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Six ways you’re spending more than you think on food

well stocked pantry
(Photo: Jupiterimages)

This year, my husband and I resolved to spend way less money than we've been spending. But to be fair we've done this before. We've tried to budget, but for the longest time we weren't sure where all our money was going. We thought we lived quite frugally, staying away from too much consumerism and unnecessary junk.

But it seemed we were coming up short. So for a month straight, we wrote down every cent we spent from morning coffee to shampoo and meals out. We wrote it all down and kept receipts. At the end of each week we divided what we had spent up into categories including food, toiletries, gifts, gas, and utilities.

Neither my husband nor I buy a lot of clothing or gadgets, and we never have. But what we found is that we were spending an astronomical amount on food and dining. We were left wondering what to do because we're both self-proclaimed foodies and refuse to give up high quality, local, organic eats. And in the end, I found out that you don't have to.

Try this experiment for a month and I assure you that you'll be able to save the leftover dough for a rainy day, here's how:

 

1. Stock your pantry efficiently

If you don't have a few meals that you can cook in a flash, you're much more likely to eat out more than you'd like.

If I'm zonked, I'll go with a crowd-pleaser like my Tempeh Reuben, Tan Tan Noodles, or Homemade Veggie Burgers. We eat out very rarely, but by no means do I prep a four-course meal each night.

Have your go-to meals, whatever they are, and always stock the pantry with ingredients to make them. If you're hitting the grocery store each night, you're bound to pick up stuff that you don't need.

 

2. Try ethnic cuisines because they're veg-friendly and less expensive

You're likely spending way too much money going out to eat, that's generally where we spend cash on entertainment. While you don't have to sacrifice eating out, choose wisely.

Ethnic cuisine such as Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican, and Thai often gives you more bang for your buck. I love this Asian fusion café here in Columbia because its appetizers are well-executed, and I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to make them at home. What's more, I never need a main course because I'm way too full.

Indian cuisine is also great because you never need meat, which is what costs the most. Think outside the box, and you'll come out on top. 

 

3. Be flexible with your recipes

When it comes to dinners at home, it doesn't have to be perfect, and if you're not flexible with preparations, you'll waste a host of ingredients. You don’t need every correct spice the recipe calls for all the time. Always keep garlic, fresh herbs, onions, olive oil, and local butter on hand.

If your recipe calls for cilantro and you only have flat leaf parsley, it's not the end of the world. If you have a sweet potato just waiting to be used, add some color to that stir fry or maybe some fiber to a traditional potato salad. Use up your produce in creative ways and don't buy more until you have.

 

4. Buy groceries by category

To avoid constant return trips to the store, make sure you buy by category. Sounds strange, I know, but if you want to stay healthy and have tasty meals, it's the best way to buy. You'll notice that most of my foods come from the bulk aisle, which is always the least expensive way to buy.

When I'm buying for the week I make sure that my list fulfills the following categories but obviously adapt to your favorite healthful foods:

  • Grains: Rolled oats (breakfast), spelt pasta, basmati rice, barley, local loaf bread.
  • Protein: Dried beans, tempeh, raw nuts, nut butters.
  • Vegetables and Fruit: This is a separate trip to the farmers' market and depends on the season, but I always buy some sort of greens, along with seasonal local veggies and fruit choices. We usually go through about 12 pounds of produce per week for the two of us.
  • Dairy and Dairy Substitutes: Coconut or soy milk, local cheese, local eggs.
  • Condiments: Any that I'm out of at the time.
  • Desserts: Organic, fair-trade certified dark chocolate is always on hand.

 

5. Buy spices in the bulk aisle

Sometimes you have to have certain spices for the recipe to come out correctly, but spices are pricey and some recipes call for tons of different ones. I love to prepare ethnic cuisine, but it's an expensive venture if you buy four different kinds of spices for one meal.

Here's the deal: Buy spices as you need them in the bulk section of the store. If I need garam masala and I'm out of it, I buy what I need. It's much cheaper this way, and if you're concerned with quality, dried spices go bad in a really short period of time anyway.

 

6. Grow your own herbs, even if you don't have a green thumb

Fresh herbs are the biggest rip off at the store. Actually, no matter where you buy them, it's the same deal, you buy too much, they're pricey to start off, and they go bad without you getting to use them all.

