As a Jewish college student living in New York City, I am frequently challenged to make eating and living sustainably work on a very tight budget. I’ve found that there are some ways I can spend less money and skimp, and there are certain areas where splurging is definitely worth the extra cost. I try to follow some key guidelines — listed below — when buying both food and household products. Whether you’re a college student, or just want to save a few extra bucks, these tips are useful in integrating sustainably minded changes into your daily routine.
Shop at the Farmers Markets: Not only are farmers markets great for buying local produce, they are relatively inexpensive compared to chain supermarkets. I especially love farmers market apples — at NYC markets they are reasonably priced, taste delicious, and help to support local economies!
Host a communal dinner: Living in a Jewish residence hall, I know firsthand the waste that can be generated from a communal Shabbat meal. Rather than stocking up on disposable goods, make your next dinner party BYOP (bring your own plate). By asking each guest to bring their own plate, you save money by not purchasing disposable goods, and you will be putting less into the waste stream at the end of the meal. If asking each guest to bring a plate is inconvenient, make sure to have a set of reusable dishware to provide for guests. Also, buying a cloth table covering is a great way to make a meal fancier, while avoiding the waste generated by using plastic tablecloths.
Prepare, instead of buying prepared: Buying prepared food can be costly and frequently leaves me wondering what is actually in the products I’m eating. For college students, communal dinners — whether with roommates or friends — are a fun and inexpensive way to eat more sustainably. Having a few people chip in to make a delicious meal is a great way to cut down on the costs of dinner and make it healthier! My favorite meal to share with my roommates is quiche made from cage-free eggs and fresh broccoli from our local farmers market (recipe below).
Reuse, recycle, repurpose: Thanks to the extensive recycling program in NYC, my apartment recycles as much as we possibly can. We also find great ways to reuse empty containers to save us money in other areas. For example, empty glass jars make great cups, and old deli containers can be reused (I like to pack my lunch in them). Our Channukah menorah this year will be made from empty wine bottles. Instead of sending all containers straight to the recycling bin, try to think of creative ways to repurpose them!
Share, Share, Share! When living with friends, splitting the cost of certain more expensive items helps save some money (and in my apartment, cuts down on wasted food). In my apartment, we take turns buying organic milk, which helps to defer the cost a bit, and sharing keeps up from having spoiled milk at the end of the week.
Make your own natural cleaning products: Vinegar in a spray bottle works just as well as dish soap (and is half the cost) as a pre-rinse for a dishwasher cycle. Vinegar is biodegradable, and a little bit goes a long way.
Have your brain do the shopping, not your stomach. I like to plan out what I’m going to make for dinner each night at the beginning of the week and shop for food accordingly. Buying too much fresh produce can lead to having leftovers that spoil, so I tend to buy only what I will use for the week. Thoughtful planning keeps spending at a minimum and allows me to plan for when I am going to make a “splurge” purchase.
Use eco-friendly cleaners: In my apartment of three college students, mess accumulates quickly! We buy eco-friendly cleaners, dish soap, and dish detergent — our favorite brand is GreenWorks, which cleans just as well as conventional cleaners, without harsh chemicals.
Buy organic: Though organic ingredients are typically more expensive at the grocery store, they are worth it. When I buy prepared food, I always buy organic. That way, there is no question about the presence of chemicals in my meals. However, I realize buying all organic products can definitely add up. I recommend looking at the difference in price between organic and non-organic products to see if spending the extra money is worth it.
Cage-free eggs: At first, my apartment couldn’t justify spending the extra money on cage-free eggs, but as soon as we tasted them we couldn’t resist!
Incorporating more environmentally friendly practices into your daily routine is easy, even on a tight budget. In general, splurge when you think the item is “really worth it,” and skimp when you can. The best way to save money? Be creative and open-minded. Incorporating seasonal veggies can be challenging, but also rewarding. Repurposing recycling can be a great way to reduce waste and, in the life of a busy college student, provide a fun, stress-relieving activity. Whether you’re a college student, or simply young at heart, making sustainable choices is practical at any cost.
Alyssa Berkowitz is a senior in the Joint Program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary and is the Food Development Intern at Hazon.