Author Archives: Darcy Cronin

About Darcy Cronin

I'm a Mother/Coach/Blogger/Business Adventurer from Portland OR. My family consists of my Hubby of 12 years, our 8yo Kieran, 5yo Makenna, and 1yo Teagan. I love dreaming about a better future, and making it happen.

Trash Day

One way our family saves money monthly is by limiting our trash to one can per month, saving us $32.90 monthly and $394.80 annually. While not a mountain of cash, our family feels really good about not sending a mountain of trash to the landfill.  
So how does a family of four limit to one trash can per month?
  • Reduce – You don’t ever have to throw something out if it never enters your home. It can also be thought of as “precycling,” continually evaluating how much packaging an item comes in to consider its long term implications. It can also be seen as ReThinking. Do you really need it? How long will you benefit from it? Is it recyclable?
  • Reuse – If you think creatively enough, almost anything can be reused. You can also donate for reuse. The School & Community Reuse Action Project (S.C.R.A.P.) accepts donations of all sorts to be used in creative reuse projects, like turning CDs and records into clocks. Portland’s ReBuilding Center has been very successful at tackling a big waste source; building waste accounts for at least 20% of landfills. I also found a national organization, ReDo Reuse Development Organization that accepts donations for a variety of items from across the country and helps match you with more local reuse centers.
  • Recycle – Not surprisingly, the biggest factor that helps us stick to one garbage can per month is recycling everything possible. We have large roll carts for co-mingled recycling, and we do have pick up service every week, although we usually put it out every other week (no need to make the haulers stop if its half full.) If you don’t already, get to know what materials are accepted in your local market. With a little research you might find that some materials can be dropped off special places (like sour cream tubs and plastic bags). One last recycling tip, make sure any plastic bags get separated since they can ruin most recycling conveyor belts.
  • Compost – Food scraps typically make up 12% of garbage, and is completely and naturally recyclable. Exchanging garbage for soil is really and environmental no-brainer. There are more and more municipalities offering compost/yard waste pick-up, and even downtown offices have composting.
  • Remember – Sometimes it’s easy to loose sight of how some handy convenience will lead to a heap of trash and why it is so important. The best reminders for me are age one and four.  Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to only take the trash out once a month?!
I also don’t want to make our one garbage can out to be such a big deal, since I know we’re not the only family to limit our trash. EnviroMom even has a “One Can Challenge,” and the entire City of Portland is shifting the policy to pick up trash only twice a month, once they add composting to yard waste bins.
How have you reduced your family’s trash? Could you live with one can?
Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Drive Less. Save More.

Drive Less. Save More.” is more than a bumper sticker on our family rig, it’s a motto that we try to live by daily. I’ll share some of steps we’ve taken to transport ourselves in a frugal and low-impact way.

