Saving money, living better, being green.

Ok so I have been thinking a lot about our budget lately, and looking at the “average” budgets most others have. I am trying to figure out where people get their numbers! Comparing our budget for a 3.5 person house to the national average is eye-opening.

Where we spend:


We spend 18% of our income on food. We do this because it costs more money to eat organic whole foods. There is really no getting around that. By increasing the quality of what we eat we save in other areas of our life. My husband was missing a lot of work because of health problems before switching our diet. He is out of work 3-5 days less a month than he was before the switch saving us his PTO time and the salary cut he had to take when he ran out of PTO.

We spend less on doctors visits because of our diet changes as well.


Our insurance is subsidized through Mikes work, so we “only” pay about $400 a month for insurance. We do get the good insurance though (an extra $60 a month) so we can take advantage of the alternative care. I get masages almost every week for prenatal/post natal care and health maintenance. Mike and I take full advantage of the Chiropractor/Acupuncture benefits as well. I wish I could say we used a Natropath instead of a MD but there are no ND’s in our area who accept insurance and we don’t have the money to pay out-of-pocket and hope for reimbursement from the insurance company. I have found a holistic MD that I think I like though. We have a FSA so our co-pays are at least paid with tax-free money. It is helping a lot too with the hospital and midwife payments for the pregnancy. Too bad they are changing the way FSAs work starting next year due to the new health care legislation. Maybe we will get lucky and our insurance rates will drop?

Where we save:

Cleaning products

We have made our last big market cleaning product purchase. From here on out we make our own house hold cleaners, bathroom cleaners, kitchen cleaners, laundry detergent AND dish washer soap! I am terrified of the dish washer soap, that is one we have not switched yet I just stocked up on my favorite out of fear, but when we run out I am making our own! Mark my words! Instead of spending an average of $30 a month on cleaning products we will be spending an average of $14 about every 3 months on vinegar, baking soda, borax, and Dr. Bonner’s soap.

By switching to home-made, natural cleaning products we not only reduce our cost of living but also reduce our families exposure to many carcinogenic, teteratogenic, and mutinogenic chemicals lurking in our home.

Personal care products

I make our personal care products. I have been using the Oil Cleansing Method on my face which has been FABULOUS and cleared my skin right up. More on that later. I make my own body lotion and oils, bath salts, diaper salve, eczema salve, deodorant, and have been “poo free” for 2 months now. Yes I still bathe daily but use baking soda and apple cider vinegar for my hair instead of shampoo and conditioner. My hair looks and feels great by the way! We buy hand-made goats milk bar soap from farmers markets and craft fairs for soap, which feels so decadent to me. I love it! I used to spend about $40 on personal care items, not including makeup, which cost me another $20-30 a month.

By simplifying our personal care products, and knowing exactly what is going onto my family’s body we can better control the toxins we expose our selves to. I am not sure the accuracy of this statement BUT the herbalist I worked with in Spokane mentioned that 40% of what we put onto our skin is absorbed into our body and blood stream.  The skin is the largest organ on the body after all. If you could reduce your risk simply enough wouldn’t you? More on the health benefits of cleaning up your personal care products here.

Housing expenses

We live in a smaller than necessary apartment and keep the heater between 62 and 65* on a day-to-day basis. We turn down the heat and turn off the lights when we leave the house. Our light bulbs are all CFL’s which save a lot of power usage and our water heater is at 120* unless I am tackling some stubborn diapers. We spend an average of 19% of our income on our housing expenses when the average family is at 34%. (Note that is not including the cost of our home in Spokane, which is a rental and netting $0 profit or loss at the moment).

