Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How Will You Celebrate Earth Day?

10 Fun Family Ideas for Earth Day

While Earth Day is about serious matters, why not use it as an opportunity to enjoy your family and focus on fun activities too.

Here are 10 Earth Day ideas everyone can enjoy.

1. Play Pin the Tree on the Earth

One thing the Earth needs is more trees, right? They're being cut down faster than they can be planted. Playing this game is a great way to explain the issue to kids and inspire them (and you, to take action).

This homemade game is made from Ecospun felt (from recycled plastic bottles), but you could make one out of paper if you prefer.

The winning player can be the one who pins the tree closest to North or South America or in an ocean without touching land.

2. Go on an Earth Day Treasure Hunt

Write a series of clues on pieces of recycled or pre-used paper, leading from your home around the neighborhood to a "treasure chest" containing some organic treats or small treasures like polished rocks and seashells. The clues should focus on the outdoors and be tailored to the age of the children.

3. Read eco books together.
Find a nice nearby tree, sit together beneath it. Read and discuss a meaningful book with an environmental theme like The Giving Tree. Here's a list of great titles for kids of every age.

4. Visit an organic farm, preferably one with animals if you've got kids in tow. Find one near you at

5. Volunteer! There are many organizations that will welcome families with children of all ages.

6. Download an Earth Day kit from the EPA. It's filled with loads of ideas for fun activities.

7. As a family, take the 5-minute quiz at Practically Green. Find out how green you are and choose three actions that will improve your score.

8. Start a garden. If you've never done it before or don't have room, just fill a container with the best dirt you can find (be sure the container has drainage). Follow the directions on a package of mixed greens. You'll be nibbling lettuce very quickly. (And a secret you might not know. Children who grow veggies, actually tend to eat them even when they claim not to like them!)

Or plant some trees. You can get 10 trees for free when you join the Arbor Day Foundation.

9. Go no waste for the day. That means no purchasing anything in a package or at least, reusing or recycling any packaging, newspaper or anything else possible. It also means not tossing food scraps. If you don't want to eat it, compost, put into the freezer for later soup making, share it with neighbors, anything but throw it into the trash. Who knows, maybe you'll make a habit of no waste!

10. Do a recycled craft. Make birdhouses from milk cartons. Craft a solar oven from a pizza box (or any cardboard box). Download a list of endangered species and create your own hand drawn calendar. Empty out a drawer each, but instead of throwing away what's you don't want, challenge yourselves to make something from it!
Whatever you do on Earth Day, spend a bit of time noticing what nature gives us and give a little something back!
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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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Are You An Extreme Couponer?

You may have heard that TLC is launching a new show called "Extreme Couponers." I find the whole concept fascinating. You know frugal living has reach new heights when they can base a show on saving money.

So where do these "Extreme Couponers" find their deals? Here are a few sites:

The main idea is to partner items on sale with coupons to maximize savings.

Here's a peek of the show:

Do you consider yourself an "Extreme Couponer?" Think you could handle being on TLC's new show? What are your favorite coupon sites?

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Simple Ways to Save Money on Food Costs

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

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, then you’ve likely heard the escalating discussion about food and fuel prices. If you missed it, here’s the four word news flash: prices are going up.

By how much? Well, I’ve seen a pretty wide swing in estimates lately. Pork and eggs are expected to jump 4%-6.5%, according to Bloomberg News. But other experts, such as Harvard economist Richard Benson, is predicting much higher price jumps. Take a look at where we’re headed this year:

Coffee — 45%
Barley — 32%
Pork — 68%
Oranges — 35%
Cotton — 40%
Salmon — 30%

As you can see, those numbers are sky-high compared to the single digit increases that other organization’s are estimating. Either way, all of us need to plan on spending more to feed our families this year.

Another factor we have to consider are fuel prices. With the unrest in the Middle East slowly escalating, speculators keep slowly inching the price of oil up. If this keeps up, food prices are going to start to rise as a result. After all, it just costs more to truck our food all over the country. Of course, companies are going to pass this cost onto us, the consumer.

Obviously, no one has a crystal ball. Coffee may skyrocket, and it might stay stable. I’m certainly not advocating that we all go out and hoard food or anything. But we can start taking steps now to combat rising food prices.

1. Grow a Garden
By far, planning a garden and growing your own food is the best way to combat rising food costs. I’ve written about gardening quite a lot here at The Greenest Dollar because not only is it one of my favorite things to do, but it’s also one of the best ways to save money, lesson your impact on the environment, and get some exercise.

