Natural and Organic Crib Mattresses for Less

When we first began writing our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, organic crib mattresses were available only to families who were able to shell out several hundred bucks. How thrilling then to see that by the time the book was published, the market demand really had driven down the price of organic crib mattresses! Check out some of the organic options available to families now!

The Sealy Naturalis Crib Mattress with Organic Cotton is just $95! It’s not completely organic, but for families on a budget at least it’s a more organic option than a standard mattress.

The LA Baby Organic 2 in One Orthopedic Crib Mattress is currently about sixty dollars off, coming in at just $107 on amazon. That’s more than 30% off!

The Willow Natural Coconut Palm Crib Mattress by DaVinci is not organic, but it’s made of latex-free foam derived from natural coconut palm fiber. You have to consider the eco-footprint of shipping products to create a coconut based foam–and the fact that it isn’t organic, but at least manufacturers are considering different options than petroleum based foam. The crib comes with a 10 year limited manufacturer warranty and is a bit more expensive at about $165.

The Colgate Eco Classica I Crib Mattress is the highest priced option we’re featuring, coming in at nearly $190. You have to wonder if it’s worth the extra expense considering that it isn’t certified organic. It does pass the Greenguard standard for indoor air quality and has foam made of plant oils, but it runs quite a bit more than other comparable crib mattresses.

For those of you who can’t bear to toss the crib mattress you already have, or can’t afford even the least expensive organic crib mattresses, American Baby’s Organic Waterproof Quilted Mattress Pad comes in at just over 30 dollars. Not a bad option!

Have you splurged on an organic crib mattress or found another solution? An all cotton futon crib mattress maybe? Or a drawer lined with an organic blanket?

How Cheap Can You Get? Tips from the Tightwad Gazette Journal

As an impressionable college student, I tore through the Tightwad Gazette Journal the way a lonely thirteen-year-old devours a Harlequin Romance: voraciously, with bated breath. It’s been more than fifteen years since I first read it, and some of the wacky money-saving tips have stuck with me all this time. Here are some highlights from the recesses of my memory:

Make muffins out of leftovers. A few bites of oatmeal left in your bowl? Some cereal dust at the bottom of the box? A little baked potato left over from last night’s dinner? Transform it all  into muffins using a universal muffin mix.

This cookbook has nothing to do with the universal muffin mix. I was just trying to find a muffin picture to illustrate this point.

Rearrange furniture instead of buying new pieces. When you run off to Ikea or Target to buy new stuff, you may temporarily fulfill your desire to redecorate your house—but six months later, your cheap new bookshelves and framed posters will fall apart and you’ll wish you’d saved your cash for nicer things. Next time, see if you can satisfy your desire for change by regrouping the pictures on the wall, rearranging the furniture, and getting creative with the décor you already own.

Don’t go out to eat. The Dacyczyns didn’t go out to eat for the first decade of their marriage. Instead, they made every meal from scratch. Ten years and six kids later, they splurged on a night out . . . at McDonald’s.

They ate a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese. (True story. They did the math and determined that this is one of the few convenience foods that is cheaper than homemade.)

Use a bread bag for a diaper cover. Say your baby has a nice fresh cloth diaper pinned on him. All he needs is a diaper cover. But you don’t have a diaper cover. (Why or how this would happen is not important. Go with it.) Simply find an old bread bag, rip it open, and diaper the baby with it. (Again . . . why? I am not really sure.)

UPDATE: I was telling my friend Heather this story and she told me a story about a friend with a diapering emergency that only a bread bag diaper cover could solve!

Go ahead. Splurge!

Develop advanced garage sale skills. From the Tightwad Gazette Journal, I learned a lot about making the most of garage sales. Have a plan. Pack a lunch. Get there early. Bargain them down—especially if it’s later in the afternoon, when people are desperate to unload their belongings. With this advice in mind, I acquired a popcorn maker for $1.50 instead of $2. That was almost ten years ago, and we still use our Whirly Pop about five times a week. SCORE!

This costs $20 new. Now that is extravagant!

If you haven’t read the Tightwad Gazette Journal, you must! If you are already a fan, help me round out my list of tightwad tips.

Is There A Greener Minivan?

We’ve been zipping along in our two carseat-laden sedans for the last five years. But we’ve secretly yearned for a minivan. I know some adults cannot imagine being seen in a minivan, let alone owning one, but my husband and I are deeply practical souls.

We want to be able to carpool kids to and from school and soccer practice, haul mulch in the back, and go on long trips without having the luggage pile up around our feet. We’d use a sedan most of the time to maximize gas mileage, but it would be nice to have the van available as well.

So what is the minivan of our dreams? It would be fuel efficient, seat at least seven, be incredibly reliable, and be affordable. Really, we wish that many of the European micro-vans would hit the U.S. market. Why can’t we have smaller, more fuel efficient minivans? Why isn’t there a hybrid minivan?

Our policy is to save money and pay cash for our vehicles so we usually get something that’s used with low miles. We’re about a year away from making a purchase. Do you have any recommendations?

