When I look around my apartment and examine recent receipts, I can truly say I have begun to actualize a longtime resolution: to live with less clutter and save money by being a more conscious consumer. Not only do I have a bike, cloth grocery bags, a refillable coffee mug, and thrift store clothing, but most of my furniture was either found in an alley, bought inexpensively at garage sales, passed down from a family member or given to me by a friend. I also save money by declining credit cards, cable TV or a car, on which I'd have to make payments.An enormous community of college-age kids are joining the act, too; witness the blog posts at Greenstudent U. The motives for living a simple lifestyle are pretty straightforward: Consuming less preserves the environment, puts less waste in landfills, and saves students a ton of dough.
That said, consuming less isn't always easy. It takes a lot of thought, effort, and self-control -- and of course, there is always more that can be done. I know I could still try harder to recycle and reuse paper, sell or donate unwanted clothing, and purchase less altogether. Sometimes, we just need a reminder or incentive. Well, here is a simply incentive: It will save you money.
DePaul graduate student and founder of Urban Simplicity: Chicago, Brad Knutson said, "When you become fully aware of the impact and benefit of your actions, the motivation to continue becomes a lot easier."
Knutson adds: "Take advantage of all the public resources and events offered... like visiting [the library] before going to Barnes and Noble, take advantage of free event days at museums, and plan your trips and activities around what's closest to walk, bike or via your public transportation options."
If you feel as if you don't know where to begin, take a look at 18 Ways to Save Money in College (at CollegeScholarships.org) and Going Green in College Dorms, (at Suite101.com).
How to start acting on your intentions, then? Let's make living simple, well, simple. Here are a dozen easy ways to save money by consuming consciously:
1. Drive less. It's not news that cars cost money and they pollute the air. Take public transportation or bike around your neighborhood or campus. If you only need the use of a car every once in a while, join a car-sharing program. Want to know how much you'll save? This calculator help you figure out how much spend to drive a car, aside from gas. For every day you can ride a bike or take public transit instead, the savings will add up.
2. Instead of buying at the campus bookstore, go online. The prices on sites like Amazon.com are often the cheapest. You can compare book prices on ISBN.nu, and rent -- yes, rent -- textbooks at Chegg.com.
3. Reuse your three-ring binders. Why buy a slew of new binders each semester? Instead of using notebooks, get loose-leaf paper and reuse your binders each semester. You can easily staple your old notes together and save them if you need to do so.
4. Buy (and freeze) food at the grocery store instead of getting take-out. For the cost of one 1/3 lb. McDonald's Angus Deluxe ($4), you can get at least three times as much top-grade beef at your grocery store. Make use of a freezer and you can take advantage of sales, and stock up.
5. Buy (or make) reusable cloth grocery bags. Sometimes it's nice to have extra plastic grocery bags at home to use for trash bags or to hold towels, but you don't need a cabinet full. Save yourself the clutter at home and in your dorm room. I've been using these for years. Trust me, it's worth it. Plus, I save the grocery store 6-10 bags every time I shop.
6. Invest in a refillable coffee mug. Many coffee shops give you a discount if you bring in your own mug. Save paper while you save some cash.
7. Limit your use of disposable cups, plates, silverware and paper napkins. According to the Web site Sustainability Is Sexy, Americans will consume an estimated 23 billion paper coffee cups in 2010, a figure provided by the paper industry. Rob Martin, the Vice President of Merchandising and Production for Tully's Coffee, estimated the 2006 usage at 16 billion paper cups.
8. Halve your portions and double your meals. The next time you eat out and the waiter brings you a sizable portion, put half in a box and eat it for your next meal. You'll save yourself the cost of an entire meal. Note also that many restaurants serve the same portions for lunch as dinner -- only dinner prices go up.
9. Join a grocery co-op. These cost money, but they also allow you to support local business, which in turn benefits you (through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures). Check out the 3/50 Project and visit the Local Beet.
10. Bookmark cost-saving websites. Groupon (in more than 50 cities, such as Washington D.C. and Chicago) and Thriftyhipster (Minneapolis) are among the local hubs that offer discounts and deals targeted to a given city.
11. Visit museums on free days, go to local libraries before chain bookstores. In general, take advantage of public events and resources, which you can often find through your local Web site. The City of Chicago spent almost $2 million to revamp its Web site to make a wealth of civic resources -- including details of free concerts and festivals -- available not just to Chicagoans, but students who come to the city from all over the nation.
12. This summer, hold off on installing an air conditioner. Learn different ways to cool your apartment or dorm room. But how, you ask? Use an old textbook as a fan? Stick your head in a bucket of ice cubes? Hardly necessary. Here are some great, green ideas for keeping cool, and saving on your electric bill.
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