Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: Use Paper Pots to Start Your Garden

Getting ready to start your garden? What better way to get those seedlings going than with some paper pots. Paper pots are pots that you create out of newspaper. Once your plant begins growing roots, they'll grow right through the paper. Best of all, you can plant the entire paper pot and it will decompose and add nutrients to your soil. Want to see how it works? Check out this post to see step-by-step instructions on how to make a paper pot.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Money or Your Life Monday: Job Costs

The next exercise I need to complete according to Your Money or Your Life is determining how much my job actually costs me. Here's the breakdown of my out-of-pocket expenses:

This includes the time spent driving to work and the gas involved. I spend 15 minutes driving one way, around 8 miles. Assuming that 16 miles would take 1 gallon of gas, the trip costs me $2 per day. The cost is approximately $360 per month.

Between the business attire, shoes and other accessories, I spend approx. $100 per month. I don't dry clean my clothes (just wash them in cold water on the gentle cycle and let air dry), so I didn't include a cost for that.

I keep a stash of food in my desk that gets replenished monthly. In that stash, I usually keep oatmeal and cereal, so I only have to buy hot water or milk. As a "treat" (although I wouldn't exactly call our cafeteria a treat), I buy lunch on Fridays. Total food costs are $160 per month.

So when it's all said and done I spend $620 per month for work-related items, which totals more than $7,400 per year.

These costs don't include donations to fundraisers, happy hour costs, contributing to cake for birthdays, bagel breakfasts, etc.

Now that I have an idea of what work costs me, it's onto the next exercise. I have to inventory everything I own (I'm really dreading the work involved with that.) Essentially, I have to go through out entire house, garage, shed and basement and assess the value of each and every item. Stay tuned...

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Top 5 Reasons to Go Organic

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Organic food is produced by farmers is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations." Basically, if a food is certified organic its been inspected and approved under the USDA's guidelines by a government-approved certifier. If a product is organic certified, it cannot use most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering or irradiation (also known as "ionizing radiation" or "cold pasteurization").

Here's the top five reasons to buy and eat organic food:

1. Tastes better -- less chemicals means more flavor

2. Healthier option -- you won't consume pesticides, carcinogens, or other harmful substances

3. Support local farmers -- many small, local farmers embrace organic farming

4. Conserve energy -- less traveling, less and less resources are used to produce organic food

5. Protect resources for future generations -- from soil contamination to hormones, by going organic now, we can ensure we leave a sustainable environment for future generations

While these are only five reasons, there are many, many more. I realize that sometimes organic can mean more expensive. That said, it's important to shop around, use coupons whenever possible and make sure that the item you are buying is truly organic. You need to make the right choices for your family.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Save Money: Looking to Save vs. Looking to Spend

I have a good friend who has difficulty when it comes to her finances. She was raised on credit cards, which means she has mountains of debt, poor credit and no savings. Not a good situation for a couple in their 30's with a young child. However, when that is how you were raised, that is the only way you know how to manage your finances (if you want to call it manage).

Given her situation, she still does not understand that she needs to save and not spend. She is an extremely caring, giving person who is always looking for ways to spend. I don't think she does it consciously, but she does it nonetheless. Here's an example, we meet up for dinner or lunch at least every month. Without fail, she will show up with a "gift" for me, a book, card or other token. It's a very sweet gesture, but it makes me crazy since I know her financial background.

I think being frugal is an attitude, a mindset. Based on my friend's attitude and past experience, here's a brief list of what not to do:
  • Don't treat spending and shopping as a hobby, something you do when you're bored.
  • Don't live on credit cards. If you can't pay for an item with cash, chances are, you can't afford it.
  • Don't treat your home equity as a windfall. This is not "free" money. You have to pay it back, and you have to pay interest.
  • Don't cash out your 401K, thinking you will pay back the account at some point. You won't.
  • Don't "borrow" from your children's bank accounts or from your family and/or friends. Chances are, if you're in a situation where you need to borrow from someone other than a bank, you will not pay them back.
  • Don't live with blinders on. Be prepared or have a Plan B. Do you have a plan if you have a major unexpected expense or you lose your job?
Do you know someome like this? Are there other bad habits that should be avoided?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Green Website Review -- RenewableEnergyJobs.com

If you're interested in an eco-friendly job, look no further than RenewableEnergyJobs.com. While the site was just recently launched in February 2009, this new career site has an impressive design with a wealth of offerings.

RenewableEnergyJobs.com is a high-quality site that has more green energy jobs than any other site -- 700 positions in 28 countries. In addition, in February alone, the site had 50,000 visitors.

You can search jobs by sector or location links along the right side, or you can use the search box to enter keyword, sector, city/state. No matter what you're interested in -- from Solar Sales Professionals to Environmental Consultant -- you'll find positions around the global.

