Our grandparents (or great-grandparents)—children of the Great Depression —could teach us a thing or two about going green on a budget. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” recalled one elderly woman when asked about what she learned as a child during the Great Depression.

Their carbon footprint was uber-small—they used less water, less fuel, created less waste and imported fewer goods than we do. They took these actions out of necessity as op­posed to our modern-day desire to help the planet, but the ecological impact is just as powerful.

Here are seven lessons we can bor­row from our elders that are easy on the wallet, and have significant environmental impact. Perhaps more impor­tantly, they are easy to implement and relevant to our modern life­styles—no extolling the virtues of riding a horse to work!

Grow local

Last spring, the Obama family’s decision to plant a kitchen garden at the White House garnered so much atten­tion that you would have thought it was an off-the-wall publicity stunt. But the house garden concept has been around for many years, and local food had a reserved spot on our grandparents’ menu. The benefits of growing your own fruits and veggies are numerous, and you can’t get more local than your own back­yard.

Brown bag it

Eating out used to be an occasional event for older generations, often re­served for birthdays or anniversaries. Today, the average family eats out about four times a week and spends nearly $3,000 yearly in take-out food, according to The waste created by take-out pack­aging and the money you can save by eating at home or by bringing

your own lunch to work or school—in a reusable container, of course—is why your grandma eschewed eating out on a regular basis.

Let it all hang it out

Before the clothes dryer became a standard appliance in every Ameri­can household, your grandmother simply took advantage of a sunny day, some rope or cord, clothespins, and voila! No cost, no maintenance, no carbon footprint. Clothes dry­ers have come a long way in energy efficiency over recent years, but the average home clothes dryer has a carbon footprint of about 4.4 lbs. of carbon dioxide per load of laundry. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “the biggest way to cut the environmental impact of cleaning clothes is to stop using a clothes dryer.”

Kick the bottle

“Why in the world would I pay money for water in a bottle when there is per­fectly good water coming out of my kitchen tap … for free?” I can just hear my late grandfather, whose fru­gality was legendary in my family, asking that question with confused sincerity.

Buy less

Anytime you buy some­thing, you (and the environ­ment) are paying way more for it than just the sticker price. There is the cost of re­sources used to make it, ad­vertise it, transport it, main­tain it, and inevitably, to dispose of it. The amount of stuff our grandparents bought on a regular basis pales in comparison to the overindulgent spending habits of our generation.

Game time

When our grandparents were younger, playing card games or board games was a popular form of entertain­ment. As a little girl, I remember spend­ing hours playing gin rummy in my grandmother’s kitchen, with my handful of cards tucked in an alu­minum foil box because I couldn’t hold all my cards. In comparison to electronic gaming systems like Wii, Nintendo or Xbox, cards and board games provided hours of entertain­ment with little on the environment or the wallet.

Rain, rain, don’t go away

Here’s another commonsense green lesson to take away from our grandparents’ time. Rain is free. We pay for water. Why not collect free rainwater and slash the water bill? A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Also, diverting water from storm drains can alle­viate stressed water systems and conserve limited re­sources, especially if you live in an arid climate.

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