5 (relatively) easy ways to save money by being sustainable

So you want to be more sustainable but you’re worried about the cost. Fair enough. There are a lot of products out there touting themselves as being sustainable and they usually have a higher price tag than other similar products. But fear not, although there are things like solar panels, electric cars, and high quality bicycles that all cost an arm and both legs to purchase, there are many ways to actually save money while transitioning to more sustainable practices. Plus if you know what to look for, you may find that a lot of the items that are being marketed as sustainable, actually aren’t (check out the article on greenwashing and how to avoid it).

Live according to the Buyerarchy of Needs. This is one of the biggest ways to start saving money while being more sustainable.

We have a whole article with more specific details of how you can live according to the buyerarchy but the basics are exactly what you see: 

  • Use what you have first, and do this aggressively. Try not to buy anything new for a month. It really helps you start thinking about how to use and reuse things that you already own. 
  • If you’re stuck without something that you need, borrow it from friends, family, neighbours, maybe even ask on the Swap and Buy Facebook groups (join these groups if you’re not in them yet). 
  • And if borrowing doesn’t work then see if anyone will swap for what you need. Again, use the Facebook groups to connect with others in the community) 
  • Then of course, if no one has or wants to swap for the item that you’re looking for, try purchasing it from a thrift store. The most sustainable items are the ones that already exist.
  • The next step is certainly tricky, but if you’ve got a crafty thumb, then try making the item you’re looking for. 

As you can see, buying new items is literally the last step in this process. This buyerarchy is a great way to save money because it helps us to rethink the ways in which we can get the things that we want and need, and gives us a bit of extra time to consider whether we actually need that new thing. 

Purchase (or swap and thrift) items that are reusable. If you start looking at many of the products that we use up and throw away, you’ll start to see how much money is spent on things that are tossed after just one or a few uses. Plastic wrap, parchment and wax paper, disposable razors, ziploc bags, paper towels…. It takes a bit of research to find reusable replacements that you like. For example, I hate beeswax wraps! Some people love them because they’re a great alternative to plastic wrap. But not me. I don’t like how I can’t get them to seal and how they sometimes leave a beeswax smell on my food (silly right?). But instead of plastic wrap or ziploc bags, I just put all of my food in jars and containers, or use these funky stretchy silicone covers, or if it’s a really big item, I’ll plop it in a big bowl and put a plate over top. It’s not quite the same air tight seal but it does the trick. Same goes for paper towels. I’ve swapped them out for wash clothes and keep an extra stock so there are spares if I’m cleaning something extra gross. 

Back in the day, we never had all of these tossable items, so it can’t be that hard to turn back time and revert to old solutions

Try a vegetarian diet. Meat has become a staple in most meals, but it carries a hefty price tag and a big carbon footprint (⅓ of fossil fuels and raw materials are devoted to producing livestock for food). So if you’re trying to save some serious cash and want to make your carbon footprint smaller, cut out the meat and replace it with beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, or just simply leave it out. There is still a lot of protein to be found in other foods as well. 

If you really want to stretch your dollar, buy dry beans and chickpeas. Just remember to soak them in water and cook them before tossing them into your recipe (unless the recipe says to put them in dry, of course).

If you don’t quite know where to start with these new ingredients, stick with foods you know you like and do a google search with “easy vegetarian_______” like easy vegetarian tacos, or easy vegetarian pizza. If you’re still a little apprehensive, check out Minimalist Baker. She’s got some beautiful and easy to make recipes that taste amazing!

Buy it on sale. While we’re on the topic of food, purchasing food that is on sale or in the heavily discounted section will prevent a lot of food waste and save you a good chunk of change. You can often find these discount sections tucked away in one of the corners of the store, it usually looks like a funny mishmash of items stuffed on a shelf. But if you’re not a fan of scouring grocery stores and digging around to find the treasures, Flashfood is a great option for finding food that’s on sale. It’s an app that was built to prevent food waste by giving stores a platform to post their close-to-expiry foods and it is great! You can scroll through everything that’s available, pick what you want, pay for it on the app, and then just go pick it up! Did I mention the best part? The food is often discounted by 50% or more! So far, Superstore is the only store in Lethbridge that uses it, but we’re hoping that it spreads to other grocery stores as more people use it. By the way, to pick up the food at Superstore, you have to go to the Flashfood section which is tucked away near the washrooms and the customer service section (turn right when you enter the store and walk almost to the end of the hall, it’s on the right)

One caveat to buying discounted food though, is making sure to use it right away or freeze it (separate it into portion sizes so you don’t have to thaw out the whole thing). Also have several meals envisioned before buying and picking up that 50% off pack of chicken thighs or that $5 box of veggies or that $2 jug of milk or those $1.94 yogurt pack (ok you get it, it’s really discounted food…) and make sure to cook them all up within a few days so it doesn’t go bad. Welcome to the art of meal planning! 

Eat at home and eat seasonally. Ok I know, three tips all on eating, but food is literally something that we do on a daily basis, so it can make a big impact on our spending. Eating out or ordering in is one of those sneaky habits that can creep into our lives when we get busy, feel lazy, feel a craving for something that we don’t know how or want to cook. But cooking at home is one of the easiest ways to save some significant dollars and a lot of waste. 

If time is an issue, consider prepping meals one day each week: 

Look up meal prep recipes (here are budget friendly ones) (recipes that freeze well)

Consider foods you have already and pick a few recipes that use those ingredients

Make a grocery list of the remaining ingredients that you’ll need

Spend a few hours cooking up a storm and packing up your meals for the next week 

(make sure you have enough containers to store it all in)

Eating seasonally is something that our grandparents did naturally because they didn’t have the selection that we now do. But if you’ve got a keen eye for grocery prices, you may have noticed that produce rises and falls with each new season. Berries are reasonable and delicious in the mid to late summer months but sad and pricey in the winter. Squash and pumpkins overflow in fall but then disappear during the spring. Keeping track of what’s in season is a great way to not only experiment with new recipes and flavors but also enjoy the freshest produce at reasonable prices. Here is a produce guide for what’s in season.

Living sustainably can actually be one of the best ways to save money. Although it can mean spending a bit of extra time doing food prep, researching high quality products, scouring thrift stores, or swapping out single use for reusable products, once you’ve established a good system and stash of good items, the process will be a lot easier and the savings will surprise you.

Other (not so easy) ideas:

Make your own food – bread, pasta, canned goods, precook and freeze meals

Save on electricity – turn off lights, turn down the thermostat (A/C) at night, program the thermostat, get LED bulbs, bake in big batches, use cold water for laundry, use fast laundry cycles, have cold showers (that’ll help keep them short), get solar panels, check seal on windows and doors

Save on water – have timed showers, turn off water while washing up or brushing teeth, learn how to stack the dishwasher efficiently, put a full water bottle in toilet tank to reduce flush volume, collect rainwater for garden, don’t water lawn, plant clover in lawn, get rid of lawn and switch to arid loving plants

Save in other ways – bike to work and save money on gas and wear and tear on your car

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