December 31, 2009

Top Ten Favorite Posts

I know, I know... Top Ten lists are so... predictable. Everybody is doing one. But I LOVE lists, and I just can't help myself. So please bear with me.

There's no particular reason for that photo, except that I like it. It's my madmen avatar. You can make your own avatar at MadMenYourself.com. It's fun.

So here are my favorite blog posts of the year, from oldest to newest. Yes, they're my personal favorites, not the most popular or most commented upon. That's partly because I have to admit I really don't know how to read those statistics, and partly because I'm just feeling a little giddy. Like that's what I want to do, so I'll do it. And really, I don't know if they're my favorites, I just tried to pick out some that I like a lot.

Unless you've been reading this blog all year, there are probably some posts on this list that you haven't read. So here goes...

#10) from 3/23: More Exceptions to Buy Nothing New, in which I add running shoes and a few other items to the list of things I will allow myself to buy new.

#9) from 3/30: How Much Do You Need to Live On? in which I explore the idea that how much money we think we need to live on determines many of the choices we make in life.

#8) from 6/8: Frugal Vacations, in which I talk about house-swapping and other creative ways to travel on a tight budget.

#7) from 6/18: Non-Consumer Father's Day Gift Ideas, in which I make my dad a card from old photos.

#6) from 6/23: 20 Questions to Ask Your Parents, in which I get a tad sentimental.

#5) from 8/25: Livin' the High Life, in which I discuss how my non-consumer lifestyle is not about deprivation.

#4) from 9/15: The United States of Clutter, in which I ponder our collective desire to accumulate STUFF.

#3) from 9/26: In Memoriam: Paul Newman, in which I attempt to dissect the meaning of having such a strong reaction to a celebrity death.

#2) from 10/13: The Skirt, in which I am sorely tempted and my commitment is put to the test.

#1) from 10/27: Our Mini Kitchen Remodel, in which I post lots of photos of our groovy remodeled kitchen.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year! Tomorrow I'll post some reflections on my year of buying nothing new, and next week I'll be back to a regular schedule with Meatless Mondays, Thrifty Threads, and Food Waste Friday. Plus I'll continue to answer your questions about what I've learned from this experiment and what's ahead for next year.

December 30, 2009

Is there anything I'm dying to buy new in January?

Yesterday I explained that I would continue with the Compact and blogging about it into 2010, with some caveats. Today I'll answer this question from a reader: "Is there anything you plan on purchasing new in January? Something you've realized that you can't find used, or just really have been wanting to splurge on?"

Much to my surprise, there's nothing in particular that I've been waiting or planning to buy. But there are things that I know will present a challenge. My biggest concern with doing this project long-term is technology. I always use a computer and cell phone as long as possible, and I've even bought a refurbished laptop two or three times (I think all my laptops have been refurbished), but I'm not about to stop buying them entirely. And I have a feeling I'm going to want an iphone at some point, when the monthly service fees drop significantly. Since I'm not going to become a Luddite just because I'm a Compacter, I think the key will be to use items as long as possible and to dispose of them properly. So far I've always sold my old computers and returned used cell phones for recycling and I'm considering donating my old laptop.

Another thing that might not be easy to find used is personal items like sheets and towels. But when I do need those things, I'll look to other Compacters and my readers for suggestions. And I know there will be compromises, like if I absolutely need something and can't find it used. In that case I'll try to buy green and local. But I've also learned the value of borrowing or doing without. Those are underrated options. I've never owned a food processor and we have no room for one, but I still cook and bake a fair amount and borrow a friend's about once a year.

I am still "looking out for" a ceramic pot that sits out on the counter for food scraps on their way to the compost bin. I want it to look nice in our kitchen and haven't found anything in the thrift stores. That is something I may end up buying if I don't find one soon. And one other thing I really need is a digital camera. The one I've been using to take photos for this blog is really old and very temperamental and I spend way too much time coaxing it to behave. I am going to try to buy one used, perhaps on ebay. Let me know if you have any ideas about that.

And one other thing that came up recently...

A good friend is having a baby girl and the shower is in January. Oh, how I would love to go out and buy some beautiful baby clothes. Just yesterday I looked at an online children's clothing catalog and saw the most adorable little white fuzzy baby coat with a hood and lamb's ears. The company is all organic cotton and made in the USA, so I'm considering making an exception. But I would also really love to give them some of our favorite children's books, and I can probably find those used in good condition. What do you think, readers? I've done great so far with gifts, but do you have any ideas for baby gifts? I don't knit or quilt, and I want to give them something really nice. If you have any suggestions for non-consumer baby gifts, please leave them in the Comments section.

December 29, 2009

Will I continue with the Compact?

The past few weeks I've been getting a lot of questions from readers about the fact that it's the end of the year and so my experiment is coming to an end. I've received questions about whether I'll continue with the Compact, whether I'll keep blogging, what I've learned from the whole experience, and is there anything I'll be buying new in January, amongst others.

Over the next few weeks, I'll try to answer all your questions in detail. Right now I can tell you that doing the Compact and blogging about it have become so much a part of my regular lifestyle that I can't imagine stopping now. So I will definitely continue blogging into 2010, with a few changes. I'll continue with Thrifty Threads and Food Waste Friday and some of my regular features, but I'll also be adding new challenges, conducting interviews, and reading more simple living books and telling you about them.

I embarked upon this experiment with a definite end date in sight, but sometime around September it dawned on me that not only was there nothing I was dying to buy new, but that my new lifestyle was very satisfying to me. It occurred to me that I didn't want to give it up, that I'd become a die-hard Compacter. That is to say, I will still make exceptions and occasionally buy new things, but I will always make a conscious effort to borrow, buy used, or do without first. And I like that. It feels right to me.

There's no way to say everything on the subject in one post, but I think the most important element in my decision to continue with the Compact and writing this blog has been the support of my readers. I've gotten great support from my husband for doing the Compact, but writing the blog has been so much more valuable than I'd ever imagined. It's much more than just a document of my year, because of all of you out there reading and commenting and writing emails to me. It's become a whole conversation about living a non-consumer lifestyle. And that interactive element is what I've enjoyed most of all. I can't express how much I appreciate your support and involvement, and that goes for those of you who challenge me as much as those who say I've inspired them to make similar changes. There is nothing that makes my day like having someone tell me that what I've said or done has meant something to them or made them think of things differently. So thank you all so much for joining me in this journey.

Tomorrow I'll answer the question, "Is there anything you plan on purchasing new in January? Something you've realized that you can't find used, or just really have been wanting to splurge on?" If you have any specific questions you want me to answer over the next few weeks, feel free to leave them in the Comments section.

December 28, 2009

CSA Delivery: Return of Greens

We've been receiving this delivery of local, organic produce since May and this is the first time I have to admit we're a little disappointed. No fruit?! I know in some parts of the country there wouldn't be any fruit available at this time of the year, but I didn't expect that here in Southern California. I was hoping for more pears and tangerines, and maybe grapefruit.

But I shouldn't complain about this beautiful spread. There are tons of greens, some I'll cook for a New Year's Eve supper with black-eyed peas and the rest I shouldn't have any trouble using up. I don't have any recipes for the daikon, but I'll bet that would make an interesting salad.

Here's what we got, roughly clockwise from the back: mustard greens, baby bok choy, broccoli rabe, blue potatoes, flat red kale, bull's blood beets, broccoli, daikon, carrots, small red onions with tops, cilantro, china rose radish, and a bag of baby spinach.

Having a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery is helping us eat more healthfully, and we eat more produce and a greater variety. It's forcing us to be more creative with our cooking.

Do you have a CSA delivery service in your area? If you're not sure, click here to find out more about CSA and to find one near you. And please share your suggestions and recipes for any of the produce in this photo in the Comments section, especially the daikon.

