Friday wrap-up: Park(ing), Green beer, and moral offsets add to carbon offsets

Park(ing) day was last Friday – see No Impact Man’s blog for photos of his park and comments about this action all over the country.

Boozing for the environment – if you must drink beer, drink green, and not in the St. Patrick’s Day sense. See Life Goggles’ tips:

And if you missed it, yesterday’s “Talk of the Nation” on NPR addressed the concept (tongue in cheek, I hope?) of moral offsets — say an adultery offset, or a vegan offset, to make up for our moral failings. Don’t forget to check out the comments on the blog related to that story – they are interesting reading.

If you want to skip the audio file, go directly to the USA Today opinion column by Peter Schweizer here:

Deal of the Week: Museum Day free on Saturday!

This week, Smithsonian Magazine is collaborating with museums across the nation to offer free admission on Saturday, Sept. 29. Magazine and Web site readers can qualify for free admission for two.

Museum Day is a nationwide event taking place on Saturday, September 29, 2007, where participating museums and cultural institutions across the country offer free admission to Smithsonian readers and visitors. Museum Day celebrates the country’s cultural offerings, allows the dissemination of knowledge and brings Americans together.Museum Day is open to all Smithsonian readers and friends. Participants must present the Museum Day Admission Card available in the September 2007 issue of Smithsonian Magazine or downloadable via this site to receive FREE GENERAL ADMISSION. The Museum Day Admission Card is valid for you plus one guest and is limited to one per household.

The following Museum Day restrictions apply:

  • One time use on Saturday, September 29, 2007. Card must be presented for free general admission.
  • Admission Card will be collected upon entry.
  • General admission only. Does not include entry to special exhibits or IMAX screenings.
  • Admission Card is good for general admission for you plus one guest.
  • One Admission Card per household.
  • Not for use with any other offer.
  • No rain checks.
  • Some participating museums may already have a free admission policy year round and are participating in the “spirit” of the day.

Museums and cultural institutions participating in Museum Day are doing so voluntarily and Smithsonian Magazine is not responsible for individual institution participation or for individual institution content.

To find participating museums in your area and fill out the online survey for a ticket (if you aren’t a subscriber already), follow this link to the Smithsonian site.

Weekly wrap-up: Kiplinger’s goes green and bike your little heart out

This week, Get Rich Slowly addressed the latest issue of Kiplinger’s, which talks green:


And two blogs I read both address commuting by bike today:


We’ve thought about bike commuting, but between needing new equipment and our not-so-bike friendly roads, it hasn’t happened yet. Do you bike? How do you like it?

August Wrap-up: Garden, net worth up, and savings

I know, it’s almost the end of September, but I missed a week or so of life this month being sick. So here is the update on all things cheap & eco for the month of August.

August was a whirlwind month. It was by far the busiest ever in the almost eight-year history of my writing and editing business, and Mr. Cheap and Little Cheap both went back to school.

In addition, it’s harvest time. We made some jams in the spring, but in August and the first weekend of September I made:

  • 6 quarts of dill pickles
  • 4 pints of corn relish
  • 4 pints of bread and butter pickles
  • 3 quarts of curry pickles
  • 9 pints of crushed tomatoes
  • 4 half-pints of yellow pear tomato preserves
  • 5.5 pints of grape jelly
  • and 6 quarts of grape juice.

We calculate that we probably eat about 60 pints of crushed tomatoes a year, maybe more. Next year I’d love to grow more Better Boy tomatoes and fewer yellow pears so we can fulfill that goal ourselves.

Net Worth Update

In the last month, our net worth went up by 19 percent. This is the change I anticipated, with some inherited savings bonds coming of age. We’re now up 7.9 percent over when I started tracking in March.

The GREAT news: I used part of the windfall to pay off the rest of our credit card balance. This means that starting next month, I’ll be using anything extra to start paying off our car loan. My goal will have us paying the car off 15 months early. Then we’ll move on to the second mortgage and student loans.

What else did I do with the windfall? I had planned to buy some furniture, but I find that I just can’t do it. I can’t find the right thing, but we have working furniture, so I’m going to keep an eye on Craigslist for the dining set of my dreams (used). I used a little bit to buy my spinning wheel, and the rest is in savings. Mr. Cheap strongly believes I should pay myself back what I used to pay off the AmEx (by replenishing the amount in savings), and I promised to do so in 2008.

In the Garden

The garden continues to flourish. With plenty of heat AND rain, this has been a banner year for gardening in Colorado.

