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LIVING GREEN
The Greencheapskate

Carving a Jack-o-Lantern this Weekend? Here's How to Cook the Pumpkin Goop!

pumpkin carving

[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]

"Jeff, can't we at least celebrate the holiday before you eat the decorations?" I've heard that more than once from my long-suffering wife during our 26-year marriage.

You see, cheapskates like to celebrate Halloween and other holidays just like everyone else. But we grimace at wasteful rituals like throwing away a perfectly good pumpkin after using it for only a few days as a decoration. Americans buy more than one billion pounds of pumpkins at Halloween, and the vast majority of those end up in the trash. But at the Green Cheapskate's house, we eat our jack-o-lantern, every last bit of it.

While some particularly meaty varieties of pumpkins are specifically grown to be eaten (including Sweet Jack-be-Littles, Cheese Pumpkins, Sugar Pumpkins and some delicious heirloom varieties), any commonly available pumpkin is perfectly edible. Best of all, at Halloween (and immediately after Halloween) you can usually buy pumpkins for less than half a buck a pound. At that price, why not pick up a couple extra just to eat?

Pumpkins are a true American vegetable, a favorite of the Aztec, Inca and Mayan people before becoming a staple of early European explorers and settlers in the New World. Pumpkins belong to the same family (Cucurbitacae) as gourds, melons and cucumbers. And, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, pumpkins are packed with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer.

If you're buying a pumpkin specifically for eating, the smaller ones are usually the best. If you're going to use it as a jack-o'-lantern as well, you can eat or freeze some of the pumpkin when you carve it, and then pickle the remaining rind when Halloween is over, provided that it's still in good shape. So, here's how to eat your jack-o-lantern:

Seeds First

Toasted pumpkin seeds are a healthy snack filled with zinc, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and protein. They're also great in salads, muffins, bread, and in other recipes as a nut substitute.

Remove the seeds, rinse them in water to get rid of the stringy inner membrane, and dry them out a little on a towel. Flavor with coarse salt for a traditional taste, or let your imagination and spice rack run wild. Some options for flavoring designer seeds include: pumpkin pie spice; Cajun seasonings; ginger powder; garlic salt; curry powder; Tabasco; cinnamon; vinegar and salt. Once seasoned, bake the seeds on a lightly oiled cookie sheet (single layer thick) in a 250-degree oven for about an hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Or, my preferred method is to cook them in a spray-oiled skillet over medium heat on the stove top, stirring and shaking (the skillet, not your booty) constantly. On the stove top, they'll be toasted nicely brown in only about five minutes. Store in air-tight containers.


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The Green Cheapskate's Guide to Buying Used Bikes

Although I bicycle all year long – even in the snow and ice of winter – the fall is my absolute favorite time to be out on the road on my rusty-but-trusty 10 speed.

I’ve also noticed that fall is probably the best time of year to buy a bicycle. If you’re looking for a brand new one, bike shops often discount their inventory in the fall to make room for next year’s models. But I’ve also found that fall is the best time to score some real deals on used bikes at thrift stores and yard sales; with summer now in the rearview mirror, everyone seems to be jettisoning their lightly used cycles rather than making room for them in the garage.

If you’re not mechanically inclined, buying a used bike can seem a little intimidating. But the risk is usually worth the potential reward: I frequently find used bikes in the $25-$50 range. With a similar amount invested in repairs and labor, that used bike can be rehabbed into one that would cost $250-$500 new. Of course many of them are vintage bikes from the 1970’s and 80’s, the likes of which you can’t buy today at any price.

Here are some of the most common mechanical problems to look for if you’re thinking about buying a used bike:

  • used bikes

    Flat/worn out tires and inner tubes. Dry rot is common in tires/tubes that have been sitting un-inflated for a period of time, so they often need to be replaced, rather than just inflated and/or patched. The good news is, new tires and tubes are usually pretty cheap and easy to install.

  • Bent wheels/rims. This is easy to evaluate before buying a used bike. Just spin the wheels, and if they wobble significantly when you spin them or if they’re so bent that they won’t spin at all without hitting the frame, then you have a problem. Diagnosing how serious the problem is – and how costly it will be to repair – is more difficult. It could just be a few broken or loose spokes, and a bike mechanic can fix it with minimal labor and parts. But it could mean you need a whole new wheel, which can get expensive and hard to find for some older bikes. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s probably best to stay away from used bikes that have wheels that are seriously out of balance (aka “true”).

  • Check the frame carefully. I’ve bought some used bikes simply because the frame was intact and well worth the price alone, even though all of the other components were worthless. Look for any signs that the frame (including the front forks) is bent, cracked, broken, or has been in an accident (patches for flaking paint can be a sign that it’s seen some collision action). Don’t buy a bike with a bent frame or any clear signs of frame damage; it probably can’t be repaired and will lead to further problems down the road (assuming it even gets you down the road).


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5 Frugal Fall Gardening Tips

digging in the garden

Sure, everybody's green thumb seems to blossom with the first warmish day of spring, just about the same day the green blades of the daffodils pop up in the flowerbed. But by autumn, most fair weather gardeners have long ago hung up their hoes for the season and planted their butts firmly in front of the TV to watch football.

