Going green inherently saves money—by using less, we save more—but some big-ticket items can cost a lot. I’d love to install solar panels on my roof or a wind turbine in my backyard so I’d never have to see another PG&E bill again, but the reality is that I simply can’t afford either of those. Nor can I purchase a low-flow toilet, buy a Prius, or have the plumbing know-how to install a greywater system.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t save money on gas, water, and other living expenses by taking simple—often free—steps to reduce consumption of natural resources. Even if you’re not trying to save the planet, by consuming and wasting less, you’ll save money. And that’s something we all like to conserve.
1. Become Anti-Bottle
A bottle of water usually runs between one to two dollars, which means buying a few bottles every week could add up to over one hundred dollars a year. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, consider what else it costs: 1.5 million barrels of oil go into making those bottles, and 22 million head to landfills every year. Plus, toting around a bottle of water is a bit like wearing a badge that says, “I’m a sucker.” After all, some companies simply bottle tap water and then sell it to consumers; the other companies are selling something that we can get for free. Seems like a no-brainer. Buy a reusable water bottle for $15 bucks, use a cup when you can, and pocket the extra cash.
2. Displace Instead of Replace
After consecutive dry summers, many parts of the country are experiencing droughts. In the Bay Area, where I live, water rationing has begun and my local municipal district is charging extra per gallon if conservation efforts are not undertaken. But for those of us that can’t afford to upgrade appliances, how can we reduce water consumption?
Instead of a fancy, new low-flush toilet to replace old large tank toilets, there is a simple, cheap (even free) method: displacement. By placing a brick, a plastic bag filled with water (sometimes called toilet tummies), or anything that takes up space (last year’s fruit cake?) inside the tank it will reduce the amount of water per flush. I ordered a free toilet tummy from my municipal district; check to see if yours subsidizes them too.
For the truly stringent, you can implement the mantra I learned as a child during water-strapped summers in Northern California: If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.
3. Go Low-Flow
Low-flow showerheads will reduce water consumption, and, because they save hot water, energy consumption as well. If you have older pipes and your shower takes a while to heat up, simply put a bucket in the stall to capture the cold stuff and use this to water plants, mop, or wash dishes.
Adding aerators and low-flow faucet adapters (usually less than $5 at hardware stores) on all sinks will save water—and ultimately, money.
4. Move It, Don’t Lose It
Can’t afford a Prius? Not a problem. There are cheap, even free, ways to keep money in your pocket while still getting around town: bike, walk, run, carpool, or use public transit. Since gas prices aren’t likely to drop much from where they are now, getting in the habit of going car-free is not only a cheap way of transport, it’s a long-term habit that will save you money and reduce your carbon output.
If you do have to drive, there are ways to make your dollar go further. Drive laid back—don’t accelerate too fast from green lights and gradually slow down to red lights. And don’t let the tires slow you down. According to the Consumer Reports Web site, properly inflated tires can save up to one mile per gallon.
5. Weather Strip It
The windows in my old house are single-paned, drafty, and in serious need of replacing. However, until I save enough to do so, weather stripping or caulking is a great substitute. (Weather strip usually costs between $20 and $30; caulk is less than $5 per tube.) Consumer Reports advises that weather stripping can reduce heating costs by almost 30 percent during the winter for those who live in cold areas. And if you’re like me, and suffer through the cold months with lots of clothes and little heat, sealing up the windows could actually make the winters at home enjoyable.
6. Wash Smart
Although you can often get rebates when buying energy-efficient appliances, some people may still find them priced out of reach. So how to make do with the old versions without spending a dime?
For dishwashers, make sure to fill the dishwasher to the brim before washing, and opt out of the “heat dry” cycle, which uses extra energy. Skip pre-rinsing dishes, except for the two-day-old crusted oatmeal bowls. For those hand washers like me, use a tub to soak and rinse instead of having the water run constantly. When rinsing fruits and vegetables, I also save the water in a bowl and use it to water patio or indoor plants.
For the clothes washer, use cold water, and during the summer months, line-dry. Yes, your neighbors might see your undies, but you’ll save on energy so you can replace the worn out ones.
7. Make Your Own
Rather than buying often-overpriced green cleaning products, you can make your own with everyday household items like baking soda and vinegar. Both items can be purchased cheaply (around $1.50 for the soda and $4 for a huge tub of vinegar) at grocery stores.
Along the line of simplifying to save, one way to cut back on how much we spend on disposables like paper towels, napkins, aluminum foil, and plastic bags is to use tea towels, cloth napkins, and Tupperware instead. Once we free ourselves from the use-it-once-and-throw-it-away mindset, we find money in our pockets.
8. Ward off the Vampires
You know those appliances that, although turned off, still have a standby screen that’s lit up or flashing? These are known as “vampire” or phantom electricity loads, and have been estimated to be responsible for 10 to 40 percent of the energy used in homes. One way to cut back on their consumption is to buy a power strip (usually about $5) that can be shut off when they’re not in use. Or simply unplug them.
9. Cook Green
Although “budget” menus are supposed to save money, cooking similar meals at home is almost always cheaper. Plus, eating out uses excess packaging which usually ends up in the trash. Save money, paper, and plastic by eating in or brown-bagging it to work. When you do grocery shop, look for inexpensive bulk items, which use less packaging than processed foods and cost less too.
We can also save on energy costs by keeping our fridge and freezer full of food (which retains the cold) and keeping the temperature around 37 to 40 degrees.
10. Buy Less
One of the best ways to save money is simply to buy less stuff. That said, sometimes we need and want new things. In this case, hit the vintage stores, garage sales, Web sites like freecycle where you can get used items for free, flea markets, and scavenger yards. This not only saves money, it saves items from the landfill.
Of course, these are simply a few of the simple things that can be done to cut costs and emissions. Replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents, getting an automatic thermostat, bundling up in the winter rather than turning on the heat, and letting the lawn go brown are other cheap and easy ways to save on bills. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to afford to go off the grid.