Author Archives: femmefrugality

Get Solar Energy Without Solar Panels

Power your home with solar energy--even if you don't have solar panels. Here's how to switch in just sixty seconds.

Back in April, I participated in the March for Science here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a city that has seen the very real and harsh effects of being irresponsible stewards of our environment. Our mills–which built Carnegie’s wealth and later his repentant philanthropic legacy–almost destroyed our region.

A mixture of EPA regulations and globalization leading to the weakening of labor unions eventually shut down our mills, and the city did a 180.

Today our city is gorgeous. It’s green. It’s lush. We have rivers and mountains and some of the best skyline viewing points in the world. Our two greatest sources of GDP are healthcare and education, we’re a growing tech hub, and there are free, family-friendly events all the time.

But we bear the scars of our history. Our air quality is among the worst in the nation, causing endemic childhood asthma. Our soil contains lead. In a coincidence void of correlation, many city residents’ water now contains lead, too.

Making the Environment Personal

Our environment is changing. We are causing that change in a very real and negative way. It is possible that during my children’s lifetimes, they will face daily challenges far more intimidating than setting up automatic transfers and credit card debt.

This has been important to me for a while. We’ve made small changes. We’ve tried (and failed) to cut down on how many vehicles we use.

But ultimately, it’s hard to feel like anything you do matters when the problem is so massive and systemic.

An Introduction to Green Energy

We don’t own, so I had pretty much given up on green energy in our home.

But at the March for Science, there were booths and vendors everywhere. One of those vendors was a “green energy company.” They generate green energy, and then sell it to the main utility who delivers it. Here in Pennsylvania, we have a choice of who generates our energy, but I didn’t know you could go green with it for a comparable price.

The guy started talking me up, and wanted me to sign up before I left. He was afraid I wouldn’t do it after I went home.

In a way he was right. It’s five months later and I’m only just now writing this post.

But he also wanted me to commit with limited information. I started asking him hard questions like where, exactly, was the energy was produced? How long was a fixed rate contract good for, and what did the rates go up to after our initial agreement expired? Did they offer assistance programs to low-income families like the main electric provider does?

He tried to get me away from the booth at this point. I was seriously bummed, because I did want green energy, but these people were obviously shady as all get out.

How to Get Solar Energy Without Solar Panels

I came home and started doing some research. It turns out, I was right to question the man at that booth. They used the term “green energy” for a variety of different energy sources, including dirty–or “recycled”–energy they had bought off of other companies.

I discovered there are quite a few companies touting their green-ness, but very few of them made me feel good about making the switch. If I was going to pay a few cents more per kilowatt hour, I wanted to know I was actually saving the planet.

When you switch to green energy, it’s not like you start getting different electricity in your home than your neighbors. Electricity is made up of electrons, and those electrons are bought by the company that delivers your energy. At this point, the energy is homogeneous–regardless of where it was generated.

There are laws in place requiring the utility provider to purchase a certain amount of energy from green sources. They do this through Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs.) If more customers start demanding more green energy, it is possible that utilities will start purchasing more RECs than legally required.

This is a good thing, as it moves us away from environment-destroying energy sources and onto more sustainable ones.

As a consumer, you don’t necessarily have to have solar panels to get solar energy. You just need to pick a green company to generate your electricity, encouraging demand and therefore growth in the sector.

At the Pittsburgh March for Science, I was offered a deal from a shady green energy company.

Questions to Ask Before Switching to Green Energy

I asked a lot of companies questions, and in the end I was most satisfied with the answers from CleanChoice Energy. They’re not just in Pittsburgh! They currently service a lot of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states–plus Illinois and DC.

Our new rate is going to be 2 cents more per kilowatt hour, which raises our bill by $12-$14 per month. The slight increase is something I’m willing to prioritize in my budget.

You can check and see if they serve your zip code. Right now they’re running a promo where they’ll give you a WakaWaka Power+ Solar Charger for your phone and devices when you sign up.

Here are the questions I asked them, and the answers they gave.

Does all of your energy come from solar and/or wind farms?

Do you use “recycled” energy stored from nuclear, natural gas or any carbon-emitting sources?

“One hundred percent of our energy comes from wind and solar farms,” said Kate Colarulli, CleanChoice Energy’s Director of Retention Marketing. “Our Standard Clean Plan is Green-e certified and meets the environmental and consumer protection standards of the Center for Resource Solutions.”

