Weekly Wrap-Up: Is it worth your while to turn off the lights, and car sharing


A couple of weeks ago, The Simple Dollar wrote an article about how much it costs to leave lights on. He concluded that if it takes him two minutes to turn off the lights in his house (he must have a big house! I think my almost-2,000-square-foot house would take less than a minute – but maybe they have more lights on?), it’s generally not worth his time, unless he’s going away for the whole weekend. Much of his feedback was people saying he’s too cheap; others chimed in criticizing the waste — at any cost — of leaving a bunch of electricity running in an empty house. Where do you stand on this one?


And No Impact Man has ended his year-long experiment. Now that he can ride in a car again, this week he posted an article about car-sharing, which we don’t really have here in Denver. Has anyone tried it?

A day in the life …

Several bloggers are jumping on board a “day in the life” theme, and I thought I’d join them. Be forewarned, it’s full of thrills and spills.


I picked yesterday, which turned out to be not so typical with a last-minute doctor’s appointment for Mr. Cheap that involved a lot of chauffeuring on my part. So we’ll start with yesterday, and wrap up with a typical day. It’s creative nonfiction for the calendar.


6:30 – Little Cheap and/or Schnauzer Cheap wake us up singing/noisily yawning. Mr. Cheap complains his face is frozen since I’ve turned the heat down to 55 at night.


6:45 – I get up, drink a glass of water, pull wet laundry out of the washer from last night, and put a new load of laundry in the high-efficiency washing machine. (Going to take advantage of the warmest day of the week today for hanging out laundry.) Let out the dog. Turn off the electric blankets (but set Mr. Cheap’s to a slightly warmer setting for tonight). Take care of bathroom business using reusable cloth.


7:00 – Get dressed in workout clothes with good intentions of exercising after morning commitments. Boil water in the kettle and transfer it into a pot; finish cooking oatmeal for Little Cheap and me on the stove. Empty the dishwasher. Dump compost container from kitchen counter into large bin in the back yard.


7:30 – Open the curtains for natural light. Feed the dog and give him his antihistamines and fatty acids for his allergies. Turn on “happy light” (bright light for seasonal affective disorder) while eating breakfast. Join Little Cheap and Mr. Cheap, who’s cooked his own breakfast, to eat at the table.


7:45 – Wash face. Mix up some chocolate pudding and put it in a reusable container for Little Cheap to take for snack; fill her newish Sigg water bottle; pull wet clothes out of washing machine and put another load in; put dog in his crate and lock up.


8:15 – Take Little Cheap to school. Drop off bills in mailbox on the way and drop books at library on the way back.


9:00 – Go to the grocery store on the way home. Stock up on sale meats and organic veggies, dry beans, butter for holiday baking. Spent $46, saved $56. Brought cloth bags; reused produce bags. Splurge on a latte at Starbucks (true confessions: in a disposable cup; I forgot my cup). Ran into an old friend and caught up for a while, as she shared she is going through a divorce.


10:00 – At home, throw one package of chicken legs (minus skin), some chopped carrot and celery, last of the home-grown onions, and a bag of leftover peelings & trimmings (compiled as we go and stored in the freezer) into the Crock Pot for stock. Put chicken skin and packaging in a bag fished out of the garbage and throw it in the outside garbage can. Boil water in the electric kettle and pour it over the Crock Pot contents; top off with water and turn it on to cook. Put away groceries. Wash the plastic bag the peelings were in. Bring up the four loads of laundry and hang them on the line to dry. Turn up heat a few degrees (to 67) now that I’m home.


10:30 – Sit down at the computer to work. Long conference call.


12:30 – Break for lunch. Try boiling water in electric kettle, then simply pouring into a pan and mixing in macaroni and chopped broccoli, then letting it sit, covered, for 15 minutes to cook. Note to you, gentle reader: The macaroni was yucky. BUT if you pour it in the pan, heat it all to boiling, THEN let it sit, covered, for 12 minutes, even with chopped broccoli, it turns out fine and saves natural gas.


While macaroni is “cooking,” call Yellow Book, which delivered a phone book today, to be removed from their list. Call catalog company to be removed from their list. Throw phone book in recycling bin. Put plastic bags in bag o’ bags to be recycled.


1:00 – Return calls and writing work fill up the afternoon.


