I’m back! Try not to be too critical of my absence (again!); I had a baby, moved cross country, and had a major computer crash issue, so… blogging just wasn’t going to happen. Things have settled down now (somewhat – I still have a toddler, baby, husband and household to take care of!), and my wonderful husband got my computer fixed, so I’m happy to be back. While I purpose not to be one of those bloggers that bombards you with pictures and stories of my kids, I thought I’d share a photo of our latest addition, who happens to be one of the reasons I’ve been away. 🙂
Now, let’s get back to the Green Living series! One thing I hear a lot from people who haven’t yet taken the plunge into natural living is that it costs more to shop naturally. Yes… and no. Actually, I spend much less now than when I was shopping conventionally. It all depends on your approach. If you buy all the processed, packaged, “trendy” foods, health/beauty products and cleaners and shop at only the upscale, pricey, greenwashed (read: not really all that green but hopping on the bandwagon trying to make a buck) sellers, then yes, you will spend a lot more. But if you choose to take money and resource saving steps like plant a garden, buy used, make your own household and personal products, cook from scratch with whole, plant-based foods, reduce your consumption, repurpose items you already own and be more intentional about your purchases, you can end up saving more than you ever imagined. Think about it: our grandparents and great grandparents were “green” before anyone knew what being green was. They lived frugally, repurposed everything, grew their own food, avoided waste and lived simply and naturally. Before the industrial revolution, green living wasn’t a trend, it was just the way it was, and no one even thought about it. Today, with our convenience minded, disposable society, most of the above ideas seem radical, time consuming and impractical, but until just a few generations ago, this was the way things had been done for thousands of years. And honestly, the changes our family has made to live a more intentional, less wasteful life have helped us free up more, not less time, and simplified our lives in so many ways. By avoiding wasteful shortcuts, we spend more time doing things as a family, and by bringing less into our home, we have fewer distractions and more money to spend on the things that really matter. A few small changes go a long way!
One of those changes is in the way we shop. Today, I want to focus on Green Shopping. What are some simple, practical ways to cut back on waste when making purchases? Here are some things that we have done that have really made a difference for our family:
Reducing Waste at the Store
It’s no secret to those who know me that I have a major container fetish, particularly baskets and bags. I. LOVE. BAGS! A lot. So much so that when we moved, I forced myself to go through my bag stash to see if there were any that I could get rid of, but alas, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with any of them. Very unlike me, by the way. I normally love getting rid of clutter, but to me, my bags aren’t clutter. They’re friends. *Sigh*… I gotta work on that one. So, they all came with me, and most of them are being put to use on a regular basis in a wide variety of ways. The few that aren’t are hanging in my closet as a daily reminder to find them a job. I will… soon… I promise.
Many of my bags reside in our car as part of my Shopping Kit, which consists of grocery, produce and bulk food bags. I take them in with me when I shop and put them back in the car after unpacking the groceries at home. It may seem like a small, fairly insignificant thing, but it saves hundreds of wasted plastic and paper bags every year. As an added bonus, most stores now give you the option of either store credit or a charitable donation for each reusable bag you use, so you can either save money or increase your charitable giving. It’s not a huge amount per bag, but it all adds up! This has been my favorite green change so far – I love not having wads of produce bags to throw away, or a cupboard full of paper bags languishing under the sink. And it allows me to further indulge in my bag obsession. 😉
So now I shop in style and love on the planet in the process, thanks in part to my friend Angela’s awesome little company, My Outdoor Mom. Her produce bags are fun, colorful, and, unlike those nasty, cheap, plastic bags at the store, don’t cradle your edibles in a toxic hug or rip apart with a heavy load (it’s apple season, y’all!). I have a set for fruits and another for veggies, as well as her muslin bulk foods bags, which are fabulous. They all come with carrying pouches and carabiners, so I just clip them to my cart and shop away, amid many envious looks from passersby. 😉 There are a lot of companies selling reusable produce and bulk bags, but I haven’t found any whose products are as affordable AND high quality as My Outdoor Mom. Angela has a TON of fabric and color options, and, unlike most other companies, she’ll do custom orders if you have something special in mind (trust me – I’m always bugging her to customize for me, and she cheerfully complies). She has lots of other great products as well, so be sure to take a look. My next purchase will be her organic buckwheat pillows and a set of reusable sandwich and snack bags. Can’t wait! I’m hoping we can also get her to do a giveaway here one of these days… hint, hint! 🙂
If you can sew (and if, unlike me, you actually have time to sew!) you can easily and inexpensively make your own reusable shopping kit and other cloth bag replacements (no more baggies – yay!). There are several patterns and tutorials available on the web, and you can repurpose material from old jeans, flannel shirts, and other heavy duty fabrics you already have. It doesn’t get any cheaper or greener than that!
