Category Archives: Save Money & The Planet

Re-Thinking Gifting: Save Money & The Planet Holiday Edition

Our family resolution for 2017 is to spend less money on things, and to start to reduce the amount of stuff in our home (in other words – make a more pronounced shift towards minimalism). Between that and our desires to reduce waste and leave a small environmental footprint, we have been brainstorming some less than ordinary gifting strategies this year.


  • Instead of a physical gift, wrap up tickets to a theme park or activity (great for kids)
  • Make plans with another family to not exchange gifts, but instead go on a special weekend trip together (works well for other families with similar age kids)
  • Say that a financial contribution towards a vacation is your holiday gift. Simon & I agreed happily that our only gift to each other is our diving trip next year.
  • Take a person or couple out for a day – to a show, for a pedicure, hiking, for dinner. For most busy grown-ups, having an all-expenses-paid fun afternoon with no planning is nearly as good as a stay in a fancy resort.

Handmade Gifts

  • Kids’ arts & crafts are a time-honored tradition, and the options are endless (check out google image search or pinterest). These are wonderful for caregivers & relatives. When I know we are making a gift I use higher end materials so the finished product will look better and last longer. Creating wall art on a canvas or putting it in a frame are great touches.

    If you have the skill to crochet this R2D2 hat, by all means please do. Pattern here.
  • Edible gifts are another time-honored tradition where you really can’t go wrong. We’ve gifted cookies, wine & hot cocoa jars, but again the possibilities are endless here.
  • The world of DIY seems to get bigger every day. We have received many adult-handmade gifts that we love including blankets and wall art.
  • If you aren’t crafty, check out Etsy to support local small businesses & find exactly what you want – i.e. Blake’s Halloween shirt from Simply Cloth Boutique.


  • For Blake’s upcoming first birthday (where did that year go??) we requested donations to the American Civil Liberties Union in his name in lieu of gifts.
  • For an older child, it can be a great experience to walk the donation over them self (i.e. to the animal shelter). Let friends & relatives know if
    you are requesting money or specific items, and have your child(ren) help package everything up & bring it to their charity of choice.


  • Another favorite for both of our kids and give to others are books. New, used, hand-me-down, and maybe signed, these don’t take up too much space are timeless. True to our science-family style, we love a house full of books!

Second-Hand, Thrift Store, & Hand-Me-Downs

  • Buying second-hand is an easy way to save money & have a positive environmental impact. Check out Goodwill, Salvation Army, & thrift stores for just about everything under the sun. If you’re crafty, you can re-finish or paint wood pieces to then use as extra special gifts (not that I have time for that… I’ve been watching too much Fixer Upper!)
  • Hand-me-downs are another wonderful gift, in particular to a child younger than yours. Most kids clothes will easily last through several children since they outgrow them quickly, and parents are grateful to reduce their costs. Swimsuits, sun hats, flip flops, snow boots, coats, and other seasonal items are particularly good hand-me-downs because they are pricier and generally not heavily used any one child.

    A neighbor kindly shares the monthly onesies with Blake, which is perfect as each kid only wears them once!
  • Cycling toys between families is a great way to keep your playroom interesting without letting it get too cluttered. If you are buying & selling used, there is a far lower monetary cost too.

Recycle & Re-Use

  • Recycle gift wrap, bags, tissue paper, & ribbons
  • Paint newspaper or brown packaging paper (handprints or finger painting are especially fun) to use as gift wrap.
  • Use cardboard as party decor – paint signs or banners or make a big card for guests to sign. Love this idea from Meredith Tested!
  • When it can’t be re-used anymore, recycle wrapping & tissue paper


Everyone loves giving & receiving presents, our family included! We are grateful for all manner of gifts that come through our door. This list is simply a collection of some different ideas we have tried to cut costs, be kind to the Earth, and maintain a festive & happy holiday with our friends and family.

Save Money & The Planet: How To Make Old Furniture Look Nice

Paint it!

You may have guessed from our earlier announcement that we’ve been quite busy with DIY home projects recently. We are also big fans of second-hand furniture. For our new home, we decided to only buy high quality items (no more particle board!) I discovered just how easy it is to improve old wooden furniture by painting it.

