Great rechargeable battery deal at Walgreens

I just found this great deal at my local Walgreens and wanted to share.

Walgreens sells Energizer rechargeable batteries, size AAA, in packs of 4, normally $12.99. At my store (through 3/28/09), they are on sale for $7.99 per pack.

In this month’s EasySaver catalog, customers can get a rebate of $10 for buying two packs of Energizer batteries (or $15 for three packs). That rebate is increased by 10% (to $11 or $16.50) if you choose to have your rebate added directly to a gift card instead of sent by check. To claim a rebate via gift card, you can submit rebates online anytime during March. The balance can be added to your existing gift card automatically.

If I claim my rebate for these packages, I’ll ultimately get them for $3.13 a pack including tax. This is perfect as we are seeking to convert all our batteries to rechargeables.

I’m not sure if the sale is at all retail outlets — if you find out, let us know! But it’s sure worth checking. I don’t need any more AAA batteries, but I do need AAs, so I will be checking back before the sale ends just in case I can claim that 3-pack rebate.

As always with deals, YMMV.

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How to hang out laundry

Spring is here, and it’s a great time for all of us to create backyard replicas of those classic springtime images of clean clothes whipping dry on a clothesline.

(Why is there no ACTUAL image today? I tried, but the camera is not cooperating.)

Anyway … as you very likely know, hanging clothes out to dry has many benefits:

  • Uses natural solar and wind energy to dry clothes instead of electricity, natural gas or propane.
  • Adds that fresh, outdoor smell.
  • Does light sanitizing from the sun’s rays.
  • Saves $70-$80 per year if you can hang out laundry for 7 months (compared to using an electric dryer).
  • Eliminates 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions if you do it 7 months a year.
  • Gives you a little bit of exercise and a chance to get outside.

If you haven’t hung out clothes before — or haven’t done it for years — here’s a primer on how to make it enjoyable:

  1. Launder clothes the night before (if your climate doesn’t cause them to mildew by morning) or at the crack of dawn, then get out and hang up the clothes in the morning. I guarantee it will be one of the best parts of your day. Take them down in the evening for a few minutes’ respite. Breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sun pouring vitamin-D-generators into your skin, listen to birds, and be happy you are not stuck in traffic, sitting behind a computer, listening to babies cry or whatever comprises much of your time.
  2. Make it easy. Get the tools you need. Set up a clothesline (a traditional line, a retractable strung between home and garage, a line across your patio or a revolving “umbrella” clothesline).
  3. Get enough clothespins. The wooden ones are more eco-friendly and more lasting. Find them at dollar stores, large Asian markets like Har-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc. Put them in a hanging basket (even a milk jug cut out for access) to easily reach them.
  4. Save your back by elevating the basket. I put my basket on an upturned large flowerpot next to my umbrella clothesline. My former neighbors had put wheels on a basket so it rolled along their line.
  5. Fight wrinkles. Many garments — like linen — come out less wrinkled on the line, especially if it’s breezy. Give woven cotton garments a good shake (or three) before hanging to shake out wrinkles. Take a look after hanging to make sure a cuff isn’t turned up — it will dry that way if it is. For extra wrinkly garments, or “wrinkle-resistant” clothes that wrinkle on the line, throw them in the dryer for a few minutes while damp to get out wrinkles. If you’ve washed the garments several times, they should be fairly colorfast when they are nearly dry, and all colors can go in one load to conserve energy.
  6. Crowd synthetics. It’s not mandatory! But if you are running out of clothesline, remember that 100% polyester and polar fleece dry very rapidly and without wrinkles. In a pinch, I hang my daughter’s fleece PJs by one clothespin and crammed together — and they still dry faster than other clothes.
  7. Simplify socks. I pull socks out of the load as I remove it from the washer (or hang up the load and leave socks in the basket). Then I drape them over a folding rack instead of hanging them on the line. Somehow, working a clothespin onto every single sock just ups the annoying factor a little too far.
  8. Flip shirts over. I hang shirts upside down (from the hem) to minimize wrinkles and ensure that if there are any weird nipply things from the clothespins, they are at the hem instead of the shoulders. (There’s nothing like glancing in the mirror at lunchtime only to see that you have a knob of fabric sticking up from your shoulder.) Or, hang clothing on hangers — but for the broad- or narrow-shouldered among us, double check to be sure the shoulders lie smoothly on the hangers. For button-placket shirts, I hang the shirt upside down with a clothespin at each side hem. Then I lap the plackets over each other and clip the center, too.

Recycle electronics now

What do you do when you get that final dial tone or your screen goes blank for good? Hopefully, you’ll recycle any piece of electronic equipment. Here’s why — PC Magazine reports:

Consumer electronics—including TVs, computers, peripherals, audio equipment, and phones—make up almost 2 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This percentage may seem small and inconsequential, but the quantity of electronic waste is steadily rising.

