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The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pickier About Plastic, Part 2: Food and Drink

In an earlier post, I talked about why plastic-bag usage should be minimized and ways to do it. Now, a plastic-reduction segment that I'm still struggling with: eating and drinking utensils. Dot is our main concern here, but even Huz and I are far from perfect when it comes to minimizing plastic for our own use.

Any parent of a baby or toddler knows that giving them a "real" plate, bowl, or glass is asking for trouble. Even when they get past the phase of intentionally dropping them and flinging them around, they can still be pretty clumsy with them. Huz has already had to glue one bowl back together that Dot got into without him noticing (see, I'm not the only "Cheaper" one around here! lol), and we've had to throw away a glass or two. Thankfully, silverware holds up much better to the abuse of young fingers, but many times little mouths are too small for regular forks and spoons to fit. And of course, kids need ways to store snacks. So, what are the options for all these?

- Disposable tableware, paper or plastic. We don't tend to use this unless we're having a large gathering, and only because it's Easier. It's certainly not Cheaper or Greener. One exception to this is drinking straws. We do have some reusable ones, but they get gunky over time and can be hard to clean.

- Reusable plastic storage and utensils. This definitely appears to be the most popular option. Many drink bottles/sippy cups and storage containers are plastic. There are some concerns as to whether or not the latter should be heated in the microwave or put in the dishwasher if they're plastic due to concerns over potential leeching of chemicals into the food, even with BPA-free plastic. And I know with Dot's plastic sippy cups, sometimes putting milk into them leaves a particular smell behind even when the cup is all clean. When she was a baby, I tended to put her food either on small plastic plates I had bought long ago or on plastic-storage lids. I was too Cheap to go out and actually buy toddler plates! This did the job fine, but I usually tried to warm up food on our regular plates and bowls. She also had plastic spoons for feeding, which were nice due to the softer edges and smaller overall size. And we have tons of plastic storage containers for both her snacks and our leftovers. She now is old enough that I feel comfortable simply letting her use Corelle plates and bowls and our regular silverware. I do give her a salad fork instead of a regular one because it's smaller. I wouldn't be too concerned about using plastic if you already have it as long as it's not exposed to extreme temperatures, there are no cuts in it, and you know it's BPA free. Some baby bottles in the past have had BPA in them, so be wary of accepting older used bottles.

- Glass. This is what I try to use for storing leftovers both in the fridge and freezer. And Huz and I are pretty good about grabbing glasses for our drinks around the house as opposed to plastic cups. With Dot, however, it's a whole other story. Now that she's 3, I've just now gotten comfortable enough with her handling abilities to let her try using a regular glass. A strategy that's worked fairly well for her is taking a neoprene soft-drink koozy (we have received several for free) and placing a small Mason jar (think 8-12 oz) or juice glass into it. It gives the glassware a bit of a cushion and also gives Dot something a bit sturdier to grab when she goes for the drink. Be warned, though, that this is not foolproof. I tried and tried and tried to break a glass one day with it in the koozy by dropping it multiple times onto both our wood deck and concrete sidewalk and didn't even chip it. Apparently Dot is more adept at finding just the right way to drop the koozied glass to make it break. Thankfully she learned from that and has been very careful since then. Another option for using glass that I'd love to try sometime is the Siliskin system:

You essentially have a regular drinking glass and put a silicone sleeve over it to help absorb the shock if the glass were dropped. Silicone sleeves can also be used on glass baby bottles if you want to use them but are worried about the shatter factor. This website is actually what gave me the inspiration to try the koozies on our existing glasses (again, trying to be Cheaper). LifeFactory sells glass baby bottles with silicone sleeves included, like this:

If I ever have another baby, I'd love to try something like this. They also sell glass drinking bottles with silicone sleeves for adult use, but the main time I use drinking bottles is when I'm at the gym, in which case I prefer to be able to use a straw so I don't have to fiddle with the bottle too much in the middle of a workout.

- Stainless steel. Stainless steel does have the advantage over glass that it's much more durable, but it's also quite expensive. You can find stainless-steel drinking bottles, cups, storage, utensils (of course), and more. I've only just started to convert some of Dot's plastic sippy cups to stainless-steel ones--because, after all, I'm not taking glass on the go with a preschooler! Here's what I've gotten so far:

Stephen Joseph Stainless Water Bottle, Ladybug Design

I balked at the $9.95 price tag, so some searching on eBay found a vendor who had the same thing on sale for...$5.50 plus shipping, I believe. Dot's ladybug cup is a different design than this one (hers is purple), but they may have redesigned it. It's definitely cute, and it does a better job of keeping water cold than plastic does, but Dot has trouble opening the sport-bottle spout, and she's not crazy about how slow the water comes out when she does try to drink. So she usually pours the water into the cap and drinks it out of there. So, yeah, she's drinking out of plastic again. But at least it's not being used for storing the water. The cap also seems to have trouble staying shut on the bottle.

