How to Save Money while Saving Energy

I’ve written a few articles here on how to invest your money. There’s also an article about how to spend money in line with your values. But this is the fourth of a four-part series designed to help you save more money so you have some to invest in the first place.

Part 1: 10 Beginner Tips to Save Money

Part 2: 10 Advanced Tips to Save Money

Part 3: 10 Tips to Save Money While Saving Our Planet

As a follow up to part 3, today’s article is all about how to save money while saving energy.

Waiting for sales. Couponing. Doubling up during BOGOs. Paying for everything with a credit card just for the points. If you name it, when it comes to saving money, I probably do it.

But it doesn’t take up much mental bandwidth.

That’s a lie.

It takes a ton of mental bandwidth. Or at least it used to.

I used to calculate the amount of money I saved by making my lunch at home versus buying lunch from the company cafeteria. I even included the amount of water I used to do the dirty dishes I created while preparing it and the amount of extra electricity I consumed to have the light on in my kitchen during that extra 15 minutes each day.

So yeah, I guess it took up a lot of mental bandwidth but at this point it’s just second nature.

I think about saving money like a bird thinks about flying. Which I assume is never and also all the time.

So, these days, when it comes to saving, I like to think about the second and third-order effects. In particular, I like to think about the amount of energy or materials that are saved in addition to the money itself. My wife has given me a much greater appreciation for sustainable living, and I love when sustainable living intersects with good financial habits.

For example, driving the speed limit on the highway with cruise control (on flat stretches) is proven to use less gasoline because the car is operating at peak efficiency. Not only does this mean I save money by buying less fuel, but it means less oil gets pumped out of the ground and less wells are drilled and habitats disrupted in the search for that oil. Positive externalities are fun.

Another example is buying new furniture online vs. finding it at a garage sale or Facebook Marketplace.

Take our patio set, for example. I found it used on Marketplace for $250 last year.

Granted, I needed to pick it up in my car, but consider all the second-order energy and materials that were saved in addition to hundreds of dollars by simply spending those few hours searching for a used set and driving across town to pick it up:

  • New raw materials did not need to be extracted from the earth to create it, since that had already occurred years prior.
  • Heavy duty transport trucks were not needed to move those materials to a factory for refinement.
  • Electricity and oil was not used at the factory to mold the metal into chairs and a table.
  • No trees were cut down to create the cardboard to package the chairs and no petroleum styrene was created to make the styrofoam or plastic wrap for the box.
  • No cargo ship was loaded with a forklift and then sent across the ocean only to be unloaded and put onto a semi-truck.
  • No semi truck drove across the country from one of the international ports to a warehouse.
  • No gas or electricity was used to operate the warehouse.
  • No smaller truck was needed to drive it from the warehouse to the big box home improvement store.
  • No home improvement store was kept lit and heated/cooled to create a comfortable shopping experience for me.
  • No garbage/recycling truck was needed to pick up the used cardboard and plastic from my curbside bin.

Sure, the patio set had to be created originally, but the important thing is that it didn’t need to be made twice just so I could get the exact perfect color or style I wanted.

By settling for an acceptable substitute, the demand for every bullet point above was diminished, if only at the margins.

I’m not so naive to think that just because I don’t buy a new piece of furniture means that the ships will stop sailing and the trucks will stop trucking, but small eco-friendly adjustments in actions and mindsets, over time, do create a meaningful impact on our planet and our wallets as well as future generations.

Of course, on the flip side, no new money flowed into the system and no jobs were needed and no honest day’s work was paid for. But I’m okay with that because the scales need to tip back in favor of reusing, recycling, and repairing things rather than the unhealthy consumer culture of buying everything new just because it’s easy.

Here are more ways to save money while saving energy:

Don’t wash your clothes after one wear. And when you do wash your clothes, do full loads. According to EcoCostSavings.com, it costs $51.35 per year to run a standard washing machine in the United States. Energy Saver has 16 more tips for saving money and energy on laundry.

Don’t flush the toilet just because you peed. I might lose some people here because of the “ick” factor, but it’s just not necessary to flush after every pee – especially if you are drinking plenty of water (you are, right??). Sources say flushing our toilets accounts for 30% of total indoor water usage in the average home – the biggest individual contributor to the total.

If you MUST flush just because you peed, don’t hold the handle down for long. This sends more water into your septic tank or sewer that must be replaced.

Turn lights off when you leave the room. Better yet, don’t turn them on. I frequently use my phone’s flashlight if I am just grabbing something from a dark room.

Upgrade your old light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones. If they are 40W or 60W and don’t say LED or CFL, chances are good they are old incandescents. Take a look at this comparison of the different light bulbs from Arcadia:

If you rent, you can still take advantage of the difference. For example, when I moved into my old apartment, I swapped all the old light bulbs for fuel-efficient ones, saving them in a box, and just switched them back out before I moved out.

Turn the heat down when you leave the house. Heating a big empty house or apartment when no one is home is a huge cost. If you get a smart thermostat, you can even control it from an app in case you forgot to set a schedule.

Open the blinds when the sun is shining in the winter and keep them closed when its hot out. It’s like free heat in the winter!

Opt-in to an energy reduction program through your utility provider. Just visit their website to see the programs available. Oftentimes you will be auto-enrolled and are being charged more for peak-usage vs. off-peak usage of things like your air conditioner or washing machine.

Here’s a screenshot from an app I use with my electric company that shows me the cost of on-peak vs. off-peak usage. It costs me more to run appliances from 3-7pm (on-peak shown in red) when my local grid is getting peak demand:

Lock your windows. A lot of people simply shut their windows one last time in the Fall and may forget to lock them. By ignoring this simple practice, you may be losing heat unnecessarily because the seal is not as tight. The same is true during the summer months when you want to keep the cold air in.

Open basement air vents in the winter and close them in the summer. Heat rises so this will give you more even and long-lasting heat in the winter. And because cold air sinks, your basement will already be naturally cooler than the rest of the house in the summer so there’s no sense having the AC cool it down further. Thanks, physics!

Practice mindful driving habits. To wrap up, here are a bunch of energy-efficient and cost-efficient methods to reduce your gasoline consumption:

  • Check your tire pressure. Top them up if they are low on air. The correct PSI is listed on the inside of your driver’s side door. Properly inflated tires reduce surface resistance and allow you to get the best MPG or range from your EV battery.
  • Watch the traffic lights. Keeping an eye on far away traffic lights can tell you if you should take your foot off the gas and coast to a red light.
  • Cruise. Use cruise control on flat ground to maintain your speed and reduce speeding up and braking behind other drivers over and over again (the worst kind of drivers).
  • Combine multiple errands into one trip. Cars operate less efficiently when they’re cold and re-treading the same road over and over again uses more gas. Plan your errands in groups and hold off on going anywhere if something can wait until the next time you go out.
  • Roll down your windows. When on city or country roads, open windows have less drag on fuel economy than the engine power required to operate the AC compressor. However, rolling your windows down on the highway may negate the savings due to added wind-resistance.
  • Lie. Driving to visit people is costly. Come up with fake reasons you can’t drive and force your friends to drive to you instead!

Level up your bank account and level down your impact on the planet by adopting some or all of these money and energy saving tips.

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