At one time in the not-too-distant past, “going green” in daily life involved shopping at out-of-the-way health food stores, sending a significant portion of your paycheck to organic food, and spending a fortune on a fuel-efficient car.
While installing solar energy panels or buying all-new energy-efficient appliances may be impractical, the good news is that it’s easier than ever to help the planet and your wallet at the same time.
Instead of purchasing an electric car or installing solar panels, many consumers are finding out that simple, day-to-day activities allows them to go green – on a budget.
Here are a few tips on how you too, can make that difference without hurting your bank account.
Back to School
This time of year, many families’ thoughts turn to preparations for the new school year. Parents and kids alike can learn some lifelong lessons by “thinking green.”
The first step is to STOP BEFORE YOU SHOP.
- Look at what you really need to buy.
- Review school supply lists and determine if your little learners can do without some of the items labeled “optional.”
- Scour your home (office, kitchen drawers, kids’ rooms) to find out what items you may already have. Many parents are surprised to find they can eliminate many purchases.
- If last year’s folders, binders or backpacks are still in good condition, take those off the “need-to-buy” list.
- For supplies you (and others) really do need, consider teaming up with friends or neighbors to split the cost of economy-size packages when it makes sense.
While you’re at it, you may find that this is a great time to get organized. In cleaning out the home office and other areas (i.e. garage, basement, attic, storage area), you may find enough to hold a garage sale. This can help you fund next back-to-school purchases.
This similar advice applies to back-to-school clothing. These days, “vintage” can be trendy. Online sites and yard sales can be good sources. If you do some research to identify stores in upscale areas, even style-conscious teenagers will be interested.
Finally, pay attention to the fact that many students in middle school, high school and college, can now use electronic textbooks. They can be especially cost-effective while helping to avoid cutting down more trees. Make sure to check with teachers to obtain the correct editions.
Going Green on the Holidays
It’s never too early to plan for the holidays. In doing so, you’ll find that it’s that much easier to “go green” – AND keep more of the green stuff in your pocket.
- Start by creating a holiday budget. List gift recipients, allocate specific amounts, and think of gift ideas. Make sure to include other expenses ranging from decorations, to child-care costs. This will allow more thoughtful spending, and let you avoid buying more than you really need.
- If you shop online, consolidate shipping whenever possible. Recycle boxes and packing materials, or give them to a local mailing shop for reuse.
- When it comes to wrapping the thoughtful gifts you’ve bought, reuse materials and get creative. Try fabric ribbons, bows and even gift wrap that you can reuse. Re-purpose old comics or maps as wrapping paper.
- For holiday greetings, consider going paperless with electronically delivered letters or cards (even free ones are available). Paper cards cost money, add to recycling or landfill loads, and use oil resources for delivery. If you’ve got tech-savvy kids, enlist their help on the computer.
When it comes to holiday meals, plan ahead to avoid last-minute purchases and waste.
- Do menu planning around locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables when possible.
- If you like turkey, buy an extra if you can when they go on sale. Cook, carve, and freeze in smaller packages. Then, you can thaw just what you need for several meals during the holiday season.
When you do cook, it’s easy to overdo it during the holidays – and end up wasting food (and money). Instead, try to be realistic about what you and your guests will eat. Still too much left over? Look into donating extra to a shelter, or plan post-holiday “leftover meals” with neighbors or friends.
For serving, this is the time to use that china, even if plastic and paper are easier to clean up. Friends and family are usually happy to share place settings if you need more. Online sites and thrift stores often offer great deals, too.
If you do purchase, select items that are NOT exclusively holiday-themed. You’ll likely find lower prices. Plus, you’ll be able to use them at other times of the year, too.
Green Living at Home
Changing just a few practices in your daily life can yield savings for your pocketbook AND the environment.
It may start with adopting an attitude of “reuse and re-purpose.” Instead of automatically throwing an item away, stop. Could you reuse or re-purpose it? If it’s no longer right for you, could a friend or neighbor use it? Could you donate it?
Energy use in the home is an area where you really can go green and help YOUR budget.
Start with the laundry.
- Today, many – if not most – detergents are formulated to clean well in cold water. Using cold water can save up to 90 percent of the energy in a washing machine’s cycle.
- Then, rather than turning directly to the clothes dryer, hang what you can to dry. This could be done outdoors, but also indoors on a drying rack. Doing so will eliminate carbon emissions, lower your energy bills, and increase the life of your clothing.
With temperatures in the home, you don’t need to get drastic with wearing coats inside in winter or sweating on hot summer days.
Keep in mind that for every degree you move your thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter, you’ll save about 3 percent on the energy bill. On an annual heating and cooling bill of $1,000, moving the thermostat three degrees could save $100 per year.
Light up with LED or CFL bulbs. Prices have decreased significantly as quality has increased. Some bulbs even work with fixtures containing dimmer switches.
When giving green ideas a try in your home, look for where you can replace paper with electronic documents.
- Online bill payments help tremendously.
- It’s also possible to shred many documents with personal information after you’ve scanned them to keep electronically.
- Digital subscriptions to magazines can be useful.
- Don’t forget about the local library. Many now offer e-books and audio books, too.
For shopping, specialty retail stores often offer bulk/volume pricing. Retailers of any kind sometimes provide bulk pricing upon request for desired items, too.
Local farms, orchards, and farmers’ markets are great places to find excellent prices and savings, especially on larger quantities. You don’t need perfect-looking fruits and vegetables. Ask about “B” fruits and vegetables or bruised boxes. “B” doesn’t mean sub-par in taste or vitamins, but can up to half off.
Whether you’re considering buying in bulk from a warehouse club or a traditional retail store, don’t forget about the potential to split large purchases with friends, neighbors or family members. Remember that warehouse clubs sell many items that don’t come in large quantities, too. You’ll still pay less and deal with less packaging.
Go Green Everywhere, Everyday
At the core of going green on a budget is learning the difference between wants and needs.
Re-frame how you think about each purchase, and you’ll find yourself living a life filled with less stress, less “stuff,” more money in your pocket, and more time to do the things you want to do.