Saving money and the Earth: Green Ways to save Greenbacks

Hi there income streamers!

As many of you know from a few mini-rants about driving less and using reusable water bottles in my penny-pinching guides, I have a passion for protecting our Earth. We’ve only got one, after all, and I want to do everything in my power to preserve it. The good news is that breaking the consumerist addiction and reducing your waste is often the best way to save money, and it’ll save the planet you’re planning on spending financial independence on! So without further ado, here’s a few ways you can protect that planet while also fattening your wallet:

1. Drive less!

Like I said a few weeks ago in my post on saving money on transportation, the average American is driving way more than they need to be. According to the National Household Survey, 60% of Americans choose to take the car on a trip of a mile or less. That’s a 15 minute walk! I understand that sometimes we have to hurry places, but I’m sure we could all leave the house a little earlier and burn some fat while saving some money for those trips. If a 15 minute walk intimidates you, try hopping on a bike, or working your way up to walks of that length by cutting out half-mile drives.

2. Buy a reusable water bottle

I’m just going to repeat what I said last time about this, because NO ONE ON EARTH SHOULD BE USING ONE-TIME USE WATER BOTTLES.

Bottled water costs 2000 times as much as tap water per milliliter. Bottled water is murdering our environment needlessly. And reusable bottles are supersuper cheap. If you don’t want to spend $5 on Amazon to purchase one, try a little phone and laptop earning – it will take you less than a day to make enough for a reusable bottle, and it’ll help out both you and the Earth.

3. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store

I can’t speak for every grocery store in the nation, but my local chains give a 5 cent rebate for every reusable bag you bring in. Reusable bags cost about a dollar, so a 5% return per use is pretty great – and you can even use the store’s own paper bags from previous visits as reusable bags, skipping that 1 dollar investment altogether!

4. Recycle cans

Grocery stores charge you 5 cents per recyclable bottle and can you buy – so for a $1 drink that reflects a 5% tax. Why not get that money back? I have fond memories as a kid of gathering cans from our house and recycling them for a few dollars at the end of the month – which I then used to purchase a candy bar. So if you’ve got some children around the house, encourage them to start collecting your cans at the end of meals and let them keep the money from recycling them.

If you’re a hiker or trail-runner, bring a bag with you and pick up littered cans as you go! It’s a great way to make a few bucks while keeping your favourite trails clean. Not to mention the fact that a clean trail will discourage future litterers – it’s a lot easier to litter when the place is already covered in trash!

I’ll be reporting on this earning method as a weekly earner soon. Stay tuned!

5. Cut back on water use

Americans spend between 25 and 70 dollars a month on water utilities depending on location – so that means setting a timer for your shower could put 12-35 dollars back in your pocket every month! There’s a million ways to use less water, including cutting back shower time, hand washing clothes and dishes, watering plants less frequently and turning off the tap when you brush your teeth. Surprisingly, it’s actually healthier to shower every other day than every day, but I haven’t made that leap yet.

6. Insulate your home

Insulating your home will reduce heating bills and gas use, and even get you tax credits in some states. There’s a lot of low-tech ways to do it, so it’s worth a try if you’re handy!

7. Lay off the temperature control

Coming from Boston, it always surprised me to see people from Florida call 50 degrees chilly and yet be comfortable in 100+. I’ve recently been informed that this is due to temperature adaptation, an evolutionary feature of humans that allows them to handle whatever temperatures they are frequently faced with. This also explains our growing dependence on temperature control. As we’ve become accustomed to A/C or heat all year round, our bodies forget how to handle even slightly uncomfortable temperatures. Get your body’s amazing natural abilities back! Take baby steps, and let yourself survive 70 degree homes rather than 68 degrees this summer. Open the windows instead of cranking up the A/C. Try some ice water. Soon enough, you’ll feel fine in 68 degrees and you can push the envelope a little farther until your body is strong enough to control its temperature again.

9. Go paperless

The average American consumes 700 pounds of paper per year, or the equivalent of 6 times as much paper as the average Asian, or 30 times as much as the average African. This paper forms 16% of our landfill waste, even though it’s recyclable! Going paperless will make your documents accessible anytime you have an internet connection by uploading it to a cloud service like Google Drive, will save you money on printer paper, and will save a few trees in the process. Plus, if you go the extra mile and sell your printer altogether, you’ll save money on electricity, ink and maintenance! Win-win all around.

