How to Reduce Costs, Save the World, and Feel Better About Yourself




About: I make music and things.

The poverty line in the U.S. is floating just above $10,000 for a single person. Unfortunately, this is much higher than the global poverty line. I say "unfortunately" because it means that no matter how hard we have it right now, there are millions of people elsewhere that have been living in far worse conditions for their entire lives. It is important to keep this in mind as we strive to save money here at home. Never buy cheaper goods without considering the fact that they may contribute to a system that keeps other nations in poverty while making a gigantic corporation tons of money.

I am going to target everything we do on a daily basis with this Instructable in hopes that we can pare down our lifestyles to something that can be considered sustainable, both financially and ecologically.

Step 1: Change Your Attitude

This is the most important step. You have to be willing to make the leap from "I want it so I must have it" to "Hmm... do I REALLY need that right now?" This may seem obvious, but it is a huge reality that is going to have to set in eventually. Not everyone can live the "American Dream" type life that has plagued our world for centuries. It is just not possible. The earth cannot handle it. This is a fact.

Don't get me wrong, I love the freedoms that being an American affords, but the abuse of these freedoms destroys so many more lives than the ones it enhances. We must change our state of mind so that our percieved luxuries include less waste and reliance on the suffering of others. But let's not get preachy. Let's get practical.

Step 2: Buying Food

The tricky thing with food is that we have a grocery system that makes worse food cheaper and better food more expensive. For the most part. We've all seen the "organic" food right next to the "non-organic" food. The price difference is right there in your face. To battle this, all we have to do is take a step back and realize that food does not have to come from the store. Before driving over to the local supermarket, try these alternatives:

Farmers Markets: moderate savings

I have found that farmers markets usually have very competitive pricing on their goods. Along with these cost-savings, farmers markets are guaranteed to be local, which means that the food did not travel very far. The shorter a distance the food travels, the better it is for the environment. Also, these market situations promote a greater sense of community and social interaction. Those are good things.

The Nursery: high savings

Go buy some seeds and/or plants that you can harvest. This option does take more effort and time on your part, but can be very rewarding. Not only will you learn about how magical plants are, you will have the satisfaction of saying "I made this." Chances are that if you are reading this, you prefer to say "I made this" rather than "I bought this."

If you do find yourself needing a store, try to buy as many products that are the store's own brand. These are always cheaper and almost always exactly the same product.

Don't look at the price. Look at the price PER OUNCE. Most food products will have a little number somewhere on the shelf-tag that says the price per ounce.

Don't be fooled by sales and great deals. Sales and price reductions are meant to catch your eye and get you to buy things that you don't need. Always enter a shopping situation with a game-plan. Buying something you don't need for really really cheap is still buying something.

Step 3: Finding Food

This part might take a little bravery, as it is the step that challenges our current system the most. In America, roughly one third of the food produced is wasted. Done. Gone. Wasted. This sucks, and doesn't even take into account all the food that doesn't go through the system. Eating picky/lazy peoples' waste food is a great way to save money. Try some of these tips:


Get over your fears of eating other peoples' leftovers. For some reason, everyone is afraid of cooties. Sure, there are very real and very dangerous germs, but someone will probably tell you if they've got something truly dangerous before you eat their food. Also, try to limit your own portions so that there is very little waste.

Urban Agriculture:

Take a page out of the Portland Fruit Tree Project's book. If you see someone with an obviously unattended fruit tree or vegetable patch, knock on their door and offer to take some of it off of their hands. Simple. Free. Delicious.

Special Events:

Being a part of clubs/organizations ( like Human Powered Vehicle teams ) that host events is great. Planning appearances at said events during meal times is a fantastic way to save on meal costs. When it really comes down to it, you don't even have to be a part of the group. Sneaking food off of a table is easier than you'd think. If you get caught, just put the food in your mouth and leave. They were gonna throw away the leftovers anyway.

Step 4: Consumable Liquids

For some reason, I've found this to be one of the hardest concepts for people: stick to water. You don't need a sensory overload every time a drink touches your lips. The financial and bodily benefits of drinking plain and simple tap water are astounding.

Bottled water is the devil. Unless you are living or travelling in a country without a clean tap water supply, avoid bottled water like the plague. Do not buy it. Refuse it if somebody offers, even if it's the only thing available. Chances are there is a drinking fountain somewhere. Bottled water isn't even guaranteed to be cleaner than tap water. It is one of the biggest scare-tactic industries in the world.

If the pipes in your home are very old and contaminated, consider buying a fridge or faucet filter. These will remove pretty much everything you need to worry about from tap water (in the US).

Imagine a world where everyone used batteries in their home instead of the electricity coming in through the power lines. Why would you do that with water?

Replacing your coffee with a little extra sleep and your sodas and juices with water, you can easily cut down on your daily costs.