The Egg Cooker Saga Continues: The Update

Our email inbox has been flooded with requests for an update about my egg cooker dilemma. Okay, slight exaggeration. Full disclosure: We have not received one request for an update about my egg cooker dilemma. However, I’m not going to let that stop me from updating you on this topic that is very close to my heart. If you ask me, we don’t talk enough about egg cookers.

I’m taking this seriously

So let’s begin! First, Emily mentioned that she uses her rice cooker to steam eggs. Another Josh posted that he uses his steamer:

Similar to what someone else posted previously about the rice cooker, we hard cook our eggs in a steamer. We’ve got a 2 level one, so if we’re cooking something in one level we’ll put the eggs in the other level. If we’re steaming rice which takes around 50 minutes, the eggs go on top and are done in 24 (then we can steam something else in the other basket).

And of course, many other commenters tried to explain their “foolproof” methods for boiling or even baking eggs, but in the end, I was not persuaded. But before I sprung for another electric egg cooker, I did try to steam eggs in a pot with my steamer basket. This worked perfectly the first time I tried it. Beginner’s luck! I was never able to replicate the results.

The flawless results using my steamer basket–that one time

Meanwhile, Andy was getting impatient with my egg-boiling lab. He said something scientific about how much energy it takes to boil even two cups of water for steaming eggs versus heating the few tablespoons of water needed for the egg cooker. In his argument, which went on for a long time and had several salient points I will eliminate for ease of reading, he concluded that it would be a crime not to buy an egg cooker.

Dazzled by this logic, I went ahead and made a decision. I bought the Krups Egg Cooker (now on sale for $25.33!). So far, it has met all my expectations for an egg cooker—the most important one being that it perfectly cooks eggs with the flip of a switch.

My sister bought the Cuisinart Egg Cooker (under $30), which she claims has changed her life and the life of her boyfriend for the better.

And, in case you were wondering, my mother still has not replaced her Henrietta Egg Cooker, though she mentions that it stopped working after fifteen years of faithful service, which is more than I can say for the un-recommended West End Egg Cooker.

Thus concludes this installment of the Egg Cooker Diaries. To be continued?

BPA-free Popsicle Molds

Old picture of Audrey eating a homemade popsicle

Last year, our BPA-free Popsicle Mold post was one of our most popular, in its own quiet way. Only three people commented on it, but we noticed it got a lot of traffic. So this summer, to rival the popular basic Norpro Ice Pop Maker ($15.59), we found a few new ones to try.

Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Molds (on sale for under $12!)

Tovolo Star Ice Pop Molds ($12.80)

KidCo Healthy Snack Frozen Treat Trays (only $5.95!)

Prepara Volcano 4-piece Pop Set ($11.12)

Kinderville Little Bites Ice Pop Molds ($16.99). This Norpro Silicone 4-piece Ice Pop Maker Set looks like a cheaper alternative for $7.86.

Our neighbors have the Zoku Duo Quick Pop Maker ($36) and really like it. You can make popsicles in minutes without electricity!

Do you have a favorite popsicle mold to recommend? I have a few really old ones—probably riddled with BPA and phthalates. I have to say I’m tempted by all the colorful new ones available today!

What is Your Go-To Green Baby Gift?

The journey from pregnancy to parenting is so intense that I love giving items to friends and family that will support them through that transition. What are my go-to gifts for green-minded new parents?

Cloth Diapers. By helping out a bit with the up-front cost of cloth diapering, I know that I’m giving something that will last from infancy to potty training-and beyond! Families that plan on having multiple children can save about a thousand dollars per child on diapering. Plus with all the fun colors and patterns available in lines like Charlie Banana or Fuzzibunz, it can be a lovely gift instead of being purely practical.

The Eco-nomical Baby Guide. The book helps break down how to reduce the amount of baby gear you buy, how to find the best used gear, and how to repurpose what you already have to help you save thousands of dollars. Plus, you’ll find a green directory of the best values on eco-friendly gear at every price point. Did I mention that I co-wrote this book? Still, I have to say that it’s the book I wish I would have had in the early months of my pregnancy as I scrambled to prepare for baby.

A Maya Wrap or The Ergo Baby Carrier. Luckily a friend of ours made me try a sling when we visited with our colicky infant. Once we slipped him into the A Maya Wrap, he immediately went to sleep. Plus baby carriers are hands-free devices that allow you to actually do stuff besides hold your baby! We also used an The Ergo Baby Carrier and I found it was far easier on my back once my children were older.

Home cooked meals. I cannot express the gratitude I felt for each and every meal that friends and family delivered in those first few months. Because of the rigorous schedule of breastfeeding and staying up with an infant all night, I was eating constantly but couldn’t find even five minutes to heat up a burrito in the microwave. Having hot meals on my doorstep nourished me, body and soul.

Free babysitting. Again, I think this was of more value to me than any material gift. Getting to go the movies with my husband or just take a nap once in awhile was a tremendous support. I would have traded all the adorable onesies I ever received for a dozen hours of babysitting. Am I the only one who feels this way?

What were your favorite gifts as a new parent? Is there anything you do for friends and family that might inspire some of our readers. Thanks for your ideas!

