Friday, February 7, 2020

How to Combine Financial Minimalism With Eco-Minimalism

Out of all the types of minimalism, I think these two go hand-in-hand. In this post, we’ll discuss ways to use both financial minimalist techniques and eco-minimalism to improve your finances and take better care of the environment. Here are the topics in this article:
  • A quick recap on financial minimalism (AKA frugal minimalism) and eco-minimalism, and why they go well together
  • Ways to spend money that are both frugal and eco-friendly
  • How to be eco-friendly (and frugal) for FREE

A quick recap on financial minimalism (AKA frugal minimalism) and eco-minimalism, and why they go well together

I wrote more complete articles on these types of minimalism, so this will be quick…especially because each description is pretty self-explanatory.
A frugal minimalist (or financial minimalist) is someone who spends as little as possible as part of their minimalist life. An example is someone who lives in a small space with only a few possessions to save money. To read more about frugal minimalism, including more in-depth tips, visit my article: What is a Frugal Minimalist?
An eco-minimalist is someone who combines minimalism with their love of the environment. They might give up their car in favor of public transportation, which cuts down both on how much stuff they have and their impact on the environment. To read more about eco-minimalism, visit my article: What is an Eco-Minimalist?
These two types of minimalism go well together because they both already have minimalist tendencies and interchangeable qualities between them. A frugal minimalist might also not own a car because public transportation, walking, or biking is cheaper. An eco-minimalist can choose to live in a smaller space to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ways to spend money that are both frugal and eco-friendly

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report about consumer expenditures in 2017. There are three areas of life where most people spend the most money: housing (27% of income), food (10% of income), and transportation. (13% of income) You can easily include both frugality and eco-friendly behavior in all three categories.

HOUSING

They say the three most important things about real estate are location, location, and location. But size also does matter (insert pun here if you wish). The greater the square footage of a property and/or the piece of land a building sits on, the higher the price is likely to be. And yes, location does factor into that, but if you’re talking about within a single neighborhood, you will probably see that as the size of the property goes up, so does the price. This is generally true whether you own or rent as well.
So living in a smaller space is frugal, eco-friendly, AND minimalist because
  • A smaller space costs less in mortgage or rent, utility bills, and maintenance costs, making it more frugal
  • Downsizing your home means utilizing less electricity/gas/oil or whatever energy source you use to run lights, heat or cool your home, and run appliances, plus less space for faucets and toilets means you will probably use less water, making it more eco-friendly
  • Less space means less room to buy more things and less time spent cleaning, organizing, and maintaining what you own, making it more minimalist and also more financially minimal
Of course, not everyone can, or wants to, move to a smaller place. There are still many ways to incorporate more frugality and environmentally friendly practices into your existing space. One of them is to rent out unused rooms to better utilize your existing space from a financial perspective. But if you don’t like the idea of roommates, the Penny Hoarder recently came out with an article about reducing your utility bills. Not all of them fall into either the frugal/financial minimalist or eco-friendly categories, so I have a few to add.
  1. Try to look for reusable air conditioner filters (ones that you can clean rather than throw out).
  2. Buy used fans at garage sales or thrift stores to save money.
  3. Wear layers, and try adding or removing clothes instead of changing your thermostat. Over time, you may find yourself acclimating to a larger range of temperatures.
  4. If you can’t afford the fancy insulated curtains, use old blankets or comforters. It may not look as pretty (or maybe it will look even better!), but buying new curtains is not eco-friendly. They’re usually made of synthetic fabrics and lined with plastics, so the manufacture of them is toxic. Then they’ll be off-gassing toxic fumes into your home.
  5. In nice weather, consider air-drying laundry instead of putting it through the dryer. You can also set up a dryer rack or clothesline in your shower or tub to use year-round. While the dryer balls mentioned in the article will reduce drying time, they will also put more stress on the fabric of your clothes, which makes them wear out faster.
  6. In general, washing and drying clothes puts stress on the fabric. Cheap clothes are also bound to fall apart more quickly, and synthetics start to disintegrate, their particles entering our water supply. If you don’t sweat a lot, smoke, or wear a bunch of fragrance or lotions, your clothes are relatively clean after wearing. Shake them out, air them out. Jeans especially can be washed infrequently if they’re not visibly dirty. Most people don't know this, but denim is made to be washed as little as monthly, quarterly, or even yearly!
  7. When you’re using the oven, try to batch-bake. It wastes energy to pre-heat the oven, so you can also skip that and adjust your cooking times. If you’re not comfortable with that, prepare several dishes to cook at the same time and put them in the oven back-to-back so you only have to pre-heat once.
  8. Speaking of cooking, using appliances tends to heat up the house. If it’s going to be a hot day, try to use heat-creating appliances like the washing machine, dryer, stove, and oven early in the morning or later in the evening to reduce your air conditioner needs. On cold days, using those appliances during the coldest part of the day may reduce your need to raise the thermostat on your furnace.
  9. During the hottest parts of the days, make sure your shades are down. When it’s cold outside, raise the shades and open curtains when the sun is facing your windows to raise your indoor temperature.
  10. Control airflow for heating and cooling. If you have an unused room, close the door and close the vents so you aren’t paying for climate control in that space. Conversely, give your AC or furnace an easier time by leaving doors open between rooms that you want to be heated or cooled.

