Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part I: Compost

I was struggling with choosing what aspect of this guide I would use as material for part one of my frugal food-growing guide.

I wondered if I should start by explaining how to find the best price on seeds.  Seems like a reasonable place to begin.  Or maybe I should first talk about which vegetables will produce the biggest bang for the buck.  After all, we should know that information before even planting the first seeds, right?

I thought about the topic for this post for a good week, unable to make a decision.  Then it finally hit me... compost.

"Really?  Compost?  That's what you're starting with?  How droll!" is probably what you're thinking.  Or you're wondering what the meaning of "droll" is.  Don't worry, I had to look it up, too!

Anyway, yes, I decided to center my first article of this guide around compost.  And for good reason.  Compost is the foundation that this whole guide is based around.  It's the single best soil amendment for plants, and it can be made by anyone, for free.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Financial Tip: Have an Overdraft Fee Waived (No Phone Call or Trip to the Bank Required)

Most of us have had it happen to us at some point: You check your bank account one day, expecting to see a certain amount of money safely stashed away, but somehow you're missing an extra $35 from said account.

"How can this be?  Wait a minute... a certain subscription fee was charged unexpectedly and I got overdrafted by $2.00!  Damn it, now I'm out $35 more!"

Broke due to overdraft fees?  No problem!
This happened to me just recently, and I almost just took the loss, chalking it up to a failure on my part to keep my finances in order.

However, with the multitude of articles on the web devoted to getting fees waived, I decided to test my luck and see how much truth there is in having the bank forgive me for a careless mistake.  Surprisingly, I had no trouble at all getting that pesky overdraft fee refunded.  And the best part is, I didn't even have to leave my keyboard.

Most banks these days have an online interface for customers to check up on their bank accounts over the internet.  Some banks even have a messaging center, where you can ask questions or get help from a specialist, much like any other tech support service on the web.  All I did was log into my bank account online and send a message to the bank's "Help & Support" center.  The message was something along the lines of:

"Hello, I was hoping to have an overdraft fee waived if at all possible.  I made a mistake and I would greatly appreciate a bit of leniency regarding this problem.  Thanks so much for your time and service!"

That's it.  Short and sweet, with a bit of humility and politeness.

Sure enough, not even 24 hours later, I received a reply in my messaging center explaining that my bank would be happy to refund my fee, and offered me some tips on how to keep from getting overdrafted again.  After viewing my account balance, I noticed that the bank had re-deposited that $35 they took as an overdraft fee.  I really needed that extra cash (who doesn't?), and I was amazed at how easy and simple it was to have this fee refunded to me.

Most financial gurus will advise you to make a phone call to your bank's customer service line, sitting through seemingly endless automated messages, until you finally reach a human on the other end.  They will tell you to apologize profusely to your customer service representative, in hopes that they might have mercy on your soul (and your wallet).

Some of those gurus will even tell you to make a trip down to your local branch to talk to a manager face-to-face, supposedly making it harder for them to refuse you a refund on your fee... due to human interaction and compassion and all that good stuff.

Online specialists are happy to help waive fees
I'm here to tell you that you don't have to jump through those hoops.  Just send a polite message to your bank's help and support center online, explaining the situation.  For an introvert like me, this is a much more convenient solution to the problem... and just as effective.  While all of the methods will probably work, the one that I chose is probably the fastest and easiest way to have your money refunded.  If it doesn't work for some reason, try the other two as well.  Worst thing they can do is say "no" and the best thing they can do is give you your hard-earned money back.

So skip the lines and put down the phone.  Just send a message to your bank and get your overdraft fee waived... no muss, no fuss!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food

It's a cold Saturday morning in October as I am writing this, and strangely I am writing an article on growing vegetables to save money.  Isn't gardening more of a spring/summer thing?  While that may be true, I love being prepared, and vegetable gardening is no exception.  Even when I plant the first seeds in the ground when the weather gets warmer, I am envisioning what I am going to plant for next year's gardening season.  I think most experienced gardeners are like that, too.

