Archive | personal finance RSS feed for this section

#892 Don’t Get Rid Of Dead Batteries

15 May


Photo via flickr by Matti Mattila.

I have to admit this one came out of desperation… and then I realized it actually worked. When the battery or batteries die in a remote, toy or appliance, don’t assume the batteries are totally dead. Instead I put the “suspected” dead batteries into a zip lock bag to save for later use. What can these “suspected” dead batteries be used for? Items that don’t need much juice can use a battery that otherwise doesn’t “work.”

I started using suspected dead batteries in my wireless mouse. Turns out a wireless mouse uses very little power and can use the charge left in a battery that otherwise doesn’t power other items. I’ve run my mouse on “dead” batteries for a month or more. Once I use up my not-really-dead battery in my wireless mouse, I then put the “really” dead batteries in a separate zip lock bag for later recycling.

call2recycle logoNow when I’m caught with no fresh batteries in the house, I have a store of “suspected” dead batteries to try out. After success using the batteries in my wireless mouse, I started testing the suspected dead batteries in toys and other items before using new, fresh batteries. More often than not, the batteries will work. Sometimes for a longer time than others, but at least I get a little more life out of them. Other times, if a full set of suspected dead batteries doesn’t power the item, I’ll put in one or two fresh batteries (usually because I don’t actually have the correct amount of batteries needed) and one or two suspected dead batteries, and presto, it works! If I’m mixing and matching, I mark the non-fresh batteries so I know that when the item needs new batteries to only switch out the older one or two batteries instead of all three or four.

Getting the longest life possible out of a battery means spending less on new pack of batteries. Other ideas to save money on batteries include:

  • Buy generic. Tests by companies who test that rid of stuff show that generic batteries work just as well or better than more expensive brands. If the expensive brand does last a bit longer, the price difference does not make up for the performance difference.
  • Get rechargeable batteries. The electric cost to recharge batteries is much less than spending on disposable batteries and it reduces battery waste. Rechargeable batteries can be used many times over.
  • Keep batteries cool. Keeping batteries in the fridge, especially in hot climates can help extend the life of the battery. It’s a small amount, but if you’re storing batteries, why not keep them in the fridge to make sure they last as long as possible.
  • Take the batteries out. If you’re not using the item all the time or use it only seasonally, take the batteries out of the item when not in use.

Whatever you do, don’t throw batteries away! The chemicals they leak into landfills are serious contaminants. They should always be recycled. While this can be a challenge sometimes, Radio Shack or other electronic stores may have a recycling program if your local waste disposal does not recycle batteries. For rechargeable batteries and cell phones, look up a drop off service from Call2Recycle. You should always recycle your dead cell phones and laptop batteries as well.

#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.




#894 Love Your Spatula

13 May

Is spatulize a word? If not, it’s the word I made up to to indicate an “empty” jar is not empty. I can spatulize it and get what I need. No running to the grocery store or doing without. Here is a demonstration from today’s lunch:

This jar of peanut butter…

jar of peanut butter

Is NOT empty…

empty jar of peanut butter

Enter the spatula…

red silicone spatula

I prefer a good quality, silicone spatula that really gets the job done…

spatual and peanut butter

Enough peanut butter after spatulizing…

spatula with peanut butter

To put on a slice of cinnamon-raisin bread…

cinnamon raisin bread and peanut butter

Because that’s all I have…

And some jam that also needs a little spatula love…

peanut butter and jam


peanut butter and jelly

A scraped together, strange sandwich calls for excessively nice china…

peanut butter sandwich on china

Limoges, to be exact…

limoges china stamp

The first half of the sandwich was much nicer than I thought it would be…Kids would like this for sure….

peanut butter and jelly sandwich


If you would like to feed this starving artist, donate here. I promise to use a spatula to get the most of the jar of peanut butter your donation will provide.


#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.

#896 Stop Using Paper Towels

8 May

paper towel roll

Quit them cold turkey if you can. Photo via flickr by edkohler.