  • I counted 14 butternut squash, most of them ginormous, turning various shades of tan in the garden. If we have a couple more nice weeks, they’ll all be ripe. (The average frost date is around the second week of October here in Denver.)
  • We’ve picked one watermelon – alas, a little unripe, but still good. Two more have made it to adulthood, but they’re just softball-sized.
  • Cucumbers. Oh, cucumbers. I have canned 27 quarts of various kinds of pickles: Quick dills, fermented dills, bread-and-butter pickles and something called curry pickles from my Kerr Canning Book. The bread and butter are delicious; haven’t tried the curry ones yet. I had to throw out a batch of dills because they were nasty (these were the ones that smelled like chicken soup). I also sold cucumbers at our yard sale — people snapped them up at 40 cents each — and we sent Little Cheap to all her summer sleepovers bearing cucumbers. I’m going to estimate our 14 plants grew 50 pounds of cucumbers or more. I’m truly sick of cucumbers, and now that they have powdery mildew, I think I’ll take the vines out this weekend.
  • We grew four types of tomatoes.
    Better Boy has been great. We have four plants in, I believe, and in addition to eating all we want to eat, I’ve put up 14 pints of crushed tomatoes (about 30 pounds of tomatoes?), combined with yellow pear tomatoes. We haven’t been crazy about the yellow pears’ flavor, and of course we have three of those plants (that’s about 2.5 plants too many).
    We also have one Juliet tomato that has been phenomenal. It has grown as many tomatoes as about three other plants (just yesterday, I picked 36 tomatoes, not counting the half-dozen I threw out because the worms got to them). This has been a mixed blessing, in that I have to crawl around prying the tomato branches out of the grass to find the tomatoes, but we’ve made one batch of sauce that we just ate and another batch of three pints for the freezer.
    The San Marzano tried valiantly, but it lives in the topsy-turvy planter and it got so wilty every day that we basically threw in the towel last month.
  • The Brussels Sprouts are lovely tall plants … with sprouts about 1/4″ in diameter. I’m sure they’re much too crowded.
  • We have some great beets and carrots we’re eating little by little, and collard greens. We have about 6 meal-size servings of pesto in the freezer, a lot of little red chilis drying, and we’ve used our own jalapenos and dill for pickles and salsa.

It’s been fun … and now I am exhausted.


We avoided 47 plastic bags in August.


Doing frugal or green stuff saved $468.88 in August.

  • $276.30 was grocery savings
  • $166.45 was saving money on things we purchased, getting things for free — a free table and mirror (which Mr. Cheap immediately rehabbed into exactly what we wanted for our dining room), a push broom at an estate sale, buying used soccer cleats, riding boots and snow pants for Little Cheap — and pursuing the price correction at Target for the electric kettle.
  • Washing in cold and line drying saved an estimated $12.45.

Other Resources

  • We saved 163 gallons of water in August. This is totally a rough estimate, based on avoiding three flushes daily, because I’ve been too busy to keep track of the actual lack of flushing, Navy showers, etc.
  • I was pleased to see that our electricity use dropped to 63 percent of what it had been the previous two months (I’m really not sure why it had been so high — unless our swamp cooler is sucking up more energy than we had imagined! The evaporative cooler was out of commission for part of August and then it was cool enough that we really weren’t using it). This is a relief, as this problem was keeping me up nights.
  • Our natural gas bill was exactly the same as last month, up just slightly from June. Honestly, I suspect the extra might be from canning.


We threw out about 69 pounds of garbage, although I think about 40 pounds was food from our freezer that died (or rather, temporarily went unconscious) when I tried to use it with a Green Plug.

We filled our recycling trolley a total of 1.4 times during the month. I think some of my cutbacks may be kicking in — I have canceled 11 catalogs and 2 magazine, as well as mailings from 3 big credit card companies and my subscription to one local newspaper.

We donated nothing, as we were getting ready for a yard sale, and we Freecycled 16 pounds (a frozen turkey!).

Phew! By this time next month, most of the garden will be dead, and this update will be so much shorter.

Check your water flow to save water

Ever wondered how to find out how much water your shower or sink uses?

Most faucets have a number etched into the aerator. Unscrew the aerator from your sink and it will say “3” or “2.0” or if you are fortunate, “1.5.” This refers to the gallons per minute your water fixture spews into your tub or sink. Two, 2.5 or fewer gallons per minute is low flow.

If you want to check the showerhead without unscrewing it, put a five-gallon bucket under the shower, turn the shower on at normal flow, and time one minute. If the bucket is half full, the shower uses 2.5 gallons per minute. If it’s two-thirds full, it uses more than three gallons per minute.

Low-flow aerators and showerheads come in many varieties. Many sink aerators cost $5 or less. Showerheads can run $10 to much more, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. But if you can save a gallon per minute in the shower, and two people shower for five minutes each per day, you’ll reduce your use by at least 3,600 gallons of water per year, plus the fuel to heat the water. My new low-flow showerhead also has a switch to turn it down even lower while sudsing up, saving still more water.

In addition, keep your bucket in the shower to catch the water that runs from the faucet while you’re adjusting the temperature or after you shut the shower valve. Use this water for plants or, if you’re a scofflaw like me, for flushing the toilet when necessary.

This site offers a great overview of low-flow fixtures and how to install them. The bottom line is that it’s really easy. You’ll need your new low-flow fixture, pliers or wrench, and some plumber’s pipe tape (this is a very thin, almost soft tape that comes in a roll to wrap tightly around the threads of a pipe joint to prevent leaks. At my local Home Depot store they had a display tower of it right next to the cash register).

