February 2009 Archives

Saving Water

| 1 TrackBack

While we were in Europe, I developed a new hobby: self-sufficiency. It has led to the recent posts about cooking and shopping and what all it takes to look groomed. Some of you have laughed, but I warn you, we’re about to go swimming in the deep end.

You see, it occurred to me, while sitting on the lakeshore in Bellagio watching the fisherman pull in his nets, that with a suitable location it might be possible to retire from working and live a life that wouldn’t wear so hard on the earth. Mostly it was an intriguing thought experiment, but now with the job market being what it is and the not-too-distant sale of my house, it’s a little more practical to think about. So I’ve been reading up on sustainable living, which includes totally normal things like growing fruits and vegetables in your backyard to crazier stuff like how to farm your own fish in a tank under your tomatoes.

Yesterday, I was looking into catching and storing your own rainwater. I like the self-sufficiency of the idea, but wondered if, like most solar installations, it costs more than it saves. I did some digging and found that the average American family uses 236 gallons of water per day, or 86,447 gallons a year. I added up my own numbers and figured a family of four could get by on 138 gallons of water per day between four showers, 8 teeth brushings, cooking, running the dishwasher, a load of laundry, and five bathroom visits each. 138 gallons per day adds up to 50,370 gallons per year. Coincidentally, about 47,500 gallons of water each year falls on a 3000 sq.ft. roof in the east bay. So that’s good—with some tinkering, you could get by on the amount of rain you get—as long as you can store all the winter surplus for use in the summer.

So this is where it gets fancy. Because we have dry summers and wet winters, by the end of March, on average, you would have to be holding 19,672 gallons of water in storage to get you through to September. That’s a little more than most backyard swimming pools. Obviously, the first best step is to see how little water you could get by on each day. If you saved your laundry, shower, sink, and dishwasher water for use in the toilets and the garden, you could get by on 88 gallons per day, and you’d only need to store 16,104 gallons of water. That’s still a lot, but not impossible. Adam had mentioned seeing something the other day where people sunk massive water tanks under their driveway to store all their rainwater. Since a 5,000-gallon tank runs about $2000, and I can get no clearer indication on how much a complete system costs, I decided to guesstimate $10,000. This could be wildly off, but we’re using the guess-and-check method here. My question is: which offers the better return on investment, leaving the $10,000 invested with compound interest and paying your water bill, or buying your own water system and investing the saved the water bill payments. Like always, I gleefully trotted out my excel spreadsheet and furiously typed in my calculations.

Interestingly, buying one gallon of water in the East Bay costs the same as buying 172 gallons per day, so if you’re going to try to save here, you’ve gotta’ go whole hog. A family using our 138 gallons of water per day and living above 600 ft. in elevation (because who doesn’t want a view?) pays $918.04 per year to East Bay MUD. If that same family saved that money each year and invested it in the same interest-bearing vehicle as they would have had the $10,000 in, they save about a thousand dollars a year, while the $10,000 only makes about $300 in the early years. By buying the water system, the family starts making money in year 11. Now that’s a long time to wait for something to pay you back, but after thirty years, the water tanks are ahead by $41,336,99 (adjusted to today’s dollars). Even if you need a new pump or some filters, I still think you’re ahead. If you’re like my grandparents and you spend 55 years in your East bay house on the hill, the water tanks installed the first year in the house pay you back $199,793.60 (in today’s dollars) more than the $10,000 would.

I’m not yet saying that this is what you should do with your money or your water. There are probably a number of other hidden costs, like maintenance, energy to run the pumps, filters, etc. Let’s say it costs you $200 a year in maintenance. You’re still ahead at year 15. All that additional costs do is move your break-even date. What I’m saying is that it is a financially reasonable decision to save and filter your own rainwater. Now it’s time to look into a pond as storage that would also farm tilapia and fertilize the tomatoes.


| 1 TrackBack

This is a shopping update to let all the ladies out there who enjoyed "The One Hundred" in on a bargain. Item number 96, the Hunter Wellington boot, which retails for $115-150 is now available in limited colors at www.6pm.com for $49.95. With all the recent rains, they're looking more appealing than ever!

I promised awhile back to explain to you all how to get your groceries at the cheapest possible price. This will probably be the craziest-sounding, most exhaustively researched post in the history of this blog, and I realize some of you will frown on the idea of going to such lengths just to save a little money. But the drop in grocery bills is too huge not to share (we’re down about 75% from last year).

So, here goes. Following an example from “The Tightwad Gazette,” I started a price book. A price book is a book you use when grocery shopping to record the ingredients you frequently purchase (one per page), and its price per ounce at local grocery stores. I’m sure in the not-too-distant future it will be possible to take a picture of the item or scan its barcode with your phone and pull up a list of prices at nearby stores, but until then… I kept a list of the items on my shopping list. Not surprisingly, everything is cheapest at Costco. That creates two small problems: 1) Costco doesn’t carry everything, and 2) where do you store two gallons of olive oil?

The first problem is solved simply—FoodsCo (FoodMaxx/Kroger’s) carries many things, including usable quantities of fresh produce, at Costco prices. The first time I shopped there, I got a full cart of groceries for $60. The parking lot is a little off-putting (bring handi-wipes), but the values are well worth it, and the people are super-friendly. The few items I can’t find at Costco or FoodsCo are usually available at Lucky, which is the next cheapest and often has things on special for lower than Costco prices. It pays to scan the circulars for Safeway and Lucky online once a week to check for produce or meat specials (this is how you find the fifty-cent-a-pound pears). Specialty items can be gotten at Rainbow Co-Op or Safeway. Now that I virtually never shop at Safeway, when I do go for something I’m shocked by the prices. Oatmeal at Costco costs a tenth of what Safeway charges. A trip to Safeway for dinner that night costs about a fourth of our average non-Safeway grocery bill for the month.