This plan relies on starting with high quality, sturdy furniture. The color, finish, scratches, etc don’t matter. The structural integrity does. 

 Method 1: Regular Paint

I started with two sturdy wooden dressers that were woefully scratched and dinged.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters and clean.
  2. Use wood fill to repair the worst of the chips and dings. Let dry.
  3. Sand and clean again.
  4. Paint! I used Behr Ultra Premium Plus, which is a paint and primer in one. I applied a total of four coats, each of which has to dry for 24 hours. The first two coats were very then primer coats, focusing on knots in the wood and areas with the wood fill product. The second two coats were much heavier, applied with a roller.
  5. Finally, I added two coats of polyacrylic to the top for protection, since these will be our bedside tables.
  6. Finishing touches – I replaced the chipped wooden knobs with white laquer knobs, and lined the drawers with yellow & white paper to make them more cheerful.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 5 hours over ~7 days

Total Cost: $140

Pro Tips: Make sure to let each coat of paint dry fully before re-coating and applying polyacrylic. Shelf paper liners & new knobs were inexpensive but really nice touches.

Items Needed: 1 quart of Behr Ultra Premium Plus Semi-Gloss in Tropical Seas. Elmer’s color-change wood fill. Painter’s multi-tool. 1 small can Minwax polyacrylic protective coat. 2 rolls of shelf paper. 18 white knobs with screws. Foam or detail brush. Roller, handle, and paint tray. Sanding block.

Method 2: Spray Paint

I started with six dining chairs that Simon had reinforced and two red kid’s chairs, all from craigslist.

  1. Quick sand to remove any loose splinters, then clean.
  2. Set everything up outside on tarp/cardboard.
  3. Prime. I used 4 cans and applied many light coats of primer.
  4. Paint! I used 12 cans for everything. Again, lots of light coats 10-15 minutes apart.
  5. Clear coat – optional. I sprayed on gloss finish after the paint for durability.
  6. After everything had dried thoroughly, I added on little feet (glides) that nail in to the chair legs to prevent scratching.
  7. Done!

Total Time: 4 hours in 1 day

Total Cost: $80

Pro Tips: Spray paint works best when applied in a slow, sweeping motion as many very light coats. All of my items looked patchy until about the fourth coat, and I was still picking up detail spots 10 coats in. Choose an appropriate weather day to spray outside (50 – 90 F, low humidity) and wear protective goggles and face mask. Take the time to set everything up away from anything you don’t want sprayed, and use lots of tarps and cardboard to position items. If you do get paint on your skin, acetone (nail polish remover) will get it off.

Items Needed: 12 cans Rustoleum 2x Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Gloss Seaside. 4 cans Rustoleum Flat White Primer. 3 cans Rustoleum clear coat gloss. No-scratch feet for chairs. Sanding block.

Save Money & The Planet: Why We Use Craigslist

The environmental argument for buying anything used is strong. An impressive amount of resources and energy go into the shipping and manufacture of new items. Buying a previously owned item, be it a house, car, furniture, clothing, or household item, avoids the hefty environmental cost of manufacturing and production. It also minimizes the distance an item travels, since most sales are local – you aren’t having materials shipped internationally to produce an item that is then shipped from a factory in Asia to a distributor in the US to a store near you or directly to your doorstep.

Buying second-hand items also saves money. Depending on what you are looking for, you generally save 30-80% off the new sticker price.

Those are the two main reasons we use craigslist. But there are more. We’ve been after furniture recently to outfit our new space, but most of these apply to anything,

  1. Because items cost less, we can afford significantly nicer furniture than we would buy new – solid wood versus particle board, for example.
  2. Many craigslist sellers have multiple items on offer, and will throw in freebies or reduce prices if you come to remove a dresser from their home before they move.
  3. It goes full circle – you can re-sell your used furniture on craigslist, often for a similar price. This is really handy if you want to change your look, upgrade to a larger kitchen table, etc.
  4. When you move, craigslist buyers come to you and take things away that you don’t want. They even give you money for this service.
  5. There is a sense of adventure that does not exist in a store. Finding the perfect item & negotiating a good price is surprisingly fulfilling.
  6. The possibilities are endless. During my furniture search over the past month I’ve seen a children’s dresser with a perfect meter-high depiction of the Frozen characters on it, vintage Coca-Cola products, a full set of lime green kitchen cabinets, and more.
  7. The opportunities are endless. Say you wanted all of your furniture to be white or turquoise. I learned a handy set of tricks over the past few weeks to make exactly  that happen.

