13 Ways to Save Money and Protect the Planet at the Same Time

With Earth Day 2015 almost upon us, it’s a good time to think about how our actions impact the planet and, more importantly, what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our environment. Because, let’s face it, this is our home. And right now, it’s the only place we’ve got.

13 Ways to Save Money and the Planet

It’s easy to assume that helping the environment costs more money, at least in the short-term. And while it’s true that organic vegetables tend to cost more than conventional produce and renewable energy can be more expensive than fossil fuels, there are many, many ways that saving the Earth can also save you money.

The fact is, many environmental goals involve reducing consumption, which just happens to go hand-in-hand with cutting back and saving some dough. Here are 13 ways you can save money and reduce your environmental impact, all in one fell swoop:

Choose Reusable Water Bottles

According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away not every year, but every single day. While some ultimately get recycled, others end up in landfills or as litter in waterways and public spaces. No matter how you look at it, this is a huge waste since a large percentage of bottled water sold in the U.S. is really just bottled tap water.

If you want to do your part to reduce the number of water bottles that we use and discard, all you need to do is purchase a reusable water bottle and carry it with you instead of buying a new one every time. It’s that simple.

Not only will you cut down on plastic waste, but you’ll also save a ton of cash in the process. A 20-ounce bottle of water can cost up to $1.50 at a grocery store or gas station, but tap water out of a drinking fountain is free — and is often held to a higher standard than bottled water. Fill up your bottle over and over and pocket the difference. No one will know the difference but you and your wallet.

Adopt Meatless Mondays

So you love bacon – I get it. But did you know that meat consumption has a worse impact on the environment than almost any other human activity? According to recent studies, cruelty aside, American-born factory farming gets a lot of flack for its overuse of antibiotics and the pollution it causes to air and water in the vicinity, both of which are detrimental to the environment.

When you quit buying meat (or just buy less), you’re voting against a practice you see as unfit for the environment. An added bonus: Staples like rice and beans are far less expensive than meat, which means savings at the grocery store too.

Drive Less, Walk More

The financial benefits of driving less and walking more should be obvious. Ditching the car to hoof it more often means not only spending less on gas, but less wear and tear on your vehicle, more time between oil changes, and possibly less upkeep.

Don’t want to walk? You can also carpool, a practice which can mean enduring a small amount of hassle, but ultimately leads to fewer cars on the road. And if you live somewhere with excellent walkability or public transportation options, you can save a ton of money — on car payments, insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance — by ditching the car altogether.

Commute to Work… By Bike

Of course, it’s one thing to walk to the grocery store on the weekends, but an entirely different animal to walk to work every day. And that’s why a growing number of commuters have chosen to bike to work instead of walking or driving; it takes less time than walking, but is immeasurably cheaper than driving a car and paying for parking, tolls, and all that jazz.

The number of bicycle trips made in the U.S. more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009, according to a survey by the League of American Bicyclists, and the numbers continue to surge. An added bonus: Biking to work every day might make that pricey gym membership unnecessary, too.

Cut Down on Water Usage

We’ve all heard the advice “turn off the tap,” but the reason why isn’t always given. The shocking truth about household water consumption is this: Americans have the highest per capita water consumption in the world at 2,842 cubic meters per year, according to a report from Scientific American.

Not only does the water we use cost money, it also goes to waste when we fail to conserve as much of the resource as we can — exacting a far bigger price, like the more than $2 billion California’s four-year drought has cost the state.

Turning off the tap while we brush our teeth or wash dishes, taking shorter showers, and collecting rainwater for gardening and irrigation are just some of the ways we can conserve potable water and save money in the process.

Unplug Those Electronics

According to a number of studies on energy consumption in the United States, it’s quite possible that Americans are wasting around 50% of the energy they pipe into their homes and workspaces. Some of that waste can be attributed to overuse, but the rest goes to waste that is often unseen.

Recent research shows that Americans could be wasting as much as $7 billion dollars per year on phantom energy usage — energy waste that occurs when unused gadgets remain plugged in at all times. If you want to save as much as you can and waste less, unplug anything electrical that isn’t in use. It’s as simple as that.

Reuse or Repurpose Everything

One easy way to help the environment is to avoid purchasing new products whenever possible. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s not impossible. You just have to get into the habit of reusing and repurposing things that you already have, whether we’re talking about your wardrobe, home décor, or anything else.

