Four Frugal Ways to Live More Sustainably

Each choice we make matters.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Our choices as consumers come with costs to both ourselves and the earth. Choosing to live more sustainably can not only save the planet from damage, it can save you money. Let’s consider four areas where frugality and sustainable living meet.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

1. DIY: Do-It-Yourself.

What can you make yourself rather than purchasing? To reduce the amount of packaging waste in your household, give DIY a try. You are very likely to reduce your spending, too. I’ll share a few simple favorites.

Shake it up. Shaking up a few ingredients (i.e. olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice) in a mason jar creates tasty, fresh salad dressing. Consider this instead of buying dressing in a plastic bottle. I make a batch approximately once a week. It’s also an ideal mixture to toss vegetables in before sauteing or roasting. That’s a twofer for the mason jar concoction.

Chop chop. Make time a couple days per week to wash and chop your own fruits and vegetables instead of purchasing pre-cut produce. This will reduce packaging and likely save money. If you’re in the habit of buying ready-to-eat foods, consider a gradual change. Set an intention to prep your own food more often and notice how you feel when you make the time. It doesn’t have to be never or always. Once a week is an admirable effort.

Get sudsy. Make your own soap. This is one I admittedly don’t have experience with. I feel inspired when I see recipes for DIY soap but haven’t tried. Instead, I buy bars of soap at the co-op that do not come with packaging — not even a paper label. This may be as close as I get to making my own and that’s okay. The result is similar. I’ve reduced waste by avoiding packaging and it saves me the time of making my own. Each choice matters.

2. BYO: Bring your own.

The list of reusable items we can bring on outings to conserve resources is growing. As manufacturers and entrepreneurs recognize the demand for environmentally friendly practices, options for convenient reusable items that can replace disposables are readily available. Glass, stainless steel, and bamboo are a few examples of materials preferable to plastic. However, if a plastic container is what you have, bring it! You’ll be saving a disposable version from being used and that’s a choice that matters. When you lead by example people may be inspired by your actions.

Here are five ways to practice bringing your own. It does take practice!

  • BYO reusable water bottles and hot beverage mugs. If you’ll be staying awhile, ask for your coffee or tea in a “for here” mug. When those aren’t available, drink from the paper cup without a lid. Drinking hot liquids through a plastic lid is not ideal for your body or the planet.
  • BYO straw. Alternatively, opt for no straw.
  • BYO forks, knives, spoons, or the fabulous all-in-one utensil, a spork. My titanium spork is all I need.
  • BYO containers for leftover food when dining out. Some restaurants offer compostable to-go containers. Bringing your own reusable version is even better.
  • BYO bags to grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and other shopping excursions. If you forget, challenge yourself to carry purchases without a bag. You may discover a new talent for balancing items on your head.
Photo by Dinh Pham on Unsplash

3. RRR: Reduce, Reuse, Repair.

Reduce the amount of new clothing purchased by shopping at second hand stores or hosting clothing swaps. I’ve enjoyed getting together with friends and meeting new people while exchanging our unwanted clothing and accessories. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s frugal. Swap til you drop.

Reuse cloth for alternate purposes. When you have clothing you’re no longer wearing, the cloth can be reused to create something else. For example, industrious folks sew scraps together to make quilts or towels. Shelters or farmers may use cloth scraps as bedding for animals. There is probably a book of 101 ideas. Get creative and create change.

Repair and continue to wear. Many clothing items can be repaired rather than replaced. If you can mend it or hire someone at a reasonable rate, I recommend considering this. Once upon a time, mending clothing was the norm. As the fashion industry and culture evolves, it’s becoming more common to replace imperfect clothes. Experience the simple satisfaction of finally sewing a button back on to your favorite coat. I challenge you to consider repairing before replacing.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

4. TLC: Tender Loving Care.

Caring for yourself and for the planet go hand-in-hand. Implementing lifestyle changes is a daily practice and sometimes we fall short of our expectations. If you forget your reusable mug and buy coffee in a disposable cup, be gentle with yourself. Take care of you and continue to fight the good fight.

The choices that are healthier for you are often healthier for the earth, too. Rather than shaming or condemning the choices of others, speak with love about why you believe in sustainable living. Share your trials and triumphs, in person and on social media. Let people in your life and around the world know that you care about the planet, our shared home. We can learn from each other and inspire change.

