How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Is The Future Disposable?

My two-year-old daughter is convinced that there is no need to feed our fish because we can simply replace them when they die. My four-year-old son cannot understand why we do not buy a boat on a whim. My nine-year old neighbour insists on having the latest tablet to replace last year’s model. My colleague washes his kitchen floor with a disposable mop pad rather than with vinegar and water. The middle-aged couple I met on the bus bought a house for the third time in seven years because they would rather move than renovate.

From homes, toys and technology to food and water, we are part of a society that consumes in excess without much thought for long-term consequences. We seem to always be seeking the newer and better, and these throw-away habits are depleting our finances and natural resources. What’s more, change seems improbable considering that our attitudes and impulses are rubbing off on our impressionable children who are growing up to believe that all is dispensable.

The absence of personal accountability is so prevalent that we even encourage (directly or indirectly) our children’s tendency to abandon commitments that are difficult to sustain, whether it be sports, music or part-time jobs. No longer are our children willing to tackle a challenge, instead we are reinforcing the prevalent attitude of a generation that thrives on instant gratification.

The solution: raise conscientious and responsible children who will lead future generations in sustainability instead of waste. The method: get them involved!

  1. Recycling: Teach your children about recycling by having them sort garbage, packaging and compost. By having them identify what bin an item should go into, children become actively involved in the recycling process and internalize eco-friendly habits more easily;
  2. Eating Food: Serve small portions of food at meals, allowing for second helpings if needed. Explain the importance of finishing what is on the plate before taking something more. Save and serve leftovers! Stress how precious food is and teach children to be grateful for what they have;
  3. Growing Food: Grow a garden in your backyard and get the kids involved! They will have tons of fun digging, planting and cultivating, while tangibly learning how to grow food. By experiencing the cycle first-hand, they will be more reluctant to waste;
  4. Water: Teach your kids how to conserve water. Turn the tap off while you lather the soap in your hands or brush your teeth. Take shorter showers and water your garden in the evenings to avoid evaporation. Given that some families struggle to survive on one litre of water per day, it should be a punishable crime to ‘sweep’ your asphalt driveway with the hose;
  5. Reuse: Once kids have outgrown their clothes, shoes or toys, get them to help package and distribute the items to others in need. Encourage them to wear second-hand clothing. In fact, they sometimes prefer wearing clothes that belonged to an older cousin or neighbour whom they admire.

It is never too early to introduce the value of conservation; however, modelling the behaviour rather than simply preaching it is fundamental to the assimilation of this lesson. More importantly, stop believing that happiness is directly proportionate to material gain and begin to modify your own consumerism. Quickly, you will lighten your financial burden and reduce your environmental footprint.


  1. Monika Lavallée

    I fully agree with Jennifer! I want to teach my daughter the value of a dollar, that food, water and electricity is not to be wasted, that garbage has to go somewhere, that Mom and Dad work very hard to be able to pay for all her nice things and that she should take care of them. Thanks Jennifer for the tips! Great article!!!!!

  2. Catherine Kyeremanteng

    This article totally makes sense to me. I always think about how our lives are becoming more dependent on quick consumables (e.g., buying a bag of broccoli already cut up at the store the other day b/c I didn’t feel I had the time to cut it up myself). I feel like our growing dependence on disposable consumables in our lives is fed by our growing “lack of time” (or at least our perceived lack of time). We jam too much in – full time work, gym classes, clubs, 5 activities per week per child, homework demands, social events outside the home. I keep thinking that part of the answer must also be simplifying our lives – and thus teaching our kids to do the same. Getting exercise or socialization doesn’t always have to be an organized activity that involves scheduled events at locations across the city. And growing a vegetable garden doesn’t have to be an added activity that we excel at by taking horticulture courses, joining clubs, and enrolling our children in a gardening after school program. We need room to enjoy the things we have in life – not just consume them.

  3. sheila

    Great advice Jennifer… your point about water waste being punishable by crime resonates most with me.
    As for the attachment to material things, I think teaching our children to be smart consumers (and to beware of marketing ploys/fancy packaging etc..) is right up there with all of your fantastic points about reusing and limiting waste. Being an intelligent consumer is a big part of being financially sensible, learning to waste less and determining the difference between wants and needs.

  4. Helene Seguin

    Great post! It reminded me of the time I was helping my 4 year old grandson brush his teeth and he asked very sweetly: ‘Grandmaman, why are you letting the water run?”. He’s obviously more in tune with waste than I am. We always think we need to do major overhauls, but it’s really all the little things added together that will make a difference. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. A.L.W.

    Great article. It is frustrating seeing our culture obsessed with consumption. It is refreshing to see a writer address the issue with concrete steps on how to live and raise the future generation differently.

  6. Lisa Hebert

    Great read and the points you bring up really resonate with me as a parent. Your comment about modelling a more responsible approach to consumerism and appreciation of what we have is sure to inspire many of the people in our lives as well as our children.
    To tie together the idea of food appreciation and learning through gardening, young children seem to respond well to a family ritual of giving thanks before each meal.
    One we have used is:
    “Thanks to the Earth, Thanks to the Sun, Thanks to the Rain, and all you have done. Thank you for our meal.”
    My daughter recently learned this one at school:
    “Blessings on the blossom, Blessings on the root, Blessings on the leaf and stem, Blessings on our food.”
    Thanks for this poignant reminder and very approachable ideas to put into action!

  7. Andrea Malhot

    I love the article and as a parent of older teens, I’m glad to see that all the values I have given my kids are still be used. I have used and contiue use all the ideas you have shared. I’m happy to say that my kids don’t think the future is disposable!!! So I’m living proof that if you use some or all of these great suggestions, kids will learn from it and it’s all easy stuff to do. Now IF I could just get them to eat brussel sprouts!

