My grandmother was an environmentalist, but she didn’t know it. She just followed the old proverb: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” Reducing, reusing and recycling helped her raise seven children — the first few in the teeth of the Depression — on my grandfather’s salary as a bookkeeper.

When I knew her, she was still following the thrifty habits she developed as a young bride, like re-using teabags and tinfoil. I remember being grossed out by the little line-up of damp teabags she kept by the kitchen sink, but I realized later that it was just one way she saved money and reduced waste. My mother did her bit as well. She used to darn the holes I frequently put in the knees of my tights as a child and make me wear them to school.

Times have changed since those days. Does anyone darn anymore? But that thrifty mindset is back in style. To celebrate Earth Day this April 22, we’ve gathered some money- and environment-saving ideas that Grandma would thoroughly approve of.

Shop smart

Earth Day Canada has some great money-saving advice:

  • Buy what you need, not what you want.
  • Consider renting or borrowing things you seldom use.
  • Shop at garage sales and second-hand stores.

Another win-win for your wallet and the environment is to plan your grocery shopping. If you had a grandma like mine, you probably feel guilty when you have to pitch expired yogurt or furry vegetables, even if they do go in the green bin. To ease your conscience as well as shrink your grocery bill, Halton Recycles blogger Shirley McLean recommends drafting a weekly meal plan and then buying only what you need.

“You don’t have to feel deprived or do without,” she says. “Just start small and think about what you buy.” She also suggests doing more cooking from scratch, rather than buying prepared foods: “Home-made hummus, for example, is easy and much less expensive than ready-made.”

Swap your way to savings

Groceries are just one expense you can trim by shopping like your grandmother. She probably sewed or altered at least some of her wardrobe; that may not be feasible for you (my own needle skills begin and end at reattaching buttons), but here’s a modern spin on thrifty fashion: a clothing swap.

Lindsay Coulter, “Queen of Green” at the David Suzuki Foundation shares a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts to Refresh your wardrobe for free — host a clothing swap, including:

  • Stick with a season, such as spring or fall.
  • Make the swap part of a regular get-together.
  • Bring clean and gently used items only.

Her guiding principle: “’Would I give this to my best friend?’ If not, leave it out.”

And Grandma wasn’t my only green-and-thrifty ancestor. My grandfather hung onto all kinds of used office equipment and building supplies until he could find a use for them. He would have loved ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity retail outlet with 73 locations in Canada. ReStore sells new and gently used home renovation materials, like doors, windows, paint, lumber and tools, with the proceeds going towards Habitat homebuilding projects.

Take the shopping-like-Grandma challenge

So here’s the challenge: Join me in trying one or more of these ways to shop like Grandma for a month. Then compare your spending to your records for a similar period earlier in the year, and see how much money you’ve saved. Let’s honour our grandparents — and do our world some good.