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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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!

Fun and Free Activities – the Best Things in Life

Hi there income streamers!

You all know the old saying, “the best things in life are free.” It certainly doesn’t seem that way at times – sports games can cost a week’s worth of work, fancy dinners cost a fortune even before tip and tax, and traveling sometimes seems to be more stress than its worth after checking out airline prices. However, with a little creativity, it’s easy to shift out of the “Spend Money For Fun” mindset. Advertising has convinced us that paying for experiences is the only way to enjoy ourselves – but that simply isn’t true. Here’s some of the things I enjoy most in life, and I hope you can convince your friends or a date to give them a try along with you!

1. Walk in the woods

Connecting to nature is such a calm and meditative experience, and I don’t know how I’d get through the week without it. Check out a forest near you, or for a more intense workout, see if your local national park has a hiking trail. Bringing friends can also make it a great opportunity to catch up!

2. Run

The original sport still does the best job of delivering those sweet endorphins while letting me feel wild and primal – plus it keeps me in great shape! Other sports require equipment and balls and field space, but with running you can just get up and go. Running with friends make the miles fly by and will motivate you to keep on track with your training plan.

3. Play music

This is something not nearly enough people do. Many Native American tribes used to perform music around a fire every night – and now it seems that today’s Americans never participate in music themselves. Sure, they may listen to it plenty, but nothing beats the experience of letting go of your anxiety and singing like a fool. If you already own an instrument, relearn it! If not, I highly recommend borrowing one from a friend and letting them teach you. Its a great, free way to relieve stress, learn a skill, and grow your confidence as you learn to not fear embarrassing yourself. I’ve had plenty of moments failing when performing and I’m so glad I have because I know there’s no consequence when that happens; I simply learn from the mistake and move on.

4. Learn something

Learning alongside others can be frightening – it leaves you vulnerable to failing and looking dumb. Good! Being vulnerable in front of others is the best way to bond with them. It creates memories to laugh on, and it gives you a chance to learn from them if they happen to be successful at the task. There’s plenty of options for skills to learn with others, including a language, a craft like pottery, painting or smithing, a programming language, or a sport, but the most important thing is that whatever skill you pick lets you fail and laugh. Friends can also keep you on track with training and allow you to practice with them, which is particularly useful with language learning.

5. Write

Writing alone or with friends can be a very fruitful experience. I find writing therapeutic, as it allows for self reflection, and I think it can be a great way to slow down and think in today’s fast-paced society. Writing alone can be a great way to think out loud, but writing for others to read both exposes you emotionally (which is a good thing!) and lets you develop your writing skills to engage an audience. Plus, if your friends are writing too, you get to learn more about them through what they reveal! If writing extensively intimidates you, start with short poems or essays, and see if you enjoy it first.

6. Read

The library is the most undervalued resource in society, especially as a social tool. Reading something along with your friends lets you all discuss the books points with each other and can lead to entertaining and fruitful discussions – plus, they may have great recommendations on what to read!

7. Cook

Cooking isn’t perfectly “free”, since someone needs to pay for the ingredients, but I included it here for its minimal cost. Before the days of fast food, cooking was always an intensely social experience as everyone gathered in the kitchen and chatted over chopping vegetables and frying up food. It can be a fun and goofy experience if you’re not experienced, and an impressive and educative one if you or a friend is. Give it a try! If nothing else, do it for a the tasty meal afterward.

8. Volunteer

Working together with your friends or a date is a great way to hang out and talk while also doing something towards a common goal. It shows generosity and can also teach you some skills – I learned the main skills I use in programming by volunteering! If you and your friends/date have a common interest, seek out a cause related to it, and if not see if there’s something you all care about or connect to.

9. Act

This one may seem really intimidating to anyone who doesn’t have a history in theatre – but I don’t either! Acting, like playing music, used to be something common for groups to do and I think it could definitely be a funny and low stakes way to take a risk and try to grow. It allows you and your friends to get in touch with a different character and risk embarrassment – which, like I’ve been saying, is the best way to bond with each other. Risking embarrassment and vulnerability creates memories, builds trust, and allows you to become a more well-rounded person.

10. Visit a piece of strange history

Does your hometown have a quirky feature or footnote that it prides itself on? Well, good news! So does just about every town in America, making this country a great place to go out and learn a little more about a neighbouring place you may be bused to driving by without a second thought. In the Boston area alone I know of hundreds of hidden gems, including abandoned insane asylums, niche museums like the Museum of Glass Blowing in Sandwich, and several historical sites relating to Native Americans, pilgrims, the Irish Mob, and countless politicians. There’s always something interesting to explore with friends or dates if you look hard enough – ask around, or try visiting your local town hall to see if they have a brochure of landmarks in the area.

That’s all I have for now folks – but to be honest, these kinds of activities are enough fun to last me a lifetime. I’ve tried every one and they always end in laughs, memories and a new tidbit of knowledge. And none of them costed me a penny!

Do you guys have any fun, free activities? What’s the best date you’ve ever been on? Have any of you tried these ideas and had a fantastic or terrible experience? Let me know in the comments, and as always, stay earning streamers!

For more funky frugal fun, check out @StevesStreams on Twitter!