A friend joined a warehouse club and was excited about the savings, until she realized – where am I going to store my five billion rolls of paper towels? Instead of building a warehouse to store your warehouse purchases, try eliminating the need for many of the bulk buy purchases. First on the list to eliminate? Paper towels.

As a single-use product, paper towels are economically not a very good investment. Depending on the rate of use, paper towels can fly off the roll and into the trash faster than a weekly shop can keep up with. Instead of trashing your money and trees with paper towels, get rid of them altogether and replace paper towel use with things you already have around the house.

Here are some ways to stop using paper towels and save a little more from your grocery and supplies budget:

  • Go cold turkey. All smokers or other addicts know that one of the most effective ways to quit an addiction is to eliminate the  product and make it unavailable for consumption. If you eliminate paper towels from the house completely, you’ll be forced to adapt and find alternatives. Like any other cold turkey quitting program, the first two weeks will be hard and then it’ll get easier. Soon you’ll wonder why you spent money on paper towels to begin with.
  • Rediscover sponges.
    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    If you have a dishwasher, you may hardly ever touch a sponge, but you probably have one at the kitchen sink. Sponges are perfect for cleaning up spills – the number one excuse to use a paper towel. A sponge will do exactly what a paper towel will do – soak up a spill and allow you to clean it up. The big difference is that a sponge is reusable. You can rinse and wring for later use or if the spill requires more than one go with the sponge, it’s no problem to rinse and wring until the job is done. Instead of using half a roll of paper towels, try one reusable sponge. I have a “nasty” sponge pile of old kitchen sponges that I use for toilet cleaning or other particularly nasty uses so that I can throw them out after a long life as a “clean” sponge.

  • Explore rags. What to do with those old t-shirts and cloth diapers? Turn them into cleaning rags for dusting, wet cleaning and other jobs that paper towels are used for. Like sponges, rags are washable and reusable. If you are reusing old clothes or sheets for rags, then cut them up into varying size rags and store them along with cleaning products in an easy-to-access place for all your cleaning needs. An old rag, can go into the “nasty” rag pile and used for a nasty job and then tossed after a long life as a t-shirt reborn as a cleaning aid.
  • Dry your hands on a hand towel.
    hand towel hand drying

    The proper way to dry hands. Hint: not with a paper towel. Photo via flickr by AlishaV.

    One of my pet peeve uses of paper towels is using them to dry hands. That’s what hand towels are for. Or dish towels. I like to keep two hand towels or dish towels in rotation so that when one gets really soaked, I can use the other while the wet one dries out. Have a well ventilated place where the towels can live in a spot convenient to where you normally do a lot of your hand washing and drying. Throw the towels in the weekly wash to keep them fresh. If you have family members who are paper towel hand drying offenders, remove any paper towels from easy reach or altogether, leaving only the hand towel available.

  • Wash with a wash cloth. If you use paper towels for messy kid hands and face, then keep a wash cloth handy as well and use the wash cloth to wipe them down after meals or before running out the door and into public view.
  • Keep a limited supply of paper towels. Buy a roll and make sure it lasts for a certain amount of time – say a month or more. This will make you think every time you reach for a paper towel, “can I use something else for this job?” The answer is most undoubtedly “yes.” The only tricky paper towel replacement is draining bacon. Paper towels are excellent for draining bacon, but if that is your only paper towel use, I think one roll could last a year or more.
  • Use silicone mats and products for baking. Another tough to replace paper towel use is greasing cookie sheets. Replace a paper towel and butter or oil with silicone baking mats, cups and trays that can be reused thousands of times.
  • Don’t use paper napkins either.
    cloth napkin

    Photo via flickr by jenny downing.

    Get classy and use cloth napkins. Growing up in my large family, we each had our own napkin ring with our initials to store our cloth napkin so the napkins would not get confused during the week. Then they’d be washed at the end of the week. Holiday dinners and company meant my dad broke out the ironing board and used the nice cloth napkins instead of our every day ones.