Baby products

We cloth diaper almost all of the time. Ellie gets a rash at night, or wakes up wet in cloth so she sleeps in sposies almost every night. Other than that though we cloth diaper. If we were buying her disposables at the rate we change diapers and in the brand we use that does not cause her rashes, we would be spending an average of $90 a month, which would end up being about 1,080 a year. In Ellie’s first year of life we spent $320 on cloth diapers (that includes the very generous gift of my wonderful sister for Ellie’s baby shower), and I just bought some new-born diapers for when #2 comes for an additional $200. We are now over supplied with diapers and I will probably sell off some of my extras once we see how well we go through what we have. I spend $12 every 3-4 months on laundry detergent and the water/electric cost really is minimal with the washer and dryer, especially since we line dry during the summer. So we can call that a $59 a month savings on cloth diapering in the first year, and more for the second year into potty training, especially since half of year 2 will be spent diapering 2 kids! Good planning on our part.

And really what is cuter than a kiddo in a cloth diaper. Yeah she posed for this.

By cloth diapering we are reducing our child’s exposure to the toxic chemicals in children’s diapers. Ellie rarely gets diaper rash or yeast infections like a lot of babies I know who use disposables. I think once parents get over the learning curve of cloth diapering they will truly appreciate the health and financial benefits.

Breast Feeding

Ellie was exclusively breast fed for 6 months and is still breast fed to this day. She does not get cows milk when she is not nursing, she gets water. This saved us $1,733.75 in her first year of life alone (according to these calculations done with numbers from 2007). This is not including the cost of Organic Whole Milk we would have switched to afterward.

This cost is also not including the fact that miss Ellie has very rarely been sick enough to take to the doctor. Here is a good article about the benefits of BFing and some great links to scientific articles.


We rarely buy new clothes for our selves, but when we do we buy quality. We never buy brand new clothes for our child unless they are on serious discount. It just seems like a waste of money for something she will grow out of quickly or destroy while playing. My MIL does buy her a new wardrobe at least twice a year because shopping for little girls is so fun. My savings tip: do not buy small children new clothes, they don’t need new clothes (unless it is a special occasion) nor do they care if they have new clothes. Let them be a little rough and tumble, creative and artsy, and have fun without worrying about staining or tearing. It will make your life much less stressful.

This is why we don’t need to destroy new clothes. 

How is this green? Re-use baby , re-use!

Transportation/vehicle expenses

We have 1 car. It is 10 years old and well maintained, most days. We own the car outright and have no monthly payments. Maintenance cost (including the big repairs spread out over the year) average about $80 a month. We spend about $80 a month on gas if I am driving a lot.  We live 5 miles away from Mike’s work and he bikes to work as weather permits, which is about 9 months out of the year. The rest of the time I give him a ride to and from work or he carpools. Bike maintenance is about $10 a month. Insurance cost is about $60 a month. That makes our transportation cost $230 a month, about 4.6% of our budget. The average American household spends 16% of their household income on transportation. It pays to drive an old car with decent mileage and only have 1 car if your situation allows.

By only driving one car we reduce our emissions by half, our gas usage by half, and our 10 year old car is just as fuel efficient as a car of the same size made this  year.

I could go on about how we save “being green” but I would love to know how you save? What are your tricks to benefiting your family and your environment by “being green”? I find the changes we have made help us support our expensive food habit and make our life much more enjoyable. I would love to hear your experiences.

Shared on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, and Our Simple Farm’s Simple Living Wednesday.


6 responses to “Saving money, living better, being green.

  1. I really, really love this post! So many people think that being “green” means forking out money for expensive products when in fact it can (and probably should) be the very opposite! We’re also down to one car and, as we don’t live very far from my husband’s work, we’ve discussed the option of getting a bike for him to scoot back and forth to work on.

    One thing I think that some people have trouble getting past is the food. We now do very well since I do what I can to make almost everything from scratch (I’m seriously Suzy Freaking Homemaker now) and I know some wonderful local farmers that work with me to provide me with some beautiful organic produce. But at the beginning it was hard! I realized it was costing more as we moved away from junk food. And then suddenly the grocery bill started to drop. We got better at meal planning and utilizing our leftovers. We only bought what we needed, and it was wonderful! I’m sure most people would look at our pantry and think it was bare, but it’s wonderful for us. And now that we’ve gotten the hang of it our grocery bill has come back down. But I do think that people should be more focused on their grocery bill. It should be higher than what you spend on cleaning products (I make my own as well), diapers (cloth here, too!), and miscellaneous expenses (games, books, DVDs, etc). What we put into our bodies is so important, it deserves some priority. When we eat well we feel well. Plus, we ARE well. Just because someone can make a burrito for fifty cents doesn’t mean that you should eat it.