That's a shame, because in most parts of the country the Fall is the best time of year for all kinds of garden activities, including planting and transplanting my types of plants. It's also the time of year when you can save a bushel of cash on gardening equipment and nursery stock, and save even more by properly tucking in your garden and equipment for its long winter's nap. Here's how:

Great deals on end of season nursery stock:
In most climate zones, Fall is actually a better time of year than even spring to plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and many other perennial plants. The soil tends to be warmer which promotes root growth, and — unlike with spring planting — there's not the potential of a long, hot, dry summer facing the young upstarts. And, even though I'm an anti-lawnite, if you're going to put down sod, Fall is also generally the best – and cheapest – time to do it. Many nurseries dramatically discount their remaining container-grown plants and other nursery stock, both to avoid over-wintering them and to make room for the soon-to-arrive Halloween pumpkins and Christmas trees. I've found it's a great time to negotiate an even better deal by simply asking for an additional reduction on already discounted nursery stock.


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Cheap Sleep: 8 Budget-Friendly Lodging Options for Travelers

Over the years I've slept in some pretty strange places during my travels by bicycle, foot, thumb, and public transportation.

hotel carter entrance in times square, new york city

Some of the more memorable places I've spent the night, including while writing The Cheapskate Next Door: city parks, fairgrounds, churches, school playgrounds, cemeteries, bus/train/ferry stations and airports, and a couple of jail cells (voluntarily, of course—FYI, some small town jails will lock you up for the night if they're not busy and you just ask). I've slept in cardboard boxes, cargo containers, box cars, abandoned vehicles, and a record-setting number of seedy hotels. At the invitation of the owner/mortician, once I even slept in a funeral home when I was bicycling across Nebraska; it was one of the most peaceful night's sleep I've ever had, and my snoring didn't bother any of the other overnight guests.

Okay, so maybe some of my choices for overnight accommodations aren't for the fainthearted traveler. But here are some ways to save big money on lodging when you travel without having to be strip searched before being locked in your gratis jail cell for the night:

Hostels:
Most people have heard of “youth hostels” and maybe stayed in a few when they backpacked their way through Europe way back in college. But what a lot of people don't know is that hostels have changed a great deal over the years. Hosteling International is an international nonprofit organization that operates more than 4,000 hostels worldwide, including 60 hostels right here in the U.S. Notice that the word “youth” has been dropped from the name, since hostels are now open to people of any age, with seniors and families being among their fastest growing clientele. More and more hostels now offer private and semi-private rooms and baths, but you'll still pay only about 20 percent of what a hotel would likely cost you in the same locale.

Couch Surfing:
The mission of this nonprofit organization (couchsurfing.org) is to "bring the world together one couch at a time." Working through a wonderfully robust website, half a million Couch Surfing hosts living all around the world will let travelers crash on their couches (or often in a spare bedroom) for free. You don't need to make your couch available in order to use the network, although reciprocity is appreciated. Safety of both travelers and hosts is enhanced through various features on the group's website, including safety alerts and recommendations vouching for people you've hosted or stayed with. Special user groups (e.g. senior travelers, hosts willing to accommodate families, etc.) allow nearly every type of traveler to find the right matches. Having used the Couch Surfing network extensively in my own travels, I think they might very well accomplish their important but lofty mission.

Free Camping:
With both private and public campground fees steadily increasing over the years, camping is no longer the travel bargain that it used to be. But if you know where to look, there are still places where you can camp on the cheap. You can still camp for free in many undeveloped areas on public lands maintained by the target="_blank">Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Or if you're RVing it and looking for something less primitive, you can camp overnight in the parking lots of many Walmart and BJ Warehouse Club stores. Check the following website for more info on free camping:

Servas International
Claiming to be the world's oldest hospitality exchange organization, the nonprofit Servas International operates in over 100 countries. At its core is the idea of providing service to others, not just a free place for world traveler's to stay; it's about “working to build understanding, tolerance, and world peace,” per the Servas mission statement. Travelers interested in using the Servas network must apply and be interviewed by a local Servas representative before being provided a so-called “Servas Passport” in order to access the network of hosts. Welcoming Servas travelers into your home as a Servas Host, as well as staying with other Servas Hosts in your own travels, can provide you with a meaningful and in-depth travel experience.

Warm Showers:
If you're traveling by bicycle, the worldwide Warm Showers network of fellow cyclists is ready to open their homes the night—and offer you a hot shower, too—while you're pedaling through. Like with Couch Surfing, you don't need to reciprocate by agreeing to open your home to touring cyclists, although if you're willing, it helps to build the network. The Warm Showers network is one more reason to travel by bicycle.