RenewableEnergyJobs.com works with both job seekers and recruiters. And don't forget to check out the numerous articles available about green jobs and careers.

Consider it a Green HotJobs or Monster, RenewableEnergyJobs.com is an up and coming job site that will definitely serve a great niche.

Check out RenewableEnergyJobs.com today!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Money or Your Life Monday: How Much Does Your Job Cost You?

As I continue to try and get through the task of inventorying everything we own, the next step in Your Money or Your Life is trying to figure out how much your job costs you versus what you earn. This means taking into account the length of your commute, wear and tear on your car, cost of clothes, lunches, etc. The goal is to take all of the time (the book explains how to figure out what you make per hour) and out-of-pocket costs involved in getting to your job and doing the work, take the total and subtract it from your take-home wage. That amount is your "real" salary. For some people, this can be a huge difference. From there, you're supposed to assess whether you feel that what your earning and how you feel about your job are aligned.

Obviously, the book goes into much more detail. I'm determined to get through the inventory this week, as well as this exercise. I've driven down my work costs as much as I can, including:
  • I don't dry clean my clothes (even if it says "dry clean only," I wash the clothes in cold water and tumble dry them on low heat).
  • I only buy lunch on Fridays as a treat, otherwise I bring my lunch.
  • My commute to and from work is approximately 30 minutes.
My one big expense is what I spend on clothes and shoes for work. While I've tried to cut back, I know I can do more.

Stay tuned as I continue my journey...

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Green and Frugal -- Friday Round-Up of Top Tips

TGIF!! Check out these sites for great green and frugal tips:

I'd love to hear your top tips for being green and saving money!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Green and Frugal -- Getting the Family On Board

As I keep trying to implement new ways to be green and/or save money, I'm beginning to realize that I'm getting some resistance from the family. I don't think it's conscious behavior, especially when it comes to the kids. Now the husband is another subject all together.

My husband is very supportive of whatever I do...except when it messes with this day-to-day routine. Case in point, the Paper Towel Challenge. He likes using paper towels and lots of them. "They're biodegradable. Why do I have to stop using them?" I tried to explain how the land fills get our paper towels and every other household's. "Isn't washing rags just creating more waste water?" That sends me straight to the computer to Google whatever I can find to see if this statement is, in fact, true. Hmm, maybe he had a point?

He doesn't mind recycling or working through the exercises from Your Money or Your Life. But how can I get him on board for becoming more green? Has anyone tried including biodegradable paper products in their composting heap? I'd love to get a consensus of how many other green gals (or guys) have to contend with a spouse that may not be as on board as you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: The Duggars: 20 and Counting!

Before I decided to get this book, I had read numerous reviews about it. It got rave reviews. I figured that a family of 20 would definitely have some helpful information when it came to being frugal.

To start, I won't go into detail, but the Duggars made the decision to "let God decide how many children they would have." I understand that they are very religious and that's fine. However, they also pray for everything and they firmly believe that you can somehow get what you want just by praying.

That said, I believe in God and I pray regularly. However, I don't seem to get everything that I pray for (No, I'm not praying for the lottery. Yes, I do pray for thinner thighs.) The other kicker is that, according to the husband, bad things happened when he didn't discuss decisions with his wife and pray. Couldn't this just be a coincidence? My question is: did they ever pray that they wouldn't get pregnant again?

The Duggars also provide some of their favorite recipes throughout the book. First, all of the recipes feed 18 people. I realize that's the size of their family, but most families are in the 4 to 6 range. I don't know about you, but tuna fish in barbeque sauce and pizza using white bread, spaghetti sauce and cheese just aren't my idea of delicacies. Not to mention, if I served either of these, I think my family would boycott my cooking.

The book starts out with how Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar met and progresses through to 2008. It discusses the businesses they've owned, homeschooling, routines and how they try to live debt-free. However, the book never goes into detail about much of anything. I want to know how much these people spend in groceries and how they save money. Do they use coupons? Do any of the kids join them on shopping trips?

For example, after having six children, the Duggars somehow managed to save $65,000 in cash. I'd like to know more about that. But no details were provided. This was a theme throughout the book. From the beginning, the Duggars are buying businesses and making them successful. But at no point do they get into the details of how they made it work.

I was disappointed with book and ended up skimming through much of it. It's more of a biography, than a book on how to save money while raising a big family.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: Vinegar is the Ultimate Cleaner

We've been battling our dishwasher for the past few weeks. Our glasses come out with a horrible film. I'm actually embarrassed to serve visitors drinks using our glasses. I finally couldn't take it anymore and decided I would try using vinegar to see if I could get the glasses to sparkle like they did when I first bought them.

