Going Budget Green for the Home

Homegrown tomato.  Going green on a budget

Today, a college intern at a local magazine emailed me that she wanted to ask me a few green questions.  No problem, I thought.  I love to talk about going green, especially on a budget. Ask my friends?  Sometimes, I think they would like me to shut up about it.

So, when the college intern asked me “what were my top 5 ideas of going green on a budget,” I was speechless, a first for me.  (No comments from the peanut gallery.)  I could not utter my top 5  and yet on a budget.  I am not a stranger to budget/frugal greensumerism since I am constantly talking about  how to repurpose items that would go into the trash, how to weatherize your house on a dime, and how to swap, barter, and Freecycle it.

Who else loves you enough to tell you how being green is a snap since you have so many options right in your own neighborhood? (Plus, how could you forget my article on the green benefits of eating at Wendy’s? Far fetched but I was determined.)

Hmmm. What was my top five green budget ideas?

Top five I thought?  I said something (probably not too intelligent) because I was stunned that I could not launch into my usual green mantra mode.  All I could come up with is “take your shoes off  when you get home so that you don’t drag in all those toxins and pesticides from outside into your home.”  You can’t get any more frugal then that.

Was this the best Anna could do?

There seemed to be silence on the other end of the phone as if I had just been found out to be a fake. Branded with a capital “L” on my forehead.  I felt like I was the wizard in Wizard of Oz, when Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal who the great and mighty Wizard of Oz was.  A mere mortal.  Did she wonder if I was the same person who dispels those green words of wisdom every week or did I have ghost writers?

On my second try out of the box, I started to dazzle her with my re-purpose ideas of how to reuse thing like my straws from marking my bulbs, and a net baggie turned deer deterrence full of my hair (pantyhose work too.)  She kindly asked me for more ideas since re-purposing may not be for everyone.  Strike two.

Then finally I came up with something palatable:  Use your leftover spaghetti and potato water to water your plants.  (Hit to first base. Crowds cheer.)  After a few other ideas such as keeping your refrigerator full to lower energy costs, or don’t buy plastic bottles or single serving packaging, I felt my own dissappointment that I could not provide any exciting tips.  All o f my suggestions were blah.

Okay, Anna, spill that apparently clogged brain of yours.

So I decide to write this article to list some of my own going green on a budget ideas for your home for everyone to add their favorites.  When I first drafted the article, so many ideas spilled out of my head I decided to break up the article into two.  Here is my first installment of budget green ideas.  Read tomorrow’s green budget friendly garden and water ideas:

Green Ideas for the Home:

