Double Shot of Eco-Buzz

Homer: “Marge, can you cut back on your makeup budget?”
Marge: “But I already use crayons for lipstick and fireplace soot for eyeliner….”
Homer: “So THAT’S where my soot went!”

(The Simpsons will forever have a place in my heart.)

Over the last few months, I’ve been researching ways to save money, and I always end up arguing at the internet thusly:
But we already line-dry our clothes!
But we don’t even have an air conditioner!
But we already eat seasonally!
But we’re already a one-car family!
Pet hair sweaters? Are you kidding?

I’ve felt for a long time that there’s not much we can do to lessen our day-to-day expenses, and I’ve avoided updating our budget spreadsheet for weeks because of the helplessness I feel in the face of so many numbers. Today, though, a particular category made me pause.

We spend—::cough:: I don’t even want to say how much—a month on hygiene, beauty, and cleaning products which I’ve always considered a necessary evil because, well, wallowing in filth just isn’t our style. Of the 7 products I use in the shower, the 5 in my daily facial routine, the 3 for hairstyling, the 4 for laundry, the 8 for housecleaning, the 4 for dishwashing, and the myriad lotions and soaps and cosmetics and perfumes and gels and sprays that we cycle through, there are maybe two I feel I could do without. Let’s face it—I’m just not that crunchy.

However, I’m noticing downsides to our current modus operandi in addition to the cost. For example, I won’t let the girls help me clean the house (despite all of our wishes) because I don’t want them coming in contact with all those chemicals and fumes. For another thing, I have to bring an entire backpack worth of toiletries on vacation, and my face-washing regimen looks pretty ridiculous lined up in a campground washroom. I hate feeling enslaved to certain aisles of the supermarket, forced to choose between cleanliness and my better judgment. (€5 for the cheapest bottle of lotion? Really???) I hate feeling powerless to change.

So this morning, I dove into some online research on homemade, frugal, eco-conscious solutions, and I emerged from Google two hours later with glassy eyes and a dizzy brain. The quantity of information out there is simply overwhelming, and I have no idea whether the kiwi-cider toilet scrub recipe or the wasabi-Borax one is more effective (my guess is neither, and anyway, I can’t find Borax here). The familiar helplessness started sinking back in, but then I had a revolutionary, completely original idea that I will now share with you at no cost just because I like you so much: Try one thing at a time. (Novel, non?)

Here’s how I imagine it working: As I run out of a product, I try to find a more sustainable and inexpensive substitute. If I find something that works, I rejoice and my husband gets to make fun of me (you’re welcome, dear). If not, no big deal, nothing changes, and I pretend I wasn’t trying to unclog the drains with salad dressing. Also, I get a guilt-free pass from all the following:

  • Using fruit for anything but eating (There’s no way I’m going to shell out big bucks for a tub of strawberries and then smear them on my face. Unless by “on my face” you mean “inside my mouth,” in which case, yes please.)
  • Using rocks as deodorant (I have previous experience with this one, and it resulted in a friend kindly donating me her father’s used Speed Stick. True story.)
  • Giving up makeup (I’m sure that beet juice lip gloss and olive oil mascara bring out one’s natural beauty, but… no. Just no.)

My natural inclination is to give up before I even start. Too much information, too many opinions, too much focus on weighty issues like ethics or politics when I’m just trying to save money and live a little simpler… but I like meeting challenges, I’m grateful to find my own strength in overcoming obstacles, and I’m even rather fond of my inaugural attempt:

Eco-friendly buzz

Do tell: Are there any budget- and eco-friendly products you can vouch for? Or am I headed down a vinegar-scented slope to utter wackedness?

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  1. hmm. i’m trying to think if we do any shortcuts that would be easier on the budget….
    at the present, all i use is mascara and sometimes an eye-shimmer…
    on another note, a friend of ours made some vinegar dish-washing spray-bottle concoction thing when we were at her house, and all i gotta say is, 1. stay clear of the fumes of vinegar, and 2. it works pretty good. i would use it if i had to. 😉 but i reeeaally like our dishwashing liquid.

    doing your own garden for as many things [snap peas, cucumbers, squash, peppers, tomatoes, etc., strawberries never came in that awesome for us] is another thing that comes to mind, though it’s kinda belated since it’s august already….and i have no clue how i’ll fare with that someday and my own garden, but i just know that mine will be much smaller than our family one. HAHAH. weeds grow fast.
    but i do love our fresh basil and tomatoes! nothing like them.

    you’re welcome for the novel of a comment, with hardly any tips. sigh.

