From making reusable loo paper to paying only for the ingredients you need, living a sustainable lifestyle can save you money. Read our guide to creating your own eco home
A few changes to your home and habits can cut your impact on the environment and save you money. To get you started, we’ve highlighted 10 ideas that can easily be carried out in your spare time.
1. Switch energy supplier
This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make big savings fast. Although renewable energy used to come at a premium, half of the cheapest tariffs now come from green fuel, with companies such as Bulb, ENGIE and Octopus often beating the Big Six energy giants including British Gas and EDF. Households can save £273 a year, on average, on a typical standard variable tariff by switching to green fuel. E.ON and Npower now offer a green tariff, which is cheaper than their equivalent standard tariff.
2. Fix – don’t replace
Rather than assuming something is beyond repair, try fixing it yourself. Search on YouTube and you will probably find a step-by-step guide on how to repair your particular appliance. Or find out if there is a free repair café in your area via Repaircafe.org and pick up some tips at the same time. Make sure you repair them safely though – especially if they’re electrical. If you do have to replace an item, make sure it is built to last by using sites such as Buy Me Once (UK.buymeonce.com), where products are tested for their longevity such as cooking pans with a lifetime guarantee.
Don’t assume an item is beyond repair and try fixing it
3. Throw a swishing party
Swishing is a fun way to swap clothes with friends and get a whole new wardrobe without spending any money or throwing fashion into landfill. Get a group of friends together, ask them to bring along any clothes they are bored of or that don’t fit and provide some drinks and nibbles. Alternative ways to find cheap secondhand clothes, or to sell on your own items, is to join local Facebook selling groups or make use of apps such as Gumtree and Shpock.
4. Reduce food waste
The average UK household loses £470 a year on avoidable food waste, so planning your meals before your weekly food shop will prevent impulse buying and ensure you only buy what you need. Portion planning, batch cooking and freezing leftovers are also cost-effective ways to ensure your meals go further.
Zero-waste shops, such as Refill Revolution’s shop in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, enable shoppers to buy recipe-size portions, such as a teaspoon of cardamom, for a few pence so they don’t end up with a jar of unused ingredients.
Smartphone apps, such as Good to Go, can help customers pick up takeaway, restaurant and hotel food at massive discounts before it is thrown away. Similarly, Olio (Olioex.com) connects neighbours and shops so surplus food can be shared for free.
5. Take your own Tupperware
Shoppers are now adept at bringing their own bags, so the next step is to shop with your own reusable containers. Plastic containers, glass jars and vacuum flasks can all be used at a growing number of zero-waste shops, market stalls and coffee shops where great deals and discounts can be found.
“It is the traditional way of how our grandparents shopped. It is about thinking ahead and looking back to what we did before plastic,” says Georgina Wilson-Powell, editor of sustainable living magazine Pebble. And if you are attending an event or meeting with hospitality don’t be embarrassed to turn up with containers to take home unwanted food. You will get a free meal and prevent food from being thrown in landfill.
6. Make your own products
There are many inventive recipes online to make haircare and skincare products out of items in your kitchen cupboards. Meanwhile, bicarbonate of soda, lemon and vinegar are great cleaning products and cost less than £1 each.
Jen Gale, sustainable living champion of Asustainablelife.co.uk, also recommends using white vinegar instead of dishwasher rinse aid. Five litres can be bought for £10 on Amazon compared to £1.30 to £3.50 for 100ml of rinse aid.
“I also make my own deodorant from coconut oil, cornflour, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils. It is so much cheaper than buying it,” adds Ms Gale.
7. Apply for home improvement grants
Under the Energy Company Obligations scheme, eligible customers can apply for thousands of pounds’ worth of energy-efficiency improvements, including replacement boilers and loft and cavity wall insulation.
Free loft and cavity wall insulation is easier to come by, and even if you are not eligible for a 100% grant you will probably only have to pay a tiny amount for the work, often less than £30.
Homeowners can also get money towards the costs of renewable heating, such as biomass boilers, solar water heating and heat pumps, via the Domestic Renewable Heat Initiative. And if you are elderly, disabled or on a low income, your local Home Improvement Agency may help you to repair, improve, maintain or adapt your home.
