How Going Greener Saved One Woman $21,950 a Year

from Huffington Post, by Maria Pesantez, as told to Alden Wicker

People have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, in honor of Earth Day, Maria Pesantez tells us how her radical experiment in earth-friendly living resulting in savings of $21,590 a year-without sacrificing her quality of life.

Three years ago, I was happy with my lifestyle.

I was 28, living in Houston with my husband and 8-year-old daughter. I recycled, bought organic food for my family, and had 100% wind power for our home. I thought I was leading a model environmental life.

But I was about to learn that environmentalism is like your career, giving to charity or managing your finances — there is always room for improvement.

And in the process, I would also learn that planet conservation leads to cash conservation.

In the three years since, I’ve saved thousands that I’ve shuttled toward my savings account (and a little luxury for myself), improved my health, grown closer with my family and, of course, lessened my impact on the earth. I’ll show you how I did it.

The Movie That Changed Everything

In 2009 I was a new member of the Houston chapter of U.S. Green Building Council Emerging Professionals, whose members were slowly introducing me to green habits. But it was their screening of No Impact Man that changed everything. This film (and the book by the same name) follows author Colin Beavan and his family around for a year while he tries to have, quite literally, no impact on the planet.

He makes no trash, buys nothing new, shuts off his electricity, uses only self-powered transportation, eats locally and gives back to the community … and discovers that living with less doesn’t mean a life of deprivation, but one of simple happiness. He also did all of this while living in New York City — not in a cave somewhere.

When I saw this movie, I was floored. Yes, it was extreme. But there were also many ideas for how I could improve without compromising my quality of life. This movie showed me how I could be healthier and feel more connected to my family. It was full of joy instead of environmental gloom and doom.

The one scene I keep remembering is where the three of them — Colin, his wife and his little girl-were playing cars in candlelight, giggling and having a good time. I wanted that sort of connection to my family for myself.

My No Impact Week

I wasn’t the only one who was affected so strongly. The movie was so successful that Colin created the No Impact Project, which encourages people to try out the No Impact Experiment for a week — and since 2009, over 40,000 people around the globe have. Each day you focus on a different aspect of your life and try to “green” it. After the week is over, you keep doing the things you like and let go of the things you don’t.

I was so inspired, I went home and started the challenge the very next day.

Sunday: Consumption
Before the challenge, I made regular trips to the mall for household items, clothing and shoes. My credit card statements used to be close to $2,400 each month. Not only was this bad for my finances, it pushed up carbon emissions, wasted resources and helped trash our environment. Each cheap blouse I bought was often fabricated from petroleum products in another country, then shipped across the world to me where I would wear it until it fell apart, and then donate it.

Starting on Sunday, I wasn’t allowed to buy anything new. Instead I had to try to get it used, borrow it, use something I already had or just go without. That’s how I discovered thrifting.

After the challenge, thrifting turned out to be one of my favorite eco-friendly activities. It allows me to try out many brands and styles in one trip and powers up the local economy. And what can be more fun than finding a BCBG Max Azria dress for $25? I still get everything I need (and some things I want). But because I now buy as much as I can used rather than new, and have gotten into the habit of pausing before buying anything new to ask myself if I really need it, my credit card statements are now closer to $1,200.

Total savings: $14,400 a year

Monday: Trash
Before the challenge, we recycled as much as we could, but we didn’t even think about reducing our trash. I brought home plastic bags and takeout containers, paper towels and napkins and racks of bottled water, which would all be quickly used and sent to the landfill or recycled.

Starting on Monday, I chose items that came in less packaging, traded disposables for reusables (bye plastic grocery bags!) and finally started composting like I had been thinking about doing — I just hadn’t had the push I needed to get started. I also broke up with bottled water. Aside from having toxic chemicals that leach from the plastic and contaminate our rivers, it costs 10,000 times more than tap water. All I needed was a good water filter and a stainless steel bottle that costs less than $0.001 to refill. This change alone saves me over $600 a year!

Of course, Colin Beaven and his family stopped using toilet paper too, rigging up a bidet. We didn’t go there.

After the challenge, we ditched bottled water and disposables almost completely and continued to compost. We haven’t used any paper towels or paper napkins for three years. Instead, we have a little pile of all-purpose rags and cloth napkins that we use and wash in hot water. This saves us about $30 a month.

Total savings: $960 a year

Tuesday: Transportation
Before the challenge, we used our car for everything. We paid $2,000 a year for gas, $1,200 for maintenance and $1,500 a year for parking at my work at the nearby university, contributing to air pollution and carbon emissions. Meanwhile, I would get on my bike on the weekends for fun.

