Economic Sustainability

 

Sustaindiagram

Many times if people have heard the term sustainable before, the thought that comes to mind is the environment and maybe climate change or deforestation.  At one point I googled the definition of sustainable and found out the definition according to Wikipedia was “the ability to endure.” If we break that down a bit, obviously if something harm’s the environment it will eventually run out of resources or cause other problems that no longer allows the Earth to function as needed. This is not sustainable.

If you look at the above graphic though, you see that sustainability isn’t just the environment. It has economic and social components as well. For today I am going to focus on the economics because finances have become a focus for me the last few years.

If we hop in the way back machine and go to maybe 10 or 12 years ago, I was trying to get my life in order after a breakup. I was trying to plan a birth and time off work without another person to help pay the bills. It was a situation where I would lose my job because I was through a staffing agency and didn’t qualify for any sort of leave as a temp. I needed to have my bills paid. I needed a plan to feed my kids. I was also at a point where I had racked up debt trying to keep us afloat when we had been out of work during my first pregnancy and a bit after that. I started trying to pay off debt. I had read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and it made sense. Get it paid off and then move on. That made sense. At least until I hit the recession a couple years later and chose to go back to school when I couldn’t get a job. In case you are wondering- debt for a degree is not recommended. I know I was making the choices that were best for my circumstances at the time, but man has it added stress ever since. That is because it wasn’t sustainable long term. In fact, I should have stopped a lot sooner than I did from a financial perspective. And at least my brother would argue I need to finish my Master’s since the classes are all done and I just have to write the thesis.

But I digress. The point is, you can’t live off loans forever and expect it to meet that definition of sustainable as a plan that is able to endure. Eventually you can’t take out more loans. You can keep them from coming due by continuing to take classes, but that means another regular outlay of money to pay for your tuition. And since if they are federal loans you can defer based on income that is probably a better option if needed.

Eventually though you need a longer term plan. How are you going to be okay after retirement? Do you have pensions or maybe retirement accounts you can save in through work? Can you make ends meet right now?

I think there are a few foundational items needed in your arsenal if you are going to be sustainable when it comes to your personal finances.

The first is that you need a spending plan or budget so that you know where your money is going and what you have coming in. This may be on paper, in a spreadsheet, on an app. However works for you is fine. Personally I am using an old version of YNAB (You Need A Budget) because the new subscription model wasn’t sustainable in my current moment with my goals. Before that I used a spreadsheet. The problem that YNAB solved for me when I first got it was that my spreadsheet would lay out how much I had in each category…. But if I spent more or bought something else entirely it wasn’t accounted for. Maybe if I had ever mastered using a checkbook register for debit card purchases it would have worked.

The second key is that you need to get your actual income and outflows to match or preferably be so that you are spending less than you earn. Needless to say, if you have more going out than coming in you will eventually run into problems. You only have so much space in your credit card spending limit, you only have so many people or places to borrow from, and eventually the answer will be no. And then the people you owe money to will have their hand out wanting to be paid back.

Which brings us to the next paver on this financial path- pay off debt as necessary. These days I am spending a lot of time in the realms of FIRE…. Financial Independence Retire Early. I started out learning from Dave Ramsey and Total Money Makeover early on, but there are many differing opinions on debt when it comes to FI. Generally speaking, if you have credit card debt that you are not paying off in full every month, you need to work on getting this taken care of. If you have any debt above the amount of inflation(in the US it is somewhere between 2 and 3%), you need to work on getting it paid off. This might be happening at the same time as future steps though.

The next thing to figure out is what you need to sustain your lifestyle. Hopefully you were able to pare down if need be and you are currently living within your means. This would be the ultimate economic sustainability, to just have the money to live even if you didn’t go to work in the morning. Since I am not the greatest at explaining all of these concepts I am going to suggest you go check out Mr. Money Mustache’s article about The Shockingly Simple Math of Early Retirement. If you want a quick equation though it is 25 x Annual Expenses = Financial Independence. This gives a high probability of not running out of money in retirement before you die.

After that you have hit financial sustainability. Even if you add some padding into your numbers to mitigate any future changes or to give yourself extra padding, the end product is a financial life that will endure and keep you going even after you are done working. A great place to pick up actionable tips to help get you to FI is over on the ChooseFI podcast if you want to hear more. I may have binge listened to many episodes while at my last job….

Happy Planning!