1) Live close to where you live/work/play
This is truly the biggest factor in our ability to keep our costs and carbon impact low. When choosing your family’s home, make sure to account for the cost associated with transporting yourself for home to work and beyond. We can run 90% of our errands within 5 miles; I can walk in less than fifteen minutes to the bank, pharmacy, post office and grocery store, plus the community center and several family-friendly restaurants. Family’s often don’t take this into account, and end up paying at the pump, not to mention quality of life. 
2) Calculate Your Costs
You’ve probably seen charts showing that the average American spends over $10,000 a year on transportation, driving an average of 12,000 miles. Metro’s “Drive Less. Save More.” campaign has a unique Driving Cost Calculator, which shows you what you spend currently, what you could save if you reduced your driving by 15% and 40%. This potential savings can be a good motivator to reduce your time behind the wheel.
3) Take Transit
Taking the bus or light-rail may not be an option for all families, but if it’s available near your home, don’t be intimidated to try it out. I’ll write more on this topic soon, since we take the bus every week day with two small ones. It can be fun and educational to take transit with your kids. If living in the suburbs is the only way to go for you, try carpooling. Most big areas offer programs or you can make connections at your workplace. Friends I’ve known who have carpooled enjoyed the camaraderie.
4) Mileage Matters
I wish I could say that our family car, a Subaru Forrester, gets great mileage, but it’s OK at best. Sadly, there are no good green family vehicles on the market yet. If you’ve got one you like, I’d like to hear about it! So, in the mean time, before a true eco-friendly family wagon exists, we’re going to have to continue to compensate by reducing our trips altogether.
5) Plan Trips Strategically
Often called “trip chaining,” planning your trips strategically can save you both time and money, which are both valuable to busy families. Make sure to plan your route to only include right hand turns, which the UPS found to be the quickest and thus most cost-effective. Simply taking a moment to plan out your trip will also help you feel more focused than frazzled, another genuine benefit.
6) Reduce your insurance costs
Insurance may be required, but there’s no need to overpay. You can quickly find low cost car insurance rates that will get reduce your monthly transportation costs. There are also some companies that offer pay-as-you-go plans, which gives incentives to driving less.
7) One Car
Owning only one car has always made sense to me. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Europe and biked everywhere before I ever got a driver’s license, but I promised myself long ago that my family would only have one car. Even when my Hubby worked in the burbs and I traveled to Seattle for grad school, we’ve always made our schedules work out. I know that those with older kids say that it gets harder, and I imagine it might. But call us wacky, we like going places as a family. If you really think you need two cars, try a ZipCar membership. Believe me, I looked into ditching our car altogether, but with car seats, camping and Doggy, it just wasn’t feasible.

8) Use Home Delivery Services
In many urban areas there are plenty of home delivery services, like grocery delivery and dry cleaning pick-up which can save you time and money.
9) Bike Places
I once biked 12 miles a day and loved it, but I have to admit that biking has taken a back seat since I became a Mama. I do know plenty of Mamas who take their kids to school and then head to work by bike. I hope to get back in gear this spring…I’ll share more once I’m back on the saddle.
10) Think Twice
More than anything, reducing your family miles relies upon reframing your thought process around what it is possible and what you really need and want. In college friends would ask me how I could afford to travel back to Europe each summer, and the answer was simple: I didn’t have the expense of a car. If it motivates you, think about the payoffs or log the savings and put it towards a vacation fund.
Getting from here to there can seem to be the bane of modern existence sometimes, especially when we feel the twofold guilt of the cost and pollution. But you can make a difference by finding ways to reduce your driving and save your family money. Which ways will you “Drive Less. Save More.”?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Green Birthday Celebrations

Consumption and overspending need not be part of your family birthday tradition.

Birthdays are definitely cause for celebration, but in many ways the American norm has gone over the top. While birthdays can be celebrated in a gazillion ways, there seems to be one commonality: decadent consumption.

I’ve read articles about some of the extreme one-upmanship that parents can play into, and how often parties are thrown without even talking with the child about what they want. I remember going to a kid’s party prior to becoming a parent where all the kids brought a toy as a gift, and in the end the child was totally overwhelmed by about a dozen plastic gadgets. The birthday was in September, and I calculated that if the child played with each toy for one week until Christmas that they still wouldn’t have played with them all! And really in the scheme of things, this was a pretty average birthday for a middle-class American child (key word: American.)

Then there are the obligatory gifts bags for all the kids, often filled with cheap plastic things made in China. At one party, the gift bag had a plastic spinning top that lit up as it bounced, and within about 5 minutes the top came off and I discovered a mercury disposal warning inside! I was dismayed, but knew that the Mama of the birthday girl had only wanted to see the kids smile.