What we just got in the mail yesterday as an early Christmas present:

(Eco Vessel Insulated Stainless Water Bottle with Straw Top)

Eco Vessel sells this style of bottle in both kids' and adults' sizes (about a 4-oz difference, and different patterns). I balked even more at this nearly $20 price tag, but I was able to find it for $15.25 plus free shipping on Abe's Market. I liked that it has a straw, as Dot is sometimes more willing to drink out of one than she is to just sip regularly, and that it was insulated to keep the water colder longer, which would be a must for these long, hot Southern summers. It is leak-proof when the straw is closed but leaks quite a bit if the straw is open and the bottle is being shaken upside down. So it's not recommended for children under the age of 4. (Yes, this would include Dot as well, but she seems to be handling the bottle well thus far.) It's a little heavy, so I don't fill it up all the way. She can handle opening and closing the straw herself, but she has to put some muscle behind it. Eco Vessel also has non-insulated options that are a little cheaper, as well as stainless-steel sippy cups and snack bowls for the toddler set. If Dot decides after all that she doesn't like her cup, I'm taking it! :) If she does, I'd like to get the adult-sized one for myself.

I would eventually like to replace some of our plastic storage sets with stainless-steel ones, but that takes a fair amount of money, so that'll be a very long-range plan. Another drawback to stainless steel is that obviously you can't heat food in it. So I would like some silicone storage for that option as well. Some places sell collapsible silicone lunch containers that would be a heat-safe option to conventional plastic, and they might not take up as much room.

I feel like this post has been all over the place, as I tried to cover so many bases at once. But I hope I've shown that there are other materials you can use if you need something that won't break, even though they may be more costly. Keep your eyes peeled online for Groupon-like deals where certain websites selling these goods may be offering these up for a discount.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cheaper: Homemade Leave-In Conditioner

Looking at Dot now, if you hadn't known her as a baby or had never seen a picture of her as a newborn, you would never guess that she was born with dark, straight hair. Not tons of it, but enough that I thought maybe she'd take after me in the hair-color department.
Dot, 3 days old
Nope. By 6 months old, she was bald.

By the following year, it became obvious that she was going to take after Huz and be a blondie.
Dot, 18 months old
So, ok, I thought, she's going to have straight blond hair like he does, maybe a little wave here and there.

Wrong again.

In the past year or so, and especially in the past few months, she has shown that she is taking after me in the hair department in one way--the curliness. The longer her hair gets, the more curl is invading it--just like my hair does. If it's short, it looks much straighter. On the Naturally Curly scale, I'd say I'm a 3a (big, loose curls), whereas Dot might be more of a 2b (wavy, medium-textured, prone to frizz). As her hair gets longer, it may go less wavy and more curly like mine does.

So, what's the point of all this?

I'm discovering that just shampooing Dot's hair and not putting anything else into it just isn't cutting it anymore. She needs more to accentuate those beautiful curls without her hair looking like a frizzy, out-of-control mess. But at the same time, she's 3 years old. I don't want to overdo it at this age--just want it to look cute and groomed.

My first step was to try and put conditioner on it after her shampoo and rinse it out. That definitely helped weigh down her hair enough so that it didn't look so wild, but it would still start looking unkempt by the end of the day, and especially by her next bath day 2-3 days later.

Here's what she looked like this morning before I tried anything with her hair. I last washed it Monday night.
Dot's hair before leave-in conditioner
So I looked into detanglers or leave-in conditioners that I could put into her hair on a daily basis. I didn't want to fork out gobs of money for the more natural, organic hair detanglers or leave-in conditioners, but at the same time, I didn't want to go "cheap" and deluge Dot's hair with a bunch of unhealthy chemicals. That's when I did a little Internet searching for "make your own kids' leave-in conditioner."

This recipe is what I found. Super simple and uses things I already have around the house. So this fits into all 4 of my "CHanGE" criteria: it's Cheaper than commercial organic leave-in conditioner, it's Healthier because I can control what's in there and leave out the harsh chemicals (I used Burt's Bees Grapefruit and Sugar Beet Conditioner), Greener because I'm reusing and repurposing items that I already have versus buying new ones, and Easier because I don't have to search everywhere for something Cheaper and Greener. I labeled this in the title as "Cheaper" because that was my main motivation for doing this--to save money.

Here is what Dot's hair looked like after I spritzed the homemade leave-in conditioner in her hair, turned her ends under with a round brush, parted her hair, and scrunched up her ends a bit with my hand:
Dot's hair after leave-in conditioner
(Wow, she looks like she's much older than 3 from the back here!)

As the day has gone on and the conditioner has dried, her hair has lightened back up and the curls aren't quite as pronounced, but they're holding in place much better than they were when I was just spritzing with water. I'm sure after her nap I'll have to touch it up again before we head out, but so far I'm quite pleased. Maybe I need to try this solution on my own mess of brown curls!

Cheaper: My trip to Publix today, 11/16

Total worth of groceries: $73.27
My cost out of pocket: $31.96
Percent savings: 56%

Again, largely thanks to I Heart Publix, here are the deals I found, in order from best deals to not as great.

