Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Green and Frugal: Are You Ready to Go Electric?

General Electric is participating in a new eco-themed project that's part of a new interactive program called "The GE Show." This month's episode is focused on the future of electric vehicles. There are some amazing tools included, so be sure to check it out.

Some interesting facts from the show:
  • Electric cars aren’t just part of the future – they’re part of the past as well. 35% of our cars were electric-powered in the early 1900’s, but were not widely adopted due to limited range and a lack of powering infrastructure.
  • Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle
  • Most people don’t know that many electric vehicles can handle their daily mileage easily. The average American drives 32.88 miles per day. The Nissan Leaf, for example, can go 100 miles in a single charge.
  • Projections show that there will almost be 14 million electric vehicles on the road in just 10 years.
  • For every mile, an EV owner only pays less than 2.5 cents per mile (as opposed to 10 cents per gas-powered mile)
  • If the estimates of 14 million EVs on the road by 2020 are accurate, it would mean close to 65 million tons fewer emissions
You can check out the whole episode below:


I'd love to hear what you think.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 27, 2010

Green and Frugal: Do You Pay Attention to Companies Going Green?

When it comes to being eco-friendly, it can be easy to make changes to your lifestyle. But have you ever considered how the companies you patronize are going green? Does it make a difference to you?

The SoftwareAdvice.com survey asks readers if a company's efforts to go green  influence purchase decisions. Click here to participate in the survey.

The survey coincides with an article about five companies that are greening their supply chains. In the article, the efforts of IBM, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Patagonia, and Pepsi are discussed and they are working to reduce their impact on the environment, which is certainly commendable. But should they be doing more? What are the real motivations behind a greener supply chain? Are consumers even aware of these efforts?

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Green and Frugal: 20 Ways to Improve the World...Even If You're Broke

One of my favorite blogs is The Simple Dollar. If you haven't read it, you should definitely check it out. Trent Hamm offers numerous tips and solid information on how to get out of debt, save money and enjoy life with less.

Below is one of his most recent posts, which I couldn't help but share. As a huge proponent of trying to use, reuse and recycle everything, this list covers just it all and then some...

Personal Philanthropy: Twenty Ways to Improve the World, Even If You’re Broke

So often, people assume that charity and philanthropy mean stretching an already-tight budget even further. “If I donated $100 to the food kitchen, I’d have to start using the food kitchen!” goes the common train of thought. (That’s not to say that donating money isn’t useful – it certainly is.)

Money can often be a very tight resource, but it’s far from the only resource you have. We all have so many things available to us to share with others that it only takes a moment of thought or effort to make a real difference in someone else’s life.

Here are twenty things anyone can donate to make the world a better place – and put a little bit of extra spring in their step – without blowing up their budget. Even better, many of these ideas will help you clean out your closets and declutter your home a bit. If you’re in need, this list might even help you find a charitable cause that can help you.

Donate your hair Locks of Love (http://www.locksoflove.org/) is a non-profit that provides hairpieces to disadvantaged children suffering from long term medical hair loss. It’s easy to donate – just grow your hair out to ten or more inches in length, cut it off, stick it in an envelope, and help out a kid that could really use a boost.

Donate your blood and/or plasma The Red Cross (http://www.redcrossblood.org/) runs blood drives in your community quite regularly, and many large communities have places where you can always donate. Keep an eye on your community calendar, then stop by and donate. It’s just a little prick on your arm, then you get a cookie and a drink and you’re on your way, while your blood is used to save someone’s life.

Similarly, donate your bone marrow Another renewable body resource you can donate is your bone marrow. The National Marrow Donor Program has a very detailed FAQ that discusses in detail the process of marrow donation.

Donate your vacation time Many workplaces make it possible to donate unused vacation time to people in dire need. Spend a day less at the beach next year and give that day to someone who is fighting a serious medical situation.

Donate your body space It’s all about the awareness for many charitable causes. Simply by having a band on your wrist or a ribbon on your lapel, you remind the people who see it of a charity and also let them know that there are people out there that passionately support the charity. Here’s a list of different charity awareness bracelets available.

Similarly, donate your bumper Get a big old bumper sticker describing your favorite charity and slap it right on the back bumper of your car. The next time you’re stuck in traffic, your car is increasing the mindshare of the charity you care about.

