While living sustainably has become a trendy topic over the past few years, it can feel like spending more and more money is the key to leaving a smaller impact.
There are countless products on the market that are sold based off of their so-called “sustainable” approach: phone cases made from recycled plastics, t-shirts woven with ethically-harvested bamboo, food alternatives to animal products that demand a high price for avoiding animal cruelty and huge carbon emissions.
Because these products are usually sold at a marked-up price, it’s hard to remind ourselves that sometimes, buying less is actually helping more.
The U.S. has by far the highest rate of consumption in the world, even though we make up only 5% of the global population.
This means that we need to stop buying, wasting, and traveling as much as we do, while also buying smart when we make our purchases.
The green-marketed products out there can make you think that you have to spend more to help the environment. While there are costly but incredibly beneficial changes you can make to your lifestyle, like installing solar panels, buying an electric car, or factoring a carbon offset into your purchases, there are also ways you minimize your impact while minimizing your budget.
We’ve collected some simple ways to start living sustainably while not maxing out your budget. Actually, many of these hacks actually save you money, because they prioritize using what you have and buying only what you need.
1. Green up your closet
With fast fashion now pushing 52 seasons–one for every week of the year–instead of 4, it can be hard to keep up with changing trends while trying to minimize your environmental impact.
Try finding zero-waste solutions to freshening up your wardrobe: have a clothing swap with friends, make a board on Pinterest for outfit ideas you can create with what you already have, and trying making new clothes from too-small or too-old pieces.
If you do need to buy, go to a vintage or thrift store first instead of buying something new. These places will lead you to more unique, and often cheaper clothes!
2. Reduce your energy consumption
In one day, write down all of the different ways you use energy.
How do you get to work? How many hours are the lights on in your house? Your office? How many stops do you make on the ride home? Do you rely on delivery services like Amazon for products? Where does your dinner come from?
After making this list, try to trace back which of your practices rely on fossil fuels (spoiler, it will be a lot!). Think about which of these practices you could skip altogether or minimize as much as possible.
This will not only save you money on gas, food, electricity and heat, but will also reduce your carbon output.
3. Invest in the long-term
Single-use plastics are one of the largest contributors to solid waste in the U.S. Buying reusable alternatives like metal straws, cloth grocery bags and reusable coffee cups are inexpensive ways to save money and the planet.
4. Beware of the green market
Just because you want your products to be green doesn’t mean you need to spend all your green to get there.
Other than investing in reusable instead of single-use items, you should only buy an item that is produced sustainably if it’s something you really need. Buying more than you need, afterall, is part of what has led to our crazy consumption patterns.
Watch out for marketing campaigns that try to commercialize environmentalism–it’s only undermining sustainability in the first place.
5. Push for large-scale change
While personal action of minimizing environmental impact is important, it is nowhere near as effective as the large-scale, systemic change that needs to happen to lower our combined environmental impact, and fast.
Consider the difference between your own impact and that of some of the largest corporations.
Incorporate advocacy for climate justice into your everyday life by following environmentalists on social media, writing to representatives when they have a chance to vote on environmental legislation, and boycotting companies when they don’t reflect your environmental values.
In the end, you don’t need to break the bank to make a difference. By being conscious of what you buy, where it’s from, and who made it, you can be sure that the purchases you do make put your money where your mouth is.