Tag Archives: sustainable living

Incentivize Me

IMAG0594I did our tax return yesterday, via TurboTax online. If you haven’t used TurboTax before, it leads you, step by step, through various types of income, deductions and credits you might be eligible for. One of the items I passed by was tax credits for purchasing electric or alternative-fuel vehicles.

I have an alternative-fuel vehicle. It’s my human-powered bicycle. But it doesn’t count for credits on our tax return. Those tax credits are for people who buy relatively expensive motor vehicles.

The tax credits are supposed to encourage people to buy these vehicles. They are slowly becoming more common.   I am still not going to buy one. They are still too expensive for us. We also prefer to have a larger family vehicle, due to the number and type of activities we are involved in (including Girl Scouts), and we do not want to buy a second vehicle just for my commute and the occasional instances when we could use a second car.

There IS a program that benefits bicycle commuters, if your employer chooses to participate.  Employers who provide free or discounted transit passes for employees can deduct those expenses on their tax returns (more info here). These employers can also provide a $20 per month cash benefit for bicycle commuters, to defray the costs of bicycle commuting (and the employer then deducts that expense as well).  The League of American Bicyclists has details (if you don’t see anything, scroll down).

The other option for employers is to allow employees to purchase transit passes using pre-tax dollars, which then decreases the employee’s taxable income. This option doesn’t have a bicycle component.

My employer does not participate in either option, but hey, it’s a public school district. There’s no tax benefit to them. They already give us good health and retirement benefits. They could participate in the pre-tax transit option (many school districts do, including Portland Public), but honestly, in our area it’s relatively difficult to get to the schools by public transit.

So I’m out of luck for tax credits and commuter benefits. And really, there’s plenty of benefit to my bike commute anyway. I get exercise, and we save money by not owning a second car. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were more ways to encourage people to choose alternatives? The United States famously pays farmers not to grow crops.  In light of the most recent climate report, are there more ways we could pay people not to drive?


Dollars for Decent Food

One of my colleagues handed out prizes at school recently, saying, “…and if it breaks before you go home today, well, it’s a dollar store prize.”

And that’s a lot of what you find at the dollar store (Dollar Tree in our case) — cheap plastic toys that don’t last long. So why do we keep going there? Well, this time it was because the kids wanted to spend their allowances. Thankfully, they did make some good choices — bubbles for blowing, crayons, a perfectly good water bottle.

I got some supplies for our Girl Scout meeting (you can get cheap craft supplies and school supplies at Dollar Tree, although quality may vary). But I also did much of our grocery shopping for the week!

What?! That doesn’t sound like a recipe for finding decent, sustainably produced foods, right? Well, it’s not like shopping at the farmers’ market or Whole Foods, of course. But I can’t afford Whole Foods right now, and the farmers’ market isn’t open yet anyway. So I looked around for some of the basic items we needed for the week and found: snack crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, tortillas, jam, hot dogs, shredded cheese, chicken pot pies (the husband eats them for lunch), and cornbread mix.

No, that isn’t a lot — but we didn’t need a lot, because we have a fairly full pantry right now due to ordering canned and dry items from Azure Standard. And it’s definitely not organic health food, but these are the same things I would have bought at a regular grocery store anyway. I do buy meat and eggs from local farmers, and I often buy organic veggies, but I don’t buy organic everything, and I do get moderate amount of moderately junky stuff like snack crackers.

The jam is the one thing I normally wouldn’t have bought, and felt rather guilty about — it’s basically flavored sugar goop, not real jam, and I’m usually a little more careful about that.

As a bonus, the cornbread mix was from Marie Callendar’s, and it’s something I haven’t seen at our regular grocery stores for a while.

It’s not something I’d want to do every week, but by shopping at Dollar Tree, I saved money as well as some time (because we were going there anyway). Both of those are good for my sanity.

What’s your experience shopping at dollar stores? Ever find anything really exciting?

Used Books or New?

Sometimes, in all of my spare time, I read and write about books. I’ve been hearing many people in the book world say that we need to support authors by buying new books, because they don’t get a cut of used book sales. Is this really right or fair?

As a person concerned about sustainable living, I gravitate toward used books. For environmental sustainability, I want to limit my consumption of resources. For my own economic sustainability, I need and want to spend less. And if I buy from a local, independent seller of used books, that’s good for the local economy, too.

On the other hand, I do agree that authors deserve to be compensated for their work. Will that cease to happen if I buy used books? No. Someone’s got to buy them new before I can buy them used, right? And many of the books that I buy used are books that I might not buy otherwise.

