Let me preface this by saying that I know that this doesn’t hold true everywhere, but let’s face it, Europe is often a lot better at saving on energy (and therefore money) than America, and while I was studying abroad in Italy, I picked up several habits that your wallet (and the environment) will thank you for.
Sun’s Out = Lights Out
This one is easy. If you can see using natural light, there’s no need to turn on a lamp. So open those blinds and turn off the overhead light (and it goes without saying that you should never leave a light turned on if you’re not using it). Until I started making a conscious effort not to turn lights on, I never realized how many lights I used when I really didn’t need them. Don’t force yourself to sit in the dark or strain your eyes, but be aware of what lights you really do need.
AC is a Luxury–Treat It Like One
In Italy, most older buildings don’t even have air conditioning. That’s not to say you have to turn yours off entirely, but there’s no need to keep your apartment so cold in the summer. Open your windows whenever you can, or set your AC two or three degrees warmer than usual and invest in a fan or two to save some money. Hint: If you have to wear a jacket indoors but not outdoors, your AC is too cold.
Skip the Dryer
Hang your clothes to dry whenever possible. Not only will this save money, but it will reduce the wear and tear on your clothes and make them last longer. It’s a win-win! Hanging to dry is especially effective for increasing the lifespan of your delicates, so go ahead and invest in a drying rack today.
Get Creative with Leftovers
My host-mother in Italy did not waste food. Leftover vegetables or meat? Rather than pitching them, they became an ingredient in the next night’s pasta or soup. If the people of Tuscany can create a soup consisting entirely of old vegetables and stale bread*, you can find some way to use those leftover beans before they go bad. Rice or egg dishes are great places to toss in whatever you have in your Tupperware.
Eat Less Meat
I’m not saying you have to go vegan or anything, but meat is expensive. Try doing meatless Mondays, or just having a meal or two every week without meat to save a little cash. Reducing meat, especially red-meat, is also a very eco-friendly action to take.
Shut off the Water
Take a shorter shower. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Don’t leave the faucet running while you’re scrubbing your hands (turn it on to get a lather going, turn it off while you scrub, and then turn it back on to rinse off the soap. This has the added bonus of keeping your faucet handles clean every time you turn them on with soapy hands, which is great, because they’re some of the dirtiest things in your bathroom).
*Ribollita is a delicious Tuscan soup whose explicit purpose is to ensure that nothing in the kitchen goes to waste.