I'll show you how to grow corn on the cheap!
That said, this article will be a continually updated guide on how to save money on your food budget by growing your own vegetables.  This is my very first rough draft of this guide.

It seems almost silly when I'm "planning to plan," but it helps me organize my thoughts.  Since I have a pretty selective topic for this guide, I am going to assume that most people reading this have at least some experience gardening, particularly with growing vegetables.  To help keep the content of this guide somewhat original, I am going to forgo the gardening basics (e.g. locations to plant, amount of light, watering, which plants prefer cold/warm temperatures, ect.).

If you don't have any experience with growing plants, I would recommend reading some beginner gardening articles and trying to grow some plants for one season first.  GardenWeb is a great site for beginners to get their feet wet.  Gardening is a hobby where experience can be the best teacher, and there are literally hundreds of people with years of experience that participate on the GardenWeb forums. 

The Guide Outline (so far):

  • Planning what to grow
  • Where to get seeds for the best price
  • Soil mix
  • Planting
  • Maintaining plants
  • Composting and Fertilizing
  • Pests
  • Diseases
  • Harvesting
  • Seed saving

 I want this guide to be one of the most comprehensive resources on growing vegetables as frugally as possible.  However, although this isn't my first attempt at growing vegetables (or any plant, for that matter), it WILL be the first time I try to maximize production while minimizing cost.  That means the first few versions of this guide will be more of an experiment than a definitive source of knowledge.  When I make new discoveries or changes to my overall plan, so too, will updates be made to the guide to reflect what I've learned.  Over the course of time, I hope to make this guide more and more accurate--in prices and in results--but keep in mind that the first version of any product, including my guide, will not be perfect.

I encourage any gardeners reading this to follow, replicate and/or improve upon my suggestions, and I welcome any advice on how to make vegetable plants more productive, or how to grow them cheaper than I do (including costs related to setting up an initial bed, soil and water).

Organic leaf lettuce, straight out of my 2013 garden

Everything aside, I hope you enjoy this guide and reap a bountiful harvest of food on the cheap.

Click here to read Part I: Compost

ADDENDUM 03/15/2014

I want this blog to be a reliable source of accurate information, so in the interest of being as forthcoming as possible, in my own garden, I apply many of the frugal ideas found in the guide, but I don't necessarily follow it to a "T".  I don't feel as though this invalidates any of the advice in my guide, however.  If you are a first-time gardener, I recommend you start small (regularly repeated in my guide, too).  And all the frugal tips and advice in my guide are perfect for a small garden.

For example, I recommend using hand tools, like a simple shovel, from the Dollar Tree store for digging in the garden.  I have a Dollar Tree shovel and I use it regularly, but I also have a very large shovel for larger areas that need to be tilled.

If you end up enjoying gardening, and you want to expand your gardening area, you may want to invest in a wider variety of tools, which costs more money.  However, most items like this are a one time cost and will return your investment within a few growing seasons.  You can also still use other frugal tips to keep most of your growing costs down.

Also, not everyone will be able to utilize every part of my guide in their own garden.  Some people may not even have a garden.  Still, like I stated above, you can take whatever parts of the guide that are applicable to you and save on food costs by growing your own food, no matter how small.

This guide is not intended to be perfect, but it is a culmination of my knowledge on growing as much food for as little money as possible.  Thank you for taking the time to read the guide, and I hope it helps you, at least in some way.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why You Should Be Drinking More Green Tea: Several Studies Showing Positive Results for Weight Loss, Cancer Prevention, Disease Resistance, and More...

Among all the beverages available for consumption by humans, tea is the most popular drink in the world, second only to water.  While a majority of that tea is generally black tea--made from the fermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush--an increasing amount of people are trying out green tea.  Green tea is also made out of the leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush, but the leaves are only dried and heated, not fermented.  It has a relatively similar flavor, it comes from the same plant, it is just as easy to prepare, and it may have benefits that are not realized from drinking black tea.

Camellia sinensis
Although I have heard purported positive health effects from drinking green tea from friends, family, co-workers, television ads and fitness/nutritional websites, I decided to take a look at the research myself to see what science has to say about it.  Despite many trials finding little to no effect, there are quite a few studies showing very real positive benefits from drinking this simple beverage.

