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If you’re like many consumers who want to adopt a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, you may have discovered some inconvenient truths. A hybrid car simply not in your budget? Solar panels not realistic for your home?

If you’re budget-strapped but green at heart, consider a few easier ways to help save the planet — and your money, too.

1. Cut Your Commute

The long slog to the office contributes to poor air quality. But electric cars aren’t the only solution.

Carpooling and teleworking are on the rise, with more and more companies encouraging ride-sharing and examining the benefits of work-from-home programs. The Spring 2012 Telework Week, sponsored by the Telework ExchangeSM, showed that if all eligible federal employees teleworked two days a week for a year, they would save $5 billion in commuting costs. The Exchange estimates that 12,527 trees would need to be planted to equal the environmental impact of those emissions in just that one Telework Week.

If the national average price of gas remains around $3.30, pumping five fewer gallons of gas every week for a year could save you $858. Driving less also means less wear and tear on your vehicle, and it may help you earn a low-mileage discount on auto insurance.

Potential cost savings: $858

2. Pull the Plug

For 2012, the estimated energy costs for the average U.S. household was about $2,175, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. To reduce that cost, consider:

  • Using smart strips. Many electronics in your home use standby power — even when turned off. In fact, an estimated 5% to 10% of residential electricity use in most developed countries comes from standby power, says the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. To stop this seeping energy, Rick Rothhaar of the nonprofit Conservation Consultants Inc. recommends smart power strips ($30 to $40), which automatically cut power altogether when electronics aren’t in use.
  • Installing a CFL instead of an incandescent bulb. “It costs a little more but will pay for itself in fewer than 60 days, and thereafter it’s saving you money,” Rothhaar says.
  • Looking for the ENERGY STAR® label. When replacing or buying appliances and electronics, consider ENERGY STAR® products to help reduce your electricity costs.

Potential cost savings: $40 over the lifetime of one CFL bulb compared to an incandescent bulb; up to 30% in related electricity bills for ENERGY STAR® appliances, according to energystar.gov.

3. Bank Electronically

Consumers migrating to mobile banking apps and online banking techniques can enjoy the convenience of:

  • almost instant access to account balances
  • direct deposit of paychecks
  • e-document delivery of statements, bills and receipts
  • automatic bill-paying services without fooling with stamps, envelopes and checks

Online banking has gone mainstream. A recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 34% of respondents in 2011 received their bill statements online only — no paper formats through the mail. That’s a big jump from the roughly 25% online-only bills reported in 2009. The Electronic Payments Association estimates you’ll save around $100 annually on postage alone by paying bills online. For more reasons to bank online, visit payitgreen.org.

Potential cost savings: Around $100 annually on postage

4. Do an Eco-Home Makeover

Home energy use produces twice as much pollution as a single car in one year, according to the Environmental Services Department for the city of San Diego. But an upfront investment can mean big savings.

  • Weatherize your home. Just sealing ducts, caulking windows or fixing weather stripping can make heating and air-conditioning systems run more efficiently. “Air sealing your home is usually the most cost-effective thing you can do,” says Rothhaar, whose organization conducts about 5,000 home and building audits each year. He says that completely weatherizing your home — which could mean a new furnace for some homeowners and just caulking windows for others — can possibly mean a 20% to 30% annual savings in energy bills.
  • Install a low-flow, 2.5 gallon-per-minute shower head. This could save water and as much as $145 per year on electricity, according to ENERGY STAR®.
  • Use a programmable thermostat. ENERGY STAR® estimates this device could save you up to $180 per year.
  • Wrap an older water heater in an insulating jacket. This helps prevent heat loss and could save $30 per year, according ENERGY STAR®.

Potential cost savings: An estimated 20% to 30% annually for weatherizing; $355 in featured ENERGY STAR® tips

5. Tap the Tap.

When it comes to beverages, drinking bottled water can cost you — and the environment. According to the Center for a New American Dream, drinking one 16-ounce bottle of water a day for a year means you’re spending $546.77 more than you would by drinking the same amount of water from a tap.

And don’t overlook the negative effect of 365 plastic bottles on the environment. According to Corporate Accountability International, making enough plastic bottles for water sold in the U.S. generates about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Potential cost savings: $546.77

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