~Going Greeen Mom

Let the Water do the Work- Laundry Part 2

Do you ever have those moments when you realize that you have been saying something happened 5 years ago for the last 5 years?  Once upon a time, back in the day, sometime after I got rid of the dryer I was in a threaded conversation about laundry products, and I mentioned that I had quit using dryer sheets.  The conversation went on, and people were mainly talking about all of the newfangled stuff they use on their clothes to make them smell this way or that, the stuff they use to dispense said smelly stuff or stuff to get rid of this grime or that stain.  I lost track of the thread for a few days, and then someone commented on my comment.  She said she had quit using detergent…  say what?   She said that she lets the water do the work.  Huh.  Really?  How does that work? And she explained that the movement of the clothes by the agitator or around the drum in a front-loader basically works most of the dirt and stuff out of your clothes.  She went on to tell me that she quit having mood swings, her husband did too.  Headaches and other things that could be described as symptoms if you ever thought to put them all together just vanished after a few weeks.

By this point I was having dizzy spells quite regularly and hadn’t had much luck getting anything done about them.  This had to be several years ago now, as it has been two since I was diagnosed with Vertigo again…  and you know, this kind woman that happened to live in the next large city over helped more than any of the doctor’s have been able to.  So anyway,  I figured what could it hurt.  I gave it a whirl and left my bucket of laundry detergent next to the washer.  I could always go back to it if I needed to, right?

So  the first week I washed the clothes.  I still used my vinegar for fabric softener, and I figured it would kind of disinfect them if need be (I really don’t think I use enough for this purpose, but I still tell myself this anyway). I didn’t really notice a difference.  I hadn’t been using much soap anyway because I had decreased the amount until it left little to no lint on the lint filter of the dryer.  On a side note, if you are pulling out a bunch of lint with every load, use less detergent.  It is essentially excess detergent and small fibers of your clothes that are being beaten out of your clothes as they tumble around in the dryer.  Anyway,  the next week they looked a bit dingy, and since we still had more clothes that hadn’t been washed the third week was the same.  Now keep in mind we don’t own white clothes.  This is more related to hard water than anything, but I do have a softener, so it shouldn’t really be a problem.  The next week I noticed something happen.  The clothes all of a sudden didn’t look dingy anymore.  Every time I wind up dropping that line in a comment to someone I do a mental check of the clothes too…  they are still not dingy.  In fact, we no longer have stains much. .

So what about the other stuff?  Well,  I’ll tell ya.  My dizzy spells dropped from every day to 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off.  I quit having as many mood swings.  My kids stopped having as many mood swings.  And headaches.  And did I mention mood swings?  I never really thought about my kids as having them a whole lot.  But they do.  Saturdays are their detox days at this point.  They come home and most of the time immediately change clothes.  I really can’t handle the fragrance, so this means we can get laundry done and get it out of the house…. although I haven’t done as well at this since I started working Saturdays.  I might have to work on that.  Ideally I would wash those clothes separately so they don’t get the smell on everything else….  they do their laundry and reduce the fabric softener and stuff over there, but those clothes will still make the rest of the next 2 loads smell.  So anyway, maybe it is just me, but it is nice to have less of the teenage moodiness…  it didn’t keep it all from coming, but it is definitely less than what I have when they have been with all of the chemicals for a week.  And yes, in case you were wondering, I try to avoid going anywhere on Saturdays so I don’t have to deal with it too. lol.

Wishing you less stains and maybe a few extra bucks in your wallet,

~Going Green Mom

P.S. I did eventually give away the rest of the detergent to someone that didn’t like the idea of not using any.  :/  Maybe someday she will be ready.

A Little Air and Patience… Laundry Part 1

Clothes hanging to dry

When the kids were smaller, and before I had heard the term “sparking joy”, I used to have piles and piles of laundry because we had too many clothes and a ton of other stuff in the house. I guess you could say that my house tends to follow the state of my mind. One day I was super behind on laundry and climbing over Mt. Washmore I got really frustrated.  I had turned the dryer on for the 3rd time and I figured they would probably still be damp when it got done… but then what was I supposed to do?

