Published in: Research | April 10, 2019
The Definitive Guide to Saving Money by Going Green
By: The Ascent Staff
There are noble reasons to embrace the green movement. You'll protect natural resources, reduce pollution, and help to save the planet.
Environmentalism can also come with personal benefits. The changes you make can help you to save money.
This might seem contradictory, as many people assume that going green means spending more. We may also avoid green options because of our busy schedules.
Going green doesn't have to be either expensive or time-consuming. We can prove it.
We'll outline seven common sense steps you can take to save money by going green, including:
- Replacing your appliances
- Making smart food choices
- Skipping single-use products
- Saving on water
- Reassessing your commute
- Joining the sharing economy
- Cutting your energy bill
All of these steps are relatively easy to complete. Anyone can do them with little to no investment.
And let us prove it! We'll give you an example at the end of each section that includes cost savings.
Replace your appliances and save big
Refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and other large appliances are expensive -- they're also bulky. When they break, you need to take special precautions to ensure they don't end up in a landfill as they could cause serious environmental harm.
You may think it's wise to keep those tools in your house until they absolutely don't work anymore. It’s true that doing so could help you keep them out of landfills. But that decision could also cause a pocketbook hit.
Newer, energy-efficient appliances need less electricity to work. That means a smaller drag on hydroelectric and coal-burning plants, which saves the environment. Less electricity use also means lower utility bills for you.
Contractors can help you make smart decisions. The water heater that seems like a good deal to you could come with hidden costs. An energy-efficient model might come with a higher initial price tag, but it could deliver monthly cost savings. Sealing the space around your water heater could also make the tool work more efficiently, saving you even more.
In addition to large appliances, you may also have small tools around your home. Toasters, hair dryers, microwaves, and slow-cookers can all break down with time. When they do, look for a qualified repair shop. You'll keep your equipment out of a landfill while supporting the local economy.
If it can't be fixed, head to a thrift shop to purchase a replacement. Refurbished tools save you money while promoting recycling.
Example: Your refrigerator from the 1980s uses the energy equivalent 1,000 kWh per year. A new one uses just 100 kWh per year. At $0.12 per kWh, your old fridge costs you $120 in energy. The new one? Just $12.
Make smart food choices
Take a walk down the produce aisle of your grocery store and you'll see food split into organic and non-organic sections. Food grown with the environment in mind contains fewer pesticides, and it's often grown with less water and fertilizer. This produce is definitely green, and it can be expensive.
Consumer Reports suggests that organic foods can be about 47% more expensive than their standard counterparts. But that doesn't mean you must give up your green ideals. You can:
- Head to farmers markets. Cut out the grocery store middle man while reducing fuel costs associated with shipping food to your market. Buy directly from farmers in your area.
- Grow your own food. Tear up a side flower bed or utilize your parking strip. Plant fruits and vegetables you eat the most.
- Shop in season. Purchase fruits and vegetables when they are abundant. Costs go down due to lack of scarcity.
- Sign up for community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Get fresh food delivered to your door and support your local farmers at the same time.
Watch your garbage can closely. The food you're throwing out is a lost green opportunity. Freeze your leftovers before they spoil. If a food you love is overflowing your pantry, such as zucchini after your fall harvest, can or pickle the excess. You'll have food to munch on throughout the following months.
Example: Store-bought tomatoes cost about $2 per pound. A tomato plant in your garden will cost about $10, including the seeds, soil, water, and fertilizer. That plant can deliver about 10 pounds of tomatoes.
Skip single-use products
We live in a throwaway society in which we purchase items that we only use once. Every time we toss that item, we harm both the environment and our pocketbooks.
Consider bottled water. According to a quote by Convergex Group Chief Market Strategist Nick Colas, bottled water costs 2,000 times as much as plain tap water.
Single-serving sips also come in crinkling, plastic bottles that can take decades to break down, if they break down at all. In some communities, these bottles aren't even recyclable.
By replacing your single-serve habit with a stainless-steel water bottle, you're eliminating a significant source of plastic pollution from your life. You're also likely to save money, as you're buying your water vehicle just one time, rather than every day.
Use that same mindset to eliminate other single-serving products, such as:
- Paper towels. Sponges and rags clean up multiple spills.
- Facial wipes. Washcloths keep your face clean just as well as throwaway wipes.
- Paper napkins. Cloth products can be used over and over again. When they wear out, they transform into your cleaning rags.
- Coffee cups. Bring your own mug to your barista, and skip both the cardboard cup and the plastic lid. Some shops will give you a small discount for doing so.
These are small adjustments that add up to big results. Track your progress, and at the end of the month celebrate with a deposit into your savings account.
Example: Paper towel rolls cost $14 per eight-pack, and the average family spends about $182 per year on those towels. Dish towels, on the other hand, cost about $6, and it's a one-time investment.
Save water and save money
Global warming is changing our relationship with water. Some communities are inundated with fluids they can't drink, while others are parched and dry. This situation is likely to worsen -- and that scarcity can drive up your monthly utility bills.
One quick way to cut costs involves a simple barrel and your downspout. Rain won't stream from your gutter into the street. You'll collect it, and use that precious liquid to water your garden. Your plants won't notice the difference, but you'll see the change in your monthly budget.
