Have An (Economical) Earth Day!

It’s here once again, that day when we all (or at least, all us Americans) look at our relationship with the planet on which we live and see how we can improve it (or at least, keep the Earth from getting too outraged and chucking us into space to fend for ourselves).

Fortunately for us, there’s lots of intersection between how to live frugally and how to live environmentally friendly.  Both lifestyles put much more emphasis on planning for the long term, cutting down the amount we consume, and looking toward the future we leave ourselves and our children when we’re old and gray (or have transferred our minds in self-sustaining holographic bodies to cheat the Reaper; trust me, it’s coming).  Here’s a few ways to save some money AND help to do at least a little bit toward saving the planet:

1) Reduce: The first of the three R’s, and one of the foremost points of good personal finance (right after, or possibly intermingled with, ‘spend less than you earn’).  If you reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ you on which your spend your money (and to which you and society at large commit materials), you can cut your expenses and also decrease your impact on the planet.  Ways to reduce your use of resources (and spending of money) include:

  • If you don’t need (or really, really want) it, don’t buy it: It seems a bit trite, but then, so do most simple solutions to complex problems.  Limiting the amount of ‘stuff’ you purchase will help you to save your money and keep resources from being used to make even more stuff.
  • Try to make more stuff yourself: One of the advantages of making things yourself, from your own meals to furniture (if you’re really handy, at least) is that you can usually reduce the amount of waste generated as a by-product.  You can also usually get the raw materials cheaper than you could the finished product (compare the cost of a meal in a restaurant to one you cook yourself, for example), allowing you to save money while you are expanding your skills.
  • Buy in bulk: This one may seem counter-intuitive; how can buying more help you to use less?  But consider that buying larger quantities usually cuts down on the amount of packaging used; buying one 50 unit box rather than five 10 unit boxes will generally use much less packing material.  Add in the fact that the larger packages generally have a lower per unit price, and it’s a win all around.

2) Reuse: The second of the three environmental R’s, and a great way to cut down your expenses, as well.  If you’ve limited your purchases and make sure to reuse everything that you can, you’ll be well on your way to cutting your expenses and minimizing the impact you have on the Earth.  Some hints on how to do so include:

  • Buying reusable items: There’s been a trend as of late toward disposable items, from disposable plates to mop heads.  In almost every case, you’ll be able to save much more money by buying a more durable, non-disposable version and reusing it after cleaning.  (The environmental case for reusing materials is not so clear cut, as using all that water in washing every time negates some of the environmental benefits, but it’s still generally recommended.)
  • Share the wealth: If you no longer need something (like baby clothing once your children are no longer babies), pass it along to friends or family members who do have babies, cutting down how many sets of adorable bunny costumes need to produced, to cite one embarrassing example from my youth.  Bonus: If you do need something in the future (a sudden addition to the family, for example), you can ask for the item back, reusing it even more.  My extended family passed baby clothing back and forth between my mother and her sisters for nearly a decade (I had a lot of cousins who were born during the Reagan years).
  • Share the wealth (stranger edition): What if you have a small family, or nobody in said family wants to share with you?  Well, strangers are pretty good sources of stuff, too; sites like Freecycle enable you to get things that you need, and pass on what you don’t need anymore to someone else.  Both opinions cut down on the amount of resources used.

3) Recycle: You knew it was coming; the third and most famous of the three R’s.  Recycling items that you can no longer use cuts down on the number of raw materials used (well, in theory; as already mentioned, the math gets tricky in some cases).  Want to maximize your benefit to the Earth while minimizing those tricky complications?  Try to:

  • Take advantage of existing recycling programs: If your city has an existing recycling program, where a truck comes around to collect material put out for recycling on street, for example, why not use it?  The added fuel burned from one more stop is likely negligible, and you’re likely to be paying for the program anyway via property or other taxes.
  • Make your own recycling program: Remember in grade school when you would use brown paper bags to cover your school books?  That’s the sort of recycling you can do to ensure that you’re benefiting the planet and not hurting it.  Find other uses for broken or old items, even if you have to take them apart to do so, can keep your environmental footprint (and spending) as small as possible.

That’s all, folks; hopefully, you have wonderful Earth Day, and find plenty of ways to save the planet (and your wallet) today and every day!

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