  2. I don’t know if I have any advice. I have never been to Italy, but from what you have eluded to things may be expensive there that are not too bad here. (Or maybe non-existent over there.) I use Ivory Liquid for dishwashing and for hand soap. That is one cut back that has worked very well here. (Unscented flavor.) I tried using less expensive shampoo and my hair tied itself into knots that settled on top of my head like Medusa, so I switched back to the spendy stuff and my lox are once again luxurious. Baby shampoo for everyone else works though. I am a big “wipes” gal, which is not at all frugal, but for me NEEDED. And, I did switch to the cheap, cheap, cheap make-up and couldn’t really tell the difference. Dumb kids and their expenses. I really liked my expensive make-up just because I could go to the department store and look cool at the counter. Target just isn’t the same in those long endless isles. Helpful? Probably not, but I look forward to hearing about what works for you!

  3. you could do what i did…get a job at your skincare store so you can get a discount. walahh!!! (oh and pay those little pesky things that crop up every month called bills.)

    hmmm…the old wives tales and remedies i know generally have to do with how to determine the sex of your unborn child (withOUT a sonogram!). perhaps you could find a book and pull a “julie and julia”…. maybe not everyday … but experiment and document! experiment and document! for our reading pleasure. 🙂

  4. I have so many things to say! I have been doing this – replacing products with natural/homemade alternatives – for the last four years and I have found some really great recipes that work and cost next to nothing. I have far too many to share here, I will email instead, but here’s one that is easy to try: http://simplemom.net/oil-cleansing-method/

    I was skeptical about this face wash at first. I have quite literally tried a MILLION different face washes – from the fancy expensive makeup counter stuff, and the all natural health store things (still expensive), to the drugstore dozen like neutrogena, etc. I have to say that the olive oil/castor oil combination makes my skin feel so very nice and costs me pennies in the end.

    Aside from makeup, which I buy and can never be talked out of, I make almost everything else we use now!

  5. It is true that the amount of information is overwhelming, but actually it is not hard to be ecofriendly and save money once you know how. I am a chemist and environmental scientist with 20 years of experience. I also hypersensitive to chemicals and cannot use Lysol or any commercial cleaners.

    This is what I do and it works. I make my own all-purpose cleaning solution of water, ammonia and rubbing alcohol. I put it in a spray bottle and it works great for washing windows without streaks and cleaning surfaces. The ammonia smells strong but there is no harm to mixing these chemicals, but please NEVER mix ammonia and bleach. Also, NEVER pour water into toilet bowl cleaner or muriatic acid. The other cleaners you will need is kitchen cleanser and Bar Keepers friend or Bon Ami. All those other cleaners like Pine Sol, and Lysol are not usually not necessary and I am actually allergic to them.

    Shampoos have extra ingredients but the same active ingredient: sodium lauryl sulfate. Probably cheap shampoo works just as well as the expensive stuff. I say probably because I am allergic to all perfumes and have to buy unscented shampoo at the health food store.

  6. I no longer own window cleaner as I’ve found wet rag/dry rag really does work, streak free. though I seldom clean. 😉

    have you considered a small internet business taking advantage of what you find that is unique to Italy that Americans would buy online? especially small items?

  7. Beka – I’m not so much a fan of the vinegar fumes either; I think I actually prefer the smell of bleach…

    Megsie – Hmmm, nope, no Target here last time I checked. There aren’t nearly as many discount products here, and things tend to be more expensive anyway, which might explain why I always come back from the U.S. with a maxed-out suitcase. 🙂

    Rain – I’m a little scared to document my disasters–I mean, experiments–for the world to read, so we’ll hafta see… ::grin:: Thanks for the link!

    Allison – Oooh, yes please. I’m more interested than anything in ideas that real, live people actually use, so I’ll be waiting for your email with bated breath.

    Theresa – Thanks for the tips and for stopping by!

    CJ – Ha, I love that you admit to seldom cleaning. 🙂 I’ve actually thought about the online store thing many times, but shipping things from Italy is so pricey and SO unreliable that I’ve never had the motivation to try. I just can’t imagine that many people would be willing to pay $20 for a package of Pocket Coffee, no matter how delicious it is…

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