The dream of many Frugalists is to achieve complete self-sustainability, while not depending on anything offered through pipes or airwaves. Sadly, for most of us, this will never be a complete reality. I personally love the internet and don’t want to part from it. That is one thing I would never consider cutting off entirely (also, a nice hot shower is something I don’t want to live without!). However, near self-sustainability is possible and with recent efforts by people such as No Impact Man we are seeing its ideology in action.
In this article, I discuss some of the baby-steps that you can start taking in order to reduce your dependency on the luxuries provided by our modern world, and achieve your self-sustainability wings.
1. Reducing the cost of the Net.
Like I mentioned before, I will not give up the internet. However, there are certainly ways to reduce its costs. I’ve highlighted this particular item as a source for savings since most people reading this are likely to be as fond of the Net as I am!
- Consider starting a net Coop: If you get on well enough with neighbors then you may be able to get together and just buy one high speed connection that can be wirelessly shared amongst a group of apartments. Even if you buy the fastest connection available, it will likely cost less than you are currently paying when split amongst 3 or 4 people (note: This is apparently illegal, so I can’t take responsibility for you trying such things!).
- Borrow your connection from a local business: This may be a moral gray area for some! When you scan for wireless networks you will notice there are many in your area. You may just see a local cafe or restaurant on the list. Often they are password protected. So all you need to do is visit the establishment, buy a coffee (or whatever) and ask for the code. This should allow you to borrow their connection from your home. (note: Again, this may also be illegal, so I can’t take responsibility for you trying such things!).
- Audit your time online and then consider canceling your account: If you only spend one or two hours online a day, or every few days, then you really don’t need the Net at home. See if you can make use of your employer’s internet during lunch-break. Or just visit a local cafe a few times per week.
- While you are at it, it’s well worth looking at the cable bill too! Check these great posts for help. Couple Money talks about Double Checking Your Monthly Cable Bills, Fiscal Fizzle talks about How To Lower Your Cable Bill, Money Help For Christian’s talks about Cutting Cable and Canadian Finance gives us 10 Ways To Reduce Our Cable Bill.
2. Reducing gas consumption
I won’t go into too much detail on this one, but it’s obvious that we depend far too much on oil and gas. Whether you drive your own car or take public transport, you are still using gas. If at all possible, just don’t use a gas propelled vehicle anymore!
- Get a bike: It’s likely you can cobble together a decent bike from friends’ old bikes, second-hand parts, and a little handy-work. If you need storage space then consider a small trailer to connect to the back of the bike. You can put your groceries and such things in there, or just carry a backpack. It’s very easy to cover 4 miles in less than 30mins on a bicycle, and if in heavy traffic, you will likely travel faster than most other vehicles.
- Walk: At a brisk pace you can manage 4 miles in an hour. After a few attempts it’s really not that hard. If you live in a medium-size city, then it’s quite likely you live within 4 miles of your workplace or grocery store. If you work really far away, than you may be able to walk part of your journey and still save cash on the public transport.
- Mow the lawn using a manual mover: We forget how many things use gas outside of cars, look at the other things too. Mowing the lawn the manual way gives you a good workout too!
- Cook on a small BBQ. In warm weather, just don’t use gas, get a small wood / charcoal burning BBQ and cook this way. As long as you keep them small I am sure the environmental impact will be minimal.
- I really enjoyed Early Retirement Extreme’s talk about Running as Transportation, a perfect way to save gas.
3. Reduce electricity costs
The trick here is not only to try to avoid using electricity at home as much as possible, but also to consider alternative ways to produce electricity (although that may be much more long-term).
- I don’t work a day job anymore, but when I did I used to plug-in my laptop and mobile phones at work to charge: This may be a little sneaky, but they never seemed to mind. Besides, I believe I gave them enough of my soul to justify such acts! Same goes for cafes or other places you may visit.
- Keep lights turned off at all times when not in the room: This may be old advice, but it’s something that needs hammering home. The same goes for all appliances. Once you get in the habit of pulling plugs from the wall when they are not in-use, it becomes second nature. You will see such efforts reflected on your bill.
- Do things manually: Cut your shrubs with shears, beat your eggs with a hand whisk, add up numbers in your head. Just put some effort in and cut out electronic machinery wherever possible!
4. Reduce the heating / air conditioning bill
I’m actually living in Egypt right now, so during the summer months there is no way of avoiding putting the air con on, and believe it or not, the winter months get cold enough for heating to be needed. But I work hard to reduce using both.
- In the colder months, just simply wear sweaters and warm clothes: Something simple like a wool sweater can do wonders. It doesn’t matter if it has snowmen and reindeer on it. After all, you are only using it as home wear. Also make sure you layer. A t-shirt, light fleece and wool sweater will help insulate warm air, will feel comfortable and will greatly help reduce the need for heating. Furthermore, most heat escapes from the head. Keep a bit of hair in the winter (if you can) and wear a hat, even indoors.
- Consider closing off parts of your home for cold period: You can put plastic sheets over the doors of unused rooms in order to help prevent heat from escaping.
- It’s also important that your walls and ceiling are properly insulated: You may be able to even get a local government grant to do this.
- During the warmer months the advice is nearly opposite: Strip-off at home (I often happily parade around in a pair of soccer shorts), and keep all your doors and windows open (without compromising home safety, of course). Use desk fans to keep air circulating throughout the house.
- You should be doing this all year- drink plenty of water! This helps keep your body cool and working as it should. Just resist turning on that air con!
4. Go self sufficient on food
After the mortgage or rent, food is often the biggest expense (unless you are an insane couponer or you work in a place that feeds you).
- Grow your own: This is the easiest answer here. I am vegetarian, so I don’t need to raise chicken or cattle on my apartment balcony, but I am setting up a garden of various veggies that should produce enough for most of my eating needs. You can easily start with basic crops such as tomatoes and zucchini.
- Join a food / allotment Coop: Just scan your local papers and you will likely find ads for food Coops in your local area. Your home garden may not produce enough variety for you and your family. You can share foods with other home growers or join a joint allotment where you all work together to grow larger crops and then distribute amongst each other.
- Become a secret shopper if you need an occasional fast food restaurant fix: I have visited places such as Pizza Hut in the past and actually been paid!
- You can look to Cool To Be Frugal ‘s excellent post “The Organic Garden Project” for inspiration.
Less dependence on money!
The biggest thing that keeps us tied to the system is the evil green! All of the tips above will help reduce spending. However, there are a few more tips I want to suggest to help get you off the grid a little more.
- Look at swapping things: Using places like Craigslist you can easily start swapping old items for other things that you need. Don’t ask for cash, just do a straight swap.
- Offer a service locally: If you can fix computers, give a mean massage, or enjoy simple DIY, then you could advertise through self-postering, local papers, social networking sites, and more. Again, don’t ask for cash. Swap for food, other services or any deal you can strike up with a customer. For example, if you needed some gardening done, you could help a local gardener by building them a blog in exchange for them digging up your weeds.
- Question every purchase: For example, when buying a coffee ask yourself if you need it. You may well be close to home and cold brew some when you get back. This can apply to small and big ticket purchases. Just by questioning everything on the basis of necessity, you could possibly halve your spending!
- My recent posts on bartering may be of use here Could Bartering Replace Currency?, Bartering Websites and Finding a Local Barter Network
All of these tips are just suggestions to help you baby-step toward a more self-sustainable existence. I have by no means covered all efforts and options within the Frugal realm. Just start thinking outside-of-the-box, and one day you will be able to climb your way out of the money trap and enjoy your new found freedoms from our dependent society.