Create a Price Book to Save Money

>> Thursday, April 30, 2009

I was supposed to be making a quick trip to Kroger for supplies for Second Son's birthday party, but something had caught my eye. “Closeout on organic spaghetti. $1.32. Awesome!”

Then I noticed the price of the organic rotini next to the spaghetti. “$1.89. That seems lower than I usually pay, but I can't remember for sure.”

I hadn't brought my price book with me, so I had to call my husband. “I need you to look something up for me. In my price book...How much does it say for organic pasta? $1.99? Great! I need to change that price, and we're stocking up on pasta!”

In a nutshell, that is the point of having a price book. So you always know how much to pay for an item. So you know if a sale is really a sale. So you can compare the price of a name brand item with a coupon to the price of a store brand item at a different store. A price book simplifies your frugal shopping experience.

On Tuesday, I posted my own price book as an example. If you live in the Raleigh area, you are welcome to use my price book to your own advantage. (And if you find prices lower than the one's I've recorded, please let me know!)

But if you don't live around here, chances are that the prices in your area are different, and you'd be better off making your own price book. So here's how to do it:

1. Choose a place to record your prices.

Many people use a notebook or folder. If you use a three ring binder to store coupons, you could put your price book at the front of the folder. You could also use an iTouch, iPod, PDA, or other handheld digital device. Just make sure it's something handy to take grocery shopping.

2. Make a list of all of the foods you buy on a regular basis.

3. Record the price of each item and the name of the store where you saw that price.

If you're not using a digital medium, you should write the prices in pencil so you can erase the entry if you find a lower price.

Remember that your completed price book should only include the lowest price you can find for an item. There's no reason to know that you can get organic flour for $4.69 from Whole Foods and $4.89 from Kroger. You only need to know that you can get it for $4.20 through your buying club.

There are two methods for completing this step.

  • Head to the grocery store and walk up and down the aisles, recording prices as you go. Then, go to another store and check out the prices there, changing your entries if you find lower prices. Repeat at every store you might shop at.
    • Advantage: You can knock out your price book in a weekend and start saving money quickly.
    • Disadvantage: This method requires sacrificing a few days and is best done without kids (unless you have really good kids who love to grocery shop).
  • Do your regular grocery shopping. After each trip, analyze your receipts, recording prices as you go. Also, record prices from sales flyers.
    • Advantage: You'll create a price book without taking much more time than your usual shopping trip, and you can do it with the kids in tow.
    • Disadvantage: This method takes much longer, especially for items you don't buy on a regular basis. Also, you might miss lower prices at stores you don't visit often.
4. When you find an item priced lower than the amount recorded in your price book, make a note of it and stock up.

However, I don't change the official entry in my price book unless I've seen that price more than once. Sometimes stores put an item on sale to quickly get rid of overstock or because they're not going to sell that item anymore, and I may never see that item at that price again. For instance, the $1.32 organic pasta I bought from Kroger was a closeout price, and I probably won't see it priced so low again. If I do, I'll know it's a regular thing and I'll change my entry.

5. Never buy food for more than the price you've recorded in your price book. You know you can get it for that price, so why would you pay more?


Advanced Method for the Obsessively Organized


In my price book, I also included the approximate amount of each item I use in a year. This information is valuable so I know how much to stock up when I find a good sale.

You could also calculate the unit price for each item, which would make it easier to quickly compare prices of items in different size packages.

(Note that in my price book, there's a column listing prices in cooking units – tsp., Tbsp., cup, etc. This information is so I can calculate costs of recipes, not so I can compare prices. If you're going to calculate unit prices to compare costs, you need to calculate the cost by weight – ounces, pounds, etc.)


And that's it! Creating a price book might be time-consuming at the start, but it will end up saving both time and money overall, so it's definitely worth it.


Do you have any tips for creating a price book?


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Noteworthy Green: Raleigh Denim, Debt Envy, Grocery Store Tricks, and More

>> Wednesday, April 29, 2009

::New Raleigh interviews Sarah and Victor Lytvinenko, the designers and makers of Raleigh Denim.

::It's Frugal Being Green provides a checklist for how to want less.

::New Dream Blog exposes some of the ecological ramifications of our recycling and waste disposal system, "like in the Chinese cities mounded with British and American recycling."

::Stretchy Dollar reminds us that we shouldn't envy other people's stuff because we are really envying their debt.

::The Greenest Dollar provides tips for avoiding grocery store ploys to get you to spend more money.

::Bjorn Lomborg in the New York Times argues that we should focus on making renewable energy as affordable as carbon-based energy rather than trying to reduce emissions and Grist says he's flat out wrong.

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Greening My Grocery Bill

>> Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One of my early goals for this blog was to green my family's diet. Organic and natural foods are some of the aspects of going green that really do cost more (as opposed to energy efficiency, driving less, and eating less meat, which will all save you money), but I felt like it was important to find a way to afford to feed my family as many healthy foods as possible.

Over the past few months, I've slowly been making smarter and smarter choices about what my family eats. But I've been having trouble getting myself to outright commit. Every month, I say, "This month we're going to buy all organics or locally produced foods." And then I walk into Whole Foods and I chicken out, declaring, "I can't really afford this store!"

But despite my chickenheartedness, I've been doing a lot of research, and my research says I can go organic and still stay within my overall budget.

Check Out My Super Obsessive Research Skills

I am the most obsessively organized person I know, and to prove that point, I offer this evidence: my price book.

I'll write in more detail later this week about price books, but I wanted to go ahead and offer mine for public perusal. So in case you're interested, here's how to navigate it...

I divided my grocery budget into several categories and gave each category its own sheet. On each sheet, I recorded the estimated amount of each item that I use a year, the lowest price I've seen for each item, and the total cost of each item per year. On the far right of some sheets, I calculated the cost per unit of each item (for example, flour costs $0.06 per cup). I did this so I can calculate how much it costs to make some of my recipes.

Food Storage: $1,187.24

My food storage section is divided into three categories: oats/rice/pasta ($210.70), baking and cooking supplies ($594.14), and beans/nuts ($382.40). Almost all of the prices recorded are from Whole Foods. I was surprised to find that Whole Foods had the lowest prices on almost every item I buy, especially those I could get from the bulk bins. The main exceptions were a few items I can get through a buying club at my church.

Personal Care/Cleaning: $633.78

I know many people don't include personal care products in their grocery budget, but I always have. Again, most of these prices are from Whole Foods, although I've been ordering a few things from Amazon to save money.

Farmers Market: $2,460

I visit my farmers market weekly to buy almost all of my produce as well as milk, eggs, and honey. My husband has also talked me into buying grass-fed beef from the farmer's market every now and then. If we were able to have a garden, chickens, or bees, I think this amount could be significantly reduced.

Whole Foods: $2,398.66

This sheet refers to the weekly perishable items that I buy, including soymilk, cheese, butter, bananas, etc.

Kroger: $1,128.49

The last sheet includes some items that I couldn't find an organic version of (or like with baking soda, it doesn't come in "organic"). It also includes my 80/20 compromise with myself. There are just some not-exactly-healthy foods that my family is not willing to give up, either because of convenience or because we enjoy them too much. Some of these things, like juice and goldfish, I plan to phase us out of eventually. But frankly some things, like Coke and cereal, are here to stay. Everybody should be allowed a vice or two.

