6 Ways to Start Living Sustainably on a Tight Budget 

by Hilary Horn
Sustainability can seem like a huge cost to some of us – fair trade clothes or home goods, organic foods, solar panels, electric cars, etc. can seem to costly. While things like this are wonderful, for many of us, we simply can’t afford it because of our budgets even if we wanted to! So instead we give up. Throw in the towel and just say, sustainability or green living is not for me.
I grew up in urban poor neighborhoods of cities and lived in them most of my life. Sustainability was rarely talked about. There were other problems like racial equality, violence and everything else that tends to come with poverty. When I heard more about creation care and sustainability, the topic seemed so foreign. And honestly like something wealthy people hang a flag over for sake of a cause to care about. So I shrugged it off for many years in my naivety.
However, the more I’ve learned, the more I have cared and wanted to see how I could be part of the solution. Often healthy environments help beat poverty and we can all have our roles in what this may look like in our own communities. Over the years, I have learned that sustainability doesn’t have to always be super expensive. You don’t have to buy solar panels just to be part of the cause. There are ways you can begin to change or add things into your lifestyle that can leave a greener, more sustainable and fair way of living. Below are some ideas I’ve implemented into my families life as we have explored how to be more sustainable even though we have a very limited budget (#pastors).
1. Make freezer meals in advance for your family. Buying food in bulk not only is cheaper, but also saves on plastic packaging. Many freezer type quick meals have so much plastic and packaging that just gets tossed in the land fills. Even if you’re pressed on time like me, this helps save it in the long run as well as provide healthy nutrition to your family. I’m a fan of crock pot meals and dumping a pre-made freezer meal on the pot and having it ready to go at the end of the day is a win. I try and do one big run to a bulk store, gather everything I need and spend half a day making 20-30 meals for the month that we can use for dinner or lunches. Most bulk packaging can all be recycled and usually comes in cardboard verses plastic.
2. Getting rid of a vehicle. Multiple cars are very common in the average american family – rich or poor. We used to own two cars ourselves. Granted, living in Seattle there are more options for transportation, but we realized that having a second car wasn’t necessary for our family of four. My husband and I drove most places together and when we individually needed a car, we would schedule accordingly so one could either walk where they needed to be or take another form of transportation like the bus or an Uber. Yet, this rarely happens and we have been without two cars for almost two years now. There are also amazing bikes you can rent scattered throughout the city for super cheap (half hour is $0.50 USD) called Lime Bikes.  You can pick up near you and drop it off anywhere once you’re done. Most of the time, using one car for a family comes down to organization and forsaking your comfort rather than an actual need of two cars.
3. Obtaining a compost bin in your kitchen. Everyone scrapes off plates after a meal or has to toss an occasional produce because you didn’t get to it in time. Over time, these things add up in our garbages. Having a compost bin to put these type of things in is wonderful. Even if you don’t have a large one in your yard or a worm bin to feed, you can simply put your kitchen compostable waste into your yard waste bin.
4. Shopping for clothes second hand. I’m all for fair trade. But when your kids go through shoes and clothes every 3-6 months because they grow like weeds, fair trade clothing adds up. I’m also plus size and finding fair trade clothing that actually works for my body is just plain hard. Instead, we try and shop for most of our clothes second hand or swapping with other moms for kids clothes. Most baby clothes are like brand new because they wear them for a whopping 3 weeks before they need a new size their first year of life anyways. Recycling up clothes helps save on waste and money. My friend Britni just wrote a powerful post, “I have 36 Slaves Working For Me“,  that touches deeper on this.
5. Making more things from scratch. Simple things like bread or yogurt are a good start. You don’t have to be Betty Crocker. They may seem scary, but are really simple. Using old recycled glass jars to hold yogurt in or a reusable bin for bread helps save on waste and money! Christine just wrote a great post about making her own yogurt here.
6. Growing your own herbs. I’m not saying you need to be a master gardener or need a big back yard. I’ve lived in tiny apartments and still had a pot of thyme or mint on my window seal. Herbs are like succulents, they are hard to kill off. But growing your own herbs like rosemary, mint, thyme, parsley or basil helps. A stick of rosemary in the store is $4 and comes in an insane amount of plastic wrapping. We have a big bush of all these things in our yard and I seriously DO NOTHING to them. They are faithful plants that don’t ask for much but give a lot of benefits.
7. Be part of your local Buy Nothing Group. If you have a Facebook account, look up your neighborhood Buy Nothing Group or click here for more information about these groups. This is a wonderful tool to recycle and reuse things, as well as meet more of your neighbors! I have gotten loads of baby items, things for our home and even clothe diapers! This tool has been such a gift for our family and for many others as up-cycle items and share what we may not need anymore with our very own community we live in.
Little things like this are a great start as you venture into sustainable living. You don’t have to have a lot of money and can actually save money implementing some of these things! What have been same of your budget friendly ways to live sustainably? Tell us in the comments below.

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3 comments

Andy Wade April 24, 2018 - 11:44 am

These are great ideas, Hilary! You should also check with your local/state utilities to see if they have free goodies. For example, Energy Trust of Oregon has free “Energy Saver Kits” that include some free LED bulbs and low-flow fixture attachments! You don’t have to be a homeowner to qualify. Many utilities also have free energy audits to help you figure out where you’re wasting energy.

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Hilary Horn April 25, 2018 - 10:25 am

That’s a great idea! I would love to hear others thoughts on budget friendly ways of sustainability as well! As I am continuing to navigate my own journey in sustainability it is so encouraging to hear more examples from others! Thanks Andy! -Hilary

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Sustainability, Pentecost & Beyond – Godspacelight May 2, 2018 - 2:36 am

[…] response to Hilary Horn’s post Six Ways to Start Living Sustainably on a Tight Budget we have heard from people who have joined Buy Nothing groups across America. Others have read An […]

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