- Publix American Singles, 16-Slice Package, $0.01
($3.19 regular price, today's Penny Item)
- Lysol Dual-Action Wipes, 35 ct, tax only
($2.89 regular price, will submit for mail-in rebate to make cost free + tax)
- Mueller's 100% Whole Grain Spaghetti, 2 13.25 oz packages, $1.02
($1.57 each regular price, BOGO, one $0.55/1 coupon--couldn't find my other one for some reason)
- Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables, 2 bags, $0.99
($1.99 each regular price, on sale 50% off, $0.50/2 coupon that doubled)
- Welch's Grape Juice, 64 oz bottle, $0.96
($3.91 regular price, BOGO, $1 coupon)
- Pam Cooking Spray, 3 Containers, $3.09
($3.19 regular price, BOGO, 2 $0.50 coupons and 1 $0.35 coupon that all doubled)
- Sargento Shredded Cheese, 2 8-oz packages, $2.89
($3.99 each regular price, BOGO, 2 $0.55 coupons)
- Publix Baby Carrots, 2 16-oz packages, $1.19
($1.69 each regular price, BOGO, had Kroger store coupon for $0.50/2)
- O-Cel-O Sponges, 2 4-count packages, $1.99
($1.99 each regular price, BOGO)
- Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, 64 oz Bottle, $1.58
($3.15 regular price, BOGO)
- Wish-Bone Ranch Salad Dressing, $1.45
($2.89 regular price, BOGO)
- Philadelphia Reduced-Fat Cream Cheese, 8 oz Block, $1.25
($2.39 regular price, on sale, couldn't find the Target coupon to make this cheaper)
- Publix String Cheese, 12 count, $3.50
($4.39 regular price, on sale)
- Red Seedless Grapes, 1.92 lbs @ $1.69/lb = $3.24
($4.77 regular price for this same batch)
- Newspaper, $0.75
(Bought this so I could get the Penny-Item coupon. Some Publix stores don't need the coupon, but my store is starting to enforce the "need coupon" rule. I got lucky last week because my next-door neighbors were out of town for a few days and asked me to pick up their paper--in other words, free coupon!)
- Publix 2% Milk, Half-Gallon, $2.09
- Publix Apple Cider Vinegar, 64 oz bottle, $2.59
- Boar's Head Lower Sodium Ham, 1/2 lb, $5.03

(Plus another $3 off $30 or more coupon)

There were some great deals at Publix today; this is the most "BOGO" shopping I've done in a while. Stocked up on Pam as I can't ever seem to match up sales and coupons with that at the same time. Got 3 today for less than the normal price of one! And I just ran out of sponges last night, so the O-Cel-O sale was great timing. :)

What were some of your best deals at Publix this week?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

(Not) Healthier: Aspartame Renamed

Thanks to a friend of mine on Facebook for posting the link to this:

Aspartame has been Renamed and is Now Being Marketed as a Natural Sweetener

Artificial sweeteners especially aspartame has gotten a bad rap over the years, most likely due to studies showing they cause cancer. But not to worry Ajinomoto the company that makes Aspartame has changed the name to AminoSweet. It has the same toxic ingredients but a nice new sounding name. . . .

Despite the evidence gained over the years showing that aspartame is a dangerous toxin, it has remained on the global market. In continues to gain approval for use in new types of food despite evidence showing that it causes neurological brain damage, cancerous tumors, and endocrine disruption, among other things.


Aspartame is the "sweetening" agent in a lot of reduced-calorie and sugar-free foods and drinks. Diet drinks, light yogurt, sugar-free gelatin, etc. Be wary of foods with these labels. They sound like they're healthier but they're not. You're better off sticking with truly natural sweeteners like real sugar and honey and just use them in moderation.

Be careful out there--just like "a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet," garbage with a different name is still garbage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pickier About Plastic, Part 1: Bag It Up!

In a previous post, I had mentioned that I would talk about alternatives to plastic use in a future post. The more I've dwelled on this topic in my mind, the more I realize two things:

1) I can't do this all in one post, and
2) I'll be honest, I don't have all the answers on this one as I still struggle to reduce my plastic use.

So I'm going to break this subject down into multiple parts. This one is going to discuss alternatives to plastic bags--both the kind used for hauling items home from a store and the kind used around the house and for meals on the go.

First of all, why make this change?

(From About.com)

What’s So Bad About Plastic Bags?

Plastic bags are not biodegradable. They clog waterways, spoil the landscape, and end up in landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.

Plastic bags also pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Thousands die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags.

Finally, producing plastic bags requires millions of gallons of petroleum that could be used for transportation or heating.


So switching from plastic bags to other types not only benefits the environment, it can also save money as overall petroleum demand would decrease, thus potentially making the cost of it go down--which could mean cheaper prices at the pump down the road? Or, at least, the prices wouldn't keep going up like they have been. So, there you go--Greener and Cheaper.

I'm not going to make the absolute claim that plastic bags never come through the doors to my house. They do, when I can't really help it or I don't have a viable alternative in my possession. That being said, here is what I have been able to do thus far:

- Use cloth shopping bags.
Yes, there are multitudes of stores, both online and brick-and-mortar, that sell reusable cloth bags. Some are less than a dollar each for something simple, others are designer and really cost more than a bag for hauling "stuff" should. Let me let you in on a little secret--I have never, ever paid for a cloth bag. No, I haven't been shoplifting them. I've won them as door prizes. I've gotten them from meetings and conferences back when I worked outside the home. I've had random people just give them to me because they don't need them. Do they match? Heck no. Are they stylish? For the most part...no, not really. Do they do the job? Yep. You don't have to go organic on the cloth to make an impact. Just the fact that you're reusing the bag and eschewing the plastic alternatives makes a difference. Just wash them periodically, especially if you use them to bring home raw meat from the store. I do occasionally forget to bring a bag into a store where I just need an item or two (and this is with them being kept in the trunk of my car!). In that case, I just say, "I don't need a bag" and carry the item(s) out in my hands. I know that Target will discount your purchase by 5 cents for each cloth bag used. Kroger used to have a 4-cent program, but they discontinued it. Boo.