What am I going to be growing this year?

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.
Pole beans and cucumbers.
A wide variety of herbs.
A wide variety of lettuce.
So far those are my basics. I might branch out a bit more, but everything depends on my space (which is limited).

If you want to buy seeds and start your own garden this year, I highly recommend you check out Hometown Seeds. They’ve sponsored several contests here at The Greenest Dollar, and I use their seeds exclusively in my own garden. Plus, if you use the coupon code “BUBBA” upon check out, you’ll get 10% off your order for all of 2011. Yeah, they rock.

2. Bake Your Own Bread
The price of wheat is skyrocketing right now. It’s great for farmers, but not so great for us consumers. Bread and cereal prices are going to continue to rise this year. Which means you’ll save a bundle by baking your own bread at home.

Now, I’m not a brilliant cook by any means. Not even close. But I love baking my own bread. It’s cheap, it’s relaxing, and it’s not near as difficult as you might think.

For instance, this No-Knead Bread recipe is one of my favorites. It costs pennies to make, and it’s delicious. I also love this Whole-Wheat Irish Soda bread recipe from Serious Eats. Again, this loaf costs pennies compared to what you’d pay at the grocery store or bakery.

3. Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially with a CSA you’re buying vegetables and fruit from a local farm ahead of time. The farm grows the vegetables and then you pick up your “share” each week. Many farms also offer drop-off services.

Here’s a good example. The CSA I’m thinking of joining this year would cost me $500 up front. Because the farm is a non-profit that helps support local food banks, this cost is 100% tax deductible. For their 20+ week growing season, this adds up to a mere $25 per week. And that’s for organic produce, grown locally. Amazing.

What do I get? Well, I get 20 weeks worth of fruit and vegetables from May through November. This equals around 150 lbs. of food. Each box has up to 24 different fruits, herbs and vegetables. And, they also include free “gifts” such as honey, eggs, beeswax candles and the like. Sounds delightful, right? And, they drop off food right in my town, so I don’t have to drive far to go get it.

If you want to find a CSA near you, head over to There’s a box on the right titled “What Are You Looking For?”. Click on CSA, enter your zip code, and you’re good to go.

4. Can Your Own Food
I was a canning fool last summer, and I’m planning on kicking it up a notch this year. Growing my own food, plus joining the CSA, will give me tons of fresh produce to work with.

Canning isn’t nearly as difficult as most people imagine it to be. I taught myself, and I’m certain you could too. Now is actually a great time to shop for canning supplies at thrift stores because most people don’t can during the winter months. Come spring and summer, you won’t be able to find a canning pot unless you buy it new. So if you think you’d like to learn this awesome DIY skill, then start shopping now to find the bargains.

You can also branch out. For instance, tonight, for the first time, I’m going to try and pickle eggs. I found an easy how-to online, so if it’s a success you can bet I’ll post pictures and instructions here on the site. I also want to invest in a pressure canner so I can can a wider variety of foods. So, it’s not just jams and jellies for me this year.

Final Word
Are you doing anything to combat high food prices this year? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Here's a great post from our friends at

Money-saving myths are more popular than unicorns and pots of gold at the end of rainbows. As consumersbegan tightening their belts, rumors sprang up suggesting how to save cash by a variety of means, not all of which are true.

Some myths began because people can make money off of them. Others are simply old-wives tales that have been handed down over generations and are based on out-of-date information. From gas additives to "more expensive means better," we've been brainwashed to believe. Well we're busting these inaccuracies right here and now. Read on for 38 money-saving myths that simply aren't true.


1. It's Cheaper to Chop Up Your Own Chicken

Unless you've taken Butcherery101, you're not going to get enough edible parts out of that chicken to make it worth your while. In the long run, you'll save money and time by buying the parts you need.
2. Shopping Sales Saves Money

Buy something you don't really need and you're losing cash, not saving money. Some shoppers believe price alone should drive their purchases so they ignore quality or usefulness. The fact is, single-stitched clothing is going to last about the lifespan of a gnat while quality-made products will see you through many seasons. If that discount cereal tastes like cardboard, it's going to sit in the cupboard until your next spring cleaning. You really do get what you pay for, like the more expensive rubber gloves I've used for two years.

