Practicing Financial Sustainability: Nine Ways to Be Cheap

Being cheap is one way to practice financial sustainability. “Cheap” used to be a loaded word for me. But I’ve learned it can be positive too, in the sense of “worth more than its cost,” and I’ve integrated that understanding into my life. Here are nine of my favorite ways to be cheap in a healthy way:

A salad--flowers and all--fresh from my garden. healthy and practically free. A salad–flowers and all–fresh from my garden. healthy and practically free.

  • Free your diet of fast food and prepared foods. It’s not hard to prepare food yourself, and you’ll save money, generate less trash, and be kinder to your body. Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are more filling and more healthy. You’ll eat less and love your body more. Start gradually: Prepare meals one day a week. Make extra so you have enough for another meal or two.
  • Make up your own “prepared” mixes. For example: Hot chocolate is my daily substitute for the caffeine I can’t drink. Instead of buying prepared cocoa mix (too much sugar and lots of artificial ingredients), I mix bulk organic ground cocoa with just the amount of sugar I want, and then stir it into hot milk. The mix costs about a third of what the prepared stuff does and it tastes better too.
    cocoa heart Hot chocolate with a heart

  • Give your credit card a rest. (Debit cards too!) Pay by check or cash wherever possible. It’s too easy to whip out a piece of plastic and pay without noticing how much money you’re spending. Counting out dollar bills or writing the amount on the check makes spending more mindful.
  • Simplify cleaning products. Wash windows with a mix of ordinary white vinegar and warm water (1/4 cup vinegar to one gallon of water). Use a paste of baking soda and water for scrubbing tile and showers. Instead of fancy stain-treating solutions for clothes, use a dollop of dish soap with warm water and let it sit before laundering. (The earth will thank you too.)
    Simple dish soap, diluted or straight, replaces many cleaning products. Simple dish soap, diluted or straight, replaces many cleaning products.

  • Wash clothes in cold water. They last longer, fade less, and you’ll save money on heating the water. For stains, follow the tip in cleaning products. For diapers or other laundry items with germs, pre-soak in a bucket with a dilute solution of germ-killing bleach first, then wash in cold water.
  • Turn the thermostat down at night. It’s actually healthier to sleep in a cool room than a warm one. In summer, use ceiling fans to stir the air and save on air-conditioning.
    Ceiling fans are cheap to run and useful to distribute heat in winter too (and they look cool!) Ceiling fans are cheap to run and useful to distribute heat in winter too (and they look cool!)

  • Don’t buy more stuff than you need. Stuff costs money (even on sale in bulk), takes up space, and requires energy–yours and the planet’s. Buy only what you truly need. I live by a “no net accumulation rule”: for every thing I bring into the house, something of like kind has to go out, to recycling, gifted to someone else, as a donation, or to a local resale shop.
  • Take a 20-minute walk outside every day. Nature is the best medicine money can’t buy: Research shows exposure to natural settings reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, improves digestion and depression, boosts immune response and healing, and improves focus and learning ability, among other benefits.
  • Take delight in what you have. Practice finding joy and satisfaction in the ordinary, the moments of beauty the world offers every day: a rainbow, the way the sun slants through the trees, a birdsong, a smile, the smell of fresh bread or sun-dried laundry, the taste of a crisp apple…. Notice two things that make you happy every day. Write them down. Happiness is free–and truly good for you.
    A double rainbow on my daily walk--more than double benefits A double rainbow on my daily walk–more than double benefits