Updated on 07.04.08

Review: Go Green, Live Rich

Trent Hamm

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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  1. almost there says:

    My uncle has solar installed on roof of his home. I doubt he will see the savings in his lifetime but it increases the value of his house for sale in future. Also, he generates more electricity than he uses sometimes and the meter on his house turns backwards. So he is credited with the electricity generated against his electric bill. One must ensure they have good roofing before doing this because it would cost lots to disassemble to reroof.

  2. Dave says:

    I’d argue that the people who would purchase this book do indeed fit into a demographic.

    – Dave

  3. Anything green right now is HOT!!! This book is timely and looks like a good simple read – even to read with your kids. Matter of fact, this book could pass as a helper for parents looking to do inexpensive things that include their children. “Like take a volunteer vacation” and “buy and sell everything.”

    Our new boy is just 14 weeks, but he is pumped about selling stuff with us on eBay and craigslist. I can see it in his eyes… :)

  4. Kevin says:

    I did some research on a geothermal heat pump, and at today’s electric and natural gas prices, it could pay for itself in as little as 7 years.

    I don’t think I’ll fork over the expense this time around, but if I ever build a home I’d be all over concrete ICF and geothermal heating/cooling.

  5. Jules says:

    The Green movement is a severely misguided one. Two tons of carbon emissions a year? How big is the tree? Trees and plants use carbon to make sugar, for energy, by which they manufacture the cellulose and other plant-y bits that make up their leaves, branches, twigs, etc. I SEVERELY doubt that our little rosemary bush is sucking two tons of carbon out of the air.

    I’ve actually just finished (last article goes up later tonight) writing my critique of the Green movement. Granted, it’s from a chemical-hazard POV, but suffice it to say that there are A LOT of holes in the Green movement.

    This is not to say that I don’t agree with the principles of conservation and protecting ecosystems–I do. But so much of it is marketing-driven, and it’s no wonder people don’t know what to believe any more.

  6. Kevin says:

    I love conservation and protecting ecosystems, it’s the whole idea of man-made global warming I can’t buy into. I see a lot of good things done for all the wrong reasons: to try and stop climate change.

  7. Christine in Iowa says:

    You kept mentioning the book’s glossy feel, like a slick magazine–I thought you were going to criticize the format. Four-color glossy finish is way more expensive and labor-intensive than black and white. The primary reason I stopped giving to the Nature Conservancy was that they kept using my money to send me more glossy four-color brochures, rather than making appearance to save the environment.

  8. Travis says:

    Jules and Kevin, I agree wholeheartedly with you.

  9. Shevy says:

    I think the author has generally hit upon a good formula for maximizing his income. And anything green is hot right now, so this was a savvy choice for a book.

  10. caryn verell says:

    this book is indeed a good one for the beginner. i live as green and economical as i can but cannot afford the solar stuff etc… without really going into debt again. it is a shame that solar and wind cannot be done the way rural electric was done….there are just too many greedy people in charge these days. so, my a/c is set at 80 degrees, we recycle our gray water into the garden, we use fans all year round to help with heat and air..i make baskets out of the paper grocery bags, and we recycle all that we can. heck, we do not even have a recyling place in our county..you oughta see the stuff that gets tossed! i have my own little garden that supplements my grocery shopping… living green is one thing but really “living” green takes some bucks!

  11. Patrick says:

    I love the idea of going green, and do what I can. What I would like to do in the future is have solar power and a wind turbine (neither of which would work on my current town home). They will both eventually pay for themselves, and you can sell the excess energy back to the power company. It’s the ultimate in renewable energy.

    I think I’ll pass on the book though, or maybe just grab it from the library. It seems like a lot of things I’ve read from blogs about green energy and the environment.

  12. Margaret says:

    A long time ago, my brother told me that in the USSR, they did not produce chewing gum. He said it was because it was considered a tremendous waste of resources. I have never verified this fact, but I often think about the little junk and trinkets and gadgets that we go through and what a waste it all is.

    I would love to get geothermal heating because I understand that in the summer you can reverse it and use it to draw the heat out of your house. Woo hoo! That’s nice because in the last 12 months, our temperature has ranged from -42C to +36C.