House Swapping:
There are a number of reputable house-swapping sites online, including homelink.org and homeexchange.com. Most are membership-based and some let you earn credits whenever you loan out your house, which can then be redeemed later for a place you want to stay, whenever/where ever. This allows greater flexibility than having to arrange a one-on-one swap, where for example the O'Cheapskate's of Ireland come and stay in the Yeager's house in Maryland, while the Yeager's go and stay in the O'Cheapskate's home at the exact same time. But we've also found that it's possible to have enjoyable, affordable vacations just by swapping homes within our circle of friends; some friends in California stay at our house for a week or two every year while we enjoy the time at their West Coast pad.

jeff yeager sleeps on a pillow made from the bladder of box wine

Lodging and Transport in One:
We like to schedule overnight transportation—by plane, train, ferry and even bus—whenever possible, so that you sleep while you're en route and avoid paying extra for lodging. Admittedly, some forms of transportation lend themselves to a more comfortable night's sleep than others. We travel a lot in Greece and that part of the world, and we find that ferries are very comfortable for overnight passages, even without having to pay for a sleeping cabin. Similarly, trains—where you have more spacious seating and can get up and walk around—usually foster a pretty good night's sleep on the cheap. Pack an inflatable travel pillow (or make your own out of the plastic bladder from inside an empty 5 liter box of wine!), and maybe a foam pad and sleeping bag if you plan on overnighting it in this fashion.

Crewing on a Boat:
Even if you're not an experienced sailor, there are a surprising number of opportunities to earn your keep by volunteering to crew on a sailboat or even a yacht. Inexperienced deckhands usually get free passage, room, and sometimes board or shared board, and a chance to literally learn the ropes. But know what you're getting in to before you set sail, as crewing can be tough work. Check out the websites floatplan.com and crewseekers.net for more details and a database of both boats looking for crew and landlubbers looking to set sail.

dont throw that away book by jeff yeager

Safe and happy travels, but remember to keep it cheap!

Jeff Yeager is the author of:

* Don't Throw That Away!

* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and

* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means

* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook


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7 Ways to Control Lawn and Garden Pests - The Green Cheapskate Way

dont throw that away book by jeff yeager

Gardening and landscaping – or, as I call them, the "soil sports” – are among my favorite pastimes. It’s a chance to enjoy being outdoors and exercise both my green thumb and my passion for creative repurposing – you know, finding innovative ways to reuse items that most people simply throw away.

There a bunch of different ways to reuse would-be throwaway items in the garden and yard, including a number of techniques for deterring plant loving insects and other garden pests by repurposing things that might otherwise in end up in the trash. These pest solutions are easier on both the environment and your wallet than toxic chemical pesticide. Did you know that, according to the EPA, 78 million U.S. households use home and garden pesticides each year, with chemical pesticide sales topping $9 billion annually? That’s a lot of dead bugs and a lot of dead president (AKA cash, bucks, greenbacks, lettuce, etc.)


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The Snobbish Wine Guest Switcheroo and Other Cheapskate Wine Tips

As you might have heard, it's a controversial element the NCPP ("National Cheapskate Profiling Program"). Many, but not all, cheapskates like me love box wine.

In fact, I'm fond of "recanting"—as opposed to "decanting"—the wine I serve our dinner guests. "Recanting: Secretly funneling inexpensive box wines into empty, premium brand bottles kept on hand for the express purpose of impressing guests who care about such superficial stuff."

I've done this for years, and no one has ever questioned the authenticity of the wine I serve. Not even wine snobs have enough confidence in their taste buds to question what the label on the fancy bottle is telling them. If you don't believe me, this study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology essentially proved the same thing.

> Related: 8 Boxed Wines and Meals to Pair With Them

Not only is box wine a terrific value when it comes to saving money, but there's more and more research showing that—compared to most bottled wines—it's saving Mother Nature, too. According to the American Association of Wine Economists and other industry sources, boxed wine (a.k.a. "bag-in-box" packaging) decreases landfill waste by roughly 85 percent and is more than 50 percent more carbon efficient when compared to wine packaged in traditional glass bottles.


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Saving Money, Amish Style

amish road sign

I've always been fascinated with the Amish. Part of that is admittedly hair follicle envy: I idolize guys who can effortlessly grow robust quantities of facial hair, as compared to my mangy past attempts to grow even the smallest goatee.

But having grown up near an Amish community in the Midwest, most of all I'm always struck by how little their lives have changed over those 50+ years – or over the past 150+ years, for that matter – while my life, like most Americans, keeps changing at warp speed. We now have so much more stuff, and so many more demands on our time, and so much more stress in our lives. And while our carbon footprints just keep getting bigger, the environmental impact of the Amish lifestyle seems to have barely budged since the Lincoln administration.

That's not to say that the Amish way of life has remained totally unchanged. Many Amish now work in factories or for other non-Amish-owned business, rather than working the land or starting a small business of their own, which was the norm for earlier generations. And like most everyone else, they've lost jobs and value in their investments as a result of the recent recession.

Related: Why Living Green Isn't to Blame for Hurting the U.S. Economy

However the important thing is that the Amish – unlike most of us – continually consider what impact change (including new technology) will have on their lives. Sometimes they, as a community, decide to allow change into their lives, but often they decide to turn it away.

As Luke Yoder, on Amish man told me in an interview for my most recent book, The Cheapskate Next Door, "Change isn't always progress, and even progress isn't always a good thing in the end." Combine a simple but profound philosophy of life like that with a Santa-worthy beard, and Luke just about convinced me to convert.

money secrets of the amish

In her interesting new book Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving, best-selling author Lorilee Craker distills the essential strategies and attitudes about money that allow the Amish to survive and even thrive with a whole lot less than most of us. No, she's not proposing that everyone abandon their zippers, don their gingham, and become Amish. Rather she attempts to extract from Amish lifestyle the practical money and resource-saving tips that everyone can use.