Disclaimer – always be wise with craigslist rendezvous. Try to go as a pair during daytime hours. Don’t invite buyers into your home – have items ready to go by the door for them. 

Second disclaimer – I am willing to buy almost everything second hand – even Joey’s diapers. But I do draw the line at mattresses. We elect to purchase those new as they harbor a variety of yucky things.

Third disclaimer – I also frequent consignment and thrift stores, but I prefer craigslist when I’m looking for specific items (set of six wooden chairs, tile top table, etc) since you have so many more choices.



Resolutions – Make Less Trash

It’s a little early to make New Year’s resolutions, but an article has been haunting me since I first saw it circulating facebook a couple of days ago.

The girl who makes no trash. (Also named Lauren).

It seems like a trick – but I’ve been reading through her blog and it is not. No-trash-Lauren is a 23-year old in New York City, who makes everything she uses from bulk ingredients. She buys clothing second-hand. She recycles items, but does not throw them away.

Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Now, this is an extraordinary feat. I am impressed. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what no-trash-Lauren is doing, because I had always considered myself and my family to be quite environmentally friendly and conscious of producing minimal waste. We share one hybrid car. We use reusable stuff in our kitchen, and reusable diapers on our baby. I haven’t purchased new paper towels or paper napkins in years. We buy an impressive proportion of our ‘new’ items from craigslist, neighbors, and consignment/second-hand stores. But even with all of that, we produce a 13-gallon bag of trash every week.

So, now that we have identified the problem, I am attempting to put my science skills to good use to find a solution.

we are NOT throwing away any diapers or wipes
we are already NOT throwing away any diapers or wipes

First – what are we throwing away? I’ve been keeping an eye on our trash for the past week. Our biggest culprits are 1: food packaging (we make most of our own food from scratch, but those raw ingredients come in packages), 2: packing material from parcels and mail (I am a big fan of, and 3: cleaning products (clorox greenworks wipes, old sponges, swiffer refills).


Next – what can we do about it? I am not trying to achieve zero waste over here (we have jobs and a kid after all – this IS no-trash-Lauren’s job), but I would love to make a big reduction in our landfill waste  next year. One of my favorite quotes is from Oscar Wilde- “Everything in moderation – including moderation.”

So with that in mind, this is my plan of attack to reduce our trash output. Many of the items below are those that I do sometimes, so my biggest goal is to be more consistent.

  • Never get bags at the store. Always bring reusable bags. I’m even asking Santa for reusable bulk bags for flour, sugar, beans, etc for Christmas. Furthermore, I am looking for stores in Alexandria where I can buy more foods in bulk.
  • I’m no longer going to buy coffee unless I have my own reusable cup with me or the cafe serves drinks in ceramic cups. I own plenty of these, but I’m guilty of periodically getting the red cardboard Starbucks cup when I forgot my stainless steel mug at home.
  • To that end, we will be much more cautious about where we go out to eat and consider packaging of food.
  • Our lunches will be entirely packages in reusable materials.
  • No more disposable swiffer refills or disposable cleaning wipes. I bought washable, reusable microfiber cloths to attach to the swiffers and have more than enough old towels and rags for cleaning.
  • I will place my mail-ordering habit in the ‘needs to be more in moderation’ category. I definitely order too many things online, including clothing for myself that I could potentially find second-hand. However, the biggest catch for me Joey. It is ironic, but because we use items like stainless steel sippy cups and cloth diapers for environmental reasons. However, it is harder to find these items at local stores or consignment shops, so I almost always have to order them online. I will note that often these are made in USA, UK, or Canada, so perhaps that helps balance purchasing items at a local store originally made in China?

