Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Value of Customer Reviews

For those of you with larger dogs, I find trips to pet stores a challenge in terms of finding effective dog toys that aren't destroyed in seconds. I will spend a great deal of time standing in aisles, contemplating whether this toy will withstand my dog's chewing ability. After numerous attempts at trying to find "good" dog toys for my young lab at my local PetCo store, I decided to take up on's 4-for-3 deal on pet toys. I was on the hunt for the "indestructable" dog toy, hoping to find more than one. While the descriptions are helpful, the one thing I find myself looking to more commonly is the customer reviews. DO NOT underestimate the power of this information. I cannot tell you (nor do I want to think about) the amount of money I have spent on dog toys that have been destroyed in a matter of minutes.

This review is one that I read for the "Busy-Buddy Tug-a-Jug", one of the many toys that involves a puzzle with treats or food. I'm happy to say that after 4 days, it is still in tact and looks like it will be with us for a while. I was happy to find reviews written my dog owners with a similar problem - the power chewer. I plan to continue buying dog toys on-line solely for the customer reviews I can read after finding 4 good quality dog toys. While some are more expensive, I would rather spend the money on something that will last a year or two, rather than something that will be shredded to pieces within a few days. In addition, online retailers like Amazon generally have cheaper prices than pet stores, will have good deals like the buy 3 get one free, and have a greater variety of toys than any store. These reviews are on many retailer websites, like Walmart or Target in addition to Amazon, so be sure to look for them and take advantage of the information they have to offer.

I also used these reviews when making large purchases, like the recent laser printer I bought a few weeks ago. With 52 customer reviews and an overall star rating of 4.5 out of 5, this gave me confidence this printer would work well. The reviews also give you an opportunity to find out about minor faults or things that you wouldn't know about until you have actually purchased. The common complaint with my printer was the paper would curl easily, however, I considered it minor when deciding to purchase, and I do not have that problem after using it.

This practice is also very similar to Consumer Reports, which is something I subscribed to over the past year to purchase 2 vehicles and new cell phone service provider. Consumer Reports provides information on cars, electronics, appliances, insurance, child and baby items, and more. To date (our cars were purchased in February and April of last year), the cars that we have bought have had no problems, and neither has our new cell phone provider. You can receive all the information over the internet for only $5.95 on a per month basis, and cancel when you don't need it anymore.

Consider the power of customer reviews next time you are making a purchase that involves consideration of the variety of products available, it can save you a good deal of money when you buy right the first time around.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reducing What You Print

Being a graduate student, I have a lot of crap to print. Professors always want us to read extra outside articles in addition to whatever textbook readings there are. Plus, I want to save a lot of these for my doctoral comprehensive exams in a few years for studying purposes. When I first moved here, I was fascinated by the fact that Kansas seems to lack an environmental awareness, and the amount of printing seems to only add to it. My undergraduate university had double-sided printers everywhere, which saved students A LOT of paper. Imagine the difference of only using 15 pages of paper rather than 30.

I know many of you are probably thinking, "Why don't you just read them on your computer? That is a much more ecofriendly way of reading papers for classes." I know. And I agree with you. However, I care about my vision, I'm not someone who can read 30 pages of pdf files for hours without getting a headache. Plus, I am also someone who likes to take notes on the paper and highlight certain ideas. Its much more generative for my thinking.

Anyway, so yesterday my husband was having issues with one of our older printers. He was trying to print homework for his classes and the printer just kept saying the paper was out when it clearly was not. We ended up printing from my printer (I seem to accumulate free ones when I buy new computers, and I have another in my office). But overall, I cannot express how much I hate inkjet printers. If one drop of water touches the paper, the ink goes everywhere, and I find myself conserving the ink as much as possible because it seems to run out so quickly, thus costing me another $30 to $35 for more ink cartridges. While I am sure there are ways to save in this department (refilling cartridges rather than buying new ones, primarily), I have decided to purchase a laser printer with double sided printing. When you actually look at the money you save buy going with a laser printer, in addition to the double-sided printing, its quite amazing.

With a laser printer cartridge (i.e. toner), I bought a $70 "high-yield" cartridge that prints approximately 7,000 pages. That's 1 cent per page. Comparing to ink jet cartridges, which can differ in price, but if you just say $35, which is what I paid on average for an ink cartridge for my Canon printer, averages about anywhere from 200 to 450 pages at 5% coverage. If you are at a higher capacity, (the 450 page mark) that's about 8 cents a page, and at lower capacity (200 pages) it costs around 18 cents a page. That's a huge difference!

With my husband now returning to school and needing to read outside articles, I could only see benefit in purchasing a laser printer. "But aren't those expensive? They are usually a very big and complex machine." I hear you thinking. True, but its a key to know of where are the right places to look., for example offers excellent deals on laser printers, rather than paying full or expensive prices at your local Office Max or Best Buy. I purchased the Brother HL-5250DN REFURBISHED printer. For a new one of these printers, it would be $190 on, or $250 at a store. A refurbished printer cost $160. New or refurbished, I don't think this printer is very expensive in comparison to other laser printers, especially ones with all the bells and whistles. But when I buy refurbished, I save $90! You can always save money by purchasing a company refurbished product, which also typically comes with a warranty to ease your mind.

