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.
1. Relight your life. Replacing five incandescent bulbs with compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs) can save you 50% on your annual lighting bill. If every U.S. household did this, it would prevent the release of as much greenhouse gas as removing 8 million cars from the road for a year.
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.
3. Measure your footprint. At Carbonfund.org, you can use their calculator to determine your carbon footprint -- your direct emissions and emissions from everything you consume -- and then do something about it. A donation of just $10 offsets a ton of CO2, by funding their efforts towards renewable energy supplies, energy efficiency and reforestation projects. You even have the option of reducing your carbon footprint to zero ($240 for an individual, $960 for a family). Or, use the calculator to offset the activities in your life that directly emit carbon, such as driving, flying, and/or a party.
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.
5. Park your car. You may not have enough money to buy a new fuel-efficient hybrid or diesel vehicle, but there's an alternate method of transportation for everyone. Check out your local bus system or subway or look for a carpool at vride.com, Erideshare.com or your local Craigslist. To run short errands near your home, take a power walk or peddle your bike. Use our calculator to see how much riding your bike will save you.
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.