Everyone is feeling the squeeze right now, with our investments being decimated and our 401(k)'s withering away. Consumers across the country are looking for ways to cut back. Luckily, some of the best ways to save money are also simple steps toward living a little greener. And, as we recently learned, simple steps can have a big impact. So, try these green tips to save some needed cash—no excuses.
• Bike to work. Or bike to public transit.
Excuses: "But bikes are expensive! And I have to look nice for work." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Often, you can buy a bike for the price of a tank of gas on Craigslist. It won't be titanium frame, but it will get you around. It's easy to bring a change of clothes and change at work, especially if your office has a locker room. If not, you can bike to public transit if it's available in your area, and walk the remainder. Another way you'll save money: By walking and biking more, you can cancel your gym membership.
• If you have to drive, drive more efficiently.
Excuses: " Hypermiling sounds scary. And I don't want to add anything on to my car." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Hypermiling—the strange driving practices that save gas, like driving on the lines in the rain or going into neutral on ramps—can be really unsafe. You don't have to try them to save gas, though; instead, take simple precautions like making sure your tires are blown up, taking off your roof rack to cut down on drag, and boosting your mileage by getting regular tune-ups.
• Cook at home. Buy nutritious ingredients to save money. Eating in will also discourage packaging and food waste.
Excuses: "I don't know how to cook, I don't have the time, and ingredients are as expensive as eating out." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Try pricing out the ingredients for a home-cooked meal—you'll find them to be significantly less expensive than takeout or a meal. As for not knowing how to cook—well, you don't have to be Emeril or Bobby Flay to make a decent meal for your family. Try cookbooks for beginners, not only because they're less intimidating but also because the recipes in them don't require fancy, expensive ingredients.
• Put your home on an energy diet. Monitor your thermostat, secure proper insulation, and eliminate all sources of vampire power—the electricity wasted by devices that are always plugged in.
Excuses: "But how will I know what's using up the most power? It's too complicated." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: For big savings, you can buy devices to time and monitor your thermostat. You can also buy cords that prevent vampire power from being wasted. If you don't want to spend money, just monitor your own use—the oldest advice in the book. Put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat for the first few chilly days. Turn off the lights whenever you leave a room. Unplug appliances when they're not in use. And shut down your computer each night—computers are one of the biggest energy hogs.
• Work from home. Telecommuting saves you money in gas and food and can make your day less stressful.
Excuses: "They need me in the office. How will I stay connected?" Why Your Excuses Are Lame: There are so many ways to stay connected from home—ask your office about wiring your home for video conferencing. You don't have to work from home every day to see significant savings; even one or two days a week will save you hundreds of dollars over the year in gas and lunches.
• Don't shop—freecycle. Use the net to find free furniture and goods, and swap the stuff you no longer need.
Excuses: "Why would I want someone else's old junk? I don't like hand-me-downs." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Just because items are used, it doesn't mean they're junk. Many of the site's offerings are only gently used, and if you end up with an item you don't like, so what? It's free, so just put it back on the site, and keep looking for something else.
• Eat less meat. Even if you only buy a little less each week, you'll save money and make an environmental impact.
Excuses: "But I love burgers." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Burgers are great, and if you want them, eat them. But in exchange, try a meatless meal every day, or week, or whatever you can handle. According to the U.N., even slight cutbacks in meat eating have an impact on climate change. So, if you like meat, try a turkey burger, because poultry has less of a carbon footprint than beef. Eat salads or pasta for lunch, and meat for dinner. You'll see the difference reflected in your grocery bill, and also your health.
• Reuse what you can. Get reusable water bottles instead of buying bottled water. If you pack your or your kid's lunch, buy a lunch bag and use Tupperware instead of buying Ziploc and brown paper bags.
Excuses: "But it's convenient." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Why spend money continually on stuff you'll just throw away? Cut out plastic utensils, disposable water bottles, paper napkins, and brown bags. They may be just little expenses, but they're still wasteful ones when you can reuse so easily and cheaply.
• If you need to buy new gadgets, trade in your old ones for cash.
Excuses: "But my phone/iPod/computer is really old." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Tech trade-in sites that give you cash for gadgets will often take any of them. You might not get as much as if you were trading in a new iPhone, but you can put the cash towards the price of your new tech toys. The sites, such as Gazelle, Cell for Cash, and even Office Depot also keep toxic technology out of landfills, and recycle the parts safely.
• Do it yourself. This applies to anything around the home. Grow your own vegetables. Make your own cleaning solution out of baking soda. Hang your clothes out to dry.
Excuses: "What is this, the olden days? Also, I have no idea how to do that." Why Your Excuses Are Lame: Old housekeeping customs can be big green money savers. Your dryer, for example, is one of the home's biggest energy hogs, so putting clothes on a backyard line every once in a while would be reflected in your bill, and would give your clothes a fresh-air smell. Harsh chemicals comprise many of our household cleaners, and if you think organic cleaners are expensive, make your own here. You can also use things in your fridge for cleaning—vodka removes mildew, lemons freshen a garbage disposal, and onions clean the top of a grill. As for vegetable gardening, if you have the space and a little time, you might find that your produce is cheap and even more delicious than vegetables that have traveled halfway across the country.