Conscious Shopping Tips

>> Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I was interviewed recently by a nice woman from Co-op America, and hopefully (fingers crossed) there will at least be some mention of me and my blog in the upcoming issue of their quarterly magazine.

I don't say that to gloat. No, no, no, quite the contrary...It was a phone interview, and for some reason, I am not very good at talking on the phone. This is an affliction that I've had my entire life, and I'm not sure why. I do fine in person, I do great by email, the blog is my domain, but put me on a phone, and my mind stalls like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift.

So I've been thinking a lot since then about what I could have said better. And here it is...

To anyone out there who uses the excuse, "I can't afford to go green," this is what I would say to you:

1. Take it slow. You don't have to go green all at once. Because of budgetary limitations, I am taking it very slowly. Right now, I buy a lot of locally grown food, but not a lot of organic food. I hope to be able to buy more organic food in the future, but right now, that's not possible for my family. Think about what small changes you can afford, and do them!

2. Do the money savers first. A lot of so-called "green" changes actually save money. Making your home more energy efficient, driving a more energy efficient car, walking more, riding a bike, taking public transportation, using less water, buying less or not buying at all...These things save money.

When people say that going green costs too much they're generally thinking of organic foods, beauty supplies, and clothing. But think about this: I estimate that I can save $150 to $200 a month (maybe even more) by making changes in my transportation, energy use, and spending habits, but rather than blowing that money on something useless, I plan to shift that spending to the food and clothing categories of my budget. Voila, I can afford to go green!

3. Shop smart. Organic food is expensive, I admit that. But there are ways to make it cheaper. Just as with all grocery shopping, you need to shop smart. Buy on sale and buy in bulk. Avoid processed foods. Avoid non-nutritive foods (sodas, candy, chocolate). Know which grocery stores in your area carry the cheapest organics. Make food from scratch. Join a food co-op or a buying club.

You can also save money in the food category by planting a garden, visiting u-pick farms or orchards, canning or freezing surplus produce, and raising chickens, bees, or goats. Even though I'm in an apartment, I plan to try some container gardening on my balcony this year.

4. Buy used. Organic, sweatshop free, and fair trade are expensive labels, but there are ways to save on clothing and house decor also. Think of thrift stores, consignment stores, and yard sales as your new favorite place to shop. Take advantage of our wasteful society and discover the bounty of like-new items on Craigslist. Experiment with Freecycle or start your own Swap Network (I'm planning to try this soon and will report my findings).

5. Adopt an attitude of non-consumerism. The less you buy, the more money you'll save (and the more money you can shift to food and clothing). Think about what stores are your downfall (in my case it's Target, maybe yours is the mall), and don't go there as often. Stop looking at catalogs and don't watch commercials. Believe me, the temptation to spend money drops to almost nil when you're no longer surrounded with enticements to buy, buy, buy!

6. Build a community. You don't have to do everything all by yourself. Go green with your neighbors and swap garden produce, skills, and time.

7. Do the big four. If you've tried everything I've already mentioned, and you still can't afford to go completely green, then just focus on the big four: energy efficient housing, energy efficient transportation, less meat-eating, and buying less.


Maren Hansen December 31, 2008 at 8:40 PM  

Erin, I really like that--thanks for such a great, concise summary!

Alley Times January 1, 2009 at 3:41 PM  

Some ways we have cut back are: We are soda free!! The best right there b/c I didn't really want my kids to drink it and my hubby was only drinking b/c I had it! So, that's gone. Also, we don't have any cable, satelite, or any form of t.v. It saves us money not just b/c we don't pay for it but we don't see what we don't have either. And our children don't see toys! It also reduces the trash that infiltrates our minds . . . just minor cut backs but serious budget reliefs. More to come from our clan . . . I hope!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 3, 2009 at 9:22 PM  

Alley Times - We're working on reducing our soda intake (just my husband and me, the kids never get soda). You're right that it's a huge waste of money.

I really admire people who can give up TV, but we enjoy it too much. We recently got a DVR and are really enjoying the commercial free TV watching, but we would sure save a lot of money if we gave up TV all together.

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