What's crazy about the concept of alternative living as a whole is that living sustainably should be affordable. It should be the norm rather than a more expensive alternative. It shouldn't be an unaffordable luxury that's only accessible by the minority who are seen to be able to afford it. However, it is entirely possible to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, regardless of your budget. It just takes some thinking.
One of the reasons I decided to live a more sustainable lifestyle was to save money. I knew that to reduce my impact, and I would need to cut back on the things I consumed and therefore buy less. After doing this for over 2 years, I can tell you that I have spent less money, I've even saved. I use what I have, which means I don't need to buy so much and generate less waste. My food shops are smaller now, I also don't buy new clothes, and I try to DIY or upcycle anything else I need.
I don't know about you, but I don't believe in the myth that living a sustainable lifestyle is expensive. I think you can make it as budget-friendly or expensive as you like (within reason). I understand the need to shop for a big family can be pricier as you need to buy in bulk, but the idea is that you make up the cost elsewhere, perhaps by shopping vegetarian. It's all a balancing act, but hopefully, this post can provide you with some clarity.
From my experience, living less specifically is the best way to save money whilst also being sustainable. Living a sustainably minimal lifestyle is the easiest way to keep costs down while helping the environment. Sustainability and Minimalism have become growing trends over the past few years. Sustainability is no longer just a measurement of your energy consumption, and Minimalism is now a lifestyle adopted by people from all walks of life. But what do they mean, and how do they relate to one another?
How do Minimalism and Sustainability work together?
Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people focus on what adds value to their lives. By reducing the number of belongings you have, you have more time and energy for the essential aspects of life, like health and relationships. Not one lifestyle looks the same as another as it will always be interpreted and embraced differently, but each path should lead to the same place where you have more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.
Sustainability is a lifestyle that aims to have all your needs met whilst living in harmony with the environment without compromising the ability for future generations to live in peace. Some adopt the idea that you should return what you take from the earth, what we call 'zero waste'. Still, there are varying levels of Sustainability that people don't necessarily think about.
Minimalism and Sustainability work together in several ways; they share common resolutions to differing issues. Minimalism encourages you to reduce your clutter by minimising the number of goods you consume. Sustainability encourages you to reduce your consumption in an effort to limit your impact on the earth. Both Minimalism and Sustainability focus on reducing your consumption for the greater good.
Adopting Minimalism on your sustainability journey can significantly help you to reduce the cost of living in this way. On average, we spend 24% of our weekly budgets on filling our homes, so think about how much we could save just by embracing a more minimalist lifestyle and buying less. If we were to change our mindset to focus on not buying the unnecessary, we could save up to 13% of this budget alone.
Can I be sustainable without being minimalist?
Yes, of course, but it may cost you more than you think. You can swap out almost all your belongings for sustainable alternatives. But many of these have a higher price tag due to the sustainable materials that go into making them. They tend to be more expensive to grow, process and manufacture. For example, organic cotton is very labour intensive. It takes a long time and more money to cultivate. In contrast, growing non-organic cotton usually results in poorly paid workers and damaging effects to ecosystems because there tends to be little investment.
If you're looking to swap out everything in your home for sustainable alternatives, then now may not be the time to do it. While the desire for eco-friendly options is growing, demand is still relatively low compared to mainstream products. This means that whilst these products continue to be bought by the tonne, it's not the same story for small businesses who are still fighting to have their moment causing their prices to be higher in comparison.
Why do sustainable swaps seem so expensive?
It's crucial to recognise that a big part of living a more sustainable lifestyle is to reduce our consumption, but the modern-day reality is that we need products. You need something to store food, hold your money when you're out and about, clothes to keep warm and bags to carry things in. Being sustainable or eco-friendly doesn't mean living primitively or limiting yourself to things; the key is being conscious of what you consume.
On the one hand, there is some truth to this. At a very general level, for example, comparing J Cloths to compostable sponges, it's fair to say that the sustainable option is more expensive when bought like-for-like. On the other hand, you need to understand this in contexts, such as the material chosen and the production process involved to make the product.
These products also may seem more expensive because they last longer. A reusable water bottle can cost 10x more than a plastic bottle from the grab and go section in a store, but the reusable alternative is more likely to last 10x longer with everyday use. You can almost guarantee that investing in a reusable, sustainable swap like this will save money in the long run.
