10 Green Living Ideas for Frugal Families

By: Kate Kershner

For families who want to live "green" and still keep some in their wallets, we've got some handy tips.
For families who want to live "green" and still keep some in their wallets, we've got some handy tips.

So you turn off the faucet when you're brushing your teeth, you make sure your kids take reusable lunch bags to school instead of paper sacks and you're pretty sure you've never been responsible for a large-scale oil spill. You should be congratulated for what you're already doing to keep your family green, but could you be doing more? More importantly, can you even afford to do more?

It's no secret that convenience and cost sometimes trump living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. But with the expansion of environmentally friendly recycling programs, appliances, waste alternatives and products, it's become a no-brainer for families to make ecologically sound choices that don't break the bank.


As you read on, you'll find that many green ideas aren't simply less expensive; they can actually save you money -- and even put cold, hard cash in your pocket. Discover more ways to keep your family's checking account and your planet green on the next page.

10: Watch Your Hot, Wash in Cold

For some households, it's the eternal debate: How do you keep the house toasty enough for those chilled folks or bearable for those who prefer not to perform their daily activities in a sweat lodge?

Turns out that who wins the argument might save you quite a bit of money and help protect the environment. Lowering your thermostat a bit in the winter and raising it a few degrees in the summer will save you energy costs, of course, but it also promotes environmental causes. Fewer household energy demands mean fewer carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases.


Another easy solution for lowering household costs is to reduce your hot water use. According to the Worldwatch Institute, a whopping 85 percent of the energy used when doing laundry is simply going to heating the water [source: Worldwatch]. Wash your clothes in cold water as often as possible and line dry them. While a dryer is efficient, it's also a very convenient way to watch moisture disappear from clothes -- and money disappear into electric bills.

If you really want to see money disappear, tally up the dough your family spends on beauty and toiletry products. Find out ways to cut down on those expenses -- while reusing common household materials -- on the next page.

9: Make Your Own Household or Beauty Products

Why not make your own cleaning products?
Why not make your own cleaning products?
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The idea that every spaghetti spill on the floor needs a sanitizing-deodorizing spray that kills 99.9 percent of germs, including Ebola and hantavirus, is starting to seem a little outdated (not to mention harmful for forbidding our bodies to be exposed to germs and thus develop immunities). The truth is, many cleaning products can be made exactly where they're used: at home. Both environmentally responsible and an easy way to save money, DIY cleaners also lim the exposure of little ones to toxins and polluted air.

Want to clean up your red sauce on the linoleum? Just mix four tablespoons of baking soda in a quart of water and wipe up. Have a slow drain? Forget the toxic, bright blue sludge you poured down the tub in the past. Instead, use a half cup baking soda, one cup white vinegar, one gallon boiling water and half a used lemon to clean the clog. If you're looking to replace expensive products, the Toxic Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts has an excellent database for both looking up recipes and seeing results of lab tests from their do-it-yourself cleaners [source: TURI].


Also consider replacing your expensive beauty and health products with homemade solutions. Use olive oil to replace expensive make-up removers, and opt for baking soda shampoos and vegetable oil conditioners. These are no longer just the purview of your hippie friends; they're serious, sustainable ways to save money while avoiding chemicals and manufacturing pollution. Check out sites like PlanetGreen.com to find homemade beauty and health treatments that are effective and simple to make.

Now you're making products at home, are you missing the urge to shop? The next page will give you tips to satisfy your shoppers' heart, and your environmentally and financially conscious head.

8: Buy Secondhand (and Then Donate Back)

Buying clothes for growing children can seem futile at times. Why bother even getting them the expensive, fashionable shoes when they'll be complaining of tight toes (or outdated styles) within a month? Not that adults have it much better; cheap clothes aren't always the most durable, and it can be hard to find a reasonable style at a good price. Add to that the desire to not contribute to growing landfills by throwing out unwanted or threadbare items, and shopping is no longer a pleasure.

But in times of frugality, there is a beacon of hope. Secondhand stores are invaluable for growing families that badly need another inch added to the hem of pants every three weeks. The clothes at most thrift stores are only lightly used, always laundered and can be an incredible steal. Keep in mind that you aren't just getting cheaper clothes; if you shop carefully, you can also acquire higher-quality merchandise (which will be more resistant to wear-and-tear) at an enormous discount. Less apparel turnaround equals more money saved.


Of course, remember that throwing old clothes away is even less economical, and if you're throwing old clothes into the trash, the Environmental Police might take your Earth Protector badge away. Donate your old clothes back to secondhand stores for another family. Need some cash? Go to eBay or Craigslist and see if you can make some money while you're protecting the planet.

The truth is, we do sometimes need new things. Read on to find out what to look for when buying environmentally friendly appliances and products.

