12 Tips for Saving Money and Making Humane Choices

by Marsha Rakestraw

Although the economy is growing and poverty has slightly declined, many people still struggle with finances and look for ways to save money.

Many people look to “dollar” and discount stores for their purchases, which saves them money, but also means that they’re making choices that harm people, animals, and the earth.

Our culture and media have created misperception, misunderstanding, and a false either/or dichotomy about living well and doing good: I can help the environment (or people, or animals) OR I can buy what I can afford.

We accept the common mythologies we’ve been taught:

“Organics are too expensive.”

“Being eco-friendly is only for the rich.”

“Shopping at discount stores is all I can afford.”

On top of that, we’re told that hyper-consumption is good for us and the economy, which makes us feel like we need to buy a lot of (cheap) stuff to be happy.

These frameworks oversimplify and underestimate what’s possible.

Here are 12 tips for helping you make some both/and choices to help your wallets AND the world:

1.  Do without. Ask yourself if you really need it. Many times you probably don’t.

Do you really need a new suit, or are you just bored with the old one? Will that bauble bring real joy and meaning to your life, or is it a passing attraction? Do you really need that gym membership, or can you team up with a friend and go hiking/biking/yogaing together? Is that morning latte really worth $80 or so bucks a month?

2.  Get it for free. If you practice your patience and apply your creative skills, you can often find what you want for free. Can you trade for it? Barter for it? Salvage it? Exchange volunteer time for a free ticket or two?

Events like clothing swaps are becoming extremely popular, and there are other kinds of swaps, such as book swaps, which cost only the price of postage. There are also great sites like Freecycle, and more people are finding clever ways to get what they need, such as acquiring free construction materials by volunteering to help deconstruct a building.

And, remember such tasty jewels as the public library, special free events in your community for music and arts, and so on.

3.  Get it used. You’ve heard the axiom about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure. Our culture has trained us to think of used as somehow “second class.” We’ve even euphemized our language, preferring to talk about pre-owned cars, for example. The whole “used is yucky” is simply a mindset.

Buying used is often a great way to get quality items while not directly contributing to sweatshops, environmental destruction and other ills. There are probably several great thrift stores and garage sales in your area, and Craigslist and similar sites have become a respectable and relevant source for finding what you need for a good price.

Buying used is also a great way for people who have a hunger to shop or to hunt for bargains to fulfill that need while helping the planet and their pocketbooks. (Note: Be sure not to let your lust for a good bargain overshadow your good judgment about what’s truly a good deal.)

4.  Make/Do it yourself. Our ancestors didn’t have superstores or personal assistants. If they needed something, they usually did without or made it themselves.

The DIY movement has become popular again, and there are a plethora of books and websites that offer tips for making or doing it yourself. More communities are also starting to offer classes in the “home” arts, from preserving to building to sewing to gardening.

Learning to DIY increases your skills, saves money, and helps reduce your eco-footprint.

5.  Team up. Share whatever you can: meals, transportation, tools, ideas. You can save a lot of money this way, and reduce the amount of waste generated. If you need to chip up yard debris, maybe some of your neighbors do, too –- you could team up and share the cost to rent a chipper, while getting to know each other better. Teaming up can go even further, such as sharing a home with others, or working on home improvement projects together. You might be surprised how easy it is to adjust to new ways of living and doing.

6.  Do more with less. Can you use less than the recommended amount of shampoo/detergent/ketchup? Can you wear those jeans for three days instead of one before washing them? There are many opportunities to find ways to save by extending the use of what you already have.

7.  Keep it simple. Look for simpler solutions such as: Walk, not drive. Use the clothesline instead of a dryer. Make your own cleaning products. Eat a plant-based, whole foods diet. Often the low-tech way is better for your bank account, as well as for others.

8.  Think creatively and mindfully. Awareness and creativity are two of the key strategies for making MOGO (most good) choices that also help you save money. If you’re paying attention and not limiting your options, then you’re going to be able to make better choices and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Consider all options and find creative solutions. Can you rent out a room in your house to bring more income while providing a home for someone else? Can you house swap for your vacation? Can’t afford all organics? Then buy in bulk and look to organics for those items most heavily sprayed with pesticides. Try farmers markets or community-supported agriculture. Grow some of your own, or offer an urban farmer the use of your land in exchange for a cut of the crop.

You may not be into thinking of 50 ways to use vinegar and 23 uses for that tin can, but there are still plenty of opportunities to flex your creative skills.

9.  Hang onto it. Got a rip in your jeans? Repair it. Tired of that shirt? Use your new sewing skills to turn it into something new. Upgrade your computer instead of replacing it. Keep that smartphone or tablet, even though it’s not the newest style. Find ways to keep what you have longer, and you’ll save all around.

Note: This isn’t an excuse to fill your house with stuff you don’t need; getting rid of clutter and keeping only what’s useful/meaningful in your life is part of choosing MOGO.

10.  Nickel and dime it. Look for small ways to save. They add up. Bring lunch instead of going out every day. Use coupons for MOGO products you need. Stock up when your staples are on sale. If you must see that movie on the big screen, find a second-run theater near you (better yet — wait until it comes out on DVD and then have a few friends over).

There are numerous books and websites focused on being “green and frugal” that have great suggestions for finding small ways to save big.

11.  Broaden your vision and plan ahead. Some things cost more up front but save you money (and help the planet) longer term (LED bulbs, weatherizing your house, etc.). Planning ahead can also reduce the amount of waste you generate (such as for food that doesn’t get eaten). Research products (and the companies who create/sell them) before you buy.

Remember that those great bargains you might find at the discount store not only may not last long, but they come with added external costs to people, animals, and the earth.

12.  Let others inspire you. You’re not alone in your desire to save money while making MOGO choices. There are plenty of books, blogs, and other sources for ideas, tips, and suggestions. Browse them for strategies that fit with your values and lifestyle. And don’t turn away too quickly from ideas that seem extreme to you (Humanure? Freeganism?); you may be able to adapt or customize in a way that works for you.

There are plenty of ways that we as individuals can make choices within our budgets that are also compassionate, just, and sustainable. Part of living a MOGO life is learning to approach challenges differently and learning to develop creative solutions that benefit all people, animals, and the planet.

And we don’t have to wait for society to show us the way: we can choose it for ourselves.