Here at Curious Earth, we talk a lot about the role privilege plays in the climate crisis. We try to raise awareness of the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and extreme weather events on the global south and many other marginalised groups.

(Check out our Stories from the Frontline series to hear directly from those worst affected.)

Yet, we also want to spotlight how various privileges interfere in the prevention of climate change too. Fran wrote earlier this month to highlight the issues of eco-ableism in campaigning and living more greenly (check her out on Instagram @envirobite for more vital insights). And so, this week, we’re continuing the theme of a more compassionate look at differing environmental lifestyles and the real financial privilege encountered when looking at the personal changes we can make.

Keep reading for our Top 5 Cheap and Environmentally Impactful Actions…

 How much??

A poll earlier this May revealed that Google searches for ‘can’t pay bills’ have risen by over 1000% in the UK.  Although environmentalism often goes hand-in-hand with lower costs of living – reduced energy bills, less food waste, reduced transport costs – amid the current cost of living crisis, it can feel challenging to make the leap into changing our ways. So let’s pop the more expensive swaps to the side for now and hit up the cheap and cheerful.

1. Green your pension

Financial cost: Free!
Time cost: Moderate

Sorry, broken record alert. As Curious Earth’s resident finance geek, I cannot miss an opportunity to bang this (granted, dull) drum once more.

Changing where your pension is invested will cut your carbon footprint 21 times more than becoming vegetarian, switching energy providers and giving up flying, combined.

Make My Money Matter, 2022

Yes, you read that right – COMBINED.

And did I mention that it’s completely free….?!

But how, you ask?

The organisation you work for employs another to invest the money they’ve saved for your retirement. This money is often invested in fossil fuel generation and deforestation – (crying emoji) – wouldn’t you rather your money help ensure there’s actually a habitable world to retire in at all? (Read our previous article for more details – Is Your Pension Funding Climate Chaos?)

Fortunately, most pension providers now have a green offering which you can switch to – as for every £10 you put into your mainstream pension, £2 is linked to deforestation.

I hate personal admin at the best of times, so I’ve tried to outline the steps here to make it as easy as possible….stay with me; you don’t have to know anything about investing to do it…

1. Dig out your pension provider information. Most employers have this on their intranet/similar – if not, fire a quick email to HR, who will give you the details.

2. Dig out the information of your pension provider from previous organisations. Ditto email to former HR as above.

3. Sign up to a (fully regulated) platform such as Pension Bee  – it enables you to have visibility of all these pension pots in one place (and have better control over your financial health, too). Double win.

4. From here, you will be able to see the different green options available to you – and…request the switch!

5. If a green option isn’t available – call upon your provider to create one via Make My Money Matter’s easy pre-written template. And sign their petition to support their 21x Challenge and appeal to all UK pension funds to do the same.

6. Sit back, feel smug, and encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same!

(Read Unbiased’s overview of combining your pensions into one place if you want more detail!)

(Please note, this overview does not constitute investment advice, and your initial investment could be at risk).

2. A short and sweet one here folks – Request a smart meter.

Financial cost: Free! (and should save you money off your bills in future)
Time cost: Doddle-worthy

It’s nothing new, but half of UK homes still don’t have one….

Not only will a smart meter take the faff out of giving readings to your provider (it does it automatically) you’ll also get instant visibility into the most energy-draining activities in your home. Money Saving Expert’s overview has all the information, tips and directories to guide you through the process.

(Hint: it’s a breeze).

3. Supermarket Sweep –  can you (re)fill me in….

Financial cost: much cheaper than other plastic-free options
Time cost: less than shopping at multiple stores (but still not available everywhere)

Reducing single-use plastic is hard. Yes, there are lots of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers returning to the high street with a focus on better packaging options, and yes there are lots of refill shops popping up too (yay!).
(Go here to find your closest.)

But, sadly, there’s a but. Being able to shop at these stores often comes with a dose of time and financial privilege. Sadly, the time and energy it takes to make the extra trips to separate places, and the financial burden of branded, organic products don’t always mean it’s possible.

