Monday, April 05, 2010

Money Monday: April 5, 2010

I watched part of a show called Wa$ted last week. The premise was that the hosts would swoop in, fiddle with your way of life to make it more eco-friendly, and then turn you loose for three weeks to do your best. Then they calculated how much you had saved over that three week period, multiplied it out to represent a year’s worth of savings, and handed it to you as a cash prize.

It was entertaining, but mostly I was struck by how surprised people seemed to be by the concept that reducing your waste could directly increase your cash flow.

Seriously…this is surprising?!

I was kidding when I wrote about canceling our garbage pickup service, but folks…the fact that we put way more into the recycling tote than the garbage really does save us money. Most of the households with kids around here have to pay for the largest totes; a few of them even pay for two totes because one just isn’t enough. That’s an additional $120 to $600 a year to have your trash hauled away.

I’m willing to bet an awful lot of that could be eliminated without a whole lot of drama. Shoot, just remembering that most paper can go into the recycling bin can often slash how much ends up at the landfill…and if you’re having to pay for a second trash tote, shoot. It’s not that big a deal to start separating your “clean” recyclable paper from your greasy pizza boxes and plastic wrap.

I put fluorescent bulbs in the hallways (especially upstairs) and in the ceiling fan lights all over the house – not because I believe that I’m going to Save The World that way, but because the @*^&@ing things are always-always-ALWAYS on. ALWAYS! As I started to write this paragraph, I thought to myself, …I’ll bet you a burrito…, got up, went down the hall and SURE ENOUGH: The Middle Twain’s bedroom ceiling fan light was on, their bathroom light was on, and the hall light was on.

The fluorescents use so much less energy, I really did see actual immediate savings the month I put them in.

Still pisses me off that they get left on by Not Me all the danged time (seriously, ask any of the Denizens who did it…they will say Not Me did it, every single time)…but not quite as…vehemently as it did before.

Switching from prepackaged, processed foods to cooked-from-scratch definitely reduces the amount of packaging you’re having to dispose of every week – and it absolutely saves you money. Also, it’s not hard to be making stuff that is miles away better for you than what came out of your supermarket freezer.

And of course if you really want to go the cheap route…you could always convert your entire yard into a garden and grow most of your produce right there! Awesome!

(Whaaaaat? That’s not crazy, it’s just…well, it’s…OK. It’s kind of crazy. But it’s also fun, gets you some exercise out there in the fresh air and sunshine, and honestly you will never have finer tasting food than what you just grew in your own yard. Even if you just put a couple pots of tomatoes on your patio, you can save a lot of money over what you pay at the supermarket, and have some really good eats on your table all summer long.)

Granted, some of the stuff I’ll do to save money is a little…extreme.

Converting the entire yard to a little farm comes to mind. Ahem.

I also do little weird things like…turning down the water heater before we leave for work. One morning we were heading out to the car and I heard the water heater go “FaaahWHOOOM!” as it fired up its burners, and I thought…For heaven’s sake, don’t bother – nobody needs hot water for, like, twelve hours…

So I turned it down to ‘vacation.’ When we got home that night, the water was still plenty warm enough for someone to take a shower, and since it can heat an entire tank of cold water to scalding in less than half an hour anyway – we never noticed any impact to our lifestyle from my newest obsession.

I don’t buy a lot of cleansers. I use vinegar for most things…because it’s cheap-cheap-cheap and works-works-works. What vinegar can’t clean, baking soda probably can. And if I want a lemon scent, well…I have a lemon tree. And about three gallons of lemon juice out in the freezer.

Or I could burn some incense.

Or I could bake something. Glade has nothing that beats a loaf of bread in the oven…

More than once I’ve had a teacher gallop up to me on Earth Day to ask about my “green” ways – because they’ve been doing their thing with the kids that week and found out about my clotheslines and my sun oven and the scratch-cooking and uber-garden and the way I’ll go all ballistic if somebody puts a plastic grocery bag {GASP!} in the trash are you CRAZY, that would go in the RECYCLING BIN if you please, missy!

I hate to admit it at such times, but…it really has a lot less to do with “being green” and a lot more to do with “saving green.”

I don’t want to have to pay for an extra trash tote (or to rent a truck to drive the excess to the dump myself), so I do my best to recycle avidly and reduce how much crap comes into the Den in the first place. I don’t want to pay for energy to dry my clothes when the sun is right there anxious to do the job for me.

And then have to use the air conditioner that much more because now I’m heating up the house with the dryer.

I save the laundry and bath water for the garden because water is precious out here in California. Every last drop is precious. If I can harmlessly reuse it, I’m going to – and it’s worth having to use the “special” soap, especially since I tend to use less than half the recommended amount because lord have mercy, do they ever overstate how much of that stuff you “need” to get your clothes clean…

I consolidate my shopping trips and do a lot of walking from store to store to save at the gas pump, not because I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I buy in bulk for the best price, not necessarily for the least packaging. I cook from scratch because it’s cheaper, and healthier. I started gardening to take that next big step into frugal eating, to give us the fresh organic-method produce we love but really couldn’t afford.

When a single carrot is running two bucks, I’m priced out of the market. The seed package that produced carrots on demand from November to March followed by one big thirty-pound harvest that went into the freezer cost me…ten cents.

