As challenging as it may seem, even the busiest families can adopt a more eco-conscious lifestyle. While no one expects you to singlehandedly solve the global climate crisis (most days, you’re lucky if you can find a clean shirt to wear), there are practical steps every family can take to lessen their carbon footprint.
Why is sustainability so important? Because, simply put, when we care for the environment, the whole world (literally!) benefits. We’ll be handing this place over to our tiny humans someday, so we should all make choices that will keep the earth happier and healthier. You don’t need to be an expert; just implement tiny changes where you can.
Here are 15 surprisingly easy hacks for living more sustainably on a budget.
#1 Choose Frozen Over Fresh.
It’s a great idea to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, but don’t neglect the freezer aisle! Frozen fruits and veggies generate 47% less food waste in the average household, compared to ambient and chilled food. C’mon, how many times have you thrown away a wilted head of lettuce or a browner-than-brown banana (cringe!!)? Usually the cost-per-serving of frozen food is much more affordable–sometimes up to 50% cheaper, according to Forbes. And since produce is frozen at peak quality and freshness, you won’t have any nutritional FOMO.
#2 Say “See Ya” To Dryer Sheets.
There’s nothing quite like a clean load of laundry fresh from the dryer! If you still rely on traditional dryer sheets to keep your clothes fluffy and static-free, try dryer balls as an eco-friendly swap. Most dryer sheets are scented with artificial fragrances and coated with chemical softening agents that release into the atmosphere and can even cause respiratory problems–12% of the general U.S. population reports irritation from scents coming out of dryer vents.
Choosing dryer balls helps the planet, but also your pocketbook! Here’s a fun math problem:
Most dryer balls can last up to 1,000 loads. The average American family washes about 300 loads of laundry per year. That means dryer balls can last over 3 years, saving you plenty of cash on dryer sheets.
(Don’t drop the ball on this one! We sell surprisingly cute dryer balls. Add them to your next bundle as an “extra” to get 15% off. )
#3 Repurpose Empty Jars.
There are lots of foods and condiments sold in glass jars–spaghetti sauce, baby food, jam, and pickles to name a few! When they’re empty, don’t trash them! Wash and keep them on hand for all sorts of uses: Fill 'em with leftovers, salads, flowers, cotton balls, and all your kiddo’s craft supplies and doo-dads. You can even use them to start a mini indoor herb garden!
#4 Get Scrappy With Your Food Scraps.
Another way to reduce waste in the kitchen? Make your own chicken or vegetable broth using food scraps. It’s handy for anything from soups to sauces–and you’ll be grateful to have it in the freezer when cold and flu season strikes. Depending on your cooking habits, you could save tons of money by making your own stock. Most containers cost anywhere from $2-$6, so the savings here is significant–especially for a soup-loving family!
As you accumulate food scraps throughout the week (carrot peels, onion skins, celery ends, chicken bones, anything!), add them to a container in the freezer. When it’s full, make your broth using the below method:
- Place your veggies and bones (if using) in a pot and fill it up with water, covering the food scraps by about 4-6 inches. Bring your pot to a boil, then simmer for 4-8 hours. Strain the broth then pour it into glass jars (see tip #3) or large silicone freezer trays. Store it in the freezer until you need it.
Note: You can also make your broth in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, if you have one.
#5 Gift an Experience.
Next time you’re in the market for a gift, be a conscious consumer and give an experience. It’ll keep cardboard, plastic, paper and ribbon out of the landfills and your recipient will probably enjoy the memory more than any physical item anyway.
- For kiddos, think: a trip to the ice cream shop, day at the museum or water park, scavenger hunt, or movie tickets.
- For adults, think: a spa treatment, coffee date, or an audiobook membership.
#6 Junk your Junk Mail.
“I love getting junk mail,”...said no one ever! Ads in the mail are not only annoying, they’re a pain for the planet, too. According to Oceanfutures.org, creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars, plus about 28 billion gallons of water is wasted to produce and recycle junk mail each year.
Most people don’t know there’s a way to opt out of advertisements delivered through the mail. Here are a few websites to get you started:
While saying “no” to junk mail is an excellent start, find other ways to go paperless: sign up for online billing whenever possible, send e-invites, and gift e-cards.
#7 Grow a Garden (No Yard Required!)
Let’s bring back the lost art of gardening! Whether you choose an indoor container garden or small backyard victory garden you can still make an environmental impact because you’re eliminating all the energy it takes to transport, process, and package your food before it ends up on your plate. According to a UN-backed study, more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to our food systems.
And if you’re sticking to a food budget, growing your food is a savvy way to save. According to the National Gardening Association, an average plot provides an estimated 300 pounds of fresh produce worth $600. For the garden newbies out there, it’s OK to start small. Growing your own herbs indoors is simple and can save you nearly $3 a pop every time you need some fresh rosemary or parsley.
Kids make excellent garden buddies, too! Check out our post on how to grow food with kids for inspiration.
#8 Pack Your Grocery Bags.
Whether or not your local grocery store has a “bag ban,” this is an easy way to show some love to Mama Nature. Plastic bags are a huge source of pollution–research shows they take 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment. That’s a pretty compelling reason to BYOB!
Whatever the grocery bag of your choice, try to re-use it as many times as possible, even if it’s a “single-use” plastic bag. You can line your trash can with it, use it to carry your lunch, or bring it with you next time you go grocery shopping.
#9 Clean With A Conscience.
It’s time to come clean. Household cleaning products (like surface spray, floor cleaner, and window cleaners) are another sad source of plastic pollution. BUT they don’t have to harm the environment. When you use refillable bottles and cleaning concentrates you may never have to buy a plastic spray bottle ever. again. Instead of buying a new bottle of household cleaner every time yours comes up empty, you simply add a cleaning concentrate (based on package directions) and voila–you’ve got a full bottle of product!