10. Switch your energy provider

You could go the extra mile and calculate whether installing solar panels makes financial sense for your home – what I’ve found is that if your home is luckily positioned eastward, and you can either participate in a group purchase or receive tax credits, it’s worth investing in. For the rest of us, however, we can sign up for a renewable energy provider to receive clean power at a comparable or discounted cost to traditional energy, when accounting for tax benefits.

11. Repair, don’t replace!

Repairing items is a satisfying way to grow your skills while gaining a new appreciation for the things you need in your life. That can mean repairing your car, mending clothes, or fixing up your computer (whether it’s a hardware or software issue) rather than buying a new one. All these repairs saves you money and stops you wasting needlessly.

12. If you’ve gotta replace, reuse!

Ask your friends if they happen to have whatever you’re looking to replace. Scour Craigslist’s “free” section to see if what you need is being given away (even if its a version needing repair – repair is a good thing to learn!). If those strategies fail, check secondhand store inventories. If all three of those strategies fail, which isn’t likely, then it’s worth trying a consumer store. Learning this process of replacing things (try to repair, ask friends, check free sources, check secondhand sources, THEN resort to consumer stores) will delay your purchase, giving you time to think about whether what you’re replacing is a want or a need, and will also save a lot of waste by reusing old items.

13. Get a more efficient car

You thought I was done talking about transportation, right? Wrong! A 2011 Prius can save you $2000 on average annually on gas and in excellent condition costs about $10k according to KBB. That means it’ll pay itself off in 5 years and whatever you eventually sell it for will be pure profit. I’ll take that deal any day!

14. Air-dry clothes

Line drying clothes saves about a dollar per load, so with two loads a week thats $100 annually. It also reduces your carbon output by 2400 pounds per year. It’s worth the extra minute of work!

15. Insulate your water heater and pipes

Insulating pipes helps your hot water lose less heat in transition, so your heater doesn’t work as hard to get your shower and cooking water warm. Insulation costs about $10-15 in materials and saves you 3-4% on water heating use annually, so it’s worth the investment.

16. Run machines when they’re full

By waiting to run dish washers and clothes dryers until they’re full, you save water and electricity, and you save yourself some time on unloading. Or better yet, hand wash them when it’s a small and manageable amount!

17. Garden

Gardening is a gratifying hobby and lets you save money on produce while getting some fresh air and possibly bonding with family or friends that you garden with. It also saves trips to the store and means you’re not buying fruits and veggies that had to be trucked over to your local grocery store. Try it out by starting with something easy to grow, like potatoes.

18. Use rags instead of paper towels

American families spend $182 a year on paper towels. Luckily, we have these fantastic inventions called cloth rags that can cut that spending out entirely! Technology is amazing.

19. Unplug and turn off products when they are not in use

Appliances tend to “ghost-draw” electricity when plugged in, even if they’re turned off. Shut them down and unplug them when you’re done, or better yet, purchase a power strip that will automatically stop ghost-draw when you shut them down.

20. Stop junk mail

Junk mail as an industry kills 2.6 million trees per year, and attempts to manipulate you into impulse purchases. It also wastes your time by having to go through your mail and throw them away. You can remove your name from product mailing lists at http://www.dmachoice.org/ and credit card mailing lists at http://www.optoutprescreen.com/.

21. Compost

Now that you’ve started that garden in step 17, skip the gardening store and feed it your own compost. Soon you’ll have a self sustaining food source of your own and can prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Unless zombies like fresh produce. Then you’re done for.

22. Use rain barrels for your garden

Feeding your garden your own compost wasn’t survivalist enough for you? Get some barrels and gather rainwater to keep those plants hydrated. Now you’re a real gardening cowboy, ready to live all your lonesome, with no need for water companies or plant feed from the store. The zombies won’t know what hit them.

23. Use a manual lawn mower

Manual lawn mowers seem like a charming tool of yesteryear, but I still like mine as it’s way cheaper to purchase and maintain, and I don’t have to buy and burn gas for it. Plus, I’ve always found loud and stinky lawn mowers highly obnoxious. On the other hand, a gas mower would be a pretty great melee weapon against the zombies. Proceed at your own risk.

24. Cook from scratch

Cooking from scratch cuts out the wasteful middleman step of inefficiently producing prepared meals and packaging them with harmful plastics, not to mention the markup you’ll be paying for letting someone else perform such an easy job. Cooking from scratch will let you know exactly whats on your plate and will make you appreciate your meal that much more.

