Earth-Friendly Habits That Can Save You Money

Earth-Friendly Habits


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Earth-Friendly Habits

Green Generating Green

Rivers overflow with plastic waste; the bodies of marine mammals wash ashore wrapped in trash; and extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes grow increasingly devastating. In honor of Earth Day, here are changes you can make in your daily life to become a better steward of the Earth — actions that may seem small but can make a difference as part of a collective effort. Not only that, there's a big bonus: Many of them will save you money.

Related: 31 Simple Ways to Save Money Every Day of the Month

Vegan Gluten-Free Creamy Spinach Pasta

Try Meatless Mondays

For meat lovers, it may be hard to imagine, but eating primarily plants can be a delicious way of helping the planet. "A plant-based diet uses less water, doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases the way farming animals does, and uses far less energy," says Apryl Boyle, a scientist who has been featured on the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" and founded a nonprofit called El Porto Shark. It can also reduce your grocery bill — vegetables generally cost less than meat. Boyle suggests starting with one no-meat day a week. 

Related: Hearty Meatless Meals Even Carnivores Will Devour

Pick Your Spots

Shop for Secondhand Clothing Online

There's no need to buy all your clothes new off the rack. Check out secondhand product on ThredUp, Poshmark, Mercari, or eBay. Once we can get out again to shop in person, start exploring thrift stores and hitting yard sales to help your bottom line and the planet. Opting for secondhand clothing reduces waste in landfills and helps decrease carbon emissions associated with the clothing industry, according to the nonprofit Planet Aid, which collects and recycles used textiles to protect the environment.

Related: 20 Ways to Sell Your Clutter Quickly (and Safely) Online

Reusable Water Bottle
Ana Stan/istockphoto

Try a Reusable Water Bottle

Rather than buying plastic bottled water, use a bottle you can fill up again and again, suggests Beverly Friedmann of My Food Subscriptions. Friedmann also suggests picking up a reusable coffee mug. "Even if you're a fan of more expensive treats such as Starbucks, you'll often get a discount for bringing your own reusable container," she says. (Though as part of its efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Starbucks has temporarily restricted the use of reusable, personal cups.)

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ILYA AKINSHIN/shutterstock

Cut Down on Water Use

The water most of us get by turning the tap comes from a central facility, which "requires a high amount of energy that releases greenhouse gases into the environment," says Eric Otjen, a member of the SeaWorld Rescue Team. "Over time, this carbon emission negatively affects marine animals' food supply and ecosystems." Otjen suggests putting a brick or some other heavy object in the back of the toilet tank, displacing water and reducing water use by as much as half a gallon per flush — which also reduces your water bill.

Skip the Drive-Thru

Turn Off the Car in the Drive-Thru

Sitting in the drive-thru of a favorite eatery may be convenient, but it burns gas, wasting money and adding to air pollution, Otjen says. "That air pollution ultimately ends up in the ocean, exposing sea otters, dolphins, and other animals to deadly toxins." If the line is long and you're not moving, consider turning off your engine. The Environmental Defense Fund says that idling for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel than restarting your car. 

Related: 15 Reasons I Drive An Electric Car

Grown Your Own

Grow Your Own Vegetables

Planting your own vegetables is an easy way to save money, says Tiernach McDermott, a horticultural expert for the social gardening app Candide. You don't need a ton of space to do it. "You can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. You don't need a huge garden to save some serious cash," McDermott says. "One man grew $1,200 worth of food on the balcony and window sills of a London flat in a single year." Radishes, carrots, lettuce, onions, and spinach are all easy to grow in small spaces, McDermott says.

Smart screen with smart home and modern bathroom

Install a Smart Thermostat

Outsourcing your home's environment to a digital device can save money in the long run, says Rupert Pople, a smart-home expert. Pople suggests buying a smart thermostat, which costs more up front but can greatly reduce heating bills and carbon emissions. "The device intelligently analyzes your heating and cooling habits to create the perfect schedule in your home," Pople says.

Switch to Cloth Napkins

Switch From Paper to Cloth Napkins

Think about all the paper napkins your family goes through in a day, week, or month. Now imagine the amount of paper you could eliminate from landfills by switching to reusable cloth napkins, and the money you would save not having to buy napkins over and over again, says Valeria Lobas, a wellness and parenting blogger.

Stop using Paper Towels

Stop Using Paper Towels

Paper towels are another wasteful product with environmentally friendly reusable alternatives that will save money in the long run, says Kristen Wilkinson, creator of the budget living site Mom Managing Chaos. She recommends highly absorbent huck towels. "They're an inexpensive, multipurpose cloth and a great alternative to buying and throwing away rolls of paper towels every month." Even cheaper: saving old cloths for use as cleaning rags.

