It’s Earth Day! Be green AND frugal.

Sometimes, you gotta choose between the two, but frequently the green and frugal paths converge.

That’s a lovely sweet spot.


1. Don’t buy so much stuff.

People have survived for centuries with a whole lot less in the way of clothes, toys, shoes, household gadgets, dishes, and entertainment devices. So, you too can probably get by with less. Here’s how I figure out how much stuff I should own.

2. Stop throwing food away.

Throwing food in the trash is expensive, it’s a waste of the resources used to produce the food, and when food gets into the landfill, it produces methane gas. That’s a whole lot of not-fabulous stuff.

I totally sympathize with how hard this is, because I used to be the queen of food waste. But I changed, and you can too! My top ten tips for reducing food waste can help you get started.

3. Buy high quality stuff.

This costs more up front, generally speaking, but it’s less expensive in the long run to buy something that lasts.

Items that last are better for the environment because they won’t end up the landfill, and because replacement items won’t have to be manufactured.

You can buy high quality things and still save money if you…

4. Buy Used.

Freecycle, Craig’s List, and thrift stores are all places you can find sturdy, well-made items for a fraction of the cost of new.

(Zoe’s $50 bed is on line one. )

5. Fix it!

Learn to mend so that you don’t have to throw away your clothes. Repair an appliance instead of replacing it (I’ve had no training and I managed to fix my dryer. And Mr. FG and I have fixed our washing machine. Twice. You can probably do it too!)

If you can’t fix it yourself, consider hiring someone else to do the fixing. If you’ve got a high-quality item on your hands, it’ll usually be cheaper to fix it than to buy a new one, and you won’t have to throw something away.

6. Make old things new.

You can do this with clothing by sewing (here’s a super easy skirt I made for Zoe out of an old shirt and here are two quick ways I modified a shirt for Joshua and a skirt for me.) Fabric dye also can help to make something old look new again.

Of course, my favorite tool for making old things new is paint. You can see a whole bunch of things I’ve painted in this roundup post.

7. Find new uses for old things.

If you think hard enough, you can often come up with alternate ways to use things you’d normally consider throwing out.

For example, I had some old frames that weren’t quite up to snuff for my living room, but they work great for my kids’ artwork.

And here are six ways I repurposed some old kitchen items.

8. Cook at home.


Takeout and processed foods generally come with a fair amount of packaging trash. You can reduce your trash output and save yourself piles of money by cooking at home. Bonus: Odds are good you’ll be healthier too.

9. Skip disposable products.

Use cloth towels (I think disposable hand towels are ridiculous.), real plates, real silverware, sturdy water bottles, glass storage containers, and cloth napkins. You’ll save money, reduce your trash output, and honestly, your life will feel a little more luxurious.

10. You tell me!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, so I’d love to hear from you. What are other ways you can save money while treading lightly on the planet?


  1. Gayle Van Olst says

    I bring a packed lunch to work using sandwich containers instead of plastic wrap and my drink of milk or juice goes in a small mason never leaks and milk always tastes better out of a glass!

  2. WilliamB says

    Take public transit.

    Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that. The other factor is, even if you take public transit, you may need to own a car anyway. So four cases: transit/no car; transit/car; no transit/no car; no transit/car.

    1. Transit/no car. Green and frugal. While driving someplace might be cheaper than taking the bus, once you factor in the costs of ownership (car note, insurance, maintenance, perhaps parking, perhaps property tax) transit is almost certainly cheaper. Doesn’t work for everyone for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to specify.

    2. Transit/car. Very hard to say. You’re already paying the costs of ownership so it’s a question of the marginal costs of driving (gas, possibly parking) compared to the cost of the bus ride. A large number of employers provide a transit subsidy, making the bus free.

    3. No transit/no car. Certainly green and frugal; the convenience issue is very hard to predict. Do you like is such a great place you can walk or bike wherever you need? Or do you like in the country (no transit) and need a car but can’t afford it?

