I am a college student with a minimum wage job. This means I have a tight budget, so I prefer to spend my money carefully. There is a belief that zero waste is reserved for the elite- this may be the case in some situations, because organic and natural products tend to cost more. The reason for this is because the demand for natural products is low, so they are produced in small batches. As the demand increases we can expect these prices to drop, but for now most people struggling to get food on the table are not concerned about the waste they produce. Zero waste is seen as an aesthetic with people toting around their $35 stainless steel containers and $50 water bottles.

When really, the core principles are centered around using what you have and finding reusable options so you don’t throw your money away on disposables.

Here is how I save upwards of $700 a year by living more sustainably

1. Makeup wipes

I used to buy Neutrogena’s makeup remover wipes, which cost $6.99 a packet, plus tax. I wear makeup almost everyday, give or take a weekend or two. I use a makeup remover wipe any time I wear makeup, even if it’s a bit of concealer, because I hate breaking out. Now let’s do some math:

365 days/25 makeup wipes per unit = about 15 packets a year.

15 x $6.99 + tax ($7.51 in Illinois) = $112.65 a year on makeup wipes

One of the first swaps I ever made was buying this reusable makeup remover set, which costs a whopping $7.98, about 40 cents more than a disposable packet. With this one purchase, I save more than $100 a year. Which for a college kid is nothing to sneeze at. That’s a lot of food I can buy.

Total savings: $112.65 a year

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2. Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bars last a lot longer than traditional bottles of shampoo because they are so concentrated- why spend money on water when you use water to shower anyway? Typically, my bottle of shampoo would last me around 2-3 months depending on the size. I only bought salon shampoo from Matrix, (about $15 a bottle) because I remember my hair stylist friend told me she has to use a special pair of sharp scissors for the people who used Pantene- it coats your hair in a silicone wax to give it that “shine” that is ultimately really unhealthy and causes buildup. Yikes. Anyway, I now buy a $16 shampoo bar from Ethique that leaves my hair light, shiny, and bouncy that I absolutely love- and lasts about 3x as long as my old shampoo. My conditioner bar lasts even longer.

$15 every 2 months = $90 a year on shampoo bottles

$16 every 6 months= $32 a year on shampoo bars

Total savings: $58 a year

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3. Thrifting

This is the big one. This method of shopping has saved me SO. MUCH. MONEY. Did you know that if everyone bought ONE used item a year it would save the amount of CO2 equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road for a year? A key part of being environmentally conscious is using things that are already in the waste cycle. I have begun buying only used clothing, and the result is I have a lot higher quality clothing that will last much longer, for a lot less money. Don’t limit this to clothing, though- you would be so surprised to see what Goodwill and other thrift stores have to offer.

Here are some things I bought used this year compared to the original cost of the items that I looked up:

Anthropologie cardigan: Original: $198.00 Thrifted: $17.00 Saved: $181

LOFT sweater– Original: $49.50 Thrifted: $14.00 Saved: $35.50

Teva boots– Original: $140 Thrifted: $60 Saved: $80

American Eagle cardigan– Original: $45 Thrifted: $11 Saved $34

Anthropologie dress- Original: $71 Thrifted: $20 Saved $51

ZARA dress– Original: $60 Thrifted: $11.20 Saved $48.80

GUESS blouse– Original: $69 Thrifted: $17.99 Saved $51.01

Anthropologie blouse– Original: $70 Thrifted: $14 Saved $56

TOTAL SAVINGS (from items listed) = $537.31

For those wondering, I typically shop online at ThredUP.com and in person at Clothes Mentor

4. Paper Towels

The average family uses about 2 paper towel rolls a week, or 104 rolls a year. A package of 12 rolls is roughly $14, making it around $1.17 a roll. Annually, that comes to about $120 on paper towels a year. My family purchased four packs of these bar towels (packs of 4) for a total of $20. This is a one time purchase, so in the future my family will be saving over $100 dollars a year, and this year saved about $100.

Total savings: about $100 a year

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5. Safety Razor

I used to use Venus razor head cartridges which are very expensive- around $25 for 8 cartridges. I would change it out every other week. That means every two weeks (26 times a year) I spent $3.13 on razors. That’s about $81.38 a year on razor heads. Now, I buy steel razor blades to refill my safety razor. I buy from Albatross shaving company, where a year supply for medium frequency is $12.50 a year. My safety razor (that I will never have to replace) I bought secondhand from eBay for $25. Albatross also have a takeback program for razor blades where they recycle them into new products.

Total savings- $68.80 a year

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6. Menstrual Cup

I had a rough beginning using this one, not gonna lie. It’s hard to switch up a routine after menstruating for….9 years. The amount of waste and money a menstruating human spends on period care throughout a lifetime is mind boggling. Either way, here’s what it looked like:

3 tampons a day for an 8 day cycle (yes, I was unlucky) and a pad every night= 24 tampons and 8 pads every month

24 x 12= 288 tampons a year 8 x 12= 48 pads every year

Pack of 18 tampons= $3.89, $0.216 per tampon, Pack of 44 pads=$5.49, $0.12 per pad

I was spending around $70 a year on period products- over the course of a lifetime, I would spend around $2,730. I bought a reusable menstrual cup for $32.99, and it lasts around ten years. That means I will only have to spend around $100 more on feminine products for the rest of my life. Not to mention it is drastically more convenient, and I have so much peace of mind knowing leaks are impossible, and I don’t have any harmful synthetic materials or fragrances in the most absorbent part of my body.

Total savings: about $70 a year

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These are small changes, but as you can see they definitely add up. Have you noticed any differences in your spending when trying to be sustainable?

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