Donate your wedding dress Making Memories (http://www.makingmemories.org/) is an awesome charity that helps women with metastatic breast cancer live out their dreams. Many of the wishes granted by Making Memories involve weddings, so the charity makes great use of the wedding dress you’ve got hanging in your closet. Unused gowns are auctioned to earn more money for this charity’s work, so even if your dress doesn’t get used by a needful bride, it still can help them.

Donate your unused home repair supplies Did you buy too many shingles and now have a big pile of them just sitting in your garage? Got a few gallons of leftover paint from a job where the paint didn’t match or you overestimated your needs? Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org/) can put those resources to good use building homes for the needy instead of those supplies going to waste sitting in your garage.

Donate your flowers Got extra flowers after a wedding or other event? Donate them. Contact your local florist or local hospital and ask about giving the leftover flower arrangements to people who need them for other events or who could really use them to brighten their day. You can do the same if you have flowers that grow around your home.

Donate your nasty old shoes Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program (http://nikereuseashoe.com/) (check that site out – it has a great video explaining what they do in great detail) takes old, nasty running shoes and turns them into materials for public playgrounds and basketball courts. All you have to do is send ‘em in!

Donate your voice LibriVox (http://librivox.org/) creates free audiobooks for the public domain, which enables everyone to have access to great free listening materials. Such books are used as educational materials for the visually impaired, radio material for public stations, and countless other good uses. You can participate by volunteering to read and record a public domain book. You’ll learn something and make the world a better place.

Donate your old carpet Many animal shelters will accept donations of old, clean carpet for bedding for the sheltered pets. Contact your local shelter the next time you update your carpeting and see if they can put that old carpet to use.

Donate your cupboard excess or your extra garden vegetables If you’re anything like me, the next time you clean out your cupboards, you’ll find a bunch of items way in the back that will make you wonder if you can ever possibly use them before they expire. These are perfect items to donate to your local food pantry, where someone in need will have those items on their dinner table this week.

Donate your old computer Many charities would love to have that old computer of yours. It might not be up to snuff for watching downloaded high definition movies, but it’s perfectly good enough for a church to install Linux on and use for accounting purposes. Ask around at the local charities you support and, if you can’t find a home for it, ask TechSoup (http://home.techsoup.org/), which facilitates technology donations for nonprofit groups.

Donate your aluminum cans Our local high school has several groups that go through the neighborhoods once a year and ask for aluminum can and bottle donations. We simply store our used cans and bottles in a bin under the sink and when these groups come around, we gladly hand our cans and bottles over. If you don’t have such “to your door” service, many national groups facilitate the collection of cans and bottles – almost every Habitat for Humanity office will accept can and/or bottle donations.

Donate your used books Better World Books (http://www.betterworldbooks.com/) accepts donations of used books, which they then sell and give some of the proceeds in support of global literacy. If you have a bunch of books sitting around (and PaperBackSwap doesn’t excite you), this is a great way to turn a big box of used space into children who can read.

Donate the old stuff in your medicine cabinet Got medications you no longer need (especially sealed items that you never got around to using)? Got items to help you treat a condition that you’ve overcome? World Medical Relief (http://www.worldmedicalrelief.org/) will happily take those items and distribute them in a non-discriminatory fashion to people in real medical need.

Donate unwanted suits and business clothes Everyone has a suit or two in their closet that they rarely wear. Yet, at the same time, there are people out there beating the pavement, looking for work, and they can’t afford to dress for success and impress their potential employers. Two great charities, Dress for Success (http://www.dressforsuccess.org/) and Career Gear (http://careergear.org/), do exactly that, transforming the suit taking up space in your closet into opportunities for life-changing success for people who are reaching hard for that brass ring.

Donate your eyeglasses One of the best things (in my opinion) that the Lion’s Club (http://www.lionsclubs.org) does is run their eyeglasses donation program (http://donateglasses.org/). When your prescription changes, you’ll get new glasses and your old ones no longer have any use. Give them to your local Lion’s Club and they’ll help someone out there in need with vision impairment.

Donate your old magazines Once you’ve read that copy of The New Yorker, check and see if there isn’t a place in your area that could put the item to use. Senior citizen’s centers are almost always happy to receive magazine donations. If that doesn’t fit the bill, try hospitals and libraries in your area.

One final thought: donate your body When you pass on, your life has ended, but you have the ability to give the gift of life to others because of the life you left behind. Donate your organs and tissues to people who can use them. OrganDonor.gov (http://www.organdonor.gov/) provides everything you need to know about the need for organs and tissues and about how easy it is to be an organ donor.