You never know what you’ll find at the dollar store, kids. I restocked big time this year – all my spinach, lettuce, carrots and green onions were ten cent seed packages. Righteous.

We’re all more aware of these things than ever right now. Some of us feel kind of caught between the two – I want to be “greener” but ohmygah, I can’t afford to because I have to be careful with the money right now…

I have been surprised to find myself labeled “green” when in fact all I was doing was looking for ever-more frugal ways to live well. I want my clothes to be clean and smell nice cheaply. I want to eat really, really well inexpensively. I want to have the absolute best when I do buy something, and I don’t mind not buying six thousand other things to have it. I want my Tupperware (real and take-n-toss) beautifully white even though I left spaghetti sauce in it for weeks (put it out in the sun for a few hours – seriously, it works, uses no-nasty-chemicals and is free).

Frugality doesn’t automatically lead to greener living, any more than greener living automatically leads to frugality. But they have a long love affair, those two, and they work very well together. If you follow either one long enough, you’ll find the other has moved into the house and made itself at home.

It should be no surprise that living by the mantra ‘reduce / reuse / recycle’ leads to cost savings, and that seeking cost savings will lead back to that same mantra.

This week (or so) in the garden:

Thirty pounds of carrots peeled, cut up, blanched and frozen. (Last weekend, actually.)

Four pounds of peas shelled and ready to be eaten – the first time any significant amount has actually been harvested instead of being eaten straight off the vine by night-stalking predators, probably ninja vegans or something me. Or the Denizens. But mostly me. Those vines are still heavy with immature pods, so I expect to be harvesting another four pounds or so in a few days. Woot. They’ll be blanched and frozen in boilable bags – kind of a slow-made-fast-food thing. Slow to grow, shell and bag, fast to reheat and eat.

The last two heads of broccoli are on their way to being harvested. Another week or so and they should be ready.

Fourteen beet plants decided to jump out of the ground, having apparently over-wintered as seeds. They almost got pulled as weeds before I realized they were growing in awfully straight lines. They’re supposed to need about 50 days from sprout and they’re already about ten in, so another month or so and we should have some golden beets. Mmmm, stain-free sweetness…

Six hills of white potatoes were started. No signs of life from them yet. The purple potatoes haven’t been properly planted yet. The first go-round got dug up accidentally due to an overenthusiastic crowd of helpers. Whoops.

Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are leafing out and acting happy.

One artichoke plant was mostly eaten by snails. The other two appear to be happy.

All three cranberry bushes are putting out new leaves and seem to like their new home quite well so far. We’ll see how they do when the heat hits this summer.

The cherry trees are happy, and so is the apple tree. The five-in-one stone tree appears to have lost two of its grafts – they might be fooling around and will leaf out later or something, but I’m kind of thinking those two grafts are dead wood at this point. We’ll see. But the surviving three (two peaches and a nectarine) are thriving away.

One yellow-striped heirloom tomato, and one cherry tomato were put into containers. They’re having a grand old time stretching out into their new cages, getting ready to climb like the dickens.

Nothing from the horseradish yet. I understand it’s slow to start but then tries to take over the world, so I won’t expect much for a while yet. Then I’ll expect to answer a knock at the garage door one day and {duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh} the horseradish only rings once…

The bed for the zucchini / spinach has been dug up and is ready to go…just need a pain-free (or pain-reduced) weekend and I’ll get that planted too. Ditto the carrot / onion bed, and the newly designated because the tomatoes took less room than expected watermelon bed. (The Denizens are super happy about that one. They love watermelon.)

150 tomato transplants were finally put into the ground last week, where they were promptly attacked by unchancy spring weather. Right immediately now, they are being pounded by a cold northern storm – loads of rain, rather cold temperatures and (worst of all) a whipping wind. I’m afraid to look out there tomorrow when I get home from work…it may be an absolute slaughter.

The excitement continues…


RobinH said...

And you compost your vegetable waste, right? That takes stuff out of the trash too!

Lisa T said...

How can you even be this coherent so early in the morning?
But I actually have a question for you. As a novice gardener, do you have any recommendations for a planting guide? You know, what and when? I planted tomatoes but am kinda at a loss for the rest. I kinda like having things spelled out for me in the beginning.

little red hen said...

You're fortunate to live in a climate that allows year-round gardening. I live in Zone 5 so my growing season is from last frost (late May) to early October, if I'm lucky. It does limit my choices for veggies.

PipneyJane said...

I haven't watched Wa$ted, but the BBC did a series three/four years ago called "There's No Waste Like Home", which was a bit of an eye opener. If you've lived the frugal life for a while, it is easy to forget how wasteful people can be.

I'm rather disappointed the Beeb only did one series. Thanks for the link to Wa$ted.

- Pam

Science PhD Mom said...

The sun trick also works for tomato stains on clothing. I found that out accidentally after trying the zillionth product to remove tomato stains, had no luck, and left the stained shirt sitting in a pool of sunlight for three days. Came back to try again and it was gone! Woohoo! Serendipity strikes again.

I'm assuming you hardened off your tomato seedlings...just FYI, to prevent early blight (fungal disease) they like their leaves to stay dry. This is why I use soaker hoses for watering up here in the uber-rainy Pacific NW. I won't put out my tomatoes until tax day at the earliest, too much chance of a late frost! Good luck!