There are a lot of misconceptions about living an eco-friendly lifestyle, particularly the idea that it’s expensive, inconvenient, and requires a full head of dreadlocks. But in reality, it is easy being green—giving the planet a helping hand is just a matter of making one simple change at a time. And there's a big bonus: These small lifestyle changes can often save you money, too.
Sure, organic foods and hybrid cars cost more than their conventional counterparts, but there are many cheaper ways to lower your waste output and reduce your carbon footprint (or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions—which are largely responsible for climate change—that occur as a result of your activities and purchases). In many ways, the environmental movement isn’t about adding things to one’s life; it’s about simplifying our actions, cutting out middlemen, thinking economically, and being more hands-on—and that usually means extra change in your pocket! Put some (or all!) of these easy tips into practice to be friendlier to the planet and your wallet.
BE COOKING WISE
1. Use cloth napkins.
Not only are they more durable (one cloth napkin will make it through a lot more BBQ sauce than a paper one!) but ditching disposable napkins will also save plenty of money over the years. It’ll also reduce your trash output, which means less energy is used transporting and processing your waste. Using recyclable paper napkins is good for the planet, but it’s even better to not have anything to recycle in the first place. Plus, cloth napkins make dinner feel oh-so-fancy.
2. Cook from scratch.
We all know that cooking at home saves a hell of a lot of cash, but it also uses fewer resources than dining out or by buying pre-made food. Although what you eat is usually more important than how it’s cooked, eating food that’s been processed in distant industrial kitchens, wrapped up in plastic and cardboard packaging, and trucked to your local supermarket eats up a lot of energy. Besides, no meal gets appreciated as much as one you’ve made yourself, so get cooking! Need some help getting started? Check out this roundup of healthy recipes.
3. Use a pressure cooker.
This is a terrific way to save time, money, and energy all at the same time. Pressure cookers can take up to 70 percent less time (and less energy) to cook a meal, and they’re more versatile than one might think: They can make chili, pot roast, soup, whole chickens, corn bread—and even desserts!
4. Cook with residual heat.
Turning off the oven five minutes before the meal is ready will allow the food to continue cooking while also saving some energy. It’s even easier with pasta: Once the pot’s been boiling for five minutes, cover the pot, switch off the stove, and let it sit for five more minutes. This will free up the stovetop and the pasta will be cooked perfectly al dente in less than 10 minutes.
5. Eat less meat.
Meat isn’t cheap, and it’s not great for the environment, either. Seventy percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed to raise cows, and meat production results in more carbon emissions than any other protein. We’re not telling you to go completely vegan (unless that’s your bag), but learning to cook a few choice vegetarian meals will save money, add variety to your palate, and give the planet a helping hand.
6. Grow your own food.
It’s nowhere near as complicated or time-consuming as it sounds, and it’ll eliminate the Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint of all those refrigerated trucks and planes importing berries from South America. Cherry tomatoes, salad greens, and green beans are the best foods to grow if saving money is the goal. For those of us who don’t have a garden, simply growing herbs on a windowsill can save hundreds in the long run.
7. Start a compost pile.
A compost heap will save money on fertilizers, maintain soil health, and keep all those food scraps from rotting in a dump and belching methane (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. It takes up to 18 years for a corn cob to decompose in a landfill, but only a couple of months in a compost pile. Plus, compost can be used to grow new food, making it the ultimate recycler—now that’s eco-friendly!
8. Ditch disposable bowls...
… and plates, and knives, and forks. While the temptation of having nothing to wash up after a meal is hard to resist, increasing the pile of garbage left after dinner is no way to help the planet. Following this advice is important for all the reasons it’s important to use cloth napkins over paper ones, and besides: the less you throw away, the less you spend.
9. End food waste.
Forty percent of food in America gets thrown away—that means 40 percent of all the greenhouse gases released by agriculture, food transport, and food decomposing in landfills simply doesn’t have to exist. A lot of the waste takes place in supermarkets and restaurants, but you can help out and save money by only buying what you need (think two carrots instead of a bag), saving or freezing leftovers, and repurposing scraps. Check out this article for more easy tips!
10. Become friends with your toaster oven.
Toaster ovens are a lot cheaper and less wasteful than conventional ones. They’re also faster, requiring none of the “pre heating” nonsense of those clunky, power-mad ovens. In fact, using smaller versions of traditional appliances is practically always cheaper, faster, and more environmentally friendly: A toaster beats a toaster oven (for toasting, at least) and using an electric kettle beats boiling water on a stovetop.
11. Microwave when possible.
They use even less energy than toaster ovens (and way less than conventional ovens), plus you might be surprised by the range of meals (and desserts!) that can be made in a microwave.
BE WATER WISE
Photo: Michael Pollak
12. Opt for reusable water bottles.
Here’s a secret a lot of people don’t seem to know: Tap water is drinkable. Keeping a nice, BPA-free water bottle in your bag is an insanely simple way to save the cost of a three-dollar bottle of water—the same cost of 700 gallons of water out of the tap at home. Bottled water is incredibly wasteful on so many levels: An estimated 80 percent of them don’t get recycled and, because of the plastic production process, it takes three times the amount of water in a water bottle to produce just one!
