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Are You Guilty of These 10 Frugal Sins?

Being frugal is the “in” thing to do nowadays. What with the economy going to Hades in a handbasket, we’re all doing what we can to save as much money as possible. Sometimes, it seems like we’re all competing in the Frugal Olympics. Next event: saving the most money on groceries. But before you go for the gold, let’s make sure that you’re not cheating.

We all know someone who takes those little pink sugar packets from fast food restaurants, don’t we? Maybe you do it. After all, you bought something there, maybe a coffee or an order of fries. So, why shouldn’t you take a few sugar packets? Well, beside the fact that you don’t intend to use them in that coffee you bought, which is what they’re there for, it’s just unethical.

Taking sugar, salt, napkins, straws or anything from fast food restaurants is only okay when you’re going to use them for the meal or snack you just bought. If you take 10 napkins, just so you can have some extra in the car, it’s not a crime. But it’s tacky at the least. If you take a lot of napkins or straws or ketchup packets, it’s stealing.

So is “sampling” fruit, veggies or open packages while you shop for groceries. If you open the packages, yourself, it’s even worse. One of the reasons grocery prices are so high is because of the amount of food that’s lost to damage or theft. And, of course, it’s unethical.

Also, while we’re in the grocery store, damaging a package and then asking for a discount because it’s damaged goods is also unethical. And what with hidden cameras in stores, it might get you into a lot of trouble.

If you don’t buy your kids what they need like shoes that fit and decent clothes, it’s unethical and also emotional abuse. Who wants to feel like their parents don’t love them enough to provide their basic needs? Being frugal shouldn’t mean being mean.

Mooching off friends is pathetic, but many people do it. They never pick up the check at restaurants and bars. They show up at mealtime at their neighbor’s house and bring their kids with them, but they never invite their neighbors over to their house. They borrow things and “forget” to give them back. They never pitch in when there’s a neighborhood cleanup, but they’re always right there at the block party, enjoying the free pizza that they didn’t chip in for.

Food pantries are wonderful places when you don’t have enough money to feed your family. But some people who do have enough money for food treat them as if they’re the local supermarket. They show up and take free food when they should be donating to the pantry, not taking food from other people who really need it. Just because something is free doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to it. Save it for those who really need it.

Worse than raiding the food pantry is lying to state or federal welfare officials to get services when your income level is too high for them. Maybe you can do it with some creative bookkeeping, but the penalty if you get caught is very high. Although on the plus side, if you’re charged with defrauding the federal government, you won’t have to worry about food and board for many years.

While there’s no prison term for giving loved ones tacky gifts, there is a social cost. So next time you think you can get by with a cheap present, ask yourself if it’s worth risking the love you have for your wife or child. Sure, one lousy gift isn’t going to make them divorce you or move out, but not caring enough to choose something you know they’ll like might get them thinking about the other ways that you show that you don’t care about them and their feelings. It’s a slippery slope and you should think twice about being too frugal to show love.

Another slippery slope is taxes. No matter how strongly you feel that your tax rate is too high, it’s not okay to fudge on your return. It’s also very likely to cost you much more than you save by lying. Tell the truth to Uncle Sam. If you want to save money on your taxes, get yourself a good accountant. It’s money well-spent.

Have you ever switched a price tag? Did you think that putting the higher price tag on another item was okay, because that way the store would get its money from someone else? Well, when you switch a price tag, you’re doing two things wrong. You pay the lower price, which is unethical. Someone else, all unknowing, pays a higher price for an item. So you’re doubly wrong. Leave the tags alone and just don’t buy things that are too expensive for your budget.

Frugal means living within your means and not spending more than you have. It doesn’t mean being so cheap that you squeak or make Jack Benny look like a spendthrift. Life is too short to pinch pennies at the expense of your ethics, family or friendships. Be thrifty, but don’t forget to enjoy life and give more than you get from the world.

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5 Simple Ways To Stay Green When You Can’t Afford To

When times are tough economically, it’s easy to tell ourselves that the most endangered species is our standard of living. It’s hard to worry about saving the whales or slowing climate change when we’re worrying that we’ve overdrawn our checking account – again – with that last trip to the supermarket.

Maybe, we think, it’s time to stop spending so much on organic food and planet-friendly cleaning supplies. And do we really need to worry so much about what we put on our skin or can we just grab that store brand baby shampoo and save a buck?

I’m in the same boat as a lot of people. Our income has gotten smaller. Our taxes have gone up. The geek is paying more for gas to get to the computer mines. It seems like everything is going up except our income. I’ve stood in the supermarket produce section, literally weighing two tomatoes in my hand, wondering if it’s really a big deal if I don’t buy the organic one that costs twice as much as the one that was grown by a Big Agro company.

What do I – a woman who writes a blog about the importance of being Green – do in this situation? You might be surprised. I’ll tell you within this list of 5 things you can do to resolve your own supermarket dilemmas and decisions that seem to pit money against the health of your family and the planet.

