Is The Sky Really Falling?

Every time you turn on the news, or in my generation’s case, flip through the four papers you’re subscribed to on your iPhone (only after checking the ESPN app first though), you see more and more sensationalistic media coverage and “experts” talking about how the sky is falling. In fact, I think we have become so used to moving from crisis to crisis that we don’t realize in a historical context that the world is not a bad place to be right now, at least relative to what a terrible place it has consistently been in the past. In terms of the economic atmosphere, the major news stories center around austerity, debt meltdowns, slowing rates of growth etc. I just read a book about how increased energy costs are going to doom us all. Ok, everyone take a deep breath and just breathe with me.

Euro Debt vs Euro Wars

What would be of more concern to you, revolutions and world wars, or problems balancing a budget? Seriously though, think about the truth behind that statement. While I think much of the world has lost touch with reality as far as production and the role of government goes, trying to restore more of a balance to taxation and entitlements is a pretty far cry from hundreds of millions of people in relatively close proximity trying to kill each other. The drama that we have seen unfold in Greece is obviously not fun for everyone, but what’s the absolute worst case scenario here? Greece pulls out of the Euro, goes to the Drachma, devalues its currency until its tourism industry flourishes, sees its government reformed into an actual working mechanism, and in twenty years reaches its past heights? Even take the leap and say that it destroys the Euro zone. That really sucks, but at the end of the day people marching on Paris because they want to retire early doesn’t quite scare me as much as people marching on Paris because they have swastikas on their arms.

Integration vs Isolation

In a related note, President Obama is mad at the Euro crew for screwing up his economy in an election year. This has of course brought out the chorus of naysayers who claim that our economy is too integrated now for its own good. Really? Seriously? If it’s one thing we know, it’s that people, politicians, and countries will act in their own self interests. Isn’t it to our collective benefit to be integrated then? Hey, China may really dislike the USA some days, but is it ever going to bomb them? NO! They need the consumer base, and they own much of the USA’s debt! Being integrated doesn’t look great when markets are falling (what does?), but it isn’t the worst thing in the world. Happy days will come again. You know what really hurts economies? I’m-going-to-take-my-resources-and-go-home-ism. In other words, when countries feel isolated, erect tariffs, and try to pull back from this integrated world. That’s the stuff of recessions and great depressions. I’ll take a little blowback from the Euros trying to get their house in order as opposed to zero-sum style economic thought.

Our Problems Now vs Then

Here is what the USA stock market has seen in the last 100 years: World War (war to end all wars), great depression (not of the variety where people protest about entitlements, the kind where people need food), another world war (another war to end all wars), creation of the UN which it mostly funds but gets no support from, Cold War/several proxy wars against ideological opponent, Adam Sandler’s last 13 films, and the Rex Sox actually winning a World Series. Today we have this really bad stuff called polarization and political gridlock. You know what else what polarizing? Slavery and the American Civil War, I’ve heard those guys didn’t always see eye-to-eye. So we’ve overspent our budgets and we have to figure some stuff out, is that really worse than having school children learn to “duck and cover” because that was their big defense against nuclear bombs?!

This Too Shall Pass

My point here is, don’t let the talking heads fool you. Are we doing a lot of stupid things in the world today? Yes we are. Are we making lots of common sense mistakes and do we need to pull our collective heads out of a certain collective body cavity? Yup. On the flip side, more of the world is literate than ever before, technology is gradually trickling down to billions of people around the world that have never seen a Walkman, never mind an Ipod. While the gap between rich and poor is growing in some areas, India and China are beginning to see a true middle class emerge. While we certainly have some challenges to face, I would argue that today’s world and today’s stock market will be just fine. All we need is to find our new equilibrium and business will do what it always does and find a way to grow again. On the other hand, the more things change, the more they stay the same, Middle-Eastern Unrest anyone?

TM writes about all things personal finance over at My University Money. He intends to continue his quest for lifelong learning and hopefully help others along the way.

SPF Note: Buy local – we used to do it all the time. 

The Dollars and Cents of Your Bathroom

save money bathroom

Figures released by the United States government back in 1990 show that the average water usage, per person, was 105 gallons a day. It’s even higher today.

The simplest way to conserve water is to use less. I don’t know about you, but three minute showers just don’t get me excited. Neither does washing up in two inches of water or sharing the bath water. Luckily for us, then, that there are other, more effective methods!

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, bathing is responsible for 33% of domestic indoor water usage and toilet flushing accounts for another huge 44%. Clearly these are two areas to save both water and money.

The good thing is that there are products on the market that help you use less water, such as low-flow faucets, shower heads and aerators.

A low-flow water faucet aerator is a device that is fitted inside the end of the faucet. It is a fine screen that breaks up the flow of water into small droplets, mixing it with air. This has the effect of reducing the rate at which the water flows out.

So, what difference does this little device make to how much water you use?

Normally, water flows out a standard faucet at a rate of 3 to 5 gallons per minute. Who knew that so much water came out that fast?

When a low flow faucet aerator is installed, this rate reduces to just 0.5 of a gallon a minute. The best part is that you still get a decent flow of water with less splashing.

Just imagine how much water you are going to save just by installing a low flow faucet aerator in every tap in your house? A flow regulator in just one faucet is going to save up to 4½ gallons every minute it’s turned on! This alone could equate to a saving of up to $100 a year.

I bet you’re wondering how expensive these little devices are!

Well, another great thing is that they are so cheap to buy; you’ll get change from $5 for each one, making them a very cost-effective method for saving money.

You don’t need to call the plumber out either; these little things are so simple to install, even a kid could do it! Your faucets will be ready to use, and save you gallons of water every day, in only a few minutes. They simply screw into the end of the faucet.

Another statistic from the EPA states that 22% of household water consumption comes from shower usage alone. The Michigan State Government Website has a Water Conservation section. It says that the usual type of showerhead uses up to 8 gallons of water a minute.

So, here’s a way to reduce water usage even more; by simply done installing a water-saving or low-flow shower head. A low-flow showerhead is able to reduce the amount of water used in the shower by up to 30%.

That’s huge! Imagine saving 30% of your water usage just on showers alone!

There are different types of these showerheads. Some simply limit the amount of water that can pass through the holes which means that the water pressure is diminished. If a low pressure shower isn’t your idea of a good shower, there are other options. You can now buy a high pressure water-saving showerhead that uses less water but still gives you a good pressure for your shower.

Again, the initial cost to you of installing this type of water saving device is small. You will pay between $30 and $65, depending on the type and brand. The manufacturer of one of the popular brands of low-flow showerheads claims that the average household can expect to save more than $500 a year with one of their devices. This means that you will have recovered the initial cost in the first bill!

Now, not only do I not want to have really short showers, I don’t want a lukewarm one either. So I’m happy to report that there is a hidden extra bonus with installing a water-wise shower head – it is in lower energy costs. You’ll be using less hot water which has been produced by your water heater. So, by reducing your hot water consumption, you’re also reducing the amount of power needed to heat the water and save another $100 a year.

The last way to save water in the bathroom is with the toilet. Old style toilets, manufactured prior to 1980, use about 5 gallons of water for each flush. Between 1980 and 2002, new toilets used 3½ gallons. Now, 1.6 gallon flush toilets are mandatory. If you have an older style toilet and don’t want to install a new one, put a plastic bottle filled with water or a house brick into the tank. This limits the amount of water available for each flush.

By using these three methods of going green in the bathroom, you can save a substantial amount of water from simply going down the plughole. In the process, you will save yourself several hundred dollars a year off your water bills.

So, how green is your bathroom? Can you make some changes?