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A frugal family is a greener family: easy everyday tips


I completely admit that I am not a green expert. Our family does what we can, but we’ve got plenty more to learn. I’m slightly more qualified to call myself a Frugal Mama than a Green Mama, but the cool thing is, those tendencies tend to go hand-in-hand.

Who wouldn’t want to make everyday life less expensive?

Here are a few ways we make everyday home life a bit more frugal, inevitably coloring our home a slightly greener hue.

Cloth Napkins

We keep a very small pack of paper napkins for the occasional situation when we have tons of people over at once, but other than that, we always use cloth napkins. They’re mismatched (except that they’re all red in some form), they’re sometimes wrinkled, and none of them are fancy – perfect for a home with very small kids.

We also reuse them if the napkins didn’t get too dirty during the last meal – to make sure the same person uses his or hers, we designate a napkin ring for each person. I know many families use a variety of mismatched napkin rings for this purpose, but we’ve made a simple craft out of ours. Our art cabinet has a plethora of toilet paper tubes, so we cut one into thirds and decorated a ring for each person.

Cloth Rags

Instead of paper towels, we have an abundance of cloth rags. These are simply old t-shirts, stained towels, and well-worn fabric cut into squares – and because we have enough, we don’t run out.  It doesn’t create more laundry, because the rags are so small, they’re easily tossed into a load we’d do anyway.

Scratch Paper

Nothing revolutionary here. We make a point to use both sides of paper when we’re printing stuff that’s simply for our reference at home, or we donate the blank side of the paper to our daughter’s coloring ventures.

No Pre-Rinsing

We noticed that pre-rinsing our dishes before loading them in the dishwasher did absolutely nothing. So we stopped, and our dishes were still clean. It saves water, and it’s easier and faster this way.

Turn Off The Water

It’s a habit for us now, and thankfully, our daughter doesn’t know any other lifestyle. When we brush our teeth, we turn off the water. When we’re soaping up our hands, we turn off the water. When we didn’t have hot water for a good chunk of time this summer, we took “military-style” showers – used the water to get wet, turned it off while soaping up, then turned it back on to rinse off.

Turn Off the Lights

We make a point to turn off lights when we’re not in the room – and sometimes when we are in the room, if there’s enough natural light. Many times we don’t flip a light switch until after lunch.

Plenty of Real Dishes

We love to entertain, and we often have large groups of friends over for dinner. We almost never use paper plates or cups. Because we have enough, it’s just as easy to use the real stuff over and over again. Plus, it feels a smidge classier.

Swap Clothes

Our children share clothes with most of our friends’ children – we pass down, swap, exchange, and trade clothes between us. Just write your initials on the tag, and you’ll be surprised how little you’ll need to spend on kids’ clothes.

Buy Secondhand

But when we do buy kid’s clothes, we almost never buy new. Kids grow so fast, it’s rare they wear out clothing before they outgrow it. There are plenty of sweet secondhand stores all over the place.

Cook From Scratch

We have very little trash because we usually cook from scratch instead of boxed prepackaged food – on average, we fill one small plastic grocery bag with trash daily. For us, it’s also cheaper to buy local produce.

Photo by Riekie

Open Windows

It gets hot where we live, but most people here don’t have air conditioners. When they do, they only use them when it’s really hot, and not all day. It’s been quite an adjustment coming from the southern US, where we air-conditioned our home 24 hours a day from April to October, but we’re slowly getting used to it. In the meantime, we know it saves energy and money on the electric bill.

Reuse Plastic Bags

As I mentioned earlier, plastic grocery bags are our garbage bags. We also do what we can to use reusable shopping bags. If I’m visiting a local produce vendor in our neighborhood, the bottom basket of our stroller works perfectly – no bag needed at all.

Other ways we’ve gone more frugal by going greener are making our own cleaners, composting, not having a car and using public transportation, paying all bills online, making our own baby food, eating more meatless meals, telecommuting, and of course, recycling.

Here are some good resources:

How about you – how do you make greener choices simply by being more frugal? What are your favorite green and frugal blogs? Share your resources and ideas! I’m still quite – well, green, at this.

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  1. Dave Fowler

    What a fantastic list. Thank you!

    I’m quite proud of myself because I’ve implemented some of these already but there’s more I can do. 🙂

  2. Jennifer V.

    Two of my favorite green/simple living sites aren’t blogs, but they are very interesting (not sure if you’re interested in non-blogs for today’s purposes, but just in case):
    Alternatives for Simple Living (
    Center for a New American Dream (

  3. Sharon J

    Excellent list. It feels far more satisfying when you know that frugality is also good for the environment, doesn’t it?