25. Use the library

Why pay money for books and kill that many more trees when you pay taxes for shared books? If you need the information long term, you can always take notes. Better yet, use your phone, laptop or tablet as an e-reader.

26. Eat less meat

The meat industry produces 21% of annual carbon dioxide waste, and red meat is terrible for you. I like you guys. Don’t die. Meat is an unnecessarily expensive way to get protein, and luckily Kitchen Stewardship provides some great beginner recipes to start cutting back. I’m no vegetarian, but I am aware of the health risks and want to make sure I live as long as possible to enjoy the fruits of financial independence.

27. Switch your light bulbs

Switching to LEDs or Fluorescent lightbulbs will use less electricity, generating a $150 return over traditional lightbulbs over their lifespan. That’s money that you could be investing and putting to work for you!

28. Get efficient appliances

Replacing just five appliances with energy-efficient versions can save you $75 per year, so you’ll have to compare costs of trading in your appliances to calculate whether this investment makes sense for you. Considering a real return of 7% after inflation in the stock market, calculate the trade-in cost of your five appliances and see if its return of $75 per year is more than 7% of the cost. Alternatively, if you want to make the switch to reduce your carbon footprint, you may wish to just go ahead and shop around for Energy-Star certified appliances regardless of the financial benefits or costs.

29. Stop using disposable products

Disposable razors, disposable plates and cutlery, disposable anything, is absolute madness! Disposable is another word for “recurring purchase” and it means that you’re buying short-term low-quality items when you could save in the long run by purchasing a real version of the product. And, it creates needless waste. Do yourself and the Earth a favour and get a real razor and real dining products.

30. Take a deep breath and enjoy this Earth

I don’t want to scare you guys off. These 30 actions and habits you can take to help the Earth and yourselves is a lot to digest at once, so I want to remind you why we do it all. As a member of the human family, I want to see our kind survive as long as possible, able to reap the joy of a walk in the woods in the same way I have been able to my whole life. Go for a walk, and think about the bounty of beauty and love this Earth has for every member of it. That’s why I care so passionately about preserving it.

That’s all I have for now folks. What’s your carbon footprint like? Did I miss any good strategies for reducing waste and spending? Let me know in the comments!

 

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What to Do When you Fall Off the Wagon

Hi there income streamers!

If you haven’t noticed, my blogging pace has faltered a little bit in the past week. I regret to inform you its because I suffered some burnout recently. I realised that I was focusing so much on saving and budgeting that I wasn’t letting myself enjoy even cheap nights out, and I was overthinking my whole financial strategy. Shouldn’t it be simple? Earn more than you spend, throw the difference in index funds?

And yet, there I was, plugging away at spreadsheets as if that’d somehow accelerate my journey to FI. I had made the classic mistake of thinking that worrying = work. The truth is, whether I like it or not, I am entering the “autopilot” stage of my journey to FI for the most part. If I can find ways to reduce spending further, get creative with tax-deferred investing, or earn more, that’s great, but I already have a long term investing and saving strategy nailed down so tweaking it won’t help.

So what did I do to handle this built-up stress? Unfortunately, I spent pretty recklessly for two days. I treated myself to pastries, new books, and expensive dinners out. And you know what happened?

Not that much, really.

In this particular scenario, I exceeded my weekly “fun” budget by about $40. That just means that if I want to get back on track I have to trim four dollars a week for ten weeks. And that’s definitely doable. More importantly, what I learned from this experience is that stressing about small financial details and trying to 100% optimise my saving and investing is only detrimental to my success by making me actually resent my finances rather than being excited by the opportunities I’m opening up for myself.

The question remains, however, on how I should handle stress buildups like this in the future. I could give myself a quarterly thought-free spending weekend and just make up for the extra spending in the following weeks, but I don’t think relying on money to destress is a good idea. I think in the future I will instead allot myself a walk outside before and after every budget review I make. That will let me compartmentalise my financial planning and thinking to that time of the week, and the thinking time in the woods will let me transition back to a normal, fun-loving mindset rather than my intense financial one.

As far as how to financially handle a little relapse into consumerism, I think the best approach is to use it as a motivator to either earn more or spend less to make up for what you spent. Finding a place to shave off four dollars a week will require a little creativity but it should be manageable. On the other hand, earning an extra four dollars a week wouldn’t be too hard online and it’d give me some great motivation to continue the weekly earner series. I’ll probably try doing both for the sake of a good experiment and report back on which method was more effective.