We have just the kit to get you started! And while different companies offer different types of refillables, here’s how ours works:
- Step 1: Add water to your plastic bottle
- Step 2: Reload a new “pod”
- Step 3: Cap your bottle and spray away!
- Bonus Step 4: Feel like a sustainability superhero because you’re now using 80% less plastic in your cleaning routine, and reducing your carbon footprint by a whopping 90%!
- Bonus Step 5: Also feel like a budget boss because you’re saving a good chunk of change when you choose refillables (anywhere from $2-$7 depending on the brand you’d normally purchase).
#10 Shop Like a Smarty Pants.
If you’re a shopaholic who loves a bargain, then reassess your spending habits to benefit your pocketbook AND the planet! The fashion industry alone is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of industrial water pollution worldwide–that’s a good reason to bypass the mall altogether!
From clothes to toys, our co-founder Kristen Bell has shared about her own eco-conscious shopping philosophy: “I don’t splurge a lot on my kids, because they’re kids and they ruin everything…I buy a ton of their clothes secondhand, and I don't buy them a ton of new toys because A., that's what grandmas are for and B., I don't have a ton of new plastics in the house. So I tend to be aware of that.”
Here are some easy peasy ways to shop sustainably:
- Shop Second-hand for clothes, baby gear, decor, and other household items. Get familiar with your local Buy Nothing group, Facebook Marketplace, and thrift stores–you might be surprised at what you can find nearby for a fraction of the price!
- You don’t have to throw away your clothes at the first sign of a rip or loose button. Learn to mend your clothes to extend their life! You can also drop them off at a tailor for a more professional touch.
- Contemplating a non-essential purchase? Say goodbye to shopper’s remorse and always wait a set amount of time (anywhere between 7 days or 30 days) before you decide to buy.
- Challenge yourself to buy things in a physical store. You’ll quickly determine if it’s a true necessity or not – based on whether or not you’re willing to get in the car and drive to the store for it.
#11 BYO Bottle, Mug, or Cup.
In the United States more than 60 million bottles are thrown away instead of recycled every single day. Another way to help keep plastics and microplastics from ending up in our oceans, soil, and waterways is to reuse your own water bottles, mugs, or cups whenever possible. Keep a few pre-filled up water bottles in your fridge so you can grab one before heading out the door! And if you’re meeting a friend for coffee, look for a shop that’ll let you bring a mug from home. Starbucks, along with many local coffee shops, allows you to bring your own clean, reusable cups.
#12 Be Water Wise.
As a busy parent, water helps your world go ‘round. You use it to cook, drink, do laundry, and clean up your v. messy baby! It’s also one of our most vital, natural resources, so it deserves our attention! The EPA estimates that the average American uses about 88 gallons of water a day at home – over a month’s time, a family of four consumes more than 10,5000 gallons. Here are a few simple ways to watch your water intake:
- Wash your laundry in cold water. According to Cold Water Saves, washing 4 out of 5 loads of your laundry in cold water could cut out 864 pounds of CO2 emissions in a year. That’s the same as planting .37 acres of trees! It can also save you some money. A recent estimate from Consumer Reports suggests that using a cold-water detergent and setting your machine to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) can save you at least $60 annually in utilities.
- Be mindful of running water. Teach your kiddos to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth, washing their hands, or doing the dishes.
- Run the dishwasher and washing machine at night because most energy companies charge more during peak hours, which fall between 4pm – 9pm. Do a little investigating to find out if this applies to yours.
- If there’s leftover water in your drinking glass or little one’s sippy cup, don’t pour it down the drain. Collect and use it to water plants, soak dishes, or boil for tea.
- Be realistic about your bathing habits and needs. In an effort to save water, even our co-founders, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, like to “wait for the stink” before getting their kids in the tub or shower.
#13 Be Energy Efficient.
And speaking of saving money on your utilities! Keep tabs on your home’s energy usage and you could enjoy a lower electricity bill and carbon footprint. Saving household energy reduces air and water pollution while conserving natural resources. And while we can’t all afford top-of-the-line energy-efficient appliances, here’s one simple way to make an impact: Unplug your appliances when they’re not actively being used (yep, your blender, coffee machine, laptop, printer, all count!). Households spend $200 or more every year on plugged-in devices that aren’t even in use.These electronics are called vampire appliances–don’t let them suck your bank account dry. ;) Try putting all your major electronics on a power strip, then shutting them off at night or when you leave the house.
#14 Explore the Great Outdoors.
Take a break from the concrete jungle and become a family who adventures together! Stepping outside helps us stay a little more connected to the earth and all our natural surroundings–while improving our mood, mental health, and overall sense of wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be extreme or expensive. Try gardening, playing at the park, biking, or hiking (something our co-founders, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, like to do with their daughters).
#15 Recycle All The Things.
Most people recycle far, far less than they could! Consider auditing your trash can–what’s going to the landfill that could be sent to a recycling center? Brush up on your local recycling guidelines, post ‘em on the fridge, and get your kid involved by letting them be the “recycling referee.” (aka: give them ownership in the process, and they’ll be more likely to participate!)
Here are a few quick tips:
- Not sure how to recycle certain items? The database, Earth911, can help! Just enter in the material you are trying to recycle along with your zip code, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
- And don’t forget to check out our blog post on common recycling myths and tips. Recycling isn’t as complicated as it seems, and it can have a super positive impact on the environment.
- Support brands (like ours!) that sell products in recyclable packaging. Once empty, almost every Hello Bello container can be recycled. Just give it a quick rinse, screw the cap back on, and add it to your recycling bin.
There are so many easy and budget-friendly ways to live a sustainable lifestyle. Please share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments!