Sunday, February 22, 2009

Try Before You Buy: Gym Membership

Over the past month I have started training to run a half-marathon in April. I was very excited at the prospect, and I knew training for the event would be my biggest challenge. Staying committed to any type of program that requires discipline can be hard for anyone. Due to the cold weather that occurs during this time of year, I thought it would be too harsh for me to run outdoors having no real experience in running. Normally, I use our student recreation center, which provides free gym membership for all current students. However, on weekday nights, I found this place to be quite on my nerves. There are no fans on to ventilate the place properly, and it was incredibly crowded, which left me sometimes waiting in line to use a treadmill. In addition, I also have a minor phobia about crowded places, which got me to think of turning to a new place to continue training.

Looking at gyms for membership can be an overwhelming process, with a lot of information to consider. Now, obviously the most environmentally friendly route for exercise is to be out in mother nature herself, not on energy consuming exercise machines. Always consider that option first. In my case, I decided to take on gyms that would allow a one month membership, instead of committing myself to a year membership. Gym memberships can be so expensive, and they are hidden with loads of fees, even for just enrolling as a member. In addition, these rates can also increase every year. Although paying for membership on a per month basis will likely be more expensive than as an enrolled member, you are not committed to something that you risk not using every month. Hence, I enrolled for a month until the weather gets warm enough to run outside.

If you are thinking about enrolling in a gym membership, consider many options for information:
  • Talk to friends, family, or co-workers about where they go. What do they think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a member at their gym? Sometimes referrals from other members can also get you discounts.
  • Check out online resources like that provide reviews on local businesses in your area.
  • By all means, take a tour! Take tours of multiple prospective gyms, especially if you are looking to train in a specific area. Do they have the equipment or the services you are looking for? Do not be afraid to ask questions about their gym, this is a big portion of your money that is going to them.
  • Many gyms will offer a trial membership, take advantage! Some are for a week, some a day, but either way it will give you an opportunity to feel what things are like in this environment. Often these trial memberships will be posted on the gym's website or a sign on the in or outside.
  • Beware of clauses in your membership contract. Someone I know enrolled in a gym for a specific group fitness class, which was later canceled after she had enrolled. She was not allowed for a refund or to cancel or transfer her membership.
  • BE SURE this is something that can fit into your monthly budget and will be worth the use! Gym membership is not getting any cheaper these days, so be sure it is worth the money up front.
  • If you are looking to use a single piece of equipment the entire time during your membership, like in my case, a treadmill, consider the advantages of purchasing this item. Generally the use of this item over its lifespan will be paid off much sooner than your gym membership, and you will still have something tangible after all is said and done.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Starting an Emergency Fund

Over the past couple months, I have decided to take up my mother's advice, and start a type of semi-emergency fund. I'm not talking about the emergency funds that the big boys in personal finance talk about, which apparently should be anywhere from 3-6 months of your salary in case the worst happens, I'm talking about a smaller version that we all can live with. The premise for this account is simple - open another account at your bank or credit union (I just call mine "extra") and set the account to take out a small amount, like $10-$20 per paycheck, out of your savings or checking account (where ever you put your paycheck).

Because it is such a small amount of money, you hardly even notice its gone. Over time, this amount will build up, not to a staggering amount by any means, but something to aid you in case your washer breaks, or the car needs repairs. The blow seems less detrimental to your budget when you already have an account set up for that sort of thing. I have had no real need to use this account yet, but now that I have saved up a decent amount, I would feel sort of sad if I had to take from it, which is a new experience in comparison to my normal bad spending habits.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Advent of Stainless Steel Waterbottles

Due to a time crunch last week, I was unable to post for that week, in turn you will receive two posts from me this week. So be sure to read the following entry after this one to get your fix. :)

Last month I was contacted by the owner of Cynergreen, a company that manufactures and sells various types of stainless steel water bottles in order to promote less waste and earth friendly products (They also do some other great stuff, but I leave it to you to visit the website if you want to know more). I had been noticing over the past couple of months that more and more of the stainless steel type of water bottle appearing around my place of work, and I was wondering if these would feel better and work better than my plastic Rubbermaid water bottle I had been using since the beginning of my going green days. Anyway, they gladly sent me one to give it a trial run. To say up front, these bottles are BPA free, which you may know from a previous entry here on Frugal Green Girl, is something to look out for. I would suspect that since stainless steel is generally treated the same, that most stainless steel water bottles, regardless of manufacturer, are BPA-free as well.

