Green Your Summer: Use The Clothesline

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  There’s berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the second article in the series.

Growing up, there was almost always clothing, towels or something out on the clothesline during the summer.  I used to go swimming a lot, and there was always a need for a dry towel (or two) and using the dryer would have cost quite a bit.  Also, if I remember correctly, we had a relatively old and probably inefficient dryer until I was a teenager.  Obviously, using this dryer was not all that great for saving energy, saving money or trying to be green (even though I didn’t really  know/care about that stuff when I was 10).

When I started living on my own in college, my first house had clothesline poles, but no ropes/lines connecting them to hang clothes on, so my roommates and I went to pick up a pack of clothesline – if I remember right, it cost about 3 bucks.  This, unfortunately wasn’t enough to get us to use the clothesline regularly, though it did get used for the occasional towel and a few loads of laundry here and there.  While I’m not positive, I think we recovered our paltry investment just the same.

Forced into a new habit

What really got us to start using it was the time our dryer broke.  Because we were a bunch of guys in college, the dryer broke and while we all knew about it, none of us really cared – we would just wear whatever clean (and clean-ish) clothing until we could figure out a way to solve the problem.  Luckily for us, this happened in late march or early april, so I decided that we should go get some rope for the clothesline.  We could still wash our laundry because the washer worked, and it was warm enough that our clothing would dry in a reasonable amount of time.

Once we started this, it really showed up on the electric bill – our energy use went way down because we got rid of our dryer, which was very old and inefficient.  Being forced to this change slowed our energy use greatly during the summer and saved us quite a bit of money over the 5 or so months that we were able to use the clothesline.   Eventually, we got a new dryer, but it didn’t get that much love when it was sunny out.

Even if you don’t have clothesline posts hung up or a hole dug that you can put your clothesline in, there are a few ways you can get around this on the cheap:

  • Use the fence:  Currently at my house, there’s no clothesline poles or a hole for one (which I find odd given that the house is over 100 years old).  What I did was tied the clothesline to the fence posts.  If you do this, make sure that you add some reinforcement (more screws) to the post – the clothes tend to get heavy and pull on the post a bit
  • Use a Pail:  You can always go to your local hardware store and pick up a pail and a section of pvc pipe.  You’ll probably need something at least 1″ in diameter, and at least as long as the bucket.  Grab a bag or 2 of quick dry cement, and set it up.  Put the post into the bucket, fill with your premixed cement, and buy one of the 1 hole clotheslines that look like a spider web.

Also, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your clothesline.

  • Find solid clothespins – This is probably the most important.  They may cost a bit more than the other ones, but those other ones suck.  They break apart at inopportune times and generally don’t last as long.  Stay away from the made in china clothespins
  • Hang towels/sheets up by draping a small part over the edge of the line and pin it up – this will expose more surface area and help them dry faster.
  • Hang your shirts upside down – if you hang them by the shoulders,   there will be a little “mountain” where the clothespin was holding on to it when it was on the line.  It looks weird – trust me.
  • Hang clothes in the shade – the sun will fade the clothing dye.
  • Look at the pollen count – If someone in your home has allergies, then there could be a lot of pollen getting left on the clothing if the pollen is high that day.  (I don’t have an issue with this, so if someone does, it’d be nice to hear if this is a factor or not)

Do any of you readers have any tips or hacks that I’ve left out?  Do you use a clothesline, and if so, what’s your favorite part about it?  Mine’s the smell that they have when you take them off the line.  If you find them a little stiff, try my homemade fabric softener.  It’s cheap and works well.

Green Your Summer: Collect Rain Water

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  The berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation and fun.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the first entry in the series, you can find all the entries here.

Along with starting a garden collecting rain water can go a long way to help your fledgling garden get on its feet and save you some coin.   Back in the days of this blogs infancy, I had quite a few posts on how to save water (here and here).  These tips are great and include a lot of things that can help you save money, but I figured that I’d talk a bit more about something new: rain water.

Now, people in the pacific northwest may not even need to collect rain water, because of how much it rains there.  In Wyoming, that’s just plain not the case.  The western US is actually a high elevation desert, and most of the water we get comes in the form of snow.  So when the rare occasion that it does rain comes along, I make sure that I get the most out of it.  I do this because it’s free, and it otherwise would just go down into the sewer system or evaporate away sometime in the next 24 hours.

Most of the places I’ve lived, rain barrels have not really been legal – mostly because they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and sometimes these parts get the worst cases of mosquitoes.  I’m talking wear long sleeves outside in the summer bad, mosquitoes as big as a penny bad.  Given the recent water shortages though, I think they are coming back into favor a bit – so check with your  city or county to see if you can put one up yourself.

