Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Get Rid of Your Junk Mail

The Ultimate List For Stopping Your Junk Mail

Courtesy Wikipedia
Courtesy Wikipedia

Heather at The Greenest Dollar enlightens us all with another fabulous post:

Ah, junk mail. According to experts we’ll spend 8 months of our life reading, sorting, and recycling the stuff. That’s a lot of time we could be devoting to napping, playing with our kids, reading, or pulling weeds. Anything else, for that matter, besides dealing with junk mail.

Junk mail accounts for 1/3 of all mail sent in the United States. In fact, each household gets over 800 pieces of junk mail per year.

Want to know how many trees that is? 100 million. Every single year. Just for junk mail.

This is equivalent to clear cutting all of Rocky Mountain National Park, every four months.

And the emissions from junk mail creation are terrible. According to DoNotMail.org, junk mail creates more emissions than 9,377,000 passenger cars each year.

And in spite of the major strides we’ve made in recycling, the Huffington Post reports that over 44% of junk mail ends up in landfills, unopened.


Yes, it hurts my heart to think about it. And although I signed up for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) “Do Not Contact” list, I still get stuff like Val-Pak coupons and flyers from my local furniture store. I recycle every bit it, of but still. Those are trees that don’t have to die.

So, here it is folks. All the resources I could find for stopping your junk mail. ALL OF IT.

1. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA)
I started with the DMA, and to give them credit I did see a pretty dramatic drop in my junk mail, especially when it came to credit card offers. You can customize your mailing preferences through the DMA by heading here.

If you’ve lost a family member and want to get their name off mailing list, you can sign up for Deceased-Do Not Contact through the DMA here.

2. Val-Pak
Yep, Val-Pak is that blue envelope of useless coupons that shows up every month. What a waste! Unless you’re re-asphalting your driveway or thinking about getting cellulite removal surgery, then these coupons are a waste of time and paper.

You can get off the Val-Pak mailing list here.

Yes, you’ll still need to do this even if you sign up with DMA. After I did DMA, I was still getting Val-Pak coupons.

3. Opt-Out Pre-Screen
Opt-Out Pre-Screen stops you from getting “pre-screened” or “pre-approved” credit card offers.
To sign up, click here.

You can also call 888-567-8688 from your home telephone to opt out.

4. Catalogs
If you get catalogs, it’s probably because you bought something. Anything.

Companies are notorious for selling lists, so if you bought a sweater through L.L. Bean then chances are you’ll start getting a J.Crew catalog, an REI catalog, and a Hearth and Home just for good measure.

If you want to stop the flood of catalogs, then send an email to: optout@abacus-us.com

Or write to:
Abacus, Inc.
P.O. Box 1478
Broomfield, Colorado  80038

5. Tacky Store Flyers
I wish I had a picture of the one I got today. It was a “HUGE FURNITURE BLOWOUT!!!!” newspaper type flyer from the local furniture store. I get them almost daily from car dealerships, hairdressers, pizza stores, department stores… blergh.

These are the flyers that are addressed to “Resident”. And they usually come from Red Plum marketing.

Want to stop them?

Click here to get off the Red Plum mailing list. You can also call: 888-241-6760.

6. Publishers Clearinghouse
Ok, I’ve never been solicited by Publishers Clearinghouse, but if you have, you can get off their list by sending an email to: privacychoices@pchmail.com.

7. Other Junk
So, what about those AOL cds and “Happy Birthday” cards from our dentist that we don’t want or need?
We just have to tell them we don’t want it. If, after signing up with all the resources listed above, you’re still getting some junk, then call the company directly. Ask them to take you off their mailing list.

They can hardly be rude; after all, this is saving them money too.

And your dentist? Ask the receptionist to take you off the mailing list except for cleaning reminders. Better yet, ask if they’ll email you.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Green and Frugal -- Disney on Ice

Right before the holidays, I received a sale e-mail from Ticketmaster. In that e-mail were VIP tickets to Disney on Ice at a steal for $22 per ticket, which meant it would cost our family of four just $88. I quickly purchased them and included the tickets as part of the kids' Christmas presents.

Fast forward to this past weekend, our Disney on Ice outing had arrived. The kids were tickled pink and I was anxious to see just how good these "VIP" tickets would be.

