Plastic Free July and My Budget: A Very Effective Tag Team

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was trying to body slam my budget these days and that's coincided with the kick off of Plastic Free July, and my focus there is on reducing single-use plastics. Both of these are more of a perspective shift than I'd like to admit because I wish I were naturally more of a rockstar in both areas. But I'm not. Just a puny, lazy, self-serving, instant-gratification-loving human here. Your pal, Jesse. 

There is some overlap between "greening" your consumption (which often means taking it down a notch or five) and saving money, as many niche blogs before me have pointed out. And I'm definitely seeing the same synergy play out in my life these days. My perspective on both turns into "Okay, what do I absolutely need and how can I plan to do it in the best way possible?" For budget reasons, "best" means ethical and decent quality for the cheapest possible and for Plastic Free July it would with the least amount of plastic possible.

For both, that means I focus on stuff lower to the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid. Barring fixed expenses like rent, food is the main thing at the bottom level. And the thing that pops up two levels up from that is social stuff. Wanting and needing to connect with friends but in a way that is plastic-light and not too spendy.

img source here

Food and social stuff are the two areas where I have a significant level of flexibility with money and plastic. For both, planning in advance as much as possible saves me a lot of painful failures.

For food during the week I typically:
  • make my own cold brew coffee and use a travel mason jar (don't ask about soymilk - it's organic and cheap thanks for the food coop but still in a tetrapack)
  • eat a banana or toast - not terribly plastic-free given the bread and butter but this week I've upgraded to making scones with ingredients that mostly come from bulk and that are using a bag of dried cherries we were gifted a while ago
  • bring my own lunch in a leak-proof metal lunch bowl (usually some form of rice and beans which usually come from the bulk section at our coop with a vegetable of some kind) -- or maybe a sandwich in a wrapeat wrap (yum peanut butter and pickle sandwich)
  • dinner at home (some of this is packaged - like tofu or pasta) and some is package-free like veggies or beans

For food on the weekends, when I'm more likely to go out, in the last 5 days I've been:
  • suggesting picnics where I can better control the food I'm eating and what it's packed in (and carry my spork and cloth napkin around with me)
  • suggest eat-in restaurants within a decent price-point ("No straw, thanks!")
  • get sandwiches at take-out from places where I know I can get it wrapped in paper
  • Buy beverages from places that can refill my mason jar or purchase cans that can easily be recycled
  • carry a snack in my bag so I'm not stuck with having to buy a wrapped Cliff bar if I get really hungry when I'm out (snacks can be in a wrap mat, a mason jar or a small metal spice container)

Obviously people eat to be social -- or is that just us vegans? (Kidding. But truly, every vegan I know loves food so hard.) So a lot of what I wrote above doubles for what I do socially that helps on both the budget and plastic fronts. 

Otherwise, this is some of the other stuff I've done socially:

  • walk in the park or through various tree-lined brownstone neighborhoods (bring a water bottle and snack)
  • okay it's only been a month - help me out! besides parties, some trail walking and picnic hangouts, I haven't done much else so far. (We brought peaches and vegan sausages to the 4th of July bbq - both were affordable and also the peaches were not packaged). I know I want to do volunteer dog walking and head to the beach. But other than that I haven't thought of much else to add to this list. I would probably be happy if I just attended picnics all summer anyway as I'm mostly into talking and hang-out culture and chilling but, in case you have other ideas...

If I'm looking at the top of that period (self-actualization, creative activities): 

I used to do more crafting projects in friend groups or in organized workshops but these days I just wait until I'm really in the mood so I can focus on them at home. This lets me try to figure out what's working and what's not -- more of a focused learning project than a group activity. I was interested in the Brooklyn Brainery Block Printing on Textiles workshop -- but then I realized I'd already taught myself how to do this to a certain extent. (Saved $65 I guess.) I do love the Brainery and learning in a workshop environment so I imagine I'll take more classes there in the future if it's something I feel like I can't teach myself. So, that covers cost. I'm trying to be more thoughtful about projects that don't involve plastic or waste...but it's a work very much in progress. 

The summary:

Overall, the more I set goals on going plastic-free and on reducing my spending, the more my mindset turns to focusing on my values. I get to thinking about thoughtfully planning purchases (with the roadblocks of plastic and cost) and it does start to extend to other questions about my habits. Why do I buy so much for convenience? How can I keep going to eliminate plastic from my everyday purchases? How can I be more mindful about supporting businesses I want to stay around when I do spend my money? Can I get into the habit of having a smaller purchasing imprint? Will this help me donate more money to causes I want to support?

Not sure where I'll land but I'm hoping that both exercises push me towards some more thoughtful habits long-term. Curious to hear if anyone reading this has run into similar thoughts about their habits, too. 


  1. oh, that was heartbreaking - I wrote like a whole page but it disappeared. :/ I'll have to try again in Chrome.

    1. That is a bummer! I'm sorry - I know I'd had that happen to me and I always curse that I didn't copy it before I hit post!

  2. Oh this all makes so much sense to me! I'm appalling at planning ahead with food and usually this is where my plastic issues occur. I'm inspired by your goals and changes you have been making. I just got to remember to buy food for the house.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, food shopping and making sure I make batches of basic stuff (like beans, rice, greens, etc) saves my butt so many times especially when it comes to packing lunches. I also have to remind myself that it doesn't have to be perfect -- if I'm running out the door in the morning and we only have rice and lentils in the fridge but no vegetables, I'm not going to die of malnutrition because I skipped a vegetable for lunch. I should just pack the rice and lentils and leave already.


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