When you think about “the rich” and the people who constantly seek to be richer, it’s easy to picture someone like that polluting hog dude from Captain Planet.

Most people don’t associate the pursuit of money with being “green,” and because of that, a lot of “environmentalists” tend to shy away from building wealth, as if it’s morally wrong.

But the easiest way to get wealthy is to live a simple, frugal life, leaving you with a surplus of income every month to be invested. Incidentally, it’s also one of the best things you can do for the planet…

Killing Your Commute

In college, Steven and I discovered just how efficient Gainesville’s public bus system was for getting to and from campus cheaply — without paying for gas or parking. Soon afterward, we found an even more fun and healthy version of cheap transportation: a bicycle.

We got so used to commuting by bike that we continued to do it long after graduation. In fact, Steven biked to work for his entire eight-year career as a full-time employee, before we finally retired at age 29.

As much as we’d like to take credit for altruistically helping the planet, our decision to take buses and bicycles wasn’t motivated by a hardcore sense of environmentalism. Honestly, we both just had big, green dollar signs flashing in our eyes as we rode our way to riches.

Every mile we avoided using a car saved us on depreciation, maintenance, insurance, and fuel. That money was then invested, and our monthly net worth calculations proved that big choices like these were putting us on an accelerated path to financial independence.

But saving money on transportation also helped save the environment! Throughout his career alone, Steven biked roughly the equivalent of 600 gallons (2,300 L) of gasoline in a car — fuel that didn’t get burned up during those eight working years. And because we were able to get by with one car instead of two, an extra 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of metal and plastic didn’t have to be produced just to sit in a land-gobbling parking lot most of the time.

And even if you don’t bike to work or take a bus, simply considering the financial costs of your commute when comparing job offers will often cause you to favor the environmentally friendly choice. Picking a job closer to home or a remote work position means less commuting, less polluting — and more money in your pocket.

Strangely, an unadulterated pursuit of money very often seems to line up with the “environmentalist agenda.” It’s funny how that works.

Eating Your Greens, Greener

Choosing in-season fruits and vegetables — especially local produce that hasn’t been shipped from faraway places — is often touted as a more eco-friendly option at the grocery store. That’s because going against natural growing seasons takes more energy.

For example, summertime snacks that need excessive heat and sunlight still need those things in winter when they’re less available and more difficult to recreate. And of course, transporting food across the globe from places where it is in-season can take a toll on the environment, too.

But rather than looking in a farmer’s almanac to determine which foods are in-season, or are grown in your region of the world, or use less energy and water to produce, you can look at something much simpler instead: the price tag.

On average, the foods that use the least resources to grow and ship wind up the cheapest because of that fact (of course!). So, if you follow the trends in price, you’ll end up automatically choosing greener options most of the time.

In our home state of Florida, strawberries are in season during spring and summer, and I’m able to find them on sale for $2.50/pound during those months. While I can still find strawberries on the shelves in the winter, they’re harder to grow efficiently at that time and cost nearly double the price as a result. If you live in chilly North Dakota, where warm-weather strawberries are always an imported food, you’ll likely find their cost to be higher year-round.

Photos of pineapples at a store in Hawaii
Everybody says groceries are expensive in Hawaii, but on our six-month honeymoon on the Big Island, we found pineapples to be way cheaper than they were back home. That’s because they didn’t have to be shipped across an ocean to get there.

Another greener choice you can make with what you put on your plate is to buy non-perishable food in bulk, because it comes in much less wasteful packaging. This almost always comes with a lower unit price, too. That’s because wasting less also costs less!

The biggest frugal food hack we’ve used over the years is to simply replace expensive foods (like meat) with cheaper alternatives (like tofu, beans, and grains)*. If you’re a price-conscious shopper, you probably have a tendency to do this already, just because it makes you richer. But did you know that avoiding animal products is also good for the environment? Producing 1 gram of protein from beef uses nearly 100 times more land than from plant sources — and again, that’s exactly why meat is so expensive in the first place.

Keeping Travel Closer to Home

It’s no secret that we love a good American road trip. For us, they’ve always been a really freeing experience — and also a really cheap one. We can travel for just $36/day per person when we take a trip in our fuel-efficient camper van!

During our most hardcore wealth-building years, we specifically chose to travel within our own country because international flights for two (and weeks-long accommodations overseas) can cost a ton of money. We wanted to spread our wings and travel, but we didn’t want to blow through the savings we’d been working so hard to accumulate.

Photo of Lauren traveling with the van
Indiana Dunes National Park, about 15 hours and three interstates away from home.

Traveling closer to home became our default because it was a better choice for our net worth. But on average, shorter-distance trips are better for the environment, too!

In fairness, planes are sometimes more efficient than cars because they hold so many people at once, but long flights in particular (the most expensive ones!) actually release emissions directly into the upper atmosphere, causing more environmental damage, more rapidly. Again, the frugal choice is often the greener one.

Our 3-month vacation to Australia was the farthest we’ve ever gone from home, and without surprise, it was also our most expensive trip of all time.

Choosing cheaper methods of travel — like piling your friends or family into a fuel-efficient car or opting for some reasonably priced train tickets — lets you cut back on costs while cutting your carbon footprint, too.

And of course, the absolute least expensive options of all — like backpacking on foot or by bicycle — are much more environmentally friendly than all of the above.

The Biggest Way Getting Wealthy Saves the Planet

A lot of what I’ve mentioned so far have been “swaps” — trading more expensive options for others that are both cheaper and better for the environment. If your goal is to get rich, you’re probably doing a lot of these things already because they make the most sense for your bottom line.

But a lot of people completely miss one wealth-building, planet-saving choice that’s WAY more important for both the environment and your net worth than any of the above options: choosing not to buy something at all.

When I see Amazon packages piling up in front of my neighbors’ houses while my doorstep remains empty day after day, I can’t help but think about how most of that stuff probably just didn’t need to exist in the first place.

Rather than converting your hard-earned cash into junk mail, realize that just choosing to consume less altogether (and to repurpose the things you no longer need) will make you richer and conserve more natural resources than any “eco-friendly” product ever could.

— Lauren

* We’ve actually been vegan for the last 15 years for reasons unrelated to money or the environment, but the fact that avoiding meat is cheaper and greener is a nice added bonus! ☺️

Share this and start a conversation: