Tag Archives: green living

Reduce your energy costs this fall with these tools

Photo by lollyknit

With the weather turning colder, high heating costs are on everyone’s minds, especially this year with energy costs higher than ever and the economy struggling.

The obvious frugal hacks are sweaters, socks, and low thermostat settings. Personally, I love chilly temperatures. There’s nothing cozier than snuggling under a blanket with some hot cocoa or tea bundled up in my warmest clothes. I gladly keep my thermostat at 60 degrees all year.

But keeping the thermostat low isn’t enough if your home isn’t energy efficient. How can you be sure you’re as efficient as possible when it comes to energy consumption? Here are some handy tools to help determine your energy rating.

• This fun, Halloween-themed Google energy tool shows you the frightening amount of money you could be spending on unnecessary energy expenses.

• Give yourself a home energy audit. Determine how efficient your home is, and how much you could save with upgrades.

Find out how much your appliances cost or compare the cost of regular lightbulbs to CFLs with these calculators.

• Finally, if you’re looking to make changes, the U.S. Department of Energy offers tips at their website to cut energy consumption (and costs) for everything from winter heating to fuel costs.

Now is the time to make your home more energy efficient if you want to save money all winter. Don’t wait until the temperature falls below 0 to start saving money!

Menu Plan Monday & Grocery Round up: 10/18-10/24

This week was not so great on the grocery budget. We ended up at the high side of our budget limit at $60.

We had to stock up on some monthly necessities. We’re also out of chicken stock just as soup season has begun, which means we need to roast a whole chicken this week to make some stock.

We ended up picking up two whole chickens at Costco essentially for the price of one. We’ll use one for dinner and chicken stock tonight, and freeze the other for later. Buying two drove up our costs for this week, but it was ultimately a better buy. We cook a lot of soup in the colder months. Next time we need stock, we won’t have to buy another chicken.

Another reason for our high grocery costs? We finally picked up some reusable shopping bags. They were on sale for 99 cents each, and I really liked the size and stability of these bags. I’ve been keeping an eye out for affordable, good quality reusable bags for some time now.

We’ve tried to reuse the plastic bags, but our cabinet has become overrun with them at this point. They’re too flimsy to make it through more than a couple shopping trips, and other household uses just don’t use them up quickly enough. We’re just not using them as quickly as they’re accumulating. Overall, this is better for the environment and it’ll cut down our kitchen clutter.

Here’s a picture:

Aren’t they cute? They hold an amazing amount of food. One of these cloth bags holds about as much as three or four plastic bags, which makes it much easier to juggle our groceries when we carry them inside.

Obviously, they’re capable of holding much more weight than plastic bags, too. We bought five, but really could have fit everything this week into three. It’s good to have a couple extra, though, for bigger shopping weeks.

The soft cloth handles also make it much more comfortable to carry our groceries up three flights of stairs. Those plastic bags can be so painful when they cut into your hands, and I’m always terrified they’re going to rip!

We’ve seen similar reusable bags at the other grocery store where we shop, but they have the store’s logo plastered all over them. I didn’t like the idea of becoming a walking advertisement for the store. I liked that these have a generic logo.

Obviously I highly recommend that you go out and buy yourself some bags like these. Honestly, I bought them because I wanted to cut down our clutter and plastic waste, but they ended up making it so much easier to carry our groceries. Not only that, but we feel really good about the environmental benefits of reusable bags.

They’re now tucked away in the trunk of our car so we’ll have them on hand for the next shopping trip. Yay!

And now on to our menu plan for the week:

Sunday: Oven roasted chicken and potatoes
Monday: Chicken noodle soup
Tuesday: Leftovers/sandwiches
Wednesday: Chicken quesadillas
Thursday: Spaghetti with meatless marinara
Friday: Homemade pizza

Check out OrgJunkie for more menu plans!


Growing herbs indoors?

This week Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer is backwards — bloggers post their problems and open up the comments section for solutions. I’m reposting a question that I asked last week about indoor herb gardening.

For those of you who don’t have time to read my long, sad story of herb failure, I’ll give you the short version: I want to grow my own herbs to save money, but I don’t get enough natural sunlight in my apartment or on my balcony to sustain them. Does anyone have any inexpensive tips for indoor gardening without natural light?

I’ve heard that fluorescent lights work, but I’m not sure how to set something like that up. I’m willing to invest SOME money in this if it will work long term and solve the problem, but absolutely no more than $100.

Thanks to anyone who can help me with this dilemma!

I’m an herb killer

A few people commented on my last post that we could save money on fresh herbs by growing our own. This is something that I’ve desperately wanted to do forever.

Last year, we tried to grow an herb garden from seeds. It didn’t really work, like, at all.

Then a friend gave us some beautiful pre-potted herbs that were already thriving. I put them on our porch in the best sunlight I could find and lovingly cared for them. What resulted is the saddest, most pathetic herb garden ever.

That used to be a beautiful herb garden with basil, parsley, rosemary, mint, and sage until I committed herbicide. The worst part? I so badly wanted them to grow that I continued to water those plant skeletons for weeks after they died. It was beyond morbid.

They’ve been gone for two months now, but I can’t bear to dump them because I’m convinced they’ll somehow magically come back to life. I know, I’m sick. I just can’t face the awful thing I’ve done.

I want to try to replant some seeds, but I’m afraid we just don’t have good growing conditions here. Our apartment is surrounded by enormous pine trees and very little sunlight gets through. We’re also facing north with no south-facing windows. We get no direct sunlight inside and almost none on our balcony. Even the pot of impatiens I hung from our balcony (a flower my mother swore would thrive in the shade) died.

I’m telling myself that it’s the bad growing conditions because I just can’t face the fact that I’m a plant killer.