Cut back on laundry and dishwashing water use with the concept of crowding. Your appliances need a specific amount of fluid to do their work, and loose loads mean more water and lower efficiency. Rather than running your equipment every day regardless of need, wait until you have enough for a full load. You'll use less electricity and save money.
Tiny changes to your bathroom habits can also cut your water use. Think about water when you:
- Brush your teeth. New faucets dump a gallon a minute. Turn off the tap as you polish your smile.
- Wash your hands. Wet your hands, then turn off the flow. When your hands are soapy and clean, turn it on again for your rinse.
- Bathe. An average bath requires 36 gallons of water. Showers use much less.
- Wash dishes by hand. This process can pull up to 27 gallons out of your water bill. Fill up one basin with hot and one with cold. Dip from one to another rather than running the tap the entire time.
Installing water-conserving shower heads and faucets can also help to cut back on your usage. If you're handy, you can put them in yourself. If not, you may need a plumber's help.
Example: A bath requires 36 gallons of water. A five-minute shower requires just 10 gallons. A gallon of water costs about $0.01, so swapping out baths for showers could save $0.25 per day.
Reassess your commute
Every morning, millions of us take solo car trips from home to work. In the evening, we reverse the process.
All of that driving adds a tremendous amount of pollution to the air. It can also add fees to your budget. Car payments, insurance fees, and gasoline are all required to make those trips possible.
Cut your costs and save the planet by swapping out your car for a bike. You'll be part of a growing trend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the last decade, the number of bike commuters rose by 60%. Most people who ride their bikes to work have commute times of about 19 minutes.
You will need a good bike and a helmet to make this adjustment. After those sole expenses, you could ride your bike to work with no associated costs at all.
If biking isn't right for you, consider sharing your commute with others. Hop on public transportation, and you'll reduce your pollution level while saving on multiple fees, including those associated with parking.
If your job doesn't exist on a bus line, create a coworker carpool to cut costs.
Some states will even give you an incentive for sharing your commute with others. If you live in Colorado, for instance, choose to ride the bus or carpool with three or more people on certain highways, and you get to skip the traffic and use the Express Lanes for free.
Example: Owning a car costs a family about $8,500 per year. Owning a bike costs just $350 per year.
Join the sharing economy
Your purchases have the potential to harm the environment. The product you buy must be made, packaged, shipped, stored, and then delivered. Each step comes with environmental costs.
Your purchases can also hit your pocketbook, and it's a wasted expense if you use the item just once.
The so-called "sharing economy" lets you rent things you might otherwise purchase. Need a dress for a wedding? Rent it. Does your home improvement project require a special tool? Borrow it. Fewer items will be made and shipped, and you will save money.
Some sharing companies work via the internet, so you can order what you need and wait for it to arrive. But others are local, and you need to visit them to sign up. A quick online search can help you determine which option is available to you.
Example: A rental wedding dress costs about $775 per day. Buying a similar dress could cost you anywhere from $2,000 to $13,000.
Cut your energy bill
Energy consumption has been mentioned a few times in this article. That's no accident.
Generating energy is hard on the environment, and you'll see that difficulty reflected in your monthly bill. In addition to the tips we've already shared, we have another one that could help you balance your energy budget.
Reassess your laundry habits again. Can your clothes get a cold wash?
When it comes to washing your clothes, the bulk of the energy goes toward heating the water. You can save some serious money if you opt for a cold wash, and most of the time, clothes don’t need the heated water to get clean.
If the weather is warm and mild, hang that wet laundry to dry outside on a line rather than popping it in the dryer. The sunshine is free.
You’re also not using dryer sheets when you line dry. This can save you some money and keep those dryer sheets out of landfills. To soften clothes, try adding a little vinegar to the wash cycle.
Example: BC Hydro suggests that 90% of washing machine energy goes toward heating the water. By switching to cold, you could save a great deal of green -- close to $5 per month.
Get started small
Don't get overwhelmed by your options. Make one tiny change at a time and track your progress. As your savings grow and your costs dip, you'll get motivated to do even more. In no time, you'll be saving both money and the planet.
Consider our examples. Each month, we'll save roughly:
- Refrigerator replacement: $9
- Garden tomatoes: $10
- Paper towels: $15
- Showers: $7
- Biking: $679
- Cold washing: $5
That leads to a total of $725 per month! All with small changes anyone can make. If we can do it, so can you!
Frequently asked questions
Why don't people choose green options?
Many people assume that environmentalism is both expensive and time-consuming. In reality, small changes can help to save both money and the planet.
Organic food is expensive. What else can I try?
Consider signing up for community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and organic food will come right to you. Or head to farmers markets to buy directly from the source.
My water bill is high. Can I still garden?
Consider installing a rain barrel. You'll capture water from your roof to keep your plants hydrated.
What's one quick way to save on water?
Choose a shower over a bath. Make sure your bathroom and kitchen faucets are designed for low water flows.
How can I cut commute costs?
Bike to work, take public transportation, or start a carpool. Any method you can use to cut back on solo trips will save you money and help the environment.
How should my shopping habits change?
Borrow or rent rather than buying something outright. If you must make a purchase, make sure you can use it more than once.
What can I do to cut my power bill?
Unplug appliances you're not using. Shut down your computer rather than putting it to sleep.
Do I have to take big steps to save money?
No. Even small adjustments to your daily routine can be meaningful.
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