13. Install a low flow showerhead.
Jerry and Kramer aren’t big fans, but we’ve come a long way since Seinfeld. Going with the (low) flow is an easy way to use 25 to 60 percent less water in the shower, which means big savings on the water bill. Most showerheads are adjustable, so it’s easy to use the low flow setting when lathering up and a high flow when it’s time to rinse. Most of them cost about five dollars—talk about a no brainer!
14. Turn off the tap.
It’s an all-too-common habit to leave the tap running while washing your face, brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, and so on. Sure, the tap might get a little soapy if you turn it off while lathering your hands, but think of it like turning off a light when it’s not being used—it’s simple, brings no inconvenience, and saves a lot of resources in the long run.
15. Repair that leaky faucet.
Drip, drip, drip… it’s not just agonizing to listen to. A leaky tap can waste 140 gallons of water a week—that’s a pretty big dent in the utilities bill. People are often unaware of leaks, so make a note to check all fixtures (including pipes under sinks) regularly.
16. Cover your pool when it’s not in use.
Not only will it keep the water from evaporating and prevent the need for refills, but the pool will stay cleaner, require fewer chemicals, and reduce the need to run pumps and filters—all of which can save water and energy.
17. Take shorter showers.
We all love the feeling of a nice, hot shower, but five minutes is really all we need. Shaving even one minute off of the daily shower will save nearly a thousand gallons of water every year, which translates into big savings on the water bill—and it’s better for the planet.
18. Wash produce and save the water.
There’s no reason we can’t wash fruits and vegetables in a large bowl and save the runoff for watering the garden or lawn (or those little potted plants). The same thing can be done after boiling pasta or potatoes—just make sure the water’s not salted!
Be energy Wise
19. Change that light bulb.
How many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb? We’re not sure either, but we know they’d be replacing it with a CFL, or “compact fluorescent light.” Like most eco-friendly gadgets, they’re more expensive up front (about five dollars a bulb), but they use a quarter of the energy and last 10 times longer—so the steeper cost will more than pay for itself. With lighting comprising 13 percent of the standard energy bill, it’s worth the change.
20. Turn down the water heater.
When was the last time you used the “hot” tap without also turning on the “cold” one? Whether showering or washing up, we rarely need tap water as hot as it can get, so why not turn down the hot water heater? The standard setting is around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but adjusting it to 120 degrees could save up to 10 percent in water heating costs. Try it out!
21. Get insulated.
President Obama said it himself: Insulation is sexy stuff. Uninsulated homes don’t just lose heat and cool air, they’re also wasting energy and money—two things we should keep an eye on! Up front, the cost can seem hefty, but like most things, the benefits come over time. It might even take a few years to make back the installation cost, but the reduced energy expenditure means your carbon footprint (and energy bill) will start reducing immediately. Pay special attention to insulating the attic and basement (but don’t worry so much about the garage).
It saves gas and means fewer cars on the road—which means less carbon emissions. Plus, it’ll keep you punctual and save the passengers from all the road rage that comes with fighting rush-hour traffic.
23. Think about solar.
People are so serious about solar energy these days that the US government now offers tax credits to homeowners who install some panels to supplement their energy expenditure. It’s not a bad deal, but for those unwilling to take the risk that the initial cost will pay off, some companies, like SunRun, SolarCity, and Roof Diagnostics, are willing to take that risk for you. If you’re in a state that they work in (and your roof gets enough sun), they’ll set everything up themselves free of charge, and shave at least 10 percent off the electricity bill by doing so.
24. Watch those windows.
When running heat or air conditioning, keep all windows and doors closed as tight as possible so air doesn’t escape the room. It’s easy to forget that a window might be open a crack, but when air is seeping out of a room, the heater or air conditioner is working harder than it needs to, which means unnecessary cash (and energy) is being spent.
25. Unplug everything.
A lot of appliances, (un)affectionately called “vampire appliances,” use up electricity even when they’re switched off. Set top boxes (like Google TV and Apple TV) are the worst culprits, but DVD players, modems, and computers also act like little Draculas, sucking up power even when they’re meant to be “dead”. Taking a wooden stake to your appliances is one solution, but the cheapest might be to invest in a power strip and turn it off every time appliances aren’t in use—or just go the manual route and pull the plug.
26. Buy energy-efficient appliances.
Look for Energy Star Appliances, which cost a bit more money to buy initially, but are more durable, more environmentally friendly, and will save cash on utility bills. An Energy Star clothes washer, for instance, uses 50 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than standard washers, which means big savings… over time. You’re patient, right?
27. Fix stuff when it breaks.
Sites like Taskrabbit and Gigwalk make fixing the unfixable way easier and cheaper than it used to be. If the washing machine burns out, don’t throw it out with the bathwater (or laundry water). Getting help is now a simple matter of online crowdsourcing, and it’s a great way to reduce waste and add years to an appliance’s lifetime. You wouldn’t kill an appliance that didn’t have to die, would you?