December 24, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

This is my neighbor's gorgeous, non-traditional Christmas tree. He created it out of salvaged branches from an orange tree in his yard, spray-painted white, so it's green and non-consumer as well. The beautiful ornaments have been collected over decades, many of them antiques from France, some almost 100 years old. He usually puts up a tall Noble fir tree and decorates it like the tree in the Ingmar Bergman film Fanny and Alexander. When you're invited over for a tree viewing, he dims the lights and lights the candles. I love the ritual, especially since it's usually accompanied by a tasting of homemade liqueurs.

This year he wanted to do something different and I think it's stunning. He used a bird and fruit theme with the ornaments, which I will try to photograph up close before he takes it down. The photo at the top is the clearest and shows the most detail, but since I cut off the top of the tree, I wanted you to see the shape of the whole tableau, so I included the photo below. It's not as clear, but you can see the top of the tree and all of the lit candles.

Of course this is the same neighbor who loans us his "tree sculpture" every year that I showed you a few days back. How lucky we are to have such a creative and generous neighbor who has become our good friend. The sky's the limit when it comes to the possibilities you can come up with for a non-traditional Christmas tree, depending on where you live and what you can salvage.

I'll be spending time with my family and taking a break from blogging for the holiday weekend. I'll be back next week starting with a Monday CSA post, and then I'll start answering some questions like whether I'll continue with the Compact next year, will I keep blogging, and what have I learned from this whole experience. So stay tuned! One thing I can tell you right now is that I'm not about to stop writing this blog.

So whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I wish you all a wonderful weekend.

December 23, 2009

Last minute non-consumer holiday gift ideas

If you've been trying to avoid the commercialism of the mall, but still find yourself with an unfinished gift list that you need to fill, I have a few last-minute ideas for you. Whether you're a procrastinator extraordinaire, have people on your list who seem to already have everything, or have just been unusually busy, I hope you can cross someone off your list after reading this post. The main criterion for my selections, on top of being non-consumer, are that you don't have to leave the house.

1. SnagFilms.com. I just learned about this great website that lets you send a friend a "virtual movie theater" with a playlist of up to 10 full-length documentary films. They currently have 1000 free documentaries on the site, ranging from politics to the environment to music. Just a few titles from their library: Super Size Me, What Would Jesus Buy?, and The End of America.
This gift is eco-friendly and free. It would be a great option for a movie buff who loves documentaries but might not know about this service. And someone who doesn't think you're cheap because you're not spending money. Because what you're giving, including your time, doesn't have a price tag.

2. Make a donation in their name. I've already talked about Global Giving, one of my favorites. Your loved one can choose where they want to put their money, and for as little as $10, they can buy malaria nets for a family in Mali, buy books for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or contribute to a host of worthwhile projects. Other great organizations are Children.org, which allows them to sponsor a child or donate to an individual project, or Heifer International, where they can give the gift of livestock to a family in an effort to lift them out of poverty while providing a source of nourishment. If you want something physical to present as a gift, most of these places let you download a certificate/card for the recipient.

3. Food. Finally, many people enjoy the gift of food during the holidays, I know I do. If you're afraid they might have already OD'd on baked goods, try something like mixed nuts or homemade trail mix. My favorite combines almonds, walnuts, pecans, salt, cumin, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips. You just heat the nuts in a pan on medium until slightly browned, remove from the heat and lightly coat with cooking spray, and toss with salt and a little cumin. Then let it cool completely before adding the remaining ingredients. It's delicious, and listed as a great snack for women over 40 because the nuts contain omega-3s which lower bad cholesterol and raise the good kind, plus lower the risk of heart attack if you eat them several times a week. If you have a tree, fresh lemons are always appreciated, or fresh herbs from the garden if you live in a temperate climate.

Most importantly, remember that the season isn't about competitive shopping and figuring out the best STUFF to buy. It isn't about STUFF at all. One year I simply wrote cards telling my family members what they meant to me and I think they appreciated the time and thought behind it. But no matter what you do, try to enjoy yourself because life is too short to dwell on unimportant details.

Happy Holidays. If you have any last-minute gift ideas you'd like to share, please tell us about them in the Comments section.

Looking for non-consumer holiday gift ideas?

Click here for handmade holiday gifts.
Click here for experiential holiday gifts.
Click here for super-frugal holiday gifts (under $10).

December 22, 2009

I'm featured on a cool website

I just found out that MyYearWithoutSpending was featured as one of the "5 Frugal Blogs with the best Strategies to Save Money" on the cool website MakeUseOf.com. They've got all kinds of great tips.

Check it out. I'm having fun reading the other 4 Frugal Blogs they chose.

Wow, I'm so flattered. Thanks, MakeUseOf.com!

I'll be back tomorrow with a few last minute non-consumer holiday gift ideas for those tough-to-buy-for folks on your list.

December 21, 2009

Our Holiday Tree

This is our version of a holiday tree. If you celebrate Christmas, I wanted to talk about another alternative to a live cut tree or an artificial tree. I love Christmas trees, but since my husband isn't quite as enthusiastic about them as I am, I was usually left with the task of buying and decorating the tree myself. So I started having a tree delivered to the house as part of a fund raiser for the local high school boys' tennis team, and that was great for a few years. Until three years ago when they delivered the tree on December 1st, and it was dry and nearly dead by Christmas day.

That's when I borrowed my neighbor's "tree sculpture" and have been using it ever since. It lets me have a holiday tree with almost no hassle. I still get to hang some of our favorite ornaments, but I don't have to drag a tree across our hardwood floor and clean up pine needles afterward or worry about disposing of it after the holiday. It's also extremely green and frugal. And very Compact-y, since I'm borrowing the tree each year and purchasing nothing new.


These are a few of our favorite ornaments, like this Nutcracker from my husband's favorite aunt who has since died...


This is one of the beautiful ornaments my friend put on the tree before I borrowed it. He's from France and has an amazing collection of antique ornaments...


This beautiful bird was a gift from a good friend. It's a piece of art...


And MLK has a spot at the top of our tree...

This tree was purchased several years ago at a store called Smith & Hawken that has recently gone out of business. But the options are endless as far as materials you could use as a "tree alternative." One idea would be a tree branch, perhaps spray painted white before you decorate it. That would work well with a bush that grows in California called manzanita. The wood is both sculptural and hard.

Of course the downside of our tree is the lack of that fresh pine scent. And I do miss that. I'm not saying I'll never have a live tree again, but for now our borrowed tree has been working great for us.

Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you put up a tree? Do you have any creative holiday tree alternatives to share? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

December 18, 2009

Green and Frugal Gift Wrapping

These are some of my wrapped holiday gifts. A lot of them are for kids, so they're not as elegant as they sometimes turn out. But it shows my three basic methods: recycled, and two different kinds of gift bags. I didn't buy any wrapping paper, ribbons, bags, or even tags this year. In fact, I haven't bought wrapping paper for several years. The main thing I do is keep all the wrapping I receive and recycle it.

I started doing this several years ago because I liked the way a certain gift shop in our neighborhood did their wrapping and I started copying it. I especially like these vaguely Japanese-looking ones, and that is the way I try to wrap as much as possible. These are children's versions of the style, and the ones in the back are just random pieces patched together.

These are a more "adult" version of that style. All you need to do is save old wrapping paper, cards, and tags, cut them up, and you're ready to go. Anyone can do it, you don't have to be an artist. They always come out looking good.


The other thing I like to do is use bags. These felt bags are great for kids and the velvet bag is nice for jewelry or other smaller gifts for adults. If I had children, I would use a lot of these types of bags and reuse them every year. I bought these kids' bags, and the velvet bag came with a cosmetic purchase, but you can also make your own bags. Kristen at The Frugal Girl lays it out for you with this cloth bag tutorial.

Finally, these paper type of bags are always great for last-minute wrapping and odd-sized gifts. And there's no reason to ever throw them away. They can be reused indefinitely.