Additionally, sustainable swaps can seem more expensive because of the smaller demand. Fewer people are living this 'alternative' lifestyle calling for less need for these items. This is true for now. However, increasing demand will inevitably bring the price of these items down as it'll force manufacturers to find more accessible and cheaper ways to produce their products. As well as this, the more you buy, the more you send out the signals of change. As a result, less-sustainable businesses start to realise that they need to do better to appease their customers, and as this kind of demand rises, the cost of sustainable products should decrease.
How can I afford to live sustainably?
If you don't have the budget, you may think about what changes you can afford to implement? The good news is that there are loads of low-cost swaps that you can make to live more sustainably. Here are some ideas to help you get to where you want to be:
1. Use what you have
Part of living sustainably is to use what you've got for as long as possible and only then replace things with an eco-friendly alternative. Deciding to live a more sustainable lifestyle is the first step, but then throwing out all your plastic Tupperware and old jars, or makeup and skincare, does the opposite to what you're trying to achieve to help the planet.
2. Choose the right products
Now, this step can be a minefield! Products say they're one thing but are another, and some even outright lie to us. But we're not doomed. There are sustainable swaps that are very affordable. Try a compostable dish brush, for example, or reusable straw. These last for as long as you can make them last and will make a big difference.
3. Shop second-hand
Not only will you be reducing the number of clothes thrown in the landfill, but you'll also be saving yourself a pretty penny! By taking your time, choosing carefully and only purchasing pieces you love, you'll see how much of a hack second-hand shopping is. Having a sustainable wardrobe isn't about expensive, floaty, handmade items. It's about wearing what you have and being conscious of what you buy new.
4. Do your best
This one is key. You will always make the best choices when you're your best self. Living a sustainable lifestyle may not be expensive, but it can be tiring and taking that extra step can wear you out over time. Make sure you take time for yourself and allow yourself to recharge. This way, you'll have the energy to make choices that'll save you money in the long run.
5. Buy less
In line with the idea of living sustainably Minimalist, it's very easy to be sucked into buying more than you need and become a hyper consumer. Essentially, the best approach to Sustainability is to have less. Practice self-awareness, and ask yourself if you need another water bottle or coffee cup. Assessing what you no longer need and cutting back on the unsustainable will help keep the bills down and be eco-friendly.
So is a sustainable lifestyle expensive?
In a nutshell, it's up to you! A sustainable lifestyle can be expensive if you purchase pricey alternatives, but if you choose to be sustainable on a budget, you can do that too! It's the same as anything you buy, and there are more options than you think. There are tonnes of affordable and low-cost changes that you can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
I recently heard someone say they would love to be vegan but couldn't bear the thought of not eating cheese, so I asked them why they couldn't be vegan except for cheese, and they didn't know what to say. The moral of the story is that a sustainable lifestyle can be what you need it to be - there's no right or wrong. You don't have to dive in head first, you can take on what sustainable changes you can afford now and continue to make swaps over time.
It's important to remember that the more sustainable products you buy, the more you demand to change the consumer landscape. As these sustainable swaps get more popular, more options will arise, bringing down the overall cost of eco-friendly alternatives.
To truly live sustainably is to embrace a life of being more conscious and living more minimally. Consuming less is the best way to help the environment as you boycott polluters, make less waste and overall save money.
It's important to remember that making lifestyle changes will take time. Swapping out all your belongings in one go is not only not sustainable, but it will cost you more as you swap things you don't necessarily need and don't allow yourself the time to use up what you have. Being conscious of what you do and don't use daily will help you narrow down what's important.
Instead of jumping in head first, think about the 5 steps to living more sustainably. By slowing yourself down, you'll have time to make affordable decisions and find exactly what you're looking for at the price you need. We're often taught to be very narrow-minded and buy what we see in front of us, but a part of a sustainable home is holding out to find exactly what we need or upcycling something into what we require. This is all a part of the minimalist mindset, stripping yourself of unwanted items to have the energy to focus on what's important.
About Elizabeth Musty
Elizabeth, also known as Low Waste Libby is a sustainable writer and blogger in the UK. She has been writing about sustainability since the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020. After being put on furlough, Elizabeth was able to dedicate time to her passion of living low waste and sharing it with the community. Mental health awareness, self-sufficiency and upcycling are amongst Elizabeth’s other passions that feed into her writing. Her goal is to enable people to see that living sustainably is not as difficult as you think.