Saving Money by Going Green: 15 Tips That Can Save Hundreds
These tips aren’t only good for the Earth, they will actually save you real money — $20 at least, thousands at most.
Cost Savings: $650 – $1,000
The average American commutes to work 16 miles each way, and the average car gets under 23 mpg, which equates to about 7 gallons of gas per week to commute. At today’s prices — $3.68 per gallon on average, as of this writing — that’s about $25.75 a week, or nearly $1,300 a year!
Share your ride and the gas bill with just one friend, then, and you each save $650 a year. Fill the car, and you each save nearly $1,000.
And remember, the average car costs $9,000 to own, if you factor in gas, registration and insurance, maintenance and depreciation and other costs; if you halve or quarter the number of miles you drive, you’ll also save on maintenance, and your car will last longer.
Stop Eating Out
Cost Savings: Hundreds, if not thousands
I totally have to agree to this one…Perhaps the most famous money-saving tip of all is to brown-bag your lunch, rather than eat out. And for good reason. The typical U.S. family spend $4,000 on meals outside the home . Ea family that commits to eating at home can save $3,000 and eat just as well.
Cooking at home is also a great first step — maybe the best — toward going green. By making your own food, you’ll pay attention to the ingredients you use, how they were grown and how nutritious and wholesome they are. It’s like a gateway drug: Soon you’ll be considering whether your food is organic, how locally itw was grown, whether it’s in season and the conditions of workers on the farms where it was grown…. The kind of things you rarely think about when salivating over a four-star menu, let alone swinging through the drive-through for a McMuffin.
Start a Vegetable Garden
Cost Savings: $25-$2,000
Doubt that a garden can save you money? Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, proved it. He grew about $2,000 worth of produce in one season in his garden — granted, a biggee at 1,600 square feet, but also one that’s challenged by a Maine climate. His analysis was simple: He just weighed his harvest, compared it to grocery-store prices and subtracted the costs of seeds and other gardening must-haves.
The most lucrative crops for the home gardener, by Doiron’s calculus, include Tomatoes (valued at $630), potatoes ($211), salad greens ($198), zucchini ($136) and strawberries ($104) but overall he identified 20 homegrown vegetables worth $25 or more. So plant a little asparagus (it’s one of the eight easiest perennial vegetables to grow) and harvest $27… or go in for a big harvest, and aim higher.
Cost Savings: Up to $570
The average U.S. household spends $1,900 on energy bills, and much of that energy is wasted. Most homes, particularly those not built recently and to Energy Star standards or better, can benefit significantly from simple improvements that can pay off significantly. Making standard efficiency improvements on an inefficient home can save as much as 30%, or $570.
For instance, caulking cracks, sealing windows and ducts, and using draft snakes can save up to 10% on heating and cooling costs.
Installing a programmable thermostat and using it to cut the heat in wintertime while you’re off working or fast asleep can save up to 10% too.
Adding insulation to ceilings, walls and attics can save up to 30% on heating and cooling costs, and while it will cost more to invest in insulation than in caulk, there are home tax credits available to soften the blow.
But how do you know which improvements are most cost-effective for your home? Do a home energy audit, or hire a contractor to perform one for you. Check with your local utility or state energy agency, because there are incentives that will significantly cut the cost of such an assessment for most homeowners.
Buy an Affordable Fuel-Efficient Car
If you can go without a new car in your life, you’ll save approximately $9,000 — the estimated annual cost of owning a car, factoring in car payments, insurance and registration, fuel, maintenance and depreciation. But if you must have a new car, you can save significantly by choosing wisely.
First off, look at fuel-efficient used cars, like these reliable models that all come for under $10,000 and get at least 34 mpg.
If a new new car is what you need, consult The Daily Green’s list of the most affordable fuel-efficient new cars, all under $17,500 — including the cost of a year’s worth of gas. The most affordable of the bunch? The Hyundai Accent, with an MSRP under $10,000 and an estimated annual fuel bill under $1,500.
Remember: compared to a 20 mpg car, a 30 mpg car will save the average driver $888 a year! There are 40 2011 cars that get 30 mpg or better. And, whatever car you drive, simple maintenance can save you as much as 20% on gas.
Adjust Water Heater Temperature Settings
Cost savings: $30-$475
The average U.S. house spends $1,900 on heating, hot water and electricity. Hot water represents as much as 25% of that cost, or up to $475, according to the Department of Energy, and much of it is wasted. Turn down your hot water heater so that the tap water isn’t scalding, and wash your clothes in cold water, to save 6% or more on your bills — a savings of roughly $30 a year.
If it’s time for a new water heater, choose an Energy Star model to save about 7% — or a more advanced technology, like a tankless water heater that can save 30% ($140) or a solar water heater that can zero your bill ($475). While the up-front cost isn’t cheap, the investment will pay off over time.
Make Your Own Green Cleaning Products
Cost Savings: $200 or more
Surprisingly, cleaning products rank high on the list of home expenditures in many consumer spending surveys. When you consider the range of cleaning products we buy, from dishwasher and laundry detergents to all-purpose, window, toilet bowl and tile cleaners, you can see the bills adding up.
Most cleaners can be replaced with simple, cheap ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice. Make the switch, and you’ll save significant amounts on cleaning up. Bonus: These simple ingredients are nontoxic, so you don’t have to worry about the “hazard” labels that come on many household cleaners.
Make Natural Beauty Products
Cost Savings: Up to $180
One recent survey estimated that the average woman spends $180 on beauty products annually, when all the lipstick, eye shadow and face creams are added up.
Many products can be made at home, and without any of the suspect chemicals that are used by some manufacturers. Ingredients as diverse (but cheap and easy to find) as avocado, yogurt, eggs, oatmeal and sea salt can be used to make your own facial scrubs, lip balms, masks, hand moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners.