As I said, I started my recycled wrapping habits because I liked the aesthetic, but over the years I came to appreciate how the method was also green and frugal. Because I'd rather spend my money on other things, and I hate to think of all the wrapping paper being manufactured and then thrown away.

I hope some of these photos inspire you to give it a try. I wish they were clearer, but my camera really is on its last leg. There's no end to what you can create with this simple and beautiful, green and frugal wrapping style.

What do you use for wrapping gifts? What are some of your best green and frugal tips? Please share them in the Comments section.

On Monday I'll take a break from Meatless Monday to post photos of our unusual holiday tree, and Tuesday or Wednesday I'll bring you some last minute non-consumer holiday gift ideas, for those of you who are super-procrastinators.

Food Waste Friday

I'm very happy to report that we have no food waste this week!

Our refrigerator is packed with fresh produce from the CSA however, so I have to make a big batch of soup to use some of it up. That will be good to have around during the busyness of holiday preparations.

I've been watching our food waste this year in an effort to keep it out of the landfill. One statistic from Wasted Food is that Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food that we buy. That's a lot of food waste creating CO2 and causing pollution! Not to mention, it's money down the drain.

Kristen at The Frugal Girl came up with the idea of photographing her waste each week in order to pay more attention to it, and the tactic worked so well for her that she invited others to join in. For me personally, the photo keeps me focused on the issue and has definitely helped us to waste less food.

How did you do this week? Please leave your tips and advice in the Comments section.

I still have two more holiday posts to fit in today and tomorrow, one about my green gift wrapping style, and the other about our holiday tree. So I'll be back later today with one of those depending on what kind of photos I can get from my dying camera.

December 17, 2009

Thrifty Threads


Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, a consignment shop, ebay, Craigslist, a yard sale, or anywhere else you find secondhand clothing.

Today model is Stephanie, making her third appearance on Thrifty Threads. Thanks for helping keep the series going, Stephanie!

Stephanie and I worked together back when she was a film editor in Los Angeles, before she moved to Portland and then Dallas to pursue her dream of being a singer/songwriter. She's been doing that with great success the past four years, writing, performing, and touring around the country. You can hear her lovely voice and some great original music on her My Space page.

These days, Stephanie is continuing with her "Jill of all trades" lifestyle. She recently costumed a play called Crystal City 1969 that is receiving rave reviews, and since it takes place in 1969 almost all of the items were thrifted. She also produced a Doritos spec commercial for potential Super Bowl air time and she's starting up a company called Sweet Ruby Productions to do PR/Creative Consulting/Personal Styling projects. You can check out her blog at "Those Tricks" to keep up with all her activities!

I was so excited to post another example of a beautiful party dress to inspire those of you who need something to wear to a holiday or New Year's Eve party. You don't have to spend a lot of money on something new! Stephanie bought this velvet stunner for just $30 at Buffalo Exchange. The label is Barney's and she says it fits her like a glove. The belt was $5 at a thrift store, and the shoes are from Payless. She put together this gorgeous look for a bargain basement price. She looks amazing!

Now I know you all want to get out there to the thrift stores, or ebay, or wherever you shop secondhand, and look for a fabulous party dress for the season. Good luck! And if you find one, take a photo and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. I always need more participants and we all love to see everyone's fabulous finds. It's so much fun to see what you all are coming up with!

Please leave your tips and advice for secondhand shopping in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

December 16, 2009

Wine Finds: Cheers!

The following is a reprint of a previously published post, which I thought might be useful for your holiday and New Year's Eve celebrations. Who says you can't enjoy some nice bubbly, even on a budget? And by the way, the answer to the question in the post is "Big Shot" by Billy Joel. Thanks Michele!


Just in time for wedding and graduation season (not really, I'm a little late, but hopefully not too late for all your celebrations) is this tip for a sparkling wine. That's champagne. So for any event that requires a toast, this is a great budget option.

This Prosecco Brut Zonin is bottled in Italy and sells at Trader Joe's for just $5.99. It's an unbelievable steal. I'm not a big fan of champagne, especially cheap champagne, and I like this one. A lot.

I used to think I just didn't really care for champagne, until I had occasion to try a truly remarkable brand: Dom Perignon. Yes, the one you've heard about all these years. Wasn't there something about sipping Dom Perignon in a 70s pop song? Anyway, our good friends very generously shared a bottle with us last New Year's Eve, and it was a revelation. None of the cloying sweetness, just a fresh light deliciousness that evaporated right off of your tongue. For the first time in my life, I had a second glass. And at the same time I became a champagne fan, I knew I wouldn't be drinking it very often, because now I REALLY wouldn't be able to drink the cheap stuff.

You should rush right out and buy a bottle of this when I tell you that the same friends who shared the Dom with us, and who are wine connoisseurs and even make their own wine, are the same friends who discovered this Prosecco. Need I say more? This is a hot tip, folks. So get your bottle, or case, before Trader Joe's runs out. Especially if you've got a celebration coming up.

Please leave your favorite wine tips, including champagne, in the Comments section. And tell me if you know what 70s song I'm talking about.

December 15, 2009

How soft must TP be?

My sister-in-law brought this article and video from Planet Green to our attention recently, after my husband had complained about her slightly scratchy toilet paper. The article is about how old growth forests are cut down to make the softest toilet paper. The video is from Consumer Reports - an investigative type of piece on how to find the softest toilet paper out there, with many of the best scientific minds around working to solve this pressing problem.

Being consumers of soft toilet paper (though not Charmin), my husband and I were both horrified by this. Of course I knew that toilet paper was made from trees, but I've driven and taken the train across country many times, and there is no lack of trees on this continent. But old-growth trees are another thing entirely, and I still cannot believe they would be cut down for something so... what's the word I'm looking for? Trivial? Mundane? Banal?

My husband is in charge of buying toilet paper and other paper products, and he generally gets the best price at places like Smart & Final. But we agreed immediately to switch brands to a recycled toilet paper that wouldn't endanger old growth forests!

This is the kind of thing I'm glad to learn about but feel so upset that I didn't know. How can this go on? I'm raving, I know. But if you feel like I do, please switch brands immediately. I don't think anyone thinks soft toilet paper is important enough to fell giant trees.

Click here for a guide to where to buy "green" toilet paper. Until we find the cheapest/most convenient item on the list for us, we'll buy the Trader Joe's brand.

Thanks sister-in-law, for helping us Do The Right Thing! And hopefully some of my readers will be inspired to make the switch as well. I'll bet a lot of you knew about this already. Please leave your thoughts on the issue in the Comments section.

December 14, 2009

CSA Delivery Returns

We got so much stuff I can't even fit it all in the picture. We haven't gotten a delivery in four weeks, and we sure have missed it. We've been getting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery since May, and both my husband and I really love it. Just yesterday he mentioned he was getting low on extras for sandwiches and burritos.

One of the perks of living in Southern California is getting such a wide variety of organic local produce. This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): romaine lettuce, broccoli, beets, kale, cauliflower, rainbow swiss chard, red onions, carrots, another green with yellow flowers (the list isn't posted online yet), acorn squash, cabbage, pears, tangerines, radishes, red potatoes, and a chocolate/cranberry cookie.

I haven't planned a menu yet, so if you have any ideas for any of this, let me know. I'm a bit overwhelmed and will probably give some of it away. Because of the holiday, we have ten days to use this all up.

Getting this delivery is helping us eat more healthfully, and also eat less meat. And it's no more expensive, because I've been spending the same amount or even less every month on groceries. Click here if you want to learn more about CSA and find one in your area.

Going to a Farmer's Market is another great option for getting fresh local produce. Do you belong to a CSA or shop at a Farmer's Market? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And let me know if you see the ingredients for a favorite dish. I'm low on ideas this week because my mind is on other things.

December 12, 2009

Food Waste Friday, Saturday edition

On most Fridays, I write about our food waste for the week. I've got plenty of reasons why this post is more than a day late, but they don't really matter. Better late than never, right?

