Frugal habits that also happen to be sustainable

I think one of the main thing that appeals to me about frugality is that there is so much overlap with sustainability. You don’t just get to save lots of money by not buying useless stuff, you also save the world a tiny bit. Yay!

In this lighthearted Friday post, I wanted to highlight some of the thrifty habits of many frugal people, us here at Frugasaurus central in particular. Perhaps you’re doing most of them already, or perhaps you’re looking for a little bit of inspiration before the new year sets in.

Why bother with frugality?

For me, being frugal has not really been a frugal choice. It was intrinsic in how I was raised and it just always seemed the natural way for me to use resources. As a young student, it is important to use what resources you have.

This was also the time when I became aware of Earth Overshoot Day. This day falls earlier and earlier each year, and it is staggering to see how close we are to spending twice what the earth can replenish in one year. One of my biggest hopes and dreams is to see this number starting to crawl later in the year, rather than sooner. That requires a tremendous collective effort, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

To achieve this, I believe frugality is an important weapon. By wanting less, desiring less and repairing/reuse more, we could greatly reduce our strain on the earth.


So, without further ado, here are 10 habits that are frugal, but also happen to be sustainable:

Walk to work

When I started walking to work, I knew it would feel good. What I was not prepared for was just how good it would make me feel. Whether you bike, walk, or ski (that actually happens here) to work/school, you are contributing to a better world by reducing your daily reliance on carbon fuels.

If you live too far away or are not able-bodied enough to do so, perhaps you could consider an electric alternative, or moving closer to work?

Cook from scratch

I cannot praise cooking enough. It is the lifeblood of frugal life and a greatly plastic-reduced life. With sites like Youtube and a plethora of cooking blogs all around the internet, it is easier than ever to learn the basics of cooking and build from there, even with no prior experience.

We have people like the Zero-Waste Chef, who lights the way and inspires other people to eat more local, zero waste food. By cooking from scratch, you also knows exactly what is going into it, and can customise it to your own palate and needs.

Eat more plant based

Eating further down in the food chain is a frugal staple I have already written about.  It is easy, cheap, and very tasty. As I’ve tried to state multiple times, you don’t have to go vegan 180 to make a difference, but I do think adding more plants is a great way to eat cheap yet healthy food.

Eat leftovers

Once you’ve spent all that time buying produce, looking at videos and researching recipes, it would be a horrible waste to just let half of it go in the bin because you don’t like leftovers.

Leftovers are amazing. It’s like dinner, but without the work! However, if the thought of leftovers really appals you, how about trying to make it into something else? Boiled potatoes can be diced and pan fried with spices and some onion and paprika for a hearty breakfast or light dinner. Rice can be similarly fried into a quick and simple meal. Roast or boiled veg can be pureed into a tasty soup.

Planning your meals so that one dinner’s leftovers are the next meal’s ingredients is a great way to get into leftovers. Alternatively, chuck it in the freezer and take it up at a later date for a quick and easy meal on days you just feel too exhausted to cook.

Buy less

If you don’t buy it, you don’t have to bring it to the landfill when you tire of it, or it breaks. You could also help other people waste less resources by scouring your local area for stuff given away for free. My best friend buys almost nothing unless she finds it for free or at local flea markets. I haven’t really been good at my flea-market game lately. Largely because I don’t feel like I need a great many new things. Our flat is comfortably furnished, our kitchen has the essentials, we have warm clothes in winter, and we have linens and towels enough for guests.

Cultivating this sense of feeling like you have enough is really helpful. Not just from a frugal and money-saving perspective, but also from a happiness perspective. I have enough, so I feel content rather than constantly chasing after the next purchase that will magically make my house look perfect.

Use everything

When I started reducing how much animal products I use, I did not just throw out what I already had in the fridge. That would go against everything I believe in about resource management and not wasting food. Instead, I gradually used up what I had and stocked up my pantry with legumes and vegetables.

Similarly, when I started making my own soap, it was not an alternative to let old remains of soap sit around and get old. The same applies for our pantry. Since both Mr. E. and myself have worked in the food industry, we automatically put the newest food in the back of the shelf, making the oldest within easy reach and easily identifiable. Use up what you have before getting something new is a really helpful, frugal habit.

Repair what doesn’t work

If it doesn’t work, repair it.

For a very short time in my life, I worked in a friend’s cobbler shop. While working here, I was continuously surprised by what people would consider beyond their level of expertise. Simple things like sewing on a button or repairing a small hole in a garment was not unusual.

Instead of being a helpless person as described above, I encourage you to learn basic garment repair skills and other useful insourcing. When my comfy yoga pants became too loose, it was a small job to snip two holes and sew some button-hole stitches for a drawstring. Again, if you feel lost or out of your depth, turn to youtube for help. It is an amazing and visual DIY resource.

Decline consumerist gift-giving

This one can be really hard or really easy, depending on your family and their expectations. You might have to spend several years cultivating a culture of zero-waste or homemade gift giving, but it is so worth it.

For my family this year, I have either given charity donations or homemade gifts they can use up. From my friends, I have received thoughtful gifts of homemade black currant juice and red currant jelly. Considering how I just mentioned that I feel like our flat has enough stuff, I enjoy these gifts much more. And once empty, it is easy to wash the glass they came in and re-gift some preserves of my own once the season rolls around.

