Family Finance: Go Green, Save Money

Jennifer Wray

After what seemed like an interminably long winter, spring is finally—finally—here. The birds are back in full force, the tulips are blooming, and the squirrels are climbing trees and dodging cars all around my neighborhood.

Perhaps it’s the lively reminder that nature, in all its vibrancy, surrounds us. Or the increasingly dire-sounding predictions about climate change. Or the heartstrings-tugging headlines about marine life discovered with bellies full of plastic. Or the stories about U.S. cities abandoning recycling after China banned its import. Or perhaps it’s our growing grocery and Amazon bill, now that our 14-month-old son is happily eating—or throwing to the ground—nearly any solid food he can get his hands on.

For those reasons and so many more, I recently decided to implement some changes to go green (and, hopefully, save some green).

Interested in doing the same? Here are some ideas to get you started. Check back in May for the second of this two-part series, focused on food: from buying or growing it to cooking, composting and finding more uses for food scraps.

It’s in the Bag

California has done it. So has New York, as have the cities of Chicago; Portland, Maine; and Boulder, Colorado. I’m talking plastic bag bans. Early research has found that such bans can significantly cut the amount of plastic litter in a community, according to Scientific American. Even Kroger has gotten into the game, announcing it would phase out single-use plastic grocery bags by 2025.

At our house, we’ve used plastic bags not just for groceries, but also as ad hoc lunch bags, trash can liners or waste bags for our dog. Torn bags are returned to the grocery store for recycling. And while reusing and recycling are good, I know reducing their use would be better. To that end, I’ve started stashing tote bags everywhere—in my car and my husband’s minivan, at work and by my back door—so they’re available for grocery runs. They save me money at stores such as Aldi that charge for bags, and they allow me to get a small discount (or make a charitable donation) at places like Lucky’s Market.

Tote bags are usually available in abundance at thrift stores, but if you’re feeling crafty, there are tons of DIY how-tos online, including no-sew, kid-friendly techniques. Martha Stewart would be proud. (Yes, she has a tutorial, too.)

Much like shopping bags, produce and bulk bags can be major sources of waste—especially when you consider the small window in which you actually need them. There are alternatives. Consider bringing your own jars for spices, grains and other bulk goods: Have a grocery clerk weigh them before filling, so you don’t incur the extra cost of the container when paying by weight later.

When it comes to produce, I tend to just toss the fruit or vegetable in my cart. But if you need something to contain produce, consider a lightweight, reusable bag. Purchase them online or at places like City Folks in Beechwold, or make your own using curtain sheers or similar materials.

Contain It

One of the ways I try to save time and money at home is by cooking enough to have leftovers. Of course, that requires containers for food storage, and too often that means using disposable items such as plastic bags and wrap, foil and the like. But there are alternatives. For instance, spaghetti sauce jars are great for storing soup, and plastic tubs are terrific for corralling cut-up fruit, cereal and other small foods that don’t require reheating, or as to-go containers for our dinner guests. Beeswax wrap can take the place of plastic wrap in many instances (and can last up to a year)—and yep, you can DIY this one, too.

When it comes to packing lunch, I put meals in reusable glass containers as much as possible. I also skip disposable plastic cutlery in favor of reusable alternatives, such as camping sporks or silverware purchased on the cheap from the thrift store. Bed, Bath & Beyond sells silverware singles, so you can get a matching fork, spoon and knife for just a few bucks.

A Fine Mess

While my household won’t likely ever ditch paper towels completely—there are just some messes that need to go straight into the trash—old cloth diapers and T-shirt scraps make great dust cloths and towels.

Unpaper towels” are another alternative. I bought my mom a colorful set nearly a decade ago, and they’re still going strong—and are fun and colorful, too. And, of course, cotton flour sack towels are classics for a reason.

Hate doing dishes? Here’s a bit of good news: To save water, use a dishwasher. Energy Star-certified machines save nearly 5,000 gallons a year over handwashing, reports CNET.

Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.