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Zero Waste Living

19 Super Simple and Budget-Friendly Ways to Save Money and Reduce Waste!

So, this was the original title of the post, but it’s a little, um, long.

“How my Family and I Save Over $50 month & Reduced our Waste by 25-30lbs a Week!”

It has been a few months since I first wrote this widely popular post. Since then, my family and I have continued to slowly implement waste reduction changes into our lives AND continued to save even more money- hence why I thought it was time to update this post! Since the original post, the zero waste challenge my family and I participated in has ended. We ended up reducing our waste by 25-30lbs a week just by implementing these changes. Seriously, I’m sharing all we have done in this post.

Why am I writing about zero waste and how much money we are saving? Embarking on a large lifestyle change can seem overwhelming and there can be some resistance. Adding in the incentive of saving money (on top of the environmental benefits) can be a powerful motivator or an awesome bonus. If you’re interested in hearing more about saving money and helping the environment, I talk about this topic with Stephnie of Mama Minimalist on her podcast ‘The Sustainable Minimalists’ (check out the link below).

Related: Zero Waste Baby Steps for Absolutely Everyone | A Podcast Interview on The Sustainable Minimalists

Additionally, I wanted to update this post to show you how small changes can make a big impact overall. The changes I’m about to talk about are not big. They don’t take a lot of effort (maybe just some getting used to). A lot don’t even cost money!

Note: Even though some of these swaps cost money, many of them don’t. You don’t have to invest a lot of money to start making changes. If money is tight right now, take a look at the swaps that have no expense to them first, and go from there. 

Below are some specific ‘small change, big result’ changes we have implemented into our routine. One important note: where I was able, I added in the cost savings towards these changes as well (these are approximate cost savings). This is in no way an exact science; I just wanted to give a general idea of the monetary results we have noticed as well as reduced waste numbers. I also added in the approximate expense of each item to show that it really doesn’t cost that much more (if at all) to make these changes!

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  • French press: We use a french press versus a normal coffee maker. While coffee filters are compostable, we don’t have that added expense.
    • Expense: $4 for french press a at thrift store
    • Cost savings: Approximately $1 a month for coffee filters

  • Tea ballWe use a tea ball for tea. Some tea bags are compostable, but others that are more of a plastic-type material aren’t. This also allows us to buy tea in bulk from a local tea shop.
    • Expense: $6 for tea ball
    • Cost savings: Varies
  • DIY floor cleaner: We started making our own floor cleaner when we moved into our house.  We have old hardwood floors, and we were having trouble finding a cleaner that was safe to use. The cleaner has worked great and lasts us a couple months per bottle! It is a simple mixture of water (4 cups), vinegar (⅛ cup) and a couple drops of essential oils (for scent). You can skip the essential oils if you don’t have any or want to use them.
      • Expense:
          • Refillable spray bottle $1
        • Vinegar – $0.89 per bottle (I can get about 10 rounds of cleaner out of a bottle of vinegar)
    • Cost savings: Approximately $6.00 on a bottle of floor cleaner ($3 per month)

  • DIY all-purpose cleaner: I started making our own all-purpose cleaner, and we haven’t looked back. The cleaner is just a simple mixture of vinegar, water, and you can either add some essential oils for scent OR, you can infuse citrus peels for a refreshing smell (we do the latter). For the recipe, check out my post in the online magazine #ZeroWasteStoryTime below. Bonus, you can also use it as the floor cleaner from above.
    • Expense:
      • Refillable spray bottle $1
      • Vinegar – $0.89 per bottle
      • Citrus peels – don’t count into cost since we don’t buy them exclusively for this purpose.
    • Cost Savings: $6 (about $2 a month. We were purchasing a slightly more expensive cleaner for it’s environmental/non-toxic properties about every three months)

Related: Zero Waste Spring Cleaning

  • DIY chicken/vegetable stock: I like to make vegetable stock (or chicken stock if I have chicken bones) in my crockpot with leftover veggie scraps. I save my vegetable scraps after meal prepping, and either make the stock at the end of the week or freeze the scraps until later. When you’re ready to make the stock, throw the scraps in a crockpot or stockpot, add water and salt, and cook!
    • Expense: None
    • Cost Savings: Varies depending on stock purchased ($0.89 from a can – $2.50 from a carton)
  • Indoor compost storage: Instead of spending money to buy a bin for our compost inside (until we take it out), we have started storing the compost in leftover containers, oatmeal canisters, and any other type of container. So far, it has worked well!
    • Expense: None
    • Cost savings: Varies
    • Note on the compost – we have since purchased an inexpensive plastic container for our indoor compost, and we do now purchase these compost bags to line the plastic bin. The bags last a long time.
      • Expense: $2 a month.

