Sustainable spending – how to go green and save money

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

The climate is changing, but you can make a difference – by deciding to live more sustainably. Sustainable living doesn’t have to be expensive: it’s about only buying what you need, reusing what you have, and avoiding waste where you can – all of which can help you do your bit to save the planet and your pennies too!

We’ll be looking at ways to live more sustainably during our National Student Money Week (NSMW) event ‘Spend healthy – live healthy: sustainable money’ from 10 February 2020; in the meantime, here are some ideas to get you started . . .


According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take up to 713 gallons (or 2,700 litres) of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt (that’s enough to sustain one person for 900 days). The global clothing and footwear industry is a notoriously unsustainable industry, accounting for an estimated 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 17-20% of all industrial water pollution and up to 20% of pesticide use, and so-called ‘fast fashion’ –clothing and shoes made as cheaply as possible, to be worn a few times before being discarded (often straight to landfill) – is known to be particularly wasteful.

Instead, ask yourself if you really need it? If you decide to say no to fast fashion – or cut back on buying clothes – you’ll see the difference in your bank account. And if you need to replace an old coat or pair of shoes, the good news is that – thanks to new year uncluttering – it’s the right time to go looking for second-hand and pre-loved bargains. There are plenty of charity shops within walking distance of Waterside campus and Northampton town centre for you to browse, as well as online or apps, such as Ebay, Shpock, Depop, and Vinted; you can also use these to donate or sell clothes and other goods that you don’t wear or use anymore, rather than just throwing these away.

Money Saving Expert and Save The Student both have guides to how to get the best out of charity shopping, and there are plenty of blogs and Instagram accounts for inspiration on second-hand style – or how to restyle and fall back in love with what you already own.

Energy and water

Cutting back on use of energy and water can be an easy way of reducing bills and increasing your bank balance –the planet will love you for it too!

You can make savings by either turning it off or down: have your heating on a timer, turn down the thermostat when it gets cold and put a jumper or extra layers on instead, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, swap a bath for a quick shower.

Did you know that the Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical household wastes around £30 a year by leaving devices plugged in or on standby? Don’t forget to unplug any chargers left in sockets when not in use; these can sometimes still use power (if it feels warm, it’s using energy). In addition, watch out for other ‘vampire appliances’ such as some televisions, DVD players, computers, etc, which can also drain energy while they are turned off; if in doubt, turn off at the wall.

See the Energy Saving Trust, Waterwise, and Money Saving Expert for further tips.


For some students, a car is essential. However, if you live near the University, and don’t have children to ferry about and/ or placements to get to, you will save so much money by not having a car. Insurance and tax can be huge outlays, and petrol and maintenance costs will continuously chip away at your finances. Unless you really need it, leave it at home – and use the subsidized bus service, cycle or walk to university instead.

Choosing to take the bus, walk and/ or cycle more will reduce the environmental impact of your travel as well as your costs, and can provide regular exercise (if you walk or cycle).

If you’re planning to go home, you can save money by buying your train/ coach ticket early. Using a 16-25 railcard or NUS TOTUM card can bring extra discounts – and using public transport helps to cut down on pollution.

Reuse where possible

Although recycling any plastics, paper and glass you use is a fantastic way to help the environment, it’s a better idea to avoid single-use products, and swap these where possible for reusables.

Fill a flask with tap water instead of buying bottles, and use a travel mug whenever you buy coffee or a hot drink (many coffee shops will give you a discount) – or bring your own from home. Invest in waxed paper for food storage rather than cling film, and cotton facecloths and/ or make-up pads instead of use-once disposables. Refuse plastic straws and disposable plates and cutlery when you’re out, and try to buy any fruit and vegetables without wrapping (always bring a reusable bag when you go shopping). If you opt for soaps, shampoos and conditioners in solid bar form, this cuts down on the plastics needed to contain liquids, and the product usually lasts longer too!

There may be some upfront costs here, but these will soon even out, and ultimately, this will be better for your bank balance and the environment. Save The Student have plenty of ideas here to help you reduce your one-use plastic and save money.


Food is usually an area where most of us can make a few changes to save pennies – but there is also an environmental benefit too! For example, if you buy locally-produced, in-season food, this will often be cheaper (you can also usually freeze it if you buy in bulk), and the food miles needed to reach your plate will be reduced.

With Veganuary going from strength to strength as veganism becomes more mainstream, there’s never been a better time to cut back on meat. Even if you don’t want to remove animal products completely from your diet, swapping meat for vegetables and pulses a few times a week will be better for your bank balance, the environment, and your health too.

For a cheap, sustainable and tasty meal out, check out ‘food waste’ cafes such as Elsie’s Café – these often use left-over food which would usually have been thrown away. If you prefer to make your own meals, Fruitful Abundance also run Shop Zero in St James, Northampton, which sell surplus produce (such as large veg boxes for £5), and Olio is an app where you can claim other people’s unwanted food for free!

For tips on how to revitalise stale (but still edible) food, see Save The Student, Love Food Hate Waste, and Cooking on a Bootstrap.

Preparing your own meals rather than buying pre-made lunches or takeaways will be cheaper, as well as reducing the amount of plastic packaging that will need to be thrown away too. During our upcoming Money Week, we will be giving away free lunch bags and suggesting recipe ideas to help fill them. We will also be running two competitions to encourage getting creative when preparing meals: create a meal in a jar to win a fitness tracker (make sure you claim your free glass jar at the Money Week desk in the Learning Hub), and/ or share your ‘fakeaway’ recipes and photos to win £100 cash. For further details, see our Money Week page.

There are lots of ways in which you can do your bit to save the planet – and best of all, going ‘green’ doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Good habits are made over time – by taking small steps, you can start to make better, more sustainable choices to your lifestyle without thinking about it. Making small changes can really add up – and can save you money too!