The Freedom of Frugality

Growing up, frugality was more of a lifestyle than a choice. Even though my parents didn’t necessarily practice penny pinching with the environment in mind, many of their cost-saving practices were eco-friendly as well.  My sister and I thought that showering consisted of getting wet, turning off the water to “soap up” and then following with a quick rinse.  We flattened aluminum cans for the recycling bin and took the compost out without any realization that we were helping the environment.  However, through the practice of penny pinching we did learn that our resources are precious.

baby-beach-walk.jpgAlthough it may sound like I lived a horribly deprived childhood, the truth is that many of our thrifty practices were quite adventurous. Instead of going to Maui, my family spent our vacations camping in Oregon rainforests or visiting relatives, where we often set up sleeping bags on the living room floor.  On car trips we had picnics at rest areas rather than swinging through fast food restaurants.  No one in my family ever belonged to a gym, but we enjoyed nightly moonlit family beach walks near my home to stay healthy and enjoy the outdoors. 

Roscoe Goes Beachwalking 

Now that I’m in my mid thirties, I’ve learned to appreciate my quirky saving skills and all the benefits they’ve brought to me over the years. Having the ability to prioritize my values and then differentiate between wants and needs has been an extremely helpful skill.  I was able to pay off huge graduate school loans in four years on a starting teacher’s salary because of extreme (and sometimes neurotic) tightwaddery. Most of the time, all that penny pinching had huge advantages for the environment as well.  I biked for transportation whenever possible and bought most of my clothing at thrift shops.  To cut grocery costs, I ate very little meat and rarely purchased convenience foods.

As a parent, I find that all that self-restraint ends up providing personal freedom in more ways than one. Financially, it has allowed us the freedom to take more time with our son and relax about the costs of having a child.  We want to model thriftiness and living simply right from the start with Roscoe.

With that in mind, we outfitted most of Roscoe’s nursery with used furniture, dress him in quality hand-me-downs and use cloth diapers.  Roscoe doesn’t eye his crib with disdain and will never care that another soul has worn his clothes before him, but the cost savings are phenomenal.

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Even though as a teenager I swore I would live a more luxurious life someday, I now have a great appreciation for my frugal roots.  When Roscoe grows up a bit and resents the simple life, I’ll remind myself that in the long run, we’re giving him the gift of self-reliance, self-restraint, and an environment that’s just a little bit cleaner.

Roscoe Enjoys Cost-Free Fun on The Playground Slide 

Whole Wheat Pancakes from Scratch: Easy Homemade Baby Food

It takes almost no time to whip up a batch of pancakes from scratch.  Pancakes from a mix are filled with chemicals you don’t want your kids to eat, and they come in packaging you have to recycle or throw out.  For even speedier homemade pancakes, Joy explained how pre-mixing the dry ingredients can save even more time.  

Babies love pancakesThe version I use is adapted from the Joy of Cooking’s basic recipe.  I use 100% whole wheat pastry flour.  The pancake is a fairly versatile food–you can experiment with different flours and milks if your kids don’t eat wheat or dairy.  I’ve even forgotten the eggs and had them turn out all right!
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Joy’s Earth Day Resolutions

One side effect of going green is an enlarged sense of moral superiority.  I have to admit that I fall prey to this every time I pull out my fabric grocery bags at the supermarket.  The other shoppers stare with envy at my grungy canvas sacks, wishing that they had the wherewithal to save the planet while buying cottage cheese, breakfast cereal, and a few dozen eggs.  O.K.—the truth is, they don’t even notice, but I’m so busy basking in the glory of a fulfilled Earth Day resolution that I like to imagine the admiration of my shopping peers.

In reality the only person who is impressed by my canvas bags is me and that’s how resolutions really should work.  If we can find solutions to our green dilemmas the shift will end up ultimately making us happier than anyone else.  In the year to come, I’m going to pick just a few goals and then go from there.  I want to actually set reasonable expectations for myself so that I can accomplish them in the midst of parenting, working, writing and enjoying this very full life.

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Joy’s Earth Day Confessions

Writing a green blog is a great deal like being a minister.  Why?  Because when I inform acquaintances about our website’s mission, they invariably launch into their own eco-failings. I listen and nod, acting as though I have the power to pardon their sordid eco-sins. Of course, I have no such ability—partly because I’m not an eco-evangelist and partly because I too am a work in progress

The truth is, my family has a list of transgressions against the planet just like everyone else.   Today I shall confess them to you:

#1 We use disposable diapers for Roscoe at night.  I actually wrote a whole post about my green mom guilt on this issue.  It’s difficult, but we’re just so desperate for sleep that we’re willing to use seven disposables per week.  We buy the chlorine-free Seventh Generation diapers but they don’t break down in landfills any better than standard disposables.