Why I ate a scorpion

Can bugs feed the world? Entomophagy for sustainability.

Yep, that’s me taking a bite of a scorpion snack… bread, cream cheese, a big black arachnid… and I ate everything except the claws. It was … interesting…

en·to·moph·a·gy /ˌen(t)əˈmäfəjē/ noun: the practice of eating insects, especially by people.

Years ago friends in Minneapolis experimented with starting a business raising crickets and making them into food. To announce their new endeavor, they hosted a backyard party and asked for three volunteers to eat giant scorpions. Although their focus was crickets, the enormous scorpions were more attention-grabbing and in the same broad category — bugs. One of the enthusiastic entrepreneurs raised scorpions as a hobby. I had been a “pet sitter” when he traveled, feeding live crickets to the scorpions. Never imagined I’d be eating them, though. Have you, or would you, eat a bug?

After munching on the scorpion, it wasn’t a big deal to sample their granola made with cricket flour. It was high in protein and tasted like… you guessed it – granola. It was really amusing to watch children taste the cereal and see their reactions when they were told it was made with bugs! The process in a nutshell involves purchasing crickets, roasting them at high temperatures, and grinding the charred carcases into powder: cricket flour. From there, the granola was made as one would make any other variety. Honestly, if no one told you the ingredients I doubt you could tell whether it was made with rice flour or insect flour.

Although they didn’t pursue the business long-term, I learned a bit about entomophagy from those friends. The reasons eating insects may be a more sustainable solution to feeding the world’s population, rather than livestock, are well documented. I won’t go into detail, as there are plenty of online sources highlighting pros and cons of entomophagy on a greater scale.

Meat has been the main source of protein in rich countries for years and consumption is increasing in middle-income countries… where eating meat is a signifier of wealth. But eating animals exacts a high toll on the planet. The bigger the beast, the more food, land and water is needed to produce the final edible product, resulting in higher greenhouse-gas emissions. A cow takes 8kg of feed to produce 1kg of beef, but only 40% of the cow can be eaten. Crickets require just 1.7kg of food to produce 1kg of meat, and 80% is considered edible. Insects are also high in protein, minerals and micronutrients. 

Source: The Economist

As a person who rarely eats meat and is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle, entomophagy intrigues me. Although I’m not at the point of roasting and grinding my own crickets, writing this article was inspired by researching local sources of insect flour. The most interesting discovery so far is a restaurant near Minneapolis that offers cricket flour milkshakes on its menu. They say the bugs add a nutty flavor. If I get there, a blog story will follow… Would you taste an insect milkshake?

Are you doing it for the coffee?

Is your motivation internal or external?

Can you recall feeling like you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed? Was it yesterday, last month, several years ago? For me, it had been awhile. Most winter mornings I motivated myself with the thought of fresh coffee. Those days, I didn’t get up because I felt an internal desire to. Coffee was my extrinsic motivation. Something outside myself drove me to the behavior. I did it for that hot cuppa.

When we choose a behavior because it satisfies us, our motivation is intrinsic. It feels natural.

That’s the feeling I rediscovered when I joined a cycling challenge this Spring. There was no promise of prizes or applause. I wanted to ride for the freedom I feel moving through the world by the power of my own two legs. Although I continued drinking coffee, it wasn’t my reason for rising anymore. I could hardly wait to get on my bike. Feeling powerful and independent motivated me to go farther, crank harder. I wasn’t competing or training for an event. Riding for sheer joy was everything.

When I biked to work or social events I was in integrity with my values. Choosing sustainable transportation felt right. And then there was snow. In April. Did I mention this is Minnesota? On those frigid days I wanted to stay in bed. Coffee wasn’t enticing enough. The taste of those first fair weather Spring days was fresh in my mind. Biking through snow was not appealing. Thankfully, I found motivation in an unexpected place. Social media.

