17 Tips That Can Save Hundreds
The tips in this feature will not solve all the world's environmental problems. Neither will they make you rich. But they can significantly lessen your impact on the environment, and they can save significant amounts of money.
You may have felt burned before by claims that going green can save you money, so we've taken pains to make sure that we estimate — sometimes with exceptional rigor, and sometimes with back-of-the-napkin math — exactly how much you can save by taking these steps.
What's clear is that the savings can be significant. We're not talking about going green for a few dollars and cents, but hundreds of dollars a year. So whether you're looking for easy ways to go green or easy ways to save money, you'll find ideas that work here.
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.
If you're looking for help getting started, consult with Divide the Ride, eRideShare, CarPool World or other Web-based tools designed to help like-minded commuters find each other.
Cost Savings: Hundreds, if not thousands
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 — whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, according to a statistic quoted in The Cheapskate Next Door ($10 at amazon.com) by our own Jeff Yeager, the Green Cheapskate. Yeager estimates that a 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.
Cost Savings: Hundreds
It's the second pillar of the environmentalist's mantra — reduce, reuse, recycle — for a reason: It makes good sense. By reusing items, we make the best use of the resources used to create those products, whether its energy, wood, metals or other raw materials.
Consider this: One study showed that the average power tool bought for use by a homeowner is used for just half an hour in its lifetime. And yet, most homes on any given street might have the same tool sitting in the basement.
Borrowing is free, so it's a good first choice. Ask around, or post a note on a community bulletin board, before you shell out for that new table saw, the kitchen appliance you need for only one special occasion recipe or a wheel barrow for that once-a-year garden project.
Freecycle is an example of borrowing on Internet steroids, since it connects people getting rid of useable stuff to people who want that same stuff. Need a new computer keyboard or mouse? Ask the network. Replacing your microwave oven? Offer it to the world. It's as easy as connecting, arranging a time and place to meet, and giving stuff away, for nothing.
If you can't identify a free version, look into renting. Hardware stores often have rental programs for power equipment so you can save money on home projects. Textbooks can be rented for the semester, to save on the expense of buying anew. You don't even have to buy bicycles or, yes, cell phones, to use them daily.
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: Hundreds or thousands
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).