Tips to Green & Save Money in 2014

Open-face avocado and salsa verde sandwich, yum! Photo: Jennifer/FlickrYou've already been told that you should buy energy-efficient appliances, swap out your old windows for new double panes, install some solar panels, and do a whole pile of other expensive things to green your home. And you know they'll save you money in the long term, but what if you don't have the money right now? Well, we feel you -- we know the economy is tough, and some green dreams are just that: dreams.

So, without further ado, here's a roundup of ways to green your home on the cheap and save money in the coming year.

*Rain barrel irrigation. You plus a barrel plus a tap plus some kind of riser=major savings. You'll save big on utilities, which is a good thing, with water bills going up in many regions of the country. In addition, you won't be wasting potable water on irrigation, which is a major bonus! You can line up as many or as few barrels as you like to collect rainwater for irrigation purposes, and use the height of a riser (an old crate or box will do) to create water pressure so you can water without needing a pump. Have a big garden, or lots of thirsty plants? Ideally you're thinking in the long term about converting to a low-water garden, but for the time being, a large rain collector connected to your gutters can store a big volume of water for your use.

*Seeds, seeds, baby. Planning on hitting up the nursery for young plants and starts this spring? Think again. Growing from seed is so much less expensive, and it allows you to grow things you can't get at the store. Seed packets often cost less than a dollar, although some heirlooms and specialty plants cost more, and you can get them from a variety of sources including seed exchanges. You might also want to explore the wide world of cuttings and scion exchanges.

*Ditch the lawn. Lawns are not very environmentally friendly, they're a pain in the patootie to manage, and they tend to suck up money right along with water, fertilizer, and lawn management chemicals. That goes double if you're using a landscaping company to handle your lawn for you because it's too much work. Explore lawn alternatives and give your yard a new look.

*Turn it down, turn it off. Your heat's probably turned up too high -- and we don't blame you, because it gets cold sometimes! But try dropping it a few degrees for big energy savings, and you'll find that there's not that much of a difference in terms of comfort. Feeling chilly? Wear a sweater, or add a blanket to the bed. Make sure to turn the heat down when you're going to sleep or going away. While you're at it, turn down that water heater, which is probably on a higher setting than you need.

Not using things? Turn them off. And watch out for vampire appliances. Talk to your Denver electrician about ways to minimize electrical waste -- and if your bill is unusually high, be aware that there may be something wrong with your wiring or electrical systems, and you should seek professional help!

*Make your own cleaners. We've got tons of recipes right here at Networx, from laundry soap to all-purpose cleaner to toilet scrubber. Stop loading up on expensive products at the store when you can make your own for a fraction of the cost, and control what's in them. Your cleaners will be more environmentally-friendly, to boot!

*Consider joining the Meatless Monday movement, if you haven't already. Meat production eats up considerable resources, and as you probably already know, meat is pricey! Abstaining from meat just one day a week can help the environment and your pocketbook, and lots of websites have great recipe suggestions for families of all sizes and inclinations, like this amazingly warming and delicious African sweet potato and peanut butter soup. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but, seriously? It's so good. I have a giant pot of it in my fridge right now!

Katie Marks writes for

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