2:15 – Receive call that Mr. Cheap has injured his foot. Pick him up at work, drive to a nearby suburb, sit in waiting room for 20 minutes (working! Doing online research on my new Treo).


3:45 – Drive to Little Cheap’s school to pick her up from Daisy Scouts. On the way, place two calls for a client while walking into her school. As usual, LC has not managed to seal her water bottle properly, and it has leaked all over her backpack, coat and artwork. Drive her to a nearby farm where she takes horseback-riding lessons. Help LC and another girl whose dad dropped her off find riding helmets that fit. Sometimes, I stay while she has a lesson; more often, like today, I am so busy that I return home to finish some work.


4:45 – Drive back to pick up Mr. Cheap at occupational health clinic.


6:30 – Pick up Little Cheap from horseback-riding lessons. Drive home.



7:00 – Mr. Cheap helps Little Cheap with her bath. (If it were up to me, we would save some bath water in my trusty bucket for flushing, but Mr. Cheap doesn’t go that far.) I strain the stock, add some carrots and dried alphabet noodles purchased … er … before we moved to this house, which was only two years ago, but found again today.


Put away the remaining stock. Go outside and take down the (freezing cold, but hopefully dry) laundry. Feed the dog.


7:30 – Get out water and milk to drink and dish up the soup. Turn off unneeded lights. Eat together at the table. Little Cheap, who has never had alphabet soup, is impressed.


8:00 – Clear the table. Load the dishwasher. Little Cheap cleans up her room. Turn on Little Cheap’s electric blanket to preheat. Wash chocolate pudding from Little Cheap’s reusable snack sack (she also hasn’t put the lid back on the empty pudding container). Turn off unneeded lights. Put her cloth napkin (with pudding) in the clothes hamper. Collect horseback-riding clothes, which smell like horse, and coat, which is soaking wet at the bottom and smells like horse, from Little Cheap and put them in the washing machine with random towels gathered to fill out the load.


8:15 – Read to Little Cheap for bedtime. Mr. Cheap folds laundry.


9:00 – Make a cup of tea, return to computer and finish some more work.

9:55 – I am excited that the furnace heats things up one last time before the heat goes down to 55 degrees for the night.


10:45 – Put last load of laundry in the electric dryer (at least it, like all our electricity, is fueled by wind power). It is predicted to be 32 degrees tomorrow, Little Cheap needs her dry parka, and I have four business meetings to attend. Realize I am still wearing workout clothes, but never worked out. Mr. Cheap is asleep. Turn on my own electric blanket. Cover dog with his towel/blanket. Brush teeth, wash face, go to bed.

Deal of the Week: What nobody’s buying after Thanksgiving …

I stopped in at our local supermarket this morning to replenish our cupboards, which were bare (or, in the case of the vegetable bins, moldy … argh) after our trip over Thanksgiving.

I peeked in at the meat section, because Mr. Cheap had requested I purchase some meat and garlic as his part of the groceries, and lo and behold! Sales galore.

Many of the store-branded Coleman natural meats were on manager’s special at 50% off. This means a two-pound natural beef roast, which usually rings in at $13 and change, was $6. We’ve enjoyed two of these roasts recently — thrown in the Crock Pot with some veggies, they make a super easy (and pretty cheap) dinner that satisfies local and organic requirements, as well as providing plenty of nutrition and saving energy (both our stove’s gas and my energy). I bought five for the freezer.

Natural chicken drumsticks also were on sale for $2 to $2.50 a package. One package (sans skin) went into the Crock Pot today for a rich chicken stock. Half the stock became chicken soup, perfect for a post-horseback-lesson warm meal. The other half went into the refrigerator to enrich some red beans and rice I’ll cook up on Thursday or so.

And the rest of the chicken? I hope to get some time this weekend to make chicken biryani. I can’t find a recipe that looks like the one from my super delicious South Indian cookbook, so that one will have to do.

Meanwhile, hurry to those back corners of your grocery store and buy up the bargains. Just be sure to use them or freeze them immediately so you haven’t wasted your food dollars.

Thanksgiving travels: Not cheap, but surprisingly green

NM treeThis weekend, we hit the road for a break from everyday life. We drove from Denver to Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a few days. The trip wasn’t exactly (OK, not in any way) a money saver, but it was a much-needed respite from the daily grind — and turned up several surprisingly green results.

