Hi, this is Michelle’s editor, Ariel! You may have seen me here before talking about taking my side hustle full-time, living in a small house, and real life frugality. When I’m not working for Michelle, you can find me spending a lot of time over at M$M, working as a staff writer and editor-in-chief.
The other day I found myself asking this question in a popular FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Facebook group:
Anyone else focusing on a zero/low waste lifestyle and merging that principal with FI?
I asked this question because, while I don’t hang around in those kinds of communities a ton, I find that what I often see is more focused on sexier topics like investing strategies and increasing your income.
Both of those are incredibly valuable tools when you’re working to improve your financial health, even if you aren’t working towards FIRE, but I was searching for advice that felt a little more relatable to my personal goals.
It turns out that I wasn’t alone.
There are a number of people who are actively making choices that are making a positive difference on the environment while helping them save money.
One of the most interesting responses to my questions was, “I just started a process of focusing on my waste… literally.” What they went on to suggest was that we are essentially buying our trash.
There was something about that comment that really hit me. I mean, if you’re working towards FI or FIRE or just trying to keep your head above water, wouldn’t it make sense to stop pay for as little waste as possible?
As I started marinating on this idea, I started thinking about accessible ways to reduce your waste while you work on improving your financial health.
5 thoughts on reducing your waste as a way to save more money
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and why the two Rs are the most important
Most of us learned about the three Rs in school – reduce, reuse, recycle. The way it was taught to me is that each R had an equally positive impact.
The reality is that this isn’t the case at all. If we consider what’s happening with recycling in the U.S., it becomes pretty obvious that we need to focus more now that ever on the first two Rs.
Reduce and reuse are so important because it takes a significant amount of energy to create new products – raw materials have to be extracted from the earth, the product has to be made, and then it needs to be transported to where it will be sold.
For every item you don’t need to buy new, you’re eliminating that entire process, and the benefits can be felt environmentally and financially.
Here are some examples of how you can reduce and reuse in your daily life:
Buying used clothes. A $5 pair of jeans from Goodwill is much better for your finances than a $50 new pair. And, a new pair of jeans costs the environment about 33.4kg in carbon emissions.
When you buy things, make sure they can be reused. You can start simple with cloth napkins and refillable water bottles.
Start reusing things that you might typically throw away or recycle. You can wash and reuse Ziploc bags, use yogurt containers as Tupperware, reuse cleaning spray containers by making your own cleaning spray, turn old candle and jam jars into vases or cups, etc.
2. Kick convenience
This one is so hard to fall for when you’ve got a family, a job, a side hustle, etc.
Your time is finite and it’s really easy to say, “heck yeah, let’s hit the drive through because I don’t have time to make dinner.”
Going through the drive through doesn’t make you a bad person, but if you’re like me, you think about all of the trash you’ve just bought (I’m leaning on that comment I mentioned in the intro). There’s the fry containers, individually wrapped ketchup packages, plastic straws, etc.
In moments like this, embrace the power of a quick meal – PB&J, scrambled eggs and toast, a bowl of cereal and a banana, tuna salad sandwiches, cheese and crackers, whatever. You’re saving cash and trash.
Paying for convenience when it comes to foods is an easy trap to fall into. Like I said, it’s hard when you’re busy and trying to shave precious moments off daily tasks like making dinner.
The problem is that when you’re trying to save time with convenience, you’re paying a high financial and environmental price.
Here are a few examples:
A package of prewashed, pretorn lettuce can cost twice as much as a head of lettuce. It’s also packaged in plastic, whereas you don’t really need to put your produce in the plastic bags in the first place.
Paying for grocery delivery services like Instacart cost nearly $5 for every delivery.
Ready made meals impact the environment at a rate of 35% more than home made meals.
On average, it’s 5x more expensive to order out than cook at home.
Meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh produce more plastic waste than grocery shopping, and they’re considerably more expensive.
The one bright side with meal delivery services is that if you actually use everything in your package, they do reduce your carbon footprint because you’re reducing your food waste by only paying for exactly what you need for each meal.