The biggest lesson from this list is that we all have a lot of resources within us and around us that are of value and use to others. Sharing them, especially when it’s “no skin off our backs,” does nothing but make the world a better place. It makes you feel better, too.

I’ve collected these ideas from many different sources over the years. There are many great sources for ideas similar to (and overlapping with) these, including How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist by Nicole Bouchard Boles, The Generosity Plan by Kathy LeMay, and Give a Little by Wendy Smith. If these ideas excite you, dive into these books for more ideas than I could possibly share.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: I Will Teach You to Be Rich

I was skeptical when I first saw the title of this book. It struck me as another one of those get-rich-quick schemes. Then, another review I read said it was geared towards 20-somethings. As a 30-something, I thought I would know everything the book covered. Boy, was I wrong!

I've been following Ramit's blog (also called I Will Teach You to Be Rich) for some time. Then I took the plunge and decided to try his course Earn 1K where he gives you valuable, actionable advice for consistently making money on the side while you work full-time. It was after I started taking the course that I thought it may make sense to check out his book. So I did.

The book is divided into a six-week program, so each week you have an action to move you closer to being rich. Mind you, being rich means different things to different people. While it may mean gobs of money to one person, it could mean spending more time with family to another.

Chapter 1 -- Optimize Your Credit Cards
How credit can help you be rich, what not to do with your credit cards and what you should definitely buy with a credit card

Chapter 2 -- Beat the Banks
Negotiating bank fees, why online banks offer the best rates and how banks make money

Chapter 3 -- Get Ready to Invest
Why inbvesting is the single best way to get rich, the ladder of personal finance and the importance of crushing debt

Chapter 4 -- Conscious Spending
Spend less without a budget, guilt-free spending, how to make more money and handle unexpected expenses

Chapter 5 -- Save While Sleeping
Setting up a bill-pay transfer system, irregular income and how to spend only three hours per month managing your money

Chapter 6 -- The Myth of Financial Expertise
Why you can't time the market, you don't need a financial adviser and pundits worth reading

Chapter 7 -- Investing Isn't Only for Rich People
The beauty of automatic investing, creating your own portfolio and investing the easy way

Chapter 8 -- Easy Maintenance
The tricky part of managing your portfolio, when to sell, a tne-year plan and don't fear taxes

Chapter 9 -- A Rich Life
Weddings, negotiating your salary, the benefits of renting and buying a car or house

To be honest, I was so engrossed with the advice in the book that I finished it in two days flat. I'm now going back and figuring out what I need to do to get my financial house in even better shape. I highly recommend this book whether you're in good or bad financial shape. There are definitely many nuggets of great info to take advantage of in this book.

Have you ready the book already? What did you think?

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Green and Frugal: Fall Gardening

Are you planning on planting a fall garden this year?

Fall gardens are an excellent way to continue to grow homegrown goodness even when the weather starts to turn chilly.

I’m not going to show you what has happened to my summer garden. It’s just…sad. I’ve learned over the past few months that I have much more talent for growing flowers than I do growing vegetables, and the few puny tomatoes I managed to produce didn’t even taste that good. My squash simply never happened and my beans…

Well, you get the picture.

That being said, however, I’m determined to try again. So, I’m going to plant a fall garden! I’m now dreaming of snipping Swiss Chard on chilly mornings, and pulling up bright orange fingers of carrots on crisp fall afternoons.

Fall Crops to Grow

So what kind of crops can you grow in your garden? Oh boy, lots of good stuff!

There are different varieties of crops you can grow. And you have to consider which ones will work for you based on your area, and the timing of your first frost. There are cool-weather crops, and cold-weather crops.

Cold-hardy vegetables include the following (maturity is in parenthesis):

Brussels sprouts (90 days)
Cabbage (70 days)
Collards (75 days)
Kale (55 days)
Parsnips (100-130 days)
Spinach (45 days)
Garlic (best planted when winter is really close)

Cool-weather hardy vegetables include:

Lettuce (45-60 days, depending on variety)
Mustard greens (45 days)
Radishes (25-50 days)
Rutabaga (90 days)
Snap peas (50-60 days)
Turnips (60 days)
Carrots (50-70 days, depending on variety)
Broccoli (70 days)
Cauliflower (60 days)
Green onions (50-60 days)
Beets (55-60 days)
Swiss chard (30-50 days)

How to Plant a Fall Garden

If you’re going to start your fall garden from seeds then you need to start them now (it might even be too late for seed-starting in many areas). Mother Earth News suggests counting back 12-14 weeks from your average first frost date, and choosing that week to start seeds.