Lo and behold, we (and hundreds of others) get to pay $15 for parking. We migrate like refugees to the Izod Arena. Before we can get to our seats, we pass no less than a dozen different glowing toys priced anywhere from $15 to $20. My kids know better than to even think about asking for this overpriced, junky piece of light-up plastic. The seats are about 15 rows from the ice, dead center. My son immediately wants to know why we "can't be up high." I never thought I'd have to explain to a six-year-old why our seats were so awesome, and the difference between being on the floor vs. nosebleed seats. Considering the tall adults and children being put on their parents shoulders, I began to wonder why I didn't get higher seats. (Note to parents with seats three rows from the ice, there are people actually seating behind you. And they're little people that have difficulty seeing and like to complain.)

The kids were mesmerized by the show. (I have to say that I felt like a kid watching it.) Intermission comes and everyone is suddenly hungry and thirsty. I crawl over our row and rush to get something. Every line is about 15-20 people long so I see that there's a booth selling a combo of toys, snow cones and other food and drink. I ask for a popcorn and lemonade. "Bucket or box" the guy responds. That just sounds expensive. I walk away with a $7 box of popcorn that's the size of a shirt box and a lemonade for $10 in some Disney keepsake bottle. Grrr, considering we promised the kids Sonic for lunch on the way home, I couldn't believe I just shelled out nearly $20 in food and drink.

Although the show was still a bargain after spending a total of $120, I wondered to myself how a family with more than two kids does it. Aside from making everyone share whatever we buy, does anyone have tips on how to keep this type of family outing's costs down?

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Let's Help Haiti

It's hard not to be moved to tears by the images and stories of the rescue efforts in Haiti. With that, this week's best blog posts are ways you can donate to help the people of Haiti.
  • UNICEF -- www.unicefusa.org

  • American Red Cross -- www.redcross.org

  • According to the Red Cross' Twitter page, you can text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts. You can also donate online to Red Cross' International Response Fund.

  • Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean's grassroots organization is accepting donations via text. By texting "Yele" to 501501, you'll automatically be donating $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund. Check out Yele.org for more information.

  • The French organization Doctors Without Borders has been doing work in Haiti for years. Donate at DoctorsWithoutBorders.org.
It's important to donate to legitimate organization. The FBI issued a list of guidelines to use before you send anyone money. 

I encourage everyone to do what they can, whether it means donating money, supplies or just saying a prayer. Please let me know if there are any that sites or associations that I may have missed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Frugal Tip Tuesday -- Learn to Cook & Do It

If you know me, you know I do not cook. My husband is the chef of the house. Although I do try to pitch in with a crock pot meal or some baking. But I digress. So here's this week Frugal Tip of the Week -- plan out your meals for the week and cook them yourself. We all know how expensive eating out is. Just think how much money you could save each week by eating in instead of eating out.

What's your favorite frugal recipe? (Maybe it will inspire me to cook!)

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Green and Frugal -- 7 Frugal Ways to Beat the Winter "Blahs"


Happy Monday! Some of these winter-blah-beating suggestions may also work for Mondays. Here's another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar:

Lots of people get the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every year. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, over 500,000 Americans get a full blown case of SAD each year. And, another 10-20% of the population get it in a milder form.

How do you know if you’re experiencing SAD? According to FamilyDoctor.org, here are the symptoms:
  • A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A drop in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy
Or, my own definition: you look out the window, and go BLERGH.

I go through it every year. Michigan winters are no picnic, and from now until the end of March is usually a battle for me to stay happy and positive.

But, over the years I have learned some strategies to help get me through the long dark days of winter. And, the best part? Most of them are  frugal. Some are even free. So, since I woke up this morning yearning for spring rains and barefeet, I thought I’d focus today’s post on just that.

Strategy 1: Listen to Rain

I love YouTube. It’s got to be one of the most marvelous sites on the Internet, because you can find anything on there.

Including sounds of summer and warm things, like this video (my favorite!) of the sounds of rain on a river:

Here’s what I do: I play this pretty continuously during the day while I’m working (I’ve got it on right now, in fact). I close my curtains, which are sheer enough to let light in but keep out the view of the winter snow outside), and I just work away while listening to it rain. After awhile, it really does almost feel like it could be mid-April. I can imagine the lush, new green grass soaking up all that rain, and how lovely the tulips are going to look when they come up.

You’d think that imagining Spring would make things worse, right? After all, one peek out of my office window and all I can see is a tundra of white.