Much of the financial advice in the book isn't earthshaking. For the most part it's just common sense – pay your bills on time, avoid borrowing, pay your savings account first, shop at thrift stores, etc. But arguably, the current financial woes of many Americans are a direct result of forgetting these old-school rules in favor of supposedly painless get-rich-quick-schemes (Remember: "Everyone gets rich from real estate," and the other great financial myths of a few years ago?). In that sense, a reminder of the basics is always important.

The best thing about Money Secrets of the Amish are the dozens of anecdotes the authors weaves in throughout the book based on the year she spent hanging out with and interviewing a wide range of Amish folks and their families. The real "secrets" of the Amish's success with money is found in these enlightening, often entertaining, vignettes about everyday life in an Amish community. That's because the key is coming to realize that less can often be more.

Or as Socrates put it: "He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature." (Of course Socrates had a heck of a beard, too – coincidence?)

Jeff Yeager is the author of:
* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and
* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means
* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook


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To Repair or Replace? That is the Question.

toll belt

My Grandpa Clyde was one of the great handymen of all time. He could repair just about anything.

Before Clyde bought something, the first thing he'd ask was whether he could get parts and supplies to repair it himself when it broke. If the answer was "no," he wouldn't buy it. If the answer was "You don't need to worry about it, Mr. Yeager. This will never break," Gramps would thank the salesman politely and walk away, rather than accuse him of being a bald-faced liar. As Grandpa Clyde was fond of saying, "Automatic means you can't fix it yourself," and he wanted nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, times have changed since Clyde's day. We now live in a world of planned obsolescence and one in which it costs more to repair most items – if they can be repaired at all – than to replace them. That's not only costing us more, but it's a massive waste of the earth's resources. America's nearly 2,000 landfills stand as sad monuments to our throw-away culture.

But sometimes it still pays – financially, and of course environmentally – to repair rather than replace, even if you're not as handy as Clyde and have to pay someone else to repair it for you. Here are some rules of thumb about whether to repair or replace:

The 50% Rule:
Financial pundits often talk about the "50% rule" when deciding whether or not it's more cost effective to repair an item rather than replace it. The conventional wisdom was that if a repair was estimated to cost 50% or less than the amount you paid for an item, it was usually better to have it repaired. This is still a good guide to keep in mind, although many consumer products (e.g. electronics, furniture, appliances, even clothing) have continually dropped in price (in inflation adjusted dollars) in recent generations. So now, to be more accurate, the 50% rule should be based on replacement value, not original purchase price, or even on the estimated current market value or resale value of major items like automobiles. Regardless, it's simply one rule of thumb among many other considerations.

Appreciating Appreciation:
Before you decide to replace something instead of have it repaired, carefully consider whether the item you're thinking about trashing might appreciate in value over time. In the case of a well-made piece of furniture that is likely to become an antique, the choice to repair it is probably obvious. But it may not always be so apparent: When they needed repair, I wanted so badly to pitch those clunky old stereo speakers my dad passed along to me when I was a teen, and buy some trendy new (cheap) ones at Kmart. But Dad wouldn't let me; now those JBL speakers are classics and worth nearly as much as my 401-K (sadly, in that sense).

Around the House:
Well-made, older appliances may be worth the cost of repair (if you can still find parts and someone to do the work), but you need to factor in that most older appliances use considerably more energy than newer models (see energystar.gov), so in the end it's often more cost effective to replace them when they need repair. On the other hand, replacing older windows in your home (if they're still in serviceable condition) with more energy efficient ones may not be a smart investment, taking a good many years in most instances to recoup the significant upfront investment. What about the roof over your head? Investing in maintenance and even fairly major roof repairs to prolong the life of a roof – provided that it's in generally sound condition – is often more cost effective, particularly for larger roof surfaces.

Rags or Riches:
When it comes to clothing, the priority should be on taking proper care of it (don't use the clothes dryer!) to make it last rather than investing in repairing it. Because most non-designer clothing is relatively inexpensive, it's usually cheaper to buy something new once garments become threadbare. Even if you put on a few pounds, tailoring garments usually only makes financial sense with higher-end apparel items, unless you're a seamstress yourself.

Is It Plugged In?:
A friend of mine who owns an electronic repair business once told me that nearly half of all the items people bring into his shop are simply suffering from a faulty electrical cord, plug, or other connection problem, or something else with a simple fix like cleaning out an air filter or replacing a worn-out belt. If that's the case, then repairing it will save you major currency (get it?). But, if it's something more major and requires special parts, even my friend admits that most new electronics are so inexpensive that it's probably not worth the fix.

Jeff Yeager is the author of:
* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and
* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means
* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook


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17 Creative Things to Do with Phone Books

Is it just my imagination, or are they sending out updated editions of the phone book and Yellow Pages a lot more often than they used to?

