Review: Go Green, Live Rich

Each Friday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book of interest.

go greenI figured it was just a matter of time before someone wrote a book focusing directly on the overlap between frugality and environmentalism. I just didn’t expect that it would be David “Latte Factor” Bach, famous for such books as Start Late, Finish Rich and The Automatic Millionaire.

Bach made his mark by taking a handful of really strong principles (the “latte factor,” automatic savings, etc.) and then spinning them into different specifics for different groups (couples, women, middle-aged folks, homeowners, etc.). This is the first book he’s written that really diverges from that basic game plan – rather than tackling a demographic, he’s tackling a social issue.

Does this mean the book is distinct and intriguing? Is it just a clever recycling of old material? Or maybe it’s somewhere in between? Let’s dig in and find out.

Digging Into Go Green, Live Rich

Let’s get the big first impression out of the way: this book is slickly produced and packaged. Full color pages, slick paper – the works. It comes off almost as more of a pamphlet than a book, actually.

The book itself is broken down into fifty short chapters, each outlining a specific tactic that simultaneously saves money and also helps with environmental concerns. I picked out twelve that intrigued me the most.

Tip #6: Maintenance Matters
A few very basic things can improve the fuel efficiency of your car. Keeping your tires properly inflated, taking excess weight out of your vehicle, cleaning your air filter, and driving at the speed limit all improve fuel efficiency (saving money at the pump) and simultaneously reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Tip #11: Get Green Energy
In other words, install solar collectors for your home – or even consider your own wind turbine. Over the long haul, both items pay for themselves and both end up with a net carbon dioxide benefit. My wife and I are slowly doing this ourselves, as we’ve installed exterior solar lighting.

Tip #16: Plant Trees
A well-placed shade tree in your back yard can block direct sunlight from your home in the summer, reducing your cooling costs dramatically. At the same time, trees eat carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in abundance – a double benefit. Bach estimates that one tree adds up to almost two tons of carbon emission reduction each year – not to mention the nearly $200 he claims in energy savings.

Tip #22: Bring Your Bags
When you go to the grocery store, bring your own bags. Not only will many grocery stores give you a small discount (five or ten cents per bag), you’ll also cut down on the amount of plastic bags out there. Another tactic I like to use is to get paper bags and then reuse them as gift wrap or for mailing a package.

Tip #23: Eat Less Meat and Tip #24: Grow Your Own
Eat local, and eat mostly plants. The amount of carbon dioxide and methane produced in the process of bringing a piece of meat to your table is vastly higher than the amount produced bringing a vegetable or a fruit to your table, regardless of where it comes from. On top of that, you can reduce the carbon emissions even more by eating locally – hitting farmer’s markets and the like – because the shipping distance goes from hundreds of miles to just a few miles. Even better, start your own garden and reduce the shipping distance to zero. How does this save money? Vegetables are cheaper than meats, and if you grow them yourself, they’re an incredible bargain – one $3 packet of tomato seeds can produce hundreds of pounds of tomatoes.

Tip #29: Buy and Sell Everything
Instead of throwing stuff away, give it away. Sell it online at eBay or Amazon for pocket cash, have a yard sale, give it to Goodwill, or simply give it to a friend. The less stuff you send to the landfill, the better, and if you can pocket some cash getting rid of your unwanted stuff, all the better.

Tip #32: Green Your Baby
Bach offers some basic tips for saving money with your baby – buying used baby clothes, making your own baby food, etc. – while also helping the environment by not creating more waste, but he doesn’t go nearly far enough. The giant home run is cloth diapering, something we’ve been doing for the past few months. Take it even further – we’ve been using cloth wipes, too, with a little spray bottle of four parts water, two parts witch hazel, and one part aloe vera. One spray, one wipe, toss the cloth into the laundry bin, and you’re good to go. We just wash them with a normal diaper load, so there’s no extra laundry at all – plus there’s basically no cost from cloth to cloth as we just cut some old flannel receiving blankets into smaller pieces and sewed up the edge to avoid fraying.

Tip #34: Get Outdoors
Almost everything you can do outdoors (outside of a golf course) is pretty inexpensive and doesn’t waste much, either. Bach suggests getting in touch with nature by walking, exploring, and hiking – it’s a great replacement for a gym membership. Plus, it can be the foundation of a deeply engaging hobby.

Tip #36: Take a Volunteer Vacation
Instead of traveling to hit all of the tourist traps, instead take a vacation to do volunteer work. Spend a week planting trees to help a reforestation project, or spend your vacation cleaning up litter. Not only can it be a relaxing and laid-back change of pace, it’s also less expensive than a typical tourist-y vacation.

Tip #37: Bring Your Lunch to Work
A daily lunch at a restaurant is not only expensive, but wasteful – the wrappers, cups, and other things just head to the landfill. Instead, bring your own lunch in reusable containers (including a cloth napkin). Not only can you get through lunch each day without producing waste, it’s also far cheaper – and leftovers can be surprisingly tasty, too.

Tip #43: Invest Green
Invest ethically, in other words. If you believe that there is genuine value in companies behaving in a green fashion, back it up with your investing dollars. Seek individual companies (or mutual funds of those companies) that behave in an environmentally friendly fashion and put your cash there.

Some Thoughts on Go Green, Live Rich

I couldn’t help but have a number of thoughts while reading this one. Here are a few.

This book felt more like reading a magazine than reading a book. The sections were the length of short magazine articles, the pages had a glossy finish, the pictures often overwhelmed everything, and there were bright colors everywhere. It was practically like flipping through an issue of bon appetit in its glossiness.

The advice is basic, but highly accessible. I didn’t feel as though any of the advice was a deep personal challenge at all. Instead, they seemed incredibly simple and accessible, which is what I’ve got to think Bach was going for here. This isn’t something for the hardcore frugalist (try The Complete Tightwad Gazette) or the hardcore greenie – but someone who is starting an interest in both areas.

The book relies on the web a great deal. Check out the sources in the back. 90% of these are web resources. In other words, this book has a lot in common with fifty blog posts on this topic – lots of “links” to other sources, colorful pictures, short articles, and so on.

Is Go Green, Live Rich Worth Reading?

The information in Go Green, Live Rich targets beginners, people who are just beginning to get turned onto the green movement or the frugality movement. It’s not a complex book – instead, it seeks to be accessible. It’s bright, colorful, very friendly to pick up, and easy to just open to a page and dive in for a quick mental bite.

If the above paragraph makes the book sound intriguing, then Go Green, Live Rich is well worth a read. If you know someone who you believe would be really interested in such a topic, Go Green, Live Rich would make a solid gift. On the other hand, if that paragraph makes Go Green, Live Rich seem trite and basic, then you shouldn’t bother – you won’t be missing out on too much. In fact, if you’ve read The Simple Dollar since the beginning, you’ve probably already read the majority of the content in this book.

Personally, I thought it was fun, if leaning toward the simple side, but it’s the simple tactics that need repeated over and over again, because they’re the ones you need when you begin to make a change. Go Green, Live Rich is a very slick and topical way to open that door.

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