7: Use Low-energy Appliances

Appliances with the Energy Star label will save you some green and keep you green, too.
Appliances with the Energy Star label will save you some green and keep you green, too.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Those of us in first world countries are extremely lucky to have the luxury of a lot of, well, stuff. From dishwashers to ovens and refrigerators to light bulbs, there's no lack of gadgets that we can use to make life easier. The downside of convenience, though, just might be a lack of sustainability.

Using less energy in our homes is a vital part of living green, and it's more than just turning off the lights when you leave a room. An energy audit is one way to get a host of information about the way your family can help improve its ecological footprint while saving on utility costs. You can find resources online to do this yourself or contact your energy provider or public utility service for a home visit. And it's worth it; caulking drafty cracks, tightening leaky faucets and improving insulation can save enormous energy costs.


On top of that, Energy Star (a joint program of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency) labels appliances that pass strict energy codes. In 2010 alone, these appliances avoided the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of 33 million cars -- not to mention $18 billion dollars in utility costs for the homeowners who have them [source: Energy Star]. If you need to replace an appliance, you can rest assured that an Energy Star-rated product is the environmentally sound choice.

Now more choices -- paper or plastic? The answer, we'll discover, is neither. Read on to find out why.

6: Cut Out Paper and Plastic Waste

By now, it's common for a lot of us to bring our own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. It's a small gesture, but certainly one that helps. Consider Ireland, which actually introduced a plastic bag levy in 2002. Suddenly, the average Irish person's plastic bag consumption tanked from 328 a year to 21 [source: Guardian]. That's a lot fewer plastic bags floating in the ocean and filling up landfills.

Beyond reusing shopping bags, our technology has given us a lot of useful ways to cut down on plastic and paper consumption. By receiving and paying all bills electronically over e-mail, you're not only saving the cost of a stamp. You're also cutting the bottom line for companies who are forced to print out your bill, which might actually make your costs less, in the long run.


There's also the question of junk mail. Take the time to go through your postal mail and ask to be removed from lists you're not interested in. Still want to see what deals your local grocery chain or gym has? Ask them to send it to you electronically, where you can cheerfully trash it without guilt.

Or should we be recycling that e-mail? Continue to the next page to find some easy tips for making recycling part of your family's everyday routine.

5: Remember to Recycle

Recycling will save you moolah.
Recycling will save you moolah.

Sure, we all know that separating our papers from plastics and cardboard from food waste can help save the planet. But recycling is more than just putting newspapers out on the curb, and it can actually contribute to real, long-term savings -- and, in some cases, a quick turnaround of cash in your pocket.

Recyclebank.com is an online program that allows you to earn points for green activities. Recycling cereal boxes, pledging to avoid buying bottled water and increasing curbside recycling are just a few ways to earn points, which you can then use to "buy" online coupons or offers that can save you money on anything from Ziplock bags and McDonalds to a Rolling Stone magazine subscription or a Gap gift certificate.


Beyond online programs, recycling can be as easy as a few simple substitutions. Pack children's lunches with sustainability in mind. Instead of including prepackaged juices, consider reuseable water bottles. Put sandwiches and carrots in food storage containers, instead of individual plastic baggies.

We're not quite done with recycling yet. In the next section, we'll explore how we can "recycle" energy by investing in appliances and products that restrict or recharge energy use.

4: Slow Your Energy Use Roll

When you leave for vacation -- or for a day of work, for that matter -- you probably make sure all your lights are turned off and you haven't left the faucet running full blast. Congratulations on saving energy! Well, not quite.

Turns out that leaving appliances plugged in -- that is, not turned on, but just connected to a power source -- is actually using quite a bit of energy in itself. Consider your laptop. If it's charging, plugged in and in use, it's actually using an average of 44 watts of energy [source: Standby Power]. Let's say it's just fully charged, and plugged in. Even not in use, it's using 29 watts of energy [source: Standby Power]. Your computer isn't attached to the power source? Guess what--just having the power source plugged in uses 4 watts of power [source: Standby Power]. You can find more appliances that your energy bill might appreciate being unplugged by checking out Standbypower.lbl.gov, which provides a table of appliance's energy use. In the meantime, unplug that cell phone charger you're not using, and save .26 watts of energy [source: Standby Power].


"Smart" electrical strips also disengage power when not in use. Low flow showerheads will save both water and energy; a faucet aerator will conserve heat and energy on your tap without a loss of water pressure.

Next is a biggie--use less fuel, use less energy. Let's cruise to the next page to see how your family can live a little greener (both earth- and wallet-wise).

3: Use Less Gas

Gas isn't always very budget-friendly, so why not use less and save some green while living green?
Gas isn't always very budget-friendly, so why not use less and save some green while living green?

So all you have to do to be a green family is to get rid of your car, invest in a good pair of walking shoes and assiduously carpool in only hybrid cars. There you go.

