Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

How to Practice Living Sustainably When You’re on a Tight Budget

If you’re keeping up with any sort of news, you know that becoming eco-friendly and sustainable is essential nowadays. Climate change is impacting our futures, and while the headlines may seem bleak, as an individual you can take small steps to ensure that you’re practicing sustainability in your daily life.

However, as college women, it can be incredibly challenging on our bank accounts to become completely sustainable. You may be thinking: I don’t have the budget to replace all my makeup! Do I have to give up meat? I really rely on my iced coffee to get me through the mornings—even if it’s in a plastic cup.

Despite these challenges, it’s so important to do your own part for the planet. Switching up your ingrained habits at first may seem daunting — both mentally and financially —but eventually, your wallet and the planet will thank you. Here a few tried-and-true tips to begin integrating sustainable practices into your life.



I said it

A post shared by Her Campus Beauty (@hercampusbeauty) on

Find inspo and do your research.  

You have to start somewhere, right? If you’re looking for inspiration on how to implement sustainability into your daily routine, you can start with an app that you’re always scrolling — Instagram! There is a whole community of influencers devoted to practicing sustainability. Rather than stalk your ex’s feed for the umpteenth time, adjust your feed so you can follow people that will actually help you make a difference.

Obviously, that is a very small step to learning how to become sustainable. Most of the hard work will have to done by your own research. Government websites such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Commerce Administration have helpful resources so you can first learn about climate change and its effects. You can also keep up with climate change activists, such as the formidable Greta Thunberg, for more tips on how to reduce your environmental impact.

In terms of simple sustainability tips, the Internet is your best friend! Check out a list of 100 ways to practice sustainability from The Minimalist Vegan, or check your social media to join interesting initiatives that promote eco-friendly values at your university or in your neighborhood. By connecting with other who are looking to become eco-friendly, you’ll naturally be more motivated as well!

Ditch the plastic and purchase reusable items.

One of the easiest and most financially-friendly ways to become sustainable is to purchase reusable items. I know it’s tempting to roll out of bed and head straight for Dunkin’ iced coffee (I’m there every morning). It may be difficult to remember, but prioritize purchasing a travel mug so you can consistently forgo plastic. Additionally, when you show up with a reusable travel mug, you often get your drink discounted. Who doesn’t love a good bargain in the morning?

Other simple ways to ditch plastic: Ask for a paper straw or don’t get a straw at all when you’re purchasing a drink at your favorite coffee place. You can also buy packs of metal reusable straws that are both cheap and easy to clean. When you go grocery shopping, don’t use plastic bags (they charge you for those anyway!), purchase your own reusable bags so you have a ton of space.

You can also repurpose plastic materials you use in your daily life with eco-friendly alternatives. For example, if you’re someone who gets a monthly period, you should know that tampons and pads crowd landfills and are often comprised of 90% plastic. By replacing those with more sustainable options such as period panties and menstrual cups, you not only make your body happier and healthier, you make the planet happier too. 

Another simple way to integrate sustainability into your routine is assessing your makeup products. You can start by doing research into whether your favorite brands are cruelty-free and in eco-friendly packagingYou can also take part in mail-in or drop off programs in order to recycle your used products packaging.

Scale back how much meat you’re eating if you can’t go completely vegetarian.

If you’re truly a meat lover and can’t imagine giving up a filet mignon or simply need that extra kick of protein that a dinner of chicken and vegetables can give you, you shouldn’t give up on practicing sustainability in your diet. Even if you can’t completely cut out meat, you can cut back on how much you intake. Meat is responsible for a significant portion of the world’s carbon emissions and contributes heavily to global warming. 

So what can you do about this as a college student? Cut out red meat and focus on only the essentials. If you know you need protein, eat meat once or twice a week, but find other alternatives for those nutrients. Huffington Post has a great list of protein-heavy foods that aren’t meat—and of course, you always need to get your daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Commute using public transportation.

Sure, it’s totally tempting to open an app and call a ride to class when you’re running 45 minutes late. By simply getting up a few minutes earlier and investing in student-discounted public transportation passes, you can both save your wallet, your alarm, and the environment the constant beating they take. Though public transportation isn’t always the most reliable, if you truly make it a priority, you’ll become an expert in no time. Using public transportation is also a great way to get to know the town you’re living in, on top of being more environmentally conscious than hopping in that car.

However, if you’re living in a small town with no public transport, talk to your friends about carpooling everywhere. Not only does it give you a chance to queue up your fire playlist and bond with your best friends, but you’ll be doing the environment a solid as well.

Cut back on household unnecessities.

If you’re living in your own place, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that you remain sustainable, even when it comes to paying your bills. By keeping the lights turned off when you’re not in a room, layering instead of cranking the heat, and switching to paperless bills, you can slowly but surely achieve a higher level of sustainability within your own home. Definitely brainstorm with your roomies about how to make your living area eco-friendlier.

If you’re up for a challenge, avoiding the purchase of name-brand household cleaners and making your own at home is a natural, budget-friendly way to create a more naturally healthy environment for you and your friends to enjoy. Good Housekeeping has an itemized list of the best ways to make your everyday household cleaners, ranging from grease cleaners to clothing spot shots. Most of these recipes require ingredients you can easily find at your local grocery store, such as baking soda and white vinegar. Not only will you reduce you and your roomies’ environmental impact, but you’ll be making the most of household supplies you might not otherwise use.

Though becoming more sustainable is a challenge for anyone, especially for the budget-conscious college student, taking these small steps will help you be more proactive in helping the environment.

Maddie is a senior majoring in journalism and public relations in the College of Communication at Boston University. Hailing from suburban Philadelphia, Maddie is incredibly happy to be back in Boston for her fourth year. This year, she's looking forward to spending all of her money on brunch, downing lots of coffee, and of course, writing and editing at Her Campus. Outside of Her Campus, Maddie is involved with her sorority and exploring all of Boston.