Starting on Tuesday, I had to get to work and around town by “self-propelled means,” so I started biking the two miles to work every day. It wasn’t always easy. I have an addiction to high-heels and cute outfits, so I took a big backpack full of clothes and rented a locker at the gym at my work for $10 a month. And if I wanted to get to the other side of vast Houston, trying to get there using public transportation sometimes requires three or four bus changes!

After the challenge, we didn’t keep moving around everywhere without the car. Some days are too hot; others are too cold or rainy. The transportation and bike lanes in Houston aren’t so great, so we often have no choice. But I kept biking to work, and a cool morning breeze and chirping birds are part of my daily routine. My car spends most of its time in the garage, and most of the $4,700 car budget stays in my pocket. The challenge cemented our preference of living in the city, where we can walk or bike to restaurants and I have easy access to work.

Total Savings: $4,580 a year

Wednesday: Food
Before the challenge, we ate nutritiously but bought all our food at the grocery store, which has more packaging, is more likely to be processed and is shipped from thousands of miles away. I had no awareness of farmers’ markets whatsoever.

Starting on Wednesday, we had to buy all our food locally-ideally produced within 100 miles. It was a lot more work, involving a trip to the farmers’ market, then another one to the grocery store to get anything you still needed. I had to cook every day instead of getting prepared food, and was limited to just the vegetables that were in season.

After the challenge, we slid back into shopping at Whole Foods the majority of time for convenience, which costs us more. But we cut meat out of our diets, because of the resources it takes to raise it and the way animals are treated at industrial farms. That and cooking at home together lowers our grocery bill. Financially, it’s a wash. But when it comes to my carbon footprint and the amount of pesticides on my food, I feel like I’ve won.

Total savings: $0

Thursday: Energy
Before the challenge, we used to watch a lot of TV, paying $65 a month for cable, and like many Houstonians, we switched on our air conditioning and heat as soon as we got slightly uncomfortable.

Starting on Thursday, we had to unplug completely, using no electricity whatsoever. Instead we spent time with each other instead of our electronics. We also hung our clothing out on the line to dry. It required some adjustment, especially because the clothes didn’t turn out as soft and fluffy as with the dryer and it was more work than throwing everything in the dryer. It was October, so we delayed turning on the heat.

After the challenge, we went right back to using our air conditioner and lights like normal. If you didn’t know, Houston is hot in the summer, and unlike Colin, we like to do things with the lights on at night instead of by candlelight. Yes, I loved the idea of playing with my daughter by candlelight, but it’s so much easier to flick on a switch. And someone is usually on the computer.

But now instead of gathering in front of the TV at night, my husband will get in a workout, my daughter will do her homework, I’ll read a book, and we’ll gather in the kitchen to cook a meal. On weekends we’ll go out for a bike ride or a walk. And now we really like that the clothes hung on the line come off smelling like sunshine and fresh air. I just throw them in the dryer for a couple minutes with a wet rag for humidity to fluff them up. We turn on our heater much later than everyone else, using sweaters and cozy socks instead. (And avoid the drying effect of artificial heat on our hair and skin, too.)

In the last two years, both my electricity and gas bill have gone down, even though the cost of electricity and gas went up where we live during that same time period.

(Use these strategies from a rocket scientist to save on your own bill.)

Total savings: $1,650 a year

Total yearly savings after the experiment: $21,590

Doing It With Joy

The No Impact Project certainly was a challenge, but I never doubted the worth of the experiment. Deep inside of me I knew it was the right way to live. Right now people are competing for what car they drive and who has great clothes, and that is not making anyone happy. So even if changing my habits hadn’t saved me so much money, I would have done this anyway. It was just an enormous perk!

My daughter and husband are also very conscious about the environment and really enjoy participating in all these activities. If it gets too hard, they skip it. And so do I. When I have to take my car, I take my car, without the guilt. This week-long experiment just gives you a window into what is possible, it doesn’t force you to live uncomfortably.

What I Do With The Money I Save

Now that I’m saving so much money, we haven’t started spending more money on, say, more clothes or a better car. Instead, I shuttle that money to my emergency fund. It’s always good to be prepared.

And I love that it frees up money for little splurges. For example, we now have a green company that comes to clean our house once a month. It’s a treat!

Maria J. Pesantez is a financial and grants analyst at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She lives with her husband and 11-year-old daughter in the city.

