Getting debt-free…treading lightly on The Earth

One of my favourite descriptions of financial independence is that its an environmental movement dressed up as a $$$ GET RICH QUICK $$$ scheme.

Today’s guest post from a TEA reader helps join the dots for other people who are earlier in the journey from consumer to producer / escape artist / environmentalist.

The Escape Artist



Hi, I’m Rebecca, I’m 32 and I’m a secondary school teacher from Manchester.

I live in a modest terraced house with my husband Chris and daughter Esme, who just turned 1.

I’m also a painter and a mini environmentalist.

Since I had my daughter last year, I have wanted to live a more eco-friendly life, which lead me to write this article.

During this journey I have come to realise that there are many overlaps between living in a more environmentally conscious way and getting better with money. In many ways they are the same thing.

In writing this, I wanted to organise my thoughts and help hold myself accountable. By sharing it with you, it might give you some ideas on how you too can tread more lightly on the earth and save money as a wonderful side effect. This is my pledge to get closer to being a “zero waste” household during June / July. For me this means:

  • Eliminating the use of single use plastics (easier said than done I know!)
  • Recycling cardboard/glass/tins as usual, but also diverting other items from landfill
  • Looking for more environmentally conscious swaps I can make in my everyday life

I’d like this to lead to longer term habits, but as they say, every great journey begins with a single step, so here we go…

As lockdown restrictions ease, I’d like to get back to a more environmentally conscious way of living. Our local supermarket is Morrisons and they are getting better at reducing plastic packaging on fresh produce: I can buy most fruit and veg without a wrapper.

However, our local market has just reopened, so I can buy everything there plastic free, packing the lot in my reusable shopping bag of course! It can be a little more expensive to shop this way, but the quality of the food is exceptional and I can support small local businesses.

You can buy food from supermarket deli counters without packaging: you just take your own container. I used to get a few strange looks when I asked the staff to pack meat and cheese in my lunchbox, but they now advertise ‘bring your own container’ in my local store.

Buying staples in bulk means less packaging per unit of food and is cheaper too! It’s worth stocking up on tinned food like chopped tomatoes as its the base of so many meals. Dried pasta and rice are also essentials but difficult to buy without packaging, so I’ll buy the biggest pack that I can carry. I have to remind myself to not let perfection be the enemy of progress!

Another way to eliminate food waste, is to plan your meals. I’ll try to plan our meals for the week and then do the shopping with a list, buying only the items which we plan to use. I tend to make a big portion and make the food last for 2 nights. Sometimes I’ll box up the leftovers and put it in the freezer for another night.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of buying cookbooks but then not using them. Here less is more: I have a few cookbooks to keep me inspired and I also borrow recipe books from my local library. They have a brilliant selection and I’ll take photos of my favourite recipes. This was especially useful when trying to eat a more plant based diet. We will try different vegetarian dishes at least once a week. These make me feel so healthy and light.

Meat used to be a rare treat and we eat too much of it. For our health and the planet, I’d like to reduce my consumption of animal products. I watched a documentary called The Game Changers which makes a compelling case for veganism. I might find it difficult to eliminate animal products completely in our household, but I am slowly moving more towards a more balanced way of eating.

Our meal plan for this week is:

  • Monday: Chicken curry with rice
  • Tuesday: Chicken curry with home-made flatbreads (so simple to make and no plastic!)
  • Wednesday: Vegan chilli
  • Thursday: Chicken Paella (Frozen meal from a previous night)
  • Friday: Salmon pasta
  • Saturday: Homemade pizzas
  • Sunday: Mackerel and roasted vegetables

We try to make most things from scratch (e.g. bread, cakes), which reduces our needs for packaged goods. The only exception to this is chocolate!

Of course, we will continue to recycle our tins, glass and paper through our household collection. I must remember to rinse them out first! I’m not sure if the plastic bottle lids can be recycled, so I saved them up to make a mural on the wall in our front garden. I used loads in a garland of rainbow coloured bottle lids (it looks better than it sounds!). This is hung up in the window of our living room in gratitude for our keyworkers and especially our frontline NHS staff.

This year I have had the time to grow a few herbs and vegetable in our small garden. I’m not Alan Titchmarsh or anything, but I’ve managed to grow: lettuce, spinach, runner beans, coriander, mint and basil to name a few. We are pretty lucky as our neighbours own an allotment and will sometimes pass over a jar of jam or some garlic bulbs. Now this way of living is truly zero waste and I’d like to improve for next year. I’ll just do what I can, with what I have at the moment.

