The latest consumer trend is that stores all across the country are starting to offer reusable shopping bags to their customers. Plastic bags have gotten a bad rap, and even places that aren’t typically in tune with dirty hippie trends, such as Wal-Mart and Circle K, are jumping on the band wagon. At my neighborhood grocery store, customers actually get a 50 cent credit for every reusable bag they bring with them, and those savings start to add up rather quickly over the course of the year. I actually did the math. I bring in 4 bags every week, which totals a $2 savings. That’s $8 in a month, and $96 in a year. Clearly, bringing your own bags is a great way to stretch your food dollar.

There are environmental reasons to ditch both paper and plastic bags, too. According to Marthastewart.com:

Each year, the United States burns through 12 million barrels of oil to create roughly 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which gum up rivers and oceans and choke wildlife. But paper bags are no better. According to the advocacy group Worldwatch Institute, making paper bags uses far more energy and produces more air pollution than manufacturing plastic ones. And then there are the trees: Each year, about 14 million are cut down to make 10 billion paper bags for Americans alone.

With the widespread availability of cloth bags, you don’t have to get crafty in order to be a friend of the environment. Most stores charge a nominal fee, like $1 per bag, which is easily defrayed if you get a credit for reusing your bags. However, Martha Stewart has a pattern for a very hip cloth shopping bag that our DIY enthusiasts will love. And the greatest part is that you don’t even need a sewing machine to make it.

More patterns are available at Tipnut.com

The trick to making the savings add up is that you have to remember to bring your bags with you. I keep several bags in the trunk of my car, and I also have one rolled up in my purse. Bringing your own bags becomes habitual after just a few trips to the grocery store. And with a bag stashed in your purse or tote, you’ll always have one for trips to the library or farmer’s market, or that last minute dash to the store for coffee creamer on your way home from work. More and more cities are banning the use of plastic bags, like San Francisco has done, and it won’t be long before we see stores charging customers for a bag every time they come through the check out line. So get ahead of the game and develop eco-friendly budgeting techniques right now.

If any of you have your own patterns for DIY shopping bags you’d like to share, please pass them on in the comments section. Best of luck to everyone in making the switch to reusable bags.