How to Go Zero Waste on a Budget

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As more people wake up to the reality of pollution and constant consumerism, they want to switch to a no waste or zero waste lifestyle. However, they take one search for zero waste products and are floored at the high prices. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be this way! I’ll share all my tips to teach you how to go zero waste on a budget in this post.

how to go zero waste on a budget

What zero waste means

Zero waste fits under the umbrella of sustainable living. In a zero-waste lifestyle, people try to reduce the amount of trash they produce. This process requires them to slow down and be more intentional about the purchases they make.

It’s a snowball effect. Once you start reducing plastic waste, you start to be more thoughtful about your other purchases, too.

This helps you produce less waste and shrink your carbon footprint.

Can I start a waste-free lifestyle on a budget?

Absolutely! Here’s what you really need to know.

Sustainable living is normal.

Historically, people have had to make the most of what they purchased. They saved before big purchases, repaired damaged items, and repurposed items that were at the end of their original lifespan.

This is just called being resourceful.

How did your ancestors survive depressions, famine, and war?

They made the most of what they had, including relying on their community.

Let’s take a page from their playbook to live more sustainably every day. We’re going to focus on small baby steps we build on over time.

In this post, I’ll help you learn how to go zero waste on a budget without stressing out.

roadmap to sustainable living

Get the Roadmap to Sustainable Living!

Don’t overthink it! At its core, sustainable living is easy. People have been doing it for years. By following a few, tried-and-true strategies, you’ll be living an eco-friendly lifestyle in no time (even in this complicated world)!

How to Go Zero Waste on a Budget

Remember: living sustainably is normal. It’s what people have done for most of human history.

Let it be easy.

See everything as a resource

In our current economic system, we see everything as disposable. We make money, buy products, and expect to throw them away when they are done. This is called a linear economy.

In an ideal world, this model loops into a circle. Instead of items going into the trash, they get repaired or repurposed before being reclaimed and recycled by the company.

There are lots of reasons why we aren’t in a circular economy right now. (Just imagine if companies were responsible for the trash they produce!)

One of the main issues though is that we don’t see items as useful once they finish their original purpose.

Think about trash. What goes into your trash can? Get specific. Dig around if that will help!

In the average American’s recycling bin, you’ll probably see a cardboard box or 12, tin cans, plastic containers, plastic milk jugs, and more.

If you want to learn how to go zero waste on a budget, start asking yourself how you can give your items a second life.

Those plastic tubs can be used for starting plants or storing food. Gardeners love to use milk jugs for winter sowing seeds.

Give a kid a cereal box and they’ll give you a castle! Glass jars are ideal for storing dry goods in your pantry.

Single-use plastics are only single-use if you use them once.

Make the most of the what you already own

The most sustainable products you will ever own are the ones you already have. Care for them and make them last!

As items wear out, try to repair or repurpose them to extend their lives before the landfill.

This is an important idea in zero-waste living: valuing and caring for the items we already have so we can buy less overall.

Reduce plastic

One of the best ways to switch to zero waste is to simply minimize plastic packaging.

Since only 9% of all plastic sent for recycling actually gets recycled, most plastic is sent directly to the landfill. (source)

Let’s just opt out of this charade.

Look for natural materials like cardboard, paper, glass, or package-free items.

Fill empty containers with your repurposed jars and tubs. Purchase fresh produce in reusable bags instead of prebagged.

Bring reusable containers to your local bulk store.

how to go zero waste on a budget

Stop buying future trash

How much of the things you buy are meant to end up in the trash? Paper towels, trash bags, dryer sheets, plastic sandwich bags, plastic water bottles, etc.

When at all possible, switch to reusable items to replace your disposables.

Here are some ideas to help you go zero waste on a budget:

  • Wrap sandwiches with beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap
  • Bring cloth napkins in your lunch box
  • Use reusable shopping bags
  • Pack lunch in your own containers
  • Switch to silicone baking sheets instead of parchment paper
  • Drink from a reusable water bottle
  • Switch to a menstrual cup instead of tampons
  • Save up to buy a stainless steel razor instead of plastic disposable razors

Watch out for food waste

Food waste is a huge environmental issue! Up to 40% of food grown in the US is wasted. (source)

This happens throughout the supply chain, but about a third of waste occurs in our own homes.

