Friday, October 12, 2012

Saving money, helping others & being kind to the planet

I thought I'd give a status report on our efforts to organize, save money, upcycle & be more eco-friendly.

We haven't been able to cut money very much further, since I was already operating on a shoestring budget. However, I made a happy find with Inbox Dollars. For the last week I've been accumulating earnings. I haven't yet gotten a check from them, but I've read great reviews about them online. Granted, it won't make me a millionaire, but every little bit helps. Plus, I like that they have both manufacturer & local coupons available, and you earn $.10 for each coupon you cash in. At my weekly trip to the store, I saved  $6.50 and earned back $1.

Previously, I hadn't used coupons an awful lot. Mostly, this is because the coupon generally only brings the price down to about what the store brand normally costs. So, I would always buy the store brand and not hassle with the coupons. However,  I recently realized that, if I take the extra two minutes to print & use the coupons, I can get the products that participate in programs like Box Tops for Education. This makes me feel good, of course, because it helps my kids' schools.

In an effort to reduce costs and eliminate chemicals from our home, we use common household items for multiple purposes. Here are a few examples that I use on a regular basis:

  • Baking soda
    • You can use it with equal parts borax for the dishwasher detergent. Alternatively, I've used baking soda a couple drops of dishwashing detergent (don't use too much, though, because of the over-sudding problem).
    • Baking Soda is great as a laundry booster or as part of a homemade detergent
  • Vinegar
    • use as a rinse agent in the dishwasher
    • makes a great fabric softener! Chemical softener's are full of harmful chemicals & reduce the life of your clothes. Vinegar, on the other hand, softens naturally by rinsing all the soap & grime cleanly from the fabric.
    • Mix 1 part vinegar & 4 parts water to make a household cleaner.
  • Rubbing alcohol 
    • as a insecticide. It kills on contact & cleans up easier, without putting harmful compounds into the air.
    • gets ink stains out of fabric
    • great in cleaning glass without streaks. I add a little bit of it with the vinegar cleaner & the evaporative effect helps reduce streaking
I've also been working on re-purposing items, in order to reduce waste. I make our dog food, so any meat scraps we have usually end up in his chow. What to do with other household scraps, not to mention lawn clippings, etc...compost them, of course!

We re-purposed an inexpensive storage tote into a compost bin, that is kept in the back yard. It is amazing how quickly things breakdown if done properly. Take a look at this poster for ideas on what can be composted.

Of course, the ultimate purpose of our composting efforts is for the garden that we are planning for next year. When deciding where to put it, I realized that a surprising amount of produce can be grown in just our little backyard. I already have strawberry plants being shipped to me (found, of all places, on eBay from an organic gardener who is thinning her patch) and am looking forward to getting other things started. In the meantime, the grass that I'm removing from the garden spots are successfully being used to fill in spots in the lawn.
Instead of trying to buy a charcoal grill, we dug our own firepit. We chose to go with a dug-out variety, rather than building a fancy above ground variety, because we rent. It is far easier to refill the hole, than to tear down a structure. Besides, this method allowed us to use rocks and cement blocks that were already available on the property, without having to buy and new supplies.  The rack that you see is salvaged from an old stove & the grill lid is from an old charcoal grill. Aside from the usual hot dogs & hamburgers, the kids & I also tried our hand at grilling salmon. It turned out amazing!

Other re-purposing projects that we've been doing has been varied. Plastic soda bottles are being turned into plant waterers. Steel formula cans have become canisters for various items in the kitchen. You can get fancy in labeling (or do the chalkboard paint thing, so you can change it), but so far I've just been writing on them with a Sharpie & keeping them behind a closed cabinet door. Steel cans that used to hold canned soups & vegetables have been used as a border for our planting beds. They separate the beds from the lawn, but are also strategically placed in the drip-line of the roof, to prevent erosion. I haven't yet decided whether to decorate them or camouflage them.

I've also re-made a few miscellaneous objects that I had lying around, in order to decorate our house. An inverted wine glass, with a silk rose from an old arrangement, has become a charming candle holder for my mantle piece. Another, long-stemmed wine glass was turned into a candle holder, with a twist. I added coffee beans and a tea light. Use either a vanilla scented candle or, for a chemical free approach, a drop or two of vanilla extract and it makes the whole room smell divine!

Our re-purposing efforts have effectively reduced what we send out as trash and recycling by about half. Our major output right now is aluminum can. The tabs go to charity, but we send quite a few cans to the recycling center every week. I am currently looking for a viable way to reuse them.

If you have a suggestions on what to do with my over-abundance of aluminum cans...or other ways to save money, help others, or being kind to the planet, please let me know! I'm always open to ideas.


  1. I use baking soda and vinegar as shampoo and conditioner, and for ALL household cleaning products (except laundry and dish detergent, I'll have to try your ideas). I got red wine out of stark white yarn with dry baking soda, then a quick wash.
    Google "uses for baking soda" and "uses for vineger", if you haven't already. There are hundreds of awesome uses for them, including taking the acid out of tomato-sauce based dishes so that you don't have to add sugar.

  2. I love your BBQ pit, and I'm definitely going to use alcohol to kill the ants that invade my kitchen!