  8. Sharon Higginson

    As a parent of 3 girls ranging in age from 7 to 14 years and having grown up “with less” this is a value that I feel is important to teach my girls. I have to fight the urge to spoil my girls because I grew up wanting things that I couldn’t have. I want them to value what they have and not to waste. The reality is that “having less”made me value what I did have and ironically in the end made me a happier person.

    I agree that it is key that we show by example as actions do speak louder than words. It is easy to fall in to “the traps”of consumarism as companies have done their homework when it comes to reading their intended market.

    I am happy to say that I am heading in the right direction as some of the suggestions given are things that we are doing… I really do have to start a garden as not only is that teaching kids to value what they have but many other valuable lessons as well.

    As a parent I am always looking for ideas to teach some “good old fashioned” values. It’s amazing how a few relatively easy steps can change a mind set and really make a difference.

  9. krantcents

    These are teachable moments and parents should be teaching their kisds about these things. It is what is necessary to bring up responsible and successful adults.

  10. Marcia

    Having parented, and planning to grand-parent this way, I would just like to make the following comment. We can do, do, and do the right thing. But there seems to be a phase where our children don’t, don’t and don’t. It’s a tough phase to go through. I cringe when I remember some of the purchases my DD made once she started earning her own money. BUT…now that I see her researching cloth diapers and making her own cleaning supplies, I know that those early lessons did stick. Thanks for a timely and encouraging post.

  11. Lyane

    Great article, well written, i fully agree with Mrs. Chauhan.

  12. Ed Bradbury

    I have to agree with all that Mrs. Chauhan has written here. It does seem that we have a generation of don`t care, throw away everything because we can replace it with a newer one.
    It is like the green bin program set in place by the City of Ottawa. Much of what we throw in the garbage could be put in the Green bins, that all of us as tax payers are paying to subsidize instead of letting it pay for itself. Hey we complain about the taxes but don`t take the time to teach our children or use it ourselves to ease the financial burden.
    Mrs. Chauhan has hit everything on the head with her well written, thought producing evaluation of most people.
    I work with many younger people who simply change tablets, cell phones and other electronic items simply because there is a newer one to replace it that does one or two more things than their own. And the companies encourage this to boost their sales by giving incentives to users to simply upgrade their electronic devices just because they are a few years old.
    I do hope that readers take heed of what she has written and realize they are the ones who can make a difference.
    We preach and advertise save the planet but most don`t follow what they are telling us consumers to do.
    Thank you for trying to remind people to start future consumers( our children) the value of taking the time to think about the future.

  13. Simon

    I’ve always enjoyed Jennifer’s writing and hope to see more of it here!

  14. Lisa K

    Great post! I find that as a mother of two that I am constantly reinforcing the value of things that we have. I am appalled at how many things are thrown away when they aren’t the latest and greatest anymore. Or how people will spent every last cent to get the newest shiny object. If we all take pride and value what we have today, we will be a much happier and satified society.

  15. Julie @ Freedom 48

    Amen! My neighbour hoses down his driveway and sidewalk all the time.. and it drives me nuts! SWEEP the darn thing!

  16. Andrea M

    Love it! We all have to do our part. Everything adds up.

  17. Caroline

    Very Insightful artIcle. I cannot help wonder if part of the reason our children behave as though the world in which they live is disposable and replaceable is because so much of their leisure time is spent in front of video games where so often the rules of the games are designed in such a way that resources are indeed disposable and replaceable. From our toddlers bumping off turtles in Super Mario right through our teenagers killing an ever replaced army of ennemies in Call of Duty, our video game savvy children grow up thinking there will always be more to replace whatever they expend or dispose of in these games. Is it any wonder they replicate these behaviours in the real world?

    Accountability is indeed part of the solution. The suggestions made in your article are great building blocks. To them I would include teaching our children financial literacy as early as possible, so they may grow up with the realization that every resource has a cost and come to embody their personal responsibility in living a life that is anchored in sustainability and accountability.

  18. Lise

    What an eye opener this article was for me. I must admit that I feel somewhat guilty because I am 31 years old, do not yet have children and often choose the easy way rather than the right way which certainly won’t help our future on this planet. I guess it is time for me to make a few changes…no better time than the present.

  19. Hamish Bowman

    It bothers me to no end that folks chuck their “outdated” techno gadgets in the garbage and constantly upgrade their toys to get a handful of new features. I can appreciate the appeal when you see all those around you with the new products. Electronics have to recycled properly – there are toxic elements that need to be dealt with appropriately. Developing countries also are affected with this perpetual upgrading (and many people make a living from collecting old electronics from land fills to pick out copper and other elements).

  20. Katrina

    Great article! Being a mother of young kids I constantly worry about the adults that they are going to turn in to. You have given some great tips, and although I am pleased to say that we do already use some of those strategies, there were a few that we definitely need to work on!

  21. Jb

    Great article. I whole heartily agree with the writer. Teaching my kids to respect their physical environment and mine is one of the things I struggle with as a parent. They are more aware of wasting water than they are about breaking toys or books. I appreciate the tips. Thanks I hope to see more soon.

  22. Jim Yih

    Excellent article! Although I agree with all the great points, one of the challenges of living in the disposable world is it seems it’s cheaper to dispose and buy new than to fix things. My printer recently broke and it was going to cost me more to fix it than to replace it. I can think of many other times where it was cheaper and easier to dispose that to fix which can make it challenging.

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