Monday, January 24, 2011

Green and Frugal: Some Clever Ways to Save Money

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

Some Clever Ways to Save Money

Now that 2011 is here, we’re on a serious money-saving crusade. In just a couple of weeks we’re going to be a one-income family, which is a scary and exhilarating prospect.

As you can probably imagine, I’m looking for any clever trick I can find to reduce our expenses and lower our spending.

I wanted to share with some of the ideas I’m already using, and some others that I probably will start using, to save money.

And, before we begin, I know that picture of forsythia doesn’t have anything at all to do with saving money, but, it’s January. And I needed a cheery boost, which means maybe you do too!

Clever Ways to Save Money

1. Opt-Out of Your Favorite Store’s Email Alerts\

You know all those emails you get from J.Crew, PacSun and L.L. Bean letting know that “TODAY ONLY: 75% OFF!”?

They just make you spend money. Avoid the temptation, and get off those mailing lists.

2. If You Go to the Laundromat, Consider Buying a Portable Washer

Our new place in Detroit doesn’t have a washing machine. Which means we had been going to the laundromat once or twice a week to do laundry.

Not only was this time consuming and annoying (especially lugging laundry around during a Michigan winter) it was also expensive. We were spending around $8.50 per trip on laundry. At one trip per week, this was $34 per month. On laundry.

We decided to invest in a Haier Portable Washing Machine, which we bought off Amazon. We paid $175 for it. Here’s what it looks like:

According to our calculations, we’ll have earned our money back in less than six months with this thing. We’ve named her Tubby, and she works great. We put her in our basement and hooked her up to the sink down there. But she’s so small, you could easily keep her in a kitchen or a closet and wheel her out when you need her.

So after six months, Tubby will help us save money every month. If you live in an apartment without your own washer, investing in a portable washing machine would be a great way to save money (as well as time).

3. Know Your Problem Areas, and Avoid Them

If you asked me what my biggest spending weakness was, I could tell you in one word: Etsy. I love Etsy from the bottom of my heart. My favorites page has almost 450 items listed.

Whatever your spending problem is, try to cut it out of your life. If you’re addicted to shoes, don’t go to the mall. If you have a problem buying stuff on Amazon, avoid the site.

This takes work, and self discipline. Trust me, I’m there. While it’s important to splurge once in a while, don’t make it a regular occurrence.

4. Make a List of Frugal Fun Things to Do

There’s nothing worse than wanting to do something fun, and not having any idea of what you can do on the cheap. So what happens? You end up spending $30 at the movie theater for lack of anything better to do.

Before that fateful day gets here (which, surely, it will) have a backup plan. Create a list, right now, of fun things you can do on the cheap, or even for free, so you’re not tempted to go splurge when you’re bored and out of ideas.

For instance, we have a membership to the Detroit Institute of Art, which is 2 miles away. This is a free fun thing for us to do. This weekend, the Detroit Historical Museum has free admission (savings: $12). We’ll be there bright and early.

Need some ideas?

Check your local community calender, newspaper or local magazine. They always have lists of free events.

Find out what day of the month your local museums has a “free” day.

Learn a new craft, like making wine bottle glasses or origami.

Hit up your local library for free community events.

Find out what activities are available at your local state park. You likely live within miles of hiking and biking trails. Picnic, anyone?

5. Threaten to Cancel Your Service

Want to save money on your cable TV, internet, or phone service?

All you have to do is call up and say “You know, I’m not really using this service anymore and we’re really trying to save money. I need to cancel my service.”

And you know what the customer service rep will do practically every single time?

They’ll trip over themselves to get you to stay. Suddenly, rates will fall by 25%-50% for another year as they try to talk you in to sticking it out.

Trust me, this works.

Last Word…

Do any of you have any clever or unique tricks you use to save money? Since we’re watching our dimes right now, I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure other readers would as well!

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Focus on No-cost Eco-friendly Fun in 2011

Bring sustainability into every celebration this year by making fun the memorable centerpiece of your holidays and special events.
Instead of spending hours and lots of money on gifts, food and decor, focus instead on activities that everyone will enjoy and remember.
Cooking or crafting bring people together and can cost little. Group games, whether indoor or out, can be enjoyed by everyone from tots to grandparents.

Five years ago, to celebrate her birthday, Lynn Colwell, co-author of Celebrate Green!, started an annual tradition-hosting a chili cook-off for a dozen friends. She crafted a trophy for the winner and guests take home samples of chilis they like (assuming there are leftovers!), in specially decorated glass jars. Everyone looks forward to her waste free event.

