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How small eco-friendly changes can mean big money in your home

April 26 sustainabilityDo you use plastic wrap to keep leftovers fresh? When you spill coffee on the floor, are paper towels your go-to clean up tool?

If you’re like me, you haven’t spent much time thinking about how disposable household products are adding to an Earth-health crisis.  

Americans produce an unsightly amount of trash each year — enough to reach to the moon and back 26 times. The worst part may be that more than 75 percent of this waste is recyclable, and 25.1 million tons of our trash is compostable food waste.

I’m guilty of adding to the problem. I used to throw out old food, plastic bags and shampoo bottles with reckless abandon. This not only caused injury to the environment but put a strain on my household’s budget.

In February, my husband and I decided to make a positive change for us — and the environment. We challenged ourselves to eliminate all excess waste and reduce costs for one month, then evaluate our progress in relation to our average monthly-spend.

Here’s how it went.

It’s all about the numbers.

Living without the trashy trappings of modern life isn’t easy, but little changes can have a big influence on your budget.

In 2018, my household’s average monthly bills were staggering for two people:

  • $68.21 for 5,300 gallons of water
  • $76.36 for electric
  • $90.00 for natural gas
  • $408.80 for groceries and other household goods (We spent $18.99 a month on paper towels alone!)

In total, that’s $643.28 per month and $7,719.36 per year. When I calculated that last number, I nearly cried. Where was this coming from?

The first thing my husband and I did was take a look in our trashcan, and most of what we saw was paper and plastic. Then we took a deep whiff. What we smelled was discarded food waste.

We looked at our power, gas, water and food bills and found places to cut back. When Feb. 1 rolled around, we were ready to take on the eco-challenge.

How we did it.

The first step to reducing our trash was to eliminate the products causing it.

We stopped using paper towels, plates and napkins, aluminum foil and plastic wrap and baggies. We eliminated all food waste by composting and started bringing our own bags to the grocery store or asking for paper bags at check out. We focused on purchasing goods contained in recyclable materials and reduced our dependence on pre-made foods. Every item that could be recycled by the city was washed and sent off.

To make up for what we cut out, we purchased these products:

  • cloth napkins ($15.99)
  • rags for cleaning purposes ($10.99)
  • two canvas bags ($5 each)
  • glass food storage containers ($17.99)
  • biodegradable trash bags ($4.99)

We then looked at our bills and found ways to cut there too by:

  • installing three smart thermostats ($30 each refurbished) and automating our heating and electric via smart home routines
  • limiting our water use
  • running the dishwasher only when it was full
  • washing our laundry (always full-loads) in cold water
  • buying only the food and goods we actually needed
  • replacing all incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient LEDs ($1.81 each)

We then took a look at the weather and planned out (the few) temperate days when we could walk to the nearest grocery store. This saved on gas and limited the food purchases to only what we could carry.

Did it work?

In January, my husband and I disposed of 13 bags of trash. Fast forward to February, and that number dropped to three and a half bags.

And that’s not all. Here are the results of our month-long cut back:

  • Our electric bill went down 10 percent.
  • We cut our water usage by almost 2,000 gallons, reducing the bill by 37.7 percent.
  • Being February, our natural gas bill was higher than average, but we managed to drop it by 23 percent when compared to February 2018.
  • By being more discerning about what food items we bought and being limited to what we could carry, our food and household goods bill dropped to $363.64 — that’s 11.07 percent less!

In total, we saved $67.85 despite the rise in the cost of natural gas used during the coldest month of the year.

If we keep this up, we could bank an extra $800 or more by February 2020, which will easily cover the cost of the one-time purchases like the thermostats and storage containers that helped us get to this point.

My husband and I treated the challenge like a numbers game. Not only did it net us a few extra bucks, but we bonded by rising to the occasion together, and we plan to keep it up from here on out.

Being environmentally friendly is just one small part of creating a more sustainable environment for all. CPAs like you can help companies address social and economic development issues and pursue every opportunity to focus on sustainability-related initiatives that embrace today’s three top business priorities: profits, people and planet — the triple bottom line!

Now that you know how to implement cost-saving initiatives in your home, find out how to add value to your company and clients by using the resources in the AICPA’s sustainability toolkit. Also, join the like-minded sustainability leaders at this free half-day seminar on May 2 in San Francisco and this conference on May 9 in New York. You’ll be doing the right thing for our Earth — and your pocketbook!

Allison Carter Fanney, Communications Manager — Tax, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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