Yes, you can go green without going broke

Welcome to my post for Des Moines’ Frugal Blog Tour. I hope you can visit all the blogs on the tour this week and next.


Too often these days, living “greener” seems like it has to cost us extra “green.” However, this certainly doesn’t have to be true! When you think about it, the original Environmental Mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” could also be a Mantra for frugal living. It’s true! Living cheaply and living light on the planet go hand in hand. Read on to learn more!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Reducing your use of resources is the best way to cut back on expenses, as well as on waste. As you go through your day, ask yourself at every opportunity, “How can I reduce my use of this product?” For example, do you use hairspray as you get ready in the morning? Perhaps you could use less spray but still achieve the same effect. Or maybe you’re willing to try a new hairstyle that would not require styling products.

As another example, do you use the amount of laundry detergent recommended on the bottle? Manufacturers who create those recommendations have an ulterior motive – to keep you buying their products! Try cutting back to half of the recommended amount, and then keep cutting back little by little until you start to notice a difference in the cleanliness of your clothes.

Reducing your use of disposable products should be fairly straightforward. Disposable products have permeated our society. It seems like every time I turn around, I find another new disposable product. I mean, disposable toilet brushes? Disposable bathroom hand towels?? Who would ever have dreamed?

Almost everyone can stand to reduce the use of wasteful disposable products. Doing so not only gives the environment a boost, but it helps save money, as well. To start reducing your use of the disposable, think through all of the disposable products that you use in your life. Here is a partial list of disposable products I found on a recent trip to the local “mega” store to get you started.

-Paper napkins
-Paper plates, cups
-Plastic flatware
-Facial tissues
-Toilet paper
-Paper towels
-Single-use razor blades
-Disposable diapers
-Baby food jars
-Cleaning cloths of all sorts
-Shop towels
-Baby bibs
-Baby placemats
-Changing pads
-Menstrual products

Which of these disposable products do you use? Now consider – for each disposable product you use, can you use a re-usable product instead? And will substituting that re-usable product be lighter on the planet, and also save you money? Not all re-usable products pay off in the long run, but most do. Let’s look at a few of the items listed above in closer detail.

Paper napkins and paper towels. The alternative is, of course, cloth napkins and towels. Generally speaking, using cloth napkins and towels is very do-able, and will definitely save you money! And, though I don’t know of any studies proving it, it stands to reason that it’s lighter on the planet, even after factoring in the washing. Our family has been using cloth napkins and towels for a while now, and we really don’t miss the paper versions. (If you’re interested in cloth napkins, make sure you get ones made from cotton or linen – not poly or other man-made fabrics, which are not absorbent.)

Paper plates and cups, Plastic flatware. I don’t think I need to argue the point that using real plates, cups, and silverware is a better choice. And I will admit that the disposable versions have their place. (Like when you have visitors for lunch on your first day with a new baby!) But there are ways to use them more responsibly. For example, when I was growing up, we had large family gatherings at holidays, and my grandmother didn’t want to be running her dishwasher around the clock. So she purchased a package of disposable plastic cups and a big Sharpie, and had each person label their cup. This way, cups did not need to be washed as often, but they weren’t thrown out after every use, either. It was a nice compromise!

Facial Tissues. Somehow, in the past several decades, we’ve gone from handkerchiefs to Kleenix without much thought. Most people my age have never even used a handkerchief! However, there’s nothing better when you’re sick than using cloth on your runny nose. You don’t get that red, dry soreness that you get from the paper tissues. It’s sheer luxury! (If you’d like handkerchiefs, they can be found in most men’s departments, or you may buy them from Wallypop.)

Toilet Paper. Now this one will really stretch some people! But flushable toilet paper is NOT the only option… Many people, myself included, happily use cloth toilet “paper.” It’s actually much softer, it feels almost sinful. Depending on what type of cloth you use, it’s much easier to get all clean, and for those of you who prefer to wet your TP before wiping, well, fabric won’t get all soggy and fall apart like paper does!

Diapers. Do I really need to sell you on cloth diapers? There are so many articles scattered around the internet on why Cloth is a better choice, including several that I have written, that I’m not going to try to duplicate them here. Cloth diapers are more economical, they are better for the environment, and they’re much better for babies, too!

Baby Food Jars. To reduce use of throwaway jars, you can easily reduce your use of commercial baby food. Making baby food is so easy (and fast!) that there’s really no reason not to do it! Even the worst cook can make baby food. Steam some veggies or fruits until well cooked, then mash up! How easy can you get?? Commercial baby food does have its uses, though. When on a week-long trip with our oldest, we supplemented homemade food with store-bought little jars of sweet potato, blueberries, and other treats. Instead of just tossing those jars out, though, consider whether you or anyone else you know can use them. When my nephew was eating baby food, my sister in law saved a large number of her baby food jars for our family – we use them to store nails, screws, bolts, nuts, and other small items that we want to keep together. If you want to get really fancy, you can nail the lids to the underside of a shelf, then screw the jars on and off as you need to access the contents.

