The economic dark cloud persists, affecting banks, mortgage companies and pension plans, and consumer confidence is only just beginning to improve. The latest figures put U.S. consumer confidence at 84 on the Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Survey, up 4 points from a July survey, but still low. With retirement savings in jeopardy, banks fearful to give loans and employers tightening belts and laying off workers, it”s essential that we all start saving.
Fortunately, money-saving tips are frequently planet-saving tips, as smart conservation, wise stewardship of resources and future planning work together. Some of these tips may at first seem like putting the proverbial band-aid on the gaping wound—but remember that California’s serious blackout crisis of 2000 and 2001 was largely solved (and in short time) by individuals and businesses ramping up energy conservation, not by bailout packages or government maneuvering.
Also, if you talk to folks who weathered the Great Depression, they’ll tell you that they got through it primarily by saving pennies, growing their own food and stretching what they already had.
It can seem overwhelming, but we’re here to help you get started.
1. Spend Less on Gas
Yes, it’s true that gas prices have fallen somewhat with the rest of the economy, but they remain much higher than in years past. One of the most immediate ways to reduce your bills is to drive less. Sound too easy? Consider starting a local carpool with your friends, neighbors or coworkers. Combine errands and walk around town.
Take extra junk out of your trunk and unused racks off your roof. Drive the speed limit, use cruise control, keep tires inflated and forget jackrabbit starts. Don’t idle your savings away. Take public transit when possible, and maybe you can eliminate a whole set of wheels in your family—leading to big-time savings.
2. Reduce Those Utility Bills
Next on the list come the things you love to hate: bills. You have to pay your service providers, but why pay more to the folks at the other end of the wires?
Turn off lights when you leave a room, or better, install motion sensors and timers. Use low-flow showerheads and toilets (the former will also save you money on water heating). Speaking of that, turn your water heater down (experiment with how far you can go before your family members mind). Get an energy audit to assess air leaks and trouble spots—either by hiring a pro (call your utility) or going DIY and doing a walk-through yourself. The Department of Energy can walk you through a DIY Home Energy Audit here.
Make sure your HVAC equipment is properly maintained, with clean filters, and boost insulation anywhere you can. Put draft snakes under leaky doors and windows, and install (practically invisible) plastic film over windows. Make sure you use storm doors/windows and shutters if you have them. Fix any water leaks and winterize your castle.
3. Make Your Own Cleaning Products
Every little bit helps, so avoid plunking down hard-earned cash on fancy store-bought, chemical-laden cleaning products when you can easily make your own. Did you know that most messes can be cleared up with a combo of baking soda, borax, salt, vinegar, lime juice and elbow grease? It’s true! And a simple blend of distilled white vinegar and water cleans glass surfaces without streaks. Plus, you can sleep easier knowing you aren’t leaving toxic chemical residues all over your sacred abode (or leaving nasty things under sinks for kids or pets to find).
Click for recipes on naturally beating stains, scouring countertops and more.
4. Relearn Your Grandparents’ Wisdom
Chances are your grandmother did not have an electric dryer. Instead, she probably strung up the laundry on something called a clothesline between leafy trees in the backyard, across a city alley or in the bathroom or basement. You can do the same, and save a nice chunk of change. (Your linens may even smell fresher, depending on where you live).
You can also take up canning, start a little root cellar (you only need a dark, dry place, like under some stairs), compost your waste, sow some vegetables, rediscover hand-me-downs, use rags for cleaning, and much more. Give your grandma a call for more ideas—she”s probably hoping to hear from you, anyway.