5 ways going green can save some green

605x340xdollar-bills-2015-Dollarphotoclub_67129525.jpg.pagespeed.ic.0DZosyt27WIn honor of this month’s Earth Day, here’s a piece that first ran on DailyWorth.

If you’re trying to save money, you’ve heard all the usual advice about ways to cut back: brown bag your lunch, use coupons, shop sales.

But with Earth Day this month, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at your frugal hacks and see which ones can be updated with the environment in mind. Many times you can save even more with some earth-friendly tweaks.

“Frugal and green lifestyles both mean making specific, informed decisions in order to waste as little as possible,” said frugal hacker Donna Freedman of Surviving and Thriving. “Bonus: Choosing to be frugal can make being green a lot more affordable.”

Old way: Brown bag your lunch.

New way: Reusable bags, wrappings and containers will extend your savings and help save the environment. An investment in an $8 Wrap-N-Mat, for example, will pay for itself in less than a year, assuming you’re spending 4 to 5 cents each for sandwich bags. Or you can just use a napkin or a bandana to wrap that PB&J. You don’t have to buy a special lunch bag, either; any small tote bag will work. Oh, and bring your drink in a Thermos. Bottled water isn’t friendly to the earth or your wallet.

“Bottled water is an environmental nightmare given the petroleum and other resources needed to manufacture and recycle and dispose of all those bottles,” Jeff Yeager, the author of four books on frugal living, including “Don’t Throw That Away! 1,001 Ways to Reuse Your Stuff.” “It’s also a waste of money since tap water is just as good.”

Old way: Make your coffee at home.

New way: Make your coffee sustainably. Still using paper coffee filters? Reuseable ones can be had for $4 to $7—about the same price as a box of 100 paper filters. Did you fall for the single-serve coffee maker fad? The variety’s great, but you’re using a whole lot of plastic pods that probably aren’t even getting recycled. (TreeHugger’s Lloyd Alter called pod coffee a “design for unsustainability.”) You could switch to pods that are mostly biodegradable, or just reserve your fancy coffee maker for special occasions and use a drip or French press version for your daily brew.

The single-serving coffee makers “may still be greener than driving to Starbucks for a cup of Joe, but it really defeats the whole intention of saving money and saving the environment,” Yeager said. (For more tips, watch his video on saving money by going green.

Old way: Shopping for clothes at discount chains.

New way: Buy gently-used clothing at consignment and thrift stores. Katy Wolk-Stanley, who blogs at The Nonconsumer Advocate, joined a “buy nothing new” movement called The Compact in 2007. Since then, she hasn’t bought new clothing other than underwear, bras and socks since 2007.

“Is it easy to only buy used? Yes and no. No, because sometimes a needed item is hard to find used,” said Wolk-Stanley. “However, that built-in lag time between wanting something and tracking down a used version often means that I figure out an alternate solution or simply that it was a momentary impulse and not buy it after all.”

Old way: Buy detergent and other cleaners on sale.

New way: Use a lot less, or make your own. A quarter-cup of laundry detergent is usually enough to clean all but the filthiest loads, while a tablespoon of dishwasher detergent will get your plates clean without overloading your machine with suds. Or make your own: Mary Hunt, author of several books including “Cheaper, Better, Faster!” has been making her own laundry soap for years.

“It’s better than anything I can buy–no perfumes, no dyes or other stuff that causes itching and other skin reactions—and infinitely cheaper,” said Hunt, who runs the Debt-Proof Living site. “Makes me smile to think of all the gallon plastic jugs, bottles, boxes, and other packaging I no longer buy with laundry products in them, to simply haul that fancy packaging to the trash.”

Meanwhile, vinegar and baking soda are two of the most versatile cleaners, and they’re cheap. They can replace most of the store-bought cleaners in your home.

“If you mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle it’ll stand in for Fantastik and other ‘all-purpose’ cleaners,” Freedman said. “You can use a straight vinegar spray if it’s a particularly greasy stovetop, but I use a 50/50 mix and it usually does the trick.”

