Making money and protecting the environment are often portrayed as being at odds with one another. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the best tips for living a financially savvy lifestyle mirror the exact strategies for pursuing an environmentally conscious existence. Whether you’re looking for easy ways to secure your bottom line or you’re looking for ways to reduce your ecological footprint, the same general ideas apply: avoid wastefulness, make thoughtful decisions, and don’t shy away from a little extra work.
With these ideas in mind, below are a few helpful suggestions for improving the outlook for both the planet and your personal finances:
1. Take the Waste Out of Your Life
Convenience often takes precedence as we move quickly through our everyday lives. This is the principle underlying our consumer culture, which relies heavily on disposable products that are heavy on packaging and low on long-term value. So many of these single-use, throwaway items end up in landfills. Even those that end up in recycling bins require energy for processing and reuse. In other words, no matter which bin you use to dispose of your refuse, you are creating waste.
Not only that, but there is little to no economic gain in the use of disposables. This is money that you’ll spend endlessly in a cycle of constant purchase, consumption, disposal, and replacement. In other words, you are essentially throwing your money into a waste basket. Your bank account doesn’t care whether you throw this money into the blue bin marked recycling or the regular old trash can. Either way, it’s money you won’t be getting back.
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So when you find ways to reduce your dependency on disposable products, you’re not just reducing environmental waste, but you’re reducing wasteful spending as well. For instance:
Eliminate paper towels: Paper towels are actually pretty expensive when you consider that they’ll all end up crumpled into food-stained balls in your trash can (and subsequently releasing methane into the air as they decompose). Not only that, but as we all learned during the pandemic, the decent, two-ply paper towels are subject to supply chain shortages. And from an environmental standpoint, Eco Family Life reports a few startling figures, noting that every single year, 110 million trees and 130 billion gallons of water are expended to make paper towels. Reusable rags face no such supply chain issues and levy no such environmental impact. Buy a few packs of bar towels from a restaurant supply company. They do the same job as paper towels but they can be rewashed and reused. Better yet, you could spend nothing and simply repurpose aging washcloths and holey t-shirts. Then, after you use them, you can throw your money into a washing machine instead of a waste bin.
Get a Reusable Water Bottle: Look for a reusable bottle brand that has a good reputation for creating eco-friendly products that don’t contain harmful BPAs. You’ll also want to purchase a water filter. Many refrigerators come with built-in water filters. But if yours doesn’t, it’s very easy to outfit your kitchen sink with a water filter, or even just to buy a pitcher with an inbuilt filter. Most college kids are pretty familiar with the incredible value of a well-maintained Brita pitcher. And it’s not just valuable because you’ll save tons on disposable water bottles (which often contain plastics that can be harmful when exposed to elevated heat or cold), but because you’ll also be reducing one of the single biggest sources of waste in both landfills and recycling plants.
Stop Wasting Food: Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the nation loses a staggering 30 to 40% of its food supply to waste every year. This translates to a waste of “approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. This constitutes both a massive economic loss and a tragic disservice to the millions living in hunger. For everyday Americans, this waste isn’t necessarily a consequence of callousness. It’s because we don’t always take the preliminary planning steps required to make the most of our household food supply. Before you hit the grocery store, farmer’s market or co-op, build out a weekly meal plan and purchase only those perishables that you need in order to execute this plan. It also helps to join a food club like Costco or BJs, where you can buy non-perishable and frozen items in bulk. Doing so lowers your cost per unit, reduces the number of trips you’ll take to the grocery store, and reduces the amount of wasteful packaging required to purchase the same quantity of items from a standard store-shelf sized package.
2. Do It Yourself
A more self-sufficient lifestyle is also the likeliest route to a greener and more cost-efficient lifestyle. Find ways to do for yourself what you might otherwise be outsourcing to multi-billion dollar corporations with enormous overhead costs and extremely large carbon footprints. The more you can do on your own, the less pre-packaged items you’ll be buying at the store. Not only that, but this is also a direct path to reducing the chemicals and toxins in your own home.