Now, I love knowing the science behind how things work, especially nutritional science.  However, I encourage anyone who drinks tea or is thinking about drinking tea make the switch to green tea, despite what the research shows.  It tastes great and it's cheap, easy to find and easy to make.  I have always enjoyed southern-style "Sweet Tea," and using green tea as a base for this drink is great, since you get the taste of black tea with the added benefit of nutrients and polyphenols in green tea.

With that said, let's look at some of the research.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

(Semi-) Vegetarian Weight Lifting: My Conclusion So Far

The meager amount of people following this blog might know I am an avid weight lifting fan.  There's plenty of reasons I could list for why weight lifting is so great, but the list of references backing it up are too numerous too count, and requires multiple articles just to cover the basics.

Today, I want to briefly touch on something a bit more specific: The concept of being a weight lifter while also being a vegetarian.  This is a goal I am currently in the process of testing out for myself, which is going pretty well, actually.  What enticed me, an avid meat-eater, to try out vegetarianism, you ask?  There are multiple reasons, but I have to admit that the one thing that motivated to try it was a TED talk I watched before work one day on YouTube:

In the video, Mr. Knox isn't too specific about any research, but he does talk about his own personal experience about going almost completely vegetarian.  He claims his cholesterol dropped considerably, he lost 35 lbs. and still continued to make gains in his hobby(job?) of bodybuilding. His physique certainly backs up his claims, as well. This is in stark contrast to what most bodybuilding communities advocate, suggesting we should be consuming large quantities of animal protein to support muscle growth.

A lot of people will claim that this is just one individual and his "anecdotal" evidence of lifting weights while being a vegetarian.  While this may be true, I, for one, believe him.  And there evidence that lends credence to his story.

Menno Henselmans has a website that I visit every so often for his quality articles on nutrition and training.  He has a one particular article, titled The Myth of 1g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders which concludes that no more than 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight is optimal for building muscle for most humans, including elite bodybuilders.  In contrast, most fitness and nutrition websites claim that at least 1g/lb of protein to body weight is the only way to reliably build and maintain muscle.  For a guy like me, who weighs about 165 pounds, there is a difference of over 30 grams of protein between Mr. Henselmans's conclusion versus the fitness community's stance.  That equates to having to eat an extra piece of 3 ounce steak, every day.  This just isn't healthy for me or sustainable for humanity and the environment.

Now I love the taste of most meats.  I could eat steak all day long and easily reach either protein amount.  But my love for being logical and efficient (and the never-ending struggle for perfection) tells me this is not a good plan to follow.  The consumption of meat is increasing as our global population grows, especially in the most developed parts of the world.  As such, the supply of beef of increasing as well, which creates more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.  According to this article in Scientific American, producing enough beef for one human annually is as bad for the environment as driving a car 1,800 miles.  The United Nations seem to agree, and also report that the amount of annualwaste (aka shit) that is made by bovine for beef production is 3 TIMES more than the annual amount made by humans.  All that crap has to go somewhere, and with usable land becoming more scarce, it usually ends up tainting water supplies.

Then the more intimate factors come into play.  Since I only get one of these things called a"life," I believe it is of the utmost importance that I maintain my health so I can enjoy as much of it as I can without having the common preventable ailments that are killing most Americans.  Now the nutritional benefits of being a vegetarian become too clear.  Looking at any plant-based food versus a typical cut of steak reveals that steak itself just isn't that healthy.  100g of beef will supply me with 27 grams of protein and a whopping 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of them being saturated fat (the bad kind).  It also contains some vitamins, but absolutely zero fiber.  The same amount of black beans supply you with 22 grams of protein and only about 2 grams of fat, along with different vitamins and a ton of fiber.  Google makes it easy to see this for yourself.  Just type in the food you want to know about and it will bring up a whole list of nutritional facts.  Look at the data under the amount of 100 grams. Then type in another food and set the amount to 100 grams again.  Figuring out (and comparing) the nutritional facts of food has never been easier.

