Energy Saving Tips: How We Made One Month’s Electricity Last FIVE Months

My husband and I live in China, which you’re probably aware is one of the most polluted countries in the world right now.  Is it as bad as the media makes it sound?  Well… sometimes.  We live in Chengdu, which has relatively clean air for its size (fifth largest city in the country) due to its propensity for rain and the mountains that surround it, but even so, Nathan wears a mask all winter long.  In the past year, I only wore my mask a handful of times—but I did get sick from the pollution almost as many times.

img_2559
We did have one or two days of “hazardous” air quality last winter.

Before we moved to China, I was very concerned about climate change; my senior year of college I wrote my 100-page creative writing “thesis” on climate change in the Midwest, and it was my second major climate-related writing project.  I have a third in the planning stages, incidentally.

But when we moved to China, our focus on the environment really sharpened.  It’s easy to ignore environmental problems when you live in a developed country.  It’s a very different perspective when you live next to a waterway that alternates between olive green and dog-poop brown, when you have to boil the tap water before you can drink it*, when you might get food poisoning from eating the vegetables raw.  When breathing the air can make you sick.

*even then it might not strictly be safe—I had a student miss class last semester because he had to have surgery to remove collected sediment (“small rocks,” as he put it) from his stomach.

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset
I wouldn’t want to drink that water…

We quit eating animal products in January, after learning that animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined.  And when we learned that more than 70% of Chinese electricity comes from coal, we resolved to do our part in reducing that coal burning by drastically reducing our energy consumption.

In fact, we reduced it to less than 1/5 of what it was before.

For a little context, we receive a 300RMB energy allowance per month—evidently the average monthly energy consumption of a three-person Chinese family.  When we first arrived, we used that amount approximately monthly.  But in February we decided to take seriously the environmental burden of our energy consumption, and we took some big steps to cut back.  This is how we used less than one month’s energy allowance (200RMB) to last us five months—without sacrificing our comfort.

img_2043

We turned off the lights.

This is such an obvious solution, it’s the first energy-saving measure you hear: turn the lights off when you leave the room.  But why can’t you turn the lights off while you’re in the room?

We don’t get great natural lighting in our apartment.  In fact, our natural lighting situation is pretty abysmal.  Our apartment’s windows face away from the sun, a few hundred feet from the next tall apartment building, with trees in between.  Add that to the fact that Chengdu has fewer sunny days than Seattle, and you’ve got a recipe for a dark apartment.

But you know what?  We can still see.  We rarely turn the lights on before 7 or 8pm, except for the bathroom light and a small LED lamp that Nathan uses to study Chinese by.  Low light is easy to get used to, even a bit relaxing.  And if you have bad eyesight or find it hard to focus in low lighting, a small, energy-efficient lamp that lets off cool-colored light will be at least as effective as an overhead light.

At night, of course, we do turn on lights—but only the lights we’re actually using.

img_2455

We turned off the A/C and the heater.

This one is a little conditional, and it’s the one that makes people think we’re crazy.  It only gets down to about 40 Fahrenheit (about 4 Celsius) during your average Chengdu winter.  I grew up in Wisconsin—40 Fahrenheit is a balmy spring day to me!  But the climate control in our apartment was our biggest energy sink by far, so it was an obvious choice to stop.

That said, not using the heater still took some adjusting.  Even if, like me, you don’t think 40 degrees is a big deal, people expect to be warm and comfortable in their home, and after a few days at those temperatures, you start feeling cold to the bone.

But there are easy solutions to this that are much more energy-efficient than using your heater!

For one thing, long underwear.  Buy a comfortable, high-quality pair of long underwear.  Mine is purple and lined with synthetic fleece inside.  They’re comfortable, cozy, and oh-so-warm.  And I wear them all winter.  If long underwear alone isn’t warm enough, layer on those sweaters!  Who doesn’t love an oversized sweater?  I mean, really?  Shouldn’t you be celebrating the excuse to walk around basically covered in blankets all day?

For another thing, we bought heat fans.  This is something I’ve never seen in the United States, but they’re everywhere in China.  Now, these still use electricity to run, so we do try not to use them too much.  But because you’re able to focus a blast of heat directly onto your body, you don’t need them on for too long.  You can turn one on facing you until you feel nice and toasty, then turn it back off until you’re cold again.

img_2424

We don’t use a dishwasher or a clothes dryer.

Okay, that’s mostly because we don’t own either one, and if I had access to a dishwasher I would definitely use it.  But I don’t particularly miss a clothes dryer.  We just have a line strung up in our laundry room, and we keep that small window open to dry our clothes more effectively.  (We close the door to the laundry room during the cold months to try and contain the cold air.)