  • If you really need a transition aid… you can try the reusable bamboo paper towels made from renewable bamboo sources called Bambooee that can ease the transition to not using paper towels. Make sure the spouse and kids know not to throw them out. And after they are torn from the roll, they’re really just another reusable rag. But hey, they can drain bacon!

The added bonus of being thrifty and saving lots of money usually means your also being green and saving resources, which is never a bad thing. Eliminating paper towels is no exception.

#898 Buy Farm Fresh Eggs

6 May

farm fresh eggs sign“Growing up in Croatia, I always wanted perfect, white eggs like on American TV,” a friend told me once. She was eating brown farm eggs. The truth is that the dream of having perfect, white eggs is a lot less tasty and nutritious than those brown farm eggs. And if you have access to a local farm or a neighbor with a chicken coop, the cost of a dozen fresh eggs can rival that of the store brands that use claims like “free range,” “cage free” and “humane” to lure the more conscientious shoppers. At the store, the lowest price for eggs with happy chicken claims stamped on the carton is $3.99 a dozen and goes up from there. Around where I live the price for a local carton of eggs from chickens I can see for myself are happy ranges from $2 to $3.50 a dozen. Not only are the eggs cheaper, but I can be assured they are far fresher than anything that has endured transport and storage at the grocery store.

farm fresh eggs

Farm eggs come in a rainbow of colors.

Studies have shown that eggs from free range chickens are lower in cholesterol, have less saturated fat, have more Omega-3s and more vitamin A and E. Buying farm fresh eggs, almost ensures that the chickens are free range. The beauty of buying directly from the person who raises the chickens is that you can see the chickens for yourself. Usually they’re running around under your feet or pecking away in an enclosure around their coop. Small scale farmers and neighborhood hobbyists aren’t ones for cramming chickens into cages so they can lay away without moving.

Then there’s the taste. After you experience the deep orange yolks and richer taste of farm fresh eggs, the insipid yellow yolks of store eggs, no matter how much you paid for them, are unappealing and disappointing.

Not only are farm eggs more nutritious, flavorful and less expensive, but supporting the local economy means your dollars spent will help your community thrive and aren’t going far away to a faceless entity. If you live in an  area where you have farm stands, there will be someone selling his or her extra eggs as well. Maybe even at the same farm stand.

Here are a few more things that I love about farm fresh eggs:

  • The colors.
    double yolk egg

    Free range eggs are tastier, more nutritious and seem to have double yolks quite often.

    I can appreciate a romantic vision of America where eggs are white and perfect, but I love the colors of farm eggs. They range from all shades of brown to speckled to colorful depending on the type of chicken that laid the egg.

  • The freshness. It’s rare that I buy eggs from someone who’s got a sign out that are more than a day or two old. Most times, they tell me the eggs are fresh from that morning. The biggest challenge is finding someone who isn’t sold out during times of the year when hens lay less.
  • The bits of straw and feathers. Most egg cartons I buy have a stray feather or piece of straw in them. It’s a relaxing reminder that I know where my food came from. Sometimes the eggs have a speck of poop, but they’re usually well scrubbed.
  • Duck eggs. Duck eggs taste pretty much like chicken eggs only they’re enormous and the yolks are a little richer with a little different, but pleasing consistency. Duck eggs pack a lot more nutrition than chicken eggs, but have more cholesterol and calories. A lot of locals who have chickens also have ducks and will give you a duck egg or two on occasion. Or have them available to buy. If I were to raise fowl to provide my own source of eggs, I’d go for ducks over chickens any day. They’re friendlier and cuter.

Next time you’re driving around and see a sign for eggs for sale, stop in. You may have to knock on the door. Or buy them at the farmer’s market. If you’re really adventurous, you can take on backyard chickens or ducks and be selling your own eggs before you know it.

#899 Buy Your Fruits And Vegetables Seasonally

3 May


I expect to see these in the store soon, or could forage my own. Photo via flickr by New Brunswick Tourism.

It’s nice that we can have tomatoes and strawberries year round, but they don’t taste the same for the majority of the year when the fruit is out of season, and they’re more expensive when they’re out of season. To get the most out of flavor and your dollar, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.

