Here at Sustainable Personal Finance, we’re all hippies who love the environment, but there are just certain things that we’re not going to give up. Rather than giving up our cars, let’s just focus on driving them less and getting maximum gas mileage. This both lowers the cost of operating the car and prevents a few pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. You save a few bucks, and the environment becomes slightly cleaner. Everybody wins. Go ahead and have a steak, champ.
If you want to take your environmental passion to the next level, you can buy a used car. One less new car gets produced, and we often overvalue reliability. Newsflash folks: a car with 100,000km on it is about 95% as reliable as a brand new car, and you’re paying at least double for a new car. You have to make a lot of $500 repairs before you get close to making up that gap.
But we’re not talking about cars, we’re talking appliances. Specifically, washers and dryers.
My washer is approximately 5 years old. It’s a front loading washer, since apparently front loaders use less water and cut down on drying time. That’s all fine and good, so I bought it. It was a $300 premium over the plain top loading model, but I went ahead and bought the premium brand because that’s what frugal people are supposed to do, right?
About a year ago, it started making a loud low-pitched whine as it went through the final rinse cycle. It’s slowly gotten worse, so I called the appliance repair guy. He came over, had a look, and told me the bearings were close to worn out. Okay, how much would it cost to fix it?
He quoted approximately $400. I was looking at $250 for parts and $150 for his time to put it in. Oh, and I paid $50 to have him show up and diagnose the problem.
In the meantime, the price of front loading washers have gone down. I can buy a basic unit for $500. There’s no way I’m going to spend $400 on repairs when I can buy a similar machine for $100 more.
I complained that parts were expensive. It’s almost like they don’t want you to fix it. He confirmed that and took it one step further: retailers are putting pressure on the manufacturers to do exactly that so people just throw up their hands and buy a new one every five years. They’ve intentionally brought the quality and the price down and jacked up the price on parts, just to discourage people from getting their appliances fixed.
This makes sense for the company too, since they don’t have to keep producing parts for machines that are years old. There are companies that make generic parts, and they’re happy to come in and produce these parts. But why would they discount their prices when there’s no competition?
He then came up with an interesting suggestion. New machines aren’t worth fixing, he said, but old ones are. Parts are considerably cheaper, since it isn’t a tiny computer running the thing. They were made using better quality materials. They were much simpler machines back then, meaning there are less things that can break. A well-maintained machine from the 1970s or 1980s will last forever.
My Dad has a Maytag washer/dryer combination that he bought in 1979. In the past ten years, he’s put a little over $200 into repairing both machines, once each. Yeah, they’re an ugly off-white color, and they’re probably not very energy efficient, but they are a significantly cheaper option than buying new.
As for me? I went on Kijiji, looking for a replacement machine. I quickly found an ad from somebody who had upgraded their washer to a front loader unit, and wanted the old one to go away. I went over and had a look. It was a Maytag, it looked about 20 years old, and it worked. I paid $50 for the machine and paid my buddy pizza for letting me borrow his truck and his lifting power. Total investment, $50. My backup machine can suck power faster than a 400 watt space heater and I’ll still be hundreds of dollars ahead of an energy efficient machine that isn’t going to last a decade.
Sometimes, when it comes to saving money, you’ve got to look outside the box a little. I got a washer that still has plenty of life left. It’ll still be going long after my front loading machine has started rusting away in a landfill somewhere.
As you improve your efforts to go green, it can help to think about your landscaping situation, and take steps to ensure that your are following sustainable principles.
Here are 5 tips that can help you improve the sustainability of your landscaping:
1. Start with a Plan
Think about the purpose of your landscaping efforts. Are you trying to create beauty? Do you want a safe place for your kids to play? Are you planning on growing food? Perhaps you have a number of uses in mind for your landscaping.
If you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish with your yard, you will be able to make decisions that help you accomplish your purpose, as well as improve your home’s overall sustainability.
2. Use Native Plants
One of the best things you can do for sustainable landscaping is to use native plants. Also, pay attention to the sun and shade on your property, and the types of plants that are more likely to thrive in the natural conditions surrounding your house.
Native plants are best suited to your area, and they will need less intensive care. You won’t need to worry as much about watering them, or about using special fertilizers and pesticides to encourage them to grow properly.
3. Select Grass with Care
While xeriscaping your yard so that you don’t have to use much water can be a great idea, it doesn’t leave much room for the kids to play. It’s true that a lawn can be a huge drain on your resources — especially water. So, if you want some type of lawn, consider choosing grasses that are less thirsty. There are drought tolerant grasses that can be a little more sustainable than others.
You can also consider using sedges instead of more traditional grass. There are also some ground covers that provide an attractive look for a yard while still being appropriate for play.
4. Go Organic
When possible, use organic options for fertilization and pesticides. There are natural ways to control pests, including making your yard inviting for birds, as well as using ladybugs to keep down aphids. You can also use methods of preparing the soil that are a little more natural, including introducing earthworms to help build the soil, and engaging in composting and mulching.
Organic solutions reduce pollution, and can result in a healthier yard altogether.
5. Be Smart about Watering
At some point, you will probably have to water your plants. The best time to water is in the morning, before 10 am, and in the evening, after 4 pm. These times prevent much of your water being lost to evaporation. Additionally, avoid watering during times of high winds.