Now, if you’re able to make a meal plan and shop accordingly, it’s entirely possible that you can reduce your food waste without paying for meal deliveries. And at an average cost of delivered meals being around $10, this is actually fairly expensive when you consider that it’s pretty easy to make dinner for closer to $5 a person.
One of my favorite resources for cheap meals is Budget Bytes – this food blog has inexpensive recipes and shows the dollar cost of each.
3. Source your food locally
My family recently decided to start buying groceries from a local CSA program.
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture.
The idea is that we get a weekly share of groceries that comes from within 150 miles of our house. We pay a little more for some items, like locally made bread and dairy, but it’s actually been a good financial choice for us because it’s gotten us more excited about cooking at home.
Whether it’s a CSA, shopping at a farmer’s market, or finding local foods at your grocery store, buying local has significant financial and environmental impacts:
Reduced CO2 emissions as local food travels an average of 100 miles, whereas produce typically travels an average of 1,500 miles.
Supporting local food supports your local economy – good for your home value, schools, etc.
Local produce is seasonal, and that can cost less than out-of-season foods.
There are some locally sourced foods that do cost more, especially if they’re organic, but it’s okay to only buy what you can when you can. It’s important for us all to remember that small changes go a long way, which brings me to my next thought…
4. Remember, small acts are just as important
One of the things that I’ve recently seen on social media are people doing something called sustainability shaming. This is when you’re called out for not doing enough for the environment.
An example is someone who’s reducing the amount of meat they eat, then being shamed for not reducing the amount of plastic they use. Attacks like this do more harm than good.
When you add up lots of small changes, you get something big.
The same goes with your money – and it’s why spare change investing apps are popping up left and right.
What I’m getting at here is that there are little things you can do that will help both your finances and environment:
Do you live in a place that you can bike to run your errands? You’re saving on the cost of fuel gas and emissions.
Bring your own cup when getting coffee. Your local coffee shop might give you a small discount and you’re reducing your waste.
Turn the lights off in your house. Reducing the amount of energy it takes to power your house saves you money. You’ll probably get a little more life out of your lightbulbs too.
Stop buying paper napkins and paper towels. By using cloth napkins and towels (scraps work well), you’ll save several dollars a week and reduce your waste, save some trees, reduce the impact of bleaching, etc.
No, none of these things alone will help you save up enough to retire or reverse climate change, but you’re still making a positive impact.
5. Remember why you’re doing this
When my kids were babies we used cloth diapers, and we caught a lot of side eyes and weird questions about what it’s like to clean poop out of diapers. At least one or two close family members just outright said it was ridiculous.
Those remarks are really hard to hear when you’re doing something that’s important to you, and that’s exactly why we did it.
No one wants to shake poop out of diapers because it’s fun.
Most of the stuff on this list is pretty mild in terms of how extreme you can get with your financial and environmental practices, think dumpster diving and using leftover shower water to flush the toilet.
But, even the tamest choices can be hard for others to understand. And when someone feels strongly enough about a cause that they’re willing to challenge the status quo, you often wind up with a little pushback.
Remind yourself why you’re no longer buying paper towels, why you’re walking to work, and buying used clothes – your doing something that will have a positive impact on your finances and the environment.
In the end, how easy is it to make good financial and environmental choices
We are living in a moment when it’s easier than ever to make positives choices.
There is a huge push to rectify what’s happening with our environment, and we’re also living in a time when household debt has hit all time highs.
That means more and more people are actively making the kinds of choices I’m talking about in this article. I remember just a few years ago when you felt out of place for bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store, and now we have states that have banned plastic ones.
There are bloggers like Michelle who focus on frugal living and minimalism, and while they’re not outright environmental statements, many of the tips these articles contain will help both your money and the earth.
We’re in a time when there’s more innovation and competition among companies that can help you manage your money or provide environmentally friendly resources and products.
There is so much information out there, and now it’s your turn to start embracing and implementing these ideas and see the difference.
What are you doing to reduce, reuse, and save more money?