Monday, July 26, 2010

Up-cycled Crock Water Filtration System

Many times people forget that going green and recycling can actually be done in a fashionable way. A great way to go green while cutting costs and keeping a decor fashion in mind is by up-cycling a standard water crock into a water filtration system. By recycling a glass, terracotta, or stoneware tapped spout crock you can add a conversation piece to your kitchen decor while keeping your family safe from harsh chemicals.

To make your own up-cycled water filtration system you will need:

Tea crock made of glass, terracotta, or stoneware.
Tobacco pipe filter screen.
Activated charcoal for aquariums.
Chlorine free bleach.
Aquarium gravel

A "green note" before getting started.

**You may wonder why I did not choose plastic for this project. Unfortunately, many of the modern plastics we utilize give off chemical components if re-used over time. This is especially the case in usage of water bottles. For more information on the harmful chemicals given off by the reusing of plastic water, soda, and other containers please see National Geographic sponsored site The Green Guide and Environment California's studies on plastic emissions.**

Step 1 – Sterilize the parts.

The tea crock may appear to be clean but to make sure that you are receiving clean charcoal filtered water it is best to sterilize the crock first. You can sterilize the crock by filling it with warm water and adding two tablespoons of chlorine free bleach. Seventh Generation has a wonderful chlorine free bleach that is affordable and works wonders on sanitizing household objects. Allow the mixture to rest in the crock for several hours or overnight. Drain the crock and rinse thoroughly.

Step 2 – Assemble the filter.

Tobacco pipe filter screens come in various circular sizes. Purchase the largest sized pipe filter you can find. You can also use a faucet screen for this, however, the pour time may be slower as the faucet screen holes are much smaller. Remove the tap from the crock. Most taps unscrew from the crock itself. If you do not have one that is removable then you may want to find or purchase one that is for ease of upkeep and maintenance. Slide the screen in place and reattach the tap to the crock.

Step 3 – Prepare the activated charcoal.

You will want to choose an amount of gravel and charcoal that will fill the crock to one inch above the tap. Depending on the size of the chosen tea crock this could be two to six pounds of activated charcoal. Mix the charcoal with the aquarium gravel. Place the charcoal mixture in the bottom of the tea crock. Fill the crock with tap water and allow the activated charcoal to rest in the water for forty five minutes to an hour. Drain the water and refill the crock.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shedding Light on Paperback Swap

I am an avid Paperback Swap fan. I have been swapping through their platform for a little over two years now and during that time have learned a lot about the ends and outs of the program. I've been receiving several emails, comments, and inquiries regarding the true cost of the program. A lot of people have lost money using the program. The reason comes from not understanding all the available methods that Paperback Swap offers to lower your book reading costs. Hopefully I can shed some light on the site and help people enjoy all the benefits this site has to offer.

Getting Started

Paperback Swap is fairly easy to sign up with. On the start page you will see a box to the left hand side of the screen. Enter your name, email address, and then create a new password. Click enter and you will receive the welcome screen. From this screen you can set up password hints, manage your account, and begin adding your books. You do not have to add books to begin! This is a common misconception. You can enter books to start swapping and it's probably best to so that you can begin to get a feel for the site, but, you don't have to.

Swapping versus Credits

Paperback Swap offers a feature that allows you to purchase book credits using Paypal. Does this save you money? Well, let's look at this from both angles.

Swapping books is the general method used by Paperback Swap and frankly what it was designed for. If you choose to swap books you will go through a basic procedure. We are going to assume here that you either did not post any books for swap or that you have already posted your first 10 books and received your 2 free new user book credits. We are also assuming you have used your two books credits. That being the case here is what will happen if you choose to swap.

1)    You rummage through your books and find a book to post for a swap.

2)    You wait until someone to request the book you posted.

3)    You agree to the swap and to ship the book and make sure you have money to ship the book. You do this by depositing into your PBS money account via Paypal. Each time you ship a book money is deducted for the shipping costs from your PBS money account.

4)    You print the shipping label directly from the website. This shipping label is ready to go. You print it out and it deducts the proper amount of postage from your PBS money account.

5)    Package the book and ship it. Immediately mark the book as shipped to receive your book credit.
6)    Locate the book you want and request it.

7)    When the owner of the book you want agrees to the request your book credits will be deducted for the 1 credit it costs to receive the book.

8)    The owner of the book you want ships the book.

