Let’s be honest: when we’re out shopping, in most cases the eco-friendly options come with elevated price tags. The decision to go green can be tough when organic eggs cost twice as much as the grocery store’s non-organic version. Or when ethically made clothes carry a price tag that’s substantially higher than the fast fashion finds. But despite what you may think, there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint without breaking the bank. In fact, going green can even save you money in the long run.
Earth Day is an excellent opportunity to explore some of the ways you can go green, and these little lifestyle changes help protect the planet while also boosting your budget.
For household appliances like washing machines, home-office equipment, and light bulbs, it pays to check out models certified by the federal government’s ENERGY STAR® seal of approval. These products use as much as 50% less energy than their competition, which means you can cut monthly bills and save energy. According to the most recent data, in 2019, ENERGY STAR saved consumers $39 billion in utility costs—that’s about $450 for the average household.
Reusing items is the ultimate win-win. Not only do you make better use of the resources that created those products, you eliminate the need to purchase something new. When you consider what it takes to stick to a monthly budget, cutting the expenses you don’t actually need can make all the difference.
For items you no longer need, embrace the “give where you live” philosophy and look for a sustainable swapping community near you. Organizations like The Freecycle Network or the Buy Nothing Project allow you to post your second-hand items for free to members of your community. When you find a taker for an item, you coordinate a pickup directly with the recipient—sometimes as easy as placing the item on the curb outside your home.
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, and it’s incredibly harmful to both people and the environment. When left to decompose in a landfill, mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, and other chemicals can end up in our water, air, and soil.
So if you’re drowning in old smartphones, DVDs, cameras, video games, or other electronics you no longer need, resist throwing them in the trash. Instead, recycle them from a reputable company that will properly handle the materials. Several sites (and their mobile apps)—like Amazon Trade-In, Best Buy Trade-In, Decluttr, and Gazelle—will take used electronics off your hands in exchange for cash or gift cards.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person in the U.S. uses around 82 gallons of water a day at home—that translates to more than $1,000 a year in water costs for the average family. By installing water-efficient fixtures, like faucets and showerheads, families can go green and save money—typically more than $380 annually.
If you don’t know where to look, the EPA’s WaterSense program lets you search for water-efficient products that can save you money and help the environment. Many products also come with rebates that can increase your savings.
The federal government encourages energy-efficient home improvement projects by offering tax credits for certain upgrades. For primary residences, putting in energy-efficient appliances and fixtures like windows, doors, air conditioners, insulation, or water heaters can earn you a tax credit of either 10% of the cost of specific amounts ranging from $50 to $300, depending on the project. To learn more and apply for tax credits, file IRS Form 5695 with your federal tax return.
Don’t forget to check for state and local incentives, too, as they might have their own list of tax breaks for choosing to go green. To see what’s available in your area, enter your zip code into the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for a comprehensive database operated by NC State University.
Buying local reduces the distance that food must travel to end up on your dinner table, which means lower emissions and less pollution. By frequenting a local farmer’s market or joining a local food co-op, you can go green, save money on fresh and organic food, and support small businesses, too.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service maintains an updated National Farmer’s Market Directory of market locations, websites, directions, operating times, product offerings, and accepted payment forms. Search by zip code to find one near you.
Using a reusable bag instead might be one of the easiest ways to go green and save money this year.
According to the Ecology Center, of the 4.83 million tons of plastic bags in existence, only 9.1% is recycled. The rest of those plastic bags end up in landfills, waterways, or trashed as litter. Some grocery stores and retailers have pledged to eliminate single-use plastic bags by 2025, and many charge customers to purchase plastic bags now.
Borrowing instead of buying the things we only use occasionally can save you money and reduce your overall carbon footprint. After all, each product purchased must be manufactured, packaged, stored, shipped, and delivered; and each step of the process impacts the environment.
Renting instead of buying can help minimize that waste while saving you money and preventing clutter in your home. For example, home improvement and hardware stores have wide selections of tools and equipment for rent. Prices vary depending on where you live, but generally speaking, at Home Depot, a garden tiller rents for about $40 a day—much cheaper than buying one for around $350. You can also rent sports and fitness equipment, camping gear, bicycles, special-occasion clothing, textbooks, and even furniture.
The majority of us are guilty of leaving electronics and appliances plugged in, even when we aren’t using them. But things like toasters, televisions, coffee makers, and cell phone chargers draw electrical power even when idle, potentially adding an extra 10% or more to your monthly utility bill. That’s about $200 in yearly energy costs for the average home.
Though the obvious (and free) solution is to unplug electrical items after use, you can also try swapping out regular power strips for advanced power strips. These boast built-in, smart features like automatic timers, remote capability, and activity monitors that detect when a device is in standby mode. Follow this flow chart to find the type of power strip that best matches your needs.
Plastic water bottles can be a convenient way to stay hydrated on the go, but there’s no doubt they are terrible for the environment, your wallet, and your health. According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day. Meanwhile, bottled water is about 3,000% more expensive per gallon than drinking from the tap, and they contain BPA and other toxins that affect your fertility, brain development, nervous system, and organs.
The average household spends $4,643 annually on food at home. Meanwhile, the EPA estimates American families waste an average of 338 pounds of food each year. That’s not just a waste of money—it’s a waste of the resources that go into growing, storing, packaging, processing, and distributing the goods.
To cut down on the environmental and financial impacts of food waste, plan meals and shop with a list to avoid impulse-buying unnecessary items. Eat highly perishable foods first, and freeze anything that won’t get eaten in time. And if you do end up with extras, drop them by your local food bank so that nothing goes to waste.
The average family spends nearly $3,000 a year—or $250 per month on gasoline. That’s a pretty big line item in your monthly budget. Plus, when gas is burned, the substances produced, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons, contribute directly to air pollution. It also creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a big role in climate change.
Choosing to walk or bike instead of drive not only saves you gas dollars and helps the environment—it’s good for your mental and physical health, too. Endorphins and physical benefits aside, getting out in nature literally makes you happier, so choosing to go green by walking really is a win-win.
Helping the environment doesn’t have to be a formidable task. Even small changes can have meaningful impacts over time—for both the world and your personal finances. Consider making these little lifestyle changes to go green and save money, and watch how your life can change.