3. Skip The Supermarket Salad Bar

I recently had a couple friends over for dinner and wanted to serve a salad. I could have bought all the components and ended up with a fridge full of leftovers that would go bad before I finished them, or I could hit the Whole Foods salad bar and pay one-third the price for a very pretty salad.
Supermarket salad bars also come in handy if you like stir fry. You only need buy the exact amount of veggies you need and, best of all, they're already prepped. The trick is to avoid heavier items that kick up the price.
4. Leave The Kids At Home

Sure it's a hassle pushing those souped-up kiddie-car carts around, but allowing your children to choose what they like (within reason) ensures you're buying stuff they'll actually eat. Make up a list at home with each child's assistance, requiring they select one fruit, one vegetable, a healthy cereal and one treat.
This makes no sense at all to me. If you leave your kids home, how do you know what they want to eat? Take them to the store with you and let them choose what they want, within certain guidelines. For instance, tell them they can choose a vegetable, a fruit, a healthy cereal, and one treat. Trust me, this is a lot smarter than lugging home several kinds of cereals and vegetables, having the kids not eat them, and then tossing them out in a couple of weeks.
Once I reached an appropriate age, my mother actually saved time and hassle by sending me out to gather specific products for the basket. It taught me how to compare prices and the best way to shop supermarkets. Mom also allowed me to help her cook with the items I'd selected, providing yet another lesson.
5. Fish Is Too Expensive For Everyday

Lobster and shrimp are expensive, but Tilapia and catfish are usually a good buy and you can soup up these mild fillets with extras and spices that will appeal to your kids. Don't forget about canned fish. Canned tuna and salmon are pantry proof, less expensive than many meats, make for good casseroles, and usually appear to younger appetites. Look for Coho or Norwegian salmon, which usually aren't farm raised, and remember you should only eat tuna once or twice a week.
6. Frozen Fish Tastes Just As Good

Yuck! Translating fish from fresh to frozen and back to raw again changes the flavor and can leave a freezer burn that reduces the product's nutritional quality. If you don't care about taste, go for it, but avoid breaded, frozen fish that's usually overpriced and heavily processed.

7. Buy The Biggest

Check unit prices on everything from cereal to toilet paper and you may be shocked at the mark-up. Instead of reaching for the biggest (and not so best), buy only what you need, particularly when it comes to groceries that may go bad before you finish eating them. This rule should particularly hold true if it's the first time your trying a brand or product. You may end up with 10 boxes of facial tissues seemingly embedded with wood chips.
8. Generic Is Always Cheaper

Generics may offer the cheapest up-front prices, but brand names usually provide the best coupons and rebates. Do a quick comparison and, if you're not a clipper, check mobile coupons while you're in the store.
9. “End Cap" Items Are Your Best Bet

End caps are the displays found at either end of supermarket aisles. Stores like to place products they're pushing here because we're conditioned to assume this positioning means big savings. Because they products are separated from their brethren, it's difficult to comparison shop. Don't give in to impulse; Wait until you're in the appropriate section of the store, where you'll still find this on-sale brand but can ascertain which product is the cheapest.

10. Beef And Lamb Are Too Expensive

Lamb makes for a nice change and, if you buy the right cut, can actually be cheaper than supposedly less-expensive meats. A lot has to do with the preparation. For example, I've often found beef round roast on sale very good price and prepared it in my slow cooker to make it more tender. A boneless pork shoulder still has plenty of meat and is much less expensive than center-cut pork chops.

Lamb shoulder is a bit tough, but braised or stewed it's delicious and different. Marinated lamb shoulder also makes for delicious kabobs.
11. Canned And Frozen Foods Are Less Nutritious

Fresh produce is often "manipulated" for easier shipping, meaning some of the nutrients and flavors have been eliminated in favor of convenience. Also, the longer a fresh item sits on your shelf, the less appetizing and nutritious it becomes.
On the other hand, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh and may be healthier as they're picked and processed at the very height of their freshness. You'll want to keep an eye on the salt and sugar additives, however. I've found frozen fruits to be much cheaper and perfect for breakfast smoothies.
12. Shop Just Once A Week

The French pay much more for energy than we do, so their refrigerators are much smaller and freezers almost non-existent. But who needs a big fridge when you shop two or three times a week for fresh produce, bakery items and protein?
Americans, on the other hand, load up on enough food for the entire week, then often end up tossing the neglected extras. That's money in the trash!
Sure you should shop for canned, boxed and frozen foods on a weekly basis -- or stock up when you have coupons -- but buying fresh tastes so much better and, in the long run, is cheaper.
13. Follow Your Shopping List

Of course you should make a list, but be open to adjust for too high or amazingly low prices. If that chicken breast you planned on buying isn't offered at a reasonable price, consider switching to a meat that's actually on sale. (Don't overlook the meat and fish items on sale because they're close to their expiration date.)

