The 3 Biggest Chunks of Your Budget, and how Sustainability can Save you Money on all of Them
Updated: Jun 23
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Surely we’ve all heard of the advice of the experts in money telling us to stop buying avocado toast and oat milk lattes. But the ones who tell you to focus on the three biggest categories are onto something.
Sure, you can save $40 per month depriving yourself of a nice latte or smoothie a couple of times a week. Or you can save $400 per month by moving to a smaller apartment or getting a roommate. For reference, the three biggest expenses of your monthly budget are House, Car, and Food (HCF)
So, how exactly can going green, being eco-friendly, being sustainably-minded, or however else you want to say it save you money? So glad you asked.
Welcome to My House
If you’ve ever heard of or been in a LEED building, you might have some gist of how a sustainable building can save you money. LEED buildings have become the new bade of prestige for office and commercial buildings, with management proudly displaying their plaque upon entrance to the building. Some commercial real estate brokerages even found tenants are willing to pay higher rent per square foot for a LEED-certified building, than without the certification, all else being equal.
If you think about it, it’s even more vital for buildings with square footage exceeding 300,000, rather than a house of 3,000 square feet. They have to keep their HVAC system in optimal efficiency, heat and cool a much larger space, run elevators, flush 250 toilets multiple times a day, you get the picture.
However, something can be said about the elements of being LEED-certified and taking that to your own home. The US Green Building Council, or USGBC, offers lots of great information on how to implement sustainable practices into home design and renovation. They even have a great intro course called Introduction to Green Building that anyone can watch to understand the elements that make a difference in their homes.
To start, you should have the smallest home or space that you can be comfortable in. I’m not wagging my finger at you if you buy anything other than a tiny home, however, you probably don’t need a two-bedroom apartment for yourself. Or if you have one child, is a 4 bed 3 bath necessary?
Some homes are built well within 1,800 square feet. Then you have homes that are 4,000 square feet and waste a bunch of space with long foyers or bonus rooms. And don’t even get me started on wealthy couples who have 11,000 square foot homes with 8 bathrooms for the one time a year their kids come to visit.
If the one place you find joy and fulfillment is a spacious home, then fine, just make good use of the space and don’t run your heater 24/7 all winter.
How a green home will save you money is through an efficient heating and cooling system. In addition, water efficiency also helps here, such as low-flow toilets, faucets, showerheads, and irrigation systems. The EPA helps you out here with their WaterSense label to find them more easily.
Speaking of irrigation, please don’t be that person that has half an acre of lawn in their front yard with broken and misaligned sprinkler heads. The best thing about living in an apartment, or condo (hint: smaller space) is that you don’t have to worry about landscaping.
Or even some townhomes don’t have them. If you are in a single-family home though, look into xeriscaping, drought-tolerant plans, rocks, etc. You shouldn’t spend your weekends mowing grass, which is ironically green even though it’s a money pit when it comes to water.
And what does less water and electricity mean for you? Major savings over time!
There are many amazing sustainable home design firms, and LEED also has a Homes section when you want to save money on your own digs.
We'll Be Looking Classy in My ...
If you’re lucky enough to live in downtown or at least a walkable area, hats off to you. Another major benefit of living in a downtown apartment, other than a smaller space to heat and cool, is I rarely used my car. So you know how people say save money on transportation by driving your old beater into the ground?
Yeah, I’m on the contrary. Life is too short to drive a piece of junk, on top of paying $5,000 a year on maintenance and driving a gas guzzler. When I read about millionaire FI’ers proudly driving a 22-year-old SUV, I just wonder if they even stop to think if they need that car or all the money it takes to operate it.
If you can go car-free, you’ll drastically reduce spending on transportation, while also minimizing your carbon footprint. On top of that, you’ll get more fresh air, exercise, and tranquility when you bike, skate, or walk more places.
If you live with a partner or family, try doing it with just one car.
And if you live in a suburb where the nearest bus station is 6 miles away, please move. Just kidding. At least find a work-from-home job, consider buying a hybrid or electric car, and bunch your errands together.
Do You Eat?
“Noo not food! I can be a money saver with anything else, but don’t take my open-faced bagel sandwiches and iced chai lattes!” Relax, this is not a 'cut out everything that brings you joy' post. It’s more about thinking about where your food comes from, what it does to your body, and your wallet.
We all know fast food and junk food are bad for us, and we think we are saving money by buying cheap stuff, but it makes us feel sluggish, creates tons of plastic waste, and costs us way more in the future when healthcare costs creep up.
There’s a reason many nutritionists encourage more cooking yourself and plant-based eating. It’s healthier! Guess what else, it’s good for mother Earth. Plants have a much lower carbon footprint than eating wings and steak all the time. The other perk? It’s cheaper on average to eat a plant-based diet than a meat-focused diet.
So, fill up your plate with lots of colors. Eat food that comes from the ground, not ground-up meats. There’s a reason plant-based people live longer, so start following them by getting your proteins from beans, nuts, seeds, soy, pea protein, and more.
One more thing, as you go plant-based you might become a “produce snob” and want only the most beautiful pieces of squash and chard. Go to your farmers market, or at least pick local produce, to vouch for more for food that doesn’t need to cross an ocean to get to you.
So there you have it. The best way to reach FI faster is focusing on your three greatest costs of Housing, Car, and Food. The biggest secret? Taking it a step further and taking the more sustainable route, which will save you even more money, prove better for your health, and keep your carbon emissions at bay.