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4 Ways We’re Going Green on a Budget

Jessi emailed in the following recently:

Over the last few months, my family has been working tirelessly in attempts to become more “Green” — which often means higher price tags. Since we’re on a budget and a one-income family we’ve had to learn (through trial and error) ways to live healthier without moving to the poor house.

Here are four ways that we’ve managed to stay within budget while becoming more “Green”:

1. Changing Household Cleaners: we use vinegar and baking soda to clean with. It works wonders on everything! If you can’t stand the smell just add a few drops of essential oils or if you have a lemon hanging around squeeze some juice into the mix.

2. Making Homemade Laundry Detergent: we’ve been able to not only save money by making our own laundry detergent {it’s much easier than you think!} but we’ve also been able to reduce the amount of recycling we have every week.

3. Buying Fewer Processed Foods: we’ve slowly been changing what we buy at the grocery store — cutting out the artificial dyes and slowly bringing less processed food in the house. Don’t get me wrong, we still buy some packaged food but it has to meet these requirements: no artificial dyes, no more than 9 ingredients, and we must be able to pronounce all the ingredients.

4. Eating Organic Produce: We have been slowly working our way down the list Dirty Dozen list. We decided that the first produce that we were going to switch solely to organic were potatoes and carrots. They seem to be the ones at higher risk for pesticides (and it freaks me out that you can’t get a ‘normal’ potato to spud… seriously try it. It will not spud even if it’s completely rotten).

These are just a few of the ways that we have been able to start living greener, healthier lives all while maintaining a budget. It may take you a while to get the hang of change, but it will definitely be worth it in the end!

What are ways that you’ve managed to go green without breaking the bank?

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  1. Jenn says

    Love this article!
    I’ve bought “normal” potatoes and they do spud. But, I also am trying to buy more organic.

      • says

        Your normal potatoes don’t spud?!! Mine spud sooo fast that I hate even buying potatoes if I am not positive that I am going to use them in a day or two!!

        • tatjana says

          I heard they spray potatoes, at least in our area, so that they don’t spud. at least in our area, and we have potato land in southern Manitoba (Canada)

  2. Kellie says

    I recently made the switch to organic back in April, its definatly alot more expensive and the farmers market is pretty pricey to which i completely understand but I fell in love with organic foods I now buy organic fed milk, eggs, cheese and fruits and vegtables. What really helps is the Kroger chain I shop at came out with a store brand Organic line which is amazing and affordable. Every now and then we dont buy organic or we buy processed but we have cut out processed foods and non organic food alot. We eat Organic about 80% of the time now, and i make everything. If i see it in a store i dont buy it i go home and make it with no perservatives. And theres nothing more tastier then organic eggs and milk, huge difference in taste! I will never go back.

  3. says

    We do several things trying to meet our “green” goals. The biggest of which is only shopping for groceries one day a week. Sounds simple but it forces me to pick a few stores, limit using the car and I know exactly what is in the kitchen to eat this week. No over buying. Plus, Fridays at my house are cleaning out the frig dinners. Quiche or pizza are great dinner that use left over meat and veggies. Another trick is to use our own bags where we get up to .25 off each purchase. That is double wammy of goodness for us.

    One day we will convert over to an electric lawn mower and propane fueled grill, but right now we are using what we have. When they die, then the replacements will include a better green option. The propane tank hopefully will get ditched later this summer.

  4. Aubrey says

    I think I’ve had regular potatoes spud, but certainly not as quickly as organic!
    Potatoes are one of the first things we switched over to completely organic, also. We moved to what I lovingly refer to as a “small town in the middle of nowhere” about three years ago and I immediately noticed that the quality of produce in grocery stores wasn’t what I was used to. My business-minded husband explained it as the fact that we’re at the end of the supply chain – produce is already old by the time it gets to our grocery stores (which is why I long for the summer months and fresh garden produce!) I could never buy a 5lb bag of potatoes and NOT have at least some of them go bad (rotten, not just sprouted) Since switching to organic they do sprout a lot faster, but I haven’t had a single one rot on me. I don’t mind cutting off the sprouts and even peeling them if I have to as long as I can still use them!

