Challenged by the current financial crisis and recessionary woes? While the world is watching Wall Street, many of us are struggling to preserve our own checkbook on Main Street.
There doesn't appear to be a quick fix for the economy, but there are some things you can start doing today that will have a real impact on your personal finances as well as the health of the environment.
We've found five easy changes that you can make which will save you $500 or more each month, all while helping to conserve energy and reduce waste.
1. Share a ride: Save $60.
Car-pooling can save a boatload of money, and you don't have to own a new model hybrid to realize the savings either (although it would be a big plus).
Let's say your current vehicle gets a fuel mileage that's middle-of-the-road for today's averages or about 23 miles per gallon. Let's also assume that your daily two-way commute is 40 miles per day, five days per week.
Your average cost of solo driving is about $117 per month. However, if you share the task of driving to work with just one other person, one day a week, you could save more than $60 each month. Commute with three people and your savings will go up to more than $80 per month.
Locate available commuters at work through the use of email lists and company bulletin boards. Check with your neighbors and friends to see if you can coordinate scheduling. In addition, see if your employer will allow you to work from home one day a week or stack your schedule to work 40 hours in four days instead of five.
2. Go with a lower flow: Save $48.
The average American household runs four, eight-minute showers per day, requiring about 20 gallons of heated water at the rate of 2.5 gallons going down the drain per minute per person. Instead of turning the main water valve off on your kids when eight minutes are up, you can reduce the water output from your showerhead to save on energy costs.
Install a newer low-flow showerhead to reduce your hot water consumption to 1.59 gallons or less per minute per shower. If you're concerned about sacrificing water pressure, don't be. Today's efficient low-flow showerheads preserve water and pressure by mixing air with the water flow. They're also easy to install yourself, so there's no need to hire a professional.
3. Brown bag your lunch: Save $60
Buying your lunch every day during the workweek can seriously dent your budget. Even when exercising frugality, the average cost of a meal and drink comes to at least $6 per day or $120 each month.
According to the U.S. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, bringing lunch to work costs about 45-50 percent less than buying it. That means you can pare down your workweek lunch expense to less than $15 per week.
Buy only what you'll consume during the workweek to avoid wasting food by the weekend. In addition, select a variety of sandwich fixings, whole grain breads, and ready-to-go fresh fruit and vegetables to avoid boredom. Rinse and reuse sandwich bags to reduce waste and save even more. Alternately, tote your lunch in glass or reusable containers whenever possible. Use a cloth bag or a shopping bag that's easy to reuse.
4. Wake up, smell the coffee: Save $98
Wake up, smell the coffee, and save almost $100. However, do it in your own kitchen. If you begin your daily grind by picking up your morning brew from a coffee shop, you're spending about $2.45 per day for most foamy concoctions, more if you typically go for super-sized or signature varieties. The second cup to get you over the afternoon hump brings this spending figure up to $98 each month.
Making your coffee at home will run about $0.12-0.28 per cu -- small beans compared to store-bought. Assuming the higher end of that estimate calculates to just $1.40 per week or $5.60 each month. For that sweet price, you can afford to take a refill to the office in a reusable travel mug ($11.20 per month) for a later pick-me-up.
Invest in a no-frills coffeemaker ($15 and up), if you don't already own one. Coffee prices vary, but even fair-trade, organic coffee can be found for less than $15 a pound. The cost of a splash of milk or flavored creamer is minimal. Keeping the disposable coffee cup out of landfill: priceless.
5. Stay home for dinner: Save $252
Stay home for dinner and save $252. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American households spend an average of $3,034 a year on take-out food and dining at restaurants. Curbing this habit will not only save you money, but will also reduce the amount of plastic and Styrofoam containers being tossed into the trash.
Plan meals ahead. You should know what's for dinner before lunchtime rolls around, or you'll be more likely to pull out the take-out menus. Also, take advantage of leftovers from home-cooked meals by freezing them for another night's meal. However, you may be able to realize even greater savings.
For instance, if there is more than one person in your household taking coffee and a bagged lunch each day, or carpooling to work, then the additional contributors will increase your monthly savings.
You can also feel good about the fact that these simple strategies are good for the environment. For each money-saving action you commit to undertake, you'll be helping to reduce energy and disposable waste every day. And, if you can save this much each month doing it, just imagine the effect your actions will have year after year.