Add this all up with the amount of paper you save by using a double sided printer (which you can always turn off if you have a paper to turn in that cannot be double sided), the savings are colossal. If you have a lot to print, consider looking at what else is out these. Laser printers are more affordable nowadays than you think.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The debate of "Doggy Daycare"

I'm sure you have seen them around your town or a nearby city... doggy daycare businesses. They take care of your dog during the day while you're at work, and will typically board your dog while your out of town as well. When I first saw these places, I thought "boy, people need to know the line that they have crossed when they can't even take care of their own dogs", but now, I have become one of them.

As you may or may not know, I have an active, year-old yellow lab in my house, whose energy is usually bogging down my ability to get my work done at night (Those familiar with my situation may sympathize). On most days, I would come home for lunch to let him out, and then return to work/school, while he is spending around 8 hours a day in a crate. This semester I was not as fortunate to have an hour to come home every day at lunch, and have been forced to bring my dog to one of these places.

While I am frustrated about the cost of these places, I find myself feeling better that my dog is tired at the end of the day, sleeping happily on the couch with me in the evenings, rather than being worried about how to entertain or distract him while I am trying to work on homework. The place that I bring my dog charges about $13 a day when you buy a package deal of 20 days. Additionally, today I had an incident with the daycare place where my dog was bit on the ear after startling another dog. I, knowing my dog's personality, did not think much of it, while the owner of the business apologized many times to me and cleaned his wound numerous times throughout the day. I could tell he felt deeply sorry and guilty about the situation, even though I have no idea how he felt it could have been prevented. Either way, he also offered me 5 free days of dog care due to the hole left in my dog's ear.

While this story does not have much of a point of being green or saving money (besides having my dog bit in the ear that gave me some free days), I was thankful to find my dog under the care of such nice, friendly, and caring people, and an important awareness to have in the world of today's franchises and falling economy is regarding the local businesses in our small towns or big cities that provide a presence in the community like no other. I have no problem giving more money to businesses that give back to the community, are an active member of the community, and provide a level of customer service that you may not get anywhere else. Not too long ago the corporate business did not exist, and all stores were the "mom & pop" type. Consider giving hometown and local businesses a shot at serving you, you may be pleasantly surprised, and helping out your local economy. In a way, its very similar to the idea of "organic" products - only with the business in mind.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Green Landscaping and Care

While I do not have the opportunity to take upon this myself, I'd like to encourage you to think about landscaping your property - "green" style. The best way to go about this is to plant native species in your yard. "Native" refers to a plant or tree indigenous to your particular area. The major plus side of planting native species, the best part is that they take care of themselves! You dont need to plant any special type of soil, or water obsessively (i.e. waste water). Native plants will thrive in the soil you plant them in, as well as the work well with weather conditions for that region of the country. In other words, planting native species in your yard will save you time and save you money with the decreased water expense. Plus, native plants also work with and enhance local ecosystems.

Not only am I talking about plants, but also about the grass that covers your yard. Many people plant the common blue Kentucky grass, which, unless you live in that native region, requires a lot of watering during those hotter months. This amount usually ranges around 3 inches of water (again, depending on your area) to keep your grass looking good. That's a lot of water!

For information on native trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns, and grasses, check out

Also, if you have a nice big backyard, consider creating your own composting bin. This website offers numerous plans for different types of composting bins, but keep in mind that they do not have to be a complex item that requires a construction crew to build. It can be as simple as taking some steel fence wire, looping it around and attaching it to make a circle, and then adding your compost. All that would be needed for tools is a wire cutter. You can build more than one to create a "compost fence" or a cool fort for your kids!

In addition, if you have a canine friend living with you, there are ways to compost your pup's waste to save space in landfills. City Farmer has a lovely website on how to create these bins, step-by-step, and other ways to dispose of your friend's fecal matter in an environmental friendly way.

I'm anxious for the day I will have a yard! :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to the New Year!

Hi Everyone,

My apologies in taking much longer than expected to write a new post, I have been busy organizing a preparing for the new semester, ready and refreshed to update you on my recent findings in the world of green and frugal living.