Before you buy anything new, take a look at what you already have. Chances are, you have something that could be used in a new way, or at least used temporarily to accomplish a task or goal.

Buy Used Stuff

When reusing or repurposing what you already have isn’t possible, take a look at used items before you buy new. Not only will you save money, but you can also avoid the heavy packaging that comes with most new products, the energy it took to create and ship those products, and your time and fuel spent trucking around from store to store in the first place.

Whether you’re buying clothes, tools, or items for your outdoor space, you might find exactly what you’re looking for at neighborhood garage sales or on websites like Freecycle or Craiglist – but at a fraction of the cost.

Borrow (and Share) Stuff

Another option when you need something: Borrow it. I’m not just talking about borrowing books from the library or a cup of sugar from your neighbor — I’m talking about the big stuff, too.

When you need a ladder or power tool, for example, check with your neighbors to see if anyone has one you can borrow. Tables for garage sales and family get-togethers can also be borrowed from friends, neighbors, or other members of your community as well, along with almost anything else – decorations, bikes, or even musical instruments. Of course, it helps if you’re agreeable to lending out your own possessions once in a while, too.

No one is using everything in their garage — like their table saw — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s the entire concept behind the “sharing economy” that has spurred fast-growing companies like Uber, Lyft, SPOT, and Airbnb. So before you buy, see if you can borrow. You can save a ton of money if you pull it off.

Make Your Own Chemical-Free Cleaners

In last month’s Frugal Spring Cleaning Checklist, we mentioned several do-it-yourself cleaning recipes for everything from windows to toilets. Homemade cleaning supplies are mostly made up of cheap ingredients people already have in their homes like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. If you want to save money while also avoiding harmful chemicals, consider making your own cheap and easy cleaners.

Use Cloth Napkins

Millions of pounds of paper towels are wasted each day, which is unfortunate since they’re not only cheap, but convenient. Still, another cheap option exists when it comes to cleaning chins, countertops, and windows – cloth napkins and towels. You know the kind: Instead of throwing them away, you simply wash them between every use.

Of course, using dozens of cloth towels and napkins only leads to laundry, and thus water waste. The answer is simple. Keep a bag for any cloth towels you use in your laundry room and throw them in the washer every week when you wash towels. Cloth napkins and rags don’t take up much room, so the size of your load shouldn’t be affected much, if at all.

Grow Your Own Food

One way to drastically cut down on the shipping and energy used to move fresh fruits and vegetables from one part of the country to another is to reduce demand by growing your own instead. Even if you start small, it can make an impact. If your family eats a lot of something — for example, tomatoes — you can even consider a small container garden for that purpose only.

Either way, a garden can pay off handsomely once you absorb the start-up costs and begin producing your own fresh produce. For tips on gardening on a budget, check out this post on reducing the startup costs of a food garden.

Stop Wasting So Much Food

Speaking of saving money on food, one easy way to reduce food costs and be less wasteful is to purchase and consume less food to begin with. According to a report from the National Resources Defense Council, 40% of food produced in the United States is never eaten; instead, it takes up more space in landfills each passing year.

Because of inefficiencies in the way food is produced and shipped, this isn’t all our fault. However, we can do our part by using and wasting less foods in our homes and at work. Creating and using a basic meal plan is a great way to avoid making unnecessary food purchases, as is learning to freeze and reheat leftovers. Another option: Cooking smaller portions of your favorite foods to begin with. You may end up cooking more often, but it can lead to savings and a lot less waste over the long haul.

The Little Things Add Up

These are just 13 of the easiest ways to save money while also saving the planet, but there are plenty more. To come up with others, think of all of the different ways you consume products, energy, and fuel, and how you can reduce your usage. Almost any time you’re consuming less, you will be saving money. Period.

Earth is our home, and we have a tendency to take things like clean air and water for granted. The truth is, we all need to do our part. And if you can’t find the motivation to care about the environment, then use your love of saving money to make the transition toward a more sustainable lifestyle. No matter the motive, when we all work together to consume less and be more mindful of the beautiful and bountiful planet we live on, we all benefit.

How do you save money while also saving the planet? What are your best green living and money saving tips?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.