Additionally, our refrigerator is very small—it doesn’t even come up to my shoulders.  How do we live with a small refrigerator?  Easy: we eat a fresh diet of plant-based whole foods.  We don’t waste space on drinks like milk, juice, or soda.  We keep almost exclusively condiments and leftovers in our refrigerator, because the fresh produce that makes up a majority of our diet is by and large purchased within a day of when we plan to eat it, at one of the markets within a 15-minute walk of our apartment.

We made DIY dehumidifiers.

Chengdu is extremely damp.  When we first moved into our apartment, it had a horror-movie mold problem, which it had evidently cultivated over the course of just one rainy, humid summer sans inhabitants.  Aside from plugging some holes with spray foam and scrubbing the shit out of our walls with bleach water, we had to find a way to dehumidify our apartment.  But we didn’t want to buy a dehumidifier, for both cost and environmental reasons.  So instead we bought a few cute buckets, some colanders that approximately fit the mouths of the buckets, and some bags of calcium chloride.  You just put the colander inside the bucket and add calcium chloride to it—and boom!  Instant energy-efficient dehumidifier.  The bucket collects the water from the atmosphere.

img_2418
You can buy calcium chloride quite cheap online, at least here in China!

* * *

And here we are, living in comfort with low energy costs!  I hope you’ve found this post somewhat informative!  Make sure to follow me for more posts about living low on the food, energy, and generational chain, from vegan health posts to cheap and ethical fashion and lifestyle posts and more!

7 Real Tips To See The World For Cheap

When I turned 19 years old, I had never left the United States—in fact, I had hardly even traveled within it.  But that winter I took a step that has completely changed the course of my life: I went to Europe for a month.  On $2,000. 

I was accompanied, of course, by my life partner and trusty travel companion, Nathan.

When Nathan suggested it over the summer, it seemed like a pipe dream.  How could I, a broke-ass college student with zero travel experience, afford to spend my winter vacation in Europe?  It seemed impossible, but I love impossible.  So I started saving every paycheck I made (minus enough money to pay for gas and a modest and strictly-limited amount of pot), and I started planning this trip.  Guess what?  I went, I had an amazing time, and I have traveled or lived internationally every year since!

Saving Tip: It’s easier to save for something if you take steps to make that thing real.  If you’re always saving for that theoretical trip-you-want-to-take-one-day-but-haven’t-planned, you’re much less likely to meet your savings goals than if you’re planning for that Very Real Trip that you’re taking to Phuket in December.

fr_60_size880

Unless you’re truly in the grinding depths of poverty (in which case, I’m sorry), anyone can save $2,000.  Anyone can spend a month in Europe.  Or, if you want to live a little higher on the horse than I did, you can just go for a week!  Either way, international travel can be a reality for you, too, and I’ve got some tips to help.

  1. Learn to save

This is honestly the most important tip you can get.  I know so many people who believe traveling is out of reach for them—and it is, as long as they keep throwing away their money on Starbucks, the latest gaming systems, or take-out pizza every night.  But the truth is that most people can afford a good trip if they prioritize it.

Take an honest look at your day-to-day life.  What do you spend your money on?  If your answer is rent or bills and nothing else, now might not be a good time to travel.  But if your answer includes a lot of take-out, alcohol, games, weed, the new iPhone, or anything else that could possibly be called frivolous, I have good news for you!  You have a trip in your future, if you’re willing to take the next step!  It’s a step that sounds hard, but it’s not: stop buying those things.  That’s it.

Figure out what you can cut out of your life.  Identify the absolute bare bones of your existence.  Then slowly add things back in, but only those that are really crucial to your happiness.  This isn’t about depriving yourself, so don’t think of it that way.  Think of it as refocusing to provide yourself with the experience of a lifetime.  You can smoke fewer cigarettes per week if it means a day in Barcelona.  You can skip that latte if it means you get to bask on a beach in Bali.  When you find yourself tempted towards these in-the-moment pleasures, put down your wallet and think about your dream destination.  (I find that always using cash instead of charging everything to my card helps me spend with purpose, too.)

Set up a separate savings account for your travel fund, and funnel all the money you’re saving by living simply into that account.  You’ll be amazed at how fast it can add up.

wx191dv28c

  1. Know your budget

This is critical when it comes to the day-to-day part of travel, but it factors in throughout the planning process, too.  We’ll split this into two parts: planning for your budget, and living with your budget.