Modern Milkman helps ease this for the time-poor, but let’s face it in times like these, we need our basics to be, well, basic. 

So, for all their ills, here come the supermarket refills. 

Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket has announced the opening of 5 refill stores with more coming. The offering will include basic food items such as cereals, grains, tea and coffee, as well as toiletries and cleaning refills. Finally, some reasonably priced eco-friendly shopping options for us own-brand lovers!

Does the offering factor in everyone’s nutritional and healthcare needs? No.
Are these refill stores located to serve all communities? No.
But it’s a start. Hopefully, Asda’s steps will encourage other large supermarkets to join in, offering hope that a more mainstream behavioural change could start to happen.

We are, after all, creatures of habit, so anything which makes new habits cheaper and easier is a Curious win.

(Some Marks and Spencer Food Halls have been offering this for a while, but I certainly don’t have the spare change to keep paying the fancy voice-over lady’s salary)

4. Green is the new Black…

Financial cost: much cheaper than new purchases
Time cost: moderate

It’s a Curious Earth favourite for good reason, and as someone whose Facebook Marketplace addiction is Out. Of. Control, I can personally attest to getting a big kick from a second-hand bargain (I am British after all) and an even bigger one when I can gloat about my preloved green-ness.

I’ve saved thousands furnishing my new home with amazing quality used furniture from my local area and even made money selling my trash to someone else’s treasure trove.
Having the freedom of a car makes this homeware operation considerably easier – but Zipcar, Uber and courier supermarket Shiply have do have electric and eco options.

Likewise, second-hand fashion sites are smashing through to the mainstream with Vinted and Depop being great first stops for buying, and ByRotation and Hurr are often reviewed as the best clothes rental apps. (though it’s fair to say that the plus-size community are underserved currently)

Tips to make second-hand shopping more time-efficient…. 

–   Set up alerts for your favourite brands – this reduces the time spend considerably and enables you to see what you could sell some of your own neglected pieces for too.

–   Ask the seller to consider using electric deliveries such as Citysprint

–   Stash any packaging you have at home ready for re-use for when you might want to sell your own bits.

5. Flex your veg

Financial cost: cheap as chips (literally)
Time cost: minimal

Confession – I still eat meat…ideal? No. But is total veganism feasible for my lifestyle at the moment? Also no. (and am I scared of admitting this in public? Absolutely!) 

But let my confession serve as a concession. I used to view veganism and vegetarianism in absolute terms but was reminded of the power of moderation by a vegan friend. 

I’ve been dipping my toes in increasingly meat-free waters over the past year, and would guesstimate about a 60% weekly reduction – and you also know what? I’ve saved a fortune. 

Some meat and dairy substitution can be expensive, there’s no denying it – and so I’ve fallen back on the most traditional alternatives – actual, real-life vegetables. 

This list of cheap veggie recipes has been vital to this journey, as have using discount codes for meal boxes every now and then to inject some inspiration! 

(and if my meat-and-two-veg husband now voluntarily buys these 75p meat-free burgers instead of beef – anyone can get on board!) 


…this can act as a solid reminder that it’s okay to take things back to basics when it comes to making an individual impact. So many of us feel eco-guilt for not owning an electric car, installing solar panels or growing our own vegetables. Whilst these are goals we can all aspire to for the future, it doesn’t mean that the more affordable, moderate changes we make in the interim aren’t just as valid. 

Here at Curious Earth, there’s no room for judgement, all impact is cumulative, so let’s keep cheap-ping away at it together. 

Be Curious…

  1. For more Green Pension information, follow Make My Money Matter – they’re doing amazing things!
  2. Check out Martin Lewis’s hacks for more ways to save money AND be environmentally friendly
  3. Read our previous pieces on green fashion for even more tips and tricks
  4. Listen to This Song Plants Trees on Spotify for free – for every 100 streams, enough money for planting one tree will be donated to the Eden Reforestation Projects

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