I filled a bucket with vinegar and dropped all of the glasses in. Then, I took a rag and scrubbed each glass, inside and out. I didn't rinse the glasses, but I stuck them back in the dishwasher. My husband cleaned out the dishwasher. (We'll try anything in an effort to not have to buy a new dishwasher.) We loaded it with rinse and used new dishwasher detergent (half the amount we normally do).

I couldn't believe my eyes. The glasses look incredible. They sparkle more than they did when I first bought them! I'm now hooked on cleaning everything with vinegar -- windows, shower doors, faucets, etc. I even read an article that said to fill the rinse area of the dishwasher with vinegar. I'm sold!

Vinegar is safe for the environment, economical and easy to use. Go green and save money -- isn't that what it's all about?

Here's some more ideas for cleaning with vinegar and other uses. Have any other tips for vinegar? I'd love to hear them!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Your Money or Your Life Monday

I've been religiously writing down every dime we spend or earn. I thought it would be more tedious than it is. Nothing too enlightening yet. We're trying to spend as we normally do, but it is funny how you're more careful when you have to account for it. I guess you can compare it to dieting. You think twice about eating that donut when you know you have to write down the calories.

The next step in Your Money or Your Life is figuring how much "stuff" we own and what it's worth. I've been trying to get motivated to do this, but it does seem like a quite a chore. I mean to walk through our entire house and essentially inventory clothes, food, toys, furniture, electronics, etc. Plus, you not only have to inventory it, then you have to consider what you could sell it for to arrive at its estimated value. I'm sure our $2,000 LCD television that we splurged on a few Christmases ago isn't worth close to that anymore.

With a nice mortgage on the house, you can't count your home as something you own. Although I would think we could include the equity. Then there are the cars, the lawn equipment, dishes, appliances, the list goes on and on. I am interested to see what the final number is, but not sure if I'm excited or nervous. It could be depressing to think of all the money we spent through the years to acquire stuff that doesn't amount to much.

I think the goal of the exercise is to assess what you own and what all of that "stuff" actually means to you. Hopefully by doing this, I'll come across many items that I can add to the garage sale pile...

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top 5 Reasons Why the Paper Towel Challenge Isn't Working

Last week I decided that I would try to convert my family from paper towels and napkins in an effort to eliminate some of the waste we generate. What a nightmare!

1. Family Doesn't Buy Into Eliminating Paper Towels
Using our enormous rag box, I created a stash of ready-to-use paper-towel-replacements. Then, the lengthy debate with my husband about why we shouldn't use as many paper products begins. I explain that we're trying to limit our garbage output. My husband says that we're generating more waste water by having to wash the rags constantly. Plus, aren't paper products bio-gradable? Argh! Why can't being green be easy?

2. Increased Laundry By Twofold
I blew through my stash of rags within one day! Between my two-year-old spilling her applesauce, to my five-year-old missing the potty, I thought 20 rags would be more than enough for at least a week. Boy, was I wrong!

3. Rags are Not as Absorbent as Paper Towels
Instead of absorbing liquid, the t-shirt rags more or less just pushed it around. Whereas I would normally use a paper towel or two to clean up a wet mess, I felt like I was using four rags to do the job.

4. Food Stuff Sitting in Your Rag Pile Isn't Very Appealing
Spaghetti sauce, yogurt, eggs -- you don't want these things sitting in your laundry. I do the family's laundry once a week, so I couldn't really let it sit. I found myself doing a load of laundry at least once a day.

5. Kids are Really Messy
I think this experiment may have worked out better if my husband and I were two childless neat freaks. But that is far from the case. I think children under five should automatically come with at least 10 cases of paper towels.

I admit defeat, but I won't go down with out a fight. Yes, I've resided to continuing my paper towel usage. But I've discovered that Marcal has come out with a green paper towel. It's made from recycled materials, which makes me feel every bit better about my excessive paper towel use.

Anything you'd do differently to make it work?

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Go Green: Plastic Bag Tax?

As I was reading our local weekly paper, I came across this article -- "Township Council Proposes Municipal Tax on Bags." Basically, our town council is seeking state legislature's approval to permit the township to impose a municipal tax for businesses that dispense paper and plastic bags in our town.

I appreciate that our town is taking a proactive role in being green and protecting the environment. The statistics definitely support this type of action is both necessary and needed. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Census Bureau, The Reason Foundation, Envirosax (which has really cute reusable bags, by the way) and various other resources, more than 100 billion plastic shopping bags are used in the U.S. every year, and at least another 10 billion paper bags are used each year. Plus, 12 million barrels of oil are needed to make plastic bags and more than 14 million trees are destroyed in order to make paper bags.

The worst part is trying to properly dispose of both paper and plastic bags. While both can be recycled, the U.S. estimates that some 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of the ocean.

Based on our town alone, which has a population of approximately 24,000, we'd use 10.1 million bags every year based on the U.S. average. Imposing this tax would either greatly reduce plastic and paper bag usage or generate more than $100,000 in revenue. It seems like a win-win situation.

