Saying Goodbye to Shampoo

Kamisuki (Combing the hair), A colour woodbloc...

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Conventional shampoos are no friend to you or to the environment.  They’re full of chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens that irritant your skin and strip your hair (in addition to posing other health risks).  These ingredients also pollute the air and water in their production and when you wash them down the drain.

So when I finally used up the huge bottle of Pantene I’ve had the last two years, I decided to try the “no ‘poo” method.  I’ve been cleaning my hair with baking soda and conditioning with apple cider vinegar for three weeks now.

The result?  My hair is no better and no worse than before.

On the plus side, my hair seems to need less washing.  I used to shampoo every other day but now every three or four days seems to be just fine, which makes me happy since I like being able to do less.  And besides not adding chemicals to my body or the environment, other benefits include buying fewer plastic bottles and saving money.  Baking soda and vinegar are pretty cheap!

But alas, all is not perfect with the no ‘poo method.  I need to mix the solutions each time I wash which is a bit of a pain.  I’ve tried pre-mixing but I hated pouring cold water over my head (especially in the winter).  In addition, I now have to separately condition my long hair when my old Pantene was a shampoo and conditioner in one.  And lastly, I have to admit that I miss the lather and the nice scent of shampoo.

But in the bigger scheme of things, I’m willing to live with these small downsides in light of the environmental and financial benefits of washing with baking soda and vinegar.

If you’re interested in trying this simple method,  here’s what I do:

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 cup of warm or hot water.  Shake well.
  2. Wet hair with water.  Pour and massage baking soda solution onto scalp and hair.  It will not lather at all but may feel slippery.
  3. Rinse well
  4. If you want to condition, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of water.   Pour over your head and work into hair.
  5. Rinse well.  Don’t worry the vinegar smell will dissipate quickly.

It’s really quite easy but you may need to play with ingredients a bit to find something that suits you.  For instance, you may want to use less baking soda if 1 tablespoon is too drying.  Or if the smell of vinegar is really intolerable, you could replace it with lemon juice instead.  See this post for a detailed guide and FAQs regarding the no ‘poo method.  There’s also a forum devoted to this topic if you want more info.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!  If you don’t, at least consider switching to a more natural shampoo.  Your crowning glory and mother earth will thank you.

Simple Meal Planning

English: Kuaichap (Thai script: ก๋วยจั๊บ) is a...

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Eating healthy often requires that you prepare your own meals.  Fast food, restaurant fare, and prepared foods at the market are usually laden with salt, fat, sugar, and chemicals.  While eating these foods from time to time won’t cause any lasting harm, daily consumption is hardly recommended.

But preparing your own food may seem like a difficult task.  You may not know how to cook, you may not have the time, or you may not have the interest.  Relax, you don’t have to be a health nut and master chef with loads of time on your hands to be able to feed yourself well.  The key is to create a meal plan that’s simple and easy to follow.

Here’s how my family eats:  Breakfast is a routine affair.  It involves little or no cooking.  It’s usually one of three things: cereal with milk, whole grain bread with peanut butter and/or Nutella, or whole wheat crepes that I make on the weekend and serve during the week.  If I cook other things like oatmeal or french toast, I always make enough for at least two meals.

Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  Only reheating or assembly is needed!  Again, I purposely make more so there will be enough for two meals and perhaps some for the freezer as well for those weeks when there’s no time to shop or cook.

Snacks vary, including fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, cheese, yogurt, popcorn, and occasionally cooked items such as hard boiled egg, corn on the cob, or baked sweet potato (yum!).

So in reality, I only cook dinner.  Some examples of meals that work for my family include curry chicken and veggies over rice, pasta with tomato sauce, wonton and veggie soup with noodles, veggie and sausage fried rice, tuna and green apple sandwich.   Dessert is usually fresh fruit.

To make your own simple meal plan, do the following:

1) Come up with a list of breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner foods that meet all the following criteria:

  • You must enjoy eating them.  Why suffer?  How are you going to stick with a plan and motivate yourself to do the work involved if you don’t like what you’re eating?
  • The food should be reasonably healthy and meet your needs, whether that’s no carb or vegetarian or low salt, etc.  Minimize use of processed foods when you can.
  • The food should be fairly easy to prepare, preferably taking less than 30 minutes of hands on time and not require fancy ingredients or equipment.  This minimizes shopping and clean up time.  You can search online for simplified versions of your favorite recipes.  If you’re a new cook, see #5 for some resources.

