If you haven’t yet jumped on the zero waste bandwagon, then I highly recommend it for anyone looking to save a little more money and make a positive environmental change at the same time.
I embraced a more zero waste lifestyle after reading Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home, in which she details how she cut her family’s waste down to practically nothing and how she’s saved money and made positive changes in her life and the impact her family has on daily trash accumulation.
Bea practices could be considered a bit extreme for some, way out of budget for others, and sometimes just a little too time consuming when you know there is an easier and quicker method available.
I’m not writing this article to convert anyone to embracing Bea’s way of life, but I do think her book is worth checking out and that some of her practices go a long way to helping you save money, which is what we’re all about here on Frugal For Less right?
Below I’ve identified 15 zero waste habits that can go a long way to boosting your savings account each month. Just adopting a few of these changes could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
1. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
The first and probably the easiest change to start making today is carrying your own water bottle with you at all times. Buying a bottle of water can get expensive, especially if you buy multiple bottles every day.
And let’s not even think about the tiny amounts of plastic you may be ingesting from those water bottles.
The cheapest I’ve seen a bottle of water is $.50 but most often you are likely spending a dollar or more for a single, 8oz bottle of water…and when you are told to drink half your bodyweight in water every day, that’s a lot of water you are going through.
Instead, you can spend a minimum of $12 (or even less if you shop around) for a stainless steel water bottle that you can have with you always and fill up when needed from a free water fountain or water dispenser in your office.
If you were someone who bought at least one bottle of water a day, five days a week at $1.50 per bottle in the vending machine, then you’ll have saved $7.50 in just a week. That’s over $300 saved in a year!
You’ll have more than covered the cost of your own water bottle and can use that extra cash to fund some fun activities down the road. Or you can invest in a second water bottle that you keep in your car for the days you forget the other one at home.
Bonus Savings: If you really want a cheap reusable water bottle, save your pasta sauce jars. After cleaning, you can store in your bag and use when you’re out and about.
2. Bring Your Own Coffee Mug…
Following the idea of the first tip, the same can be applied for your morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee. Bringing your own mug to your favorite coffee shop will shave a few cents off your purchase. It’s not much but every little penny counts for something.
I like to buy my coffee at Whole Foods because they only charge me a $1 to fill up my reusable mug (and the size doesn’t matter, so bring your big thermos), versus the regular $2.50 you pay for a throw away cup. This is a better deal than the $.10 I save at Starbucks.
3. Or Make Your Own Coffee
To save even more money with your daily coffee, it’s a lot cheaper to make it yourself at home then to buy a fresh cup of coffee at a cafe every day.
You can buy a pound of coffee for $10 or less (depending on the brand) and make several cups in a month from that, versus spending $2 or more for a plain cup of coffee from a shop.
To go the zero waste route, you can opt to shop for bulk coffee at your local store. Often the coffee is fresher than what’s on the shelves and cheaper too.
I like this coffee maker because it comes with a travel mug (to use on the days you simply must get your coffee from the local cafe) and a reusable filter, so you don’t have to waste money buying disposable ones.
4. Always Carry A Reusable Bag
This tip isn’t a huge money savings but I’m going to put it out there anyway. Some states do have a bag tax and charge you per plastic bag you use at the grocery store and at non grocery stores.
So to avoid this I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a reusable bag in my car at all times and bring several with me when I go to the grocery store. You can save $.05 – $.10 when you bring your own grocery bags. It’s not much, but I usually like to let them donate that small amount of change to a good, local cause.
It’s a fact of life that disposable items are often just easier and more convenient to use. These items are generally things like paper towels, napkins, paper plates, paper cups, tissues, coffee filters, sponges, and a whole list of other things.
Convenience is great, but you’d be surprised at how much more often this causes you to take out the trash or buy even more paper towels or napkins. There are several zero waste alternatives that will save you money and keep your trash receptacle from overflowing.
You can use old t-shirts as a replacement for your paper towels, or purchase something like this and just wash and reuse as needed. The same goes for napkins. T-shirts can also be used as great rags to dust with or even wash your car.
Mostly you’ll just have to get into the habit of skipping out on disposable items and see what you can do without. Chances are you won’t miss a lot of items.
Since I’ve made the switch I’ve saved money by not buying things like aluminum foil, plastic wrap (I use these beeswax wraps instead), napkins, paper towels, sponges (I have washable sponges) and even tissues when my family has a cold, as these hankies work perfectly when you need to blow your nose.
6. Shop Secondhand
One of the best zero waste habits I adopted in 2019 was to shop secondhand. I’ve been able to snag some really great, name brand items at a fraction of the cost and in amazing condition.