Interestingly enough, California already has a total ban on plastic and paper bags. Given the sheer size and population of that state, I'm sure it's made a major impact on conserving our environment. Additionally, New York City is also considering a five-cent bag tax.

Our town already has a very comprehensive recycling program that includes plastic, cardboard, aluminum, tin, and newspapers. Instituting a ban on plastic and paper bags would be a perfect fit. I hope the legislation does pass. I'd be interested to hear what other towns do -- or don't do -- to be environmentally conscious. What does your town currently have in place? A tax? A ban on all plastic and paper bags? Or something completely different?

Some portions of this blog contain excerpts from the article "Township Council Proposes Municipal Tax on Bags," The Villadom Times, March 11, 2009.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GreenandFrugalLiving.com Wins Kreative Blogger Award

I'm thrilled to have been awarded the Kreative Blogger Award by Casey at EcOnomical Mom.

Thanks so much for the kudos!

Please also check out Casey's blog at www.ec0nomicalmom.com to learn more about saving money.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: Decluttering -- A Green Way to Make Money

This week's tip is how decluttering can benefit you twofold -- it's green and it can bring in some money.

Where's the Clutter?
Look around your home. Are there knick-knacks collecting dust, clothes that still have the tags on them, or toys your children have long outgrown? Gather up all of those items and get rid of them. Don't throw them out. You're going to make some money in the process.

Some Options
Depending on what you've gathered, you have a few options. Here are some of the sites and ways I've decluttered:
  • Craigslist
    This site is great because it's free and convenient since buyers normally come and pick up the item for sale. I've unloaded many large items this way, including a Bowflex and antique trunk. No fuss, no muss. The only negative is when you get wishy-washy buyers. It does happen on occasion, but I still use the site often.

  • Ebay
    This is the most well-known auction site for selling items. There is a fee to post your item, whether or not you sell it, but it's worth the exposure that your items will receive. It's important to do a little research prior to posting your stuff. You may think it's worth more than it is, if anything at all. Just enter the item, search how many are currently posted and then check to see how many have actually sold and for how much.

  • Garage Sale/Yard Sale
    I find garage sales to be the fastest way to make a quick buck. While you may not get top dollar for your things, you will get rid of it fast. Plus, it's as easy as putting a sign up and putting your stash out in your garage or driveway. Granted, it can be tedious at times. Depending on how many items, you could easily make $200-$300 in one day. Not too shabby!
  • Consignment Shops
    I've never personally gone the consignment shop route for selling items. But I hear it's painless and can be profitable. You may have to do a little research to find stores in your area. Depending on what you have to sell (i.e., antiques, name-brand clothing, etc.), consignment shops may be the way to go.
  • Freecycle
    Don't want to be bothered with the hassle of selling your stuff? (I would beg you to reconsider, but that's your choice.) Then you'll want to check out Freecycle. It's a great forum broken down by location that allows you post items you'd like to give away. I've found Freecycle is great for large items that may be difficult to move (i.e., pool table, treadmill, etc.) Plus, you can search for items. I recently scored a garbage bag of toddler girl clothes. While not top-of-the-line gear, these were great items to clothe my daughter in when she goes to daycare and stains every article of clothing anyway.
While I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to remove items as you declutter, these are a few of my top picks. Any others that I may have missed?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Your Money or Your Life Monday

As you know, I'm working on incorporating the steps from the book Your Money or Your Life. I'm confident that making the changes outlined in the book will improve our finances.

One step is writing down every single penny that comes in or goes out. At first I thought this would be a no-brainer since I'm pretty stringent about maintaining our family's finances. While it's not difficult, it's been really enlightening. Why?

You Spent What on a Cell Phone Cover?
I had to keep track of what my husband spent on a daily basis. No easy feat, I might add. Plus, I was learning about the little things he was buying on a whim here and there. Like the $7.99 camouflage-colored cell phone cover? It was hideous and felt slimey. "Why don't you just put your phone in a plastic baggie if you're worried about it getting dirty?" I asked, half kidding, half serious. I dutifully noted the expense in our daily budget.

Ooh, I Found a Nickel Today!
I've never watched our budget down to the penny, and I mean the penny. If I found a nickel, it was +5 cents in the budget. I was excited to find money in the past, but now I could see it actually increasing our income. Granted it increased our income by a whopping 5 cents, but still!

Will That Be Cash or Credit?
Now this is interesting. I can easily recall exactly what I spent when I used cash. However, if I bought something with the credit card (gas, groceries, etc.), I either forgot about the purchase completely or couldn't remember the exact cost. I thought this was fascinating and could potentially help our budget. We've never paid for much with cash because we have a credit card through Upromise, which puts your cash rebate into a college fund. (While I could probably sign up for other more rewarding cards, this is a painless way to save for the college for our two children.)

