Living on Less!

If you're on a quest to reduce your day-to-day and long range costs, you'll want to have a look at our best tips for living on less.

| August/September 2010

Garden Harvest

Save some money by starting (or expanding) your backyard garden. It's amazing how much all that homegrown produce is worth. We recently estimated the total market value of all the produce grown by MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers each year. Our rough calculation was $1 billion!


These days, many people are getting inspired by the ideas of simple living, self-reliance, and living on less. Not only are more people looking for ways to go green, but in these uncertain economic times, it just makes sense to try to stretch every dollar as far as possible. Here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we believe that saving money, protecting the environment, and living a satisfying life all go together. It’s all about making the most of the resources you already have and finding joy and satisfaction in “doing it yourself.” Below you’ll find a collection of our best advice for simple living, including ideas for how to trim your budget and, in the process, enjoy better food, consume less, and be healthier and happier, too!

A Thrifty, DIY Lifestyle

First, let’s consider some general strategies for simpler living. Much of living on less is figuring out what you really need and want, and what you’re better off doing without. And when there is something you need, it’s worth shopping around to find the best deal! Comparison shopping is always a good idea, whether you’re buying groceries, gas, or general household items. It’s even more crucial when you start looking at services such as insurance, banking, or a cell phone plan, because there can be so many optional extras and such a wide range of prices. Make sure you’re not paying for services you don’t really want or need.

It also pays to discover your handy side. Before spending, get in the habit of asking the question, could I do or make this myself? Many frequently purchased items are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make at home — including most household cleaning supplies and toiletries. Consider mending your own clothes, changing the oil in your car, fixing plumbing problems, and cutting hair for yourself or any willing family members (especially kids).

Another good idea is to ask yourself whether you really need to buy something new, or whether you can get it secondhand — especially furniture, clothing or tools. Buying secondhand at thrift shops, consignment stores and yard sales saves money and conserves resources, too. For online scavenging try eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle. These days there are more options than ever to buy used or nearly new and save big bucks!

Look for opportunities to borrow, barter, or rent instead of buying. For example, you may need a pickup truck a few times a year, but do you really need to own a truck? If you can borrow or rent a truck for those few occasions you can save a bundle! Many tools can be rented, too. Where available, take advantage of tool-sharing programs, or even consider organizing a tool co-op. Visit your local library to borrow books, movies and music. The library is also a good place to get free Internet access, as are coffeehouses and other businesses that offer free Wi-Fi. And finally, when you do decide to buy something new, keep an eye open for sales, coupons, and rebates.

Cut Your Food Bills

Let’s look at some specific areas of household budgets. This Department of Labor chart breaks down the typical American budget by category. While food isn’t the largest item on this list of expenses, it’s a good place to start thinking about cutting costs, because you can actually save money while improving the quality of your food. How is this possible? Because eating healthy, homemade, and homegrown foods is cheaper than eating out or purchasing processed foods.

7/21/2017 9:38:31 AM

Tiny houses are the way to go, if you can grow accustomed to living with little space. If you're someone who likes to spend most of your time outdoors, it's a great option. Also, getting your home windows tinted can be an upfront expense that will pay off in a major way in the long run. Check out

2/18/2014 10:46:06 PM

I have gone from living on 140k a year to almost nothing and am doing very nicely with it. Money does not buy happiness. Having no money makes you sit up and take notice. I grow all my own vegies and fruit.What I can't grow I forage for in the vermont woods. My freezer is full of venison, home grown chickens and fresh caught fish.I love living like this and when I do go to the grocery store I am spending under 50 dollars.I use lots of candle light and the fireplace. My books come from the free bin at the thrift shops.I also write my own when I cant find one that fits how I feel or where I would like to be at the moment. I don't shop at dept stores to decorate my home .The forest has given me most everything I need to put in my house.Living like this is a choice and for me its great.

12/31/2013 7:45:09 AM

Nice article. I would suggest that people do a lot more research before basing their family's diet around grains. The negative health consequences associated with grain consumption may not be worth it. Autoimmune disease, migraine, chronic joint pain, cognitive problems, etc. etc. are associated with eating grains. Start with search terms such as "grains and autoimmune disease," "grains and anti nutrients." Cheers!

5/8/2013 4:01:31 PM

Ductless heat pumps are great for homes that are heated by electricity.  They take heat in the summer and turn it into cool air, and conversely take cold air and convert it to heat in the winter. They start at about $3,500.  You need to have an open floor plan for it to work properly however.


5/8/2013 2:51:35 PM

Great article! At Cedar Mill Bumper and Hitch we are constantly trying to improve the manufacturing processes to save on power. We use a lot of rain water run-off (filtered) from the roof for cleaning our metal prior to welding. We are always looking for more natural, cleaning solutions rather than petro based. I feel if all of us put more effort into wiser management of our energy consumption, wheather it be electric or fossil fuel, we would be much better off. Especially for our Earth!!! Big problem nowadays is, too many of us have become too lazy!!!!

jan steinman
10/13/2010 9:13:07 PM

Not on the "simple" list, but I'm surprised you didn't mention making fuel when talking about transportation. If you have a diesel vehicle, you can set up a biodiesel processor for under $500 or so, and can make biodiesel for about a buck a gallon. Or you can convert your diesel vehicle to run directly on waste vegetable oil from restaurants. The LAST thing you want to do is "buy a new car," no matter how good the mileage! A decent diesel from the mid-80's will still be good for a couple hundred thousand miles, and will get better mileage than any new gasoline car -- almost as good as a hybrid.

9/28/2010 7:47:23 AM

Also, don't forget to put up a clothesline and take advantage of your new solar/wind clothes dryer!

8/20/2010 3:37:42 PM

Don't forget about geothermal when it comes to home heating and cooling! We built a log home three years ago and took on the added expense of this worthwhile feature. Between the government and power company rebates, free hot water during the summer when the cool mode is in operation, and lower utility bills, our system will have paid for itself at the end of this year. Our only regret is that we didn't realize at the time that our back up heat is electric and not gas. Other than that, we can't say enough nice things about geothermal!!

jim atkinson_1
8/19/2010 3:33:14 PM

I developed a filter for an electric clothes dryer which allows the user to return the hot, humid air back into the home. This filters out 99.5% of all contaminants including smell. With the extra heat added to the home, the furnace doesn't have to work as much, the moisture added to the environment gets rid of static electricity and in many cases, this filter shortens the time required to dry the clothes. So, this little filter saves energy for the furnace, saves electricity from the dryer and makes the home environment much better to live in. Please check out I have a very small company in Washington, MO, just my wife and myself but we both see this as a great energy saving device. We tested it last winter and saved about $20.00 a month on our energy bill. Do you think this warrants a little exposure? Thank you, Jim Atkinson, 636-388-2808

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