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The following post is from Unconventional Sustainability, a blog about pursuing a fun, frugal, and eco-friendly lifestyle. It’s written by an environmental engineer who is working towards financial independence while enjoying a car-free lifestyle and reducing her carbon footprint.

There seems to be a growing discontent with our busy modern lives.

Yet on the surface it often appears that our lives are pretty amazing.

Perhaps we’ve got the important sounding job title, the beautiful house full of beautiful furniture and decorations, a newer model vehicle, an awesome timeline on Facebook, a garage full of gear and other toys for our hobbies, etc.

However, we still often can’t shake the nagging feeling that something is missing.

This often stems from pursuing a version of life that fits into the mold set by society, not by ourselves.

So even after we’ve achieved the theoretically “perfect” life, it’s nearly impossible to be satisfied if it doesn’t align with our own interests.

The trick is to first identify what our interests are and then accept that they may not be as highly valued by social norms.

It’s OK to be Different!

We spend most of our lives trying to impress others and we may not even realize how much of our behavior is influenced by these external pressures.

But the more we try to become something we are not, the less authentic we feel.

This can make it harder to really understand or appreciate what truly make us happy.

I mention all of this because we tend to consume and spend money to compensate for areas in our lives that we are unhappy with.

Some people call this “retail therapy”, which only serves to normalize the behavior of masking our real discontent.

This is not only expensive in terms of our finances, but it also puts a huge strain on our natural resources as we increase our consumption.

A simple, but not necessarily easy solution to this problem is to embrace what makes us unique and focus our energy and time on creating a lifestyle that aligns with our internal values.

Over time (and with practice), this not only gets easier, but it can be incredibly liberating!

Fun, Frugal, and Eco-friendly

I grew up in southeastern Michigan (home to the Big 3 car manufacturers) where the social norm for being “successful” was to go to college, get a high paying corporate job, live in the suburbs, work until age 65, and then hope retirement is everything we fantasized about during our grueling working years.

I might have followed this same path had I not watched how miserable so many people were.

Sure they often had all the “important” material possessions, but they also worked too much, commuted too far, spent too little time taking care of their health and wellbeing, and essentially trapped themselves into high-spending/high-earning lifestyles.

Luckily for me I ended up becoming a professional student for most of my 20s and learned how to live quite happily with very little money.

This was the best antidote to lifestyle inflation!

So by the time I finally graduated with my PhD at the age of 28, I thankfully had no student loan debt and I had discovered a sustainably frugal way to live.

I’ve managed to more or less maintain my college spending habits, which will reduce the overall amount of money I need to earn over my lifetime (by about a million dollars!).

By conventional standards my car-free, homesteading, and generally simpler lifestyle may not be trendy.

But in my view, neither is consumer debt or living in a way that doesn’t make me truly happy.

Guilt-free Incremental Change

If you’ve ever found yourself apologizing for your lifestyle, then you are falling prey to the destructive nature of social norms.

We are all busy people with lots of stress from both our work and our home lives. And clearly we carry a lot of guilt about what we think we should (or should not) be doing or how we should (or should not) be living. The good news is that we can stop feeling guilty about our imperfections right now.

Feeling guilty isn’t going to help us make changes in our lives. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that we can go on ignoring the problems we face either. We instead need to identify actionable steps we can start making today¸ which will help us avoid feeling overwhelmed.

The focus shouldn’t be on getting everything right from now on, since the trappings of perfection will only stop us from taking action.

This includes the fallacy of finding the “right time” to make these changes. There is never going to be a better time than now!

Below are a few suggestions for ways to get started developing more frugal and sustainable everyday habits.

3 Tips for Saving Green by Being Green

1. Become a producer

When we are in a consumption mindset we usually focus on what we don’t have yet.

Companies will always create new products or modify old products to keep us coming back and consuming more.

Unfortunately, due to hedonic adaptation, our satisfaction with the latest and greatest new thing is always going to be short lived.