Old way: Using coupons and sales to stock up on paper towels and napkins.

New way: Ditch paper for cloth. You already have dishtowels, rags and cloth napkins, so put them to use. (If you need to stock up, you can get Tekla dish towels from Ikea for 79 cents apiece.) While you’re at it, ditch those stinky sponges for good old-fashioned dishcloths. I love the Ritz Cotton ones with a scouring side, $8.99 for a five pack. I whip out a new one each day and toss the old one in the hamper. Yes, using cloth creates a bit more laundry, but I haven’t noticed I’m doing any extra loads.

“Buying less and reusing stuff is the way to save money and save the planet,” Yeager said.

Want more? Check out my other columns on DailyWorth.

 

 

Flight delays? Lost luggage? Your credit card may help

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailHundreds of flights have already been cancelled on this busy travel day, with more cancellations and delays likely to come as a winter storm rolls through the East Coast. If you used the right credit card to book your trip, though, you may be entitled to some compensation.

Most cards offer some kind of travel protection, but some of the policies are pretty weak, even for high-end cards. Some only offer compensation for lost baggage, while others offer hundreds of dollars in compensation for trip delays–and thousands for trip cancellations.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for example, is justifiably famous among savvy travelers for its generous delay and cancellation protection: If your trip is canceled or cut short by illness, severe weather and “other covered situations,” can can be reimbursed up to $10,000 for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. You can get up to $500 for trip delays and a whopping $3,000 for lost luggage. (Many other cards limit lost luggage reimbursement to $500.) Other high-end Chase cards, along with The United Explorer Visa Platinum Card, offer similar top-drawer benefits.

Citi recently stepped up its game, and now offers card members refunds for trip expenses if unforeseen events like severe weather, jury duty or even previously unannounced strikes cause trip cancellations. The coverage is limited to $1,500 for most cardholders, though some get up to $5,000. Those with ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige can get up to $500 to buy clothes and toiletries if their bags are delayed. If a trip is delayed, these travel rewards card members also can get up to $500 for unplanned expenses such as hotel rooms, ground transportation and meals.

Travel cards that you think would have pretty good protection–such as American Express or Capital One Venture–unfortunately don’t. Amex offers travel protection for an extra cost and CapOne covers just lost or stolen luggage (although the limit is $3,000).

If you’re affected this weekend by travel hassles, call and ask the credit card company that you used to book the trip what your options might be. If you don’t like what you hear, start looking for a better alternative for your next trip.

 

 

What’s wrong with Disneyland Paris

The castle at Disneyland Paris.

The castle at Disneyland Paris.

We decided to visit Disney’s European theme park just a few days before we were scheduled to leave France. We aren’t diehard Disney fans, but we had annual passes when our daughter was younger and thought it might be fun to see how the park outside Paris compared with the ones in Anaheim and Orlando.

Bottom line: We had a great time with one notable exception.

Getting to Disneyland Paris is dead easy: we just took a train from the city, the RER “A” line, one branch of which stops right outside the park. We got theme park admission tickets online in advance to avoid the line at the gate.

Using FastPass and a little strategy, we never waited more than about 10 minutes to board a ride. Our perception was that the park wasn’t nearly as crowded as American versions (which may explain why you can find discounted tickets, which aren’t common in the U.S.).

I also made lunch reservations at a restaurant with table service (the Blue Lagoon) two days in advance, and we had a great experience there. I tried to make a dinner reservation as well at Walt’s, but the earliest slot available was 9:30 p.m. We hadn’t become THAT Parisien, so we decided we’d use one of the “food on the go” places that dot the park. And that was our big mistake.

Similar restaurants at the U.S. parks typically have a line leading up to the cashier, where you order, and then a short wait until you pick up your food at the counter behind the cashier. It’s usually an efficient way to feed people, as the lines move quickly.

Not at Disneyland Paris. I spent more than 30 minutes standing in line, with wailing kids and increasingly impatient parents, and I was just two people away from the cashier virtually the whole time. She kept running back and forth to the counter as people complained about their messed-up orders. And this was at a place that had only three options for a main course: a Barvarian hot dog, chicken and a cheeseburger.

