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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

5 Simple Ways to Go Green on a Budget

All the time, I hear people explaining that they don’t live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle because, well, it’s just too expensive.

But this argument doesn’t really make sense. I’m an environmental studies student—living on a student’s budget—and I’ve never felt my greener living habits and my monetary constraints were at odds. In fact, I think they go hand in hand. After all, at the core, budgeting and going green are both about consuming less.

Sure, there are ways to spend a lot of money attempting to live a green lifestyle—completely retrofitting your house for green efficiency standards, for example. But you could also try these easy tips for saving the earth—that’ll help you save money, too.

1. Instead of Buying Organic, Buy From the Farmer’s Market

We’ve all had the “organic crisis” at the supermarket. You stand there, an apple in each hand, thinking, Should I buy regular apples, or pay $1 more per pound for the organic? Does it really matter that much? Even if it does, can I afford it? You end up frustrated, when all you wanted was an apple.

Avoid this plight all together and head to your local farmers market. In almost all cases, it will be cheaper than the organic options at the grocery store—and in many cases, it will be cheaper than the regular produce as well. And it’s better for the environment, since the food will have traveled shorter distances to get to you. (Less fuel! Less pollution!) It’s also often farmed using organic practices (even if it’s not labeled as such). Plus, you get to support small, local businesses, and you gain a great weekly activity that gets you outside enjoying the day with other friendly people. I see no losses here!

That said, there are some items that you will pay more for if you go the organic route—milk, eggs, and meat being the top three. For these, I generally opt to pay extra for the higher environmental (and taste) quality, and just eat less of them to save me the dough.

2. Instead of Paying to Green Your Home, Turn Things Down (or Turn Them Off)

It may sound obvious, but the easiest way to make your home greener and save money on your monthly bill is to make sure you’re not using utilities more than you need. Turn off the lights when you leave the room, or open the blinds and rely solely on the sun to light your space to cut down on electricity use. Wash dishes in a full dishwasher (that’s right, I’m giving you permission to stop hand-washing) and install relatively inexpensive low-flow showerheads to cut back on water use.

When it comes to heating and air conditioning, a slight change can make a big difference. Aim for a 3-4 degree decrease in home temperature during the winter (or increase during the summer), and you’ll quickly see the savings add up. And, if you do this one degree at a time over the course of several days, your body will adjust and you should be able to make the change without breaking a sweat (or freezing to death).

3. Instead of Buying Recycled Products, Ditch Anything Disposable

There are many household items that you can now buy recycled, like plastic sandwich bags and aluminum foil. But the point is, you still have to buy these things (usually at a higher price), and they still end up in the landfill in the end.

But by replacing items you dispose of daily with their reusable counterparts, you’ll find yourself saving money in the long run (and having to take out the garbage less). Some of my favorite swaps? I love a solid set of Tupperware to use in place of plastic snack bags or disposable containers. I feel lost without a reusable glass water bottle (who wants to buy bottled water anyway?). I like to buy an Argo tea from Whole Foods, then use the bottle for water. And, finally, I always try to keep a thermos on me to avoid throwing an embarrassing number of coffee cups away every day. Plus, some coffee shops—including Starbucks, Peet’s, and Seattle’s Best—give discounts to customers who bring their own cup.

4. Instead of Buying Chemical-Free Cleaners, Make Your Own

There’s a slew of “clean” and “green” cleaning products out on the market these days. Instead of buying any of them, why not make your own products from clean and (mostly) simple household ingredients? It’s cheap—and still green. Care2 has a great guide for making your own cleaning supplies, including a printout with all the recipes.

If that all sounds like too much work, especially on top of actually doing the cleaning, at least buy your green cleaning products smart with this great list from LearnVest.

5. Instead of Buying New Stuff, Buy Used (or Not at All)

The best thing you can do when trying to live on a budget or a green regimen is to really think before you buy. Do I really need this? Do I have something that already does this or that I can repurpose to do this? Can I buy this used or rent itBy asking yourself these types of questions before every purchase, you’ll avoid spending unnecessary money and buying things that will just end up in the landfill soon.

The best green purchase is usually no purchase at all, and your life probably won’t be any worse without it. And, well, that’s a decision you can afford, no matter what your budget.

Photo of farmer's market courtesy of Shutterstock.