the process

saving money, conserving resources

happy earth day!

in line with today’s celebration of our home planet, we thought we’d write about something that’s super important to us, in addition to saving money for our retirement goals: conserving resources. to put it bluntly, we’re pretty freaked out at what’s happening to the climate and planet, and we don’t want to contribute to that in any avoidable ways. (that said, we know that we travel a lot for work right now, and that’s hugely bad in terms of carbon emissions. that’s something we’ll be glad to have off our consciences after we retire!)

fortunately, saving money and conserving resources can easily go together, and we’ve put together this list of the best ways we are achieving both:

adopting zero-waste grocery shopping habits

if you haven’t learned about the zero waste philosophy, this is a great day to learn about it. we recommend bea johnson’s blog, zero waste home. the idea is to shop in ways that minimize the packaging you’re purchasing, since it all ends up in the landfill, even most of what you put in your recycling bin. we’ve adopted the habits of shopping not just with reusable shopping bags, which are pretty ubiquitous these days, but also reusable produce bags and reusable jars for foods from the bulk bins. we also bring a few special containers, like a reusable plastic egg carrier and glass food storage containers for things like tofu and deli products. once you start looking, it’s pretty amazing how many things are available in bulk this way, and we’ve been saving a lot changing our shopping habits. best of all, we waste less food because you don’t have to buy a whole package worth of something at one time, and we’ve reduced our garbage and recycling output by upward of 75 percent. definitely a win-win. (on the rare occasion when we go out to eat, we also bring glass containers with us, so that we don’t have to use styrofoam or plastic to transport our leftovers.)

keeping our house cold in the winter

we live in a place that has historically had pretty cold winters. this winter was an exception, which helped with our energy use. but ever since we got our first winter gas bill, we have lowered our thermostat to heat our home to between 58 and 61 degrees. if you’re used to 68 or warmer, that probably sounds pretty cold. but it’s actually not that hard to get used to colder temps, especially if you take the simple step of adding a layer. we found that 55 was too cold for us, but 58 or 59 is only a little brisk and is completely liveable. recently, our furnace went out, and our house dropped another 10 degrees below where we keep it, and we survived. so this is not that big a deal, after a brief adjustment period.

eating very few animal products

we’ve adopted a mostly vegan diet at home, both because it is a lot cheaper than buying meat, fish and dairy products, and because we’ve learned that those products require the most resources to produce, and can contribute a lot of pollution. we aren’t strict about avoiding animal products, and don’t think there’s anything ethically or morally wrong with eating them. but we don’t love how they’re produced these days, and what that production does to the planet.

buying used

a huge percentage of the furniture in our home came from flea markets and antique stores, as did most of our decor items. this both saved money and conserved resources — AND gave us better stuff, since most new furniture is produced so cheaply now. it’s true that they don’t make ’em like they used to, but fortunately it’s pretty easy to get the good older stuff. and midcentury modern stuff looks just as cool as ever. antique does not equal granny style.

biking for our errands

when it’s not cold out, we try to shop with our bikes instead of taking out a car. we got a burley trailer that doesn’t slow us down, but can hold plenty of groceries or farmers market produce. best of all, it’s exercise, and it gets us out into that nature we love so much.

keeping our cars a long time

though we know some would disagree with us, and say that current fuel efficiency is most important, we believe that the resources needed to manufacture an entirely new car are greater than the incremental gains in fuel efficiency you might get with a new car. so the greenest car is the one you already have. our two cars, which will be reduced to one after we quit our jobs, have upward of 100K miles on them, and we expect to drive at least one of them up into much higher numbers still. by the way, this saves a huge amount of money, keeping a car for a long time!

not buying stuff

we aren’t perfect in this regard, as we still need the occasional new work clothes or some piece of outdoor gear. but after reading cradle to cradle, we realized that it’s all the stuff we buy that uses a huge amount of resources, both in the manufacturing and the transportation, and is what ultimately clogs our landfills and fills our oceans with plastic. not buying the stuff helps reduce demand and saves us money.

other things we do regularly to pad our accounts and protect the planet:

  • take short showers, and use a bucket to collect the water before it gets warm. the bucket water then goes into our water filter for drinking water.
  • get library books instead of buying them, including e-books. most libraries lend e-books now, and we’ve found the selection to be pretty great.
  • compost our kitchen scraps, to supplement our soil and save the cost of organic fertilizers.

we’re sure there’s more we could be doing. if you have any suggestions for us, shoot ’em our way!