And the grand total is...$7,808.17 a year, or $150.16 a week

That means I should be spending about $600 a month during a four-shopping-trip month and $750 during a five-shopping-trip month. That's about how much I've been spending anyway, even not buying all organic or natural products.

My price book doesn't include any herbs, spices, or extra yummies (like chocolate chips), but it also doesn't include the potential to get some items on sale or with coupons. So overall, I think it's a pretty good estimate of how much our green grocery bill should be.

So what do you think? Is $150 a week for a family of five reasonable for greening our grocery budget?

Photo by cesarastudillo

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality #193 at The Canadian Finance Blog.


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The 80/20 Rule for Going Green

>> Monday, April 27, 2009

I was surrounded by waste and excess: styrofoam cups, plastic straws, paper wrappers, thin plastic placemats, and plasticrap toys. Across the table, First Son and Second Son were filling their toothy grins with french fries (deep fried) and chicken strips (probably full of antibiotics and hormones), eager to finish eating so they would have time for the indoor playground.

It was Second Son's birthday, and we were at Chick-Fil-A. My boys were delighted, and I was weighed down with guilt.

I didn't plan to have Second Son's birthday dinner at a fast food restaurant. We were there because of poor planning on my part, and that was partially the cause of my guilt. But these days I feel guilty about a lot of things. Not just anytime I step foot inside a fast food restaurant, but also when I forget to take my cloth bags to the grocery store, or buy a Coke at the gas station because I forgot my stainless steel water bottle, or make a trip to Target because I've searched in vain for a used belt and can't justify to myself spending $40 on a belt made from recycled materials.

And I spend more than my fair share of over-thinking-it time, like when my flip flops broke, and oh, crap, good shoes are really hard to find at a thrift store, but where am I going to find affordable flip flops made from sustainable materials by someone who's not getting screwed for being born in a different country?

This is the curse of being a Conscious Shopper, and it's at those moments that I can understand why some people say, "It's better not to know" and others say, "I try not to care."

But I have a solution...It's during those extreme moments of guilt and over-thinking-it that it's time to turn to the 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule Defined


You may have heard of the 80/20 rule of dieting that suggests that if you eat healthy 80% of the time, it's okay to blow your diet the other 20% of the time. Put in practice, this means that if you eat healthy Monday through Friday, you can scarf down a burger and fries on Saturday night and indulge in some ice cream on Sunday.

But the 80/20 rule can be used for much more than just diet. Rephrase it a little, and it could say, "If you live green, 80% of the time, it's okay to blow it the other 20% of the time.

Used in this way, the 80/20 Rule can give you some room to wiggle as you transition to a greener lifestyle.

The 80/20 Rule in Action

A few months ago, I mentioned the 80/20 rule as a Jogging Stride suggestion in my post about using fewer paper towels: 80% of the time reach for cloth first. The other 20% of the time, use paper towels made with recycled content.

Here are some other examples:

  • If I try to feed my family healthy, made-from-scratch meals 80% of the time, it's okay to indulge in fast food for the other 20% of our meals.
  • If I am able to purchase 80% of our food from organic or local sources, then 20% of the time, it's okay to eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
  • If 80% of our clothes are from the thrift store or other eco-friendly sources, then 20% of our clothes can come from Target.
  • If we try to live sustainably 80% of the year, it's okay to take some vacations from green living the other 20% of the time.
The 80/20 Rule of Not Being Too Hard on Yourself

Some people might argue that an 80% effort is not enough. Perhaps they are right...

But as I sat at Chick-Fil-A, unable to turn off my eco-conscious conscience, I could sense an encroaching environmental burnout. And it's at those moments that the 80/20 rule is essential.

80% of the time I give 100%, but 20% of the time, I give myself a little slack.

Can you think of any other examples where the 80/20 rule could apply to green living?

Photo by ebruli

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Spotlight on Raleigh: Finding Local Foods in the Triangle

>> Friday, April 24, 2009


I recently discovered in a round about way that my friend Aimee is a wealth of knowledge about finding local foods in the Triangle. We were discussing coupons (she's also an expert coupon clipper), and she mentioned that she wasn't buying meat from the grocery store because her family bought a share of a cow last year.

"That's awesome! Where did you find that?" I asked because even though I'm a vegetarian, I have a family who enjoys meat on occasion.

She directed me to the website eatwild.com, where you can search a directory for local pasture-raised beef, pork, poultry, and more. Then, a few days later, she emailed me a detailed list of pastured beef farmers in the area. A few days after that, I saw her at the farmer's market, and a few days after that, she emailed the women at my church about a local source for wheat.

By this time, I was intrigued, so I asked her if she would email me everything she knows. Here's her wonderfully detailed reply:

Erin, I am really new to local eating. I am usually all about convenience. Sometimes eating local is convenient, but sometimes it is not. I really started researching local options for adding to my food storage because it is so expensive to order from food storage places out west. I really didn't want to pay shipping costs on a year supply of food. What I have found in the process of trying to save on shipping, are some really high quality, natural products that taste better than anything else I have tried.

I am concerned about the junk in mass produced meat, as well as the poor quality and taste. That, and the desire to store three months worth of food, led me on the quest to find local, healthy beef. Having visited China and seen first hand the way food is handled, I became very concerned after reading articles about fish and shrimp being imported from China. I thought I was buying local fish for freshness, but I have made double sure by checking with my favorite fish market.

Even though I have seen some benefits to local eating, I have not changed my whole way of life to eat local. I slowly continue to find products that I like, that are not too expensive, and as local as possible. I will not pay more just to eat local, unless the product is outstanding. I also weigh convenience heavily. I cannot drive from Fuquay to the Farmers Market every week, but I do a few times a year. I can drive to Yanceyville once a year to buy beef and stock my freezer.

I found the wheat by accident because I had investigated where to buy local meat in bulk and happened to get an email from the farmer saying he was growing wheat.

This is the website where I found a list of NC grassfed beef farmers. http://www.eatwild.com/products/nocarolina.html

I have tried beef from Baucom's Best (very good but more expensive and a long waiting list), Baldwin's Beef (very good - this is the beef we purchased), Hogan's Beef (the Chapel Hill farmer with wheat) [www.hogansbeef.com], and one more that is just over the border in VA - can't remember the name because we didn't like the meat. :)

Besides beef and wheat, the only other thing that I consistently buy local is grits and some other products from a mill in Greensboro. Not sure if that is local enough for you. :) Here is the link to that mill. http://www.oldmillofguilford.com/ They have the BEST grits I have ever tried. I have converted grits haters to grits lovers with these grits. :) The mill processes the grains as you order them, so the products are fresh and so they don't have to be treated with pesticides to keep the critters out of stored grains. I also love their sweet potato muffin mix.

I think I mentioned seafood and did not include info. I buy fresh shrimp in bulk the day it is caught from some guys we found on Craig's list. They drive to the coast, fish all night, and drive back to Raleigh with their catch several times during the shrimp season. It is FRESH, and cheaper than any store. I buy 50 lbs or more at a time and freeze it. I buy other kinds of fish only from Earp's Seafood on 401 (South Saunders St.) in Raleigh. If their fish is not caught in NC, is at least caught on the east coast.