For Valentine's Day, what could be nicer than preparing chocolate fondue together with your love, then doing with it what you will?

Or if you're hosting a Valentine's party, punch out old cards in the shape of hearts, cut them down the center in a zig zag shape and have teams put the puzzle together.

For an all-ages party, how about this competition?

Fill boxes (based on no more than six people for each team) with an assortment of houshold items, everything from spoons, to hair brushes, blocks, small boxes, tape, old CDs, anything goes.

The goal is for each team to create a game (with rules) using only the things provided in their box. Set the timer for 15 minutes to create the game, then let everyone play each other's.

If everyone enjoys it, you can mix up all the stuff and do it again.

You can do the same thing with an environmental focus by going on a walk at the beginning of the party and having everyone pick up items like rocks, twigs etc., then basing the competition on those items.

Think about how you can change or work with a traditional game to make it relevant to your event without spending buying anything new. That old favorite, Pin the Tail on the Donkey can be turned into "pin the X" on anything. Lynn made a "Pin the Trees on the Earth" game for one of her grandchildren's birthday parties.

Variations on tag are always a favorite. ("Clothes pin tag" is pictured below. Just attach several clothes pins to each participant's clothing. The idea is to grab as many clothes pins as you can. You can imagine the strategizing that can go on to "get" the last player!)

White elephant gift exchanges when everyone brings something they already own that they'd prefer not to keep, are popular at Christmas. But why not enjoy the fun for a birthday. Instead of purchasing junky toys for kids to take home from the party, have each child bring one they're tired of and exchange it for a new one. Take it from us, when a white elephant exchange is the center of a birthday or anniversary party, adults will enjoy the hilarity too.

Speaking of birthdays, hiding gifts instead of wrapping them is a way to engage everyone in a fun activity while avoiding buying and tossing wrapping paper. With young children, play "Hot and Cold." Older ones enjoy hunting via clues.

Thousands of ideas for games and activities for any age are of course, at your fingertips via the internet. One of our favorites sites for kids games and activities is Family Fun. We're also fans of cooperative game sites like this one.

The next time you're hosting a party or celebration, be sure to plan some eco-fun for everyone!

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors ofCelebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's All in the Soil -- Safeguarding the Future By Gardening Organically

Organic gardening -- the phrase resonates with feel-good factors. You're holding back on spraying those punishing herbicides and pesticides -- and so giving nature a little breathing room. You're holding back, too, on artificial fertilizers, which ultimately come from natural gas and mined salts -- so you're not depleting those non-renewable resources. Add to that the fact that any organic food you grow in your garden is liable to be better tasting, healthier and devoid of man-made chemicals, and it's easy to see why organic gardening gives many a feel-good glow. But, what many people may miss out on, is the fact that gardening organically is actually in the grandkids best interests, too -- you are investing in the soil, which will pay them back a handsome dividend, in our increasingly fragile future.

Like it or not, not only do we come from dirt (and to dirt do we return) -- the very health and security of the modern world rests quite firmly in the soil. It's an odd idea, which seems strange because, in our post-industrial world, the soil can seem so far away, even though it's just under our feet. Over the last 50 years, the wonders of science, cheap oil and gas, and the relentless market, have combined to produce food more conveniently -- and in greater quantities, than any that society has known before. In the process, though, we've been lifted further and further away from the soil, and a firm connection to natural world. We've kind of forgotten that the whole edifice of civilization was built on agriculture, on farmers nurturing the earth. And it still is.

That disconnection is not just sad, but maybe a little dangerous, too. Because, all of the 'cheap and plenty', provided by conventional farming, owes much of its bounty to large doses of inorganic fertilizers. Predominant amongst these artificial fertilizers are nitrates, which come from ammonia, which is turn derived from natural gas. That's a problem, because U.S. natural gas production peaked in 1971, and has been on bumpy ride down ever since. That can only make natural gas increasingly more expensive over the long term, and so too the price of nitrate fertilizers. Cheap inorganic fertilizers are likely to become a thing of the past.

We're going to have to get used to the idea that conventional agriculture, together with it's artificially cheapened food, is going to be a thing of the past. Already, higher oil and gas prices are feeding though into higher food prices -- and there's no reason to suppose that process can be reversed, as a possible peak in oil production looms too. So why does that matter to you and your garden?