28. Line dry.
If you have a clothes dryer, there’s a good chance it uses more energy than anything else in your home. Grab a clothes rack, set up a clothes line outside, or just hang wet laundry on clothes hangers around the house. Hang ‘em high and they’ll be dry in a day or two—without spiking the electricity bill.
29. Turn off the lights.
There’s a reason light switches are located by the door! Make a habit of turning them off when leaving a room, and especially whenever you leave the house—you’ll save energy (and save on the energy bill) in the process.
30. Know your dishwasher.
Switching on a half-full dishwasher wastes water, energy, and money like nobody’s business. Always fill it to the brim, and learn to use the “delay” feature. A dishwasher that doesn’t run until after midnight will rack up some of those sweet off-peak energy hours, saving some cash and helping the planet by reducing peak hour electricity demands.
31. Know your washing machine.
Front-loader washing machines use less water and energy than their top-loading brethren, which is something to keep in mind if you’re in the market for a new one. Choose an Energy Star washing machine with a low (six or lower) “water factor,” which is the number of gallons per cycle, per cubic foot that the washer uses. It’s also best to wash with cold water as often as possible—about 90 percent of the energy used by a top-loader is for heating the water—and never run half a load!
BE “STUFF” WISE
32. Host a yard sale.
Cha-ching! While buying secondhand is a great way to save money, selling your old stuff will actually make money. Yard sales epitomize “reduce, reuse, and recycle” — meaning there’s no energy wasted on producing new stuff—and they can only result in more space at home and more money in your wallet. Include your neighbors—a bigger garage sale will attract more customers.
33. Buy pre-loved everything.
Thrift shops, Goodwill stores, Craigslist, and eBay—there’s simply no end to the places one can find secondhand stuff. Since reducing our consumerism might be the number one way to improve our eco footprint, and since secondhand stuff is cheap, there’s every reason in the world to buy what’s been used. We’ll forgive you for buying new underwear, though!
34. Make bank on recycling.
If there’s a bottle return center near you, it might not be a bad idea to save your bottles and cans for a monthly trip. Meanwhile, Recyclebank straight up pays people to recycle. Okay, it’s not “straight up” so much as it is “via coupons,” but the average user saves $130 every year through discounts and deals in their rewards program. Check them out to see if they’re active in your town and if there are other ways to “do well by doing good.”
35. Take junk out of your trunk.
A lighter car uses less fuel and saves more money, so remove the roof rack and empty out that trunk! (But maybe keep the spare tire.)
36. Reduce your book-print.
It’s way cheaper and a lot less tree-murder-y to buy e-books or secondhand ones. If you don’t have a Kindle and the used bookstore is lacking in your choice titles, pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood library—remember those?
37. Make your own cleaning supplies.
Household cleaning supplies are jam-packed with the most powerful bacteria killers in existence, expertly engineered to completely annihilate just about every organism they come into contact with. Unsurprisingly, these manmade poisons aren’t great for the environment, and many have toxic effects on animal and plant life once they enter our waterways via sewer systems. Check out our article on DIY green cleaning products that are super easy to make—the secret is lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda. Cheap and easy!
38. Borrow, don’t buy.
Before any big purchase, think: How often will I really use this ladder/leaf blower/wheelbarrow? If the answer is “not a lot,” it’s so easy to borrow stuff (especially if you like making “thank you” cookies). If your social network is lacking in the products you require, there are plenty of websites, like Freecycle, that help people borrow, rent, or just take whatever they might need. This is some next-level human generosity, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
39. Go paperless.
Switching to paperless billing lowers the odds of losing bills in the mail and getting the electricity cut off right before your movie marathon. Plus, many billers offer a discount for doing so because it saves them money on stamps and printing—it also cuts down on paper, which cuts down on tree deaths (and don’t you know that trees are hugely helpful in combatting climate change?). If your biller doesn’t offer a paperless option, petition them to do so!
40. Swap your wardrobe for someone else’s.
It’s not hard to find someone who’s willing to swap his or her clothes for yours. There are a lot of websites dedicated to hooking up likeminded people (who want free clothes), but if you’d rather be in charge of selecting what clothing comes your way, check out MeetUp.com to find out if there’s an upcoming swap meet near you. This’ll save you the cost of new clothes, reduce two people’s waste, and lower carbon footprints all around—the production and transportation of even a single cotton t-shirt generates several kilograms of greenhouse gases that could be avoided with second-hand shopping.
41. Opt for DIY beauty products.
Beauty products are often expensive as all hell, and they can have some seriously sketchy environmental consequences. Many contain mercury and other toxins that can wind up polluting waterways, and let’s not forget the carbon footprint of an imported product The ugly side of beauty products. Barrett JR. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2005 Jan;113(1):A24.. Take a look at our article on DIY skin and hair products for some surprisingly cheap, healthy, and incredibly effective beauty enhancers—guys are invited, too!
This article is presented in partnership with CamelBak, an innovative company creating smart hydration solutions to help people perform at their best. Known as the creator of the hydration backpack, CamelBak offers a variety of hydration products from water bottles and filtration devices to a custom hydration calculator. However You Hydrate, We’ve Got Your Bak.