One other resource I have not used successfully yet, is a locavore website you can use to find products in your area. The link is http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/


What I love about this email is Aimee's attitude about eating local. She recognizes many benefits of local foods, but she's also rational about fitting it into her lifestyle. And she chooses to eat local foods when they are delicious and affordable, rather than choosing certain foods just for the sake of eating local. I think her attitude is worth emulating and I'm very grateful for her help and information.

If you live in the Triangle area and know any great sources for local foods, add them to the comments. Aimee would appreciate some good local sources for poultry!

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The Easiest Yummiest Granola Recipe Ever

>> Thursday, April 23, 2009

This post is part of Thrifty Green Thursday at the Green Baby Guide.

My family eats granola for breakfast a couple times a week. We also have muffins a couple times, oatmeal at least once, and cold cereal (the really bad for you kind) on the weekends.

By my calculations, cold cereal is actually the cheapest of all of our breakfast options. I know that's counter-intuitive. Cereal has a reputation for being super expensive, and everybody says making food from scratch is cheap. But I never buy cereal unless it's less than $2 a box, even if that means we only get the not as good store brand kind. Some people I know use coupons and never pay more than $0.50 a box.

So why do we eat granola instead of cold cereal if it means paying more? Let me count the ways...

  1. It's healthier. Granola contains 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per serving compared to 1 or 2 grams of each in a typical box of cereal. Not to mention that granola contains no partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial flavors, or food dyes.
  2. I can obtain some of the ingredients locally, particularly honey.
  3. It's made with simple ingredients that I can keep in my food storage rotation.
The following recipe is a simplification of a number of granola recipes that I've seen. I keep the recipe simple so my picky kids can customize it to their own tastes. One person can add a banana, another raisins and peanuts, another can have theirs plain...everyone's happy!

Easiest Yummiest Granola Ever

SERVINGS: 10
APPROXIMATE COST: $0.40/serving

2/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp. molasses
1/3 cup oil
5 cups oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Mix honey, molasses, and oil in a saucepan. Heat until melted and mixed.
  • Combine oats, wheat germ, and cinnamon on a large baking pan.
  • Pour honey mixture over dry mixture and mix well.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Stir and cook for about 5 more minutes.
  • Let cool before eating.
You can also replace the oil with apple juice, but it makes the granola chewier.

How do you like your granola?

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Noteworthy Green: My "Why Doesn't Everybody Do This?" List for Going Green and More

>> Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Since it's Earth Day, I thought I'd add a little bonus list to this week's Noteworthy Green. Here, in no particular order, is my top 5, easy peasy, "Why doesn't everybody do this?" list for going green:

1. Put a reusable bag in your purse, backpack, or glove compartment.

I admit it can be hard to remember to bring your cloth bags to the grocery store, but you can at least put one bag in a place that's going to go with you every time you go to the store. I keep a reusable bag in my purse, and I use it for quick runs to the drugstore, thrift store, or clothing store. Or you can just say, "I don't need a bag, thanks."

2. Use a reusable water bottle and/or thermos.

If my kids can do it, you can do it.

3. Use a Keeper.

The menstrual cup has to be the best kept secret yet most amazing product on the market. Every woman should have one.

4. Make your own household cleaners.

It only takes a minute and saves oodles of money (not to mention avoiding toxic chemicals).

5. Change your lightbulbs.

As I said yesterday, if you haven't done it yet, do it now. You have no excuse.


And now for this week's news roll:

::SmartFamilyTips suggests safer alternatives to Teflon. I'm in the market, so I found this post very useful.

::Greening Families describes the EPA's plan to test chemicals in pesticides to see if they are endocrine disrupters.

::Frugaldad provides a guest post called "The Three Most Influential Lessons My Parents Taught Me." Great info for parents!

::SoundMoneyMatters suggests a 10-10-10 rule for purchases: “What will the consequences of my options be in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?”

::Maureen Dowd at the New York Times interviews the creators of Twitter to find out if they're "as annoying as their invention." (This interview has nothing to do with going green, but as a Twitter-hater, I found this piece amusing.)

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I Need...Lighting (Beyond CFLs)

>> Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Compared to heating and cooling, lighting accounts for a small portion of electrical usage, yet it seems to be the aspect of home energy use that gets the most attention.

Watch Saturday morning cartoons and what will you learn about taking care of the planet? Recycle, turn off the water when brushing your teeth, and turn off the lights when you leave the room. Then there's the "Change a light bulb, save the world," campaign. At Raleigh's Earth Day Festival last Saturday, there was even a representative from Progress Energy dressed up like a compact fluorescent light bulb.

You know how Grist has been saying "Screw Earth Day"? Well, I love Earth Day, but I often feel like saying, "Screw CFLs."

I think compact fluorescent light bulbs are great. They're awesome, in fact. Just take a look at the results of my online home energy audit - I seem to be spending about 6% of my electric bill on lighting instead of the average 20%. (And that has to be due to using CFLs because Progress Energy didn't ask me anything about whether or not I turn off the lights when I leave the room.)

If you haven't changed your light bulbs yet, do it now. You have no excuse. By now, we all know better. But don't think that switching to compact fluorescents is going to save the earth.

I think maybe the designers of that campaign were hoping CFLs would be like a starter drug - people would change their light bulbs and then get hooked on saving energy. So as you're changing your light bulbs, think of it as a starting point and ask yourself, "Okay, what can I do now?"

And as you're pondering that question, here are some other ways to green your lighting:

LEDs

WooHoo!

  • LED fixtures last more than 20 years.
  • The lighting color from an LED is similar to an incandescent bulb, yet it doesn't get hot like an incandescent and uses 85% less energy.
  • Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs do not contain mercury.
Bummer...
  • Affordability hasn't caught up with LED technology. LEDs are ex-pen-sive!
  • Currently, good affordable LED lights will not screw into a standard light fixture, but you can get recessed LED lighting.
Consider trying...LED Christmas lights


Motion-Sensor Lighting

WooHoo!
  • Since these lights only come on when they detect motion, you save energy.
  • Motion-sensor lights are perfect for outdoors. Outdoor lighting contributes to light pollution and disrupts nocturnal wildlife. Also, motion-sensor lighting increases home security.
  • Motion-sensor lights can also be used in place of nightlights in hallways leading to bathrooms.
Bummer...
  • We tried motion-sensor lights in our old house on our front porch and in the stairwell, and it didn't work for us in either spot. Outside, the light worked if someone was approaching our front porch, but turned off as soon as they stepped onto the porch (so we were always fumbling to unlock the door in the dark). And the motion sensors were installed too high on the stairwells to detect our young children. But I consider these more as "lessons learned" than "reasons not to try."
Consider trying...motion sensors outdoors and as nightlights.


