Reduce

How To Keep Holiday Spending Under Wraps (wink, wink)

Over lunch with my husband today, I subtly mentioned to him that the credit card bill next month might be a bit higher than usual. Instead of being disgruntled, the way he can be when I don't forewarn him of such things, he said "thank you for letting me know". I was glad to have gotten that piece of news off of my chest, but I am still feeling a bit anxious about the spending that I have done, and inevitably do this time of year. I came home to a text from my sister saying "I'm scared of what my credit card bill will look like for this month!". 'Tis the season.

Living in Northampton, MA, there are so many wonderful sales at open studios of local artists and artisans this time of year, as well as home-based sales, and the generally great stuff you can find at our array of local shops. Add to that the overall charm of our New England city, all dressed up in her holiday finest - it's hard to resist the urge to shop til you drop, as the saying goes.

I came across this article a week ago. one my go-to blog site, Apartment Therapy, with some sound advice about how to stay on top of spending over the holidays. Read on!

 

How to Avoid a Major Financial Hangover After The Holidays

by Dabne Frake


It’s not too late to ensure you make it through the holidays without going into serious debt. Even if you waded through the 5am crowds on Black Friday, the gift-buying season is in full swing, with plenty of time to say to yourself, “Oh, I just know Dabney would love that [insert item here]. I should just get it for her.” While I appreciate the thought, I’d much rather see you be free and clear of financial worry and set yourself up for budget-happy 2016.

1. Set a Budget
If you already budget, you’re probably in good shape. You know how much you have to spend this month and have planned for it. For the rest of you, take a minute to look at your bank accounts and figure out how much you have that can go towards gifts. And then stick to it.

2. Pay With Cash
Resist the urge to whip out your credit card at checkout register. Using cash makes you more aware of what you’re spending. And if you don’t have the cash on hand, then you can’t buy whatever it is you have your eye on.

3. Use Up Those Gift Cards
If you tend to accumulate gift cards, this is a good way to use them. They might come from actual presents you’ve been given, but we often get free gift cards as rewards for other purchases. Shop throughout the year using these bonus windfalls, and you'll have less to buy in December.

4. Don’t Buy For Absolutely Everyone.... or Yourself
A lot of overspending comes from getting everyone you know a little something, along with splurging on yourself whenever you come across a good deal. Pare down your holiday gift list by focusing on those people you care about the most, and leave off all those random people with whom you don't have a real connection. (Note: By this I don't mean you shouldn't buy gifts through programs like Toys for Tots....)

5. Start Saving for Next Christmas…Now
Set up an automatic savings account (Like Capital One 360) and have $10 slide out of your account every week and into a safe place where you won’t think about it our touch it for another twelve months. By next December, you’ll have roughly $500 to put towards presents.

6. Regift
This might be controversial, but sometimes it just makes sense. If you are gifted things you have no use for, pass them on to others who you might be genuinely happy to get them. Doing so reduces clutter in your own household, and saves you from having to buy more gifts. If you're unsure, check out our guide to regifting, and see what others had to say in the comments.

7. Make Your Gifts
Homemade gifts are way to make the holidays meaningful, and ease pressure on the wallet. Start with our Homemade Holidays gift ideas, and get to making!
 

(Image credits: Ashley Poskin)

 

Ban the Plastic Bag!

On this cold and rainy/sleety spring day (I use the term "spring" loosely) I am contemplating an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this week about the potential ban of single use plastic bags in the city of Northampton, MA. Though our city is a progressive community, it is interesting how long it takes to effect a simple change that would have a positive effect on the environment if it were implemented.  Perhaps it would also help bolster the implementation of similar changes in other cities and states in our country (leading by example).  Many of us have already gotten into the habit of bringing our own bags into stores when we shop.  Businesses such as Serios in downtown Northampton (and River Valley Market) have stopped using plastic bags of their own volition - Serio's even has reusable bags on hand to borrow if need be.  The following article points out that entire countries (Italy and Bangladesh) and the state of California have already instituted such bans.   Below is a photo which illustrates what 18,000+ plastic bags looks like, put together by the students of Northampton schools.  At present, Northampton uses about 10 million plastic bags per year alone! Hopefully, Mayor David Narkewicz and the City Council will approve the ban and have it take effect imminently. 

Northampton officials hear pros, cons on plastic bag ban

  • GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

    GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

NORTHAMPTON — Though many residents are in favor of a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Northampton, some business owners have hesitations about its impact on retailers.

“Your ideas are very admirable, but I think you need to step back and look at the timing,” said Steve Elkins of Deerfield, who owns WEBS Yarn Store on Service Center Road.

He explained that many businesses might still be absorbing costs of other recent measures, such as the city stormwater fee and the state’s mandatory paid sick leave.