    4. No transit/car. Not so green. This describes most Americans. Sometimes the missing factor is knowledge but usually (it seems) it’s time. I could, for example, take my employer’s transit subsidy and thus not have to drive to work – but it would take me 2 hours each way.

    • Elizabeth says

      I used to live in one of the boroughs NYC. I’m no stranger to public transit. It is something that is conpletely underutilized by those that have access to it but also have a car(s). The problem I find now is that the area I live in now doesn’t have any sort of public transit so we have to drive. We plan our trips and always make more than one stop.

      • Mona says

        Yes! I always try to plan things in advanced so I can make like a complete circle with many stops instead of going back and forth several times

    • Elaine in Ark says

      This is one of the biggest reasons I like to shop at the Farmers’ Markets. Plus, I bring my own bags, which always surprises the vendors. Not as frugal as cheap supermarket produce, but everything tastes so much better.

      • Kristen says

        I’m always surprised that it surprises them! You’d think a Farmer’s Market is one place where people would actually bring bags.

  3. Elizabeth says

    We don’t own a lot. This came out of not having a lot of money. Now that things are changing financially, I’ve gotten used to not having a lot and I don’t find myself wanting to buy a lot. We cook at home instead of eating out-both for health reasons and for the amount of waste involved. We pack lunches and snacks when we go out. I make decorations for our house and we make gifts for others-teaches the kids productiveness and pride in what they can do. I can my own veggies-pickles and such (from the local farmers market). Reuse glass jars. There are so many little things that add up to something big.

  4. says

    A big one for me is walking to uni and cycling to do errands. Walking is free and cycling is cheap once you own a bike.

    Also eating food that is not so popular, which can be cheap because otherwise it would be thrown away. I eat organ meats and fish offcuts because I can get them cheap and they are very healthy, plus it means less of the animal is wasted.

  5. says

    At this stage in my life, cloth diapers are the big one. I started using them because we live in a rural area where we have to bring our own trash to the dump and pay by the bag, plus disposable diapers are way expensive. So pretty much I started with cloth because I’m cheap, but the environmental impact of using disposable diapers is obviously incredible as well. Incredibly bad, that is.

    I was gifted a bunch of the old-school pre-fold diapers for burp rags (plus a few of the fancier kind of pocket diapers I wanted to try and ended up using at night), and those ended up being the diapers both my kids have used. Total cost for the gift givers was about a hundred dollars. I’ve spent maybe fifty for covers and the rubber Snappis (the modern replacement for pins). Compare that to literally thousands for disposables, and totally by chance, I came out WAAAY ahead financially.

    And our town dump has had a lot less trash to dispose of. Bonus. :-)

    • Annie says

      I got a chuckle out of your post because it reminded me of a headline Jay Leno once read on The Tonight Show that made me laugh until I cried.
      It said “Cloth Diaper Business Booming Thanks To Full dumps.”

  6. says

    When you’ve reached the point in your finances that you can afford more than the bare bones, consider spending your excess in “greener” ways: buy experiences for gifts instead of stuff, hire out services (and look for providers with a track record of good practices), buy a hybrid or all electric vehicle, install “green” technology in your home, from LED lights to solar panels, buy local produce and meat.

