Going Green: How To Be Good to Your Wallet and the Planet

Just like how Hogwarts students learned to conjure magic on a budget, by using inexpensive or repurposed items to practice their magic, we can go green without making all our money disappear.

At one time in the not-too-distant past, “going green” involved shopping at out-of-the-way health food stores, spending a significant portion of your paycheck on organic foods, and spending a fortune on a fuel-efficient car.

While installing solar energy panels or buying all-new energy-efficient appliances may be impractical, the good news is that it’s easier than ever to help the planet and your wallet simultaneously.

Instead of purchasing an electric car or installing solar panels, many consumers find that simple, day-to-day activities allow them to go green – on a budget.

Here are a few tips on making that difference without hurting your bank account.

Back to School

This time of year, many families’ thoughts turn to preparations for the new school year.

Parents and kids can learn lifelong lessons by “thinking green.”

The first step is to stop before you shop.

  • Look at what you need to buy.
  • Review school supply lists and determine if your little learners can do without some items labeled “optional.”
  • Scour your home (office, kitchen drawers, kids’ rooms) to find out what items you may already have (think like Harry Potter and get creative).
  • If last year’s folders, binders, or backpacks are still in good condition, take those off the “need-to-buy” list.
  • For supplies you (and others) need, consider teaming up with friends or neighbors to split the cost of economy-size packages when it makes sense.

While at it, you may find this is a great time to get organized.

In cleaning out the home office and other areas (i.e., garage, basement, attic, storage area), you may find enough to hold a garage sale.

This can help you fund your next back-to-school purchases.

This similar advice applies to back-to-school clothing.

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These days, “vintage” can be trendy.

Online sites and yard sales can be good sources.

If you do some research to identify stores in upscale areas, even style-conscious teenagers will be interested.

Finally, pay attention to the fact that many middle, high, and college students can now use electronic textbooks.

They can be especially cost-effective while helping to avoid cutting down more trees.

Check with teachers to get the correct editions.

Going Green on the Holidays

It’s never too early to plan for the holidays.

In doing so, you’ll find it’s much easier to “go green”—and keep more of the green stuff in your pocket.

  • Start by creating a holiday budget.

List gift recipients, allocate specific amounts, and think of gift ideas.

Include other expenses ranging from decorations to child-care costs.

This will allow more thoughtful spending and let you avoid buying more than you really need.

Recycle boxes and packing materials, or give them to a local mailing shop.

  • When wrapping the thoughtful gifts you’ve bought, reuse materials and get creative.

Try fabric ribbons, bows, and even gift wrap that you can reuse.

Re-purpose old comics or maps as wrapping paper.

  • For holiday greetings, consider going paperless with electronically delivered letters or cards (even free ones are available).

Paper cards cost money, add to recycling or landfill loads, and use oil resources for delivery.

If you’ve got tech-savvy kids, enlist their help on the computer.

Holiday Meals

Regarding holiday meals, plan to avoid last-minute purchases and waste.

  • Do menu planning around locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables when possible.
  • If you like turkey, buy an extra if they go on sale. Cook, carve, and freeze in smaller packages. Then, you can thaw just what you need for several meals during the holiday season.

When you cook, it’s easy to overdo it during the holidays—and waste food (and money).

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Instead, be realistic about what you and your guests will eat.

Still, too much left over?

Consider donating extra to a shelter or plan “leftover meals” with neighbors or friends post-holiday.

This is the time to use china for serving, even if plastic and paper are easier to clean up.

Friends and family are usually happy to share place settings if you need more.

Online sites and thrift stores often offer great deals, too.

If you purchase, select items that are not only holiday-themed.

You’ll likely find lower prices.

Plus, you’ll also be able to use them at other times of the year.

Green Living at Home

Changing just a few practices in your daily life can yield savings for your pocketbook and the environment.

It may start with adopting an attitude of “reuse and re-purpose.”

Instead of automatically throwing an item away, stop and think:

  • Could you reuse or re-purpose it?
  • Could a friend or neighbor use it if it’s no longer right for you?
  • Could you donate it?

Home energy use is an area where you can go green and help your budget.

Start with the laundry

  • Today, many – if not most – detergents are formulated to clean well in cold water. Cold water can save up to 90 percent of the energy in a washing machine’s cycle.
  • Then, rather than turning directly to the clothes dryer, hang what you can to dry. This could be done outdoors but also indoors on a drying rack. Doing so will eliminate carbon emissions, lower your energy bills, and increase the life of your clothing.

With temperatures in the home, you don’t need to get drastic with wearing coats inside in winter or sweating on hot summer days.

Remember that for every degree you move your thermostat up in the summer or down in the winter, you’ll save about 3 percent on the energy bill.

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Moving the thermostat to three degrees on the annual heating and cooling bill of $1,000 could save $100 annually.

Light up with LED or CFL bulbs

Prices have decreased significantly as quality has increased.

Some bulbs even work with fixtures containing dimmer switches.

When trying green ideas in your home, look for where you can replace paper with electronic documents.

  • Online bill payments help tremendously.
  • It’s also possible to shred many documents with personal information after you’ve scanned them to keep electronically.
  • Digital subscriptions to magazines can be useful.
  • Don’t forget about the local library. Many now offer e-books and audiobooks, too.

Shopping tips

Retailers sometimes provide bulk pricing upon request for desired items, too.

Local farms, orchards, and farmers’ markets are great places to find excellent prices and savings, especially in larger quantities.

You don’t need perfect-looking fruits and vegetables.

Ask about “B” fruits and vegetables or bruised boxes.

“B” doesn’t mean sub-par in taste or vitamins, but it can be up to half off.

Whether you’re considering buying bulk from a warehouse club or a traditional retail store, don’t forget the potential to split large purchases with friends, neighbors, or family members.

Remember that warehouse clubs also sell many items that don’t come in large quantities.

You’ll still pay less and deal with less packaging.

Just make sure you are buying items you use frequently.

Go Green Everywhere, Every Day

Learning the difference between wants and needs is at the core of going green on a budget.

Re-frame how you think about each purchase, and you’ll live a life filled with less stress, less “stuff,” more money in your pocket, and more time to do what you want.

Share any going green on a budget tips you might have in the comment section below.

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