The economy. Energy. Burgeoning carbon footprints vs shrinking portfolios. Not an appetizing picture. Still, we gotta eat. To alleviate some of the stress surrounding these complex and confusing issues, let’s look to the past for simple, green solutions. During the Great Depression, consumers had to differentiate between needs and wants, and you may have witnessed the legacy of that frugal time in the spending habits of your grandparents and their friends. It’s time we all started buying like that generation.

Cutting some waste and expense is easy. Last year, Americans spent $15 billion dollars on bottled water, which is actually more than they spent on iPods. According to the Earth Policy Institute, making plastic bottles requires over 17 million barrels of oil annually. A Great Depression solution: Buy a reusable bottle and refill it with patriotic (i.e. tap) water. Or, to combat the 28 Billion disposable coffee cups Americans run through each year, buy a reusable coffee mug and brew your own at home. If landfill talk doesn’t worry you, how’s this for fear factor: One latte a day adds up to $1,200 dollars. Yikes.

As for "food" prints: In May, 53 percent of consumers said they were cooking more from scratch, which is a good way to save money and eat healthier, without the added sugars and fats in prepared foods. It's also greener, because the carbon footprint of processed foods is higher than for whole foods, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. To go greener, as a general rule, eat local, and shave off some of the average 1,500 miles food travels to your table. If you want affordable local produce, the Eat Well Guide lets you search their database of co-op groceries, farmers' markets, and community supported agriculture (CSA) groups by zip code. Ask for locally produced foods at your grocery store and your nearest Wal-mart, a company which recently announced a major commitment to sourcing regional.

You can become a small-scale local producer, yourself. During WWII, in order to conserve fuel and resources, Americans turned to a practical, patriotic and eco-friendly solution: Grow your own. In 1943, 20 million American homes had a Victory Garden. In the present time, if you want to grow veggies on the windowsill or a back (or front) yard plot, check out the many ideas for growing your own online--starting on this site.

Another old-school, money-saving tip is to buy in bulk. Due to economies of scale, it's simply more affordable, plus it eliminates much of the waste associated with packaging and avoids the hassle of constantly reordering each time. Organic comes in bulk, too. When you type in keywords like eco grocery at Amazon, hundreds of products packaged in "eco bags" pop up on the screen. They includes such necessities as cereal, grains, and pasta, toilet paper and biodegradable trash bags. For a list of natural grocery stores in your area where you can purchase bulk grains to put in jars, check out Green People's database.

If the past is the best indicator of the future, we will eventually get ourselves out of this economic pickle. But to do it right, we must conserve both fiscal and natural resources as easily as we had previously been using them up.

Story by Margaret Teich. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Back to basics: Green budget living tips
With the economy in shambles, there's never been a better time to go green.