- Find other uses for the plastic bags you do acquire.
As for produce? Okay, guilty as charged, I still use plastic bags. I'm still trying to justify spending money on a set of Flip and Tumble Reusable Produce Bags:

But I do reuse the bags for dog waste when I take my Yorkie out on a walk. I know that there are biodegradable alternatives in that realm, but the Cheaper side of me can't fork out the money for those when I have bags in my pantry that will do the trick, even if they aren't as environmentally friendly.

The plastic bags don't just end with hauling home groceries and bagging up produce at the store, I know. Bread comes in it. Potatoes. Toilet paper. Paper towels. You name it. It all goes in my "dog waste baggie" pile. When I get sick of my pile and know that I have far more bags than I'm going to have dog poop, I take them to my local grocery store and recycle them.

- Invest in reusable snack and sandwich bags.
I say "invest" because yes, this isn't Cheaper at first by any means. But if you use the bags enough (and not lose one in a subway station less than a year after getting it like I just did), you will recoup your investment when you don't have to buy as many sealable plastic bags. And it's definitely Greener as you're avoiding the hazards listed above in the About.com excerpt.

At first, I went the slightly less-expensive route and purchased a snack and sandwich bag set with a Velcro closure made by a WAHM (work-at-home mom). The inner lining was completely attached to the outer lining, which meant that getting it completely clean in the washer was a challenge. I had to turn the bag inside out to wash it and seal up the Velcro so it wouldn't stick to anything else, so the outside of the bag might not be as clean. And it took longer to dry while hanging up because I couldn't separate the interior and exterior. Plus, Huz complained that the bread on his sandwich that I put in the sandwich bag the night before he had to go to work was stale by the time he was ready to eat it. So I could only pack the lunch the morning of. Considering he leaves for work at 5:45 am--nope, not happening here. So I set out looking for a better bag.

Here's what I found:
Celeste Blake Designs snack bag
Celeste Blake Designs on Etsy sells a very nice bag that takes care of all the negatives that I encountered with the other type of bag. Zipper closure keeps food fresher longer; in fact, I had Cheerios in there for nearly a week without them going stale! The inner lining is only attached to the exterior at the top of the bag, so I can pull the lining out and machine-wash both the inner and outer parts at once, and they hang-dry quickly. I love these bags! We have both the snack and sandwich bags in this dinosaur pattern as it is the one Dot chose, and she has them both in her lunch the 2 days per week she's at preschool. They totally don't match her pink-and-purple lunch bag, but who cares? She sure doesn't!

- Find other substitutes for zipper-style plastic bags.
I'm still experimenting with this one, but here are a few suggestions:

* Divide bulk meat and freeze it in glass jars and dishes instead of freezer bags.
* Once it's empty, reuse the bag in a cereal box for crushing crackers. Be sure to clip the end closed!
* When coating meat before cooking, use a bowl instead of a plastic bag for your marinade or dredging.

- Wash and reuse zipper-style plastic bags if possible.
Many times, we just can't help using these plastic bags, or we acquire them from someone else. If they're not dirty, reuse them, washing them out first if needed. I wouldn't reuse ones that had raw meat in them, though. Sometimes I use them to store some of Dot's toys that are a set and have a bunch of little pieces. I like that I can see through them and tell at a glance what is inside them. Reusing them is definitely Cheaper, Greener, and Easier as you don't have to go out and buy more as often.

Next up? Well...let me dwell on that a little further and I'll see what other methods I've used for reducing plastic use. Perhaps a segment on eating and drinking utensils.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Greener: Giveaway over at Muddy Mamas

Looking for a Cheaper, Healthier (as in, fewer chemicals), and Greener solution to disposable baby wipes? Muddy Mamas is giving away 5 super-cute handmade cloth wipes. Check that blog for entry details. I was glad when we made the switch to cloth wipes in the diapering stage, and even now, I love the feel of them better than I do disposable ones. I've never used these specific ones, but a flannel/terry-cloth combo sounds like a good deal.

If you choose to enter, good luck!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cheaper: My trip to Publix today

Total worth of groceries: $41.31
My cost out of pocket: $17.45
Percent savings: 58%

Publix is one of those grocery stores where you can score some really, really good deals on items due to their Buy One Get One sales as well as their relatively inclusive coupon policy, such as accepting competitor's coupons (Kroger and Target in the case of the Publix closest to my house). If you shop correctly, it's much cheaper to go there than it is to a place like Wal-Mart. A lot of people can save even more than I can, but keep in mind that 1) I'm trying to avoid a fair deal of processed food and get Healthier options, and 2) right now, I'm only shopping pretty much for myself and Dot as Huz is overseas, so I don't need to stock up on a ton of things.