  7. says

    You mention Green. How about the garden? I help the Earth by not pouring Pesticides and Weed Killers onto my garden. My neighbors lawn looks nice – it is all green, a smooth, even, one color green – but if you go down to the creek a day or two after the Lawn Service guy comes to his house you can count all the dead fish. (look at your bottle of weed killer next time you get it out and you will likely see on it “Keep away from water – highly toxic to fish.”) And most people in Anne Arundel County, where we live, are on or close to the water. Also weed killers kill weeds! And the weeds in the Chesapeake Bay where the fish, crabs and other wildlife breed and grow are virtually non-existent now. Could that be anything to do with millions of people pouring millions of pounds of weed killer into the bay every year? Oh, and I think my lawn looks MUCH nicer than my neighbors – it has green color, yes, and the yellow of the buttercups, and the blue of the violets, and the white of the white flowers. In fact it is much much nicer and more interesting, and safer for my grandchildren and cats to play on, and as a further bonus we have bees, an almost extinct species nowadays.
    The pesticides not only kill the “Pests”, they also kill natures pest killers like the birds – birds eat more bad bugs than all the pesticides every invented, or they would if we would only let them live. (I used to wake up to the “Noise” of so many birds singing that you could not get back to sleep.) Now you are lucky to see a dozen songbirds in a day. When I was a child they were everywhere, literally thousands of them. The chemical companies have a lot to answer for. We “need” more and more chemicals to kill bugs because the chemicals have killed the natural predators. As I said the birds of course, but also the lace wing, the toad, frogs, snakes, spiders, moles, earthworms, ladybugs, hoverflies, turtles, salamanders, lizards, dragonflies, wasps, bats, praying mantises – all these creatures spent their days, and nights, eating the pests that we now spend money to buy poisons to kill, and they did it for free! And looked interesting for kids to look at and watch and learn about. Most of today’s children have not seen most of the interesting creatures on that list of beneficial insects, and would not recognize them if they did see one. They will likely think that if one appears in their garden – a beneficial insect – that it needs to be killed, and out will come the poisons.

    • Amanda says

      I love the look of more natural lawns, but I still seem to have empty patches and moss in mine. Can you recommend a resource for natural lawn care? Preferably something cheap and easy. :)

      • Elaine in Ark says

        My former neighbor used compost and manure, and pulled weeds by hand. He had the best looking lawn in the neighborhood.

        You can compost your own stuff, or buy it. A healthy lawn will spread by itself and crowd out some weeds (or so I’ve heard. I haven’t achieved this yet.)

        • WilliamB says

          In general grass will not crowd out what wants to grow by itself, because the latter is what the locality is best for. But all is not lost – I find that clover spreads itself once it’s seeded. Clover is also better for the soil than grass and usually doesn’t need chemical support.

          My view is that whatever grows is “lawn” (except the prickly shrubs that keep trying to grow).

      • says

        There is nothing cheaper or easier than leaving it! Spend the time and money that you spend now, just enjoying it, and enjoying life, instead spreading death and destruction over the Earth – which Monsanto et all would LOVE you to do!! :)

  8. Stacey says

    We have made many greener choices recently. I make our cleaning products out of vinegar, baking soda, water, enviro friendly dish soap. Not only greener but so much more frugal. My little one takes his snack to school in a resusable bag that his buddies are actually jealous of. We started a compost bin. No more juice boxes or disposable water bottles for us just refillable containers. We are renters and the home we are currently renting is almost completely solar, LOVE the next to no electric bill! Only thing I would change is living closer to stores, libraries, etc. so we could bike or walk instead of driving. I did however buy a smaller car and give up the big SUV when is was no longer running well enough to keep.

    • Lisa says

      I was also going to mention how making your own cleaning products is both frugal and green. I use club soda for the windows and chrome, and make an all-purpose spray and tub and tile scrub to do most of my cleaning work. I can never understand buying commercial products even the ones that are supposed to be ‘green’ when it is cheaper to make them myself and less harmful to the fishes/aquatic species once it goes down the drain and out the STP pipe! Also saves on plastic bottles having to be recycled since I use the same containers over and over again.

    • WilliamB says

      So true! Window cleaner made of white vinegar and water is cheaper, greener, and faster to make (including looking for a coupon) than commercial product.

      I don’t know if making laundry detergent is greener – it’s made of handsoap, baking soda and Borax – but it sure is cheaper and takes less time than figuring out which product + coupon is the cheapest per load.

      • Battra92 says

        My wife is a couponer so we have over a year’s supply of laundry soap stocked away. I’d take storing a year’s worth of a commercial product that I know won’t destroy my skin (I have allergies like crazy) or my clothes over a science experiment.

  9. Tina B says

    There are so many great ideas! For me, it’s trying to NOT print what doesn’t need to be printed. Getting bills online and paying online. Re-using junk mail (without personal information) for note paper and lists. Shredding paper and recycling as much as possible curbside. I do still get some magazines by subscription, but always pass them on to friends, to work colleagues, to doctor’s offices or on airplanes to flight attendants (who always seem happy about it!). I like to think that the little things add up.