I don’t have a rain barrel (not ready for that, yet) but from what I understand, they look fairly simple.  All you’d need to do is modify the gutter to drain into a barrel and you’re good to go.  Make sure that the barrel is elevated a bit so you can access it easier and get some pressure.  Unfortunately, I havent made one of these because the house I live in is just rented, and I have an aversion to moving something like that twice – not looking forward to it.

I do keep a bucket or 2 outside and when it rains, I use the contents of the bucket to water the flowers out in the backyard.  The rainwater makes for great water, and I don’t have to set up the sprinkler or jack with the hose when I do this – it’s such an easy process.  I can save some money on the water bill (which goes up quite a bit in the summer due to lack of rain) and I can help out the earth a bit by making sure that all the water that comes around me is put to some good use.

Keeping your rain water will save you a lot of money if you’ve got a lot of plants to water, or it could just help out your gardening.  Either way, why let the resource just run off your property?

Readers: Do you have a rain bucket, or some other way to catch rain water?  Do you like it?  Where do you use the water it captures?  If not, are you interested in having one?

Easy Ways to Save Energy this Winter

Right now in Wyoming, its 43 degrees with a high of 51 (at the time of this writing).  Even though it’s winter and weather is occasionally nice, you always need to be thinking about easy ways to save money.  One of the easiest ways to do this is plug your house so that it doesn’t let heat out and cold air in (in the winter) and cold air out (and heat in) in the summer.  These cheap tips are great for an empty weekend day or a holiday that you’ve got off work.  They are simple, cheap and effective at saving energy and money.

Plug the Holes

There are a lot of places that energy can leak out of your house, one of them is around pipes and windows.  Often, they have to cut a hole for the pipes and can’t get a tight fit – so there’s air seeping in and out of the hole.  Head over to your local hardware store and buy a bottle of caulk to plug these holes.  You don’t even need a caulking gun and a tube of caulk should cost around 3 bucks.  Find the holes around the edges of pipes that go from the outside of your house to the inside.  Once this is done, look for some gaps around the windows and caulk them up too.

Another easy fix is to stop the drafts behind the outlet plates and switches.  You can get a few packs of these at the hardware store and they are fairly cheap.  They are also very easy to install.  Just take off the switch plate with a screwdriver and then put the foam piece behind them.

Once that is finished, you can head back over to the windows and cover them with plastic film.  This will add another layer to the window, and stop the leaks that are coming through the window.  All this takes is a blow dryer and some time to put up the plastic on the windows.  If it’s nice outside (like it is today) you can do the inside and the outside.  This is also a fairly inexpensive way to save some energy.

The last tip I’ve got is to stop the drafts around the door.  You can get something off of tv that goes on both sides of the door and will block air coming in under the door.  I just use a towel behind the door and move it when I have to open the door to get the mail.

You can easily use these four tips to save some money and energy this winter.  Figure out the next day that you’ve got free, get the supplies and get started.  Good luck with this project, and soon I’ll have some more easy tips for you.

Do you have any other tips or easy ways to save energy?  What do you do in your home to keep your energy bills low in the winter?

Food Tip: Make a Pizza Pot!

One of the biggest factors for our “carbon footprint” is the food that we eat.  When just shopping for some food, meat has often traveled a long distance to get to the store shelves.  It’s almost impossible to know how far it has actually gone (given the way they mix meat, specifically ground beef), but I’ve heard that it can average up to 1,500 miles!  That’s quite a long way to travel, just to get it on  your plate.  One of the easiest ways to lower your carbon footprint is to produce some of your own food, but to do that on a scale big enough to feed yourself (and your family), you’d need some land, and it’d have to be pretty fertile to produce as much variance as you’re used to seeing in the store.  Obviously, not everyone can just go around and plunk down a nice chunk of change for a large amount of land, so if you’re interested in local food, what can you do?  (as an aside, watch this local food clip from the show Portlandia).

Knowing that you’ve got no garden, and little time what can you do to start growing some of your own food?  If you want to get started now, you can.  Just grow a Pizza Pot!  For those unfamiliar with a Pizza Pot, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a pot of vegetables/herbs that you can put on a pizza!  As you’re surely aware, you can’t grow everything on a pizza in a pot, but you can try.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large pot to grow your pizza ingredients in
  • Soil (or, you can use your home-made compost!)
  • Plant food
  • Your Favorite Pizza Toppings! (Make sure they can grow in your area

So, once you’ve got everything, here’s what you need to do.  Put your soil in the pot, and leave about 1-1.5 inches at the top.  Now, you’re ready to plant your favorite pizza toppings.  Here are some ideas:

  • Tomatoes (I like Roma), but you can use any type
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Curly Parsley (I don’t use this, but you can)
  • Garlic Chives (I don’t use this either)
  • or anything else you want!