But it really does help, mainly because it offers a break, and a reminder that yes, Spring really is coming.
YouTube also has tons of other videos like crickets chirping, the sound of waves, thunderstorms, wind blowing through grass…you wouldn’t believe how much is online. If you take a look at that video I posted, there are plenty of other related videos on the sidebar as well.

Strategy 2: Exercise

Ok, don’t groan. Exercise has been proven, yes proven, to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. And I’m hear to tell you that it works. I really do feel happy after I’ve gone for a run at the gym. I’ve cut out a lot of extra expenses in my budget the past year, but my gym membership is worth every penny.

If you can’t afford a membership to a gym, and you don’t want to brave the cold to head outside for a walk, check out some of these at-home exercises.

I know it can be hard to get motivated enough to exercise. I have to coach myself out of bed many mornings to go for a run (and, sometimes my lazy half wins!) But I promise you that the return on your efforts is ten-fold. It really is worth it.

Strategy 3:  Get a Sun Light Lamp

Light lamps simulate sunlight, and they can be incredibly effective at tricking your body into thinking you’re seeing real sunlight. They’ve been proven to help brighten people’s mood, and they’re regularly prescribed to people suffering from the winter blues.

As you can imagine, prices run the gamut on sun lamps.  The Sunlight Technology Desk Lamp - Blue and Chrome is $30 on Amazon, while the NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp is $112.
Both got good reviews, but I’m inclined to think that the NatureBright light might work better.

I know this suggestion isn’t quite on the frugal side, but I put it in here simply because there’s so much evidence online that a good sun lamp really can work wonders. The reviews for the NatureBright (on Amazon) were pretty amazing, and that little light has changed a lot of people’s lives.

I’ve long wanted to have one myself, and each year I manage to make it through without one. But I might just make the investment this year after we get moved.

Strategy 4: Drink Kava Tea

Psychology Today says that Kava Kava has long been used to treat stress and lower anxiety.

And, it really does work. Yogi Teas make a wonderful Kava Stress Reduction tea. I bought a box last year and feel it really does work. Now, it tastes like licorice, but adding honey really helps with tea. Reviewers on the Yogi Tea site have also said that brewing this tea in cold water makes it work better, since many of kava’s benefits are destroyed with hot water.

Strategy 5: Take Fish Oil Vitamins

This is another one of my strategies, and I swear by it. Omega-3 fatty acids are like brain food. And when the fish oil is taken from cold-water fish, like salmon, the effect is even better for those suffering from SAD.
Years ago I read a book on depression (can’t remember the name), and it said in there that all you have to do is look at native Eskimo people if you want proof that fish oil really does work. Think about it: these people live in the cold, often dark tundra all year long. And yet, they’re incredibly happy people.


Because cold water fish is the biggest ingredient in their diet. They consume a ton of Omega-3s every day.
Think they suffer from SAD? No way.

Strategy 6: Take Up a Hobby

Now that winter is here know what I’ve started doing again?


I never have time for my art in the spring and summer, because I’m always outside! But diving back into it has really helped cheer me up. Not only is it a great way to pass the time, but it also keeps my creativity flowing, and it keeps my mind off the howling winds outside.

Taking up a new (or old) hobby could be the indoor diversion you need to keep from going stir crazy.
Want some ideas? Check out FindMeAHobby.com. They’ve got a ton.

You could also check out your local community center or Adult Education outreach program. They alway offer cool classes like pottery, drawing and painting, cooking, knitting, salsa dancing, you name it.

Strategy 7: Light a Candle or a Fire

Oh boy I love fires. They’re instant cheer-ups for me.

If you’re feeling down, why not try lighting a fire? The smell, the soothing flames, the warmth…they could all help perk you up. You also might want to try burning Eco Bricks. They’re made from otherwise-wasted sawdust, and they’re supposed to burn 2 1/2 times longer than regular wood. I just saw them over the weekend in my local hardware store, and they looked really cool. I love the thought that they’re made from a waste product too!

I’m hoping our next place will have a fireplace, because I really, really want to try these out.

