Save money with an eco-friendly home

February 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Save money maintaining an eco-friendly home. There are things you probably never thought to do.

In this month's San Francisco magazine, learn simple and easy ideas for conserving energy in your home. Contributing editor, Leslie Crawfox, explains how to overcome "eco-anxiety."

Eco-friendly tips: What's so interesting about most eco-friendly tips is that they save moms time and money.
Written by: Leslie Crawfox

Keep a bag in your bag - So many mother friends say they mean to bring their own bags to the store but then forget and leave their canvas bags in the trunk of the car. As a solution, there are these wonderful little bags (I can't remember the name but will get them later today and email you) that can be folded up to fit the size of your palm and then when you get to the grocery store open up to a full bag. They're sturdy and pretty - nicer looking than a lot of those worn-out canvas bags.

Drive smart - With gas so expensive, and with most moms having to spend so much time in the car for different errands, this one can save money and time. Lately, I'm trying to plan my week's menu in advance. That way, I only have to go to the grocery store a couple times a week, saving gas and time (and me the headache of lugging two kids to the store). And I try, too, to cluster errands, so if I'm going to the grocery store and my 2 year old has been wanting to go to the library, we do it all together in one trip. A few other quickies: Most little kids LOVE public transportation and again, this can require some schlepping, but it can make going to the grocery store a real adventure. And when you're in the car pool lane, turn off the engine if you thin you'll be idling for more than two minutes. Fill up your car's tires with air monthly. Low air in tires means your car is driving much less efficiently. Also, regarding driving: Vacation local. Did you know it's far more energy efficient to take a driving vacation than flying somewhere. Next time you plan a family trip, think about driving to the Sierras rather than flying to Hawaii.

Put your children in charge - Have you ever heard of the "Swear Jar"? You can create an "Eco Jar." Kids love to find out when Mom and Dad are doing something wrong - and this is a positive way to give them a little power in the house.( My 10 year old son Sam loves to point out when I'm doing something wrong so loves this sort of stuff.) Plus, this is a way to make being eco-conscious into a game rather than a guilt trip. Get a glass jar - a recycled or reused one, naturally - and keep it in the kitchen. Label it "Eco Jar" and on the jar have a list of about 3 things that will cost a member of the family if they forget. This can include some of the obvious things like 1) Turn off lights; 2) Recycle bottles & paper; 3) Put food scrapings in the compost. If anyone forgets to do it, they have to put a quarter (or whatever is the going rate in your house) in the jar. At the end of a week or month, the money can be used for something frivolous and fun, like going out for ice cream. Plus, you've created a family activity.

Be thrifty - When come to a point where there's no stigma with reused, recycled, or "freecycled" goods. They've learned it's nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact, they can be proud they're conserving energy.

Get on a mom's neighborhood listserv - I'm on one in Noe Valley. Whenever a mom needs, say, a high chair or wants to get rid of some old toy but doesn't want to throw it away or lug it to Salvation Army, she lists it on the listserv. Within minutes another mom snatches it up. This is an informal type of "freecycling." You can also subscribe to Freecycling. And is one of the best sites online: You can get beautiful furniture and bikes and toys for a fraction of what you'd pay for them new. Kids won't care and you've saved so much money.

Cool it - Turns out, you'll save energy if you put MORE in the freezer (less air is circulating) and fewer things in the fridge (for a big fridge, it takes lots of energy to keep it cold). So freeze more, cool it less.

Toy exchange - My women friends have been having clothing exchange parties that are so fun. You can do this with kids and have them bring toys they've outgrown to an exchange party. Make some cupcakes and lemonade, meet at a park and it's an instant party.

Get money for bottles - My friend Andrea has her daughter Lily save all their glass bottles. After a month, they take the enormous bag of bottles to a recycling center at their local grocery store and have made enough money to buy Lily a treat.

Tap into water - We've gotten so used to buying big packs of water bottles at Costco or the grocery store. The Bay Area's tap water from Hetch Hetchy is some of the cleanest in the country! Plus, plastic bottles are filling up landfill and the oceans. I keep in my kitchen a few of those aluminum Sigg bottles that are really colorful and durable and always fill them up when we're going to the beach or any outing.

Laundry - The dryer is one of the most energy-intensive appliances in the house. In the spring and summer, I line dry a lot of our clothing. To make sure it's not scratchy, I throw towels and my son's clothing (since he hates scratchy shirts) in the dryer when everything is slightly damp and just dry for 10 minutes or so.

Eat less meat - Meat takes so much energy to produce [I can have a stat on hand, but it's really amazing how much energy is saved by not eating meat], so at least a couple nights a week I try to make a vegetarian meal. Not only are you getting your familiy to eat healthier you're helping the planet-how great is that. My favorite vegetarian cookbook is Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone." The recipes are easy and there are a lot of recipes full of cheese that my children eat. Everything I make in it, I love.

Grow a garden - Even if it's a little herb garden on your deck or in the kitchen, a garden makes kids more aware of how nature works.

Visit a farm or get a CSA box - This is all about eating locally and healthfully - again, fruits and vegetables are healthier for our families and for the planet. We're so lucky to live in the Bay Area where produce is grown nearby. In the spring and summer, I try to take my children to pick ollaliberries or simply visit a Bay Area farm. Lots of local farms welcome visitors or have a special visitor's day. Your local farmers' market often has information on farms you can visit. Also, when Sam was little, I had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box delivered to my house. A favorite one is Capay Farms "Farm Fresh to You" The beauty is that you don't have to schlep to the farmers' market or grocery store and you get a "surprise" selection of in-season produce. True, sometimes you get too many potatoes, but hey, make some mashed potatoes or potato pancakes.

Volunteer - Depending on your children's age, you can volunteer even just an hour of your time to a green cause. I live in Noe Valley and we have a local farmers' market that asks volunteers to greet at the entrance. Local parks and beaches have clean-up days. Having children donate their time and energy really drives home the message that each person can make a difference.

Have a no energy day - As my son gets older, he plays less and less with, say blocks, but now likes to be at the computer screen. Just for more awareness, you can have "No energy days" in the house and eliminate some energy sappers and think of things to do that only take human energy, like going to the park and doing stomp rockets are throwing a ball. Also, a fun thing to do is to have a candle-lit dinner. You know how kids think it's so exciting when there's a black-out? This sort of is the same thing: Just during dinner, have candlelight at the table. It's a very simple, albeit small way, to get the message across that every watt counts and doing things that are pleasant, not punitive, make a difference.

Vote green - You can still vote red or blue, and I'm not talking about voting for the green candidate, but voting for candidates who promise to make our planet healthier is probably the best way to see big changes so that our children inherit a better world. Also, I know we're all busy, but I'd subscribe to the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council, newsletter, where you'll get information about bills about to pass. They sometimes send information about how to email a Senator or Congressperson. You can do this from home and it's just a click of a button or a phone call. Some people think this doesn't make a difference but it really, really does.

Don't stress - When I began learning so much about toxins in our environment and energy wasted, I soon became something of a nag with my family and even neighbors and friends. As an eco-therapist said to me, you want to make sure you aren't creating an emotionally toxic household. So try to take this in good measure and understand we're all on a learning curve about being more green, including your children and spouse. We're not going to change the planet overnight, but step by step, we can start changing awareness and making a difference.

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About Leslie Crawfox
Leslie is 45 and lives in Noe Valley with her husband and two children. She's been a writer and editor for about 15 years and writes regularly for San Francisco magazine.