Between gas every week, car insurance and car payments every month, and all the oil changes, car washes, and other maintenance bills, you might be feeling guilty about the money you’re spending on your car. Add that to the guilt over the toll your daily commute is taking on the environment, and you may be thinking about changing how you get around. If you live in a city where public transportation is an option, the benefits seem obvious: you can reduce your carbon footprint and, ostensibly, save money. But what about the hidden costs of going green?
You’re only a half hour walk from work and it’s a beautiful spring day. If you’re going to be walking every day, you’re going to need some new sneakers. Even on sale, a new pair of kicks can set you back fifty bucks or more. Add that to the those $150 Ray-Bans to keep the morning sun out of your eyes—and catch the attention of every other good-looking do-gooder on the street—and you’ve already spent more than you would have on gas for a month.
Halfway to work you might start to get a little hot—a big, cold iced coffee would really hit the spot. And now that you think about it, all this exercise is working up your appetite, and that fresh $2 blueberry muffin is looking pretty good. While the walk itself is free, you can easily spend five dollars at the coffee shop every morning on your way to work—at $25 bucks a week, you’re looking at over $1,200 a year.
If you’re going to walk to work, make wise purchases on big items such as shoes and jackets, invest in a good thermos, learn how to cold-brew your coffee, and eat a good breakfast at home.
Live further from work? Maybe biking is more your speed. A commuter bike can cost anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to over a thousand, so talk to your biking friends and the employees in your local bike shop to help you figure out what kind is best for you. Then you’re going to need a helmet, and this isn’t the place to skimp—a quality one can run you over $50. Add a light ($20), a bell ($5), a basket ($15), a portable pump ($25), and streamers if you’re feeling fancy ($5). Make sure to buy a quality lock (from $50 – $100) in order to protect your investment.
If you’re biking, most of your money will be spent up front: if you do your research and buy secondhand as much as possible, you can significantly lower your initial cost. In order to save money in the future, learn how to do basic bike maintenance like replacing a flat tire and fixing a chain.
If you can’t show up at work sweaty, maybe you’re better off taking the bus or the subway. It still costs a couple bucks a ride, but at least it’s cheaper and greener than driving your car. You’re going to want something to distract you from that crazy lady talking to her purse in the corner—and is that guy in the suit peeling a hard-boiled egg? How about those break-dancing kids and mariachi bands asking for your hard-earned coins between stops? A Kindle’s a good distraction option, although at $79 to $189, it’s pretty pricey. The 50 Shades of Grey e-book is only $9.99, but you’re going to have to find out how the trilogy ends, so tack on another twenty bucks. Try to stick to the library (even if it means waiting to hear what Christian Grey does next). Many classic novels are available to download for free onto your phone—they’ll save money and make for a much better read.
If you’re making a change from driving to work, give yourself a pat on the back for going green. While you’re at it, make sure to pat you wallet—it might be getting a little bit smaller. While big expenses like car payments and insurance premiums are what make us pay attention, it’s easy to forget that all those little expenses—like coffee and e-books—can really add up. Keep track of your spending habits and cut corners where you can so you don’t let the cost of going green keep you from reducing your carbon footprint.