Green Lessons From The Old World

Note from Michael – This article was contributed by Alla Bereshkova, an Eco-consultant. While Alla has focused mainly on her adopted country, the USA; the same sorts of issues face many of us in Australia and other countries. You can learn more about Alla’s services at

“For Wealth without Greed,
Take only what you Need!”

Many in the USA are scared – inflation, increasing gas and food prices, rising unemployment – you name it – all these are enough to worry or depress anyone. But wait – it’s not as bad as you think or as some journalists and economists are trying to tell you.

Being a journalist and economist myself, I would agree that the American economy is not in the perfect condition right now, but in comparison with the majority of the world’s population, Americans are enjoying a relatively luxurious lifestyle. I know this as I was born and raised in the Old World, in Europe, and I lived there until my immigration to the USA 13 years ago.

One of my first cultural shocks when I came here was the waste I witnessed. The US, without any doubt, is a very rich country, but does it mean that it’s OK to be wasteful? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American family of four spends $8,513 per year on groceries — that’s $709 per month!

But still the prices of food and goods here were and are so much lower than in any European countries. My American friends who travel to Europe are always wondering how Europeans can make it if they have to pay double for meat, gas and clothes. How? Let me reveal some of the Old World shopping secrets to you that you can use here in the US.

Secret # 1. Buy only what you REALLY need NOW and no more than you can consume NOW.

If your family of four eats four bananas for a breakfast, why do you need to buy 10 of them? Bananas will be spoiled in a day and you’ll have to throw them away in any case.
The same logic can be used when you are tempted to buy a bulk of onions, apples, shredded salad, vegetables, dairy products, etc. with a short shelf life.

When you go to Costco or Sam’s club, it may see like a bargain to buy in a bulk, but in reality, often you will waste more money buying something that you will throw away.

Europeans don’t turn their small apartments and houses into warehouses to store supplies of food unless they have special storages with perfect temperature and condition to keep them fresh.

A typical American family has so many cans, packages, boxes, bottles and frozen food in their homes that they do not know themselves what they have, how old the food is and how safe it is. A shameful amount of this food ends up in dumpsters.

Some people may argue that it saves time and money to make fewer trips to the grocery store. Europeans usually buy a few groceries, but almost every day to have them fresh. Besides food portions at the table there are much smaller than in America.

 It is just a matter of self discipline and good budgeting not to be an impulsive buyer. Having a shopping list and strictly following it is the key to success.

Secret # 2. Learn how to cook.

To be completely honest, I don’t understand how somebody in this day and age does not know how to cook and prepare their own food. With the availability of abundant foods in stores, you have to be really creative to find an excuse for not cooking. Even if you buy frozen or “ready to cook” food, it is still twice as cheap for you to prepare a dinner at home than to dine out.

An average American family dines out three times a week not counting everyday fast-food lunches for the whole family.

Home meals and home-made lunches are not only much healthier and tastier, they also may save you few hundred dollars a month. Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Secret # 3.  Never ever keep junk food in your house.

The rule is simple – if you don’t buy junk food, you will not eat it. If you have a family size bag of chips (just in case!), you will find an excuse to eat it. So why even tempt yourself and your family and to buy it in the first place?

Always buy small amount, good quality, and healthy food. In this case if you or someone in your family decides to have a midnight snack, they will have no choice but to have few carrots, celery or an apple. Don’t worry – it’s only for the better.

Secret # 4. Don’t turn your house into a mini ToysRUs.

I’ve never seen any European kids with as many toys as American children. First of all, as I’ve already mentioned, Europeans do not have as much space at home to keep a lot of things, so they have to be very selective when they buy something for themselves and their children.

But more important – how many toys, clothes and other stuff do children need? Kids do not only grow too fast from their clothes, they become very bored if they have too many toys. The fewer they have, the more creative they have to be to entertain themselves. It’s a well-known fact that children who have less toys, games and videos are more creative and have better imagination than “passive consumers” of numerous goods.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t afford to buy a “hot”, expensive toy for your child that she just saw in commercial. Nothing can replace your quality, loving time with her, playing a simple game or reading a book. And this is something that every good parent can and should do. And turning off the TV with its tempting commercials will not only save you few bucks on power, but keep you and your children happier.

Secret # 5. Europeans do not usually have “walk-in closets”.

Why? Because they do not need to. They have very few but very good quality clothes, shoes and accessories. There is a saying: “I’m not that rich to buy cheap things.”

Many like to buy a lot of cheap things. How many T-shirts do you have? How many jeans? How many shoes do you store in your closet? Do you know? How many of your clothes are really of good quality and fit you well?

The rule is – it’s better to have one expensive, good quality dress or suit than 10 cheap ones.  Besides, any person looks much better in quality clothes.

You don’t have to buy new designer clothes and accessories. Fortunately, there are numerous of high-end consignment shops, where you can find very affordable quality outfits.

Secret # 6. Europeans have smaller cars and use public transportation.

Maybe we here in the US can’t do a lot about using public transportation, because it is incredibly underdeveloped and in some places does not even exist, but we CAN buy smaller and less expensive cars and aggressively use “car pooling.”

It is also very good for your health (and pocket) to walk more or to ride a bicycle wherever you can.

Secret # 7. You don’t have to have five bathrooms in your house.

The recent real estate “bubble burst”  may be a sign that people have gone too far with their “American dream” of having a big house. How big does your house really have to be? Why does a family of three need a huge three story house with five bathrooms and a basement?

What is the reason to work 24/7, have no life and time off to pay a huge mortgage on a house you actually only sleep in?

It’s a shame that there are less and less smaller and affordable houses, condos and apartments being built in Atlanta. You can hardly find a new house here for less than $500,000.00. Maybe the real estate criseis will be a “wake up call” for builders and developers and force them to come with more practical and affordable choices for house buyers.

Meanwhile, if you are able to sell your big house, look for a smaller one. If you can’t sell, consider to rent a part of it to a friend or a family member. It may help you and them to survive the hardship of current economic situation.

Secret # 8. When the going gets tough, the Old World goes back to bartering.

Barter is an exchange of goods or services for something you want. But bartering requires good networking connection.  Europeans, who tend to be very family and community oriented, have more experience with bartering, especially during difficult times.
The main benefit of bartering  is cost saving, but it also allows a person to befriend others, build caring relationships and to strengthen the community.

You can find bartering opportunities on different Internet sites, such as;,,

Or you can go more personal and become involved in different community’s bartering activities, such as:

1. Start a dinner or baby-sitting co-ops in your neighborhood or church
2. Form a home-repair team, sharing tools and garden supplies
3. Hold toy, clothes, goods swaps/exchanges in your community
4. Start a skills exchange in your community.
5. Start a carpool in your neighborhood or office.

Alla Bereshkova,