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Consumer Archive

Consumer

Dont go in the red when going green

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ATLANTA (4/13/11)--You’re conscientious about your health and the environment, and you’re watching your spending. All good, but doing it all at the same time is getting more expensive as wages remain flat (CNNMoney April 1). Examine these five ways you may be spending too much money in your efforts to be healthy and environmentally responsible. Eating only organic. Some organic foods are worth the extra investment, but not all. That’s especially the case if you have unrealistic expectations about the benefits of a particular organic product. Don’t give up on organic, but become a smart shopper. If you’re looking for fewer calories, read labels--organic doesn’t mean less calories. If your goal is to support a small farmer, do your research: General Mills and Kraft own a lot of organic brand names. For fresh produce, find fruits and vegetables that require few pesticides in conventional farming--for example, bananas and broccoli. Save your organic food dollars for the foods that require more pesticides such as strawberries and spinach (Yahoo News April 5). Trading in a low-mileage gas guzzler for a hybrid. Dealers selling hybrids are taking advantage of rising gas prices and Japanese parts-supply disruptions to raise already high price tags. With uncertainty over the rising cost of gasoline, it’s hard to calculate how long it could take you to break even, but it rarely makes sense to trade in a newer car, even if the next one is more fuel-efficient. Depreciation is steepest in the early years. Take advantage of this by buying slightly used cars and driving them for 10 years or so. Save money on fuel by carpooling, using public transportation, grouping errands, inflating tires properly, and getting rid of unnecessary cargo. Take off from and approach stop lights smoothly (MSN Money March 30). Installing new windows. New energy-efficient windows are great. They pay for themselves by reducing heating costs--if you have at least 20 years to recoup. The opposite is true of the resale value that new energy-efficient windows can add to your house. If you sell within a year of installation, the typical return for window replacements is about 72% of their cost. The longer you wait, the lower the resale payback. Unless you're remodeling anyway, you can save money and keep out the cold by sealing leaks, applying window film, and installing storm windows. Purchasing a tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters are energy-efficient but cost more and are more expensive to install compared with tank water heaters. It takes about 22 years to recoup those extra expenses--yet most models don’t last that long. Instead, save money on your water-related energy by wrapping insulating blankets around your tank water heater, lowering the heater’s thermostat slightly, taking shorter showers, installing low-flow heads on all your faucets, and washing some loads of clothes in cold water. Rushing into solar. Solar panels are worth investigating; right now federal tax credits reimburse 30% of the cost. You also might get a substantial rebate from your state and your utility company. The catch is in the payback period, which could be five to 20 years or more. Make sure you do the math before you invest. Since the panels cost thousands of dollars to install, include in your calculations the long-term cost of the interest you’ll pay if you borrow the money, how much of your current electricity use the solar panels can replace, and the cost of electricity in your area. Unless you have other compelling reasons to go solar, such as wanting to reduce your dependence on coal or having power in an emergency, there are cheaper ways to lower your energy costs. For example, adding insulation can quickly pay for itself, as can installing a programmable thermostat to reduce heating and cooling when the house is empty or you’re asleep. Upgrade to compact fluorescent or LED lights, which give you better light and longer life than from incandescent bulbs. For more information, read “How Green are ‘Green’ Cars?” and listen to “10 Ways to Cut Gas Costs and Consumption” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.