the process

frugal = environmental = healthy

society likes to categorize things in little boxes, but real life doesn’t happen in silos. just as you’re not “about” only one thing, we tend not to think in narrow lanes about our life decisions. we’re saving a lot by being frugal, but for us it’s just as much about being responsible stewards of our planet’s dwindling resources, and eliminating the harm we might inflict on future generations through global warming. we also want to enjoy our retirement for a long time, which means thinking about our health in a big way.

make no mistake, we haven’t always thought this way. it’s been a long and circuitous path to get here. we used to be typical consumers like most americans, which meant not only wasting money and getting into debt, but also amassing far too much stuff and putting too much waste into the landfill. we didn’t wake up suddenly one day and decide to change. in fact, when we first started saving in earnest, we shopped with a lot of coupons, which often meant buying the most processed and junky of the junk food, which we now look back on with more than a little dismay. like everything, it’s been a process.

it helps to think about your values. what’s important to you? how do you want to spend your days? what do you want your legacy to be? let the answers to those big questions drive your life decisions.

preserving nature is important to us, which means we need to make smart decisions about how we want to impact (or not impact) the planet. we don’t want to spend our days cleaning up our piles and piles of stuff, so scaling back and buying less makes sense. we want our legacy to be leaving things better than how we found them, so that means minimizing our carbon footprint while also volunteering for causes that ignite our passions.

after reading the eye-opening book cradle to cradle, we realized that just recycling wasn’t enough. we also talked to a friend who works for a major garbage disposal company, and learned that most products people put in their recycling bin end up in the landfill anyway. this horrified us. we wondered if recycling is just something we’ve all been tricked into believing is this magic cure-all, when it’s really just smoke and mirrors.

we decided that we’d reduce the total waste that we generate, and as a happy side effect, that approach also saves us money — kind of a lot, actually — and helps keep us buying mostly the healthiest foods. we tend not to shop at the bargain basement grocery stores, because we think it’s important to eat organic and to support producers that treat their workers well and try to protect the environment. that means we’ve tended to shop at the pricier stores like whole foods and local food co-ops. on the surface, this may feel like the exact opposite of frugality, but there are still good values to be had at those stores if you look for store brands and shop the sales. in addition, most of the high prices come from buying the highly processed and packaged stuff, and we try to buy mostly unprocessed foods.

but we’ve recently gone that extra step at these stores, in our effort to reduce waste, by shopping almost exclusively from the bulk bins with our own reusable containers, in addition to buying loose produce like we’ve always done. it’s pretty easy — we just bring jars with us to the store (mostly jars we’ve reused from things like coconut oil and pasta sauce), ask the customer service desk to weigh them and write their tare weights in sharpie on the bottoms, and then fill them from the bulk bins. we either write the bulk codes on the jars with a chalk pen, or enter them into our phones for easy reference at the checkout. you can even hand the jars over at the meat and fish counters, or the deli counter. they just have to zero out the scale with the container on it, and then add the food. they’ll stick a little label on that the cashier scans. we have a set of mesh bags that we use for produce, so we don’t have to use those plastic baggies. and then we take everything home in our reusable shopping bags which are a completely normal thing now.

what probably looks to the folks at the store like a purely environmental decision saves us serious money (we’ve reduced our grocery spending at least 20 percent), helps us feel good that we’re minimizing the waste we’re sending to the landfill, and keeps us healthier by reducing the temptation to buy the uber-packaged and far less healthy things like frozen pizzas, packaged dinners and individually wrapped ice cream bars. win-win-win.

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9 replies »

  1. I like how you are able to incorporate them all, we don’t have a lot of the options you were discussing here but I do try and reduce my footprint, I use glass/ plastic containers instead of baggies, rarely have take out (I will be implementing your suggestions of bringing containers to restaurants for leftovers- feel dumb for not thinking of) I also drive minimially (2012 just hit 50k miles with a couple road trips included) and eat mostly vegetarian. You definetly motivate me to think of other options though thanks

    • And I completely confess that we’ve fallen a bit off the wagon on some of this stuff in the last year, in the crush of our final year of work and everything else. But we definitely plan to go back to shopping with containers as much as possible in retirement — if only Costco let you do this! ;-) And yeah, I love bringing takeout containers to dinner! So much better than bringing home all that plastic and styrofoam.

  2. I am from Europe, Brussels. Here there is a new wave and there are now are opening more and more bulk bio shops (I counted more than 20 in a town of 1 million people) so I can go with my fabric bags to fill with. For diary and meat I contacted local producers, even there are plastic bottles I can reuse it. These sustain us to eat more salads, more raw food, simpler. As a consequence we spend less on food and on medicaments (no disease about 6-7 years in all the family) .

    Definitely the hypermarkets are not for as any more.

  3. Kudos! We’re not nearly as hard-core about the grocery shopping other than using our own bags but we do buy a lot of produce and compost in our yard which ultimately goes back into our garden. Between that and the curbside recycling we only fill a kitchen garbage bag on average less than once/month. It probably helps that we don’t have meat/bones in the trash requiring an earlier trip out of the house. It kills me to see our neighbors putting heaping garbage cans out every week (not to mention blatant violations of the recycling guidelines).

    • That’s awesome what you guys are doing! Full confession that we slipped on some of this stuff in the last year of work. With all the travel, I just did not have time to bulk shop, and bought more packaging than I would have liked. (We still composted, though!) Really excited to get back to this way of operating now that we have time!