That leads me to Simon’s first response when I told him about this – how many times do you have to use a canvas grocery bag to balance the plastic bags? The plastic bags are far cheaper and require less energy to make. Buying a big stash of reusable bags and using them 2-3 times doesn’t make a lot of sense environmentally or economically. I’m more focused on lifestyle shifts here, but definitely take his 2 cents to think through your choices.

A major focus of no-trash-Lauren’s blog and new start-up is eco-friendly household cleaning products, personal soap, shampoo, etc. I applaud her efforts, but this is where I reach the moderation point. We already make an effort to buy eco-friendly cleaning products and toiletries for ourselves (7th generation, Mrs. Meyers, bulk soaps, etc.) I use vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice in place of stronger cleaners often. However, I’m not currently willing to invest more time in making all of those items from scratch. I am happy to buy them from The Simply Co. and other manufacturers, and am excited to find more of these options in Alexandria.

So there you have it. Less trash, more moderation, but don’t forget to keep the moderation in moderation.

Save Money & The Planet! Baby Diapers Edition

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

Next up – the biggest environmental impact we’ve made this year, reusable baby diapers.

Reusable Diapers

We chose to use cloth diapers mainly to save money and for the health of our child. We were both concerned about the chemicals and plastics in disposable diapers, especially after we learned that Joey has super-sensitive skin. We did know about the environmental impact from the start, but it was our third most important reason after baby health and money.

Soft, inexpensive, and cute to boot - we love our cloth diapers :)
Soft, inexpensive, and cute to boot – we love our cloth diapers 🙂

We have invested about $350 (net – we purchased more, but eventually sold the types we weren’t as fond of) on cloth diapers and their accessories for Joey. That is enough diapers to cover him from birth to potty-training. Many of his diapers were second-hand or factory seconds. Most estimates for disposable diapers are around $1000 per year for standard/mainstream brands and types. I’ll let you do the math on how much money we save for Joey and any future children we may have (who can use the same diapers!)

ALL of our cloth diapers. From left - best bottom covers, hybrid inserts, night-time diapers, easy-to-use pockets for babysitters and after-swim
ALL of our cloth diapers. From left – best bottom covers, hybrid inserts, night-time diapers, easy-to-use pockets for babysitters and after-swim

Our current preferred system is Best Bottom covers (another perk- we have never once had a blow-out. How many parents of 11-month olds can say that?) with hybrid inserts, and Thirsties Duo Pockets at night. Simon was skeptical at first but now brags about the engineering of the covers (elastic in all the right places and little gussets at the legs to contain any mess). No one who has ever changed his diaper has had significant issues with the cloth diapers compared to disposables. I keep a few one piece pocket diapers for babysitters and after swimming. (Yes, our child has fleece-lined apre-swim nappies). In total, he has 10 covers, 30 inserts, 5 night time diapers, and 4 pocket babysitter/after swim diapers. This is more than enough for me to wash the diapers twice a week.

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

Washing. Everyone asks about washing. It really is not a huge deal, because now that we have a baby I do laundry a couple of times a week anyway! When we lived in San Diego we had a shared, coin-operated laundry room. This was more expensive and more challenging, and I calculated that we spent about $120 on baby laundry overall while we lived there. We still came out with financial savings compared to using paper diapers. (And we would have run many of those loads anyway for his clothes.) Our townhouse in Alexandria has its own washer-dryer combo! This was a requirement for me when moving, and I have to say it feels extremely luxurious. When Joey was small, we had a diaper sprayer (a small, powerful, showerhead) attached to the back of the toilet that we used to rinse off poo diapers before putting them in the wash. Now we have flushable liners that achieve the same goal- just plop in the toilet and the rest of the diaper is washed as normal. We do a prewash or rinse cycle, wash with detergent, and tumble dry the inserts. If we have a small load, I add in his clothes to fill the washer after the rinse cycle.

