Updated: Dec 7, 2020
To build on last week’s post, we’ll dive into how to go zero waste on a budget in more detail! Most lifestyle tips for low waste living should result in financial savings, rather than bigger expenses. Let’s get real here and talk about how to go zero waste on a budget!
Use what you already have
This one goes without saying, but is still worthy of repeating. While it may be appealing to go out and buy all the nice and fancy ‘zero waste’ things (perhaps a safety razor or menstrual cup comes to mind), use what you have first. When you use what you already bought and paid for, then you won’t be spending any money! Use it allllll up!
(Tara, founder of The Zero Waste Collective and the one who is writing this post (might as well switch to first person now...) - I waited 6 months before switching to a safety razor, which is one of my fave zero waste swaps. I used all of the disposable razor blades I already had before making the switch, because zero waste / low waste living does not happen overnight!!
Save for investment items
When you get a point where you do need to replace your dull and disposable razor, or you’ve run out of disposable pads and tampons, you’ll probably want to find a zero waste alternative. Chances are however, you’ll know this in advance! Make a list of swaps that you’d like to make, find out how much they will cost, and save for them. Determine how long it will take you to use up what you already have, and then calculate how much of each pay check needs to be saved towards your new investment item and start saving (this one is tough for millennials, I get it, speaking from experience). In the long run, swaps like safety razors and menstrual cups will also reduce your spending! A menstrual cup can last 5+ years, and fully replace your disposable pads and tampons. Hello savings!
Review your finances
It’s hard to talk about budget without digging a bit deeper into our financial situation. Have you looked at your budget lately? Where are you spending your money? Do your purchases match your values? For example, if you find it expensive to shop at the specialty food store where you can use your own containers and bags but you’re willing to buy a new $10 t-shirt every week (adding up to $40/month), then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your shopping habits. When you save money from skipping the unnecessary spending, you can use that instead towards specialty food items that help you reduce your waste.
Shop secondhand and swap/share with friends
Avoid credit card debt and find savings by not buying anything new in the first place. Need a fancy outfit for a wedding? Then ‘shop’ your friend’s wardrobe by borrowing an outfit, host a clothing/stuff swap, or buy second hand. Check out your local library or tool library for books, toys, tools and much more. You can often rent instead of owning things you only need to use once or a handful of times.
When you do buy new, invest in quality items that are built to last
When you buy cheap stuff, it’ll inevitably break and need to be replaced. While quality things might be more expensive (remember to save for what you want!), you’ll save money in the long run by not replacing them quickly. It’s also important to avoid trends and fads, so you’ll love what you buy for a longer period of time. It’s more budget friendly overall, plus saves cheap crap from ending up in landfills after a short life.
On that note, just stop buying crap
Don’t need it? Don’t buy it.
Upcycle what you already own
Want reusable produce bags but don’t want to fork out cash to buy them? Make them yourself! If you have extra fabric lying around (perhaps an unused pillow case or bed sheet), sew some reusable bags. Not a sewer? Maybe you have a friend who can sew them for you, in exchange for whatever awesome skills you have! Consider the creative ways that you can upcycle what you already have in your home to reduce your waste without spending money.
You may also like: 5 Ways to Inspire Friends and Loved Ones While Going Zero Waste
Stop buying disposables
From paper plates and napkins to plastic cutlery and cups, maybe paper towels, razors and razor blades, and anything else in your house that you would use once (or only a few times) then throw out... stop buying these things. It’s a perpetual spending activity: buy, use, throw away, and buy again. That is not budget friendly. Choose to reuse instead, and your expenses will be more like: one and done!
Simplify your routines
Is your toiletries bag overflowing? Maybe it’s time to reassess your beauty routine. Stick to the necessities; after all, how many lipsticks or colognes does one person need? (that’s a trick question, because obviously we don’t need any, but perhaps reduce to one or two of your faves and stop buying any more). Simplify all of your daily routines and reduce your stuff down to what you actually use, and when you do that, be sure not to buy anything other than replacements as required. You’ll save money for sure!
Stock up when you find a good sale or coupon
This advice will be rare on The Zero Waste Collective, but actually comes in handy for buying food that has a long shelf life, like rice, lentils, beans, etc. If it’s expensive to shop the bulk section where you live, then consider stocking up on these basic food items when they go on sale. These foods can provide the foundation for many healthy and inexpensive meals!
Change your convenience food/drink habits
Need your daily vanilla latte from Starbucks? Can’t help but grab a local, organic and vegan burger on your way home from work? When you make your fancy drinks and prepare food at home, you’ll save money in the long run. It might be a difficult change to make at first, but you’ll eventually change your habits and not miss your former routine. Grabbing a latte and eating out should be considered a treat, not a necessity, if you want to reduce your waste on a budget.
Grow your own food
Sometimes plastic-free produce is more expensive than produce wrapped in plastic. If you can grow veggies in your backyard, balcony or at a local community garden, then it won’t be as expensive as buying produce from the store or farmer’s market! Plus, you’ll have the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with growing a garden and working with nature. You can even grow a few things indoors, too (think hydroponics). Go get your hands dirty! Your wallet will thank you.
Buy soon-to-expire foods
You’ll nearly always find a discount section at the grocery store with food that’s about to expire / go bad. While it might not be zero waste from a packaging perspective, you’ll save the food from ending up in the trash anyways and save a few bucks!
The list could go on, but this seems pretty comprehensive for now. Stay tuned for more posts on how to go zero waste on a budget! Sustainable living can more affordable when it’s done from the perspective of consuming less overall. It also doesn’t have to limit your lifestyle, especially when you choose experiences over things. However, when certain zero waste purchases are more expensive, be mindful of your budget first and foremost, and do what works best for you!
If you find that reducing your waste is expensive, be sure to revisit the basic principles of the zero waste lifestyle. And definitely read: Zero Waste Living: 5 Budget Vs. Investment Options