“We meet or exceed all EPA guidelines for renewable energy,” she continued, “and we apply strict standards to ensure that we source our energy from as close to our customers as possible. If you burn it, we don’t supply it.”

CleanChoice Energy was the only company in my region that gave me such a clear and straightforward answer.

How long is a contract? Do you offer fixed rates?

Colarulli told me that you can choose between fixed and variable rates. I recommend the former, personally, as you’ll know what to expect out of your electric bill month after month.

The fixed-rate plans came with a contract. Your rate stays fixed for that entire term. Our contract offer was twelve months. You can, conceivably, switch between fixed and variable rates as there is no fee for doing so, but that’s a lot to keep on top of every month.

CleanChoice contacts you before your renewal date with the new rate offer for the next twelve months. I’ll be interested to see what happens at that point, and will update you all on any pricing changes. The worst-case scenario is we switch back to the standard utility if we hit a huge price hike, but I don’t anticipate having to do that.

Do you participate in CAP, LIHEAP or any other low-income programs?

CAP is a low-income assistance program. Funds are used to pay a part of your electricity bill if you fall below a certain income threshold.

LIHEAP is a program that assists low-income households with their heating bills in the winter. If, like us, your heat is run through electric, they can help with your electric bill instead.

This was the most frustrating part for me. I couldn’t find a single company that participated in these programs. We’re not on either of these programs at this time, but if you’re trying to save the world, wouldn’t you want to make solar and wind energy available to low-income households, as well?

I found out that it’s a little more complicated than that. Colarulli was the only one who took the time to explain that while they can participate in some states, they cannot participate in others. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of those states.

Switching to Green Energy is Easy

After I had done all the research, I was surprised at just how simple it was to switch. It took me literally one minute.

First, I entered my zip code.

Then, they asked for the name, service address and customer number.

I gave it to them, and I was done.

I’ll let you all know how this foray turns out. I’m feeling pretty psyched about it right now, though, as it enables us to do solar without the panels, and gives us more control over our carbon footprint.

If we all took one minute to make a simple switch, essentially pledging $10-$20 per month to save the planet, maybe we could actually make a noticeable impact. Lord knows we need to.

 

 

My debt is getting drowsy.

It’s been about a month now since I shared that I’m carrying some debt. As promised, I wanted to update you on my progress towards putting it the eff to sleep.

The Progress Chart

Paying off debt visual

I was able to put a nice chunk of change towards Debt #1. I was fortunate that last month was a month of low expenses and relatively decent income. I prioritized debt as a goal, and made sure that after I had all of my other bills covered, I threw every extra penny at it.

I paid minimum payments towards Debts #2 & #3.

Debt #4 had a puchase sitting on it that wasn’t on the promotional 0% rate, so I paid that portion off in full plus a little bit towards the 0% interest portion.

Debt #5 stayed stagnant–I don’t owe minimum payments on it for a while, which is why it’s last.

Debt Goals for the Next 30 Days

I’d really like to get rid of Debt #1 completely by the end of October. Looking at my budget and projected income, I’m not confident that’s going to happen.

So it’s time to hustle! I’m going to be doing some stuff unrelated to blogging to bolster this.

  • I’m going to be looking up medical studies I may qualify for.
  • I have some creative content I’d like to get up on Etsy and maybe out in any community art fairs I’m able to find.
  • I have a bag full of stuff I need to send into ThreadUP.

I don’t know how much of a profit those things are going to turn up before the end of October, though.

So.

I’m looking for side hustles!

If you know anyone who needs content or social media work done, I’m taking on extra clients until this beastly debt is paid off! Looking at that bar graph, I’ll be pursuing this route for a while.

I’m okay with that. Because the more green on that chart, the happier my finances get.

Free Things to Do in Dallas #FinCon17

Dang, Dallas has some cool stuff to do for free!

As conference season inches closer, I’m realizing that I really need to start planning my travel itinerary now. While I have flights and hotels booked, I haven’t cemented what, exactly, I’ll be doing once I hit the ground at FinCon this year.

So I started planning a couple of lunches. I blocked off time for specific events I know I have to participate in.

I also started planning exploratory trips into the city. Last year I got to see some amazing things in San Diego, and I’m excited to learn more about Dallas.

