Go for the Gold... and the Green
7 ways to save money by befriending the environment
May 12, 2011
By Vanessa Weibler Paris
On one hand, you could help the environment.
On the other hand, you could save money.
What to do, what to do?
Good news: you don’t have to choose. You can feed Mother Nature and Mr. Piggy Bank. You can go green and hang onto your greenbacks, and you don’t have to purchase a Prius or install special solar panels in your house to do it. There are plenty of simple ways to be green without spending more—things you can do as soon are you’re finished reading this.
“Sometimes people think a small change is too minor to make a difference,” says Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, a book that offers readers practical ways to become more Earth-friendly and reap financial rewards. “But there’s nothing too small to do. Ben Franklin said that a penny saved is a penny earned. I’d add that a lot of pennies saved are a lot of pennies earned.”
Here are seven easy, everyday ways you can save money and help save the environment at the same time.
1. Slow ride… take it easy…
On the road, stay at or below 65 miles per hour to save money per mile, advises Clark. And don’t brake or idle more than necessary. To compare vehicles for fuel efficiency, Clark suggests visiting fueleconomy.gov. The site offers nifty tools to calculate your miles-per-gallon cost and track it over time.
And while you’re on the road, keep your cool. Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas and can reduce your gas mileage by up to 33 percent. With gas prices on the rise, reducing gas mileage is even more attractive. So save money and save aggravation.
What’s in it for the environment? Fuel economy reduces carbon emissions, lowers our oil dependence costs and increases energy sustainability, all while helping your personal bottom line.
Eco-estimate: In general, each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas. (Source: Fueleconomy.gov)
2. Pay attention to your pots and pans
They say a watched pot never boils. But, you may want to ignore that old wives’ tale — watching a pot can save you money. Using the right-size pan on your stove burners can help avoid wasting energy. It’s simple math: a six-inch pot on an eight-inch burner wastes 25 percent of the burner’s heat.
If you cook with electric, use flat-bottomed pans (a warped or rounded pan will waste most of the heat) and turn off the burners a few minutes early. They’ll stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity.
P.S. Impatient bakers: try not to peek! Each time you open the oven door, the oven temperature drops by 25 degrees. Click on the oven light for a quick check instead.
Eco-estimate: Avoid pots that are too big or too small for their burners, and you can save about $36 per year for an electric range or $18 for a gas range.
3. Stay home sweet home
Instead of hitting the road, stay put. You’ll benefit the environment plus your wallet.
Home for the day: An increasing number of U.S. employers offer telework options. Clark says, “I oriented my business toward working virtually, so I drive less.”
Home for the week: Consider a staycation instead of a vacation, or explore places near your home.
Home for the year: Send your kids off to college with a kiss, but without a car. In many states, “ERIE offers discounts for full-time college students who spend most of the term away from home without a car. So, they’ll drive less, and you’ll save more.
For your own set of wheels, driving less than 8,500 miles per year saves you gas dollars, and it could lower your insurance premium.
ERIEalso has a reduced usage discount, so if your car won’t be used for about three months, let your Agent know.
Eco-estimate: Leaving your car at home for just two days per week reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,600 pounds per year (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
4. Watch your water
It’s tough to imagine running out of water, but it could happen. Each person uses about 100 gallons of water each day (that’s enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses). Become more water wary, and you can help the environment and your water bill. Here are a few easy ways from Underwriters Laboratories:
- Pare down usage: Peel and clean vegetables in a bowl of water instead of under running water.
- Shorten your showers: Skip baths, and try to limit showers to three minutes (with kids, make a game
- Bucket up. While you’re waiting for the shower water to warm up, catch the cold stuff in a bucket. Then, instead of tossing it down the drain, use it to water house plants.
If you try these tricks and don’t see a drop in your bill, you may want to check for leaks. If you suspect a leak, read your water meter before and after a two-hour no-water-using period, and if the number changes, you may have a problem.
And while we’re talking water: ditch the plastic bottles (22 million end up in landfills each year). Go with a refillable aluminum or stainless steel water bottle.
Eco estimate: You may shell out ten bucks or so for your refillable bottle, but make it up after skipping five plastics. Everything after that stays in your pocket.
5. Get comfortable
Clark suggests a slight daytime thermostat adjustment: two degrees higher for air conditioning and two lower for heat. And with a programmable thermostat, it’s easy to set it and forget about it.
“The temperature difference is minor enough that you might not even notice it, but can make a big difference in terms of your energy bill,” she says. To learn more about programmable options, including buying advice and installation tips, visit energystar.gov.
Eco-estimate: Go two up and two down, and you’ll save about $100 a year without even feeling the difference. And make bigger modifications at night: You can save around 10 percent annually on heating and cooling bills by turning the thermostat back 10°–15° for eight hours.(In freezing weather, though, keep your pipes from freezing or bursting: don’t go below 55°.)
6. Vanquish energy-sucking vampires
Are your home appliances all plugged in? If so, Clark warns, the money you might be losing is scary — and the environmental damage is scary, too.
These “power vampires” are identifiable by their little glowing red lights, such as those on televisions, game consoles and other household electronics. These items draw small amounts of electricity even when they’re turned off. Here’s how to stop the flow:
- Use a power strip with an on/off switch so you can power down electronics completely while in standby mode.
- Use a power strip for multiple chargers so you can easily turn it off when you’re not charging anything.
- Unplug your chargers after your recharging your devices.
- Unplug or switch off all unneeded devices at home when you travel.
- Turn off your computer and monitor when you’re not using them – or at least set to hibernation or sleep mode, which use less energy than screen savers.
Eco-estimate: The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that each U.S. household spends $100 per year to power electronics and appliances that are off or in standby mode. (PR Newswire)
7. Buy in bulk…sometimes
Those big-box stores with their bright lights and sky-high, neatly stacked packages can be alluring. But do you really want the five pounds of cashews you just spent $34.99 on?
Sometimes, bulk buys make sense. “The more bulk shopping you do, the more you save in money, packaging and carbon emissions from frequent trips to the store,” Clark points out. “If bought in bulk weekday breakfasts alone—orange juice and cereal for a family of four—can save you up to $300 dollars a year.”
But, shop wisely at the warehouse: Don’t be tempted by big quantities of occasional-use items; they may end up going to waste.
Eco-estimate: Choose grocery store staples — like the cereal-and-OJ example — and you’ll save about 31 percent, quickly offsetting the annual membership fee to a warehouse store.
Vanessa Weibler Paris works as a writer for creative services at Erie Insurance. She's also had several pieces of fiction appear in online literary magazines.