So here for your enjoyment is another beautiful photo of the food that went bad this week. I haven't had a photo in awhile, so that's progress. This week we had a bit of arugula, after my husband used most of it on sandwiches. In the container is two roasted carrots that I had forgotten about. And then the dreaded Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. Hmmm.

I rarely use this and usually just keep a can for a last minute emergency. In this case, I used it in tuna casserole, and it tastes fine, but normally I would make another type of sauce that's a little healthier. Anyway, for some reason I used all but a tablespoon or so that was left in this can. And I had absolutely no plan for using it up so there was no way it was going to get eaten.

A plan. That's the best way to avoid food waste, in my experience. Plan your shopping, plan your meals, plan how to use leftovers. If that sounds like a big drag to you (like it does to me), just do a semi-plan. Plan some meals and then have pantry staples. But keep an eye on your leftovers or they'll definitely be forgotten.

Why do I care about wasted food? Because when it goes to the landfill, it creates CO2 and adds to the climate crisis. Plus it wastes a lot of money. Luckily, most of this stuff will go on the compost pile (is cream of mushroom soup okay, does anyone know?). But I'd still rather have a zero waste week.

If you want to find out more about the effect of food waste on the environment, check out Wasted Food. And click here if you want to participate in The Frugal Girl's project of photographing food that goes bad in an effort to waste less.

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And if anyone knows whether or not I can compost that soup, let me know.

December 11, 2009

This Is It

If you haven't yet, rush out and see "This is It," the documentary about the preparations and rehearsals for Michael Jackson's last concert tour. My husband and I had the privilege of attending a free screening last night, and we were both knocked out by it. I confess I would never have referred to myself as a Michael Jackson fan, and was somewhat mystified by the reaction to his death. But this film made me realize what people had responded to in him, and I came away very moved. It's a rare peek into the creative process and a phenomenal experience that goes way beyond what you expect from a film. It's hard not to be sad that he was unable to perform his last show, what he thought of as his "gift to the world." But at the same time you'll be filled with the joy and love he exuded in everything he did. Seeing him perform "The Man in the Mirror," I really got that song for the first time.

The world lost an angel when he died.

December 10, 2009

Thrifty Threads


Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop. It could also be from craigslist, a clothing swap, or in this case, from ebay.

Today's model is Janet, who blogs at taibhsearachd, which means "second sight" in Gaelic. She describes her blog as "a vehicle for me to take a second look at events and people around me, and give second thoughts to the way I live my life." I like that, living life as a thoughtful, conscious, and reflective journey. Janet blogs about many aspects of her life, including her family, her ebay addiction (with photos of boots!), her wanderlust, her own "No Impact Week" experiment, and she posts some gorgeous photos of the Yukon, Canada, where she lives. That sounds so exotic! You can check out her blog here.

She bought this Betsey Johnson party dress on ebay. It is SO cute, and so perfect for any dressy holiday event. I love how she mixed things up and added color and personality with the shoes, which were also Betsey Johnson and purchased on ebay. The total for the dress and the shoes was under $100. Janet says the outfit was barely used and would have cost over $500 retail. What a steal! She picked up the cute faux fur stole in an area consignment shop for $15.

Thanks Janet for the great photos! Janet says "I've been meaning to send a photo for a long time, but like most of us, I hate to have my photo taken. But I finally bit the bullet." She even let me use the one with a weird light streak across her face because it showed off the dress the best. Now readers, it's your turn. I still need more participants to keep the series going, so put on your favorite thrift store score, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. Don't be shy. We want to see women of every size, shape, and color, in all different kinds of outfits. Men and children are welcome as well. Janet and the other Thrifty Threads models are proving you can look stylish without spending a lot of money.

I think buying secondhand is very smart. Do you shop at thrift stores, or on ebay or craigslist? Does your Goodwill carry clothes you would wear? Please leave your best tips for secondhand shopping, plus compliments for Janet in the Comments section. We'd love to hear from you. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

December 8, 2009

Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!

My husband makes great pizza. One of the gifts I wanted to give him this year was a pizza stone. But since I'm on The Compact, my task was to find one used. I was a little skeptical that I would succeed. I wasn't going to buy one new if I couldn't find one, I was just going to skip it because I've got other gifts for him.

All my gifts this year are handmade, used, or experiential. It's been fun and I'm already almost done except for the baking and wrapping.

My steps for finding a used pizza stone, as is the Compact-y way, went as follows:

1) Tell people I'm looking out for the item. I sent out an email in case anyone had one they weren't using. I got one response that I could use a paver from Home Depot instead of a pizza stone. I considered that but couldn't find a suitable paver, they were all too thick.
2) Went to two Goodwills. There weren't any pizza stones, but I asked a manager if they ever get them. I've seen tons of breadmakers at Goodwill. One manager didn't seem to know what I was talking about, the other said he'd seen them occasionally, once even new and still in the box. I made one more visit to that Goodwill, so three visits total.
3) I put up a notice on Freecycle that I was looking for a pizza stone.

After a couple of weeks, I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn't be giving my husband a pizza stone. But because I had "put the word out," an awesome friend sent me a link to a pizza stone he saw listed on Craigslist. So I bought it! The woman selling it was asking $10 for the stone and $8 for the paddle. She told me she loved it but she was going vegan so she thought it best to get rid of it.

It's a little stained, but my friend told me it doesn't matter because a new one would get stained right away anyway. I was very happy with the gift, but since it was used I couldn't get too excited about wrapping it up and went ahead and gave it to my husband early. He can't wait to make pizza next week.

Moral of the story: "Ask and ye shall receive." Or maybe "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Or maybe "good things come to those who wait." You get the picture. It was a combination of patience, putting the word out, and Craigslist that scored this pizza stone.

It IS possible to get through the holidays on The Compact! It's been fun in fact. I wrote about Compact-y holiday gifts a few weeks back. If you missed it, click here to read the post about experiential gifts and here to get ideas for handmade gifts.

Do you ever use freecycle, Craigslist or ebay? What about for gifts? Tell us about your favorite gift scores in the Comments section.

December 7, 2009

Meatless Mondays recipes

I pledged to go meatless on Mondays about six months ago, and it has been so easy we've barely noticed it. We generally eat vegetarian meals several nights a week anyway, so it hasn't been any sacrifice for us. But what HAS changed is that I'm getting so many great recipe ideas from the Meatless Monday website, and from my readers! And that makes it easier than ever, and a lot more fun!

If you haven't heard of Meatless Monday, click here to find out more about it. It's a non-profit initiative to encourage people to give up meat one day a week for their health and the health of the planet. If you sign up, you'll receive a weekly email packed with delicious recipes. I can't find the time to make all the ones I've saved!

Here are this week's reader suggestions:

1) Kate from Creating A Life I Love says this recipe is simple and satisfying: scoop fresh cooked Basmati rice into individual bowls, squeeze half a lime over the rice plus soy sauce and sliced avocado. Serve with steamed or stir-fried veggies and a green salad, and you have a quick and healthy meal.

2) Julie adds to the rice theme with this suggestion: brown rice topped with stir-fried onions, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, sugar snap peas and Trader Joe's veggie birds' nests on the side. She says she was busy and let the onions cook so long they carmelized and it was heavenly.

I love carmelized onions. They're such a great addition to any veggie stir fry. Julie's recipe is almost exactly like my old college standby, except for the addition of the Trader Joe's birds' nests. I can't wait to try them. Julie says they're in the frozen foods section.

On the rice theme, this recipe for vegetable curry is one of our staples. It's a crockpot dish, and for me it's comfort food over rice. Plus curry is SO good for you.

Readers, please share your favorite super-simple meatless meals in the Comments section and I'll include them in the next Meatless Monday post in two weeks. Next Monday I'll have a CSA delivery photo and post for you and we'll be back on our regular schedule.