  • Swiffer mop pad replacement: My amazing mother-in-law crocheted us a reusable mop page! Before that, we were just using old shirts which worked just fine. 
    • Expense: None
    • Cost Savings: $14 Swiffer mop pads (approximately $3.50 a month)

  • Poop bag replacement: This is one that I feel silly we didn’t do before. We had been purchasing the ‘poop’ bags and using those to clean up our dog waste in the backyard. Since we started the challenge, we have been saving any type of bag that can be used for poop. We use the smaller ones if we’re on a walk and big ones (like the kind pet food comes in) for picking up in the backyard.
    • Expense: None
    • Cost Savings: $7 a month
  • ‘Eat me now’ area in the fridge: We created an area in our fridge where we only put leftovers or produce that needs to be eaten right away. This has really helped us reduce our food waste and helped us save money on eating out for breakfast or lunch because we can see and find the leftover food we have. I talk a little more about how reorganizing your fridge can help prevent food waste in the post below. 
    • Expense: None
    • Cost Savings: Varies

Related: Zero Waste Challenge – Week 5 – 12 Resources you can Implement in 5 Minutes or Less + Free Printable!

  • Meal planning: While we are on the topic of food, meal planning has also really helped us reduce food waste, and thus, save money. Before I sit down and plan out our meals (I do two weeks at a time), I do a quick, visual inventory of our pantry, our produce, and freezer. That way I know what items we need to use up, and I plan our meals around those items. Many people also plan their meals around grocery store sales. That works too!
    • Expense: Nonmonetary, just time
    • Cost Savings: Varies

  • Organic recycling in the bathroom: We added a clean yogurt container into our bathroom for trash, and now use our trash can for organic recycling. Our trash audit results yielded that most of our bathroom waste was facial tissue or toilet paper. Both of these items are compostable! Adding this container makes it really easy to compost these items!
    • Expense: None
    • Cost savings: None, but a great zero waste reduction! Consider adding a separate bin for bathroom recycling as well.
  • Buying in bulk: Buying in bulk is something that we struggle with. We have slowly started to buy in bulk at the store when we can, but for the most part, we don’t (I talk more about why we don’t buy in bulk in my ‘Confessions’ post – see link below). Even though we don’t buy most of our items in bulk, we do look for ways to reduce packaging during our shopping trips. Some examples are cheese (buying in larger packages, or buying blocks instead of individual snack sticks), and applesauce in a large, plastic container versus individual snack packs. 
    • Expense: None
    • Cost savings: Varies

Related: Confessions of a Zero Waste Mama | Post for #ZeroWasteStoryTime – an Online Magazine

  • Reusable bamboo ‘paper’ towels: I know I have talked about these before in this post, but we seriously love them! We have been using them for nine months already, and have no desire to go back to disposable paper towels.
    • Expense: $8
    • Cost savings: $10 a month
  • Reusable napkins: We have two sets that we rotate between for our family. For guests, we are still using up the disposable napkins we had already purchased prior to our challenge, or napkins that we got from ordering takeout. But eventually, we will purchase a set just for guest use.
    • Expense: $12 (we love these)
    • Cost Savings: Approximately $2 a month
  • Reusable tissues: Reusable tissues was a later change during our zero waste challenge, but has proven to be very successful. Once we ran out of paper tissues, we were looking for different things we could use instead. My husband had a button-up shirt that had a rip in the back that couldn’t be fixed, so I cut up the shirt for tissues. We also had a fleece swaddle that had a broken zipper, and I also cute that up. I actually love having two different thicknesses, and the textures are really soft on our noses.
    • Expense: $0 
    • Cost Savings: $2 a month

  • Menstrual cup: I finally ventured into the world of menstrual cups about four months ago. I wish I could say I tried it once and it was all smooth sailing from there, but that hasn’t been the case. It has been a little challenging, and I still am having to use disposable products for part of my cycle, but slowly I am getting the hang of it. To find a cup, I took the quiz from ‘Put A Cup In It’, and researched the different results. I ended up choosing the Lena cup from my result recommendations because of the affordable price and their customer service guarantee. I have communicated with their customer service team and they have been really helpful (not – note directly affiliated with Lena, just sharing my experience). For additional tips, I joined the ‘Put a Cup In It’ Facebook group which has been super helpful in learning more about cups. Even though I’m not fully able to wear it during my whole cycle, I am going to continue to work with it until I can. I also plan on picking up some reusable cloth pads, but I haven’t done that yet.
    • Expense: $25
    • Cost Savings: $7 a month

