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The 5 Principles of Living Green on the Cheap[edit | edit source]

Creating a lifestyle that's creative, comfortable, and rather fabulous—but cheap and environmentally conscious too is both doable and desirable. Not only will you discover that it's something you're able to do through gradual transition but you'll be helping others to see that living cheap and green is a viable option that still ensures a fulfilling and pleasant lifestyle. This article explains how we can all approach green living on a budget.

Example of one couple (Kevin and Nicole) living green and cheap; this is their backyard in Louisville, Kentucky.

Live completely in your neighborhood[edit | edit source]

One of the easiest ways to live more sustainably is to find a neighborhood you'll want to spend most of your time in. If your work and your home and your grocery store are all close together, you'll spend less time, money, and fossil fuels running all over town.

By working and living in close proximity, you can reduce car use, ride a bicycle more and patronize your local community's restaurants, stores, theaters and bars within walking distance. The more that you can experience without having the drive to get there, the better.

Next time you're looking for a new place, check out the area. Ask such questions as:

  • Where are the stores? How far away is your work?
  • Can you get to public transportation easily?
  • What resources are within walking/biking distance, and is the area safe enough that you'll actually want to walk/bike around?

Image: neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky

Image: Nicole & Kevin rent a big two-bedroom in this neighborhood for $600/month

If you're already established, take another look at your neighborhood. Next time you're bored, go exploring on foot. Odds are, there are local resources you don't know about. Is there a farmer's market nearby? Restaurants, cafes, movie theaters? A public pool and/or park? Do any of your neighbors work near you and want to carpool? Do you even know your neighbors?

Try walking everywhere you can; get a bike and use it. Ride the bus to the farmer's market. Buy your meat at the corner carniceria; get bread from the bakery.

If you live out in the suburbs with no resources nearby, or someplace where the weather's always hot/cold, think about what that means (both to your wallet and to the environment). How much time do you spend at home, and how much commuting? How much cash are you spending on gas, A/C and heat? Would you consider spending that amount to live in a more central location, in a city with better weather?

Make your work fit your life[edit | edit source]

Are you living a life that resonates with your values? Things that might indicate that you're not include high levels of stress, feeling tension about what you do, feeling that you're putting aside your own beliefs in order to fulfill those of others and making constant compromises that don't really match who you are and how you wish to live.

To change this, some things to consider include:

  • The pay rates of being an executive isn't necessarily equivalent to a fulfilling life, especially not if you're time poor and stressed all of the time.
  • If environmental responsibility matters to you, then this goes beyond recycling weekly into the whole outlook of your lifestyle and consequent actions.
  • Consider inventing your own job. What are you great at making, doing, solving? How are your natural skills able to tap into your beliefs about protecting the environment?
  • Find ways to earn enough to live on, not to aspire to and never reach. Work is good for social interaction, improving skills, supporting others, giving to others and solving things, as much as it is about income. If it's only about income and seniority, then it's likely to be unfulfilling long-term. Think creatively about cutting corners, doing without and yet not feeling deprived.
  • If you're looking to be more environmentally reponsible, think about where you work. Your job shouldn't dictate your lifestyle; it should be the other way around. So, does your job fit your values? If not, how can you take steps toward a career you believe in? Can you switch companies, or start your own business? Can you make your current workplace better by beefing up the recycling regimen or instituting volunteer days?

Weigh your income against your satisfaction. You can always change your job to suit your needs.

Grow/build/make/do your own fun[edit | edit source]

Image: Kevin and his art

There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself without buying anything. Once you give yourself a work schedules that leaves you with enough time to do what you want, you will make room to create, play, explore and build. Here are some of the things you might like to do "for fun":

  • Help set up a local art show! (Image:
  • Draw your own pictures for the art show! Climb onto the roof with an overhead projector, and project the drawings on the wall!

Image: peaches-for-free pie]]

  • Make a peach pie with free peaches from the farmer's market.
  • guerrilla gardening!
  • Work in the backyard victory garden (beans, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes…).
  • Make an anti-squirrel scarecrow out of a skull, a toy ball, and a mustache.
  • Set off fireworks in the backyard.
  • Make artsy magnets out of magazine cutouts, and stick them all over the house. Sell some to raise funds.
  • Make flower boxes out of scrap wood found in the alley.
  • Find all the coolest art you've ever collected, and hang it throughout the house.
  • Watch classic movies on VHS.
  • Cook food, drink beer, wander the streets, tell stories together, etc.

