Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought toward budgeting and eco-friendly products and going zero-waste. I’ve recently switched my skincare over to Beautycounter, a company that advocates for cleaner beauty standards by banning 1800 potentially harmful ingredients from their products and fighting for updated legislation. They are also working on switching over their packaging to become more sustainable, offering refills for products starting this year and switching many of their packaging over from plastic to glass. Their products completely saved my skin from dryness which I had been suffering with for over a year straight. But, they are also pricier. Which is how I started looking at my spending. Can moving toward a low-waste life style be earth-friendly AND budget-friendly?
Like everything else in life, it depends on how you approach a low-waste lifestyle. If you throw away every plastic food container, every plastic bottle of cleaning supplies and everything that doesn’t meet this image of low-waste that you have in your head, then yes! Yes, it is going to be costly. And, ironically, wasteful! No one wants to see that.
Here’s how I approached it while living in Boston, one of the most expansive cities to live in in the US, getting paid not-a-whole-lot when I started this journey!
1. Use what you have! This is the biggest piece of advice I could possibly give in terms of budgeting and a lot of my below tips circle back to this. If you are thinking of making the move to low waste or even taking smaller steps, chances are the “zero waste alternative” is going to be more expensive than the item you are replacing. A box of 750 Qtips cost $4.69 at Target but a LastSwab costs $12; 150 sandwich bags by Up&Up cost $2.79 but 1 Stasher sandwich bag costs $12. With that said, I never buy Qtips or sandwich bags anymore. So take the time to use what you have, put aside a little money each week and make the changes as they come. When I started going Zero Waste, I would put between $10-$20 a side each paycheck (so $5-$10 a week). Some weeks, I would use that money to purchase a small replacement like LastSwab. Other weeks, I didn’t run out of anything so I would just keep that aside for a more expensive item, like a Leaf Razor. There’s no time limit on this and every little bit helps. I still haven’t switched everything over to plastic-free or eco-friendly yet. My make-routine is still not 100% zero waste because I haven’t finished up my foundation. With everyone staying in in 2020, I just found myself wearing less makeup. This year for Christmas, my presents weren’t zero-waste Instagram-worthy because guess what? I still had Christmas wrapping paper from 2 years ago (and I think I STILL have paper left over. Guess what I’m using next year?!). Why would I spend money on fancy organic cloth to wrap my presents in when I already have paper? That paper is going to get trashed whether I use it, whether I give it to someone else to wrap their presents in or whether I throw it away 2 years down the road because I didn’t use it now and it sat in a closet.
This could also mean getting creative with what you do have. Instead of purchasing all the same glass containers for your new bulk items so your pantry looks like something out of a magazine, use the 200 Teddy’s peanut butter jars you’ve been saving. That is what 50% of my pantry is made up of and I swear to God, those peanut butter jars never break! #usewhatyouhave
2. Appreciate what you have before buying something else. This point is slightly different from point 1. In point 1, we are talking about items you know you are going to need to rebuy- shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc. In point 2, we are looking at items you don’t NEED to rebuy. I think the most notable example of this for me was my closet. I LOVED to shop. If I had an event coming up, I’d definitely want something new to wear. Meanwhile, I had a closet full of clothes I wasn’t wearing. In 2018, I started keeping a closet tracker which I talk about here. That really made me realize how many clothes I had and helped me use the pieces I already had to make different outfits. Doing this really made certain pieces feel new. It also let me see what I did actually need (for instance, a shirt to go with a skirt I was having a hard time matching; or basics) and what I didn’t need more of (purses!). This really, really helped me cut down on what I was spending on clothes. I went over a year without purchasing clothes. I found when I did purchase new items, I spent my money on nicer quality basics that I could use a lot. If I wanted something more “fun” that maybe I didn’t need as much, I’d turn to used items. Poshmark has been great for adding fun accessories to make basics look fresh.