  5. Donna says

    Hi: I was wondering if you know the name of the cart holding the bags in the picture of this article. Thanks

  6. Jenn says

    The idea of making homemade laundry detergent has always interested me, but I just keep reading about too many negatives of it. I figure with sales and coupons I can meet my goal of 7 cents per load. I don’t want to waste the ingredients trying to make it and then not be happy with its performance.

    • says

      I you can get your hands on the ingredients, do try it though. I used homemade for years with great success. I only had to switch when we moved to a different area with water that had a lot of iron in it.

    • sarah s says

      Jenn – I thought that too. I bought the ingredients for $7 at Walmart and I’ve been making very small batches (1/4th to 1/8th of normal recipes) to try and see what I like best. The borax and washing soda are great laundry boosters even if you don’t end up liking the detergents you make, so they won’t go to waste. Borax is also a great insect control agent if you find yourself with ants in the summertime.

    • says

      Be careful if you have sensitive skin. I am apparently allergic to Felsnaptha of all things. I am using up the detergent I made with it on my husband’s clothes then will be making new with Ivory. If I’m allergic to that, trying castile.

      • says

        I started making homemade laundry soap 9 years ago because I am allergic to laundry detergents. I use Oil of Olay instead of Fels Naptha; I cannot touch the bar of Fels Naptha without having trouble. The Oil of Olay is one of the few soaps I can use. I’ve been really happy with it for the last 9 years!

    • Colleen says

      We have been making our own laundry detergent for the last 13 months. I bought all the ingredients new (washing soda, borax and Dawn dish soap). The recipe I use is 6 TB soda, 6TB borax and 4 TB Dawn mixed with 1 gallon hot water – shake to dissolve solids, use 3/4 cup per load. Just this month I had to buy more washing soda – I still have half of the original Borax and Dawn. So for about $6 of ingredients used so far, I have washed something like 380 loads of laundry. That’s about .015 cents per load. Clothes are clean and fresh smelling. We use a bar of Fels-Naptha or some bleach to just to pre-treat as needed (like my son’s baseball uniforms), and vinegar when necessary for odors. You can’t beat the value, and it’s great for sensitive skin (I have very sensitive skin) and people with a sensitive nose (like me … very little odor, just clean smelling).

    • says

      I haven’t had to make a new batch of detergent since February! My Feb batch is still going strong and I average one load a day! I love it and won’t turn back! :-)

  7. says

    Great suggestions! At its heart, eco-friendly living should be more frugal. About the potatoes: I second that! It was one of Michael Pollan’s books that taught me that conventional potatoes are sprayed with SO much pesticide that they must sit in a warehouse for SIX months to outgas, before they can be taken to market. And the farmers cannot be anywhere near the potatoes when they are sprayed because it will cause such immediate and powerful sickness. Scary stuff.

    My local ALDI stores sell organic potatoes at a great price.

    • says

      Wow. I picked potatoes in high school (lived in a high potato growing area, we were given 3 weeks of from school for potato harvest) and nothing like that happened there. And they weren’t organic. Interesting. We sold “new” potatoes right away. We used to glean the fields even. Wonder if the pesticide thing like that is regional.

      • says

        Perhaps…. the book was Omnivore’s Dilemma. And he was referring to Russet potatoes. And maybe things have changed since you were in high school? :-)

        • says

          I had 100 pounds of gleaned, unsprayed potatoes that my friend picked from the fields in Idaho and brought to me. They lasted longer than the 500 pounds I bought the following month, and they didn’t sprout, either. In fact I had to eat the storebought ones first because they grew eyes first.