2)  Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance.  Figure out exactly what you’re having each day to eliminate the need to think about it later when you’re tired and hungry.  Fill in a chart like the one below if it’ll help you.  You don’t have to plan something different for each meal.  If you are okay with leftovers, you can eat the same thing for several days.  You decide how much variety you need.  Plus, you might want to plan on having a couple of meals out each week for the sake of sanity or variety.  This is especially important if you’re new to cooking.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast
Lunch
Snack
Dinner

3)  Comb your pantry and refrigerator to see what you already have and what needs to be purchased for the week ahead.  Make a shopping list and buy everything you need all at once.  There shouldn’t be any extra trips to the store during the week.

4)  Do any prep work you can ahead of time.  For example, bookmark recipes, chop vegetables, put snacks in single serving containers.  Some people cook a week’s worth of food on Sundays.  Some cook everyday.  Some set aside a whole weekend to cook and freeze meals for the month.  Do what works for you.

5)  Once you’ve gotten the hang of creating and following meal plans, try something new every week or every month.  This expands your repertoire and keeps your diet interesting. Allrecipes.com has an extensive database of user rated recipes, including “healthy” and “quick and easy” categories.  In his New York Times piece, Mark Bittman lists 101 foods that you can cook in 10 minutes (okay, maybe 15 if you’re not Bittman).  And then there’s Rachael Ray with her 30 minute meals.  I’d love to hear if you have other food resources to suggest.

Preparing your own meals does take time but it’s not only good for your waistline, it’s good for your wallet as well.  So invest some energy in planning healthy, tasty, and easy meals so you aren’t as tempted to hit the fast food joints.  The benefits are well worth it.  Happy eating!

Impact Investing: Make Money While Doing Good

Slow Money

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How would you like to help a fair trade farmer in Costa Rica, or build affordable housing in Chicago, or provide venture capital to a solar lamp company in India, all while growing your money?  In the emerging field of impact investing, you can make a difference in the world while making money at the same time.

Impact Investing is a cross between philanthropy and investing.  You’re putting your money with businesses and organizations that not only seek to make a profit (or at least be self-sustaining in the case of a non-profit) but also do some social or environmental good.  It’s a way to harness private enterprise and private money in meeting some of the world’s toughest challenges.

With impact investing, your money generates not only financial returns but also social/environmental returns.  For instance, by supporting microenterprise, small farmers, or renewlable energy, you can help alleviate poverty, promote healthy agriculture and food systems, and reduce green house gas emissions.

It sounds great but before jumping in with both feet, you need to consider a few things:

  • Risk – these investment products are not insured or guaranteed in any way.  There’s a chance you can lose all your principle or make a lot of money.  It’s your responsibility to assess the risks involved and decide if it’s suitable for you.
  • Return – financial returns on these investments vary greatly, from very small (i.e. almost nothing) to hitting the jack pot.  As with all investments, the higher the risk, the higher the potential return is.  But in general, people are not in impact investments to make a huge profit.  It’s the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits that matters.
  • Impact – how do you know your money is really making a difference?  This nascent field is still honing industry wide standards, ratings, and reporting tools to measure social and environmental results.  Regardless, every legitimate investment will provide regular documentation of its financial and social/environmental performance.  You should scrutinize these reports to see if the investment is measuring up to your standards.

With all that in mind, if you want to investigate further, your options depend on how much money you have.

At the level of the average middle class investor, the way to participate in impact investing is primarily through lending.  You lend money to an organization that provides funding for various purposes such as community development (affordable housing, small business start up, etc.) and international development (often microenterprise).  In return, you earn interest comparable to CDs.  From what I’ve seen recently, rates range from 0%-3%, depending on the terms of the loan.  But remember that unlike CDs, these loans are not insured but the risk of default is fairly low.

Here are a few resources if you’re interested in investigating further: Microplace allows you to invest as little as $25 to help fight poverty and promote fair trade and environmental initiatives in developing countries.  To make investments in the U.S., Slow Money (yes it’s related to the Slow Food movement) has a good list of possible investments for various income ranges.

If you’re a very wealthy and sophisticated investor, there are more options available to you.  As an accredited investor, you can invest directly in private equity, debt, and real estate.  Their social focus range widely, from land conservation to charter schools to clean technology.  Here the financial risk and return can be high.  It’s not uncommon to see required minimum investments of $100,000 that need to stay invested for 5+ years.