Now, there is a certain order to this, so that everything will grow to its fullest potential.  You need to plant the tomato first, and it needs to go in the center of the pot.  Once that’s done, you can plant everything else that you want in your pot around it.  Once everything is in, put it in an area that will get a lot of sun.

You can also put a stake in the pot for the tomato, but it’s not necessary right away – however it will still need to be done.  Now, the fun starts – You can watch your plants grow, then enjoy some pizza in the fall!  You’ll have fresh ingredients to put on your pizza (I’ve found that this really lends itself to the construction of a margherita pizza that could rule the world).  So, enjoy your pizza, and enjoy the fact that you’re doing the environment (and even your pocketbook) a favor.  Then you can start plotting your next pizza pot, or if you’re feeling extra crazy, you can move on to a small garden.

January 2011 Monthly Review

It’s the first month of the new year.  Have you given up on your goals/resolutions?  I haven’t and I’ve been working hard at them since the first day of the month.  Along with my normal debt review at the end of the month, I’m going to begin to include updates on my health/gym goals.

Student Loans:

I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like on these since I paid off my nelnet loan at the beginning of November.  I paid a big payment in late November to my direct loan, but haven’t paid anything since.   I need to step it up.

Direct Loan $3,909 ($360) – This has been my prime target since November, and I’ve been doing an OK job.  December was an expensive month, and most of what I would have put towards this went to various things.  On the other hand, I’m beyond excited that this is under 4k!  My goal was to have this paid off by the end of the first quarter, and that’s looking pretty probably at this point.  Hopefully I’ll get some assistance from various places.  I haven’t made my snowball payment on this yet this month, but it’s looking to be $700 or so.

Great Lakes Loan $12,248 ($117)  Just sent my regular minimum payment to this loan.  This loan will be the last one marked for payoff.

Truck Debt:

This is for my vehicle.  I had already started trying to become debt free when I bought this, so I was quite torn as to wether or not to take on new debt while I was trying to eliminate other debt.  If you want to read more about it, check herehere and here.

Ford Credit: 17,695 ($264): Just made the regular monthly payment on this loan, not going down as fast as I’d like.  On the up side, I’ve paid it down 4k from its original balance over the past 12 months.

Health Goals Progress

I’ve been keeping track of my progress this month, and I can say that it has been a total mixed bag up until this point.  I started out ok, then took a small vacation where I didn’t get a chance to go at all, then got a little sick.  Enough with the excuses, next month is time to bat 100%.  I’m trying to go 4 times each week.

Total Visits

Week 1 (Jan 2-8): 4
Week 2 (Jan 9-15): 3 (was on vacation for this weekend – no excuse, though)
Week 3 (Jan 16-22): 3
Week 4 (Jan 23-29): 3
(Rest of days will count in Feb)

Goal Visits: 16
Total Visits: 13

Total Debt Level: $33,854 ($739)  Obviously not as much progress as I would have liked, but it’s moving in the right direction.  All I need to do now is keep working hard and keep focusing, and I’ll be towards my goal in no time!

Saving Money Tip: Make Your Own Fabric Softener

 

Greetings everyone!

Today I’m going to share another tip I use to save money (and increase self-reliance) around the house: making your own fabric softener.  It is very simple to make and very, very cheap.  You may not even need to buy anything!

First, why would I want to do this? There  are a few reasons. I’ll save money, I’ll get all the perfumes, dies and additives (some of which some people are allergic to) out of my fabric softener, I will learn to make something new and useful (always cool) and I’ll become more self-reliant.

FabricSoftener

Now, on to the process.  First, we need to gather our ingredients: vinegar, baking soda and water.  You can also use an essential oil of your choice for scent (I use peppermint).  How do I make it, you ask? Great question, and pay attention cause here we go.

Step 1: Mix together 1 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of water in a large container (more than 1 gallon).  The baking soda won’t completely dissolve, but don’t worry.  You’ll get an assist from the next step.
Step 2: Slowly add in 6 cups of vinegar. The mixture will fizz, a lot. Stir this for a bit.
Step 3: Add in 6 cups of water and continue to stir until baking soda is dissolved.
Step 4: (Optional) Add 10-15 drops of your favorite essential oil for scent.
Step 5: Store.  I used 2 mason jars that I had on hand (one was half gallon size)

Useage: Use 1 cup of this in place of your old fabric softener.  This stuff works great, I’ve been using it for about 3 weeks now.  It’s very simple to make and obviously easy to use.  There are very few drawbacks if you use regular fabric softener already, but I must admit that I’m rather fond of the snuggle bear.  I know it’s just an advertisement to make sure I keep buying the product, but seriously, how can you not like this bear?!

