The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 9, 2010

Buying Less Plastic = Spending Less Money

The Conscious ShopperThe following is a guest post from Erin, who writes about the intersection of frugality and green living at The Conscious Shopper and The Green Phone Booth.  I asked her to write a post for Fake Plastic Fish about ways she saves  money while eliminating the plastic.  Here’s what she had to say…

It’s shopping day for The Conscious Shopper.

I get my list ready and head to the grocery store. First stop, the bulk bins, where I fill up my cloth bags with dried organic pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas. Now I can bypass the canned foods aisle and reduce my family’s exposure to the BPA in the resin lining nearly all food cans.

SAVINGS PER YEAR: about $125

I pass the cleaning aisle: I don’t need to buy any household cleaners because I make my own concoctions with baking soda, vinegar, Dr. Bronners, and water.


I pass the plastic baggies and plastic wrap – we reuse storage containers for leftovers and waste-free lunches. I don’t need freezer bags because I wash and reuse the ones we have, and I store a lot in the freezer with canning jars. I don’t need trash bags — we’ve reduced our trash to the point that we only go through one box of recycled plastic trash bags a year.

SAVINGS PER YEAR: about $100

I pass the paper towels and facial tissue, shrink wrapped in plastic – we’ve been transitioning to cloth napkins, cloth towels, and handkerchiefs and made the final leap to paper-towel-free a couple months ago.


I pass the bottled water – with stainless steel water bottles for each member of my family, I wouldn’t think of wasting money on bottled water.

SAVINGS PER YEAR: about $440

I pass the yogurt – I make my own in glass jars at home with local milk that comes in returnable glass jars.

SAVINGS PER YEAR: about $260

I pass the deodorant – I use a deodorant crystal that lasts me more than a year.



At one point in the Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyzyn relates how reporters kept coming to their house wanting to take pictures of ways that her family saves money. Over the years, those reporters took dozens of pictures of Ms. Dacyzyn hanging laundry on the clothesline in her attic. The problem was that there were relatively few things her family did to save money. Instead, Ms. Dacyzyn said, they should have been taking pictures of the things her family didn’t do. For example, the reporters could stand across the street from a McDonalds and snap a picture as the Dacyzyn family drove past without stopping.

When it comes to saving money, it’s often the things we don’t do that matter the most. I don’t buy canned beans. I don’t buy yogurt. I don’t buy bottled water. I don’t buy those things because I want to produce less plastic trash and focus my spending on healthier products. But I’ll happily take the money savings too.

*Note that all savings are estimates based on prices in my area and how much we typically buy. Your costs may vary.

For more information about spending less money and getting out of debt, please visit the Spring Cleaning Get the Junk Out Carnival where other bloggers are sharing their strategies for getting the “debt out” this spring.

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13 years ago

“…and I store a lot in the freezer with canning jars…”
You freeze in glass jars?!!! Really you can do that? How do you do that? I dream to get rid of those plastics in my freezer. Thanks for your answer.

13 years ago

Great tips. Bulk bins are definitely a cost savings. I am still having a hard time giving up my convenient, multi flavored yogurts :(

However :-) the title of this article was truncated in my email list, so I orginally thought the title was, “Buying Less Plastic = Spending ” – to which I thought, “no kidding!” because I seem to find all sorts of new, non-plastic things to buy now. Like to-go ware, glass containers… whatever else I can justify :-)

13 years ago

Our biggest saving has been growing our own tomatoes and lettuce and keeping chickens.

Instant meals throughout summer: omelettes and salad! And no packaging or fuel used for shopping trips!

All waste, of course, goes back into the garden. And we crush the eggshells and feed them back to the chooks as grit.

Oh, and the eggs and salad taste AWESOME.

Now that’s what I call plastic-free living!

Daharja at Cluttercut

13 years ago

It’s great that you figured it out that way! We really need to list it out and see how much we save. We do most of the things you listed (we don’t eat yogurt)! Today we just bought sprouting supplies, and next weekend we’ll start a garden. We’ll probably save soooo much once we aren’t spending money on fresh herbs and veggies! :)

green girl in Wisconsin
13 years ago

Your perspective is so sharp and true. It’s not what you do, it IS what you skip. While we’re not making our own yogurt here, we are doing (or is it not doing?) many of the same things, without giving it a thought. Just by canning and growing a lot of our own and skipping paper towels and bottled water and buying things in reusable containers, our garbage AND recycling bins are much emptier than our neighbors’.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

Great post Erin! And all those savings mean buying organic foods don’t break your budget, or at least that’s how it works for me hehe.