8. Learn how to sew
Being able to darn clothes and stitch hems is a great skill to have and will prevent you from throwing away otherwise good clothes. Sewing ability also comes in handy for making kids’ costumes rather than buying them and creating items to keep the house warmer to avoid spending more on fuel, such as draft excluders or lining curtains with old blankets.
Reusing and upcycling items in this way cuts down on the energy used to make and transport bought goods and reduces plastic packaging.
9. Invest in reusable menstrual products
On average, women menstruate for around 40 years, having approximately 480 periods, costing an estimated £4,800, according to the charity Bloody Good Period.
Ella Daish, a campaigner to end period plastics, says there are huge financial benefits to going green with your flow.
“Reusable products, such as menstrual cups, have a 10-year lifespan so women only need four in a reproductive lifetime. Each cup costs around £20 so that works out at just 16p per period with an overall saving of £4,720.”
Other alternatives are reusable pads with a lifespan of five years. These cost around £5.50 each, and an initial pack of 15 pads for a cycle would cost £82.50. Over 40 years, this would cost £660 – a saving of £4,140.
Only buy items you need and try not to spend any cash for a day
10. Just stop buying
Being aware of your consumption and only buying new items when absolutely necessary can have the biggest impact on your wallet and the environment.
Buy Nothing Day, which took place on 23 November this year, is the antithesis to Black Friday and advocates spending no money for the whole day.
Ms Gale and her family spent a year buying nothing new and saved £2,000. “Being thrifty is not about being tight with money it is about being careful with resources and more thoughtful about your consumption,” she says.
“My solar panels have paid for themselves now”
Investing in an electric car and solar panels has meant that Susanna Riviere (pictured right), 64, has reduced her monthly outlay and is an investment in the planet she feels passionate about.
Her net annual fuel bill is £500 for a three-bedroom, semi-detached house in London and, after almost 10 years, the solar and hot water panels have paid for themselves.
“It cost us £10,400 for the eight panels, but we got a grant of £2,500 from the Energy Saving Trust and we get £800 a year back from the feed-in tariff,” she says.
The panels are also used to charge her electric car and bicycle, which she does when the sun is out so the electricity is free.
“I got a £4,500 grant towards the cost of the car and a free home charger. The car was a similar price to a non-electric model, so in the long run I will be saving money.”
The running costs of Susanna’s car are low because the insurance is less and there is no road tax or congestion charge to pay.
The retired solicitor and meditation teacher also advocates refusing to buy goods just for the sake of it.
“If I want to acquire something, I think do I actually need it? We buy a lot of stuff we don’t actually need,” she adds.
“We make our own reusable loo paper”
From making her own “foof wipes” to cultivating yoghurt and cooking popcorn, community exercise assessor Kelsey Sprintall (pictured above with her two daughters, Neve, aged 10, on the right, and Willow, aged eight) is doing everything she can to reduce waste at home.
“You tend to spend out a little bit at the beginning but then you save from that point on,” says Kelsey, who lives with her husband and daughters in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
Her most radical creation has been homemade toilet paper.
“The girls and I made them out of terry towelling. We spent about £10 on a metre square and cut them up. We use them just for wees, and the kids and their friends have just adapted to using them. We make a joke out of it and call them foof wipes. Now a pack of toilet roll lasts for months,” she explains.
The wipes are deposited in a small bin scented with essential oil and then washed inside a mesh bag alongside a regular dark wash.
“It is just like having a few extra pairs of socks to sort out,” says the 41-year-old.
The family has also invested in a yoghurt maker for £30 and they forage for fruits and scrumping for apples to get their flavourings.
And instead of buying multi-packs of crisps, they now spend 35p on 100g of popcorn, which they flavour with household spreads such as Marmite.
“A bag of popcorn kernels goes far so that’s a good saving. I also make my own butter with cream from the dairy, which is comparable in price with the supermarket but is much better quality,” she adds.
Lily Canter is a freelance journalist who writes for a wide range of publications including Metro, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times