Day 20 of the January Money Diet – Connect With Your Neighbors

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Good neighbors at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: Chris Scott

“When strangers start acting like neighbors… communities are reinvigorated.” ~ Ralph Nader

One of the things I love best about our neighborhood is its community spirit, and a big part of that old-fashioned spirit comes to us in a very high-tech way:  a few years ago, we created a Google Group to stay in touch. Now, we can easily send each other messages and connect with one another. From the start, the messages generated by this group have been positive and generous. Some of the things we’ve shared include:

  • Free Halloween costumes and sports uniforms
  • Free clothes, winter coats and boots that our children have outgrown
  • Excess produce, free seeds and plants
  • Equipment that we we’re willing to share
  • Free and inexpensive furniture, electronics and other items for sale
  • Garage sale announcements
  • Inquiries and referrals for plumbers, electricians, remodelers and other contractors as well as trusted doctors and dentists
  • Security concerns, such as suspicious activity in the neighborhood
  • Coyote sightings

In a suburban neighborhood like ours where most of us have back patios instead of front porches, it’s easy to lose touch with each other – especially in the winter when we zip in and out using our automatic garage door openers. Being connected helps us save money and reduce consumption, and it fosters a sense of community that is invaluable.

Before we created our Google group, we used an old-fashioned e-mail list and our neighbor Kathy graciously agreed to keep the list updated. This option might work for you if you live in a small neighborhood. My parents have consciously reached out to their neighbors by hosting a party each New Year’s Day. I know other neighborhoods that regularly host potlucks and community dinners, and some groups have started food co-ops.

One thing I’d like to facilitate in our neighborhood is an emergency preparedness group, perhaps something like the plan outlined in 3 Steps,  a non-denomination, non-political group that was started to help neighbors plan ahead so they’re able to respond to disasters within minutes. (If your neighborhood has any kind of emergency response program, will you leave a comment below?)

Homework assignment #20: Is your neighborhood connected yet? If not, could you be the catalyst to start a movement? What step could you take to bring your neighbors together? Be sure to let us know about your efforts.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies and a signed copy of my latest cookbook 101 Things To Do With Bacon. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 15 of the January Money Diet – Explore Your Local Library

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Discover the library at Happy Simple Living blog

Snowy sculpture at Koelbel Library

Back when I was an executive with a generous salary but a scarcity of time, if I was interested in a book I simply visited the website of a particularly large online bookstore and clicked on a convenient little button that read “Buy now with 1-Click.”

Soon we had so many books we had to install custom bookshelves that covered an entire wall of the living room. When we moved a few years later, we hauled 26 cartons of books along with us. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a writer, and I love books. But one day, I was trying to squeeze another new book on the shelves and realized we had run out of space. I sat down and gazed at all the books and realized many of them were outdated, unwanted — or simply books that I had enjoyed once but was unlikely to read again.

I began giving books away, and decided to be  more selective about which volumes deserved a place in our pared-down collection. My new mantra was:  I’ll only buy books I really love, I prefer hardbacks if they’re available, and I’ll try to buy books from an independent bookstore. I also decided to pay a visit to the neighborhood library.

Today, if I’m interested in a book I simply visit my library’s website and reserve the book. My library e-mails me when the book is ready to be picked up.  I also borrow movies, CDs and current magazines from my library. This year I even downloaded several books on my e-reader. The books mysteriously disappear at the end of the lending time, but the technology is still amazing to me.

When my computer died a few years ago, I went to the library and used one of their free computers until mine was fixed. When my daughter was shopping for a used car, she borrowed Consumer Reports magazine and researched the most reliable makes and models. Our library offers a delightful kids’ library and a summer reading program that my son loves, free talks on a variety of subjects, meeting and study rooms, and regular art exhibits.

This year our library partnered with our local power company to loan out portable power meters. We were able to borrow a meter to plug into home appliances and learn how much energy we’re using. Check with your utility company or library to see if a similar lending program is in place.

Homework assignment #15: Visit your local library this week, and let us know what you discover.

The signature for Eliza Cross

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift box chock-full of home and garden goodies and a signed copy of my latest book 101 things To Do With Bacon. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 8 of the January Money Diet – Lower Your Utility Bills

In case you’ve just joined us, the January Money Diet is a challenge to take a 31-day break from nonessential spending. You can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

oil lamp at Happy Simple Living blog

Photo: DonMcCullough

Here in Denver we have just one utility company for electric and gas power, Xcel Energy. Xcel offers a budget billing service, so you can pay a set amount each month even though your power usage varies. The monthly bill is based on your actual usage for the past year, and in 2011 our monthly bill was $168. We started implementing many of the energy-saving measures below, and in 2012 Xcel dropped our monthly bill to $144. Could you lower your bills, too?

Start by trying to save water. Take a quicker shower. Hang your clothes up to dry. Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth. Research drip lines, rain barrels and xeriscape landscaping plants to save money in the garden. Ask for a low-flow showerhead for your birthday. If you don’t have a water efficient toilet, you can retrofit yours this month with materials you probably have around the house and save up to 3000 gallons a year. (Just don’t put a brick in the tank! Bricks break down over time and can damage the toilet.)

See if you can be creative and save some electricity and gas this month. Cook dinner in the slow cooker instead of the stove.  Try wearing a sweater and turning down the heat; see how that feels and adjust accordingly. Be vigilant about turning out lights when you leave the room, and unplug appliances so they don’t use power while sitting idle. (Anything with a little power light on is drawing electricity.)