Solar Powered Lighting

Woohoo!
  • Used to illuminate driveways and walkways, solar powered lights contain built-in photovoltaic cells that store energy from sunlight in rechargeable batteries so they can come on at night.
  • They require no wiring and are easy to move around.
Bummer...
  • They must have direct sunlight to work.
  • As I mentioned above, outdoor lighting contributes to night pollution and disrupts nocturnal wildlife.
  • I've read that the solar-powered lights don't last as long as conventional outdoor lighting, so they have to replaced more often, which doesn't sound like a good thing.
Consider trying...garden solar lights


Tips for the Budget Conscious
You should absolutely without a doubt switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. They are more expensive at the start, but you will recoup your money from savings on your energy bill within a year, and they should last up to six years. Where practical, you should also consider LEDs, and keep an eye on LED technology. I don't think it will be very long before compact fluorescents will be a thing of the past as we all switch to LEDs.


Where I'm At
Soon after we moved in, we replaced all of the light bulbs in our apartment with CFLs. But a funny thing about our apartment...None of the bedrooms have overhead lighting. They all have outlets that are wired to a light switch so you can plug a lamp into it, but we don't have any lamps so our bedrooms are always dark. That makes it really easy to remember to turn off the lights when we leave the room. :)


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Book Review: Real Food

>> Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Food: What to Eat and Why
by Nina Planck

Rating: ***


Synopsis:

Nina Planck's advice about eating could be summarized with the simple statement: "Eat traditional foods."

As a manager of farmers markets in London, DC, and New York City, Planck had the opportunity to compare meat, milk, fruit, and vegetables from small farms using traditional farming methods to foods from industrial farms. Her experience led her to determine that a diet of "real food" is healthy (including raw milk, red meat, lard, and other foods commonly deemed unhealthy) while asserting that modern, industrial food is the true culprit for many of our modern health problems, particularly obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

To support her assertion, Planck presents a well-researched comparison of the nutritional values of traditional versus modern foods. Her research illustrates why butter is better than margarine, why pastured meat contains more vitamins than industrial meat, and why we should not be afraid of the incredible edible egg.

Beyond the nutritional analyses, Real Food is a fascinating look at the history of the food industry, charting how we moved from farm-fresh foods to the processed food industry we know today. Two examples that stuck with me:

  • Butter from pastured cows is naturally yellow. When margarine was first invented in the late 19th century, the margarine makers tried to compete with the dairy industry by dying the margarine yellow. "With the help of friendly politicians, dairy farmers put a stop to yellow dye, and five states with dairy muscle even forced margarine makers to dye it pink, apparently intending to make it look ridiculous. Undeterred, margarine makers responded by selling the white blocks with a packet of yellow dye to mix in at home. This, presumably, would fool the family - if not the cook."
  • Describing how eggs became taboo, Planck relates, "In 1968 food scientists met to sort out a safe amount of cholesterol to consume. Some were opposed to the very idea, while others firmly believed dietary cholesterol had a significant effect on blood cholesterol, and after much haggling they reached a compromise. The average intake of cholesterol was about 580 milligrams per liter of blood. Halving that, they settled on 300 milligrams - a political solution." Eggs contain 270-something milligrams.
Planck's overall conclusion is that we should return to eating the foods our grandparents ate: "Unlike industrial food, real food is fundamentally conservative. It is the food you already know: roast chicken, tomato salad with olive oil, creamed spinach, sourdough bread, peach ice cream. To me, that's a relief. When you rule out industrial foods altogether, it does simplify things a bit."


My Opinion:

A friend of mine recommended this book to me but then added as an afterthought, "As I'm typing, I'm remembering that she is an ex-vegetarian, and thinks that meat is important, so I don't know that you'd agree with her on everything." I think that statement, although written by a friend before I even read the book, could summarize how I feel about Real Food.

Planck was a vegetarian/vegan in her late teens and early twenties. She states that during her vegetarian years, she gained weight and generally felt unhealthy. When she started eating meat again, she lost weight and felt better. That experience led her down a path of nutritional research, culminating in her philosophy of eating.

I think her experience is valid, but I've also been a vegetarian for 11 years, have been able to maintain a healthy weight through three pregnancies, and have never felt unhealthy. Additionally, because of her assertion that vegetable oil (as a modern innovation) rather than saturated fats is one of the true culprits causing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, you would have to conclude that vegetarians and especially vegans would have higher rates of those diseases because they would use more vegetable oil, less butter, and no animal fats. But how many fat vegetarians do you know?

Because much of her ideas were premised on her experience with vegetarianism, I read the rest of the book doubtfully. I completely agree that pasture-raised meat and eggs are better than industrial, that we should eat lots of fruits and veggies, and that we shouldn't be afraid of butter. But about other things, I'm not so sure. Raw milk, for instance. Or lard.

I also think that Planck's insistence that real foods don't cause heart disease could lead people to feel like they can eat as much meat and potatoes (slathered in butter and cream) as they want. But personally, I think that the biggest cause of obesity is simple overeating, and we have to remember that the traditional diet was combined with traditional hard work that kept people slim and fit. A meat and potatoes diet combined with sitting on your butt all day is not going to prevent obesity.

Since finishing this book, I find myself every now and then thinking about some of Planck's ideas. But whether or not it will change anything about the way I eat remains to be seen.


Next up on my reading list...In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

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April Round Up

>> Friday, April 17, 2009

I've been debating all day about what spendings I should include in each category this month. The total I settled on is a compromise with myself, but I could argue that it's both too high and too low to be an accurate picture of our spending this month.

It's too high because we went on a vacation for spring break for a week. Normally, I budget a monthly amount toward vacation savings, so I wouldn't include those expenses in my regular monthly budget. But due to our current housing situation, our savings have been wiped out. So even though the over-budget amount will be covered by our tax return, I still felt like I ought to include it in the total.

It's too low because my husband was invited to attend a computer conference in England this month. Since his airfare and hotel would be covered, we thought it would be a pretty inexpensive trip and would be good for his career. But my husband and I aren't always on the same wavelength about the definition of inexpensive. So, since his overspending was pseudo-work-related and so not my fault, I couldn't bring myself to include it in the total, even though it really should have been.

I admit that it is typically indulgent American behavior to go on vacation or pseduo-work-related trips while professing to be on a very tight budget, and I can't really defend us on that point except to say that we needed some vacation time. Please remember that I am a work in progress.

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $648.49 ($500)
  • Transportation: $241.17 ($300.00)
  • Electricity: $118.84 ($150)
  • Water/Sewer: $20 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $528.71 ($300)
  • Clothes: $35.02 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,592.23 ($1,300)

Trash Report: 6 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1/2 of a bag of glass, 1 bag each of plastic and metal, 3 bags of paper (reusable bags about the size of a paper grocery bag).


Changes I Made This Month:

Goals for Next Month:
  • I'm going to keep buying more organics, and I'll start sharing some of the things I'm doing to keep my spending low.
  • I had a goal from last month to plant a container garden, but I've been watching the sun on my balcony, and I'm not sure it will get enough sun heading into summer. It's a south-facing balcony but with a roof, so as the sun gets higher and higher in the sky, it seems to stay pretty shaded. I'm going to have to think about it some more, but I might just do a couple hanging plants. Either way, I've got to get that done in the next couple weeks.
  • So far, my junk mail does not seem to be decreasing, so I'm going to take another stab at that.

Read more...