You will be amazed at what people will get rid of! Consignment shops are a goldmine of great clothing, shoes and bags.
Plus, shopping secondhand means less packaging waste being used versus mainstream stores, less clothing ending up in landfills, and just less strain on your wallet. Also, there are always sales going on.
I have a thrift store I shop at in the middle of the month because everything is half off. If you have young kids who seemingly grow out of their clothes faster than you can blink, I highly recommend buying used clothing. You’ll save so much money and they’ll look just as cool.
7. Cook At Home
Eating out is expensive. I’m not talking about a burger and fries from McDonald’s (though that adds up too if you do it daily), but real restaurants where you sit down and order a meal…or even calling in a meal for take out.
When I lived in San Francisco years ago, I was awestruck by how expensive eating out was. The food was fantastic, but my wallet just couldn’t handle it. At the time I wasn’t much of a cook, so I invested in a few cook books to help me make more meals at home.
Cook books are great for newbies working in the kitchen and you don’t even need to buy them. You can find several at your local library, which is what I do now when I’m interested in trying a new recipe.
Since then, cooking at home has become second nature. Plus, I loved how much money I am saving! I can make my own chicken cordon bleu or shrimp pad Thai for half the amount I was spending on a single serving at a restaurant.
And cooking more not only helped me save money at dinner time, but for lunches as well. Often I could make big batches of a meal and take that to work for lunch versus eating at a deli every day.
By opting to cook more, and I’m talking at least five meals a week to cover you for lunch and dinner, you can save anywhere from $200 to $300 a month!
8. Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
I’m sure you’re reading this tip and wondering what I’m talking about. But that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Don’t buy what you don’t need and you’ll have instant money savings.
So how does one determine what they don’t need? That will vary from person to person. For me I knew that I could stop spending money at the vending machine and grocery store for things like chips, candy bars and soda.
By cutting out those things I noticed I had a few extra bucks in my bank account each week and I felt healthier too. I made a conscious choice that those were the things I didn’t need.
Other things I cut out of my life included trips to the movies (it’ll come to Netflix eventually; $9 saved), cable TV (Netflix or Hulu work as a great alternative; $30 saved), getting my nails done (I can do them myself; $25 saved), and cutting my own hair (or have a friend do it for free; $40 saved).
To start making positive changes, sit down and make a list of all the things that you splurge on and how much they cost. And I consider a splurge anything you know you do or have, but don’t really need to have.
Then see if you can reasonably and happily do without them. You will quickly realize that you most likely can go without and trust me, you’ll love the extra money you will have saved in the long run (think more money for vacations!).
9. Repurpose Items At Home
This is a quick and easy money saving tip as you likely already have everything you need at home already. I like repurposing old items because it means I don’t have to go out and buy something new just to serve a particular purpose.
Here are some household items that can be reused for other things:
Instead of throwing out your old pillowcases, you can start using them at the grocery store as produce bags! This nifty tutorial will show you how to easily cut and sew a usable bag or you can just use the pillow case as is:
If you buy fresh bread from a bakery, you can also use your pillowcase as a bread bag. Your bread can stay fresh in a plain, cotton pillowcase for up to three days.
Or if you shop in the bulk section at your local store, you can use your pillowcase as a bag to store your goods…though in this case I recommend making smaller bags…unless you’re really loading up on something.
Old Pasta/Mason Jars:
I love reusing old pasta and mason jars for pretty much everything. I’ve stopped buying Tupperware because they pretty much serve as the same thing and are freezer safe too. I also use them to store my bulk items from the grocery store like rice, flour and beans.
They work as drinking glasses when I have large parties, as a quick reusable water bottle when on the go, and as a vase on the table when I cut fresh flours.
So the next time you buy pasta, make sure you save the jar instead of recycling it right away. If you want to get rid of that pasta smell on the lid, simply wash and set the lid out in the sun to dry. The sun’s rays will help bleach the lid and get rid of the tomato smell.
An old t-shirt can be used a lot of way. You can cut the fabric into squares and use as wipes or makeup remover cloths. Or cut and tie them like this and use as a grocery bag:
I had a friend that sewed a bunch of old t-shirts together to make a big blanket. While others use them as towels to dry their hair or even to dry their car after washing it to help prevent streaking.
10. Shop In The Bulk Section
A lot of the items we don’t buy in bulk are priced not only by the item and size, but also by the packaging required to store that item. Shopping from the bulk section will go a long way to save you money.
Not everything will be cheaper in bulk, so you’ll want to pay attention to the price per ounce for the item you are buying (versus the prepackaged item) and keep an eye out for sales.