9)    The process starts again. Well, okay so ideally it starts again if you decide to post another book or re-post the book you just received after you finish it.

To be honest this is where a lot of people loose money on sites like this and give up on them all together. Why? Well, frankly swapping costs you money. About $3 per book to be precise. So in effect you are still paying for the book but at a very discounted rate. $10 or more in the bookstore versus $3 online. So to break that down a little more you pay $3 to ship a book to someone but you get a book credit for that to order a book.

Okay, moving onto using book credits instead. Book credits is considerably easier and you don't have any waiting time. Here's how it works.

1)    Login to your Paperback Swap account and click on the Kiosk tab. This is the very last tab on the bottom of the blue search bar. You will see several options notated by icons.

2)    Click on the gold coin icon labeled Book Credits
3)    You will notice that a book credit is $3.45. You are given options to buy 1, 3, 10, etc of book credits. It does not save money to buy higher amounts of book credits so if you only want one book then just buy one credit.

4)    Choose your desired book credit amount and click pay with Paypal.

5)    You will be transferred to a Paypal payment/confirmation screen. This is a secure connection.

6)    Follow the prompts to pay with Paypal and complete the order for your book credit(s).

7)    Order your book(s)

This method costs $3.45 per book but shipping is free for you. Just use a credit and get the book you want. No lines. No Waiting. Okay okay there is waiting but it's just a wait time to get the book rather than a wait time for someone to want the book you posted.

So, now you know the basic differences between Swapping and Book Credit Purchasing.

Basically either way you go you are paying between $3 and $3.45 per book. It is still considerably less than the cost of buying the book new and in many cases less than buying the book from a used bookstore. Personally, I have found that there are really only three other cheaper options. The library, free online e-books (e-book sites, Kindle for PC free books, and methods we will not discuss here b/c torrenting is bad “M'kay”), and thrift stores. The selection of those other methods is a hit or miss for finding the book you want but they are cheaper.

A Few Last Notes Regarding Paperback Swap

 You can earn credits through referral. If you refer a new member who then posts 10 books to his or her Bookshelf, you will receive a credit. The fine print of that is that accounts made at the same address do not count toward the free credit. They must post 10 books for you to get 1 credit. I think this is a good system for the companies marketing. Personally, I would only utilize this as a side reward and not as a viable reliable way of funding my book reading habit.

Overall Paperback Swap is a great way to lower entertainment costs if you spend a lot of money on books per month. A paperback at any major bookstore is around $10-$25 (check out the cost on the back of any of the Twilight saga if you don't believe me) and you can get that same book at Paperback Swap for $3.45 shipping included. That is a base savings of at least $6.55 per book.

Paperback Swap also offers a pretty neat feature that allows you to search for published books rather than just those posted to the site. If you are looking for a specific book and that book is currently not showing up in search results then switch to All books. When you find the book just add it to your wishlist. Should another PBS user post the book you will be notified by email that your wish has been granted.

Hopefully, this has served to answer a few questions and shed some light on this program.

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hanging Sustainable Gardening

If you live in a townhouse, apartment, or small home you may think that creating a sustainable garden in a tight space is a pipe dream. The truth is that with a little bit of ingenuity you can create a beautiful and sustainable hanging garden that will produce herbs, vegetables, and fruit.

To build a hanging sustainable garden you will need:

    A coco planter and hanging basket
    Outdoor plant hanger for walls or patio overhangs
    Shepard's hook (optional if an affixed plant hanger is not possible)
    Garden shears
    Patio tomato plant
    2 herb plants
    Peat Moss Soil infused with Miracle Grow
    Compost from your home compost bin (optional)
    Gardening gloves (optional)

1.    Prepare the hanging sustainable garden basket. Remove the coco planter from the basic. If you bought the basket and planting liner as a unit you will need to use your shears to cut the four or more pieces of plastic holding the coco liner in place. Once you have freed the liner from the planter use your shears and cut the radius of the circle (outward edge to center).

2.    Prepare the plants for planting. Remove your tomato plant and herb plants from their store planters. Loosen the dirt around each of the plants making sure not to damage the roots. If the roots are very tightly confined around the soil then lightly squeeze around the soil to loosen it just a bit. This may be the case if you purchase your plants from a nationwide chain like Wal-Mart or Target. Once the plants are loose and ready place them gently to the side.