Noteworthy Green: Shopping Malls, Easter Eggs, Vinegar, and More

>> Wednesday, April 15, 2009

::MSNBC points to a study that "looked at necropsy reports of more than 400 [leatherback turtles] that have died since 1885 and found plastic in the digestive systems of more than a third of the animals."

::The News and Observer provides information about financial incentives for home retrofits and other "green" upgrades.

::Lisa Selin Davis at Grist reveals how a shopping mall can be turned into a city.

::The Greenest Dollar lists ways to green your Easter, including all natural ways to dye eggs. I am definitely doing this next year!

::Nicholas D. Kristoff at the New York Times discusses the controversial topic of factory farming and animal rights with Peter Singer, author of the landmark book Animal Liberation.

::Thomas L. Friedman at the New York Times illustrates how Costa Rica has preserved it's biodiversity by "insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together."

::Envirambo at the Green Phone Booth reminds us to be less judgmental of those who are not as far along on the green path.

::Simple, Green, Frugal provides 20 household uses for vinegar.

Read more...

I Need...Warm Winters and Cool Summers

>> Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When environmentalists (like me) start spouting their mumbo-jumbo about reducing energy use at home, a common response is, "But I hate being hot!" Around here, where the humidity makes you feel like a popsicle on a hot day, that's a reasonable excuse. But if you're smart about saving energy, you won't sacrifice comfort.

I am of the school of thought that going green should not make you miserable. I had my thermostat set at 60 degrees most of the winter, but only because the winter sun warmed my apartment up to 70 most days. If it hadn't, there is absolutely no freakin' way I would have kept my thermostat so low. And you can bet that my super-sweaty husband will put his foot down if I tried going without air-conditioning this summer.

Taking care of the earth does not mean that we have to return to the days of no air conditioning or go without heat. Those were wonderful, amazing, inspired inventions! But we do need to learn to use them more wisely.

I've already mentioned that your first step in smart energy use should be to get a home energy audit. If you went the professional route, I'm sure they've already told you most of what I've provided here (and in better detail, I hope). But for those of us who chose to do-it-yourself, here are a few ideas for saving energy (and money) on heating and cooling.

BABY STEPS

  • Change your air filter regularly. Most of the time, that means monthly, but you can get filters that last longer. Just remember to change them when they are supposed to be changed.
  • Don't make your A/C or furnace work too hard.
    • Keep doors and windows closed tightly.
    • Run exhaust fans in the bathroom and kitchen only when you need them.
    • Close the flue in your fireplace when you're not using it.
    • Uncover all your vents.
  • Keep your air conditioning unit properly maintained. Think of it like a car - sometimes it's going to need a tune-up.
  • Cover bare floors in the winter and uncover them in the summer. Adding rugs can improve your comfort level when you're cold, while a bare floor can be cool and soothing on those hot summer days.
  • Avoid using your oven on hot days.
  • Block the sun.
    • In the summer, keep the curtains drawn when the sun is on that side of your house, or install outside awnings over your windows.
    • In the winter, use heavy drapes as extra insulation over leaky windows, but keep south facing windows uncovered to allow the sun to warm your home naturally.
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Raise your thermostat a few degrees in the summer and lower it a few degrees in the winter.
    • Shoot for a daytime temperature of 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter. For each degree that you raise or lower your thermostat, you will save 3-5% off your heating/cooling costs.
    • Use a programmable thermostat to automatically raise or lower the temperature settings when you leave home or at night. (If you have a heat pump, it's probably best to ignore this advice unless you have a special programmable thermostat that can raise and lower the temperature gradually.)
  • Install and use ceiling fans. But remember that fans cool people, not rooms, so they will only save energy (and money) if you use them correctly. That means:
    • Turn the fan off when you leave a room. Think of a fan like a light - it does no good when no one is in the room to use it.
    • In the spring and fall, use ceiling fans instead of turning on the A/C.
    • In the summer, keep your thermostat set a few degrees higher than your comfort level, and turn your ceiling fans on high. Ceiling fans work along the same lines as a breeze on a hot day.
    • In the winter, reverse the direction the fan turns (usually just by flipping a switch), turn the fan on low, and keep your thermostat set lower. The fans will push air toward the ceiling, forcing the warm air down into the room.
    • Make sure you get the appropriate size fan for your room. A small fan in a large room is not going to do a good job.
  • Landscape smart.
    • Plant medium-height trees on the east and west sides of your home to block the sun when it's low in the sky.
    • Plant tall deciduous trees on the south side of your home. They'll block out the sun when it's high in the sky in the summer but allow the sun through when it's at a lower angle in the winter .
    • Plant dense evergreens on the north side of your home where they'll block cold winter winds.
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Seal leaks and add insulation. Use this DIY Guide to Sealing and Insulating from Energy Star.
    • Seal and repair leaky air ducts to cut your heating/cooling costs by up to 30 percent.
    • Add insulation, and make sure it's installed properly. The best place to add insulation? The attic.
    • Check for air leaks around windows, doors, outlets, entrances to attics and crawlspaces, and in attics and basements. Conscious Shopper reader Frank directed me to this smoke test that you can use to find leaks around your windows and doors (although he says you could easily do it with a cigarette or smokey incense).
  • Install energy efficient windows and doors.
  • Upgrade to a more efficient A/C unit. If you live in a moderate climate, consider getting a heat pump - they are 30% more efficient than a typical air conditioner. Or take a look at geothermal heat pumps, which cost more but are even more efficient and last much longer.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
When considering energy efficiency improvements, remember to look at your spendings as an investment. The Baby Steps are easy and cheap, but they also won't save you much money. The Jogging Stride and Marathon Runner ideas may cost more, but you should be able to recoup the cost over time through savings on your energy bill.


Where I'm At
Since I'm renting, there's not much I can do right now to improve my home's energy efficiency. Still, just by doing the Baby Steps, I feel like I've been pretty successful at keeping my heating bills low during the winter. We'll see how we do as we head into the summer.

Photo by FxyLxy

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Earth Day: A Day of Celebration

>> Monday, April 13, 2009

This post is my submission for this month's APLS Blog Carnival. The subject is "Is Earth Day relevant?" Check out all of the APLS bloggers on April 22nd at Arduous Blog.

For this month's APLS blog carnival, Arduous asked:

As Earth Day approaches, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel like it's good to have one day a year where the focus is on the environment. Earth Day may build awareness in people, and it might give some people enough pause to significantly alter their lives. On the other hand, shouldn't every day be Earth Day? Many argue that Earth Day allows people to feel good about recycling their aluminum cans, driving their Toyota Prius, and bringing their own bags, when the truth is those actions barely scrape the surface in terms of what might be necessary to combat the forthcoming environmental crises. What do you think?
I see Arduous' point, but still...I love Earth Day. It's in my top five favorite non-holy holidays. Maybe top three.

Since I was born in 1978, there has been an Earth Day every year of my life. The first Earth Day was held in the United States in 1970 when 20 million Americans participated in demonstrations and rallies for a healthy environment. Since then, Earth Day has spread around the world with billions of people participating in activities on April 22nd every year.

As I've thought about the history of Earth Day, I've been pondering the timing of the holiday. Was April 22nd a random choice - was it just that nothing else was going on that month? Or did the founders choose April on purpose?