The 30 Days of Biking challenge began in Minneapolis and spread around the world. Through hashtags and online groups, I connected with dedicated cyclists sharing experiences. Some were getting back on bikes after recovering from accidents. Others never before believed they could ride everyday. One couple had been cycling for over a thousand consecutive days. Their stories inspired me and I was motivated by people who said they were inspired by me.The longer my consecutive days of cycling streak became, the stronger my internal desire to keep going grew. Through rain and snow, I rode because I wanted to.

The challenge ended, but I’m still riding. Letting the power of pedaling move me toward new people and experiences feels natural. It’s who I am, a cyclist. It’s okay, even necessary, to depend on extrinsic motivation sometimes. Working for a paycheck lets us pay our bills. Rewarding ourselves with dessert can motivate us temporarily.

Ultimately though, intrinsic motivation defines who we are, what drives us from within.

When our actions light a fire inside, the reward is the act itself. Coffee, money, and cake become perks. Are you teaching for a paycheck, or are you a teacher? Do you cook to pay the rent, or are you a chef? The lines get blurry. Even when we’re doing what we love, there will be days when we do it for the coffee, and eat the cake too.


Learning to wait in a world of instant gratification

We are living in a world of instant gratification, instant publication, instant notifications. Now, now, now… WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG?!

I’m practicing by watching coffee drip into my mug one drop at a time…

If you’re creating online content, you’ve probably been advised to share strategically, at a time when you’re most likely to get views. Scheduling posts to publish later on WordPress, Medium or Instagram to maximize audience exposure sounds like a good idea. Until I finally finish editing, adding photos and hashtags (and hashless tags) and realize I don’t want to wait. I want the satisfaction of pushing the button and seeing my story published now. I want the instant instagram experience. I want WordPress readers to start reading immediately. I want my YouTube video to go viral in the first thirty minutes. Even amazon two-day prime shipping isn’t enough. Hence, amazon now. Have you experienced this?

Screenshot from medium.com

As an educator and nanny I often notice children aren’t learning how to wait. Screen time addiction, various parenting styles, and a culture of nowness don’t model patience. Afterall, if adults can’t wait for gratification, how can children be expected to? Although I strongly believe in the importance of modeling patience for children, I also empathize with them. It is hard to wait regardless of age. The thing is, people often describe me as an exceptionally patient person. How can that be? When it comes to interpersonal situations, especially with children, I can model and even exude incredible amounts of patience. I know that about myself. I can wait all day long for a toddler to put on their own shoes or calm after a tantrum. I can offer my friends and family patience and compassion. Why is it so much harder to be patient with myself?

As a writer in days gone by I would have typed my story, maybe passed it by an editor, and waited to see it in print when the newspaper or magazine was published. On paper. While that still happens today, much of the writing we consume is now digital. We can instantly share our words with audiences around the world. I want to hit that publish button without delay. And it doesn’t end there. It’s hard to wait for the comments, likes, loves, claps and shares. It’s hard to wait for new fans to fall for me and hit that follow button. I want an authentic, organic following and I want it now. I want to go from two hundred to ten thousand followers now. And when I’m hungry I can not wait patiently. I go from zero to hangry in 5.2 minutes. You get the idea. I want it all and I want it NOW!

Taking time for self-care and learning to offer myself the compassion I so freely give others requires practice. As a passionate cyclist, I can’t resist the obvious cliche… Just like learning to ride a bike. Some days I move forward, some days I fall, and some days I don’t even have the energy to practice. In this culture of insta-this and insta-that, patience is rarely exemplified. It’s take practice, and I believe it’s a necessary practice, for ourselves and for the next generation.

Does anyone reading schedule posts rather than immediately publishing? Please share your experiences in the comments and inspire me to practice waiting. But do it NOW, because I’m still learning!

My (brief) tale of two cities

From small town girl to big city cyclist

My favorite t-shirt says it all, “Ride like you’re from Minneapolis”

When I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota I was clueless about city culture. Growing up in North Dakota with six siblings did not prepare me for navigating the life of a single college girl, alone in a metropolis. The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul are many many times larger than any of the small rural towns I had lived in. I arrived green eyed, eternally hopeful, and way too cute for my own good (as they say). Naive was my middle name. Looking back, I sometimes marvel at how I thrived. Or at least, survived. Thankfully my positive energy attracted mostly good people and I’m creative enough to problem solve most unexpected situations.


