How Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle Helped Us Save for Our Move to Spain

I am by NO means a financial expert, heck, I don’t even have a retirement account, but I would like to share a few tips on how Fernando and I saved for our big move and paid off my debts in one year’s time. Living a low impact lifestyle was an integral part of saving, which makes it another win-win for zero waste living!

Before going on any further I do want to make it clear that this blog post is not about how I made money, it’s about how I stopped spending it.

So here’s how we managed to save almost $40k in one year:

  1. Having Roommates And by roommates I mean my parents. When we got back from traveling in South East Asia in the summer of 2016 we moved in together temporarily to my parents home while we found a place. Once we realized how much we were saving and how comfortable the 4 of us were living together we decided not to move out and instead save on rent.  Even though we helped my parents out financially we were still saving about $1,000 a month considering the high rent prices in San Diego. There were a few times when we wished we were living on our own, but we were mostly very happy. Fernando got along great with my parents, he probably spent more time talking to them than I did, and I’m really grateful for all that quality family time. My mom and I who both worked in downtown got to carpool home almost every day and my dad and I went on morning hikes and had breakfast together regularly. On top of it all, it was also a very sustainable living option! By sharing a home we were sharing appliances, space, and reducing our environmental impact. Thanks to us we were composting, recycling as much as possible, and both my parents picked up a lot of our zero waste habits. I’d definitely do it all over again.

    My parents, sister, and us on our low impact wedding day
  2. I stopped buying things I don’t need I can’t count the number of times I rejected a purchase because I didn’t want to spend the money on it. It didn’t matter if it was $2 or $100, I’d rather see that amount in my savings account than spend it on something I don’t need. This included clothing, brownies, coffees, kombuchas, smoothies, phone chargers, cocktails, chocolate bars, acai bowls, and the list goes on and on. What each of us considers a ‘need’ is subjective and changes from day to day, but asking myself “Do I need this?” helped me make those choices. Most of the time my answer was no, and I moved on, feeling very content with myself. Seeing the results in my bank account motivated me to keep saving and really changed my mindset about spending money and the value of a dollar.  Five years ago I would victimize myself for not being able to spend on luxuries, I was living paycheck to paycheck, and I would spend any extra money I had at the end of the month because I thought saving so little was kind of pathetic and pointless.  To be fair, I was making less money, but only a couple thousand a year maybe, so I still would have been able to save a little. Living this way really affected my happiness and made me feel trapped in an endless cycle. Now I no longer feel I’m missing out because I’m not spending on restaurant meals or a new outfit, I feel empowered, and more in control than ever before. It’s a very good habit I’ve acquired and helps me reduce our expenses while traveling.
  3. Homemade Work Lunches This was a big one! Takeout lunches would cost me about $8 a day on average. $8 lunch x 5 work days = $40 a week, about $160 a month, and close to $2,000 a year! And that’s just for lunch. Add the cost for takeout breakfast and dinner? No thanks. I would make lunches for both Fernando and myself, so double the savings. Of course, making food takes time, especially if you’re like me and don’t want to buy conveniently over-packaged food items. So over the span of a few months I learned a few tricks to help me be more efficient when it came to making work lunches. I meal prepped on Sundays or Mondays and prepared mine and Fernando’s lunches with those ingredients. I would make things like a big batch of lentil or chickpea soup, roasted veggies, rice, quinoa, and washed and cut lettuce and veggies for salads. I also cooked large quantities for dinner to have left overs for lunch, packing it in containers right after dinner to have ready for the next day. On days when I didn’t have anything prepared I would put together quick lunches such as salads or bulk dehydrated soups topped with avocado and a side of bread or I would run to the nearby grocery store during lunch time to buy pre-made soup in a recyclable container and a few veggies, paying a lot less than I would at a restaurant.  In the year I worked I bought lunch less than 5 times, saved so much money, and not to mention all those take out containers.
  4. Thrifting Most of the clothes I’ve bought in the last 4 years has been second hand. Not only is it an eco friendly option, but it’s also very inexpensive. My closet consisted of quite a few $4-$5 shirts I would regularly wear to work and I’m sure no one ever noticed they were thrifted. In fact, I would even get compliments, to which I was proud to answer with a “Thank you, it’s thrifted!”. Thrift shopping does take patience but I’ve found that when you shop exclusively second hand, that highly increases your chances of finding the good stuff.  Even though thrift shopping can be very inexpensive, I also applied my “Do I need this?” rule. I did this not only to save money but also to live minimally. In the last year I bought very few pieces of clothing or other thrift shop items and even ended up selling most of my clothes. I probably spent less than $200 on new clothes last year.
  5. Experiences over Things Thankfully both Fernando and I value experiences more than material things, which is a good thing to have in common in a relationship. We gift each other small, and many times second hand things for our birthdays or special occasions, and prefer spending our money on experiences. Our Summer Sundays were spent at the beach rather than the mall, we loved exploring sunny San Diego, and we went on quite a few camping trips. Experiences can also be expensive, so we’d choose inexpensive experiences that left us feeling rich.