Sirius

Last night I paid a sorrowful and teary visit to Sirius at the animal hospital. Just 2 days before, Sirius’ family informed us that he has been warded in the animal hospital because he had a serious fall is now not able to move from waist down. When he saw us he was trying and trying to get up to greet us but he couldn’t. His emaciated frame, bandaged lower back and listless eyes made me exploded with emotions and break down uncontrollably.

We found Sirius wondering along the busy roads one spring day in 2007. He was skinny, scavenging for food, and we never knew whether he was a loss or abandonment case, although many evidence point to the latter. Just like that, he came into our lives and we started to foster him and nurse him back to health. We spent many happy and frustrated moments together trying to understand each other, and fortunately Sirius was quickly integrated into our little family. A second stroke of luck struck him and he was adopted months later into a nice family who cared for him like a child of their own.

As with many of the foster dogs we had, Sirius was like one of our own dogs. We’ve kept in contact with many of our adopter families just so we have our hearts at ease knowing that they are doing well. Sometimes these dogs have a happily-ever-after ending, and sometimes, they just don’t. Such is the cruelty of life, and there’s just no darn thing we can do about it.

All I want for Christmas this year is for Sirius to get well, and for all my love ones to be healthy and laughing.

Underbelly: Cute Pups Cruel Origins

Article courtesy of The Age (www.theage.com.au)

SAY hello – and goodbye – to Nobby, the beagle who has become the sad face and birth-battered body of the RSPCA’s new campaign against the factory-farming of puppies.

The RSPCA is using the image of Nobby – tagged with the bitter caption ‘Employee of the Month’ – on billboards and its website in its bid to close down intensive commercial production of puppies and to seek a ban on their sale from pet shops.

When this photograph was taken in 2004, Nobby was a breeding bitch on a puppy farm at Learmonth, near Ballarat, owned by Dr Ron Wells, the former Victorian MP and vet.

After raids and a campaign by anti-puppy factory activists, the business was closed in 2005 under a confidential agreement with Ballarat Council.

But Nobby was already dead.

Campaigner Debra Tranter, who took the photo during a raid on the property, said this week she remains haunted by the image. ”I was making plans to go back to rescue her when a staff member told me she had been put down.”

Ms Tranter said the beagle had spent her entire life in appalling conditions on the farm. Her mother was a breeding bitch and at birth Nobby was also selected for breeding. ”They used to choose some of the female puppies and put them aside to replace the older breeding females,” she said. ”As the older females were killed off, the younger puppies, at six or seven months of age, would replace them. Nobby was one of those.”

She said the dog’s swollen, sagging mammaries were evidence of her life as a production-line breeder.

”It’s through the constant, back-to-back breeding; their bodies just don’t have time to recover. After anything up to 10 litters in a short period of time it’s inevitable that happens.

”We’ve rescued dogs similar to Nobby, with their mammaries hanging on the ground, and the vets have had to remove entire flaps of skin and just sew it back together, almost like a tummy tuck, to stop that dragging in the dirt.”

Former staff have told the RSPCA that many of Nobby’s puppies, like others at the property, suffered from what they described as a bacterial ”flesh-eating disease”, believed to be streptococcus canis, or necrotising fasciitis, which causes large areas of skin and underlying fatty tissue die and peel away.

The puppies were either euthanased or lost limbs. At least one of them was secretly rescued by a staffer, though it lost half of a back leg. Called Trilogy, not only for it’s three legs but also because it was born on March 3, 2003, she is still alive and well.

Staff members said Nobby would grieve each time her puppies were removed: ”She was well known as the howler as every time her pups were taken from her, she would howl for days.

”A lot of the dogs do grieve every time they have a litter of puppies taken off them,” said Ms Tranter.

”The pups are not properly weaned; they’re taken straight off mum, put into the truck and driven to the pet shop. It’s this constant cycle of pregnancy or feeding puppies. There’s real psychological damage done to these dogs.”

RSPCA spokesman Tim Pilgrim said there could be no better image for the new campaign: “Nobby epitomises the hopelessness and deprivation associated with puppy factories.

”The image represents the continuous cycle of pregnancy into which so many of the animals in puppy factories are forced. The mothers have little rest or reprieve between litters and are used as breeding machines to churn out as many puppies as possible for sale in pet stores, online or in newspapers.”

