Go Green, Save Money

By Andrew Beattie AAA

The noble desire to save the environment sometimes runs up against economic realities. Many green solutions, such as solar power, geothermal heating, and fuel-efficient cars require an upfront cost that must be recouped over a number of years. Unfortunately, some people don't want or can't afford to wait for the payoff. But there are plenty of green alternatives that can save you money today. Read on for a look at how going green can save you money now.

Secondhand, Second Home
When it comes to green shopping, the goal is to lessen your impact on the environment. As such, the first rule is to borrow rather than buy, and buy second hand rather than new. If you're in the market for books, CDs, or DVDs, try the public library first; if the library doesn't have what you're looking for, and you can't borrow from a friend, try second-hand shops next.

You can save a lot of money and keep your environmental impact to a minimum by thinking utilitarian. Before you head out to a store, consider the purpose of the item you need. Then shop with that main purpose in mind; this approach will help you avoid the bells-and-whistles trap in stores while also opening the door to cheaper second-hand alternatives. For example, if you need a pot for boiling water, a new one and a second-hand one can both do the job. But if you go with a second-hand alternative instead of buying a new one, you'll be keeping a usable pot out of a landfill and saving money in the process.

"Freecycling", or giving away used goods that would otherwise be scrapped, was founded in 2003 and continues to grow in popularity. To get rid of your own unused items, and to find other people's unused stuff, check out The Freecycle Network. Also, check the craigslist pages for your area.

Remember: The best approach to lessening the environmental impact of your shopping and the damage to your pocketbook is simply to learn to live with less. Simplifying your life and cutting needless purchases is at the heart of both going green and good personal finance. (For related reading, see Downshift To Simplify Your Life.)

Bulking Up or Slimming Down
Bulk shopping is frequently suggested as a greener alternative because the amount of materials required to package the goods is less, which, in turn, decreases the amount of waste. However, some bulk purchases may actually cost you and the environment more. For example, purchasing dry cereals in bulk makes sense, because all they take up is shelf space, but if you buy meat or frozen goods in bulk, it'll take more energy to store them in an overstuffed fridge or a freezer. The increase in electricity required to keep these large quantities cold negates the gains made by lessening the packaging, especially if you recycle the plastic and cardboard anyway.

Bulk purchases make sense for products that store easily, like cleaning products, canned goods, and so on, but for perishables that require refrigeration and/or freezing, you may be better off buying what you'll need on a weekly or biweekly shopping trip.

Another factor to consider is the distance between your home and the store. For example, if you have to drive an hour to get to the store, you may be better off buying in bulk, so that you don't have to do all that driving once or twice a week. Bulk shopping can make sense, but you need to consider your unique circumstances to make that determination. (For more, read The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying.)

Make It Yourself
You can go green around your home in a of myriad ways. For example, you can make your own biodegradable laundry detergents, kitchen cleaners, shampoos and toothpaste, or buy ready-made green alternatives, available at most major grocery stores. For a simple, all-around household cleaner, mix one part water with one part vinegar. You could also line-dry your laundry instead of using a clothes dryer - your clothes will smell fresh, and you'll conserve energy. You might also consider designing a compost system to feed the lovely garden you'll be growing. After all, growing your own veggies can save you a lot of money over buying them in the store.

Many common household products, such as paper towels, tissues and disposable diapers have reusable cloth alternatives. Shifting from paper towels to cut-up Mötley Crüe T-shirts is a relatively painless switch. Similarly, instead of using facial tissue, go retro and carry around a handkerchief in your pocket or purse.

Going Green With Your Diet
What you eat can impact both the environment and your pocketbook. Buy local. You can buy eggs, beef, tomatoes, watermelon and much more directly from farmers. Generally, local farmers sell to middlemen who then distribute the goods to supermarkets, and not necessarily the ones in your neighborhood. If you can buy goods direct from producers, you save money and reduce the amount of energy used in shipping food to processing centers and then to your supermarkets shelves. As an added bonus, your produce will be fresher.

Even if you live in the middle of a city, you should be able to find a farmer's market nearby. Farmer's markets give the producers a chance to sell their goods directly to customers, and the prices are generally lower than the same quality of goods in a supermarket. Alternatively, if someone in your neighborhood has a bountiful garden, see if you can work out a deal.

If you have the space, you could even start a garden of your own. A typical balcony will get enough sun to grow tomatoes, peas, lettuce, and other planter-friendly vegetables (root vegetables need deeper soil). Seeds, soil, and water are relatively cheap, and sunlight is free, so you'd be hard-pressed to think of an activity that could be more frugal and better for the environment than keeping a garden.

Picking Your Path
Not every green alternative is practical for everyone, but you can pick and choose the ones that work for you. The beautiful thing about going green is that it only costs you a little in terms of time, and it actually saves you money. That, coupled with the chance to do your part in helping the planet, makes a compelling argument for making a few changes to the way you live.

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