Living green and eating healthy on a MAJOR budget?

We’re poor, I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m married with a year-old son and a baby on the way. We’re on CalWORKS (call it welfare if you want to be a jerk), and I just can’t eat as healthy as I would like with food stamps – organic and vegetarian is just not an option for us. I can’t use canvas shopping bags unless I get them for free. I can recycle and conserve energy – but that’s about it.

But I want to DO MORE. Any tips?

22 thoughts on “Living green and eating healthy on a MAJOR budget?”

  1. if you are just concerned with food-then garden check out your city’s website to see if you can pick up free compost
    if you live in an apartment you can plant tomatoes, squash and peppers in pots on you patio.

    you can also:
    1) line dry your clothes (inside or outside)
    2)get used stuff for free at: freecycle
    3)mother earth news always has some project to build something Eco-friendly and thrifty out of "junk"
    if you can’t afford the subscription then read the website or look for old issues at the library.
    4)look for recipes for household cleaners just using vinegar and baking soda, or orange oil

    good luck!!

  2. anonymousenlightenedgirl

    Good for you!! Hey I understand where you are coming from. My family meets certain requirements for our state’s "welfare" program too. We don’t get food stamps, but do get medical coverage and WIC. If anyone gives you grief for being on welfare, than they obviously have never had trouble feeding their family and working with what they’ve got!

    My suggestion is to try and grow your own fruits and veggies if you have a yard. If not, try the local farmers markets. Or your neighbors… mine just gave me a zucchini today.

    You can also use white vinegar, borax and baking soda as very cheap and very good cleaners. They require a bit more elbow grease, but they save on your wallet. Mix about 1/2 vinegar in a gallon of warm water for floor cleaner. You can mix it a bit stronger for windows. Baking soda makes a great cleaner for your kitchen sink and counters. I like borax for my shower. It leaves a nice shine!

    Good luck on your quest! You aren’t the only one out there.

  3. I found this worksheet cost comparison of Shaklee’s green products to those you would find at Walmart or any other store. It turns out with these concentrated cleaning products they last much longer and end up being cheaper than the leading brands. Check it out below. Also you can visit my site

  4. Try your local food banks and churches for free food or for a small staple you can receive quite alot of food. Food banks will charge $15.00 for a box of food and other fresh vegetable and milk etc… worth about double what you pay. Stay away from process food is expensive. Go to a market everyday instead of buying food for a week. Because you can buy what is on special for that day and save money. Good Luck!


    You aren’t poor, you’re consumer-savvy! Tight budgets are conducive to greener living!

    I’m proud to be less of a consumer. When I do shop it is often at resale and thrift stores. There is no shame in that. It’s a treasure hunt, it benefits my pocketbook, the environment, AND and a worthy cause! And that oversized, outdated dress in pretty fabric can be cut down and sewn into a great blouse, or a lot of baby clothes! It’s a thrill to find new uses for "old" stuff. Anything kept out of landfills is a great contribution to the environmental cause if you ask me.

    We’re aren’t vegetarian, and I don’t get much in the way of organics, but I do cook mostly from scratch. Cheaper and healthier. Organic potatoes and carrots are pretty affordable and go a long way in soups and stews. I use a lot of lentils, canned tomatoes, beans and rice, and canned salmon. Canned salmon is better for you and the environment than farm-raised fresh salmon. And I think other ethnic groups have a healthier diet than the typical American, and so I find inspiration in recipes from around the world. Your library should have a large selection of cookbooks. (And if you expose your kids to all these "weird" foods now they won’t be picky eaters).

    Even one canvas grocery bag makes a difference. I found large ones at a liquidation-type bargain store for $5 each.

    In a nutshell, all actions, no matter how small, make a difference. And raising your children to be environmentally conscious is an immeasurable contribution!

  6. Buy in bulk when you can, things like pasta, flour, sugar… last a long time.
    Also for cleaning products use warm water and vinager. This is much better for the enviroment and family, and it is alot cheaper. Also if you kids get into it they probably will not like the taste, but it won’t put them in the hospital. You can also make baking soda into a paste for tricky stains.
    Also you can use baking soda instead of laundry detergent with vinager in the fabric softner compartment. I have found that this gets my clothes cleaner than most regular detergents. You don’t get that scented smell, but you are saving bocoo money and it is so much better for the enviroment.
    Also since you have one on the way. Breastfeed the baby. Just think of all the formula contaniers that will not end up in ladfills and all the energy that will be saved in a little less forumula being made. Plus it is free and most WIC offices have lactation consultants to help you out and some will even provide breastpumps when you return to work.