  10. Amanda says

    Thank you for convincing me to buy a decent vacuum. I have always gone for the $40 target whatever and used it a few years. Now that I am home and actually cleaning more than twice a year, my $40 vacuum was kaput in six months. I bought a Dyson with a five year warranty because if it lasts only that five years, it will still be less expensive than buying two cheap vacuums each year. And it works so much better!

  11. Linda Sand says

    Go barefoot. You can’t do this all the time everywhere but do it as much as you can and save on shoes. You might be surprised how much you can do barefoot. When we were kids we never put on shoes to go outside to play, why do we as adults think we have to do that?

  12. kris says

    I re-use glass jars all the time. But I have a question, does anyone know how to get the smell out of the pickle jars? Spaghetti sauce, jelly, etc. I don’t have a problem with but it seems I can never get it out of the pickle jar! I end up using them to put used grease in but it ends up in the garbage eventually :(

  13. Aaron Crawford says

    I save old sheets and clothes that can no longer be used do to wear issues. I turned old crib sheets into cloth napkins for the kids. They love them because they have cute childish images on them. My husbands old work shirts that are worn out get turned into cloth napkins for the family. The back portion of the shirt works best for napkins. I saved my the flannel receiving blankets from when my children were babies. I am going to sew them together and use them for the back of their memory quilt I am also making out of worn or stained baby clothes.
    My household just went through a batch of colds. I took it upon myself to research homemade cough syrups. So my surprise, it works very well. Now instead of buying expensive plastic bottles of cough syrup that really don’t work I am reusing the glass jar that I make it in over and over again.
    Also on colds. We use cloth hankies. I stopped buying tissue a long time ago and don’t miss it. Our noses don’t get as sore and red either. These can be made from just about any old material around the house (sheets, t-shirts..). Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil and your nasal passages and sinus headache are a thing of the past.

    • says

      It baffles me that more people don’t use hankies.
      its great that you make your own.
      I love vintage hankies.
      I’ve collected them from thrift stores and garage sales. I never pay more than 50 cents and I’ve got a collection that will last through the worst cold.

    • Michelle H. says

      We use flannel receiving blankets as big hankies when we’re sick. They feel so soft on a sore nose!

  14. says

    I love your list and we do many of the same things here as well. I’ve also begun to recycle large-mouthed jars from friends and family and I now store our dinner leftovers in them. Since they are see-thru we no longer waste that food and it’s usually eaten quickly. I also bought a small rectangular glass casserole dish with a rubber-like cover that is stored in the backseat of our car. On the rare occasion we do go out to eat somewhere I bring that container into the restaurant with me. When the meal is presented in those huge servings I immediately put 1/2 into the container and pop it in the fridge when I get home. I can reheat & eat from the same container for lunch the next day. Now I’ve gotten double my money’s worth from that one meal out and I don’t have to have the dreaded styrofoam container that’s typically used (it’s not even recyclable in our area.) I simply wash my glass container when it’s empty, recover and place back in my car so it’s always there when I need it. LOVE IT!

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

      • WilliamB says

        I keep a bunch in the car. First it was just bags. Then the sort of reusable that comes with cold cuts (the sort that FG used as an example of non-reusables, funnily enough), then soup containers as well, then… It looks like I run a kitchen-related thrift shop from my trunk. Now all I need to do is remember to bring them with me! Sometimes I can run back to my car, other times it’s just not feasible.

  15. Jenny says

    Think before you use a consumable if you need as much of it as you think.

    Just take a product that you use regularly, and try using less. If you get the same results, keep using the smaller amount, or try to use even less. When it stops working as well, go back to the last amount that worked.

    I used to pour almost a whole capful of laundry detergent in a load. Then I started using less, and not seeing any change in how clean the clothes are. I now use less than half of what it says to use for a normal load, and a little more than half for bf’s really dirty, greasy work clothes.