Because, in a very real sense, in the near future, our food security is going to rely on growing food, with only natural organic fertilizers at our disposal. So we need to build up soil fertility again, the natural way. After decades of washing our soils with nitrates and phosphates, and losing the organic humus and muck that binds it together, we need to get our soil well-fed, so that it's ready to feed us again. Many studies have confirmed that organic methods can build up that fertility, and so make plants more healthy and productive -- especially in times of drought. And that whole enriching cycle, can begin in your garden, when you start gardening organically -- banking fertility to safeguard food production in the future.

And there's another couple of strings to organic gardening's bow, that could make a real difference, to avoiding the tainted future, that global warming threatens. Organic gardening, with its focus on adding natural organic matter, such as compost, manure, and plant residues, is building up the humus content of the soil. That organic matter is a natural repository of carbon -- and by locking a greater proportion of plant matter in the soil in this way, organically-gardened soils can act as a carbon buffer, slowing CO2 diffusion into the atmosphere. That way, you are actually cutting CO2 emissions by gardening organically.

The long-term benefits of gardening organically don't stop there, though. Conventional gardening has the gardener applying copious quantities of artificial fertilizers to promote plant growth. And whilst they work, in a sappy way, they have their own negative carbon footprint. First, these inorganic fertilizers release plenty of greenhouse gases in their production. Secondly, for nitrate-based fertilizers specifically, after they have been applied to the soil, there is the slow release of nitrous oxide. This is a very potent greenhouse gas, one that is many times more dangerous than CO2 when it comes to the greenhouse effect.

So going organic in your gardening, and ceasing the use of artificial fertilizers, actually applies a double whammy of emissions reductions. With organic gardening applying a small brake to the risk of global warming, as well as helping ensure food security for generations to come, you can see why going organic is more than just a fad.

This article is a guest post from Adana Lima, a stay-at-home mom with 3 cute kids (Jamie, Pablo, Guerrero) who writes on the topic of adjustable dumbbells.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Green and Frugal Living: Ever Thought About Beekeeping?

Happy Friday! Here's another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar:

How to Get Started in Urban Beekeeping

So, I’ve long wanted to get into urban beekeeping. I love honey, and I’ve been enthralled with the idea of caring for a hive ever since I saw the movie, “The Secret Life of Bees”.

But honey-loving aside, there’s a far more important reason I want to get into urban beekeeping. And it’s because our bees are in serious trouble. According to recent research, bee populations are down 96%.

Yes, that’s 96%.

Want to learn more about why our bees are in such decline? Check out the post I wrote, Why Are Our Bees Dying?

Now that I’m living in Detroit, I’m finally in a place where I can start a hive. After all, I have an abandoned house on my left, and my right. I live in a city that, amazingly enough, has abundant open, urban prairie and literally thousands of empty lots with native wildflowers and grass.

And, there are thousands of personal and community gardens here.

Yep. I think I’m ready.

Now, this isn’t a detailed post on how to get started as an urban beekeeper. There are entire books written about that (the one I’m currently reading, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping”, is actually quite informative). This post will list the basic steps you need to take to get your thoughts in order so the process doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming.

It was like that for me…I wanted to get into this, but where the heck do I start? It seemed like such a foreign world, with a gazillion steps I needed to take. But now that I’ve read more about it, it doesn’t seem as difficult as I once thought.

So, here’s are the basic steps for you to think about.

First…Get Inspired

I know the thought of keeping bees is a little…intense. You might think you can’t do it, or you don’t have enough space, or that they’re going to swarm out of the hive and kill both you and your neighbors.

But there are tons of people keeping small hives in their backyards all over the country. Want to see their hives, their yards, and hear their stories? The Daily Green put up an awesome picture-journey of regular people who are keeping bees all over the country. Once you look at it, you’ll be inspired to start a hive of your own. You can see it here.

Step 1: Investigate

You may not legally be allowed to keep bees in your neighborhood. To find out, call your local city hall or check out this handy list of contacts you can call for your state’s beekeeping rules and regulations.

Of course, “following the law” is entirely up to you. There are literally thousands of people in New York City (and plenty of other cities) that are involved with urban beekeeping. Technically, they’re breaking the law. But they don’t care.

Step 2: Decide Where You’ll Keep Your Bees

You don’t need acres and acres of land to keep bees. Like I mentioned, people in New York are keeping bees on their rooftops. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

You’ll likely need at least 1/10 of an acre to keep bees in your yard. If you spend a lot of time in your backyard, however, you’ll want upwards of 1/2 acre. This will give you, and your family, space from the bees so you can each do your own thing.