We live in a trailer park.  We aren’t allowed to have clotheslines outside.  I didn’t really feel like I had time to hang dry clothes anyway.  But of course I have damp clothes and a dryer that isn’t working.  So I decided to figure out places to stick clothes hung up when they got done so they would actually get dry.  I really don’t remember how or where or what I used that time, but I do know that I ordered a retractable clothesline.  I just didn’t have the cash to go buy another dryer.  I had been through so many washers, dishwashers, and the like that I just didn’t want to get another appliance I didn’t feel like I could afford.  So what is a Mama with two little kids and a mountain of clothes to do?  Well,  I tested it out.  I found that it dried clothes in less time than the dryer had been!  Granted it was dry and hot inside because I had fans going and it was the middle of summer, but I was amazed.  I have had piles a few times since then…. usually accompanied by illness or poison sumac issues, but not very often.

That clothesline gave way from where it was anchored a year or two later (I might not be the best at stud finding).  I still didn’t get a dryer though.  I got some more hangers.  I added a tension rod in the bathroom, and actually started hanging the clothes up on hangers.  This worked amazing!   So the hangers let me hang more clothes in a smaller space since the linear amount was reduced to slightly more than the size of the hanger.  Space them about 2″ apart and you are good to go.  You have air flow, and do you know what my kids did after a bit? “Can we leave our shirts hung up Mom?” It was actually about a year later I imagine, and they are used to hanging everything at their Dad’s.  This frustrated me.  Why does it have to be like it is at his house?  We’ve always folded our shirts here. But I was taking time to fold all of their clothes after they dried.  And did I mention we hung the clothes on hangers to dry in the first place?  Huh…  but we don’t have enough hangers…..  Enter the first culling of the clothes.  My daughter let go of so much, and still had way to many.  And my son let go of none…  and had plenty, probably enough for if he lived here full time. So she had some go into hiding, and they each had a set amount of hangers.  And within 2 months she had worked through all of the hidden piles by letting go of things she didn’t want anymore.  She has since sorted from more of a KonMari aspect and is at a very tight capsule wardrobe.  I think she has 5 or 6 t-shirts and just as many hoodies— mostly Pokemon costume hoodies. 🙂  She is totally inspiring my move toward a uniform, but I will deal with my closet in a different post.

So we got rid of the dryer.  Got rid of the pile because when you dry 3 loads at a time and plan ahead to have things dry when you need them you also tend to have time to fold and put them away.  We got rid of a lot of the folding as well.  And last but definitely not least, we got rid of dryer sheets.  Dryer sheets are full of chemicals that do a number on our bodies, on our dryers, and on our clothes.  I didn’t notice a ton of difference in my body with this, but I did notice some changes in our clothes.  We started using vinegar as a fabric softener in the washing machine fabric softener compartment, so our clothes are still fairly soft and static just really isn’t an issue when you don’t add heat and rub your clothes together.

So what did we gain?  We gained space—  from the walkway where we had the piles, the place we had the dryer, dresser drawers where we had clothes shoved, and from the passing on of clothes we no longer wanted.  We gained a bit of patience from the process of waiting for clothes to dry so we can wear them.  We gained a little money from the energy we saved, and from buying 1 less item for maintaining the household.

I know it seems crazy to question such a basic thing, but sometimes when something breaks it can truly be a blessing.  Join me next week for the second part of my journey when I learned how to let the water do the work.

~Going Green Mom

What’s in the trash?

What would be better options for what you see?

Somewhere between recycling and minimalism I stumbled on the idea that you don’t have to produce a bunch of trash every week.  I quickly embraced the idea that a person could work toward a zero waste lifestyle by adjusting how they do things.  It probably doesn’t shock anyone that knows me in real life that I have a thing about wanting to know how things used to be done.  Probably explains the degree in anthropology too.  One of the assignments in my intro classes also helped with that since we dug through trash to see what we could find out about people based on it….  no worries, it was the professor’s, and he is the one that brought it in…  but what can you really learn from looking in your trash?

  1. What you spend your money on.
  2. What you actually use.
  3. Where you get stuff that you don’t want.

And where to start.  Back when people were living on the farm and raising their own food, or wandering the prairies following the herds they used everything that they had.  They picked the vegetables and maybe cut them up or cooked them, then they ate them.  They didn’t wrap them in plastic, put them in a Styrofoam tray, plaster them with language to make them sound appealing to everyone else in town.  They didn’t need to.  If you think about it there are probably places in your town that you can still buy vegetables that way.  If you are lucky you might be able to buy things out of bulk bins like rice or beans, maybe herbs and spices too.