Joey's diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip
Joey’s diaper covers and wool clothing drying on our tent during an overnight hiking trip

We travel with the cloth diapers too. Initially this sounded harder, but in the long run it is actually far easier for us because we never run out of diapers or need to stress about finding them in a store in a new location (including other countries, which may not carry the same brands). The diapers will dry outside in the sun anywhere, and I can hand wash them in a sink if I have to. I have a dozen flat diapers (big pieces of cloth that you fold) for times when I know we won’t have access to a washing machine because they are the easiest to hand-wash and they dry quickly. When we were backpacking, we used his covers with special compostable inserts that we could bury or send down a long drop toilet. We hand-washed the covers.

Reusable swim diaper - saves money, easy to use, and super cute!
Reusable swim diaper – saves money, easy to use, and super cute!

For swimming, we love reusable swim diapers! They cost as little as $5 each, are way cuter than paper diapers, and hold up very well. We have two for our little water lover to ensure that we always have a dry one available.

Now that Joey is more interactive, he has become good at choosing between 2-3 options by tapping on the preferred choice with one hand. He uses this skill to tell us which book he wants to read next, whether he wants water or milk, etc. I’ve tried many different times offering him a cloth diaper or paper diaper, and he has chosen the cloth one every time. He’s been in paper diapers a few times, which are the only times he has had any diaper rash issues. We’ll take this as Joey’s consent that he likes his reusable diapers too!

How Does This All Help the Planet?

  • Each baby sends ~4000-6000 diapers to landfills, weighing in at 2 tons. (TWO TONS?!)
  • Diapers take hundreds of years to degrade. Human waste is never intended to go to a landfill (read a box of disposable diapers- they instruct you to dispose of fecal matter in the toilet), and can eventually enter and contaminate groundwater, rivers, lakes, the oceans, and drinking water.
  • Disposable diapers have a huge carbon footprint for their production and distribution. One cloth diaper may use more energy than one disposable, but over a child’s diapering lifetime there is no comparison.
  • If you can, line-dry your diapers – this saves even more energy.
  • Most cloth diaper manufacturers have a strong environmental ethic. Diapers are produced responsibly (little waste of materials and energy) from organic materials.

How To Make Your Own Baby Wipes

This is such a fun, easy project that takes advantage of materials you already have lying around the house!


Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Baby wipes cost families $50-75/year. Making your own costs $0-40, depending on how ambitious you are with fabric purchases and vessels for your cloth wipes. They take up very little space in a washer and dryer, so don’t actually increase the amount of laundry that you do. So you’re basically saving the cost of a nice new car seat or stroller for your kiddo.

We’ve discovered another huge bonus, which is that cotton wipes are gentler on baby’s skin than chemical wipes. We use them with tap water and have never had any issues – nor have we had much experience with diaper rash!

Another small perk – this is a great way to upcycle previously loved t-shirts from sports teams, bands, clubs, etc. It always makes me grin to see which logos come up when I change Joey.

So, now that I’ve talked you into it, here’s what to do.

Gather cotton fabric to be made into wipes. We used old t-shirts and flannel sheets, and I bought a yard of flannel fabric off the sale rack as well.


cut single layers of fabric into wipes using pinking shears (the zig-zag edge scissors). This will prevent fraying. Everyone has an opinion on the best size – we prefer a finished size of about 8″ x  8″. I wouldn’t go smaller than 8″ x  6″ or bigger than 10″ x 10″. Once you’ve cut these to your preferred size, you are done!


This is what I did. For this situation, cut fabric into slightly larger squares (8.5″ x 8.5″). Piece two squares, right sides facing each other. Sew around the edges on a sewing machine with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Leave a 2″ gap on one side. Turn the wipe inside out and sew across the gap. Magic! This method results in a smooth edge and a slightly sturdier wipe. To be honest, I prefer the thinner versions of these – two pieces of t-shirt or more worn flannel. We had thicker wipes that had used a sweatshirt and I never use them if I can help it.


T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths - same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!
T-shirts transformed into handmade burp cloths – same method as the wipes, bigger pieces of fabric!

If you are feeling super inspired (as pregnant Lauren was, over a year ago now!) You can use the same double-layer method to produce your own burp cloths. These are just a bigger version of the same thing. We found the best size to be about 10″ x 18″



I prefer to pre-moisten wipes by running a handful of them under the tap so they are ready to go each diaper change. Here’s how we keep them wet:

Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!
Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser- awesome find for our reusable baby wipes!

