We had an excellent comment on Rachel’s last post about how Zero Waste can seem like an elitist movement created by people who can afford to buy organic bed sheets and drive a Tesla. What if I can’t afford that $20 dish cloth or those $100 slippers? What if I don’t have a backyard for a compost bin or access to a store selling organic produce? What if I can’t afford to pay twice as much for an organic apple? Rachel’s post does a good job arguing for the “do the best you can” Less Waste model, which is more feasible for the majority of people. I will say, however, that while we are definitely “Less-Wasters” rather than “Zero-Wasters”, my family is able to make some of the more expensive green choices precisely because we live green. Here’s how!
Saving Money in the Kitchen – I can afford my expensive dish cloths because…
- The only cleaning products we own are white vinegar and ripped up towels for rags. Think about all the cleaning products most households buy each year.
- We use stainless steel cups, plates, and trays. They aren’t fancy, but they surely don’t break, meaning we will have them forever. And we use them for parties instead of buying disposable plates and cups every time.
- Same goes for our cast iron cookware.
- We buy no paper products in the kitchen. Although my dish towels are years old and certainly not winning any beauty contests, they work fine.
- We don’t buy sponges. We use rags and those wonderful dish cloths for all our dishes and surfaces.
- When an appliance breaks (including little ones), we get it fixed or order a spare part instead of buying a new one.
Saving Money at the Grocery Store – I can afford those organic apples because…
- We don’t buy any meat. Meat is super expensive and completely superfluous. We also really limit our dairy intake (just cheese and yogurt) and make our own oat milk, cutting down on those expensive items too.
- We grow a lot of our own food in the summer (yes, we use organic seeds, but at $2.50 a packet, they are a steal compared to buying organic produce at the store).
- We freeze or dry organic fruits and vegetables when they are in season, and therefore less expensive. We avoid food that has been shipped in, which has a higher carbon footprint and a higher price tag. We use this food all year long.
- We buy very limited packaged snacks and foods (except for our Covid stockpile). We only buy chips and crackers occasionally. We buy no granola bars, cereal, bread products, cookies, freezer meals, candies, etc. We do buy dark chocolate. I mean, we’re not robots!
- We make our own bread and baked goods and bake our own pizza instead of ordering out.
- We buy very limited drinks. The only drinks we buy on a regular basis are wine and beer because, again, we’re not robots.
- We buy in bulk. Obviously this is not an option for everyone, but it saves our family a ton of money to buy things like organic flour, rice, dried beans, etc in twenty-five or fifty pound bags.
- We grow our own greens, saving us a lot on packaging and grocery money.
Saving Money in our Closets: I can afford those expensive slippers (actually my lovely sister gave them to me as a gift, but anyway) because…
- We almost never buy clothes. Maybe once or twice a year, my husband or I will need a new article of clothing. Maybe all of our socks are beyond repair or a favorite and well-loved sweater finally moves on to the next world. We will then buy something used (except for underwear. We buy our underwear from Pact). And yes, it will be good quality. We like Patagonia Wornwear, for example. But when you only buy one shirt a year, you can afford to spend $40 on it.
- And the kids? Almost everything they wear is a neighborhood hand-me-down and if their hand-me-down bags seem to be missing anything (pants are often a problem for my son), we head over to Goodwill to pick something up. If we can’t find anything there, we will occasionally buy something from ThredUp, which often has prices comparable to Goodwill.
- We take care of our clothes. We wash them less often (opting to re-wear them if they are not dirty or smelly) and we mend them when they need it.
Saving Money in the Bathroom – We can buy organic shampoo bars because…
- They are one of the only products we use in the bathroom. In our bathtub, there is bar soap, baby soap, my razor, and the shampoo bar. No conditioner, no body wash, no shave lotion, nothing else. On the counter, there is hand soap, my husband’s razor and shave bar, our deodorant, tooth cleaning stuff, and my eye liner. In the cabinet there are some emergency medical supplies, some lotion and chap stick (I am looking into low waste options) and my monthly supplies.
- We limit washing our towels to when they need it instead of doing it every week. You can always tell when it’s time.
- We use cloth diapers. While they were an investment initially, after three kids, they have saved us hundreds of dollars and hundreds of trash bags.
Saving Money in the House – We can afford organic bedsheets because…
- Every piece of furniture in our house (except our mattresses) is used. A lot of it was free and the rest was inexpensive. Does it all match? No. Would I have chosen the pink floral couch if I had options? No. Does it matter? No!
- We decorate with natural materials, art, and plants.
- We don’t use air-conditioning at all and limit our heating to what is necessary. We have limited appliances aside from the necessary ones and unplug those we aren’t using, which saves on electricity.
Saving Money on Leisure – We can afford the nice wooden toys because…
- They aren’t new. Hand-me-downs are awesome, but you can also find quality used toys online with a bit of sleuthing.
- We read good, old-fashioned books instead of using an e-reader and we buy those used too.
- We don’t upgrade our appliances often (this computer is 12 years old and my cell phone is seven years old.
- We spend a lot of time outside. Instead of buying experiences, we usually opt for free choices in nature and try to cultivate hobbies that are low cost and low waste. I garden and my husband builds things for my gardens.
Saving Money in the Yard – I can afford the supplies for my fancy new clothesline because…
- We make our own compost to amend our soil instead of buying it.
- We don’t worry about our grass (people spend an extraordinary amount on their lawns)
- We do things like shoveling and raking ourselves instead of using machines (or hiring someone to do it).
- We use natural mulches, like cover crops and dead leaves, instead of buying it.
Saving Money on the Road – We can afford our Prius because…
- It is our only car and we bought it used. We don’t drive it often and we take good care of it.
- We almost never stop for take out or to-go coffee (the common refrain is, “bring your mug”… we just don’t go unless we are meeting a friend or on a date).
- We don’t fly. I’m not saying we never have or never will again, but it’s been five years since we’ve flown in a plane and we have no intentions of doing so anytime soon. We mostly plan staycations here in New England and we love it (plus it saves tons of money). Our last long-distance trip, we took Amtrak down to Florida and were very pleasantly surprised by the journey.
As you can see, the expense of the Zero-Waste or Low-Waste lifestyle is quickly offset by the savings. There are definitely green choices outside of our range we’d love to do – solar panels and the aforementioned Tesla come to mind – and there are definitely choices we have made that are not Low-Waste or low cost – having three children and living in a single-family home are two big ones – but we are doing our best.
I’d love to hear how living green has saved you money or I’d love to answer questions about any lifestyle choices I mentioned above.