Hi, this is Michelle’s editor, Ariel! You may have seen me here before talking about taking my side hustle full-time, living in a small house, and real life frugality. When I’m not working for Michelle, you can find me spending a lot of time over at M$M, working as a staff writer and editor-in-chief.
The other day I found myself asking this question in a popular FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Facebook group:
Anyone else focusing on a zero/low waste lifestyle and merging that principal with FI?
I asked this question because, while I don’t hang around in those kinds of communities a ton, I find that what I often see is more focused on sexier topics like investing strategies and increasing your income.
Both of those are incredibly valuable tools when you’re working to improve your financial health, even if you aren’t working towards FIRE, but I was searching for advice that felt a little more relatable to my personal goals.
It turns out that I wasn’t alone.
There are a number of people who are actively making choices that are making a positive difference on the environment while helping them save money.
One of the most interesting responses to my questions was, “I just started a process of focusing on my waste… literally.” What they went on to suggest was that we are essentially buying our trash.
There was something about that comment that really hit me. I mean, if you’re working towards FI or FIRE or just trying to keep your head above water, wouldn’t it make sense to stop pay for as little waste as possible?
As I started marinating on this idea, I started thinking about accessible ways to reduce your waste while you work on improving your financial health.
5 thoughts on reducing your waste as a way to save more money
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and why the two Rs are the most important
Most of us learned about the three Rs in school – reduce, reuse, recycle. The way it was taught to me is that each R had an equally positive impact.
The reality is that this isn’t the case at all. If we consider what’s happening with recycling in the U.S., it becomes pretty obvious that we need to focus more now that ever on the first two Rs.
Reduce and reuse are so important because it takes a significant amount of energy to create new products – raw materials have to be extracted from the earth, the product has to be made, and then it needs to be transported to where it will be sold.
For every item you don’t need to buy new, you’re eliminating that entire process, and the benefits can be felt environmentally and financially.
Here are some examples of how you can reduce and reuse in your daily life:
- Buying used clothes. A $5 pair of jeans from Goodwill is much better for your finances than a $50 new pair. And, a new pair of jeans costs the environment about 33.4kg in carbon emissions.
- When you buy things, make sure they can be reused. You can start simple with cloth napkins and refillable water bottles.
- Start reusing things that you might typically throw away or recycle. You can wash and reuse Ziploc bags, use yogurt containers as Tupperware, reuse cleaning spray containers by making your own cleaning spray, turn old candle and jam jars into vases or cups, etc.
2. Kick convenience
This one is so hard to fall for when you’ve got a family, a job, a side hustle, etc.
Your time is finite and it’s really easy to say, “heck yeah, let’s hit the drive through because I don’t have time to make dinner.”
Going through the drive through doesn’t make you a bad person, but if you’re like me, you think about all of the trash you’ve just bought (I’m leaning on that comment I mentioned in the intro). There’s the fry containers, individually wrapped ketchup packages, plastic straws, etc.
In moments like this, embrace the power of a quick meal – PB&J, scrambled eggs and toast, a bowl of cereal and a banana, tuna salad sandwiches, cheese and crackers, whatever. You’re saving cash and trash.
Paying for convenience when it comes to foods is an easy trap to fall into. Like I said, it’s hard when you’re busy and trying to shave precious moments off daily tasks like making dinner.
The problem is that when you’re trying to save time with convenience, you’re paying a high financial and environmental price.
Here are a few examples:
- A package of prewashed, pretorn lettuce can cost twice as much as a head of lettuce. It’s also packaged in plastic, whereas you don’t really need to put your produce in the plastic bags in the first place.
- Paying for grocery delivery services like Instacart cost nearly $5 for every delivery.
- Ready made meals impact the environment at a rate of 35% more than home made meals.
- On average, it’s 5x more expensive to order out than cook at home.
- Meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh produce more plastic waste than grocery shopping, and they’re considerably more expensive.
The one bright side with meal delivery services is that if you actually use everything in your package, they do reduce your carbon footprint because you’re reducing your food waste by only paying for exactly what you need for each meal.
Now, if you’re able to make a meal plan and shop accordingly, it’s entirely possible that you can reduce your food waste without paying for meal deliveries. And at an average cost of delivered meals being around $10, this is actually fairly expensive when you consider that it’s pretty easy to make dinner for closer to $5 a person.