I'll keep you posted on our progress.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Go Green, Save Money: Get a Free Shopping Tote

I'm working on converting from plastic bags to bringing my own reusable tote bags to the grocery store. I keep seeing the tote bags that the food stores are selling. If we're trying to reduce consumption, why are they selling them? Shouldn't they give you the option of trading in say 40-50 plastic bags to get a free tote? At least that would motivate me to switch over. Or, why don't grocery stores do what Sam's, Costco and BJ's do and not even provide bags? You either use a box, bring your own bag or use nothing at all.

In my online travels, I discovered that Delallo's, a Pennsylvania-based food store, has a better idea. How about a free tote bag? It's not just free, it's actually a cute bag. Just register on their site to get it for free right now.

Once I receive my bag, I'll let you know how shopping with it goes. I realize that this should be an easy switch, but I think when you're so ingrained in a habit, it's difficult to make the change. I'm learning that with this Paper Towel Challenge. Here's some foreshadowing. It's not going too well. More to come...

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Go Green at Work: Brown Bag Your Lunch

Whether you work at an office with a cafeteria or a building that has no microwave or refrigerator, you do have options to ensure that you're both green and frugal. Buying lunch everyday adds up. I recently stopped buying lunch everyday, except for Fridays (my little treat to end the week). I'm saving at least $40+ per week, if not more.

Plan Ahead
Make room in your workspace to keep some non-perishables. I have a small empty drawer in a small filing cabinet. I find the following items can quickly be turned into a decent, healthy lunch:
  • Crackers
  • Tortillas or a loaf of bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Tuna fish
  • Sardines
  • Granola, snack or meal-replacement bars
Pack Some Refrigerated Items
I also like to have some fresh fruit of veggies to snack on throughout the day. So I'll throw a few of these into a bag or lunch cooler since they keep well:
  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Baby carrots
  • Yogurt
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus
Other Necessities
You'll want to keep a can opener handy. (It'll be difficult to open that can of tunafish without one.) Plus, having regular utensils, some napkins and a plate (plastic or ceramic) will also be helpful. Even if you don't have a kitchenette area, you can easy wash them in the bathroom. (I realize that isn't the ideal scenario. I can tell you that I don't normally wash my utensils in the bathroom. But when you have no other choice, it'll do the trick.)

You'll also want to bring a drink if you're not a big water drinker. Again, water is $0, healthy and green (no packaging if you use your own bottle and the water fountain vs. bottled water).

Yes, you will have setbacks. I'm all too familiar with those days when you're starving, and crackers and peanut butter just aren't going to cut it. That's fine, but try to set a weekly budget. For instance, no more than $10-15 per week is spent on lunch. If you're dieting, then you'll get a double bonus. Trying to watch what you eat while watching your budget go hand in hand.

Just Do It
It usually takes approximately 30 days for a change to become habit. The hardest part is actually making the initial change. My incentive was the money I could save by not buying lunch. Have you made the switch or plan on trying it? Let me know how it goes.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Go Green, Save Money: The Paper Towel Challenge

Get Green -- Get Real
When I started GreenandFrugalLiving.com, one of my key mantras is that any tips or ideas that I post must be attainable. That said, you won't see me using a toilet composter (yes, they do exist) or giving up my televisions to say money on cable. Doing those things are just not realistic for me or my family.

A friend joked about a recent post (a guest post I might add from Thurs., Feb. 26) about trading in paper towels for t-shirts or rags. I do cringe when I think about the number of paper towels and napkins our family goes through in a day or week. With two young children who are 5 and 2, this task may be difficult. But I'm up for the challenge (my husband begs to differ).

The goal -- stop using paper towels and paper napkins for one week to see if this lifestyle change is doable and sustainable. However, I'm not going out and buying fabric napkins and extra hand towels. (That's not green or cost-effective.) We'll have to use what's on hand. That means digging into our giant rag box. (And I'm not kidding about the giant part. We have a 32-inch TV box full of rags.)

I'll keep you posted on our progress throughout the week. If you're already a convert and have eliminated most paper products, I'd love to hear your story.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Go Green: Tips for an Eco-friendly Children's Birthday Party

Celebrating an eco-friendly birthday can be loads of fun and cost next to nothing. All it takes is a little thought and planning.

Once you and your child (assuming he/she's old enough), have chosen a theme, look at each aspect of the event: decor, food, activities and gifts, and ask yourself the following questions. (We're talking about children's birthdays here, but the same principles apply no matter the age of the honoree.)

1. Can I reuse or re-purpose items I already own for decor?
Avoid purchasing paper goods like tablecloths, even napkins. If you're crafty, take a plain white sheet and color in animals, pirates, tea cups or whatever matches your theme, or visit a thrift store and see if they have some fabric that could be used. The most practical solution for napkins is washcloths. If you don't have enough, you can pick up a dozen for less than $10 in many discount stores. These can be used as every day napkins until they totally deteriorate at which time they transform nicely into dust rags.