We can choose to celebrate in meaningful, simple, and fun ways. Others have already written creative Planet Friendly Party Tips, so I won’t repeat ever idea under the sun here. But I would like to share what I’m doing for BigGuy’s 4th Birthday Party:

  • Party invite printed on reused office paper – 4 invites to 1 sheet
  • In lieu of a gift, kids will bring a book to exchange (I actually got lucky on this one, because it happens to be the norm for the whole preschool)
  • BigGuy has recently been inspired by rocket ships, and we’ll be making some out of reused poster tubes and other reused materials
  • Serve guests on durable plates (combo of bamboo and plastic) that we bought for previous gatherings – no need to buy more! Eat from real silverware.
  • BigGuy’s gifts will likely last him several years (and be enjoyed by Girly): U.S. map floor puzzle and a fishing pole fish kite for trips to the beach
  • We’ll do something special as a family to celebrate too, by going to a new space exhibit at our local kid’s science museum

I will also note that this is also BigGuy’s first “class” party (only boys at his insistence!). His first two years we celebrated as a family and last year’s small party was as much a chance to show off our new Girly, since she was just six days fresh. In future years I plan to take the lead from the EnviroMom bloggers and celebrate through other creative and experiential ways. Growing up as a twin, my mom chose to throw us big parties only at milestone ages: 6, 10, 13, 16, 18. On the in between years we could each have a friend for a sleepover, which I recall being just as much fun as the big parties. Another childhood friend had a birthday in the winter, and we did a beach party together for their 1/2 birthday (which was our true birthday.)

The key is to talk as a family about how you would like to celebrate. Set clear expectations to make sure that the no-party options isn’t seen as a punishment, but just a unique way to celebrate a unique person.

Happy Birthday/UnBirthday to you!

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Saving Early

It’s birthday season in our family, with Girly’s 1st on Monday, and BigGuy’s 4th this Sunday.

We have a generous family, and every year we receive birthday cards with loving notes and checks included. For now these pieces of paper seem inconsequential to our children, even as the cards bring them great joy (BigGuy has actually being playing with his spaceship card every night this week!)

Up until this year I’ve always found some thoughtful way to spend the money, usually new shoes or a family outing. But this year, in light of my newfound financial focus (and my gainful employment), I am ready to start saving their birthday money.

You might wonder how much would $100 actually grow in interest by the time our kiddos fly the coup? According to Suze Orman’s Compound Interest Calculator, if I started with $100 and added $10 a month at 2% for 17 years, Girly would have over $2500!!

To us adults with mortgages and bills, this may seem like relative chump change. But imagine back to when you graduated from high school, and how exciting it would be get this type of cash. I also want to be clear that while I do plan on saving for our children’s college (soon!), this account will not be earmarked for education per se. It will be up to them to decide how they want to spend it when they come of age, whether that ends up being travel or rental deposit; it will be their fund for start adulthood.

I’m going to take a nod from my money savvy sis and open a new SmartyPig account for them which will earn 2.01%. SmartyPig has a fun social function to it too, so you’ll be able to see how full the pig bank grows as our kiddos grow. And while the Grandparents and Great-Grandparents aren’t big Facebookers, they may get a kick out of seeing their money saved rather than squandered.

So, if you’re lucky enough to not need gift money for the essentials, comment below to make the pledge that you’ll open a savings account at your child’s next birthday!

This birthday month has helped me focus on how we really want to celebrate, and I’ll share more on that topic tomorrow.

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

You Win Some You Lose Some

Some days don’t go as planned and you just have to make it up as you go. The past few days have been like that for me. Instead of being healthy and happy for Girly’s big 1st, three of the four of us were feeling green, and not the good kind.

Lose – I found out that the email sign-up was accidently misdirected! So, if waisted a moment of your life trying to sign up, I profusely apologize. Please give me another moment by signing up!

Win – Once I was feeling remotely better, I managed to get together donations to drop off at the Goodwill.

Lose – I realized that most of my cast-offs were generous freebie offerings from family members, and I need to do a better job of politely saying no.

Win – I made a few score finds at the Goodwill, including a pair of cute Girly jeans, two Berenstain Bear books for BigGuy, a National Park to-go coffee mug for Hubby, and a cute purple checkered blouse for myself.

Lose – I caved on emotional purchase, and couldn’t help myself from buying the original Parent Trap 1 & 2; as a twin, it’s one of my favorite childhood movies.

Win – Both Oregon ballot measures 66 & 67 that I shared in Green Taxes, passed overwhelming!

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.