Step 5: Dumpster Diving

An artform in itself, dumpster diving can be one of your biggest cost-saving devices. You can find anything from freshly-tossed food to nearly-perfect construction materials. With a little exploration and patience, you can find out what usally ends up where and tailor your dumpster outings to your needs. Do some experimentation and see what you find!

Step 6: Transportation

For this one, let's do a cost comparison.

Subjects A and B just got out of college and moved to the same city. They have the same job, but different attitudes.

Subject A decided that he's moving up in the world so he should buy a car. To be the earth-friendly person he is, he purchases a lean, green, hybrid machine (or just a car in general). Subject A now has monthly payments to cover the car and insurance and he must pay for gas. Oh, and there's maintenance too. This can easily be anywhere from $7000 to $12,000 in expenses per year.

Subject B decides to stick to "alternative" modes of transportation. He commutes to work on his bike, takes the bus when the trip is too long, and takes the train to other cities when necessary. To be fair, he buys renter's insurance for the bike and his stuff, but his maintenance costs are quite low. And no gasoline. Even with a monthly bus pass, train ticket or two, and maybe even a couple cab rides thrown in, his costs are quite a few thousand dollars less than Subject A.

There are many factors that determine if you MUST use a car or not, but the trick is at least to think about all of them and consciously decided which ones really are "musts" and which ones can be changed. There is no rule that says you must drive everywhere if you own a car. The savings are in your legs.

Step 7: Social Interaction

Most of us have people called friends and/or family. With these friends and/or family, we like to do things. Here are some ideas to save money while still having a blast.

Bocce Ball
Bike ride
Invent a sport
Movie/historical battle reenactment

Board/card/parlor games
Naked pillow fight (not recommended with family -- only special friends)
Pirated movies
Cook (involve everyone in the eating AND preparation)

Art Gallery Hopping (possible free food)
Jam Session (does not necessarily require musicians)
Make a Collaborative Instructable

Movie Theaters

Step 8: Around the House/Energy/Water

Our home is probably where most things get overlooked. We do things the same way every day and stop paying attention.


Don't refrigerate something unless it REALLY needs it. This also goes hand-in-hand with buying food more often. Think back to the days when people would buy food daily because they couldn't keep it cold. Plan what you want to eat for the week, while keeping a good stock of general foods that really don't go bad. An hour of planning on the weekend can make all the difference. Knowing what you will make ahead of time also reduces waste. You might even be able to switch to a smaller fridge.

Living Room/Den/Entertainment Cave:

Power strips are your friend. Electrical devices like DVD players, TVs, speaker, computers, and gaming systems leech energy while not in use. If you plug them all into a power strip, you can easily cut power to everything when you leave the room.


Purchase a water-saving shower head. These can reduce consumption by half when in use, and some even have a "low-flow" mode for when you are soaping up but don't want to turn the water completely off.

Put a brick in your toilet. This will displace some of the water in the tank, recuding the amount used per flush. Push the limits of how much water you can save this way. Remember, you can always flush twice if need be. Buying a dual-flush toilet is nice, but can be pricy and we're trying to save money.


Use sunlight/shade to your advantage. If you have large windows that get lots of sun during the day you have a lot of options. Plant trees outside of them that provide shade in the summer, but let the light in during the winter when the leaves fall off. A similar effect can be achieved with your blinds or curtains. During the summer, open your windows and blinds at night to let the cool air in and then shut them in the morning to keep it in and block the sunlight from heating the house.

Change your thermostat a few degrees and increase your tolerance for being "too" cold or warm. Adding/removing clothing is very inexpensive. Make yourself a quilt to stay warm.


Do the whole CF lightbulb deal.

Participated in the
Party Like It's 1929!



    • DIY Summer Camp Contest

      DIY Summer Camp Contest
    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

      Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

    55 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Since you have a fridge, don't forget to stock it up with bargains. If you go to markets and supermarkets near closing time, you'll often get lots of good food at throw-out prices. Our freezer is always stocked with cut-price food we rarely pay full price for anything except the basics- milk etc.

    Electric breadmakers have become cheap and they make great bread for a fraction of the cost of bakery bread. Plus you can use less salt/sugar and add healthy grains if you like (I use 1/2 bread flour and 1/2 bread mix with some oat bran mixed in - quick, easy, cheap and delicious) :)

    Buy fruit by the boxful when it's in season and make jam or preserves to go on your bread- or grow your own if you can. Our tomatoes get bottled in the microwave for healthy pasta meals all year round.

    And don't forget your local charity opportunity shops or garage/yard sales for bargains of all sorts- or Freecycle, if you have a local branch. It's amazing what people will just give way or sell for peanuts.

    Thanks for the thoughtful 'ible - the more people who break the Constant Consumer pattern, the better for us all!

