If your New Year’s resolutions include saving money and being greener, then you’re in luck, because you can accomplish both those goals at the same time. These eight tips, adapted from the book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back, will help you save over $500 next year.
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Use less energy. Small changes, like closing doors to unused rooms or turning off the air-conditioning during the day, can make a serious dent in utility bills. So can unplugging appliances, turning off lights, and shutting down computers at night. Even televisions can use up power when they’re turned off, so unplugging them when they’re not in use saves energy. A $30 power strip known as the Smart Strip automatically cuts power to devices that don’t need it when they’re off, such as a DVD player, while maintaining power to those that do, such as a cable box. Annual savings: $15.
Change light bulbs. Substituting compact fluorescent light bulbs for incandescent bulbs will save around $30 per light bulb and pays for itself after six months, according to the Energy Department. New developments have made compact fluorescent lights more similar to natural lighting than they were previously. Annual savings: $30.
Use fewer products. Instead of lathering up with soap, shaving cream, shower gel, and body scrub, Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse, suggests cutting back to just a handful of products. “Put everything you use in one day on the counter and it will blow your mind. Pick a day where you just brush your teeth and your hair and forget about the rest,” she says. In addition to creating less waste, the change will lower your monthly drugstore bills, because you won’t be buying all of those unnecessary lotions and creams. Annual savings: $200.
Make cleaning supplies from scratch. Even Martha Stewart endorses this technique. A bowl of vinegar or simmering lemon rinds can absorb smells just as well as manufactured air freshener. Scrubs made out of baking soda and water make kitchens sparkle just like chemical-laden cleaners. The Internet contains hundreds of do-it-yourself recipes; Jennifer Taggart’s thesmartmama.com can get you started. Annual savings: $100.
Renovate with recycled products. The idea of installing someone else’s used kitchen cabinets might sound extreme, and even a little dirty, but with a few of those DIY cleaning products you just learned to make, along with a new coat of VOC-free paint, used cabinets can actually result in a beautiful new kitchen. Habitat for Humanity’s “ReStores” sell surplus materials at a steep discount. (Sales go toward funding more homes for low-income families.) Web searches for “architectural salvage” can also turn up gently used pieces, since some new home owners end up redoing the kitchens of just-built homes. Annual savings: Depends on your renovation plans.
[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]
Cancel catalog subscriptions. The website catalogchoice. org lets retailers know which customers no longer want to receive their mail. Participating companies agree to stop sending any more catalogs within three months. Signing up with 41pounds.org halts junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association (the-dma.org) will let its members know when people tell it they don’t want to receive any more direct-mail marketing offers. Junk mail piles up over time, so these fixes can really make a difference in the long run. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we receive four million tons of junk mail each year, almost half of which is never even opened.2 In addition to saving paper, you’ll also prevent yourself from spending needlessly by avoiding the temptation of those glossy pages. Annual savings: $100 and up.
Make toilets more efficient. Low-flow toilets use less water each time they’re flushed. A traditional toilet can be transformed into a low-flow one by placing a soda bottle filled with sand or water in the tank. You’ll lower your water bill, too. Annual savings: $80.
Make other green home improvements. The federal government offers incentives for homeowners to install energy efficient roofs, windows, heating and cooling systems, and other technologies in their home. Of course, many of these installations are pretty pricey, but the energy savings over time plus the tax incentives can make the investment worthwhile from a financial perspective, in addition to the environmental one. If you bought new energy-saving insulation for your home before the end of 2010, for example, you could have received a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost, up to $1,500. The available tax credits are constantly changing; the latest can be found on the Energy Department’s Energy Star website (energystar.gov). Annual savings: Varies.
This article is adapted with permission from Kimberly Palmer’s new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back (Ten Speed Press).