    This is green because it saves half of the resources used to make, package, and ship the detergent (because I only use half as much), and frugal because it saves me half the cost of buying detergent.

    Other things to try this with are shampoo, toothpaste (a small dab is really all you need), dish soap, body wash, paper towels and napkins if you use them, toilet paper (could you use a couple squares less?), and I’m sure many others too.

    • kris says

      It’s amazing how much to can stretch your toiletries. I can get weeks out of the toothpaste tube after snipping of the end, rolling (the open end over) and clipping with a clothespin.

    • says

      Hi Jenny, sounds like you have been reading my “Book” which I call “Half” – it tells of how my wife and I live on half of what we used to! We had to after my daughter and my wife were involved in an horrendous accident that cost us both our jobs as I nursed them for several years.

  16. Madeline says

    At your example a few years back I bought a dozen white washcloths to clean with and have been using them instead of paper towels.I never buy paper products anymore! Yes I even clean up cat throw up with them.Why not? I can toss them in the washer on hot and they come out clean. I rarely use a dryer–I hang everything out..I live in ARIZONA!! things dry in about 20 minutes here!

    USE THINGS MORE THAN ONCE: This might sound icky, but I wear my clothes till they are dirty,I don’t wash a blouse EVERY time I wear it. I also only use shampoo every OTHER day.I have very fine thin hair and must wet it every day but I found it does not need shampoo with every shower.

    I quit wearing makeup every day.This was just a habit from when I worked.

    I leave out a glass and a bowl and silverware, for my breakfast and lunch and re use them all day. I don’t run the dishwasher much anymore — it’s just 2 of us.

    REPAIRS: GOOD FOR YOU on the washer and dryer! Last summer, I looked up a symptom my car was having.It has high miles but my mechanic says I should be able to get it to 200,00 miles. That’s MY GOAL! My husband worries and felt we should trade it in when this symptom occurred.With INTERNET /google research I found the correct diagnosis and it was only $100 to repair vs. a new car (which my husband was sure we needed!!!!!!!)

    It is so much fun to become more and more self sustaining!

    I envy you your sewing skills.I can barely mend! but I do the best I can!


  17. Michelle H. says

    I did not originally intend to be “green” but my general cheapness and laziness seems to have led me that way. I started using cloth napkins and dish towels instead of paper towels to save money and stop having to take the trash out so much. I started composting because it was easier than bagging the leaves and hauling them out to the curb. I bring my own coffee mug to work because I hate drinking out of styrofoam, and I’m clumsy and need something with a lid. We buy used furniture from Craigslist because I don’t want to go to jail for maiming the kid that first takes a marker to a branch new couch. Etc, etc, etc.

  18. Jan says

    What a great post and comments! I appreciate any help I can get to be more frugal, and green. Since we had to retire frugal is becoming a blessed word at our house. :) I think we are actually enjoying the challenge.
    I’ve learned to make my own shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning products, face creams and even sore muscle and pain salves. I’ve found that not using any soap or body washes actually make my skin cleaner and softer. I just use a micro fiber cloth and warm water in the shower. (That wasn’t an easy conversion as you can imagine. tee hee) For the first time in my life I started a small garden and can’t wait for our harvest! We are careful to drive a consistent speed when we go anywhere to save on gas, and we keep our car serviced. The last time we had the oil changed our dealership was surprised that our car was in such good condition and that we got 20% higher miles per gallon than other model/year of our car.

    Another thing that saves money at our house, (and I hope I don’t offend anyone), is family cloth. TP, the super soft kind, is very expensive and it seemed to me that doing a load of homemade TP cloths was not much different than laundering cloth diapers so i thought why not?