Whether it was on purpose or not, I think April is the perfect month to have a holiday called Earth Day. April is the month when the weather becomes predictably warm. It's the month when the flowers start to bloom and the trees turn green. In most places in the U.S., April means it's finally time to plant a garden. At my house in April, we end our winter hibernation and head outside, and from then on we spend as much time outdoors as possible until the summer humidity forces us back inside.

April makes me want to celebrate the earth, and I think that is why I love Earth Day. Maybe it's intended to be a day to teach and proselyte about environmentalism, but when I think of Earth Day, I think about how much I love the planet that I live on.

When I asked my husband if he thought Earth Day was relevant, he brought up another point: "People say the same thing about Christmas. Every year, someone starts complaining about how everyone gives during the holidays when we should be giving and being kind all year. Or we give thanks at Thanksgiving, when we should be thankful all year. That's true, but it's still nice to have a day just to focus on those things."

Earth Day is the same. We should be aware of our environmental actions all year, we should be concerned about the environmental crisis all year, but the average person can't spend all their time thinking about the environment, so it's nice to have one day that raises awareness and points us in the right direction.

Tulip photo by Per Ola Wiberg
Azalea photo by aussiegall

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Save Money and Plastic with Bulk Bins

>> Saturday, April 11, 2009

This post was included in the Festival of Frugality. Check out all of this week's frugal posts at The Paycheck Chronicles!

One of my goals for this month was to take the plunge into buying organics, and according to my careful calculations, one of the most affordable ways to get organics is by buying from bulk bins.

By bulk bin, I mean the bins of grains, nuts, and dried fruit at Whole Foods and other natural food stores. The bins are priced by unit (for example, $1.49/lb for organic oats), so you can buy as much or as little as you need. Less Is Enough used the bins to purchase very tiny amounts of food for her $1/day food experiment, but you can also buy very large amounts from the bulk bins to keep your pantry stocked.

I've bought a little here, a little there from the bulk bins for awhile now, but since I'm committing to organics, I thought it was time to commit to the bulk bins.

How Much Can You Save with Bulk Bins?

Check out these price comparisons:

  • organic pinto beans - $1.15/can (2 cups) vs. $1.99/lb (5-6 cups cooked)
  • organic raisins - $3.99/one pound bag vs. $3.29/lb
  • Quaker Oats @ $0.11/oz vs. organic oats from the bulk bins @ $0.09/oz
The potential savings are clear, but there's one little problem...the packaging.

I know, technically bulk bins don't have any packaging, but you have to have a way to get the food from the bins to your house, and the method provided by the store is not one I'm very fond of: plastic bags.

As I've written before, plastic is filling up our oceans, killing fish and birds, and all around making the earth an ugly place, so I'm trying to avoid it whenever possible. I've read about other people who bring their own containers for the bulk bins, especially reusing glass jars, so I took a trip to Whole Foods this morning to investigate.

Can You Bring Your Own Container?

I started by approaching the unsuspecting employee nearest to the bulk bins. "I was wondering, if I wanted to use my own containers for the bulk bins, how would I go about doing that?"

She replied, "I don't think you can, but let me go find someone else who might know."

She sent over another helpful employee, who said basically the same thing: "You can't use your own containers because you would have to pay for the weight of the container. The plastic bags weigh practically nothing, and that's why they work."

I was feeling pretty bummed and wishing I lived in California or New York when the guy came back and said, "I just asked someone else to clarify, and it turns out that you can bring your own containers. You have to take them to Customer Service to weigh them first, but then you can fill them, and they'll subtract the weight when you check out. I didn't know that because I've never seen anyone bring their own container before."

Besides this hassle, I've also read that the cashiers more often than not forget to subtract the weight of the container.

I concluded from this little excursion that you can bring your own containers if a) you live in California, Seattle, Portland, New York City or any other city that's taken great strides in environmentalism (betcha could in Carrboro) or b) you're the type of person that doesn't mind to stand out or stir the pot.

I don't fit either one of those criteria, so until bringing your own container becomes more popular around here, I'm moving to Plan B: bring your own bag.

What Kind of Bag Should I Bring?

There are several different options to chose from:
  1. Reuse the plastic bags provided by the store.
  2. Reuse plastic bags you already have such as bread bags.
  3. Buy lightweight cloth bags.
  4. Make your own bags.
I'm leaning toward these drawstring produce bags. With a tare weight of only .07 lbs per bag, they would only add $0.10 to $0.15 to the cost even if the cashier doesn't subtract the weight of the bag.

Because I'd be using at least 5 plastic bags per trip to Whole Foods and I shop there once a month, cloth bags would keep me from using 60 plastic bags a year or more.

The math is simple: Cloth bags + bulk bins = Super Savings! Save money and save plastic. It's a Conscious Shopper no-brainer.

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Experiments with Tomato Soup

>> Thursday, April 9, 2009

Check out the Green Baby Guide for more info about Thrifty Green Thursday.

Some recipes that I use call for a small amount of tomato paste - one or two tablespoons. A can of tomato paste contains about 10 tablespoons, which means that I'm left with a bunch of leftover tomato paste that inevitably goes to waste in my fridge.

In the interest of not wasting food, I've been brainstorming ways to use up the leftover tomato paste, and I've come up with these ideas:

  1. Freeze the leftover tomato paste in ice cube trays for later use...But I have limited space in my freezer, and I'm not sure I want to give up space to tomato paste.
  2. Buy tomato paste in a tube instead of a can...But tubes of tomato paste are harder to find and not as easily recyclable as cans.
  3. Make sure I use all my recipes that call for small amounts of tomato paste in the same week...But that doesn't sound very appetizing, and the lack of variety is probably not very nutritious.
Number one is a pretty good option, but my ice cube trays are in Maryland. So I've been experimenting with a fourth option: Making tomato soup.

I got the following recipe from The Tightwad Gazette:

Tomato Soup

1 6-oz can tomato paste
24 oz. milk (refill tomato paste can 4 times)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. celery salt
  • Mix all ingredients in a pot.
  • Heat.
This recipe is perfect for using leftover tomato paste - I just adjust the recipe to fit the amount of tomato paste I have left, and it's just as easy as opening a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup without some of the questionable ingredients. It's a little strong on the tomato in my opinion but maybe I'm just too used to the HFCS deliciousness of Campbell's. Also, I don't buy celery salt, so instead I tried replacing one of the cups of milk with a cup of veggie broth. My boys all enjoyed it, and I think I could get used to it.

If you give this recipe a try, let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for improvements.

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Noteworthy Green: Grass-fed Meat, Energy Efficiency, Jacks-of-All-Trades, and More

>> Wednesday, April 8, 2009

::Mother Earth News discusses the benefits of grass-fed meat, including "a more humane livestock system, a healthier human diet, less deadly E. coli, elimination of feedlots, a bonanza of wildlife habitat nationwide, enormous savings in energy, virtual elimination of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on those lands, elimination of catastrophic flooding that periodically plagues the Mississippi Basin, and most intriguingly, a dramatic reduction in global warming gases."

::Time Magazine promotes energy efficiency. (This is an old article - I was catching up on my magazine reading the other day.)