If you have some CFLs or LEDs on hand, are there any old incandescent lightbulbs you can switch out? I was amazed how much our bills went down as we transitioned away from incandescent bulbs. Try eating dinner by candlelight, or light an oil lamp for light once or twice this month (my son loves it when we do this). Throw an extra blanket on the bed at night and try turning down the heater by one degree. Okay? Try another degree. How low can you go? We have down comforters on our beds, and we’ve grown to love sleeping with the heat turned way down, cozy under the covers.

Turn down your hot water heater a degree or two and see how you like it. Maybe it’s fine, maybe another degree or two down wouldn’t hurt — either way, it’s just an experiment. (The U.S. Dept. of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees F.) If you already have materials like caulking or weatherstripping on hand, go around the house on a chilly day and seal those drafty areas.

Homework Assignment #8: Get out your utility bills for the past year, and make a simple spreadsheet showing how much water, gas/heating oil and electricity you used each month during 2012. Try to beat last year’s totals each month during 2013. Let January be the month you dabble in conservation, and let us know any steps you take this month to reduce energy or water usage.

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies plus several books at the end of the month. On January 31, 2012, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 6 of the January Money Diet – Get Your First Tax Deduction of 2013

Welcome to Day 6 of the January Money Diet, a 31-day break from nonessential spending. If you’ve just joined us, you can learn more about the money diet here — and jump right in!

Free couch at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Rusty Clark

“The difference between a helping hand and an outstretched palm is a twist of the wrist.”  ~ Laurence Leamer

A friend of mine told me about a great habit she’s developed. Whenever the various charities call asking if she has any “household goods, clothing or reusable items to donate,” she always says yes. She says she can always find something to give away, and the pending pick-up deadline keeps her constantly weeding out  drawers, closets and the garage.

Coats, blankets, furniture, baby items, kids’ toys, dishes and clothes are all much-needed items that most nonprofits readily accept. Many charities have drop-off locations or regular pick-up schedules. You can also contact your church or homeless shelter to learn more about specific needs. Or try Freecycle, an site that connects people who have extra stuff with people who need things.

Homework assignment #6: Give something away, and leave a comment below letting us know what you cast off. If you itemize your taxes and donate something to a nonprofit, be sure to ask for a receipt so you can claim the deduction on your taxes. Giving stuff away helps others, reduces the landfill volume, and helps clear space.

Giving stuff away just makes me feel happy. How about you?

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Win a Deluxe Happy Simple Living Gift Basket

In honor of the January Money Diet, I’ll be giving away a gift basket chock-full of home and garden goodies at the end of the month. On January 31, 2013, I’ll draw one random name from everyone who commented during the month and that lucky person will win the gift basket. I hope you’ll stop by often this month and share your own ideas, thoughts and experiences about taking a 31-day break from nonessential spending.

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Green, Clean and Cheap Way to Enjoy Spot-Free Dishes

Spot-free dishes at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Steve A. Johnson

If you have an automatic dishwasher, chances are you have a little dispenser that you’re supposed to fill with “rinse aid” to help the dishes come out sparkling and spot-free. Rinse aid isn’t cheap, though; at our local grocery store, an 8.45 ounce bottle retails for $5.15, or about 61 cents an ounce.

Rinse aid has another little problem. Have you ever read the back of the bottle?

Rinse Aid at Happy Simple Living

Many brands of rinse aid contain chemicals that can irritate the eyes and skin. Is it just me, or does it seem counter-intuitive that we’re instructed to coat our dishes and eating utensils with potentially harmful chemicals?

You may also wonder, as I do, about rinse aid’s environmental impact. According to Grist: “Conventional rinse aid is one of the mystery products wherein manufacturers only need disclose active ingredients. We can find Material Safety Data Sheets for these products on line, which say reassuring things such as “The manufacturer’s MSDS does not state whether the ingredients are considered carcinogens or potential carcinogens.” Rumor has it that conventional rinse aids do contain phosphates, the chemical compounds that can lead to marine dead zones. ”

I tried running the dishwasher with just eco-friendly dish detergent, but the glasses came out spotty. Then someone told me you could use distilled white vinegar instead of rinse aid. So last month I experimented and filled the little dispenser with vinegar.

Vinegar rinse aid at Happy Simple Living blog

Eureka! After a dozen loads of dishes, I’m happy to report that the vinegar rinse works perfectly. The glasses are spot-free, and in case you’re wondering they don’t smell like we pulled them from a pickle barrel. In fact, I think the dishes and dishwasher actually smell fresher since we made the switch. Vinegar is natural, and we paid $1.29 for a 32-ounce bottle – or 4 cents an ounce.

If your dishwasher doesn’t have a rinse aid dispenser and you want to try this tip, just put a small glass upright in the bottom of your dishwasher rack and pour in 2 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar right before you run the dishes.

If you make the switch from a chemical rinse aid to all-natural vinegar, I’d love to hear how it works for you. Happy rinsing!

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Quick, Painless Way to Save Money and Energy When Baking

Elmira retro range on HappySimpleLiving.com

Retro range from Elmira Stove Works

I don’t know why I never thought of this before, but I read a great energy-saving idea in the book Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet by Elizabeth Rogers. When you’re cooking something in the oven, turn it off 5 to 10 minutes before your food is done. The oven will stay hot enough to keep cooking your food, and you’ll save energy. Rogers says this simple tip can save 100 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions  and $15 per year if you typically use the oven three times a week. During this toasty summer, turning the stove off early will also help your kitchen cool down faster.

How about you? Do you turn the oven off early to conserve energy? We always love to hear your energy-saving thoughts and ideas.

Stay cool,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.