One of my favorite resources for cheap meals is Budget Bytes – this food blog has inexpensive recipes and shows the dollar cost of each.
3. Source your food locally
My family recently decided to start buying groceries from a local CSA program.
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture.
The idea is that we get a weekly share of groceries that comes from within 150 miles of our house. We pay a little more for some items, like locally made bread and dairy, but it’s actually been a good financial choice for us because it’s gotten us more excited about cooking at home.
Whether it’s a CSA, shopping at a farmer’s market, or finding local foods at your grocery store, buying local has significant financial and environmental impacts:
- Reduced CO2 emissions as local food travels an average of 100 miles, whereas produce typically travels an average of 1,500 miles.
- Supporting local food supports your local economy – good for your home value, schools, etc.
- Local produce is seasonal, and that can cost less than out-of-season foods.
There are some locally sourced foods that do cost more, especially if they’re organic, but it’s okay to only buy what you can when you can. It’s important for us all to remember that small changes go a long way, which brings me to my next thought…
4. Remember, small acts are just as important
One of the things that I’ve recently seen on social media are people doing something called sustainability shaming. This is when you’re called out for not doing enough for the environment.
An example is someone who’s reducing the amount of meat they eat, then being shamed for not reducing the amount of plastic they use. Attacks like this do more harm than good.
When you add up lots of small changes, you get something big.
The same goes with your money – and it’s why spare change investing apps are popping up left and right.
What I’m getting at here is that there are little things you can do that will help both your finances and environment:
- Do you live in a place that you can bike to run your errands? You’re saving on the cost of fuel gas and emissions.
- Bring your own cup when getting coffee. Your local coffee shop might give you a small discount and you’re reducing your waste.
- Turn the lights off in your house. Reducing the amount of energy it takes to power your house saves you money. You’ll probably get a little more life out of your lightbulbs too.
- Stop buying paper napkins and paper towels. By using cloth napkins and towels (scraps work well), you’ll save several dollars a week and reduce your waste, save some trees, reduce the impact of bleaching, etc.
No, none of these things alone will help you save up enough to retire or reverse climate change, but you’re still making a positive impact.
5. Remember why you’re doing this
When my kids were babies we used cloth diapers, and we caught a lot of side eyes and weird questions about what it’s like to clean poop out of diapers. At least one or two close family members just outright said it was ridiculous.
Those remarks are really hard to hear when you’re doing something that’s important to you, and that’s exactly why we did it.
No one wants to shake poop out of diapers because it’s fun.
Most of the stuff on this list is pretty mild in terms of how extreme you can get with your financial and environmental practices, think dumpster diving and using leftover shower water to flush the toilet.
But, even the tamest choices can be hard for others to understand. And when someone feels strongly enough about a cause that they’re willing to challenge the status quo, you often wind up with a little pushback.
Remind yourself why you’re no longer buying paper towels, why you’re walking to work, and buying used clothes – your doing something that will have a positive impact on your finances and the environment.
In the end, how easy is it to make good financial and environmental choices
We are living in a moment when it’s easier than ever to make positives choices.
There is a huge push to rectify what’s happening with our environment, and we’re also living in a time when household debt has hit all time highs.
That means more and more people are actively making the kinds of choices I’m talking about in this article. I remember just a few years ago when you felt out of place for bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store, and now we have states that have banned plastic ones.
There are bloggers like Michelle who focus on frugal living and minimalism, and while they’re not outright environmental statements, many of the tips these articles contain will help both your money and the earth.
We’re in a time when there’s more innovation and competition among companies that can help you manage your money or provide environmentally friendly resources and products.
There is so much information out there, and now it’s your turn to start embracing and implementing these ideas and see the difference.
What are you doing to reduce, reuse, and save more money?
A Day in My Quarantined Life (with the addition of a newborn!)
Just for fun, one day last week, I again took pictures and shared in real-time on Instagram a peek into a pretty normal day in our lives. I say “normal”, but nothing is really normal right now due to COVID-19, our city’s current Safer at Home order.
But I wanted to document what this period of our lives was like — when we were home 24/7 all day, every day, as a whole family. This right after we brought Champ home from the NICU and were still really trying to figure out a groove with him.
I’ll be sharing another Day in My Quarantined Life post in a few weeks when we have two newborns! That should be really interesting! 🙂
Psst! If you missed my Day in My Life post from last week, you can check it out here.
