6 No-Cost Ways to Make Your Money Support Your Environmental Values

green investing

If you care about the environment, chances are you’re bombarded by urgent pleas for money from political and environmental organizations. Donations aren’t the only way you can make a difference with your dollars, however. Here are six no-cost ways you can support the causes that matter to you by making more informed choices about what you buy, who you buy from, where you bank, what you invest in, how you use energy at home and how you leave a legacy. 

What you buy.

With every purchase you make — from chocolate to cleaning supplies — you can choose to reward ethical companies. Look up each product category in Better World Shopper to see which manufacturers score highest on support for the environment and other important causes. Get the information for free from the website, or support their work by buying their pocket-sized guide for just $15. 

Who you buy from.

Many large retailers make donations to political parties. You can get all the details from the Open Secrets website — or sidestep the political games altogether by buying from small, local businesses. These businesses support our community because they donate 250% more than large businesses to community causes, and they generate $68 of local economic return for every $100 spent with them. Another tip: Use cash or a debit card to save small businesses from paying credit card fees. 

Where you bank.

Your bank or credit card company may be using your money to make loans to fossil fuel and other environmentally damaging projects. Check out the Rainforest Action Network Banking on Climate Chaos 2021 Fossil Fuel Finance Report to see what your money is financing. Consider switching to a bank with a sustainability commitment, your local credit union or a black-owned bank

What you invest in.

“Green” investments are better for the planet and often outperform more traditional equivalents. Research stock and bond funds to get a closer look at what you’re really buying into. And, vote your shares! Voting shareholders have tremendous influence — just look at what happened in May of 2021 at Exxon’s board meeting.

How you save energy.

Invest in saving energy at home and you can get better returns than the stock market. Calculate your payback period for solar panels, insulate your home, swap out CFL or incandescent light bulbs for LEDs, and get rebates for replacing gas appliances with electric ones. And, if you own a car, consider switching to an all-electric vehicle (EV). It can dramatically reduce your carbon emissions and deliver considerable savings over the life of the car.  

How you leave a legacy.

Express your generosity without impacting your lifestyle by leaving money to a nonprofit. You don’t need to make out a will: Just name the nonprofit a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement plan (such as an IRA or 401K). You can change your beneficiary designation by filling out a form, and you can do that as frequently as you like. Nonprofits can get the full, untaxed amount of your retirement accounts or appreciated stock, so if you can, give those assets to nonprofits and give other assets to individuals. If you’re over 60 and have at least $10,000 to give, you might consider donating that money to your favorite nonprofit in exchange for annual payments for the rest of your life

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Anne-Christine Strugnell is a Marin County-based writer whose work has appeared in MORE MagazineSelf, the Christian Science Monitor and the Cup of Comfort series. In 2019, awareness of the climate crisis drove her to focus on climate awareness work with Resilient NeighborhoodsEnvironmental Forum of Marin and the Climate Reality Project.