A lot’s been written about the lack of a “service culture” in France. I’d never found it a problem before then, because treating people with respect and politeness usually brings good results. But my experience at a theme park did make me miss good old fashioned American efficiency.

Still, a Disneyland Paris visit is well worth the short trip. Here’s some advice to make the most of it:

Plan at least a little in advance. It’s not that hard to find and buy discounted tickets. If nothing else, buy tickets online from the Disneyland Paris site and bring them with you to avoid the lines at the gate.

Make reservations at a table service restaurant or buffet. These are the most expensive options, but they’re also a great way to build a break into your day. You have to call in advance, and the earlier you call the more options you’ll have for venue and time.

Learn the FastPass system. The most popular rides allow you to reserve a time slot in advance. You may have to zigzag through the park to hit all the best rides, but we were able to ride everything we wanted in one day. Some rides run out of FastPasses early, so ask an employee’s advice about which ones to get first.

Bring snacks and water bottles. As with all theme parks, snack prices are especially inflated. You can refill your water bottle at one of the drinking fountains.

One day is fine. Some people advise planning a three or four day visit, or at least one day per park (there are two, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios). Attractions at the second park are so slim, though, that we didn’t really regret missing it. If you have smaller kids who easily tire, you might want to break up your visit into a couple of days. But we found a one-day visit worked out just fine.

The lines at the Louvre: 3 ways to have a better time in Paris

Sainte-Chappelle

The stained glass of Sainte-Chappelle.

One thing that’s impossible to understand, no matter how many times we visit Paris: the long lines to get into the Louvre.

It’s not that the place isn’t amazing and an absolute must see. It’s that you can skip the lines simply by buying a Paris museum pass.

Even if you’re not big on museums, you’ll want to see the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay (a grand converted train station with a wonderful collection of Impressionist art) and the lovely Rodin museum and gardens. The admission costs for those three museums equal about 28 euros and the two-day pass costs 42 euros.  You only have to hit a couple more places–such as the jewel-like Sainte-Chappelle, with its breathtaking stained glass; the Conciergerie, with Marie Antoinette’s pre-guillotine cell; the excellent, relatively new Branly, with its collection of African art; the Centre Pompidou modern art museum; the Towers of Notre Dame–to more than offset the cost. Even if you ignore those, you have to ask yourself: what’s your time on vacation worth? So little that you’re willing to spend hours queuing in the hot sun or pouring rain? C’mon, people.

With this in mind, here are three ways to have a better time in Paris without breaking your wallet:

Get the museum pass. It’s 42 euros for two days, 56 for four, 69 for six. Kids under 18 usually get free admission (although we did have to pay a small entrance fee for them at the sewer tour. Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s interesting, although alas you no longer get to ride down the sewers in a boat). Buy your pass at one of the less popular sites to save yourself a long line. The Crypt at Notre Dame is a good place (while you’re there, check out the interactive screens that let you view the cathedral’s construction and the surrounding town from various angles) or the aforementioned Branly, which is between the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides. Stores like FNAC also sell them, and you can check online for other sites.

Use public transport. The downside to Paris’ subway and bus system is that it’s so good, everybody uses it–which means it can be packed. Still, it’s a fast, cheap way to get from site to site. You’ll be using it enough that it makes sense to get a pass if you’re staying more than a couple of days. The tourist pass is easy to get but more expensive; Navigo passes (what locals use) are a little more hassle to get but make riding pretty cheap.

Dine for lunch, picnic for dinner. After several lengthy, heavy French dinners in a row, we decided our stomachs and our wallets would do better dining out at lunch and having lighter meals or picnics with cheese, meat and bread for dinner. Use TripAdvisor to find good places to eat; its reviews are far more robust than Yelp’s (meaning more places reviewed and more reviews per restaurant).