Cleaning Cloths. How did we become a society that can’t stomach the idea of spraying cleaner on a rag, then washing the rag when done? There are wood polishing cloths, glass cleaning cloths, bleach cloths, kitchen cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, car cleaning cloths, even disposable facial cleaning cloths. The obvious alternative here is to get a rag, get some cleaner, and go at it the old-fashioned way! Definitely cheaper, and actually better on the environment, too. Not only because you’re not throwing away the cloths, but because you will use less cleaning product in the process. Buy your cleaning products in bulk and use old towels or T-shirts as rags and the impact is even greater.

Baby Bibs. I’ve never been too sure of the reasons behind this product. You have enough room in the diaper bag for the disposable bib, but just not enough room to take it home? You just can’t stomach the idea of taking a dirty bib home and washing it? The obvious alternative here is fabric bibs, which are widely available.

So you see, finding acceptable substitutes for disposable products is often not difficult. Start with just one or two products, and move on from there.



This step so often gets overlooked in our enthusiasm about recycling, but reusing something is so much better for the environment – and the wallet – than recycling.

Reuse is actually my favorite part of living greener, because I’m a big fan of World War Two pop culture – and during WWII (as well as during the Depression), they had their own saying – Use it up, Wear it out, Make it new, or Go Without. What they couldn’t or didn’t use up or wear completely out (and I do mean completely), they would fix up, repair, or reinvent. I have several sewing books from the era, each with large sections devoted to remaking clothes or housewares using worn out clothing. A man’s suit becomes a woman’s suit or children’s clothing. Two worn dresses are made anew by combining the good parts of each to make one new dress, and the leftover parts made into children’s clothing.

So, with the pioneerish spirit of our grandmothers, here are some ideas to get you started Reusing your worn or broken items.

Wally's batman shirt

* Clothing. Clothing is the easiest item to reuse – at least for me, since I can sew! Plain T-shirts, T-shirts with with small stains, or T-shirts with smallish designs that you’d rather not see any more can be decorated and remade using the simple technique of raw-edge applique (ADD A LINK). Bonus: This technique requires very basic sewing skills, and the stitching doesn’t need to be perfect at all – it’s just “art-ier” if it’s all crooked! Most other clothing items can also be embellished – skirts, jackets, coats, pants, jeans. Pants and jeans can also be decorated with trim, which is especially useful for adding just a smidge of length when your daughter shoots up 3 inches overnight or for those pants that you love that are getting a bit worn around the hem. Clothing can also be cut up and sewn, tied, woven, or braided into quilts or rugs. I made a neat denim rug when I was in college by cutting up denim scraps that would otherwise have been thrown away. I braided them into a long, long rope, then coiled the rope into a circular rug that we used to wipe our shoes on before entering our dorm room.

My favorite use for old clothing is simply to cut out all the seams and then see what else I can make with the remaining pieces. Patchwork skirts are always easy, but most children’s clothing items can be made with parts of old adult clothing. An old skirt could yield a nice ring sling. Cotton clothing can be remade into diapers or mama pads. Once you start seeing old clothing (or towels, sheets, etc) as fabric instead of clothes, the possibilities are endless!

* Clothing again. Clothing that’s too worn (or ugly) to be reused can always be cut up and used for toilet wipes, rags, or washcloths. These items don’t have to be aesthetically pleasing.

* Interesting but clean garbage. Things like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, meat trays, cardboard boxes and inserts, cans, jugs, and just about any type of container can be used in craft projects for your children. We throw any broken or unwanted gadgets (broken remote, old calculator) into a box labeled “cool stuff” that our six year old uses for projects. Don’t have children? Contact your local church, preschool, or daycare. Most of these facilities will gladly take donations of craft supplies such as these! But don’t stop at children’s crafts. Egg cartons can be used to store small, fragile Christmas ornaments or as a palette for your next painting project. Aluminum cans can be used to store pencils. Baby food jars can be used to store nails and screws, or bobbins for your sewing machine, or hairpins.

* Paper. What do you use for jotting down quick notes? Taking phone messages? Writing grocery lists? How about using your junk mail? Most envelopes have plenty of space for notes or lists. Not to mention that many business letters are printed on one side only, leaving the entire back side empty! And what about those pages that you printed on your computer, but didn’t need? Or that your printer screwed up? If you keep animals, consider shredding unwanted paper and using it for bedding – this is what we use for our chickens.