When I was growing up, it seemed like we had the same phone book the whole time. I remember it, because my Uncle George — who fancied himself the Human Hulk — said he knew a trick whereby he could tear an entire phone book in half with his bare hands. It didn't quite work out that way, although he did thoroughly mangle the A-G listings.

 wallking fingers yellow pages phone book logo

And the Yellow Pages; I don't ever remember getting an updated version. Our copy was sort of our family Bible, not only a source of information but a record of our lives. Especially the page with the phone listing for our family doctor, which was crammed with frantically written margin notes in my mom's handwriting, instructions from the good doctor's office for treating her two accident-prone young sons. Things like: "Induce vomiting immediately!", "Not contagious...as far as the doctor knows," and (multiple entries) "Should pass in his stool within 48-hours."

Okay, so maybe it is just my imagination, but certainly the phone company is distributing a heck of a lot more phone books than they need to in this era when so many of us retrieve the phone numbers we need on the Internet instead. More than half a BILLION phone books are printed and distributed every year in the U.S., which is nearly two books for every American. That consumes about 19 million trees. Here's how to help curb this waste of paper and make the best use of outdated phone books you have on hand:

  • Opt Out: Go to www.yellowpagesgoesgreen.org and register to be taken off the distribution list for white and yellow page phone books.
  • Recycle: Less than 10% of all phone books printed are recycled, even though they can be recycled into everything from ceiling tiles to cereal boxes. Go to earth911.com to find your nearest phone book recycling center.
  • Repurpose: As they say, "One man's trash is a Green Cheapskate's treasure." Here are some creative reuses for old phone books and Yellow Pages.
  • Child Booster Seats: Cover them in fabric remnants.
  • Press Autumn Leaves/Plants: Better yet, have the kids sit on them at the same time.
  • Flip Books: Here's a fun art project!
  • Window Wipes: Perfect for cleaning windows with a simple mixture of vinegar and water.
  • Phone Book Step Aerobics: Duct tape them together to use in stair-stepping exercises.
  • Fire Starters: Perfect for the fireplace, grill or woodstove.
  • Garden Mulch: Shred 'em (a few pages at a time, Uncle George), they're great biodegradable weed blockers.
  • Origami: Recreate the Tale of 10,000 Yellow Swans with a single book of Yellow Pages!

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How Many Recycled Cans Does It Take to Make an Airplane?

February is the month I finally force myself to clean out and organize my office for the new year. It's an annual ritual worthy of a season-long special of Hoarders, a head-on collision between my weakness for made-to-be-broken New Year's resolutions and my deculttering phobia.

The good news is that my yearly office cleaning gives me a chance to sort out the hundreds of press releases and news clippings I've saved during the year for my annual Top Ten Shocking Eco-Facts blog post. Remember, being the Green Cheapskate, that's "eco" as in ecological as well as economical. Here are the top ten factoids that emerged from my desk top this time around:

We waste enough Sporks to circle the Earth, and then some.
Talk about a big table setting. According to the Clean Air Council, enough plastic eating utensils are thrown away every year to circle the equator 300 times. That's about 40 billion pounds of plastic knives, forks, and spoons, the vast majority of which end up in landfills where scientists say they'll take 500 years – give or take a couple centuries – to decompose.

crushed soda can

Airlines waste enough soda cans to build dozens of planes.
Coffee, tea... or a new plane? The U.S. airline industry has been encountering some turbulence over its reluctance to institute recycling programs for trash generated onboard. But here's a fact from the Natural Resource Defense Council that should grab the industry by its profit-centers and force it to take action: U.S. airlines throw away enough aluminum cans every year to build 57 new 747s.

Related: The 13 Coolest Things Made from Recycled Bottles


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10 Painless Ways to Save for Vacation

travel luggage piled in the sand by the beach

The average American family plans to spend about $1,650 on summer vacation, according to a study by Visa. That's more than chump-change, particularly in these hard economic times.

Here are some simple ways to pump up your piggy bank so that your vacation is paid for before you ever leave home.

Make mine a water
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of us spend nearly 45% of our food budget on meals prepared outside the home. Cooking more meals at home can save you about 80% compared to restaurant meals, but -- even if you still want to eat out -- just by ordering tap water instead of overpriced beverages with your restaurant meals the average family of four can save about $800 a year ... nearly half of your vacation budget. I'll drink to that.

And speaking of water
Heating domestic hot water -- the water you use to bathe, wash dishes, etc. -- accounts for about 15% of total home heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It's easy to cut that expense in half and save hundreds of dollars a year by turning down your hot water heater to 110 degrees and/or turning it off completely overnight, installing inexpensive low-flow shower heads and putting an insulating blanket around your hot water heater, and washing clothes in cold water only. When you're lying on the beach on vacation, surrounded by warm ocean waters and breezes, you'll be glad you did.

Call your insurance agent
It pays to call your insurance agent once a year and ask him or her to help you lower your premiums. Often times there are special discounts you may now be eligible to receive (e.g. a "good drivers discount") or your coverage can be updated and adjusted to possibly lower premiums (e.g. reducing or even eliminating collision coverage on an aged vehicle). And "bundling" your policies -- for example placing your auto and home policies with the same company -- can many times save you 10% or more off the total premium.

Find some money
Check the websites www.unclaimed.org and www.MissingMoney.com for unclaimed funds and other property that might be due you. These sites allow you to search for unclaimed property (free of charge) and are sponsored by the nonprofit organization The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). This could include monies due you or your family members from sources like forgotten bank accounts and inheritances, to utility bill refunds, security deposits, etc. NAUPA says that about one out of every eight Americans is entitled to unclaimed assets, with claims averaging about $1,000.