Another reason to switch over to a vegetarian diet is cost.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one pound of the cheapest beef as of August 2013 is nearly $3.50... and it's definitely not quality meat.  On the other hand, the most expensive vegetable on the list, peppers, is only $2.40... and even non-organic veggies are more healthy for you than meat, pesticides be damned.  Comparing the cheapest meat to the cheapest vegetables, you could buy nearly five pounds of potatoes for the cost of one pound of beef.

A large problem with a simple solution

More food, better nutrition, less costly and sustainable for the environment... it's almost like there's no downside.  Even the taste of vegetarian diet is a non-issue, at least for me.  I know there are some people who just can't stand the taste of fruit and vegetables, and that's OK.  I'm not going to try to change your mind on the things you like to eat.  However, I also know that for every person who truly can't enjoy a vegetarian diet, there are two more people who are unwilling to try it for a few days.  I am not good at coming up with recipes, but the internet is full of sites that potential vegetarians can use to ween off of meat and still enjoy tasty food.

Finally, my weight lifting performance shows no sign of decreasing.  I have switched up my training program a few times since last writing about it, and I no longer do a lot of the same exercises as before.  For one example, I changed the back squat for the front squat.  Although the front squat is generally accepted as a harder lift, I am almost about to meet my previous best on the front squat as I had for the back squat.  I will post another article soon about my new training methods, and hopefully I will continue to have good results until then.

I will admit that I haven't gone -completely- vegetarian.  On occasion, when my wife and I go out to eat, I will order a meat-based dish... because I like the taste, but also because financially, it makes no sense to pay the amount for a vegetarian dish when a meat-based entree is the same price.  These occasions are few and far between, however.  Maybe once a month, if that.  And, in contrast to vegan culture, I still eat chicken eggs, cheese and cow's milk.  I am trying to eliminate milk from my diet, however, as it has been blamed for increased risks of prostate and ovarian cancer.Just cutting out most of my meat consumption was a huge undertaking for me, and for that I am proud of myself.

My 3-month-old son is being difficult, so I have to draw this to a quick end.  I encourage debate on my blog and look forward to viewing more evidence for and against my side of the issue.  So far, though, the clear winner seems to be vegetarianism.  And that's what I'm going to stick with for now.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My indecisiveness on choosing a topic for this blog

It's been quite some time since I have written a post for this blog.  Over a year, in fact.  In that period of time, my interests seem to naturally rotate from one to another in a cycle loosely based on the seasons.

In the winter, I tend to become more interested in personal finance, as it is obviously too cold to grow food from plants (at least here in Asheville).  The temperatures also demotivate me from weight lifting, as I train in my unheated outdoor garage.

When winter is nearly over, and spring is on the horizon, gardening starts becoming my main focus during this time period.  A new year of working and experimenting with different plants and different growing conditions dominates my thoughts as I envision the fruits of my labor in the coming months.

As the heat of summer hits, my interest in physical fitness--weight lifting, to be more specific--reaches an all time high.  Since growing up in hot and muggy Florida, my body seems to naturally enjoy higher temperatures for working out.  Seems counter intuitive, I know... but summer usually brings renewed interest in becoming physically fit.

Realizing all of this, I have decided to change the focus of this blog (yet again).  This time, however, it will not be dedicated to any one topic or hobby.  I have discovered that I enjoy writing about many different things, and not all of said things tend to cross within the boundaries of each other.  While there is certainly a way to write about how growing vegetables can be a way to improve your personal finance skills or improve your deadlift PRs, such specific and narrow ideas limit what posts I can write about in just one blog.  Different topics for posts hit me at different times, as well, so I don't want to feel confined to writing about only one topic when I have a great idea about something else.

I have decided from this post forth, I am going to blog about whatever strikes me as interesting at the time.  Since this blog is supposed to be for my enjoyment, I am not going to stress myself out about staying on topic or making every post a hit.  I am simply going to share my research and discoveries about my interests over the course of time. 

If you are a reader of my blog, I hope to impart some of the more helpful knowledge from my experiences to you.  Stay tuned for more to come soon.