We’re probably going to be living in this apartment for another two years. I either have to figure out a way to grow some herbs in the shade, or I have to live with paying $3 a week for fresh basil. Bummer.

I promise you, though. If I can’t make it work here, good garden space will be a top priority for me in our next home, even if it’s just a window box.

In the meantime, can anybody help me?! Any tips/suggestions for growing herbs in the shade? Should I just give up?


We can’t afford exclusively organic produce after all

Earlier this week I wrote about how we were considering buying a share in a co-op. This morning we woke up bright and early to do some research. OK, so it was actually more like 8:30, but that’s early for us on a Saturday.

First, we headed to the local farmers market. This wasn’t our first time there, but this is the first time I paid close attention to the prices for produce. I was pleasantly surprised … on some of the items.

The prices were pretty close to what we pay at the grocery store. Some of the specialty items, like jalapeno peppers, were a little more expensive (they average $1.99/pound at the grocery store, and we saw them for $2.99 at the farmers market), but for the most part the farmers market prices were the same or only slightly higher per pound than the grocery store.

We had a lovely time. The farmers market in Wilmington is set up right on the Cape Fear Riverwalk. Dogs are even welcome, which is a definite plus for us. While it was fun today, I still don’t think the farmers market is practical for us as a weekly alternative to the grocery store.

Both of our primary grocery stores are within a mile from our apartment. The farmers market is a bit of a drive to the other side of town, which means additional fuel consumption.

Not only that, but I don’t want to be limited to shopping between 8:30 and noon on Saturday mornings. It’s crowded and hectic and a little too much of an ordeal for weekly shopping. We enjoy going there occasionally and will definitely buy produce when we go, but some weeks I just don’t want grocery shopping to be a big production, you know?

I forgot my camera today, but here’s a picture of the Riverwalk. It’s pretty, but not really practical for weekly shopping trips, especially when it’s packed with people and produce stands.

Although the prices seemed similar at the farmers market, I was basing my comparison on the average prices per item at the grocery store. We can’t expect to see deeply discounted sales at the farmers market like we do at the grocery store each week. We plan our shopping lists around the sales, so overall I do think we’d pay more.

Next we headed over to the co-op to get some questions answered. I expected the co-op prices to be higher, but I wasn’t expecting them to be twice as much across the board. I got some information about ownership, and I wasn’t impressed by the list of discounted items. It’s a static list that they only update once every six months. Members receive a discount on about five items for each department. The only produce on the list was carrots, onions, apples, bananas, and pears. Even with the discount, they were still more expensive than grocery store prices.

The member appreciation days when they offer a 10% discount are only held twice a year, and the patronage refund is only issued if the co-op has a particularly profitable year. In this economy, my guess is that our chances at a patronage refund are slim to none.

It was a lovely store, and we might go back occasionally to treat ourselves to specialty items that we can’t find in the grocery store, but buying produce there just isn’t realistic for us at this point. I’m pretty disappointed because I was excited at the prospect of buying organic produce, but at this point in time an exclusively organic grocery list is a luxury we can’t afford.

We’ve got to focus on saving and paying down our debt. If we can get our finances in order now, then someday we’ll have more money to commit to the causes that we care about.

We’ve decided to make a compromise. We’ll continue to do our part for the environment in ways that won’t double our produce costs: driving as little as possible, recycling, reducing our plastic bag consumption, and buying organic produce at the grocery store when the price is right. Someday I hope we’ll be in the financial position to go completely green, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer.


Will joining a grocery co-op bust my food budget?

I love the idea of a grocery store co-op. Cooperatively owned by community members, these stores sell local produce that is organic and free of pesticides. Not only does shopping there support local growers, but it reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the emissions created by the huge semis that transport produce to grocery stores from distant locations.

I used to shop at the local co-op occasionally when I was in college, but I never became a member. The produce was fresher, tastier, and better quality overall. But it was quite a bit more expensive.

While they do sell packaged organic and specialty foods, those items are way overpriced, so we only plan to shop at the co-op for produce. But we’re trying to reduce our grocery costs, and even with the discounts, I’m afraid that we’ll pay a lot more for our produce.

I think this is a really important cause, healthy produce is important to me, and I understand that local farmers can’t compete with the prices of larger distributors. So I’m willing to pay a slightly higher price for the quality and the cause, but we can’t afford to completely bust our food budget to shop there.

The membership dues are $30 a year. That fee entitles us to the member discounts, including select items at 25% off every day. They also send additional discount coupons in the monthly newletter and periodically offer member appreciation days for a 10% discount.

We’d also have the opportunity to volunteer a few hours per month to receive additional 12% discount days, and we’d receive an annual patronage refund dependent upon how much we spend. I can’t find any hard numbers on the co-op’s website or through my research on what kind of refund we could expect, so I’m assuming it’s not much.

We’ve decided to go there this weekend, check out the prices, and ask some questions about the discounts and the patronage refund. This is something we’d like to do, but not if it’s going to drastically increase our grocery bill.

We’ve shopped at the local farmer’s market before, and I’ve considered that as an alternative. I like the produce, and I think the experience is fun overall, but I don’t think it’s practical for us on a weekly basis. It’s kind of far out of our way, so I feel like our additional fuel consumption is offsetting some of the benefits of shopping there. It also forces us to get up and dressed on Saturday mornings earlier than we’d like, and the vendors there only take cash (which I find inconvenient because I generally don’t carry cash).

In addition to the costs, I’m also concerned that we might be joining a little late in the season. We live in a warm climate with a long growing season, so we can probably expect to see local summer fruits and vegetables at the co-op for at least another month or two. But what about the fall and winter? I would hate to pay our dues now and then have to wait through the fall and winter to start buying produce there.

Do any of you shop at a co-op or belong to one? What are your thoughts?