Have you signed up for Meatless Mondays yet? Click here to check out previous meatless monday recipes posts.

December 5, 2009

Adopt-A-Family

A friend of mine told me about a great project they're doing this year at her workplace. She works at a big company and has several coworkers to buy gifts for every year. It's very stressful and time-consuming to figure out the best gifts for everyone and then run around after work shopping in crowded malls.

So this year, instead of exchanging gifts, they're participating in the Adopt-A-Family program instead. She's pretty high in the company, so she was in a position to make the decision with a couple of coworkers. They sent out an email saying that since they were all so fortunate to have good jobs, this year instead of buying gifts for coworkers, they would buy them for people who were down on their luck.

The whole office is jazzed about the project. Everyone was asked to pledge the amount of money they felt comfortable with, and with that sum they were able to "adopt" ten families. They're going to divide the shopping list and then have a wrapping party to celebrate. Instead of giving a coworker something they don't need and may not even use, they can be happy knowing the food and clothing and toys they're wrapping are on their way to families who will really appreciate it.

What a great way to get into the holiday spirit, and give up a lot of stress in the bargain. If your office hasn't made a plan yet and you have anything to say about it, you might want to give this a try. Or at least think about it for next year.

Click here to find out about the Adopt-A-Family program in Los Angeles. A lot of different organizations run these projects, so the best thing to do would be a google search for your area.

What's your office doing for the holidays this year? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

December 4, 2009

Food Waste Friday continues

It's Friday, and we don't have any food waste this week. But we'll have to work hard to avoid having any next week, because there are a lot of leftovers in our refrigerator.

If you're new to this blog, on Fridays I usually talk about food waste and even post a photo of the food that went bad over the course of the week. It's an effort to become conscious of how much food we throw away, so that we can try to buy less and waste less. The idea of posting the photograph came from Kristen of The Frugal Girl, and a lot of people have joined in the effort.

Why should we care about wasted food? Simply put, it's bad for the environment and it's bad for your wallet. Here's just one alarming statistic: Americans waste 40 percent of the food that they buy. And all that food sitting in a landfill adds to the greenhouse gas problem.

If you want to find out more, check out Wasted Food. So far, what's worked for us is to buy less in the first place, keep track of our leftovers, and create an Eat Me section of the refrigerator.

Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? What are your favorite tips for wasting less food? Please share your ideas and advice in the Comments section.

Friday Freebies

FREE STUFF ALERT: It's the first weekend of the month, which means it's time for Bank of America's "Museums on Us" program. This Saturday or Sunday, hundreds of museums, zoos, and science centers across the country offer free admission with a Bank of America debit or credit card. Click here to find out about participating museums in your area.

I'll be back later with a Food Waste Fridays post.

December 3, 2009

Thrifty Threads

Welcome to another installment of Thrifty Threads, AKA Most Stylish Compact-y Outfit, where readers model their favorite secondhand clothes.

A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.

Today's model is "Non Consumer Girl," who was the very first model for this series, and I'm so happy to have her back for a return visit. She got this lovely dress at what they call a "frock swap" in Australia. It's a clothing swap where everyone brings nice clothes that are in great shape but just don't suit them, and then hopefully they leave with something new for free!

The dress is a brand called Filo, and NCG says it fits her perfectly. Even though her husband rarely comments on what she's wearing, when she put it on he said, "that's a nice dress!" and offered to take this photo.

And if you're like me, you can't help noticing the killer shoes. I think her year on The Compact has turned her into a brilliant shopper, not just for finding those shoes, but for picking them up for a song. They're Tony Bianco and had only been worn once or twice, and she bought them on ebay for $8. They would retail at around $120. Now THAT'S a bargain!

Thanks so much for sending in that photo, Non Consumer Girl! You look amazing! Imagine getting that entire outfit for just 8 dollars. Click here to read all the details of the frock swap she attended, how they set it up and organized it, etc.

Readers, it's your turn! If you shop in thrift stores, put on your favorite outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at barton.angela@gmail.com. I always need more photos, and we all want to see your fabulous finds! Just look what's out there!

Do you shop secondhand? What are some of your best tips for scoring great stuff? Tell us in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.

December 2, 2009

Are you happier?

I read this article from Time magazine a couple of weeks ago called "The Happiness Paradox: Why Are Americans So Cheery?" Are we cheery? Is it possible that there really is a silver lining in this recession?

The author suggests that maybe the silver lining is in the downsizing, especially the downsizing of expectations. People had gotten exhausted with keeping up with the Joneses, and they're a little relieved that the era of excess is over.

I like the last paragraph: "Whatever you make of the psychology of happiness, we know something of its physics. It rises as it ricochets off other people, returning to us stronger by virtue of being released. It gets bigger when we don't care if it gets smaller; we stopped buying all the stuff we didn't need that was supposed to make us happier, and we seem to be happier for it. And who would have expected that?"

Who indeed? I won't go so far as to say that I'm happy about the recession or the global condition or the fact that so many people I know are out of work. But I am happy lately, and I think it has a lot to do with The Compact, and with blogging about it. Becoming a non-consumer has definitely been liberating. I've got more money, more time for things I care about, and I feel more in control. It's a little bit like when I quit smoking cigarettes. One of the things I had come to hate was feeling like someone else (the cigarette companies and their advertisements) had control over my behavior. I didn't want anyone else to have that power. To the best of my ability, I want to make my own decisions. And I feel more connected, part of a simple living/frugal/non-consumer community.

So, are you happier? Do you think being more or less happy is related to your economic situation or your status as a consumer? Do you identify yourself as a non-consumer, a conscious consumer, or something else? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section. Read the entire article here.

December 1, 2009

My Parsley Problem, solved

What I used to refer to as "my parsley problem" was the fact that I wasted so much of it. It's a staple in our house, I use it for a few of our favorite meals, and so I'd buy it at the market almost every week. And every week, I'd toss out at least half of it, or the whole thing if we hadn't had clams linguini or salmon patties. It usually lasted a couple of weeks, but it was never used up. I know some people have this same problem with cilantro or other fresh herbs. You want to have it on hand, but at the same time you never use the entire bunch.

This was the easy solution. I bought a parsley plant for about a dollar, planted it with whatever potting soil I had, and made sure I watered it a couple of times a week. Now every time we have clams linguini, I just go outside and clip off what we need. No waste, ever.

It's a small thing, but you know my philosophy: baby steps. It's easy to change a habit by incremental degrees.

Maybe I should be posting this the next time we have zero food waste, but I felt like mixing things up a bit! Do you have any examples of a problem you'd accepted for years, that you were able to change with one small action? Something that saved energy or food or time or money? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

November 30, 2009

Meatless Monday recipes

The Meatless Monday campaign is an effort to get people to give up meat one day a week, for their health and the health of the planet. Click here to go to their website and read all about it.

This week I've got some great reader suggestions for simple meatless meals.

1) Tom says he's mostly vegan and for people new to vegetarianism he suggests pasta meals as an easy option. One of his favorites is Trader Joe's rice noodles, sliced olives, cut small tomatoes, and minced onion. Sprinkle with vegan cheese and olive oil for a simple vegan meal. I agree with Tom that pasta is one of the easiest ways to make a meal so delicious you won't miss the meat.

2) Carla says her family eats meatless most days of the week even though they're not vegetarians. Most of their meatless meals revolve around legumes and grains in some form with added green and yellow vegetables. It's hearty and sustaining food, on top of being delicious.

3) Castal says one of her favorite meatless meals is a big pot of veggie and bean chili with a cast iron skillet of corn bread, served with either cheese or sour cream. Or just plain, because it's tasty as is. Castal says they eat meatless several times a week in order to use up their CSA box of fruits and vegetables. That's true in our house as well. We're eating less meat since we've been getting the CSA delivery.