Here is the breakdown of what I bought, ranging from best deals to not as great:

- Idahoan Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Garlic, 4 oz package, FREE
($1.33 regular price, on sale BOGO, coupon for a free package thanks to a Kroger Catalina)
- Publix jumbo meat franks, $0.01
($2.49 regular price, today's Penny Item)
- New York Lite Texas Toast, 2 boxes, $0.60
($2.39 each regular price, 50% off sale, $0.50 and $0.40 coupons that both doubled)
- Smart Balance milk, 2 half-gallons, $2.00
($3.99 each regular price, on sale for $2.50 each, 2 $1.50 coupons)
- Publix Bran Flakes, 2 boxes, $1.42
($1.71 each regular price, 2 $1.00 coupons for any Publix cereal)
- Cool Mint Listerine, 2 1-liter bottles, $5.98
($4.87 each regular price, on sale for $3.99 each, 2 $0.50 coupons that doubled. Both also came with free samples of Listerine Total Care Whitening Mouthwash)
- Publix Classic Salad, $1.59
($1.99 regular price, $0.40 Kroger coupon for any store-brand salad)
- Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, 6.6 oz bag, $1.67
($2.39 regular price, on sale)
- Publix Canned Pumpkin, $1.79
- Publix Great Northern Beans, 2 lbs, $3.49 (Not a good price, by the way; these are much cheaper at Kroger. See below for explanation as to why I bought them here.)

I also had an overall $3 off $30 or more purchase Publix coupon that I printed from their Facebook page. This is actually a letdown because I've been getting $5 off $30 coupons in the mail just about every week. Oh well, better than nothing.

I brought in 4 cloth bags full of groceries from my car. For $17.45.

I have to give credit where credit is due, though. Every Monday, I check I Heart Publix to see what the next week's deals (running from Wednesday - Tuesday) and coupon matchups will be, then use the listing and my coupons to compile my list. I also have them linked in the right-hand margin. And yeah, I do get a few non-sale items as well if I have one of those "discount off total order" coupons and am struggling to reach that $30 mark (things I need, don't worry). That's why I got the canned pumpkin and bag of beans there today, and got 2 boxes of cereal when I really only needed one.

Give it a shot--you might be surprised how much you can save!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Healthier? Homemade Crescent Dogs

I know I said in my last post I'd talk about plastic next time, but I wanted to put a little blurb in here about my attempt today to make healthier crescent rolls to use for crescent dogs. Dot keeps seeing a commercial on TV for them (well, for the cans of crescent rolls), and she asks for them, so I figured I'd give it a shot, but going the homemade route.

First, the obvious question--why did I want to make them myself and not just rely on the can of Pillsbury Crescents or their generic equivalent? One look at the ingredient list should give the answer to that.

(From LiveStrong)
"Pillsbury Crescent Rolls contain enriched flour bleached, water, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, sugar, baking powder, and 2 percent or less of dextrose, vital wheat gluten, salt, datem, potassium chloride, xanthan gum, yellow 5, red 40 and other color additives. Partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oil is trans fat, a type of fat associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease."

In addition to the trans fat in the ingredients, they also contain bleached flour (meaning more heavily processed) and artificial colors. I wanted to get away from those nutritional no-nos, so I looked for a recipe for "homemade crescent rolls." Googling this term yields lots of results, but I ended up using this recipe. Due to our small family size, though, I halved the recipe, and I also used whole-wheat flour. I still ended up with 16 rolls, though! I only buttered the outside of them versus the inside as well as indicated on the recipe.

I then used this recipe to actually construct the crescent dogs, of course substituting the can of rolls for my own homemade batch. I also cut back on the amount of cheese I put into each hot dog, and I only did it on half of them. Good thing, because Dot said at supper time that she wanted one without cheese.

I ended up with 16 whole-wheat crescent dogs--8 with cheese, 8 without.

How did they turn out?

Well, I don't know if I slightly overcooked them, or if I should have put in at least some enriched unbleached flour in lieu of using whole-wheat entirely, but the crescent part was pretty bland and a little tough. It still tasted OK, I guess, and even as picky as Dot can be, she ate all of the hot dog and most of the crescent roll. (She thought it was cute that it was a "pig in a blanket" and kept referring to it as a "baby.") Next time I will try those slight changes to see if it tastes any better, but overall, I'm glad I tried this Healthier substitution.

I really don't know if it's Cheaper as I did have to buy yeast and butter (REAL butter, not margarine; it's more fattening and expensive but has fewer weird additives), so I'd have to sit down and do quite a bit of figuring to decide this. I had a coupon that doubled for the yeast, and the butter was on sale, but still... Given the sales for crescent rolls these days, I'd imagine the cans are Cheaper than the homemade route. And the cans sure are Easier. I was working on these homemade rolls for hours! Thankfully Dot had school today, so at least I got some other housework done while she was there and worked on the rolls during her nap at home.

As for the hot dogs? OK, I cheated there and went for Cheaper over Healthier. Hey, I got 2 packages of Bar-S Franks for $1 at Kroger today after the sale and a Facebook coupon! That's why I put a question mark next to "Healthier" in the title. Maybe I'll try more kosher franks one of these days.

If you have some extra time on your hands (as I know all wives and moms do, right? lol), this might be a recipe to try. The end result was preschooler-approved, a rating that can be hard to come by.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greener: Alternatives to Household Paper Goods

Paper towels. Paper napkins. Toilet paper. Tissues. Baby wipes. Disinfecting wipes. Coffee filters.

That's a lot of paper that we're not even writing on! As a result, there are a lot of trees needing to be cut down. Thankfully, there are Greener alternatives that are largely Cheaper and, in some cases, Healthier and Easier to help reduce the need for tree usage. Here are some of the ones I've used.