Make Your Own Cleaning Products: Surface cleaners, dish soaps and laundry detergents can contain dyes, bleaches, and concentrates that can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system, reducing the air quality in your home while costing a fortune. Save money and reduce both the chemicals released into the air as well as the packages bound for your trashcan by creating your own cleaning products out of safe household items like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. You can even create your own pleasant aromatic combinations by using fresh herbs.
Grow an Herb Garden: You could be spending a lot less on fresh produce by growing your own. Invest in a few basics like soil, seeds, natural fertilizer, and a few 2x4s for building a garden box. You don’t need much space—just a few feet of dirt in a back or side-yard—to get started with homegrown staples like tomatoes, peppers, basil, and squash. Find out what grows best in your climate. And if you live in a region with lots of curious critters, maybe invest in some netting or chicken wire to protect your harvest. Aslo be aware that it takes time to mature and cultivate a garden. Well-tended plants will go stronger and yield more bounty each year. That said, the cost of experimentation is low. A few dollars will get you the seeds to start planting virtually any kind of climate-compatible fruit, vegetable or herb that interests you.
3. Change Your Eating Habits
As long as we’re on the subject of comestibles, there are a lot of things about our eating habits as Americans that could be changed. We could all save a lot of money simply by shifting the way we approach, purchase and consume food. Mismanaged food supply is not just one of the biggest contributors to waste, but the economy surrounding American food consumption is itself a major source of landfill content and a major consumer of fossil fuels. With that in mind:
Cook from Scratch: Do more of your cooking at home, and use fresher items. Think of strategies for replacing packaged and boxed foods with grains and produce. Instead of buying jars of tomato sauce, crush and puree your own tomatoes. Instead of purchasing dry boxes of Mac ’n Cheese with powdered cheese product, boil your own macaroni and bake real cheese on top. When you approach food this way, you’ll be throwing less packaging into the trash and fewer artificial ingredients into your body. You’ll also reduce your own contributions to a pre-packaged food supply chain with extremely deleterious effects on the environment, especially in terms of emissions. As an added bonus, we promise that when you do more of the cooking yourself with real, fresh ingredients, your food will taste better.
Eat Less Meat: In addition to how you eat, it matters what you eat. No matter how you slice it, meat production in the United States is another industry where energy consumption and carbon output have a significant and negative impact on the environment. According to Clean Water Action, the storage of cattle manure from the meat production industry “releases harmful substances like antibiotics, bacteria, pesticides, and heavy metals into the surrounding environment. As the manure decomposes it releases emissions including methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide which further contribute to climate change. On top of all of this, livestock emit methane (burps) during digestion and further emissions are released during the processing and transportation of the animals.” Add to this the massive deforestation required to create lands for grazing, and the entire process of meat production has a net negative impact on the environment. Reduce the amount of meat in your diet, and you’ll reduce both the amount you spend on sustaining your household’s diet and the amount of power that your diet requires to be sustained. It’s also worth noting that those with diets that rely less on animal proteins tend to be less susceptible to health risks like stroke, heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers.
4. Improve Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
We’d all love to get solar panels, and if you’re getting ready to replace your roof, that’s definitely an option. Many solar panel companies will include the price of a roof replacement in your installation package. In the meantime, if you’re not due for a roof replacement, there are a number of far more cost-effective ways to begin saving money and reducing your carbon footprint right away. Outfit your house (or your lifestyle) with the following and you could do both:
Programmable Thermostat: One great way to save money without even thinking about it is to get an automated thermostat that adjusts the temperature in your home based on seasonality, outside conditions, and time of day. Achieve perfect climate control at a reduced cost while reducing your consumption of fossil fuels and the number of trips you must personally make to the thermostat.
Insulation Around Doors and Windows: You’ll also save money and lower your consumption of fossil fuels by reducing the amount of heat that escapes, or the amount of cool air that flows into your home, during the winter. The same applies to keeping the cool air inside during the summer months. Add insulation around your doors and windows and get a better handle on temperature control in your home all year round.