This is a perfect place to start reducing the amount of waste you produce.

For the average family, this looks like $1500 wasted each year. (source) That’s a lot of money!

If you’re on a tight budget, we need to reclaim some of that money.

Start by noticing what foods end up in the trash.

If you’ve lived on a budget for a while, you’re probably good about using the sniff test and eating your leftovers.

I bet there are still ways you can reduce your food waste.

Rethink food trash. Save broccoli stems to make broccoli rice. Save onion and carrot peels in a freezer container to make stock.

Preserve fruit scraps in the freezer for smoothies.

Before you throw any food in the trash, ask yourself if there’s any more life available in your food scraps.

Learn about 80+ zero waste frugal food hacks in this post!

Start cooking from scratch

Since we eat way more often than we buy razors or laundry detergent, the kitchen is one of the best places to focus on your zero waste journey.

Processed and premade foods are more expensive, less healthy, and produce more packaging waste.

Focus on cooking simple foods from scratch. I know, I know…that’s the last thing you want to hear!

First of all, I love teaching people how to cook from scratch and I have lots of posts to help you get started!

I even teach people zero waste meal planning so you can cook from scratch with less stress.

Start by stocking a simple, zero waste pantry with the basic ingredients you use every day.

how to go zero waste on a budget

Start watching unit prices

I have a hard time admitting this, but I’ve been reluctant to shop at zero waste stores.

When I price out how much common items cost, they’re often more expensive than buying prepackaged.

How does it cost more to buy items without packaging?!

I’m going to give you permission right now to buy the products that are right for you and your budget.

Start calculating unit prices for your most commonly used ingredients.

Simply divide the total price by the number of ounces. Compare items on their unit price to see which one is really the best deal.

Save a little money by purchasing the items with the lowest unit price. Look for products packaged without plastic. Be sure to check the bulk bins and the prepackaged items!

As much as I would love to buy everything completely package-free, I honor my budget and use these tips to find the right products for my family.

If that makes me low waste instead of zero waste…that’s fine with me.

Switch to natural cleaners

You can save so much money while avoiding single-use plastic and harmful chemicals by using simple, natural cleaners around your home.

In this post about eco friendly bathroom cleaning, I explain how I clean my whole bathroom with just a handful of natural cleaners like a cleaning concentrate, castile soap, and baking soda and vinegar.

So many of these products can be purchased inexpensively and even refilled at refill shops!

how to go zero waste on a budget

Keep it simple

Don’t be swayed into overspending on products for your zero-waste journey by influencers or celebrities. It’s just not necessary.

For example, pretty much your entire home, including your body, can be cleaned with castile soap.

Did you know that you can use a $4 bar of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap as a dish soap block? You can also use it to wash your hands or even dilute it into one gallon of liquid soap.

One gallon of liquid castile soap for $4!

Start looking for the simplest answer out there. Don’t waste your money replacing every single thing with a zero waste alternative.

Instead, look for simple zero-waste swaps that can serve multiple purposes.

Practice making do & doing without

This is so much easier said than done!

When we’re living on a budget, we often feel restricted and limited. We feel stressed by this lack of money.

It’s like a diet. When you restrict over and over again, you’re much more likely to binge later on.

How can we limit ourselves without feeling so restricted?

I find that if I make it a game to see how long I can stretch something before throwing it out, I enjoy the process a lot more.

This happened with dish soap recently. I was switching to zero waste dishwashing soap and wanted to see how long my old liquid soap would last before.

You’ll be surprised how long lots of ordinary products really last!

Then, you can see how you can make do with the products you have on hand.

When your dish soap runs out, see if there’s anything else on hand that can do the same job.

I was shocked to realize I had enough dish soap options I could stop buying this product for months!

Always shop secondhand first

The best way to spend less starting a zero waste lifestyle is to shop secondhand first. In fact, it’s so helpful that I put it as the very first step on my Roadmap to Sustainable Living.

When you shop secondhand, you’re taking a step away from the traditional consumer model.

Since most items are made to be disposed of, you’re purchasing items that would otherwise be trash.

