Saving Money by Going Green: 8 Tips That Can Save Hundreds

We did the math, so you can save the cash. These tips aren’t only good for the Earth, they will actually save you real money — $20 at least, thousands at most.

Wasted Resources are Wasted Cash


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. 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.

1. Rent, Borrow and Freecycle


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.

2. Start a Vegetable Garden


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.

3. Do a Home Energy Audit


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.

4. Adjust Water Heater Temperature Settings


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.

5. Make Your Own Green Cleaning Products


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.

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6. Irrigate Lawn and Garden with a Rain Barrel


Cost Savings: $100-$300

The average U.S. household spends more than $500 on its water and sewer bill annually, and it’s been estimated that homeowners use 20%-60% of their water to irrigate lawn and garden. The percentage is on the lower end in regions like the water-rich Northeast, and on the higher end in regions like the perennial dry Southwest.

A rain barrel may cost about $50 to build, or as little as $119 to buy. If you irrigate with the rain water it collects after running off the roof, though, it will pay for itself in no time, and save you money on water bills thereafter. Also remember to do your watering in the early morning, so that the water seeps in and doesn’t just evaporate.

7. Plug Electronics into Power Strips


Cost Savings: $100

Whether it’s chargers for smart phones and other electronics left plugged into the wall, or televisions and set-top boxes that idle in “standby” while switched off, there’s a lot of energy wasted around the home by appliances and electronics that draw power for doing nothing. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that this “phantom load” costs the average household as much as $100.

And that estimate came before the latest data revealed that the share of electricity used to run electronics and appliances has jumped to 31% of the average utility bill.

To kill the phantom load you have to give up two conveniences: Leaving chargers plugged into the wall when they aren’t plugged into your phone or other device; and the gratification of having your television reveal its picture instantly. When switched “off,” televisions and computers and other appliances are drawing energy so they can turn back on immediately — but is it worth a few Andrew Jackson’s a year?

Plug your television and computer equipment into power strips that can be turned off — definitively — and then use the power strip switch religiously to power down your equipment. You might also try smart plugs, which use timers and other techniques to power down electronics at the outlet when they’re not in use.

With chargers, either unplug them when you’re done charging, or plug all your chargers into one power strip, and set a charging time — say, right after work — when you disconnect for an hour, charge your electronics, and then switch the simple DIY charging station “off” for good. Bonus: It can help you cut down on clutter around the office, and stop the frantic search for missing chargers.

8. Compost


Cost Savings: $30-$60

If you’re obsessive about how green your grass grows, or if you love to grow vegetables or flowers in the garden, then you can save significant money on fertilizer by making your own… from kitchen scraps and lawn waste.

Compost is nature’s gift to gardeners. Just set aside a small patch of land for a pile, or buy a composter to speed the process, and soon you will have created rich, nutrient-rich earth from your vegetable trimmings, coffee grinds, brown leaves, grass clippings and other “waste.”

The average U.S. lawn is about 8,000 square feet, and fertilizer makers recommend spreading about a pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet; at roughly $2 a pound and two applications a year, you can easily spend $30 a year on lawn fertilizer alone.

When the compost is ready to use, usually after a few weeks or months after starting the process, you can either mix it into garden soil, or make compost tea, a simple slurry of compost and water that you can spread on the lawn or garden in place of fertilizer. Bonus: By improving the soil with beneficial nutrients and bacteria, and not just scorching it with extra nitrogen, you’ll improve its health and make it more resistant to infestations by pests or decimation by drought.

Another bonus: If you pay for trash disposal by the bag, you’ll also cut down on waste disposal costs by diverting all those food scraps into the garden.


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