Diligent environmentalism is an attitude the next generation needs to embrace and what better way to teach our kids to be eco friendly than to make it eco fun? Living a green lifestyle can be expensive, case-in-point: organic food, energy efficient appliances, electric cars; but did you know there are actions you can take today to start teaching your kids (and yourself) to live greener without spending any extra money? In fact, you might even save a little green in your wallet!
1. Make getting there an adventure
Walking, biking, buses, subways and the New York Waterways are all sustainable methods of getting around New York City, and much preferable to driving or taking a cab. Make it an adventure by pointing out nature and the sights and sounds of the city as you walk or bike. Try turning your trip into a game with prizes awarded to family members who got to their destination in the most unique or interesting way possible, New York Waterways is sure to be a winning choice! The extra time will be worth it: 20 pounds of toxic emission per gallon of gas is saved every time you walk or use public transportation.
2. Turn off the lights
You can fight global warming and save money just by turning off a light switch. Get your family in the habit of turning off anything with an off/on switch when it’s not in use and they’ll automatically be thinking more eco friendly.
Probably the most basic of eco-friendly tasks, but surprisingly not something everyone does routinely. Keeping separate bins for trash, plastic and paper recyclables will teach the whole family how to dispose of waste properly.
4. Scream & Shout
Make an impact using social media, video, petitions and community events, all great ways people communicate about issues they believe in. Encourage your family – kids and adults — to get their voices heard by decision makers using the communication tools at their disposal. Success stories about other people who have made a difference will encourage them to form opinions and act on their convictions.
5. Create Found Decorations
Holidays, birthdays, and just-because parties are all great excuses to create decorations, online invitations, and presents by hand using found objects. Reuse phone books, old letters or other found papers to wrap presents or make origami decorations. Use foliage and other natural elements to make household décor, presents, centerpieces or yard décor. Photos, creative writing and homemade designs also make great invitations, messages or fun projects for your whole family.
Talk to us: How does your family make eco friendly thinking a priority at home?
Tax time is right around the corner and your green lifestyle might save you money when you file this year. Some green tax breaks expired at the end of 2013, which means you can claim them on the taxes you file this April, 2014, but not again; and some will be available for taxes filed in 2015 and beyond. Always ask your accountant if you qualify for these potential tax savings and research any green tax breaks on your own to ensure they are applicable for your unique situation.
Smart transportation savings
According to Forbes, if you took public transportation instead of driving to work you might be able to claim a tax break this year. “The transit parity tax break—putting train commuters on the same footing as car commuters who park so they can defer $245 a month of pretax salary to use for commuting expenses—is in danger yet again. If you commute and your employer offers the benefit, make sure you’re taking advantage of it for the rest of the year. And then for 2014, sign up through your employer, and if Congress extends the break retroactively, you’ll be more likely to be able to get money back.”
Driving an electric car could lower your taxes. According to Sierra Club, the Plug-in Electric Drive Vehicle Credit, which stays intact through 2014, offers drivers of qualified electric vehicles $2,500 to $7,500 in credit, depending on the car’s battery capacity. Search your vehicle by make, model, and year to check whether it qualifies at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Economy website.”
Green home tax breaks
According to Forbes, “There’s a $500 tax credit (that’s a dollar for dollar savings) for making certain energy-efficient improvements to your home like putting in a new front door, added insulation or a corn stove. The credit is 10% of the cost of building materials, so if the cost is $5,000 you get $500 back courtesy of Uncle Sam. One big caveat: The $500 credit applies to cumulative claims for the credit dating back to 2006. For details, see Fiscal Cliff Deal Helps Pay For Green Home Remodels.”
These incentives for renewable energy systems will be around through Dec. 31, 2016. If you installed a solar hot water heater or splurged on a solar photovoltaic array or small wind energy system, you could receive a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of the system. As always, there are exceptions and fine print, so discuss your possible tax breaks with a trained tax professional before you make your claim. For example, this tax break doesn’t apply to improvements made on rental properties, only primary or secondary homes so be sure to sit down for a conversation with a tax preparer before you start counting the money you’re expecting to get back.
Home improvements aren’t limited to big ticket changes. Even if you replaced exterior doors, windows, roof, insulation, air-conditioning unit, or heat pump with eco-friendly alternatives, you might be entitled to receive a portion of your expenditures back in the form of a tax credit, although changing laws may make this green tax break a thing of the past after you file in 2014.
Donations deserve a tax incentive
Just donating your unwanted household items and clothing to a good cause can earn you some credit with the IRS. Giving used items in good condition to charitable organizations like Goodwill or making a contribution to your favorite environmental nonprofit such as The Nature Conservancy could result in a tax break on April 15, providing it meets the requirements set out by the IRS.