Dr Wells did not return calls from The Sunday Age.

http://www.closepuppyfactories.org

The Football “Psychic”

You know the whole world has gone bersek when they turn to an octopus as the football oracle.
Believe me I have nothing against octopus and I love all animals alike. Ok maybe a bit less love for rats but that’s another story.
And I am not saying the octopus prediction is bollocks or bogus, but I am against the notion of using any animals for fame, money or any other entertainment reasons. That is why I have always been strongly objective to the idea of animal shows, movies, rides or any mindless entertainment uses where they are made to work in captivity. It does not serve any purpose except the people who made monetary gains out of those acts.
Punters who worship Paul Oktopus and made money out of him, did you share your winnings or do you even care about him now that Germany is out? Will you still remember him and his greatness few months down the road? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Of course this has not been a new practice. For centuries, men have been making use of animals for work, food and entertainment. Now that we have evolved and replaced animals with machines, turned to vegetarianism (for some) for food and the mass media for entertainment, maybe its time we rethink the need to make use of all our other mammal friends.

You know the whole world has gone bersek when they turn to an octopus as the football oracle.

Believe me I have nothing against octopus and I love all animals alike. Ok maybe a bit less love for rats but that’s another story.

And I am not saying the octopus prediction is bollocks or bogus, but I am against the notion of using any animals for fame, money or any other entertainment reasons. That is why I have always been strongly objective to the idea of animal shows, movies, rides or any mindless entertainment uses where they are made to work in captivity. It does not serve any purpose except the people who made monetary gains out of those acts.

Punters who worship Paul Oktopus and made money out of him, did you share your winnings or do you even care about him now that Germany is out? Will you still remember him and his greatness few months down the road? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Of course this has not been a new practice. For centuries, men have been making use of animals for work, food and entertainment. Now that we have evolved and replaced animals with machines, turned to vegetarianism (for some of the greater ones amongst us) for food and the mass media for entertainment, maybe its time we rethink the need to make use of all our other mammal friends.

Labour Day

was labourous indeed. We went to the farm and bathed many many dogs. Have to say though the aching back and sunburnt backs were totally worthed it when we saw the grateful looks on the little furry ones.

Took this little girl call Emma out for a walk. She was timid and extremely shy and the slightest stuff scared her. Being caged up all your life with no contact to other human and surroundings does that to you.

This sweet peanut is up for adoption, and so are the many others at the shelter. In fact there are more dogs for adoption out there than you can imagine. Would you give them a chance?

S.O.S

A wonderfully kind group of people had come together to rescue 80 very uncared for and some very ill breeding dogs. We are trying all our best to help in various ways,  by giving monetary means or time.  Please check out their updates and wishlist here.

If you have any of the items to donate, please contact us, and D-man and I would be more than happy to arrange collection from you kind souls.

*We understand not everyone might have the means to donate, but spreading the word is a way to educate people about buying puppies and creating demand for such unnecessary cruelty.

Elephant love

I have a confession to make.

*deep breathe*

I have an uncanny love for elephants. I LOVE elephants.

There I’ve said it. I feel so relieved and released.

Every time I travel, and especially to Thailand, I must buy an elephant item. If I don’t, I wouldn’t be able to sleep and can’t board the flight until I’ve plough the streets and found a nice elephant article. That might explain why I love all things Thai so much. The Thais know their stuff.

These are a small fraction of some of the elephant memorabilias I’ve gathered over the years.

During my last trip to Bangkok last month, I tried to buy these elephants.

Unfortunately my request was firmly rejected by D-man.

I wonder why. Could be a luggage issue.

I also wonder why everyone has a special animal close to their heart, and the symbolic meaning of that animal to one.  As far as remember I loved elephants (besides the 687 other animals) but can’t really put a finger to why I simply do.

I read once that human love animals for their special traits, character and strengths. For instance if you love birds, you might wish you could soar freely into the skies like birds do.

If that’s the case, it might be in my wildest dreams that I could trample freely in the wild, always move in herds, be larger than life and yet kill no animal for food.

At least in one aspect I’m very elephant-ish. I am petrified of rats.

Bag lady

Did you ever play dress up with dolls when you were young? My favourite part of the dress up game was putting on the handbag. It’s like the single most important finishing touch, akin to mounting the star on the Christmas tree. It’s as essential as the cream cheese on carrot cake, icing on cupcakes, and fudge on fudge brownies. It was the single most important accessory back then. (That’s until I discovered shoes, but that’s another story for another day.)

As I discovered the other day, some things simply don’t change.


“Hey Boss, is purple still in season?”

“Does it go well with my spots?”

“Bagged it!”

Some things should never change.