Communicating in Europe: Our cell phone solution

Bayeux

Bayeux, France

If your cell phone works overseas (and not all do), your wireless carrier is happy to sell you an international plan that typically includes a small amount of minutes, texts and data at what feels like a pretty inflated cost. (The cheapest option from AT&T: 120 megabytes of data for $30 a month, $10 for 50 messages, $30 for 80 minutes, for a total of $70 per month per phone for a fraction of what we’re used to at home.)

Apparently, if you don’t use your phone much, you might be fine with that. Given the way I use my phone—to scan email, translate signs and menus, find my way around, coordinate plans with friends and family, book restaurant reservations and check opening hours for museums —I couldn’t imagine paying so much for so little.

The good news is that you can get a lot more for a lot less, as long as you can get your hands on an unlocked phone. Fortunately for us, my iPhone was no longer under contract and we had an old iPhone 3 that my daughter could use, so AT&T sent instructions on how to unlock each one. A friend lent us a Samsung he’d purchased for overseas travel.

I unlocked our phones the day we left for Europe (I was still able to use it in the States that day, as per usual). Once we landed in London, we found our way to a little mobile phone shop just across the street from Harrods and picked up a SIM card for five pounds (about $8.50), which included a five-pound credit for talk time. The gentleman behind the counter inserted the new cards, showed us our new phone numbers and told us where we could buy a package of minutes, texts and data (just around the corner at a news stand, as it tuned out).

Our British numbers worked even after we arrived in France, but I wanted more data than the small plan we bought. Two blocks away from our apartment was an Orange store where another nice gentleman sold us SIM cards (for five euros, including a five-euro credit) plus calling/text/data plans. For 30 euros each, Daughter and I got plenty of minutes, texts and a full gigabyte of data for the month we’re spending in Paris. Hubby, who is not as entranced with the online world, got a less generous plan for 20 euros.

You can, by the way, buy SIM cards at airports, train stations and lots of other locations from kiosks or news stands. I highly recommend finding a mobile phone shop that has someone to help you set up your service, though, especially if you’ve never done it before.

My plan paid for itself just on our recent road trip to the D-Day beaches. I used Google Maps navigation as a GPS to get us from the edge of Paris to every location on our agenda and back again, complete with turn-by-turn voice instructions. That saved us the $12 daily rental fee for our four-day trip.

Notes from London

LondonIn Los Angeles, a 10 percent chance of rain in the forecast means it’s not going to rain. In London, a 10 percent chance of rain means it will rain 10 percent of the day.

At least that’s my conclusion after our recent week tourizing that fine city.

Each morning, we made sure to pack our rain jackets regardless of the forecast, and just about every day we used them. We had one truly rainy day, but were (as the Brits say) spoiled for choice about where to spend it, since London has so many great indoor options to entertain the kiddos: the British Museum, a science museum, a natural history museum and an aquarium, to name just a few.

Most of the major museums are free. Spending time in one of London’s many parks is also free, and renting a bike to tool around will cost you just two pounds for the day (about $3.50). We appreciated these wallet-friendly options, because otherwise London can be an expensive city. (Just one example: two loads of laundry at a laundrette near Marble Arch set me back over $30. The proprietor was lovely, though, and there are worse things than spending a morning chatting with fellow travelers from all over the world.)

Some things are definitely worth the expense. Among them:

The hop-on, hop-off buses. I’ve long been skeptical of the open-top buses that cruise big cities, but the Big Bus tour we took had a witty guide and offered a great overview of the city. Our tickets included a boat ride on the Thames and several free walking tours. You can get your tickets at most of the stops, or get them in advance for a discount online. (We spent about $130 for three people.)

The Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros. studio. Visit the sets, check out the props, be blown away by the scale models used in making the film. The digital guides, with audio and video commentary, are worth getting. (With the guides, we spent about $200 for admission plus about $50 for rail tickets to get there.)

The Tower of London. A thousand years of history in one place, with lots to interest the kiddos. (Admission for three was about $70.)

Matilda. Yes, we could have seen this terrifically fun musical made from Roald Dahl’s book in New York, but I’m glad we waited to see it in its native habitat. If you book in advance, you can get a better deal than the nearly $300 I shelled out for two tickets…so do that.