That’s all for this saving money tip folks.  Do you plan on giving this tip a try, or is it too out there for you?  Where do you draw the line when trying to save some coin?

Saving Money Tip: Change your own Oil

Oil Change Equipment

There are a lot of ways to save money floating around the interwebs, some common (like using coupons) and some not so common (like buying cloth rags to use instead of toilet paper).  Today I am going to tell you about one of my personal favorite saving money tips, which is changing my own motor oil.  One of the reasons that I do it is I just like to go out side and get a bit dirty, do some work that I can get positive, semi-immediate results from, and there’s something at least a tiny bit manly about being able to work on your own car.  I didn’t always know how to change my oil though so there are a few things that I have learned on the way.   (Materials Pictured Above from left to right: Socket wrench, socket wrench extension, oil drip pan, oil, oil filer, filter wrench, funnel)

Changing your own motor oil saves some money.  The amount saved depends on how much you drive your car.  If you’re like me and drive a lot, you can save quite a bit of coin over the course of a year.  If you don’t drive as much, the savings will be slightly less (~$120/yr).

  1. Make sure to use the proper tools.  You can’t get something done right if you don’t have the right equipment
  2. Make sure you have a spot for the waste oil.  Here at sustainable life blog, we don’t like to waste anything.  Depending on where you live, you can probably call the city or county, and they will tell you how you can dispose of it.  My county (and most of them around here) will collect the used oil.  Some recycle it, and some burn it for heat, but it’s always used.
  3. Check and Double Check Yourself.

Alright, after we’ve got that out-of-the-way, let’s get dirty!  First, you’ll need to figure out what kind of motor oil and filter your car has.  To do this, you’ll need to look in the owner’s manual that (hopefully) came with your car.  Once you do this, you need to take the car that you’re going to change the oil in and head over to your local auto parts store and get some new oil, a new filter, a drip pan (if you don’t have one), and an oil filter wrench.  The first time you pick all this up, it will probably run you about 30 (which is what jiffy lube charges).  Simple cheap stuff, and once you buy it all, you’ll only need a new filter and oil, which will run you about $10/trip.

Get Ready to get Dirty

Once you’ve got all your stuff back home, it’s time to get down and dirty.  Get out your owner’s manual and look for an engine diagram (or there could be a how to change oil guide in there) and find the Oil drain plug.  Get a torque or crescent wrench,  and slowly loosen the bolt. (Dont forget to keep the bolt out of the oil when you remove it completely) Oil will start to leak on you a bit, and it should be warm (unless your trip to the parts store took a while, then give it some cooling time).  Just make sure you have your drip pan ready to try to catch it when you remove the screw completely.  While the oil is draining, you can grab your oil filter wrench and locate your oil filter.  It will be round, and sticking off of the engine somewhere.  If you can’t locate it right away, go back to your owner’s manual and find an engine schematic that will tell you where it is.  Once you find it, take your filter wrench and loosen the oil filter slowly.  Some oil will start leaking out of here as well, don’t worry about it.  Once you get it off, you can set it aside.

Replace what you took out

Now, it’s time to replace what you’ve taken off.  Get the bolt, and screw it back into where you took it out of.  Then get your new oil filter and rub a bit of oil around the rubber seal.  This will make it much easier to get off the next time, and I can tell you that there’s nothing worse than a stuck oil filter.  Then screw it back where the old one came from.  There is no reason to tighten these things down as hard as you possibly can get them, either.  Remember, you’re going to be the one taking them off next time.  So get the snug and give them a bit more and call it good.

Now, you’re almost done, but you need to grab your oil, pop open the hood, and put back the required amount of oil!  Fire up the car, make sure everything works and you’re good to go!

Now, that wasnt so hard, was it?

Here’s a cost breakdown.  This will probably take about an hour of your time, and assuming you drive as much as the normal american (12,000 miles/year) you’ll save about $60 during the first year (due to costs of oil drip pan and wrench), and about $80  every year after that.  Of course, the better you get at it, the less time it will take you.  I change my oil about once every 6 weeks, so I can stand to save a bit more than that.  I wouldn’t trade less driving

But I can guarantee you’ll feel good after having changed your own oil, because there’s nothing like the feeling of a job well done.