Let's suppose you're in a rush to get to work so you grab one of those single serving cereal bowls from the grocery store and plan to eat it at your desk using a quart of milk you have in the company refrigerator. Not including tax, you've probably spent about $2.50. That's not too bad, you say. Now if you had chosen to eat the same breakfast at home, it would have cost about $1.50. If you did that every day at work, you've spent $250 annually more than usual.
Let's also suppose you've had a long day and as your family sets down to dinner, you set the table with paper plates and cups. You just don't feel like washing dishes or rinsing them off for the dishwasher. You'd rather put your feet up and catch the news.
Does either scenario make you feel like a money wasting, environmental failure? Should you feel guilty?
The answer is no.
Every day we are constantly making decisions and trying to balance out our lives with the world swirling around us. There will be times when we remember to cut off the lights upstairs to conserve energy then turn around and drink from a water bottle. We're going to have days when picking up some chicken from the Colonel is way easier (and much less economical) than preparing it ourselves. I don't condone doing it every day. That would only lead you to the poor house. I am saying that sometimes the bigger picture is what counts; that's how you keep your sanity.
I confess, I used disposable diapers, food came out of tiny little jars and one of my children used formula. Also, I will admit one of my children wore a lot of gently used clothes from the older sibling and was breastfed. And, gasp! fewer toys were purchased for the younger one because we realized with the first one that kids really do like the boxes better than the toys.
It isn't a contradiction in character. It is the essence of the definition for being frugal: Mindful spending and in many cases, mindful living. You cut corners (financial or otherwise) to invest where it's more important on that particular day. It's okay for me to use a commercial air freshener today because I'm not getting out in the freezing cold or scorching heat to buy essential oils just for this one project. If you want to eat yogurt that comes in environmentally evil plastic cups, go ahead. I give thee permission.
This post has evolved because I have noticed lately the superior air surrounding some people when they make their own compost or ride their bikes to work. It is my opinion that it is rather difficult to live 'one way or the other.' The tree huggers may be vegan and use no chemicals while the gluttons use up a ton of gasoline and never cut off the lights. But I guarantee you, there is a bigger crossover than you may realize.
My advice is to live mindfully every day. Do the best you can with the tools you've got. And if you're tired, go ahead and order that greasy pizza in the cardboard box that you're going to forget to recycle. Just get back on track after you've rested.