13 years ago

I pick up a lot of plastic bottles and found a site on where you can send the plastic caps for recycling. I use vinegar for cleaning and don’t buy any houseold cleaning products other than sponges. I use soap bars as not to buy liquid soap in plastic containers. I would never buy plastic water bottles. Sometimes I feel it is hopeless, but your site inspire’s me. I picked up all kinds of plastic and metal junk on the state beach along Lake Ontario after the ice melted. It is pretty sad to see what washes up. Recycled all I could g

13 years ago

I agree, the kitchen seems to be the heart of the house (even though we don’t really cook). As long as the kitchen is clean and functional, all is well.

Beth– Left you a Sunshine Award on my blog :D

13 years ago

My local co-op sells Dr. Bronners and baking soda in bulk, but not vinegar. That’s on my project list for the summer, to make my own vinegar (my sister says all you have to do is try to make wine and you get some really nice vinegar!).

I stumbled on the green bandwagon from the frugal point of view (trying to pay down a 50 year mortgage in 2.5 years off one salary – not easy), and I’ve found that the secret to success is keeping the kitchen clean. For two weeks my kitchen has been a mess, and it’s all gone out the window (buying convenience foods, going out to eat, letting veggies sit in the fridge until they’re… more ‘cultured’ than edible, etc). So my spending has virtually doubled. I can’t afford that anymore (and the stress levels have settled), so I’m returning to my frugal, green ways by cleaning the kitchen today!! I think I’ll celebrate by having a fantastic pancake breakfast tomorrow morning (yay bulk pancake mix from a local farm!)

Sense of Home
13 years ago

Terrific post Erin! I haven’t broken down our savings, but I know we have made several changes in the past couple of years that have resulted in significant savings.

Simple in France
13 years ago

Oooh! I never thought of cloth bags for bulk items, but not a bad idea (I’ve been using paper sacks supplied by the grocery store).

I’d also like to start making my own yogurt and finding a reusable container for milk. Local would be great! Currently we have 2 options: milk in cartons that cannot be recycled or milk in plastic containers that can (that’s here in France). But I think when I get more organized/settled in, I may be able to find an outlet for local milk.

I really liked this post–I never thought to actually calculate our savings in the above departments, but it looks like you really can save.

13 years ago

I read “The Complete Tightwad Gazette” and I think that part is so true. Living a frugal lifestyle is less about what you DO, and more about what you DON’T do. At least, it’s that way for me. But I can see how it’s hard to take a photo of someone not buying something.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
13 years ago

@Susana Eve – Even though my vinegar and soap come in plastic, I add a lot of water to make the cleaning solutions so I think it still ends up saving plastic compared to commercial cleaners that already have the water mixed in. I forgot about feminine products. That’s a huge savings!

@Jana – I’ve read that also, but baking soda doesn’t work for me. It’s a step up from my husband anyway who will not ever give up his Mitchum.

Jana @ The Summer House
13 years ago

Wonderful-you are so inspiring. We recently switched to paper napkins and I keep a tin bucket with washcloths by the sink. We rarely use paper towels anymore. On a side not-I just read at bumble and bee that the rock type deoderant has aluminum in it…worth looking into. We use Aubrey organics-a little pricey but no bad stuff.


susanna eve
13 years ago

Great post.

Our supermarket doesn’t have a bulk section and the bulk store does not allow you to use your own bags, cloth or plastic. We reuse the plastic bags we use for bulk at the health food store though.
I also use vinegar and dr. bronner’s but I think it is fair to note that both of those come in plastic, which do not make them very different from the one or 2 natural cleaning products that I buy (they last 6 months to a year each at least). I used to buy recycled content trash bags but they are no longer available:(
I also save money by walking or bicycling to all the stores where I shop. I also don’t buy any “feminine Hygiene products” as we use cloth, between my daughter and I, that saves us a lot of money on a monthly basis:)

13 years ago

I love your attitude! Great tips on saving money and making good choices!
My next step is to say goodbye to paper towels. I got away from using them, but I haven’t been so good lately. Bu-Bye! (does anyone remember that Saturday night live?) Bu-Bye paper towels!! See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!

13 years ago

My tightwad nature has made the transition to a more “green” life much, much easier. Along the way, I’ve discovered that many of the things that I’ve been doing all along for reasons of frugality (making my own cleaners, not using disposable paper products, etc.) have the double bonus of also being the most sustainable choices. Everybody wins!