As a child my nickname was Min, as in Minnie Mouse, because of my tiny size. I didn’t outgrow it. (Hey, I just revealed the origin of my username, min in the city). Settling into my dorm room, I felt worlds away from small town life, both physically and emotionally. There I was, feeling independent and free, yet directionless. I knew I wanted something more, but what?


My family gave me very little direction and a hearty helping of unnecessary fear. I recall a conversation with my sister about getting around the sprawling campus alone. I said I felt safer on my bike than on foot. Her response was that biking instead of walking wouldn’t keep me safer. A rapist could hide in the bushes, jab a pole into my wheel spokes as I passed, and attack me when I fell off my bike. Thanks for the pep talk, sis. I get it, sort of. None of my family members had lived alone in a city this size. How could I, the littlest? And why would I want to? All they saw here was too much traffic. But I saw opportunity. Stepping out of the little box I was raised in, beyond my comfort zone, growing.


After several years of living at Minneapolis addresses, this city was becoming an important part of my identity. When I accidentally moved to St Paul, it was weird realizing I’d become so attached. The University of Minnesota is immersed in the city and it’s not obvious where the Minneapolis and St Paul campuses begin and end. When my future roommates and I chose our apartment I didn’t realize it was just outside Minneapolis city limits. So, for one year, I had a St Paul address. I never connected, though. No offense STP. My heart is in MSP. My favorite city lakes and parks, bikes shops, restaurants, co-ops, and other local businesses are here. I never felt a strong sense of place as a child because we moved to different parts of North Dakota. Finally, I understand why people express pride in their home city.


Although I wasn’t the passionate cyclist I am today, I loved experiencing city life on two wheels. No need for gas stations stops or parallel parking skills! After years of grinding on pavement with my mountain bike, I met a changemaker. This guy chased me down the Greenway bicycle path. I on rollerblades, he on bike, we introduced ourselves. Thankfully I said yes to meeting for a bike ride several days later. Now he’s my favorite guy. And more to the point of this story, that ride motivated me to get a bike more suitable to riding on pavement. I sold my mountain bike and never looked back.


It seems obvious now, but I didn’t know any cycling enthusiasts until I met him. I didn’t get it. I thought there were bicycle riders like me, and cyclists who wore spandex, clipped their shoes to the pedals and showed up everywhere drenched in sweat. I was NOT a cyclist. I was a girl who rode bikes… I’m so grateful I started exploring various riding styles and began my journey to where I am today. Sometimes I am that cyclist clad in spandex, clipped in, and wiping sweat out of my eyes. Sometimes I commute and do errands by bicycle. Sometimes I go on joyrides to my favorite places. And approximately once per year I saddle up and ride a century (100 miles in a day) just because I can.


Thinking back to small town life when I wanted five children, or my college years when I studied Elementary Education, I never dreamed I’d become a cyclepreneur. Cycling entrepreneur. Sharing my love of cycling and sustainable transportation with the world is everything that girl never knew she wanted.

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Lessons learned on two wheels

Triumphs and trials of a car-free cycling fanatic

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Flat tires, forgotten wallets, blizzards, thunderstorms, road ragers, dead cell phones… How do these problems affect cyclists differently than car drivers? I’ve learned first-hand the determination it takes to triumph, or at least survive, on two wheels. Some call it grit. Since selling my car and living a more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve felt it.

Deflated.

I’ve experienced two tire blowouts driving cars. [I’m using the word “car” to refer to any four-wheeled motor vehicle]. Thankfully I veered into shallow ditches, not oncoming traffic, or a tree. No one was seriously injured although my heart nearly stopped. I waited comfortably in the car until help arrived in one case. The next time, I locked the car and left it to be towed later. No grit required. When a bicycle tire goes flat, you can’t sit comfortably or lock the doors and walk away. You have to carry your vehicle along, at least far enough to safely lock it up. If you remembered your bike lock. I’ve learned to bring a spare tire tube and tools. I’m learning to change a flat myself.

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Penniless.

