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#893 Put A Hold On Toilet Flushing

14 May

fresh water

Be a good fresh water steward, use less water at the toilet. Photo via flickr by Corey Leopold.

If it’s yellow, let it mellow… If you live in a dry or drought area, you’re probably familiar with the waste of fresh water to flush toilets, and the cost to flush every time you use the bathroom. It’s not just a monetary cost, but the strain on the water table and fresh water resources costs as well.

Old toilets can use as many as four to seven gallons of water per flush, more water than an average citizen in many parts of the world would use per day. Newer toilets do a bit better with one and half to three gallons per flush. Either way, limiting flushes reduces fresh water waste and saves money. At pennies a time, the big savings would occur over a lifetime, but small savings per year also accumulate. Not only does saving fresh water by reducing flushing save money on the water bill, but it also helps with the future outlook of limited water resources.


Don’t flush your money down the toilet. Photo via flickr by Titanas.

While water is not expensive currently, many speculate it could become the next oil, a treasured and expensive commodity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American households spend about $2 per 1,000 gallons, and $474 on water and sewage charges per year. The EPA estimates the average American uses 90 gallons of water per day, while a European uses 53 gallons and a sub-Saharan citizen uses three to five gallons a day. A single person saving three flushes per day could save seven gallons of water per day (calculating average flush use of four gallons of water) or 49 gallons per week or 2,548 gallons per year, which would be just over $4.50 per year saved. Multiply that by a family of four, and the savings increase to $18 a year or $324 for 18 years of children living at home. This of course is assuming that the $2 per 1,000 gallons will not increase exponentially as water becomes scarce due to drought and contamination by farming, pollution, runoff and sewage.

In many ways, conserving water now is a way for payoff in the future. Being good stewards of the resources we have now will mean that we’ll continue to enjoy those resources at a low cost in the future. Not flushing every time isn’t the only way you can save water at the toilet. You can multiply savings a few other ways as well.

First, check for leaks in your toilet. A few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank will tell you if you have a leak. If the color comes through in the bowl after 15 to 20 minutes, then there is a leak and fixing the leak can save 1,000 gallons or $2 a month or $24 a year. It’s an easy fix that most likely involves replacing the valve seal. A brick or plastic bottle filled with sand and sunk into the tank will displace water, which means there will be less in the tank and less water per flush. You can replace an old toilet from a four to seven gallon model to an efficient one and a half gallon model. I like the European model toilets that are tankless and allow you to have a “big” flush button and “little” flush button to address the issue of not always needing a huge flush.

Here are some tips for refraining from flushing and saving water on bathroom use:

  • Don’t be grossed out. The mellow yellow approach is best saved for in home use. As long as you’re home by yourself or with family members who are all on board with the practice, it’s just a matter of getting in the habit and not being offended by it. Have a rule for flushes, like every other pee or every three pees so the yellow and TP don’t collect excessively. When guests are over, social convention kicks in with toilet flushing, unless you are in a drought area and comfortable explaining the limited flush model. Remember pee is sterile. Obviously anything besides pee should be flushed.
  • Don’t run the water at the sink or shower. Don’t wait for the water to get hot, jump right in or start to wash right away. A little wake up isn’t bad. Some people end their shower with a cold blast of water as a health aid to improve alertness. Or change your shower head to a low flow model. My family has one where you can shut the water off at the shower head as you soap up and shampoo. If you have a warm bathroom, it’s not unpleasant to skip being under the running water the whole time.
  • Consider graywater. Why use fresh water for toilets? Some people ask this and say don’t. Graywater is the water runoff from showers, sinks, dishwashers, ect. Anything that is not sewage from toilets. If you are constructing new or doing major renovation, look into recycling graywater into your toilets so the household water flows from the freshwater sources into toilet use, which eliminates wasting fresh water on toilet flushes. You can even use graywater for irrigation outside.
  • You’ll be saving your septic and sewage. Saving on water in the bathroom means that your septic or sewage system won’t get overloaded with water. This means less to go wrong and less overflow contamination of other freshwater sources.
  • Don’t think it doesn’t apply to you. I don’t pay for water, I don’t own a home, my water is included in rent… whatever the reason that you think you don’t pay for water, you do. It’s part of the cost of living whether you feel it or not.




#895 Use The Right Amount Of Soap

10 May

dishwahser dishes

Using too much soap will shorten the life of your appliances. Photo via flickr by David Locke.

No one wants to flush money down the drain. But think about how many household soaps you use that you may be overusing. Do you know exactly what the dishwater needs? The washing machine? Shampoo? Face wash? Hand soap? If you’re anything like me, when the bottle is new, I end up dumping out way too much. And then when the bottle is almost done, I’m scrimping the last bits to get out a drop to finish the job.

The best thing to do is make a conscientious effort to find out how much is an appropriate amount of soap for the job. Read the dishwasher and washing machine instructions. Or at least the back of the bottle or box of soap. Technology has advanced rapidly. High efficiency soaps and machines need a lot less product than you may have used in the past. It’s even the case that the recommended amount of soap can be halved in most machines. Contrary to what most of us think, lots of suds means way too much soap in washing machines and dish washers. If you don’t think you are using too much soap, run these tests to see what your results are. Most likely you’re using too much soap.

front loading washing machine

Front loading washing machines need very little soap. Photo via flickr by Editor B.

Not only is too much soap in washing machines and dishwashers wasting money on your soap product, but over-soaping wears out the machinery faster by gunking it up, creates mold and mildew (you wouldn’t think as it is soap!), wears out your clothes faster and leaves your dishes filmy.

