The news is grim. 16 million people unemployed in the States in just three weeks. Canadians lost 1 million jobs just in March. The Mexican economy could contract by 12%, and 75.2 million tourism workers worldwide have lost their jobs. For those lucky enough to still have a job, the uncertainty doesn’t end. Companies are cutting salaries to “spread the financial pain” across all its workers, rather than some feeling it more acutely with job losses. With businesses shutting down and restrictions on movement, finding a new job or side hustle at this time is not an option like previous recessions. These statistics are scary, and odds are you or your loved ones are already knee deep in this.
We at Earth Mamas feel this too. Most of us are in single income households, where a loss of a job would have us relying on savings to see us through to the other side of these economic hard times. That we have those savings makes us lucky, while also making us wonder whether it will be enough to live off of until the hard times pass.
Living sustainably isn’t just environmental, it is social and economic. Many environmentally friendly and sustainable initiatives are also economically sensible (contrary to some media claims). When there aren’t options to make more money, we have to stretch the money we already have as far as it can go. Taking on some sustainable initiatives in your household can help you get through these tough economic times.
Utility expenses add up over the year. The average American spends over $100 on electricity each month, and between $500-$1500 to heat their homes in the winter. Small changes can add up. Start by identifying the biggest utility bill and focus on that one. I would recommend leaving the internet and cable alone for now, as we are depending on those utilities to connect us to the outside world.
- Turn down the heat (if it is winter where you are). Snuggle up in multiple layers and wear socks to bed. Have the kids make a cozy fort and play in there to keep warm. Weather-seal your windows to prevent cold air from coming in and paid-for warm air leaving.
- If your electricity bill is high, unplug unused appliances. It makes a huge difference to unplug the TV and other gadgets for the 8+ hours you are sleeping. Use lamps rather than overhead lights as lamps usually use less wattage. Hang clothes rather than using the dryer. Rewear clothes before washing them (yes! Another reason to wear the same sweatpants for multiple days).
- If you live in a warm climate, there are ideas to cut down your air conditioning use in 20 Tips to an Eco-friendly Summer.
We all have to eat. Three times a day, or more. And with food banks overloaded and free meals at schools cancelled, it is a perilous situation for so many families. Small changes can add up over time and stretch a small budget farther.
- CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) is when an individual or family buys a share of a farmer’s produce. Typically it is for the whole season, but some CSAs run it week to week. This benefits the farmer because they get the money upfront. This benefits the individual or family in that they get fresh produce without any added costs from the supermarket. At this time, some CSAs are offering payment plans, work-share opportunities, or giving shares to families who are in need.
- Imperfect Foods costs 30% less than grocery store prices, because they take fresh and healthy produce, with small imperfections, that grocery stores reject. Their mission is to get as much food grown eaten, which saves money and resources of both consumers and farmers. Right now they are struggling to keep up with demand, so sign up quickly to get on their delivery list.
- Eat more vegetarian food. We see it in the grocery stores and on restaurant menus: Meat costs more. During this pandemic, we also want to keep ourselves and our families healthy, so a healthy diet is key. A healthy vegetarian diet costs on average $750 less expensive than a healthy meat diet. That amounts to saving over $60 a month.
- Go plant-based and save even more. Since we get our produce delivered through a CSA, our grocery store trips are truly to stock on milk and eggs. Cutting down on milk and eggs means we save money and don’t have to go to the store as frequently. Plant-based milks are more expensive than cow’s milk, but you can make your own inexpensive oat milk with the recipe found on Got “Milk” Alternatives.
- Use every part of your food. Spinach stems, beet leaves, carrot peels, banana peels… all of these can be eaten and are delicious. Learn how to stretch out your food supplies in Food Waste recipes.
- Avoid prepackaged foods. The bulk of the cost is shipping and advertising. Pick a few items you can live without (in my house, its crackers and chips) and the one or two that you can’t live without (my husband loves cereal, and for my daughter and I, its granola).
- Eat down your pantry. The food shortages are scary, but they will even out over time. Now is the time to go through your pantry and use all those dust-collecting ingredients before they expire. Canadians throw away 58% of the food produced, and reducing this number will feed more people while saving money. Nourish by Numbers has a pantry challenge that can get you using food already purchased.
The best thing we can do is #StayAtHome, so this expense might be the easiest cut to the budget.
- Gas prices are cheap, but to save money, avoid using your car at all. Walk or ride a bike to the store with a backpack to carry home your groceries.
- Cut down from two cars to one car. I used to drive myself to work everyday, just to have the car sit in a parking lot, unused. Three years ago, I started carpooling with a coworker, and I don’t miss driving alone at all. Our family saves money on car maintenance, insurance, and gas. Facebook Marketplace and other third party platforms are helpful during these times to sell unwanted goods. Read through your lease to see if you can terminate it, and talk with your company to negotiate the fees that might come with this. Insurance companies also negotiate, especially if the payment is coming due, or pauses on cancellation for non-payments.
Cut down on buying new things: It might be a global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean our kids’ feet stop growing. How do you get what you need without buying new?
- Check a local Buy Nothing group for what you need. Most groups work on Facebook, and members advertise things they want to give away for free, or items they need for free. It is a circular economy model, where needs are met through exchanges.
- Shopped for used goods instead. Buying used items can save you up to 70% of the cost. Natalie’s post Things to Look for Used describes what is best to buy used and how to find them.
- Reuse materials found around the house. Kids’ bored with their toys? Make a new spaceship out of cardboard packaging. Out of coloring paper? Egg cartons are a fun texture to paint and color. Out of crayons? Use old ones and an oven to make new ones. When our kids lose their minds out of boredom, it is tempting to want to buy our way out of the fit. A simple play with materials might be what gets them out of their funk. Charlotte shares some ideas in Plastics, Playtime, and Our Poor Planet.
Last idea: Freeze your rent or mortgage payments. We all need housing right now to stay safe, and it makes up a good chunk of our monthly expenses.
- Talk to your landlord or bank. Give them your current reality and worse case scenario. Ask them to work with you. Different countries and cities have different rules for how housing costs can be frozen at this time.
- Talk with neighbors to find out more local information, because more likely than not, they are in a similar situation.
News and social media keep reminding us that our grandparents lived through similarly hard and dark times. They were called (or conscripted) to go to war, and divert food and other resources to the war effort. We are being asked to stay at home, which puts our access to food and other resources in jeopardy. We can learn a few lessons from them in how to stretch money and make the most out of scarce resources, which Natalie writes about in (Grand)Mother Knows Best: 14 Things Our Grandparents Did That We Should Bring Back.
These tips aren’t magic wands. Unfortunately, life is going to be hard for some months to come. We at Earth Mamas believe small changes make a big difference, for your family, and for our planet. Find a few ideas to make small changes that will add up over the next few months, and hopefully make a big difference in how far your budget stretches.
If you are reading this and feeling lucky to have a paycheck, a full pantry, and a roof over your head, please donate to a local food pantry or food bank. It is estimated that in the US alone, over a $1.4 billion dollars is needed to keep food banks stocked and feeding people. And that’s just for the next six months. It sounds daunting, but if 5 million people donated $50 a month, food banks would have the money they need. Do you have an extra $50 at the end of the month that you can donate?