1. If the Green, organic or natural version is just too darned expensive, don’t buy the item, period. Like the tomatoes I compared, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to pay an outrageous price for out of season produce. (Of course, in Maine in winter, that leaves you with pine cones, juniper berries and birch tips, but still.) Instead of tomatoes, I bought some nice organic onions and garlic, which are just as healthy as tomatoes. Together with dried beans and some organic carrots, I made a thick, hearty bean soup that lasted us for three meals and cost much less than a dollar a serving.

2. Get some staples, like flours and other bulk foods, at a co-op or health food store. We buy all our organic grains and flours at a local co-op which has much lower prices on those items. Spices, too, are usually a lot cheaper if you fill a little plastic baggie with them at the health food store or co-op and then transfer them to containers at home.

3. Keep your cleaning routine and supplies simple. I get by with liquid glycerine soap, Sal Suds, Sal Soda, Baking Soda, White Vinegar and lemonade mix for keeping everything clean and de-germed. (I use the cheap, store-brand lemonade mix to clean the toilet bowls once a month. The citric acid does a good job if left in it overnight.)

4. Make a little go a long way. I buy organic stew beef and make four meals with it. I add veggies and rice or grains to make two stir fry meals. For soup, I add beans, peas, rice and/or macaroni. Or I thicken the broth with sweet potatoes pureed in the processor or add miso to make the soup taste beefier.

5. Plan your meals around what’s on sale or what you have in the freezer. I go online to check the sales at the two supermarkets in my area. Then I look in my cupboard to see what I have on hand that will go with what’s on special this week. I plan my meals and make a shopping list around those meals. I try to keep meals simple but interesting, by adding little garnishes or extras.

For instance, we have oatmeal a lot in the winter. I love it, but the rest of the family gets tired of it, so I’ve learned how to disguise it with blueberries, chopped apple and cinnamon, maple syrup, apple pie or pumpkin pie spice, raisins and cinnamon. When I add raisins or apples, I put them right into the water that I boil before I put the oats in. It really sweetens the cereal and – in the case of the raisins, you probably won’t need additional sweetener.

To paraphrase: When the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Don’t let the economy be an excuse to get slack. Use coupons for paper goods and cosmetics that are planet-friendly. Go online to find coupons and specials. Be very persistent and adamant about living a green lifestyle and if you have a tip for going Green when you feel like you can’t afford to, please share it in a comment.

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Summer Solstice

If you happen to be awake at 1:45 a.m. on June 21st, you’ll be able to greet the Summer Solstice with open eyes. Of course, if you’re in my neck of the woods and you’re outside, your eyes might get full of raindrops and/or mosquitoes. This IS Maine in June and the recent monsoons have really bucked up the small insect hordes.

What with the lowering clouds and frequent showers, it’ll be hard to tell that this is the longest day and shortest night of the year. Also not readily apparent is the fact that – from here on out – daylight starts to fade and second by second, we lose a little bit of daylight every day until we get to the Winter Solstice on December 21st of this year.

No way do I want to think about that when daisies are blooming, humming birds and bees are buzzing around the comfrey and wild strawberries are sparkling in the grass like rubies. So, in spite of the rain, the bugs and the dwindling tomato growing season, I’ll celebrate summer’s entrance and hope that the sun will return, also, before the slugs take over the garden.

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Click to Donate Redux

I used to click on these sites all the time, but then I got too busy. What with home schooling, internet marketing, researching and freelance writing, I had no time for clicking on anything that didn’t earn me money or give my daughter something to learn about. Since April of this year, when I made my “new year’s resolutions”, something I do on my birthday, I’ve been clicking again and here’s why: I want to do good. Not well. Good.

I have a good life with a family I love, a place to live where we can have pets and walk around in woods and fields. We’ve had our ups and downs and even some tragedies, but most of my life has been good. There’s no other word for it. I realize that I want other people to have good lives, and I know that many people are struggling just to stay alive. So, I donate to several worthy causes and I click. Daily. No more excuses.

If the Depression recession has you thinking that you’re going to have to stop donating to the local food pantry and start making withdrawals from it, click instead. If you’re shopping at Goodwill instead of donating to them, you can still click so that other people will have a warm coat or a hot meal this winter. Click to save baby seals. Click to provide medical care to kids who might not grow up unless we help them. Click to save the rainforest or whatever else is important to you.

My daughter’s favorite site is Free Rice where you answer questions on Art, Vocabulary, Chemistry, Languages, Math and Geometry to donate rice. You can watch a video of the rice being distributed and find out where the rice you earn is going to. If you’re home schooling kids, this is a great site to have them start the day with. What’s better than learning something, helping someone else and having a good time doing it?

I’ve added some links to “click to donate sites” on my sidebar and will add more as I find them. I suggest that you start with The Hunger Site or Care2.com because both sites have links to other “click to donate” sites. Another way you can help is by joining me at Social Vibe, where you can find out how to “get social” while you help others.

