Is Being Green Costing You A Ton of Money?
Sneaky ways that living an eco-conscious lifestyle is affecting your bottom line.
You’re at the grocery store looking for a kitchen cleaner. There are a ton of options in size, smell, and price point. One of the name brands has an all-natural version of it’s best-known cleaner but for two dollars more than the original.
You know you’ll feel better with an all-natural product cleaning your kitchen, but two dollars is a pretty big price difference. Plus, there are fewer ounces in the bottle. Ultimately, you’re doing your best to live green, so you buy the all-natural product and feel pretty good about it.
That is, until you realize it has just as many chemicals as the old stuff, smells awful, and leaves a weird residue on your countertops.
We all want to feel like our buying choices are making the world a better place, but “greenwashed” products may be sneaking into your home without you realizing—and costing you a lot of money in the process.
These products use the guise of eco-conscious living to influence you to buy, even when there are other more frugal and ecologically impactful choices you could make. Grocery stores are full of greenwashed products, usually with vague labels claiming to be “all-natural” for a slightly higher price point. When we buy these products we are doing nothing to make a positive impact on our savings or our ecosystems.
The good news is that an eco-conscious lifestyle is very affordable, even less expensive than the average. In this article, we will look at the most common Trojan Horses of the organic eco world to avoid buying, and I’ll give you alternatives that save the world and your wallet.
These 8 Eco-Friendly Items are a Huge Waste of Money
Look, probably half the things you buy at the grocery store come in containers that can be repurposed for this use. Personally, I have never in my adult life had the need to buy a set of plastic containers. Reusable plastics are nearly unavoidable, so just save those items for your leftovers.
They will last a long time, just make sure to look for food-grade, plastics 2, 4, and 5. These are the same plastics used in the most popular food containers on the market.
But wait, there’s more: You can go another route and purchase a reusable replacement for plastic wrap and aluminum foil. These can be used over and over, and there are many options for ones made in the United States, keeping their carbon footprint small.
“Natural” and Eco-Friendly Cleaners
While everyone loves the smell of Mrs. Meyers, who can bring themself to buy a tiny bottle for $5. I can’t. Plus, it comes in a plastic container that was transported on trucks after being made in a factory: there’s a lot of pre-consumer production that goes into any product no matter how eco-friendly its contents may be.
Instead, I make my own cleaners from white distilled vinegar and kitchen scraps. I promise it is really easy and extremely safe. Here are the quick steps you can use to do the same:
- Slice up the rind of an orange, lemon, or grapefruit
2. Put the rind(s) in distilled vinegar
3. Let rest for a day or three, up to about a week
4. Strain into a spray bottle
Repurpose a spray bottle from a product you’ve used before for extra points. The citrus rind helps cut through grease while vinegar safely disinfects your home. This product can even be used to clean your dishes if you can live without sudsy bubbles.
Organic Cotton Rounds and Makeup Remover
Eco-friendly cotton rounds come in at about four dollars for a (plastic) bag of 50. Instead, you could buy fabric facial rounds or reusable make up remover towels just once for the same price. These can be used a few times, then washed by hand or in the washing machine every week.
That’s what I did a year ago and am enjoying clean skin without facial cleanser or make-up remover. After a minor kitchen incident, I repurposed my singed microfiber kitchen towel into a soft facial towel and it works really, really well at removing make-up without soaps or other products.
Seriously, just add water and watch it work.
As more of the fashion industry is exposed for its poor business practices and heavy pollution, many brands have created conscious and eco-conscious clothing lines. While this is great in theory, it still uses a ton of resources for production, shipping, and sales. Plus, these products are usually more expensive than similar products on the market.
The absolute cheapest and most eco-friendly alternative to participating in fast-fashion pollution is to buy used clothing. Thrift stores, Poshmark, and vintage clothing shops are great ways to participate, with thrift stores being the least expensive option. You can also look for or organize a free clothing swap to change out your wardrobe.
And don’t forget about housewares. A ton of the things you need for your home can be found resale. Furniture, dishes, artwork. You’d be amazed at how many inexpensive, well-made options are out there when you get just a little bit creative.
Last year, my husband and I decided to give up paper towels for good. We thought it was going to be a really difficult adjustment. There was a long discussion.
But at the end of the first week without them, we were hooked. Now, the only time I notice they’re missing from my life is when I happen to see them in the grocery store: $8.99 for an “eco-friendly” three-pack or $18.99 for a 12 pack of Bounty.