Another way I’ve learned to reduce waste is by online shopping. I’ve often found better deals on many of the items I buy on a regular basis at online stores, plus the added savings of gas (not to mention time and energy!). And when you have little ones, getting together all the necessary gear and hauling them off to the store is less than appealing. By shopping online, I can avoid all of that and have the things I need delivered right to my door. One of my favorite places to shop is Amazon – I frequently get the things I’m looking for way below local retail prices, and they offer free shipping for orders over $25 of qualifying items (which is most of them). They carry a surprising variety of natural and organic items, including food. I regularly buy essential oils, chia seeds, hemp seeds and goji berries there, among other things. I also love to shop there for books, CDs and DVDs, most of which I buy used in like new condition, which goes even further to reduce waste and save money. Their Amazon Mom program helps you save even more on things for the kiddos, the home, and even yourself. And if you’re prone to running out of the things you use most, their Subscribe and Save service lets you sign up to receive your favorite items at regular intervals at even lower prices (great for diapers!).
When shopping online, be sure to look around for the best deal. Most retail stores have online shopping options as well, so you can buy the things you normally run out for without leaving home. The added advantage of online shopping is that you can compare prices at several different stores at once – there are even dedicated comparison shopping sites available to help you get the best deal. Usually, if you look up the product you want on your web browser, you’ll get numerous results complete with prices and reviews. Compare prices between the stores you normally shop and other stores offering the same item, remembering to factor in shipping as part of the overall cost. If a site offers free shipping on orders over a certain dollar amount, consider buying in bulk (but only if it’s something you’ll actually use in bulk) or going in on an order with a friend. I’ve done this in the past with great results. The company I buy my soap nuts (more about those in a future post) from offers free shipping on orders over $75, but $75 worth of soap nuts was an impractical purchase considering how long they last me, so I went in with two friends and we split an order, saving quite a bit on shipping. Going in with others on orders also reduces packing waste and adds a sense of community, which leads me to my next suggestion…
Daily Deal Sites
I love these! I currently belong to four different daily deals; Groupon, Eversave, zulilly and Blissmo. These sites work by offering a daily (or sometimes weekly) deal for a reduced price, usually 40-80% off the regular cost, for goods or services in your local area or for national chains or websites. Each deal requires a certain number of people to participate in order to “tip” and be eligible. Once that number is reached, the deal is on. These sites are free to join and frequently offer deals on natural, eco-friendly products and services that would otherwise be cost prohibitive. The key is not to allow the thrill of a deal overshadow your judgment – just because you can get something, that doesn’t mean you should. If it’s not something you need, love, or will use, it’s NOT a deal. If there’s a great deal on a product or service that you really have been wanting, great. If you’re prone to purchase things you’re not sure you need or love, but you just like the thrill of the deal, skip the daily deal sites (and the rest of this section!) and focus on reducing waste and cutting costs in other ways.
zulilly is a site that specializes in deals on items for babies and kids, and moms. Some of the recent deals I’ve gotten from zulilly include high end stainless steel baby bottles and silicone bottle sleeves, envirosax organic hemp grocery bags and several natural, wooden toys, all for less than half the regular prices. All of these items are normally expensive enough that I wouldn’t have purchased them otherwise, so these were great deals on things we really enjoy and use frequently.
Groupon generally offers more services than products, such as discounts on salon and spa services, restaurants and entertainment. I’ve gotten numerous deals on massage and other natural and alternative health services and products from Groupon, discounts at some of my favorite local restaurants and health food stores, and even symphony tickets, which I couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
Eversave is very similar to Groupon. I just joined this week, and my first deal with them was for huge savings on a natural and organic website I recently discovered and will post more about when my order arrives. The deal was $50 worth of products for $25, but I had a discount code which made the deal $20, and I was a first time buyer, so I saved an additional $3. So, I ended up getting $50 of products for $17 – that’s $33 of free merchandise! Definitely worth the 60 seconds it took to join.
