As consumers and working-class citizens, we’re taught from a young age to look for the best deal. We shop the sales racks and buy in bulk, hoping to save a buck. But we’re also taught to buy poorly made and disposable items. And just buy more when they break or wear out.

Along with the idea of spending less, we’ve learned to expect outrageous prices for things that are “good.” Whether it’s good for your health, good for the planet or just plain good fun. We just assume it will be more expensive if it’s supposed to be good for you.

But, I’m here to tell you, that’s just wrong. And I’m here to tell you how to go green and save money, all at the same time.

What’s the real cost of buying cheap stuff?

When I was in my early twenties, and totally broke, I realized there was a problem with how I shopped. I shopped at Walmart for jeans and would usually spend around $10 each pair. I thought it was ridiculous to spend even just $25 on a pair of jeans. The problem was that I wound up buying new jeans every couple months because they would tear, or a seam would come loose, or the zipper would break.

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I realized that by the end of one year, I had spent more than $50 on jeans, but I still only had one working pair to show for it. Basically double the amount I was trying to avoid in the first place.

And how much money do you throw away?

Another money drain is the waste left over after we make a purchase. Packaging is the most obvious waste. Everything you buy something new, it comes with plastic wrap or a cardboard box, or Styrofoam, or all that and more. Part of the cost of any new purchase will be the packaging.

A less obvious waste cost is food waste. How much food do you buy and then throw out part or all of? I know this is an issue I struggle with and continue to work on. Just the other day, we had a big loaf of French bread that we realized would go stale before we could finish it. So we made it into croutons – no food waste and no packaging (and no preservatives or other chemicals) – it was a win-win-win!

Another area where I see a lot of waste in my own kitchen. I buy it with the best of intentions and then either forget about it or maybe finish half before it goes bad. One way to combat that is to use storage products and methods that slow ripening and rot. But you can also be more intentional when making that purchase, or more accountable to your diet plan.

I get it, sometimes a salad just isn’t going to cut it (despite your best intentions) but grab an app like Yummly where you can plug in your on-hand ingredients and see what else you can make with it.

But how much do “green” products cost?

Now that we know where some of our costs are going up, what about the green, or eco-friendly options? What’s the cost of those items?

Obviously I can’t list every cost, but here’s how you can think of it while shopping: Rather than thinking of the initial cost, think about it as cost-per-use. Every time you use something, the cost goes down.

So those jeans I bought for $10, for example, if I wore them five times before the zipper broke, the cost-per-use was $2.

But if I’d bought the $25 jeans, and let’s say I wore them once a week for a year before the zipper broke (let’s be real, $25 jeans aren’t the highest quality either!) – if I wore them once a week for a year, that’s 26 times, which means it cost me
about $0.96 per use to buy those jeans.

In this scenario, I paid more than double up front, but my cost-per-use was less than half – see where I’m going with this? In our disposable lifestyle, we’ve been trained not to think like this. Frankly, this should be in your Home Economics class in High School (assuming that’s still a thing … I’m kind of old LOL).

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And how about something for nothing?

And for those of you who are particularly crafty, or particularly cheap or broke (no judgment here, cuz I’ve been on both ends of that!). There’s always the DIY option. Take what you have and make it something new. Or, fix what you have instead of replacing it.

One easy upcycle that has become a mainstay in my household, is simply reusing glass jars. Pasta sauces, pickles, jams and jellies … all sorts of pantry items come in glass jars. We now use those for storing leftovers, or change, or random spare screws that for some reason I seem to have in abundance. (I also check my spare screw jar before I go out and buy a new screw.)

And if you need more inspiration, head to Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook and watch the millions of videos about it! I’m slightly addicted to them myself. Or check out my DIY Fruit Fly traps.

So that’s it, that’s how you go green and save money all at the same time. I know, I know, you were hoping for something a little more specific, but really, it depends on your current lifestyle and habits.

Just remember, price-per-use is more important than the initial price, good quality is actually more affordable in the long run. Single-use items probably suck up way more of your money than you think about, and there’s plenty of free stuff already in your home – you just need to take stock and get creative!

I hope I’ve given you some great ideas, but we can all use more inspiration. Share your upcycle, reuse and money-saving (but eco-friendly) ideas below!