::Simple-Green-Frugal asserts that buying ethically is not expensive unless you "try to fit a lifetime of consumption habits and try to make it fit an ethical framework."

::Tom Philpott at Grist provides a rousing speech about the benefits of a local-centered economy, especially local sustainable agriculture.

::Nicolas D. Kristoff at The New York Times illuminates the effect of the downturning economy on the world's poorest: "According to World Bank estimates, the global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour, throughout all of 2009."

::The Simple Dollar provides ten steps to becoming a jack-of-all-trades, a trait that can help you save money and build a large social network.

::Wealth Itself relates how switching energy suppliers saved him $30/month, and provides a list of states that allow you to choose among several electricity suppliers.Did you read anything noteworthy this week? Add it to the comments!

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Vampires Suck!

>> Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Whoever came up with the name energy vampires deserves props for creativity. Also known as phantom loads, vampires are the appliances and electronics that still "suck" electricity, even when they're turned off.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the extra energy use from vampires "represents a relatively small but growing percentage of an individual home’s electricity use (about five percent), but taken across all U.S. households, adds up to an estimated 65 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. This extra electricity costs consumers more than $5.8 billion annually and sends more than 87 billion pounds of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Slay These Vampires

Although the concept of vampires is fairly well-known, I still see some confusion about which appliances and electronics "suck." So here's a short guide to clarify:

  • Anything that needs to be charged, such as cordless phones, cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, Roombas, handheld vacuums
  • Anything with a digital display, such as microwaves, DVD players, VCRs, DVRs, stereos, printers
  • Anything with standby capability, such as computers
  • Anything with a remote, such as TVs
Since we're talking about vampires, I modified my usual Baby Steps, Jogging Stride, and Marathon Runner titles for more appropriate categories. Here's how you get rid of vampires:

GARLIC
  • Unplug, unplug, unplug.
    • Unplug the adapters when your cell phones, laptops, and iPods are finished charging.
    • Unplug your microwaves, coffee makers, and toaster ovens when you're done with them.
    • Unplug your TVs, DVD players, and stereos when you're not using them, or at least at the end of the day.
HOLY WATER
  • Use a power strip. Since power strips don't draw energy when they're switched off, you can cluster like-groups of appliances and electronics around power strips so you only have to flip one switch to turn them all off. If that's still too hard, you can get power strips with timers or even special sensors that detect when your electronics are not in use.
  • Obtain a Kill-A-Watt to determine which of your appliances and electronics are the worst vampires.
STAKE IN THE HEART
  • Keep it simple by avoiding products with bells and whistles. For example, do you really need a toaster or coffee maker with a digital display? Could you get buy with a traditional phone that plugs into the wall rather than a cordless phone?
  • Choose Energy Star-certified products. They use less energy in general, even when they are in standby mode.
Since energy vampires may represent 5% of your electricity usage, you can save up to 5% off your electricity bill by getting your vampires under control. So collect your garlic, holy water, and stakes, and become a vampire slayer!

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What Are Your Values?

>> Monday, April 6, 2009

Last week, I asked, "What is your mission statement?" and suggested that a life plan would be as valuable for an individual as a business plan is for a company. Now that you have your mission statement, the next step in writing your life plan is an outline of your values.

In conjunction with your mission statement, your values statement sets your priorities and can help you make both small and crucial decisions about your life. For a Conscious Shopper, knowing your values can help you decide which issues are most important to you, especially if money and time are limited.

With a values statement, you can more easily answer those tough questions at the grocery store, such as:

  • Should I buy local or should I buy organic?
  • Should I buy the fair trade bananas wrapped in plastic or the conventional bananas without plastic?
  • Should I support the company who gives 10% of their profits to local communities or the the company who gives 10% of their profits to fight worldwide hunger?"
I'll provide my own values as an example. After pondering this question for a few days, I prioritized my values as follows:
  1. Health and well-being of my family
  2. Fair treatment of human beings
  3. Fair treatment of animals
  4. Health and well-being of my community and local economy
  5. Health and well-being of mankind worldwide
  6. Health of the planet
With these values in mind, I can now see that I should be favoring organics more than I have been since pesticide intake can affect the health of my kids. I can tell that buying the fair trade bananas wrapped in plastic is more in line with my values than buying the conventional bananas without plastic since fair trade is a human issue and plastics are primarily a planetary issue. And I can also recognize that I would rather support a company that gives to my community than a company that gives to people far away, as worthy as their cause is.

I can also tell that if I could only afford to focus on one value, I would choose foods and products that preserve the health of my children.

Still, knowing my values does not alleviate the intricacy of those important environmental and social issues, and because of that, someone with the exact same values as me might come to different conclusions about their priorities. For example, they might believe that plastics are primarily a health issue, and therefore fall under category #1. Someone else might conclude that organics are mostly a planetary issue and would therefore fall under category #6.

The questions are endless and confusing, but I think if you have a relative picture of your values (even if that picture is slightly hazy and changes with every new piece of information you learn), you've got a good reference point to start.

So now it's your turn: What are your values?

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Profiles of the Green and Frugal: PaperBackSwap

>> Friday, April 3, 2009

Have you ever joined one of those clubs that try to tempt you into buying a "featured" book every month? In my experience, pretty expensive and pretty wasteful.

Instead, consider a club that lets you give new life to your old books, connects you with free used books, and is pretty eco-friendly to boot.

That club is PaperBackSwap, and I recently sat down with Raleigh resident Deborah Cornett, who does feedback and marketing for PaperBackSwap, to learn more about how it works.

How to Swap

  1. Register an account at PaperBackSwap.
  2. Post the books you want to give away. When you've posted 10 books, you will receive 2 free credits that you can use to request books from other members.
  3. Browse the books on the website, find a book you want, and click "Order this book." Each book costs 1 credit.
  4. Another member will mail you the book. They pay shipping; you pay nothing.
  5. When someone requests one of your books, use the site to print out a "mailer" on two sheets of paper. This includes the requester's address and postage, which you can pay for on the site.
  6. Wrap the book in the mailer and pop it in the mail via USPS media mail.
  7. When the person gets your book, you will receive 1 credit to use toward your next book.
The Budget-Conscious will want to keep in mind...
  • Any book you receive is yours for as long as you want it. There are no late fees, and you can even keep the book if you want.
  • If you want to get books, you have to give away books, and each time you mail a book to someone else, you need to pay shipping. According to Cornett, mailing a book using media mail costs $2-$3, depending on the weight of the book.
  • If you want more books than you're giving away, you can purchase credits through the site's kiosk. These cost $3.45 per credit (still much cheaper than buying a new book).
  • If you're watching your wallet, remember that the library is free. But Cornett believes that PaperBackSwap is a better bet when you're looking for a book that is popular. She related that she wanted to read Twilight but didn't want to buy it, so she tried requesting it from the library. "I was 200-something on the list," she said, "So I added it to my wishlist [on PaperBackSwap], and I got it in two weeks."
The Eco-Conscious will want to keep in mind...

This is a great way to purge your bookshelves of all those books you've picked up over the years but didn't want to add to a landfill. Books with full-color pictures such as cookbooks, textbooks, and travel guides would be especially great to pass on - they often aren't accepted by recycling facilities because they're more difficult to recycle. Plus, Cornett points out that cookbooks are the type of book you would want to keep for a long time - generally longer than a library allows.