Planning for your budget:
I think the most important advice you can receive here is BE REALISTIC.  Take stock of how much money you have or can save, and then decide how long your trip should be.  Look at your budget, then decide how much of that you can reasonably spend on a plane ticket.  You should strive for this to be as small a portion as possible, but it’s also going to be your biggest expense by far.  When I went to Europe, the flights (there were five) came out to half of my total expenses.  Once you’ve bought your flight, look at your budget and decide how you can spend it most effectively.  If your budget is small, don’t book that five-star hotel.  If it’s really small, don’t book a hotel at all (we’ll get there in a second).  Spend smart.

Living with your budget:
Hey, you bought a flight, you booked accommodation, and now you’re in Paris!  Or maybe Beijing!  Or maybe Lima!  Wherever you are, it’s time to spend the rest of that money you saved.  But you don’t want to run out.  Figure out how much money you have left over after all of your large expenses are paid, and divide that number by the number of days you’ll be traveling.  That’s your daily budget—stick to it.  Figure out what you absolutely need to spend money on every day (i.e. food) and how much that will cost.  Whatever is left over, you can spend however you want.  If there’s not much money left, don’t despair!  You can still have a great time for virtually free in pretty much every city in the world.

11863275_10153558333408669_2609394326325877950_n

  1. Stay out of hotels

Hotels are the accommodation of the past, let’s be honest.  They’re for people who have money, need a lot of privacy, and want to see a place without really living in the place.  They’re for the sanitized travel experience.  The true adventure (not to mention the true money saving) happens a little lower down the sleep chain, so to speak.

Airbnb: I think everyone knows about Airbnb by now.  In terms of comfort and privacy, this is probably the next step down from a hotel.  You pay to stay in somebody’s house.  Depending on your price point, you can shell it out for a full five-star experience by renting a whole house, or you can go basic in a room in someone’s basement, or any number of things in between.  Airbnb gives you the opportunity to meet people and be hosted, with more amenities and more of an air of legitimacy than a service like Couchsurfing.  Airbnb also has some really unique housing opportunities—my husband and I stayed for several days in a cave home in the Chinese countryside in the summer of ’15!  (See above.)

Hostels: Hostels are a great, somewhat more traditional choice for the budget traveler, and you can really tailor your costs to your needs this way.  If you have a bit more cash to throw around, most hostels offer some basic private rooms (often with shared bathrooms).  But if you’re really running low on funds or don’t mind a more social experience, you can stay in a dorm-style room with anywhere from three to nine other people!

Couchsurfing: I’m a huge fan of Couchsurfing.  It sounds a little more daring—you stay at a stranger’s house for free.  It’s really the ultimate experience in terms of getting to know the people and the true flavor of a place.  We couchsurfed our way through our month in Europe (except for in Venice, where we couldn’t find a host for the days we’d be there, which were right around Christmas and the new year), and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  We’re planning another trip through Europe this coming summer, and we’ll be hitting those couches again!  Couchsurfing saves the most money on your accommodation, plus it gives you the chance to make a friend and share your travel experience!

Other options: These are just the most common accommodations.  Depending on what type of trip you’re trying to take, there are other options as well, like TalkTalkBnB (similar to Couchsurfing, but you’re being “hired” for your native language), Workaway, housesitting, and more.  If you know people in the area, don’t be shy about asking them if they have any leads on places you can stay—my husband and I stayed free in Mexico a couple years ago at the empty seasonal house of an acquaintance of his aunt’s.

plane

  1. Be smart about your plane tickets.

There are so many tips about flying cheap that I’ll probably expand this into a full post another time, but for now, here’s what you absolutely must know:

Look in the right places.  Services like Kayak or Skyscanner are great for comparing prices and finding you the lowest one (something you should ALWAYS do, because no airline can guarantee the cheapest prices every time), as well as finding out what dates are best for flying.  Unless you have a very strict timetable, search for flights over a few weeks or a month and plan your vacation whenever it’s cheapest to fly.  I recommend flying on holidays if you can—not the days around holidays, but on the holidays themselves.  If you don’t mind flying on Christmas Day, for example, you’ll get a mostly-empty flight for a much lower price!  If your plans are looser, you can check airfarewatchdog to see what the cheapest flights are at any given time, too.

Look at the right times.  It’s all about taking the road less traveled—or the flight less booked, as the case may be. Flights are cheaper on certain days, so you could get a better deal on the same flight by booking at the right time, or by flying on a different day.  It’ll be cheaper to fly on a Monday or Tuesday than on a Friday or Sunday, and cheaper to take that red-eye or early-morning flight than that nice 2pm one. As for booking at the cheapest time, aim to buy your tickets Tuesday afternoon or early on Wednesday. There’s also a sweet spot in larger terms—you don’t want to buy your tickets too early, but you don’t want to wait until the last minute, either. Most of the time, tickets will hit that cheap spot sometime between 1 and 3 months before takeoff, but there’s no surefire way of knowing exactly when. That’s why you should always sign up for price alerts with Kayak or a similar site as far ahead of time as you can.  I’ve saved as much as $120 per ticket by jumping on that price dip when it hit my inbox!

