5 Simple Tips To Live Sustainably on a Budget
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Sustainable Living ≠ Bougie Living
If you’re a recent college grad and care about the environment, you can probably relate to my struggle of choosing between the cheaper option and the sustainable, more eco-friendly alternative.
Do you feel frustrated when wanting to:
- Eat organic, local, antibiotic-free meat, but find Whole Foods prices ridiculous?
- Invest in ethically-made clothing, but find them 5 times the price of Zara and H&M?
- Switch to sustainable alternatives (e.g. bamboo toothbrush), but find them impractical?
After reading dozens of zero waste blogs, I’ve seen a fair share of advice on ‘bring your own X’ (shopping bag, straw, water bottle, etc). While I may regurgitate what you already know, I would like to take a different spin on these perspectives.
Sustainable living is often portrayed as something that is only of interest to entitled hipster millennials, but eco-living doesn’t have to be ‘bougie’. In fact, with just a few easy swaps in your everyday routine, you can live sustainably and save money at the same time. Here are my top 5 ways to live sustainably on a budget.
1. Ditch The Soaps
Dish soap, hand soap, body soap, floor mopping soap, table wiping soap – do we really need all these different products to keep ourselves and our home clean? Not really.
If you read the ingredients of these soaps, you’ll probably find the same main ingredient: sodium laureth sulfate (SLS). SLS is the most common soaping agent found in cosmetic and household products. It’s toxic to both the environment and our health. If you’re interested in the research, you can read more about it here and here.
Alternative: I use castile soap for all of the above purposes. It’s made from plant-based oils (I don’t know the science behind how oils become soap, but trust me this stuff works), meaning not toxic for us and the environment. There are dozens of common uses for castile soap, including face wash and laundry detergent. I buy mine from Green Beaver for $15 and it saves me at least $50 a year from buying different kinds of soap.
2. Barter with Bunz
Everyone loves shopping for new things, you can see it in the packed parking lots at major malls. With Marie Kondo’s recent popularity surge, everyone is also decluttering and throwing out things that they don’t need but are perfectly functional. You’re probably aware that this linear system of buy-use-throw is contributing to an environmental crisis.
Alternative: Bunz is my favorite app for trading used things – clothing, furniture, accessories, even food. I used to struggle with finding reliable buyers and trustworthy sellers in the second-hand market. Bunz does a great job of minimizing the hassle by adding proximity and review functions. Half of my furniture is second-hand: I bought my dining table from an interior designer for $250 (retails $995+tax), CB2 coffee table for $125 (retails $300+tax), and traded many accessories for items I no longer need. Many of my friends think I own designer furniture but it’s just the magic of thrifting.
3. Shop At Bulk Stores
Mmm, that turmeric latte recipe looks delicious. I need some acai powder to replicate that Instagram-worthy smoothie bowl. Oh, and a little bit of baking powder to make cookies. So I pick up big packages of what I need at the grocery store for a total of $40. I use them once or twice let them sit in my cabinet untouched for weeks, maybe months.
Alternative: Seasoning, toppings, and baking ingredients can be expensive. Only buy what you need at your local bulk store to save money and reduce packaging waste. Bulk Barn even allows you to bring your own containers – they tare the weight. I guarantee that you’ll get the above items for less than $10 and make enough turmeric lattes, acai bowls, and cookies for a whole week.
4. Ditch The Takeout
When I worked 80-hour weeks (not an exaggeration), nothing was more satisfying than eating a hot meal at the end of a long day. My team ordered takeout every day, but it hurt me to see all the waste we created:
- Plastic utensils
- Styrofoam and plastic containers
- Plastic bags
- Soiled paper bags (which cannot be recycled)
All of these products had a useful life of about 1 hour and then proceeded to sit in a landfill for the next 1,000 years. FYI: some plastics are recyclable, but about 90% of plastics in Canada do not get recycled.
Alternative: Pack your meals for work – it’s healthier and reduces waste. I know it’s much easier said than done but try to set aside Sunday afternoons for meal prepping. I’m lucky that one of my co-workers shares a similar diet, so we meal prep together to make it fun and hold each other accountable. My packed lunches average to $4-5 per meal while getting takeout for lunch in downtown Toronto costs at least $10. If you bring two lunches a week, you’ll save at least $10 a week which is $500 a year! That’s almost enough to cover a one-year gym membership.
Let me regurgitate that single-use coffee cups (lid and cup) are not recyclable in Toronto, even if they have the recycling symbol or claim to be compostable.
Alternative: You probably already know this but many coffee & tea shops (Starbucks, Tim Hortons, David’s Tea) offer a small discount (usually 10 cents) if you bring your own mug. At Starbucks, I bring a grande-sized cup and order a tall drink. They always fill it to the top! So I pay $3.85 for a latte worth $4.45. I know it’s just a 65-cent difference, but it adds up and you will be seen as the eco-hero of the office. This alternate is truly the best of both worlds. You get to live sustainably and save money at the same time.
Sustainable Living is a Way of Life
There are hundreds of ways to live sustainably on budget; you can probably recite a dozen. Above are just my top tips that I stick to and save me money every month. I’ve yet to find a way to eat organic for less and am not a fan of bamboo toothbrushes but being eco-friendly isn’t about completing a checklist. It’s also not about shaming your friend for using a plastic straw or fighting your 50-year-old boss for wanting printed copies of every useless meeting agenda. To me, it’s about our conscientious attitude towards the environment we share and the small actions that shape our lifestyle and inspire others.
What About You?
Do you want to live sustainably while on a budget? Share your best tips in the comments below!