    DSC01805 (2)
    We had a wonderful New Years in Joshua Tree with great friends. It’s relatively close to us and camping there is very inexpensive. I enjoyed that much more than an expensive NYE party in the city.
  6. Whole Foods Plant Based Diet Our weekly food budget was about $60 for the both of us. With this we ate almost every meal excluding a few meals we would have at restaurants over the weekend. I would typically go shopping on Sundays to my favorite store, OB People’s, and buy about $40 worth of bulk goods such as lentils, peanut butter, grains, oats, oils, and nuts. I would also buy a few veggies and fruits, but not enough for the whole week. Mid week I would buy another $15-$20 of fruits and veggies at shops that were closer to me to make food or snacks for the remainder of the week. For a few months we bought our produce from a local CSA for about $30 and while I was doing this I lowered my bulk shopping to $30. It was somewhat of a challenge at times to not go over budget, and we gave up certain things like local bulk honey, but I really loved supporting this CSA and eating super sustainable veggies. I also found that it was very easy preventing food waste when you have a food budget, hardly anything ever went to waste. We ate a plant based diet, and contrary to what many people believe, its actually quite inexpensive. Lentils, beans, rice, and oats are all very cheap but healthy food items we would eat regularly. Not only were we saving money on food, but it was also a very healthy option for both us and the planet. I was able to buy almost everything without packaging or plastic, without palm oil, and without unknown ingredients.

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    All organic, package free, and very inexpensive
  7. Weekend Budget We gave ourselves a budget of $150 every weekend for “entertainment”. This amount rolled over, so if we only spent $50 one weekend, we could splurge the following weekend. It also worked the other way around, so if we overspent one weekend then we’d cut back the following. Looking back, I think most weekends we were under budget. We would spend this money on concerts, so so many meals at Kindred (our bill was usually around $35), trying out new vegan restaurants, craft beer, and date nights in Tijuana. We actually loved going to Tijuana for dinner, drinks, and a movie. Same quality as San Diego, but much cheaper. I know this isn’t an option for most people, but if you’re in San Diego, you’ve got to try it out. Dinner+drinks+movie would typically cost us about $50! Because of our work schedule and commute, we hardly ever went out during the week, actually probably never. So we would spend 0 money during the week and splurge a little on weekends.
    I’ve come to realize that money doesn’t define my happiness. As long as I have enough to live comfortably and be prepared for an emergency, I am happy. For me, reducing my spending came down to spending less money and doing the most eco friendly thing.  Hope you found these tips helpful, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “How Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle Helped Us Save for Our Move to Spain

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post Monica. I keep telling people that it is such a misconception that a whole foods plant-based diet is more expensive. You just need to be organized and plan ahead. 😉


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