When I want something badly enough, and I can’t easily find it used, I do go ahead and buy a new book — especially if I’ve already read a library copy. For instance I heard about The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, and first I checked it out of the library and read it. I quickly found that it was one of the best gardening books I had read, and that it was something I would refer to time and again, so I ordered a new copy with an Amazon gift card (I earn and save these up sometimes).

So if you can afford to support authors by buying new books, and feel good about doing so, I’d say go for it! But please don’t tell us that this is what everyone should do. It’s not the right thing for every person.

NOTE: Yes, I put an affiliate link in there for you. You can send a little cash my way if you buy through that link. You’ll also be supporting Powell’s Books AND the author. Or, go forth and find a used copy — it’s your choice, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Tell Me

Yes, I’ve been busy. As a parent AND school employee, September is madness. And the first week of the month is usually the Week of Meetings Every Night, so the beginning of October is gone, too.

But that’s not entirely why I haven’t been posting much. It’s also because some of the things I normally write about have become mundane, ordinary parts of my life now. Riding my bike to work? This is my fourth year of doing it. And I’ve had my Xtracycle for over three years now.

I’m still cooking and canning and gardening, too. But it’s kind of old hat now.

I know there are more things I could do in the pursuit of sustainable living. I’m just not sure what to do next.

So I’m asking you: what do you want to know more about? Is there something about bicycling or canning that you would like to know about, or that you would like help with? Or, do you have an idea for a challenge? I’m willing to take on challenges within reason, if you’re willing to play along, too.

Let me know. Let’s do something.

In the meantime, I signed up a while ago for the 2011 EcoChallenge, and then didn’t get around to DOING anything about it. And then apparently they put me on a list of FEATURED BLOGGERS! Oops. So, I’m starting my EcoChallenge late. I’m still going to do the 15 days, starting today, and my challenge is to limit myself to eating meat no more than twice a week. This will take planning. Join me?

Disposable Diaper Sales Are Down. But Why?

According to AdvertisingAge, sales of disposable diapers were down 9% for the 52 weeks ending August 7, 2011. Meanwhile, the number of babies age two and under fell by only 3%, and sales of diaper rash creams increased by 2.8%. AdvertisingAge reasons that this means that parents are letting babies sit in dirty diapers longer in order to save money, and thus babies are having more problems with diaper rash.

I know, yuck, right? I suppose there could be a relationship there. However, my first thought was that there must be more people using cloth diapers now! That doesn’t account for the diaper rash creams (although some people think cloth-diapered babies are more prone to diaper rash), but I bet it’s a factor. If you glance at the comments below the article, you’ll see several other people casting doubt on the article’s conclusion as well.

If you really want to save money, cloth diapers are an excellent option. Even if you have to pay for a coin laundry, you’ll probably be saving money over disposables, which cost around a quarter for each diaper.


Photo by simplyla on Flickr, used via CC BY 2.0 Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Getting Off-Line

My husband often accuses me of being addicted to the internet. And he admits that he sometimes has a problem too.

Lately, I’ve found myself feeling too tired to get things done — but not too tired to play around on the internet! Sometimes I fool myself that I’m getting things done on the internet. It’s true that I do a lot of things on the internet — pay bills, blog, write articles, communicate with other people — but not everything on my to-do list requires a computer.

So tonight, I decided to print out my to-do list (because I keep THAT online too, and it becomes one of my excuses for being online) and then shut the laptop. And what happened?

  • I made dinner, and we all ate dinner together.
  • My middle daughter completed her chores without having a meltdown so that we could play catch together.
  • We played catch, and I got some exercise (which was on my list).
  • I got some Girl Scout paperwork finished. I did have to open the computer to download and print one form, but that was OK.
  • I did my toning/strength training exercises.

That’s not the most productive evening I’ve ever had, but I’m happy with it. And I’m happy to be back blogging, too.

I’m Not Car-Free. Yet.

We’re not a car-free family. I do commute by bicycle, and use my bicycle almost every day, but we also have a minivan. My husband takes it to work, and we frequently use it for family outings, grocery shopping, and transportation to evening meetings and events.

I tried going car-free for 10 days last year; it was difficult, and I’m not sure I’d want to be totally car free. I could deal with being a non-car-owner if we had access to a car-sharing program.

There are car-free families out there, though. Here’s a piece from one of them on How to Be a Car-Free Family.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Getting Started

I’ve chronicled my journey to becoming a full-time bicycle commuter here over the past few years. I’ve even gathered several of my posts into a Family Biking page, so that people who are looking for advice can find them.

Today, I’ve got a post over on Utility Cycling about getting started with family bicycle commuting. Please take a look!