As I do my research, I thought it would be fun to share some of the free things the city has to offer. Whether you’re headed there for business or pleasure, here are 12 FREE things to do in Dallas:

Historical Dallas

I’m a huge history nerd. I get super psyched when I see that a city offers more than just a glimpse into its past for free. Dallas is one of those cities.

1. Dealey Plaza

This is where JFK was assassinated 54 years ago. There is no admission price to go to Dealey Plaza itself, but if you’d like to go to get a little background at The Sixth Floor Museum, you’ll pay $16 per adult.

You can also score a sweet deal by picking up a CityPass.

2. John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

While you’re at Dealey Plaza, you’ll see the JFK Memorial. It’s simple, but in a move of genius, secluded in a very public place. The structure allows for a moment of silence, contemplation or meditation, and was built in hopes that it would help celebrate JFK’s life rather than serve as a place of mourning for his death.

3. Fair Park

Art deco was huge in the 1930s, and Dallas went big with it. Fair Park is home of the largest collection of art deco buildings in North America. The largest is the Hall of State, which houses some impressive murals and regularly hosts events like weddings. You can tour the building for free.

4. Juanita Craft House

Juanita Craft was an NAACP champion. She joined in her hometown of Dallas, but went on to establish nearly 200 more chapters in rural Texas. She integrated colleges, theaters, restaurants, and even the Texas State Fair. She was such an important player in the Civil Rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson paid visits to her home in attempts to coordinate their efforts.

That home is now open to the public. If you want to go, just make sure you call ahead to make an appointment.

Arts & Culture in Dallas

Stained glass spiral at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas

Thanks-Giving Square

5. Thanks-Giving Square

Gratitude makes our life better. It helps us feel at peace and gives us some perspective–hopefully inspiring us to do good for other people.

Thanks-Giving Square stands in honor of that sentiment. The art collection and nautilus-shaped roof serve to inspire peace to every human being–regardless of religion or ethnicity. There are also outdoor meditation gardens.

There are a ton of time slots for this one. Check out the hours as you plan your visit.

6. Dallas Arts District

At 68 acres, Dallas boasts the largest urban arts district in the United States. Klyde Warren Park sits at the center, hosting free muscial performances every Thursday and additional family-friendly fun throughout the week.

While in the Dallas Arts District, you’ll also come across the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art–two museums that offer F-R-E-E admission.

7. African-American Museum

Located in Fair Park with the Hall of State, the African-American Museum houses one of the largest collections of art and historical documents in its niche. It also regularly hosts lectures and workshops.

Open from 10a-5p everyday except for Sunday.

8. The Samurai Collection

If you’ve been to Dallas before, but it’s been a while, this will be a new experience for you. The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum opened this exhibit in 2012, making the vast personal collection open to the public.

This is literally the only place outside of Japan where you’ll find a museum dedicated to samurai armor.

Before viewing the museum’s 1,000+ piece collection, you can grab some eats at the Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar downstairs. It gets more than decent reviews, so hop in if you’re there around meal time. You don’t HAVE to eat in order to see samurai armor, though.

Oh, also, this is all in an historic school building. So good food, local history and samurais. Random, but awesome.

9. The Economy in Action

This interactive exhibit brought to you by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is literally all about money. Hopefully, since you’re reading a personal finance blog, that makes you giddy as all get out!

Some super cool things you’ll find here:

  • Historical Currency- As in legitimate paper and coins from the 1700s through the 1900s.
  • Cast Your Vote- Unhappy that the Fed is independent of government? Go back in time and listen to the Founding Father’s arguments for and against. You’ll even get to cast your vote after they make their arguments!
  • What does the Fed do? You may have wondered what the Federal Reserve Bank does aside from raising or lowering interest rates. Well, The Economy in Action will break it down for you with five different exhibits ranging from the founding of the Fed to bank supervision to current monetary policy.

Getting Around Dallas

M-Line Dallas

There are a surprising number of ways to get around Dallas for $0.

10. D-Link

Need to get to all of Dallas’ art and culture between the hours of 11a to 11:30p? There’s a free bus for that. Seriously.

You can check out the D-Link (722) route map here. For those visiting Dallas for FinCon, stop 18 is literally catty-corner to the hotel. Buses run every 15 minutes.

