Sustainable living without breaking the bank: How to do it

Saving some green and going green don’t have to be mutually exclusive

Sustainable living without breaking the bank: Here's how to do it

Sustainable living starts with how you live in your home, the food you put in your body, and the clothes you wear on your back. And the end result is often a healthier life while minimizing your impact on the natural world.

However, the cost of going green can seem daunting. But those initial investments and improvements can yield savings on energy and improve the overall quality of life. Whether it’s taking advantage of rewards credit cards while shopping for organic groceries or making eco-friendly home improvements, you can save some green while living green.

What you wear

Believe it or not, the clothes you wear on your back can have an adverse impact on the environment. The clothing industry has become one of the leading polluters in the world, second only to oil, clothing magnate Eileen Fisher says. This is largely due to the amounts of pollution and chemical waste produced by factories working to meet the high demand of new clothing trends.

The truth is that buying new clothes – even long-lasting, eco-friendly attire – can be a little difficult. There are so many brands to choose from, and many have a different opinion of what falls under the banner of “affordable.” Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t find some clothing alternatives that won’t harm the environment.

Names like Armour Vert, Lur, and Threads 4 Thought are just some of the brands that are putting forth environmentally friendly, well-made clothing. To help you afford sustainable, socially-conscious fashion alternatives, develop a clothing budget. And always be on the lookout for a sale when shopping for any eco-friendly clothing.

When putting together your clothing budget, you’ll want have a clear goal. What’s your style? You’ll also want to keep track of your spending (bills, everyday stuff, etc.) so that you can more accurately put together a budget. And be aware of “green fabrics” that will largely determine how to budget. For example, wool and silk will probably be more expensive than linen. You also can buy at a discount from the following places:

The money you save from getting your clothing through these outlets can be put toward more costly green apparel.

The average American family spends $1,800 on apparel and services annually, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 figures. For those gripped in the throes of fast fashion, that number can get even higher. That’s a lot to spend on clothes that change like the seasons. And it’s not just the wallet that suffers under the ever-changing demands of a clothing market careening out of control. Lives have been lost in the harsh factory environments that work full steam to produce the latest clothing trends.

In the end, when you opt for more eco-friendly (and longer-lasting) clothing, you do more than just help the environment. You help to save lives by limiting your shopping and high clothing turnover. Furthermore, by shopping less, you aren’t beholden to spend more money than you have on the latest clothing trends.

What you eat

When it comes to eating organic foods, a little sticker shock can be forgiven – especially when the cost of organic is 47 percent more expensive, according to a Consumer Reports survey. However, there are many benefits to buying organic from having a positive impact on your health to improving the lives of farmers. Plus, there are lots of ways you can make organic groceries more affordable.

Ask yourself “what’s in your wallet?” If you’re familiar with the slogan, you’re likely to be familiar with the company that started it: Capital One. In any case, it’s a valid question to consider since most credit cards offer a nice little kickback for using them on grocery purchases. In fact, there are multiple Capital One credit cards that offer miles, cash back, and points for these everyday purchases. These are rewards that can make the cost of organic foods well worth it.

Before you even step into a grocery store, you should try to plan out some meals for the week. This will help you prioritize what you need to buy (organic meat for Monday, dairy for Tuesday, etc.). Another way you can save is to buy in bulk, be it “2 for 1” deals or bringing a measuring cup to a bulk dispenser.

Tip

Pro Tip: For even more savings on groceries, use your Capital One credit card. Consumers can save over time by getting up to 2 percent cash back on grocery purchases just by using these cards.

You may also need to change where you do your shopping in order to get the best deal. Some organic store brands may be cheaper at Trader Joe’s than what’s being offered at Publix, and vice versa. There are also coupon sites like All Natural Savings and Mambo Sprouts that offer discounts on organic foods.

While it’s no secret that organic foods can be comparatively more expensive, the benefits more than make up for it. Unlike conventionally-grown foods, organic meats and vegetables are free of pesticides and antibiotics. These pesticides and  are often linked to leukemia and certain cancers, as well as birth defects. Additionally, buying organic produce further promotes the healthy enrichment of local farmlands while improving the social and physical well-being of farmers.

How you live

According to the Energy Information Administration, the average monthly electricity bill in the U.S. was $112.59 in 2016. Were we to round that up to the nearest dollar and multiply by 12, you would have an average annual electricity bill of about $1,356. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider that most of that energy is wasted.

Heat and cold air have a nasty tendency to escape via the small gaps under your front door and even through windows. It’s especially noticeable during winter when the heat rises up through the roof or slides through a hole in your insulation. The more heat you lose, the more energy you’re using to make up for it.

There are, however, improvements you can make that improve the overall energy efficiency of your home.

For starters, you could seal any cracks or gaps on your windows with caulk. A decent-sized “draft snake” can also help prevent the escape of hot air and the incursion of cold. Another solution would be to install insulation in your roof to help keep some of that warm air in the living space. While having insulation put in can be an investment, there are home tax credits that can make the cost more manageable.

Appliances that further promote efficient energy use are also a great way to save on energy costs. A programmable thermostat can help save upward of $100 each year. Condensing boilers also are a much more efficient alternative to standard boilers. These utilize the exhaust condensation of burning gas which would be, otherwise, wasted.

Overall, these and other energy-efficient home improvements could save you over $500 a year. If you went one step further and utilized reclaimed wood for these and other improvements, you would also minimize your impact on the environment.

Additionally, these other building materials could further improve the energy efficiency of your home:

Structural insulated panels (SIP): These largely consist of a layer of foam insulation sandwiched between two pieces of plywood or, sometimes, cement panels. According to the NAHB Research Center, structural insulated panels can help save 50 percent in energy costs over homes built with conventional materials.

Low-E windows: Low-E (low-emission) windows are coated with metallic oxide which helps reduce the amount of air escaping through the glass. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Low-E windows can reduce the amount of air escaping by 10 percent, making them a cost-effective measure in the long run.

Plant-based foams: Insulating foams made from bamboo, hemp or even kelp are said to provide higher heat resistance than traditional polyurethane insulations. This in addition to increased protecting against pests and mold.

How to make your home more energy efficient

Infographic by Sean Beaubien

A price worth paying

One of the big pushbacks against “going green” is the cost. When it comes to what you wear, what you eat and where you call home – it is the cost of adopting these eco-friendly practices that is the most discouraging.

However, as we’ve discussed, these costs often are the result of long-term benefits not just to the world, but your own finances.

When you invest more time in clothing that lasts longer and isn’t harmful to the environment, you’re opting out of the flavor-of-the-month money sink. Any time you choose an organic meal over a conventional one, you’re helping to bolster your immune system and avoid medical complications down the road.

And, when you make a couple of improvements on your home, you’re limiting energy waste which can save you money in the long term.

See related: Eco-friendly credit cards get a bit harder to find, 7 things you never budget for (but need to)


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Updated: 11-16-2018