Little Places for Little Boys: Cardboard Playhouse

* Cardboard boxes. What can’t these be used for, really? Besides the obvious – mailing out packages – these workhorses of the reusing world can be used to: make a playhouse, make a sled (my dad used to pull us around the yard in the winter on a giant, flattened box), protect your garage floor, store off-season clothes or anything else, or provide a giant easel for children to draw on. With a few cuts and some tape, they can be made into magazine holders or smaller boxes. I cut the sides from an old, large cardboard box, painted them to match my office, and stuck photos to them to make collages to decorate my walls. Another large cardboard box, with a few windows cut out, provides a nice play house. A third box provided me with a bulletin board on which I plan upcoming projects.

* What else goes in your garbage? Just a few miscellaneous examples from my own house: I use two old mugs to hold my pens and pencils in my office. An old desk drawer organizer from work (they were remodeling and throwing out – throwing out!! – all our old desk supplies like orgnizers, magazine files, photo frames, and the like) helps me organize my sewing cabinet. Some old shelving provided some of the wood we used to make built-in bookcases in our basement.

If you can’t reuse something yourself, take a minute before you throw it away to consider whether someone else could use it. Maybe someone in your family or your circle of friends could really use that old pan. Or perhaps you could freecycle some of your items or donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.



Though recycling is what most people think of first, it should actually be the third thing you consider, after reduce and reuse. If you can’t reduce your use of an item, and it can’t be reused when you’re finished with it, try to recycle it if you can. Our local area offers limited recycling pickup with the garbage pickup, but citizens can take other recyclables to area drop-offs. There’s nothing particularly money-saving about recycling, except remembering that it’s the LAST step, not the first!


“How do I convince that babywearing/clothdiapering/cosleeping/whatever is awesome?”

I get this question a LOT. A lot lot. Someone asked again on Tuesday at the evening Babywearing meeting. Here’s my secret. I don’t.

Here’s something to think about. The people in your life who continue to try to engage you in discussion about the choices you’re making do so because they continue to believe that you care what they think, and that they might be able to convince you. They continue to believe this because you continue to engage in conversation with them about it.

Stop talking about it. Problem solved.

“But, Sarah, I don’t bring it up! They do!”

Right, but do you answer? Stop. Don’t be rude, just don’t engage. “You know, that baby’s never going to learn to sleep on his own.” “Oh, we’re not worried about it. Hey, that reminds me, we’ve been hoping you’d share your recipe for corn salad. Do you happen to have that handy, and I can jot it down while I’m thinking of it?”

I’ve found that children are particularly good for these sudden subject changes. “What, are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “ha ha, maybe. <turn to child> Uh oh, I think you need a clean diaper!”

A recent one from my life. “You should coat a pacifier with honey to get her to take it.” “Hm. That’s something to think about. Oh, hey…(on to another subject).” And I did think about it. For like 2 seconds.

This is how I do it, personally. My family and friends stopped commenting when Wally was about a year old. I know they comment to themselves. That’s fine. They don’t comment to me. They know it is pointless.

Some people (like my husband) take a different approach. It works for him, but I don’t think everyone can pull this off. Randy’s snotty. “What are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “Well, we hope he goes to Drake, so he can pop over between classes for a snack.”

“But, Sarah, isn’t it better to try to educate those around me?”

Of course. And certainly give it a try, at first. I don’t suggest disengaging from the get-go. When you first make a new, controversial decision (like cloth diapering, you wild and crazy parent), people are bound to express their opinions, and most of these opinions will be based on misinformation. Absolutely, giving correct information is a good idea. Answering questions is a good idea. Many, many customers have been pleasantly surprised to find that family and friends were supportive of their decisions (including cosleeping or not vaccinating) once they understood the facts and/or the reasons.

But there are always going to be those people who won’t listen, or who don’t care, or who are just certain that their way is the right – the only – way. And that’s fine. We all have things we’re not willing to bend on. Then there is the small percentage who not only are convinced that you’re crazy, but who feel the need to constantly remind you of that. That is NOT ok. That’s when I recommend the “Oh, ok, thanks for your thoughts, change the subject” approach.

“But what if that doesn’t work?”

If you’ve tried talking reason, and then you’ve tried just disengaging, and it’s still not better after a while (at least a few months – it took some people in my life nearly a year to give up), perhaps you need to sit down and talk about setting limits. “I really love how much you care for the kids. (insert related compliment here.) But…” then talk about how their actions make you feel, and ask for their help in settling on a solution. Maybe they could agree to try to keep their comments to themselves. Maybe it gets to a point that you have to limit contact.