The items I’ve found to be cheaper in bulk are things like rice, beans, granola, nuts and spices. Occasionally with sales and whatnot, the packaged items will be cheaper, but in general bulk is the way to go.
11. Shop Seasonally
I wish I had known this tip years ago as it’s really a game changer not only for your diet but also for your wallet. Grocery stores have tricked us into thinking that a lot of produce is just available year round when really they aren’t.
Certain fruits and vegetables are best during the summer and the same can be said for the fall and winter. Shopping seasonally ensures you are getting the freshest produce available and is usually priced accordingly.
When produce is in season, it is readily available and therefore priced cheaper (unless it’s something rare and special for the season). Imported produce will be a bit more expensive when it is acquired out of season.
I’ve found this site to be helpful because it breaks down the fruits and vegetables in season year round based on your region.
12. Shop Locally At A Farmer’s Market
Similar to shopping seasonally, shopping locally will also save you money. I like shopping locally at my Farmer’s Markets when they are available (Spring until Fall).
I find that not only is the produce fresher, but I can afford more organic options versus the standard grocery store. When I can’t shop at a Farmer’s Market, I try to look for local items at the grocery store, as again they tend to be a bit cheaper for organic items since they aren’t being shipped across state lines.
13. Ditch The Tampons
Sorry guys, don’t mean to exclude you with this tip but ladies, there are several alternatives on the market that will allow you to ditch disposable tampons for good.
Tampons can get expensive, especially when you need to purchase them every month or two, ranging anywhere from $4 – $8.
Instead, you can make a one time purchase for something like a Blossom Cup, Lena Cup, Pixie Cup or whatever the name of the item is (as they are all basically the same thing). These silicone cups function just like a tampon, except you can reuse them for several years.
Most of these cost anywhere from $12-$30, and since you only need one and it lasts years, that’s a big savings compared to tampons. You’re looking at nearly $100 saved every year.
14. Do It Yourself
If you’re a DIYer who is interested in going zero waste, there are several projects you can take on that will help you get off to a good start and not feel like you need to spend a bunch of money just to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.
Here are a few DIY zero waste projects I’ve tackled that were pretty hassle free and any beginner can handle:
One of the first projects I took on was creating a homemade rain barrel. While you can’t use your collected rain for drinking, it’s a great option for watering your garden, grass, and indoor plants. You can even bathe the dog with the water.
Herb Garden/Vegetable Garden:
I started growing my own herbs and vegetables when I was in college and it’s a huge money saver because seeds are cheap, but you do have to have patience to wait around for the fruits of your labor to grow.
For apartment dwellers, you can start small with growing herbs. I love this idea that reuses sodas cans. For homeowners with a back yard, you can branch out and grow vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, lettuce and more in a DIY garden bed. I tend to plant items that are usually pricey at the grocery store or food that I eat a lot of.
I never really bought cleansing wipes in the past, but love the idea of them. Making them yourself is super easy and cheap as you only need some washcloths, vinegar and an essential oil of choice.
I started making my own toothpaste months ago and haven’t looked back. Previously I’d spend around $4-$5 on Tom’s of Maine toothpaste and that’s just too expensive, especially as a family of two can go through a tube every other month.
Making toothpaste is so much cheaper and for about $15 I can make as much as I want for nearly two or three years (versus the $30 I spent annually on Toms).
Funny enough, those same ingredients above also work to make your own deodorant. It won’t be an antiperspirant that counteracts sweating, but it will help neutralize body odor.
Again, just mix the ingredients together (I like a 1:2 ratio for baking soda to coconut oil) and add an essential oil of choice for scent.
15. Grocery Shop Week By Week
My final tip is to grocery shop just once a week. I meal plan every Sunday and only go to the grocery store for what I need to accomplish that week’s worth of meals. And I refrain from popping into the store mid week to avoid picking up items I don’t need like chips or cookies.
Shopping weekly has helped save money because I’m not randomly grabbing items at the grocery store and only buying what I need (stick to your list people and bring coupons).
Since my meals are planned, I don’t have to worry about food going bad in the fridge (total waste of money) or buying excessive amounts of food. Plus, this ties into the cooking at home tip versus eating out all the time.
Try out meal planning and you’ll reap the benefits of saving money and eating better.
Going zero waste doesn’t have to be difficult and I find that the more changes I make, the more money I’m saving and the less trash I’m producing, which really is what zero waste is all about (the money saved is just an added perk).
If you have been wanting to make the switch, hopefully this list will help you get started toward making some positive changes. If you are already practicing some money saving, zero waste techniques, let me know in the comments below as I’m always looking for more changes I can make.
Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!