  • Consider using only green cleaners like Seventh Generation or better yet, make your own cleaners.   See here for recipes.  I basically use only Bonami, baking soda and vingear to clean with.
  • Ditch the paper habit, and use either rags or a SKOY cloth.  See My Plastic Free Life’s  (Beth’s) review on the cloth. Many people like microfiber rags but they are made out of petroleum based products.
  • Get rid of junk mail by eliminating those unwanted catalogs on Catalog Choice or Green Dimes.  See more information here on how to reduce your junk mail dilemena.
  • Consider swapping, bartering or selling your clutter.  See more information here to declutter your home.  Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure.
  • Take your shoes off when you come into the door.  It reduces toxic chemicals in your home.
  • Use low or no voc paint to give your rooms  a make-over. Paint can turn a room from drab to fab.  Seriously.  (I learned this from watching countless hours of HGTV.)
  • Look for air leaks in your home with an incense stick and then caulk, weatherstrip, and insulate as necessary to close up the leaks. See how here. For more weatherizing tips, see here, here, and here.  Many of them are quite inexpensive.
  • Install this dryer vent to stop leaks from your dryer. It is very inexpensive and any DIYer can do it. I have one in my own home and found the laundry room to be warmer.
  • Install CFLs in your lights.  Realize that the dimmable CFLs  do not completely dim.  Don’t forget to recycle them at your county facility, Ikea, or Home Depot.
  • Recycle, reuse, and reduce. Many items you can recycle within 10 minutes from your home. See here for a list.  Remember reduce is the most important of the three Rs.
  • I add the fourth one to the 3 Rs.  Repurpose.  I am constantly thinking of way to reuse items from toothbrushes as cleaning tools, straws to mark my bulbs, potato sacks to place over my broccoli seedlings so the moths don’t lay their blasted eggs on them, expired credit cards as seedling identifiers, and other ideas.
  • Reduce waste in your home by reducing the amount of single servings items you buy.  Just think of the dollars you spend every day to have that convience of single servings.  Instead of the single servings, considering buying one large bag and putting the amount you want in a container for lunch.  See here for a short video of Renee and  Heather of EnviroMoms on Nightline showing a family how they can reduce their waste.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.  Want to know the lifecycle of the napkin? Watch the  Sundance Channel’s EcoTrip’s upcoming episode.  (Airs this Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9pm.)  You will think twice about using napkins again.
  • Use re-usable containers for lunches rather than use plastic baggies.  If you have to use plastic baggies, wash them and reuse them.  Some lunch box ideas for less wasteful lunches:  Laptop Lunches , Project Kool, and Kids Konserve.
  • Look at what you buy when you go to the grocery store.  Assess whether it can be recycled or not.  OR go with the brand with the less packaging.   I tend to only buy the eggs in paper cartons rather than the plastic because I can only recycle the paper container. For more tips on how to reduce your plastic consumption, visit My Plastic Free Life.  Beth had wonderful nonpreachy posts that everyone would enjoy.  She changed my world.
  • Instead of using paper plates and utensils, use your own plates instead for parties.  If you need extras go to a thrift shop and buy different matching sets to re-use them rather than throw them away.  As for plastic utensils, you can either have additional utensils or hand wash the plastic ones over and over again.
  • Consider air drying your dishes rather than using the heat cycle of your dishwasher.
  • Use only eco-friendly dishwasher soaps for your dishes and laundry detergent for your clothes.  Want to go one step futher, consider buying soap nuts!  Less plastic.  And they are great for vacations since you can just slip them in your suitcase.  When you are done with them, simply throw them outside to bio-degrade. I use Studio OM’s soap nuts and love them!  Update:  She closed her business but you can buy them at Laundry Tree. Note, you can’t wash your clothes in cold water with soap nuts.  If you want to use cold water, you have to make a liquid soap nut version or buy it as a liquid.
  • Wash your clothes in cold to reduce your energy bills.
  • Take out all polyester clothing out of the dryer to line dry.  This cuts down on static cling and dryer time.
  • Unplug your computer, television, and other electronic equipment when they are not in use.  They draw phantom energy which increases your electric bill.  You can buy a surge protector strip, plug multiple items into it, and then turn off surge protector when you are not using the equipment.  If you are not into bending, then just purchase a Smart Strip.
  • Use recycled toliet paper rather than regular paper.  Buy in bulk to reduce the cost.   See my article about the different types of recycled toliet papers.
  • Buy used furniture at garage sales, on Ebay, Craiglist, and antique stores.  Not only can you get a better bargain for good quality furniture, you will reducing your footprint by buying something that is already here.  My own house is full of used furniture!
  • Shop at building salvage stores to pick up flooring, cabinets, tile, and more at reduced prices.  Many times the products are overages from builders or salvaged from building being torn down.  See here for more information.  I visit my local Habitat Restore constantly to see what I can pick up for my house. (I am eyeing left-over bricks to expand my garden.  Don’t tell my husband.  That means more work for him…)
  • Shop at second hand or consignment stores.  I bought both of my designer dresses for my sons’ bar mitzvahs at a fraction of the cost.   You will look great and reduce your carbon footprint!  See here for a list of consignment shops in your area.
  • Better yet, rent your dresses. Rent the Runway has killer dresses!
  • I have read you can turn your oven off  for five minutes before the food is supposed to be done to save energy.   The food finishes with the residual heat.  I have never tried this and was wondering if anyone had. For more energy saving cooking ideas, see here.