Following the seasons is not just for top chefs but for the thrifty as well:

  • In season is always on sale. When the market is flooded with a crop of fruits or vegetables that are ripe and ready to sell, the grocery store needs to move the inventory. The in season fruits and vegetables are always on sale because the produce needs to move off the shelves. This meaning savings for you and better quality and taste because the produce is naturally in season, which always taste better than year-round hot house varieties or produce that has been shipped halfway across the world to get to you.
  • It builds anticipation.
    rhubarb plant

    Rhubarb produces spring cooking joy after a root vegetable winter. Photo via flickr by MiikaS.

    At the end of winter when you can’t stand another root vegetable, strawberry season is like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. Throw in rhubarb for a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate May Day, and you may just swoon with joy. Fruits don’t get that kind of reaction if you have them all the time. Following the seasons has you looking forward to the next crop to play with in the kitchen.

  • You can buy local. It’s nice that you can get fresh produce that came from the area, which means your dollars are staying close to home. You can also take advantage of farm stands and deals on organic produce. Just because the produce is local doesn’t mean it’s more expensive, often you can get great deals on local produce.
  • Buy in bulk. If you’re ready to try some canning and freezing to combat those dull winter days, you can buy produce in bulk and save a lot of money. You can even split a bulk buy with a friend to benefit the both of you. It’s expensive to buy the quantities of fruits and vegetables you need for preserving if you don’t grow it yourself or buy in bulk when the crop is in season locally.
  • You can pick your own. I love going to pick your own farms. I’ve already discussed how it saves money and how much fun it is here.
  • A glimpse of the fleeting. Some crops have such a short in season window that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Local delicacies shine in this respect. Don’t be afraid to try a local forage or crop that is not seen elsewhere.

#900 Make A Pit Stop For The Roadside Farm Stand

2 May

fresh produce farm stand truck

Because buying produce from the back of a pick up truck is awesome.


The easiest way to score a deal on organic produce? Stop by a roadside farm stand to check out the seasonal fruits and vegetables. The key secret is that farm stands are often “organic” without the official label. Getting certified organic is a lengthy process, so a lot of casual farmers, neighborhood gardeners or even regular, small-scale farmers don’t go through the process to get certified. Lots of times there is no way to know that they are not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers unless you stop in. Some advertise “chem free” or “no spray” on their signs, but many will only tell you once you stop in that they don’t use chemicals or sprays.

As spring starts to yield the first crops of spinach, lettuce and rhubarb, roadside farm stands will start to pop up at the end of driveways and or in seasonal vegetable stands. If you live in a rural location, the farm stand is a common site, if you live in an urban environment, you don’t have to go too far into the country to start seeing them.

Here are some reasons why I love roadside farm stands and why they are a bargain.

  • Freshness!
    roadside farm stand

    Many farm stands offer unofficially organic produce at low prices.

    Most of the time you’ll hear things like “I dug them this morning” or “I’ll get you some more from the garden.” The quality of vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are the best the fresher they are, and the vegetables are crunchier, tastier, firmer or whatever ideal quality you are looking for. Don’t waste the huge bonus of super fresh fruits or vegetables by waiting to prepare the produce. Prepare and eat it the same day or the next day if possible.