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13 replies »

  1. Awesome article, love your attention to conserving the things that you buy and take a more active approach in minimizing waste. There is a lot that you and I have in common, actually.

    Like you, my wife and I also eat mostly vegan at home. Like you said, it is cheaper, and I personally like the effect it has on our health.

    We also like to buy used as much as we possibly can. I made the mistake of buying new stuff in the past and, looking back at those times now, it literally makes me cringe. Especially cars. And camera stuff for my hobby. The depreciation on the stuff you buy makes buying used almost a no-brainer.

    Regarding house temperatures, yeah, 60 would be way too cold for me. Luckily, we live in southern Arizona and haven’t run the heat or A/C since around February or so, and even during the winter, only at night. Major energy savings.

    One thing that we need to get better at is composting our kitchen scraps. Right now everything either gets trashed or recycled in our two separate containers. Would love to start reusing some of that stuff.

    • Oh we could join you in that cringe party! We’ve for sure evolved to our current ways of doing things after doing things the wrong way in the past — buying stupid stuff that we loved at the time, being too wasteful, etc. On house temp, what’s important isn’t the actual temperature, but saving energy — which you’re doing. And composting is super easy. We have a bin outside, but we’ve seen people do it in a plastic tub, too. Just toss in the food scraps with some yard waste like grass clippings, pine needles, etc. You can stir periodically, or leave it alone, and either way it works. Plus, composting takes a LOT of waste out of your trash bag. Happy Earth Day!

  2. Love the steps you guys are taking. I inadvertently am taking some of those steps while living in NYC. I sold my car once I moved here so now solely rely on my feet and public transportation. We cannot control the thermostat in our apartment, but it isn’t kept very warm in the winter. I also have more or less taken the past year off from buying “stuff”. I’ve only purchased necessities and travel. But a problem I’m running into now is I need some new work clothes since I work in a business / finance setting. Keep up the good work!

    • It’s so true that city living is naturally more eco-friendly than living in the suburbs or rural areas. for your work clothes, it’s definitely possible to find good ones secondhand, though it’s a skill you have to develop to have the patience for secondhand clothes shopping. thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Happy (belated) earth day to you too! We also live a lifestyle that is waste-free. Eating less animal products is something we are trying to do more this year (also helps with reducing our grocery expenses) and it’s working out pretty well so far. I am big proponent of not buying (especially new) stuff – I am going on year two of not buying any piece of clothing (both new and used). Great list – I can’t think of anything else to add!

    • That’s so great that you do zero waste! We’re not quite to zero but have reduced a ton, which feels great. And sort of like realizing one day how much money you’ve been wasting, that way of living has shown us how much packaging we’ve been wasting. And WOW — two years of no clothes at all! So impressive!

  4. I’m so into this, though I’ve got a long way to improve! Could definitely stand to implement a few of these myself. Just found a local store that seems to source all its meat ethically, both for the animals, the health of the human consumer, and the environment (as much as it can be.) So I’m excited about that, but will have to see where it takes our budget! Worth the $ sacrifice IMHO.

    • That’s great! You have to find the choices that work for you. Even though we save on groceries, it’s still any area where we don’t scrimp. Health is too important!

  5. Still working my way through your archive. I’ve been reading Bea’s blog as well as Beth Terry’s etc. for years, but your suggestion to put collected cold shower water in the drinking water filter was a lightbulb moment for me. Thanks!