As a personal finance writer I am constantly thinking about ways to save money and how to cut expenses. When I get the oil in my car changed I think about how to save money on auto repairs. When I’m at the grocery store I’m trying to remember all the coupons that match up with the deals in the circular from that week. When I’m at home I remind the hubby we need to add weather stripping to keep the heat in and use our thermostat less.
But April has brought some warmer temperatures so I’m not inside the house as much. Actually this past week I planted a few flowers in my planters and bought some fertilizer for the lawn. And wouldn’t you know it that got me wondering if my lawn care and gardening habits were costing me more than they should. Between fertilizer, watering my plants and lawn, seeds, gardening equipment, lawn care services and other costs it’s estimated that Americans spend $40 billion a year caring for their yards. In contrast we spend $47 billion on child care services. So you can see our children are important to us, but having a green velvety lawn is a close second.
In addition the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims we spend an average of 73 hours a year keeping our yards beautiful. That’s a huge investment of our time and money. And just like everything else I want to make sure I’m getting the most out of my actions.
When I started looking into ways to save money on my lawn care needs I knew the obvious answers would be to cut my lawn myself. I’m not going to save much money if I hire out every yard job I have to a lawn care company or college kid home for the summer. I wanted to look deeper into ways people like me unknowingly throw money away caring for their yards.
One of the most surprising things I found out had to do with my lawn mower. Did you know you should get it serviced and checked-out every few years? I didn’t. I haven’t thought much about it since I bought the thing several years ago. What I found was that lawn mowers blades can dull over the years and cause more than just cosmetic damage to your grass. When a dull blade hits your grass it shreds the tip, instead of cutting it. This might not seem like a bad thing because your still getting your lawn cut but it’s actually increasing the chances that your lawn develops a fungal disease. Shredded grass tips are perfect points of entry for fungus. And once fungus and disease sets in, it becomes expensive to get it out. You’ll start spending money and your time on fungicides and weeding to cure your lawn, never a fun thought.
To add insult to injury dull mower blades end up costing you more in the fuel department. Lawn mowers require gas to run. Dull mower blades actually increase fuel consumption up to 22 percent. It’s thought that dull blades produce more resistance while moving the lawn. This resistance causes the mower to burn fuel at a faster rate, meaning you’ll need more of it to keep it running. If you haven’t looked at the blades of your lawn mower in a few years it may be time to check them out. Take them into a repair shop to have them sharpened or replaced.
Next time you cut your lawn I want you to save the clippings. I also want you to save the core of the next apple you eat and the scraps of the next vegetable you eat. Grass clippings, food scraps and other organic waste can be turned into free compost which can be used as mulch and fertilizer for your lawn.
Even starting small can have a big effect on your wallet. A small compost bin can generate up to 40 cubic feet of compost per year. Next time you head over to Home Depot or Lowe’s check out how much their compost costs. Most times you’ll see it listed for as much as $5 per cubic foot, which means you, could net $200 worth of free fertilizer per year!
You can buy a composter online for $100 or so or you can use any lidded container into which you throw your clippings, leafy greens and food waste such as egg shells, coffee grounds, veggie trimmings, fruit cores. Turn the pile every couple of weeks to encourage decomposition and within a season or two you’ll have an endless supply of nutrient-rich fertilizer. Now you can save money and the world!
If we are going to talk about saving money while saving the world then I would be remiss if I didn’t include a paragraph on the benefits of planting shade trees. When you plant trees in your lawn you not only help the environment and help reduce noxious CO2 gases in our atmosphere, but you also reduce your utility bills. Now conventional wisdom says to plant shady trees along the south side of our homes to provide the most protection from the sun. But in most parts of America the sun only heats up our homes to uncomfortable levels for a few months of the year. Most of the time the temperatures are cool enough that we crave any bits of sunshine in our windows to naturally warm our homes. That’s why the best approach is to plant trees on the east and west sides of our homes.
You might be wondering how much planting a couple of trees can really reduce your utility bills by. Depending where you live, one tree planted on the west side of your home can reduce your energy bills by three percent within five years, according to the Center for Urban Forest Research. Within 15 years, that savings jumps to nearly 12 percent and planting another tree on the east side can boost the total savings to almost 22 percent.
To take your savings to the next level, why not plant fruit trees. Fruit trees can provide the shade you’re looking for while yielding you a healthy snack. Did you know that one healthy, semi dwarf apple tree can produce up to 168 pounds of apples per year? If apples are selling for $2 per pound at your local grocery store, then your tree will drop $336 worth of apples each year! How ya like them apples!
So far in this letter I’ve told you about things that can keep over $500 in your pocket if you follow my lawn care money saving tips. But I’m not done yet. In fact my next tip is probably the biggest money saving tip I’ll tell you about today. My super-secret money savings tip for my lawn is that I don’t water my lawn, like ever. Well that’s not entirely true; I just don’t pay to water my lawn. There is no need to pay money for something that falls free from the sky.
I keep my water bill trim and my grass hydrated by using a rain barrel to catch runoff from my roof. Professional storage containers are available online in a range of sizes, from barrels that are a few gallons to tanks that can hold thousands of gallons. But, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to capture rainwater. An old trash can or large bucket can be placed under the downspout of your home gutters. A typical 60 gallon trash will hold enough water to take care of several large flower beds for two to three weeks at a time. All you need is for less than an inch of rain to fall from a standard size roof to fill it up every few weeks.
Harvesting rainwater is illegal in some areas. The government has claimed domain over rainwater and run-off so not everyone can benefit from a rainwater collection system like I do. If you really want to save some green while still keeping your yard green than you may want to look into xeriscaping your lawn. Xeriscaping has to do with minimizing the amount of grass you have in your yard and instead filling it with native plants and trees. Grass requires the most amount of moisture of any plant in your yard thus the more grass you have the larger your water bill is going to be. Instead give over part of your lawn to ground cover. Plant low-growing shrubs such as vinca, carex or ferns which require very little water or fertilizer and don’t need to be moved, yet are just as green.
If you haven’t started the fertilizing and planting process yet this year, you soon will. April is one of the busiest months at nurseries and home improvement stores. Now you know how to save yourself some green while keeping your yard green!
Keeping Money in Your Pocket,