1. Photos: I came back with scarcely any photos — a handful, like the one above, from our drive between Taos and Santa Fe, and a handful of Little Cheap sleeping, because it is so seldom that she is sleeping in good light so that I can take a snap without the flash waking her — and she still looks like, well, an angel when she sleeps. All the photos were digital, and I use recyclable batteries in my camera.

2. Heat: At our hotel in Taos, we had a wood-burning fireplace in the room to warm us up in the evening. Wood is the traditional heat in this area. As a result, we didn’t touch the heater even though we had 6″ of snow on Friday morning. While wood smoke is a pollutant, wood has the advantage of being a renewable resource.

3. Dining: At the restaurant where we ate our Thanksgiving dinner, Doc Martin’s (located in the hotel), we enjoyed many local ingredients in the fine cuisine.  We were even able to celebrate with a bottle of locally made sparkling wine — and then drove past Gruet signage all the way to Santa Fe. We have been fans of the sparkling wine made by these native-French brothers for years, and the sommelier was boasting about their other wines as well.

4. Park it: In both Taos and Santa Fe, we paid a premium to stay at a good hotel in the central district, but this meant that (especially in Taos) we parked the car when we arrived and didn’t move it until we left.

5. Low-impact shopping: We bought souvenirs in Taos — some (fairly local) llama wool for me to spin and a Mexican doll made from twigs and wool for Little Cheap at LaLana Wools.  (In fact, we gave Little Cheap $20 spending money for the four-day weekend to work on those financial skills while we traveled — although she wound up also taking a small loan from Mr. Cheap (repaid with saved allowance) to accommodate her desire to have the wool woman, a toy llama (from real fiber) and, alas, a plastic toy horse.) We also bought some gifts that are relatively low impact — drinkable or burnable — as well as a couple that will be around longer. And although we did more shopping than we usually do, most of it was for holiday gifts, not just killing time.

6. Surprisingly green hotel: Our hotel in Santa Fe was a Priceline find.  The rooms are really small at this elegant place, and we had one king-size bed for the three of us (luckily, we have experience with cramming two adults, a child and a dog into our queen-size at home). I suppose we inadvertently saved on linens by staying in one bed. But the hotel did its part, with a low-flow shower head, low-water-use toilet, and CFL bulbs in all the lights! That was a pleasant surprise … although, unfortunately, housekeeping changed all the towels on day 2 despite their sign saying they were required by law not to change them oftener than every four days.

7. Carbon offset: All told, our trip was 804 miles of driving (about 32 gallons of gas). This morning, I paid my dues by purchasing a carbon offset from NativeEnergy. After all, what’s another $12 on top of a vacation’s worth of outflow? And while there seem to be several good offset company, this one seems particularly appropriate for a visit to a state where we visited the statue of the first Native American saint.

Deal of the Week: LED Light Exchange

I think everyone knows Boulder is ahead of the curve when it comes to saving energy, but this takes the cake (or the Christmas cookies).

At Boulder’s light exchange, you can bring in up to 5 strands of working regular holiday lights and swamp them for one strand of LED lights each for $5 per strand. With five strands, you could easily save $75 by their estimates, or $25 by mine.



Eco-quandary: LED Christmas lights vs. getting rid of perfectly good lights

LED Lights

Well, not too much of a quandary here. We bought new LED lights last night for our Christmas tree. By various accounts, they save 80% to 98% of the energy used by conventional holiday lights. Guilt-free festivities, at last — now pass the sour cream dip.


Our biggest challenge was that first we bought four packs of 50 lights for $10 each at Lowe’s … then went to Costco, where they had boxes of 100 lights for $11 each. Back we went to Lowe’s (after an elegant dinner out in the Costco food court) to return their lights.


I hate to throw out the good lights. Instead, I will first ask the two families we are sponsoring this Christmas (a group we participate in cooperates to sponsor families’ holidays through Family Tree, a local nonprofit organization) if they could use the lights. If not, Freecycle, here they come!


Our goal is to save energy at our house … while preventing someone from buying new conventional lights.


One thing about our trip to Lowe’s, though — nearly everyone leaving the store had some kind of efficient lighting in their cart. Sea change!

Where’s the (local, natural) beef?