    I use my plastic carrier bags for rubbish too. One usually last 2 days here (2 adults, one dog and one cat). It’s true that pre-packed food creates a LOT more rubbish than cooking from scratch does.

    Sharon J’s last blog post…Saving on Restaurant Visits

  4. Lucie

    My favorite frugal habit is that my partner and I ride our bikes EVERYWHERE. This saves us money that would otherwise be spent on gas, it’s fun, and it’s good exercise!

    I save all the glass jars (pickles, mayo, spaghetti) and use them to organize our office supplies in the living room (which is also our office and dining room!) and in my bedroom to organize makeup.

    I save all our egg crates for the boys to use to mix paint.

    I think Almost Frugal is a great resource, her aim is definitely frugality but most of her stuff is very green as well!

  5. Meg Evans

    I’m pleased to see that I’m doing many of your suggestions already. I switched to cloth napkins and gave up paper plates this year. It’s funny how the kids thought it was so fancy to use real plates and cloth napkins. Our napkins don’t always match–I have several sets just stacked in a basket, but it doesn’t matter. I also reuse them until they’re pretty dirty (i.e. covered in ketchup). Strategic refolding will hide a lot!

    If we could get a compost bin, I just know our garbage output would dwindle to almost nothing!

    Meg Evans’s last blog post…Finding balance

  6. MelissaS

    What a great post. It really IS easy to be green! We also use cloth napkins, and hardly ever use paper plates. A couple additional things we do:

    Use cloth bags at the grocery store. DH and I both attend annual conferences for work and come home with great bags for this!

    When I find a half-empty water glass in the house that someone isn’t going to drink, I use it to water the plants. Or I dump it into the compost bin.

    We love our compost bin! It saves SO much trash and we get great black dirt for our garden each spring. Our neighbors were curious about what we were doing, and now they compost too 🙂

    Thanks for a great post that shows being green ties in with being simple.

    MelissaS’s last blog post…Daisy Jar Sympathy

  7. Linn

    Great post. When I lived in Germany I was amazed at how little garbage we created there. Everything was sorted so that the actual “trash” was miniscule. I’d love to compost but need to find a spot for it.

    Linn’s last blog post…A Few of My Favorite Things…day 4

  8. Sherry

    Where do you find your cloth napkins…do you find purchasing ones that are slightly more expensive to be worth the extra?

  9. CiderSapling

    I would love to compost – we eat a lot of fresh produce and the ‘waste’ would make great fodder – but live in a small area with no yard. I don’t know how to get started! Any suggestions? I’ve done some reading, but nothing I’ve found has been practical to use in my busy mom life. Thanks!

    We also ditch the plastic grocery bags whenever possible. We use paper bags at the grocery store and then use them to line the bird’s cage, for fun cut out projects, to hold the other paper recycling, etc. When we shop at our local produce market we use cloth bags. Every 2 years or so I buy myself a new bag from a 3 world craft alliance, and the worn out goes into rags or the toy bin.

    • ecoChica

      Hi CiderSapling,

      Many women share your story! We all would like to compost, but don’t know where to start. I recommend a small composter that will fit in a kitchen (under your sink) or on a small balcony. The Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter is what I use. It’s great. Throw in all of your kitchen scraps along with a handful of Bokashi (special microbes that take all of the guesswork out of composting) and voila! You’re on your way!

      You can find out more &/or order them online here under the Meal + Garden Solutions product category:

      Happy Composting!

  10. Jasi

    Great list. An idea for stocking up on plates is to hit the local IKEA. When we moved into our house we bought 14 simple white plates for .50 each, then went for cereal bowls (rice bowls), mugs, pasta bowls and salad plates to match. No one cares or can even tell they were inexpensive and we’ve got tons! Much better than paper and if one should break, it’s okay.

  11. simplemom

    @Lucie – Yes, ditto on the glass jars. And I agree, Kelly at Almost Frugal is great!

    @Meg – I actually prefer that mine are mismatched – it’s a fun collection.

    @Sherry – I either make mine from fabric remnants, buy them on eBay, or just here and there at places like World Market. It’s all super cheap.

    @CiderSapling – I’d love to learn how to compost with little space as well. We live in a high-rise apartment, so we’ve only got a balcony. I think Small Notebook composts at her apartment, so I may have her write a guest post here about that. If she’s up for it, that is.