Look for error fares.  You can’t count on an error fare for every trip, but if you have loose travel plans and you keep an eye out, you could end up flying from London to China for $30!  With these deals, you have to check frequently and jump on them when the opportunity arises.  Be aware that sometimes airlines don’t honor these deals and will cancel and refund your reservations.  But sometimes they won’t, and you’ll be on the other side of the world for the price of dinner at a restaurant!  To find error fares, I recommend regularly checking secretflying and fly4free.  I’ve signed up for email notifications on both of these websites!

Book a flight past your final destination.  Again, you can’t count on this working for every trip, but sometimes you can get a much cheaper flight by buying a ticket to a different and perhaps less-desirable city with a layover at your destination.  Skiplagged is the best resource for finding these tickets.

vegan-burg

  1. Save restaurant meals for special occasions

The first time I took a major trip, I did this because I couldn’t afford restaurant food.  When Nathan and I spent our month in Europe, we ate out of supermarkets every day, save for two multi-course meals that his father kindly let us charge to a credit card as a Christmas present.  Otherwise, we bought rolls of fresh bread for a euro or so each, blocks of cheese, salamis, and beer, and that’s what we ate.  It’s not the healthiest cuisine, and having since gone vegan, I wouldn’t repeat that exact pattern, but it was cheap as hell, and we were full and satisfied all of the time.  And, frankly, it was fun to sit on the sidewalk in Rome tearing hunks of bread and cheese while we watched Italians and tourists stream by.

I did it then because I had to, but now I try to do it because I prefer to.  Let’s be honest: after a handful of restaurant meals, you’re not going to get that much joy out of them.  So why waste your money?  Only eat at the restaurants you really want to experience.  Otherwise, eat out of the supermarket.  (Another benefit to staying at an Airbnb, couchsurfing, or staying at a hostel: access to a kitchen!)

  1. Travel light – only take a carry-on bag

Traveling light will only save you a little bit of money, but it will save you a lot of other troubles.  Obviously, if you travel with carry-on only, you don’t need to pay to check a bag (which you would if you’re flying with a budget airline).  If you travel with carry-on only, you won’t mind walking instead of taking that taxi or that Uber.  (I’ll write a post about why you should travel walking sometime soon!)  If you travel with carry-on only, you won’t feel tied down by the weight of your belongings—you’ll feel free to explore, free to experience!  It’s also wise to leave your valuables at home, so you have nothing to worry about if you leave your bag at that hostel for a day.

A lot of traveling cheap is really about managing your attitude towards traveling.  Leaving your things at home really helps you focus on what’s important about this experience, and getting the most out of it.

64260_10151423910853669_1754300912_n
You came to see this–you can buy shoes in any country.

  1. Don’t view traveling as an opportunity to shop

I live in China right now, and tourism is nearly synonymous with shopping here.  I understand the desire to commemorate your once-in-a-lifetime experience with a physical souvenir, but I like to limit myself—physical belongings can only bring so much pleasure.  I allow myself either a decorative trinket or a single piece of clothing for each trip I take.  It’s fun to fill your space with things from your travels, but it’s a lot more fun to have a selection of items from all over the world than to have twenty things from Berlin!

Shopping is the fastest way to burn through your money, but don’t give in to the temptation.  Stick to window-shopping until you find that one thing, that thing that speaks to your soul, that one thing you cannot leave the country without.  Then you’ll know you’re spending smart.

* * *

So there you have it: my tips for traveling cheap!  I hope you enjoyed them, and I hope you’ll check out my other blog posts about food and health, lifestyle, fashion, and more!  Don’t forget to follow my blog to hear more about my travels, too!

 

 

Journaling For Success: 4 Tips To Make Journaling Work For You

Look, life is complicated at the best of times.  At the worst, it’s downright overwhelming.  If you’re anything like me, it can be really hard to keep your feelings and your goals straight in your head.  Maybe you’re one of those people who keeps thinking “I should start meditating,” but gets discouraged by the barrage of thoughts that comes barreling into your head when you try to empty it out.  Maybe you’ve tried manifesting success, but you didn’t have the focus and quit before you had a chance to find out if it worked.  Maybe you wrote a journal as a child, but quit when life got busy.