Our household eats some meat. Not a lot. I was a vegetarian for 10 years, and when I married Mr. Cheap, a real carnivore, he used to get his meat fix out of the house.

I remember once, we wanted some chicken. I bought a package of chicken breasts at Wild Oats and felt like I was buying crack after a decade without meat.

Then I discovered that occasionally eating red meat relieved the chronic canker sores I’d been suffering. My theory was that the protein burst provided the amino acids my body needed to heal itself.

A couple of years later, add one pregnancy where a major craving was beef flautas (go figure!) and a child who is a carnivore, too (“Mmm, beef!” she used to exclaim as a baby. “I don’t like that this was a lamb, but it’s soooo good,” she lamented last year) and we do eat meat. Maybe a couple of times a week.

I’ve done so with mixed feelings. There’s all the information about how methane released by animals pollutes our atmosphere. Then again, Colorado ranchers will argue that without animals to break up the range and spread plant seeds, more of our state would turn into a dust bowl. And I shudder to think what weird hormonal concoctions are cooked up inside animals treated cruelly their whole lives.

This fall, I read the first half of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (I’ll read the second half when I get it back on hold from the library — it’s a long waiting list). Kingsolver makes some really interesting points about meat eating. For one, she points out how crucial meat is to survival in difficult or arid climates (like, in fact, Colorado, without some real manipulation of the environment). She also mentions the argument that if one eats (from) one cow, for instance, one life is taken, whereas when eating plants, many “lives” must be taken to sustain a person — it’s all in how you see it.

Regardless of those arguments, our family is happier — “well”-er — when we eat a little meat. So I have been looking into localizing and de-cruelty-fying our meat consumption.

The great news is that it seems easier to do this than it is to find all-local produce or local milk. I’ve found two beef producers and a poultry and egg co-op, all within an hour’s drive of Denver.

Slightly tougher is that to buy direct, you must buy in bulk. We’re looking at buying a quarter beef (1/4 of a beef cow/steer) for our freezer. But a quarter might be 110 to 150 pounds of meat. We probably don’t need quite that much — especially as we like to alternate with chicken. E-mail me at cheaplikeme (at) gmail (dot) com if you’re interested in going in on some of the beef and live locally.

And then raise a glass (and maybe a forkful of kindly raised meat, here and there) to Little Cheap’s concern that she does not want to eat animals who were not raised kindly — and to the idea that she can do just that.

Weekly Wrap-Up: What people spend on food, retroactive late fees and computer recycling

Earlier this week, Simply Thrifty http://www.simplythrifty.com/what-people-spend-on-food/ linked to this site that looks at what families around the world spend on food per week — with pictures of what they spend their money on. The photos are from Hungry Planet, which is a fantastic book and a sequel to another book about people’s possessions. I recommend both books highly – voyeurism and globalism all in one interesting package!


Get Rich Slowly talked about Citibank’s retroactive late fees with one example dating back two years. I thought credit card companies had shaped up their act by eliminating two-month finance charge cycles, but this is a new one: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/11/06/beware-of-citibanks-retroactive-late-fee/


And the same blog this week published a piece about Costco recycling electronic components. It’s an interesting read: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/11/06/the-costco-trade-in-and-recycle-program-for-old-electronics/


Now, does anyone want our old dishwasher?

My weekend of (money-saving) accomplishments, including a dish decision

I had a great weekend. This was the first weekend in a while that we had hardly any plans — just had some friends over for dinner, which was fun, rather than a hectic commitment.

That means I actually had a chance to get things done.


1. I installed a dishwasher.

I started on Saturday by forcing my family out to our local Lowe’s to purchase a dishwasher. Well, first, on Friday, I pulled out the old dishwasher and tried to run it. We think it was leaking because the pump broke — sad but true. And we decided to replace the dishwasher because we cook all the time, and our kitchen has three squares of counter space — so using one square up with our dish drying rack just wasn’t cutting it. (We did have our lowest-ever electric bill in October, probably because we weren’t using the dishwasher, but our gas bill was nothing to write home about.)