I’m always telling my kids, “We’re all in this life together. Why not do some good while we’re here?”

Well, we’re all on the Net together, so why not do some good while we’re here too.

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So Much For the Summer of 2009

If I had to come up with a one-word synopsis for the summer of 2009, it would be “rain.”

In Maine, we had one week of sunshine in August and nothing but rain for 99% of June and July. Now, it’s in the 40’s at night and the low 70’s in the daytime. Great fall weather, except for two things: We didn’t have a summer and it’s not fall.

Still, it’s nice weather and we’re taking advantage of it. Daughter and Son are stocking up on Vitamin D and the dog is back to chasing tennis balls instead of deer flies. Unfortunately, for most of the kids in our area, school started just as the sun came out, so they’re missing out on the best days of summer right now. Unschooling is a wonderful thing when the weather gods send gray days, let me tell you.

Another wonderful thing when your weather stinks is to look at what people are having to put up with in other parts of the US and the world. We might have had weather that only a mushroom could love, but we didn’t have forest fires, droughts, high winds or tornadoes or days in the triple digits like the southwest had. We did have a few hot, humid and hazy days when the ozone level was high even in Acadia Park, which should set off warning bells for everyone who cares about climate change. But we’re lucky to live on top of a hill where there’s always a breeze, even on the hottest day, and we’re surrounded by thousands of acres of trees.

I recently read that stress is the number one killer in America. In the same article, the author said that people who manage to find the slightest bit of good in bad things avoid the physical and mental damage that stress does and live longer. Okay, I can do this. This summer wasn’t that bad. We’ve had worse. We saved on A/C. Didn’t have to put it on once. Of course, the only A/C unit we have, which is barely big enough to cool a closet, is still in a box out in the garage.

But there’s also the fact that we won’t have to worry about a water shortage for a long time, and that’s a big plus, especially for the farmers. Perhaps, after drowning us for three months, Ma Nature will soften and give us a mild winter. That would be nice. Hey, I’m looking on the bright side here, something that doesn’t come naturally to Mainers who have lived through decades of mud, snow and black fly seasons.

So, to relieve stress, I’m completely ignoring the few days of summer that we have left. Instead, I’m looking forward to the gorgeous fall days that we almost always have here in Maine. Golden October and Nippy November. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I hope.

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BPA Just Won’t Go Away

Okay, now that the major baby bottle manufacturers have agreed to remove Bisphenol-A from their products, we can all rest easy, right? Well, if we live in the US where they’re doing that or in Canada where the gov’mint is making them do that, yes. However, if you live in a developing country, you might want to breastfeed.

Of course, you might want to breastfeed anyway, since it’s usually a better option than bottle feeding, but not everyone can or wants to and they should have that choice. And what if you breastfeed but want to expel milk and put it into a bottle? I’d recommend glass if you don’t live in the US or Canada, so that your babies aren’t exposed to this estrogen mimic.

But lest you think that BPA is only an issue for babies, let’s talk about beverage containers and food cans. Sure, you’ve ditched that water bottle, but do you still drink seltzer or soda also? Do you drink beer? Juice in plastic bottles? How about that chili you made last night with canned beans? Baked beans?

I can hear you saying that you’ll bite the bullet and spend the extra money to buy organic canned goods from now on. Well, that’s good, except that, as far as I can find out, only 2 brands of organic canned goods are lined with BPA. Yup. Unless you buy Eden beans, rice and non-tomato products or Henry and Lisa’s Natural Seafood products, you’re getting BPA in your canned goods.

What really bothers me is that some of our former favorite brands contain BPA. Daughter practically lived on Annie’s canned pasta for awhile and we’ve eaten an ocean of Muir Glen soups. Zevia, a diet soda made with stevia, was the only soft drink I let my kids drink and I mixed it with half a shot of whiskey for my nightly “cocktail” throughout the winter months. I even recommended it to my readers, friends and family as a safe alternative to diet soda.

Eden uses a slightly more expensive can liner made from tree resin. Why can’t the other manufacturers do the same? As more companies create a demand for this product, the price will fall due to competition. Until that happens, my container of choice is glass. Santa Barbara Olives come in jars. So do Lucini tomato products. I’m sure there are plenty of alternatives to canned products.

One I just found is Virgil’s Diet Cola and other flavors. My kids love the root beer. It’s made with stevia and while it’s not as tasty as Zevia, it improves considerably – as does almost any beverage – when I add half a shot of Jim Beam to it.

Recent revelations that very low doses of BPA still cause neurological and endocrine system damage and a very recent Yale study that shows that it stays in the body much longer than previously thought, just add urgency to the need to get it out of the food supply. Then we can work on getting it out of the CD’s, refrigerator shelves, auto parts and millions of other items that it’s in, so that it will stop leeching into our water supply and our soil.

But that’s another post.