Paper Towels: For small spills, use dish towels. Just ones you already have around the house. If you don't have enough, you can always buy some for pretty cheap. I don't have any made out of organic material or anything; just the fact that they're reusable makes them Greener. You can also buy unpaper towels at various online stores, some of which even snap together to roll out like paper towels do. I haven't used these, so I can't vouch for their Easier factor. For catching grease, I've started using paper sacks that I've gotten while out shopping. If they're too big, I either cut or tear them to make them the right size. For really large messes (which happen often enough with a preschooler around the house), it depends on what the mess is. If it's just spilled water, I just grab a lot of towels, perhaps bath ones instead. If it's something really icky...then, ok, admittedly, I still grab for paper towels. But these other substitutions do cut waaaay back on usage. I've had the same roll of paper towels on my holder for a couple of months now.

Paper Napkins: I only use paper napkins if I need them for a function elsewhere or if I'm entertaining more people than I have cloth napkins. If you shop sales right and have coupons, you can actually get cloth napkins very cheap. I found 4 July 4th-themed cloth napkins at Kohl's this summer (right before the 4th) and paid less than $1 TOTAL. For all 4. 53 cents, if I recall correctly. They were 50% off, and I had a coupon on top of that. They have easily paid for themselves since then, making them way Cheaper than paper. Who cares that my dining room is perpetually adorned in stars and stripes? :) Once I find another good deal and coupon, I may add to my small pile.

CAUTION: Next item gets a little personal.

Toilet Paper: Wait, you might be thinking, there's an alternative to toilet paper? Yes, to an extent. I have cut most of Dot's baby washcloths in half and stuck them in an old wipes tub, and now I use them for wiping after #1. (She still has washcloths of her own, don't worry.) It's called "family cloth."

You can buy items online marked specifically as family cloth, and I believe one place even offers it snapped together on a roll much like unpaper towels, only they're meant to fit on your toilet-paper holder. But to be Cheaper, and because it was Easier, I used what we already had. I discard them in a small stainless-steel trash can with lid that we had left over from Dot's days in diapers, lined with a wetbag. I wash the contents of the wetbag every 3-5 days, which is about as long as my supply lasts.
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(Simple Human 4.5 Liter Mini-Round Step Can, lined with a medium wetbag--can't remember what kind. I also have a Wet Happened? wetbag.)

So that I'm not wasting water and energy, I wash and dry them with whatever other dirty towels we have. I do still use toilet paper to cover...um, other activities on the toilet, if you get my drift. I do have my limits! And if the dog has a poop accident in the house, I do still grab TP to clean it up. I haven't taught Dot yet this technique as I want her to get the hang of using TP because she'll use it other places.

Tissues: When we're at home, we wipe our noses on old washcloths that have just been sitting around unused. If there's a nosebleed (fairly common with Dot), we use washcloths if the bleeding isn't severe, tissues if it is. Tissues are usually reserved for when we're out and about. Washcloths get washed with family cloth (pretreated if bloody, of course).

Baby Wipes: Disposable ones are only used away from home, and then used sparingly to wipe her face and hands as needed. Around the house, I used to use disposable wipes on Dot up until around her 2nd birthday, at which point I switched to cloth ones (Thirsties Fab Wipes if you're curious). Now we just use these as her bath time washcloths since I've cut up all her other ones! :) If we have another baby, I would like to build a bigger stash of these, as they are so soft. All you really need to clean a baby's bottom is a wet washcloth or two (or three, sometimes). Buying cloth wipes like these isn't really necessary; cheap baby washcloths would do the trick as well. So once you get past the initial investment, these would pay for themselves and then become a Cheaper alternative. We used to wash them with cloth diapers; now that Dot is potty-trained, they get washed with other towels. These are Healthier in the sense that you know exactly what is in the washcloth, as opposed to guessing what chemicals are used.

Disinfecting Wipes: I do still sometimes use these for quick disinfecting jobs around the house. Used some tonight to clean my cell phone and case, in fact, as well as phones and remotes. For more detailed cleaning jobs, though, vinegar and water on an old rag does the trick. Definitely Cheaper, and Healthier in the respect that you don't have to wonder with what chemicals you're cleaning. I've seen Green Works wipes but have not closely examined them to see how much Greener they are than conventional wipes. This method is Easier in the respect that most people already have vinegar, water, and old rags. If you have an unused spray bottle, then you're set and don't have to buy anything else special.

Coffee Filters: I haven't actually tried using this yet as I'm not a coffee or tea drinker, but I bought a Mr. Natural's Coffee Filter a few months back. It's a washable, reusable filter made of hemp. It would take a while for it to pay for itself, but use it often enough, and it will. Once Huz uses it (he's been gone for several months), I will post a follow-up.

Following these tips will reduce your expenses on paper goods, your exposure to unknown chemicals, and your amount of garbage being sent to a landfill.

Hopefully next up, I'll propose some alternatives to household plastics.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dry Beans vs. Canned Beans


I can thank Huz for introducing me to this change back in our early married years.

I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a grand connoisseur of beans. But when I do eat them, I used to be more prone to reaching for a can. For green beans, I admittedly still do (although I do try to grab the "no salt added" variety as much as possible). When Huz asked me to cook them from dry, raw beans, I had no idea what to do. Thankfully the instructions on the bag of beans clarified things. Now we can hardly imagine eating them from a can. They're not really that hard to cook, we just have to think ahead and have them soaking for a good part of the day before prepping them. No frills, just beans and water. I usually don't add salt. Amazingly, Dot loves most kinds of beans as long as they're not spicy.

