Clever (and Easy!) Ways to Save Money and the Planet

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Emily Mae Schmid
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Illustration by Clare Owen

Illustration by Clare Owen

It seems like everyone is considering making the switch to an eco-friendly household these days. Some people do it because of a deep philosophical conviction that we should help the earth. But saving the planet also goes hand in hand with saving your wallet.

All the info floating around out there can get overwhelming. There is no shortage of things you can do. But you don’t have to add solar panels to your roof to make a real impact. Here are ten easy ways to make a green difference in your home and beyond.

01. Switch to Energy Star–certified lightbulbs.

Energy Star–certified lightbulbs use 70 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, yet they last ten to twenty-five times longer. An LED Energy Star bulb can last 25,000 hours. Energy Star and LED Energy Star bulbs were much more expensive than incandescent lightbulbs—which can go for as low as 40 cents per bulb—when they first came out. But today, an Energy Star bulb retails for $6 or less, meaning you’ll make that money back fast. Energy Star estimates, “By changing one bulb, you can save between $30 and $80 in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb.” Imagine the savings if you changed all the bulbs in your home.

02. Get rid of paper towels.

PeopleTowels, a manufacturer of reusable towels, notes that more than three thousand tons of paper towel waste is produced in the U.S. each day. According to RecycleNation, if every household in the U.S. used three fewer rolls of paper towels per year, it would save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees. So buy some cute dish towels. It stops waste, adds style to your kitchen, and saves you cash money. Say the average household uses just one roll of paper towels a week, and the average cost per roll is $2. Using reusable towels could save $104 per year (fifty-two weeks x $2 roll/week = $104).

03. Embrace the summer heat.

Air conditioning feels great, but it is crazy expensive because it takes so much energy to run. Energy.gov reports that air conditioners use about 5 percent of all the electricity produced in the U.S.—that’s an annual total cost of more than $11 billion for households. Energy.gov estimates that the average household spends 6 percent of energy costs on space cooling alone. Save the money—and the energy—and opt for open windows as much as possible.

04. Wash your laundry in cold water.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that 90 percent of the energy it takes to wash your clothes goes toward heating the water. Yikes! Even switching from the “hot” to “warm” setting on your machine will save you 50 percent off the energy used on average. There are cold-water detergents, such as Tide Coldwater Clean, available now to make this switch that much easier. Added bonus: According to the Alliance to Save Energy, “Washing clothes in cold water with cold-water detergents not only will save energy and money—it also will preserve fabric color.”

05. Unplug your chargers.

When your charger is plugged into an outlet, it sucks energy and drains your money along with it—even when your iPhone isn’t plugged in at the other end. Energy.gov reports that “[household] energy vampires are often responsible for adding 10 percent or more to your monthly utility bill.” If your monthly utility bill is $150, unplugging devices and turning off appliances could save you $15 monthly (or $180 a year). That’s huge!

06. Sunny day? Walk, bike, or take public transportation wherever you need to go.

The IRS figures that driving a car costs 57.5 cents per mile, “including depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, gas, and oil.” Those cents quickly turn into dollars. Even if it’s only once a week, your wallet, your body, and the environment will thank you if you walk. Too far to travel on foot? Take public transportation, or carpool. You’ll save not only cents but also the environment. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates twenty pounds of greenhouse gases (GHG). That’s roughly seven to ten tons of GHG each year for a typical vehicle.”

07. Invest in a bottle of coconut oil.

Consider replacing your moisturizer, makeup remover, and facial cleanser with one $10 bottle of the stuff. In a 2008 study published in the Dermatitis journal, coconut oil was found to have antibacterial properties useful in moisturizing and treating skin infections. You can even use our DIY idea to treat yourself to a coconut oil hair mask. A PubMed study on the effects of coconut oil on hair damage revealed its ability to penetrate the hair shaft due to its molecular composition. The study also notes that coconut oil was “found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a prewash and post-wash grooming product.” Sign us up for this biodegradable, affordable, and effective all-in-one product.

08. Convert to reusable grocery bags.

In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported that the average American family uses about 1,500 plastic bags a year and that we need about twelve million barrels of oil to manufacture that many bags. Many stores (Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger) will reward you with a discount for bringing in your own bag. Those cents add up!

09. Air-dry your hair.

Skip the blow-dryer in the morning—you’ll save yourself time and cold hard cash. If it takes you ten to twenty minutes to dry your hair each day, that’s $10 to $20 a year in energy usage, according to the Energy Use Calculator. How does air-drying your ’do help the environment? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sums it up well: “Using less energy means power plants generate less, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves air quality.” Huzzah!

10. Make your own home cleaners.

Stock up on vinegar and baking soda—really. A study published by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America found these two ingredients to be effective in eliminating salmonella and E. coli, two potential bacterial pathogens. That’s right: No harmful chemicals or expensive products needed.