Tag Archives: savings

Dreaming of a Green Christmas : 3 Ways to Make Your Holiday Environmentally Friendly

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 9.10.28 AMBy: Elizabeth Eckhart

The holidays are a time of family celebrations, reconnecting with old friends, and celebrating all that we’re thankful for. Unfortunately, the holidays can also be a time of stress, busy schedules, and worse of all, excess. No matter how frugal you may be, chances are you’re finding that extra cold weather and party hosting costs are eating into your budget. And perhaps, if you’re like many other Intent Blog readers, the idea of so much waste, with food and energy, may bother you quite a bit. In order to both keep our habits clean and green, and save some costs, we’ve put together a list of energy saving holiday tricks to get you through the season.

Decorating Tips

If you haven’t already, consider replacing all your holiday lights with energy efficient LEDs, which actually perform better in cold weather. For larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, and place all your lights on a timer or just unplug, ensuring that they won’t be left on during the day when no one can enjoy them. When shopping for outdoor decorations for yourself or others, keep in mind the wide availability of solar powered options.

If you’re really feeling green, you can also decorate with candles. Many families already use luminaries along outdoor walkways on special nights. Consider holiday scented candles, which are a beautiful addition to any home. You can also turn off the lights inside when your brightly decorated tree is on and lit. This will not only save energy; it will immediately make your home feel full of holiday spirit.

Hosting Tips

It may go against holiday tradition, but you can cook some party dishes in the microwave. The typical microwave uses 75 percent less energy than a conventional oven, so even one dish can make a large difference. Using the same reasoning, look up recipes you can create using a slow cooker. Since you’ll still be using the oven for trickier dishes, check progress through the window instead of cracking open the door (which can make the temperature drop 25 degrees in less than a minute!), and feel free to turn the oven off before the food is fully cooked. As long as the door stays shut, your food will finish perfectly and on time. Using glass or ceramic pans also means your dish will cook more quickly, so turn the oven down 20 degrees to save costs.

To keep your fridge running efficiently no matter the number of guests, keep it as stocked as possible — an easy task if feeding a large group of people! You can also defrost items in the fridge instead of a watery sink. Both tips will result in the fridge keeping cooler with less energy.

If you do happen to find your fridge is full, hold off from hauling out the spare fridge, and instead keep extra beverages and holiday leftovers cold by storing them in the garage or in the backyard. And as much as you’d like to clean up quickly following a large holiday meal, your fridge will thank you if you wait until all the food has cooled to room temperature before storing it away.

On the day of your party, turn down the thermostat to 66 degrees. Most people will find this is a comfortable range in a holiday sweater, and the increased body heat should take care of the rest. Keep a few blankets handy for older guests and chronically cold friends. If you plan on setting the mood by using the fireplace, install a tight-fitting set of glass doors and crack open a window nearby. Open-hearth fireplaces actually draw in the heated air from your home and send it straight up the chimney — a problem glass doors can stop. With increased holiday lights on top of heat usage, your bills may still come out higher than expected. If you haven’t already, start monitoring your light usage and reevaluate your energy plan using sites like Energize Connecticut and TexasElectricityProviders.com. Not only can you switch to less expensive plans, you can also choose to have most or all of your energy generated from green sources such as wind or solar.

Gift Giving and Shopping

Although many of us enjoy wandering around decorated stores during the holidays, perhaps even stopping to see Santa, before the perfect gift emerges on its own, you can save time and costs by planning out the gifts necessary for each person. Make use of outlets and strip malls, which mean you have less driving to do from store to store. You can also shop for products made locally or buy materials to craft gifts on your own, which not only supports local businesses but detracts overall from the amount of overseas transit costs and pollution that trucks, boats, and planes cause. The same goes for shopping online  — if you buy your gifts from one store instead of three, you’ll have lower costs associated with packaging and transit.

Regarding the actual gift, aim to buy fewer gifts that use electricity and batteries. An amazing 40 percent of all batteries are purchased during the holiday season, which means a lot of energy is used. If you must buy electronic gifts, definitely opt for the energy efficient versions, and maybe even throw in rechargeable batteries instead of singular usage batteries.

The holidays are the perfect time to show appreciation for those around you. Whether it be through gifts, parties, or decorations, the holidays can be exciting, albeit expensive. But, if you plan accordingly and shop wisely, you’ll find the damage to your wallet and the earth can be greatly reduced.

