Money Tree

Source: jdacommunity.com.

A tight budget is no longer an excuse for neglecting to make environmentally friendly choices. In fact, going green may save you thousands of dollars in taxes, cab fares, medical bills, utility expenses, and other costs you may not expect.

Environmental degradation and a rising debt problem are two of America's foremost concerns. In 2016, we can solve them both simultaneously.

According to NerdWallet, the average American household with debt carries $129,579 in total debt. On top of that, a study by the GAO found that 29% of households with members over age 55 have no retirement savings whatsoever. That's enough incentive to save. And even if you don't feel the obligation to help preserve our planet for future generations -- and protect the health of our own -- the government has given you financial incentives to go green, while entrepreneurs are building a fast-growing industry of efficient and affordable green technology.

Reduce your tax bill
We all know turning off the lights and using less water in the shower will reduce our utility bills. However, if you dig deeper, you'll find there's a huge array of new products on the market that help consumers to increase their energy efficiency.

When households invest in green energy, they're not only making long-term investments in their property, but also saving money on taxes. Uncle Sam wants you to invest in energy-efficient products such as solar panels, plug-in electric cars, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems, and other green innovations. The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit, which runs through 2016, gives a credit for 30% of the cost of qualified alternative-energy equipment such as solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, and other technology. Check out The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to find out which green investments qualify and for how much, according to local, state, and national incentives and policies.

Let's take the solar panels on my home as an example of successfully leveraging government incentives to reduce our energy bill and our carbon footprint. In 2013, we shopped our solar system to find that it cost about $30,000 at retail and would cost us about $20,000 after state and Federal tax breaks (we live in Connecticut). With the tax breaks, an additional volume discount arranged between the state of Connecticut and the particular vendor, and a special SolarizeCT grant, the system came to $10,000. We bought it outright, although many people get 0% financing arranged by the state. In this scenario, our system produces about 7 megawatts of power per year. That equates to about $2,000 worth of power annually, meaning the system has a five-year payback period, or an ROI of about 18%. It produces roughly 60% of the power we use. According to one of the reports in our monitoring system, we have prevented over 15 tons of air pollution over the past three years.

SUVs are so 1980s
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, cars and trucks account for almost 30% of all global warming emissions in the United States. But let's face it: Some of us simply need a car at times.

Cars' cost of ownership analyses don't factor in the cost of carbon. But we do pay a price for carbon, which acidifies our oceans, raises the global temperature, and disrupts food chains across the world, eventually impacting us humans (this is an argument behind the carbon tax).

If you drive 10,000 miles a year -- as many people do -- then you could save 30% to 50% at the pumps by switching to a gas-electric hybrid vehicle. At 45 miles to the gallon, a Prius would consume about 220 gallons for every 10,000 miles driven. At today's low prices, that's about $500. Meanwhile, car owners who average 10 to 33 mpg would spend $200 to $1,000 more over the same distance.
 
In my family, we have driven three Priuses for around 200,000 miles each, and each has saved us thousands in fuel costs. And given their low emissions, we have prevented a few tons of air pollution per year as well.
 
Ultimately, mass transit like and self-propelled means of transportation like walking and bike-riding are far superior to cars. Although a taxicab may seem convenient now and then, if you're not in a rush, save the $15 and walk a mile or two. If you cut just three $15 taxi rides out a week, you'll save yourself $2,340 a year. The next best option is public transport, which usually gets the job done for just a few dollars. If your heart is still set on a private car, then try a ride-sharing service like Uber's new UberPool. According to Uber, sharing a car with a stranger can slash your fare in half.

Adopt an Earth-friendly diet
When it comes to your diet, "going green" means eating less processed and factory-made food that heavily pollutes the environment (and our bodies). Livestock, and their not-so-fragrant "byproducts," account for over 50% of human-caused greenhouses gases -- more than all the world's man-made transport combined. 

The average American eats over a hundred pounds of meat per year, while the World Health Organization recently reported a strong correlation between processed meats and cancer. The WHO report made a lot of Americans regret their breakfast, stating that 50 grams of processed meats is associated with an 18% greater risk of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, the vegetarian diet reduces caloric intake, one of the primary causes of obesity. Studies also link the vegetarian diet to decreased chances of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and a laundry list of other health issues.

A 2013 report from the Campaign to End Obesity found that healthcare expenses of up to $210 billion -- about 21% of total healthcare spending in the U.S. -- was related to obesity. Further, in 2010 the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that obese individuals spend 50% more per year on healthcare costs than those of normal weight (and that's among those who have insurance; for uninsured Americans, obesity comes at a far higher cost).

We all know that healthy living can improve our bodies, but we rarely associate it with saving on medical costs, and even less frequently with protecting the health of our environment. Many local farmers' markets sell budget-friendly, responsibly grown produce that doesn't have the transport cost tacked on. Better yet, you could grow your own garden, which allows you to save money at the grocery store and know exactly what you're putting into your body.

It turns out that going green means keeping your green, whether you invest in energy-efficient products, keep your car off the road, or eat a smarter diet. If these options seem easy enough for you, then take the leap and join the global green revolution while it's still cool to do so. 

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