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Go green and save up for family fun

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By Lynda Fassa
From Green Goes Simple

Coming into the beautiful warm weather brings about a lot of changes -- you can finally put the winter coats away and start enjoying the fresh flowers and veggies! It's also the perfect time to make some green changes at home. Spring-cleaning is a good start, but with so many families watching their budgets, the best upgrades are the ones that help you stash some extra cash to enjoy with the most important people in the world -- your family. Here's how to get started.

Adjust the Thermostat
If you did the right thing by Mother Earth (and your wallet) during the winter by turning down the thermostat and putting on a sweater, the warm weather is the time to crank it up -- and strip your clothing down. Aim for 72 degrees -- a comfy temperature that won't have your air conditioners running all the time. If you don't have central air, choose the automatic energy-saver on your AC units and set them each at 72. For every degree you lower it to, you'll save about 2 percent in energy costs.

Also, don't underestimate the power of good curtains, blinds or shades to keep cool air circulating around the house. Let in the early-morning and late-afternoon sun, but pull the blinds between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for significantly reduced electric bills during the warmer months.

Use the money you'll save to treat your family to some lovely houseplants. Go to the nursery and let everyone pick out their own plant to put in their rooms, then get a few extras for the common areas. Houseplants are a quick and easy way to beautify your home and improve your indoor air quality.

Wash With Cold Water and Dry Outside
High-efficiency laundry detergents are formulated to get whites white and keep colors bright in cold water, and you'll save significantly by keeping the temperature chilly. Added benefit? Cold water will help keep your clothes looking newer, longer.

When the weather's nice, go the extra mile by hanging your laundry out to dry. Delicates will keep their shape better, and you'll save all the electricity that the dryer guzzles.

How to spend your savings? Treat your kids to some new clothes! Earn extra eco-points by going to your local thrift store. Remember, new can mean new-to-you.

Turn off, Tune In
Dedicate at least one night a week to screen-free entertainment for the whole family. And that means everyone -- dad doesn't get to play Sudoku on his phone while everyone else acts out Charades! Be patient: Kids may resist, but after a few minutes, grumbles turn into positive expectations about your weekly evening of face-to-face togetherness.

You'll not only get to bond with your family, but also save money by not using the electricity that normally goes to the TV, computer and other devices. Spend your electronic savings on some classic board games: "Life," "Clue" and "Scrabble" are always a hit.

Involve the Kids
However you approach eco-saving, it's always easier -- and more fun -- to enlist help from your kids. Invest in some Post-it notes and get the kids to write -- little ones can draw -- planet-friendly reminders, and then post them all over the house. "Turn me off" can be placed near light switches, and "Watch the water" can be placed near bathroom and kitchen sinks.

Older kids can even keep track of electric bills from month to month and help calculate the savings. You'll be surprised how quickly it all adds up! Consider making a chart that shows the cash savings and top it with a photo of a family purchase that everyone wants -- that Ping-Pong table for the rec room may be the ultimate motivation to bring conservation into everyday family living!

Lynda Fassa is the founder of Green Babies, an organic-cotton baby clothing company, and the author of two books (Green Babies, Sage Moms and Green Kids, Sage Families). She is a frequent blogger for sites like Grist.org, ParentsConnect.com, Treehugger.com and PlanetGreen.com. Lynda has also appeared in People, The New York Times, Parents and Parenting, and on the "Today" show, "Planet Green," "Fox News Happy Hour," "CBS Sunday Morning," "ABC News" and more.

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