Is it more expensive to be green?

There are a lot of misperceptions about being green and living sustainably, and one of the biggest is that it’s expensive. Supposedly only the wealthy can afford to think about the environment.

But like a lot of conventional wisdom, it’s just not true. In fact, a lot of “green” choices are frugal as well. Here are a just a few examples:

1. Local produce. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average food item travels 1500 to 2500 miles to get to your supermarket, while local produce is usually grown within 200 miles. That saves transportation and fuel costs, along with all those carbon emissions. So the produce is usually less expensive and it almost always tastes better. Because of our CSA delivery experience, I can attest to that. Plus, many small local growers don’t use pesticides or artificial ripeners, which keeps chemicals out of the soil.

2. Turning out the lights, using water-saving faucets and showerheads, and keeping the thermostat at a reasonable temperature are all energy savers that’ll save you money as well.

3. Buying secondhand, borrowing, or bartering will not only reduce your carbon footprint, it’ll plump up your bank account. So joining The Compact is certainly green, but it’s definitely not expensive. And there’s no sign-up fee!

Of course, buying “organic” produce at high-end markets and “eco-friendly” fashion can break your budget, but that’s not the only way to be “green.”

What “green” options have you incorporated into your lifestyle that are also frugal? I love it when they don’t conflict and I don’t have to choose one or the other. Please leave your examples in the Comments section.


  1. This Thrifted Life says

    Recycling and composting–less trash and food waste means less trash bags I have to buy.

    Buying less and using the library–this is so easy and enjoyable.

    Doing things yourself–it's a *lot* cheaper to do what you can on your own rather than hiring someone, and there are Internet tutorials for everything under the sun. We even found tips online on the best way to take down our cabinet trim. Worked like a charm!

    There are just too many to list. When you downsize your life and focus on living a little greener, it can really become a lifestyle so quickly. And then it's harder to separate all those little efforts to be ecofriendly and frugal.

  2. Cate says

    I'm with Lucy–once you adopt a simpler lifestyle, it really gets difficult to discern the frugal changes from the green ones. I liked your local produce example. At our farmer's market, we can buy a delicious, pesticide-free red pepper for something like .50. In the grocery store, a pesticide-coated, flavorless red pepper costs $1.50!

    Same with green cleaning products. I use baking soda in the tub and toilet–definitely cheaper than Comet.

  3. Castal says

    It can be more expensive to go "green"… if you choose to go that route. I have found that we actually spend less by buying local, having our CSA box, a garden (though I have mixed luck with that), and basic energy saving steps that also save money. While our house is generally cold without a sweater (62F) We have tons of blankets to bundle up with and it encourages snuggling as well!

    I also am blessed/cursed with having to cook gluten free for myself. That can be really expensive in a small town, but once I learned to cook for myself instead of buying mixes (same as I did with regular cooking) life got much cheaper–and healthier.

    We share books with friends and have garage sales every year with all the leftovers going to our local second hand store. That store also happens to be where most of our clothing comes from $0.25 at a time. It is one big circle of reuse!

    Other money saving and energy saving things that we do is to shut off electronics, lights, etc. when we are not using them. While we do not have cable tv, we do have a tv and instead choose to put the money saved into good internet! Really we make choices every day to balance wanting to be as green as possible (like composting and recycling what we can) with not breaking the budget. I guess that means no designer clothes with organic cotton labels… oh well!

  4. Floridagirl10 says

    I buy all my produce at my local farmers market.

    I rent my dvd's from the library and get my books the same way.

    I use cloth bags when I do all my shopping.

    We recycle and work very hard not to have any food waste. I am unable to compost due to apartment complex rules so not wasting is important.

    I invest in clothes that are of a higher quality and will last and get them tailored as needed. As I also lose weight I donate any clothes I can.

    What really disappoints me about being green is shopping at whole foods. They heavily promote themselves as local,green,saving the planet sort and my local whole foods doesn't encourage the use of cloth bags and at one point wasn't giving the company's discount to those who did. I complained and now they do. I also note that they say they carry local produce but everything is from out of this country or another state. I am not sure what they are defining as local.

    I believe here,at least,that this whole foods is more about image than the message. Which is a shame. People here shop at whole foods because of the image it promotes and do not actually take the time to look at the items being sold.

  5. Non Consumer Girl says

    On the whole, it is cheaper to go green.
    But sometimes there are "set up" costs.
    For example, I have just purchased a Bokashi Indoor Composter as I live in a townhome, but want to compost and make my own liquid fertiliser for my fledgling veggie garden.

    So, I will save money in the long run by growing my own herbs and veggies, as well as producing liquid fertiliser, but it cost around $65 to set up.

  6. Amy says

    I am constantly on the lookout for ways to be frugal and green. Among the things we do:
    *use cloth napkins
    *use rags for cleaning in place of paper towels
    *shop the thrift stores first before resorting to regular retail
    *carpooling with 4 other families to my daugter's charter school
    *borrowing/lending everything we possibly can, especially big-ticket items you only use once or twice a year, such as power washers, big ladders, etc
    *making our own gift bags from fabric remnants and unwanted clothing….no more gift wrap for us
    *daughter uses velcro snack wraps for her lunches at school (admittedly there was a start up cost here)
    *planted blueberry bushes to feed our blueberry cravings (more start-up costs)

    That's all for now. Great topic. I'm a new reader and am loving your blog.

  7. Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life says

    Angela, you are sanity in an insane world. Thank you for this post!

    As environmental awareness grows, more marketers (some dubious) will capitalize on people's emotions. 'Green' is becoming as watered-down and meaningless a marketing terms as 'natural.' Over-priced eco-fashion is the perfect example. I proudly shop thrift, swap, and use what I have (even non-vegan items, which many in my community sadly judge me about).

    Here are some baby steps I've taken (all of which saved, not cost, money):

    *Vampire energy: unplugging microwaves, toasters, coffee makers, even my alarm clock. Even if it's just a few dollars a year, who want to pay more to the electric company?

    *Hang drying laundry on racks year-round in my apartment. I also wash in cold water to save energy. If you're a home owner that will save money, but I use a coin-machine.

    *Online bill paying. About $5/year per bill, worth it.

    *Brown-bagging. So much cheaper than buying lunch for work, and there's so much waste with takeout: utensils, containers, bags.

    *Eliminating food waste as much as possible. Your weekly posts say it all.

    *Library it for books, music, dvds, magazines as much as possible.

  8. Forest Parks says

    People used to live green just because that's what people did! We were much more in tune with the environment and closer to the land…. Then the American Dream started including eating at mcdonalds, having enough electronics to fool a plane into landing in your yard and many other non green practices…. As you point out, if you ignore the corporations telling us to spend to be green it is actually a big money saver…. Great article.


  9. YearofBooks says

    We bought a house in town, which was about $100,000 cheaper than the homes just a few miles away the suburbs. Our house is next to the college where we both work so we can both walk to work. We can also walk to the pharmacy, grocery store, and library. Although we own a car we not only save money on gas by not commuting to work, we get a discount on our insurance as well.

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