In fact, the EPA estimates that the number of obsolete consumer electronics sold between 1980 and 2007 is 235 million; a total weight of 2.25 million tons. Where are these 235 million units now? Eighteen percent of these products were collected for recycling; the rest are, unfortunately, sitting in landfills. Toxins (lead, mercury, flame retardants, and the like) from these electronics can seep into the soil and ground water, posing serious health and environmental risks.

In Denver — March 7, 2009

Denver-area residents, a reader notified me that LG is sponsoring electronics recycling bashes all around the metro area this weekend! You can drop off your unwanted computers, phones, TVs, VCRs, and much more for FREE recycling on Saturday, March 7. Check out all the information here.

Other electronics recycling resources

Not in Colorado or not ready to give up the VCR this weekend?

Save on postage despite increases

On May 11, the U.S. Postal Service will increase the cost of mailing a first-class letter to 44 cents, two cents more than the current 42 cents.

If you use 10 stamps a month, this increase will cost you $4.80 more a year.

Save a few dollars on this year’s postage:

  • Purchase “forever stamps” (pictured at right) now. Buy a roll of 100 and you’ll pay 42 cents for stamps that you can use for the 44-cent first-class mailing cost later this year.
  • Go online to credit card and loan providers and sign up for e-pay. Enter your bank account information, confirm some security information, and then arrange to transfer funds online. With most lenders, you can either pay automatically (for instance, have the full balance paid automatically each month) or arrange a specific payment on a month-by-month basis.
  • Have bills paid automatically. Check with your credit card company, bank and/or vendors to see if you can be billed automatically. For instance, my gym and cable company charge a credit card automatically. I get points toward a cash-back rebate, and only have one bill to pay. My mortgage, insurance and utility bills are automatically withdrawn from my checking account on a certain day each month. Note: This is also a good way to hang onto a credit card that you’re concerned might be closed in this economic climate. Have one bill — such as cable — charged to the credit card, then pay it every month.

How else do you save on postage?

My DIY yarn swift – made for $5

March is national craft month — the perfect time to focus on doing crafts … on the cheap.

This post is not so much a tutorial as an example of what we can do to re-use, repurpose, economize — and still enjoy hobbies, tools and skills. I hope it will inspire you to listen to that voice inside that says “I bet I could …” — and then make something great.

***

At my house, I am loaded with yarny goodness. I’ve knitted off and on over the past 15 years, but two years ago, at our local Renaissance festival, my mother-in-law bought me a drop spindle telling me that since everyone else was getting a souvenir, I should get one, too.

Once I started spinning with that drop spindle, I’d caught an obsession. Within a few months I had acquired a spinning wheel. Spinning gave me a new appreciation for yarns, and I got back into knitting again.

I have tried to economize where I can. I am proud to say that my pricey tools have all been acquired secondhand. But all the yarn I spin, and most of the yarn I buy, comes in skeins. These are long loops of yarn — easy to make after spinning, great for washing the yarn, and not very nice for knitting.

If you knit from the skein, you would soon have a tangled mess. So knitters use a ball winder to wind the skein into a ball. The tool to hold the skein for winding is called a yarn swift. Typically, swifts spread out like an umbrella to hold different size skeins. They revolve so the ball winder can neatly pull the yarn and wrap it into a ball. And swifts usually cost $50 up.

Then my neighbors put out a broken wood patio umbrella. Ah ha! Mr. Cheap had his doubts, but by purchasing a lazy Susan and some screws, bolts and nuts, I turned it into a functioning swift for $5. Here’s how:

1. I waited till everyone left me alone so I could work in peace. First, I sawed off the “stand” of the umbrella just below the part where the arms attach. Then I evaluated the umbrella. All arms were present, but two of them were broken — one at the hinge, one at the base.

2. I decided to cut the arms off at the hinge and sand off the rough spots. (Mr. Cheap did the sanding when he got home. He’s patient like that.)

3. I fixed one arm that had a broken connection between it and the wire that goes around the top of the swift. I was going for function, not form — and did I mention my lack of patience? I unbent a picture hanger and used a staple gun to attach it to the wood arm.

4. I identified one more spot where one arm was broken off so that it was disconnected from the hinge (a part where the metal rod should have been encased in wood to form a hinge).

5. I fixed this spot up with another picture hanger — this one brass to go with the rod. I wasn’t sure if it would need to move, so I made it “swingable,” but that wasn’t necessary.