Elizabeth Eckhart is a Chicago born and bred blogger who is passionate about keeping the environment clean. Some of her favorite writing topics include new renewable energy technology and various ways to live a healthy lifestyle. 


One of my best friends moved to Boston and called to tell me how she was adapting from West Coast to East Coast. She said, “Here my girlfriends will ask me how often I have sex with my husband, but they are mortified when I talk about money.”

It reminds me of our relationships with the bank. Sometimes I get the feeling we are all a little bit Boston, even while millions are swirling the drain of personal finance as they once knew it. If we are all in the same swirl, wouldn’t we want to talk about it? Hear each other’s tribulations and solutions? Wouldn’t we want to relate our issues to our friends, to the loan officer and the bank, because they could have the solutions? 

Financial Matters Out in the Open

Money is a secretive matter. It gets tied up in status and shame, and when we are faced with losing it, the prospect of loss is often bigger than the sum itself. It is emotional and heavy.

What if potential loss were an easier burden to share? What if talking about money challenges and fears could open up solutions? If you say out loud what your situation is, someone very often will know someone else who can help, or who went through exactly what you are going through, or knows someone who works at Chase, or whose cousin is a financial advisor who can help. 

Talking about money challenges means letting go, and maybe even coming to some conclusions that are hard to swallow. In the interest of letting go, I am trying that on. I have been filing loan modification papers for a year now, and have reached the point where I can take no more steps forward. What if the only answer now is to surrender?

What if I was willing to take the massive action of letting this property go? And if I am willing, why am I not including the bank and loan officer in on my process? Why am I acting differently in this relationship? Any other relationship, I would speak to what I’m struggling with, and what I am willing to do.

Conversations About Letting Go

Wouldn’t it be great if I actually had that conversation with the bank? I would love to keep this property and pay you on a regular basis. But I can’t do it if I don’t get the loan modification. I have tried everything from changing my family’s lifestyle to filing twelve months’ worth of papers. And now, I am willing to let it go.

My actions at the beginning of the day included faxing my bank six utility bills and thirty pages of statements. What I am going to do now do is write a letter to thank the loan officer. Then write to the bank to say I’m willing to let go. What I am hoping is that by surrendering and being public about it, I will be building my team, my support network, to help me continue to make the changes I want to make in my family’s life.

Is Money Freedom? Replacing the Money Craving

If money is freedom, what if you lived like you were already free? Sounds kind of new age-y, but I’m going for something more concrete than a concept. I’ve been playing with breaking down the thought, “if I just had ___ dollars for ___ activity, I could be happy.” What if I just did the activity? Could I save money? Is it possible that, if I did what I truly wanted to do, I’d spend less?

 In my observation, people spend like they eat, out of emotion. Could it follow that if we’re doing things we’re emotionally fed by, we spend less? I’ve observed that, if people are doing what they really want to be doing, the activity is usually nurturing in some way. And it is most often in relation with other people. For the next seven days, I’ve decided to do what I absolutely love to do at all times, and see how it changes my financial picture.

 There’s a trick here, though, so I’m digging a little deeper. I love to go out to eat. But if I spend seven days doing that, I’ll go into debt $600. So I’m asking, “What do I love about going out to eat?” I love spending the time with my girlfriends or my husband. I love luxuriating in each other’s company, and I love eating good food. It’s the luxury of time and connection I crave.

 Fulfill the Desire Affordably

For the next seven days, when I get the urge to go out, I am going to consider what craving I am trying to fulfill, and then will try to find a way to achieve it without spending on dinner. Instead, I’ll head to the market to pick up cupcake mix, and invite my girlfriend over to make cupcakes together. Or we can pack the cupcakes and take a walk to the park that overlooks the ocean. Or we can skip the cupcakes and head to a hip hop class together.

 The exercise is to question, what do I really want to be doing? To actually go out and get served at a restaurant and pay money for it? Or to connect?

 I may run into a few realistic obstacles. For instance, what I would really love to do on a sunny week day afternoon is take my kids swimming at the university pool. It would cost me $0, and would be time well spent. What I would likely end up doing instead is close the laptop, go to Peets, buy coffee and a cookie, later, buy chips and guacamole for the office meeting, and then pick up food for my family’s dinner on the way home because I’m running late. Easily $100 more than I would spend at the pool.