The most important thing I can tell you to help pick yourself back up, though, is that your finances do not define you. Spending some money is not the end of the world, and you can easily get back on track. Falling off the wagon is not a sin but rather a sign that you might need to reevaluate your life priorities and possibly adjust how much focus you apply to saving for the future over enjoying the present.

Have any of you fallen off the wagon? Do you have any strategies to avoid burnout? Would any of you like to publicly chastise me for being a bad financial role model this week? Let me know in the comments!

For more heart-to-heart financial advice check out @StevesStreams on Twitter!

How to Handle a Windfall

Hi there income streamers! I’ve been receiving some questions recently about a good problem to have. It appears some of us have been doing a great job earning and saving, and have happened upon an EXTRA chunk of change out of the blue! These surprises can come in the form of a class action settlement, bank bonuses, gifts, inheritances, and more. So what do you do with it?

For the regular Joe the answer is first paying down consumer debt. A guaranteed investment return of 10+%, which is a common interest rate for consumers debt, is a must-take every time. Once that is done, it’s important to establish an emergency fund at some sort of high interest rate bank like Ally. This fund should cover 2-3 months of living expenses. That way, you can achieve some financial stability in the face of uncertain economic times, and this security will aid both performance at work as well as avoiding panic-selling of stocks.

But, for the regulars here, you have done both these things, so the next option can seem like an easy answer: pour it into a retirement account. Every dollar saved is going to be an extra 4 cents of passive income every year and cuts out that much more working time thanks to financial independence. But many of you may have already maxed out your retirement accounts. So what next?

You have a couple options now. The money could go toward a post-tax brokerage account, earning 7% real return that is chopped a bit by a 15% capital gains tax. You could pay down a mortgage, but considering that mortgage interest rates can actually run below inflation, and that their payments can be a net positive when accounting for tax benefits, that may not make sense. A third option would be to invest in your earning potential, either through education and certifications or by starting a business.

Considering the size of the windfall, I think a great first step is to consider the options I present in How to Invest Less Than Fifty Dollars. Spending it on things that can save you money, like replacing lightbulbs or insulating your home, can have a 10+% return, beating pretty much every major form of investment! If your home and car are already running at peak efficiency, though, I think the next step is the third option mentioned above: investing in yourself. Taxes can eat up a majority of the returns on post tax investments, whereas training and certification opens up opportunities for a more satisfying and highly compensating career. If returning to school sounds scary to you, consider paying for just one class to dip your toes in. I’m sure that once you realise no one is judging you, you’ll pursue this savvy and satisying financial step.

To sum up, priorities for investing a windfall should be paying down consumer debt, establishing an emergency fund, maxing retirement funds, spending on cost reduction, career advancement, and THEN considering post-tax investment. This order provides the most stability and highest return.

Do you agree? Would anybody like to brag about their windfalls? Please let me know in the comments!

Why I enjoy working the weekends

Hi there income streamers! I thought I’d take a break from all of our money saving to talk about some money earning.

I’m currently juggling a full time internship as well as working an hourly job on the weekends. It’s lead to quite a busy summer, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I get bored when I’m idle! But some of you may be wondering – if I’m earning far more at my internship why am I bothering with weekend work at all?

I’m glad you asked! The first reason is that I have a great community at my weekend job that I’m not quite ready to leave just yet – I have made real friendships over my four years there and my boss treats me well. Second, that extra money each week actually makes a HUGE difference in my life – because it allows me to divorce working for savings and working for spending money.

I haven’t left for college yet, so luckily for me I’m able to live at home still and eat from the family fridge. This means that my only real expense at the moment is going out on the weekend – and the weekend money is more than enough to do that! As a result, I’m able to sock away 100% of my internship earnings, and I’m not even tempted to touch them since it’s in a totally different account than the one my weekend money goes toward.

I have grown fond of this model and plan to use it for a long time. Having one account for fun, and one account for savings, allows me to enjoy myself without worrying about spending while also never being tempted to withdraw from my savings. Once I become independent, I’ll probably set up a third account designated solely for bill paying, but I could definitely see myself keeping up a weekend job and letting myself spend that money entirely on fun. That allows me to keep fun in moderation and also let’s me link that movie ticket with exactly an hour and a half of hourly wages rather than a vague valuation based on a salary.

Do any of you hold side jobs, or designated accounts for fun? How could I earn more on the weekends and possibly start devoting some of that fun money to savings as well? Let me know in the comments!

For more funky financial flow, check out @StevesStreams on Twitter!