Well, all of those apply to me, and those are all the more reasons to journal as an adult.  I’ve discovered that journaling can be your meditation, can be your manifestation and visualization.  You just have to change your attitude about it.

When I was a kid, I used to write an exhaustive journal covering every detail of my daily goings-on.  That’s fine when you’re a little girl living in the countryside, because frankly there’s not much going on.  But as you get older, that gets to be… pretty much impossible.  That kept me from journaling for a long time.  I’d start a journal here and there through college, any time I found a cute notebook or felt overwhelmed by my life, but invariably the task became overwhelming itself as I fell further and further behind in my exhaustive recounting of events.  I put pressure on myself to record my life in this way in case I ever wanted to go back and remember.  But I’ve realized recently that I was going about it all wrong.

So what’s the right way to journal?  Like so many things, the right way to journal is immensely personal.  But I think the way I’ve settled on is pretty damn good.

journaling-for-success-1

A beautiful notebook and a trusty pen: the most important tools you can have in life.

Every couple of days, I sit down with a felt-tip pen, a beautiful journal gifted to me by my father-in-law, and a strong cup of coffee, and I write.  I don’t waste any time at all on the events of my day (let’s be honest, I was never going to reread it anyway), but I use the journaling as an opportunity to concentrate on what really matters to me.  I write about feelings that I’m struggling to sort through or make sense of, but more importantly I write about my goals, and what steps I should be taking to move towards those goals.  I write about what’s worrying me, and about how I can prevent the negative outcomes that I’m fretting about.

Writing about these topics means that journaling itself is meditation for me.  It empties my head of everything that doesn’t deserve my full attention.  It’s manifestation, it’s visualization of success.  It’s a great way to focus on my goals.  Whenever I do it, I come away feeling a thousand times more clear-headed and motivated.  So I thought I’d share some tips on how to make journaling work for you:

  1. Identify your purpose.

Figuring out your reason for journaling is the most important step to turning your journal into an effective tool for self-improvement and motivation, because it shows you what to write. I don’t journal to remember things.  I don’t journal to confess my secrets.  I journal to keep my head clear and my intentions focused.  This completely shapes what I write in my journal.  I recommend using your journal as a safe space where you don’t harshly judge yourself, but you are honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you are and are not accomplishing, and in what ways you could improve.  If something isn’t important, don’t write about it.  Only writing about the important things will help you stay focused on them throughout the day.

  1. Make it a habit.

Choose a time that works for you—a time when you’re motivated but not busy, a time when you can isolate yourself a little bit and focus—and build journaling into your routine for that time.  I like to journal in the morning, every second or third day.  By doing it in the morning, I’m awake and I can harness the focused energy I get from journaling to motivate me for the rest of the day.  By doing it every other day or so, enough time has passed that I have more thoughts crowding into my head, but not too much time has passed, so I’m not overwhelmed by the amount I feel I need to write down.

This is easy for me to do, because I have a job where I only work two days a week (I’ll write a post on how I live comfortably on two days’ work a week soon), but it may not work for you.  It may be better for you to write in the evening, or the afternoon, every day or only once a week.  There’s no right or wrong time to journal—as long as you choose a time where you can breathe, relax, and concentrate on yourself for a little while!  Just make sure you keep doing it regularly.  It’s the same as anything else: you need to be consistent to see the benefits.

journaling-for-success-3

I need to be alone when I journal–but it’s okay, the stuffed animals can watch 😉

  1. Do it in a special space.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but having a specific place where I journal helps me get in the mind-examining mood.  I like to do it in my bed—the only thing I do in bed other than sleeping and sex.  (By the way, staying out of the bed when I’m awake is one of the most life-changing habits I’ve quit, but that’s a post for another time.)  I sit on top of the covers, with the pillows piled behind me, the curtains open so the weak morning sunlight spills in, and my coffee on the bedside table next to me.  It’s a place where I can be alone and feel comfortable.  Since I don’t usually hang out in my bed, it feels like a special, pampering event.

  1. Don’t feel pressured to journal in any specific way.

Don’t think you need to write “dear diary” at the beginning of your entries, or sign your name at the end.  Don’t think you need to address your entries to anyone, or even write in paragraphs.  If you want to make a bulleted list or draw a picture, go for it!  This is your space.  Take liberties.  Do what feels right to you.  I personally write in straightforward stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to!  Experiment, and find out what style allows you to express yourself freely and honestly, without distraction.  Remember: it’s all about your goals.

journaling-for-success-2

Now, go on!  Crack open a notebook and start writing your way to success!