  • Cheap! Like I said, a lot of these stands are unofficially organic. That’s good enough for me. Most of the time the produce is 50 cents or more less than the conventional produce price at the grocery store. Plus you’re getting that freshness factor, which is priceless. If you regularly grocery shop with a budget, you should be able to identify whether the price of produce is cheaper than in the store. Even if it’s the same price and you’re not getting any savings, you’ll win with taste. In all likelihood, it is cheaper than the store. Especially organic produce.
  • Variety! The variety of produce that you can find in roadside stands is much greater than at the grocery store. You can discover new kinds of squash, potatoes, herbs and tomatoes that will make you wonder why anyone decided that mass producing only one kind of tomato was a good idea. People like to put labels like “heirloom” or “heritage” on fruits and vegetables that fell out of favor with the advent of agribusiness, but these small stands keep up the variety of produce with little pretension and lots of flavor.
  • It’s not the farmer’s market. I love farmer’s markets too, but usually only to look. Prices at farmer’s markets tend to be high, and it’s much harder to score a deal on organic or even conventional produce. At a farmer’s market, the vendors will be much more likely throw around words like “heirloom” and discuss the broodiness of a rare Chilean hen, which just makes me feel out of place if I’m not wearing vegan sandals and don’t know what my exact carbon footprint is. I like what they’re doing, but I prefer the more regular Joe feel of farm stands.
  • Trust. If you wonder about where the world has gone to today, stop by a farm stand that has a glass jar or wooden box as a cash drop and a thank you sign. I really hope these people don’t get their money stolen too often. I like to think everyone is honest and sees how awesome it is that you can leave money in a glass jar. On that note, most stands are cash only, so be prepared with exact change or bring a lot of dollar bills.

Farm stands get started in the spring and will run through the fall to around the end of October. Here’s a visual illustration of a roadside vegetable stand:

farm stand truck illustration

#901 Know What Fruits And Vegetables To Buy Organic

30 Apr

organic strawberries and grapesOrganic fruits and vegetables can cost twice as much or more than conventional fruits and vegetables. Buying organic can throw your grocery budget off every month if you don’t organize your shopping to focus on the most important produce to buy organic. There are lots of fruits and vegetables that you can skip buying organic, and some that are no-brainers to buy organic. The best way to organize your organic shopping is to use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. The lists take the data from pesticide tests run by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration to rank fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues from high to low. High pesticide residue equals “dirty,” and low pesticide residue equals “clean.” Focus your organic shopping on the “dirty” fruits and vegetables to reduce your chemical exposure and live a healthier life. I do most of my shopping at a regular grocery store, where organic selections are often limited but getting better. At health food stores or places like Whole Foods, organic is easier to find, but more expensive. Look into buying bulk to save money through a local coop or health food store for the dirtiest fruits and vegetables.

Here are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which change every year based on yearly pesticide data, and some tips and alternatives. The EWG’s ratings are based on how people would normally eat the fruits or vegetables, so washing doesn’t make a difference. Not washing before eating actually means there are more chemicals than the ratings suggest.

These are the 2013 “dirty” fruits and vegetables you should make an effort to buy organic when available and the budget allows:

organic apples

Organic apples aren’t as big or pretty but they’re much safer to eat to reduce pesticide exposure.

#1 Apples. Number one on the list – EEK! I don’t find many organic apples available for purchase in the grocery store. You’re better off buying organic apples locally when apples are in season. My mom used to buy organic apples in bulk from the health food store to save money and get organic. Apples, if stored properly, can be kept fresh for a long time. The best thing for non-organic apples is to wash, peel and core as the pesticides reside in the peel and in the stem/core area in the highest concentrations. I usually only use apples for purposes that require peeling and coring. If you can’t find organic apples, go with another, lower pesticide fruit for snacking or use apples for pies where peeling and coring is a given. Apples are on the “dirty” list year after year.

#2 Celery. Organic celery really doesn’t cost much more than conventional celery so it’s worth the extra $1 for the organic version as it’s number 2 on the “dirty” list. It’s easy to find an organic celery option in the grocery store.

organic tomatoes #3 Cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are separate from tomatoes, which are an in-between fruit (neither dirty or clean). You can make your own judgement call on the in-between fruits. Organic tomatoes are easy to find and don’t cost much more than conventional tomatoes. Tomatoes are also incredibly easy to grow yourself. I like to get plants that are already started by the green house for you. Tomatoes don’t need much space, just a lot of sun, so any apartment with a sunny, outdoor spot has potential for tomato growing. If you take good care of them, they’ll produce like crazy August through September. Tomatoes are best in season anyways, so avoid out-of-season tomatoes. Tomatoes from hot houses are likely to have fewer pesticides because the environment is better controlled.

