November 28, 2013

10 Ways to Live Sustainably on a Budget. ~ Sara Raffensperger

It can be difficult to live sustainably without a lot of money.

Organic food is expensive and money is tight. You only work part time because you’re in school. Textbooks are sucking money out of your wallet faster than you can blink. Maybe you’ve graduated and you’re trying to make it on your own, but it isn’t easy when you can only find unpaid internships, and the six month grace period of your student loans is coming to an end.

It can be easy to be sucked into the habit of just going to the dollar store and buying whatever is cheapest because that’s probably what your friends are doing.

Whether you’re a single 20-something or family of four, living green can be difficult if you don’t have the bank account of Bill Gates. Hopefully, I can help you with some small ways to make a big impact on the environment and your bank account.

When I go to the grocery store, I go with the intention of saving money and finding the best deal because I know that I’ll have to pay rent and my utilities soon. But when I get there, my mom’s voice is in my head, full surround sound.

It’s saying that it’s worth it to spend a little more if I’m taking care of myself. I can just hear this little sound she makes: “hmm.” It’s the sound of, “you should have picked the organic bananas.”

So I choose the organic produce and milk. If I ate meat, I would pick the organic kind. I find myself holding back from making the same “hmm” noise when I see my roommate’s Styrofoam carton of eggs in the refrigerator, though occasionally, I give her grief about it because I hate having Styrofoam in the house.

In regards to money, I didn’t have much to worry about. I’ll have enough to pay the bills and I’m taking care of myself. With so much time being spent on homework, trying to have a social life and trying to get enough sleep, what I eat can fall between the cracks.

It’d be so much easier if I were to just eat frozen pizza all the time or Easy Mac. But that wouldn’t help anything.

I’d be shoveling garbage into my mouth simply out of convenience. They’re just empty calories that will only add to the Freshman 15 and make it a Junior 50. If I buy nutrient dense food, I won’t eat as much to fill my stomach, making my groceries last longer.

The healthy food helps my brain stay alert when I need it and keeps me from feeling sluggish in the middle of the afternoon.

There are so many different things that we can do and buy that will help our bodies and the environment without completely breaking our budgets. Here are a few:

1. Use re-usable bags when you go grocery shopping.

It’s good for the environment and you won’t have the dilemma of figuring out what to do with those pesky plastic bags anyway. (Bonus: the re-usable bags won’t break if you fill them with a lot of groceries. You won’t have the embarrassing moment of running after rolling apples in the parking lot.)

Also, carpool to the store, and since you’re in a group, buy in bulk and share the cost. Many health food and fair trade stores have bulk items, and you can bring your own containers.

2. Recycle everything you can.

If you have a lot of cans, you can take them to a recycling center and get money for them.

3. Buy organic milk (and organic everything else).

It lasts longer (The carton I have in my fridge right now won’t expire until Christmas. It’s November 10th right now. My roommate bought the generic brand and hers will expire on November 25th.) and it’s better for your body.

It’s only about a dollar more than the cheap kind. That dollar ensures that your body is healthier and that your milk is lasting even longer. At the very least, it will make your mother happy that you’re taking care of yourself, or if you’re a parent, you’ll be able to rest assured that your children’s bodies aren’t filled with pesticides or artificial flavoring.

4. Unplug anything you aren’t using.

I know you have about three or four power strips plugged in right now so you can charge your phone, iPod, iPad, mini iPad, laptop, speaker system, hair straightener, hair curler, hair dryer, your fan to help you sleep at night, your handheld vacuum that you don’t use as often as you should, your camera battery, your guitar amp, and your television and Blu-ray player.

Unplug it and save on your power bill. I don’t care if you think it’s a pain to plug it in again. It’s going to be a pain when you have to pay your power bill too.

5. Wash laundry in cold water.

It saves energy because the water doesn’t have to be heated. Also, wait to do laundry when you have a full load. I’m giving you an excuse to be lazy and put off laundry!

Take shorter and colder showers. I know all you want to do after a long day of work or labs is take a long, hot shower. I see no problem with this occasionally, but it’d be better for your water bill and the planet if you took shorter ones with colder water (three to five minutes). Bonus: Cold water is better for your hair and skin because it doesn’t dry it out.

6. If you take your lunches to work or school, use re-useable containers.

Stop using sandwich bags and use all that Tupperware you have stashed in a cabinet somewhere. And while you’re at it, use rags instead of paper towels (maybe cut up some old T-shirts you will never wear again). Rags don’t come wrapped in plastic, and you can use them more than once.

7. Stop using plastic bottles that you buy in packages of 30.

Buy one bottle that is BPA free and re-fill it. It will hold more water and last longer. Oh, and I’ll stop glaring and growling at you. Sorry about that (not really).

If my glares and growls aren’t enough to keep you from using plastic bottles, perhaps the mental picture of a beached whale can. A whale washed ashore in the Netherlands because it died from intestinal blockage.

What was in its intestines, you ask? Thirty seven pounds of plastic trash.

8. Say no to Styrofoam.

When you’re out at a restaurant and you want to bring home leftovers, ask the waitress or waiter if you can have it in a non-Styrofoam or plastic container. Or, start carrying around your own containers when you go out and the problem is solved. Also, say that you don’t need straws for your drinks. They’re an unnecessary use of plastic.

9. Print everything double-sided.

Or, print as little as possible. As students, we use a lot of paper: essays, notes, printing articles from the internet, etc. If your professor will accept online essay submissions, do it. Get online subscriptions to newspapers and magazines (unless they’re printed on recycled paper like YES! Magazine, for example), rather than having them delivered.

10. Shop in thrift stores.

If Macklemore’s taught us anything, it’s that “it’s all the same love” and that thrift stores are awesome. There is always something cool for a couple of dollars, and you would be supporting a small business or a good company like Goodwill.

I hope this helped you realize that you can still help the world and your body without having a six-figure salary.

Everything counts, even if it is as little as paying that extra dollar for organic milk. If you’re living on a tight budget, life can be stressful. Taking care of yourself in these little ways will help alleviate some of that stress.

As my sister says, “Be kind and gentle to yourself because you’re worth all the love in the world.”


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Editor: Steph Richard/Bryonie Wise

{Photo: via elephant digital archives}

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