    I had some old towels and flannel shirts with holes. I cut them up, serged around the edges and Ta Da! The result was the softest, most absorbent “TP” ever! I keep a little trash can with a liner in the bathroom for used cloths. There are no offensive odors, and when I’m ready to wash I put them through a cold rinse then launder with my whites. Easy Peasy. I wouldn’t go back to TP now for anything! These are so much nicer, and just a little decadent! lol (If guests arrive I do put them away, and make sure the TP is availale for them though.)
    Again I hope this hasn’t offended anyone, but it does save money, my septic tank, and the environment if only just a little. :)

  19. says

    I love the frugal-green sweet spot! My tip for the day is to sleep more. If you go to bed an hour earlier, that’s an hour that you’re not watching TV, or using the computer, or otherwise burning electricity. You can turn the furnace down earlier, and as a bonus you’ll be better rested and have more energy during the day!

  20. says

    You can walk, bike or use public transport whenever possible. Also, maintaining vehicles in good condition helps eliminate pollution too.

    • Madeline says

      Love everyone’s thoughts! I also love to use cloth napkins.. it just makes me feel pampered! I don’t think I can ever give up my toilet paper however. Not offended by those who have mastered cloth wipes, though!

      Barefoot: there is some new fangled name for going barefoot, has something to do with “earthing,” we just called it “going barefoot” when I was a kid! I STILL go barefoot most of the time.My husband and I have even taken up barefoot “running.” (We hike some trails where its softer and shoes are not necessary– ahhh BLISS to feel the soft earth between your toes!!!!

  21. Randi says

    You’re my CI Sister, but I disagree with you about the disposable hand towels. I use them ONLY when we have guests come over for a party or I have workers in the house. I don’t want my guests sharing the same hand towel.

    • Madeline says

      I dunno. We never had paper wipes growing up, just hand towels in the bathrooms and no one ever got sick.A pound of dirt theory? Our immune systems are awesome!And guests use the towels AFTER they wash.

      • Reese says

        I guess I don’t understand this either. Because your guests are washing their hands. So they’re wiping clean hands on a hand towel. The biggest pain, as a guest, isn’t the germs on a hand towel. It’s often that the towels are wet already (if you have a LOT of guests all washing hands at the same time). Simply removing it to let it dry and then sticking a dry one out solves this. I’d do away with the disposables. (I’ve been in one bathroom with disposables, and it made me uncomfortable. Like the person didn’t want my germs in their house or something….Not saying your guests think this….but maybe a perspective you haven’t thought of either!)

  22. Susanna says

    I’m trying to focus on a few areas: started buying Pyrex for foods instead of all the plastic containers that ruin/stain/crack – though not sure how the glass will work for soups in my freezer – bought 4 stainless containers for water – 2 from Klean Kanteen and 2 from Flylady – my faves are the Klean Kanteens – like the spout on those better but the others are good too. still buying plastic gallons of water since every filter I’ve tried I haven’t liked the taste/odor of the water. trying to use up food instead of wasting though this is hard to do since it’s just me and I don’t want 4 servings of black beans or other things I eat and product is hard to keep up with as well since I like variety. trying though and doing much better most of the time. I also try to eat at home -helps with weight watchers but I work 12 hr rotating shifts and being tired or called in unexpectedly throws a wrench in my plans a lot.

  23. says

    I walk everywhere, and buy supplies on my lunch break so as not to have to go do a big grocery shop in a car. The only downside is it is much harder to buy local living and working in a city, but I do at least take my own bags everywhere.

  24. Battra92 says

    Double edged safety razors. Owning a razor with 5 blades on it is not only ridiculous but incredibly wasteful. Just get a nice handle (sometimes found at a thrift store or antique store for $20 or less) and 100 blades from Amazon for less than $10 and you’re set for years of shaving. Yep, for the price of 15 overpriced multiblade cartridges you too can shave for pennies.

    • says

      I just very recently obtained an old-time razor and bought the blades to go with it with exactly the same mindset as you – how wasteful to use the 5-blade plastic jobs (also sold to you wrapped in plastic) I’m trying hard to eliminate as much plastic as I can from our home. Looking forward to trying my new (old) razor!

      ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
      Wolfe City, Texas

    • Kristen says

      That’s certainly *a* way to go green, but it’s not the only way. :) And I wrote this list based on my own experience, which doesn’t include veganism.

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