After I wondered if frugality is in the air, I started to think about the differences between living a frugal lifestyle and being environmentally conscious. Depending on how you choose to live, your frugality could automatically be better for the environment, or it might not benefit the environment at all.

When a Frugal Lifestyle Equals Positive Environmental Impact
Some of the most basic concepts of frugal living are in fact also environmentally-friendly, even if you don’t consciously set out to accomplish that.

Using less energy. If you unplug electronics that aren’t in use, use energy-efficient lightbulbs, turn the heat down in the winter and the air-conditioner down in the summer in order to reduce your electricity bill, you’re also being a friend to the environment.

Driving less. If you drive less in order to conserve fuel, you’re also being a friend to the environment.

Buying second-hand goods or borrowing from friends. If you buy most of your goods second-hand or borrow short-term items from friends in order to save money, you’re also reducing the amount of new goods that need to be produced or purchased.

Preparing fresh, natural foods. If you avoid buying pre-packaged meals and instead start with whole ingredients that are closest to their natural state, you not only save money, but you reduce the impact on the environment from packaging food.

Buying less. Many frugal people tend to buy less stuff, because stuff costs money. If you avoid buying stuff you don’t need, you’re not only helping your wallet, but you’re reducing the total amount of goods that need to be produced. The environment thanks you.

When a Frugal Lifestyle Conflicts with the Environment
On the other hand, being frugal doesn’t always mean being a friend to the earth. If you’re focus is on saving the most money, you might actually do more harm than you realize. Here are some examples:

Buying cheap goods that wear out quickly. If you buy a $5 shirt that you have to throw out at the end of the year, you may save money initially, but you’re not helping the environment. It would be better to invest in a $20 shirt that will last five years.

Using coupons to buy cheap pre-packaged food. I’ve noticed that many coupons are for pre-packaged meals, boxed mixes, pre-made sauces, and other commercial foods. If your focus is on maximizing coupons to reduce your grocery bill, but that results in buying a lot of boxed or packaged food, you’re being frugal but not environmentally-friendly.

Driving an old car to avoid buying a new one. Certainly I recommend owning a car for at least ten years, but if you’re driving a twenty-five-year-old car that guzzles gas and just barely meets emissions standards, being frugal definitely isn’t helping the environment any.

Buying less energy-efficient appliances. While buying a used ten-year-old refrigerator is cheaper than buying a new one, older appliances or new cheaper appliances may not be as energy-efficient, and therefore less environmentally friendly.

Now that I’ve compared these two lists, it strikes me that the poor environmental choice might not be the more frugal choice in the long run. A cheap old car probably uses much more gas, which will cost you more over time. The same goes for energy-inefficient appliances. Buying new cheap goods ever year will ultimately cost more than buying high-quality, durable goods.

I definitely believe in using grocery coupons to save money, but I don’t believe in pre-packaged foods. Although they’re a frugal choice when purchased with coupons, convenience meals often have more fat, sugar, and sodium than their homemade counterparts, so ultimately the health cost could outweigh the grocery savings. I would rather eat healthy, nutritious food that costs a little more than eat junk to save a buck.

This may come down to the difference between being frugal and being cheap. For me, a truly frugal lifestyle doesn’t simply mean saving the most money. It should also give some thought to the environmental impact it has and each choice should be considered in that light.

What are your thoughts? Tell me in the comments.


11 Responses to “Is A Frugal Lifestyle Always Environmentally Friendly?”

  1. Christine on March 26th, 2008 6:03 am

    Great article! Thanks for sharing such a good view of how being frugal and environmental can work together and sometimes not. You pointed out a lot of things that I think don’t even cross most people’s minds. Thanks!

  2. » Festival of Frugality #119: The Quitting My Day Job to Blog Full Time Edition on Consumerism Commentary: A Personal Finance Blog on April 1st, 2008 2:18 am

    [...] from Sound Money Matters wonders: Is A Frugal Lifestyle Always Environmentally Friendly? No, but frugality isn’t about always going with the least expensive [...]

