Here’s why I like the green movement: it connects us to the world, it frees up money, and it can draw us closer to our family.

I freely admit I used to not even worry about my carbon footprint. I had no idea what that even was. When my third child was born, I ran out and bought an enormous behemoth of an SUV that could carry eight people and also got a whopping 12 miles per gallon. Who cared, right? I had kids, people. I needed to be safe.

As my three got older, and our bank account bigger, I relied more and more on conveniences like juice boxes, snack packs, fruit snacks, and fast food runs when we were in a time crunch.

My cup overflowed with life and love, but unfortunately so did my garbage can.

Then we moved to a small town in the mountains. It is a university town, and also one of the biggest hubs for artists in the country. It is Green with a capital G.

People here love dogs, the environment, outdoor exercise, and their right to congregate and peacefully demonstrate. In that order.

Suddenly my SUV and I weren’t feeling the love.

Now, I have four kids and an even crazier life. How am I starting to love my world and embrace a style of living that is good for everyone?

With a lot of changes. Some small, some big, and all have enhanced our lives.

We killed our SUV.

Seriously, it kind of hurt. Now, we both drive two very fuel efficient sedans, neither of which carries all of my family at the same time. So what? If we all need to be someplace at the same time (other than home, this rarely happens, as our life is all about dividing and conquering) we take the two cars. And guess what? Taking the two cars still uses less gas than the old SUV. Really. We each get at least 30 mpg, and we bought very sturdy, heavy, European cars.

The plus? We are saving over $200 a month on gas. We really try and consolidate our driving these days, since loading four kids into a small car isn’t fun and games, so we’re actually driving less.

Our food wasn’t a cute fluffy animal before we ate it. Well, most of the time.

All those cattle farms (and to a much lesser degree, poultry) contribute to greenhouse gases in an enormously significant way. So we’re eating more meat-free dishes and the plus side here is we feel better. We also look better, too. Amazing what healthy eating does for your skin, hair and waistline.

I live on the edge.

Of the grocery store, that is. Doing this does several things. It saves you money. A lot, actually. It keeps you healthier. It helps the environment. The prepackaged convenience foods are all in the center aisles, and they contain a crazy amount of wasteful packaging, they’re typically chock-full of chemicals, preservatives, and junk and they cost a fortune. A bag of brown rice that will feed your family for days is less than half the price of boxed quick-cook flavored rice. More money? No MSG? Simpler packaging? Check, check and check.

We think about where our food came from.

Another thing we try and be mindful of when shopping the perimeter is considering where our food came from. How much good is it to buy the organic red grapes when they were shipped in all the way from Argentina? How much jet and truck fuel was consumed to get the grapes to my town? California is right next door, so I look for grapes from that region. We’re lucky enough to have a farmers market, which gives me organic choices for fruits and vegetables and baked goods that were made locally or very close by. Sustainable living can be a fun challenge with your older kids, too. My girls are label readers and like to help me out when we go shopping.

I do spend more time cooking than I used to, which does several things. It slows me down, it brings the family to the kitchen and then the table, and it enhances our family connection. It also sets an example for my kids that wolfing down chicken nuggets in the backseat on the way to gymnastics doesn’t.

I take it slow.

On the days when we have an unavoidably crazy schedule I dust off my slow cooker and throw in a chicken and some veggies, or ingredients for soup, or whatever I may have on hand and dinner is warm and ready for us when we get home. A typical crock-pot meal costs me $10 in ingredients whereas feeding my family at the drive-through runs nearly $50 (the more kids you have, you know?).

I’ve cleaned up my act.

I have also made small trades in my purchases when it comes to soaps, cleansers, and household items. I use earth-friendly biodegradable soaps (they are everywhere these days, and Target has a great line called Method.) I also use natural cleansers when at all possible to cut down on what I am putting back into the earth. My favorite is vinegar. It smells gross, but as soon as it evaporates it is completely gone. I use it on counters, wood and tile floors, and stinks, I mean sinks. And a bottle of vinegar is less than three dollars, compared with what you would spend on specialty cleaners for each chore.

I don’t like eating poison. I’m weird that way.

So we eat organic whenever possible. Especially where it counts, like with thin, edible skinned produce, oils, and meats. I don’t want my food eating poison, either, so I get organic free-range chicken, wild fish, and organic free-range eggs and milk. By casting my vote in the marketplace, maybe there will eventually be fewer farmers who use these methods to control pests and increase growth in their animals.

You don’t save any money with this. It costs a lot more to buy this way, but if you do other things to mitigate your spending and waste, it’s not as bad. And like I said, I’m not too ruffled over spending more money if it means I’m not eating food-grade wax soaked in pesticides with my apple. And by the way, Safeway has an entire line of organic foods that are cheaper than the name-brand, non-organic counterparts.

So, what do you do? I’m always on the lookout for great ways to cut down….

Jen has a husband and four kids and she lives in her car. Not literally, of course. She blogs at Get In The Car about life with said family and said car.