We all take shifts with Champ at night. Kathrynne took the 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, I took the 1 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. shift and Jesse took the 5:45 a.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
7:00 a.m. — I got up and fed Champ while Jesse helped Silas get his school assignments/lessons together for the day. Kaitlynn worked on her school and we let Kathrynne sleep in since she was up late last night.
7:30 a.m. — Jesse, Kaitlynn, Silas, and I hung out in the living room while I held Champ. We talked and laughed over some memes.
8:00 a.m. — Kathrynne and Kaitlynn start their school for the day (some of their classes are online). Silas holds Champ while I get his bath stuff together.
8:30 a.m. — Jesse goes back to bed for a bit, the kids work on their school, I give Champ a bath.
The kids had Baked Oatmeal for breakfast. Right now, breakfast and lunch are pretty on your own around here.
9 a.m. — I swaddle Champ and put him down for a nap (and he stayed asleep — yay!!). I spot clean and start some laundry.
9:15 a.m. — I head downstairs to walk on the treadmill, read a few chapters from my current reads, and pray over my day.
9:45 a.m. — I sit down to read my Bible and eat breakfast. I get a phone call about some foster care stuff and end up being on the phone until 10:15 a.m.
10:15 a.m. — I feed Champ and talk to Jesse about some of the decisions we need to make based upon the phone call. I change Champ and have him do a 5-minute tummy time.
11:15 a.m. — Silas is on a Zoom call with his teacher. Kathrynne puts Champ to bed and I sit down to finish my breakfast and Bible time.
12:15 p.m. — I finally get in a shower and get dressed and ready for the day. Then it’s my daily bottle sterilizing and prepping time for the day (the NICU dietician taught me how to prep his formula in 24-hour batches).
1:15 p.m. — I feed Champ and give him his vitamins in part of his formula (he despises his vitamins, so this part of the feed is always a challenge!). I help Kathrynne practice feeding Champ for part of his feed (I’m training both Jesse and Kathrynne to do his feeds so they are confident in them before my birth/hospital stay.)
2:15 p.m. — Kaitlynn takes Champ. I decide on Ham & Bean Soup and Honey Cornbread for dinner. I do a quick soak of the beans while checking in with the kids on their schoolwork and helping them where they need help.
2:30 p.m. — Kaitlynn puts Champ to bed and I settle in with a snack, water, and my computer to work on chapter 8 of my upcoming book manuscript. This chapter is all about letting go and raising self-sufficient adults, not co-dependent kids.
3:45 p.m. — I take a break from blog work to boil the beans, now that they are soaked. And then I work on getting my Hot Deals enewsletter sent out.
4:00 p.m. — I feed Champ, finish my blog work for the day, the girls and I take turns holding Champ (Jesse had gone out to run an essential errand and Silas was playing Xbox.)
6:00 p.m. — Jesse and I finish making dinner together and we eat a quick dinner.
7:00 p.m. — I head downstairs for a Zoom call with my Discipleship Group. I feed Champ during our meeting.
8:45 p.m. — My meeting is done and I come upstairs and we all work together to do our evening chores/get the house clean/picked up. (We’ve found that if we get the house “company ready” 1-2 times per day, it never gets too out of hand.)
9:45 p.m. — I catch up on IG stories/comments while feeding Champ.
10:00 p.m. — I feed Champ while chatting with Kathrynne about a speech she’s working on.
10:30 p.m. — Kathrynne and Jesse take over with Champ and I head to bed.
Coronavirus Bill Expands Sick Leave, FMLA. Here’s How to Claim It
One of the most important things we can all do to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the government tells us, is stay home, especially if we’re sick.
Employers have probably been telling you the same about any illness for years. But many workplaces haven’t backed up that advice with the one thing that would make it easy to stay home when you’re sick: paid time off from work.
The coronavirus pandemic has made this conundrum glaring, and the U.S. government has stepped in to address it while we face this crisis.
Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), one prong of the federal government’s response to COVID-19, went into effect on April 1, expanding access to paid sick leave and paid family medical leave (FMLA) for U.S. workers through Dec. 31, 2020.
The legislation provides tax credits and requirements for employers to provide paid leave to workers affected by COVID-19. It has some exceptions, but in general, if you’re unable to work for coronavirus-related reasons this year, you are likely guaranteed some paid time off.