Because PaperBackSwap is not a "green" company per se, make sure you keep your experience eco-friendly by:
  • Using the mailer option provided by the website, rather than using a bubble mailer.
  • Printing the mailer on paper that has already been printed on one side or paper with recycled content.
  • Using the postage option on the website and mailing the book from home, rather than driving to the post office.
  • Mailing your books via USPS media mail, which is sent by ground and comes to your house anyway.
If You're Hooked...You might want to consider PaperBackSwap's partner sites, SwapaCD and SwapaDVD.


More about Deborah Cornett

Besides providing member support and feedback, Cornett's duties at PaperBackSwap include promoting their unique fundraiser program. Organizations have the opportunity to raise money for their group by referring people to PaperBackSwap. If you would like more information about this program, email me at ena [dot] peters [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will put you in touch with Cornett.

In addition to her job at PaperBackSwap, Cornett also owns a small landscape gardening business, although she's currently focusing only on work for friends and neighbors. She tries to keep her yard green and eco-friendly by using the following methods:
  • After mowing, it's best to "leave the grass trimmings on the grass."
  • Share a lawnmower with a friend, or use a reel mower.
  • Compost.
  • "Weedeaters are awesome if you know how to use them...They're actually really good for weed control for your lawn. If you have a huge patch of weeds, you can just chop with your weedeater into the dirt and get all the way down to the base, and then encourage the other grass to grow, versus trying to use chemicals."

This post is part of a new series highlighting green and frugal businesses and people, especially in the Raleigh area. If you work in the green industry or know someone who does, let me know in the comments so I can consider you for future posts.

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Results of My Online Home Energy Audit

>> Thursday, April 2, 2009

I wrote the other day about different types of energy audits available. Since I live in an apartment, I went with the free online energy audit offered by my power company. Without the blower door test or thermographic scan performed by a professional auditor, and without anyone from the power company actually visiting my home, the results are generic. But they're a good place to start.

Typical Annual Electrical Usage


Space Cooling.....40%
Space Heating.....22%
Refrigerator.....15%
Cooking.....6%
Laundry.....6%
Lighting.....6%
All other uses.....5%

My Comments:
This table indicates that the best place to focus my efforts in energy efficiency would be in cooling my home.


Your Monthly Electrical Usage

In this section of the report, they created a graph comparing my monthly energy costs and the average temperatures for those months.

My Comments: Since I've only lived here for eight months, it's hard to get a good visualization of my energy usage. But so far, I can tell that I paid the most on energy in August, February, and March.


Savings Summary

Medium Potential Savings

  • Replace your water heater with a solar system ($2,250-$3,350)
Low/Medium Potential Savings
  • Raise cooling temperature when not at home (no cost)
  • Install tinted window film ($2-4 per sq. ft.)
  • Install ceiling fans ($35-$150)
  • Get your cooling system serviced ($40-$75)
  • Use a clock thermostat to control cooling temperatures ($100-$250)
  • Replace old appliances with high-efficiency models ($200-$1,000)
  • Add trees or awnings to shade windows during summer ($500-$2,500)
Low Potential Savings
  • Shade windows with east or west exposure in the summer (no cost)
  • Open shades during the heating season (no cost)
  • Clean refrigerator coils ($no cost)
  • Set your water heater thermostat to 140 degrees (no cost)
  • Wash and rinse laundry in cooler temperature water (no cost)
  • Repair leaking water pipes, faucets, and showers (no cost)
  • Install electrical outlet gaskets ($.15-$.90 each)
  • Change your air conditioner filter monthly ($.50-$8)
  • Insulate the hot water pipes from your water heater ($1-$2 L.F.)
  • Install energy efficient lighting (variable)
  • Fix refrigerator door seals ($55-$85)
  • Install an outside combustion air kit and tight fitting glass doors to your fireplace ($100-$300)
My Comments: One of the questions on the audit was what type of house I live in (apartment, townhouse, single family home, etc.), and I'm curious if I would have received different recommendations if I lived in a different type of home. I expected to see suggestions for adding insulation, sealing air ducts, insulating attics, sealing crawlspaces, replacing windows, etc. But maybe their system recognizes that a person in an apartment wouldn't be able to do those things.

Even so, most of these suggestions are things I have no control over, but at the very least, I can do the "no cost" solutions.


If anyone else has gotten an energy audit from their power company, I'd be interested to hear about your results. Similar to mine, or does your power company do a better job of personalizing their report?

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Help Me Name My Blog

>> Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I am thinking of going official...i.e. registering a domain name.

One problem. Consciousshopper.com is taken. As is Theconsciousshopper.com.

I like the word conscious, meaning "aware of something, being awake," but I'm open to synonyms. Mindful, aware, and discerning are some that my husband and I brainstormed.

I hate the word "green," but synonyms like eco, earth, planet would work.

I've thought about moving away from the word "shopper," to find something less focused on spending but still related to finances: dollar, buck, money, thrift, budget...

Anyone have any suggestions?

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Noteworthy Green: Ingredient Disclosure, Grocery Savings, Mother Nature's Dow, and More

A few other blogs that I read have these news round-ups, and I enjoy them because they point me to interesting news and blog posts that I missed that week. So I thought I'd start doing one too.

Here's what I found interesting on the web this week:

::The Guardian points to a study indicating that fabric softeners, disinfectants, shampoos, and other household products “washed into sewers and rivers are triggering the growth of drug-resistant microbes.”

::JessTrev at The Green Phone Booth "rants about chemicals in personal care products and finds, to her delight, that parents around the country are mobilizing around this very issue."

::Get Rich Slowly suggests ways to save money on your grocery bills. It doesn't focus on a green lifestyle, but many of the principles still apply.

::Ecomii reminds you to consider green tax credits when filing your taxes.

::The New Dream Blog discusses seafood and its environmental impact: "Bad news for fish lovers: according to Kim, [Executive Director for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society] other than an individual catching his or her own fish, there isn’t a truly sustainable way to manage our ocean’s fisheries.”

::Tiny Choices looks at greener moving options. Which is greener: collecting used boxes or renting collapsible plastic crates?

::Greenerbuildings.com analyzes the lack of gender diversity in construction related jobs such as building codes, environmental law, and alternative energy - a shame because “this is where the jobs are.”

::Thomas L. Friedman at the New York Times suggests that “if Mother Nature had a Dow, you could say that it, too, has been breaking into new (scientific) lows.” He asserts that we need a climate bailout along with the economic bailout, including energy efficient building codes, increased fuel efficiency standards, a national renewable portfolio standard, decoupling, and a carbon tax.

If you wrote or read anything noteworthy on the Internet this week, add it to the comments. I'd love to hear about it!

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Disclosure

I do not accept money for writing reviews, but I do accept products for review and to giveaway. When posting a review, I fully disclose any free samples received from the company. I include information provided by the company in my reviews, but all opinions about the product are my own and I will not provide a good review for any product or company just because they sent me some free samples.

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The ideas on this blog are my opinion and are provided for informational purposes and entertainment only. I am not a financial advisor or medical professional. Please do not misconstrue the information on this blog as advice.

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