How to Live Sustainably and Lower Your Budget

21st century living is complicated as it is. Ruth The Happy Saver shares the story behind her family’s trusty old dining table, and how it inspires her to live simply and frugally. She shows us different ways sustainable living is within our reach and shares seven practical household tips!

When I still lived at home, my family of seven came together every night around our old dining table to tuck into a home-cooked meal. The actual table that we ate at has been a constant my entire life; it genuinely was the heart of our home. 

How that table came to be in our kitchen was a story in itself. My Dad had received the table as payment for farm work he had done. When he went to collect it from his employers, the Hickeys, he saw that they’d been eating at one end of the table and rebuilding a car engine at the other! 

Make do and live on what you have

The first lesson of sustainable living is to make do and work with what you have. The Hickeys didn’t have a workshop to fix their engine, but they had a huge and sturdy table. This colossal table was so multi-functional that they could achieve two very different things in one space when they used it: eating and car repair. Genius! Also, bartering goods for services was second nature to them.

The Hickeys would have been born around 1900. I still think of them today when I’m bombarded with advertisements telling me what expensive gadgets are guaranteed to make my life more straightforward. The latest must-have seems to be an air fryer, judging by how many friends are raving about them! 

Be discerning and don’t buy into advertising

We are constantly being marketed to and offered ways to simplify our lives to give us more time to spend with friends and family. But to have all of these gadgets, we need money to buy them. To get the money, we need to work more. It seems to me that to have everything, we have to give up the one thing that money can’t buy: time. 

Now, in the face of a global climate crisis and pandemic, more and more people are considering what matters to them and are adopting sustainable living practices, realizing that instead of adding more to our lives, we just need to add less. Living on less is better for the environment, and it gives us more time and money.

Simplify your lifestyle

We can cut a wide range of expenses out of our budgets by simplifying how we do things or using the things we do have for many different purposes. I’m not advocating fixing engines at the dining table to make the most of your living space (although what’s the harm in that?). I am for asking yourself what people of the Hickeys’ generation would do. 

Would they go to work and earn $1,000 a week to turn around and spend $180 on an air fryer to cook their sausages and chips more quickly at night? No way! They would have grown their own potatoes, baked them in their oven, and the by-product of that would also be heating for their kitchen.

Introduce sustainable living ideas into your everyday 

We often make our lives far more complicated than they need to be. Over the years, I’ve acquired several sustainable living ideas to reduce the small recurring expenses in my home because even the smallest costs add up over the years. The bonus is these tips often save me time!

  • Using ripstop fabric, I sewed two reusable liners for my kitchen bin (pictured below). I wash them after each use, saving about 15c a bag and eliminating plastic going to landfill. I have used the same two bags for almost 10 years now, meaning I never run out of rubbish bags!
  • I use three vintage 600ml glass milk bottles and make up powdered milk, saving about three 2L plastic bottles from the recycling/landfill each week. The milk is cheaper too, and I never run out and have to rush to the store.
  • Whether I live in the city or rurally, I compost all kitchen waste, which then goes back into my garden to feed the plants I grow to eat. Composting cuts down both waste to landfill and replenishes my soil, so I don’t have to buy soil or fertilizer.
  • We catch rainwater to water our garden, drastically reducing our water bill.
  • A good quality kitchen knife means I cut out the need for a wide array of kitchen gadgets designed for cutting!
  • I use a clothesline for drying my washing, instead of the dryer. While it might take me five minutes to hang up and collect my laundry, I don’t need to buy a dryer, I save a fortune in electricity, plus I get a little exercise at the same time.
  • I cook from scratch because it tastes better, is better for me, and is cheaper than buying ready-made products or continually dining out.

A picture of Ruth's homemade, sustainable bin liner

Pause before buying anything new

When we need something new, instead of rushing to buy, we debate its merits first, look for a solution that might be in front of us at home, sleep on it, and often find another way. When we do buy, we always shop second hand first, and that way, we reuse an existing product and pay a fraction of the retail price. 

These days, we just challenge ourselves to do more with less and wear out the items we do have, just like the Hickeys used to do. We simply don’t need an air fryer to cook our store-bought, pre-cut chips when a good knife, a potato from our garden, and the oven will do.

I recall the first time I left home and went into a shared house with friends. On day one, I got up to make myself breakfast, but without the microwave I had used my entire life, I had no idea how to heat my milk for my cereal! No idea! I cast about the kitchen until I finally thought to pull out a saucepan to put on the stove. Duh! Sometimes the simplest solution is staring us right in the face. We just need to be reminded how to do it.

Finally, the biggest trick I have found for sustainable living that reduces our costs and our time spent working is finding contentment with what we already have. Next time you are searching for that ‘thing’ to improve your life, think about how the Hickeys, born in 1900, might solve that problem. Like them, you too might be able to reduce, reuse and recycle and save a fortune in the process!


Ruth blogs at thehappysaver.com all about how she and her family handle money. What’s the secret? Spend less than you earn, invest the difference, avoid debt and budget each dollar that flows through your hands. She firmly believes that if you can just get the basics right, life becomes easier from there on in.

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