As energy consumption and gas prices continue to grow, you'll hear a lot about the importance of doing your part to be a friend to the earth. Sure, you can buy a hybrid car, install solar panels on your roof or replace the windows in your home. But these things will all set you back a few thousand dollars or more.
For those of us with more limited means, there are small things we can do every day to trim our energy use. Many are low-cost or free, and some will even save you money. After all, you shouldn't have to be rich to help save the planet. Check out these 15 ways you can live an environmentally friendly lifestyle on a budget.
2. Eat fresh. Buy produce from local farmers rather than at the grocery store. Not only will your foods be fresher, they won't have made a gas-guzzling cross-country journey just to get to you. LocalHarvest lets you search for farms and farmers markets by zip code.
4. Use a programmable thermostat. If you own your home, this is a cheap and easy fix to bring down your energy usage. You can get one for about $30 and it can save you more than $100 a year on your energy bills. There's no reason to heat or cool and empty house, so set your thermostat to kick on just when you'll be around. If just one household in 10 did this, the change would prevent more than 17 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, according to the Energy Star Action Guide. Learn more about trimming your home's energy use.
6. Go paperless. By checking your bank account online and signing up for online accounts with creditors from your credit card company to the electric company, you can eliminate the need for paper bills and monthly statements. The rewards are two-fold: Less paper for you to store and you'll save a tree. See Put Your Finances on Autopilot for more information.
8. Fix drafts. Drafty windows and doors can be fixed (or at least upgraded) with a can of caulk and weather stripping from the hardware store. The cost should run under $100 and can instantly save you money, while improving the comfort and durability of your home.
10. Shop for a star. When buying a new home electronics or appliances, check out the models that have the Energy Star seal of approval. In the average home, 40% of the power used for electronics is consumed while they are turned off; Energy Star models use as much as 50% less energy. Energy-efficient doesn't equal no-name brands -- find products by Panasonic, Sony, Magnavox and more at www.energystar.gov. You'll trim your consumption and save money too: Simply choosing an Energy Star-rated product over one that's not saved Americans $14 billion on their utility bills last year and saved enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 25 million cars.
12. Fill 'er up. Run full loads of clothes and dishes. Most of the energy used by dishwashers is to heat a set amount of water, so running smaller loads wastes both energy and water. Air dry dishes for added energy savings.
14. Clean greener. Find earth-friendly cleaning products at online retailers such as Mother Nature and ShopNatural. Many of the products they sell contain no phosphates, no animal ingredients, no chlorine, and no petroleum and aren't tested on animals. They're a bit pricier than your regular cleaning products, but only by a few dollars.