3.    Plant your tomato plant. Turn your tomato plant upside down and gently slide the stalk through the hole of the Coco planting basket. You may find it easier to hang the basket and slide the plant in that way. Once the tomato plant is in place you will need to take the coco planting liner and open it at the cut. Place it gently around the tomato plant so that it encircles the plant while sitting normally in the planting basket.

4.    Cover and secure the tomato plant. With the tomato plant and coco planting liner in place it's time to cover the tomato plant with soil. I chose the peat moss soil infused with Miracle Grow. You can purchase it at any garden department. It is lightweight, retains water wonderfully, and offers wonderful nutrients for the plants. It is also around $3 or more less than other forms of potting soil.

5.    Plant the herbs. I decided on basil and oregano for my top plants. They are easily maintained and do well in the same soil as the tomato plant. Position the two herb plants in the soil over the tomato plant. A good option is to place them on either side of the tomato plant roots. Cover with the remaining soil and secure the herb plants just as you would normally.

6.    Water and hang your new hanging sustainable garden. If you have a preexisting plant hanger on your patio then you can simply hang your planter. Unfortunately, many rented locations will not allow for permanent fixtures like plant hooks. In that case you can purchase a shepherds hook that is at least 64” but ideally 86” inches. Secure the hook into the ground and hang your planter. Water your hanging sustainable garden and enjoy.

I have created this garden in the past with great success. I have recently started a new hanging sustainable garden and will be posting ongoing pictures and progress reports of my endeavor. If you enjoy this gardening technique then you may want to expand later. You can use this technique to plant cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, peppers, and other herbs. An option available is to also utilize your home compost bin to enrich the soil of your hanging sustainable garden. For more about home composting see my post on creating your own compost bin.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cutting Costs Before The Budget

Rufus Wainwright said it best didn't he? The road is truly long and those turns are many and winding. That being said starting off on a debt free path can be difficult. First of all where do you start? For me starting down the road began with doing the budget and cutting costs. Here are some of the things that I did to cut costs. These things were done prior to any budget adjustments and budgeting. These were first steps before getting started. Why start with so many budget issues when you can start with cutting costs then budget it around your new fees?

Cutting Costs in Entertainment.

My partner and I read constantly. We both love movies, anime, and certain television shows. At the start of my journey we had a $200 a month bundled cable bill. Cable (with extended channels), phone, and Internet. Nice right? Wrong! Here's why. The phone was a virtual phone that was part of the bundle. The down side to these cable company sponsored phones is that if  the power goes out so does your phone modem and thus so does your phone. These are not land line phones! If you see a modem that your phone line plugs into, even if another line runs to the phone jack, it is NOT a land line phone. We found this out the hard way. So basically we were paying for Skype. Seriously that is what it amounts to. One year of skype was the same as one month of phone service. The first option was to move to skype but why? We would still have no phone service if the power went out. The second option was a prepaid cell phone. Great now we are paying for a phone that is virtual and will die if the power goes out plus a prepaid phone. My first thought was the power is out, the storm that knocked the power out is going strong, we have an emergency, and now I'm standing on top of a hill in a rain storm trying to get enough bars on the cell phone to call for help. Yeah, not a good scenario. Funny but not good. It was not worth paying for two phones either.

The other issue was the cable. We weren't watching it. We were finding that our cable would be out more than it was working. We were also watching television shows online and moves online with Hulu and Netflix. In addition to that our Internet service would continuously go out. I work from home and we both are gamers. This was not good to say the least. So what was the solution to our problem. We got rid of the headache. We switched to a company that offered actual land line phone service and reliable Internet. We did not order cable TV. Instead we took our two extra desktop computers (older models that we weren't utilizing), purchased two $10 monitors from the thrift store, and hooked one computer up in the bedroom and one in the TV room. Wireless Internet and presto we had any television or movie we wanted to watch. Netflix was $10 for the lowest package that allowed unlimited streaming video and Hulu is free.

The result of this one change from cable TV to Internet was a $115 savings per month.

Now onto the books. We were paying anywhere from $10-$20 per book and we go through them FAST. I know a lot of you are chanting the word library. The library is a great option, unless your like me and can't remember to take the book back on time. We needed an option that would lower the cost, offer the same wide range of books that a bookstore offered, and that didn't have a deadline. We ended up swapping to Paperback Swap, free online book sites (legal no torrents), and Amazon's free kindle download. Oh yeah, did you know they had that? You can download Kindle for PC...FREE! They even offer books for free and low cost. Paperback Swap allows you to swap books you no longer want for credits. There is a bit of a trick to them. If you want to know more about them please see my upcoming blog on the real cost of paperback swap. Don't forget many places like paperback swap have referral programs that earn more credits for books.

