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Greening your budget: 10 tips to help you make the switch!

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Most of us are on a budget. We make our buying decisions based on cost, convenience, and personal need. If you're thinking about going Green, you've probably already noticed that alternatives to mass-market products often cost more and are more difficult to get. Don't be daunted! The keys to Greening your budget are common sense, flexibility, and a sense of humor!

1. What’s my present budget?

Before leaving the mass market for Greener pastures, it's a good idea to know how much you spend. Making out a weekly or monthly budget and noting down what kinds of products you buy is your first step. Don't forget to include food! The food we eat comprises a major part of our spending. Think about the last time you went to the grocery store: how much did you spend on edibles vs products like cleaning fluid? The whole point of going to a supermarket is usually to stock up on essential food items like milk, bread, fruits and veggies and if you're in college, ramen noodles. Knowing how much you spend on food and what foods you buy the most often can help you make wise decisions if you decide to start including organic or locally-grown food to your meals.

2. What do I buy most?

Next, take a look at what you buy the most. Is it meat? Fresh produce? Laundry soap? Toilet paper? Switching some of the items on your must-have list to Green alternatives is a good way to make sure more of your money is going toward environmentally-friendly products. That being said, be careful about switching away from products you particularly love. If you can't find a Green substitute, or if the Green substitute puts too big a hole in your pocket, you may want to keep that particular item. Don't beat yourself up about it; just about everyone has a product or food they adore! If you're crazy about your shampoo, then keep using it—just remember to recycle the bottle!

3. Where can Green alternatives be obtained?

Before you go out and shop, find out which stores have Green alternatives. This may seem like an unnecessary bit of advice, but you'll find it helps to do a reconnaissance mission. One store may have more Green products available; another may offer you a better price. You can increase your Green buying potential by looking online; many stores have their own websites, and a web browser like Google can help you find local businesses or direct you to blogs that carry handy information.

4. How long will it take?

Another thing to consider before you start shopping is time. Buying Green may mean shopping at stores that are farther away than your local grocery. You might decide to do all your Green shopping on the weekend, or you might decide to pay more for a particular item because the store that carries it is closer. Your reconnaissance mission will help you figure out how much time you’re willing to add to your regular shopping routine. If a product you want isn’t sold in stores or is sold in a store that’s too far from home, consider ordering the product online.

5. How do I get started?

Now that you have done your homework, you can start thinking about how you want to kick off your mean Green shopping routine! As with any lifestyle change, it's a good idea to start slowly. Pick one product and switch to an eco-friendly alternative the next time you go shopping. Some good products to switch are food items, soaps, cleaners, and pet-care products. The next time you shop, look for another Green alternative item, always keeping your budget in mind.

6. How much am I willing to spend?

As mentioned earlier, environmentally-friendly products and organic foods tend to cost more than regular supermarket products. If you can’t afford to expand your budget, don’t despair! You can try buying products you use all the time in bulk, which saves money in the long run, or you can focus on switching less expensive items to their Green counterparts. If you have the money to go completely Green and never eat regular
supermarket produce again good for you! But don’t feel bad if you don’t. Every little bit helps!

7. What can I reduce?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is the mantra of Green living. When you Green your budget, it’s a good idea to look and see if there’s any product you buy on a regular basis that you could stand to give up altogether. Eliminating unnecessary purchases will free up cash that you can use elsewhere. Also, as you shop, see if you can reduce the amount of packaging on your products. Recycling is good, but reducing is even better; it takes some of the load off the recycling plants and less goes to the landfill. Buying staple foods in bulk is one good way to reduce packaging; another is to check to see if the store will let you use your own containers for produce and deli items. Recipes for homemade cleaners abound on the Internet, or if you like to cook, you might see if canning your own fruits and vegetables is something you would enjoy. If you keep your eyes open, there are lots of opportunities to reduce out there!

What can I reuse?

Make some of those used food containers work for you! Plastic tubs such as the kind used for butter or cottage cheese can be used for food storage; glass jars can be used to store handy items around the house. Not all the products you buy will have reusable packaging, but some will. The key is to start thinking, can I reuse this? when you make your purchases.

9. What about recycling?

Recycling is a key part of living Green, but it does have its own costs. Not every area has free curbside recycling, and driving to a drop-off site takes time, effort, and gasoline. All of these things need to be factored in when you Green your budget. Buying products in recyclable containers is always a good idea, but you can save time and money by applying the principle of reduction when you shop. For example: a whole foods store might let you use your own containers for your purchases, thus eliminating the amount of plastic, glass and cardboard you need to recycle. Buying large or bulk sizes of the products you use most will ensure that you go longer before you have to recycle the containers. If you invest in rechargeable batteries, then you don't have to worry about finding a place to recycle them. The trick is to balance how much money you want to spend against how much time and effort you want to take. You may find it's worth it to spend a little more and have one less thing to worry about when you set your recyclables out at the curb or drive to your local drop-off site.

10. Keeping it in Perspective

Going completely Green is a wonderful goal, but for many of us it just isn't possible. Don't feel guilty if there's still supermarket products in your cupboards and non-organic food in your fridge. Nobody's asking you to bankrupt yourself! If buying Green becomes a chore rather than a challenge, you won't want to do it. Remember that every change you make helps and if anyone criticizes you, just say "Green is also the color of money and I need to conserve that, too!"

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