 Do the Life Math

I wonder if my colleagues would mind my absence? If you can’t leave your commitments to do what you’d rather do, tabulate the numbers. It may be time to introduce some balance into the equation if it’s costing you more to be where you don’t want to be… maybe with that other concept I hear all the time, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” That sounds like freedom. What if you lived for one week as if that were really true?

True Self-Giving: Honest Desires Mean Wiser Spending

Have you heard the philosophy that we are always provided for with what we need? I started to combine that way of thinking with the budget beliefs I was forming mid-recession, and you know what came out? Truth like fireworks.

What would you do?
What would you do if you knew that you would always be provided for with what you need? To be totally honest and wide open about it, I would buy an awesome pair of designer jeans every three months, and a James Perse shirt. Maybe a new pair of shoes every now and then. I would eat a raw diet (they take more time and money than I have now to prepare), and I would be set.

What I discovered in my desire is that I would be decadent with what I gave myself in terms of food, clothes, and material items, but they would be fewer, and higher quality.

What I further discovered is that budgeting is about making different spending decisions, not just cheaper ones. Nurturing yourself in the middle of crunching the cash flow means being completely honest about what you really want, and not whether you can afford it, but what it means to you, and then how you can afford it.

I am sensitive to idea that it’s a middle class problem to be deciding whether I want designer jeans. But to me, we can have this conversation at many income levels. The point is to define what truly nurtures you, and then prioritize how to move in incremental ways toward that nurturing. The point is to steer clear of spending on cheap stuff you don’t like, merely because it is cheaper. If you are spending just to spend, but are doing it at a cheaper place, it doesn’t make sense, financial or otherwise.

Beauty queen on a budget

On the other hand, if you are saving and saving, until you can afford to spring for that one pair of jeans that makes you feel like a beauty queen, and makes you want to toss every other pair of pants you own into the Goodwill bin, you are understanding the value of your dollar and your desire. And it also sounds like you’re budgeting. Good on you.

The point is also this. I may not even get the jeans. But I know what I want. And I’d rather be honest with myself, and not go fill my closet with things I don’t like.

Despite my luxury desires, I still shop inexpensive. I just make darn sure I don’t buy what I don’t love, no matter how cheap it is. You know what I really love? My $4 shirt from Old Navy. But I love wearing it with my Converse shoes and gold earrings, when I feel true to my own sense of style, even if I’m never buying anything.

On that note, try reinvigorating your closet by sharing clothes with your girlfriends. You’ll feel rich. And saving by sharing may get you one step closer to those things you love. What would you do or get or be if you knew you would always be provided for?

Slim Wallet, Rich Heart: Not Your Average Holiday Gift Giving Guide

The season of giving doesn’t have to mean the season of spending—much as retailers will hate to hear that. This year, I will be reverting to my practice from my younger, bare bones budget days, when the gifts were inexpensive, but full of heart. It was a lot of fun then; it should be a lot of fun now, and will reduce the urge—and pressure—to overspend during the holiday season.

1. Create a master gift list.
To get a sense of how much you will need to spend—in both time and money—write a list of everyone you want to buy gifts for. Make two columns of recipients, Tier 1 being the people critical in your life and community, Tier 2 being the outer spheres of influence. For me, that was the postal person, the housecleaner, people who affected my life but with whom I did not have a close relationship.

2. Calculate how much you want to spend per gift.

I like to keep it under $15. To make it easy, festive and inexpensive, I give baked goods to everyone on the list. And for my Tier 1 group, I include a gift I make for each of them. The fun part of this is that everyone knows they are getting the same signature gift, and they love to wonder what it will be this year. 

3. Make your gift personal to you.

I love to make gifts that represent my year, and my community loves to be included in it. One particularly nurturing year, I made lip balm and soap for everyone. The next year, I made my favorite work out mix CD, and put it in a gift basket with running socks. Another year, I bought cute, zip-up pencil cases and filled them with all my favorite things from that year: my favorite lip balm, favorite steno pad and pen, even my favorite brand of dental floss! To me, it was one of the greatest gifts, because it was so personal, and fun to assemble. The point is to make it super fun and super cheap. How great is it to share the things you most favor with the people you most appreciate? Make a memory for the people you love. This year, I will probably share all the ways I saved money: include my spending tips, give a year of Green Sherpa™ to everyone I know, and add an awesome checkbook cover.

4. Do a family gift exchange.
Within any family or group, draw names and get a gift for that one person. It takes the pressure off of buying meaningless gifts for the sake of meeting everyone’s expectations.

