Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Repurpose What You Can

Repurposing things is a great way to avoid new purchases and help the environment.  I always try to re-use plastic/paper bags from the grocery store and other shops as many times as possible.  I use newspapers from work as packing material.  I always use a refillable water bottle.  Those are obvious, but here are some of other ideas!

If you aren't buying in bulk already, then you are likely accumulating a ton of packaging from the modern food industry.  One of my favorite repurposing tips is to take the jars that salsa comes in, wash them out, and use for organizational purposes, Mason style jars make great cups as well!

This may be obvious to people, but if you do a lot of mailing, particularly for gifts, you should always seek to repurpose the boxes you receive to save on packaging!  Then you can use newspaper or mailing to ensure the package is tightly packed and the contents safe inside!  While I like to send gifts electronically to avoid the damage of shipping cross country via a courier, sometimes you need to send your homemade gifts to your cousin in Los Angeles!

If you ever purchased CD's in bulk to create your own playlists, repurpose the empty container into a bagel sandwich holder!  Obviously not practical for everyone, but it looks great.

Paperclips are great for wire organization rather than purchasing some plastic doo-hicky.

Repurpose old books as shelves, for a cool antique look

I use broken clay pots as garden markers rather than purchasing some sort of cardboard marker that sticks in the ground.  Aesthetically they are much more pleasing, and it gives new life to your chipped pots!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Frugal Travel: Camping

Camping is one of the best memories I have of my childhood.  It's not that we were poor, but we were certainly blue collar, and did not take any trips to St. Tropez or West Palm Beach.  We made plenty of trips to Orlando, where my grandparents lived, and looped in Disney and other theme park trips with our vacations.  There is just something about camping's rustic charm that I loved and has always stuck with me.  Far from the commercial reaches of the marketing machine in a tent in Vermont or New Hampshire, my family and I spent quality time laughing around a camp fire, swimming in the lakes, and hiking in the nearby mountains!

The great thing about camping is that you aren't engaged in a ton of consumption, other than things you typically would, other than a few additional graham crackers and marshmallows for S'mores!  There are camping areas just outside of every city, numerous places to be explored for years to come.  No one is saying not to take any vacations that require a plane trip, but if you can stay somewhat local and still get that vacation feeling, its a great opportunity.  Also, for those of us with busy lives, a long weekend "away" can do wonders!  Also, no need to get a dog sitter!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Frugal Travel: Airbnb & Local Cuisine

Travel is one of my favorite luxuries.  There are so many astounding places in the world, and yet the vast majority of us spend our time within our homes and workplaces.  Even those of us who travel for work, often are only visiting conference rooms and generic hotel rooms.  Travel is a great alternative to consumption of goods.  The opportunity to visit a new location, take in the history, culture, and cuisine of a location, and add an experience to your life is worth more than purchasing another new sweater or jacket!  Cuisine to me is one of the most important aspects of my life.  I love eating!  I love trying new and tasty foods.  Local specialties are my favorite.  Whenever you travel, avoid the big chains and try something new!

One of my favorite frugal travel tips is Airbnb.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Airbnb is a hotel alternative.  Individuals who have extra space, post it online for travelers to utilize when they come to visit.  The spaces vary from an extra bedroom within someones home for very little money, to a studio apartment/guest house, all the way up to an entire house.  The prices vary accordingly.  This is such a fundamentally amazing idea, as it allows people to monetize their personal real estate, and gives travelers an option other than staying at a boring corporate hotel.  Many hosts will offer tips on the locales they know best which can be invaluable.

There are many ways to find the specialties that are only available at the place you are traveling.  First of all, word of mouth is extremely powerful, so I always tap my network for suggestions when I travel.  Second, we are living in the days of the internet, information has never been easier to acquire.  I tend to utilize websites like Yelp which offer reviews, which I of course take with a grain of salt.  Also, once you are in the neighborhood and find a coffee shop or boutique you like, it helps to ask the owner what restaurants/foods they like.  The shrimp po boy above is a perfect example from New Orleans. You will often get a great answer that you might not find elsewhere!  Personally, I always like to try local beers when I travel, and with the proliferation of the craft beer movement throughout the USA, there has never been a better time.  If you are ever planning to come to Western Massachusetts, these are the beer stops I recommend.  Worcester's Armsby Abbey is pictured below.

Here are some Airbnb highlights (including a castle!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Minimalism in Practice: Declutter

Recently, I have begun to reconsider many things in my life.  By things, I mean physical possessions.  I live in a small apartment, it is approximately 800 square feet, it has one bathroom, one open kitchen/living room, and one bedroom.  There is one small storage facility that I use to run my home business.  However, I own hundreds of pieces of clothing, notably over 30 pairs of shoes, over 40 dress shirts, 25+ pairs of pants.  I own a number of kitchen appliances including a Vitamix, George Foreman style grill, Pressure Cooker, 3 frying pans, Le Creuset Dutch Ovens, Sauce Pans, Stock Pots, beer glasses, wine glasses, multiple bowls/plates/small plates/mixing bowls and the list goes on and on.  Do I really need all of this, especially given my limited real estate.  I have a book shelf teeming with books that are rarely read.  Some of these things I love, but some of them I just tolerate.

What to do about all of this?  My goal over the next year is to figure out the items that I use the most, and get rid of the rest.  Sure it is difficult to give up things that you may have purchased for large sums of money, but there is a cost to having immense clutter in your life.  I can donate the items that still have life left to Goodwill, or try to sell them to earn extra cash.  Avenues to sell items include Craigslist and Ebay.  You will be able to help someone repurpose the goods you no longer need, and give them a bargain.  This is good for them and the environment.

The two images above are an exaggeration, but sometimes it feels like that.  Below is my goal.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Buy Once - Quality Over Quantity (Minimalism)

Buying products is an integral part of life in the modern world.  We need products to provide various services and for various functions that make up our lives.  The bad part of this, is that the manufacture, sale, distribution, etc of these products can have a horrible impact on the environment.  My thesis is to buy something of high quality that will last an extremely long time, so that we can minimize the amount of purchases that need to be made.  A prime example of this is in clothing, which is something I think about constantly, but it also applies to furniture, cooking utensils, and really every product.  The one that can be most frustrating, is technology which goes through constant iteration, and products that were recently state of the art are almost entirely outdated in a few years.

Let's consider this through the furniture example.  Furniture at Ikea or other low cost makers is extremely affordable for any budget, however the expected life on many things is only several years.  In addition, the amount of travel and economic output that went into this product is extremely high.  Instead, you could contract with a local woodworker to have a piece custom made for your home with high quality materials.  Sure, the price would be much higher, but you would have a one of a kind piece, made by a local craftsman.

That may be a bit extreme, especially since the marginal price increase of artisan furniture is probably beyond the budgetary confines of most people.  Instead, you diligently research your options and find a piece that you know will last you a long time from a stylistic perspective, and also make sure that the item is sturdy and well built.  For example, check out the Herman Miller above.  This means you will not need to replace it nearly as soon.

If your piece of furniture begins to wobble in its legs, instead of just donating it to the Goodwill (or even worse throwing it in the garbage) try to repair it yourself.  Or if you are not able to, call in a favor with a handy friend.  It would even be preferable to consult with a carpenter who would possibly be able to repair it himself.

This applies to all things.  If your computer is slowing down, instead of simply replacing it, see if you can upgrade it.  Your car as well.  Clothing may become damaged or you may gain/lose a few pounds.  That's what tailors are for, especially if the garment is well made, it can be adjusted.  Shoes can be repaired.  Make sure to perform all regular maintenance to ensure that you can facilitate the longest possible life out of these assets.