Even if your thumb is far from green, grow your own herbs. It’s a two-fold saver: You save cash because you have herbs on hand, and more importantly, you can pick what you need when you need it, so nothing is wasted.

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Nine awesome uses for junk mail

junk mail
(Image: victor.ramos/Flickr)

By Jordan Laio, Networx

Most people don’t give a second thought to tossing junk mail in the recycling bin. But with over 100 billion pieces delivered annually, some savvy recipients are seeing it differently. Instead of seeing junk mail as junk, they see it as a gold mine. As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

For this reason, some people order as much junk mail as they can. I once read about a man who burned his junk mail. He received enough of it to keep his house warm all winter. In another vein, JunkMailGems.com strictly sells products made from re-purposed junk mail.

Here is a list of creative and useful things you can do with your junk mail. Of course, take into consideration the different types of paper used in junk mailings and chemicals that may be in adhesives or inks:

UTILITY

1. Burn in Place of Wood

Yep, you can do it too. Stay warm in the winter by a fire made of all that junk mail. Just throwing it in the fireplace won’t be too effective, but by using a product like the Newspaper Brick Maker (about $30) you can make paper bricks that will burn like real wood.

2. Use as Packing Material

Sure, dehydrated mushroom mycelia and plastic pillows filled with air are both good green packing material options, but why not use your bounty of junk mail? Just run it through the shredder and use to ship or store fragile objects.

3. Use as Animal Bedding

Avoid the cost of buying bedding for your small rodent friends by shredding your junk mail. It might also come in handy as bedding for your urban chickens.

4. Use as a Funnel

This works best with those return envelopes you get in the mail. Simply cut a small section of one corner of an envelope (for the bottom of the funnel) and a larger portion from its opposite corner (the mouth of the funnel). Use this to conveniently refill salt and pepper shakers. This idea is one of the useful ideas from JunkMailGems.com.

GARDENING
For these gardening projects, make sure there are no toxic adhesives or inks on the paper goods you use.

4. Make Seedling Pots

Another clever product is The PotMaker (about $15). You can use paper to make seedling pots, which can then be planted directly into the soil and will decompose on their own. This way, you don’t have to buy plastic pots (which saves money and resources).

5. Mulch in the Garden

You can literally lay out junk mail or old newspapers on your garden as a mulch. This makes an excellent weed barrier and will have all the benefits of traditional mulch. But since this is a little aesthetically displeasing, you might also want to cover with a layer of leaves or other traditional mulch.

Alternatively, you can also shred junk mail or old newspapers first and then lay them as mulch. This will break down easier.

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The hidden costs of coal

coal power plant
(Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by eutrophication&hypoxia)

Energy from coal might seem cheap on the surface, but when you add in the costs of coal-related pollution and health issues, the true cost of coal starts looking pretty steep.

Coal-fired power plants spew toxins into our air while mountaintop removal mining practices destroy our mountains and pollute surrounding waterways. Here are just a few of the hidden annual costs of coal from the Appalachian region alone, according to a recent Harvard Medical School study:

  • Public health: $75 billion
  • Health costs due to air pollution from coal power plants: $187 billion
  • Mercury emissions: $29 billion
  • Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions: $206 billion

According to the study, adding up all of these hidden costs would increase the per kWh price for coal by almost 18 cents. To put that in perspective, coal power now costs around 12 cents per kWh. Solar power costs between 10 and 15 cents per kWh.

Almost 40 percent of our energy supply here in the U.S. comes from coal, so just using less power is one way to reduce the coal you consume. If you can, switching some or all of your home’s power supply to alternative energy is amazing. For folks who can’t afford the investment to get that going, there are other ways you can reduce your coal dependence.

Cutting back on vampire power by using a smart power strip and remembering to unplug unused chargers can go a long way toward saving energy and reducing your coal use. In the warmer months air conditioning is the largest power suck in many homes, so try to take some simple measures to cool your home without the air conditioner.

It also might be time to take a look at your electronics and appliances. From your washer and dryer to your TV and gaming consoles, opting for efficiency can make a big difference in energy savings.

Get heard! Sierra Club has a petition to protect communities from toxic coal ash. You can also let your legislators know how you feel about coal and its effects on our health.

 

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