Thursday, June 2, 2011

Green Chic on a Budget

Aside from all of the other challenges associated with moving into a new apartment and trying to be as green, plastic free, and local as possible there is the money issue. Let's face it, getting new furniture (even if it's used) and all of the other stuff you need for an apartment (kitchen supplies, food, bathroom supplies, etc) can be costly. So when the money is running low how do you keep your green priorities?

Actually, it's way easier than you might think. As it happens, most "green" choices are very economical too. Here are a few ways you can save money and the planet. Is there any better win-win?!


Sure, there are tons of "green" cleaning products on the market. There are some great companies that are doing a good job of making some safer alternatives to the chemical filled gunk that saturates the market these days. The down side is that not all "green" products are really as green as they say they are and anything marked "green" these days is sure to have a significant cost mark up. Luckily there is an easy alternative that is even more green and less costly alternative. If you aren't using baking soda and vinegar to clean just about everything in your house from your teeth to your laundry, to your floors then you should start!
Food grade baking soda (for cooking and personal hygene) can be purchased in bulk at many co-op and health food stores across the country and costs less than a dollar per pound. You can also purchase non-food grade baking soda (for household cleaning) from certain feed or lawn and garden stores for just pennies a pound. When you compare that to $8 a bottle for a commercial "green" cleaning solution that is some serious savings!!
Distilled white vinegar is also a lot less expensive than household cleaners and can be purchased in a variety of container sizes, many of which are glass. I've yet to see it sold in bulk but check your local store, you never know! Vinegar is a great disinfectant too!


When I saw that my monthly budget was quickly getting swallowed up by apartment expenses I knew I'd have to reduce the amount of money I spent on food. Eating healthy meals on a budget can seem nearly impossible, especially at a conventional grocery store. Not to mention that EVERYTHING comes in plastic. So how can we avoid plastic, eat well, and save money? Back to the bulk bins!

My local co-op has a huge variety of rices ranging from boring white to exotic wild varieties, all right in the bulk section. Next to that is an equally fantastic variety of beans, lentils, and other legumes. Rice and beans is a staple meal in a wide variety of cultures. It's cheap, easy, and nutritious. I spent less than $5 on beans and rice and made enough to feed a small army (or 2 people for about 2 weeks, eating it for lunch and dinner). My local co-ops also feature discounts on produce that is going to go bad soon. I get "bread" bananas (very brown, great for freezing) at less than 40 cents a pound and discounted onions, potatoes, and carrots. All sold without plastic! The options for discounted produce vary depending on what needs to get used up quickly so you have to be flexible. Keep in mind that pretty much all fruits can be frozen (skin and dice if neccessary) and vegetables call also easily be frozen once lightly steamed. So if it looks like the food you purchased won't last long even in the refigerator cut it up, steam it and freeze it. I freeze my fruit and veggies on a greased sheet and then dump them into glass storage containers. That way they don't stick to each other or the container and are easy to use when you want them.

Summer time is a great time to eat on a budget. Check out your local farm stands and farmer's markets and don't be afraid to ask if they have any discounted produce available. Many farmers will sell bruised tomatoes and other fruits at a discount or if produce is starting to go old they'll likely sell that at a discount as well. Also, if you go later in the day, towards the end of the farmer's market or when the farm stand is about to close, you may be able to get discounts on the remaining produce or other items simply because the farmer doesn't want to pack it all up and move it. If you are buying a bulk quantity of a particular item you can often haggle a discounted price. Remember that farmers work hard to produce food so be reasonable!

Here is my recipe for rice and beans:

2C uncooked brown rice
4C uncooked beans (try a variety or whatever type you prefer)
10-12C water, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
spices and condiments as available (this is the fun part!)

In a rice cooker or in a covered sauce pan, combine rice and 4C water. OPTIONAL: Add spices such as tumeric, chili powder, curry powder, or cumin to the water to flavor the rice. 2T will give subtle flavor, add more for a bolder flavor. Bring water to a boil and then lower heat and let simmer until all water is absorbed.

Dump beans into a large bowl, cover with water and stir with your hands. Pick out any beans that float (they are hollow) or any rocks or other bits that aren't beans. Drain and dump beans into a large pot. Add 8C water to the beans, they should be covered with about 2 inches of extra water. Add minced garlic. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 hours, stirring occassionally. If water level gets low and it is the consistancy of chili add more water. Once the beans are tender drain water. Remove from heat. Add rice to beans and mix thoroughly. Add seasonings as desired. Suggestions are curry powder/sauce, salsa, mustard, hot sauce, cayanne, cumin, salt, pepper...whatever you have on hand! I left mine only mildly spiced with some chili powder and cayanne pepper. Anytime we have a serving we mix it with whatever condiments we want in our bowl. This makes a TON of food as beans and rice both tend to double in size when cooked.

This is not a fancy recipe but it is tasty, filling, cheap, and green!


  1. Congratulations on your new apartment! I saw your post on MyPlasticFreeLife and thought I'd pop over to say hello.

    I recently learned a great trick for cooking beans from Melissa over at HerGreenLife.

    Basically you soak them in salt water then drain the water, rinse and cook them in fresh water. Makes them tastier and less um... "difficult to digest" if you get my drift! But never cook them in salty water or you'll end up with tough beans.

    p.s. If you still are looking for some furniture you might try FreeCycle or Craigslist. People are often thrilled to give furniture away for free if you'll come and pick it up.

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    I have also read that cooking beans with chunks of peeled potato also makes them easier to digest. I've never tried it though.

  3. Hmmm... peeled potato. I'll have to give that one a try!