  7. "Welfare" is not a four letter word. Sometimes it’s necessary and it’s what we pay our taxes for, and I personally don’t mind helping those in need. Having been a grocery store cashier tho, I have seen people abuse the system. From what you wrote tho, you are in need–and that’s ok. I’ve had to take emergency food stamps at one point. Living "green" is not easy, and yes it is expensive. Here are a few pointers I’ve learned tho–take any bag to the grocery store. Most customer service counters will allow you to leave your bags with them while you shop. Have them put your groceries in those bags until you can find the good canvas ones–which our out there for free. For your fruits and vegetables–try buying them at the farmer’s markets–they’re usually cheaper and fresher–and you stimulate the local economy, which can have an indirect effect on your budget (in a good way). You might have to save change for a couple of days (what costs me 20-30 dollars at the grocery store costs me 10 dollars at the farmers market. Buy certain things in bulk–like pastas, sugar (best to find unrefined), flours and the like. These keep for a long time and they’re usually cheap. Use these things and others to make healthy food for your family. Make your own juices at home–they’re fresher, better for you, and it gives you a sense of satisfaction. Take these ideas–run with them–and you’ll find yourself coming up with your own and improving on them. Don’t let anybody denegrate you because you need help. In the best society–none of us would go hungry, shelterless, without the necessities. Having said that–evaluate your needs and make sure your wants aren’t taking priority. Good luck.

  8. well, there is a site called where u can get the stuff people dont want anymore for free so if u need free canvas bags, u can go check it out and find it on that site or u can contact me and i can send u some bags if u like. i got quite afew of them that i rarely use. congratulations on the baby!

  9. Hello there. well I think its great that you want to help the environment even though you’re in a financial strain. I’ve been there. I go to safeways and cala foods and i see the price of organics and the price of conventionals and 99% of the time I just have to reach over to the conventional produce unfortunately. but then i did some shopping around for some affordable organic produce and thats where I bumped into Trader Joe’s. Their food there is super super cheap and its good quality! for example while safeway shoppers pay like $6 for a 24oz cherrios u can get a 20oz of Joes O’s at Trader Joes for $2! produce is cheap there too especially the organic ones! they offer vegetarian food that to me is cheap as well and they take ebt cards so if u can just by there and check it out.

  10. Plastic shopping bags aren’t that much of a problem provided you dispose of them properly (recycling what can be recycled will do) so I wouldn’t worry too much about getting canvas bags (and you can use hang up plastic bags you get for free instead of paying for bins).

    Avoiding so called ‘organic’ foods is also a good idea (due to the fact that they require more land to grow and the fact that land use is the main negative environmental impact of farming along with them not actually being any better for you anyway) and one that you are already doing even if you don’t have a choice or want to. Specifically buying genetically modified foods would be a good way to help the environment (being that less herbicides are needed and less land as well, don’t worry about the crackpots who think they are dangerous, no negative effects have been found yet) although if you’re on a budget just get whatever is cheapest and should do OK.

    In all honesty there probably isn’t much more you can do, not without spending a lot of money anyway or really reducing your quality of life.

  11. I’m new to this, so not sure if you are in San Francisco, where I live. If you are, Rainbow Grocery publishes 20% off coupons in the back of the AT&T phone book. Unfortunately, they seem to be for every other month, not every month. They can only be used midweek, but CAN be used with food stamps. At the Safeway in my neighborhood, they seem to stock a supply of phone books, or maybe you know people who won’t be using their coupons. Trader Joe’s organic foods are sometimes less expensive than conventional foods at conventional grocery stores. If you cut out junk and buy/ eat a little less, you can get in the habit of eating healthier. Whole Foods Market provides coupon books and if I shop there, I shop those or the store specials. Costco now carries organic pasta, milk, yogurt, cookies, butter, protein bars, and sometimes olive oil, frozen foods (veggies, burritos, fruit, and more), and maple syrup. We live on one income with 3 kids, and a very tight budget, but I have a commitment to buying organic whenever possible; it just takes some dedication and ingenuity. As for grocery bags, Trader Joe’s has reusable bags for $1, and I think Whole Foods Market does, as well. If you spend the extra $1 each time or even every other time you shop, you will have a full supply of bags in no time. At Costco you can recycle their boxes to carry your groceries. A plus- we very rarely have medical issues, so barely any doctor bills.
    Good luck- I know you can do it!

    A website where you may find many ideas for living and eating green is There you can find many tiny ways to make a difference in your life and the world, one baby step at a time.

  12. I know what you mean. I had WIC vouchers and was pissed to find out I could not use them for organic milk.

    Do the best you can, organic may be too expensive but vegetarian/healthy doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Food like oatmeal, dried beans, rice (brown rice is better) are pretty cheap but also very nutricious. Drinking water (tap water that’s been boiled) instead of buying sodas doesn’t cost a thing and it’s healthier. Don’t buy junk food just beacuse it’s cheaper and you think you cannot afford anything else. Remember, you only get one body. And the eating habits you give your children now will stay with them for the rest of their lives. If you wash your dishes in the sink because you can’t afford a dishwasher or expensive dishwasher detergent, then this will conserve some energy. Air-dry your clothes on a clothesline. You probably already consolidate your car trips because of the baby — this saves gas, too. Try for canvas shopping bags. Take advantage of grocery store sales and clip coupons in order to stretch those food stamps. Buy disposable diapers in bulk at Costco if you can’t do cloth diapers. Good luck!