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Works For Me Wednesday: A Quick Fix for Junk Mail

It clutters our family’s mailbox and rapidly fills our recycling bin, but who has time to actually contact every source for this mass of wasted paper?  Lately I find myself spending ten minutes a day reading and shredding piles of envelopes. That’s time I’d much rather spend sorting through matchbox cars with my toddler.  Enough!  I finally developed a few solutions to stop the endless stream of junk mail flooding into our home. Less Junk Mail=More Play Time!

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Opt Out:  I didn’t think I had the twenty minutes it took to print and fill out the online forms available at Opt-Out, but then I realized that I spend twice that amount of time each week shredding junk mail and tromping out to the recycling bin.  It’s worth a little effort to get the time savings in the long run!

When I finally went to the Opt-Out website I found the process surprisingly easy. The site will let you fill in your information and then formulate dated, addressed letters to seven different marketing networks and credit reporting agencies. I then simply printed out the letters, addressed the envelopes and sent them off with my own postage.

The site also has the Opt-Out telephone number listed to get you off the phone solicitation list.  No more calls during dinnertime or when Roscoe is in the middle of a diaper change! It also prevents me from tersely interrupting the telemarketer and bitterly informing him or her never to call my number again.  (Which isn’t easy for a generally congenial person like myself.)

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Just Say No:  I have a secondary strategy to rid our family of excess mailings now that I feel freedom is in sight.  I just printed up a bunch of quick notes to send in the postage-paid envelopes that are often enclosed with junk mailings. Feel free to copy the text of the note below. You’ll notice that it’s a bit snarly, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get off the list!

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like my name to be removed IMMEDIATELY from your mailing list.  Rather than spending your organization’s time and energy sending me mail that is of no interest to me, please stop sending me any offers from this point on.  If you do not concede with my request, I will be forced to make further and more forceful complaints. I expect you to honor my wishes.

 Sincerely,

(Include your name and address)

Or Say No Nicely:  Here’s a note to send to charities that load you up with junk mail.  It sounds a bit less hostile, but still works:

To Whom It May Concern: 

Surely your charity wants to put its limited resources to the best possible use.  I would like to be removed from your mailing list.  My family has chosen to focus our giving on a few organizations and yours is not one of them.  Please help us limit waste and save your charity’s time and money by honoring our wishes.

Sincerely, 

(Include your name and address) 

You can fit about four of these notes per printed page and easily have a stack ready to shove into envelopes when the junk mail arrives.  Then just sit back, relax and watch those heaps of incoming mail slowly dwindle.  Ahhh….  If you want even more tips on how to make your life easier, go to Rocks in My Dryer for more “Works for Me Wednesday” ideas.  And don’t forget to check yesterday’s post for tips on how your cleaning closet confessions can win you some free Shaklee products.  Register and spill your deepest cleaning secrets today! 

Digging for Tightwad Treasures at Outlet Thrift Stores

If you think I sound frugal, I haven’t introduced you to my sister.  As a stay-at-home mother of five children, Jen has nearly a decade of experience hunting for used bargains at rock bottom prices.   In high school, she planned on becoming a fashion merchandiser and envisioned herself as a buyer for a major department store. Little did she know that two decades later she would be using her savvy style to outfit her family in quality clothing at huge discounts. For less than $500 per year, Jen keeps her whole family of seven clothed in stylish, comfortable duds at a fraction of what most parents pay.   Besides the financial savings, Jen’s family makes a much smaller environmental impact than other similarly sized households because they have bought nearly all of their clothing used.  (They also buy furniture, cars, and everything else used too, but that’s another story.)
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Works For Me Wednesday: Cooking With Homemade Mixes

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In case you didn’t notice, you are currently enjoying a carnival–minus the expensive rides, suspicious ferris wheel operators, and heartburn.  Today is greenbabyguide.com’s first post in Rocks in My Dryer’s “Works for Me Wednesday” blog carnival.  “What is a blog carnival?” you ask.  It’s a herd of bloggers all writing themed blogs on a similar subject–in this case, a simple solution that works.  On Works for Me Wednesday greenbabyguide.com will strive to provide an eco-tip that makes life a tad easier for you and a bit better for the planet as well.  

As a working mother, I sometimes long for packaged foods—but I’m not thrilled with the economic or environmental costs.  Oftentimes the nutritional content is horrid and hydrogenated oils seem to be lurking everywhere.  Plus all that packaging isn’t exactly eco-friendly.  But still, I love the idea of pulling warm homemade cookies out of the oven to share with my eighteen-month-old. Do I have a Betty Crocker complex?  Very possibly. 

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Cutting Down on Plastic Toys, Gizmos, and Doodads

I have to admit that my first concern with plastic is not toxins and off-gassing and all the possible health risks I mentioned here.  Of course I’m not happy that some plastics are bad for us, but I’d been avoiding them long before I ever heard the terms “phthalate” or “BPA.”  Plastic takes hundreds and hundreds of years to break down in a landfill.  Why buy a child a toy he’ll enjoy for three months, only to have it last for all eternity?  Sure, we can pass the toys on to other children, but after a while, plastic tends to look grubby.  Because it’s cheap, it’s often uncared for.
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Ultra-Green Transportation: The Bike Trailer/Jogging Stroller

We are outdoors people, and therefore took plenty of walks with Roscoe tucked into his sling in our early parenting days. Even so, I always watched the bikes and their toddler trailers with a certain excitement as they zoomed by. 