As for shampoo and other liquid soaps, unless they come in a pump bottle, it’s too easy to dump out twice as much or more than you need out of the original bottle. I recommend getting a pump bottle for your shampoo and conditioner to be able to control the amount of shampoo and conditioner you dole out. Squeezing it out of a standard flip top bottle leads to a lot of waste. How much shampoo you need really depends on your length of hair. For chin to shoulder length hair, which is the standard for most bottle instructions, it would be a portion of shampoo the size of a quarter (2.5 cm). But for shorter hair than this, it would be less, closer to nickel size (1.5 cm) and longer hair would be a little more.

bar soap

Bar soap is cheaper and less prone to overuse than liquid soap. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

For body wash and hand soap, I would recommend getting rid of liquid versions altogether and using bar soap. Bar soap is cheaper, and you are much less likely to overuse the soap. Contrary to some thinking, using a bar of soap for a household doesn’t transfer any bacteria or germs. Especially if the bar is given a clean off rinse after use. The only drawback to bar soap is the filmy wet scum, which can be combated with a good soap dish. If someone in your household is really attached to liquid body wash or other liquid soaps, a pump bottle if it doesn’t already come in a pump bottle is a good idea. Don’t be afraid to use only half a pump if that’s all you need.

Once you start watching your soap use, you can make your soap products last twice as long or more by using the appropriate amount of soap for the job at hand.

#953 Do Your Own Facials and Peels

28 Dec

sugar and honey 2

Photos via flickr by (l-r) gringer and Siona Karen.

Look no further than your kitchen cupboard for your own home spa experience. Sugar, honey, oats, egg whites, olive oil, salt, coffee, yogurt, tea bags and cucumbers are all the basics for what spas charge you $1o0 or more to apply to your face or body in the name of rejuvenation and relaxation. Honestly, I have a better experience when I do it myself at home for free.

A spa day was a once-a-year luxury on my birthday or other special occasion, now I can do it weekly (if I had the time!) or monthly (more like it). I was always super annoyed when I’d get a facial at a spa, pay $100 and feel like all I got was a really good moisturizing job. I always kicked myself for not picking something I actually couldn’t do myself like a massage. Bottom line – my facials at a spa were never any better than what I did at home, so why pay for it? Everything from exfoliants to moisturizers are sitting in the kitchen, so mix yourself up a batch of sugar scrub and egg white mask and start experimenting. It’ll be fun, relaxing and free.

The best part about using your own products is you know they're all natural.

The best part about using your own products is you know they’re all natural.

First, you would book with a spa, so why not book with yourself? Give yourself an hour of spa time on the weekend when you’re “booked.” Get rid of the kids and spouse, or include them for family or couple bonding time. Get together with a friend to do it together. Light some candles, put on ambient music and relax. There are tons of quick and easy recipes for masks and scrubs online. The basic steps for a facial are: Cleanse (your favorite cleanser); exfoliate (a kitchen-made scrub); open pores (a bowl of steaming water and a towel); put on a face mask (a kitchen-made mask); do your eyes (cucumbers or tea bags); and moisturize (olive oil, grapeseed oil or mayo). Simple. And the results are amazing. You can even have seasonal fun with things like pumpkins and pomegranates. It’s always a good time for great skin.

Doing my own facials were great, but I also loved getting a little deeper therapy with peels, which helped to even skin tone and address bigger skin issues. Chemical peels definitely seemed like it should be left to the professionals. And I’m sure they advise you to. But I was sick of paying $100 for someone to try out a light, lactic peel on me the first time for a baseline and then go back for another $100 a pop for better results. So I decided to try it out myself. I bought a peel that I knew I liked, and followed the instructions exactly. Oh my goodness! Did I just get hundreds of dollars worth of peels for $35? Yes, yes I did. I loved it! It worked beautifully, and it saved me a lot of money.

You are dealing with some more serious stuff than a kitchen facial, so the most important part is to follow the directions and time limits strictly. Start low and work your way up. You don’t want to seriously damage your skin by leaving it on too long, over-using or jumping too quickly into a high concentration that your skin can’t handle. The link for the site I use (Makeup Artist’s Choice) has products just like doctor’s offices would use, so it’s not over-priced, watered down versions that you might find from big names like Neutrogena or Elizabeth Arden. For $40-$50 you literally get several hundred if not a thousand dollars worth of treatments.



#954 Get Your Hair Cut By An Apprentice

27 Dec

modelsmodels2I get my hair cut at a top salon in town for $10. Haircuts are usually $50 to $70 dollars at the salon. How do I do it? I call and ask for the “apprentice cut.”

The salon likes to train its own army of stylists after they’ve graduated from cosmetology school, so a select few apprentices work for the salon for a year or so, practicing cuts and colors under the strict supervision of senior stylists. The apprentices need models. That’s me. For $10, I can get my hair cut and they get to “practice.” They’ve had a lot of experience already, so I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad haircut from an apprentice. I’ve totally loved a few cuts, and been completely satisfied for the rest. In the meantime, I’m pampered in a swanky salon, instead of squinting under the bright, strip mall lights of the closest Hair Cuttery (where I’ve had many a bad and unsatisfactory cut).

If you’re not sure if any salons in town have an apprentice program, call them up and ask. It’s usually one of those best-kept secrets of thrifty living. They occasionally will advertise in the paper for models. The Vidal Sassoon Academies are famous for needing models for their programs as well as Paul Mitchell. You can look up requests for hair models in big cities, here. Even small towns have apprentices in their salons, so just grab your phone book or look online for the best salons and give them a call. Even though I pay a small fee for the cut and style at my salon, as a model for many salons, the cut will be free of charge. They also need to practice coloring and special occasion styling, so those are also available at a great discount or free.

Another option is to be a model for a cosmetology school near you, although this is sometimes a little more iffy, as they are still pretty green.

Photos courtesy of