4) Emily says Manicotti with Three Cheeses is a favorite at their house. Here's the simple (5 ingredients!) recipe: 12 manicotti shells, 4 cups shredded mozzarella, 8 oz. soft cream cheese with onion and chives, 3 cups marinara sauce, and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Cook manicotti according to package instructions. Grease a baking dish. Mix 3 cups of the mozzarella with the cream cheese, stuff the manicotti and place it in the baking dish. Top with marinara sauce, sprinkle with remaining mozarella, and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake 10 more minutes. I'm going to make that on the next cold day, it sounds like great comfort food. And I can tell you right now it's going to be a favorite at our house as well.

5) And finally, Catherine at Vegan Good Life offers this recipe for portabella with vegan gravy. Scroll down the page for the recipe. She also brings up a great point: olive oil, shallots, and spices like rosemary and thyme do wonders for vegetables. I agree. Roasted with olive oil and spices is my favorite way to make veggies.

Thanks readers for all your great ideas!

What are your favorite meatless meals? Please share them in the Comments section and I'll include them in the next Meatless Mondays recipes post. And click here if you want to check out previous Meatless Monday recipes.

November 29, 2009

Time for recharging...

I've been thoroughly enjoying the long holiday weekend, seeing movies, making gifts and baking, taking walks and hanging out with my husband.

I was determined to spend less time at the computer, and that meant no blogging for a couple of days, but I'll be back to my regular posting schedule this week, including Meatless Monday recipes, Thrifty Threads on Thursday, and Food Waste Friday.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

November 26, 2009

Sleep In on Black Friday

Take part in "The Great American Sleep-In" at Global Giving.

On the day after Thanksgiving, ditch the mall and snuggle up to this earth-changing idea for gift giving. Here's how it works:
  • Sleep in, spend time with your loved ones at home, and avoid the crowded stores and long lines.
  • Stay in your pajamas and order Global Giving Gift Cards online. Give the card to someone you love, they go to Global Giving and pick a cause that touches their heart, and use the card to donate to their favorite project. It's the gift that changes lives.

Find out all about it here.

So give the holiday gift that's both non-consumer and experiential. You'd be amazed how far a modest gift of $10 or $20 can go towards some of these worthwhile projects.

Happy Thanksgiving

I am so grateful for my family and friends, my health, and most of all for my wonderful husband. And this year I'm also thankful for all my new blogging friends and my brilliant readers, who inspire me every single day. This experiment has been a marvelous adventure, and given me much more than I could have ever dreamed. My heart is so full.

Thank you all and have a wonderful holiday.

November 25, 2009

Wine Finds

Just in time for Thanksgiving, it's another installment of Wine Finds, where I tell you about a delicious bottle of wine for under $10. I'm not a wine expert, and have never even taken a wine-tasting class, but I love wine and I drink a fair amount of it (it's still good for you, right?) As long as I don't drink an entire bottle by myself... That's only happened once, and I'll never tell when...

So if you really like to leave things until the last minute, or just didn't want to spend too much for wine for the holiday, this Fetzer Valley Oaks Merlot might be an option for you. It's an old standby of ours, kind of a nice all-around wine. It's not going to win any big awards for complexity, but hey, it's only $5.99 a bottle.

I was also happy to read recently that Fetzer vineyards is recognized for its "sustainable, earth-friendly practices" by the EPA and several other organizations. They practice responsible waste management, recycling, energy and water conservation, and are moving toward a goal of using only organically farmed grapes in their wines. That makes me feel better about making this one of our go-to bottles. Personally, I haven't been that impressed with the other varieties I've tried, but I think their Merlot is quite drinkable. I have a soft spot for Merlot, which you can read about in this post from back in July.

Fetzer winemaker Dennis Martin describes it this way: "I think our Mendocino roots show in every glass of our Merlot. It has an easy, approachable style with aromas of ripe plums and flavors of blackberry and cherry. This wine goes great with just about any meal, making it a good choice to have on hand for every day. (That’s what I do.)" Well said, Dennis. I agree.

This wine is available at Trader Joe's, and I've seen it at World Market and BevMo as well, although maybe not at the $5.99 price.

What are some of your favorite wines for under $10? Share your picks in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Wine Finds.

November 24, 2009

Reusable bags

Those are some, but not all, of our reusable bags. I just grabbed the ones I could find easily. Lately I've been encouraged by this story about Target and CVS promoting the use of reusable bags, but at the same time I'm still surprised and saddened by how many people still use plastic bags at the supermarket.

If they knew the cost of those bags on the environment, I don't think they would do it. Sure, some of them wouldn't care if every baby seal on earth was strangled by their plastic beer rings. But most people would be shocked and alarmed and immediately buy a reusable bag. I think a lot of people just think it's some kind of a scam to charge them more money.

I recently read this fact on my friend Leigh's blog, Compact by Design:

"An estimated 1 million birds and 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks."

Oh, that's so sad. Why, oh why, is it so hard to stop the madness?

If you're like me with the stupid paper towels, and have a hard time developing this habit, here are a few tips that helped me. I switched over several years ago and virtually never need to use the plastic anymore. The key is to have plenty of bags and to remember to bring them into the store.

1. Buy bags every chance you get, in lots of different sizes. If you only have big bags, you might not bring them in for just a few items, or if you only have small bags, you won't use them for larger items. My husband and I both have huge IKEA bags in our car (although I haven't used mine during my Compact year), and we each have lots of different-sized bags in our car, and in several rooms in the house. My husband keeps a few on the back of his office door, and I keep a bunch in my armoire. But the main thing is to have them in the car trunk. That way you can use them for any kind of shopping.

2. Once you get in the habit, it will be easy to remember to grab a bag when you're walking into a store. But until you do, make sure they're always in the car. If you've left some in the house and forgotten to return them to the car, it won't matter if you have five other bags in the car.

3. If you realize you've forgotten your bags while you're in the store, go back out to your car and get them. You'll probably only need to do this once.

4. If you only have one or two items, you don't need a bag at all. We've been so trained that we need bags for everything, and that's fine if they're reusable cotton, but NOT if they're plastic.

Until they completely stop making plastic bags, you can do your part by getting a few reusable ones. If you don't like the idea of paying for them, I'm sure you can pick some up for free somewhere. Many of mine come from environmental organizations I donate to.

Do you use reusable canvas bags? What are some of your tips for making it a habit? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

November 23, 2009

Meatless Mondays Q&A

This is a special edition of Meatless Mondays, because today the Meatless Monday website includes a Q&A interview I did with Terri Wahl, the founder of our CSA delivery service. You can check out the Meatless Mondays website here, and my interview with Terri here.

I'm such a big supporter of the concept of Meatless Mondays, that after I'd been writing about it for awhile on my blog and sharing meatless recipes, the editor of the website emailed to thank me. After a few exchanges back and forth, he invited me to submit a Q&A with someone in the world of food. They are a nonprofit corporation, and I was not paid for any of this, I just believe in the cause.

There's also a link to my pumpkin bread recipe this week in the recipe section.

Have you pledged to go meatless on Mondays? What are some of your favorite meatless meals? Please share them and I'll include your ideas in my next Meatless Mondays post.

November 22, 2009

A Green and Grateful Thanksgiving

I know my readers are all about being green and grateful, so if you want to add some of that good stuff to Thanksgiving this year, check out this article by my friend Danielle Davis. Danielle blogs at Less is More Balanced and is the green living contributor at L.A.'s own Your Daily Thread. The article is all about how to make the holiday more meaningful.

There are a few links I still have to check out, like a list of organic and biodynamic wines. I don't even know what biodynamic means, but it sounds kind of like bionic, so I'm guessing it's a good thing. Stronger, more powerful wine. Wow.

November 21, 2009

Baby steps challenge update

This will be a short post: I LOVE microfiber cloths! I can't believe it took me so long to discover them.

The baby steps challenge for this month is giving up paper towels, you can read about it here.

Thanks again for your great advice!

