By Andrew Housser
Spring is in the air, and everything's turning up green -- from the newly leafed-out trees to the nation's recent spirit of environmental awareness. If you are looking for a new way to save some old-fashioned green cash this year, going eco-friendly just might be the ticket.
Take a look at your lifestyle and see if you can find a few places where being kinder to the environment will also be an act of generosity to your bank account. Here are some good starting points:
- Clean up your commute. If you drive alone to work every day, your vehicle is chugging out pollutants as well as burning up money as the cost of gas keeps on climbing. Consider whether you can walk, bike, carpool or take public transit to work -- even one day a week will make a difference. An average midsize car on a 10-mile roundtrip commute emits nearly 8 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at a price of about $1.45 per trip in gas alone. Eliminating the drive one day per week will save 400 pounds of carbon and $72.50 per year.
- Make laundry practices sparkle. Modern laundry machines are a huge convenience, no doubt about it. But with power to run them and to heat water, they can use copious amounts of energy. Try using no more than what you need. If you wash clothes in cold water, you can save up to 90 percent of the energy in your washing machine cycle. Then, hang as many of your clothes to dry as possible, either indoors or out. You will eliminate carbon emissions, increase the life of your garments and save money -- up to $116 per year by avoiding the dryer for five laundry loads per week. Washing in cold and line- or rack-drying half your laundry together will eliminate 795 pounds of carbon.
- Bring your own bag. Today, more and more grocery stores are beginning to avoid plastic bags, with some giving customers a small refund for bringing a bag. Some charge a small fee for customers to purchase a bag -- and that trend is likely to grow. The plastic used to manufacture bags comes from petroleum, and producing the bags creates carbon emissions. Bringing your own bags reduces pollution and littering. As an added bonus, most bags you will bring to the store are sturdier and easier to carry than plastic ones. If you save (or do not pay) 5 cents per bag on your weekly shopping trip, you could save $12 a year and avoid putting 240 plastic bags into the environment.
- Control your climate less. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees in the summer and down a few degrees in the winter. A rule of thumb is that for every degree you move your thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter, you can save 3 percent on your energy bill. If your annual heating and cooling costs are $1,000 (about average), moving your thermostat three degrees could save $100 per year and avoid nearly 1,300 pounds of carbon emissions.
- Change a light bulb. If you have not already made the switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, you will find that the new bulbs do not buzz or flicker, and come in an array of lighting hues. Some, but not all bulbs, take a second to light, and some are appropriate for fixtures with dimmer switches. They cost more to purchase -- about $3 to $7 compared to $2 for an incandescent bulb -- but last up to seven years. If you replace three bulbs in frequently used areas with CFLs, you can save $60 per year and eliminate 300 pounds of carbon.
If you take all five of these simple actions, you will eliminate 3,000 pounds of carbon emissions and save more than $350. Now that is making a change -- that will save you some change.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC, a national consumer debt resolution firm that has served more than 7,500 clients and manages more than $250 million in consumer debt. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth University.