Update: check out my new list of environmentally Friendly Products that Save you Money! Today is Earth Day. I’m fired up, and you’re welcome to join me. Let’s make it more than just a token day that we forget about tomorrow. Let’s make it Earth Week, Earth Year, and even Earth Lifetime. And…save some money in the process.
If you fall in to the bucket of those who have a conscience and give a damn about the planet (or if you normally don’t, but want to get started), I’m going to throw out a challenge. It’s time to take action.
There is a direct correlation between impact reduction & saving money (the more you reduce, the more you save) – so this article is right at home on a personal finance blog, and will present some of the best planet and money saving tips I’ve discovered over the years.
Some are easy one-offs. Others need to become habitual, but you’ve got to start somewhere. So here’s the challenge: Take 1 action – you’re a better human being than you were yesterday. Take 2-5 and you can take comfort in knowing that you are making the world a better place. 5+? I will plant a tree and name it after you. So let’s save some money, keep those guilty consciences to a whisper, and get started!
1. Start Growing Some of your Own Food & Getting More from Local Sources
It took me 5 years too long to put in a garden – I finally made the move last year. My yield the first year was miserable, but that only has made me more motivated to get it right and start early.
For most of us, that time is now. Take one of these nice spring weekends to put in a garden, or at least put up some plants in your window or pots on your patio.
Growing your own food may seem trivial in impact, but if everyone were to do it, the impact would be phenomenal.
If you don’t know where to start, one of my favorite blogs on the topic of food production is Old World Gardens.
The ROI on gardening is questionable, until you get good at it. But the satisfaction of pulling an organic tomato fresh off the vine that you walked a few yards to get is hard to beat.
The output of gardening can be tough in the beginning, so you’ll need to complement with fruits and veggies from other sources, so what’s the next best environmentally friendly option? Locally sourced (and organic) food. Usually the best place to get it is farmer’s markets and CSA’s. If you stick to produce, you can actually save money in the process.
Not sure of the CSA’s or markets in your area, Local Harvest has a nice map to help you find them.
2. Replace Meat with Beans/Quinoa/Veggies in at Least One of your Weekly Meals
I made the switch to vegetarianism a number of years ago. The health and cost-per-unit savings have been outstanding – about $2-3K per year. The environmental impact? Astounding. It takes 16 pounds of grain/soy and 5,214 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of edible beef (the same amount of water one American uses on showers in a year, on average). It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef, while only 2 calories of fuel to produce a calorie from soybeans. Want more? The amount of pesticide use per acre of corn (the main feed for livestock), has increased 100,000% since 1945.
So this one is super simple. Pull up some recipes online and replace that meat centerpiece by some combination of beans/quinoa/veggies. You, your wallet, and the planet will all be healthier for it – and you’ll reduce demand for mass produced animal misery.
3. Take your Own Containers & Switch to Bulk Foods On at Least 3 Grocery Items
The average American produces 4.9 lbs. of trash per person per day. Much of that comes from food packaging. So instead of accepting that your oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, walnuts, or soybeans come in small amounts, surrounded by plastic that will end up in a landfill – buy it in bulk instead and bring your own re-usable container to package it.
Shopping at Costco or wholesale stores can also help reduce packaging. A 36 oz. jar of peanut butter, for example, produces 3X less waste than 3-12 ounce jars. And the goodness inside is just as tasty.
Bonus? It’s almost always cheaper in bulk anyways.
You can also further cut down your food waste by composting food scraps to enrich the garden you have now… circle of life and stuff.
4. Make your Own Truly Environmentally-Friendly Cleaners
Even though most so-called “green cleaners” claim to be environmentally friendly, there really is no federal regulations of what “green” is. Same goes for “natural”. What is “natural”? I suppose it’s something that was not created from alien metals obtained from an asteroid or manufactured from a science experiment gone wrong, but that is not saying much.
If you have water, lemon, baking soda, white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and witch hazel, you can make home-made cleaner combos that will clean just about anything, are 100% safe, and probably more effective than the store-bought garbage. Just make sure you don’t combine stuff that should not be combined (ammonia and bleach generally do not produce safe fumes when mixed with other stuff). And you can buy them in large unit sizes, reducing packaging waste in the process. And it is a lot cheaper!
Try this glass/all-purpose cleaner:
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
Here’s an article on how to make non-toxic cleaners.
5. Stop Buying Bottle Drinks & Invest in a BPA-Free ReUsable Bottle
If you buy bottled water, I want you to slap yourself in the face right now.
For starters, each bottle bought is packaging wastefulness to an extreme.
If you care anything about money, I did the math, and every time you buy a bottle of water for $1, you are paying 2,279 times what you would if you re-filled that same bottle with equally refreshing tap water.
Taste tests have proven people cannot tell the difference, so get that misnomer out of your head and make the permanent switch to tap.
6. Unplug Standby Power Appliances
Don’t know what vampire appliances are out there, sucking away your money and the environment, as they sit there, not even in use? Here’s a list of vampire standby power appliances to start.
I also highly recommend using a power meter device to measure every plug-in item in your house. Here are the results from my electrical use measurement. Actions taken saved me 22% on my electric bill.
Plug the vampires in when you need them and unplug them when you don’t. It’s easy, planet saving, money saving, and you might actually burn a calorie or two in the process.
7. Switch to a Low-Flow Showerhead
I’ve tried a few, and with a good one, you won’t even know it’s low-flow. But you’ll save 50%+ water in the process.