          If you’re keeping your potatoes cool enough, they won’t sprout. When they’re warmer, they sprout quickly. One of the questions I get email about all the time is how we are able to buy so many potatoes in the fall without having them sprout on us. The answer is to simply keep them cool enough (around 45º is ideal).

          Also, organic does NOT mean un-sprayed. There are many organic pesticides as well, such as BT, cottonseed oil, Neem oil, etc.

        • says

          Russets were one of the varieties I picked. I only graduated high school in 2004 so doubt things have changed that much but it is very possible. I just know that there wasn’t any sort of outgas-ing issues. The potato houses up in northern Maine where I lived are built to keep the potatoes cool, dark, and dry and they don’t sprout. Like The Prudent Homemaker said, that is the way to keep them from sprouting.

          Will look to see if my library has that book.

      • Erin says

        I also grew up (graduated in ’03) in rural Idaho picking potatoes (russets) and never saw or heard of anything like that either. The potatoes were generally sprayed with pesticides periodically throughout the growing season, but only the green leaves above ground. During spud harvest, the potatoes were dug up, and the farmers had absolutely no reservations about touching the potatoes. They were loaded up and immediately shipped out. Most of the farmers grew for a specific company, who took the potatoes and handled the marketing, selling, and price negotiations for the potatoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if some sort of chemical treatment took place after the potatoes shifted hands, but the story from Pollan doesn’t sound anything like what I experienced out on potato farms. I still go back home around spud harvest and as far as I can tell things haven’t changed in the last 10 years.

  8. Ryanne says

    How do you figure that carrots are more likely to be covered in pesticides? They aren’t on the dirty dozen list at all! Organic carrots are often the same price as conventional carrots in our neck of the woods so I’ll buy them, but I go conventional if those are cheaper. Potatoes are absolutely one of the most important things to get organic. I agree with you there!

  9. Sara says

    We use cloth diapers, cloth rags, cloth napkins, cloth wipes.
    We also made great birthday decorations- banners, napkins, table cloth, place mats etc. that are all reusable.
    We are about to buy reusable pouches for homemade babyfood (my kids have loved these- but I don’t want to keep buying them).
    We use reusable bags, snack bags, etc.
    We buy just a couple cleaners in bulk that are eco-friendly. We also make some of our own- and homemade diaper wipe solutions also.
    We compost
    We use a planet box for lunches (no baggies etc.)- they hold up SO well, we’ve used them for over 4 years of every day lunches, so in the long run it is $ friendly too.
    We also do some of the things from your article- like trying not to buy processed foods. We usually get a veggie CSA, but with the new baby we didn’t this summer. Know there is more, but can’t remember. I would always make a bigger investment upfront so we can stop buying things (napkins etc.)
    Oh- we also got a NEST thermometer, an initial investment, but saving us $, and energy.

  10. lyss says

    Curious what you mean by “spud”. I thought “spud” means “potato”. Does it also mean sprout? Because “regular” potatoes sprout for me all the time!

    I agree on the vinegar and baking soda! I don’t have a cabinet full of chemical cleaners anymore. Cheaper, simpler, healthier…can’t beat it! : )

  11. Colleen says

    I make our own body wash – grate up on bar of soap (I use Dove sensitive skin) and melt on the stove with 1.5 cups of water. It thickens as it cools. This way, we save a ton of money over buying commercial body washes (50 cents for the amount you would have to be $3-$4 for), and we save on the packaging, which is incredibly wasteful. I also buy large bags of snacks and portion them out rather than individual packages. I make my own yogurt (I eat a lot). For the price of a gallon of milk, I can have around 2 quarts of greek-style yogurt and avoid buying all those individual containers. It’s like $3 compared to $16. I cook as much as possible from scratch, which is healthier and creates less waste. I buy thrift/second-hand whenever possible (again avoiding waste and saving on things we would buy anyway). And I learned to sew, so I can have the window treatments/throw pillows/cushions I want without paying a fortune, and I can do my own alterations and sew things like baby gifts, halloween costumes, pajama bottoms, etc. I even buy the fabric from thrift stores and garage sales when possible. All of these things I do keep items out of landfills and save my budget.

