green living

How to Save $$$ *and* the World – Sustainable Living on a Budget

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Reduce Waste, Save Money
Reduce Waste, Save Money. Image by Stas svetlakov @

This is a story of how small changes can compound into big savings – both for your hip pocket and for the environment.

And today, maths is telling the story.

You know how the power of compounding can increase our financial investments.

“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” Albert Einstein (allegedly)

But the power of compounding goes beyond finances.

It can feel like the little things you do to help the environment don’t make any difference. What’s the point when your actions are but a drop in a vast ocean of apathy?

It’s important to remember that our actions inspire others.

Good ideas are contagious.

There are currently 7.6 billion people on the planet.

Seven billion small gestures add up to huge and radical change. 

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4 Small Changes…4 Big Impacts

There are dozens of ways you could live more sustainably, without spending a lot of money.

You can put up curtains to reduce your heating and cooling costs. Or you could instal draft guards.

You could put in a low-flow showerhead, switch to LED lighting, ditch the disposables in the kitchen and invest in cloth nappies for your baby.

In today’s article, I’m sharing five specific examples of how a small investment can save you money and reduce your environmental impact.

Example 1: Reusable Water bottle

Initial Cost = $30. Potential Savings = $510 a year.

One million bottles are purchased around the world…every minute!

And that’s expected to increase by 20% by 2021.

Let’s look how this compounds:

One million bottles per minute equals 1,440,000,000 per day. Or 525,600,000,000 per year.

(That’s 525.6 billion or approximately half a trillion.)

Just this year.

Thrown on top of the ones already in landfill from last year. And the year before.

Plastic compounded.

Not only is that an EPIC TONNE of plastic that ends up in the landfill and the ocean (only 7% gets recycled into new bottles), there’s the environmental and social cost of removing, bottling and shipping that water all around the world.

The average person living in the US used 167 bottles last year – it’s probably similar here in  Australia. The average bottle of water costs around $3 here. That adds up to an average cost of $510 per year.

Compare that with tap water, which will cost you a few cents.

I’ve had my water bottle for 10 years. There’s a dent in the side where it fell off the roof of the car on the way to the hospital to give birth to my daughter. It’s not a flaw; it’s a memory. And the dent makes it easier to hold – it’s accidentally ergonomic.

You can’t make memories with something that gets thrown out in minutes.

If I were an ‘average’ consumer, it would have saved 1,670 bottles so far, and $5,100.

That’s just one person.

And there’s 7.6 billion of us.

Imagine the impact if each of us invested in a reusable water bottle, and as a collective, we removed 525.6 billion water bottles per year from circulation.

reusable water bottle savings

Further Reading: How to Make Tap Water Taste as Good as Bottled

Example 2: Clothes Airer

Initial Cost = $10 – $30. Potential Savings = $140 a year.

Clothes dryers are one of the most energy-sucking appliances in the home.

By not using a clothes dryer – at least most of the time – then you can save a packet in energy costs and greenhouse emissions.

But…what if you don’t have a clothesline or the weather is unconducive to clothes drying?

That’s when a clothes airer can save the day.

A clothes airer will save you money

(Or you can just string up line in the garage or under a patio).

How much can you save by switching from a dryer to a clothes airer?

You can use this handy calculator from the South Australian Government to calculate the running costs of your dryer:

Cost of running a dryer

By their calculations, a dryer adds up to $244.60 in energy costs a year.

Personally, I only wash 4-5 times a week for our family of 4, so if we used a dryer, our savings would be closer to $140 a year, which is still not bad for a $13 investment.

Further Reading: How to get your washing dry if you don’t have a dryer.

Example 3: Tap Aerator

Initial Cost = $10. Potential Savings = $42 per year.

A tap aerator is a cheap accessory that fits onto the end of a regular spout and restricts the flow of water – saving you water without reducing water pressure.

tap aerator to save money
This is just one example. You have to get a ‘male’ or ‘female’ connection, depending on your tap.

They are appropriate for the kitchen and bathroom taps, which are often used for small tasks like hand washing.

If you already have a newer-style low-flow tap, you don’t need to install one of these, but if you have an older style tap, an aerator can reduce water flow from an average of 15 litres per minute to around 6 – 8 litres per minute.

Here’s how I calculated the potential water savings:

save water with a tap aerator

(I assumed the kitchen and basin tap would be used for 5 minutes a day – this is pretty close to estimates given here.)