14. Big Stores = Cheaper Prices

Walmart has been dinged of late for raising their prices while still identifying everything as bargain priced. I like to shop a local, three-store chain that offers less perfect looking products but also provides better prices, and the meat counter is a frugalistas dream.
Such markets often buy locally, so you're getting better quality products while supporting your local economy. You might follow the same rule when it comes to locally owned clothing stores, pharmacies, etc. So-called clothing boutiques are usually staffed by owners, who are willing to cut deals on the spot. My pharmacy is owned by a family and they go above and beyond in making sure their prescription drugs are the cheapest available. They even match Walmart's $4 deals.
15. More Expensive Means Better

Prescription or over-the-counter drugs are an excellent example of how you can save buying the cheaper item. Generic drugs are medically considered to be equally effective to name brands. Store-brand OTC drugs usually contain exactly the same ingredients.
The same holds true with other products. That blouse you bought for $250 at Saks Fifth Avenue may be equal in quality to one you found at TJ Maxx or Kohl's for $50.

16. It Pays To Refinance Your Home

While refinancing at a lower rate can reduce your monthly mortgage payment, you're not always likely to save money. Figure in closing costs and that $50 monthly reduction could end up costing you $4,500. You'll need to stay in the house for an extended period of time just to break even. If you're not sure how long you plan on living in your home, refinancing may not be your best option.
17. Savings Account Save Money

A savings account simply means you have money in the bank: Money that isn't working for you. If you have debts, you're better off paying them off first as the interest rate is probably much higher than the interest rate on your savings account.
Because savings interest rates are so low, inflation is likely to overwhelm that cash. That means you're actually losing money. Of course, you'll want to keep an emergency fund readily available in a savings account, but after you've socked that cash away, open up a CD, invest in your retirement account, pay down your mortgage or reduce credit card debt.
18. A 0% or Cash-Back Credit Card Saves Money

If you have a credit card that has 0-percent interest you can save money if you can pay off the bill each month from an interest-bearing account. If you can't particularly if you can't pay off the monthly when the 0-percent interest term is over, you're not saving money and are merely delaying payment on your purchases.

If you have a credit card that gives cash back, you can save money if there's no yearly fee and you pay off the balance each month. Carry a balance and you lose any savings from the cash back to interest charges.

19. Always Go With Cheaper Premiums

Insurance costs are on the rise. Car insurance premiums soared by almost 40% in 2010 while buildings and contents insurance leapt by 10.2 percent and 8.3 percent.
These increases make it tempting to reduce coverage to reduce premiums, which could be a big mistake when it's time to pay the piper. Should the worst happen, you'll have to shell out much more money after you've filed that claim. Whatever you do, however, don't go without or falsify information, as this can nullify your policy.
You may save money in the short term but be caught by the short hairs in the long term.

20. Forget Retirement. Save For Your Kids Education

Every parent wants their child to have a better life, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your retirement. College funding is available in many forms, including scholarships, grants, student loans, part-time jobs, and payment plans. That beats all retirement planning hands down.
21. Assets = Cash

Quite simply, cash is king, even if it's hidden under your mattress. There's really no substitute for maintaining money in liquid form. It's true owning assets is a vital part of financial success, however, having a net worth of $2 million is much different from having $2 million in cash. The problem here is people often don't own their assets.
Consider the real estate crash. Those caught with devalued property, particularly when they owe a fair amount to the bank, lost their investment before they could blink. Your mortgage needs to be paid in full before it can be considered an asset, and even then the recession greatly reduced many homeowners investments. ven when you own free and clear there are taxes, insurance, and upkeep to be considered. Also, it's become increasingly harder to turn real estate into cash. It is not a liquid asset. Cash is the one resource that will allow you to get through the difficult circumstances.

22. Base Your Buying Decision on Monthly Car-Loan Payments

Beware when a car dealer focuses on your potential monthly payment, rather than the total cost of the loan. When it comes to financing, dealers can usually work it out so you can afford just about any vehicle by increasing the loan repayment period. Instead negotiate for the total price of the car and how much interest you'll pay.
23. Stocks Are The Best Long-Term Investment

There's really no one class of assets that's always best for the long run. The long-term appeal of an investment always depends on its popularity. The less popular, the more likely it is to provide an enticing long-term return. The more popular it becomes, the more expensive and overpriced it will be.

