April 22, 2014

Save the World and Your Budget

Credit: dream designs
I think all of the Earth Day billboards, television commercials, and radio ads have gotten to me. Maybe it was all of the time I spent looking out the window at the beautiful, glistening winter wonderland while I was working from home during those couple of weeks in February. Who knows what exactly motivated me to go down this road, but I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you can merge cost savings and investing with your inner “tree-hugger.” Here goes:
  1. Adjust your temperature settings - Whether you get in the manual habit of adjusting the temperature a few degrees right before you leave the house for work and right before you go to bed or you have one of those fancy, programmable thermostats, paying attention to your temperature settings can save energy and money. Now, don’t go to extremes during the day and crank your air conditioning at night (or else the extra energy it takes to get your house cool could actually take more energy and cost more money), but a few degrees here and there can actually provide some cost savings.
  2. Use energy-friendly and eco-friendly light bulbs - They still cost a little more upfront, but these bulbs use less electricity (which can lower your power bill), and based on my experience, they really do seem to last longer. Buying one pricier bulb instead of several cheaper bulbs over the course of a few years provides some cost savings on the light bulbs themselves and also means less harrowing adventures on the ladder!
  3. Print less - Paper is expensive, and print cartridges are just ridiculous. Do you really need to hit print when you’ve got a perfectly good digital copy at your disposal? Can you spell check and proofread a little more carefully so you don’t have to print multiple times? What about double-sided printing to get twice as much per page? Save some trees and some money!
  4. Do a home energy audit - I know people who can probably do this themselves, and I know people (like me) who would probably be better served to have a contractor take a look, but the eventual savings from undergoing a home energy audit and making a few changes/upgrades to your residence can be substantial. Leaky air flow, poorly sealed windows, and less than stellar insulation could be causing you to use a lot more energy, and in turn, causing you to spend more. A home energy audit may be especially worth consideration if your home is older.
  5. Work from home - If your employer will allow it, try working from home periodically. If you can stay focused, you will probably get more done than you would at work, and more importantly, you get to stay in your embarrassing bedroom slippers while saving gas money and reducing emissions.
  6. Invest your portfolios in a Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) strategy - This won’t save you a lot of costs, and it could help or hurt your investment returns depending on the particular market cycle, but if you feel very strongly about only investing in companies with environmentally-friendly and non-health-damaging products, this may be for you. Typically an SRI strategy excludes things like stocks from tobacco companies, alcohol companies, lumber operations, and oil and gas companies. Some SRI strategies go so far as to exclude bonds from certain countries that don’t have glowing human rights records or companies whose boards of directors don’t seem to act as good citizens. I know people who love this type of investment strategy and are willing to pursue less-than-optimal investment allocations because they feel their personal principles are more important, but I do not advise this type of strategy for most. If you are interested in this type of strategy, I should caution you that what is socially responsible is sometimes highly subjective, so finding a mutual fund that shares your politics and views perfectly could be challenging, and unfortunately for SRI investors, sometimes companies like Phillip Morris, Anheuser Busch, and Exxon can be pretty good investments.
You know I’m all about saving some money, but I’m certainly not opposed to saving the world. I hope you’ll try steps 1-5, and if you feel passionately about what your portfolio is actually invested in, consider number 6.
Happy Earth Day!

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