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6 Ways to Go Green and Save Money in 2011

money recycling symbol

I've been writing about personal finance for more than ten years now, since long before the Great Recession. While I've changed my tune on a few topics (Did I really once recommend buying factory-second birth control products?), I've stood steadfast on one issue: I don't give advice about investing. I give advice about living a better life by spending and consuming less.

But since the economy imploded and the value of most peoples' 401k's have dropped faster than a cheapskate bending over to pick up loose change on a sidewalk, I've been thinking a lot about the investing side of personal finance. In part, that's because in the New Economy I think the smart money is on investing in things that decrease your cost of living, as opposed to things that you hope will increase your net worth.

If you believe, as I do, that the economic volatility is far from over -- that we may just be seeing the leading edge of fundamental changes in the way we live and the type of economy we've always known -- then maybe it's time to adopt a different perspective when it comes to investing.

In the New Economy, maybe the question should be: How much will this investment save? Not: How much will this investment earn? Maybe it's time to invest more in ourselves, to equip ourselves to live more self-sufficiently, to take stock in ourselves and reap the guaranteed dividends of our own performance, rather than continue to speculate on the hypothetical performance of our stock portfolios. Maybe we'll be better served and happier if we stop fixating on traditional ROI (Return on Investment) and instead focus on a new ROI -- Return on Independence.

In this spirit of financial independence, here are six surefire investments that will save you money and make you more self-sufficient in the New Year:

* Energy efficiency and generation: A recent study by the University of California-Davis claims that world oil supplies will run out 90 years before replacement energy technologies are fully developed, based on the current pace of research and development. You don't need to have a degree in economics to realize that energy -- particularly petroleum-based energy -- is only going to keep getting more expensive as supplies dwindle. From simple things like installing programmable thermostats at home and consolidating errands to save gas whenever you leave your driveway, to more elaborate and costly energy-savings solutions like hybrid vehicles, Energy Star appliances, and solar and geothermal home energy systems, investing in things that reduce energy consumption or help you generate your own energy are almost always smart money moves. In recent years the federal and state governments have even been providing a tank-full of tax incentives to encourage consumers to conserve and generate energy, making the financial proposition that much more attractive.

* Tools: I've always said that when shopping for tools, don't be cheap. You should generally buy the best that you can possibly afford. From power and hand tools to kitchen knives, gardening implements to sewing machines, by buying quality tools your do-it-yourself projects will be easier, more enjoyable, and turn out better. Plus, by making the front-end investment in quality tools, you'll be motivated to take on more projects yourself and save even more. As a longtime DIY'er, I can tell you that with the slump in the construction and home improvement trades, at least in my part of the country I'm seeing some of the lowest prices on tools and building supplies in years. When it comes to tools, it's a buyer's -- and builder's -- market.

* Education/skills: As a teacher friend of mine always says, "Your education is the one thing no one can ever take away from you." Today, with unemployment nearing double digits, skills and knowledge can make the difference between a paycheck and an unemployment line. Whether it's going back to school to pick up some classes to bolster your resume, or just taking some non-credit classes to learn a new skill so that you can do more things for yourself, America's 1,600 community colleges are likely to be where you'll find the best value for your tuition dollars. Since the start of the recession, community college enrollment has increased by almost 10% per year. At community colleges you typically pay only about 10% of what tuition costs at the average four-year college.

* Paying down debt: Perhaps the greatest asset you can have in the New Economy isn't something you own, but rather something you don't own: DEBT. With the uncertain job market and current investment climate, paying off debt -- including aggressively paying down your home mortgage -- is, in my opinion, the smartest investment you can make. And since the start of the recession, smart consumers have been doing just that. We've been borrowing less than in nearly 20 years, and we've raised the personal savings rate to 6% (compare that to China's saving rate, which is estimated at 30 to 40%). Still think it doesn't make financial sense to pay off your home mortgage early? If you've never experienced the peace of mind that comes from sleeping under a roof that you own free and clear, I guess you just can't understand.

* Now that's a growth fund: Here's a prediction that you can take to the bank: Food prices are going to continue to increase. Resolve to start raising more of your own food in 2011 by planting a backyard vegetable garden, tending a plot of your own at a local community garden, or buying a share and pitching in at a local farm through a Community Supported Agriculture program. Don't have space for a veggie garden? Try planting a few easy-to-grow perennial vegetables alongside the petunias in your flowerbed. Or grow some herbs in pots on the windowsill -- they'll not only save you money on cooking spices, but they might lower your medical expenses as well. And invest in planting a few trees around the yard while you're at it; not only will they increase your home's value, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, planting as few as three strategically placed trees in your yard can reduce your heating and cooling expenses by up to 20%.

* Health/fitness: Regardless of your views on healthcare reform, you can't lose if you start reforming your own health in the New Year. Young people often ask me for financial advice, and I tell them that the single biggest thing they can do to ensure a healthy financial future is to maintain their physical health and stay fit. It's not just a matter of saving big money on future healthcare costs, but most people generate most of their lifetime wealth through their labor, not through investments. In order to work, you obviously need to be healthy. What's more, getting and staying fit doesn't need to cost a lot. Some of the healthiest foods you can eat happen to cost the least -- often under $1 a pound -- if you shop smart. And you can skip the expensive health club membership if you simply start doing more things for yourself, which will save you even more.