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 8

    If I can chime in, bread machines are a waste of time and energy.
    I use my hands to mix the dough every 20 or so days, and I make 6-7 large loaves every time, which I freeze as soon as they cool, and I have always fresh healthy bread.
    It only takes about 10-15 minutes to thoroughly mix 5-7 pounds flour of different kinds (wheat, rye, ground oats flax seeds etc.,) which yields 8-10 pounds of great bread.

    You can use the healthy ingredients you choose, and you only need to run the oven for one hour, instead of using the bread machine every time for a tiny loaf.


    8 years ago on Step 5

    We got a flat screen tv from someone's garbage. It was in perfect condition but the transformer burned out. My dad fixed it and we've had no problems with it since.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I'd like to mention one thing omitted in step 7 above: turn off commercial television and commercial radio ...advertising is the root of all the evil we're talking about here. You may be surprised at how quickly you can lose the taste for buying unnecessary products and services when they are not 'in your face' all the time! If you must watch TV, watch your local PBS station, you'll probably learn something, (whether you want to or not)!

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I completely agree. The fall of capitalism will be a great day. (OMG! how unAmerican of me). haha. But seriously, who said that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness need capitalism. wtf.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Without capitalism, you can have life, liberty and pursue happiness, as long as you have the consent of the mob. Nice Instructable.


    8 years ago on Step 4

    I'm in FL, so drinking straight from the tap is like guzzling chlorine. So we have a filtered pitcher, and it rocks :] I don't miss soda.


    8 years ago on Step 4

    Tap water has to have more required testing than does bottled water. That being said our city water usually , according to mandatory reports we receive, has 2 or 3 items on list below standard. Though it is monitored if it does not pass inspection nothing is done to fix it, except maybe a small fine.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    you'll probably lose more power with all the cameras and such, plus its hard to get a good view of everything with just cameras when you have many different hings crammed into a fridge...


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Considering that pirated movies are kinda-sorta-pretty much-yeah they are illegal, I would like to point out that often, libraries have collections of DVDs and VHS that people can take out. And it's free.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 7

    Yeah, I totaly agree!!! They have pretty good movies at the library!!!!


    8 years ago on Step 5

    Hey, I'm a collage student so that means I dumpsterdive for a living almost. My boyfriend calls me a scavenger but it is as it is...I've found a cashemere knitted hat in a bus, Gucci umbrella in the train, free chouches (yes, plural) and an Ikea coathanger for in the hallway and many many more. It pays to be a scavenger!!!!!

    I really like this post. I will be taking ideas from this and applying them to my everyday life. Thanks! ♥ Jessica ♥


    9 years ago on Step 5

    yo!! this has worked sooo god for me... always since I was a child I used to collect stuff from the street, I mean not any stuff, but stuff that I kew I was going to Use later, like bolts, nuts, wires etc, and I still do, so I usually when I go out I look around to see if there's any useful garbage or furniture, etc that might work, or probably to use the wood from that furniture to build something else I need.
    Around 2 mothns ago walking around I found a laptop in the garbage YES A LAPTOP, It was wet and all that, but I took it home; it didnt have a hard drive and the screen was cracked... I inserted a HD then connected it to a monitor and it was good to go!!! actually is the one I am using right now and the best part is that it is faster than the one I had before!!
    It feels good, I am saving money and recycling at the same time!

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 5

     That's awesome! I pick up stuff all the time. I've found some great springs and small hardware. And a rubber snake once. hah.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 5

    last Sunday I found a V3 Razr and a DLink Wireless Router, Both in perfect condition :D.


    9 years ago on Step 2

    hello, this are really good ideas, I am a student and sometimes I barely make it to pay the rent, but then I have very little money left to buy food, what I do is I go to the food banks that some churches sponsor weekely and I get some food from here, most of the food you are going to get is pasta and canned food, but if you have a litlle left you can buy some meat at the store and you are good to go.
    I also ALWAYS buy food mostly meat by the Kg(or Lb) price, they fool you with the big number and you think thet is cheap but look again! and compare!, privately owned meat stores are the cheaper ones to buy meat from.

    thanks for your tips


    9 years ago on Step 8

    You should TOTALLY check out the idea of getting a chest freezer and converting it into a fridge all you need is one of those external thermometers from a homebrew site!!! It works WITH nature and not against it! I say this because cool air sinks and since you open a chest freezer at the top instead of the front, all your cool air doesn't fall out and a bunch of warm air doesn't come striding in. I'm gonna do it for my sophmore year in college instead of a mini-fridge. (I don't think those wierd tiny fridges REALLY work... it might be pure suspision and malice for my last itty bitty cooling device but still...)

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 8

    Mini fridges don't work, and if they do, it's because they take as much energy as a regular fridge.