You’re probably thinking this is a post explaining how using your credit cards less will cause you to save more money. Certainly using credit less (or not at all) is a great move to help you stick to your budget and avoid nasty surprised like fees and interest, but this post is actually about plastic, like plastic bottles.
In our bathroom I have a small plastic “dixie” cup. These are disposable – I have a sleeve of like 30 of them, but I have used the same one for weeks. We used to have paper ones that were good for maybe a few uses, but now these cups seem to last forever. Especially since it is durable enough that I could wash it periodically.
Plastic bottles for water used to be the same way. They had plastic similar to that used for 2 liter sodas and a full-sized lid. You could refill these bottles for weeks and they would remain about the same. Bottled water manufacturers say that they made the bottles thinner and the caps smaller to save the environment, but I think they actually wanted to make the bottles as flimsy as possible so that people wouldn’t refill them as much.
Now, I certainly wouldn’t call myself “green,” because I think people in the Green movement tend to be green behind the ears and ready to fall for anything. They tend to get some idea fed to them and then charge off after it without any basic analysis. A prime example is the push for electric cars, which have about 10% efficiency if you count the losses all the way from the power station to the wheels of the car, versus about 20% efficiency for gas-powered cars. Mix in some diesel cars and plug-in electrics really look sad. Unless you plan to drive them indoors, why would anyone drive an electric car? Because power mainly comes from coal, by pushing people to buy electric vehicles to “save the planet from climate change,” greenies are ironically actually adding more CO2 into the air. (Note they should rationally be pushing for more nuclear power if they really want to reduce the amount of CO2 being created, but who said those in the Green movement were rational.)
So what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, while I’m not “green,” I do hate to see waste, especially when it is a waste of money. Money is time you spent away from your family. Money is what you did during a given day using the precious hours you were given. Money invested wisely is what will keep you from starving in your old age when you can no longer work. When you buy a product with an expensive plastic container, use the container once, then throw it away without having a really good reason for needing to do so, you are wasting money. Any most people who regularly pay 160 times the necessary price for a drink of water because they buy it in a bottle rather than filling up a cup from the sink will then tell you that they would like to invest but don’t have the money to do so.
Now companies love to sell us stuff in small plastic packages and have us buy it all again the next time. They can get bottles for maybe $0.10 each then charge $0.25 cents extra per little container. They love it when you buy drinks for the sports team in little bottles rather than filling up a big container with a powdered drink mix and water. They love it when each person coming through line in a cafeteria buys a drink in a little plastic bottle instead of getting a paper cup and filling up at the fountain. And the movie theater I was at last night loves to have people buy a bottle of water for $5.00 rather than using the drinking fountains. (One theater I was in actually removed the drinking fountains – I won’t be going there again.)
It is in your best interest to start cutting down on the amount of packaging you buy and to start using containers over and over again. Buy a water bottle or two and refill it rather than buying bottles of water all day. At home keep a cold pitcher of water int he refrigerator and fill up glasses or just use ice instead of pulling out a little bottle each time you want a drink. Where you can, buy the expensive plastic container just once and then buy refills in larger quantities and cheaper packaging. You can do this for liquid hand soap, sugar, salt and spices, and other household items. The more you do this, the more of these options companies will start to offer.
It may not seem like much, but if you can save a few dollars per day by reducing the amount of plastic packaging you’re using, that’s maybe $100 per month or $1200 per year or enough to fund over half of a college IRA. If everyone in your family does it, you’ll have enough to buy a new pre-owned $15,000 car every three years for cash, or enough to almost entirely fund an IRA or Roth IRA account each year. That’s powerful.
It isn’t huge changes in habits that mean the difference between being financially independent during one’s lifetime or needing to work your whole adult life and well into retirement age just to pay for things. Most people who become financially independent don’t live on soup and crackers and separate the plies on their toilet paper. They just make little changes that allow them to save and invest some of what they make. Getting rid of waste in your life is a good way to do this. How about starting with plastic?
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.