For table decorations, check your house, especially your child's room, assuming it's her party. Among her toys, we bet you can find enough items related to the party theme to create a unique tablescape. If she's old enough, she can set it up on her own.

There's no need for conventional balloons which, unless disposed of properly, can be a threat to wildlife and also post a choking hazard to children. Instead, make a few pinatas with recycled paper and fill them with some healthy treats or treasures.

2. What can we eat that everyone will enjoy but that's healthier than the usual birthday fare?
Avoid planning a full meal. Much of the food goes to waste as kids are notoriously picky or just too excited to eat. Instead, lay a table with a choice of healthier snacks (depending on children's ages), like raisins, peanut butter (be sure to ask parents beforehand whether their children are free of allergies), fruit, 100% fruit leathers, or organic "bars." Instead of juice or soda, put out pitchers of cold filtered water, homemade lemonade, or if it's a winter birthday, how about making real organic hot chocolate?

When it comes to the cake, save money and create something healthier by making one yourself. It's not that difficult or time consuming. If you have a small group, donning chef hats and making the cake can be a fun part of the celebration.

Another option for do-it-yourself fun is cookie baking and decorating. Individually decorated cookies make great no-waste party favors. Be sure to set out a container for composting leftovers.

3. Do we really have to haul the gang to an amusement park, restaurant or skating rink to enjoy a memorable party?
The answer is absolutely not! Think about what your kids love doing daily. For instance, one four-year-old we know lives and breathes hide 'n seek. Why shouldn't her party involve several variations on the game? Not only can all the partygoers play, but how about hide 'n seek with some gifts, both for the birthday girl and the guests? Or why not hide and seek for objects instead of people?

If your child loves animals, call your local 4H club and see if a teenager will bring a rabbit or other animal for the children to learn about and pet.

We're betting that no matter what your child enjoys, he'll love integrating activities based on his passion into the party.

Neither of ideas the above costs a penny. And remember that when you focus on the child instead of the event, magic can happen.

4. How do we take the focus off gifts?
At the same time parents may decry our nation's emphasis on overconsumption, they equate a great birthday (or Christmas or Halloween for that matter), with giving and receiving lots of stuff. But more people are beginning to believe that children's birthday parties, especially the gift giving parts, have gotten out of control. Parents and children alike, are starting to look at the whole gift giving idea in a new light. Some parents are asking for gently used or homemade (by the guest, not the parent)items. Others are opting out of asking other children to bring gifts to parties, while keeping family gift giving intact. Many have started donating to charities in the child's name, or a combination of these ideas. For a terrific list of alternatives, visit http://www.birthdayswithoutpressure.org/.

The birthday child isn't the only one who is showered with gifts, though. At many events, tiny guests return home laden with so many items, you'd think it was their birthday! Downsizing prizes and party favors is not difficult. Every game does not have to have a winner who is rewarded with a trinket. How about making a craft project the centerpiece of the party, with the children taking home what they make? Even better,donate the projects to a children's hospital.
Birthday parties should be fun for everyone and there is no reason to create waste and shower anyone with carloads of stuff. Instead, aim to create a memorable event that focuses on simple pleasures.

For more simply green children's birthday ideas, check out this post.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at www.CelebrateGreen.net

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

3 Cool Ways To Green Your Reading Habit

If you’ve started feeling painfully guilty every time you buy a new book (all those trees!), or you’re looking for thrifty ways to save money when it comes to your reading habit, then you’re in luck. I’ve got some suggestions on how you can make your book obsession a bit more eco-friendly.

I’m first looking at Swap Sites, and then we’ll be diving into the wonderful world of Kindle. Lastly, I’m looking at several sites you can download books for free. So, let’s get reading!

Fast Facts On The Trees Used To Make Books

Planet Green, a Discovery company, had these fascinating but sobering facts on the consequences of our book buying habits.

  • There is a book published somewhere in the world every 30 seconds.
  • One tree will provide enough paper for only 116 averaged sized books.
  • It takes 4.4 gallons of water to produce one book.
  • For every ton of recycled paper that’s used in a book, 24 trees are saved.

I’m not a math whiz, but when you do the numbers on this it’s mind boggling. For instance, how many trees do the major best sellers go through? I found one stat online that said a 250 page book that sells one million copies will need over 12,000 trees.

And, that’s just for that one title.

So, it’s easy to see why buying brand new print books might not be the greenest option. In fact, after finding those stats out I’m not sure I can walk into a bookstore and look at it in the same way ever again. Sigh.

Anyway, we’ve got some eco-friendly options here: Swap sites, the Kindle, and free downloads. Let’s start with book swap sites.

