Save the Planet, Save Cash: 25 Best Ways to Green Your Green

“Going eco-friendly…doesn’t that cost extra?”

Tired of hearing that line? So are we. So let’s bury this assumption once and for all! Here’s how to save a ton of cash.

1. Change to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

LED lightbulbs will be greener, but right now they’re pricey – while CFLs are usually less than $2 each. And it’s a field of constant innovation.
-Between $15 and $50 per bulb over 5 years.

2. Buy a Solar Oven

Red-hot innovation. Remember burning holes in paper with a magnifying glass? These appliances focus the sun’s rays onto your food and cook it as thoroughly as a traditional oven – without using a spark of electricity. So simple you can even make them yourself.
- These replace the standard convection ovens which use around $0.10 of electricity an hour – and then there’s gas.

3. Stop Using Washing Powder

There are mineral-salt-powered equivalents to washing powder, like the Ecoballs “flying saucers”. And yes, they work.
-$200-$400 per 1000 washes.

4. Use a Programmable Thermostat

Over half of American homes don’t have them: that’s a lot of homes being heated when they don’t need to be. Install one today (say, a Ventstar Flat Stat) and watch your heating bills plummet.
- Calculate your exact saving here (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet).

5. Avoid Gas-powered Lawnmowers

They’re wasteful and polluting – and avoidable. Use one of the newer brand of push reel mower – or, if you have some money to invest, solar-convert!
- With a gas-powered lawnmower, an hour’s grass-cutting is around 100 miles in your car.

UPDATE: While any gas savings are money in your pocket, the above statement refers to the pollution created by an hour’s grass-cutting  – here’s Science Daily on this.

6. Walk or Cycle to the Shops

You use the most fuel at low speeds and when you start your car. So short trips really aren’t worth it – cycle or walk instead. Give yourself longer to shop (you can cut down on gym time to balance things) – and carry less by shopping more often.
- With rising fuel prices, you can expect any fuel economy savings to grow and grow.

7. Only Start Your Car When You’re Ready to Drive It

Make sure everyone’s in before turning the key. And waiting for someone for more than 60 seconds? Kill the engine. You’re more likely to consume more fuel idling than restarting.
- It’s been estimated that idling Burger King customers waste 16 million gallons of gas a year.

8. Pack a Lunch

Prepacked sandwiches: all that plastic, and how much money? So make your own: it’s vastly cheaper and more fun (you get to choose the fillings).
- Personal estimate: Making my own – $15 /wk. Shop-bought – $30-50/wk.

9. Clothes: Let the Wind Do It for You

Tumble-drying needs huge amounts of energy (see below). So go for a combination of an eco-friendly spin dryer for when it’s raining, and washing lines (standard or fancy) for when the sun’s shining.
- Tumble dryers use around 2.5 kwH of electricity per hour. Compared with the rest of your appliances, that’s huge. Dry naturally, and you’ll save $100s a year. Oh, and millions of tons of CO2.

10.  Kill the Lights

If your room’s a bit gloomy, don’t just reach for the lightswitch. Think about how to get more daylight into your room – whether simply by moving furniture around, or guiding the light in with sunpipes or mirrors.
- Banishing the lights for the night will have a significant impact on your electricity bill. Even turning them on an hour later than before will make a difference.

11. Harvest the Rain

Catch rainwater in water butts or more sophisticated arrangements, and you have a ready supply of water for anything except drinking (you’d need fairly expensive filtration to make it safe).
- Up to half your water bill.

12. Grow Your Own.

We want to see the return of Victory Gardens, using every neglected square inch of everyone’s back yard to grow vegetables. Food miles turn into food inches, and the results taste better than you could have imagined if you’re been eating the mass-produced variety. Also, buy locally produced food – it’s just other people’s Victory Gardens!
- Huge savings on grocery bills.

13. Unplug When You Go

There’s a great deal of concern about energy being invisibly wasted, particularly with modern devices that have a “standby” setting. So when you’ve finished with the electronic marvel of your choice – unplug it.
- Anything from $50 a year upwards per household is spent on keeping those little red LEDs glowing.

14.  Heat Your Water through the Ground

It’s cutting-edge, so it’s certainly not cheap – but ground source heat pumps are the next big thing in eco-friendly house design. They run some of your water supply through the ground where it picks up natural geothermal energy. Result: toasty-hot water for free!
- Your central heating bill will evaporate.

15. A/C Is Better than Heating

If you can find an alternative to using your electric A/C unit, use it – but remember that it’s much less eco-hostile to cool the house down than it is to heat it up. So when the house gets cold, think layers layers layers.
- See it as a challenge – to make your Winter electricity bill lower than the summer one!

UPDATE: Thanks to Dougal for pointing out that despite news reports to the contrary, the claim that air-conditioning is more cost-effective than heating has been repudiated by RealClimate.

16. Wash Colder

As Allison noted a while back, 90% of the energy used to wash clothes goes into heating the water. Wash on a cooler setting, and you save energy…
-…and that saves you money on your bill. Couldn’t be easier.

17. Eat Less Meat

Meat is the most expensive item on the average food bill. It’s therefore ironic that we eat too much of it – and no, I’m not vegetarian (although that’s an excellent argument against meat as well). Meat is a delicacy, not a staple – so don’t be afraid of having a few no-meat days during the week.
- 500g T-bone steak – $20. Just sayin’.

18. Waste Not, Spend Not

If you’re the average American, you buy four bags of groceries, and you throw one of them straight in the trash. No, really. So learn to make the most of the food you buy: soups, stews, freezing, composting, you name it.
- One quarter (or more specifically, 27%) of your food bill, right there.

19. When It Comes to Technology, Newest Usually Means Most Expensive

With technology, everyone loves shiny and new things – particularly us men (a genetic flaw, perhaps). But if there’s a second-hand, perfectly functioning alternative, we should go with it. So become a retrophiliac, and always try to buy last year’s technology, first- or second-hand.
- Regarding full retail price, look at what happened with the iPhone.

20. Make Fashion Fit You

There’s no cutting corners on quality clothing – except when a professional tailor is doing it for you. If you want to look fabulous on a budget, trawl your city’s second-hand options and find items that are near your size – then have them adjusted.
- A guy’s perspective: in this manner I saved $200 on a suit last year.

21. Work in the 21st Century

The Information Revolution has changed the way we work. Telecommuting is a much cheaper option to spending 3 hours in traffic. Videoconferencing beats the real thing in bucks. So find ways to avoid those costly long hauls to and from work. (Even if the company’s paying!).
- Or are you saying that your own time isn’t valuable to you?

22. Shop in the 21st Century

Always support your local traders – they’re where you’ll most likely to get the best-quality goods. But when it comes to the harder-to-get items…shop online. You save on packaging and (depending on the items) you save on gas, because it’s delivered to your door by someone who was on the road anyway.
- And yes, shopping online is almost always cheaper – if not quite as tactile and fun!

23. Carry a Tote Bag

It prevents urban tumbleweed. It’s stylish. And it’s tougher than those flimsy supermarket  bags…
- …which you’re increasingly being asked to pay for (by companies that lack the nerve to ban them altogether).

24. Clean the House with Cents, not Dollars

Household cleaners are expensive. So don’t buy them. Go for the natural, non-polluting options that are just as effective, available everywhere and cost next to nothing.
- Miracle cleaners miraculously wipe out your budget. Lemons, on the other hand, are cheap.

and finally…
25. Go Green.

In the bad old days, you paid extra for an eco-conscious lifestyle. Now, eco-friendliness is the norm – and in more and more cases, not choosing green is the way to overspend.
- Choose green, save money, help the planet. There is no catch.


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Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.