    @Jasi – Half our home is IKEA – it almost looks like a show room here. 🙂

  12. Prairie Chick

    I love this post! We do everything on that list, and one plug I have to make is for green cleaner. After years of ordering expensive Melaleuca products (we found cutting out chemicals eliminated 95% of my husbands allergies) I switched over to Shaklee’s Basic H cleaner about 5 months ago. It is SO multi functional and works SO well on every single surface, that one $11.00 bottle of it is all I need to clean glass, wood, counters, ANYTHING. I use it for floor cleaner, bathtub cleaner, literally EVERYTHING. I have had this bottle for 5 months and it is still half full (very concentrated). I had heard green people rave about it off and on for years, and kind of never payed attention, but I am LOVING the switch. No more cans and bottles and containers of various cleaners to store and recycle. Simple, effective, green, economical!

    Prairie Chick’s last blog post…Prairie Fire

  13. Shanna

    I started sending my daughter’s lunch in the Japanese ‘Bento box’ style. It means no plastic bags, no throw away containers, and it is fun and cute and easy. And it isn’t too much food.

    Shanna’s last blog post…2nd Bento Box

  14. Lauri @ A Day Spent

    I’ve definitely seen a change in my “green”ness as I’ve become more frugal. Many of the changes you have listed — stop using paper goods, turning off lights and unplugging appliances, buying second hand, etc — I’ve made both to be frugal and more green. Often actions that accomplish one accomplish the other as well.

  15. Robyn

    I’m happy to say I already incorporate some of your suggestions and from what I can see there’s so much more that I can do. Thanks for the tips. We’re thinking about starting compost, we have the space, I think it just didn’t dawn on us.

  16. Amy @ My Daily Dollars

    Great tips! I’m glad to see that we do a lot of them as well. I’m also a huge fan of cloth grocery bags; they hold more and are much easier to carry. I do want to try composting. . . I think it would make our garden happier too.

    Amy @ My Daily Dollars’s last blog post…Carnival of Money Stories #77

  17. kitchendoor

    What a great list. I love how simplifying, going gree(er), and living frugally all converge so prettily. Living in a city, public transportation is my best friend–I swear, there are months when my boyfriend pays more in parking tickets than I do for my bus and subway pass.

    Thanks for your insight!

    kitchendoor’s last blog post…Showcase Showdown

  18. Michelle

    Wonderful list! It makes me feel great to know that I already implement everything on here.

    And Luci’s comment including the glass jar idea is fantastic. I’ve been doing this for about a year and my boyfriend and I wonder why we ever threw/recycled any away at all! They are so useful for anything, and much better for storing and freezing prepared liquid food items because there’s no worry about chemicals from plastic storage containers getting into your food.

    Michelle’s last blog post…The Library

  19. Kelly

    I live in an impoverished neighborhood and yet the folks around me seem determined to throw things away that could be put to use by another family. I see car seats, strollers, exersaucers and toys just dumped outside. Yesterday, I saw a trash can overflowing with perfectly good clothes and winter coats. My friend and I pass clothes and toys back and forth between us and frequently go to mothers’ sales in our area. When people complain about being poor, I was always wonder if they have done everything they can to economize. It’s pains me to see so much waste. We don’t throw anything away. We log on to Freecycle and find someone who can use our unwanted stuff.

  20. Avlor

    I’ve been wanting to make cloth napkins for quite a while and have a stash of fabric that needs to be used up. It’s on my to-do list now. Thanks for the “reminder”!

    Avlor’s last blog post…Taste tested, mother approved

  21. Vintage Mommy

    We live in the NW where folks are pretty green-savvy and city gov’t makes it easier.

    I do many, if not most, of the things on your list, and would add one more. We tend to use quite a few ziplock bags (for lunches, snacks for soccer and scouts, etc.) and I wash them an reuse them until the won’t seal anymore.

    The only caveat is NOT to reuse a plastic bag that has had raw meat, poultry or fish in it – like if you were marinating.

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post…Vel-a-cro, Spungie Cords and the Mirr-o

  22. Noelle Robbins

    There is a wonderful profile of Annie Leonard, creator of Story of Stuff, in the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Women’s Adventure Magazine. She is an amazing activist and mother. Check it out.

  23. Gidget

    I have to say, we do almost all the same things you do! We also use cloth diapers at home, and are attempting to de-toxify our cleaning and personal care products.

  24. heather Jane

    My favorite green and frugal activities for this year have been centered around our food. We have been eating local all summer (I hosted a challenge through my blog, which was very inspiring) and I’ve been canning and freezing up a storm. It’s a lot of work, but I feel good about the change. I’m excited to see how long we can make the food last and how much we can cut down on grocery store trips this winter.

