As an eco-conscious consumer, I’m constantly trying to come up with ways to go green. Why is that? Well, for starters, we Americans are quite the consumers. A sobering fact: While Americans make up only five percent of the world’s population, we use one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of its oil, and 23 percent of its coal, according to the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford. I want my carbon footprint to be as small as possible.

But as I found out, buying vegan shoes and organic produce can add up quickly. So how can I reconcile being eco-conscious with being a cheapster? Thankfully, there are a few ways to go green on a budget:

  1. Buy secondhand clothes
  2. Upcycle
  3. Grow your own produce
  4. Use homemade cleaning products
  5. Join a time bank

These tricks are easier than you might think!

1. Buy Secondhand

Clothing consumption accounts for a whopping three percent of global carbon emissions each year, according to the Carbon Trust. Over the years, I’ve shopped at thrift stores and scoured Craigslist for finds of furniture, cookware, and clothes.

I would say that about half of my wardrobe and home furnishings are secondhand.

 If you don’t want to spend any money whatsoever, consider hosting a clothing swap with your friends. If you have a pal with similar fashion sense who’s the same size as you, you can shop in his or her closet.

2. Upcycle

Upcycling, or repurposing, is a great way to turn something old into something new. To upcycle, you simply need to see the potential beauty in a thing that’s decrepit or damaged. For instance, take a dresser that has seen better days and touch it up with a shiny layer of paint, or turn a shabby piece of wood into a beautiful coat rack, replete with vintage hooks. There are great ideas on Pinterest, and you can check out sites like Ikea Hackers or DIY Network.


3. Grow Your Own Organic Produce

Growing your own food helps both your health and your pocketbook. If you lack a backyard, try growing some organic herbs or tomatoes on a windowsill or doorstep. You’ll be surprised at what you can do in a limited space.

Urban dwellers can sign up for a small plot at a community garden. Check out the American Community Gardening Association website to find one near you. Just be aware that there are often long waiting lists for these community gardens, and patience is a virtue.

You can also take part in a local produce exchange. If you don’t have a garden, you can probably still get involved by bartering homemade goodies. For the past few years, I’ve participated in a monthly produce exchange that supplies me with a bounty of organic fruits, veggies, and herbs and delicious homemade goodies.

For those who want to stay away from eating junk food while on a budget, the Environmental Working Group publishes the Good Food on a Tight Budget guide, which shows you smart ways to eat well on very little.

4. Make Your Own Household Cleaners

I’ve long experimented with different ways to make household cleaners that are simple, green, and affordable. There’s no shortage of household cleaning solutions on YouTube that you can whip up using ammonia, baking soda, white vinegar, witch hazel, and/or a few essential oils.

For instance, you can mix one cup of white vinegar and one cup of water to make a simple spray cleaner.

To unclog drains, all you need is some vinegar combined with baking soda and warm water.

And if you’re looking for an inexpensive air freshener, try mixing water, witch hazel, and essential oils (I’m keen on eucalyptus and peppermint).

5. Join a Time Bank

A time bank is an incredibly inexpensive way to go green. It is totally volunteer run and operates on the premise that you don’t necessarily need money to live a good life. With time banking, you barter goods and services for hours of time.A key aspect of time banking is that rather than going out and buying something, you either “mend and make do” or borrow what you need.

By doing so, you’re saving money and cutting down on waste. Many time banks have a sharing economy, which means that instead of buying something you might use only once, you can just get it on loan from a fellow time banker.

As a member of a local time bank in West Los Angeles for the last few years, I’ve had clothes mended and enjoyed fresh loaves of bread, creative coaching, and one-on-one tai chi lessons. I’ve even bartered time for an interview for a story on raising organic chickens. There are also potlucks and free gardening workshops and repair cafés available. And last but not least, I’ve made some great friends.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to go green on a budget. You just have to think creatively and be resourceful.