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.