In honor of Earth Day, we pulled together ten of our favorite ways to save money while going green. Together, these strategies can save you over $1,000 a year.
[See the best personal finance stories from around the Web at the U.S. News My Money blog.]
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. (See 8 Easy Ways to Green Your House in 2011.) Savings: $15 and up each year.
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. Savings: $200 a year.
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. Savings: $100 a year.
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. Savings: $50 and up a year.
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. Savings: $600 and up a year.
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. Savings: $300 a year.
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. In addition to saving paper, you’ll also prevent yourself from spending needlessly by avoiding the temptation of those glossy pages. Savings: $100 and up a year.
[In Pictures: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]
Don't be fooled by 'fake' green products. It turns out that many of the so-called “green” products in our homes might not be so green after all. The latest study from TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, found that 95 percent of consumer products make some kind of false claim about their environmental-friendliness. Even allegedly BPA-free baby toys might contain that unwanted compound. Look for third-party approvals, such as the Green Seal, to help you separate legitimate environmental-friendliness from the fakers. E-mailing the company directly when answers prove elusive is another option. Websites such as thesmartmama.com also do a lot of that research for you. Savings: Priceless.
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. Savings: $80 a year.
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. Savings: Depends on your renovation plans.
What are you doing to celebrate Earth Day? Share your plans below.
Kimberly Palmer (@alphaconsumer) is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.