What The Heck Is A Book Swap Site?

A swap site is an online community of users who swap books (or cds, or dvds) with each other to keep from having to buy them brand new. They’re frugal, green, and pretty exciting (after all, who doesn’t love getting free books in the mail?)

Swap sites are only for books you don’t want back. After all, you’re mailing your books out to people who can keep them, or swap them with others if they want. You’ll never see it again once you send it out.

Here’s how it works: on the swap site, you list all the books you’re willing to give away. Next, you make a wish list of books you’d like to read.

The site then starts searching for you. They locate people who want to read the books you’ve got, and also find others who have the books you want.

Most sites work on a point system. That is, for every three books you mail out to someone else you get one point. Most books cost one or two points. This is going to be different on every book swap site, of course, but that seems to be the average from what I found online.

And that’s it. You mail your book out to someone, and get a book from someone else in return. All you pay for is the postage. Everyone benefits.

Swap Site Resources

Think you’d like to try using a swap site? Here are a few to get you started:

How I Greened Up My Own Reading Habit With A Kindle

I love books. I was an avid reader as a kid, and am an avid reader as an adult. This means that my library used to be completely and utterly out of control. I don’t know how many books I had (I never really did a master count), but it was a lot.

Since I fell in love with micro home living last year, however, I realized that 95% of my book collection was going to have to go. After all, if you’re living in a home that’s less than 500 square feet there’s just no room for hundreds of books.

So last year I began the heart-wrenching, emotionally traumatizing process of donating most of my books to the Carnegie District Library in Howell.

It’s been a long process, and I’m still not done. After all, if you love books then you know how difficult a process like this can be. I didn’t know about swap sites until just a few months ago, so I was unable to utilize that amazing resource. On the upside, however, my local library got the books, so I’m happy about that.

So, how have I greened up my own reading habits?

Well, I’m definitely not buying new books, that’s for sure. Now that I’m aware of just how many trees and energy go into producing one brand new book, I’ve sworn off new bookstores for good.

Instead, last summer I invested in a Kindle.

Kindle: Amazon’s Wireless Reading Device

Why The Kindle Is A Great Investment

Let me start out by saying that I love my Kindle. In fact, love might be an understatement. I adore my Kindle.

There are several reasons why buying a Kindle is a good idea if you’re looking to go green.

The first is the obvious one: you no longer have to buy paper books. You’re not using any resources to support your reading habit. All books are delivered wirelessly to your Kindle, which means no more trees will die because of your obsession. For me, this was a huge, huge perk to investing in a Kindle.

Secondly, the Kindle stores 200 books. This means if you’re interested in micro home living, or simply saving space in general, you don’t have to worry about not having anything to read because there’s no room for your library. All you need is your Kindle. Also, it’s important to realize that the Kindle stores 200 at a time. You can actually have more stored in your Amazon account or on your laptop. You can take them off or put them on your Kindle at any time.

Thirdly, depending on your reading habits, a Kindle can be surprisingly frugal.

I know, I can see your eyes popping from here. Yes, the Kindle is $359. And in today’s economy, I know that’s a steep price tag. But if you love reading older books, like the classics, then you can get some great bargains. Over the long term, a Kindle will probably pay for itself.

To prove my point, here are my last five purchases that I’ve made on my Kindle:

  1. Les Miserables- Victor Hugo $.99
  2. The Awakening- Kate Chopin $3.96
  3. Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte $.99
  4. The Secret Garden- Francis Hodgson Burnett $1.50
  5. The Princess Bride- William Goldman $6.40

Almost all the books available on Kindle, even the new releases, are less than $10. And the classics, as you can see, are often less than $2.

Reading the classics is what I love best, so for me I’m saving money buying them through my Kindle. And unless Stephanie Meyer comes out with a part 5 to add to my current Edward Cullen, “Twilight” obsession, I won’t be buying many, if any, brand new books.

Note to Stephanie Meyer: Please oh please come out with a Part 5…

Green Your Reads With Free E-Books

Think you can’t get something for nothing anymore? Think again. There are several ways you can get free books online, if you know where to look.

My favorite is Project Gutenburg. They’ve got over 27,000 titles online, free for the download. Here’s my master list of free book download sites:

Last Word

Books are completely wonderful. After all, where else can you spend one day living the life of a 12-year old girl growing up on the streets of Brooklyn in 1912, and then the next day experience the life of a peasant in post-revolution France?

Books allow us all to see the world from other people’s shoes. They help us develop empathy and compassion, and take us to places we’d never get to see otherwise. They open up the world, and all the mysteries it has to offer.

It is possible to love books, and read them voraciously, without harming the environment at the same time. I don’t know where the future of books is heading, but if I had my guess I’d put my bets on digital formatting. It makes sense in every way; it’s cheaper, takes up far less space, and doesn’t use resources to produce.