At home, we use The Oxo Tot Wipes Dispenser. This is a hard plastic version of a classic disposable wipes case, intended for disposable wipes. However, the way the inside is designed (a heavy plate with a hole in the center to pull wipes through) means that it works perfectly for cloth wipes! We have this in Joey’s room now. I have never seen another dispenser that works for cloth wipes, but would love to hear about it if you have other ideas!

On the go, we use a small wet bag. This is a little trickier because it must be unzipped to access the wipes, but certainly does the job. Oxo also makes an on-the-go pouch that looks like it would work for cloth wipes, although I haven’t tried it myself.

There you go! As easy as cutting up a few old t-shirts and you can have your very own stash of cloth baby wipes today 🙂 These are a fun baby shower gift as well – make a matching set of burp cloths and wipes with cute flannel from the fabric store!

Save Money & The Planet! RE-USE IT

Easy Reusable Everyday Items

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

This is a general post that leads to many others – reusing things instead of throwing them away. Do you have other ideas of

Are you sensing a theme here? The original three R’s of being eco-friendly from my childhood were reduce, recycle, and reuse.

Reusing things is one of the very best ways to save money, and it has a nice positive environmental impact as well. The principle is very simple – instead of buying a disposable object (i.e. paper napkin), using it once, and throwing it away, you have a slightly sturdier version (i.e. cloth napkin) that you use over and over, washing between uses.

This almost always results in financial gains long-term. The initial investment is often (not always) higher for a reusable item than its disposable counterpart, but it only takes a month or two to break even and start saving money. To really do things on the cheap, many of these items can be crafted from other things that you already have around the house, saving you even more cash. Another perk is that the reusable versions of products are almost always more aesthetically appealing, and will hold up better to the kind of abuse we put our things through. Each individual thing may only save you a few dollars a week, but bundle a few of them together for a couple of months and it really adds up! Here’s a list of items that we reuse with a few pro tips for each.

Water Bottles:

our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
our stash of reusable coffee cups and water bottles.

I bought a bottle of water in a gas station the other day for $2.50. You’ve got to be kidding me! You can get a wide range of reusable water bottles (or make your own from a previous water, soda, or juice bottle) that can be refilled for free to a few cents in virtually any restaurant, service station, or home in the western world. If you have concerns about BPA and other plasticizers, stainless steel or aluminum bottles are easy to come by for as little as $4.99 in general stores.

Coffee Cups:

I know, I just told you to make your own coffee at home, so you aren’t getting all of those paper and plastic Starbucks cups anyway, right? It never hurt anyone to have a to-go style coffee mug ready for that homemade coffee or the off-chance that you need a second caffeinated beverage from your neighborhood café around lunchtime. Most places (including sbux) give you a discount for bringing your own cup, and the insulated versions keep your drink warm or cold much longer! These are also easy to find in stainless steel for under $10 (although not at sbux 🙂 ).


Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Cloth napkins range in price but can be found for less than a dollar per napkin. We have a set of 12 that I bought for $5.99 on sale six years ago that are still going strong. They are softer and more absorbent than paper napkins (an important feature with our little mess-maker), and take up very little space in the laundry so really do not affect our energy and water budget for washing! This was also one of the great Tim Ray’s top ten environmental tips.

Dish Towels:

Use these for drying dishes, covering baked goods before serving, drying hands, and wiping down the kitchen table. This again minimizes your need for paper towels. Dish towels and napkins have a huge price range, but simple cotton sets can be found at target or dollar general for a few dollars.

Food Storage:

an assortment of washable food storage containers
an assortment of washable food storage containers

We use a wide range of glass containers with lids for leftovers and airtight jars for dry goods in our pantry. Ikea sells the storage jars for a great price, and almost any grocery store or target sells the pyrex and Tupperware storage containers. There are also a plethora of cute snack bags, sandwich wraps, and specialty reusable lunchtime paraphernalia available on the internet. It takes a little longer to realize savings here, but over time all of the zip-loc bags, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil add up. The environmental impact is big – far fewer one-time wrappers being manufactured and going to landfills. For more cost-savings, save jars from pasta sauce, salsa, yogurt, etc to use for your leftovers or packed lunch.