Last Word…

I’d love to hear back from all of you on this. Do you have strategies for combating the winter blues? If so, I would love to hear them! I’m always looking for ways to keep going until April, so I could really use the help. And, I’m sure, there are plenty of other readers out there that could too.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

TGIF: Best Blog Posts This Week

Let's toast to another week under our belts. There were a lot of great posts this week. Here were some of the best ones that I came across:

  1. How to Lose Weight Without Spending a Lot of Money 
  2. Home Improvement Time - 4 Tips for Saving Some Cash 

  3. Save Money! Find and Fix Air Leaks and Drafts

  4.  How to Create a Paperless Kitchen
  5. Help for Haiti - Thanks to the Pioneer Woman (this is a great way to donate to those affected by the devastation in Haiti!)   

What do you think? Are there any that I may have missed? Please let me know.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Frugal Tip Tuesday -- Sell Your Gold

I'm sure you've heard all over the news that the price of gold is at an all-time high -- more than $1,100 per ounce depending upon the day. With the New Year in full swing, I've been doing a lot of cleaning and decluttering. I recently hit my jewelry box, which included many pieces of gold jewelry from ex-boyfriends. My husband also had a number of rings from his grandfather -- none of which he planned to permanently add to his daily attire.

So I had more than a dozen earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings floating around my purse. I finally found some time today to go to the local jewelry store, where I saw that they buy gold and diamonds. They did a variety of tests to figure out what was 10K, 14K, 18K, silver, platinum and gold filled. I didn't think much of it and would've been happy with a few hundred dollars. I ended up walking away with $735!!! I couldn't believe it!!

So there's your tip of the week -- clean out that gold jewelry and you may be pleasantly surprised with a windfall.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Green and Frugal -- 5 FREE Websites That Help You Save Money

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

I was doing research online for a client today and came across some really amazing websites that I had to share with all of you. These websites all offer one thing: free advice or free services that will help us save money.

1. Mint.com
Mint.com is a financial planning site that helps users track their spending by pulling information from their online bank account, and then uses that detailed information to graph exactly where their money goes.
Yeah, I can hear your heart drop from here, because when I first heard about Mint.com last year, my heart did the same thing. But I decided to give the site a try anyway, because it had gotten amazing reviews from Kiplinger.com, who named it the best budgeting site out there, and Money Magazine, who gave it a 5-Star Top Pick.

Well, I got all the way to the part where I enter my bank account and routing number and then I chickened out. I was just too afraid that someone would hack the site and have instant access to my bank account.
I forgot all about Mint.com until today. I browsed through the site again, and have decided to give it another go. After all, if Kiplinger and Money Magazine have endorsed the site, it has to be secure. And, Mint.com uses the same security that many major financial institutions do. So, it’s at least as safe as my online banking.
How can Mint.com help you save money? Well, the site will help you to:
  • Easily create a budget that revolves around your current spending
  • Meet your savings goals
  • See exactly how much you’re spending each month on housing, food, entertainment, utilities, etc. with easy, color-coded graphs and pie charts
  • See exactly how much debt you have, and come up with a plan to pay it off
  • Receive alerts from Mint.com to help you stay on top of debt repayment and savings goals
Pretty nifty, right? And, it’s completely free.

2. TheLaw.com
Are you getting an uncontested divorce? Need some advice on filing for bankruptcy? Need to figure out how to create a living will, or get out of the lease agreement you just signed with your landlord?

TheLaw.com is a website that offers people and businesses free legal advice on everything from child custody to real estate deals to immigration. Their forums are divided up by very specific topics, and lawyers from all over the country volunteer their time to answer questions.

The site also has an amazing list of free, downloadable legal forms that everyone can access, and there are tons of well-written, well-sourced legal articles that you can use for research.


3. Flickr’s Creative Commons Site
If you have a blog or business and need some copyright-free photos to use (like the one shown on the right), then check out Flickr’s site of photos that fall under Creative Commons License.

The Creative Commons License is a way for people to share their work with others under certain conditions without the strictness of full copyright.

For instance, some photos on the site are available for anyone to use for any reason, but only if you give that photographer credit for the image.

Fair, right?

Other photos can be used without giving credit at all. And still others can be used without credit, as long as they’re not sold or used for commercial reasons.

Flickr gives a very clear explanation of what photos can be used in what ways. So if you want to save money on photos, this is a great way to find some great images without paying a dime.

The full site address is: http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ 

4. TechGuy.org
If you’ve ever had to pay someone to come out to fix your computer, create a network for your business, figure out why Vista won’t work EVER, or clean up your hard drive from viruses, then you know how expensive it can be.

Well, TechGuy.org is a website that offers free, yes free, tech support to people and business owners.