I did some quick research to compare dry beans to canned ones. Here are some of my findings.

Cheaper: Wal-Mart has Bush's Canned Great Northern Beans listed for $0.92 for a 15.8-ounce can. That sounds fairly cheap, but keep in mind that the price is for the combined weight of the cooked beans and water. Apparently, according to some measurements I've found online, that's only about the equivalent of about 5 ounces of dry beans. If I recall correctly, I can buy a whole pound of dry Northern beans for about the same price, maybe a little more. If I cooked the whole bag, that would be nearly 3 pounds of beans. So the Cheaper winner is the dry beans, hands down, even if the beans are organic and thus more costly.

Healthier: I researched both the ingredients list and nutrition information for each. Of course, the dry beans just have one ingredient: beans. The canned beans also have water and salt. Pretty innocent, except that they have a LOT of salt. A half-cup of canned beans has 20% of your daily sodium intake. If you omit the salt when cooking the dry beans, it's just a fraction of a percent. Other numbers were comparable, but the dry beans appear to have more iron in them. If you're worried about heart health, definitely skip the canned beans. If there were a "low-sodium" option, the canned ones might be all right, except for the fact that cans are reported to be lined with BPA--but that's a topic for another post.

Greener: Not really a major part of my analysis, but the dry beans would be Greener to an extent. Buying the bags of beans from a regular grocery store means that you have a plastic bag to discard. I sometimes reuse them for dog waste pickup, but yeah, it ultimately ends up in the garbage. At least cans can be recycled. The ultimate Greener solution would be to get them from the bulk bin at a place like Whole Foods (which I don't frequent due to the distance from my house) and put them in a glass jar.

Easier: Canned beans definitely win here. Much more convenient--just dump in a pot and heat. For me, though, the Cheaper component beats out the Easier one as I'm home during the day, and it's not a big deal for me to start soaking the beans in the morning. We even did this when we were both working--just put them on the stove to soak in the wee hours of the morning, then started cooking them when the first one of us got home.

Overall winner: Cooked dry beans

Any good bean recipes out there?

Cheaper: Saving Money on Gas via The Gift Card Trick

For those of you wondering why I'm not labeling this as "Greener," you'll see below.

As we all know, the price to fuel up your car has increased dramatically in the past few years. I long for my college days in the late 1990s when I could fuel up for less than $1 per gallon, and my tank would be full for less than $20. Since it doesn't look like those days are returning any time soon, we need to be looking for ways to pinch those pennies on fuel consumption.

Besides the normal strategies for increasing gas mileage and reducing costs (combining trips, cutting down on long-distance trips, accelerating and braking more gently, inflating tires to the correct air pressure, rolling up the windows after reaching 40 mph, buying a more fuel-efficient car), here is a trick I've started using recently.

At Kroger, you can purchase a multitude of gift cards, and most of them will give you at least double points on your Kroger Plus card for every dollar you spend. They occasionally even run specials where you get quadruple points! You can use these points at either Kroger Fuel or Shell to get money discounted per gallon--10 cents per $100 spent at Kroger that month, up to $1000. Huz finds Shell to be superior in quality to "discounted" brands, so we buy all of our gas at Shell. Even though they are sometimes more expensive, these discounts typically more than make up for the difference.

What I do:

- Buy a $50 Shell gift card. I automatically get 100 points for doing this on top of whatever I spend at Kroger. I buy other gift cards as I know I'll need them that week. I recently knew I was going to JCPenney in the following day or so, so I also picked up a $25 JCPenney gift card, which gave me 50 points. During quadruple-point time, these would be worth 200 and 100 points, respectively.

- The next time I need a full tank of gas, I use the gift card and my reward points to pay for my gas. I save a minimum of 10 cents per gallon, more if I've bought a lot of groceries and/or gift cards at Kroger that week. One time, I saved 40 cents per gallon! Even at a savings of 10 cents per gallon, that translates to savings of $1.00 - $1.10 per fill-up for me as I usually need 10-11 gallons for a fill-up.

- A $50 gift card is more than I need to fill up my tank as I drive a Toyota Matrix (usually $30-35 will do it), so I save the rest of the gift card for my next trip to the gas station. If I don't have any more gas points at that point, that's ok, I'm not getting a lot of gas, anyway. I save my gas points for when I need a fill-up, not just a couple of gallons.

You can tweak this plan to work for you. If you have a subcompact car, you might be able to get away with a $25 Shell gift card. If you drive a large SUV, might want to invest in a $100 Shell gift card. I think Jay-C stores also have this plan; I don't know who else does.

As a disclaimer, I don't think buying Kroger gift cards will get you the extra points; it's just 1 point per dollar spent on them, so it's not really worth it. You might as well just buy the groceries and get the points. If someone knows differently, please let me know.

This is a great tip to keep in mind as we get closer to Christmas if gift cards are on your family's and friends' lists! And even if they want a tangible gift, you can buy the gift card for the particular store at Kroger and use that to do your shopping. See the list of available gift cards at Kroger. The list is quite extensive--restaurants, clothing stores, music, electronics, and more!

