Q: I’d like my family to make green resolutions for the New Year — ones we can actually keep. Any ideas on what changes we can make around the house?
A: Once again, it’s time to write down a list of resolutions for the New Year. As a perennial list maker, I have no shortage of long-term and short-term goals, including writing a book. (Isn't that on everyone's list?)
Here are a few green suggestions to reduce your family’s carbon footprint — one month at a time — in 2011.
January: Tighten the purse strings
It’s time to get serious about your finances. When your W-2 arrives, schedule time with an accountant or financial adviser to carefully review your expenditures. You may be missing deductions or an opportunity to cut costs. It’s also a chance to ensure that you are getting the most out of your retirement account. If you have small children, make sure that your insurance policy adequately covers expenses.
If you don’t already have an online banking system, it’s time to find one that works. Most banks offer the service for free. User-friendly sites like Mint.com, by the makers of Quicken, also make it easier to track expenses digitally. Both options help eliminate two forms of waste: paper bills and late fees. Make note of bill due dates and set up automatic payments where possible.
Work on paying down credit card debt and then reduce your reliance on plastic, with the exception of one or two cards that offer real points or cash back. Set a goal of saving enough money to stay afloat for six months, just in case something happens. That may mean routing a few dollars from each paycheck into a savings account.
Take advantage of free money in the form of coupons. Start clipping coupons, and make a habit of searching for coupon codes before hitting bricks-and-mortar or online retailers.
February: Focus on family
Healthcare costs can quickly and thoroughly drain a bank account, in addition to taking an emotional toll on any family. Schedule annual checkups for the family, and include pets if you have any. February is Pet Dental Health Month, and many veterinary clinics offer discounted services. This also is a good time to replace toothbrushes for the entire family.
Small, subtle changes make a big difference. Try Meatless Mondays, and replace sodas with water at least one day a week. With input from the family, add colorful fruit or vegetable favorites to each meal.
Extend family time from the dinner table to the living room by investing in family-friendly activities. (Have you tried the “Michael Jackson Experience” on the Wii? It delivers a pretty awesome workout.) A quick walk around the neighborhood or the nearest farmers market also burns a few calories.
March: Go green
Whether it’s flowers for the yard or veggies for the table, pledge to grow something as a family. Garden centers offer classes on everything from landscaping to growing your own tomatoes. Take a few classes and start nurturing at least one green thumb in the family. Plants like lettuce, potatoes, peas and carrots can be relatively easy and fun to grow. Homegrown produce also significantly reduces your grocery bill, so start digging. In a previous column, I provide a few tips on finding out what will grow in your backyard.
April: Get your house in order
Take mnn.com’s energy efficiency quiz and get busy streamlining your energy bills. Invest in low-flow showerheads and faucets, check the insulation and replace any remaining incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs, which last much longer.
Use this time to clean air filters and vents around the house. Also, remove dust from the back of your dryer and refrigerators so that they run more efficiently. While you’re at it, get rid of all the petrified food taking up space in your freezer and refrigerator. You will need that space for all the yummy produce you’ll grow!
May: Clean out your closet
Now that school is coming to an end, raid all closets and purge clothes that no longer fit. Here are a few tips to get you started. Make sure the kids carefully store any school supplies that can be used next year, and compile a list of items that should be replaced.
June: Book a staycation
Enjoy a staycation by rediscovering interesting destinations within your hometown. This also is the time to dine al fresco and give the oven a break with creative yet filling salads. Reduce time in the kitchen by scheduling potlucks with family and friends. My top 20 list of family friendly activities features plenty of other fun options for your summer to-do list.
July: Yard sale time
In addition to checking off the list of family friendly activities, schedule a clothing swap or yard sale and start preparing for the new school year. Whatever is left after the sale can be donated to local charities.
August: Back to school
Organize closets, plan meals that can be made ahead and prepare for busy school days. Gather all those pencils, crayons and other supplies and make sure they are readily accessible for the first day of school. This also is the time to rearrange closets so that kids have plenty of options when the school bell rings.
September: Remember the farmers market
Stock up on goodies from the farmers market before they are all gone. Freeze veggies so that you have quick options once temperatures go south for the winter.
October: Purge those kitchen cabinets
Clean out kitchen cabinets and recycle that mountain of plastic containers. It’s time to invest in quality reusable pieces that will see plenty of action in the next few weeks.
November: DIY gifts
Before you raid the malls in search of the perfect gift, try homemade gifts for friends and family. Mnn.com features seven things you can make instead of buying. Surely there’s one item on the list that will work for your family. When you do hit the stores, shop with purpose. Avoiding items that are more packaging than product. For eco-friendly gifts, check out the Lazy Environmentalist’s budget-friendly suggestions.
December: Hit the closet
Once you’ve opened the last Christmas gift, it’s time to audit your closet once again. Donate clothes and other items you no longer use and hold on to that receipt. It’s one more deposit in the bank of green karma.
Happy New Year!
— Morieka Johnson
Photo: BazaarBizarreSF/Flickr; Jupiterimages