That switch saved us $75 a month.


This is still a work in progress because I have not figured up the actual savings and only can go on the estimated savings having had these concepts implemented for a short time. As time goes on I will able to update the savings and give a better idea of what it has done for us over the long haul.

Cleaning products were a huge problem. With recent income changes and tax return adjustments the plan I used to have has fallen to the wayside. I will take a moment though and say that if you have a rather large tax return consider buying for the year on certain items. We bought shampoo, conditioner, soap, dishwashing tablets, laundry supplies, and toilet paper for 6 to 12 months and stored it. We only recently ran out of the toilet paper and laundry soap so it actually lasted around 7 months. Not to bad but not something we, or a lot of people, can do every January. That being the case, here is what we have implemented to help out.

Having to purchase Oxy bleach, stain spray, softener, etc. is a lot of money when it adds up. I researched and landed on a great youtube video for making your own laundry soap. It basically was 1 cup of washing soda, 1 cup of borax, 1 bar of ivory soap (worked great by the way), and 2/3 cup baking soda. Mix it in a food processor. It took around 10 minutes to make three batches. That's it. The clothes came out AMAZING. Clean, no sports or icky "pit" stains, and the greying that some whites get was gone.

With this step we went from 23 cents per load for the cleaning product to 3 cents per load. That's not counting the savings on gas because we ordered everything through with some other needed household purchases and got free shipping.

For household cleaning I took a wine jug (the big glass ones) and mixed the peel of 3 medium sized oranges, 1/3 cup of borax, 3 tbs of baking soda, and water. I let it rest for one night. Used it in the bathroom the next day and it was awesome. Everything came just as clean as it did with the harsher chemicals and the smell was a pleasant citrus. No stickiness or any kind of film. Just replenish the water and borax/soda mix as needed. I even used the mix to clean the tub and used the broom to scrub. I didn't kill my back, the broom cleaned the tub while getting clean itself, and everything was clean!

I have not figured the savings out on this but judging from the fact that we get certain fruit for free (see the food section below) I imagine that this will prove to say a good deal of money over the long haul. I'll keep you posted.


For the food we have only put in a few initial plans. We have a local supermarket owned by the Western Supermarkets chain. If you have one of these or an A&P near you then you may have the same deal we do. They have a meat and vegetable section that is 5 for $20. Many times we can get our meat for the month for around $80 using this deal. It is an ongoing deal so there is no need to worry about missing out on it. Just check your store flyer. Some days the meat cuts are better than others but overall this is not bad at all and the packs are not small. One pack of chicken generally has around 6-8 drumsticks and if you have kids that is an awesome deal.

My partner loves tomatoes and will eat them constantly if he could. I am implementing the tomato planting. I am NOT buying a topsy!!! You can implement the same upside down planting technique with any hanging planter basket, felt or some other screen to keep the soil in place, tomato plant, and soil. Just make the hole bigger on the bottom of the basket, stick the tomato plant through the hole with the top of the plant facing down, cover with soil, and utilize the top soil for an herb garden or small lettuce heads. All for about $10 or less if you have a dollar general or dollar tree store! Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and strawberries can all be handled this way! Just hang in your back yard or do what we did and get Shepard's hooks for each plant. They hang at a perfect height and look lovely in a row. Also, you can recycle old coffee grounds into the soil for richer gardening. Making your own compost bin is easy to and will save on potting soil.

No eating out! We do not eat out unless it meets a certain criteria. The meal has to be under $10 with or without a coupon, last for more than one meal as leftovers, and can only be once a week. If it meets that criteria then it falls under the entertainment budget. All other meals are made at home.

We will be putting more into effect as we go and I will update on that.  So far though with just the meats, not eating out, and making everything at home we have seen a savings of about $100 a month.

So there you have it. Some of the simple things we have implemented to help with cutting costs and we haven't even really started tweaking the budget yet! I hope this helps some of you out there and if you have any questions about the programs or how-to's of what we have done please follow the links below!  Leave any comments or questions!!! I love hearing from readers.

How to Swap from Cable to Internet for movies and TV

Making your own compost bin


Making your own laundry soap

Amazon Kindle for PC