Blissmo is a site that offers weekly deals on ONLY natural and organic products. They also have a service called Blissmobox, which is a monthly package filled with natural, organic goodies from a variety of companies. For $19 a month, you receive a box with $50 or more worth of merchandise in your chosen category (pure and natural snacks, skin & beauty, or natural cleaning). If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge into making you own personal and household items or organic snacks, the Blissmobox gives you a chance to sample a wide array of products at a deep discount to discover what works for you. You can choose your category each month and cancel anytime. If you want to try it out, click here to get your first month for just $11.
If you find that you like being a part of group discounts, you may also consider…
Co-ops and CSAs
Co-ops are a great way to get natural, organic and non-toxic products that are sold in bulk, without having to actually buy in bulk. My favorite co-op is Azure Standard. They have a wide selection, competitive prices and great customer service, and offer both regular home delivery or co-op style bulk order. There are other co-op and bulk order sites, which a simple online search will find for you, and many churches and local groups already have established drop points, making it easy to join. When you join a delivery co-op, you can ask about local drop points. If there isn’t one locally, you can round up some friends and establish a drop point together, giving you the ability to split orders and share the cost.
Many health food stores are also co-ops, with membership options to save on purchases and participate in other co-op events. Your membership fee helps support the local farms from which the store buys its produce, and gives you a special share in the harvest, along with a sense of ownership and responsibility for the foods you’re eating.
CSAs are Community Supported Agriculture. In other words, you pay a minimal fee to join, which helps support the farmers that grow your food, and as a result, you get to share in the harvest. Typically, you receive a box of pre-selected produce every one or two weeks (or whatever schedule your particular CSA chooses). For many people, it’s a great way to save on organic produce and experience new foods while supporting local agriculture, which is so important and something I feel pretty strongly about. Some of the benefits of CSAs include:
- eating ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
- exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
- getting to visit the farm where your food is grown at least once each season
- discovering that kids typically enjoy food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
- developing a relationship with the farmer who grows your food and learning more about how food is grown
This is a great way to involve your kids in a healthier lifestyle, and introduce them to new foods. It’s important for children to understand where food really comes from, and taking a trip to the farm to meet the farmer that grows their food and see where it all starts is a wonderful education tool. My two year-old loves being out in the garden, seeing the vegetables grow, and popping a few ripe, organic cherry tomatoes in his mouth straight from the plant! My husband and I love growing our own food, but not everyone does or is able to, so in those instances, a CSA is a great alternative.
You can check online to find a CSA in your area, but before you do, there are a few things to consider. CSAs are not for everyone. For example, if you don’t particularly like vegetables, or only like a few specific vegetables, or if you don’t have the time, commitment or desire to prepare homemade meals most evenings, then signing up to receive several pounds of vegetables each week is not going to go well for you. Few things are more frustrating and discouraging than throwing away rotten, unused food, and with it, wasted money. Also, consider the shared risk. Joining a CSA is like buying stock – you could have a great return on your investment with a good crop, or it could be a poor harvest year in terms of weather, pest problems, etc. Before you join, be sure you’re willing to take the risk, keeping in mind that the vast majority of the time, it’s a very worthwhile investment. I was a member of a CSA for a while when I was single and living in an apartment with no room for a garden, and I enjoyed it, but found that the amount of vegetables delivered was often more than I could eat myself. If you’re single, or a smaller family that consumes fewer vegetables, consider splitting your share with someone else to avoid wasted food and extra expense, or try canning or freezing the extra produce that you won’t be able to use right away. If you plan well, a CSA can be a fun, inexpensive way to shop green.
As you can see, there are numerous ways to green up your shopping and save money at the same time. This is by no means an exhaustive list – get creative, talk to friends and brainstorm for additional ways to go green, save money and improve your health. Look for deals and coupons on the natural and organic products you like, and remember:
Next up in the Green Living series… Green Living in the Bathroom! We’ll be talking about ways to reduce waste and chemicals in our health and beauty products, including a recipe or two for some homemade personal care products. Have any products you’d like to replace with something homemade? Let me know and we’ll add it to the list!