Friday night, we visited the Sears Appliance Outlet, which is rumored to have great deals on appliances. I am sad to report those rumors are false. The Sears Outlet mostly had Bosch appliances for $900. Nothing under $400 except one special-order dishwasher — and no amazing eco reports, either. Lowe’s had a broad selection. We were pretty tempted by a couple of the Bosch machines, which have high customer satisfaction and low energy use … although I have heard several reports that their control boards tend to burn out. And part of their energy savings come from not having a heated dry — but I turn off the heat dry, so hopefully that will break even.

We wound up buying a Frigidaire machine that costs under $300 and uses just over 6 gallons of water for a normal wash cycle. We saved another $150 by driving it home and installing it ourselves. I’ve never installed an appliance like that, but with the help of Mr. Cheap for the manly-man parts (like helping me carry it and pulling out and pushing in the water inlet pipe), I did it. It took about three and a half hours before and after our dinner guests, but it worked beautifully to clean just about all the dishes from dinner for six. And to my relief, the top edge is straight across — the old one was installed crooked.
Now I’m just hoping we can get someone to take and reuse our old dishwasher instead of sending it to the landfill.


2. I made my own yarn.

Remember back in August, when I bought a spinning wheel? I’ve been working/struggling with it off and on since then. In late September, I hit a yarn shop in Wheat Ridge and bought 7 ounces of dark brown baby alpaca top. (At least I think it’s top — I’m still learning the spinning lingo, and believe me, it is almost a full foreign language! It’s a batch of soft wool, combed into long strands; 7 ounces looked like a wig made of fuzzy hair smoothed barely into submission.)

As I began to spin, I realized I’m probably kind of crazy to start with this wool — it is pretty slippery and not nearly as clingy as some kinds of wool. This means it was tricky to start to spin. But I finished it all, and last night I plied it (spun the two strands together) into real yarn. I think I only saved $6 or $10 from what the yarn would have cost to buy … and the finished professional yarn would have been better than mine is … but it’s a small price to pay for the learning experience.

Next step: Knit it up into some fingerless gloves I can wear while I work — and that will save money by letting me keep the heat a little lower this winter. And they’ll be luxurious — baby alpaca is incredibly soft fiber.

The other added benefit of doing it yourself is knowing who did the labor and under what conditions.


3. I celebrated the end of daylight savings with a morning run.

Technically, this doesn’t save me money right now, because I am keeping my gym membership for yoga classes and occasional treadmill visits. But when I first started running and walking occasionally, I did it outside because for no cost beyond a good pair of running shoes (perhaps an $80 investment for the year) I could get a great workout.

I am a fan of multitasking my exercising – on the treadmill at the gym, watching some trashy TV show while listening to my iPod and possibly also reading a magazine, if I’m on a bike instead of a treadmill. But exercising outside has its own charms. Seeing the neighbors, enjoying the camaraderie of other exercisers, and in my neighborhood, running on a nice dirt path under the gorgeous trees on a wooded parkway.

If you are very cheap, on a Monday morning like this one, an outside run also allows one to peruse the neighbors’ trash. I almost picked up a funnel, and composters would have found a raked-leaf paradise out there. (Again, I deplore our city’s lack of yard waste recycling – you have to drop leaves at a designated site, and most people don’t bother.)

Weekly Wrap-Up: Food and laundry … everyone’s favorite repeating chores

Starting with a couple of takes on food this week.

Is it a good idea to hide veggies in regular foods for your kids? A couple of new cookbooks say sure, it’s a great way to get additional vitamins into kids’ tummies. But a food writer howls that doing so is robbing the taste buds to appease the nutrition gods. At our house, we just force Little Cheap to take a bite or two of everything — and I can say that the other night she did eat cauliflower (well, the florets), although she waffles on beets and artichokes.


And is it cheaper to eat out than in? I calculated last night that the “Like Lasagna” recipe I made last night (based on The Simple Dollar’s recipe) cost $10 and will feed Mr. Cheap and me 4 meals — and that’s including natural chicken sausage and organic pasta. I’m pretty sure we can’t dine out for $2.50 plus a salad, but you be the judge. Also note that while I do feed her vegetables, Little Cheap prefers not to eat lasagna, so she had plain noodles and broccoli. Mr. Cheap has warned her that when she turns 7 in March, she has to start eating normal dinner every night.


Hanging in there: My local paper, The Denver Post, published an article about using clotheslines last Sunday. I’m not doing laundry today, because the weather is supposed to be nicer this weekend — how about you?