  12. ShoppingFool says

    Thank you for saying it!!!!! I know organic is better, but when you are just barely squeaking by with enough to eat, then you do the very best you can! If I could hug you I would!!

  13. Katie says

    We switched to one car four years ago. This is more frugal for us and keeps our driving down. We’ve been blessed to live within walking distance of husband’s work for the last three years. Now that we’re moving again, living within biking distance to work is a big priority for us.

    We re-use bags. I have some cloth, but I also re-use paper inside of plastic and I use the inevitable extra plastic grocery bags to line my bathroom trash. We wrap gifts & packages in brown paper bags from the grocery store, too.

    We drink tap water. Lots and lots of tap water. Each of our kids has a dedicated water bottle and husband and I have several that we rotate through. Tap water where we live is inexpensive, tasty, and good for us. We keep a bottle of tap water in the fridge for hot days.

    We exercise outside– walking, running, biking. No machines, and the equipment cost is low.

  14. Flo says

    We have been able to buy mostly organic for several years due to the “blessing ” of NASH–Non-Alcoholic SteatoHepatitis or “fatty liver” disease. When my husband was diagnosed as Stage 1 four years ago after several years of poor numbers led to a biopsy, we were told “there is no medical treatment until it reaches the cirrhosis stage where you become eligible for a liver transplant!” Their only suggestion was to cut back the fat in his diet. What? We were already eating mostly chicken, a few eggs, 2% milk and sometimes skim… When I fed the info into the computer we were STILL at 30% of calories from fat.
    About 2 weeks later, we received an invitation to Healthy Indiana’s annual conference, which supports people in a vegan lifestyle as a way to improve the lives of those with coronary artery disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases of the Standard American Diet (SAD). This is the C.H.I.P–Cardiac Health Improvement Program. We listened to the speakers (Dr. Hans Diehl, Dr. Caldwell Esslestyne, and others,) tried the food, talked to people whose health had improved greatly (including some with arthritis and MS, as well as the many diabetics with heart disease) and decided we would do it. The first few weeks were challenging. I had no idea we were eating so many animal products, and planning a meal without that central animal protein block turned my head around! Whole grains, with greens and roasted or braised vegetables, lentils, beans, soups, curries, stir-“fries”; food was suddenly tasting so much better. The computer said we were now in the 12-15% fat range! He lost 22 pounds with no effort and I dropped another 10 pounds that had been hanging on after the initial 15 pounds I had lost earlier through portion control and exercise. At the next checkup 8 months after the diagnosis, the gastroenterologist said, “Your numbers are back to normal! I won’t need to see you again.” (Then he sat down and asked him, “How did you do it?”)
    Since we don’t buy meat, milk, or cheese we have money to use for organic produce, legumes, etc. AND four years later we are still down 25 pounds for him and 40 pounds for me. We do add a tiny bit of organic butter or olive oil to some dishes, we do use farm eggs when we bake, and we do end up with bits of meat in some dishes when we eat out, but we don’t miss the meat or the milk. (And we feel pretty good for 60-ish grandparents, volunteer firefighters, and EMTs.)

  15. Lori says

    Your picture showed re usable grocery bags and for our family there are huge. Not only are you contributing less plastic to the land fill, but you are encouraging less production.

    I also look for products that use less packaging. Recycling is great, but the reality is we need to stop producing so much product. Before I purchase something I ask myself many questions, including “do I really want this to eventually end up in the landfill?”. No matter how much we reuse, recycle, up cycle or renew, everything we buy today is eventually going to end up being disposed.

  16. Anitra says

    Cloth napkins! I bought them at our local thrift superstore (like a Goodwill but bigger) – I only bought ones that weren’t fancy and less than $1 each (most I bought in sets of 4 for $2). With a tw0-year-old and a four-year-old, I was going through almost a dozen paper napkins every day (meals & snacks). Now? If a cloth napkin is covered in food, I toss it in a basket that gets washed every few days (usually with towels & rags).