What was in my trash at first you might ask?  A lot of everything.  Many people said switch to reusable… but I already had. Think cloth napkins instead of paper, kitchen towels instead of paper towels.  Lots of people seemed obsessed with reusable straws when I first joined groups, but I didn’t use straws at that point….  I have since started drinking smoothies for breakfast and bought stainless steel.  I am reusing the foaming hand soap dispensers that I have had for years, and if you need to know how to clean them I highly recommend watching this video from Stacy at Humorous Homemaking.  I have started getting shampoo and conditioner from Plaine Products, who include shipping for you to send the containers back to them to be cleaned and refilled….  but I had already been using a wall mount dispenser that GREATLY reduced the amount of product we go through in a year.  It has actually taken me about a year to get to their product because I had most of a bottle of my old brand here already.  But maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself here.  The point is you need to look at your trash and see what’s in there.  I would recommend just snapping a quick shot with your phone, and then picking 1 or 2 things to try to get rid of.  In order to do that, let me explain the steps of zero waste…

The zero waste movement was started by Bea Johnson who decided to eliminate the waste coming in and going out of her home.  As I recall, I believe she basically made this her job at the time to change how their family of 4 did things.  Anyway, she came up with an expansion of the 3 R’s that we all know and love (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), and so the 5 R’s of Zero Waste are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.

Refuse- This is the best approach for the little knick-knacks and clutter that people give away for free various places, as well as a viable approach for a fair amount of random purchases you might make if you are prone to impulse purchases.  You simply say no thank you, and move on.  Or you enjoy the item in the store without bringing it home.

Reduce- Choosing items that are less or not at all packaged allows you to eliminate the need to throw away the part of what you bought that is not usable.  Recent pictures I have seen highlighting this are individual oranges wrapped in plastic or maybe putting a gallon of milk in a bag.  If you need a bag for your milk you can change to a reusable option…  but the image I saw was a gallon of milk in a plastic jug in a plastic bag still being carried by the handle on the gallon of milk.

Reuse- In some instances something can be reused.  This might be the jar that you bought pasta sauce in being re-purposed for canning peaches, or a box from pasta being used as a fire starter.  You might be inspired by craft projects to transform the item on Pinterest, or you might use the item as is.  You might use it for the same purpose as before, or you might use it for something completely different.  Use your imagination, and if you choose your materials wisely they can follow you to the next step if you wind up with too many.

Recycle- This is probably the most recognized step in the process and comes with lots of misconceptions.  Many people think things can be recycled that can’t, and others think things can’t be recycled that can.  Unfortunately this often takes a little bit of research on the services in your area, and if you don’t have curbside recycling a little more legwork to get the materials to their next life-stage.  It is also important to note that pretty much everywhere recyclables must be relatively clean or they still go to the landfill.

Rot- The last step on this journey is rot.  Once you have refused, reduced, reused, and recycled, most of your waste is carbon-based.  That means that it can go into a compost pile or bin of some sort to be broken down in any of several ways, then used as nutrients for the next batch of gardening you or your neighbor might choose to do.

Hopefully this gives you a bit of information to chew on and we can dig into each of the steps further as I refocus and work on our waste output again.  When I started we were pretty well filling our big rolling trash bin each week, and taking a few recyclables to what we called the smiling families.  I have since picked up curbside recycling which is a very small investment for the amount of time, effort, and peace it has given me.

Wishing you easy first steps,

Going Green Mom

 

 

Going Green with the K.I.S.S principle

While fixing the issues with the website and email stuff I had several tech support people that were awesome to talk to.  One of them started asking questions while she waited for things to go through, and I found it is a conversation I have had with lots of people when they hear my screen name (and in this case website address).  So let’s start with a couple of things. 1.  No I didn’t take this name because I was cutting chemicals out of my life, but I have done that.  2. I don’t sell anything that is going to make your life greener (surprised?).  Now that we are done with that, on to the fun stuff.

Most people have heard some explanation of KISS…  I will go with the Keep It Simple Sweetie version, as I have outlawed the other common word in my house.  Don’t talk badly about yourself because you teach other people how to treat you, and for goodness sake, don’t talk badly about others either.  So, What does the KISS principle have to do with Going Green?  Well, usually the greenest option is going to be one of the simplest.  It might seem like a crazy idea considering how many things there are to buy, most promising to save the environment by planting trees or saving wildlife if you buy their product.  When I chose my screen name green washing wasn’t a thing- yet.  The only cleaner that had claims on being environmentally friendly was probably Simple Green, and most people had never even heard of it.