6. The most important structure of this swift is the spinning mechanism. I bought a lazy Susan dial at the local hardware shop. It cost about $2. First, I measured and cut a square piece of wood that would fit the base of the swift. Then, I measured and cut another, rectangular piece of wood that would be long enough to go under the square piece of wood and extend far enough beyond the swift that it could be clamped to the table without impeding the swift’s spin.

I used a pencil to mark the exact center of the square piece of wood. First, I measured — it wasn’t precisely square, so I drew lines to indicate the edges of the would-be square. Then I used a straight edge to draw an X from corner to corner. (The lazy Susan mechanism would be sandwiched between the two pieces of wood.) Next, I drilled pilot holes for the lazy Susan, based on the instructions that came with the package. I messed up (I’m no woodworker!) and did it again. The mistakes didn’t matter, as they would be hidden inside the lazy Susan sandwich and didn’t affect the integrity of the wood.

7. I attached the lazy Susan to the wood square. Before attaching it, I inserted small screws into the bottom of the lazy Susan, which would attach to the rectangular piece of wood. The screws had to go in first to extend down through the rectangular base to hold it on.

8. I used a long screw (about 3″) to go through the center of the square piece and into the wood base and center pole of the swift to hold the “umbrella” structure onto the base. This was the only frustrating/challenging aspect of the project. I used a vice to hold the pole and enlisted help to hold the square piece while I used a drill to screw it together. I don’t have a photo of that step, but in this shot you can see the open center of the lazy Susan mechanism through which I drilled into the base of the umbrella. The screw went right through the center of the X.

9. I used a large drill bit to drill holes in the outside of the rectangular piece of wood. Then I drilled holes for the small threaded bolts (sticking up in the photo above) to go through. Then I attached the nuts to the bolts using a small screwdriver with a nut wrench included. The holes aren’t especially neat (did I mention I’m not a woodworker, and also impatient?), but they are unseen beneath the swift. One could even glue a piece of felt to cover the whole base, to disguise ugly holes and protect furniture.

At last, I was finished! The swift stands up neatly for storage:

To use it, I open the “umbrella” and plug the peg (attached to a chain) into the hole at the top of the umbrella (this might have been the bottom, previously), which holds it open.

I use these clamps to attach it to any surface I like. The clamps, of course, are useful for any number of other projects.

The yarn extends from the swift to the ball winder:

I have thought about getting some mini-clamps to make adjustable “stops” to  hold any size skein on the arms. In the meantime, I use clothespins.

The swift rotates smoothly, making ball winding a breeze:

If only it would also clean up my craft table when it was finished ….

How I shrunk the junk mail

Last year, I vowed to eliminate my junk mail. After fighting in vain to contact every catalog and junk mailer by myself, I looked into other options. In July, I subscribed to GreenDimes (now renamed Mailstopper) to unsubscribe me from catalogs, companies and other unwanted senders of mail.

For an overview of their services, see my original post here. Basically, the company promises to automatically unsubscribe subscribers from direct mail services.  Then, users can go online to the Mailstopper Web site and enter in junk mail as it arrives. The company will request on your behalf that you be unsubscribed.

The premium service I subscribed to allows you to include multiple names. That is perfect for us, because my husband has two names under which some companies send him mail; my daughter and I get onto lists; and we still receive junk mail addressed to the previous homeowner (who moved out 4 years ago) and her family. All of those names are being unsubscribed.

It also includes not only catalogs, but companies — like DirecTV and Big O Tires — that have extensive mailing lists.

The service takes some time. In October, I reported that in a two-week period, my junk mail — only the mail we didn’t need — weighed four pounds. At the three-month point, I didn’t see a huge reduction in junk — although, granted, the holidays were approaching, and every catalog company known to humanity was sending out piles of mail.

Now? It’s a different story.

The picture above shows our junk mail for the past two weeks. Total weight? 20 ounces.

And a lot of this mail isn’t strictly junk. The contents include:

  • A seasonal gardening catalog (weight: 6 ounces)
  • My AAA member magazine (3 ounces)
  • A membership promotion from the art museum and one from the natural history museum — both of which we’re likely to accept (2 ounces)
  • Coupons from four retailers I use and one I probably won’t, total savings of $34  (3 ounces)
  • Two bills (1 ounce) – just signed up to receive both electronically
  • Two promotions for programs my daughter participates in (1 ounce)
  • 5 pieces of financial information and promotions from a credit card company with whom we have cards (3 ounces)

Overall,  we’ve cut our junk mail by 75 percent. Some days, I get only one or two pieces of mail, and they’re usually relevant. A year ago, my mailbox was bulging every day.

Try a free option to cut back

Several readers have commented that they use Catalog Choice. They provide a list of all catalog merchants who have agreed to participate on their site. They don’t seem to include companies that Mailstopper does include. But for free, you can cut way down on the hassle, printing, recycling and shipping of all those catalogs you just don’t need.