#4 Cucumbers. Another super easy crop to grow yourself, although they need more space than tomatoes. If you’ve ever known anyone who’s grown cucumbers, you know they’re always trying to foist their bountiful harvest on anyone who will accept a bag of cucumbers. You don’t need more than a few plants for lots of yield. Alternatively, organic cucumbers are a grocery store staple and not hugely more expensive than conventional cucumbers.

#5 Grapes. Grapes are always too hard and sour or one their way out when I test them in the store. Buying in season is best, as it’s the imported varieties for year-round consumption that are the worst pesticide offenders. Local grapes are safer. It’s hard to find organic grapes in stores.

#6 Hot peppers. If you’re growing some tomatoes, why not have a hot pepper plant too? They take up little space and are just as easy to grow yourself as tomatoes. They can be dried for out-of-season use. I don’t see too many organic hot pepper varieties in the grocery store.

#7 Nectarines (imported). Imported varieties of nectarines, like imported varieties of grapes, have higher pesticide concentrations. Buy local or organic. Sweet fruits are not only loved by humans, but also ants and other insects, so pesticides ensure the fruit is blemish-free, bug-free and perfect, but the thin-skinned fruit absorbs the chemicals easily into the flesh. I’ve never seen organic nectarines available where I live for purchase in the grocery store.

#8 Peaches. Another sweet fruit beloved by bugs, peaches are not much better than nectarines. If you can’t find organic, only buy in-season and limit your intake. Like nectarines, organic peaches for sale in the grocery store are scarce.

potatoes#9 Potatoes. What passes for a potatoes these days is sad. There are so many varieties, colors, tastes and textures to potatoes that reducing the plant to a bland, white version should be a crime. Potatoes have such variety that Peruvians can have a complete diet covering all needed nutrients from potatoes alone. It’s something like close to 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru. Potatoes also get a lot of pesticides and fungicides doused on them. If you have outdoor space, growing your own potatoes is satisfying and can open a whole world of varieties. I like to buy local for organic potatoes. The taste difference is mind blowing. I live in a state that is a proud producer of potatoes, so organic options are easy to come by and worth the little extra money. The mealy, white non-organic potatoes aren’t worth buying anyways. It’s a pity to peel a potato to try to reduce pesticide exposure as most of the nutrients are in the peel.

#10 Spinach. Spinach is quick-growing and packed with nutrients. Get organic greens when you can, or grow your own in a window box or garden if you have space.

organic strawberries

Organic strawberries taste a lot better.

#11 Strawberries. I’ve got to admit, organic strawberries are one of the most expensive organic produce items to buy relative to the conventional price. Organic strawberries are often twice as expensive. But don’t let the price stop you. I find non-organic strawberries to taste chemically, not like strawberries at all or worse, tasteless. Unlike conventional strawberries, organic strawberries are tasty. The huge difference in taste is enough to make me buy organic. The fact that strawberries are a “dirty” fruit is more convincing evidence to buy organic. Make strawberries a luxury, in-season purchase for minimal impact on the budget.

#12 Sweet bell peppers. I’ve got to say there is a taste difference in organic sweet bell peppers as well. Organic versions of sweet bell peppers taste better to me than conventional versions. I’ve made it a habit to buy organic sweet bell peppers, which are easily available in the grocery store.

#13 Kale/collard greens. So there are so many contaminated fruits and vegetables the EWG decided to add two bonus “dirty” vegetables. Greens in general should be bought organic or grown yourself.

#14 Summer squash. The second “bonus” vegetable on the dirty list is another bumper crop plant that has gardeners’ everywhere looking for willing takers for end-of-summer bounty. Eat them in-season from your neighbor’s garden if he didn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. If you have enough space, the plants are huge, but generally yield a lot of produce.

Now for the “clean” fruits and vegetables as advised by the EWG. You can skip buying these organic if you want to save money on your grocery bill.


Photo via flickr by chidorian.

#1 Asparagus. Asparagus is in season right now, so it’s great to be able to buy conventional asparagus with little worry. Asparagus tends to be more expensive than other vegetables so any savings in cost is welcome.