Understand how much water your plants really need. You can accomplish more with a deep soak that encourages roots to grow deep and strong so that you need less water over time. A drip system can be a great alternative. Make sure to check for leaks and problems with your lines so that you don’t waste water that way.
With a little planning and preparation, it’s possible to make your landscape more sustainable.
Often, we think of landscaping and food gardening as two different activities. However, to the creative gardener, there is plenty of room for overlap. There are a great many lovely plants that also happen to be edible.
As you plan your yard this spring, and consider what to plant, consider edible landscaping. Here are some ideas:
Many of us know that dandelion leaves can make a great addition to a salad. Unfortunately, no matter how pretty your kids think dandelions are, they aren’t considered a viable part of a good-looking landscape. But there are plenty of other edible flowering plants you can use. Some of my favorites include basil, thyme, chives, coriander and rosemary, which are herbs (and I like to dry for use during the winter).
Other options include carnation, borage, fennel, rose hips, violas, nasturtiums, and some varieties of geranium (not all). I also like growing Russian sage. It smells good and looks distinctive. However, it’s important to note that the leaves aren’t edible, while the flowers are.
Edging and Ground Cover
The smaller herbs also make great ground covers and edging plants. Thyme is especially useful as a ground cover, as is oregano and chamomile. I also like using strawberries. They make great ground cover, and the flowers are pretty and the berries delicious. Plus, the color change in the leaves makes strawberries a fun ground cover during the fall. Lingonberries also make for good ground cover. Sweet potatoes can also provide attractive ground cover (lovely flowers and ivy-like leaves), and the leaves are also edible.
Rhubarb (if you like that sort of thing) can also make a great edging plant. Lettuce is also a good edging plant. There are many different varieties of lettuce; choose those that are red, purple, or deep green. These varieties of lettuce look pretty, and have more nutrients than the iceberg lettuce.
Other edging choices can include cauliflower, garlic, turnips, and beans. It you want, you can even plant red or purple cabbage to add a dramatic look to your landscaping.
Adding a trellis to your yard can be a pretty touch. Rather than planting mainly decorative plants, though, think about how you can use vining plants. Many varieties of peas and beans have beautiful leaves and vines, and will grow on a trellis. Interestingly, you can also get cucumbers, some melons, and some varieties of squash to grow vertically, and these can add a great deal to your lanscape.
Our neighbors across the street are growing raspberries as a privacy hedge, rather than building a fence. You can use such fruiting bushes as a privacy planting. As long as you keep them trimmed properly, raspberries and blackberries (watch out; raspberries and blackberries can poison each other) can make great — and tasty — fences. Your neighbors probably won’t mind as long as they can harvest the fruit on their side.
When planning your landscape, think about edible plants. There are plenty of edible plants, as well as fruits and vegetables that are attractive. Plan your landscape as a garden, and you’ll save money and eat well.
One of the growing trends in travel is eco-tourism. When you take an eco-vacation, you have the chance to see an interesting environment in a way that is sustainable (depending on what you are doing to offset the impact of the travel undergone to arrive at your destination).
An eco-vacation can give you the chance to view other cultures, as well as amazing scenery that should be protected as part of the earth’s biosphere. However, because of the nature of an eco-vacation, you might run into some safety issues.
In order to reduce the chance of mishaps on what should be an awesome adventure of a lifetime, here are 5 tips to employ as part of eco-vacation:
1. Learn and Obey the Rules
One of the first things you should do is understand the rules of your vacation. Many eco-vacations are operated as tours and expeditions. Listen to your guide, and stick with the rules. In many cases, the rules are in place for a reason — and that reason is your protection. You might be involved in potentially dangerous activities, from zip-lining to rock climbing to hiking in remote areas to seeing dangerous animals. Follow instructions, and stick to the path.
2. Find Out about Local Law, Custom, and Culture
Don’t be an ignorant traveler. Find out what you can ahead of time about local law, custom, and culture. Learn what offenses can result in trouble with the law, and try to avoid causing trouble. You can learn a few greetings in the local language, and you will be more respected as you travel. If you try to stay on the right side of local practices, you will be less likely to be in danger from the law.
3. Carry Supplies
Make sure that you have water with you, as well as portable, non-perishable food. You don’t know when inconvenience will strike, and drinkable water, as well as food like granola bars, trail mix, and dried fruit can make a difference. It also makes sense to know basic survival skills.
Don’t forget First Aid supplies, and understand basic First Aid practices.
4. Don’t Bother the Animals
It wasn’t exactly eco-tourism, but I frequently think about a scene that played out in Yellowstone National Park when my family went once. We saw a woman walk up to a bison and begin prodding it. The animal was dozing in the sun, and she wanted a picture of a standing, alert bison, and didn’t listen to the warnings of others. She didn’t figure on the bison being a wild animal (although one used to humans). You can probably guess what happened next — and it wasn’t pretty for that woman.
Don’t approach animals, and always remember that you are in the wild. They are majestic and beautiful to look at, but many of them can also be dangerous and deadly. Even an animal we consider docile and cute, like a deer or a chimp, can deal serious damage.
5. Keep Communications Open
Find out what communication options you have while you are out. Will your cell phone get reception? Do you know what to do if you get separate from your party? Also, make sure that your loved ones know your itinerary, and when you expect to get back. Arrange for regular check-in as well. That way, if something is wrong, your loved ones will know sooner and can alert the proper authorities.