Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Less garbage = more money?

Reduce, reuse, recycle -- and reap rewards. Really.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 15, 2012 12:02PM
Image: Garbage men operating garbage truck (© Don Mason/Blend Images/Corbis)Hoarding gets a bad rap, according to the eponymous blogger at Dogs or Dollars.  She's joking, but some of her behaviors could raise eyebrows among the non-frugal.

DorD saves or scavenges things like egg cartons, coffee cans, plastic containers, cardboard boxes and large envelopes. The difference between her and a true hoarder is that she uses them instead of letting them pile up -- and they save her "a significant amount of money."

In fact, such tactics save money in several different, interrelated ways.

For example:
  • The less waste you generate, the fewer garbage bags you have to buy and the lower your disposal bills might be.
  • Buying in bulk to reduce packaging waste means you get a lower cost-per-unit price.
  • Putting leftovers into a pickle jar or bread bag reduces the need for foil, plastic wrap or food-storage containers.
Repurposing used to be common. Outgrown clothes were cut down for younger siblings or reborn as quilt patches. Old buildings were torn down to provide lumber for new projects. My grandmother poured homemade jam into peanut-butter jars (which used to be made of glass) and sealed them with wax.

These tactics work

In a post on the Silent Springs blog, Vincent Smith suggests that "more thoughtful living" could greatly reduce waste. Why do we throw away an old shirt but buy cleaning rags? (Post continues after video.)
Whether your motive is saving money or saving the planet, slashing waste is a giant step in the right direction. David, at Prairie Eco-Thrifter, suggests tips like buying in bulk to eliminate individual packaging, packing a lunch to cut down on fast-food waste, and bringing your own water and coffee containers: "You don't need to contribute to that trash can outside Starbucks overflowing with single-use paper cups."

I do some of these things myself and can attest to their cost-effectiveness. A roll of aluminum foil can last me a couple of years. Produce and bread bags get re-used until they shred. I repurpose empty jars for storage and have found Tupperware in the free box at yard sales. A reusable shopping bag lives in my backpack.

I buy in bulk when I can and choose large sizes the rest of the time. I make my own jam (using foraged fruit), iced tea and yogurt versus buying and discarding all those plastic cups and bottles. Once I've used the last of the laundry soap I got cheaply with coupons I plan to try the simple detergent recipe I mentioned in "Homemade healthy cleaners and snacks."

Adding less to the problem

Not that I'm a green saint, mind you. For example, I drink a lot of tea but also go through a 12-pack of Diet Coke every couple of weeks. However, I do recycle the carton and cans (and the My Coke Rewards points).

Since recycling is mandatory here in Seattle, I generate so little waste that I never buy trash bags. My "garbage can" is small enough to be lined with plastic shopping bags.

Recently the city outlawed those bags so I may have to start buying trash-can liners. In the meantime, I save them from trips elsewhere or scavenge any that I see blowing down the street. ("Outlawed" doesn't mean "gone.")

While I don't kid myself about saving the planet single-handedly, there is a fair amount of satisfaction in not adding to the problem any more than I must. It's also nice not to have to shell out cash for more aluminum foil, or to rinse and discard a dozen yogurt cups per week.

Got any green/frugal tactics to share?

More on MSN Money:

Aug 16, 2012 1:42PM

I never buy cleaning rags, that makes NO sense.  When I was younger you'd reach into a bag of cleaning rags in the closet and pull out one of my dads old tshirts, if it wasn't cut up you just cut it up.  Once I reached in and pulled out an old pair of his briefs!  They were washed of course!  Now I cut up my old tshirts to use as rags, I've also cut up old flannel shirts.  Towels are used until they "wear out" then become the towels to use on the dog, when they are completely frayed and out of life they are cut up and used as rags around the house and garage.  I litterally have towels/rags that have been in use and handed down that I can remember from my childhood, some are older than me and I am 37!

also, when socks wear out instead of throwing them away they become dust "mittens", I put a couple layered on my hand, spray it with endust or windex and start cleaning.  They launder easily or can be disposable.


Donna, a lot of people don't realize they can rinse out sponges and then run them through the dishwasher to get disinfected/sanitized. I have sponges that I have used for several years.

Aug 18, 2012 4:34PM

I'm not green by any means, either, as I recycle and reuse to save money:


~Plastic coffee containers and their lids get washed and are reused in DH's garage to hold garage-y stuff.

~I have 5 canvas grocery bags in rotation.

~We still get plastic grocery bags at Wally World and Family Dollar, and those are used to line small garbage cans, to put dirty clothes in when traveling, etc.

~Small green olive, pepperoncini, etc. jars are washed and reused to hold my own spice blends, to keep junk drawer items organized, etc.

~I keep and reuse unused envelopes that come with our utility bill (they don't offer electronic billing yet) because I pay it online.

~If a client walks their already sealed and stamped payment in to my office, I'll cut off the unused stamp for reuse.  After they've left my office of course!  ;)

~Santa and DH each brought be a box of Rubbermaid plastic food storage containers.  The goal has been to use them as much as possible to avoid sandwich bag usage.  I bought a 4-box case of baggies at Sam's Club in January, and we still have 2.5 boxes left!  :)

~We crush and recycle aluminum cans at home.  DH also saves up and recycles aluminum and steel from his job.

~When using paper towels, I tear a small sheet in half.

~I bought white vinegar during my last shopping trip to begin using it as a cleaner.

~We also have a "rag bag" under the kitchen sink, and I have one here @ the office.  I dust the same way strawberry247 below does.  One of DH's holey socks fits perfectly on my hand!  I also have hand-me-down kitchen towels older than I am.