#2 Avocados. Pretty much anything that grows high in a tree with a thick peel is pretty safe and has low pesticide use. I go organic if the conventional ones are rock hard, and the organic ones are nicely ripe at purchase. But there’s no need to spend the extra money on organic avocados.

#3 Cabbage. Cabbage seems to have a generational and cultural divide. It’s most often thought of as poor people’s food. It’s cheap and packed with nutrients, so if you’re not eating cabbage, you should. And best of all, it’s clean, so non-organic will be even friendlier on the budget. I feel weird being a young person who buys cabbage, but it’s delicious with pork and can be a great leftover item to have at breakfast or lunch.

#4 Cantaloupe. As a fruit with a thick rind, cantaloupe passes the test for low pesticide residue. Cantaloupe is best during the summer months.

#5 Sweet corn. Corn makes the “clean” list, so add it into summer barbecues at bargain prices.


Photo via flickr by graibeard.

#6 Eggplant. I used to hate eggplant. If you know how to cook it, it’s amazing. Even if it’s not on your regular grocery list, conventional eggplants are relatively free of pesticides.

#7 Grapefruit. Thick rind, grows high in a tree. Clean. Check.

#8 Kiwi. This fuzzy fruit native to New Zealand is also a clean fruit. Nice.

#9 Mango. Holy crap, mangoes are good when they’re ripe. They apply to the thick peel, high tree rule of clean fruits.

#10 Mushrooms. This one is good to keep in mind because I’m always tempted to get the more expensive, organic mushrooms. Mushrooms are in fact quite free of pesticides.

#11 Onions. The biggest challenge with onions are finding ones that aren’t too old when you buy them. The stinkier the onion smell when you chop, the older the onion. Softness and the middle growing a green shoot are also indications of a well-aged onion, which is not ideal for cooking. All those problems aside, you don’t have to worry about buying organic.

#12 Papaya. I hardly ever eat papaya, maybe I should. The whole tree/rind rule is also applicable to papayas.


Photo via flickr by ECohen.

#13 Pineapple. I love pineapples. They’re best to buy on sale when they’re the cheapest and ripest. No need to go organic with pineapples.

#14 Sweet peas (frozen). What about fresh? Fresh are an “in-between” vegetable. The season for fresh peas is so short, frozen is the way to go most of the year anyways.

#15 Sweet potatoes. There has been a huge rise in sweet potatoes consumption over the past few years. It’s nice to know that unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are clean.

What about all the in-between fruits and vegetables? The EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are only for the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables. The full list is 51 fruits and vegetables long with differentiations for imported and domestic.

You can make your own judgement call on other fruits and vegetables. If you go with a rule that thin-skinned fruits like pears, cherries and berries tend to have more pesticide residue and ones with thicker rinds are cleaner, than you can start to sort out what you’ll buy organic and what you’ll buy conventional. Vegetables are a bit more all over the place. If it’s not much more to buy organic, and it fits in the grocery budget, I’ll get the organic kind. Things like carrots and beans are some of the quickest easiest crops to grow yourself. You can view the full list of the dirty to clean fruits and vegetables here.

If you’re panicked about actually remembering all this, there is an app that you can download for a quick reminder or a wallet size card to print out to take with you. During your grocery list organization, you can check back with the list.

Don’t forget about organic versions of processed fruit like raisins, apple sauce or frozen fruits and vegetables. If the fruit or vegetable is “dirty” try to get any version of it organic, if the fruit or vegetable is “clean, you can get the conventional, processed version.

Besides growing your own, foraging is a great way to get organic fruits for free.




#902 Thrifty Baby: Other Moms and Grandparents Are Great Sources Of Stuff

22 Apr

baby in snowsuit

In a borrowed snowsuit offered by a helpful dad.

There are two categories of “other moms” and grandparents. Ones you know and ones you don’t know. Both can be incredible sources of used items, clothing, hand-me-downs and all other barely used baby items. Not only that but they also are sources of advice, what works, what you really need and what worked for them, which can be invaluable in sorting through choices and what you want and need for yourself.