Example 4. Menstrual Cup

Initial Cost = $45. Potential Saving = $120 per year.

According to this report, the average Australian woman spends between $120 and $200 a year on disposable menstrual products. 

Over 50% of the world’s population menstruate, and the average woman uses approximately 11,000 tampons or pads in a lifetime [source].

Of course, not all women have access to disposable products, but in the US, 20 billion products end up in landfill every year.

While that adds up to a “colossal waste burden”, no one wants to go back to the stone age and use rags!

Women deserve hygienic and convenient alternatives.

The menstrual cup or menstrual knickers are just two modern alternatives that are reusable while being both convenient and hygienic.

They save you money every year and reduce the amount of waste produced.

You can read more about the benefits of switching to a menstrual cup and how to use one here and here.

Living more sustainably doesn’t have to cost the earth (pardon the pun). You don’t have to drive a Prius, get solar power or make other grand gestures (although if you can afford to, all the better).

Small changes add up. And if we all focus on making small, consistent changes to our everyday habits, then epic, radical change is inevitable.


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  1. Hi Melissa, me again! All your posts resonate so much with me. This one particularly, as I have reusable water bottles, a huge hills hoist coupled with a clothes dryer for rainy days and taps fitted with aerators. The only thing I haven’t experienced if the menstrual cup (I’m in pre menopause and don’t think it’s worth it any more), but my niece tells me how fantastic it is. I’m going to experiment with all that again soon as my daughter is a pre teen. Question: have you had good reviews about the menstrual underwear? If it works well, I think it’s going to be a hit in my family!
    At this point in my life and greening journey, I find very interesting the fact that saving money often go hand in hand with doing our bit for the environment. There is SO MUCH that one can do for the environment without much effort, and save a lot of money at the same time. My experience tells me that one does not have to implement drastic changes (it would not work on the long term, too difficult). But trying and experimenting with one small change at a time, making it a habit, and add something else when the 1st change has become an evidence is the best way to steadily progress on the long term.

    1. Hi Corinne,

      I’m so sorry, your comment slipped through the crack and I missed it. I so agree with what you said about small changes – overwhelm is counter-productive. The hare and the tortoise approach :). I have only heard good things about the menstrual underwear but I haven’t tried them myself (yet). Too many choices and so I ended up not getting anything :).

  2. Hi Melissa,

    if only we could get your compelling maths into the mainstream! It really is a no-brainer that a few small changes can benefit the environment and our bank balances enormously. If people added up the cost of the paper towels garbage bags and razors they use in a year I think they would be inspired to change.

    Early in my journey to living more simply and frugally I started multiplying any impulse buy I want to make by 52. for example, I would be out shopping with my small children and they would be hungry. Cost of 2 wholewheat bread rolls $1.20. Multiply that by 52 for the cost if I made it a weekly habit – $62.40. Not a lot, but a lot on a tight budget. And if you do the same for magazines, a coffee out etc… it really adds up.



    1. Hi Madeline,

      That’s such a good idea to multiply small impulse buys by 52. A good way to measure the opportunity cost of small expenses. Thanks for the great tip!


  3. Hi Melissa,

    Great tips. There are so many things we can do around the house to increase out impact on sustainability as well as saving money to help the family budget. Cloths Dryers use so much energy and electricity that having a couple of cloths airers does just as good of a job if you are in no rush.

    One of the ways I save around my home is washing my car at home instead of taking it to the car wash. Using the water from the rain-water tank. Its so much cheaper and is just as quick.


  4. I don’t own a clothes dryer and use an airer and when it is wet put the fan on in the room or a standing fan in the laundry and this works well.

    I’m so glad that Qld is going single use plastic bag free – a small step in the right direction. I use cooler bags for all my grocery shopping and rollup bags in my handbag for other shopping. Kept there ready for instant use. Also have small drawstring bags for all vegie and fruit shopping – they are light weight so weigh almost nothing – also kept in a small pouch in my handbag and extra ones in the cooler bags. It is a mindset that one chooses to go plastic free – not easy to begin with but gets easier the more you do it.

    1. Hi Carol,

      That’s great advice about the bags, thanks. I use reusable bags, but my husband still prefers plastic, so we’re “moving towards” non-plastic :D. But it’s definitely a great thing we’re going bag free. In May, I think? Not sure. I think for most, the adjustment will be what to put the garbage in.

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