You'll still get gas points if you just buy groceries and don't buy the gift cards, but the points accrue much faster if you do.

This could be a Greener option in the sense that you're not driving from store to store to get different gift cards. And if you're disposing of the gift cards in a way that they can be recycled, or you're recharging them, then it is relatively Green. However, some Green points might be lost if you're throwing away the cards after you're done with them, making a separate trip to Kroger to get the gift cards apart from your regular grocery-shopping, or driving a long distance to get to a Kroger. In my case, the nearest Kroger is directly on the way to the nearest Shell.

What This Blog Is...and Isn't

First of all, let me clarify what this blog isn't:

- Condemning. I don't want to come across on this blog as having an "I'm better than you are" attitude. Just because I've made these decisions and changes in my life does not mean that I look down on those who have a different lifestyle or opinion of such decisions. I'm simply sharing what has worked and what hasn't in hopes that it will help those out there who might be contemplating such changes themselves. By the same token, I would appreciate people not being condemning towards me because I've either made a certain change, or perhaps because I haven't changed enough. For example, despite evidence of it being cheaper, healthier, and greener, I'm probably not going to become a vegetarian. If you want to be one, wonderful, I won't berate you for not eating meat or animal by-products. But I don't want to hear about how horrible my carnivorous ways are, either. I do accept constructive feedback, however.

- Know-it-all. Let's face it, I don't know it all. Nor will I ever know it all. That's one reason why I started this blog. I might occasionally want feedback from others on how I can (better) make a certain change, or why something hasn't worked for me. I'm going to try to post links to reputable sources as much as possible to explain why I've made a certain change, especially if it explains my mindset better than I can.

- All-or-nothing. I'm not going to pretend that all of my changes are complete or permanent. For example, just because I try to buy organic granola bars doesn't mean that I didn't just stuff 2 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in my mouth! Not together, of course (like that makes it so much better). And while I did primarily use cloth diapers on my daughter when she was a baby, she did occasionally wear disposables during a period of diarrhea or travel.

So, now what this blog is...best way to do that is to tap my high-school roots in journalism and answer the 5 Ws:

Who: As in, who am I? Just call me "Kam." I'm a thirty-something wife who's been married to my husband, "Huz," since 2003 and stay-at-home mom to my daughter, "Dot," since her birth in the spring of 2008. I will use these terms throughout my blog to refer to them and would prefer to keep their identities private. So if you know us in real life, just play along. :)

What: Well, um, this blog. I'm going to explain various ways in which I've adjusted or tried to adjust my life for the Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier.

When: As in, how often? Hmm, good question. I already maintain a blog that details Dot's life, and my posting there is touch-and-go. I don't see why this blog would be any different. I might go through a period where I post multiple times a week, then I might be quiet for several weeks. As I do have a life away from the computer, I can't give a set timetable for when and how often I'll post. I'm going to aim for at least once a week, but don't hold me to that.

Where: As in, where do I live? The South.

Why: This is really a 2-part question. First of all, why the changes? I'd say the key turning point for me was having Dot 3.5 years ago. I was kind of a cheapskate and somewhat aware of environmental impacts before she was born. I'd use coupons, recycle my white paper at work, try to work out and not overdo the junk food, etc. After she was born, though, I started to become a bit paranoid about a few things.

- On the Cheaper front: since I quit my job to raise Dot, I knew we'd have to cut corners quite a bit more because we were essentially losing a third of our monthly income. Having me continue to work and put her in day care just didn't make financial sense, so I looked for ways to live on what we have. Our only debts are our mortgage and a car hauler (part of Huz's hobby), which are both slated to be paid off within the next couple of months.

- On the Healthier front: this isn't just about trying to eat right and stay active. It's about the chemicals all around us--in our food, in the storage of our food, in cleaning supplies, in personal hygiene supplies, etc. Part of this mentality is why I breastfed Dot and put her primarily in cloth diapers (more on these later), because I didn't want her exposed to any more chemicals than what she had to be. My concern has expanded past her bottom and insides to the rest of our household.

- On the Greener front: reading as much as I have about cloth vs. disposable made me realize how many diapers we were saving from the landfill. Then I realized that we were still putting quite a bit of garbage in them. What other habits could we change to reduce this impact? Some of this ties into the Healthier component, as I search for less chemical-laden and wasteful ways to maintain our household--using a vinegar-water mixture in a reused spray bottle and old rags instead of commercial cleaners and paper towels to clean, for example. I will put a disclaimer here--sometimes it's hard to reconcile being Cheap and Green at the same time, as many "green" products can be quite expensive. That's where my next component comes in.

- On the Easier front: what could I use for multiple tasks? What could I make myself? I've found lots of uses for vinegar, for instance. I seek to streamline a lot of what I have, cleaning products in particular. Maybe this should be "Simpler" instead of "Easier," but I needed an E for my acronym. :)

So the second part of the "Why?" question--why blog about it? Mainly because I love to write and always need to have some sort of creative outlet. I've maintained various blogs for about 10 years, most of which have since been retired. Plus I remember things better if I write them down or type them out. Therefore, this blog is as much for my own personal reference as it is to help others out there.

There you have it. I hope to actually start showing some of my findings soon.

Another Test

Just seeing if this shows up on Google Reader, Facebook, and Twitter...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Howdy!

Just a test to see how a post will look. I'll come back to this later.