This makes them basically carbon-free. You’re saving them from the trash!

Shopping secondhand is more than just eco-friendly, though. It’s almost always cheaper, often costing a fraction of buying new.

This is one of the easiest places to save money and reduce waste at the same time.

Try checking Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, your local thrift shop, or your local Buy Nothing Group before you buy new consumer products.

how to go zero waste on a budget

Work through your shopping cravings

You can’t shop your way into a sustainable life. We need to opt-out of the consumer cycle and stop buying so much stuff.

That’s way easier said than done.

If you’re noticing that you’re buying more stuff than you need or are struggling to stick to your budget, you need to work through the habits and ideas you have about shopping.

I’ve created a tool to help with this process called Becoming a Conscious Consumer.

It’s a 31-page workbook that helps shift your thinking about buying so you can start sticking to your budget and your values.

This whole process will feel so much easier when you finally start processing those consumer messages you’ve internalized through years and years of marketing.

Give yourself some time to work through these issues so you can stick to your budget once and for all!

becoming a conscious consumer

Stop breaking your budget every month

If you’re finding yourself overspending again and again, you need to work through your spending habits. In this workbook, you’ll be able to understand why this process is so hard and find break your buying habits.

Currently only available as part of the Summer 2022 Simple Living Collection!

Shop with cash

Did you know that people tend to overspend by at least 30% when shopping with cards?

When you spend with cash, you’re having to give up something you want to get something else.

I tend to be really stingy with cash and want to hold onto it as long as possible.

Try shopping with cash or at least pause to imagine how much you would spend with cash.

Would you really want to fork over $72 in bills to get that pair of shoes?

If you wouldn’t spend that much with cash, don’t charge it!

Try shopping in person

Online, businesses use a variety of marketing strategies to get you to spend more like free shipping thresholds, promo codes, and bundles.

This means that when you shop online, you’re often trying to get the best “deal.” This typically results in you spending more.

Instead, try shopping in a physical store with an actual shopping list. Just make the best choice you can with the items available and your budget.

It feels amazing to come home with only exactly what you need and know you didn’t waste money on anything unnecessary!

Buy the best quality you can afford

I know it’s really hard to invest in high-quality pieces when you’re living on a budget. It makes a huge difference though!

Especially if you’re making the most of the things you own and shopping secondhand, you’ll notice you need to buy new products a lot less often.

Start by asking yourself these questions before buying something and look for the best quality product you can afford.

Try saving a little every month before buying.

Save $10-25 per month until you have enough to buy the item outright.

Be specific with your gift requests

This tip might not be very popular, but I like to be really specific with my gift requests.

For my birthday or Christmas, I always make a wish list with the exact items I want in the size and color.

I’ll even note if I’d prefer for things to be secondhand and will even give links to find items on ebay or Poshmark!

You can also request only consumables or experiences. If your family would be open to it, try skipping the gifts entirely!

Personally, I find that asking for what I really want or need is the best of both worlds.

Start with small changes

You can make a huge impact by taking small steps every day.

You’re not going to go zero waste overnight…Give yourself some time to make living sustainably your new normal.

The Roadmap to Sustainable Living helps you switch to a low waste lifestyle the easy way.

This one-pager breaks down the most important steps to help you switch to an eco-friendly life in no time.

Good news: it’s way easier than you’d think!

roadmap to sustainable living

Get the Roadmap to Sustainable Living!

Don’t overthink it! At its core, sustainable living is easy. People have been doing it for years. By following a few, tried-and-true strategies, you’ll be living an eco-friendly lifestyle in no time (even in this complicated world)!

how to go zero waste on a budget

Did this help you learn how to go zero waste on a budget?

Do you have a tip you want to add to this list? Are you struggling to stick to a budget with a specific product? Need some help troubleshooting your zero-waste budget? Write a comment below.

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7 Comments

  1. Great post! I recently started on my…well I’m not sure I’ll ever manage zero waste, but at least low waste journey. And suprisingly, it wasn’t so hard 😎Thank you for the tips 😊

    1. Monika, I hear that loud and clear! It’s so much more sustainable to see it as a journey or process rather than holding yourself to strict, unsustainable standards. So glad this post was helpful for you! Keep up the great work!

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