It seems that we can’t go a day anymore without hearing about how high gas prices have gotten. And it’s unlikely that they’ll be headed down anytime soon. Two of my friends have recently bought hybrid cars – each with nearly $20,000 financed for the car – in an effort to lower their gas bills and save the environment at the same time. Fuel economy is the buzz word for new car sales, and I read somewhere that used SUVs have decreased in value by 20% just since the beginning of the year.
My husband and I have a 1991 Honda and a 1990 Audi. Both are smallish vehicles, and get nearly 30 miles to the gallon. We have never had any trouble with them, and plan to keep them until they die. We have no car payments, pay next to nothing in registration fees, and about $600/year for car insurance. And the gas mileage – while not what we’d get in a Prius – isn’t really that bad. A friend who just traded in her Tahoe for a 2008 Accord gets just about the exact same mileage in her new car that I get in my Civic.
Getting a hybrid or a fuel cell car is not going to fit into our budget anytime soon. We’d love to have solar panels on our house too, but that would also be a huge expense. The environmental impact we make is a big priority for us, but so is personal finance and living well within our means. So for all of us who don’t want to pay several hundred dollars a month for a new car or a complete home energy makeover, what can a person do to protect Mother Earth and be easy on the budget at the same time?
DON’T DRIVE. As much as humanly possible, leave your car in the garage. If public transport is available where you live, take it. If you can possibly walk or bike where you need to go, do it. Yes, that might mean getting up earlier, but then you don’t have to squeeze in a trip to the gym in the evening. And sometimes you can just not go anywhere at all. Staying where you are is the best gas-saver around. Yes, you have to go to work, but do you really need to drive somewhere for your Saturday entertainment? My husband and I used to drive 20 miles each way to go to our favorite mountain biking spot. Then he hurt his knee last spring, and wasn’t able to mountain bike last season. So we started biking on the trails near our house instead. It’s not as exciting as biking in the mountains, but we can just ride out of our garage and straight to the trail, and then ride for miles, without having to drive anywhere. It will be especially nice now that we have a baby, since we can easily tow a bike trailer on the local trails (it wouldn’t be possible to haul a child on the mountain bike trails we used to ride).
EAT LESS MEAT. The environmental resources used in meat production are enormous. The impact is debated depending on the viewpoints involved, but however you look at it, there’s a lot less environmental impact from growing beans as opposed to raising cattle. And from a budget standpoint, it’s a whole lot less expensive to eat a plate of organic brown rice and beans than a sirloin.
BUY IN BULK. If you have the room to store what you buy and know that it won’t go to waste, buying in bulk makes sense from an environmental and a budget standpoint. You’ll almost always pay less per unit when you buy in bulk (but double check before you buy, since a smaller size might be on sale), and there will be less packaging waste. We buy organic oats in 50 pound bags from a health food store. We pay about $40/bag, and it lasts us for about six months. Way cheaper than breakfast cereal in boxes, and the only packaging is one brown paper bag. Compared with the price we’d pay and the number of cereal boxes and liner bags we would go through if we used dry cereal (or even if we bought oats in those cylindrical cardboard containers at the supermarket) our oat consumption is far better for our budget and for the environment.
STAY HOME. It’s Saturday night, you’ve worked hard all week, and you’re looking for something to do. You could go out to dinner and a movie (which would probably involve driving and using gas) and spend $80. Or you could make dinner at home, pop some popcorn, and watch a movie in your pajamas on your couch. With the money you save by staying home, you could probably pay for your next tank of gas. I find it helpful to play mental tricks with myself when it comes to money. If there’s something we have to buy, I “save” money somewhere else to zero out the balance in my mind. Gas is one example – even though we try to drive very little, I still have to put gas in my car about once a month, and it’s been getting more and more expensive with each passing month. So if we’re talking about going out to dinner, and then decide to stay home and cook, I can tell myself that my next tank of gas is “free” since we didn’t spend money on dinner.
DON’T USE YOUR DRYER. We use our dryer about 10 minutes a week, just to fluff things that wrinkle badly. We have four clothes drying racks that we got at thrift stores (I’ve seen them in department stores too), and that’s how we dry our laundry. I also use the bathroom shower curtain rod – I put clothes on hangers when they come out of the washer, and just hang them on the rod. When they’re dry, they go straight into the closet. The racks are working great for drying diapers, so our environmental and financial impact from using cloth diapers is further reduced by not using electricity or gas to dry them. This obviously works best in a dry climate, but if you’re patient, clothes will dry just about anywhere. You could always use a combination of drying racks/clothes lines and the dryer – any reduction in the use of your dryer is beneficial for the environment and will reduce your electricity bill. We can’t have clothes lines per our HOA, but if you can put in a clothesline, stuff would dry even faster outdoors on nice days.
REDUCE YOUR USE OF PAPER. We’ve made our home office nearly paperless. We’re using cloth diapers and washcloths instead of wipes. We use old t-shirts as rags instead of paper towels (we do still use paper towels sometimes, but a roll lasts us quite a long time). We use cloth napkins. Avoiding paper products is obviously easier on the budget, since you don’t have to keep buying them. And it’s easier on the environment – we can reuse a diaper hundreds of times instead of putting a new one into a landfill every few hours.
LIVE IN THE SMALLEST SPACE YOU CAN. If you’re thinking about buying a bigger house, stop and think about whether you could be creative and make the one you have now work for you. We decided to stay in our 1300 square foot house, even though when we bought it we assumed we would upgrade a few years down the road. By keeping our cozy little house, we’re not taking on a higher mortgage payment (easier on the budget) and we’re also not increasing our energy consumption – it takes a lot more energy to run a 2500 square foot house than it does for a 1300 square foot one. We’d have to drive a lot of miles in a Prius instead of my Civic to make up for the extra energy we’d be consuming if we were to double the size of our house.
GROW YOUR OWN FOOD. Even with a very tiny yard, you can have a little garden. You might only be able to grow a tiny portion of your food, but every bit makes a difference. It’s less expensive to grow your own veggies (and if you compost your scraps, you can have an organic garden without spending any additional money). And since the food you grow at your house doesn’t require any chemicals or transportation, it’s a bonus for Mother Nature as well.
THINK ABOUT YOUR WATER USAGE. We need water. But do we really need all the water that we currently consume? If you have a lawn, think about xeriscape instead. Or even a less thirsty variety of grass. And do you really need to flush the toilet every time you use it? I think we all know by now that we shouldn’t let the water run when we brush our teeth, but what about all the other water that we let go down the drain? A friend of mine keeps a bucket in her shower, and fills it up while she’s waiting for the water to get hot. Then she uses that bucket to water her house plants. Little things like that add up.
By doing all of these things, my husband and I are keeping our expenses to a minimum and helping to protect the environment at the same time. Buying a hybrid car would cut our gasoline usage, but it would also put a huge strain on our budget. Since we already have cars that are reasonably fuel efficient, and since we drive very little, we’d rather focus on all the ways that we can help the environment without hurting our bottom line. What about you? What things do you do that are environmentally friendly without being a financial burden?