  13. Even reducing the amount of meat that you eat can have an important impact. For example, if you are making pasta, consider using chik-peas instead of meat. You get high-quality protein and fiber and chik-peas-pound for pound-is much cheaper than meat. As a child who grew up poor, I remember lots of baked beans, beans and rice, tuna noodle casserole. All nutritious meals that can be low cost and, due to their low meat-content can be more environmentally friendly.

    Instead of worrying so much about getting canvas bags, why not reuse your lod bags? Paper inside of plastic gets a lot of mileage. Even if you can only use it 5 times you’ve saved a lot of plastic and trees.

    There are tons of other ways that will probably save you money too…make sur eyour home is sealed up properly. Make sure to shut out the lights and turn off the water. There is no reason to keep the water running while you wash your face or brush your teeth. Use public transportation or bike/walk whenever possible. You will get exercise, save money on gas and car and lower the carbon load.

    I think that the most important thing is to teach your kids, if you have any, to be as gentle to the earth as possible.

  14. Try to cook all of your meals instead of eating out. That way you can control the amounts of fat and salt in your meals. Try a farmers market for fresh produce. You can usually get it cheaper than at a grocery store and freeze what you cannot use right away. Bread outlets are a good place to get whole grain breads for way less than retail. While you are pregnant you will need the calcium from dairy so don’t scrimp on that. Try eating sharp cheddar cheese with whole wheat crackers, sliced fruit, and a salad.

    Organic isn’t always better for you as recent news stories will tell you.

    You can also try to limit the amount of meat that you eat. If you buy a roast get one with a bone in it. Cut the bone out before you cook it and use it for making soup. If there is any leftover meat, use that for the soup as well. Buy whole chicken instead of precut. Not only is it cheaper, but you can use the parts that most people don’t eat, like the backs and necks to make broth. You can also ask your butcher for bones or trimmed off pieces. These make great broth. Just cut the extra fat off it before you cook it. You can sometimes get them for free or at a very reduced cost.

    Someone mentioned WIC. It is a national program for women, infants, and children. It is similar to food stamps but it is specifically for pregnant women, and children up to age 5. You will get vouchers for healthy food, dairy, and juice while you are pregnant and formula and healthy food for children until they turn 5. Things like milk, oatmeal, cheese, some healthy snacks, and other things like that. Excellent program.

    For groceries, you can use a hand basket from a thrift store as easily as a canvas bag. You can put a brick or a rock in the toilet to reduce the amount of water used per flush. Turn the water off while you are brushing your teeth.

  15. Try dried beans and rice. Get brown rice, not white. I get brown rice by the 25 lb bag at Gordon Food Services. I know that’s a lot of rice but you get the most for your money that way and it will last a long time. The combination of beans and rice is supposed to be the perfect protien. There’s many kinds of dried beans and some come in large bags like the rice. The small bags have directions on how to fix the beans and different recipies. The great thing with beans and rice is that they taste very mild, so you can mix them with just about anything to taste the way you like. They also have a great healthy flavor of their own. Also try dried peas and lentils. I make pea and lentil soup and they turn out great. I would eat them even if I wasn’t on a budget. When I first started eating like this I lost 20 lbs and I wasn’t even trying.

  16. Your doing someting don’t worry about it!! You and the baby need protein don’t skip meats they need to grow healthy and though veggies are fine its not enough protein no matter what you do. Maybe buy a tomato plant put it in a pot that is fun and educational too. Check Yahoo in your profile they are offering canvas bags for levels 2-6!

  17. I make a modest income too, do you have a yard? If so, maybe you could plant a garden. I have a garden and it has saved me!! OR you can see if your local community has a co-op garden….

    and recycling clothes,home-ware and stuff among friends is oh so nice!

    🙂 love

  18. Frozen juices are a cheaper then ready to drink 1/2 gallon or quart bottles, and the containers for frozen use less plastic. Some still come in paper with metal tops. All is recyclable.
    Eliminate soda. empty calories and costly.
    Homemade soups are easy to make and cheaper the canned and have a lot less salt.
    If you buy bottled water consider buying a tap water filter system. It has been showed that bottled water isn’t any better then tap water And you don’t need to buy water in plastic containers.

  19. If you want to save money and help the environment then drive as little as possible and ride a bike more. Condense your errands. It will save you in gas money and car maintaince, so that you have some cash to buy healthier products and the bike-riding will make you healthier. You could look for canvas bags at a garage sale. To eat healthier, you don’t always have to stick to organic or vegetarian. Try foods made with whole wheats and more grains. Canned fruits and vegetables in their own juices are cheap and healthy. Good luck, our welfare (that’s just what it’s called here) was always really mean when we tried to do stuff like that.

  20. Kudos to you.. the fact that you are doing what you can is awesome. Do you have a WIC Dept for the baby to get free food (NOT a knock, just asking, i had WIC myself, has nothing to do with poverty just certain income level). they may offer some help as well. ask the CalWORKS if they offer extra stamps because you are buying healthy and show them receipts to the cost of it.

  21. You can find free things (like tote bags) on I have gotten many canvas bags from them. You could try and grow a garden, shop at farmer’s markets from time to time. It is important to support your local farmers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.