It’s shockingly easy to replace your paper towel habits. The key is to create a system. I employ a degrading-use system where the freshest towel is used to dry dishes, which eventually turns into the rag to clean the counters, and separate rags to clean floor spills or anything gross.
Then they get washed—we separate our towels and wash them about once every month. I have written about this more in-depth if you’re interested in learning more.
Your grandpa’s hankies may seem unbelievably gross, but I promise using them will change your life. This is what happened to me: I got a crazy sinus infection and ran out of tissues (which were irritating my nose, by the way) and without the tiniest desire to drag myself to the store, I just used a super soft microfiber towel I already had on hand.
Not only did it work really well, but it was also super easy to clean and did not irritate my nose. Great for nose bleeds if you’re prone to them like I am.
With the average cost of facial tissues at about $2 a box, you’ll save $20-$30 a year and a ton of waste from paper processing.
Tampons and pads have reusable alternatives. Before you yell “gross”: women have been using reusable versions of these items for hundreds of years. Plus, it makes huge financial sense to switch. Tampons, at $0.18 apiece cost a woman about $1,700 for the 9,600 she’ll use over the course of her menstrual life.
A menstrual cup costs around $30 and can last more than a decade. Period underwear ranges in price and wear-life, but a pack of three cotton pairs is available on Amazon for $34. Many options for durable, reusable pads exist, typically around $10-$20 per pad. Any way you go, you’ll save a ton of money by making the switch.
And while you’re considering that purchase, please ditch feminine washes, deodorants, and other “special” products. Not only do these products often come in containers that even when recyclable, don’t get recycled, they’re also completely unnecessary. A mild bar of soap does the trick.
If you enjoy spending time in your garden but aren’t making your own compost, you are wasting a ton of cash at the garden center. Composting at home is extremely easy, and you don’t need to buy anything fancy to do it.
Don’t believe me? Check out this video from CaliKim Garden & DIY.
To make excellent compost, simply designate a receptacle (I use an old dog bowl) to gather your kitchen scraps and bring them out to your pile every day. Every few weeks, you can give your compost a turn. Come springtime and early fall, use that compost to nourish your garden.
If you’re looking to cut spending back even further, here’s 18 free or cheap things you’re probably overpaying for
Other Frugal and Eco-Friendly Tips
Frugal living and eco-conscious living really do go hand-in-hand, despite what advertisers would have you think. Here are a few eco-friendly ways to live frugally:
Reuse your inbound plastics, glass, clothing, etc
Yogurt containers, bread bags, twist ties, rubber bands, jars—nearly every “single-use” item can be used more than once. Yes, you can turn many items into Tupperware, but you can also recycle:
- Jars into to-go cups
- Plastic milk cartons into watering cans
- Boxes into drawer organizers
- Ripped and stained clothing into rags
Take a long look before you toss something. Can it be reused? I bet your beautiful creative brain can come up with something. If not, Google can.
Try Carpooling, Ride-Sharing, Public Transportation and Bicycling
If you commute, try public transit or finding someone to commute with. If you’re traveling somewhere by car, look for someone to split the ride with (there are several great websites for this, but I recommend RideSharing.com). You’ll save on the cost of gas, and you’ll make that fossil fuel do a little more work per gallon.
For closer rides, try taking a bike when you have the opportunity. You’ll be keeping yourself in shape, lowering the likelihood of caring for an expensive disease down the line, and you’ll save on gas.
The Bottom, Bottom Line: No Purchase Necessary
Many items we think we need are not really necessary. Often we think we need something due to sneaky advertising and trickster marketing. Advertising, at its worst, makes us believe that consumption is always better than the alternative.
It’s happened (many times) to me too. Once I bought a special seed washing jar I promptly broke, only to realize a mason jar and cheesecloth (two items I already owned) did the exact same thing. And I’ve been using this method for years.
So learn from my mistake: when you think you need something, be absolutely sure you need it. When you do, look for a way to make it, look for a way to solve the problem the product is solving, but by using items you already own.
When that’s not possible, check out used options—don’t forget Freecycle, Facebook MarketPlace, and Craigslist—for extremely cheap or free alternatives that don’t add to a landfill.
Only once you’ve exhausted those options should you purchase something new from the store.
If you apply that line of thinking to your lifestyle, I guarantee you’ll not only save yourself a ton of money, you’ll also help save the world.