Have you made any new resolutions for 2009? Among my few, is to keep up my blog here with you as well as continue using products, services, and ideas I have advocated for on this blog previously. With that in mind, I'd like to take this time to tell you about what I have chosen to keep up with over the past 6 months since the birth of this blog. Some ideas have worked out really well, while others, seemed like a good idea at first but may have not fit me personally. These ideas go in order of blog entries by date, with the first one being the first blog entry on money saving and green ideas. So if you are looking for more information on one of these topics, go to "older posts" at the bottom.
  1. I still type in Coca-Cola rewards points to save up for products, but have only gotten the magazine I told you about in the post, Ready-Made. I haven't considered getting anything else with the points yet, with how much soda we consume I was thinking of getting something big after saving a while.
  2. Selling on has been at a halt for me, since it seems all of my good stuff is bought and I am left with stuff people aren't really interested in, however, its still up there waiting to be sold.
  3. Unfortunately, at this point I do not bring food with me to ball games anymore, as when I tried I forgot the essence and addiction of hot dogs at baseball games. Without them, it feels strange, plus you are surrounded by them with other fans. I think this would be a better option to consider with children.
  4. I have stopped making jewelry at this point, and have had little time to crochet (But look forward to getting back to it in the summer hopefully). Recently, a new door in cake-decorating has opened for me and has given me the chance to make money there. My crafty side always finds a way!
  5. I have not taken advantage of PetCo's pet food program, but it looks like due to my recent vet visit I will be soon due to my dog's change in diet. He will be changing to an all-natural (organic) food diet, which is only available at places like PetCo or your Veterinarian. Remember, its buy 10 bags, get the 11th free!
  6. I have not tried out Couch Surfing yet, but I know it will come up soon in the future :)
  7. I still use my reusable grocery bags religiously. When I do forget them, I am immediately filled with ecological guilt.
  8. All of my water bottles are BPA-free, and I will be reviewing a stainless steel BPA-free bottle soon :)
  9. I do not have a wish list at this point, which might be something to add to my Resolution to-do list.
  10. I have a holiday account, which is programmed to do reoccurring withdrawals every week in small amounts. That way, you hardly notice when its gone!
  11. I do shop certain used stores, particularly Half-Price Books and Hastings. I have yet to go to consignments shops.
  12. I watch Planet Green occasionally, but to be frank, I don't have much time to watch TV at this point, which I regard as a good thing.
  13. I do subscribe to emails to some of my favorite stores, however, the constant emails from stores like Kohl's are starting to get obnoxious. Better emails have been from Michael's (craft store) and Best Buy.
  14. I have gone paperless for my cell phone bills, and appreciate the option very much, since I can save or access my bills at any point (I'm with AT&T).
  15. As for the whole issue with coupons, I have pretty much given up at this point. To me, you are either a coupon person or not, and at this point, coupons just don't work well with my lifestyle. I can see these being more useful with a larger family that buying 2 or more of a particular item makes sense.
  16. I do go to my local Co-op, but not for major groceries, usually just for small things I cannot find anywhere else. Co-ops are difficult for me since they can be particularly expensive. Many items in a Co-op you can find in regular groceries stores due to the growing need and awareness of organic and natural options, and they bring cheaper prices with them.
  17. I just recently purchased a AAA membership before my long 600 mile car ride home for Christmas, just in case something were to happen on the way. The security and peace of mind go a long way.
  18. I still shop religiously at ALDI, and have brought friends there who may be looking for ways to save money.
  19. Me and cooking is still a very foreign idea here, but I have been making attempts recently. I have been going through Cooking for Two magazine to find suitable recipes, however I am cursed with a picky eater. I wish there were just basic cooking classes around, it would help me a lot.
  20. I have not taken AMTRAK or use, but next Christmas might be a possibility.
  21. I have tried drying clothes outside in the summer, but I have been having trouble with clothes getting very stiff and rough feeling. Does anyone have a good solution? I am guessing a clothes line would work better than a clothes rack at this point.
  22. I have not created any cleaning products from natural ingredients, but I hope to do so soon. I think the problem is I don't really run out of cleaning supplies quickly and then will forget to do it when the time comes.
  23. I do not keep a price journal...I know I should, but I think this will fall under the "should, but never will category".
  24. For a couple of months, I did keep a journal keeping track of every cent that went in and out of the bank account, and I found this was useful to keep track of for a few months to see where everything is going, and to evaluate where you can cutback. I ended up purchasing Quicken, a home accounting software program, but no longer use either method after seeing where cuts in spending needed to be made. Plus, I know my husband felt like he was being watched after every time he spent money, and no one should have to feel like that all the time.
  25. I am currently on the freecycle email digest, but have not contributed or taken anything in a very long time.
  26. I have decreased the amount of hair products I use, and use the generic brands as well.
  27. I still use the Diva Cup, and I have changed my birth control method to every 3 months, which has not changed anything about my periods besides the time in between each.
  28. I have a pile of pants to bring to a tailor to get them fit better, most are slightly to big for me, and one pair I would like the zipper changed to a button fly. One thing I still want to do soon is to go through my dresser and throw out clothes I know I wont be wearing anymore.
  29. was an unbelievable lifesaver this Christmas. I left home with awesome stuff that I actually wanted and could use, and no repeats and dissatisfied family members. I plan to continue using this website for years to come.
  30. I have finally kept on a regular daily vitamin supplement and calcium supplement, which I am happy I have been able to keep up with and motivated to continue taking.
  31. I have joined to save for my endless college loans, and have been using them frequently at my grocery store trips. there you have it, what I have been keeping up with, what I have left to try, and what has most likely left me for at least a while. Have you tried any of these ideas? I would love to hear your thoughts on what has been working for you or if you have discovered a new idea. Here's to a new year!