FOOD

There are some easy ways to reduce food costs and care for the environment (and your health) while you’re doing it:
  • Shop at stores closer to home that feature local, in-season produce.
  • Reduce your consumption of processed foods. This includes sugar, oil, and flour, none of which are healthy or nutritionally necessary. When choosing a processed or prepared food, opt for ones that come in recyclable or reusable packaging, like glass bottles.
  • Eat at home or bring home-made foods with you to work, school, and social events.
  • Did you know that many theme parks will allow you to bring in outside food if you ask them in advance? I was once going to spend the day with my family at a theme park, and by perusing their restaurant menus I knew there would be nothing for me to eat. I spoke to them and told them that I have a special diet. I explained the parameters and they agreed that none of the food inside the park would match my needs. They gave me stickers to put on food containers, and the next day I arrived and they let me through with my food without a problem.  If you don't have health issues related to food, you may need to fudge a little bit about the "special diet" part, but most family-oriented places understand about food allergies or dietary restrictions these days. You don't need to disclose that you're being frugal rather than doing it for health reasons!
  • When eating out, visit places that allow you to bring your own take-out containers. Say no to straws, or bring your own reusable straw. Bring your own drink cup as well. Some places even give you discounts for bringing your own containers.
  • Take this a step further and use cloth napkins instead of paper. I carry one in my bag for when I’m out, plus we have some at home. I got five 100% cotton cloth napkins at a thrift store for $3.
  • I used to think that food cooperatives were fancy places with high-end prices that required memberships. Now that I’ve explored some, I’ve found they’re great places to save money on bulk pantry items. While there’s usually a discount for members, the ones I’ve visited don’t require memberships. You can still get discounts for bringing your own containers (re-use those glass jars!). One local store also gave discounts if we wanted to do a bulk special order of something they didn't carry in stock but had access to--how great is that? Many co-ops these days also take EBT/SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and even provide special discounts on memberships or other purchases.
  • When it’s time to replace food storage containers go for ones that are multi-use. I prefer glass containers that are both microwave- and oven-safe. I cook meals in the oven with them, can store the leftovers in the fridge, then reheat in the microwave, all in the same container. I never have to move it over to a plate so it saves on dishwashing! Also, I think restaurants are more willing to put take-out into glass dishes because they can see that they’re clean better than if you show up with an opaque plastic container.
  • If fresh fruits and veggies are too pricey, opt for frozen. They’re usually flash-frozen within a few hours of being harvested, meaning they are exactly as ripe as they should be. With some experimenting, it’s also easy to cook frozen vegetables that don’t end up mushy. I put mine directly into the air fryer and roast them. My mom claims that letting them soak in hot water for a few minutes does the trick.
  • If you have condiments or prepared foods you like to eat a lot, consider making them yourself. For example, an average container of hummus is $4-6 for a few servings. For that price, you can get a few pounds of dried chickpeas. Cook ‘em up, add a few cents’ worth of spices in your food processor. That amount of dried chickpeas should yield enough hummus for a month or two. Same thing for french fries. For what it costs to buy one large order fast-food fries or a single, large bag of frozen fries, you can buy a 5- or 10-pound bag of potatoes. They can easily be cut up and spiced as you wish.
  • Invest in appliances that make your convenience foods more convenient to make at home to reduce temptation. Instant Pots may be the most well-known pressure cookers these days, but there are tons of options out there that work just as well. You don’t have to get an electronic pressure cooker—you can opt for cheaper versions that work in the microwave or stovetop. And of course, you can always use a slow cooker if pressure cooking scares you. We also recently got this air fryer to save on utilities when cooking our oil-free fries and other baked items. I now prefer to use it over the oven.
  • Plan your meals ahead and only buy what you need for about a weeks’ worth of meals at a time to reduce food waste.
  • There was a time (just last century!) when higher-priced items like meats, desserts, and special drinks (fancy coffees, alcohol, and carbonated drinks) were not readily available to the average person on a daily basis. These items were for special occasions, if at all. And as they became more commonplace, so did “lifestyle diseases” like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Just because we have easy access now does not mean we can or should eat them every day. Not only are they expensive, but they also are not good for our health.
  • Speaking of health, don’t let fad diets dictate what you buy to eat. Nearly every trendy diet plan out there makes money by suggesting packaged foods or supplements you should take to make weight loss more effective. Or just as bad, they prey on the foods we crave and claim that diets that nearly exclude a macro-nutrient like carbohydrates and over-indulge in fatty foods or proteins is somehow balanced, sustainable, and healthy. However, our bodies never evolved to properly digest all the junk that we call “food” today, and there's are good reasons why the human race started out eating a range of foods that came straight from the earth. The best diet for both sustainability and health is a whole foods diet that focuses on plant foods. Eat real, whole foods now, and you won’t empty your wallet later by paying for healthcare to reverse the effects of the latest weight loss scheme.