11. E-Frogs

What’s better than free? How about eco-friendly and free?

E-Frogs uses street-legal, modified golf carts to get you around the city without charging fare. Better for the environment than cars, and better for your wallet than ride-sharing services.

You will have to tip, though. Don’t be so cheap that you turn into a total and complete jerk.

To get a ride, text your departure and arrival address along with the time you’ll need the ride to 469-432-4055.

12. McKinney Avenue Trolley

Also known as the M-Line, the McKinney Avenue Trolley runs seven days per week between the Arts District and Uptown. While there is no charge to ride, the trolley does accept donations.

For FinConners, the closest stop is a block and a half away at Federal & Olive. You can check out the schedule here.

 

Know of any other free things to do in Dallas that should be added to the list? Share them in the comments below!

 

Super Easy Ways to Save for Music Lessons

Aspiring musicians, and oftentimes their parents, find themselves asking, “Why are music lessons so expensive?

Many do not realize that music teachers are usually self employed and have to take their own expenses into account. Teachers also factor in the time they prepare for each student, including travel.

Music teachers want to give their students the best experience possible and the best chance of reaching their goals-which is worth every penny. Understanding why music lessons cost what they do doesn’t make it easier to pay for them, though!

Luckily, there are some tips and tricks that can help you squirrel away a few dollars here and there to be able to pursue your musical passion. Check out a few ideas below.

The Latte Factor

Next time you think about waiting in line for that five dollar coffee at the local shop, consider brewing your coffee at home instead. Over the course of a month you’ll save enough for a few music lessons. The Latte Factor may be overused, but when you’re saving for a smaller, specific goal, it can really work. Sacrificing a latte is a small price to pay for musical success!

Eat at Home

It’s no secret that eating out adds up quickly. One of the most common times people eat out is at lunch during the work day. That ten dollars a day could be used for a month of music lessons. Make a little extra dinner so that you have lunch for the next day, or wake up a bit earlier to prepare food. The small change will lead to a big pay off.

Skip the Salon

For all the ladies out there who love a mani-pedi, try doing your own nails. This will not only save you money, but also will let you change your color whenever you want and have fun with it. Plus, if you’re learning a string instrument short nails are easier to work with.

Other Ways to Save Money for Music Lessons

Musicians know that lessons are fundamental to growth and progression. No matter your level, they are an important aspect of learning a new musical skill. These are just a few ways to save money to put towards your passion. The infographic from TakeLessons below offers some other ways to save.

For even more ways to save, Femme Frugality readers can get $20 off their first lesson package with the code GETLESSONS.

Hmmm Interesting ways to save money to afford music lessons for the kiddos!

 

This post is contributed by Natalie Hagen.

How to Save Money at Disney World

So glad I saw this before we leave for Disney World! Going to save me SO much money!

A few months back, we took a road trip down to Florida. We were going to a wedding, and a family member had gifted us a week at their timeshare in Orlando as a Christmas present. We couldn’t have gotten out of going to Disney if we wanted to.

Of course, we wanted to go. It’s just an expensive trip, so it’s not likely one we would have made on our own. We had a bit of a mixed experience once we got down there, to be honest with you, but Disney has worked to make amends for the negative experiences we had.

The positive experiences were great, though. We got to meet a bunch of characters–most of whom were awesome. One of my kiddos ended up being the rebel spy on board our ship on the Star Wars ride. And a live performance of Frozen brought us to tears.

Yeah, that last one really happened.

We did a few things to save before we went. First, the timeshare was free, and we were able to dodge the sales pitch. We also travel hacked our tickets. They weren’t free, but they were insanely cheap.

Once we got there, though, I realized that there was more I could have done to prepare. To save you from making these same follies, I thought I’d share my learned-from-experience Disney savings advice.

Cheapest Ways to Meet Characters at Disney World

Before I had gone to Disney World as an adult, I assumed the best way to ensure the kids met the characters they were in love with was by scheduling a meal with them. So we scheduled a couple of them.

We chose the cheaper buffet option when we dined at Disney restaurants to meet with characters, but it was still pricey–between $30-$60 per person.

Here’s what I wish I would have known before we left.

The Lines to Meet Characters Aren’t that Long

Find out how to meet Minnie Mouse for free at Disney World.

Minnie Mouse at Epcot was so, so great with the kids!