Unplug Unused Electronics: You can also lower your energy bills by untethering your idle electronics. Unplug any item whose outlet can be easily accessed when not in use, including toaster ovens, televisions, laptops, and dormant phone chargers. It’s also helpful to keep such items plugged into a surge protector which can both control energy waste and improve the ease of unplugging or switching off multiple items at once.
At some point, every appliance needs to be replaced. While this is rarely done cheaply, it could be a great opportunity to reduce your overall energy costs. If you’re shopping for a new refrigerator, dryer or dishwasher, look for the EnergyStar logo. According to the website, EnergyStar appliances are generally more effective, less costly to operate, and responsible for lower rates of emissions than aging or outdated appliances. By contrast, the EnergyStar logo is an indication that your new appliance meets the highest standards for energy efficiency and ecological soundness.
Get LED Bulbs: These bulbs last significantly longer than the traditional incandescent bulb and consume substantially less energy. In fact, Energy.gov says they utilize up to 75% less power than incandescent bulbs while lasting roughly 25 times longer! Replace the old bulbs in your house with LED lights to lower your energy bills, reduce your household emissions, and reduce the number of times in a given year that you need to trash a dead bulb.
Insulate Your Pipes: This is a valuable tip for those of us who like spending just a few extra minutes in a hot shower. Adding insulation to the pipes that convey your hot water is a great way to keep that water warm without burning more natural gas than is necessary. You’ll see the difference in your water and gas bills.
5. Choose a Carbon-Lite Lifestyle
There are also things you can do in your everyday life to tilt the scales of carbon consumption in favor of the earth (and your wallet). We recognize that for most Americans, it may not be possible or realistic to achieve an entirely carbon-neutral lifestyle. Many of us still must heat our homes, drive to work, and run major household appliances. But it may be possible to make more conscious decisions as you do things like shop, exercise, and maintain your home.
Drive Less: Cars are a major source of carbon emissions. While we could certainly endorse the purchase of an electric car, a bike would be a lot more affordable and more environmentally friendly. We’re not suggesting that you get rid of your car. But you may want to offset your use by walking or cycling to more places when possible. Every trip you take to the post office, a nearby doctor’s appointment, or a friend’s house by bicycle could save you a few dollars without spewing a molecule of waste into the air.
Conduct Transactions Online: Another great way to reduce carbon emissions is to stay home when you can. We’re not suggesting you should become a shut-in. I think we’ve all experienced quite enough of that during the pandemic. But we are suggesting more online engagement when appropriate. The internet creates a growing set of opportunities to complete transactions and conduct business without ever leaving the house. If you can telecommute to a health appointment, make a bank deposit online, or conduct a business meeting through Zoom instead of hopping in your car and meeting face to face, you’re saving on gas and altogether eliminating certain activities with measurable carbon output.
Mow Your Lawn Manually: Suburban lawn care is another major source for carbon emissions that could be offset with a bit more personal work on your part. As long as your yard isn’t the size of a football field, you could replace the riding mower with a manual push mower. The only cost to keep it running is the occasional blade replacement. And instead of inhaling diesel fumes while you work, all you’ll smell is the freshly cut grass. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could even consider replacing your lawn, or significant portions of it, with a vegetable garden, a xeriscape or a small grove of native trees. Any one of these options would do far more to improve the air quality and carbon balance in your neighborhood than the ever-popular but ecologically pointless lawn of non-native grass.
Hopefully, these tips underscore an important fact. Protecting the environment and improving your own financial standing are not at odds. In fact, these are mutually compatible goals. In reality, the decisions you make to live a greener, more sustainable, and more ecologically conscious lifestyle should also deliver you to a more financially stable, sound, and profitable standing. With smart decision making and a little creativity you could both live a more green lifestyle and hold on to more of your hard-earned greenbacks.