This is the low-flow showerhead I personally use (on the 1.85 gpm setting), and it has the power to deliver a 3-minute or less shower. Average shower heads use 4.2 gpm.
There are admittedly, some low-flow showerheads that don’t have the goods. I tried a 1.25 gpm showerhead, but the shower lasted twice as long, making it ineffective.
For a family of four you’d be saving 21,000 gallons of water and about $200 in energy costs per year. Where else can you get a 1,000% return within the first year of buying something?
Switching is literally as easy as unscrewing the old showerhead and screwing the new one on.
Here are some other ways to save money on water as well.
8. Get a Digital Programmable Thermostat
There may be nothing more first-world wasteful than heating or cooling a home to levels you do not need while you are working or sleeping.
The easiest way to save a lot of money on heating and cooling costs is to swap your old-school thermostat for a smart programmable thermostat.
It is extremely easy to do, so long as you have a screwdriver. If you purchase a $60 device (seems to be about the average), that could earn you a return on investment of 300% in just the first year and nothing but cool savings after that.
9. Start Riding that Bike to Work!
Long time readers are probably sick of hearing this, but I’m going to repeat it again. The #1 biggest financial, health, and planet saving move I’ve made over the last 5 years, maybe in my life – is selling my car and riding my bike to work.
If you’ve never done it, you have to give it a try – and there’s no better week than this week.
You feel relaxed by the time you get to work. You burn off stress and calories on the way back, and in the process you didn’t contribute more to global warming or spend any money.
How much money could you save? Here’s a biking vs. driving calculator so you can plug in your own numbers. It is quite possible that you could save $1M or more in making the move.
Stop making excuses. Do it.
10. Sell Some Stuff on Craigslist, then Buy Something You’d Typically Buy New
How many times have you heard a story of someone buying something used on Craigslist, using it for a while, then selling it for at least as much on Craigslist at a later point in time? (increasingly you can substitute “Facebook Marketplace” for Craigslist)
There is no greater money saving invention that has the potential to completely halt the buy -> use -> trash cycle that is so prevalent in our society.
If you haven’t used it in this way, it can be quite competitive. I recommend setting up RSS feeds for keywords of items you need, then acting quickly when they come up.
In the process, you’ll have stopped the wasteful cycle, kept an item out of the landfill, and saved yourself plenty of money.
Earth Day Discussion:
- What are you going to take action on this Earth Day?
- What would have made your top 10 recommend action list?
I already do items 1, 7, 8, but I question the wisdom of growing my own fruit trees as I probably spend way more on water and fertilizer than I would had I just bought the fruit at the store instead.
Once a tree is established, you won’t need to fertilize/water. It’s a good long-term investment.
A good baby steps to number two is to halve the amount of meat in a recipe and double the vegetables. I do this with my chicken pot pie and even my meat and potatoes raised father can’t tell the difference.
As someone who works with low-income communities to save energy via weatherization/rebates for solar panels and other energy efficiency measures, thank you!
Hey G.E.! I know I’m a little late to this game, but I really hope you see this comment.
I’ve actually been wanting to reach out to you for over a year now concerning an environmentally-friendly and hugely money saving product that I use, and I wanted to email you directly, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to contact you other than via these comments.
So this might be a little weird, and it will probably squick people out if they are subconsciously misogynistic – but MENSTRUAL CUPS have seriously changed my life, and I think that they belong on your list of “money saving products,” right alongside those heavy duty stainless steel safety razors you use (I use those, too).
I’m sure you can imagine the waste that comes from disposable feminine products, not to mention the cost and the toxic, cancer-causing dioxin in the bleach most feminine products use. And while I’m sure you probably won’t want to write a post about them yourself, I’d encourage you to seek out some blog posts that others have written on menstrual cups and how much better they are for your wallet, your health, and the planet. You could always throw up a brief post on your own website that simply links to some other resources on the subject, for any of your readers who might be interested.
My wife uses one. =)
I’ve been debating a post for a while now…
You could always have your wife write a little “guest blog post” or something, talking briefly about how much money hers has saved her, and how much better it is for the environment. And yes, it will squick some readers out, but she or you could put a little “trigger warning” at the top, warning readers that the post is going to cover some up-close-and-personal hygiene issues, and if they’re uncomfortable reading about periods, they should stop now.
Or, like I said, you could even just do a post that doesn’t say much other than, “Hey, I don’t use these myself obviously, but my wife does, and from a practical/environmental/cost-saving standpoint, I gotta say the idea of menstrual cups makes a lot of sense to me. Here’s some links to what several other bloggers have said on the subject.”
Most people haven’t even heard of them, because there’s not nearly as much money to be made in reusable menstrual products (cups can last several years, as I’m sure you know), so there’s almost zero advertising about them. What little advertising there is, is usually for the biggest brand name out there, the Diva cup – but there are several other brands that I like way better than the Diva brand (LENA, Si-Bell, Super Jennie…). And I think a post from you on the subject might be very informative for your readers.
I’d really love to see you do some kind of post on the subject (I’ve been wanting to see you do one for well over a year) – just offer plenty of disclaimers at the top, so people know what’s coming and can stop reading if they want. :)
Great tips for nature-friendly and pro-budget person. Most people believe that a vegetarian diet is more expensive than a regular diet. Vegetarians want to have a healthy lifestyle and most people may think they don`t care about the costs. However, a vegetarian diet is more accessible, especially with such a wide range of foods. Eating vegetarian can actually cost less than eating meat.