Problem number 2 is really a matter of how much you enjoy the concept of a pantry. I, personally, love the idea of an entire closet full of delicious food that virtually never perishes. Honestly, what could be more comforting? Most everyone has a closet full of junk, a cupboard housing pots and pans you never use, or an awkward space that could be used for storage. I moved all my vitamins to the bathroom and put lazy susans in my corner cupboards to get more storage, then I stocked up on the canned goods we use and oatmeal. It really wasn’t hard to fit an extra bottle of olive oil, or six extra cans of tomatoes. I passed on the 25 lb. bag of sugar, and it turns out that’s fine since it periodically goes on sale at the grocery store for the Costco price. By only buying things I know I will use, and then using them, finding space for Costco purchases hasn’t been a problem.

So far, so good. However, meat & vegetables are hard to get through in bulk. It helps to use the Debbie Meyer Green Bags (available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) and to store all your produce properly. You can also organize your freezer better to get more in, but sooner or later, you come to the line in the sand. There is no turning back from an incredible sale on fifty pounds of frozen meat (or in my case, free turkeys). You can purchase an extra freezer for less than $500, and over the course of a year, it will almost certainly pay for itself in what you save on meat. It allows you to keep just about everything you eat nearly indefinitely. You can freeze shredded cheese, nuts, egg whites, cream—anything with a reasonably high fat content. You can pour leftover liquids (juice, tomato paste, chiles, soft cheeses, pesto, etc.) into ice cube trays, then store the cubes in freezer bags. You can save batches of soup, casseroles, fresh bread—just about anything that might go bad in your fridge can be saved in the freezer. Additionally, it allows you to cook in large batches and freeze half, cutting your cooking time in half. You can track down your most expensive food purchases, like pasta sauce, and make and freeze your own when the vegetables are in season. Or increase the quality of your eating by always having things like homemade toaster waffles and pancakes on hand. The freezer makes life so much easier (and better!). Now I can aim to go to the grocery store once, maybe twice a month. I only have to cook a couple days a week, and we eat better than we ever did before.

If you want to go whole hog, you can can your own fruits and vegetables. Unless you get a fabulous deal on produce and the thing you’re making is really expensive, it’s probably not worth it. However, for things like making your own Pad Thai sauce or your best Mango Chutney, you can save yourself quite a bit, so I thought I’d mention it. All it takes is a pressure cooker and some jars (which Wal-Mart carries at the best price year-round). There are ample government and university websites covering the various food safety measures that must be taken, but none of it is that difficult. You just need a timer.

So now that it’s all out there, before you go calling me crazy, take a look at the USDA's cost to feed families at different levels of spending. Many who work at meal planning and bulk shopping come in well under their thriftiest plan (I think I manage for about half that). Adopt some or all of these strategies as they suit your needs. The difference between the most liberal plan for a two-person family and the thriftiest is about $4200 a year--and they're not including eating out. There are a lot worse things you could do for an after-tax $5000 per year.

Things you may not know about the California Initiative process:
1) The number of signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot is a percentage of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. It is 8% for constitutional amendments, and 5% for statutes.
2) The 2006 gubernatorial election had 8,679,048 votes cast. Therefore a constitutional amendment currently requires 694,323 signatures, while a statute needs 433,952.
3) All signatures must be collected during the circulation period, which is 150 days.
4) To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2010, the proponents need to gather 4,629 signatures a day. For a statute, that number would be 2,894.
5) For approximately one million dollars, you can hire enough political consultants and professional circulators to get your initiative qualified.
6) There is no limit to the amount a ballot measure committee can spend in support of a proposition.
7) There is no limit to the amount an individual or corporation can contribute to a ballot measure committee.
8) Most other states have a 365-day circulation period.
9) Under a 365-day circulation period, you would need to collect 1,903 signatures per day to qualify an amendment; 1,189 for a statute.
10) California allowed an unlimited circulation period until 1943.
11) An amendment takes precedence over a statute concerning the same law. If both pass, only the amendment takes effect.
12) Once an initiative has qualified for the ballot, it cannot be amended or withdrawn, even if the legislature passes a similar piece of legislation prior to the election.
13) From 1911 to 1939, there was a high of 35 initiatives per decade.
14) In the 1960’s, there was a total of nine.
15) In the 1970’s, 22 qualified.
16) In the 1980’s, 46 qualified.
17) In the 1990’s, 61 qualified.
18) The number of constitutional amendments has increased 30% over the last decade.
19) California’s constitution is eight times longer than the U.S. Constitution.
20) To pass a new tax through any legislative process in California, a proposed law needs a 2/3 majority to pass.
21) To ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, three-fourths of the states must pass it by a majority vote of the state’s legislatures.
22) For the California legislature to pass a constitutional amendment, both houses must pass it with a 2/3 majority.
23) To pass a constitutional amendment as a ballot initiative, 50% of those voting plus one must vote in favor.
24) The Democratic Party’s Initiative Reform Task Force met in November 2008. Their recommendations included requiring constitutional amendments to pass with a 2/3 majority in two consecutive elections.

To find out more:
L.A. Times Editorial

February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

April 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Powered by Movable Type 5.04