Save the planet, save some money

Think a greener lifestyle takes a back seat to a greener wallet in tough times? Think again.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The environmental movement has been around for decades but has never been more mainstream than it is today. Now, organic products, energy-efficient appliances and fuel-friendly cars are all the rage. Of course choosing to go green is very good for the planet, but it can also be surprisingly good for your bottom line.

People often associate living greener with paying a high premium - alternative technologies like solar panels and hybrid cars, for example, are generally pricier than the more conventional sources of power and mobility. But thanks to new programs, partnerships and products, it's never been more fiscally responsible to be earth friendly.

"It's good for the planet, good for you personally and good for your wallet," said David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich, who contends that it is easy to save "$2000 to $5000 a year just by going green."

Here are a just a few ways to save the planet while saving some serious cash:

Reduce

It's no surprise that reducing the amount of energy and fuel you use is an easy way to save money and help the planet. But the financial impact ranges from slight to shocking.

While using compact fluorescent light bulbs saves about $30 in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime, upgrading an old appliance like a refrigerator or dishwasher can save about $80 a year in energy costs, according to Energy Star.

Walking to the store instead of driving can save gas (and burn calories), but switching from an SUV to a hybrid can save thousands over time.

Though hybrid cars do generally cost more up front, "it's worth making the investment in a hybrid vehicle," Bach said. The significantly better fuel economy coupled with state and national tax credits can save over $1000 a year. Bach traded in his own Range Rover for a Toyota Prius, which gets nearly 50 miles a gallon, and then he started walking to work - which really drove the savings home.

Reuse

Instead of buying a new car, consider a used hybrid, or even sharing one. Car-sharing company Zipcar provides on-demand transportation in several cities nationwide. For a low monthly or annual fee (depending on the plan), which includes gas and insurance, members can reserve a car in their neighborhood to use for an hour or a few days. Over 40% of members decide against purchasing a car, or end up selling their car and drive less than they would otherwise, the company claims, which they say saves members over $5,000 a year.

And there are all sorts of other innovative ways to save by sharing sports equipment, clothes, even toys. For example, Toy sharing service BabyPlays will send a selection of toys and games of your choice right to your door that can be boxed up and sent back when your child has moved on.

Bach also advises switching to reusable containers instead of plastic baggies in your kid's lunch box and reusing coffee mugs instead of contributing to the 14.4 billion paper cups that are discarded every year. Yes, that lowers your contribution to overburdened land fills, but it's also another few hundred dollars a year in your pocket.

How about actually getting paid to reuse? Some grocery stores will offer a rebate for every time you use your own bag. Whole Foods Market (WFMI, Fortune 500), for example, gives you a nickel back for each bag you bring. Others offer incentives to bring your own bag. A reusable bag at some Trader Joe's stores could win you a cart of free groceries.

Recycle

Forget about getting 5 cents back for recycling a bottle at your local grocer; stores like Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) and Wal-Mart-owned Sam's Club have begun offering recycling programs for old electronics, which can be traded in exchange for gift cards that you can use toward newer items.

At Best Buy's online trade-in center, an old video iPod in good working condition can fetch $67 to $132, which will go a long way toward a new iPod touch or DVD player.

With help from a partnership with third-party administrator NEW, Sam's Club members can trade in their old digital cameras, laptops, MP3 players and printers for gift cards to use in their stores or Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) stores. Depending on the condition of the item, gift card reimbursement ranges from $1 to over $1000 for newer model camcorders.

And NEW is currently in discussions with other national chains with plans to roll out similar programs soon.

If a product does not qualify for a trade-in value, the companies will still accept old electronics for recycling and provide a pre-paid shipping label. So even if you don't make money, you can still make a difference. To top of page

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