How To Live Richly: Go Green on a Budget

Go Green on a Budget - Green Piggy BankThere should be no secrets among those who continue to prosper in mostly non-financial ways despite the challenging economic times.  These people live (and perhaps work) following the laws of nature more than the “laws of supply and demand” of the increasingly dysfunctional “free” and global marketplace.

Here’s how to thrive in the abundance of renewable energy, organic food and a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. While not all frugality rules, this approach to living more sustainably does require some degree of curtailment, scaling down and living within our means.  It means using credit cards less and relying on community members or family more.  However, the result can be a rich life filled with health and well-being, friends and family, more time to do the things you love to do (imagine that!), a greater sense of purpose, and, my favorite, happiness.

Below are a few suggestions to get you started or continue your journey.  Please add some of your own in the comments.  Maybe some of the BIG banks or BIG government folks might take notice that a few ideas do not involve printing and spending trillions of dollars to “spur consumption.”

•  Powering the renewable energy revolution

Times couldn’t be better for installing your own renewable energy system or improving your energy efficiency of your home or business (or both!), depending on the state you live in.  The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 extended the Energy Policy Act of 2005. These new acts extend and expand the federal tax credits available for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements made in 2009 and beyond.  There are numerous renewable energy cash-back incentives, tax credits and low interest loans that can help ease the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to one that thrives on solar income.  Check out the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org) to see what’s available in your state.

We’re looking to add a 1kW or 2kW photovoltaic system to our cabin (to spin our electric meter backwards) and seize greater self-reliance with locally-produced renewable energy.  For those of us living in Wisconsin, for example, “Federal and state tax incentives are now available to home and business owners who install energy efficient equipment, adopt renewable energy measures or improve the overall efficiency of a home or building,” according to the Wisconsin Focus on Energy website.  “Wisconsin manufacturers can also exempt the sales taxes they pay on energy used to make their products,” perfect for those interested in launching a greentech or clean tech enterprise.

•  Growing at least some of your own food

In World War II, Americans called them “Victory Gardens.”  Today, backyard gardens (or roof top and container gardens, if in the city) are one of the quickest ways to secure fresh, organic, healthy, nutrient-rich foods without having them airlifted or sent by ground from over 1,200 miles away.  Savings are immediate.  Forget about “investing” in the stock market.  Invest in your own food; you’ll get an amazing return on your investment in a $1.39 packet of seeds within a matter of months.  Nature tends to produce in abundance, not scarcity.  Ever see an apple tree blooming in the spring, with hundreds and hundreds of blossoms?

•  Finding affordable healthcare

Until affordable healthcare is a right of every citizen in America, if you have kids and are working, consider signing up for state sponsored healthcare, officially called State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), administered through your county’s Department of Health and Human Services.  Go to Insure Kids Now to see if your working family may qualify.  If you don’t have a job (but have kids), start your own home-based business (see below), then apply.  Recently, funding has been expanded by congress which extends the reach of the SCHIP program, designed to meet the healthcare needs of children nationally.  It’s likely that this is the beginning of affordable healthcare for all, when combined with Medicare for the people age 65 and older.

•  Focus on healthy living and well-being (aka preventative health)

What’s better than affordable healthcare?  Not needing to visit the hospital or doctor’s office in the first place as we suggest in Rural Renaissance.  Preventative care, whether it comes in the form of what you eat or the regular amount of daily exercise you might get, can go a long way to avoiding any medical bills whatsoever.  Instead of watching TV, for example, take up gardening, volunteering for an activity which requires some walking or movement (say, helping with Habitat for Humanity in your community) or going on a regular bike ride with your kids (or walk with elderly parents).

*  Run your own business from a home office

As my wife and I explain at length in ECOpreneuring, it’s time to rethink the old worker model of having to go to an office, work in a BIG corporation, earn lots of income (to have a lot of it taxed away), and retire with the gold watch (these days with a pension and a corporate healthcare plan on the fritz).  Lean, green, family-scaled and local, these businesses are owned by millions of Americans  who have discovered a good life with an enterprise headquartered in a spare bedroom transformed into a home office.  Why not you?

•  Do it yourself

With millions of Americans out of work and millions more forced to take unpaid furloughs or reduced hours, this is a time where good old American self-reliance can re-emerge in the form of do-it-yourself activities.  Forget the daycare, let’s raise our own kids.  That leaky toilet or faucet doesn’t require Joe the plumber, just a little research on the Internet or a good book and presto, the leak is gone without spending much or any money.  In many cases, it’s the perfect opportunity to reconnect with or reach of to neighbors in our communities who still remember how to fix leaks, repair cracks or can apple sauce.

•  Un-shopping: Conserving, not Consuming

Need not, spend not (and by default: waste not).  Buying less and wasting less is the easiest, cheapest way to show concern for the environment.  When we do have a need, perhaps a set of jeans or a microwave, why not see if someone already has what you need for free in your community?  It’s easy, thanks to freecycle.org, craigslist.org and a growing number of local gift or barter exchanges.  What’s in common with all these forms is a transfer to goods (and in some cases services) without the use of money.  Individual self-interest is trumped by community interest.  So let’s start taking care of our community.

Photograph Credit (creative commons license):   Piggy savings bank by alancleaver_2000

  1. Jim Maclan

    Although you touch on this briefly, I think that there is a huge downplay on the amount of money that could be saved with low-flow plumbing fixtures, and things like aerators. For example, a leaky faucet at a rate of one drop per second, wastes 2,700 gallons a year! Fixing leaks and swapping out your old toilet with a 1.8 gallon per flush model turns into serious savings over time, and is also a “more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.” I hired a GreenPlumber through greenplumbersusa.com that was able to also do a water and energy audit of our Victorian home. Anyway, great article!

  2. Michelle

    I agree 100 % about growing your own food as a way to live richly. If you are fortunate enough to have a small patch of sunny dirt, why not
    a) Grow fresh food that will taste great and make you feel proud,
    b) Save yourself from having to mow the sunny patch
    c) Get some gym-free exercise in the light of day,
    d) Get to know your neighbors, who will be intrigued by your garden.

    The benefits are endless!

  3. Jon Andrews

    One way to buy less and waste less is to share more. Even two or three people sharing their resources (like tools or toys) instead of buying two or three of everything can save a lot of money and make a difference for the environment. I’m co-founder of Sharonimo (www.sharonimo.com) a small company that has just launched a free web application that makes sharing easier, safer and more fun. I hope you’ll check it out.

  4. Ria de Kock

    I love your approaches. Live better on less and even become a vegetarian, who is able to live on 10% of land compared to meat eaters. Anybody can grow stuff: sprouts, containers on balconies, and small victory gardens instead of huge, wasteful lawns. I even had stuff growing on a rooftop in South Korea. We should live more responsibly. I love recycling and wish we had such centers in Texas. Anybody out there in South Texas? I need a good full bed for people moving in with us soon.

  5. Lynn

    Some good ideas. Growing your own vegetables is not as easy as it sounds, however, and probably won’t save much money. (Seeds are expensive!) We compost, water, weed and got about 8 tomatoes, 5 eggplant and … nada. Ready for our winter garden, though. Hope springs eternal. Just wish vegetables would, too.

  6. John Ivanko


    Stay the course. You’ll figure it out (like we eventually did after crop failures with zucchini!).

    We need to relearn how to meet more of our own needs, not just buy stuff at WalMart.

    Now we harvest hundreds and hundreds of pounds of strawberries, cucumbers … and zucchini.

    Keep on keeping on.
    For the Earth,
    John Ivanko

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