In Kansas, and now in Indiana where we live, it's all about basketball this time of year. We've watched the promised teams lose and the surprises come to life, and it's all about the thrill of saying what's best.
The other day, I got to thinking. After reading others complain about their environmental efforts slowing due to lack of money or motivation, I started to think about what are my top tips for staying green and on budget. So here you are. My Sweet Sixteen.
In the Family Bracket:
- Get your kids involved. Whether it's growing food and flowers in a pot or teaching them about recycling, kids will absorb the lessons you demonstrate now. And your actions are just as powerful as words.
- Keep an eye on clothes (or toys, for that matter). Do you need 2 dozen t-shirts for your toddler? Probably not. Do a realistic check of what you really need to run your home, and donate the rest to charity.
- Keep expectations simple. Kids like stuff, and feeding the monster is only going to make things worse. If your child is raised to have a TV with a DS at four, be shuttled to various activities each night and have a cell phone before he knows all digits of his home number, his expectations for "stuff" aren't likely to be pacified with just that. Instead, plan for simpler activities and more relaxing routines.
- Give your child ownership. There's a big difference between watching mommy plant some seeds and letting them do it themselves. By giving them a "job" for them to take ownership of, you're helping your child contribute, learn a skill and take pride in his or her "successes" (even if you've helped a lot along the way.) And there's nothing wrong with any of that!
In the Food Bracket:
- Support your local farmers. Sure, you can score high-priced items (like the salmon I splurged on a few weeks back) at a farmers market, but you can find many, many types of in-season produce that were literally picked hours before. They taste far better and are oftentimes better on your budget.
- Grow your own. It's surprisingly simple. Have a brown thumb? Relax. Start small with a few herbs or a tomato plant in a pot. Or try easy plants like lettuces or onions, which I've found you can plant and just let them do your thing.
- Plan your menus. It's one of the biggest challenges I have - planning a menu. But by incorporating seasonal food and sales into your weekly meal plan, you can save by not buying expensive cuts or out-of-season produce, and even having to not buy meals out of the office.
- Drop the convenience packaging. Instead of buying 100-calorie packs, it's simple to repackage your snacks items into small, reusable containers.
In the Living Bracket:
- Pull trips together. I read a statistic the other day that says the average mom spends 17 days a year in the car with her kids - and I'm assuming that doesn't include any commutes to work or "time alone." For your sanity's sake and to reduce your mileage, opt to plan your errands to include several stops at once. It's simple, but it's worth it.
- Watch your work's impact. Are you guilty of being swallowed by your paper trails? Make smaller changes to how you do business. Take on many of the green tips you do at home. Or take on a volunteer recycling program in your office.
- Slow down your nights out. Yes, it's nice to have a dinner out, but loud people and long waits doesn't always make a great combination. And I want to hear my friends when I'm spending time with them! Instead, bring your nights in. Cook a dinner at home, open a bottle of wine and enjoy each others' company.
- Watch your spending. Think about that advice you got as kids: Do you want your allowance spent on candy or other junk, or would you like to save up for something bigger? In these tough times, while it's easy to "justify" a treat like an evening shopping or a dinner out, I'd prefer to reduce the amount of clutter around me and not buy things. A trip to see a friend of mine in Puerto Rico is well worth a few hours of self-denial!
In the Home Bracket:
- Greener cleaners. I've used baking soda and vinegar for many of my cleaning needs, and frankly, the bottled cleaners I'd bought long ago are still locked under my sink.
- Clean out for a cause. Your trash might not necessarily be treasure, but items in good condition can be donated to a number of good causes.
- Conserve. I know it's been said over and over, but watching your thermostat, your water usage, using power strips, etc., makes a huge difference on resources wasted - and positively impacts your bottom line!
- Simplify your gardening. I know neighbors who invest a lot of time and effort on chemical fertilizers, pruning every bit of their yard, etc. Their yards are green under the snow, I think! But we've taken a more natural approach. Sure, our grass turns browner in late summer, but it always grows back fine, especially after a good rain. You can also lighten up your gardening as well. The best tip I ever got was at a farmers market: The woman recommended that I put a small amount of compost into a seed hole, rather than mix a lot of compost throughout the garden bed. For someone who can't have a compost pile, it was a great idea, keeping me from buying a lot of potentially unneeded compost bags! And I noticed no difference.
So what makes your "Final Four" tips for staying green without losing your head or wallet? Any dark horses I missed?