Cleaning Towels/Rags:

Once towels get old and torn, they move to our cleaning bin. We use them to mop stains off the floor, clean windows, and clean off surfaces in the kitchen. All jobs that were once held by paper towels (which we do have but almost never use now!) It is possible to buy this new, but we’ve never had a shortage just by using old towels, sweatshirts, etc so this item is virtually free and starts saving your change from paper towels immediately.

Grocery Bags:

We have an extensive collection of reusable grocery bags by now, collected from various events along the way. I have a fleet of heavy-duty totes (mainly these from LL Bean), which are awesome for shopping (as well as travel!), especially since Joey and I walk to the stores most of the time. I know you’ve heard of this before and you know it is eco-friendly, but how on earth does it save you money if you go out and buy new bags when the store gives them to you for free? Well, most stores give a per bag discount (usually 5-10 cents per bag) if you bring your own. They will honor this even if you save and bring back the plastic bags from your previous visit. However, plastic bags have been outlawed in Hawaii (all of Maui and Kauai), San Francisco, and Portland completely, and many stores and states are implementing policies where customers are charged per bag for plastic or paper bags. So again, not a huge savings but it adds up over time. The reusable bags are far sturdier and have never failed on me, while I’ve had at least four memorable events where a grocery bag has catastrophically ruptured and spilled/smashed food at an inopportune place. If you do get paper or plastic grocery bags, hang on to them to bag your recycling, use as trash bags, carry wet clothes home from the beach, and more.

Baby Wipes:

Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.
Handmade cloth wipes from super-soft old t-shirts & sheets, plus some fun flannel from the fabric store.

Flannel and cotton baby wipes are available to purchase online, or you can make your own from old flannel sheets and t-shirts. (We also made burp clothes! I used a mix of upcycled t-shirts, an old sheet, and some new flannel from the fabric store.) Like cloth napkins, these take up very little room in the wash and don’t affect your water or energy budget. Many moms make their own wipes solution with various soaps and oils, but we just use plain water and it has always worked well for us. Keep wet wipes on hand with a dispenser like this at home, or in a wet bag at home and on the go. This saves $100-$400 a year depending on the type of baby wipes you would typically buy.

Baby Diapers:

I would rather wear this - only super-soft fleece against baby's skin.
I would rather wear this – only super-soft fleece against baby’s skin.

I had to make this in to a whole separate post because I’ve gotten so many questions about it that I wanted to answer. At the end of the day, cloth diapers have an initial cost of $200-600 depending on the type, brand, and quantity. They can be re-used for subsequent children (although you may need more for twins or multiple babes in diapers). Washing costs (if you have your own machine) are about $30-50 a year. Paper diapers cost $800-$1200 per year depending on the brand, so you save about $550 in the first year and $1000 each subsequent year your baby is in diapers. The environmental impacts of this one are huge – tons of material not going into landfills and heavy manufacturing burdens and greenhouse gas emissions that you aren’t supporting.

Upcycle Your Old Things!

We have developed a knack for assessing an object for its potential usefulness before it is sent to the rubbish bin. Old t-shirts, sheets, and towels can be transformed into baby wipes, cleaning cloths, and more. Pasta sauce jars can be washed and used for food storage. Cardboard boxes become forts for Joey. The little bottles of shampoo from hotels can be saved for guests, and re-filled from your big shampoo container for future travels. That tent that isn’t really waterproof anymore still makes a great sun shelter in the yard for kiddos. Anytime you can come up with a new use for something, with or without modification, you are minimizing the demand for newly manufactured items and the load sent to landfills. Get creative – and please share your favorites! I’m always looking for new ideas for our family and home.

How Does This Help The Planet?