How to Qualify for Paid Leave Related to the Coronavirus
Whether you’re entitled to paid sick leave or expanded FMLA — and how much — under the new rules depends on who you work for and why you’re unable to work.
Which Companies Will Provide Paid Leave?
The new law requires private-sector employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave to eligible workers. All workers are entitled to paid sick leave; to be eligible for expanded FMLA, you have to have worked for the company for at least 30 days.
Private businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying for leave related to child care if they can prove it would put them out of business, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This should be tough to prove, though, because the IRS is providing a dollar-for-dollar refund in the form of a quarterly tax credit, and letting businesses apply to receive the credit in advance, to cover the cost of leave.
Health care and emergency organizations can exclude employees from FMLA expansion due to the crisis response.
Public-sector employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, regardless of number of employees, are subject to the new requirements. Most federal employees are already covered by the existing Family Medical Leave Act, so they aren’t covered by expanded FMLA under the new law — but are covered for paid sick leave.
Read what the IRS says about how self-employed workers can access the new leave benefits.
If you’re self-employed, including freelancers and gig workers, you can claim a tax credit for the same benefits. To benefit from the credit before you file your 2020 tax return next year, subtract the credit from your estimated quarterly income tax payments this year.
What Qualifies as Coronavirus-Related Leave?
The reasons to qualify for paid leave under the new law are pretty broad. You have to be unable to work — including remote work — because of COVID-19, which includes:
- Quarantine and isolation orders: You’re subject to an order from your federal, state or local government requiring or urging you to stay home or self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This could apply if your state is under a stay-at-home order, your place of work isn’t deemed essential and you can’t work from home; or if you travel into a state or city that requires a 14-day quarantine and can’t work while quarantined, for example.
- Health care advisory: A health care provider has advised you to self-quarantine due to COVID-19.
- COVID-19 symptoms: You’re experiencing symptoms, which the CDC lists as fever, cough, shortness of breath or all three, and seeking a medical diagnosis.
- Caring for someone: You’re caring for someone who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order from the government or advisory from a health care provider.
- Your kids are out of school or daycare: You’re caring for your children whose school or childcare is closed or unavailable. This doesn’t apply if you’re caring for anyone else’s children.
- Similar conditions: You’re experiencing what the U.S. Department of Labor calls “any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
Having no work available from your employer for an eligible reason counts as being unable to work.
Here’s What You’re Entitled to Under FFCRA
If you’re eligible for expanded paid leave, you can receive up to 12 weeks’ paid leave total. The amount of pay depends on what you earn when you’re working and the reason you take leave.
2 Weeks’ Paid Sick Leave
For paid sick leave, you can get two weeks — 80 hours for full-time employees or your average hours for part-timers — at these rates:
- 100% pay, up to $511 daily, if you’re out for quarantine, isolation or COVID-19 symptoms.
- Two-thirds pay, up to $200 daily, if you’re out to care for a child or someone who is quarantined or experiencing symptoms.
10 Weeks’ Paid Family Medical Leave
If you’re caring for your kids who are out of school or child care because of the coronavirus crisis, you can receive 10 additional weeks under expanded FMLA, paid at two-thirds your normal wages.
How to Claim Paid Sick Leave for Coronavirus
You won’t have to deal with a government office to claim paid sick leave.
Instead, your employer will handle the leave under normal payroll. If you haven’t gotten clear direction from someone at your company about how to request paid time off for coronavirus-related reasons, reach out to your manager or someone in HR for details.
Be prepared for some disorganization, though, as companies work to understand the requirements and quickly incorporate new benefits into their systems.
If you experience delays or outright refusal of benefits you’re entitled to, contact your local DOL Wage and Hour Division, the agency responsible for enforcing the new requirements. Someone there should be able to offer guidance on your entitlements and a course of action.
2/22/20 @ 7:04 PM
3/17/20 @ 11:40 AM
4/5/20 @ 10:37 PM
4/3/20 @ 1:58 PM
What If Your Employer Is Exempt?
The 500-employee cap on the paid leave requirement was a compromise among legislators when the House of Representatives was drafting the bill, CNN reported at the time.
The good news is 89% of employees who work for an exempt employer already have access to some paid sick leave, according to CNN. The bad news is 6.7 million workers make up the 11% who did not.