“But I really want to convince them! If only they would see how awesome babywearing/cloth diapering/cosleeping/whatever is, their lives would be changed for the better!”

Yes, maybe. But I personally think that this goal is unreasonable for at least 80% of relatives and probably 50% of friends.

Also, this should go without saying, but needs to be said. Do NOT complain about sensitive things to these people. If someone in your life disagrees with cosleeping, then don’t tell them that you’re tired because you were up all night with the baby. If someone in your life wants you to stop breastfeeding, don’t mention that your toddler recently started biting and you’re frustrated.

The reasoning here is two-fold. First, you’re probably seeking support in these situations, and you’re not likely to get it. Instead, you’re likely to get criticism. Second, if you’re really frustrated by the situation, you might find yourself starting to be swayed by this criticism, or well-intended but bad advice. “Oh, honey, just put him in his own bed and let him cry… you’ll feel so much better with a full night of sleep.” It can start to sound pretty good to a tired mom when presented by someone who really believes this is a great idea. You might decide to try it. You might hate yourself in the morning.

I think this might be the other half of my successful formula. One half disengaging, the other half showing no fear and absolute confidence. Part of the reason that my parenting choices don’t come up is that I never, ever discuss them.

Now, let me note that this is also a LOT like parenting. When we are having some difficulty with our children, one of the first things we should do is check to make sure that our expectations are in line with reality. It is not realistic to expect a 2 year old to sit still through an hour-long wedding, for example. So the first thing to do is adjust your expectations. It IS reasonable to expect a 2 year old to sit still for PART of the wedding with quiet toys, and then maybe need a bit more interaction from you to make it through the rest of the service. This is called being realistic.

It’s the same thing here. With some people, it’s not realistic to believe that you’re ever going to convince them. So you need to adjust your expectations.

Wallypop makes Drudge Report

Wow. Drudge changes all the time, so the link might be gone now, but here’s a screenshot:

The link (“Bottom reached”) leads to this brief snarky bit in an Australian paper.

I am simultaneously delighted and hurt and amused. First, I love the implication that I’m part of some vast left-wing environmental conspiracy. Second, the traffic to Wallypop has been THROUGH THE ROOF today. Hoping I don’t exceed my bandwidth, actually. Third, OMG – DRUDGE!! (First, Drudge. Second, Limbaugh. Next: The world!!)

At the same time, I never understand these types. Will reusable toilet wipes save the planet? Hardly. I use them because they’re cheaper than buying TP, and they’re so soft. (just like diapers) (I mean, that’s why I use cloth diapers.) Do some of my customers use them as part of their overall environmental mission? Probably.

But I don’t ever imply they WILL save the planet. “For one, it’s a lot more comfortable and soft on your most delicate body parts. It’s also more economical, uses less paper, and saves you those late-night trips to the store. And cloth wipes can be used wet without any of the sopping disintegration that regular toilet paper is prone to.” (I’ll note, I have a LOT of customers who prefer to wipe with wet cloths, and buy my wipes for that purpose alone. Wet TP is no fun.)

But what’s hurtful is all the snarky comments after the snarky article. Comments from people who I probably have more in common with than they think. I’m a conservative and I’m not an environmentalist. You don’t need to read too much of my online stuff – blogs, twitter, Facebook – to see that. People who are on MY SIDE politically who think it’s A-OK to be so judgemental.

I’m really about saving money and keeping my PERSONAL environment clean…if that happens to coincide with things that others feel will also help the planet, then that’s a happy coincidence. It’s not my mission, though. However, I’m not out to judge those who feel differently.

Actually, I have advocated for YEARS that people who are concerned with the environment AS WELL AS others like many conservatives should be embracing the grassroots stuff like cloth diapers… when choosing reusable or recycled or whatever is a CHOICE and not a government mandate, we’re ALL better off. And so companies like Wallypop exist to give people that choice.

If you don’t want to use them, then don’t.

I had a nastygram from some Australian guy this morning (one of several – thanks guys – I have nothing better to do with two sick kids and orders to process than read your hate mail) suggesting that I was PUSHING a natural lifestyle on people.

Really, if only I could… Randy could quit his job and Wallypop would quickly become the Empire it was always meant to be. Ha ha.

But really, I would never push this stuff on anyone. People who stop by the Wallypop booth at the hospital baby fairs certainly learn that. “Oh, cloth diapers, that is NOT for me!” my response? “OK. I have a flyer that debunks some common myths if you’re interested. Thanks for stopping by!” Whatever. To each his own.