    I also got a comfortable bike for my birthday this year and since then I’ve been hooking up the bike trailer and riding everywhere that I possibly can. It’s great for the budget and it doesn’t hurt the waistline, either.

    I have a ton of fabric scraps that would be great for making cloth napkins, and I love the paper tube napkin ring idea. My daughter would enjoy making some rings for our family.

    heather Jane’s last blog post…On Balance

  25. Jen

    Great ideas and I also enjoy reading the feedback from your readers! I need to get better about my household cleaners. Both of my girls have allergies and mild asthma and I’m thinking that this would be one area that would help them to be healthier. I’ve starting bringing my own bags to the grocery store. I’m glad that it has become more popular. It felt a little silly at first, but made soo much sense! Thanks again for the great ideas!

    Jen @ Creative and Curious Kids!

    Jen’s last blog post…An APPLE Afternoon!

  26. Joanna

    I do all those things- except for the military style shower, but I may start that, too- and one other thing…We don’t have a dishwasher, so when we wash our dishes in the sink, we do it in a big plastic basin. When the dishes are done, we take the basin outside and water our plants with it. here in Northern California, they are making us cut our water usage and will charge us extra if we go above, so we have gotten really stingy. Our back yard is dead and brown, but it should perk up by spring with the rains.

    Joanna’s last blog post…Green Kitchen Giveaway

  27. chubbycheeks

    Great list, we already do most of these things. We also have started using cloth diapers, and love them.

  28. Andrea

    CiderSapling and SimpleMom, you might want to check out this post on urban composting at You Grow Girl. I opted for this method even though I do have a bit of backyard.
    And this link at Garden Web has some more info plus a longer list of greens & browns options.

  29. Josh

    Great list – nice and easy!

    As I attempt to drink more water throughout the day, I reuse the same bottle and refill it from a filtered source like Brita. Overpriced bottlers like Fiji & Pellegrino are a joke. It’s water, not wine. While it has “never been touched by human hands”, it blows tons of jet fuel into the air getting to our stores and comes in non-recycled plastic from oil.

    Josh’s last blog post…NoiseTrade, Khrusty Brothers

  30. Lori Ann

    To the comments about composting – I just wrote a series on how to start composting in an apartment: the index is at

    The part about people not having air conditioners though it gets hot is just like here… I’m also originally from the southern US, but now living in rural China, so we’ve been sort of “forced” into saving energy & money by just opening windows… and it’s actually not that bad! I love how fresh my house feels and smells just from opening all the windows.

    Lori Ann’s last blog post…Pomegranate Energy Snack

  31. Sara

    Well….my blog happens to be one of my favorites for green tips! LOL! Seriously, I find new ones everyday, and love Stumble and blogcatalog for help finding ’em. It’s amazing how frugality and green living can be hand in hand in so many areas. Thanks for the great tips. Also, I second Prairie Mom on the Shaklee H2. I bought mine last November, still have PLENTY left! This is a small bottle of highly concentrated stuff, great value at $10! We use it for washing floors, counters, windows, tables, bathrooms, and the car!

    Sara’s last blog post…Pickens Plan for Energy Independence

  32. jpritchard

    nice tips 🙂 i’ve got a couple to add….
    1) wash your ziploc baggies. you’ll be amazed at how much $$ you save each year when you rewash these amazing-(surprisingly) durable baggies. wash them with your regular dishes (not in the dishwasher) & use hot HOT water (they’ll dry faster). string the wet bags around things in your dish drainer until they are completely dry & put back in the box with the new ones (putting away earlier will cause mildew growth). i use each baggie an average of 5 times…and if you pack lunches for kiddos, it can save a lot of $! {note: baggies that need to be thrown away (i.e., not eligible for washing) are those that have held the following: cheese, dairy products, oils, raw meats}

    2. You know those old dryer sheets that innocently stick to your pant legs in public? THERE IS A USE FOR THEM!!! I’ve always bought dryer sheets but had trouble justifying the extra cost UNTIL i discovered that they remove dried-on food from dishes 🙂 run hot water in the gunked-up pan (e.g., leftover lasagna pan with crusted cheese from the oven) & put USED dryer sheet into pan. let soak overnight…and in the morning, wipe away the gunk. it works!