I have resisted buying any new clothes for quite a while now, for 2 reasons. I had a baby last year and most of my (expensive) clothes were for work. Maternity leave, followed by lockdown has resulted in a lot of time in my comfy jeans and hoody.

For occasional wear items, I browse charity shops or borrow items from family and friends’ extensive wardrobes. Come to think of it, my best friend once raided my wardrobe for a funeral outfit. Well, I do wear a lot of black!

To help me resist buying new, I use cooling off periods: I write down on paper what I’m thinking of buying and then come back to it some days or weeks later. Most of the time I have forgotten the item I was obsessing over. It is a strange compulsion to want to own everything we think of. I try to acknowledge that the feeling is real and valid, but this too shall pass.

I used to spend easily £100+ a month on clothes, which I now use to pay myself first. I try to use what I have and I can mend things easily enough. It surprises me that people will throw perfectly good clothing away rather than sew a button back on.

I have made a few items of clothing but am no expert. I love watching The Great British Sewing Bee for inspiration and have started on a challenging project of making a shirt dress. After watching The True Cost documentary, I think beyond the cost of the garment to where the materials were sourced, if the person making my clothes were paid a fair living wage and also where it will end up (so much waste ends up in landfill).

I have just discovered the app Olio, which lets people list food and other stuff for free. I love their vision of reducing waste and connecting local people. I just used it to give away some dining chairs, books and baby clothes. So I get more living space in my small house and these items are diverted from landfill. Win-win!

Babies create an obscene amount of waste, disproportionate to their tiny frame. I use reusable nappies from Bambino Mio. They are not only zero plastic waste, but better than regular nappies. The washing and drying is pretty relentless, but when the weather is good, it’s not too difficult to dry a weeks-worth of nappies on the washing line. The dryer is for emergencies only in our house! We also use biodegradable wipes and reusable cotton rounds to clean little faces and hands.

On that note, don’t be precious about accepting hand-me-downs. Most baby clothes are hardly worn, as they grow so fast or get worn for about 30 seconds before something is spilt on them! A woman from work offered me some baby clothes and I nearly bit her hand off! I won’t need to buy any clothes for our daughter for the next year and a half! Major saving!!

I’ve noticed that it is difficult to keep our one-year-old entertained for long whilst being confined to the house and the house is beginning to resemble a giant toybox. I had a brainwave and bagged up the unloved toys to list on Olio, to free up some space. I wanted to join a toy library, but unfortunately there are none local to me. The nearest is a non-profit organisation in Salford. They reduce waste and give less fortunate children access to play resources.

I instead signed up for an online toy subscription service with Whirli. They deliver play items which were new-to-her and novelty. When she is bored of them, we send them back in the prepaid packaging and then choose more toys to borrow. My daughter will have a huge selection of quality toys to play with, but I don’t have to store them or dispose of those she has outgrown. Amazing! And best of all, no mountains of plastic which frustratingly encases all children’s toys.

Unfortunately my local library is currently closed for lockdown, sob! But I can access loads of magazines and newspapers online for free, so I get my reading fix and nothing to recycle. I also downloaded some books onto my kindle to keep me going, but the major benefit with the library is that it is free! They also have baby events on for no charge, for example Time for a Rhyme. This was a godsend in the later stages of maternity leave, when money was (is!) scarce. Also fellow humans to speak to, when everyone was at work.

I have a few birthdays coming up and am being resourceful by making my own cards to gift (as an alternative, a handwritten note is both thoughtful and beautiful). I have gifted a Victoria sponge cake, which has barely any packaging if you make it yourself. It’s easy I promise!

My next big move is to get rid of our second car and use my bike and public transport to get about. While I will may never succeed in getting my husband to give up driving, I have wanted to be a 1 car household for a while. This means a huge saving on car maintenance, repairs and insurance.

I will NEVER again borrow money to buy a car, I decided this 3 years ago after I made my last loan repayment.  It is such a burden and this year we have no debts like this left! We bought a trailer to hitch up to the bikes so that we can take the little lady out on bike trips with us and leave the car at home. It cost around £100 but I think it’s money well spent. It’s about spending your money on the things that are important to you, not loan interest! We expect to clear our mortgage at least 10 years early.

I’m trying to live more mindfully and tread more lightly on The Earth. It’s about not wasting any of our resources, our money or our time. Living zero waste is not only good for the planet, but also our bank balance. I painted a picture of Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street on our green bin to remind myself not to take myself this journey too seriously.

I hope this article has given you some ideas. Aim for progress not perfection!


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20 comments

  1. What a great guest post!

    I had no idea about toy subscription services but it makes so much sense considering the attention span of really young kids and the amount of waste that comes from it, as Rebecca mentioned.