Keeping it simple in my life often means looking to what was used before the industrial revolution changed this country so much.  This isn’t because I have issues with products, but because often people that were here were using something for any of the “needs” that we have, at least in terms of keeping house or basic life skills.  Most of those needs were filled with techniques, tools, or something that could be found a) easily, b) inexpensively, and c) locally.  I know.  Strange concept, to think that we wouldn’t find something on that magical internet shopping center…  and actually, I have looked for my cleaning products on that site, incredibly more expensive that at my local stores.  So what do I use, you ask?  Vinegar, Baking Soda, Peroxide, Dr. Bronner’s soap, and a few essential oils (I am NOT brand specific).

Vinegar can be purchased at any of my local grocery stores for no more than 4 dollars a gallon (I normally pay about $2.60).  The exception to this being if you want to buy organic apple cider vinegar that still has the mother.  I do buy it by the gallon, and I buy it in plastic jugs.  I reuse some of those jugs, and recycle the rest.  There are lots of tutorials on making vinegar on youtube….  I haven’t been that brave yet.  I use vinegar in my wash- this is the only thing I use in my wash.  I was once told that I could let the water do the work, and I gave it a whirl…. and it worked.  I did throw the vinegar in as I figured it would help disinfect somewhat and also works as a fabric softener. I hang dry my clothes, so I was already not using the sheets anymore.  I also use vinegar as needed for mopping, and cutting grease, and in place of typical spray type household cleaners.  Sometime I will track down the study, but after lots of reading it seems to be somewhat common knowledge that vinegar is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal….  with one of the 3 being a bit less than bleach but the others being about the same as.  That is good enough for me.  It also works well for washing windows, and I keep meaning to try the vinegar on car windows makes them not frost trick, but I guess I will wait another year to try it as we are finally above freezing most mornings here.  There are books out there about vinegar if you need more uses, but a browse through pinterest or google yield hundreds of options too.  If you don’t like the smell you can water it down, or throw some in a jar with citrus peels and it will smell like your citrus cleaners instead. Just be aware that combo can remove paint or any variety of sticky mess, so be careful about the surfaces you use it on.  If you have granite or marble counters, do not use vinegar on them.

Baking soda is the heavy hitter abrasive type cleaner.  It doesn’t damage surfaces, and I am sure someone can explain better than I, but it really doesn’t scratch things while you clean with it.  I use this on things like the toilet bowl, the stovetop and oven, sticky stuff that needs to come off of something (think stickers or label residue), and once you are done a spritz of vinegar will get rid of any remaining baking soda.  I am trying to think of other things I use this for, and am not really coming up with anything…   it works well in the tub on soap scum or dried on drips from the shampoo/conditioner dispenser.  This can be made into a paste with a little water, sprinkled on a surface, or sprinkled on a damp towel and then used.  Just keep it simple.  I have found the cheapest way to buy this is in a large bag or box (5 lbs?) at a time…  found with the swimming pool supplies during spring, summer, and early fall.

Peroxide is for blood.  It is really the only stain we occasionally have anymore…  mainly because I am not the most graceful, but also because my kids unfortunately inherited that trait from me as well.  I just keep a spray bottle in the bathroom and if someone gets a nosebleed or cuts themselves, rinse with cold water and spray whatever clothing it is on with peroxide…. after whatever you need to do first aid wise of course. lol.  Available from your local pharmacy or supermarket, this is almost always sold in smallish brown bottles.  They are recyclable, but I haven’t found it available in other formats.

Dr. Bronner’s soap- honestly this just goes in our foaming hand soap dispensers that I have been reusing for years.  I use like a 1:8? ratio of soap to water, and add a couple drops of whatever essential oil smells good that day.  Usually a citrus or mint, or both.  They do have already scented varieties out, and most of my local health food stores and coop have it available in at least 2 or 3 scents.  At least a few have it available as bulk and you can refill your own bottle or container from their bigger one.

Another cleaning product tip I have found helpful I picked up from my Dad.  Like dissolves like.  If I am trying to clean a greasy buildup off my backsplash or the vent hood on the stove, it is much easier to add a little oil to my vinegar than to just use the vinegar alone.

The last bit of advice I had for my tech support person as she was mulling over the fact that I basically have 4 items doing all of my cleaning tasks…  look at what you use and search for how to replace it.  If you look at your cabinets and you aren’t using the products to begin with—- they really don’t need to be replaced, just get rid of them.

Just go one step at a time…  it really can be that simple.  Promise.

Going Green Mom