My husband and I were upstairs sleeping in Grandma’s house and were awakened by the smell of sizzling bacon and the sound of West Point’s local radio station playing loudly in the background. We went downstairs and ate a wonderful home cooked breakfast with Grandma. Afterwards, my husband and I started cleaning up the dishes, pots and pans. I started scraping the bacon grease out of the bottom of the frying pan and Grandma stopped me cold, “Connie, what are you doing? I want to save that grease. It’s still good!”

My Grandma was green before it was trendy, and she always viewed living sustainably as a necessity. Grandma saved a lot of money by buying only what she needed and by reusing everything from plastic margarine containers to glass jars. Her “green” habits were developed by necessity (she survived the Great Depression) but practiced by choice.

Grandma often told stories of life during the Great Depression. People worked together and did what they had to do in order to survive. Instead of purchasing something special for the high school their senior year, Grandma’s class fund was used to buy coal so they could continue to heat the school. We used to love looking at Grandma’s wedding dress. Every time she showed it to us, Grandma told us how her veil was used as a baby’s blanket during the Great Depression.

My Grandma saved money and the planet the old fashioned way. She worked hard, rarely paid full price for anything, did not buy things unless she really needed them and reused whatever she could. Bottled water? $5.00 cups of coffee? Neither one of these products made environmental nor fiscal sense to her.

It’s common for people in my Grandma’s generation to live conservatively. It is however, uncommon for most people living in the United States to live so frugally. If more Americans (me included) lived like my grandparents, living green while saving money would be a way of life. Today’s consumer habits have contributed to environmental degradation as well as social and fiscal irresponsibility, both of which have created the need for a new consumer attitude.

Consumers must get back to the basics and use more common sense. We all know how important it is for all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle. This is a great first step in the right direction. However, we also all have to rethink. We have to rethink what it is we are doing to the environment, our bank accounts and each other.

The next time you make a purchase ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Keep in mind, there is a big difference between needs and wants. Absolutely needing something is much different than merely wanting it. I need clothes for work, but I may not need twenty sweaters and thirty pairs of shoes.

Everything we buy and use has an environmental price tag. It took resources to make your purchase, and it takes more resources to discard it.

Our purchases also have a real price tag. Think creatively about ways you can save money. Use what you already have to make do. When Grandma was out of spaghetti sauce, she used ketchup. This may not have been one of my favorite meals, but it was one of the most memorable!

What about changing our attitudes towards each other? We are so quick to judge people by material things. We judge others by what they wear and what they drive, their occupation and sometimes even their last name. Making assumptions on material items can lead to us to make false assumptions about others. These assumptions and expectations also pressure most of us to put on some sort of show that we can neither afford nor maintain.

I have often wondered, what would Grandma say about today’s challenging economic situation? She would simply use her common sense wisdom: Don’t buy anything unless you really need it, and reuse everything. This common sense approach to green living puts less pressure on the environment while also saving you two other precious resources: time and money! She would also tell you not be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Some people are doing what they can to get by and others may just be as frugal as my Grandma!

Common Sense Lesson #2: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But, more importantly: Rethink!

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