5. Choose a theme.
On one side of my family, every year, we each choose a paperback we love, and buy enough to give to everyone. Make it $10 or less.

6. Kids LOVE creativity.

Children love wonder. Get creative with ways you can reach their imagination, and their memory of your gift will last a long time. Get a shoebox and create a magical wonderland inside. Or make it a mystery box. Fill it with treasures…crystals, statuettes, miniature cards, feathers, pieces of nature. Then wrap the box in a decorated paper bag, cut a hole in the side, and cover it with a little felt curtain. When they put their hand inside, there are all kinds of mysteries to pull out and play with, keep sacred and secret, or to share.

7. Make time together.
Make the gift meaningful ways to spend time together. For my husband’s birthday, we went to a film I knew he would love at the local university. It was $7! This year for Christmas we’ll take our daughter to see Mary Poppins, the musical. The ticket is only $20, but for a five-year-old, the experience will be larger than life. For my gift this year, I have asked that my family go on the holiday lights trolley tour around our town. And my sisters and I are looking in the local paper to choose and event we all want to do together. Even as I write this, I get excited about the fun we will have in celebration of each other, and the season, all for the sake of gifting each other with more of ourselves.

8. Fill in your ideas here.

Inexpensive, even free, holiday gift ideas are limitless. Think about the person (or people) you love, consider what makes them and you unique, and come together to celebrate. The greatest thing about giving is the way it feels when you do it, and the way it feels to receive. Consider that money is just a vehicle to giving, that, when it comes to receiving, is no better than your love and imagination. Give this season! Spend less.

Happy Holidays.

Five Unconventional Ways to Save Money on Food — Grocery Challenge Week 2 Update

Five Unconventional Ways to Save Money on Food  — Grocery Challenge Week 2 Update


1. Throw a supper party!

Here’s a fun tip for the $200/week grocery challenge. When reserves are running low, throw a supper party. Invite guests to bring ingredients they have hanging around in the fridge. Then, together, design and make a meal out of everything that people bring. You can get really wild and creative…and come home with some new dinner tips from others, to mix up the regular menu. 


2. Trade gift certificates and coupons.

After dinner, make the theme of savings a clever event. Have guests bring coupons, and a list of local discounts they have heard about. Be prepared to share and trade. Over dessert, bump up the stakes. Invite your guests to round up all of their unused gift certificates and free dinner coupons, and bring them to the supper party. (We all have some stuffed in a drawer, don’t we? The massage certificate we gave our mom for her birthday and she never used. The $50 restaurant raffle we won and never spent.) Then open the trading floor! Someone else would use that massage certificate in a heartbeat, and you could get something you really like in return. Commit to using the coupons and gift certificates you end up with, and see what kind of new experience it leads you to. I love to use mine for inevitable special occasions where I’ll be treating, like birthday dinners. 


3. Eat out more often.

Not at restaurants. Instead, consider the dinner invitations you have gotten from friends and neighbors over time. Start taking people up on them. Instead of putting it off, say yes! Offer to bring a salad.


4. Share a farm fresh produce box.

Nearby farms often provide monthly or weekly produce delivery to urban areas. If you go in on a share with two other families, it could cost as little as $20 a week for a big box of vegetables. And the vegetables change with the season. Yum.


5. Make date night special.

Instead of fancy Italian date night dinner, head to an all-night taco stand. Broaden your adventure horizons, and go on a walk. Look up at the stars. If you go to a discount theater, bring your own popcorn that you made at home. Money can be a short cut to gratification that creativity can make up with more fun. If the intent is being together, you’ll have a great time getting creative.


2009 Christmas Club Account: Kiva

Probably most people on Intent are familiar with Kiva. If not, it’s a microlending website (www.kiva.org) that facilitates p2p lending/borrowing. Mentioned a number of times on Intent, it’s a powerful way to serve as a vital cause for trickle-up economics (notice that I said serve as a cause rather than support a cause. You can create a huge impact with very little money).

It’s also a pretty powerful way to save for Christmas 2009. Need to sock a few dollars away for next Christmas’s gifts but have trouble keeping your mits off the loot throughout the year? Using Kiva is much better than stuffing a mattress full of money or giving it to the bank in a conventional savings account…God only knows what sordid vice the bank will blow all your money on while they have it anyway.

Contribute to someone’s business success while safeguarding your cash for next year’s Season of giving.

Yes, you can have your cake and let others eat some too.

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