Monday, January 10, 2011

First attempt at no waste

Well, I lowered the amount of plastic I took from the grocery store, but I raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Last week while shopping at Country Sun in Palo Alto, we brought our own containers and jars. They have many items in bulk, like cereal, beans, herbs, and nuts. Not knowing the procedure, we asked around, and finally the store manager informed us that we should have our containers preweighed at the cash register, then fill them.

I got in line for the first time and had my jars weighed. The line wasn't that short either. A little piece of tape was attached to each showing its empty weight.

Then Tammy and I filled them with garbanzos, bran flakes, and walnuts, and then we got back in line. The cashier needed help immediately, as she didn't have a calculator. The computer allows an override, but the empty weight needed to be subtracted from the filled weight and the computer didn't have a separate field for this. So the store manager came over and helped the cashier with the math using her iPhone.

The whole operation would have gone a lot faster if I could have weighted and tared the jars in the bulk isle where they have a scale with a tare function. It took a long time, a lot of stares from other customers, and I nearly bought $900 in walnuts; the decimal key was sticky, there's a big difference between .98 and 98!

I'm glad Viola wasn't fussy that morning or I wouldn't have even attempted the experiment in eco activism. I need a different kind of calculator to figure out how many years I took off my carotid artery vs the five plastic bags I didn't landfill.

While I've still got life in me, I'm going to try this again at various other natural food stores in my area. Next up, Whole Foods!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Set up automatic savings and go paperless

If you're like me (and who isn't :-) you've got online banking. In fact, you pay all your bills this way. There's no other way to do it in the modern era. Stamps not only waste paper, but at 48¢ a pop, that can add up ( 0.48*10 bills*12 months = $57.60/annum not including envelope costs).

So the first thing to do is set up online bill pay with your bank for all your bills if you haven't already. Next, turn off paper delivery of your bills. You don't to be recycling that much paper per month, and storing all of those bills for so long only to never read them is a filing nightmare and a space waster. And since I live with limited space, I value even the smallest bit of reclaimed storage. I'm not able to go entirely paperless for some of my accounts due to weird investment bank rules, but for the most part, I get all my bills online and only look at them (online) when I need to dispute a charge.

Lastly, with your online banking, set up automatic transfers to your savings and/or money market account. If you don't see the money in checking, it's likely you won't be tempted to spend it on a splurge item, and it'll earn more interest (though admittedly not much) in a different account other than checking.

Also, tomorrow is Twelve Night, or Epiphany. Make sure you've got some King Cake or Galette des Rois either on order or in the oven (My oven is stil broken, grrrr!)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Re-balance your 401(k) or IRA

I'm putting this on here because I need to do this for my IRA. I just recently consolidated my two 401(k)s from prior employers into one IRA at a day-trading company, and I need to do something with it rather than let it languish in a money market.

The way I re-distribute your funds is based on the following (with the obvious caveat that I've never made any money in the stock market): Wall Street doesn't look anything at all like Main Street. If mom and pop shops are hurting, that often means it's a good time to invest in the bastards who are reaping the rewards of their pain. Investors are rewarded for being assholes, and often--but not always--their funds perform well by preying on other's misery. This doesn't always apply, but that's a whole 'nother blog and one that makes my head explode.

Regardless, now is a good time to look at how you invest your retirement, because the way things are going, the baby boomers are dead set on making sure we pay for theirs, but don't get any of our own (c.f. Congress).

When I had a 401(k) I looked at it quarterly, and that seems to be about right. Any more frequent can cost you because some 401(k)s have fees for moving funds around. Any less frequent and you might be stuck with a long-term losing fund.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My 2011 Minimalist Resolutions

For 2011, The Minimalist is going to minimize even more (never saw that coming, did you?) Inspired by Béa over at Zero Waste Home, I'm going to see if I can bring the garbage cans to the curb once a month, rather than once every other week.

We already consume less than the average American, and thus have less waste. We put the trash out every third week, but the recycling still needs to go out ever two weeks. Last year I didn't worry too much about this, after all, it's recycled, right?

Well, most of it probably isn't recycled. It's just landfilled like everything else. I don't think it's practical or even possible to be zero waste, but I do think it's possible to lower my footprint even more, and reduce expenditures at the same time. A few things I'll try or ramp up:

1) Buy in bulk, either at Whole Foods or Sprouts or the Farmers Market or Milk Pail. This is cheaper anyway, but sometimes less convenient.

2) Bring my own bags (not just reuse old TJ bags, but use my own cloth bags that hold more stuff and need to be replaced very very rarely).

3) Buy less stuff with packaging. This will make TJs runs difficult, but they do have loose items, and when I do buy loose items, I'll try to make sure that the entire package can at least go into the recycling.

4) Buy local. No shipping means no box full of non-recyclable packing foam.

5) See if there are more options like Stauss Milk. I can return the bottles for a bottle deposit, and they get re-used.

6) Buy less stuff. This is the best way to go! Since I'm already signed up with Mint, I can check in with my expenses periodically and see if my spending is going down.

The point of this is to focus on the two somewhat harder aspects of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The last one is brainless, just sort out the recycling (not part of the foreplay, but still very important). The first ones ask for a bit more brain power. For instance, I used scrap wood to build my bird nets for our garden beds, which was good on my wallet, too.

Of course, now I that I've said all this, I've already had to go off and order a package through the post. My stove broke and needs a new ignition. That's already a piece of metal recycling as well as a bunch of cardboard for the paper bin as well as probably some plastic trash. But the year is young. I'll log how often I put my bins on the curb, and see if I can lower my footprint.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Change your W-4

After you shake off your hang over, get ready to do some simple math. You're going to change your W-4 today. Or if you're like me and paid in 1099s, calculate your estimated taxes.

2011 tax tables aren't out yet, but due to low inflation and the Republican HoR, it's very unlikely that the rates will change in 2011 (though there is a chance of an Social Security tax break. Your HR department will handle this unless you're a 1099 contractor like me).

The IRS W-4 calculator is here. Be sure to include dependents you may acquire during the next tax year.

For 1099 employees, use the 2010 numbers and refer to this post.