 

Two months, ten countries–one carry-on

Small tourist collects things in a suitcase for travelWe’re heading off for a European sabbatical soon, and we know from previous trips that dragging along a lot of luggage is a bad idea. If you’ve ever tried to roll a heavy bag down a cobbled street, or had to haul it up five flights of stairs because your quaint rented flat had no elevator, then you understand.

But we’re going to be gone for nine weeks, exploring cities, beaches, caves and countryside. Packing just shorts and flip flops isn’t an option.

Getting everything I think I need into a carry-on has been an interesting challenge. It’s kind of like writing blog posts and 400-word columns for Bankrate and DailyWorth after having written mountains of 1,800-word pieces for MSN. You lay it all out, and then you edit, edit, and edit again. And then maybe you sit on it and squish.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve found about packing light:

It’s worth it. No checked-bag fees, no long waits at baggage carousels, no lost luggage. The time, money and back strain saved are all well worth the effort of figuring out what to leave behind.

Everything should go with everything. So far, I’ve got the wardrobe down to one pair each of khakis, capris and shorts, in addition to the jeans I’ll wear on the plane. Five tops, two jackets, one sweater and one lightweight dress, plus a scarf or two, will allow me to create about 25 different outfits.

Think double-duty. My lightweight robe works as a swimsuit cover-up. My sandals work at the beach or a nice restaurant. My running shoes are low-key enough to work as casual dress shoes. Speaking of shoes:

Ease up on the footwear. They take up huge amounts of space. I’m trying to limit mine to the sneakers, a pair of black leather walking shoes and the flat-soled sandals.

Don’t bring what you’ll find there. I’m skipping most toiletries and hair appliances (which need adapters and converters to work over there, anyway). The hotels will have what we need and if they don’t, there will be shops.

Embrace digital. Not too long ago, every trip with the kiddo would mean packing a DVD player and DVDs along with books and games. I’d have a stack of novels and guidebooks. Hubby would bring much of the New York Times bestseller list. Now it’s all in our iPads.

If you’ve traveled long and light, I’d love to hear your trips for what to bring—and what not to bring.

UPDATE: We left for Europe with three carryons–and came back with two of them, plus two larger pieces of luggage. (One of the carryons, stuffed full of purchases, went home early with our niece.) My hubby’s penchant for buying big heavy art books, my daughter’s love of souvenirs and my flea-shopping habit quickly doomed the idea of traveling that light.

We should have consulted Will’s aunt, a retired travel writer, who roams the world with a medium-sized spinner. It’s big enough to bring what she needs but small enough for her to handle it without help.

Take a year to Get Rich Slowly

Fixing material in the red plastic boxesJ.D. Roth went from being over $35,000 in debt to having over $1 million in the bank. He documented his journey at the excellent Get Rich Slowly site, sharing what he learned about frugality, investing and smart money decisions.

He also wrote a very good book, “Your Money: The Missing Manual.” But The Missing Manual series has a definite format (like the For Dummies and Idiot’s Guides). I’ve been looking forward to reading what J.D. could come up with on his own.

It was worth the wait. J.D. and fellow entrepreneur/blogger Chris Guillebeau just debuted the Get Rich Slowly course. For $39–75 cents a week–you get:

  • An email every Monday that features the best lessons from the blog.
  • A 120-page guide called “Be Your Own CFO”, that in my view is the highlight of the course. (J.D. agrees, calling it “the best work I’ve ever done.)
  • Supplementary downloads, including a revised version of my Roth IRA guide.
  • Interviews with people with a bunch of money thought leaders, including Jean Chatzky, Gretchen Rubin, Tess Vigeland, and yours truly.

I’m not getting paid or compensated in any way for recommending J.D.’s course. I just think it’s a great way to step up your game when it comes to money, and maybe your life.

Check it out at MoneyToolbox.com.

AT&T customers, check your plan!