OK, let's be realistic. Throwing away the car keys might not work in every family. (Not to mention the fact that you're just adding those keys to the landfill.) But most of us do know that there are some simple ways to cut down on our gas use. Have your kids pick out four places within a mile that you occasionally drive to. Make a pact that you'll all try to only walk to those places from now on, as much as you can. Drive the kids to school? Ask other parents in your neighborhood if they'd like to set up a carpool system to cut down on traffic.


But let's not blame our gas-guzzling on the children. It's adults who are the ones that need to curb their fuel use. So what can adults do? Of course, make full use of public transportation, and take advantage of your own carpools. And while it's understandable that not everybody can do it, do consider walking or biking on short trips. Think about it as both saving money on gas, and investing in your overall health--which might save you future healthcare costs.

Speaking of health, being green is a great, inexpensive way to treat your family's bodies better. Read on for more tips about how responsible eating saves money.

2: Eat Green

Gone are the days when eating "healthy" meant carob chips and endless lettuce. As we become more aware of how our living habits help or harm our environment, there's been a glut of information on how ecologically responsible eating is both good for us, our wallets, and even our taste buds.

An easy way to cut down on cost and environmental harm is to start limiting meat. No fear; that doesn't mean a strict vegetarian diet and Tofurkey at Thanksgiving. If your family can simply cut out meat once a week (or once less a week than you're accustomed to), you're not only saving the cost of expensive products, but you're making a significant impact on the environment. In fact, geophysicists have calculated that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would have the same impact on the environment as if every one of us drove a fuel-efficient Prius instead of a standard sedan [source: Bittman].


Another way to introduce environmentally friendly ideas into meals? Cook those meals yourself. By avoiding eating out, you're not only saving money (estimates say that an average family spends $4000 a year eating out) and often waste, but you're controlling the ingredients and sources of your food [source: Daily Green]. On that note, consider growing a vegetable garden. A few cents for seeds can save you a hefty produce bill.

Not yet giddy with saving the planet and your paycheck? Next we'll see some ways you're not just holding on to money, but actually getting more cash in hand for things you no longer need.

1: Think Before You Throw Away and Buy

Instead of doing THIS with your old (or gently used) electronics, why not recycle or donate them instead?
Instead of doing THIS with your old (or gently used) electronics, why not recycle or donate them instead?

Your old lawnmower died. Trash it. Buy a new one. The snowblower blew its last flake. Trash it. Buy a new one. Your husband isn't as fun as he used to be. Trash it. Buy a new one.

Alright, perhaps American culture can't be called quite that expendable, but we do regularly and thoughtlessly replace many expensive items and cart the old ones to the nearest landfill. Be more aware of the items you're getting rid of. Electronics are an absolutely essential item to recycle; they contain toxic chemicals that should not be leaking into our soils. Also, consider that many functioning products can be donated to charities or people in need.

Not so into helping mankind? You can also recycle electronics for cold hard cash. Places like SecureTradeIn.com, YouRenew.com, and Gazelle.com will all pay for your old electronics. Consider using Freecycle.com or Craigslist.org as well, when disposing of something people might be able to use.

Don't forget another, more simple solution. Borrow! Use your neighbor's lawnmower. Pool with the neighborhood to get a snowblower that you can all use -- or better, yet, use a shovel that will both raise your heart rate and your savings account balance.

If you're not green from head to toe (or wallet) yet, read on for more tips to introduce ecological awareness and cost-savings to your family.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bittman, Mark. "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler." The New York Times. January 27, 2008. (October 6, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html
  • EcoCycle.org. "Alternative Cleaners and Recipes." 2010. (October 6, 2011) http://www.ecocycle.org/hazwaste/recipes.cfm
  • ENERGY STAR. "How a Product Earns the ENERGY STAR Label." 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_how_earn
  • Guardian Environment Network. "Europe considers plastic bag ban." May 20, 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/20/europe-plastic-bag-ban
  • PlanetGreen.com. June 22, 2010. (October 6, 2011) http://planetgreen.discovery.com/fashion-beauty/50-all-natural-beauty-products-you-can-make-yourself.html
  • Recyclebank. "Who is Recyclebank?" 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.recyclebank.com/about-us
  • Shapley, Dan. "Save Money By Going Green." TheDailyGreen.com. 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/save-money-megaflip#fbIndex1
  • Standby Power. "Standby Power Summary Table." Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://standby.lbl.gov/summary-table.html
  • Toxics Use Reduction Institute. "Green Cleaning Lab." University of Massachusetts Lowell. 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3915
  • Vanderlinden, Colleen. "50 All Natural Beauty Products You Can Make Yourself."
  • Worldwatch Institute. "Ten Ways to Go Green and Save Green." 2011. (October 6, 2011) http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3915