    Well, that went onto a tangent. But this was a really wonderful post. We save in the same places you do except for making our own personal care products, but that is my next big step!

    • I agree, when food is in season it is much less expensive. I think part of our food budget issues is that I refuse to give up meat (I believe healthy meat is an integral part of a healthy diet), and we just made the gluten free switch so I am still trying to re stock our pantry with the goodies needed for gf cooking/baking. We don’t eat a lot of grains any more bud damn me if I will live without pancakes every once in a while! lol.

  2. Wow, what you spend on health care each month is our entire monthly income. We don’t do doctors at all, reuse everything and raise our own food. Our only expenses are utilities and vehicle/gas. Right now we are looking at ways to cut those out, too. We are a family of 3 now. But we haven’t needed a doctor in 8 years. If my hubby and I need a massage, we’re there for each other. ☺

    Its totally true that older cars may have the same gas mileage as the newer fuel efficient models. We drove a 1993 Toyota Corolla station wagon till it died and then replaced it with an almost new Honda Fit. We are getting the same gas mileage.

    It certainly is a challenge living within a budget and you are doing well to live on one income and stay out of debt.
    Thanks for the article,

    • We are working on reducing our health care costs with more natural remedies BUT have health issues and pregnancies and babies to worry about. Hopefully as our health issues resolve our costs will too, but it is still nice to have the insurance when the big things come up. I wish we were able to raise our own food! That is a big goal we have set for the future.

  3. Pingback: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #16

  4. FOOD: We have a garden and grow our own herbs. My parents have chickens and goats, so we get eggs and milk for free. Every three months we order fryer chickens that my parents raise for us (takes 6 weeks) then we do the butchering ourselves. We pay my parents for the cost of the chicks and six weeks worth of feed amounting to about $5 per 5-6 pound chicken. So free range, hormone free chicken for less than $1 per pound. We also twice a year split a third a side of beef with my parents and brother. We buy from a local smokehouse who gets their meat from a local stockyard whose practices we approve of. The third of a side is usually about 270 pounds, split three ways we each get about 90 pounds of beef. We pay $2.69 per pound which is a great steal for quality meat and all cuts including ribeye and sirloin. So while the whole free eggs, goat’s milk and chicken butchering isn’t for everyone. Most anyone can grow a garden (we did so even when we lived in an apartment) and buy beef an bulk together with a few family and friends. With all these things factored in, we spend about 5% of our budget on food and it’s fresh, healthy, organic food. Granted it’s a lot more work than just heading down to Whole Foods but for us it’s totally worth it.

    HEALTHCARE: We, thank the Lord, are very healthy and my husband’s work has GREAT benefits. Our portion for our medical/dental/vision premium is $60 total per month. My husband’s company contributes $1,000 per year to our HSA and we contribute about %60 per month and that covers all our costs.

    CLEANING PRODUCTS: We make our own dishwasher soap. It’s SUPER easy and we are pleased with the results. You can do it! Let me know if you need a recipe. We also make our own laundry soap. We are transitioning to all homemade cleaning products as we run out of the store bought ones that we have now. Can’t wait to run out of dryer sheets and get some wool dryer balls 🙂

    AUTO: That is awesome that your auto budget is so low. Ours is outrageous. While we both drive 10+ old cars that we own outright, We both work 30 miles away from home in opposite directions (meaning no carpooling.) We spend $540/month on gas, $165/month on repairs (yearly cost, averaged out over the months), $105/month on insurance and $100/month on tolls. That’s $910/month on auto. Pretty epic, but currently unavoidable.

    I always find it so interesting getting a peak into other famil’y budgets. There often is no right or wrong when it comes to how a family chooses to spend their money Every family is just different, in different circumstance and I find it so intriguing to get to learn from that. Thanks so much for sharing.

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