Green Living Money Savers

The Story of Stuff – Reducing our Consumer Footprint

Inspired by The Story of Stuff (above), this month, the Small Family Footprint is doing a “spend-fast.” This means that for the next 30 days, expenditures we need to live—like toilet paper, groceries and doctor appointments—are OK, but impulse and entertainment purchases—like potato chips, magazines, dress shoes and eating out are not.

We are doing this not because times are tough (though they really are), but because we noticed that we were spending money as a form of recreation, and it has started to feel hollow and a bit perverse.

Since when did spending money become an American pastime? Could this be how we, as a nation, got in over our heads economically and environmentally, and came to live way beyond our collective means?

My grandmother—who lived through the Great Depression and darned her own socks until the day she died—would be appalled at the wasteful and profligate manner in which we use our money today. It was because she and my grandfather lived in a culture of saving their money, that they were able to take two vacations a year their whole lives (one abroad and one in the U.S.), handle almost any financial emergency, retire comfortably, and die without any debt, leaving a nice inheritance to their children.

My grandparents lived very frugally, did their best to repair things before replacing them, and lived on only what they needed with few luxuries. They certainly didn’t try to fill their free time or their hearts with a trip to the mall or the purchase of the latest gizmo.

In fact, growing up, I remember we took nature walks, went camping, visited the zoo, played piano and sang, went to the library, made homemade cookies, watercolored, made leis out of flowers in the garden, and did other wholesome, fun things together that cost nothing and made family life feel meaningful and satisfying.

I want that sense of meaning for my family today, but we have allowed it to get swept up in our culture’s current dependence on rampant consumerism. I was further inspired by one of the most poignant videos I’ve seen lately: The Story of Stuff (above).

This short movie not only demonstrates how the U.S. got into the unsustainable financial and environmental debacle we are in, but also how we can turn it all around for the better. It also taught me that not only is our “spend-fast” a great experiment in reclaiming meaningful time with my family, but also really good for the environment and our wallets.

From preliminary estimates based on previous months, the Small Footprint Family could save about $200–300 dollars this month by not buying potato chips and other packaged convenience foods, take out dinner, coffee from the shop, movie rentals, unnecessary clothing or toys, and other miscellaneous impulse buys we don’t really need to be happy (but thought somehow we did).

This means that not only do we save money by reducing consumerism, but all the natural resources and fossil fuels that would have gone into getting, owning and eventually disposing of those items has been saved.

It’s been a little tricky at times, unlearning old habits. But, so far, the true reward has been in spending more quality time as a family listening to and making music, going on nature walks, finishing things on the to-do list, cooking and eating together, and generally enjoying each other more. And no amount of money can pay for that!

This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, check out the book by clicking below.

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.

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