Going green doesn't have to mean straining your budget. In honor of Earth Day, here are five steps you can take today to save energy -- and money.
Put your home on an energy diet. Make sure your home is properly insulated so you can use less heat and air conditioning. Closing doors to unused rooms, like a guest room, helps, too. Also, be sure to unplug appliances, turn off lights, and shut down computers at night. Even televisions can use up power when they're turned off, so either unplug them or use power strips that automatically shut the power off when they're not turned on. A lot of energy gets wasted on technology that we're not even using most of the time.
Use less gas by driving more efficiently. Lighten up your car (and your gas bill) by emptying the trunk of anything heavy. Removing the roof rack can also improve fuel economy. Drive smoothly without a lot of acceleration and deceleration to let your engine work more efficiently; staying under 60 miles per hour also helps. Also, consider carpooling with neighbors and visit the mechanic regularly to replace clogged air filters, tune-up the engine, and make sure tires are properly inflated.
Cook at home, using local ingredients and less meat. Buying in bulk costs less and also lets you avoid unnecessary packaging. Rediscovering eggs and beans -- try a dinner frittata for $3, or black beans and rice for two for under $5 -- can also substitute for pricier meat-based meals. To avoid waste, try reinventing leftovers and using up what's in the fridge. One night's roast chicken can turn into enchiladas later in the week. Also consider the way that you cook: If you're making small portions, consider using your toaster oven instead of the oven -- you'll use less energy.
Don't shop—freecycle. Use the net to find free furniture and goods, and swap the stuff you no longer need. Websites such as freecycle.org, Craigslist, and even eBay make it easy to pick up items that other people are discarding for free or at a discounted price (and to give away your own). You can also host a swap party with friends, where each person brings something from their closet that they no longer want -- but someone else might. Freecycling works especially well with kids' clothes and baby gear.
Make your toilet more efficient. You can buy a low-flow toilet, which uses up less water each time you flush, or you can make your own. Just drop a brick or a soda bottle filled with sand or water into the back of your toilet, and it will use up less water.
This post is based on Maura Judkis' 10 Ways to Go Green and Save Cash -- No Excuses.