There's an old cheapskate saying: The surest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your wallet. Particularly in this New Economy, investing in things that save you money and make you more self-sufficient is the best way I know to protect your financial future and the future of the planet as well. I wish you a happy, prosperous, and green New Year.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.


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10 Handy Alternative Uses of Charcoal

natural charcoal burning

[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]

Remember when you were a kid and the biggest fear you faced was the prospect of waking up on Christmas morning to find a lump of coal in your stocking, Santa's ultimate up-your-chimney gift for kiddies more naughty than nice?

Well, when I put away our outdoor grill a couple of weeks ago for the winter and stood pondering what to do with a partial bag of leftover charcoal, it got me thinking. After some research, I've concluded that a lump of coal -- or rather charcoal* -- may not be such a bad gift after all. Here are some creative repurposing ideas for last summer's leftover charcoal:

* 1. Rust-free tool and tackle boxes: Charcoal absorbs moisture, so stick a couple of lumps in your toolbox and fishing tackle box to keep your hammers and hooks from rusting. I also put a few pieces in a garbage bag and wrap the business ends of my gardening tools in it for a rust-free winter's nap.

* 2. Compost it: Charcoal can be added to the compost pile -- in moderation -- and will increase the carbon content of the resulting humus. Of course there are plenty of other unusual things you can compost as well.

* 3. Natural air freshener: Charcoal keeps air smelling fresh by absorbing moisture that can cause mold and mildew. Put a few pieces in an old pair of pantyhose and hang it in the basement or other damp room, or put some in drawers, closets, or even in the fridge instead of baking soda.

* 4. Moisture-free salt and sand: Replacing the bag of summertime charcoal in the garage with sacks of rock salt and sand to handle winter de-icing? Mix a couple of pieces of charcoal in with the salt and sand; it will absorb moisture and keep them from clumping.


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9 Great Free and Ultra-Cheap Christmas Gifts

christmas gift package

Given that Christmas has grown to be a nearly $400 billion spending spree here in the U.S., I sometimes think that Ebenezer Scrooge should have stuck to his guns and ignored those three spirits who visited him on Christmas Eve.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, this holiday season, the average American adult expects to spend about $700 on gifts alone. At the very least, with the economy still tipsy from too many eggnogs, a little temperance seems to be in order this gift-giving season. Who knows, a simpler, less materialistic holiday might just be a more memorable and enjoyable one, too.

So how do you have that potentially awkward conversation with family and friends? You know, the one where you broach the subject of maybe cutting back on gift giving, or even entirely forgoing a gift exchange this year?

The important thing is to have the talk --- don't be shy. With friends and family you don't see that often, a thoughtful letter or even an email suggesting that maybe it's time to take a different approach to gift giving is perfectly acceptable, according to Peggy Post. She's the great-granddaughter-in-law of etiquette queen Emily Post and a director at the Emily Post Institute.

"As long as you do it politely, directly, and sincerely, many times others will thank you for starting the conversation," Post says.

Many families cap holiday gift giving by setting -- and sticking to -- a maximum amount per gift, and/or giving gifts only to children under a certain age. In addition to a strict $20 spending cap, in our family nieces and nephews no longer receive gifts once they reach age 18, but they then become part of the Secret Santa plan for adults. That's where we all draw names ahead of time and buy a gift for one other adult family member, so we all have something to open on Christmas.


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25 A-peeling Uses for Fruit and Veggie Scraps

avocado skin planter

[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]

"A rind is a terrible thing to waste." If you're a composting enthusiast like me, that's our mantra.

Nearly all fruit and vegetable skins can be added to the compost pile. But since I'm the ultimate Green Cheapskate, I like to get even more mileage out of my rinds -- at least before I deposit them in my compost pile.

Try out these creative uses for your peels next time you're thinking about heading out to the compost pile:

* Seedling pots: Scooped-out avocado shells make perfect biodegradable "pots" to start seedlings in before you plant them in the garden.

* Potpourri: I dearly love my wife, although she knows that nothing sets me off like store-bought potpourri. ("I have the world's largest supply of that stuff in the back yard ... it's in my compost pile!") Seriously: all types of citrus rinds, apple peels, pomegranate skins, and other fruit trimmings can simply be dried on a rack or in a food dehydrator to make homemade potpourri. Sprinkle a little "liquid potpourri" (available at craft stores) on it for more flavor if desired, or dose it with the dregs of perfume or cologne when you finish up a bottle.

* Keep garden slugs at bay, the natural way: Sprinkle ground-up nut shells around tender garden plants to keep slugs and other pests away -- they can't stand crawling across the rough texture. (FYI, I know they're not a fruit or veggie, but crushed eggshells do the same.

* Is that peach-fuzz on your face? : You bet. Peaches are high in potassium and Vitamin A, which help to revitalize skin and keep it hydrated. Put a little sugar on the pulpy side of peach skins and use as a gentle face scrub. (Get more natural beauty recipes.)