Nearly everything you buy in a store has to be manufactured in a factory, shipped to a distribution center, then shipped to that specific store. The carbon emissions and pollution add up quickly, especially since so many things are manufactured overseas. The less you buy, the less demand you are giving the manufacturing machine, so it will eventually respond by reducing the supply that it produces.
When we throw things away they don’t just disappear- they are sent to landfills (again, carbon emissions and pollution), which we are rapidly running out of space for. (Think Wall-E)

Save Money & the Planet! Make Your Own Starbucks

There have been many times when people commend us on our environmental ethic. I am proud to say that some things Simon & I do are intentionally to try to help the environment- reusable shopping bags, walk/bike instead of drive, buying local foods, etc. However, there are many, many more things that we actually did to save money, and later realized that they had a big side benefit of helping the Earth too. Here are some examples – you might find a helpful hint for your own life in here!

First in the series – beating the caffeinated green giant.


Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
Better than Sbux Iced Coffee. Bonus- served in a chilled beer mug
Homemade vanilla simple syrup lasts for weeks at room temperature (not like we let it go that long!)

Oh how we love the ‘green sign of joy’ and their $5-6 beverages. However, we have gradually shifted to making all of our favorite coffee drinks at home upon looking at a credit card statement or two and gawking at the numbers going to starbucks. There are several helpful tutorials on the web for the more elaborate drinks, but the basics are the same for all of them. Here you go!

  • We use a french press ($20 at Target) – no filters to buy or plastic parts. Any coffee maker will do, however!
  • We get coffee at Safeway, and use the in-store grinder for a fresh taste and to get the ‘coarse’ grounds you need for plunger coffee, which ranges from $5-$9 a pound depending on sales. Safeway has been selling its coffee for $4.99 a pound for the whole month of June, and I admit to stocking up and freezing some!
  • I make a variety of simple syrups. As the name implies, these are very simple! Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan and boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Optional – add a teaspoon of your favorite extract (for us this is usually vanilla, but we do some fun drinks with peppermint extract and hershey’s syrup around christmas). These can be stored in any sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge.
  • For standard coffee, we use 4 TBSP grounds for our 8 cup press and brew for 2-3 minutes. Add milk and syrup of your choice.
  • For iced coffee, use 6 TBSP grounds for 2-3 minutes and let it cool right down in the fridge. I keep a pitcher of this in addition to iced tea ready to go in the summer! Add milk and syrup of your choice when you are ready to drink.
  • For mocha, frappucino, and other fancy delights, use 6-8 TBSP grounds and brew a bit longer – 3-4 minutes. This makes super-strong plunger coffee that can sort of pass for espresso.
  • Chill your faux-spresso for frappucino. Blend about 3/4 cup strong coffee with 1 cup milk (mix in some half-and-half for a creamier flavor), 2 cups ice, and 2-3 TBSP syrup. Mix in hershey’s chocolate syrup for mocha. If you’re feeling decadent, you can top with whipped cream from a can. Some folks on the internet add xanthum gum to stabilize the blend. We’ve never felt a need to do this, but ours do separate after 10-15 minutes.
  • For a latte or mocha, keep the faux-spresso hot and steam milk in a pot on the stove. A quick beat with a whisk or a dedicated frother will produce the latte-like consistency that we love. I mix the syrup into the hot coffee first, then pour the frothed milk on top.

Magic! We now prefer our home coffee drinks to those from starbucks and most other chains. You can customize your milk and sweetener to your tastes and wind up with the perfect drink for you. You can also make stronger or weaker coffee to meet your needs. When I was pregnant and minimizing my caffeine, I made super-WEAK coffee for homemade frappucinos (2 TBSP grounds for 1-2 minutes). Depending on how fancy, we estimate that an iced coffee costs us about $0.65 and a frappe with whipped cream about $0.85 (we use organic milk and raw sugar). Even if you add in hershey’s syrup or a frothing stick and buy your coffee maker, you beat starbucks within 4-5 drinks.

How making your own coffee helps the planet:

  • No single-use cups, lids, straws, or cup sleeves going into the trash (and you’re reducing demand for them to be produced in the future!)
  • You didn’t drive somewhere to get this.
  •  Starbucks and other multi-national chains have an impressive carbon footprint that you are supporting less.
  • Depending on your options, ingredients can be sourced locally.