Written by Tara McKenna, Founder of The Zero Waste Collective
There’s a lot of chatter that sustainable living can be quite expensive.
And sure, that’s the case if you’re only buying brand new things from sustainable and ethical brands (which is recommended, if you can’t find something you need secondhand), but you don’t have to get caught up in all the bells and whistles of brand-new, eco-friendly products and services.
Buying new creates waste through the processes of material extraction, production, packaging and shipment.
Instead, here are a few sustainable lifestyle changes that will reduce your waste and save money too!
1. Swap Don’t Shop
Instead of buying the latest sustainable product, swap your unwanted things with others! You may just find exactly what you’re looking for (secondhand instead of new, but just as good!), while giving away something you no longer need. It’s a win-win!
Whether you attend or host a clothing swap or trade for stuff using a platform like Facebook or Bunz, there are plenty of options for swapping, trading, and finding free stuff. Also check out Buy Nothing Groups and websites like Craigslist and Kijiji.
You’ll save money because you won’t be spending a cent!
2. Buy Secondhand
Getting free stuff is great, but so is shopping secondhand! While you will have to pull out some cash compared to simply swapping, thrifting tends to be far less expensive than buying anything brand new.
Think about buying a brand new car for example, as soon as you drive it off the lot it’s basically losing a few thousand dollars in value! Why buy new when you can buy used, save money, and the item already exists?
Buying secondhand is better for the planet because the item has already been made; the resources were already extracted, the product already produced, packaged, shipped, and sold. When you buy a secondhand item, you’re extending its life, keeping it out of the landfill, and saving money while you’re at it. Heck yes!
3. Try a No-Spend Month (or year!)
What if you don’t shop at all? Aside from necessities like food, shelter, toiletries, and whatever else you consider critical to your survival, don’t buy anything else!
Try it out for a week, a month, or even an entire year. Consuming less through a spending hiatus like this will help you reduce your carbon footprint, and save you money.
This challenge will also give you the opportunity to really enjoy what you already own, get creative with your free time, and find new ways to engage in your community.
For example, when something breaks down, head over to a repair cafe, meet new people, and get your stuff fixed. Enjoy spending time with family and friends, and focus on activities that are free, like playing games and going for hikes. Discover what brings you the most joy, and dive in.
While you’re at it, now’s a great time to learn how to manage your finances. Seeing as you’ll be spending less, you’ll presumably be saving more or paying off debt, both of which are great!
If you have extra cash, then take the time to learn how to invest it, and also consider donating to causes that are important to you.
4. Plan and Save For Expensive Purchases
While emergencies may come up and we have to whip out a credit card for an unforeseen expense, most of our purchases can be planned ahead of time.
Whether you're shopping for clothes, furniture, appliances, or a vacation (the list goes on), you can plan ahead by budgeting and saving for these expenses.
This is a sustainable approach to consumption because it lacks immediacy. When we plan for our purchases, we are thoughtful about the process and potentially even reduce our level of consumption by being conscious of what we’re buying.
This is in contrast to impulse shopping, in which you buy what you want in the moment, without planning ahead. This can lead to excessive spending and excessive consumption.
By planning and saving for your purchases, you’ll likely buy less, save money, and avoid interest payments on your credit card bills.
5. Have an Emergency Fund
To avoid using your credit card (and potentially accruing interest) for emergencies and other unexpected expenses, the best thing to do is to save for these unplanned scenarios instead.
Dave Ramsey, financial guru, recommends saving at least $1000 in your emergency fund for a rainy day. This is not your oh-let’s-just-buy-that-couch or hmm-let’s-just-take-that-fancy-vacation fund; this is money you don’t touch! Pretend it’s not even there.
If saving $1000 seems out of reach, just take baby steps to get there. Start with saving $10 bucks a paycheck and increase it when you can or if you get a raise. Cut some expenses if possible.
It’s much better to have the spare cash than to be paying off a credit card (plus interest) over months or even years.
While saving for an emergency fund might not seem like a sustainable lifestyle choice on the surface, if we dig a little deeper, it reflects conscious money management. When you manage your finances wisely, you’re more likely to be careful what you buy and when you buy it, resulting in less consumption overall.
When you get a hold of and reign in your spending in order to pay off debt, save and invest, you're doing your wallet and the planet a huge favour.
Feeling swamped in debt? Perhaps this kind of goal seems out of reach? Head to your local library for books and resources to learn how to pay off your debt and turn your financial situation around!
The Most Sustainable Products are Those That Already Exist
As you can see from the examples above, sustainable living doesn’t have to be expensive. In reality, you should end up with more money instead!
I’m not saying don’t buy brand new, sustainable and ethical products - go for it! If that’s what makes the most sense. I totally support and promote sustainable and ethical brands! They’re incredibly important to moving our planet in the right direction.
Just keep in mind that the most sustainable products are the ones that already exist, and secondhand will always cost less.
And not shopping at all? Well, that speaks for itself!