Weekly Wrap-Up: College loans and home values

This week, the Dear College Girl blog reports on changes to college funding options for students. Pell Grants (for broke-r students) have new maximums, and interest rates on need-based student loans will be cut in half gradually over the next four years. In addition, the new laws include loan forgiveness for certain professions (like teaching and firefighting) after 10 years of service. Dear College Girl links to a New York Times article for more details. Thank your Congressperson, and watch the news for more info.
Is your house an investment? The debate goes on at Free Money Finance — with some added information from Money magazine. Read the comments on this one for details on both (all?) points of view. I view my home as an investment in the sense that if I pay it off, I can be house-payment-free in my achy golden years. Or I can do as my grandparents did: In their mid-70s, they sold their home and bought a less-expensive, one-story home for cash, investing the difference to pay for taxes and upkeep on the new place.

Another great deal in Colorado: CFLs $0.35 each with rebate

We hit Costco today and one item on the list was compact fluorescent bulbs. To my delight, a 10-pack cost $13.49, with a sign on the shelf indicating it was eligible for a $10 Xcel Energy rebate.

To my greater delight, the $10 rebate was deducted automatically at the register.  That brings the cost to $3.49 for 10 bulbs, or $0.35 each. And now we’ve got most of the lights in our house converted!

Deal of the Week: Free Furnace Filter and Starbucks too

My title has the 3Fs, but the deal is from 3M. Send in this mail-in rebate to get a free filter (up to $19.99). I know the snazzy filters run around $15 for me, so this is a great giveaway.

And this morning when I stopped at Starbucks to celebrate my recovery from the creeping crud(s) that have plagued me, they had a stack of coupons on the counter offering buy one-get one free coffee on weekends in September with the coupon. Bring a friend — and your own cups!

Eco-quandary: Fox News goes … green – the new corporate color

NPR had a very interesting story this morning about Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. being on a big green kick. The company plans to be carbon neutral by 2010. You can listen to the whole story here.

The story mentions that Fox News personalities are not exactly known for their green take on life and business. Many of them deny global warming. But News Corp. is forging on, even encouraging writers for Fox TV programming to include environmental topics.

Other companies are delving into greenness, too. Enterprise Rent-a-Car has pledged to plant 50 million trees, with TV ads touting their program.

But so does SC Johnson, the manufacturer of Pledge, Windex and many other brands. I find it extremely difficult to believe SC Johnson is “Doing what’s right for the environment” when the company specializes in manufacturing chemical-laden, disposable cleaning products to clog our landfills.

One good point on the SC Johnson Web site, however, is that sanitizing products can help prevent disease in the developing world. The problem seems to be that — especially through advertising — we are told in the United States that everything must be sanitized, all the time. TV ads make us think “God forbid my child should eat something that has touched an unsanitary surface!”

In fact, for normal, healthy people, a bit of dirt can help boost our immune systems and keep people (including children) healthier.

When sickness or disaster strike, we are indeed very fortunate to be able to sanitize our environment. I have had either one killer sickness or a series of four illnesses this past week — so I’ll confess that on Saturday, I broke out my little-used disinfecting wipes (purchased before I started this whole green kick) and wiped down the knobs and handles in my bathroom to try to protect the rest of my family. But we aren’t going overboard — our main defenses are hand washing and not sharing cups, utensils or food.

Balance is the key. And we can all start watching for it on Fox.

Dealbusters: Homemade laundry detergent

This Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

A while back, I came across a recipe for homemade soap on The Simple Dollar blog.

Finally, last month I got around to trying it. I made about one-twelfth of a batch to fit in my little re-purposed Wisk detergent bottle. It worked just fine in my front-loading machine, and I made my second batch last weekend.

The cost breakdown:
The cost comparison is based on buying a sale bottle of Wisk for about $3 with coupons. That is about $3 for 32 loads, or $0.09 per load.

Cost breakdown of homemade laundry soap:

  • Pink Zote soap (1/12 bar) $0.12
  • Borax (1/24 cup) $0.06
  • Washing soda (1/12 cup) $0.03
  • 4 cups water $0.00
  • Natural gas stove burner $0.03

TOTAL = $0.24 for enough laundry soap for at least 16 loads of laundry

Savings = 77 percent. My homemade soap costs less than $0.02 per load.

The winner: Homemade.

The priceless factors:

  • Simple ingredients. They’re all listed above, and while they are potentially hazardous, they are all biodegradable and better for the environment than many purchased soaps.
  • Reused and recyclable containers. I reuse the detergent bottle, use the boxes of washing soda and borax for many purposes and can recycle the boxes when they’re empty.

The drawbacks:
The soap does gel after you make it. Because I am cutting the recipe down and putting it in a bottle (instead of a scoopable container), I’ve been having to add water and shake it like crazy for the first load to make it pourable. Next time I’ll follow the suggestion on the site’s comments to let it gel in the pan, then stir in water and then pour it into the old bottle.

The verdict:
Even though I don’t find this project to be as much fun as Trent does at The Simple Dollar, it’s worth spending a little time once a month or so to save money and resources.

Grade: B+