very high quality shoes that last for a while. The end result here is that I spend more per piece when buying things, but I buy so infrequently that it is a major savings.

Air pollution is something that I am concerned about, so I try to take measures to reduce my carbon footprint regularly. The result is that it saves me a lot of money on gasoline. The first thing I did a couple of years ago was to trade in my large SUV for a car. However, I didn’t make the most responsible environmental choice because I got a car with a V6 engine. It does get way better gas mileage than my old SUV though, so in that respect it was a good decision. It also has a low price tag, which was a big motivating factor. I try to limit my driving to reduce ozone emissions by saving up my errands for one or two trips a week. Since I work from home, that is really the only time that I am out driving. On average, I would say that I only have to get a full tank of gas once a month.

I only eat organic foods, and I try to eat locally sourced foods when possible. My grocery bill is really no higher than it was when I was eating conventional (non-organic) foods, so there is really no real cost savings on the actual grocery bill. Eating local foods is good for the environment and ever since I switched to an organic diet, my health has improved. There is a lot of back and forth on whether or not organic food offers any real health benefits. For me, I say yes as I used to regularly get sick but now I rarely get sick. In fact, I think it has been around 5 years or so since I have had a cold or anything. So, eating organic and local foods have really lowered by healthcare costs while helping me to be a bit more environmentally responsible.

Other things that I do to be green and save money include:

  • Using stainless steel water bottles when out hiking, traveling, etc.
  • Never waste food, if possible. If I have fruit that is going bad, I toss it in the freezer for a smoothie later. Tomato going bad? Puree it in the food processor to add to a soup.
  • Rarely put produce in the grocery store plastic produce bags = less waste (a fewer trash bags needed at home for trash)
  • Sign up for city recycling pick-up (saves me on trash bags in the long run)
  • Sign up for paperless statements for all bills
  • Pay bills online to save on postage & reduce paper waste

In the future, I hope to be able to either get a vehicle that is better for the environment or move to a city that has a good public transport system or is good for riding a bike. I also hope to live in a place where I can grow some food on my own. Good for my finances and good for the planet!

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