What is Your Favorite Cloth Diaper Brand?

Back when I began cloth diapering, new fangled products like Go Green Diapers, Rumparooz, and Lil Joey Diapers didn’t even exist. Now I find myself in green baby boutiques, playing with the velcro closures and almost wishing that I was back in the glory days of diapering.

Have you fallen in love with any new cloth diapering brands? Are you loyal to old favorites like Bummis, Charlie Banana, or Fuzzibunz? Or are you perfectly happy with prefold diapers and plastic pants?

We have nearly fifty thousand readers hitting our site on a monthly basis and many of them are new to cloth diapering. Please share your insights on which cloth diapers have worked best for your family!

I should disclose that I started with Bummis and prefolds and then fell deeply in love with Fuzzibunz and Charlie Banana. The snap diapers held up much better, especially with my second child and they were incredibly easy to get on and off.

Dyeing Cotton Towels

The pile of towels we bought new eight years ago was perfectly viable, except for the dingy mint color that evolved through hundreds of washings. In my frenzy for a peaceful domestic space, I longed to buy a new set but realized that there must be some way to freshen up what we have. I was missing a few hand towels, but found some in a similar faded green at a thrift store for less than a dollar. I figured that the dye might help the whole lot look like more of a set.

After spending eight bucks on Rit Dye and one hour hastily attempting to dye the towels in a front loading washing machine, I had achieved my goal.

How did I do it? The truth is that I am the opposite of Martha Stewart. There wasn’t a studious perusal of instructions or a table laid with carefully chosen towel dying tools. I just tossed the towels in the wash and mixed up the dye in an old waste basket full of hot water. When I dumped it (clumsily) into my front loading washer, there was some spillage, but I started the load on hot and hoped for the best.

I then did several hot loads without soap. When I first pulled the towels out, I was sure I had ruined them. They looked a bit streaky and sad. I then washed them for about five more loads on hot with soap. After a quick toss in the dryer, I have to say they are gorgeous. They’re a bright stem green looks fantastic against my purple bathroom walls. My husband, who often has to suffer through my strangely creative ideas, has mentioned how great they look at least five times already.

If you decide to take on this feat, you should know that a top loader would have been far easier for dyeing. Also, I didn’t use the dye fixative and have found that there has been some very slight leakage on one piece of laundry in the wash. (Luckily it was just a rag.) The RIT dye instructions also call for using two cups of salt with the dye, but I had just a half cup.

I suppose you could even cobble together a collection of white towels secondhand and then dye them any color you’d like if you were feeling adventurous. The nice thing about my case was that there was no failure. If I ruined the towels, it would have been time to spring for new ones. If I saved them, victory!

In short, if I can do this project, despite my very limited attention to detail and my total lack of preparation, anyone can!

Smaller Plates, Smaller Portions, Smaller Footprint

Ten years ago we choose Fiestaware dishes for our wedding registry and have enjoyed them ever since. They’re sturdy, classic, and scratch resistant. Amazingly, most of the eight place settings we originally received have made it through our children’s early childhoods in great shape.

It occurred to me the other day that the dishes that have been lost have all been small salad plates. They’re the perfect size for my children, they don’t take up as much space in the dishwasher, and they help me control my portion sizes. Suddenly I realized that if I bought more of them, (we have just six) that I could get double the number of plates into the dishwasher.

Plus, I could chuck the random plastic plates (drawn by yours truly on white circular paper and sent into a plastic plate-making factory approximately 30 years ago) that we use when we utterly run out of everything else. The whimsical drawings make me smile, but the toxins lurking in antique plastic can’t be good. Now I use the plastic plates as air tight lids in my bokashi bins and not for my children’s food!

I ordered some new fiesta salad plates but also picked up a stack of eight perfect Ikea plates at a thrift store for less than four bucks. I love buying used, real dishes for the kids because I’d rather have them eating off of a ceramic surface than plastic, and when it’s purchased secondhand I don’t care so much about the occasional breakage. Since my small plate revelation, my cupboard is cleaner, the dishwasher is fuller, and I experience small hits of bliss every time I glance at the kitchen shelf. Not bad for a day’s work!

100% Cotton Wrinkle-free Wonder Napkins

On Monday, Joy wanted to know if we, too, struggled with spending our hard-earned cash on eco-kitchen gadgetry. She’s been wringing her hands and wracking her brain, trying to reach a decision. Should she get a cast iron pan or a set of stainless steel storage ware? I don’t know.

What I do know is what she should do about her napkin dilemma. “Are there such things as wrinkle-free cloth napkins that aren’t horrible polyester?” Joy asked. The answer is yes.

I am the proud owner of one 100% cotton napkin from Cost Plus World Market. I think it must be one of these buffet napkins (a set of 6 is $9.99). Here I am with my beloved napkin, straight from the wash. As you can see, it is smooth and wrinkle-free. I have no idea why I have ONE of these napkins, but it is definitely my favorite. I may just have to stock up on a whole set. I can’t let Joy have all the fun!

I am available for napkin modeling gigs