I haven’t figured out where I’ll keep my bees. I have a spacious backyard in the house I’m living in, but I share this house with three other flats, who all have dogs (like me) that use the backyard. I’m thinking, at least right now, that the backyard in the abandoned house on the right will work just fine.

I might also sneak a garden in there as well, since the sunny yard is nothing more than a jumble of weeds, so that would be an added bonus to keep the bees there.

Step 3: Choose Your Hive

Langstroth hives

So, there’s an entire chapter on beehives. That is, the box you’re bees are going to be living in.

The most common hive is the Langstroth Hive, which you can see on the right. These are regular boxes with 8 or more “frames” inside, full of bees and honey. In addition to the box, you’re going to need a stand to keep the hives off the ground.

You’ll want to consider your ambitions and strength when choosing how big to go on your boxes. One box with 8 frames weighs less than 50 lbs. when it’s full of honey. A 10-frame box full of honey weighs a whopping 100 lbs, which would be a bear to move.

The other major style of hive is the top bar hive. It’s shaped like a trough, and the frames (where the bees live) can be picked up at any time.

Take a look:

Top bar hives are fairly cheap to put together, and it’s easier to work with the bees. But, you don’t get as much honey as you do with the Lanstroth hives.

Are you a crafty woodworker? If so, you could try making your own hives out of treated 2x4s and cement blocks. There are some detailed plans here.

Step 4: Buy Your Equipment

Working with bees means you need protective gear: veil and/or a full suit, a smoker, and gloves. You’ll also need a hive tool, a feeder, an outer cover for your hive (for cold months), etc.

Google “beekeeping supplies” and a ton of online stores will come up.

Step 5: Buy Your Bees

If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a beekeeper association, then hook up with them as soon as you can. They’ll likely have plenty of bees you can buy locally. You can also check out the American Beekeeping Federation for more information.

If you need or want to buy bees by mail, check out this comprehensive list of apiaries.

There are three different types of bees to choose from: Italians, Carniolans, and Russians. All have different benefits and drawbacks, depending on where you live and what you want, so research your options carefully before you decide on a breed.

Last Word…

So, I know this is an incredibly simplistic look at urban beekeeping. Bees have to be fed. They have to be smoked if you want to pull out a frame to harvest honey. They can swarm, or die suddenly, or their hive can be attacked by animals.

Beekeeping is not a simple affair, at least not at first. But it doesn’t look crazy hard. I’d highly recommend getting a book on urban beekeeping, if you’re interested.

I’d love to hear back from you guys. Do you keep bees? Have any tips or advice you’d like to share to other readers who might want to get into urban beekeeping? Please write in, if so!

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year from Green and Frugal Living

Here's to 2011! Have you made your 2011 New Year's Resolutions? Are any of them Green and
Frugal? I normally create a list of at least 10 resolutions, something I've done for at least the last 10 years. For some reason, I decided not to do it this year. Instead, I'm focusing on having an attitude of gratitude -- appreciating what I have without having to continuously have more. I've found it liberating and much less stressful than having to focus on 10 goals all year.

However, if I did have to create 10 Green and Frugal Resolutions, here is what they would be:
  1. Declutter -- go through anything I haven't used in a year and either throw it out, donate it or keep it and use it.
  2. Reduce waste -- try and reduce the amount of garbage you generate through a combination of repurposing items, composting and recycling. If you pay for garbage disposal, you might even save some money.
  3. Create a budget and stick to it -- do you know where you money goes each month? It could be interesting to see what you spend on certain categories each month.
  4. Save your change and donate it to charity -- you may have read my post about how quickly change adds up. It can be a fun and painless way to give to your favorite charity or non-profit organization.
  5. Grow your own food and/or eat locally grown food -- You'll be amazed at how much food a small garden can produce.
  6. Use coupons -- whether it's in the grocery store or online, use coupons. Don't leave that coupon code box empty!
  7. DIY (do-it-yourself) -- from home repairs and cleaning, to creating your own invitations and sewing, if you can do it yourself (or learn how), you'll save money and learn a new skill in the process.
  8. Compost -- create "black gold" (aka rich soil) by composting your kitchen scraps (I'm trying to convince my husband that a worm composter could be cool.)
  9. Take advantage of free entertainment -- visit the library, museums, go hiking, play games, hang out in a park -- find different ways to have fun without having to spend money.

  10. Stay healthy by eating right and exercising -- it may not sound green and frugal, but keeping yourself healthy cuts costs in a number of other areas
I hope these inspire you. Have you created any resolutions? What did you include?

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