Now is the perfect time to start thinking about how to make your life a little greener. Many of us make less-than-green choices because we believe that living green means spending green. But that is not necessarily true. Think back to basic tenets of environmentally friendly living: reduce, reuse, recycle. Both reducing and reusing can have a positive impact on your wallet, in addition to helping the planet. With a little thought, creativity and planning, you can go green without making a stop at the poorhouse along the way.
Reduce and reuse. The less stuff you buy, the less money you spend and the fewer resources you consume. First, separate "wants" from needs. Do you really need a new sweater when you already own eight? Probably not. Once you have prioritized your needs, start thinking outside of the "big-box" store. Can you figure out a creative solution to your need for another bookshelf without buying one from Target?
Could you fill the need by reusing someone else's hand-me-down from a yard sale, thrift store or antique shop? Do you have the tools to make your own with the lumber that is already in your garage? Or—stop the presses—could you sell some of your books at a yard sale so that you no longer have the need for a new bookshelf? Stop and think about alternatives before swiping your credit card.
Buy smart. Buying an ultra-concentrated natural laundry detergent designed for high-efficiency machines can cost much less per load than using traditional detergents, because one small bottle of concentrated detergent washes the same number of loads as several bottles of the non-concentrated varieties. And if you can get a high-efficiency washing machine on sale when you need a new one, you will be saving money on water and energy costs.
Buy in bulk. This saves you money and decreases the amount of packaging that ends up in the landfill. A set of glass mason jars can store your bulk foods and be washed and reused indefinitely. Buy a set of organic cotton washcloths to wash and reuse to offset the slightly higher cost of paper towels made from recycled paper.
Prioritize. Organic food can be expensive. Often you can find better prices at the farmer's market than at your grocery. But don't get it in your head that it has to be all or nothing on any of your strides to get greener. If you just can't seem to make the numbers work, then try just buying only the most pesticide-intensive fruits and vegetables in the organic section. Peaches, apples, green beans, strawberries, spinach and cantaloupe top most lists. Decide what your most important purchases are. I cannot bring myself to buy eggs that are not organic and free range, for example. Yes, they are more expensive, but that money is worth it since I am not awake at night thinking about the de-beaked chickens unable to stand up in their cages at the poultry factory.
Ditto for milk. I want to drink organic milk from happy cows in big, grassy fields.
Choose quality. When you need to buy durable goods, choose high-quality products made from sustainable materials, and select brands with a sound environmental track record. It is OK to buy something more expensive if you save money on energy costs over the life of the product, and if you won't need to replace it anytime soon.
Learn to share. Go to the library to read the new bestsellers without spending a dime or taking up valuable bookshelf space. Get a group together to purchase large items that you won't use every day. Could you share a lawn mower with a small group of neighbors? Can you carpool with a few of your co-workers who live nearby?
In the end, keep in mind that a simple life is a greener life. You don't need to run out and buy a bunch of stuff to boost your "eco-credentials." Just start to think about your existing habits and how to make small changes without breaking the bank.