The downside? Digital formatted ebooks lack the romance that a traditional paper book holds. I know all too well the distinct pleasure of curling up with a hefty book and a soft blanket. It’s a luxury I’ll never be able to fully give up.

The Kindle comes close to recreating that intimacy between reader and book. I still feel “connected” through my Kindle, a connection that is completely lacking when I read a book on my laptop. But, that’s just me.

I hope the resources I’ve put out here at least give you some options for greening up your reading habit. After all, one less book bought by thousands of people really adds up!

A great post brought to you by Heather Levin, TheGreenestDollar.com

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: Tennis Balls Don't Help Static Cling

I tried a little frugal experiment yesterday. I was reading about these static cling balls that can be used (and reused) to replace fabric softener sheets. Sounds great, right? It's inexpensive, convenient and, best of all, green. Then I read an article that says a brand new tennis ball will also do the trick. I'm intrigued and decide to test this tennis ball theory.

After trying to explain to my husband why there's a tennis ball banging around in the dryer, I get out the first load of clothes. I'm fairly impressed. The clothes seemed less wrinkled than usual. But the next load of laundry contained the ultimate test -- knee-high pantyhose. Any woman knows that knee-highs are a static nightmare. It's also the main reason that I use fabric softener -- so my husband doesn't have a knee-high stuck to the back of his dress shirt while teaching high school history.

Back to the test.

I throw the tennis ball into the load and check back in 40 minutes to find...more static cling than ever! Ugh, the crinkling sound of clothes sticking together just makes me cringe. Then the static cling migrates to my hair. As I'm folding the clothes, I realize that I'm down one knee-high -- a fishnet one, no less. Hopefully one of my hubby's students won't find it.

Needless to say, stick to the fabric softener balls or sheets. Save the tennis balls for tennis.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: Your Money or Your Life

A Great Read for the Green and Frugal
As a New York Times bestseller with reviews that include "life-changing," "...offers a more meaningful, fulfilling life," ...could be the single most important book you ever read," I couldn't help but check it out. It was a fairly quick read, with a focus on transforming your relationship with money so you can focus on the most important things in your life, like family, charitable work and relaxing.

Essentially money is equal to life energy. Given the amount of time we spend working and the amount of time we spend on earth, it's about maximizing what's most valuable. The program is work, but offers some enlightening theories on money (how we spend and why) and, interestingly, the focus is not on budgeting. Now nearly ever personal finance book I've read is always about budgeting, money in should always be more than money out. Your Money or Your Life has you assess exactly what goes in and out, whether or not it's important and how you can make changes that will benefit your life.

In terms of how this book fits into GreenandFrugalLiving.com, it discusses your own sustainability as well as the earth's. By shrinking your resources (i.e., your stuff, junk, clutter), there are numerous opportunities to make money by selling or trading your things.

I sometimes obsess about money and am driven to constantly save a good amount. I like this book because the basic premise is to think differently about money. It's more of a means to an end versus the lifeblood of a family. Your Money or Your Life deals with how to neutrally manage your money and what money means to you. The key, or ultimate goal, is to be financially independent and not be crippled by money, or lack thereof.

Based upon the nine core steps of the book, you really need to read it through once and then go back and take action. That's the point I'm at right now. The first step is to figure out how much money you've made in your lifetime. I've never really thought about it. But as someone who's been working since 1986, I'm looking forward to seeing what that number could be.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted on my progress. Beginning today, we're going to track every single penny that comes in and every penny that is spent. That is a challenge unto itself. Most people have a general idea of where their money goes, but as always, the devil is in the details.

If anyone has read Your Money or Your Life and has implemented the steps, I'd love to hear about it!

I'll be posting updates, aptly called "Your Money or Your Life Mondays." Stay tuned...

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Searching for Green?

Are you looking for a certain green product, service or social network? Look no further than the original green search engine -- www.greengamma.com.

Green Search

You can either search by using a Google-based, open-text search box or by scrolling the various categories in their directory, which includes new website listings and the most popular.
GreenGamma.com's goal is to try and make purchasing green products and services as easy as possible. Best of all, GreenGamma reviews every website listed on both the directory and the search feature, so you know you're dealing with top-quality companies and content.

If you're looking for cleaning products, building materials, alternative energy, transportation or a variety of other unique, green products and services, visit Greengamma.com for your search.

Did I mention their "The Green Wave Newsletter?" If you like their site, you'll love their newsletter. I just got my first issue and it's chock full of great tips, green companies and "GreenGamma Stuff."

Check out www.greengamma.com today...y0u'll be glad you did!

Have a minute? Plant a Tree.
Challenge your vocabulary and plant a free tree at Treewala. You'll get hooked like I did. Two trees later, I couldn't remember what I was originally doing...

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