    I concur that flatbreads are so easy to make. I made some last week that only require two cheap ingredients and you can makes tonnes of them: self raising flour and natural yoghurt (a splash of oil to prevent sticking). Mix equal amounts of each into a bowl, roll out individually until flat and then whack into a pan until golden on either side.

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      Thank you for the recipe AMM. The home made flat breads taste so much better don’t they? Easy to make, delicious and cheaper than shop bought! What’s not to love.

  2. This chimes with me as a father of two great kids. Some really good ideas and inspiration.
    We used to go to 2nd hand baby markets practically every weekend and picky up bools/clothes /toys at around 5-15% of their brand new price – often in pristine condition.
    And I hope that we can drop down to 1 car too – that’ll save us £2k a year easy.

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      The second hand baby markets are brilliant, so much cheaper than buying new. It’s just getting over that mindset of having to have the best of everything for your new baby, when they will grow out of / tire of most things so quickly. Yes definitely drop the second car! I have been gearing myself up for that, I think it will make a big difference to the savings rate.

      1. We’ve even managed to make money at baby markets by buying there and selling on ebay.
        Things like lego and good quality toys cab be mini gold mines!

        1. Beckiwoo · ·

          Great idea, I hadn’t thought of that!

  3. Fantastic post thanks so much Rebecca, and TEA for sharing.

    Many of your food, meal planning, grow your own, transport and travel type ideas are very similar to how we’re trying to live. Being more mindful of your consumption sits so well with the FIRE mindset.

    With our first child due in 2 weeks (eek!) we’re so grateful to hear some of your tips!

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      Lovely! As gentlemansfamilyfinances mentioned, the second hand baby markets are brilliant. And most people just want rid of the baby paraphernalia. I have just seen a baby carrier, fold-able buggy and baby bath listed for free on Olio. Good luck with your new arrival!

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      👍

  4. Well done! You are an inspiration to all of us.
    I like the idea of a toy library or postal loan service, we will have to look in to that. We use freecycle to pass items on in our area, and FB marketplace for picking up/selling secondhand toys.
    As a washable recommendation for baby wipes, take a look at Cheeky Wipes. We bought them when our child was born and they have been great for cleaning dirty bottoms, much better than disposable wipes.

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      Thank you for the recommendation of Cheeky Wipes, I’ll definitely be getting some of those!

  5. Enjoyed this article, thanks.

    For me, spending provides a rough guide to carbon footprint. The less spending on discretionary items, the lower the CO2 impact. This period is a great time to re-evaluate lifestyle and assess what we really need and what brings true value to our lives. Also to reflect on what sort of future we want and how to #buildbackbetter

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      Absolutely, this time at home forces you to stop and think. I’m looking forward to when lock-down is over, but some things aren’t worth rushing back to. Things that bring ‘true value’ to our lives often aren’t that expensive. It has taken me a long time to realise that!

  6. Love the idea of Whirli – I’m definitely tempted, to help on preventing cluttering of toys, and having them played with for a week and then left alone in a box after, never to be used again.

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      My experience of Whirli is positive so far. If you use the code: G9KKD9TA you can get 15% off your order. I find it very affordable in comparison with buying the toys, you even get the option to buy them at a reduced price if you want to. I know that I don’t have loads of storage for toys so I like the option to send them back!

  7. This is a great post with lots of useful tips. I also try to combine my FI journey with a way to waste less. The quarantine has helped me to save a lot of energy by:
    – Not using any transport/ walking everywhere: even public transport adds to your carbon footprint.
    – Starting to grow my own little kitchen herb garden. I even grew some tomato plants from a supermarket tomato, they are looking really nice.
    – Not doing any quick snack stops at the local corner shops, which always produce a lot of waste.

    Other things, like recycling, have suffered since the recycling bins at my local mall have been removed (and I live above a shop, so no bins at our house). Hopefully they bring them back soon.

    I love how you are working on reducing meat consumption. It’s both frugal and environmentally friendly.

    1. Beckiwoo · · Reply

      Growing your own herbs is so satisfying isn’t it. I’m yet to successfully grow a tomato though, you’re ahead of me there!

      1. It totally is! Not sure mine will be successful yet, but we’ll see.

  8. SteveC · · Reply

    Repair is a hugely important theme here – not only clothes but household e.g. basic plumbing and carpentry. This is especially true for electrical and electronic items – organisations such as The Restart Project and Repair Cafe strongly encourage and support repair in your local community through collaborative fixing clinics where you can get help with repairing your broken electrical devices, free of charge.

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