If you qualify as an accredited investor, get started by looking into Investor’s Circle, a membership organization of individuals and institutions focused on funding triple bottom line businesses.  Impact Assets has a list of 50 funds that focus on impact investing – another good place to start researching.

Now impact investing is not a replacement for charitable giving.  Philanthropy is important and necessary.  It’s probably the most appropriate way to combat problems that don’t lend themselves to market solutions such as domestic violence and disaster relief.  But philanthropy alone is not enough.

In 2010, total charitable giving in the U.S. was estimated to be $290.89 billion – this includes individual, foundation, and corporate giving.  In the same year, investable assets of U.S. households alone was $30.2 trillion.  This doesn’t include the funds of institutional investors such as endownments, pensions, and foundations.  If individual investors in the U.S. put just 1% of their money into impact investments, that’s an additional $300.2 billion that can be channeled towards positive change in the world.

So consider if impact investments have a place in your investment portfolio, both for your benefit and for the greater good.

For 2012, A Love List

Love Hearts - All shapes and sizes

Image by monettenriquez via Flickr

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope 2012 is off to a great start for you.

I know that you may be making, or have already made, a list of goals or resolutions for the coming year.  Or perhaps you prefer to live one day at a time.  Regardless, consider making a love list.

I came across the idea in Courtney Carver’s post How to Make a Love List.  It’s an opportunity for you to put down on paper what you would love to be, do, or have in the next 12 months.  It’s a chance to dream, to get in touch with what really matters to you, to let your spirit soar.  It is not another To Do list!

I highly recommend you read Courtney’s post and put together a list or collage.  It’s really a fun and enjoyable experience.  The exercise also sets a lovely tone for the new year.

Here are some of the things on my love list for 2012:

  • Learn to play the ukulele
  • Make a new friend
  • Get weekly aerobic exercise
  • Travel to a new place
  • Write a guest post for Get Rich Slowly (one of my favorite blogs)

What’s on your love list?

Support Good People Doing Good Things

Cambodia Event (c) WWFMoeun Morn Joining Hand...

Image by Earth Hour Global (Cambodia) via Flickr

I came back from Cambodia a few days ago.  It was a lovely trip, full of ancient temples, tasty food, and friendly people.  Of course I also encountered some of the problems still facing Cambodian society.  Seeing victims of landmines with missing limbs as well as warnings about criminal penalties for having sex with children are stark reminders that serious problems persist.

Last week I wrote about giving to charity without opening your wallet.  But if you do have the ability, consider giving some money to organizations that address significant issues at home or abroad.

We all know that the world is rife with challenges, from pollution to violence to poverty.  Many good organizations exist to meet these challenges.  A blog post I once read said, “instead of complaining about bad people doing bad things, support good people doing good things.”  That’s precisely what your financial donation to sound charities can do.

I’ve been a long time supporter of the Global Fund for Women and the Environmental Defense Fund.  I’m not a big donor who gives thousands every year.  But I give what is appropriate for me and trust that my support contributes to the betterment of the world.

If you are unsure about what organizations to give to, ask yourself what causes you feel most strongly about and then find good non-profits that work in those areas.  Charity Navigator is a great site to help you find and evaluate charities.  See their video on how to choose a charity.

In addition, here are a couple of good articles from the New York Times:  Giving Where It Works highlights some great organizations that really have an impact in the U.S. or abroad.  Crowd Funding is about smaller scale giving, often directly to people in need, that provide you with more involvement and effectiveness for your funds.

You can make an impact with your financial resources, no matter the amount.  Lend a helping hand and together, we can make the world a better place.

Give to Charity Without Opening Your Wallet

The Giving Tree

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“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

‘Tis the season of giving but in tough economic times, many of us find ourselves strapped for cash.  If donating money is difficult right now, don’t fret, you can still contribute to the greater good.  There are plenty of ways to give that doesn’t involve money directly.  Below are 5 ideas.