First, let’s look at moms and grandparents you do know.

  • Hand-me-downs.
    baby in pajamas

    In the cousins’ hand-me-down PJs.

    Moms love to share their stuff. Moms (and dads) you know are happy to lend or give you outgrown clothes, baby swings, toys and accessories. Some ask for them back once you’re done, some give it away because they are done. Either way, it’s a great source of free baby items. If you don’t know any moms, get to know some before you have a kid. They’ll be offering you things in no time (this is not the sole reason to make friends with moms), and you’ll be happy for their friendship when you have a child. They know what it’s like to be pooped on in the middle of the night. If you have siblings with kids, you have a built-in hand-me-down system. Grandparents will have their own hand-me-downs tucked away that have been meticulously saved for 25 to 30 years or so. It’s fun to dress the baby up in dad’s onesie and use great-grandma’s hand-knit sweaters.

  • Gifts. Grandparents love to spoil the grandkids. It’s nice to have someone buying toys or clothes for the baby. Being practical grandparents, items may be second-hand from a yard sale or thrift shop. Both sets of grandparents in my family know the value of being thrifty, so I don’t care, I love the fact that the clothes or toys are second-hand. I like that they spoil my kid, I don’t want them to spend a ton doing it.
  • Advice. While you might have your own plan or thoughts, grandparents and other moms have tons of things to say about what works. You can use what they say and see how it fits into your life and philosophy. Practical advice on what was a godsend, what was the cheapest (and best) route to go, what to spend money on or not bother with is super helpful and can save you a lot of money and headaches.

Now, let’s look at moms and grandparents you don’t know.

  • Barely-used items.
    baby in Gymboree outfit

    Other moms love to sell whole outfits of name brand clothing cheaply.

    So many moms are eager to sell their barely-used baby items. Baby items, like most retail, have very low resale value, so you’ll get incredible bargains on high quality items. Utilize the mom market to get your baby items. Grandparents also are a great source of baby items. They have things like cribs that were slept in once or clothes that were never worn. They might have bought a ton of items for their home for a short visit from baby that were barely touched.

  • Hand-me-downs. Even moms and grandparents you don’t know will offer you hand-me-downs to get rid of baby stuff. Tons of people buy way too much stuff for new arrivals and just want to get rid of it

Both other moms and grandparents you know and don’t know have a lot of things to share to prepare for baby… even items that are on the traditional no-no list for baby second-hand or resale items. Let’s take a look at things that the media and therefore, people, usually freak out about getting second hand. In my book, any second hand item is worth a close look with the proper precautions and thorough research.

  • Car seats.
    baby in car seat

    The second hand car seat that met all the requirements of safety.

    Yes, you absolutely want a car seat and your kid to be safe. You can safely buy or accept a second hand car seat by answering these questions. Is it less than six years old? Car seats older than six years old are considered retired. The plastic gets brittle and the parts wear out. The manufacture date should be stamped on it. Has it been involved in a crash? Any car seat involved in a crash should not be used even with no visible damage. Does it have the manual and all its parts? The manual will tell you how to correctly install the seat and all the parts you should have. Has it been recalled? You can check here. If you are 100% sure on these then you’re good to go. There are plenty of secondhand car seats out there that can meet this criteria. What’s more important is that the car seat is installed correctly. It’s estimated that of 3 out of 4 car seats are used incorrectly. So it’s better to know that the seat is correctly used than brand new.

  • Cribs/Mattresses. By now everyone knows that drop-side cribs are a bad idea. I knew this and didn’t have a kid. Cribs are mega-expensive so buying used is the best way to go. Still check for a recall even though it is not a drop side crib and follow all safety standards for bedding, ect. Some people freak out about mattresses. Some mattresses may have been barely used. You can make your own call about dust mites, bed bugs phobias and possibilities. If you have a steam cleaner, that could take care of your mattress issues. I’m fine with an almost-new mattress.