3. Zerowaste doesn’t need to be pretty– or instagram worthy. I know that some of those zero waste products out there are so pretty. They are clean and look so good on that influencer’s uncluttered, minimalist bathroom sink with the 12 plants. I get it! But sometimes there are cheaper options that serve your purpose. For instance, makeup wipes, cotton balls and cotton rounds are three things I no longer buy. Instead, I purchased an 8 pack of wash clothes from Target, cut each wash cloth into 4s, sewed the edge and use those instead. I got 32 face wipes for $4.99 or roughly $0.15 a piece. Comparatively, something like Marley’s Monster sells reusable face rounds for $16 for 20 rounds or $0.80 a piece. Are the ones on Marley’s Monster cuter? Yeap! But they will get just as stained as my cheaper alternative and you’ll feel worse about it in the end. Alternatively, you could use face clothes you already have and cut them to make them go further OR if you knit, you could use leftover yard to make face clothes. That circles back to point 1 and using what you have. Deciding what your priorities are and where you want your money to go is key to budgeting when going low-waste.
4. Borrow where you can: I think a lot of people view this point in terms of clothes. I see a lot of eco-friendly people talking about having clothing swaps and that is a great idea! Personally, that never worked for me, though. My friends and I were always different sizes. For me, this point worked best in the use of libraries. I’m a huge reader but I lived in Boston which meant high rent costs for tiny apartment spaces! I couldn’t afford my book habit nor did I have anywhere to put my books! Plus, a lot of times, you read a book once and then it sits on your shelf gathering dust. Let’s face it, the reality of any of us getting that Belle library with rolling ladder are slim! Though, we can certainly dream. Until that moment arrives, I’m sticking with my trusty library card. Getting a library card was one of the best budget-friendly decisions I made that also helped promote less stuff coming into my apartment. I actually have my What I’m Reading Wednesday posts that I like to do over on my IG because adding a library day to my week was such a huge help in my budget and cutting my shopping habit.
Borrowing could also be applied to exchanging books with friends, borrowing a kitchen gadget from friends/family you’ve been thinking about but don’t know if you need, shopping at places like Rent The Runway for a dress you may only wear once, etc. There’s lots of examples depending on where you personally feel you want to cut corners. Everyone’s journey is unique and, again, everyone has different priorities.
5. When you do opt to spend, opt for quality over quantity and spend consciously: So the 4 points above talk about eliminating spending, stretching your dollar and appreciating what you have. But, the time has now come where you do actually need to buy something. When I can, I opt for buying a quality item that hopefully will last, as opposed to a quick, disposable alternative. This looks different depending on the product you are purchasing. For example, several years ago, well before I heard the term “low waste”, I purchased a pair of Frye boots. They are still probably the most expensive shoes I own coming in at $150 (I got them on sale). They actually ended up being one of the best purchases I’ve made clothing-wise. Frye partners with a company called Resole and you can send your boots to them when you’ve worn the heel or sole down. Also, because they are real leather, you can shine them when they get scuffed. I’ve taken advantage of both of these services throughout the years I’ve owned them and I still wear them all. the. time.
Another example is my camera. Right out of college, I saved for about a year and finally purchased a Nikon camera. That thing travelled the world with me! After many years, it flew off a bus seat in Australia and though it looked fine, it was never quite the same. I ended up finding a camera repair store and got it cleaned and the lens repairs for $85. $85! That is a fraction of the cost of a new camera!!
Purchasing quality items is going to look different for everyone. If you are someone fighting a chronic illness and your wellness comes first, you may splurge more on organic fruits and vegetables. Maybe you really love making your own clothes so instead of splurging on quality pieces, your spending your money or high quality, organic fabrics. Again, everyone’s prioritizes different things. For me, I’ve had breast cancer and skin care pop up in my family so for me, I don’t mind spending a little extra on skincare when I know the ingredients are good for me.
So, is going Zero-Waste more affordable? Overall, I think the concept of going zero-waste helps you minimize incoming items into your home and makes you more thoughtful on what you are buying. You begin to think more about what an item is made of, where it’s coming from, how you can dispose of it. You become more conscious about disposable culture so you ultimately end up buying less stuff. BUT, the items you do buy may end up being more than what you purchased because they are made with higher quality ingredients and are meant to last.
But, that’s just what I have found. What are your experiences with going low waste and budgeting?