Companies Offering Coronavirus Paid Leave
To narrow the gap, some large companies have created or amended sick leave policies to grant paid leave to hundreds of thousands more hourly workers. They include Amazon, Apple, Bloomin’ Brands (Outback Steakhouse), Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden), McDonald’s, Starbucks, Target, and Walmart and Sam’s Club.
New York state enacted its own legislation last month requiring all employers in the state to provide paid sick leave of five or 14 days, depending on the size and revenue of the employer.
Aside from special coronavirus-related provisions, 12 states and Washington, D.C., require employers to offer paid sick leave. None of these states exempts large companies from the requirement, so you could be eligible at least for the amount of paid leave your state mandates.
California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington provide for paid family medical leave, and Washington, D.C., enacted a measure a couple years ago set to take effect on July 1.
If You Can’t Get Paid Sick Leave
If you’re not eligible for paid time off and are unable to work, consider filing for unemployment benefits. Under recent legislation, you might be eligible if you quit your job for coronavirus-related reasons, including contracting the virus or caring for someone who is sick.
Under the regular Family Medical Leave Act, your job should be secure if you have to take time off to care for a family member or your own health condition, even though you aren’t paid while out from work. FMLA requires private employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave.
A Modest Needs Self-Sufficiency grant might be available to help you cover living expenses if you’re tight on cash. To get groceries, you can find a local food bank through Feeding America’s nationwide network.
If you’re well and have the time, you could always try to make some money online while you’re home on sick leave.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
My Unconventional Best Work-From-Home Gear Guide (What’s Yours?)
I’m quite familiar with working from home in my tiny 78 sq. ft. “office”, but after looking at some online WFH gear guides recently, it’s all about standing desks, latest laptop models, and USB hubs. Eh? My desk is a basic folding table and my laptop is a 2015 Macbook Pro (with real scissor keyboard and real moving trackpad) that recently underwent DIY battery replacement surgery (way too complicated, Apple!).
My favorite WFH gear is different. Maybe yours is too? These are real things that I bought with my own money and I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again.
Quiet, Please! – 3M PELTOR X5A Over-the-Head Ear Muffs
I wear these every day to help me focus. They have the highest noise reduction rating (31 dB) available on the market. You even have to certify that you are using them for “professional/commercial use” (which I am while working for money, as far as I am concerned). At ~$30, they are also about $10 more expensive than other similar models, but I think the extra $10 is well spent to know you have the quietest experience possible. If you have kids running around the house, you need all the help you can get. They are “over ear”, which means they don’t put pressure on your ears and I can wear them for a relatively long time without discomfort. (I try to take regular breaks anyway.)
Budget Noise-canceling Headphones – Mpow H5 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
After a certain member of the house (ahem) stole my trusty old pair of wired Bose QC25 headphones, I decided to try out a budget pair of $50 bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. These over-hear headphones worked out quite well and I really don’t miss the old Bose ones. I’d say they are 80% as good while under 20% the price of new Bose QC35 headphones.
Note: I do own a pair of regular Airpods, which I got as a nice gift. I do like them and use them for phone calls around the house and outside, but I use the Mpow headphones while at my desk listening to music or editing things.
Dependable Printer – Brother Monochrome Laser Printer
This thing is the workhorse of my home office, and yet also the oldest electronic item here at over 10 years old. Which is rather crazy, given that it has moving parts and daily to scan PDFs, make copies, and of course print. These Brother black-and-white laser printers are like the Toyota Corollas of the printer world – cheap yet reliable. The cost per page can be very low thanks to generic toner cartridges (that link is for two of them) if you don’t mind a slight decrease in quality.
Dry Erase Whiteboard – Magnetic Dry Erase Whiteboard
Another inexpensive but important addition for a variety of reasons. Sometimes something physical is just better than the digital alternative. This one is lightweight and thus easy to remove from the wall and move it around. You can also put up complex equations or obscure drawings and put it behind you during those Zoom and Webex meetings and impress/confuse/scare your colleagues. I like these BIC markers as they are higher quality and have finer points.
Looking around my desk, other random things that I probably like more than I should are my TI-85 calculator, classroom-grade pencil sharpener, and an ancient Swingline stapler (sadly not the red 747). The only thing that I have been thinking about upgrading is my office chair. Any suggestions?
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