  1. Donate your stuff.  Declutter and give items in good condition to a non profit that can use them.  Some organizations such as a homeless shelter can use clothes or housewares directly but others such as Goodwill sell your donations to fund their programs.  Either way, call the non-profit first to find out what they need and what they cannot accept before you bring your things.
  1. Click on a website.  These site have sponsors that will give a penny or two to a good cause for each time you click on a button which leads to some ads.  Sure, it’s not a lot of money but it really adds up when lots of people click everyday.  Care2 has different causes you can click on along with informative articles about affecting change in the world.  For a more comprehensive listing of different click to donate sites, see One Click at a Time.
  1. Give a part of you.  Consider donating blood or register to be a bone marrow donor.   You can literally give someone a second chance at life.  The bone marrow registry is in particular need for people of non-European ancestry as patients have the best chance of a match from someone of their own ethic background.  If you’re squeamish about needles like I am but have long hair, consider giving your hair.   It can be made into wigs for women and children who’ve lost their hair from cancer treatments or other medical conditions.
  1. Donate miles.  If you find frequent flyer miles to be difficult to use like I do, why not donate them to a charity instead of letting them expire?  Many major airlines have donation programs that allow you to give miles to charities they partner with such as Doctors without Borders.  If your airline is not mentioned in the above link, go to the airline’s site and log into your frequent flyer account.  Look for “donate miles” as an option or search for the term.  Be aware that some airlines specify a minimum donation, such as 1,000 miles.
  1. Volunteer.  Your time and energy may be worth even more than your money.  Whether you have 10 minutes, half a day, or a whole weekend to spare, there’s a way to help.  Enter your interest and your city in Volunteer Match and the site will give you a list of opportunities.  If you’re super busy, try micro-volunteering online through Sparked.com.  You can help without even leaving your computer!

Several years ago I did a winter coat drive at work which netted lots of warm clothing and it cost me only a little time and a little gas money to deliver the goods.  Giving to charity comes in so many forms.  It’s limited only by your imagination, not what’s in your wallet.  Pick what works for you and know that no matter what your financial circumstances, you can make a contribution to others.

Happy Holidays!

How to Say No

Say Yes!

Image by erix! via Flickr

Last week I wrote about making time for what truly matters to you and a key part of that is being able to say no to less important things.  I know, this is easier said than done.

For the longest time, I knew I needed more sleep yet time and again I would catch myself staying up way too late to watch movies.  And usually, they weren’t even all that good.  In my sleep deprived state, I’d kick myself for doing that.  But next week, I’d do it again.  Why?  It wasn’t until I realized that I was afraid of missing out on a really good movie that I was finally able to break the habit of turning on the TV before going to bed just to see what’s playing.  Sure this fear is irrational in the age of on demand movies but most fears are.

So what are some reasons it’s so hard to say no, both to others and to ourselves?

  • we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings
  • we worry we’re going to miss out on something
  • we don’t want to appear selfish or unhelpful
  • we want to be liked or needed
  • we feel pressured to do the socially acceptable thing
  • we worry we won’t be asked again in the future
  • we don’t want to create conflict

The bottom line is that we have a hard time saying no because of fear in some form.  It’s important to recognize what you’re afraid of.  Be compassionate and acknowledging your concerns.  Then focus on what you have to gain by saying no.  There are opportunity costs to every decision.  By saying no to the less important, you have a chance to say yes to what really matters to you.  This is true not just of time but also money.

So how do you graciously say no?  I once heard author and healer Judith Orloff say, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”  It’s a great line but we humans are biologically and socially programed to care about what others think so it’s not as simple as that.  The key is to be direct.  Don’t over explain but don’t lie either.  Here’s some language you can try:

  1. Sorry, I can’t.  I have other plans already (even if your plan is just spending time relaxing at home)
  2. I have a full plate right now.  I’ll call you if my schedule opens up.
  3. I need to check my calendar (or check with my significant other) and get back to you.  (This is a last resort.  It’s best to just decline immediately and get it over with.)

Take a look at your current commitments.  What would you say no to if you knew there would be no negative consequences?  This helps you see what you should be letting go of.  Of course in real life there are negative consequences sometimes but usually it’s not that big of a deal, either for you or for other people.  The dinner party will go on without you.  The charity project will be completed without your help.  Your friend will find someone else to bail them out.

It’s okay to change your mind after you’ve said yes.  If you’re someone who reflexively says yes, it’ll take time for you to learn to respond differently.  In the mean time, give yourself permission to change your mind and let the other person know.  As you make better decisions and stop agreeing to things you don’t want to do, you’ll need to change your mind less often.

Being able to say no comfortably is an acquired skill.  It just takes practice.  Learn to say no so you can say yes to the life you really want to live.