Doing good for the environment doesn’t have empty your wallet.
While I’m not one who lives paycheck to paycheck, I know the value of living frugally. I budget carefully and think through my purchases. Sometimes though, it seems like buying eco-friendly products and living green are too expensive for a college student’s budget. For instance, there’s no way I could afford to drive a hybrid car or put solar panels on my apartment roof. But there are ways to have the best of both worlds: this is a student’s guide to sustainable frugality, saving you money and the environment too.
1. Using a Glass Water Bottle Instead of Buying Plastic
The average 24 pack of your basic, glorified tap water is around $3. Let’s say that you go through one of these packs each month. In a year you will spend $36 simply for the convenience of water in plastic bottles. This isn’t too bad for your bank account, but it is bad for the environment because you alone have added 288 plastic bottles to landfills in a single year. Think about how many plastic bottles would be wasted if all the students at WSU, let alone the entire US population went through a 24 pack of water a month! Alternatively, you can get a glass water bottle for about $12 at Target. After four months of reusing the glass water bottle, the bottle has paid for itself and now you are saving $24 a year, plus there is zero plastic waste.
2. Make Your Own Cleaning Products with Natural Ingredients
When you want something really clean, your first instinct is probably to reach for the product with disinfecting chemicals cooked up in labs. But in fact, Mother Nature already perfected two powerful cleaning solutions: white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Mix either one with water (on a 50/50 ratio) or use hydrogen peroxide on its own, and you have a natural all-purpose cleaner for counter-tops, glass surfaces, carpets and even your toilet bowl. You can get 128oz of white vinegar for $3 and 32oz of hydrogen peroxide for just $1 at the grocery or drugstore. Let’s compare that to spending $2 on a 24oz bottle toilet bowl cleaner and $3 for a 26oz bottle of counter-top disinfectant.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like much of a difference, but the savings are apparent when you drill down to price per ounce. At $2, the commercial toilet bowl cleaner comes out to $0.08/oz and the commercial disinfectant at $3 cost about $0.12/oz. The vinegar costs $0.02/oz while the hydrogen peroxide comes out to $0.03/oz. The commercial products are 4 times as expensive as the natural ones! Remember, too, that you have to dilute the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide with water so your purchases will go even further. Over a year, you will spend a bit less on cleaning products by making your own natural recipes, but the real savings come from avoiding harsh chemicals that can actually make you sick even while your house is spotless.
3. Switch Incandescent Bulbs Out for CFL Bulbs
This is a well-known energy saving tip but when you see the sticker price at the store, you might think otherwise. It’s true that you have to spend some money upfront to purchase CFL lightbulbs but you will save energy and money overall. Let me take you through the math. At Target, you can get two GE 60-Watt Incandescent Soft White Light Bulb for $2.50 while two GE 60-Watt CFL Soft White Light Bulbs will cost $8.79. Say you need 10 light bulbs for your entire apartment, so your total bill would be $12.50 for incandescent bulbs and $43.95 for CFL bulbs. That’s a big price difference! But you can see the savings already when you look at how long the bulbs will last. GE claims that the CFL bulbs will last 13.7 years while the incandescent bulbs will only make it 1.4 years. With the cost of replacement, you would end up spending $9/year on incandescent bulbs, but only $3/year on CFLs because they last so much longer. That is a yearly savings of $6.
Now let’s factor in energy usage. The average Minnesotan uses 793 kilowatt hours (kWh) each month and the average cost for residential electricity in Winona is $0.11/kWh. At that rate, your average monthly electricity bill is about $87. Now, each incandescent bulb uses 60 watts, and if you used one bulb for 10 hours a day, that one bulb would use 0.6kWh. At ten bulbs for 10hrs/day, you would use 6kWh each day. Using 10 incandescent bulbs for 10 hours a day for 30 days would equate to 180 kWh/ month. The total cost for all that energy is $19.8/month. Meanwhile, each CFL bulb uses a mere 15 watts, so 1 bulb for 10 hrs/day would use .15 kWh. At 10 bulbs for 10hrs/day, the energy consumed would amount to 1.5kWh, and at 10 bulbs for 10 hrs/day for 30 days the total would be 45 kWh/month. The total cost is just $4.95/month. That is a savings of $15 each month—your $90 bill is now $75. In a year, you’ll save $180. As you can see, the savings add up quickly!
4. Eat Seasonal and Local Foods
It’s the dead of winter and we’re all longing for spring to arrive. While at the grocery store you might reach out for a nectarine or some grapes just to remember that there is warmth world. But hold up—those warm-weather fruits clearly aren’t in season here in Minnesota. No, they had a long journey to your local Hy-vee from California, Mexico or maybe even Chile, an expense you’ll see at the register when you pay $3-4 per pound for those nectarines and grapes. Even though eating fresh produce is healthy for you, eating produce when it’s in season helps the environment by lowering emissions produced by shipping foods thousands of miles and saves you money too. Not to mention that that oranges, strawberries and peppers taste better when you get them in season. Eating local produce is even better because again there are reduced shipping costs—both monetary and environmental—and you keep your dollars in the local economy. Supporting local farmers at the Winona Farmers Market is an important way to build community, which in turn supports your life as well because all businesses thrive when people have money to spend.
5. Cut Down on Food Waste
Speaking of food, let’s talk about how much money you lose by wasting food. In the U.S, 40% of the food produced gets thrown away each year at every stage of production from insect damage to commercial “beauty standards” for produce to spoilage in your fridge. All this wasted food costs Americans $43,052,480,000. That is a huge number to wrap your mind around, but think about it this way. If the average American family of four spends roughly $1,252 per month on groceries, as a single college student you might spend about $300 at the most. If you threw out 40% of the food you purchased, you would basically toss $120 in the trash—that’s some serious cash! A big reason people throw away food is because it spoils before they can use it. Here are few apps that can help you help you eliminate your own food waste and save money:
- Green Egg Shopper lets you track your food purchases by how soon they will spoil and then alerts you when foods are almost expired
- Love Food, Hate Waste provides portion planners and helps find recipes for the ingredients you have in your cupboards
- 222 Million Tons helps you shop smarter by giving you templates for grocery lists based on how many people you’re shopping for and what they like
Even if food isn’t actually spoiled, most people will still toss it if the expiration date has passed. While expiration dates have good intentions to reduce food-borne illnesses, the fact is that any bad bacteria is already present regardless of the date printed on the package. Expiration dates are really more of guidelines for grocery store shelf-stockers—for you, the consumer, most foods are still perfectly good to eat even if the expiration date has passed.
These are just a few ways to be sustainable on a budget. If you’d like to learn more about frugal living, come to “The New Frugality” presentation by economics expert Chris Farrell on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7pm in the Vivian Fusillo Stage in the Performing Arts Center.