This is the water bottle that I received, which is just the right color for me and this blog. I tested this out for the following week, and came to the following list of pros and cons about using this type of bottle:
  • The stainless steel does a good job at keeping water cooler than my plastic Rubbermaid bottle, or in my mind it felt cooler at least.
  • This bottle also had a convenient carabiner for easier carrying.
  • Despite its wide mouth opening, spilling was rare for me (and that's something you don't want people to see at the office).
  • Holds a good amount of fluid (20 oz). However, stainless steel bottles come in all shapes and sizes. My boss has a gigantor bottle that holds 48 oz.
  • Something about metal in my mouth that I don't like...I don't know how other people feel about this, but metal on my teeth sometimes gives me a goosebump-like feeling.
  • I really didn't like the twist-off top. I would spend a lot of time trying to either get it off, or trying to put it back on correctly so it fit in the alignment of the lines in the metal to hold it on. This seems to be a common theme among all stainless steel water bottles, so if it doesn't matter to you as much, then there is little here to worry about.
Truthfully, I still use my plastic Rubbermaid one over the stainless steel bottle, but I will still use the stainless steel water bottle occasionally. The point is, if you aren't using a form of reusable water bottle by now, you should take its value seriously. Not only are you saving the planet by reusing materials, but you are also saving money by not purchasing bottled water and using water from either the tap or a Brita/Pur pitcher.

Making your own Bread!

If you can't tell by my blogroll, I am a huge fan of The Simple Dollar. If I could do blogging as a full time job, I would like to think this blog would be modeled similar to Trent's. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out! While his blog is mostly about personal finance issues, going green can often be a product of saving money. Anyways, one of his most popular entries is the value of homemade bread and how to make it. While I wasn't sure about this at first, since bread at the store typically costs a little more than a dollar (or 79 cents at Aldi stores), I wasn't sure if this could be a good timesaver. However, Trent talks about the amount of preservatives in bread in order to maximize shelf life, and what effect this has on the actual taste of the bread and your health for that matter. I remember when I was a kid during the 90s and popularity of the bread-baking machine, and tasting not only the goodness of homemade bread, but also the warmth from the oven. Its a really good taste, which is likely why I eat so much of it in nicer restaurants that make their own bread. So anyway, after reading Trent's entry I thought this would be worth a try, especially because I would like to be learning more about how to cook. I have pretty much never done any type of bread making in my life, but followed the instructions and some common sense logic, and turned out a beautiful and delicious loaf of bread. It was actually a fairly easy thing to do on a Sunday as well, which for me is like a chore day and a lounging day around the house, so adding in bread making wasn't all too much of an inconvenience. Plus, you get to punch the dough for a good ten minutes, which can be a great stress reliever! Nothing like hitting two birds with one stone on this one.

This was my end product for my first try at baking homemade bread, and it was quite scrumptious! The ingredients are a simple mixture, no real rocket science here, and getting in the appropriate amount of flour. All you need is a packet of yeast, milk, butter, sugar, salt, and flour. Again, for more detailed instructions (with great pictures) check out Trent's entry at The Simple Dollar. Even through industrial bread only costs a little over a dollar, the cost of the ingredients are likely to be less, especially if you buy them in bulk, and its flat out better for your health without all the preservatives of industrial bread. You could even use organic ingredients and make this even more healthy! Your local co-op is a great source for these ingredients, and many grocery stores are now adapting a "natural foods" section where organic foods are more available and affordable.

Consider giving this one a try, you might even enjoy it (the punching especially)!