Try these 10 DIY natural beauty recipes, or these 5 homemade skin treatments from The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances ($11.50 at amazon.com).
Recycle Your Old Electronics
We all have that drawer in our home, filled with discarded cell phones and chargers we don’t want to throw out (don’t!) but don’t quite know what else to do with. Here’s what you do: Recycle them for cash. Sites like SecureTradeIn.com, YouRenew.com and Gazelle.com will pay for your used phones and other electronics. When we compared prices last year, we found 21 cell phones worth $125 or more — and laptops, tablets and other electronics can be worth even more.
Even if you find your old hunk o’ junk has been sitting so long it has no value, remember that the parts in it are still valuable (and potentially toxic if not disposed of properly) so clear the clutter and recycle your electronics — or look into donating cell phones to charity.
Use the Library
Cost Savings: $118
The average American family spends about $118 on books, and on magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Community libraries are free and offer the same materials.
You can also borrow music and movies, which is a lot cheaper than renting or buying… since it’s free.
Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting
Cost Savings: $112
It’s not a get-rich quick scheme, but lighting represents a significant share of a home’s energy bill, about 11% — $210 annually. So wasting less energy is a way to make a buck.
Replacing old incandescent light bulbs with efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), light emitting diodes (LEDs) or even halogens can save up to 75% on your annual lighting bill. Factoring in the cost of replacing bulb and the longer lifetime of today’s efficient bulbs, relative to incandescent bulbs, and the energy savings amounts to about $112 a year for the average home with 45 light fixtures. That means you’ll pay off the investment in about two years, then start enjoying savings in the third year. A rule of thumb: $1 spent on lighting upgrades pays back $6.
Importantly, you’ll want to use the right bulb for the right fixtures. CFLs don’t last long in fixtures that are switched on and off frequently, or in environments subject to cold temperatures, for instance (see more places you should not put a CFL bulb). And you’ll want to buy smart: Energy Star light bulbs are not only rated for energy efficiency, but for quality: They come with a two-year warranty and should last at least 6,000 hours.
Of course, another simple way to save energy on lighting is the simplest tip of all: Turn off the lights when you leave the room!
Plug Electronics into Power Strips
Cost Savings: $100
Whether it’s chargers for smart phones and other electronics left plugged into the wall, or televisions and set-top boxes that idle in “standby” while switched off, there’s a lot of energy wasted around the home by appliances and electronics that draw power for doing nothing. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that this “phantom load” costs the average household as much as $100.
And that estimate came before the latest data revealed that the share of electricity used to run electronics and appliances has jumped to 31% of the average utility bill.
To kill the phantom load you have to give up two conveniences: Leaving chargers plugged into the wall when they aren’t plugged into your phone or other device; and the gratification of having your television reveal its picture instantly. When switched “off,” televisions and computers and other appliances are drawing energy so they can turn back on immediately — but is it worth a few Andrew Jackson’s a year?
Plug your television and computer equipment into power strips that can be turned off — definitively — and then use the power strip switch religiously to power down your equipment. You might also try smart plugs, which use timers and other techniques to power down electronics at the outlet when they’re not in use. Two options: the Belkin Conserve Socket ($10 at amazon.com) and the ThinkEco Modlet ($50 at thinkecoinc.com).
With chargers, either unplug them when you’re done charging, or plug all your chargers into one power strip, and set a charging time — say, right after work — when you disconnect for an hour, charge your electronics, and then switch the simple diy charging station “off” for good. Bonus: It can help you cut down on clutter around the office, and stop the frantic search for missing chargers.
Use Paperless Billing
Cost Savings: $70
Bills will always be a headache, but they don’t have to be clutter, and they don’t have to cost as much as they do. Many billers offer a $1 discount for signing up for paperless billing (because it saves them significant printing and postage costs) and you can save another $.44 per bill, at today’s stamp prices. Assuming you can save $1.44 on each of four monthly bills, and you’ve saved nearly $70 in year. Not to mention all that paper!
Line Dry Your Clothes
Cost Savings: Up to $85
Next to the refrigerator and some flat-screen televisions, the clothes dryer is the biggest energy-hogging appliance in the house. The California Energy Commission estimates it costs the average household $85 to run its clothes dryer. You can save all, or most, of that by hanging your clothes out to dry, or using a clothing rack.
Of course, if you live in a city apartment, line-drying is a challenge, but it is doable. In the country and the suburbs, weather and time are the only obstacles.
As our Green Cheapskate points out, line-drying also taxes your clothes much less; lint, after all, is what clothes were before running through the dryer. According to his approximation, some articles of clothing will last twice as long, which is like cutting the average annual clothes bill for a U.S. family in half, a $900 savings. Whether or not you can truly save that much, you’ll at least get more life out of your favorite clothes.
Use a Reusable Coffee Mug
Cost Savings: $36 or (much) more
Using a ceramic mug at home, and a stainless steel reusable mug on the go, can prevent a lot of waste. The daily paper or polystrene (Styrofoam) cup can add up to nearly 23 pounds of waste per year, per person, according to one estimate.
If you have a once-a-day coffee habit, and buy your coffee out, some coffee shops, like Starbucks, will discount your purchase by 10 cents a cup if you bring your own mug. Over the course of a year, that adds up to $36.50.
Of course, personal finance experts point out that buying coffee outside of the home is one of the easiest ways to waste money. Make the habit of brewing your coffee at home, or — less likely — break the caffeine habit altogether, and you could save $358 every year — $14,000 over the course of your career, according to a recent Forbes estimate.
Carry a safe reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, and you can save another few hundred a year, along with a huge pile of plastic waste.