Elkins was among some 20 Valley residents who turned out to a public hearing Tuesday night on proposed changes to the city code that would ban the use of most plastic bags starting Jan. 1, 2016. The hearing was hosted by the City Council and the Committee on Economic & Community Development, Housing and Land Use in an effort to gather public opinion on the idea.

Elkins noted that his store would not be affected by a plastic bag ban, but he said he is concerned for those who would be. He suggested that the city hold off for another year before issuing the ban.

“You can’t keep lumping costs onto businesses and expect them to be here,” he said after the meeting.

The changes to the city code would ban supermarkets and other retail stores from using plastic bags that are 1.5 thousandth of an inch or thinner, making them suitable only for a single use. The proposed changes also state that these establishments should use only bags that are biodegradable, thick enough to be reused, or that can be composted.

Thin plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat and bulk foods, as well as plastic coverings for many foods, are exempt from the ban.

If the ban is approved, Northampton would follow in the footsteps of Newburyport, Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, the state of California, and countries including Italy and Bangladesh that have already implemented bans on plastic bags.

Last summer, a proposal to ban plastic bags throughout Massachusetts stalled in the Legislature. But locally, businesses including Serio’s Market and River Valley Market have already stopped issuing plastic bags.

Councilor Jesse Adams, who is recommending the ban in Northampton, said he believes it would get businesses ahead of the curve should the statewide ban be implemented in the future.

Acme Surplus owner Mark Rosenzweig of Williamsburg said he is concerned that the ban could send shoppers to other communities to do their shopping.

“It’s a difficult retail environment,” he told the committee.

But several individuals expressed their support for the ban Tuesday.

Jessica Gifford of Grove Street said she does not believe people will leave the city for conveniences such as not being charged for forgetting their reusable bags.

“I’m really happy that this is hopefully happening,” Gifford said. “I believe if entire countries can do this, then we can do this.” 

According to a display outside of City Council Chambers, the city still uses about 10 million plastic bags a year — and the point was well illustrated with a giant ball of 18,079 bags collected, rolled and tied together by students in Northampton schools.

City Councilor Paul Spector, who is recommending the ban along with Adams, said the ball was so heavy that Council President Bill Dwight was unable to lift it.

Jessica Tanner, of West Street, expressed concern regarding the allowed thickness of the plastic bags. In other communities with plastic bag bans, she said bag manufacturers have found a way around it by producing bags that are thicker, but still only intended for one use.

“I urge the Northampton City Council to adopt a ban without loopholes,” she said.

The proposed ordinance allows businesses that can show economic hardship to defer compliance with the ban for up to three six-month-periods. Tanner suggested that this be reduced to one six-month-period.

Tanner also read a statement on behalf of Hollis Wheeler, of Denise Court, urging the city to allow no plastic bags thinner than five thousandths of an inch.

Tina Ingmann, of Park Hill Road in Florence, also spoke in favor of the ban.

“At this juncture of humanity, you have to move beyond what’s convenient,” she said.

The proposed ban will need approval from City Council and Mayor David Narkewicz before taking effect.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.

Lower Electricity Rates on the Horizon!

Good news! It seems that we can expect to see lower electricity bills, and perhaps lower gas bills, imminently here in the Pioneer Valley. I must say, I still hear the voice of my own parent's resonating in my ears with demands to "turn of the lights when you leave a room!". I have, of course, carried on the same tradition with my own children (harping on them to turn off lights/power when not in use, that is). Someday, I'm hoping this they will do so without even thinking about it (and demand the same of their own offspring). Meanwhile, Northampton area residents who are still reeling from the sticker shock of extremely high electricity bills this winter, can now breathe a sigh of relief -- and hopefully still remember to turn off anything that requires electricity when they aren't using it. Read on for the details about lower electricity rates from the Daily Hampshire Gazette article.

 

National Grid to lower rates May 1

A National Grid crew member works to restore power on lines in Revere, Mass. Monday, July 28, 2014, after a tornado touched down. Revere Deputy Fire Chief Mike Viviano says the fire department in that coastal city has received dozens of calls reporting partial building and roof collapses, and downed trees and power lines. Viviano says there are no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A National Grid crew member works to restore power on lines in Revere, Mass. Monday, July 28, 2014, after a tornado touched down. Revere Deputy Fire Chief Mike Viviano says the fire department in that coastal city has received dozens of calls reporting partial building and roof collapses, and downed trees and power lines. Viviano says there are no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

 

By GENA MANGIARATTI

Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 

(Published in print: Wednesday, March 25, 2015)

 

Valley home and business owners can expect some relief from high electric bills this spring.

 

On Monday, National Grid announced that, pending Department of Public Utilities approval, the cost of power is expected to drop from the current rate of more than 16 cents per kilowatt-hour to just above 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, a more than 40 percent decrease, starting May 1. With the cost of delivering the power remaining the same, this means that typical basic service customers using 500 kilowatt hours of electricity a month will see a decrease of $32, or 26 percent, on their overall bills. 