Either way, you’ll also benefit from having temptation removed — if you don’t see that amazing gadget or cool new pair of boots, you won’t even know you want them.

9 money-saving home fix-ups

The Internet is buzzing this week with ways to save money on adding efficiency to your home. Most likely, January heating bills have been rolling in, and with the economy in its current tizzy, belt-tightening is the watchword.

Fortunately, even if you’re living pretty lean, odds are good that you can save some more money by tightening up your house. With utility costs rising, a penny saved is truly a penny earned — or, today, one you don’t have to earn. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Do it yourself. If you have more time than money (or even a fairly balanced time/money ratio, or you just like to keep those pennies to yourself), do some research, ask savvier friends/neighbors/relatives for advice, and give a project a shot yourself.
  2. Find one of 50 things from this list to do. This Old House has a list of 50 DIY ways to save money. Odds are good there’s at least one that applies to you. I’m especially intrigued by the $50 Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector that allows homeowners (or renters) to find leaks so you can correct them.
  3. Change your lightbulbs. You might have already installed CFLs. But new technology is around the corner, so if you haven’t done it yet, read The Simple Dollar’s extensive overview of lightbulb technology — if nothing else, you’ll be equipped to persuade others if you peek into their light fixtures and see that they haven’t made the change.
  4. Consider dual-flush toilet technology. This is the special flushing science that offers a light rinse for #1, and a super swish for #2. When I went to Germany in 1989, the toilets were this way, so I remain perplexed as to why dual-flush commodes are exotic extras that cost $300 in the U.S. But now an ingenious American has invented a way to make your current toilet dual flush for $30, made in the USA. Their calculator estimates our family would save 9 gallons a day, a savings of $6 (and about 3,300 gallons) a year.
  5. Take tax breaks. If you install energy-efficient upgrades to your home — from HVAC systems to insulation to solar to doors and windows — you can receive a tax credit on your 2009 federal income tax return. Additionally, some tax credits are still available for buying hybrid vehicles from certain manufacturers. The full list is here.
  6. Replace your water heater with a tankless version. If your water heater bites the dust, replace it with a tankless or on-demand heating unit. You’ll gain floor space in your utility room and hot water when you need it — and save lots of money. This super-duper version (not endorsed by me; found via random search) costs about $1,100 and says it can power two showers at once. (Our tank version can’t do that … or not for long.) It also qualifies for a $300 tax credit. Mr. Electricity’s site gives a great rundown of all things hot-water-heater, and gives a rough ballpark that a gas-fired tankless unit might save around $100 per year, with installation costing $1,200 more than a tank version. But tankless heaters might last 20 years compared to a tank heater’s estimated 10-year lifespan. Ultimately? With the tax credit, the tankless version might cost $900 more per year. It will pay for itself in 9 years and last 11 years after that.
  7. Insulate your tank water heater and pipes. I have been putting this off, but for $20 you can buy a water heater blanket that keeps heat in the tank. (Our water heater is 4 years old, so replacing it doesn’t make sense at this point.) Insulate the pipes for bonus water and energy savings. Pipe insulation costs around $0.16 to $0.66 per foot. Tip for the not-so-plumbing-savvy: Measure your pipes first and get insulation that fits. Water pipes come in different diameters!
  8. Check if your utility offers rebates. Our utility company is subsidizing the cost of CFL bulbs (at various local retailers) and offering rebates for energy-efficient upgrades. For a tankless water heater, for instance, they will rebate $100 — which would take the payback period down to 8 years instead of 9 years.
  9. Rent, don’t buy. Check a site like Zilok, Craigslist.org or Kijiji to see if you can rent a tool you’ll need only once rather than buy. Check into local resources — I saw recently that a blog reader had checked out a Kill-a-Watt device from their local library to measure their electricity usage – what a great idea!

What am I up to?

Here’s what I plan to do to tighten up my own house some more:

  • As I mentioned, I vow to insulate my water heater.
  • Our dining room has a dimmer switch, rendering CFLs unusable. It’s the only place where we still have incandescent bulbs. And we don’t dim the lights. I will replace the switch with a standard switch so we can use CFLs here.
  • We purchased an energy-efficient pet door. But then we realized our old wood door is horribly inefficient. With the tax credits now available, we are hoping to install a new, energy-efficient entry door and put the dog door into that entryway.
  • Again, with the tax credits (10% of the cost of windows and doors), we would love to replace a very large picture window in our living room. It’s the only window that has not been updated from the original 1950 construction. Every year, we put plastic over it, but a new window would save heat in the winter and avoid burning us up with the death-ray-like light that it beams into our home in the summer.

How about you?

Do you have any ideas for home improvements? Maybe this weekend is a good time to start …