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.

Fix a Leak Week, March 16-20

Ladies and gentlemen, grab your wrenches …

The EPA has announced “Fix a Leak Week” in mid-March. It’s the perfect time to save water by fixing those household leaks. You’ll also prevent home damage, avoid cleaning those nasty hard-water stains, and feel good about the environment — and maybe save a few pennies.

The EPA site says:

Did you know that an American home can waste, on average, 11,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks? Nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year.

Does it matter?

Yes!

When I wrote about hiring a plumber to fix a leak a couple of years ago, I noted that one leak in my laundry sink dripped out 8 gallons of water a day.

Since that time, I’ve fixed a j-bend pipe under a bathroom sink (would have been easy as pie except that it was a pedestal sink whose pedestal was in the way) and fixed a leaky toilet. Then I replaced my other bathroom sink myself. All in all, I figure I’ve saved $700 in labor — and countless drip, drip, drips.

My “fix a leak” projects

I don’t feel too bad about my current leaks, because they are fixable manually. That is to say, I hear the “drip, drip” and run in and tighten the faucets or wiggle the valve to make it stop. But the projects I’ve been postponing include:

  • Replacing a washer in the hot-water faucet in the upstairs shower.
  • Replacing a washer in the hot-water faucet in the downstairs shower.
  • Replacing the ballcock assembly in the downstairs toilet.

These should be a snap, because I’ve even already bought the parts (now if I can find them …). Famous last words.

Do you have a leak you can fix?

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 …

Natural hair is green

That picture over there? Definitely not natural.

Going natural with your hair is the green choice, for your own health and that of the planet.

As an added bonus, you won’t look like that family.

Thinking about the amount of work and hairspray required to create this image, I walked through our two bathrooms and counted our hair products. The result:

16

Our products include shampoos and conditioners, detangling spray, gels, creams, waxes, mousse and hair spray.

Surely these things aren’t necessary. We aren’t exactly a gang of fashionistas and metrosexuals.

On the other hand, my hair tends to get limp; my husband’s, fuzzy; and my daughter’s, a mass of tangles without superhuman assistance. So we have different products for different people. I have the styling products, but I also have the less fussy shampoo routine.

To green your hair routine and mine, here are some suggestions:

  • Toss what you don’t use. Do a cabinet inventory and throw out old products. It doesn’t matter if your stylist persuaded you to buy a $32 tube of gel two years ago and you can’t bear to “waste” it. If you aren’t using it, toss it. Cosmetics expire, too. And if you don’t have it staring you in the face, you might realize you don’t need it and save money and resources by not using it again.
  • Consider less plastic. I’ve switched to a shampoo bar. Not only does the packaging contain no plastic (paper wrapper), the ingredients are all natural, and it’s lasted for a long time so far. It’s eliminated the itchy scalp I was getting from regular shampoo.  My only caveat: Once I forgot to rinse it immediately, and it started to harden up a bit in my hair, so rinse quickly with this one (no forgetting while you shave your legs).
  • Consider “no poo” – going without shampoo. I guess my ego is too fragile to switch all the way to this method. Maybe on a vacation sometime? But if you are interested, Crunchy Chicken is right there with you — read her comments for an overview of opinions about whether it works.  And Melinda at One Green Generation posted detailed instructions and a picture of her beautiful shampoo-free locks.
  • Research ingredients before you buy. A great place to do this is on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database. Gird your loins first — you might be shocked. Or you might be pleasantly surprised (my mascara, for instance, is OK).
  • Consider alternatives. Fake Plastic Fish has blogged about this natural hair conditioning product (called The Name Is Product). Check the ingredients list before you buy any product.
  • Go short or long. There’s a reason hippies had long hair, which is that long hair can be low maintenance. If it doesn’t get all greasy and require twice-daily washing, and if it really looks nice brushed out or tied up, long hair can be gorgeous and green. (My inner style critic would mention here that past a certain age, most people don’t look the greatest with long hair, however, partly due to textural changes as hair goes gray.) Short hair, on the other hand, can be green too: It takes less water and shampoo to wash, requires less conditioning, and doesn’t necessarily require as much styling as other lengths.
  • Minimize electrics. Of course, any length of hair is greenest if you can let it air dry. When I got my hair cut short a year or so ago, not only did I get lots of compliments, I discovered that it looks OK when it air dries. It looks *better* if I blow dry it, but I’ve gained the option of partly blow-drying it and partly letting it dry — meaning I use the blow-dryer for just a couple of minutes. No flat irons, curling irons or hot rollers need be applied.

I truly believe this is a “different strokes for different folks” issue, and I don’t think we have to sacrifice personal appearance — but do think about what changes you can make or have made to be kinder to your bod and your surroundings, too. You might even save a few bucks in the process.

Cheap, reusable skin exfoliation

At our house, I must admit, we are fans of St. Ives apricot scrub.

However, it comes with a few problems:

1. It costs about $2.39. For one tube. Of stuff made up of apricot pits, which, you know, is technically trash. (But at least it is not plastic, like so many other exfoliating products are.)

2. It comes in a big ol’ nonrecyclable plastic tube.

3. If it’s really full of Swiss ingredients, the carbon miles aren’t exactly low.

4. We noticed, when we stopped using it, that our skin actually improved.

After stopping using the stuff, and seeing that my complexion looked a little better (fewer “blemishes,” which after all, I was wondering why I had in the first place since I am in the latter half of my 30s), I took skin care one step further and quit washing my face in the evenings.

My skin’s condition again improved, but I could feel a bit of … how do you say … thickness? Buildup? My skin wasn’t coming off like it used to, and I felt that my complexion, consequently, lacked a bit of freshness.

Enter my newfound, old-school, cheap and utterly reusable exfoliation tool:

That’s right. The washcloth.

Change the pressure of your fingers to alter the depth of the exfoliation. Rub briskly to really take off the skin, or baby your face with a gentle massage. Couple it with soap, cleanser, or good old H2O for customized care.

The cost? It varies.