I used to simply compare the price tags on organic, eco-friendly, sustainable products to ones that weren’t and always chose the cheaper option. Basically, I avoided sustainable items because I wanted to get the best deal.
However, once I took a hard look at my spending, I realized that even though I was being cost conscious, buying cheap, disposable items, I wasn’t necessarily saving money. Surprisingly, one thing that really helped me shine a light on the reality of my spending was becoming more earth conscious.
Before I shifted my spending choices, I knew garbage was a huge global problem but I didn’t really connect it to my personal spending. It was more abstract. I knew about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I knew the Great Barrier Reef was all but dead. I knew marine animals were getting stuck in plastic we dumped into the ocean. But I blamed large corporations, and heavy polluting industries, not my individual choices.
For so long, I was ignoring this issue and I now feel guilty because I should have been taking more responsibility for my actions and how they contribute to this huge problem.
There is one clear explanation for the amount of garbage on the earth: overconsumption.
While I try not to consume more than I need, I can definitely be content with less. When I started to change my lifestyle, saving money became an added benefit to saving our planet.
Stop Mindlessly Feeding the Trash
Living frugal was a way of life for me when I started my first job out of college. I was living in NYC, earning an intern’s salary that left me with only $600 dollars a month after I paid my rent. I learned all the tricks of how to live in the big city on very little. As a result, I was accumulating a lot of stuff that my tiny NYC apartment couldn’t handle.
The problem was that I was focused on how much I was spending and where, but not so much on what, and the frequency of those purchases. I obsessed over getting the best deal, no matter the consequences. It wasn’t until I re-examined my spending habits that I began to change.
But it isn’t just me struggling with this; everyone has spending habits that need some re-examination in our ‘new is better’ world.
The fact is, we have gotten stuck in a culture of convenience. This is true for every average American, no matter your generation group.
After some research, I became convinced that single use items needed to go. So the first thing I did was identify all the convenience items in my possession: cotton swabs, plastic bags, dryer sheets, make-up wipes, plastic water bottles, even those little disposable floss picks. I realized that a large piece of recurring spending was for temporary items because those were the most cost efficient products. These items enter and leave my life sometimes within seconds and their lifecycle ends just as quickly in a landfill or an ocean.
When I started to become more earth conscious, I stopped wasting money on anything that would be tossed after one use. Most of the things I listed above need to be replenished every month. By replacing those disposables with reusables, I make one purchase that can last me months, if not years. For example, if I spend $20 dollars on a stainless steel water bottle I can save $200 dollars a year on plastic bottles of water.
Looking for Permanent Solutions
Making investments in items means that they enter my life permanently. I have a rule now: Every time I open my wallet, I am making an investment. I buy things that will remain in my possession long term and/or provide great value to my life. I apply this to every purchase, no matter the price. My sandalwood comb that ran me $11 dollars got the same treatment as my Ninja blender, costing around $100.
Another trick I’ve developed to avoid buying things that I don’t need is, I will let items sit in my Amazon cart for a cooling off period. Very often I purchase things that I think I need in the moment, but once I have it, it doesn’t get used. If my desire for the items goes away, I won’t buy them.
As for a bigger ticket item, if it seems like worthwhile addition to my life but it’s a bigger buy than a cheap disposable item, I will put money aside to get it. This ensures that my purchases are real investments. I no longer want to bring anything into my life that needs to be replaced quickly or will sit on a shelf unused.
Tricking Myself Into Spending Less
Overconsumption is a huge problem, especially with social media and societal expectations that you can’t be photographed in the same outfit twice. When I started to become more minimalist and think about the earth, I stopped caring about what others think and I started to use the earth as an excuse not to shop. I think it is a common mindset that there is a product for every problem, but in reality, not every problem needs a solution. You don’t need a new outfit for every occasion.
While I am a fan of fashion, it produces an enormous amount of pollution. And while some may think global warming is a myth, I don’t. From carbon emissions, to water pollution caused by dyes, bleach and other chemicals, fast fashion really doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to being earth friendly.
As an alternative, I buy ‘recycled clothes’ at secondhand stores, consignment shops, tag sales and online auction sites. This is something I was doing casually before I changed my lifestyle, and I have now re-committed to these efforts. People throw away things that are in great shape; and I am giving new value to something that has none for its current owner.
Labels are the Enemy
You buy less when you want less, and product packaging is created to persuade you to want something you don’t necessarily need. I have a Marketing degree, and I am now a marketing professional. I am very aware of marketing’s power, both subtly and directly.
While many companies are making strides towards honest consumer marketing, the aisles of supermarkets are filled with misleading health information.
Do your research. Decide for yourself what messages to prioritize and what to avoid. For me, in the rare case that I do buy something packaged, I know to look at the ingredients list, not the amount of calories. I’ve prioritized natural ingredients over caloric intake because it doesn’t matter to me how many calories are in my snack if I’m consuming preservatives and processed food that can clog up my digestive system.
I began to make more thoughtful purchases this way. Avoiding packaging all together actually limits me to maybe 1% of a supermarket, narrowing my spending scope once again.
New Thinking Pays
In just 6 months, I have reduced my clothing and personal care spending by 28%. I reduced my grocery expense by 23% because I am limited to buying fresh produce, nuts and grains, which I consider an investment in my overall health.
Being a person that never says no to a challenge, I took this one head on. Avoiding plastic has been more difficult than I anticipated, but well worth the effort.
I have learned how to spend more thoughtfully and now have deeper relationships with the things that I do own.
Most importantly, by being a more earth conscious human, I am joining a global movement to save our planet from further damage due to plastic pollution. I live a little easier knowing that I am helping to spread awareness in order to make positive change happen.