    3. buy “fancy” once: my mom taught me that to better organize your pantry/cupboards, buy the “fancy” container just once & then buy bulk refills later to refill that FANCY container. for example, buy rice in a nicely sized container at the grocery store ONE TIME…then refill with rice found in the plastic bags…cuts down on waste AND makes your cupboard-gazing more bearable!

    jpritchard’s last blog post…best pain complaint

  33. Amanda @

    You make some great points about such simple things! We bought a pack of 20 white washcloths at Costco five years ago and have not bought a roll of paper towels since. They’re hardly any more work as they can go in with any load of laundry, and they do a far superior job of washing baby faces, wiping up spills, etc, than a flimsy little square of paper towel. A little bleach and they’re fresh as new (if not quite as white!). Thanks for the other inspiration!

    Amanda @‘s last blog post…Swap Reminder, Pics, and Flickr

  34. Kelly

    Great tips! A few things we do or are thinking of doing:
    * Use cloth produce bags (and of course cloth grocery bags!).
    * A friend told us about a trick for keeping cloth napkins straight. She made a different clothespin for her & her husband–I think she put the names on each. Then they hung the clothespins up somewhere (a sturdy string stretched between two cabinet knobs maybe?) and attach the napkins to the clothespins when they’re done. But that would be a fun project for kids to decorate their own napkin clothespin!
    * When I find a half-empty glass of old water around the house, I dump it into the dogs’ water bowl.
    * Practice elimination communication. We go through fewer diapers every day and so we have to do less loads of diapers! (or in the case of disposables, fewer would end up in the trash)
    * Configure hibernation settings for the computer so it sleeps when not in use if we forget to turn it off.
    * Put a bucket in the shower with you to collect the water as you shower. Then use the water to water your plants.
    * Install a foot pedal for the kitchen sink for hand-washing dishes:,
    * FREECYCLE!!!

    Kelly’s last blog post…Kelly Becomes a Real Woman (Or Tries)

  35. James

    Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

  36. Tara @ Go Green Street

    It is nce to learn about how others have adjusted to going green.

    Our family has made some amazing changes, however I am still guilty of being an AC Hog. Where we live in GA it is 95 from March-October and I keep my AC on 75. I can not stand to be hot in my home.

    I am slowly but surely cutting back on the AC use, as last year I kept my AC on 69.

    Out of all of the changes we have done to be greener, getting rid of my AC has been a hard one!

    Tara @ Go Green Street’s last blog post…Call Upon President to Make Energy Efficiency Priority

  37. Chris

    Love all you tips and the comment tips.
    Here’s mine:
    I use recylced, food glass jars to store leftovers in. I like the tall jars with twist lids. The jars don’t take up much “floor” space and they are clear. Some can be put in the microwave.

    chris g.

  38. Carrie

    Great list! I’m going to start using cloth napkins…we go through an insane amount of paper napkins every week. The different napkin rings are a great idea!

    Carrie’s last blog post…Everybody needs a little quiet time

  39. Leah Ingram

    I’m thrilled to have found this posting, because you’ve just summed up my blog The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal). It’s all about green and frugal living.

    I’ve covered topics ranging from how to reuse water from the dehumidifier to which saves more money–washing dishes by hand versus running the dishwasher. I do write about more than just H20. Recently, I covered how you can donate clothes that are rag worthy, not wearable, to good causes, thus giving them a good second (or third) life and keeping them out of the waste stream. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out.


    Leah Ingram’s last blog post…A User’s Guide to Plastic – The Boston Globe

  40. Joyful

    Thank you so much for doing these posts.
    As one who never really paid attention to being frugal or green, I am finding I really need to be frugal, at least.
    With a $300 a paycheck less and retirement years fast approaching I need to learn to save money, time, etc.
    .-= Joyful´s last blog ..Tackle it Tuesday =-.

  41. Mama Kelly aka Jia

    One of the hardest adjustments for us in striving for a greener and more frugal life is saving A/C use in the summer as a last ditch effort on the hottest days and making do as much as possible …. this past summer we were finally able to cut down enough to see a drastic improvement in our summertime electricity bill and it was so worth it

  42. Siobain

    I have been using the site to find all kinds fo free/swap items for my household! I even found my daughter a kitten for her birthday! Check it out its saved my family alot since I started using it!

  43. Fanja

    These are some great tips, thank you. Unfortunately none of my friends or my husband’s friends have kids, so we can’t swap clothes or babysitting. That’s why I signed up on and I never regretted it. It makes bartering so easy and simple, and they even allow you to trade services and real estate, too.

  44. Eva

    Also, from a…ahem…feminine perspective- using a Diva cup is green and frugal.

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