Internet shopping by cell phone - concept illustrationWhen I heard last month that AT&T was dropping prices for its wireless plans, I thought our family could save a little money. I was startled to find we can save a whopping $60 a month and get a plan with twice as much data.

AT&T cut its prices to compete with T-Mobile and the pay-as-you-go companies that have been offering a lot more data for a lot less. But AT&T isn’t going to foist the savings on you–you have to seek them out. Fortunately, that’s as easy as going online to check your account (a savings offer should show up on your screen) or you can just call the carrier from your phone and ask how you can save.

I try to make it a point to call our communications providers once or twice a year to see if we can get a better deal. I wished I’d called this one a little earlier, because I was only able to backdate the changes to the beginning of last week (the start of our current billing cycle).

Changing plans does not extend your service term or add any additional termination fees, an AT&T rep assured me. So if you’re under contract to AT&T, go save some money!

Tips for a great (and affordable) road trip

Majestic Vista of the Grand Canyon at DuskMy daughter and I just got back from a 1,300-plus mile road trip so I could attend a business conference in Phoenix. Along the way we checked out Joshua Tree, Prescott, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Montezuma’s Castle and the Tuzigoot National Monument. The trip back included stops at the Salton Sea and the amazing Living Desert zoo and botanical gardens near Palm Springs.

Her dad and I took several road trips before she was born, exploring the West and Southwest. They were among our most memorable (and cheap) vacations.

I was pleased to find road trips can still be a frugal way to travel. Our motel rooms typically cost less than $100 a night; even at the Grand Canyon’s comfortable Yavapai Lodge, we paid just $140 to sleep in two queen beds not far from the South Rim. Meals were rarely more than $20 for the two of us, and we spent less than $150 on gas thanks to my 36-mpg-plus Chevy Volt.

So here are my best tips for a memorable road trip that won’t cost a fortune:

Bring the right supplies. Snacks, breakfast makings and a cooler can save you a lot of money on the road. I bring oatmeal (which you can make in a mug, adding water heated by the motel coffee maker), peanut butter for the kiddo, fruit, milk and crackers.

Spring beats summer. At least in the West, the crowds tend to be thinner and the weather less scorching. Since schools schedule their spring breaks at different times, you’re not traveling at the same time as every other family in the freakin’ universe.

Use Yelp. Or TripAdvisor. I found good, affordable places to stay and eat thanks to user reviews. The best find was The Views Inn in Sedona, a clean, comfortable spot with a nice breakfast and an eager-to-please manager. Being willing to stay on the outskirts of town rather than in the center can save you $100 or more a night (or $200, when it comes to Palm Springs in high season).

Ask the locals. Yelp is also good for finding great cheap eats, but asking locals for their recommendations is a great way to start a conversation.

Give the kid a camera. We figured out years ago that our daughter stays much more engaged when she can capture what she’s seeing. Yes, she winds up with 16 pictures of lizards scuttling through the desert, but so what? I have many, many more of her grinning in front of various national monuments.

Catch the ranger talks. I didn’t think “Men, Mules & Mining” at the Grand Canyon would be particularly riveting, but I was so wrong. The stories and accompanying slides were fascinating. So was the geology talk the next day at the Yavapai Museum of Geology. Most of the rangers we encountered were good story-tellers and great about keeping kids engaged.

Set limits on your driving time. When our daughter was an infant or a toddler, driving four hours a day was a lot. Now she can tolerate more, but I found myself pretty weary at the end of an 8-hour travel day. Which may explain why I blearily clipped a dead elk some other unfortunate driver had previously killed on the road to the Grand Canyon. No damage to us or the car; wish I could say the same for the poor elk. In any case, next time I’ll probably limit drives to four hours, tops.

Download an audio book. There are only so many rounds of 20 Questions an adult can, or should, play. Fortunately, we had the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy to keep our minds occupied for much of the trip home. Your local library has tons of audio books you can borrow (in CD version or via digital downloads).

Bring emergency supplies and tools. We never needed the water or trail mix I always pack in the trunk, but I always feel better knowing they’re there.