  13. jimmy says:

    the book’s glossy description sounds exactly the opposite of “green” – how about unbleached paper and soy based inks? looks like bach is just doing what he can to jump on the band wagon and coax people into buying a book of readily available information that is not only well known, but easily found on the web.

    i’m pretty disgusted that you would suggest and even take part in promoting such garbage.

  14. Dan says:

    The ideas seem to be “incredibly simple” because many things in this category are mostly common sense! I’d go even simpler than the book – how many homes have you been in where the tv(s) are going all day, regardless if anyone is watching? How about hanging your clean clothes on a clothes line outside (or a rack in the winter)? My dryer broke 13 years ago and I never replaced it. The energy savings are huge – did you know the clothes dryer consumes the second highest amount of energy in your home, right behind the furnace? I do this common sense stuff and I’m not even a greenie! Just interested in saving money and using costly resources wisely.

  15. Lenore says:

    You say this book is printed in full-color on glossy paper, but is it RECYCLED paper? Buying products made from post-consumer waste is a crucial and sometimes overlooked component of going green. What better way to conserve natural resources and keep trash out of the landfill? It drives me crazy that I can’t find toilet paper or disposable plates made from recycled materials. It’s all well and good that Wal-Mart promotes T-shirts made from plastic bottles, but I wish they carried post-consumer paper towels.

  16. Gigi says:

    We put in geothermal 2 summers ago. It is really an amazing way to heat/cool the house. Our old air conditioning never kept up with the house (absolutely could never get the house below 80 degrees in really hot weather) and one room off the entry was never warm in the winter (Minnesota). Once we installed the GT, we gained that room and the ability to control the temperature. However, we are paying on a 15k loan, and even though the gas dropped to almost nothing (still use it to heat water) the electricity bill soared to almost make it what it was before (and sometimes more)when you figure in the loan costs. We were told it would be like “having a second refrigerator” in terms of energy use. So, if you’re looking to put in GT, be sure you get an accurate estimate of what your electricity costs will be. Natural gas is going up, but so is electricity so we really aren’t saving anything. Once the loan is paid off hopefully it will be as cost effective as it was supposed to be.

  17. one of nine says:

    Hi Trent,

    Although you said this book is primarily for those just starting out in the green movement, I think that installing a wind turbine would be considered a pretty bog committment, don’t you? We live in NC where I’d love to have a turbine but we don’t have the wind to support it. And I think our neighbors would probably have a LOT more to say about a 42-foot turbine in our back yard than the clothesline you previously had issues with…but I won’t go there!

    What I’d like to know more about is GREEN INVESTING. I saw another article in a mother’s magazine about investing in green funds and it is an area I’d definitely consider putting my money. Could you post an article on this subect and enlighten us a little bit?

    P.S. I love Jules comment about using post-recycled paper (I support the Sierra Club but I HATE the dozens of other glossy, slicked up paper solicitations I’ve received from other conservation organizations in response) but I don’t really understand Kevin’s problem with attempting to reverse climate change…is it a problem with the theory that humans have changed the climate or the belief that none of our actions will ever be able to stop it? If that is so, then what it the point, really???

  18. tarits says:

    Tip #36: Take a Volunteer Vacation
    So true! I went to the southern part of our country all expenses paid for a month long leadership camp. Not only was i able to teach and engage with 60 student leaders from all over the country, i enjoyed fantastic and incredibly inexpensive food and swimming (at a waterfalls and a small island with white sand). hope i can go back next summer.

  19. Bill says:

    Sounds more like a “spend more to be green” book.

    Solar panels or a wind turbine in the backyard don’t make economic sense unless you are off-grid.

    For a much quicker payback conduct an energy audit to reduce demand, often offered through your local utility.

  20. Jillian says:

    Sounds like someone’s just trying to cash in on the green marketing wave. But what else can you expect from the person who invented the ‘latte factor’? Are people really that stupid that they need to be told they’ll save money by drinking less coffee, or that growing vegetables is environmentally friendly?

    Right now the government here is spending massive amounts of money in a campaign to tell people that vegetables are healthier than pies. Really? And here I was thinking that a good old meat pie provided all my daily nutritional needs.

    What I would really like to see is a book that cuts through all the crap and tells us exactly how beneficial all these suggestions actually are, instead of just parroting the same old list of things to do with no solid research to back them up.

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