Shop for Renewable Energy
Thomas Bullock/istockphoto

Shop for a Renewable Energy Plan

Consumers who haven't shopped around for a renewable electricity supplier could be wasting money, says Kelly Bedrich, cofounder of ElectricityPlans. "These plans are often cheaper than their fossil-fueled competition." These Earth-friendly options can be found in the 14 states where energy has been deregulated, as well as about 20 states that offer commercial energy choice, Bedrich says. They're offered by all major electricity suppliers, including Green Mountain Energy, Reliant Energy, Direct Energy, and Gexa Energy (owned by NextEra Energy).

Buy Window Curtains

Open the Windows

This is a simple, age-old method to reduce spending that's all too often forgotten: "Instead of turning on your AC, open windows throughout your home to allow the breeze to cool you off," says Doug Keller, a community manager for Payless Power. In the colder months, save energy by opening the blinds or drapes to let the sun shine in. "This will allow heat to enter your home without costing you or needlessly using energy," Keller says.

Digest with a Walk

Get Outside

Leaving the house can be an easy way to lower utility bills and your impact on the environment. "The key is to do your best to avoid costly and unnecessary endeavors, like driving around. Consider biking or walking while outside or take a stab at gardening, which has a number of environmental benefits. Your savings account will thank you for it," Keller says.

Antonio Guillem/shutterstock

Unplug Your Devices

When electronics are powered down but left plugged in, they still consume a tiny amount of electricity known as "vampire energy," Keller says. "This can cost individual households hundreds of dollars and actually totals to an expense of around $19 billion annually for Americans," Keller says, referring to a 2015 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It may sound too easy, but simply unplugging your devices when you're done using them could save you a considerable amount of money."

Minimize Clutter

Get Rid of Unwanted Stuff Sustainably

Rather than simply tossing items you no longer want into the trash, which means they'll ultimately find their way to a landfill, consider selling your castoffs. These days, whether you're getting rid of furniture, a household appliance, or clothing, there are numerous places to sell it. OfferUp, an online marketplace for all manner of household items, says its 2019 sales of clothing and shoes diverted 3 million pounds of waste from landfills. Other options include Goodwill, Craigslist, and eBay.

Reusable Sandwich Bags
Don't Stuff the Dryer

Ditch Single-Sheet Fabric Softener

How many of us toss a sheet of fabric softener into the dryer without thinking twice? Wilkinson suggests doing away with chemical-laden fabric softener, which is bad for the planet and your health. "Using wool dryer balls keeps you from having to purchase — and throw away — boxes of dryer sheets every month," Wilkinson says. "There are no chemicals in them, preventing chemical residue from building up in your dryer or rubbing off on your clothes." They tend to help clothes dry faster, as well, saving money on electricity.

DIY Laundry Detergent

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

A variety of environmental concerns are tied to traditional laundry detergent. The good news: Whipping up your own environmentally friendly detergent is easy and cheap, Wilkinson says. "Purchase some Super Washing Soda, baking soda, Castile soap, and, if you want a scent, your favorite essential oils."


Use Energy-Saving Settings on Home Appliances

Before turning on your dishwasher or dryer, be sure you're using the energy-saving settings, says Doug Rogers, a past president of Mr. Appliance. It's also a good idea to use the appliance only when it's full, decreasing the number of loads, using less energy, and saving money. Doing loads at night, when the temperature is cooler, has less impact on the power grid.

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Yet another small change people often overlook is simply doing all (or most) laundry in cold water rather than warm. "This saves money by avoiding the need to heat water during a wash cycle," Rogers says, and heating the water accounts for about 90% of the energy the machine uses to wash clothes.

Neglecting Your Dryer

Clean Your Dryer’s Lint Filter Regularly

Another very minor step that can decrease energy use — and energy bills: Clean the lint filter in your dryer each time you use it. "This will increase air circulation, drying clothes faster," Rogers says.

Compost bin

Create a Compost Pile

Sink garbage disposals require a great deal of water to operate properly. Cut down on water bills and consumption by instead starting a compost pile for disposing of food waste, suggests Don Glovan, a franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing.

Taking a Shower

Install Water-Wise Shower Heads

Showering, for the average family, uses up to 40 gallons of water per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA worked with consumers and makers of shower heads to create "WaterSense" replacements that use only 80% of the water but feel the same. Retrofit your bathroom and you can save water and money.

Install Solar Panels
Cindy Shebley/istockphoto

Go Solar

The solar revolution is well underway, with an average annual growth rate of 50% over the past decade. Of course, operating with solar power reduces monthly energy bills long term. Installing solar in a home also reduces the property's carbon footprint, as most of the electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Solar generation offsets more than 73 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. (That's the equivalent of taking 15.6 million vehicles off the road.)

LED Light Bulbs

Install LED Light Bulbs

If you haven't hopped on the LED bandwagon, now is the time. "A 10-watt LED lamp gives the same glow that a 40-watt fluorescent light provides and lasts longer," says Andrei Vasilescu, CEO of the money-saving platform DontPayFull. By replacing conventional bulbs with LEDs, you can reduce your monthly electricity bill along with your energy consumption.