Simple, waste-free, and not to mention stress-free! I have not set a single foot inside a mall this holiday season, and it has been gloriously stress-free and enjoyable.

I am lucky enough to have a family who values time together over a shared meal as the most important aspect of the holiday season. I understand that this is not the case for everyone, and appreciate that things can get more difficult when that is the case.

Also, if you are not into making your own gifts, there is always the option of supporting small, local crafters and farmers. That way, you still support your local community and not impersonal stuff transported from half a world off.

Make do without

Do you really need that shiny thing in the store you’ve been looking at?

In our household, we have a lot of lists. Here we put anything we want that doesn’t reasonably fall under groceries or household expenses. It has to sit there for at least a couple of days, if not weeks, before we seriously consider buying it. Before buying anything, we’ll see if we can make it, find it for free, or simply do without.

Will it add that much to your happiness? Will it make your life that much simpler? Will it last or will it have to be repaired and replaced soon? I’d venture a guess that about 80% of what goes on our “want” list simply stays there, and our lives are no less without them.

Cultivate relationships

Let us bring back home entertaining! Why do we have to hang out with our friends in a café, restaurant or cinema? It is much nicer, and cheaper, to invite people over or get invited over for a quiet night with awesome, homecooked food and perhaps a board game, a stack of cards, or simply a good conversation with a warm cup-o-something nestled between your hands.

I know I am biased, but I find this more enjoyable than waiting on a meal that may or may not be great in a noisy, crowded restaurant. We do it once in a while, but it is a rare thing. Usually because we have guests from out of town who would like to see what culinary adventures are available to Trondheim, or simply because we had engagements that meant we would not have time to go home and cook. Even then, we have been known to simply bring dinner leftovers with us to mitigate this.

Over to you

So there you have it! A short list of things that can help both your wallet and the planet at the same time. I’m sure I have forgotten several great things, so I’d love to hear your suggestions!

10 habits of frugal people

21 Comments on “Frugal habits that also happen to be sustainable

  1. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of zero wasting seems to be based around using beautiful stainless steel containers, as well as replacing toys with lovely wooden ones. While I agree with this in principle, I feel it doesn’t marry with a frugal lifestyle. Especially if you then buy all the toys in the range, or all the cute cloth nappy prints. Thanks for clarifying that frugality and sustainability CAN work together.

      • Totally agree. Buying recyclable or biodegradable goods is great, but not buying them in the first place is even better (unless you actually need it, of course). It’s impoetant to remember the three R’s: Reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order.

  2. I LOVE all of these and do most of them! I haven’t always been the best at being frugal (although I’ve done things like walking to work, bringing my lunch, and cooking most of my food myself since I graduated college), but as I’ve been paying more attention to what I spend money on (and cutting out a lot of purchases), I’ve been reminded just how wasteful consumption is. I love that frugality is sustainable: it’s a win-win!

    • Yes! It’s what I love about it too. It really is an amazing double whammy, and it often brings some happiness as a side effect too!

  3. Great list, we practise a lot on it already. Even picking up the repair one lately (belt, jacket, shoes!). Keep rocking it!

  4. Nice tips, I try to do most of these and think frugality and sustainability definitely go hand in hand. The only one I can’t do is walk to work as I’d have to walk 19 miles each way!

    • That would be quite a walk, indeed!

      We are lucky here. Work is 45 minutes walk away. Just far enough to be a proper walk/podcast length. ?

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  6. Thanks for highlighting Earth Overshoot day and all these awesome frugal sustainable things. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t find the restaurant experience all that enjoyable!
    +1 for reducing consumption of animal products, once you get used to it, it’s surprisingly easy!

    • I know right? Cinemas as well. It’s so loud and at home I can snuggle up on the couch much better.

      And yup! Reduction begins with awareness. After that it gets easier!

  7. I am a fan of thrifting/Craigslisting and socializing at home. These two activities save so much money. I just got my mother a Christmas gift via Craigslist and she loved it. She had asked for a new desk chair that rolled and swiveled. I hopped on Craigslist, found an office that was liquidating, and got her a gently used chair for a fraction of the cost of a new one. She loved it.

    This post has inspired me to get my friends together for a potluck brunch at the beginning of the year.

    • Same here. We pretty much furnished our entire flat just with fully functional and often almost new stuff people were just giving away. It’s crazy and saves mad amounts of money!

  8. I do the list for wants too! I never just buy something right then. If I’m considering buying an item that isn’t necessary but would be a ‘treat’ I make myself wait at least a week to see if I feel the same. 9/10 times I change my mind and am glad I didn’t spend the money. The recent purchase that did win out though was a bike trainer for $80 so I can use my bike inside for exercise for the winter. Zero regrets! I’ve used it a ton and it’s a healthy habit. Not only do you save money by making yourself think before you buy, but for those items you do buy you’ll feel satisfied you made a smart purchase.

    • Yes, I think the lisk for wants is an amazing thing! We pretty much eliminated buyers regret with it, and a lot of the stuff we do want has been easy to find used and free/for cheap. ?

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