  3. valereee on April 1st, 2008 2:35 am

    There’s always a lot of discussion about whether buying sustainably-raised whole foods costs more than grocery-store factory-farm items. I think a crucial question is “Is it worth it to me to change the proportions of what I eat (more veggies, a bit less meat) in order to eat higher-quality foods on the same budget?” If you’re environmentally-minded (or health-minded), it’s something to consider.

  4. » Festival of Frugality #119 ~ Is He or Isn’t He? on the Festival of Frugality on April 1st, 2008 4:15 am

    [...] Sound Money Matters: Is A Frugal Lifestyle Always Environmentally Friendly? [...]

  5. Aryn on April 1st, 2008 7:58 am

    I definitely see your point, Valereee. I’ve noticed a shift in my diet over the last couple years to include a wider variety of veggies, fruits, nuts, and other whole foods. I have a grain-restricted diet, so I do still tend to eat meat every day, but I try to serve smaller portions of the meat. It will be interesting to see how the whole vs. factory arguments change over the next few years as consumers start to become more aware of where food comes from and its global impact.

  6. Listed in the Festival of Frugality #119 on April 2nd, 2008 6:50 am

    [...] like letting leftovers go bad is the same as throwing away money. And I definitely agree with Sound Money Matters that there is a difference between being frugal and being [...]

  7. Learn How To Haggle, Defeat Debt and Save By Delusion @ The Carnivals on April 2nd, 2008 9:20 am

    [...] Is A Frugal Lifestyle Always Environmentally Friendly? @ Sound Money Matters [...]

  8. Stephanie @ PoorerThanYou on April 3rd, 2008 12:54 pm

    I think the good outweighs the bad on this one – mainly because the more people get into a frugal lifestyle, the more chance it has of becoming part of our culture once again. And once it’s a part of our culture, people will develop a distaste for cheaply-made and over-packaged goods.

    Not to mention there’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap – buying junk that doesn’t last just to save a bit of money in the short term isn’t even being frugal.

    Good post, though – people need to think about the difference instead of cutting every cost ever in the name of “being frugal.”

  9. betsy - Money Changes Things on April 3rd, 2008 4:30 pm

    Great points. I can think of a few places were frugal does not equal environmentally responsible.
    Buying inexpensive goods manufactured in China, which pretty much describes what is available altogether – these goods are manufactured in a country with much lower environmental standards, so the pollution in their manufacturing process if “off-shored”, too. ANd they are shipped from a very long distance, which is environmentally negative.
    Likewise, cheap food that is shipped from a very long distance – might be the frugal option, but local food, especially organic, even if more expensive, is the better ecological value.

  10. Alissa on April 13th, 2008 3:26 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with this post! And with all of the comments. We have been slowly changing our lives in order to be kinder to our planet, and while most of what we are doing is saving us money (reduced power consumption, etc.), many things cost more. Like buying organic food, and personal care products. However, by making these choices I know I am investing in the health of my family, and in the future of our planet. So for me, it’s an easy choice.

    Dollar stores seem to be all the rage here in Canada – everything you could imagine for a buck! But since I have realized that most of the stuff is crap, and is manufactured in China, likely in less than ideal working conditions, and not likely in an environmentally-conscious manner, I choose not to shop at those stores. I would much, much rather buy locally sourced, locally produced goods and pay more for them. With our current global marketplace, it seems we have lost touch with where our goods come from, and for the sake of saving a buck, we turn a blind eye to it.

  11. joel on October 25th, 2008 1:13 am

    Hi there,

    Money, Time and our Natural Environment are limited resources. I’ve made a 3 minute clip about how you can make small changes around the home that could make a world of different to our planet and your back pocket. Please watch it.

    I would like to make some more videos about choosing which car to buy (thinking about the total lifecycle including cost of production, running and end of life), mulching, more efficient water use and… well, loads of thoughts on the topic.

    For now, it’s just these simple steps:

    thanks for watching.

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