* Make metals shine: Lemon, lime, and other citrus rinds and pulp/juice are high in citric acid, which makes them great for polishing brass, copper, and other non-ferrous metals. Sprinkle on a little baking soda and the polishing goes even faster. (Also see how ketchup works great for shining metals.)

* Organic Easter egg dye: Boil your Easter eggs with some onion skins and you'll end up with wild yellow and orange eggshells, all without the use of artificial dyes.

* Serving bowls: Watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, and other melons can be scooped out and the shells used as attractive (albeit temporary) serving dishes for fruit salads and such. I also scoop out acorn squash halves and use the shells as serving bowls for a tasty acorn squash and cider bisque I make in the fall.

* Candied citrus rinds: My great aunt concluded every family dinner by passing around a tray of her homemade candied citrus rinds. Strips of rind from lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and limes can be boiled in a mixture of equal parts water and sugar until the liquid is absorbed (a couple of hours). Coat the cooled strips in granulated sugar and let dry on a rack.

* Banana split shoeshine: Put a "split-shine" on your wing-tips by polishing them with the slippery side of a banana peel - it really works!

* Throw some peanut shells on the barbie: Peanut shells burn slow 'n smoky, so add a handful to the charcoal next time you're grilling. Soak them in water ahead of time if you think of it, and let them dry a bit before you put them in the coals -- that way they'll burn even longer.

* In a pickle: All kinds-o-rinds can be pickled and eaten as a delicious condiment. Most recipes for pickled watermelon, lemon, orange, and even pumpkin rind involve a simple mixture of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and some can simply be stored in the fridge rather than canned once prepared.

* In a jam: Marmalades are simple to make, even for those new to jam cookery. They can incorporate the skins from a wide variety of fruits -- not just oranges, but lemons, grapefruit, limes, tangerines, and even kumquats.

* Cornhusks: Don't even get me started about all of the uses for cornhusks. Back home in Ohio we make cornhusk dolls; in Mexico they're used for cooking tamales; in the Philippines (where there is a Corn Husk Association) they weave them into hats, mats, bags, slippers, and just about everything else. Me, I like to wrap fish and other seafood in fresh, dampened sweet corn husks and grill and serve them that way.

* Pomegranate skin to the rescue: Suffering from diarrhea? Boil a little pomegranate skin in water with a cinnamon stick and drink it down once it's cooled. Repeat up to three times per day or until diarrhea subsides.

* Add an Asian flare: Dried tangerine rind is a tasty -- but expensive -- element in Asian cooking. But you can make your own by simply using a vegetable peeler to remove the orange part of the tangerine, clementine, or tangelo rind (avoid the white/zest) and dry the peels on a rack or in a food dehydrator. Once dried, store in an airtight container in the fridge.

* Darken grey hair: Just call me Mr. Potato Head! Boil potato peels in water for about a half-hour, strain and let cool. Rinse your hair with this water after shampooing and it will gradually darken grey hair, without the use of harsh chemicals.

* Pistachio garden soap: I need a sturdy bar of soap to wash up with after a hard day of yard work. I make my own by pulverizing pistachio shells with a little water in the blender, then mixing it with melted glycerin soap.

* Vodka infusions: All kinds of fruit skins -- particularly citrus rinds -- can be added to vodka to create a flavorful infusion. Just add the peels and let it sit for a week or two. (See more tips on how to make infused vodka.)

* Olive oil infusions: Adding citrus peels to olive oil will not only flavor it but will help to reinvigorate oil that's getting old. (See more things you can do with old olive oil.)

* Apple peels - A Very Good Thing: My mom makes apple-peel jelly, or she sometimes dusts apple skins with sugar and cinnamon and bakes them in the oven as a crispy snack. She's also fond of using a needle and heavy thread to string them up, let them dry, and fashion them into a fall wreath. That woman could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two.

* Gourd birdhouses: Larger gourds can be dried, treated, and the shells hollowed out to be used as birdhouses, like in these Amish instructions.

* Lemony-fresh smell: Lemon rinds just smell way too good to throw away. Try boiling them in water on the stove top, microwaving them for a minute, or just throwing them in the garbage disposal to freshen the air in the kitchen. And put a couple in the humidifier to make the whole house smell lemony-fresh.

* Shinier, healthier houseplants: Use banana peels to shine the leaves on your houseplants -- not only will it make them sparkle, but it acts as a natural pesticide and fertilizer.

* Compost pile chicken: I like to stuff all kinds of fruit and veggie peels inside a chicken when I'm roasting it in the oven to give it extra flavor. Trimmings from onions, celery, citrus, apples, garlic, etc. can be stuffed in the chicken cavity or sprinkled around a roast. Plus, once baked, the trimmings break down in the compost pile even faster.

* And last but not least .... "My papayas are killin' me!" Rub papaya skins and pulp on the bottoms of your feet to help soften skin and soothe cracked heels. They're rich in Vitamin A and papain, which breaks down inactive proteins and removes dead skin cells. (Plus it feels pretty cool.)

Warning: The skins of vegetables and fruits that are to be consumed or come in contact with food should be thoroughly washed first, even if organically grown.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.


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Being a Green Cheapskate isn't just about saving money; it's about living lighter on the Earth and sharing more with those in need. From frugal tricks to thrifty planning, cheap is cool and ultra-green. read more.
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