November 20, 2009

Food Waste Friday Follies

I realized after I wrote last week's post that I had meant to say "follies" and not "food waste friday frolics." So here it is Friday again, and I bring you my folly...

No picture, no waste! So I'll make this short. Every week I take photos of my food waste, a concept started by Kristen at The Frugal Girl, in order to be more aware of how much food we're throwing out. So far we're wasting a lot less than we used to, which saves money and is better for the environment.

Check out this cool site "Love Food, Hate Waste" to find out about why cutting food waste matters.

How did you do this week? Let us know in the Comments section.

Free H1N1 vaccine

L.A. residents: If you're in a high-risk group and haven't been able to get the H1N1 vaccine, click here for information on free vaccinations available through the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.

People not in the high-risk groups (defined as pregnant women, health care workers, those under 25 years old, and individuals with compromised immune system and/or chronic health problems) are advised to wait until more vaccine becomes available.

November 19, 2009

Super-Frugal Holiday Gifts

Welcome to part 3 of a series on non-consumer holiday gift ideas. Today I'll talk about super-frugal gifts, or gifts under $10. I'm trying to stick to non-consumer items, which can include food and other things which are "Compact-friendly." Thrifty Threads is suspended for this week, and I still need more photos!

If you have a lot of gifts to buy, for extended family, and coworkers, neighbors, teachers, and the person who delivers your mail, you probably need some ideas for gifts that are thoughtful but inexpensive. But not cheap. So here goes...

1. Tea. I think tea is a great gift because it's encouraging the recipient to take a break, to stop and smell the roses. I've only started appreciating tea in the last few years, but a good cup of tea really is relaxing. It can also be rejuvenating. There are so many different types and flavors. One of my favorite brands is Republic of Tea, and they have a large variety of choices. They also come in little mini travel tins.

2. Imported beer. A great choice for a beer lover, especially if they've cut their budget and haven't tasted anything other than Budweiser for awhile.

3. Wine. You can usually get a pretty good bottle of wine for under $10, especially if you live in California or another wine-producing region. I love getting a nice bottle of wine- it tastes great and it doesn't clutter up the house. In fact, I would love wine clutter. That's clutter I can live with.

4. Soap. Almost nobody splurges on $5 bars of soap for themselves, but almost everybody loves delicious-smelling soap that makes your skin as soft as a baby's bottom. One of my favorites is a nearby shop that uses a lot of olive oil and natural scents like lemon, lavender, and coconut.

5. Chocolate. Ten dollars can buy you some delicious chocolate. I always get my husband a box of See's, with a custom picked selection of all his favorites. You can also get several bars of dark chocolate for less than $10. Who doesn't like chocolate?

6. Candles. You can make these yourself if you want to make the gift more personal.

7. Good hand lotion. This is one of my favorite gifts. For some reason, I never splurge on lotion, soap, or bubble bath for myself, but I love receiving all of those things.

8. Really cozy wool socks. My favorites are sold at REI.

9. Food. Any of the homemade baked goods from yesterday's post would work as frugal gifts as well. And if you're pressed for time, you can put together a great gift bag or basket of food goodies from places like Trader Joe's or World Market.

Most of the handmade gifts I talked about yesterday are also frugal. And secondhand can work for gifts, so check Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay and Freecycle. Last weekend I just missed some never-used photo albums that went up on Freecycle. That would have been a great gift for my photographer brother. And things like picture frames, boxes, and household items can be found secondhand. I always see breadmakers at our Goodwill.

Which brings me to a taboo subject: regifting. Don't be afraid of it. Obviously if you're getting rid of a gift because no one would want it, regifting isn't cool. But there are a lot of times regifting can work, especially if it's a nice item that you either already own or just isn't your thing. Examples: jewelry, books, a fondue pot, glassware, scarves or hats, toys, and games. So I think you should rethink the whole regifting thing. It's been labelled as socially unacceptable, tacky, and totally uncool, but is it better to let whatever it is sit in a closet unused?

One of the gifts I'm giving our niece and nephew are old coins that I've saved over the years from different countries. They both collect them, and a friend made some really cool drawstring bags for each of them to stash the coins. I think it's a great gift because I know they love coins, plus it's used and frugal.

A coworker gift that was a big success one year was mini-bottles of liquor, like they serve on airplanes. People were sick of getting candy and cookies, and were glad for the change. Of course you have to know that people drink, and it's best if you know what they like. The janitor especially appreciated this gift and never stopped thanking me for it. I had a spotless work area the following year.

For more frugal gift ideas, check out this post at Budget Confessions and this one at Moneyfunk. They're not entirely non-consumer, but they've got some great suggestions for shopping on a budget.

What are your favorite inexpensive gift ideas? Please share them in the Comments section.

November 18, 2009

Handmade Gifts


This is the second part of my 3-part series on non-consumer holiday gift giving. Yesterday I talked about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll give you some ideas for super-frugal (under $10) gifts. Today we'll talk about handmade gifts.

If the word handmade conjures up images of styrofoam animals or ceramic ashtrays gathering dust, those are not the kind of gifts I'm talking about. There are millions of crafty blogs where you can get that kind of thing. I haven't done any needlepoint, crochet, or macrame since I was about ten, and I don't think I'll be starting anytime soon. So only a few of these gifts might entail a trip to a craft store, mostly I'll be taking a different direction.

1. Mix CD. A great gift! If I had to get rid of all my CDs today, I would miss my mix CDs the most. I've held onto many of them for years. I love the creative combinations people come up with, putting me in a certain mood or frame of mind. Best of all, I always think of the person who made it for me while I'm listening. Making these can be time-consuming, but very creative and surprisingly fun. Books that celebrate and cherish the significance of the mix tape: High Fidelity (also made into a movie) and Love is a Mix Tape.

2. Herb garden. This is seasonal and weather-dependent, but a few herbs in a pretty pot makes a wonderful gift. My friend made this herb garden for me for my birthday this year, and I love the pretty bowl and have used the herbs countless times. And I think of her whenever I snip off a little thyme.

3. Jam/jelly/marmalade. I've never taken on this project, but I love receiving these gifts. If you want to give it a try, there are tutorials all over the Internet.

4. Baked goods. Since I love to bake, I give a lot of quickbreads and cookies at the holidays. People who work in offices tend to get overloaded with this kind of thing, so I limit it to the people I know really love that particular cookie or bread. Holiday favorites are pumpkin bread, gingerbread, shortbread cookies, and bourbon balls.

5. Other food. If you have an apple tree, a lemon tree, or an abundance of any other kind of fruit, it can make a lovely gift. Even a clipping of herbs can be added to a basket. Or get creative and make food other than baked goods, like candy. I used to make fudge for my grandpa when I was little, and I have a friend who makes beautiful chocolate-covered dried fruit.

6. Beaded bracelets. I love these bracelets that I saw on Compact by Design. I even met Leigh in person and she brought me her leftover beads and some crimps to get me started. So I'm making some of these simple bracelets for my niece, my husband, and a few friends. Michael's or another craft store has everything you need: beads, elastic thread, crimps, and a crimping tool.

7. Other jewelry. It would be a stretch to say I "made" the necklace in the photo, but I did put it together from items at a bead store. And my friend is going to love it! You'd be surprised at the cool pendants and things you can find at bead stores, and even at Michael's.

8. Framed photo or photo album. Digital photography has made a printed photo more exotic, and I love giving and receiving a photograph in a cool frame. The best is one of you and the recipient having a good time. And it's a real labor of love to put together a photo album for someone. My mom did this for me one year and the album with all its notes and descriptions is one of my most treasured gifts ever.

9. Knit hats or scarves. Of course if you knit or crochet, you know that these are awesome gifts.

10. Board games. I once made a time-travel board game for my brother that involved meeting famous people in history and curing diseases, that type of thing. Time-consuming but fun, the possibilities are endless.