When Roscoe was just eight months old, I couldn’t take it anymore and bought a used bike trailer. Our Instep Schwinn bike trailer was $100 on Craigslist and had only been used twice.  It isn’t a fantastically great deal, considering that many of them go on sale for that much new at the end of the season and cost $160 full price, but we’ve been quite happy with it.  It also seats two children so we may eventually use it as a double stroller in the years to come.

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Unfortunately, when my safety-oriented hubby checked all regulations on our trailer, I found that baby shouldn’t be riding in it until one year of age.  Since Roscoe’s birthday is in September, we’d have another summer of envying family bike caravans before we got our chance.  Some parents work their way around this rule by putting a child car seat into the bike trailer, but our instructions specifically stated that it was not a safe option.  So, we waited impatiently for Roscoe’s September birthday and then headed out for our first rides.

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We were happily surprised by how much we used the bike trailer in the fall. I hooked up the trailer to take Roscoe for wading pool play dates and afternoons in leaf-strewn playgrounds.  There’s enough room for a diaper bag, a raincoat, and a bag of groceries in the back, so I found the trailer/stroller to be ideal for running errands on my bike or by foot.

Besides converting to a running stroller, the trailer has a weather-proof flap that makes it perfect for rainy day walks.  (In Oregon, that’s almost every winter day). We even managed our first family bike caravan on Christmas.  Roscoe was happily impervious to the rain pelting us as we biked at full speed to make it home before the hail hit.  We laughed and sang “Old McRoscoe” as we skedaddled our damp and bundled selves homeward.  It’s a bike trailer memory that will last far beyond Roscoe’s years in it.

Biking with Roscoe is the ultimate environmental solution because it creates benefits that extend well beyond planetary health.  Every time we opt to bike we’re getting exercise, saving loads of gas money, and enjoying the trip just as much as the destination. 

A Greener, Thriftier Easter: Five Simple Tips

With daffodils just beginning to bloom, toddlers decked out in bunny costumes and thousands of families planning their egg-hiding strategies, Easter is a wonderful holiday full of hope and fun.  (Also, chocolate.)  Growing up, my family bypassed the bright, commercial idea of Easter by keeping it simple.  Now I realize that our basic Easter celebration was pretty green as well.  These tips were developed from my experience of a fun, but frugal holiday.

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#1: Buy a used Easter basket for each child and then re-use it each year.  These are unbelievably cheap and plentiful at thrift stores and will bring up cherished memories as your child gets to find it anew each spring.  Let your child be part of the selection process and add decorative raffia or ribbon for extra flair.  In my family we never tired of hunting for our own personalized basket again and again.

#2: Skip or reuse the Easter grass. When did we all decide that the best way to celebrate this ancient Christian holiday was to line our baskets with Astroturf? I have to guiltily admit that the green plastic stuff was in our childhood Easter baskets too, but we kept the same grass in there for decades.  Our Easter grass is now quite vintage, but it’s still providing new memories.  If you’d like an alternative to plastic, put a piece of green paper into the shredder and Voila!  You have yourself some recyclable Easter grass.

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#3 Use food coloring and vinegar to dye eggs.  Instead of shelling out the money for the dye kits each year and ending up with all that packaging, just fill mugs with warm water, add one tablespoon of vinegar and then pour in food coloring.  Dump the eggs in and watch the magic with your child. You can use color crayons to draw on the eggs before you immerse them and the designs will stand out after the dye sets. 

#4 Consider all natural egg dyes.  I think our family is going to experiment with this exciting tip from the tushbaby website.  If you add a bit of vinegar to the water while boiling your eggs and one of these natural ingredients, they’ll have a full range of hues.  The drawback is that you have to have a different pot of eggs boiling for each color you want to use, but you can always just pick a few and experiment.  The eggs need to boil and then simmer for a full fifteen minutes in the vinegar and natural dye mixture.

  • Purple grade juice (for lavender)
  • Red cabbage (for blue)
  • Spinach (for green)
  • Carrot tops, orange peels, or lemon peels (for yellow)
  • Coffee or black walnut shells (for brown)
  • Yellow onion skins (for orange)
  • Beets or cranberries (for pink)
  • Red onion skins (for red)

#5 Hide Real Boiled Eggs.  Rather than hiding candy in plastic eggs that you’ll find months later while pruning the begonias, hide real eggs this year.   Then you’ll have a healthy snack to share with your child that might distract him or her from the chocolate bunny. (We can hope, can’t we?)  We always enjoyed deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches and some other creative egg dishes in the days following Easter.

What is your favorite tip for a greener Easter?  Send us your photos and stories and you just might make it into our next blog!