 

National Grid spokeswoman Danielle Williamson explained that energy costs typically go down in the summer since there is less demand for natural gas than in the winter, when wholesale costs go up due to pipeline constraints.

 

“It’s not a shortage of natural gas that makes the price higher. It’s pipeline capacity constrictions,” she said Tuesday. “There’s enough natural gas, but in New England we don’t have enough pipelines to get into the area.” 

 

Meanwhile, natural gas customers can also anticipate lower bills this spring. Customers of Boston Gas and Colonial Gas, affiliates of National Grid, can expect to see their bills drop by approximately 30 and 25 percent respectively, according to Williamson.

 

National Grid has almost 1.3 million residential and business electric customers in Massachusetts and serves several Hampshire County communities, including Northampton, Belchertown, Granby, Williamsburg and Goshen. The news of lower rates was welcomed by residents and business owners in these communities.

 

Patricia Shaughnessy, who lives in Florence and is director of the Northampton Senior Center, called the news encouraging both as a city resident and professionally.

 

“I work with a population who in many regards cannot afford rate increases for anything,” she said. “So I think it will be a great experience to have their bills going down.” 

 

Customers of Eversource, the utility that formerly operated in this area as the Western Massachusetts Electric Co., will wait another month or so to learn whether their rates will also drop.

 

Unlike National Grid, Eversource operates on a January-through-July schedule with the Department of Public Utilities. In the next month, the company will put out a request for proposals from wholesale electricity suppliers, then submit the lowest bid received for state approval. Eversource does not generate power.

 

Priscilla Ress, an Eversource spokeswoman, said the new National Grid rates hold out hope for consumer rate relief.

 

“This is a very good sign for what’s happening in the electricity market,” she said.

 

The wholesale market has been shifting, she noted, now that customers are seeking alternative suppliers in the face of rising rates. Ress noted that over 90 percent of Eversource customers were previously signed up for the basic rate, but that percentage has fallen since rates jumped by roughly 29 percent Jan. 1.

 

“It’s a very volatile market. That’s why we hesitate to predict how the rates will go.”

 

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.

 

Spring Recycling Events

Few things make me happier than purging things we no longer use or need.  In light of that, and that fact that spring actually seems to have arrived; so I'm sure that many of you are itching to do some spring cleaning...
This information just in from my live-in, walking recycling resource:
RECYCLING EVENT this coming Saturday, April 12, from 9 until Noon at Smith Vocational High School on Locust Street sponsored by the Northampton ReUse Committee. This is the first of a series of special material recycling events coming in the Spring and Fall 2014.The materials to be collected this Saturday are: Paper Shredding Styrofoam Pellet Plastic Bags from Pellet StovesPaper ShreddingOn site secure document paper shredding will be provided by Pro-Shred of Wilbraham. Please bring only clean and dry paper. Manila folders are okay but plastic folders and page dividers are not. Shredded paper will be recycled at the event. There is a limit of two curbside recycling sized boxes.

Styrofoam Recycling

Materials that will be accepted are large pieces of white, clean and dry foam. Any paper or plastic must be removed and will not be accepted.In addition colored foam, packing peanuts and food related foam like cups, plates and trays will not be accepted.

Pellet Bags Recycling Bags must be empty, dry and relatively clean. Only bags from wood pellets will be accepted. Please stack empty bags, fold them together and place the roll inside another empty pellet bag.

The ReUse Committee is always looking for volunteers to help at these events. They usually require one to four hours of time on a Saturday morning. If you are interested in joining our corps of volunteers, please contact me at david.starr@comcast.net. The events are fun and social and require no previous experience.

Upcoming Events

April 26th - Community Tag Sale and Swap, Northampton

May 3 - Bulky Rigid Plastics and Kid's Stuff Exchange    9 till Noon at Smith Voc toys, lawn furniture, plastic play structures, plastic buckets...

For information regarding this and upcoming recycling events please contact Susan Waite, Northampton Recycling Coordinator, with any questions 413 587 1059 or swaite@northamptonma.gov.

In addition to the exciting news above.... My resources tell me that there is a drop off site in Holyoke for any unwanted paint!

paint

 

As you can see, we have a nice collection going and we are thinking it's time to purge!  And what a great idea that someone else might actually be able to use it.  A win-win situation.  Here is the information:

Latex paint can be brought to the Refuse/Recycling Drop-off Site for disposal. Paint swap is available for anyone interested in unused paint. Empty latex paint cans that are dried up can be brought to the Refuse/Recycling Center. Empty cans of oil-based paint must be disposed of during the City's hazardous waste day, which is held twice a year in the Spring, and Fall. Information concerning the City's Hazardous Waste Days is available by calling the DPW at 413-322-5645.

 

Happy Purging everyone!