24. Change Your Oil Every 5,000 Miles, Instead of 3,000

Depending on your vehicle, delaying oil changes can cost you thousands more than you'll save. While changing your oil every 5,000 miles may work for new cars or those without issues, vehicles older than five years need regular care. In this case, stick to the guidelines detailed in your owner's manual.
25. Air Conditioners Cost More

Auto air conditioning aren't the gas goblins they used to be. Using the a/c in your car drains only slightly more gas than driving with the windows down. You needn't put up with windblown hair and excessive noise to save a few pennies. Crank up the a/c and arrive at your destination fresh and sweat free.
26. Higher-Octane Gas Gives You Better Performance and Mileage

Want to make oil companies happy? Then use premium fuel thinking it'll save you money in the long run. The reality is that most cars don't derive much benefit from higher-octane gas. Check your owner's manual for the recommended fuel and save yourself a lot of cash.
27. It Costs Less To Fill Up Your Tank In The Morning When It's Cooler

It's not true you'll get more gas in your tank for the same price by filling up in lower temperatures. While it's true cooler gas is denser, the temperature in the underground tanks doesn't vary much throughout the day.
However, there's one reason you might want to buy gas before going to work. Gas stations don't change their daily prices until around 8 a.m., so if you know the per-gallon rate is about to go up, filling in the morning means you'll get the previous day's price.
28. Overinflated Tires Save Gas

The logic is that over-inflated tires get better mileage because of less tread contact on the road, which would increase mileage. Popular Mechanics tested this theory and found over-inflating didn't provide any added benefit and it actually was more dangerous.
29. Additives Increase Mileage

Oil and car companies are doing everything they can to beat their competitors, so it's kind of futile to use a product that's supposed to make your car more fuel-efficient. These companies would love to have customers lining up for their gas and vehicles. If there really was an additive that made gas burn up more slowly, it wouldn't be sold over the Internet one bottle at a time.
30. You Save More By Purchasing A Fuel-Efficient Car

While a car that gets better mileage helps, the best way to save money on gas is to change your driving habits. Making basic changes will save you a lot more than spending extra on a fuel-efficient vehicle. Better yet, do both.
31. Turning Off The Car Uses More Gas

Many people think turning their vehicle off and on will use up more gas, but that’s just not true. Idling can cost you up to half a gallon of gas an hour. Next time your stuck behind a train, sitting at an extra-light or waiting for a friend, turn off your engine.
32. Simply Turning Off Electrical Appliances Saves Money

Turning off your television or computer isn't enough. You need to unplug it. The same goes for battery charges. Most of these itemscontinue to drain energy simply from being plugged in, so if you want to make a difference, use a power strip and unplug the whole thing when the appliance isn't in use.
33. Screensavers Save Energy

Forget the drifting fish and swirling Microsoft logo. Computer monitors that dim when not in use draw less power than a traditional screensaver.
34. Dishwashers Cost More Than Handwashing

An efficient dishwasher can use less water than handwashing. Save your hands, water and electricity by making use of these wonderful machines.

35. Using Space Heaters Cuts Your Fuel Bill

Several heaters are likely to cost you more in electricity than keeping your central heating at a comfortable level. You'll save more by keeping your house cooler and bundling up.
36. It Uses More Energy To Reheat A Room

It only takes about an hour to heat the average house to a desired temperature, preferably 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night. Install a programmable thermostat and set it so you can come home and wake up to a warm house. (BTW: Turning your thermostat down by 1 degree can save 25 to 30 gallons of heating oil in one year.)
37. Uncovered Windows Are A Heat Drain During The Day

Uncovered windows equal solar heat that helps keep a house warm, which means it’s important during the day to let sunlight in by opening curtains, blinds and shades over the windows that face the sun to help keep your home warm and reduce heating needs. At night or when the sky is overcast, keep drapes and curtains closed to keep warmth indoors. You'll ultimately save more by covering the windows using clear plastic.
38. You Have To Crank The Heat To Reheat A Home

If you’ve turned your heat down overnight to save on costs, it isn’t necessary to crank the heat back up in the morning to quickly reheat your home. Most likely, you’ll forget you turned it up and return later in the day to find your home warmer than you’d like it. Also, your house will not heat up to a comfortable 68 degrees any faster if you put your thermostat on 80 than if you put it on 68 degrees.
For more tips on saving energy, check out our blog post "8 Tips to Hunting and Slaying Home Energy Vampires."

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