Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Save money, save the Earth

Frugality can reduce your carbon footprint -- and increase control of your life. But a greener lifestyle doesn't have to happen overnight; small changes help, too.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 30, 2012 12:07PM
Logo: Recycle (Comstock Images/Jupiterimages)Some people are frugal for environmental reasons. Cooking from scratch, buying secondhand, learning handyman skills, growing some of their own food, doing without some of the things marketed as "necessities" -- all these practices mean less impact on the planet.

Others may feel vaguely guilty about their oversized carbon footprints, yet they are convinced they have neither the time nor the talents to take the greener path in life.

But it's not an all-or-nothing approach, says author Deborah Niemann. You don't have to give up all creature comforts in favor of outhouses and butter churns, or turn your front yard into the back 40.

What you do have to do, though, is quit thinking you're incapable of change.

"Start questioning things that you have always assumed to be true," says Niemann, the author of "Eco Thrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life."

What kinds of things? So glad you asked.
  • "Maybe your time is not too valuable to cook dinner."
  • "Do you really always need to buy new clothes rather than used?"
  • "Does your child really need the latest plastic gadget from China?"
  • "Maybe you wouldn't mind drying a few things on a clothesline rather than in a dryer."
  • "Could better time management help you save money by avoiding impulse purchases when you are in a hurry?"
The author tells us, kindly but firmly, to stop making excuses for wasteful behavior. When we embrace a consumeristic lifestyle we not only add to the problem, we cede control of our very lives.

"As long as you let Madison Avenue tell you how to spend your money and your time, you're a pawn in the marketing game, making others richer," Nieman says. "The good news is that you can stop playing that game whenever you are ready."

Change can be gradual

That doesn't mean leaving the playing field abruptly, mind you. If it's easy to burn out on ordinary frugality, imagine how tough an overnight transition to a supergreen lifestyle could be. To go from shopping once a week to having to make your own baby food, toiletries, cleaning products and all meals from scratch would be overwhelming -- even to the best-intentioned eco-warrior wannabe.

Niemann hopes you'll also rethink transportation, health care, shopping, birthday parties, child-rearing, gardening, heating and cooling, exercise, housing and hobbies. But not all at once. Instead, she suggests you start by picking three tips from the book: one that can be done that day, one that week and one that would require some planning.
I'm with her. Even a few basic changes can be the first steps toward that happier, healthier life. As I noted in "Frugal' doesn't mean 'deprived',” being careful with your money causes you to think about your finances differently. Being greener in even a few choices will change your focus, too.

For example, each time you cook dinner you'll save more than money: You save one bag of fast-food wrappers from the landfill. Mindfulness about the way you choose to live in the world can make you feel profoundly grateful for the fact that you have choices.

And if a few basic changes are all you can make? Doing even a little is better than doing nothing.

More on MSN Money:

Nov 30, 2012 7:50PM
Great article, Donna.

I became totally debt-free several years ago, by becoming "appropriately frugal."  By that I mean that every spend SWMBO and I made was discussed, planned, and deliberate.

And now, as we are on the flat part of the frugal behavioral curve, I relate the actions you mention to my own habits----as a bona fide frugal and borderline cheapskate, we are loath to waste anything, whether it is time, money, water, gasoline, heating, cooling, clothing, wrapping paper, OTHER PEOPLES' TIME, anything.

I think this makes one predisposed to lowering one's carbon footprint.  My example is that we moved a few years ago to a larger house, but located where we do the minimal amount of driving.  If we had public transport available, we would use it.  But as it is, we only drive around 6,000-9,000 miles/year because of our proximity to work and food.  And worship, where we spend a lot of our free time.

And even though our house is bigger than needed by two people, we open our windows and doors much of the year because we like fresh air.  Many neighbors will run AC when it is 70F outside because they don't open their windows.  My utility bills are concomitantly low.

So, thanks again for the article.  My final words are that conservative should mean just what it says, that you don't waste anything.  And you conserve wherever possible (and convenient).
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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.