- Never, ever skimp on food. I truly believe what you're eating is the most important, so I would rather eat less meat than eat lower quality meat. I would rather cut another area of our budget than give on fresh fruits and vegetables (and organic especially on the dirty dozen but we aim for all organic with produce).
- Search for deals. This may sound "duh" but often times I will find organic or natural products at Target on clearance and I can really stock up! Do be careful of the label "natural" though as it isn't regulated. Just read the back of the product before purchasing to see if it meets your criteria.
- Investigate homemade. You may find that some homemade things are just not worth it, and that's ok. I've had dismal luck with dishwasher detergent (as in, it works for 10 loads at a time and that's it). So I give on that (more below) but there are other things, like general cleaner spray which I make with equal parts water and vinegar, and about 40 drops of essential oils, that is not only so much better to clean with but DIRT CHEAP! We have saved a ton of money on cleaning supplies since switching over about 6-8 months ago. For the things you don't feel are worth the time or effort of doing homemade, see if there is a natural counterpart in the store. If it's toilet bowl cleaner (never going to touch me or sit on a touchable surface) I am more likely to 'give' and buy the cheap stuff than counter cleaner, which is a surface I touch daily.
- Look online for good deals. When I realized I needed to cave and buy dish detergent, I at least wanted to get something eco-friendly, but in the store that meant $$$ compared to the cheap stuff. It was almost an area I gave on, and I'm sure we would have survived if I had :). But I did find an awesome coupon code for soap.com and I was able to stock up. If I don't have a coupon code next time, or can't find it online cheaply, this may be something I give on temporarily until I find another deal. I'm weirder about this though since our food does directly touch the dishes we're putting it on.
- Think about the impact it will have on your body first, and the environment second. Now that's not to say the environment isn't important and, again, we all have different priorities so you may feel the opposite way. But when push comes to shove and the budget is super tight, I worry first about the impact it will have directly on me, and give on the environmental factor a bit. That means I may buy a product that doesn't have endocrine disruptors (especially important with PCOS) like eco friendly bug spray but may have to buy that cheap yellow jacket spray that works but isn't great for the grass underneath the hive. Again, I look at this as a temporary thing. As soon as finances improve, I go back to protecting the environment.
- Every now and again, I will let convenience trump eco friendly and try my hardest not to guilt myself over it. If I'm having a lot of people over to the house (rare, luckily for this introvert!), I might use paper plates so that I'm not up all night cleaning up. I used to feel super guilty about stuff like that, but I do minimize it to a few times a year or less, and then I decide that sometimes time=$! And hey, that paper may be compostable and save a lot of water!
- If it's an item I use infrequently, I'm more likely to buy the 'regular' version. The more often I use a product, the more important it is to me that I'm purchasing something that is both good for me and for the environment.
So chime in; what guidelines do you use when the budget is tight and you have to make tough decisions?