TRANSPORTATION

When we started traveling, we sold our car and went for 2.5 years without a personal vehicle. During that time, we rented a car three times. Otherwise, we used our electric bikes, regular bikes, walking, public transportation, borrowed a car from a friend or relative, and paid for the occasional Uber to get around, without any problems. We figured out how to do this in major metropolitan areas as well as small towns across the U.S. We even walked across a bridge to Canada for a quick day trip, saving many minutes sitting in vehicle traffic, and dollars in fuel and parking fees.
But even before we gave up our car, we reduced our transportation costs wherever possible. We had an older Prius (2002) that still got ~40 miles to the gallon and had no loan payments on it. We shared a single car for 4+ years between us, despite the San Francisco Bay Area’s less than stellar public transportation systems. If Ryan needed the car, I would carpool, bike, take the bus or ferry into my job in San Francisco. He worked closer to the house, so if I needed the car he would bus or bike. On weekends, we often biked or walked to do our grocery shopping.
Between gas, parking fees, bridge tolls, and car insurance, we saved at least $2000-$3000 per year by giving up our car. We used that money to pay off my student loans, enjoy adventures during our travels, and pad our savings account.
I know it isn’t realistic for everyone to be car-free. For example, a lot of my family lives in a small town that has no public transportation and no grocery store or major medical care. Access to a vehicle is a necessity. However, there are ways to still reduce your transportation costs:
  • Get a card that gives you discounts or cashback bonuses on fuel, whether it’s through your bank or local grocery store loyalty card.
  • Re-negotiate your auto insurance rates with your current carrier, or find a different insurance provider with better rates. Make sure they are giving you all applicable discounts on your policy and question any fees that you don’t understand.
  • If you have more cars than drivers in your household, sell the extra cars. Consider ways to share one car within your family.
  • Sell cars with loans and buy a cheaper car with cash. It’s better to eliminate a car loan as soon as possible because vehicles usually depreciate faster than their loan balances. Older, less expensive cars are usually cheaper to insure as well.
  • Keep up on regular vehicle maintenance—cars that need repair often have increased fuel consumption.
  • Drive at or below the speed limit. Avoid pressing hard on the accelerator or brakes.
  • When possible, use ride-shares or carpools to work or other events.
  • While running errands, plan your route for the least driving. For example, pick the store farthest away to visit first and work your way back to your house.

How to be eco-friendly (and frugal) for FREE

Now that we’re stationary we want to enjoy our space. When traveling, everything outside the RV was our backyard. These days, leaving my bed is a chore, so it’s nice to have a little yard space.
However, our lot was just rocky, uneven dirt when we arrived. Other than three camping chairs, we didn’t have any outdoor furniture. But thanks to resources like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Trash Nothing (Freecycle), and Buy Nothing, we were able to get pavers, landscaping rock, stepping stones, a few bushes, a large propane grill, two table and chair sets, and more for FREE. Oh, and also a really fancy stationary bike for Ryan that’s in pristine condition—it’s probably worth about $1500, but the guy gave it away to us. Ryan also got an 8’x8’ resin shed to house our business inventory for only $125. And that’s a business write-off, so bonus there!
Yes, it requires sweat equity, time, and fuel to find, retrieve, and sometimes repair items before they’re exactly what you need. But if you’re short on cash, this is a great way to recycle things in your community, which also makes it eco-friendly. And minimalist, because the amount of effort required will prohibit most people from working to get more than they actually need.
It’s crazy how much people will give away, assuming they have no value. Or, they just want them gone quickly and without negotiation. Some of these people were even nice enough to help Ryan load things into the truck, offer him water to drink, and a wheelbarrow to move them. Then when he got back, some of our helpful neighbors pitched in to unload the heavier stuff and also build the shed.
I can’t say if people are this nice everywhere, but it’s been a great experience so far in Portland. People in the community have been happy to get free labor to haul away stuff that they don't want. When we can, we try to pay it forward by doing the same and offering up our stuff for free to others.

And you'd be surprised about what's offered for free. It isn't just unwanted patio furniture. I've seen ads offering unused food (including baby formula), clothing, kids' toys, camping gear, even cars (although they're usually not running). When we lived in the bay area, one neighbor was given a free car in working condition so he had a way to get to work by some generous soul. Another neighbor's RV was donated to him for free so he wouldn't be homeless any longer.

Anytime my family needs something that isn't an urgent necessity, we try to get it for free first. The patience required to find something for free, which usually takes several days or weeks, makes us really consider how badly we need it. It's been proven that people who do "retail therapy" get a temporary high from making purchases. I would imagine that the convenience of instantly being able to buy something at the store rather than searching for it for free only adds to that high. If so, then using our method can help create the discipline one might need to wean a person off of a shopping addiction.

One last word on free stuff--a lot of the websites and apps that offer free stuff also have a way to send notifications when the item you're searching for comes available. This is a great way to prevent you from spending all your time checking these resources to see if anything new has popped up.

That about wraps it up for this post. Thanks to all of you who have waited patiently on this one...it took me months of working for just a few minutes at a time, but I'm committed to writing more posts when I can.