  • Smaller waste collection bin: After we were a few months in on our zero waste challenge, we had reduced our waste enough that we could call our trash company and ask for the smallest waste collection bin they had. While the cost savings aren’t astronomical, it was a great feeling to actually SEE how much our zero waste efforts had paid off. Even now, we could go down another half size, but unfortunately, the waste company doesn’t offer anything smaller.
    • Expense: $0
    • Cost Savings: $1 a month
  • Yard Waste: Having a compost bin has been great for collecting our yard waste this spring/summer. Normally we would have to sign up for a continuous service from our waste company for pick-up during the summer months, or, we could have them collect it per bag at $3 per bag. For grass clippings, since we don’t treat our grass with anything, I use those as a type of mulch in the garden. For weeds, branches, and any other type of yard waste, those all go in the compost!
    • Expense: $0
    • Cost Savings: $10 a month
  • Stainless Steel Straws: Having a 2.5-year-old means we use straws. To be honest, I initially bought stainless steel straws because my son would bite through any type of disposable/plastic ones in an instant. But once we started reducing our waste, I was really glad we had them. The set we have comes with a straw brush which is handy when we need it. But most of the time I rinse really well and then stick the straw in the dishwasher.
    • Expense: $6.50
    • Cost Savings: $1 a month

The savings with JUST these 18 small steps is about $55 a month for our family, and that doesn’t even include the money we save from the changes where the costs vary (since I didn’t add those in). 

The expenses only add up to about $67 dollars TOTAL, so we are definitely ahead!

Let me say it again: Even though some of these swaps cost money, many of them don’t. You don’t have to invest a lot of money to start making changes. If money is tight right now, take a look at the swaps that have no expense to them first, and go from there. 

As I hope you can see, these changes are pretty simple steps you can take to reduce waste, and the bonus is that they save money. If you have a reluctant spouse, you can mention the monetary benefits to try and get them on board!

In addition to a couple of the products mentioned above, you can view our other favorite zero waste products here.

Related: The Ultimate Zero Waste, Minimalist Friendly, and Mindful Gift Guide (with 97 gift ideas!)

What small changes have you made to help save money, move towards a zero waste life, or just to be more environmentally friendly?

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5 years ago

Very happy to say we do so many of these already in our home. Happy to know we are doing good but there were a couple we can start doing.

Eco Friendly Mama
5 years ago

Great suggestion about an eat me now zone in the fridge! I’m definitely going to add that to my routine. We buy compostable poop bags because I hate to throw away plastic in the regular trash, but maybe I’ll start saving the paper bags that come through our house to use for poop as well! ☺️

5 years ago

My favorite of these is creating an “Eat me now” section in the fridge. That seems to be the biggest problem in my fridge – putting stuff in the drawers and forgetting about it!

5 years ago

Wow! These are really great tips! I already do a few of these, but going to look into some others. I really like the idea of making my own cleaner. Thanks for sharing!

5 years ago

Ok, I am DEFINITELY designating an “Eat Me Now” section in my fridge! Such a good idea! Thank you for sharing!

5 years ago

I love using a french press! Not only is it a money saver, but the coffee is better too.

Brandi Michel
5 years ago

I love these ideas and use many of them myself. I love the idea of the eat me now fridge section.

sharon raymond
5 years ago

my niche in reducewaste-land is footwear – i vend at a “‘hippie” festival each year, that prides itself on only having one bag of trash at the end – yet when i look at all the “plastic” on people’s feet it makes me sick – so many will head to the landfill after a year..! i write books on how to make simple footwear, using ecological materials (upholstery leather remnants, motorcycle inner tube soles) and non-toxic cement.

5 years ago

Would like to say French presses are unique but for about two dollars you can buy a reusable coffee filter for those that drink a lot of coffee at a time. In my house, my fiance can drink an entire pot! I agree that these are great ideas especially for those just starting on the waste reduction routine. I feel that most of this will work depending on the family size. All in all good ideas for starting on the path to zero waste!

Katie @ Retiring to the Road

I love the “eat me now” section of the fridge! We have been slowly working towards zero waste and this list definitely gave me some new ideas. Thank you!


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