Sep 5, 2012 7:03AM

Donna, we are of one mind!  I am not a pro recycler, but I make it a habit to reuse disposable items at least once.  I line my trash cans with plastic bags from the grocery store rather than buy bags made specifically for small trash cans.   My husband takes his lunch in a grocery bag, but hates to bring home containers, so I give him things like pre-used plastic peanut butter jars that can be tossed, guilt free. 


I have two favorite tips for you: 

              Whenever I bake anything I always throw in several potatoes.  It is nice, when I am in a hurry, to have potatoes all ready to slice in to American fries that cook up really quickly!  They stay good in the fridge for a couple of weeks. I use the aluminum baking nails so the potatoes can be done in about the same time as a batch of brownies.  ( I don't really like the texture of potatoes done in the microwave.)

              When you get to the bottom of the jar of your favorite pickles, don't throw away the remaining juice.  Slice up a cucumber and add it to the brine.  (I add a little chopped onion to mine, too.)   Refrigerate in the original jar and turn it over every time that you open the fridge.  In about 3 days the slices become crisp pickles.

Sep 5, 2012 10:56AM
I think a lot of reducing garbage is just a way of living. We are a family of five and on a typical week our trash can is less than a quarter full. The recycling can is usually about the same. Yet we have friends that fill two of the large 50 gallon totes every week.  They only have four people at home. We buy as little packaged, processed food as possible.
Sep 5, 2012 12:40PM
I wonder why you need trash bags at all?  If we cut down on food waste, and compost what is going out, our trash should be 'clean' enough to put into a can without a bag, or disposed of in a repurposed paper bag that will biodegrade.  In the rare instance that it isn't (big parties, Thanksgiving), you will have those shopping bags as a backup. 
Sep 5, 2012 8:14AM
My mother-in-law is a hoarder, even though my husband says she's a "collector".  Her house looks like a huge unorganized junk pile.  She attends every garage sale, estate sale, and consignment shop, and her TV is continually tuned into the shopping channel, day and night.  She bought a load of clothing recently, and said "they were all too small for me, but I bought them anyway because they were such a good deal."  Thank you for printing an article that might help people who have a real problem.
Sep 5, 2012 11:37AM
My small community recently established a recycling center. LOVE IT. I use to drive 30 miles just to recycle. My wish came true! What else should I wish for now? We got earth that needs to be saved.  
Sep 5, 2012 5:13PM
Re-use those big dog food bags.They are strong and last a long time. They have held about 20 pounds  for a long time before you even bought them you know they are good bags. You can reuse them  lots of times if you just put dry stuff in them. I carry them to the dumpster empty them and reuse.
Sep 5, 2012 12:20PM

Not exactly true of lower garbage disposal costs. Perfect example is my town. About 2 decades ago, they got rid of our township garbage collection in favor of using private garbage collectors. In NJ? The Soprano State? What used to cost $45 a year for 20 years now costs $78 a quarter for garbage pickup. Which, you wouldn't mind so much but they don't give you a choice of how many pickups you actually need a week. People with 2 or more kid might need pickups 2 times a week. Those new automated garbage containers are over 4 ft high and a senior citizen living alone in a home or apartment doesn't make that much garbage in 2 months. But they still pay the same rate and get 2 pickups needed or not.


It simply not true that conserving anything ever reduces the costs you are charged. Our water and sewerage authority every summer demands tight water conservation..guess what? not a dime in credit for using less. In fact, they've made an art of using the excuse that when there is "less water demand, it costs the authority more." This is the same with electricity conservation too. Use less and they charge you more because their profits drop.

Sep 5, 2012 11:54AM

Fly replenent for horses (something my mom read somewhere) - forget the bad-smelling, expenstive, unhealthy stuff you can buy.  Try plain old baby oil!  Its safe for the humans and the horses.  Wipe it on with a rag or spray on with a spray bottle.  Only down side is that it can leave your horse looking a bit greasy for awhile and does collect dirt when he rolls  - but the dirt brushes out and the greasiness wear off.  Baby oil is a very effective and safe fly repelent for horses!


How about other cheap, healhty, "green" things that are often left out of the commericialized "go-green" campaigning?  I do these:

1) Home-canning (fruit, jam, soup, etc.)

2) old-fashioned clothes-line instead of using the clothes dryer all the time

3) Cloth diapers for babies

4) Cook/mash your own baby food - healthy, beats the expensive of buying.  Also, glass is getting

     hard to recycle in many places so there are no glas jars to go in the garbage.

5) Breast-feeing instead of formula feeding babies.  I realize that there are many reasons not

    everyone can do this, but when it is possible it is certainly cheapest.  And healthiest (for baby   

    and mom) too - and yes, though commercialism won't say it, "greener" too.

        - Also washable nursing pads are cheaper (in the long-run) and "greener" than the

          disposable ones.  They can be hard to find but the internet is a great source!

6) hand-drying dishes - not using the "dry" cycle on the dishwasher

    (also hand-washing or only running dishwasher when completely full)

7) Recycling whatever possible in your area (what local recycling places will take varies with

     each location) - note that just because a product says "recycleable" doesn't mean that you

     can acutally recycle it!

8) Another cat-litter idea:  Use wood pellets mean for use in pellet-stoves.  Little to no smell - and

     actually can smell ike wood when the cat urinates in them!  Cheap.  Two cautions, however. 

     Make sure that the pellets are free from additifves to help them burn (most are but not all). 

     Also, some cats have what is called "substrate preference" - that means that they are picky

     about what kind of materials they will actually accept  in their litter box.  But if your cat will use it,

     its a great alternative!

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.