When you stop relying on the TV and radio to entertain you, you can find endless ways to enjoy yourself (Note: this is easier to do if you have a cool job that doesn't drain all your energy). Once you get used to creating things instead of buying them, you'll find a whole new freedom and wealth of possibilities. So the next time you're bored, try making something. Just for fun. See what happens.

Image: tomatoes and peppers from the backyard garden!

Pick up the pieces[edit | edit source]

Image: Made from free stuff

Look for free and affordable items everywhere. Much furniture is surprisingly free. Ways to get free things include by asking friends and family for things they no longer want, looking on sites that offer free items or freecycling, visiting recycling depots for treasures, advertising online, etc. Moreover, lots can be found in dumpsters, alleys and on sidewalks, unwanted and left as trash.

Good, free stuff (clean, flea-free, etc.) is always out there.

Most of what you can do for fun is free, too: you can get all kinds of arts-n-crafts materials, even food for $0. There's no thievery involved—just resourcefulness, open-mindedness, and a willingness to use other people's cast-off materials.

For example: In one case, a local college's science building was being overhauled and was getting rid of old supplies. It was possible to score lenses, old photo equipment, mildly inappropriate living-room art (in the form of anatomical models), a skull, weird jars and vials, and an overhead projector. All of this was used to make a personal rooftop art show.

Another example: As one farmer's market ended, one farmer offered some slightly-wilted produce for free. It was unsaleable to picky foodies, but perfectly edible. Another farmer had a free box of bruised peaches. It is possible to come home with enough food to feed several people for a few days—and with the addition of a pie crust and some cooking know-how, you can make a delicious peach pie.

And as for entertainment, VHS movies can be picked up at yard sales for pennies because nobody wants them anymore and VHS players are often free, as are books and magazines; you can build a huge library for nothing! It is even possible to get free or very cheap DVD players and DVDs, as others want blu-ray upgrades instead. Being happy with older items means they get reused and not discarded.

The point is: every day holds opportunities to get great stuff for free. From Craigslist to Freecycle to Freegle to dumpsters and yard sales, there's no need for you to buy things if you've got a little time and ingenuity. In the process of collecting the discarded pieces from others' wasteful habits, you can help to curb production, conserve resources and save landfill space.

Share[edit | edit source]

Sharing is caring, by gosh! And living communally is one of the best ways to conserve resources and keep things cheap.

By living with another fabulous person or people, you can share food, possessions, bills and supplies. By pooling your funds, you can afford a bigger place—and this way, when one person's computer is broken, another's is usually working.

When people come to stay, offer them a place on your couch and let them feel at home. Visitors can contribute food and chores as recompense.

Living in a big house with six or eight roommates can be too much, but sharing your space with a close friend is a great way to cut down on costs (makes your home more fun, too). Many of us haven't lived with a roommate since college, but there's no reason why we can't. As for sharing possessions, it seems foreign to many but totally comfortable to others.

Sharing successfully is a pretty delicate balance: you don't want to give more than you receive, and you don't want to take more than your share. Most of us still buy all our own stuff and keep it to ourselves, but we wouldn't be opposed to sharing—as long as we knew that it would be reciprocal.

Are you ready to stop hoarding your stuff and let someone else use it? You'll never know until you try. So the next time you can afford to spare something, just give it a shot: share your stuff with someone who needs it. Unless you absolutely have to keep something for yourself, what's the harm in giving a little to the people around you? It may not turn out perfectly equaninimously each time, but the old adage is true: the more you give, the more you receive.


Ultimately, green living and cheap living go hand-in-hand. Being "green" is less about buying environmentally-friendly products, and more about using the stuff you already own. The less you consume, the less you spend, the less you need to work, the more you can enjoy your life. It means changing your standards and looking at the world a little differently; understanding the worth of possessions, food and resources beyond their initial appearance; and getting a little dirt under your fingernails. In return for involving yourself more fully in life and making a few sacrifices, you can gain a lot of health and happiness—not to mention the satisfaction of saving the world, in your own little way.

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Authors Chris Watkins
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
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Language English (en)
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Created September 24, 2009 by Chris Watkins
Modified August 18, 2023 by Irene Delgado
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