When I owned vehicles, I kept “emergency cash” and a spare credit card locked in the glove compartment. I knew I’d drive somewhere without my wallet and need food or gas. Or to pay for parking. There is no lockable secret compartment on my bicycle to stash cash or hide credit cards. I could zip them in a bag attached to the bike frame. Risk theft if I locked my bike in a public space and walked away, forgetting about the back-up money? No thanks. Remember, this situation assumes I forgot my main wallet at home. I clearly can’t be trusted to remember everything, everytime. This lesson is a hard one and I’m still learning. Earlier this week I was out riding later than planned and my stomach started growling. When I finally pedaled to a favorite source of cycling fuel (Taco Cat, for the locals) I noticed a feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. That sinking feeling when you realize you forgot your wallet and you really want to eat NOW. By the time I grudgingly pedaled home, I had gone from hungry to hangry. Be thankful you weren’t there!

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Thunder Snowing.

This is an actual weather term here in Minnesota. Most commonly during Spring, we experience storms with a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, hail, lightening and thunder. When “thunder snow” is forecast, any type of precipitation could accompany the BOOMING! As a car driver, you can pull over and wait out the storm, maybe play some games on your smartphone. If it’s not too severe, you can slowly drive home, no raincoat or goggles required. When your vehicle is a bicycle, you are in it. I’ve ventured out in exciting weather, experimenting with goggles and other gear. Finding my personal edge is exhilarating. There’s grit, and then there’s reckless abandon. For cyclists in Minneapolis, it’s a fine line. I am regularly humbled by riders I see killing it in weather conditions that sent me pedaling for home as fast as my legs could move. Or trudging along pushing my bike because the snow was too deep to ride. (I don’t have a fat tire bike - yet!) When the limits of my being and my bike have been reached, there is always someone out there grinding along. At least until a 50 mph gust of wind knocks them to the ground.

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Raging.

Angry drivers are dangerous regardless of how many wheels your vehicle has. For me, road rage feels more threatening on two wheels because many car drivers target cyclists. Like toddlers, they don’t want to share. But, I have to share roads to get from A to B. Sure, when I’m out for a joyride, Minneapolis has an excellent trail system. Can the bike fly from my garage to the bicycle trail? What about pit stops? When a bicycle is your vehicle, you ride to work, grocery stores, friend’s houses… not just on bike trails. Some roads have “bike lanes.” To many drivers, they are little more than painted art on pavement, ignored or unnoticed. Well intentioned bike lanes are frequently blocked by illegally parked cars, delivery vehicles, or waiting taxis. During winter, the bike lanes are often covered with the snow plowed out of vehicle lanes. It has to go somewhere. This is Minnesota. When angry drivers swerve to within inches of cyclists, or intentionally hit us, we have very little protection. A high quality helmet offers some. Our vehicles have not received five star safety ratings and are not equipped with air bags. 

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Dead.

The dreaded dead cell phone battery. In a car, you can likely plug your phone into a power source while continuing to drive toward your destination. Or, in many cases, stop to buy a charging cord at a gas station without major inconvenience. Traveling by bicycle, it takes a bit more preparation to charge a portable power source and pack it along. Most likely, if the battery dies you’ll have to survive without a phone until your own pedal power takes you to another charging option. A place with an electrical outlet can be few and far between on long bicycle tour routes. I’ve persuaded staff at coffee shops and restaurants to give my phone a little juice when I forgot my own cord. It’s a great conversation starter… The most vulnerable experience I’ve had with a low phone battery was while riding the last ten miles of a century (100 miles in a day). I was alone, long after sunset, on an unfamiliar route from Brainerd to Bemidji. Living in a huge city, I often forget how dark it is in rural areas without light pollution. During those (literally) dark miles, I fought feelings of dread by repeating positive affirmations and forcing myself to keep pedaling. In the end, I felt independent, brave, and gritty. Next time, I think I’ll bring a back-up charger though 😉

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A bit of advice before wrapping this article up: If you enjoy cycling, I recommend you go without your phone at least once. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling to move through the world by the power of your own two legs – without worrying about your battery level, stopping for selfies, or measuring your mileage with an app. The same advice applies to runners, hikers, and really everyone. It feels like FREEDOM!

Bonus photo: How to get your slice of pizza home when cycling without a bag!

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*All photos are my own, featuring me and my bikes, on cycling adventures.

Share your car-free experiences in the comments! I’m intending to blog regularly and would love to connect.