11. Ornaments. My parents still hang a little felt Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer that I made when I was about six on their tree every year. But handmade ornaments have gotten much more sophisticated since the 1970s. Check out this link for some great ideas.

12. Bath oils. My brother once had a girlfriend who put together marvelous concoctions in beautiful bottles. She added dried flowers and herbs to the oil and it made a thoughtful gift.

13. Gift tags or bookmarks. Click here to check out Alea's cool designs. If you're giving a book as a gift, make a bookmark to go along with it. And recycle paper with these creative gift tags.

I already mentioned the photo album my mom put together one year as being among my most treasured gifts ever. The other two are a quilt made by a friend and a collage my husband gave me. When you come up with an idea and sit down and put your hands together to make something for someone else, you're giving them something that can't be bought in a store for any price. And even when it doesn't quite work out, they'll still love it. I'll never forget the sweaters my mother made for all of us when she learned to knit back in the 70s. They were different color combos, but they all had a lightning-bolt design on them and the yarn was really chunky so they really weren't the most flattering items of clothing. But my dad wore his every winter for years.

Good luck with your projects! What are some of your favorite handmade gifts? Please share in a Comment.

November 17, 2009

Experiential Gifts for the Holidays

This is the first segment of a series I'll be doing this week about non-consumer holiday gift giving. Today I'll talk about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll have ideas for handmade gifts, and Thursday I'll give you some frugal gift ideas that cost under $10.

"Experiential" gifts are my absolute favorite, both to give and to receive. I've been a proponent of gifts of experience since way before I started The Compact. Experiences are so much more meaningful than STUFF, and the options are endless.

I started down this path several years ago when I was trying to think of a gift for my mom for her birthday. My parents had recently moved into a smaller house and had already gotten rid of a lot of possessions and put a lot more into storage. Whenever I'd taken the train to visit my parents in San Diego from Los Angeles, I'd noticed a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano that was right along the route and looked so charming. So my gift was a card with a train ticket and a coupon for lunch inside. My mom and I met at that restaurant halfway between our homes for a delicious lunch and a glass of wine, walked around San Juan Capistrano, browsed in a high-end gift shop, and got inspired by the people painting watercolors of the mission. It was a perfect afternoon and my mom absolutely loved her gift. Since then my whole family has adopted the practice of experiential gifts.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Museum membership. One of my favorite gifts from my parents that my husband and I have enjoyed this year is a membership at The Norton Simon museum, which is less than a 10 minute drive from our home. There are so many advantages to a membership, but the main one is that going to the museum doesn't have to be a big "outing," you can just drop by to see a new exhibit or look at your favorite painting, or browse for an hour. I often go just to stroll through the gardens and sit and read a book. A really fun bonus is that members are invited to special events, like the acquisition of a new piece of art or a piece on loan from another museum. My husband and I love the wine and cheese receptions that accompany these events. This is a more affordable option than you might imagine: a one-year membership for myself AND my husband, which included 2 free guest passes, cost just $65.

2) Classes or lessons. If your husband has always wanted to play the guitar, give him guitar lessons. I got that idea from Non Consumer Girl, and I'm thinking it would be a good gift for my husband too. Maybe your mother always talks about taking a writing course at the community college, your parents would love to learn the tango, or your daughter in college is a budding gourmet who would enjoy a cooking class. Music lessons, horseback riding lessons, cooking classes, dance lessons, college courses, the options are endless.

3) Concert tickets. This one has been a big hit with my parents. One Father's Day I took my dad to see Dave Brubeck at a San Diego venue right on the water. It was a fabulous concert and we had a great time. My brothers and I splurged to send my parents to see Josh Groban, something they never would have figured out how to even buy tickets for on their own. My mom is a huge fan and she was swooning for days.

4) Massage, manicure, pedicure, or other spa services. This is the kind of gift that is so appreciated by someone who's lost their job or going through financial difficulty. They can't afford to treat themselves, and the stress relief and pampering will make them feel so much better.

5) Yoga classes. Again, this is the kind of thing people cut from their budget, usually just when they need it the most. This is what I'm giving my brother this year because he loves yoga but just can't afford the luxury of paying for a class.

6) Gym membership. Joining a gym is a big commitment, but if your loved one recently dropped their membership, or you know where they'd love to go if only they could afford it, this would be a great gift.

7) Animal encounters. I'm not talking about getting in a cage with sharks or wrestling an alligator, there are much safer ways for animal lovers to interact with other species. Look into what's available at zoos and animal parks in your area. My mother got into a tank in a wetsuit with a beluga whale at Sea World, and the smile on her face in the photo makes her look 20 years younger. The photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken on Christmas Day in 2001 in the Florida Keys at a marine animal park. My husband likes to tell the story of how my hand shot up with a bunch of kids when they asked who would like to come up and meet the sea lion. Then they asked each of us as we went up if we wanted a hug or a kiss, and I was the only one who chose a hug. It's one of my fondest memories and favorite photos.

8) Wine Club. I'm arguing for this as an experience, even though it's tangible, because it's an experience to receive and drink the bottles. This was one of our favorite wedding gifts from our good friends, because it was an excellent winery and the type of wine we rarely splurge for, but we'd save it for special occasions, and make the event even more memorable. Also, you can look into an organic winery. And if a full year is out of your price range, many places offer a half-year membership.

9) Charity. Kiva dot org and Global Giving are two examples of charities that let you get involved and pick the project you want to participate in. For as little as $10, you can give your loved one the gift of providing a family in Mali with a mosquito net to protect them from malaria, textbooks for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or job training for at-risk teenagers in the United States.

10) CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of fresh, local, organic produce. You know what a fan I am of this service we started back in May. This would be a great gift for someone who has good intentions about eating healthy, but doesn't have the time or follow through to get to the Farmer's Market. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area.

11) Theater tickets. Tickets to a performance of their favorite play or season tickets at their favorite venue are a great gift for a theater-loving couple living on a fixed income or whose funds are tight. Theaters offer great prices on season tickets when you can attend during the week or at matinees. And these days you can negotiate deals because theaters, and the arts in general, are hurting for business.

12) Brunch. Much more reasonably priced than dinner, some buffet brunches at nice hotels offer an incredible spread and a nice dose of luxury for a newly married couple or a couple with kids who need some time alone.

13) Getaway. An overnight or weekend getaway to the beach or the mountains would be a fantastic option for an overstressed couple. A wine country package, canoe trip, cross country skiing, or just sitting on the porch of your creekside cabin reading a good book- just what the doctor ordered.

14) Go-Kart or car racing track. An afternoon with their dad at one of these places would be heaven for a pre-teen boy, especially one who wants to grow up to be Dale Earnhart, Jr.

15) Other options for kids include theme parks and water parks, an afternoon of kite-flying, or a day at the beach. Or introduce your child to volunteering at an early age, by serving up plates at a food kitchen, caroling at a hospital or nursing home, or "adopting" a family who's fallen on hard times and buying gifts for each of them. Your children will learn the meaning of the holidays through their experience.

16) Certificates. Home spa treatments, car washes, babysitting, dog walking. This is a nice option when you're short on money. I recently gave my husband a home facial and he loved it. He said it was very relaxing.

17) A home-cooked meal. It's so simple you might not even think of it, but for someone who's socially isolated, new in town, or has recently divorced or lost their spouse, this gift of food and friendship would be extremely appreciated.

Additionally, spending time with family members doing holiday-related activities like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, or attending a holiday-themed concert or play can be your gift to each other.

I'm sure you can think of more ideas that will be just perfect for the people in your life. When you give this kind of gift, you're giving memories. And you know what they say: memories last forever. Which is not the case with most of the stuff many people will be buying at the mall. The bonus with these gifts is that avoiding the mall this time of year will save you immeasurable amounts of stress and give you more time for whatever rituals you enjoy, whether it's baking, listening to music, or just spending time with family and friends.

I hope you got some ideas here. Please tell us about your favorite experiential gifts in the Comments section.