That’s because we quickly adapt and assimilate that new thing into our baseline lifestyle, moving on to desiring the next new thing.

By transitioning to a producer mindset, we are better able to get off the hedonic treadmill.

become a producer

We can then begin to dedicate our efforts and time to pursuing hobbies, learning new skills, and/or meeting new people.

Now I use the word “producer” very liberally here. We can be a transportation “consumer” by relying exclusively on our vehicles to move around. Or we can become a “producer” by using active transportation that involves more walking, biking, or taking public transit.

Another easy area to become a producer (and reduce our monthly food bill) is to grow, make, and/or preserve our own food.

There are endless examples of how we can transition from a consumer to a producer – the key is to start by evaluating your own interests and where you currently spend your money and time.

2. Embrace the sharing economy

I love the idea of renting or borrowing items only when we need them.

This simplifies our lives in many ways because we no longer need to purchase, store, and maintain these items.

The public library is a classic example of the sharing economy, which lends out DVDs, magazines, and newspapers in addition to books.

But more recently in some communities you can participate in car sharing, bike sharing, house sharing (Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner), toy sharing, clothing rentals, etc.

Of course, we can all create own sharing economy. For example, there are some communities where neighbors jointly purchase certain equipment or tools, such as lawn mowers and snow blowers.

The more comfortable we get with sharing, rather than owning our less frequently used items, the more money we keep in our pockets and the fewer resources we individually require.

And we may also get the added benefit of getting to know more of our neighbors or fellow resident.

3. Practice the 7 Rs

As a kid many of us were probably taught the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

In the 21st Century we now we have the 7 Rs:

  1. Reduce
  2. Return
  3. Reuse
  4. Repair
  5. Refill
  6. Rot (compost)
  7. Refuse

Most of these are obvious and don’t need much explanation, but there are a few that we tend to overlook.


Buying higher quality items can often be more expensive upfront, but can save us money in the long run. Then as these items begin to wear out, we can prolong their life by repairing them.

For example, we can re-sole dress shoes, re-upholster furniture, patch clothing, replace damaged zippers, etc.

This is made easier by companies like Patagonia and REI that offer repair, replacement, and/or recycling services (and also have a sustainability mission and/or a stewardship program!).



With a little planning, we can all reduce our use of disposable products and save money in the process.

For example, many stores offer a small discount for reusing our own bags (our Co-op even gives us $0.03 off for reusing containers and other bags for things like produce or bulk foods, in addition to reusing the larger shopping bags).

I am a big fan of bulk foods and find it easier to refill my own glass containers for things like honey, molasses, and peanut butter.

If you are a coffee or tea drinker, many coffee shops will give you a little off for bringing in your own mug.

I bring my own water and tea mug (and tea) with me whenever I travel, which saves me from purchasing overpriced beverages (and I stay nicely hydrated).

Finally, we can save a lot of money and reduce our consumption of fossil fuels by replacing individual water bottles with a water filter in our homes.

Or to view this in another way, we pay more for bottled water than we do to gas up our vehicles!

Rot (compost)

Recycling our food and other biodegradable wastes saves us money and prevents unnecessary items from taking up space (and producing more methane gas emissions) in our landfills.

Also, keeping organic materials out of our trash cuts down on odor and decreases the appeal of our garbage to pesky critters.

And obviously by composting our biodegradable wastes we also create a free source of nutrient rich material for our gardens and lawn.


It can be hard to pass up a freebie, but we do ourselves and our planet a favor when we resist the temptation.

Granted this might not directly save us money upfront.

There are a serious environmental costs to producing millions of little trinkets that we end up throwing out – either directly after getting them or once we get tired of storing them.

Granted a free keychain, water bottle, or t-shirt might not cause you to upsize the size of your house or go out and rent a storage unit.

But it all adds up over time.

So a good rule of thumb I like to use is that if I wouldn’t buy it, I probably don’t need it, even if it is available for free!

We want to know: How do you save money while living a greener lifestyle?

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