If there’s a designated place to meet your character of choice, you can simply wait in line to meet them and take pictures without paying an extra dime. We met…

  • Olaf
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Goofy

…in this way. If I had known there would be so many opportunities to do this, I may have cut one of our character dining experiences, and saved a ton of money in the process.

From what I saw walking around the parks, the lines for these meet’n’greets weren’t that long. And we were there at the end of May, which I understand to be a pretty popular time to visit.

Dig around on the Disney Experience App before you go. You’ll be able to see where the meet’n’greet opportunities are, and a quick google search should be able to tell you if your character of choice has crazy long lines.

Worst case scenario, you can use one of your Fast Passes for extremely popular characters.

Don’t Overlook Character Performance Attractions

Disney’s attractions include a whole lot more than just rides. For example, we got to meet Belle at Enchanted Tales with Belle.

Catch storytime with Belle at Learning Express Bakery Square.

The upside to this was that our kids got an up close and intimate experience, performing a play while interacting directly with Belle.

The downside was that the line was insane. Even with a disability pass, we waited somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half after we got in line. Granted, this is an extremely popular attraction right now as the new Beauty and the Beast movie just came out, but it was still less than fun.

Arguably worth it once we got inside.

For the Frozen performance we attended, there was also a bit of a wait, though nowhere near as bad. Your kids didn’t get to meet and hug the characters for this one, though we didn’t expect that to happen and really loved the over-the-top performance.

Read the attraction description to see just how up close and personal the experience will be, and then weigh if the wait time is worth it, or if you’d rather pay to sit down and eat a meal while the characters make their rounds to your table.

Don’t Wait to Buy Disney Merchandise on Amazon

Ugh. The biggest money mistake of our entire Disney trip was not buying the kids things they wanted while we were in the park. I did want to get them a souvenir or two, but largely I told them to wait until we got home and then Mommy would buy it cheaper online.

I took pictures of UPCs and everything.

Find out how to save money on Disney Parks merchandise.

SURPRISE! Disney has a separate line of products that they sell exclusively at the parks. The internet seems to be aware of this exclusivity. When people resell items from the line, the price is way marked up.

I had promised my kids I’d get them this stuff, though. We have lots of conversations about sacrifices and trade offs when it comes to money, but this was something I had explicitly told them I would buy later in order to stave off tantrums.

Because I’m not a fan of breaking my promises, I’ve been filling in an item or two for birthdays, and Santa will probably help out a bit at Christmas. The number of presents they receive isn’t as large as it would usually be if I weren’t buying already-expensive-and-then-marked-up-even-more Disney products. But they’re happy because it’s something they really wanted, and I’m happy because I’m able to not be an evil liar.

The Things We Did Right

Central Florida is insanely hot in May. Thankfully, this was one area where I did something right.

Buy Your Own Cooling Towels

Cooling towels absolutely saved us on this trip. We got Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads, and I highly recommend them as they worked amazingly well. I would not recommend their other cooling products, though.

You wet them down and lay them around your neck. As the water evaporates, it cools you down. The water takes a long time to evaporate, too, so we weren’t stopping at a water fountain every five seconds.

Once we were inside Disney, we saw Disney-branded cooling towels everywhere–primarily donning the face of Mickey or Minnie mouse. They were $20/piece. If we hadn’t been prepared, I would have broken down and bought them, price tag be darned.

If we were going to be there, we needed them. Otherwise we would have had to cut all of our days short. Buy yours before you get into the park so you don’t get robbed. Kmart has them for half the price.

Bring Your Own Water Bottles

You are allowed to bring coolers into the park as long as it meets size guidelines and doesn’t contain glass or alcohol. We packed ours full of water. Yes, it was heavy. But so worth it.

We usually had to buy more water about half-way through the day at park prices (I’m a weirdo about fountain/tap water,) but if we hadn’t brought our own supply at the beginning of the day, we would have had to pay park prices twice.

We also found that we had enough room on all the rides to put the cooler by our feet. We weren’t riding any insane roller coasters, but even on the Dumbo and Little Mermaid rides, we had no issues.

Can you do Disney World on a budget?

Absolutely. We did it relatively affordably this time, given that it is Disney. We plan on heading back in the next couple of years. This time, we’ll have some pro experience under our belt to safeguard our budget even better.