    Reusing where possible, and just NOT BUYING unneeded stuff. My daughter doesn’t get a new backpack for kindergarten – the one she’s been using for the past 2 years will be fine (although we are going to decorate it a bit). “Use it up, wear it out, make do – or do without!”

  17. Vanessa says

    Love the article. I also believe in eating and feeding our children organic as much as we can afford. It can be expensive but worse is that sometimes you may be buying organic products and produce that really isn’t as organic as you believe it to be. So be sure to do your research and read , personally if its oregon tilth and QAI certified its good to purchase , if possible grow your own. One vegetable home grown is one less to buy 😉

  18. says

    I use homemade cleaners too along with a no chemical cleaning microfiber towel.

    I don’t go out during the week in the car unless it is for appointment or something planned so we have been saving on gas with no more running out for just one thing.

    We also grow our own organic veggies, strawberries and raspberries. We don’t have a big yard just an average in town lot. But we do grow quite a bit in that small area. This year I had so many of our tomato seeds germinate I was able to supply not only our family with heirloom tomato plants but also many of our neighbors and friends too.

    Processed foods is my next area to tackle. I love the ease of packaged food but hate the cost.

  19. says

    Small cars with good gas mileage
    Reusable snack and sandwich bags (making some)
    Cloth napkins (making from leftover fabric)
    E-cloths for cleaning with water
    Farmer’s Market
    Growing vegetables
    Reusable bags out of t-shirts
    Packaging papers for gift wrap
    Recycling with the city
    Silicone re-usable straws from GreenPaxx
    Natural oils for bug spray (supporting a local mom business)
    Collecting water from the gutter spout to water plants (my 5 year old son’s idea)
    Stainless steal water bottles
    Replacing teflon with thrift store pots and pans
    Bartering green services or products.

  20. says

    use our bags especially at stores that reward you
    growing vegetables & fruit at a community farm
    traded in one jeep 4×4 for a toyota prius and only $300 oop
    making my own shampoo/conditioner
    making my own laundry detergent
    using vinegar, alcohol & peroxide for cleaners
    changed to LED TVs from LCD and Plasma
    haven’t turned on the a/c yet in the house using eco-friendly fans instead
    using the grill or propane stove to use less natural gas during the summer
    added a wind turbine
    added another set of solar panels to the what we have installed already helping to equalize our power consumption

    probably more stuff that I can’t think of at the top of my head.

  21. says

    I love that you’re making your own laundry detergent, Jessi. I’m really wanting to give that a go myself, as much for the financial benefits as for ridding that part of my house of chemicals.

    Another tip I’d add to this list is to grow your own herbs. Often you can pick up seedlings for as little as $1 from the markets, pots are a dime a dozen at second-hand stores, and little else is needed apart from an ongoing commitment to watering. Herbs can be the difference between a boring meal and something amazing but buying bunches is expensive and wasteful, because too often they perish before they’re all used up. Freshly picked herbs taste amazing and grabbing them from your own mini garden is rewarding and super cheap. Plus, often the plants yield more than you can use so there’s the chance to freeze leftovers in a snap-lock bag, giving you access to yummy annuals all year round. Perfect!

  22. Nicole says

    Since this seems to have turned into a conversation about potatoes, here’s my two cents…

    I work for a conventional potato farmer. Let me tell you that you don’t even want to know what touches your store-brand potatoes. The ground they’re grown in is drenched in fertilizers and herbicides, their plants are soaked in pesticides, and once the potatoes are dug they’re washed in chemicals and then sprayed with unmentionable things to retard sprouting. Yes, if a potato turns out the way it is intended it will rot before it sprouts. Totally disgusting.

    And this is just one example of an individual vegetable. Let me tell you that all this and worse happens to everything you put in and on your body. It’s a scary world!

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