By making some minor changes you can make some major savings. How one self-described “frugalista” did just that.
I am so sick of the words “green” and “frugal” and all of their derivatives. I am no
longer just a conscious consumer, I am a frugalista, according to the media. I am
not just aware of how much I consume or waste, I am practicing eco-nomics.
But, here’s the real secret. I was raised in a family with one parent, seven
children, and a legacy of a parent and grandparents who survived the Great
Depression and several wars, where saving, scrimping, and sacrificing weren’t
media-inspired, vogue choices. It was necessary. I grew up with a home
garden, a compost pile, hand-me-down clothing (not vintage, not re-designer),
and pay-with-cash mentality. Although I rebelled against all things earthy in my
teens, I returned to these roots as an adult. As my version of that country song
goes, “I was composting before composting was cool!”
I made a few simple changes this past year, and I am just quantifying what I
already know. Although I am ‘green’ with envy over those people who can turn
a $300 grocery trip into one that costs $32.50, I haven’t quite mastered their
coupon prowess, nor have I had solar panels installed (another dream). I made
little changes that were painless, and I netted some really big results:
1. Although the term waste-free is tossed around, I actually eliminated the
use of reusable plastic bags, drink pouches, and paper napkins. I used
inexpensive small plastic containers with lids for all of my daughter’s
a. 180 school days x 2 ziploc bags (sandwich and snacks) = 360 bags
b. 180 napkins saved
c. 180 juice pouches not used
d. 180 plastic water bottles not used
e. We bought one sturdy insulated lunch bag and used it all year long
which saved on paper bags, too. We used cloth napkins.
2. I bought a manual mower. Now, this may seem extreme to many people,
but I rationalized that I was hiring a lawn service for $50/cut while I drove
to the gym and worked out. Hmmm.
a. So far this summer, I have cut the lawn 12 times. That saved me
$600. I bought the mower last summer and cut the lawn 14 times
which more than paid for the mower ($180). Not to mention, there
are no emissions except an occasional burp.
b. I get a killer workout. Mowing the lawn is not pretty business, but I
sweated more than 60 minutes on the elliptical or treadmill.
c. I really got to know my lawn and all of the plants. I use white
vinegar to kill weeds, soapy water to deter bugs, and hanging soap
to discourage deer and other critters. I also have saved the lives of
dozens of toads!
3. I switched all of my cleansers to baking soda and all of my sprays to white
a. I donated all of the other cleansers to a local women’s shelter.
b. I refill all spray bottles with white vinegar and find that the cleaning
power is far superior. I use it on everything except wood (I use
olive oil for wood).
c. Baking soda is an awesome cleaner and it’s super cheap.
d. I estimate that I have saved at least $80 on cleaners and I don’t
worry about toxins in my home now.
5. Last but not least, I compost like it’s my day job.
a. I didn’t buy any fancy equipment. I selected a spot in my yard
which is away from the house and inaccessible to the dogs and use
that to toss scraps. Every so often, I take a shovel and mix dirt,
leaves, newspaper shreds, and other organic materials.
b. I have managed to keep at least 2 lbs of organic food matter, per week, out of
the trash/landfill and reap the benefits of extra-rich soil.
I think I have saved about $400 in one year with these very minor changes and I
even get a little bit of good karma to boot!
Mary Talalay, MS, MPH, is the author of several children’s books, as well as a contributing writer for KIWI Magazine and several other consumer and academic publications. She resides in Baltimore with a first-grader, a broccoli king, and two naughty shelter dogs.