According to Forbes, “If you’re 70 and a half or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 out of your Individual Retirement Account to charity. For some taxpayers, this is more tax-efficient than taking the required IRA distributions, paying income tax on those distributions and then giving to charity and getting an income tax deduction for the charitable gift.”
To see all instructions and specifics visit the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) guide to charitable contributions. If you donated goods to an organization that lets you calculate the cost of your contribution, check out the IRS’ guidelines on determining the value of your donated property.
Talk to us: What green tax incentives did you earn in 2013?
March, the traditional (dreaded) month to undertake the big spring cleaning is here. You could set aside the weekend, enlist the help of family members and drive yourself and your loved ones crazy attempting to overhaul your entire home from a long, dreary winter; or, you could take one hour and whip your living space into shape.
Viable speed cleaning demands organization and the right supplies. Stock a grab-and-carry tote with natural, plant-based cleaners such as Ecospirit sprays, large trash bags and microfiber cleaning cloths and you’re ready to get started.
You’re cleaning strategy is to start in the back (or the top floor) and work your way to the front. Open the windows as you go; the most health-producing aspect of spring cleaning is letting toxic indoor air out and fresh spring air in. Don’t forget to turn off your HVAC system before you throw open the windows.
Use your large garbage bag to empty trash as you move through your house, and wipe down surfaces with your cloth. Did you know that microfiber cloths hold five times as much dust and dirt as traditional rags and don’t end up in landfills like paper towels, which is why we suggest using them for spring cleaning, what better way to welcome natures blooms?
Put knick-knacks and other household items you no longer want into a pile in the middle of each room as you go. Another way to do this might be to ask your family to build their own pile of unwanted items before you start your speedy spring cleaning.
When you’ve tackled the trash and surfaces, go back through with another bag and collect the items you’ll be donating, recycling or repurposing. Check local donation centers for places in need of textiles, furniture, books, toys, appliances and other household items.
Make one more trip through your living space armed with a vacuum and a mop to clean your floors. Notice we didn’t specify using a broom. That’s because a high-tech vacuum with settings for hardwood and carpet will do a better job disposing of dust and debris than a broom, which stirs it up only to have it settle in corners.
Get organized and spring clean with a strategy and you can do it in less time than it takes to do a load of laundry, or give us a call to schedule a Mint Green cleaning service and you can spend that hour enjoying the first rays of spring sunshine outside.
Talk to us: What are you donating, recycling, or repurposing this year during your spring cleaning?
The words eco-friendly and spring break aren’t often used in the same sentence. Media depictions of booze-filled, hedonistic college trips are in regular rotation during this time of year. Fortunately, not everyone is planning seven days of debauchery in the sun; adult responsibilities, careers and families are higher priorities for most of us these days; but, that doesn’t mean spring break is no longer part of your vocabulary. If you’re a parent of school-age kids you’ll need a spring break plan to keep the family busy during the week off from classes and even if you’re happily dependent-free, spring break should be on your radar as a time to relax, rejuvenate and rejoice.
Where to go? Depending on your situation, your best choice may be to just stay home and make your spring break a volunteer staycation. With so many demands on our time, it’s easy to forget about people and places close to home. When was the last time you spent some time volunteering without having to rush away to work or family? If you plan a volunteer staycation, you can relax and immerse yourself in the people and issues you’re spending time to resolve. Meet the folks you’re helping out and spend time with other volunteers. Go to dinner, take a walk, reflect on the work you’re doing and remember why you thought it was important to volunteer in the first place.
If you’d rather volunteer and travel, check out Volunteer Vacations for tips on where to go.
Going green on spring break doesn’t have to be a riddle. Why not take the family and actually escape into nature. Take a biking trip, go spring skiing, plan a weekend hiking trip, visit Yellowstone, there are literally hundreds of options to spend a week or a weekend in nature. What a great way to remind yourself and your family what being eco friendly is all about!
Are you of the opinion that the only break is one spent in a resort? The good news is that you can stay eco friendly without sacrificing all the indulgences that make up your perfect vacation. Eco resorts are plentiful and the best part is that environmental sustainability is automatically included with the cost of your stay so you can take a break from all your responsibilities. Need some additional inspiration on where to go? The Huffington Post offers a list of 10 of the world’s best eco friendly destinations.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to take time for yourself this month, and that includes the return home. Schedule a Mint Green cleaning visit while you’re gone and come back to an organized, toxin-free clean home.
Talk to us: Are you taking a spring break this year?