Techies from all over the world volunteer their time on the site to help non-tech people (like me) do everything from update software to solve incredibly mysterious and complicated computer problems.

TechGuy.org has been around for ten years and they’ve been featured on The Today Show, the BBC, in PC World Magazine, and in Reader’s Digest, just to name a few.

5. Wix.com
If you’re starting a small or home-based business you’re going to need a website. But, you probably can’t afford to hire someone to make you a nice one.

This is where Wix.com comes in. Wix.com is a site that allows you to build sleek, professional-looking Flash sites for free. And, it’s practically fool-proof.

The site was designed specifically for people who don’t know how to build websites. So don’t worry if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing; Wix.com has made it really, really easy to build a great site. And again, it’s all free.

Last Word…
I have to admit that I was overjoyed about the Flickr discovery. It’s so time-consuming to look for photos I can legally use on this blog, and I’m over the moon that so many photographers have generously donated their photos for public use!

I’m also going to sign up for Mint.com today (and yes, I’m really going to go through with it this time!). I’ll post a review of the site within the next week to let you all know how I like the service, and if I think it’s going to help save me money.

Do any of you know some great sites like these that help you save money? Want to share? I’d love to hear about them!

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Make a Resolution: Vow to Make All Your Celebrations Green

Green up every celebration in 2010, from anniversaries to Valentine's Day

The great thing about this resolution is that it's so easy to follow! Just start with these tips and you'll be on your way to celebrating in ways that are better for the planet and people too. An added bonus? You're likely save save a bunch of cash as well.

1. Plan. Take advantage of the new year to get a calendar and fill in the dates for every event you think you'll celebrate this year. Include birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, weddings, graduations, family reunions, even office parties, then add every holiday you celebrate in any way big or small.

Now make a list of items you'll need, i.e. tableware, decor, gifts, food etc.

Check off what you already own. Then list what you need to beg, borrow, exchange or purchase.

Print out the list (on recycled paper of course) or put it in your phone, PDA or calendar you carry with you.

When you're at the thrift store or a garage sale, or see a great local sale, check the item off your list. Or, if you're into setting up an exchange, one month before the event on your calendar, add in a date for a neighborhood get together to trade costumes, decor, plates or anything else you come up with.

2. Shop local and handmade. Shipping long distances is a no-no when you're trying to live in a more eco-friendly way. So it's always preferable to seek out items you're going to buy locally.

If you've planned ahead (see tip #1), then buying organic berries in the summer from your local farmer's market and freezing them for the blueberry pancakes you'll make your love on Valentine's Day makes the process easy and fun.

3. Throw no-waste celebrations. No waste doesn't mean no trash (unfortunately). It means that everything purchased around a celebration can be recycled, composted or reused. Planning ahead (see tip #!) helps a lot.

Here are a few ideas to make it easier still:

  • Be sure to have labeled bins available.
  • Ask guests to bring unwrapped gifts, then hide them (the gifts, not the guests) and have the recipient hunt for them
  • Collect glass jars, decorate them if you like and have them available for guests to take home leftovers
  • Resist purchasing throw away decor--plates, cups, tablecloths etc.--no matter how cute or how well they match your theme
4. Make gifts and decor from items you already own, can collect, trade with friends or re-purpose. Some people consider themselves crafty and some don't. If you're in the latter category, it's not a crime, but how about giving it a try in 2010? By planning ahead (see hint #--OK by now you know what we're referring to), you'll have plenty of time to assemble the needed items, instructions or even take a class. This could be the year to learn to take old sweaters and turn them into gifts by learning how to needle felt. Or make an eco-friendly holiday tree, recycled jewelry or cook up green tomato preserves!

There are instructions for anything you'd like to craft online. Instructables and Craftster will get you started, but simply by typing in what you want to make plus the word, "instructions," you'll be on the road to DIY stardom.

Also, before throwing anything away, ask yourself whether it can be turned into a gift or decor item. Once you start looking at "trash" this way, you'll be amazed how often the answer will be, "Yes!"

5. Think about how to minimize energy waste before, during and after events.
  • Plan parties during the day to minimize need for heat (depending on where you live) and lights.
  • Keep the temperature down if you're celebrating in the winter with masses of people. Body heat may suffice.
  • In summer, try using a solar oven for cooking instead of heating up the kitchen
Top picks for celebrating green all year
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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