Whew! I am exhausted.  I guess my fingers are way smarter than my brain.

Tommorrow I will tackle some water conservation and gardening ideas. What are some of your budget conscious home tips?  Let’s help create an amazing article full of great tips that will inspire other to green their lives.  I am all ears!

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    I’m a big fan of going green, so these tips are fantastic! I used to leave my shoes outside, walk barefoot and have “bedroom slippers” because my family were neat freaks, but I didn’t know it lessened toxins coming inside our home. Maybe that explains why we don’t get sick that often with the exception of migraines.

  2. 3

    Mary Q Contrarie says

    I am really surprised that you are still using your clothes dryer. I gave mine up two years ago. From what I have read it saves anywhere from 6 – 10% of US domestic energy usage. I live in the midwest so the weather is not always great for line drying. That is why I use a clothes drying rack it is portable and flexable.

  3. 4

    Dennis says

    Using expired credit cards as identifiers for seeds does not sound like a good idea! Your credit card #’s are still there for the taking – and they can probably figure out the new expiration date from thebwhat the old expiration date was – with a little trial and error – and be ordering stuff online on your credit card.

  4. 6


    One idea: In the cold months, after I use the oven, I open the oven door all the way. Hey, I paid for that heat and I’m gonna use it! Then the oven fan doesn’t have to work hard to cool down the oven either. Another, use a pressure cooker. I’ve heard in countries where fuel is scarce/super expensive, pressure cookers are universally used. Whatever, they definitely save energy, and then you can skip the canned beans and have beans ready in 20 min.

    For kids, cloth diapers are definitely a cheap option. And if you take a few steps (wash in cooler temps every 3-4 days, line dry, skip the bleach), they are eco-friendlier than disposables. Also, try early potty training — the cheapest and eco-friendliest option of all. The average age of potty training in the US has been creeping ever later for decades (used to be before age one!).

    I also have started making many staples (bread, granola, going to try yogurt soon!) from scratch as a way to cut costs and reduce my packaging consumption. Also to have more control over ingredients.

    I actually have a label on my blog called Lazy and Cheap Ways to Be Green. These ideas are not only cheap, they are super easy (maybe EASIER than what you are doing):

    A sampling of lazy, cheap ideas include using “outdoor clothes” for young kids (put their dirty clothes on them again before they go out in the mud) to reduce laundry (in my house, most outfits get worn 5+ times before washing); feed your baby regular baby-friendly foods (and skip the store-bought and homemade baby foods); shower less.

    Many have to do with lowering your cleanliness standards, I’ll be honest. I have an “easy” label too.
    Betsy (Eco-novice)´s last blog post ..Whole Grain Cookies

    • 7


      Ehmm. In LatinAmerica a pressure cooker is widely used. In fact most households still use coal (carbon) to cook, since the taste is better and it super cheap. And yea gas is the same price as in the US but since currency is 8 to 1 you get the pic on how expensive it can be.

    • 9


      Betsy, your ideas are amazing. I think you need to change your name to Betsy super eco woman! I just got a dehydrator and was thinking about making coconut yogurt. I tried my hand at coconut and failed miserably.

      I have a hate/love relationship with my pressure cooker. It never seems to get enough pressure. I think the seal stinks. Great way to make beans.

      As for potty training, where were you when I trained my boys?

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    Ha ha, I was just looking at your post about reducing my junk mail. We’ve moved lots, and in each residence, I get a new batch of junk, even if I canceled it in the last one. I’ve been in my current place for almost a year now, and I’m still getting stupid catalogs and the weekly grocery circular. Does that sound like Super Eco Woman to you? Honestly, it’s embarrassing.

    P.S. That Green Dimes link you mentioned doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now http://precycle.tonic.com/

    Here’s another good list of junk mail services (that cost money):

    I suppose it would be more useful if I added that as a comment on your junk mail post.
    Betsy (Eco-novice)´s last blog post ..Green Cleaning – Laundry


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