P. Allen Smith also has a great bit of advice on this. He says:

The average date of the first killing frost in your area is the most important thing to know when it comes to fall vegetable gardening. Your local garden center is a good source of information for this date. To determine when to start planting, find out the number of days to maturity for the vegetable. Next, count back the number of days from the first average frost date. Some people add a week or so to allow for a few extra days to harvest the produce once it’s mature. You will find maturity information on seed packets and some plant labels.
If you’re already past this date, as I probably am, then you might want to start buying crops that have already been started. Farmers’ Markets are a great place to get veggies for fall planting. This is what I’m going to do, and then save my seeds for next year’s spring planting.

If you do start seeds, then it’s vital you know which seeds you absolutely must start indoors. Some plants, like various cabbages and salad greens, simply won’t grow if the soil is warmer than 85 degrees. This handy guide from Mother Earth News will teach you more about what crops you can grow, and how to find your average first frost date.

The key to successful fall planting is to get the plants growing to catch the last wave of summer heat AND allow them to mature before the first frost hits. You have to know how long each plant takes to mature so you know when to plant.

You also have to keep seedlings wet; drought stresses young plants, especially fall veggies, so it’s important they not dry out.

Mother Earth News suggests starting fall seeds in the shade outdoors. The shade will enable you to water just once per day, rather than 3-4. Here in Michigan we have had incredibly hot, dry conditions all through August.

Where to Plant

In most cases, you can use the same gardens you used for your spring/summer veggies. You can help your fall veggies along by mulching heavily; this will help protect the roots from hot late summer sun, and keep them moist.

You can extend the life of your growing season by using row covers to protect plants from frost, raised beds, and cold frames. Spinach and other lettuces do especially well in cold frames.

Last Word…

Are any of you planting a fall garden this year? If so, any tips? I’d love to hear them!

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Green and Frugal Way to Revamp Old Furniture

Whether out of a desire to save money or a duty to keep still-useful furniture out of the landfill, it can be difficult to turn down a secondhand sofa or armchair when it is offered for free or a small price. The downside can be that while they may still be quite comfortable, they may not look the best or go with your current décor. Fortunately, slipcovers offer the ideal solution for a variety of reasons.

Save money

Buying new furniture for a home is an expensive proposition. It can be much cheaper to let someone else buy new and then take their castoffs. Owners very often get rid of furniture not because it has outlived its usefulness but because they no longer like the way it looks. Pay attention when family and friends are remodeling and find out what they are doing with their old furniture. Don’t worry what it looks like, just find out if it is still comfortable and not in need of being repaired. Often, owners will part with it for next to nothing just for the opportunity to be rid of it.

Help the environment

Recycling old furniture and keeping it in a home means it is not going to the landfill. This not only saves money, it helps the planet. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, furniture accounts for more than 9 million tons of waste in American landfills. It only makes sense if a sofa or chair is still comfortable that it should be kept out of a landfill.

Make it look good

Unfortunately, older furniture often has upholstery that is downright ugly. That is where slipcovers come in to play.

Furniture slipcovers come in a variety of colors and styles for sofas and easy chairs. With so many choices available, it should be easy to find something that will make that old furniture fit in with the rest of the décor in your house.

Prices range from around $35 up to $100 for sofa covers. With their affordability, several can be purchased and the look of furniture can be changed year round.

Get the right fit

Of course, taking advantage of slipcovers does not do much good if the wrong size is purchased. Below are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for the right slipcover.

First determine if a stretchable or non-stretchable slipcover is desired. Stretchable slipcovers fit tightly to the furniture, while non-stretchable types will have a skirt or similar piece of hanging fabric covering the bottom.

Measure the maximum seat cushion width in the front from arm to arm. Then, measure the circumference, or total of all four sides, around the sides of the couch.

Slipcovers offer many options if you have a habit of rehoming unwanted sofas or recliners. They help protect the environment and they save money, while adding a dramatic change to a room.

This is a guest post from Caroline Smith, who tries to make green and frugal choices when furnishing her home. She has written for a number of blogs and owns a website all about slipcovers for loveseats and ways to use them to recycle old seats.

Bookmark and Share