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Best green ways to invest your tax return

You've waited all year for that coveted tax return check. Now, it's time to spend it!

Whether you're an eco-conscious consumer, or simply looking for ways to go greener and save a little money, here are a few ideas for putting your cash to good use:

Green mutual fund.

With as little as a $250 upfront investment, a green mutual fund can provide a sound place for your money to grow. Not only can you feel good about your socially responsible decision, but you'll have the peace of mind of knowing the corporations investing your money are working to minimize their own environmental impact. Consult a financial adviser to select investments: Pax World Mutual Funds deliver competitive long-term investments through a process called sustainable investing; Domini Social Investments specialize exclusively in socially responsible investing, integrating social and environmental standards into their investment decisions.

Fuel-efficient vehicle.

The cheapest ways to save money on transportation are traveling via public transit or carpooling; however, if you're leaning toward a new car purchase, consider one of the newer, fuel-efficient models. Visit fueleconomy.gov to compare models and features. Alternatively, a quick tune-up of your current vehicle can go a long way in stretching your fuel dollars...and extending the life of your car.

Home energy efficiency.

Investing your tax return toward increasing home efficiency can help you save big on utility costs while helping to lower your environmental footprint. If you have a sizable return, consider replacing an old, out-of-date HVAC system with a new high-efficiency, ENERGY STAR®-qualified unit. This can help cut utility costs by up to 20% if your heat pump or air conditioner is 10 years or older, and up to 15% if your furnace is more than 15 years old. Additionally, installing a programmable thermostat, insulating and sealing your home and installing ENERGY STAR-qualified windows and appliances can go a long way in helping you save money down the road—all while helping to reduce energy use. For more tips to increase home energy efficiency, visit energystar.gov.

Composting system.

Developing a composting system for waste can be cheap and easy. Plus, it makes the load lighter on garbage day when you're hauling the trash to the curb! Start with a worm bin (a cheap storage bin or retail composting bin). Then, purchase a well-established colony of red wigglers—the most common type of composting worms. Add in all raw fruit and vegetable peels, seeds and waste—you can even add eggshells, plain, undyed paper towels or coffee grounds and filters. The worms will eat their own weight in food waste every day while producing a great fertilizer for your garden.

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