Save Money and the Environment

by Amy Robleski

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Many people think that taking measures to save the environment has to cost a lot of money. It's true that most major changes, such as installing solar panels or buying a hybrid car, take a high initial investment. While these improvements actually do save money in the long run, for those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, the initial costs may seem insurmountable. But there are ways to save money and the environment without spending a lot of cash up front. Get started with these simple ideas:

Replace five light bulbs in your home with energy-efficient light bulbs.
Savings = $60 per year.

Though energy-efficient bulbs are slightly more expensive than regular bulbs, they last eight times as long. And, they use the energy more efficiently, meaning less wasted power.

Wash your clothes in cold water.
Savings = $63 per year

It takes a lot of energy to heat up the water we use to wash clothes. Use cold water to wash your clothes, and you'll see the savings in your energy bill. Detergents that are specially made for cold water wash are readily available, but many people claim that they use their regular detergent in cold water with satisfactory results. Even if you're not ready to go "cold turkey," opting for warm instead of hot water will save some energy and take some money off of your bill.

Install a programmable thermostat.
Savings = $100 per year

It makes sense to program your thermostat to use less energy to heat and cool your house when you're asleep or away from home. To save even more energy and money, try setting your temperature controls to just one degree warmer in the summer or one degree cooler in the winter than you're used to and see if you and your family notice the difference. That one degree can save you money and cause less of a strain on the environment.

Subscribe to just the Sunday edition of your local newspaper.
Savings = $52 per year

If you receive a daily newspaper, you may want to think about switching over to just Sunday delivery. During the week, stay abreast of what's going on in your area and the nation by watching the news on TV or reading it online.

Alternatively, you could share a newspaper with someone else, read one in a library or restaurant, or see if your employer subscribes. Save $117 per year by giving up your newspaper subscription entirely. Though most newspapers are made from recycled materials, using fewer cuts down on the energy used to make the newspapers and the fuel used to distribute them. (Savings based on subscription rates for the Chicago Tribune.)

Don't buy over-packaged foods.
Savings = $312 per year

Have you ever noticed that the more packaging around a product, the more expensive it is? One of the worst offenders is "Lunchables." They use a lot of packaging for not a lot of food. Financially and environmentally, you're much better off buying the foods individually. Making and packaging all that food uses a lot of energy, and most of the packaging is not recyclable or biodegradable. (The calculated savings is based on buying Lunchables for two children three times per week. At $2.50 each, you would pay $15 per week, or $780 per year. If you purchased the items separately [cheese: $3 per week, crackers: $2 per week; lunch meat: $3 per week, and dessert: $1 per week], you would be spending $9 per week, or $468 per year.)

Don't buy bottled water.
Savings = $313 per year

If you and your family drink just one liter of bottled water per day, staying hydrated could cost $365 per year. Instead, try using an inexpensive filtering pitcher (roughly $10 per pitcher and $42 for filters). Reducing your dependence on bottled water not only helps the environment by using less plastic and energy to make the bottles, it also reduces the gas used to transport them.

Once you get the hang of making these small changes, you'll realize that there are a million ways to help the environment while helping your finances at the same time.

Here are some resources for more information:

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