My parents were pioneers in the green movement. They weren’t necessarily trying to save the environment, but they grew up during the Great Depression when every penny counted. It turns out their thrifty habits are gentle on the environment too.
Many of these habits work today to both save money and help my family reduce our impact on our environment – qualities that I want to pass onto my children.
Admittedly, there are a few things my parents tried that did not work out: “cleaning” used cat litter (yuck!) and raising our own rabbits for meat (more expensive than you might think). However, here are a few we’ve adopted:
Let the car sit: My family only had one car when I was growing up. Mom and Dad carpooled to work and the car sat in the driveway a lot. We walked and made each trip count. Today, my husband and I have taken it a step further: totally avoid driving, if at all possible.
This all started when gas prices skyrocketed last year. It was the perfect opportunity to get more exercise and save money. We are grateful that our climate is temperate and our city is built to accommodate alternative transportation and pedestrians. Now my husband bikes to work about 98 percent of the time and the kids and I walk almost everywhere. I was prepared to hear protests from the children, but they are usually eager for the walk somewhere. If they are tired, we take the bike trailer so they can ride. I hope that when they are bigger and more aware of traffic, we will switch to riding our bikes. They won’t fit in the bike trailer forever.
Meat as flavor, not main dish: This was a hard change for my husband to get used to – his family ate meat at almost every meal. However, this one change has saved us a lot of money and has greatly reduced the extra Styrofoam and plastic packaging we throw away.
My parents had served a lot of pasta, rice and vegetables to save money. Just a little meat went a long way when creating one-dish meals in the slow cooker and Mom added rice or pasta to help fill out the meal. Buying these items in bulk and on sale added to savings when we went shopping.
It’s also been mentioned in several news articles lately that the animals we raise for food also cost the environment in several ways, for instance: the release of methane from manure and the need to grow extra grain to feed our meat animals. Reducing our need for meat also reduces these impacts on our planet.
Avoid the store when possible: My parents shopped once a month for groceries. That was it. Of course, we also drank powered milk and ate fruit from cans, but it must have been a great time- and money-saving technique for my parents.
Today, I shop several times a month because we splurge on liquid milk and fresh fruit and vegetables, but this seems to still save us money. Shopping less often reduces the temptation to buy “just this one thing” and makes me plan better.
Also, my parents were never people who would just go to the mall to look around. They went with a purpose, got what they came for and then left. I notice that if I linger in a store – especially with the kids – the more time we are in a store, the more we seem to spend.
Walking everywhere has also changed my shopping habits. I only do one big shopping trip once a month with the car and then we walk to the stores near us for fresh items. I am more careful about considering what to buy because I have to carry it home.
Reduce cleaners: I try to emulate my parents’ cleaning cupboard. They only had 6 items they used regularly and I am working my way there. Today I rely only on vinegar, mold killer, a scrubbing cleanser, dish soap, dishwasher soap and furniture polish for our cleaning. But when I moved out on my own, I tried many different products that were toxic to both people and the environment – and I spent a lot of money.
Having my own children encouraged me to reevaluate and I realized that my parents’ way was smart. Not only has reducing the number of cleaning products I use saved money, but it reduces the pollutants that go down the drain and the amount of waste we create. It now takes us two weeks to fill up our small garbage can, which has allowed us to reduce our garbage service to twice a month.
Let the yard go: OK, not really, but we have eliminated the chemicals we once put on the lawn. It finally occurred to my husband and I that all stuff we put on our lawn caused us a lot of extra work. While we both enjoy being outside and all the mowing, trimming and spraying certainly produced a beautiful lawn, it also resulted in more mowing, trimming and spraying to keep it up.
The natural approach my father practiced during my youth certainly works today as well. We mow the lawn when we need to, pull the weeds by hand, and trim the edges manually. This has reduced our need for gasoline to power our tools and encouraged the kids to help as well.
We also compost our food wastes: everything from coffee grounds to egg shells to vegetable scraps goes into the compost. It prevents the food materials from going into the landfill and makes us feel like we’re getting a little more from our food. The compost eventually becomes rich soil that we use to enrich the garden and to dig into the dirt around our shrubs and trees