Buy-it-once strategy

52 Weeks – CFL Bulbs, Is It True?

In 2013 I put a CFL bulb in my reading light in the living room. Fourteen watts vs. sixty, and I think I can see even better. They burn much cooler too, so that will save a little on the a/c.

I had it in my head that CFL bulbs cost a lot, but the prices have gone down since I formed that idea. I saw them on at less than $2 a bulb. They are said to last as much as ten times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs, and use 50% to 80% less electricity.

On the other hand, when I went to buy some, I read the reviews on It seems that in real life the cheaper bulbs may not last very long at all! I learned from the reviews that their claimed ten year life might actually be less than a year in practice. So I searched on “complaints CFL bulbs.”

  • I learned that you’ll have better luck if you buy Energy Starrated name brand bulbs.
  • They do better in places where they will stay on for long periods.
  • It’s better not to use them in a recessed or enclosed fixture.
  • They don’t do as well where there is vibration, such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  • You need special bulbs for fixtures on a dimmer switch, even if you don’t use the dimmer feature.
  • An ordinary light that stays on for hours is the best place to use them.
  • The used bulbs must be disposed of as hazardous waste because they contain a small amount of mercury. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s have collection centers for them.

After two years, the CFL bulbs in fixtures that stay on for long periods are still going strong. The ones in the bathroom light burned out.

Several people told me that it costs more to turn a florescent or CFL light on every time you enter the room than to just leave it on. I looked into it. This is old news from the ‘70s. The old style ballasts used a lot of energy. Modern fluorescent lights use only a tiny bit of extra energy on startup, compared to the energy used to leave it burning.

Frequent turning on and off can shorten the life of a bulb. But again, for modern bulbs this effect is very, very minor. According to Scientific American and, a rule of thumb for modern fluorescents, including CFLs, is to leave it on if you will be out of the room for less than five minutes.


“What I Don’t Have to Spend, I Don’t Have to Earn”

About half the time when I say that to people, they stare as if what they heard me say was, “Erndampt, ag rojabrane.” I’ve tried saying it in different words, but sometimes it just doesn’t fit a person’s mindset.

If I arrange my life so that I don’t have to spend $60 a month on dry cleaning, then at least theoretically, that’s $60 I don’t have to earn that week. Of course when you have a steady and sufficient salary, you’re going to earn anyway. In that case, what you don’t have to spend, you can save up for something bigger that you want, like a vacation or early retirement.

When you’re relying on intermittent and unpredictable self-employment income, and your health isn’t reliable either, not-spending is a wonderful way to handle gaps in income. This is great for people who are retired, disabled, temporarily out of the work force for personal or family reasons, etc…..

If working overtime hours is putting pressure on your health or your family life, perhaps you could not-spend instead of working yourself into the ground.

For hundreds of examples of ways to not-spend (and still live a normal life), see my book, Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely.

Challenge Me!

My book is all about finding useful, affordable alternatives to the things modern life has conditioned us to believe we “have to” buy.

Think of something that costs money that you don’t know of an alternative for. Challenge me to offer an alternative by leaving a comment on this or any other post. Please include the word “challenge” in your response.

Disposables – Coffee Filters

Though I don’t drink coffee, I know many people who do. For decades, I just assumed that of course one had to use paper coffee filters in the coffee maker. When I bought coffee makers for my rental rooms, I became aware of the existence of permanent, metal, coffee filters. Some coffee makers on come with the permanent filter in them. You can also buy them separately.

No more having to buy filters over and over and throw them away. The metal filters are easy to wash and very effective, and they last for years.

52 Weeks: Week One: Disposables – Picnicy Stuff

Plastic utensils, moist towelettes, paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, how did people eat quickly on their way somewhere, or go on a picnic, for all the years, centuries, before these conveniences were invented?

They took the real stuff with them, is how, and brought it back home and washed it as usual.

Convenience is great, and the older and more tired I get the more I understand why people go for it. On the other hand, I have more time than money, so it does me no real harm to use real utensils and dishes and eventually* wash them up.

When life calls for me to take a meal with me I use an insulated bag, possibly with a small blue ice in it. The beverage goes in a stainless steel water bottle. I wrap flatware in a cloth napkin and put the food in whatever reusable containers are suitable. A scrap of cloth, dampened, in another small container, works as a moist towelette. After all, moist towelettes are just a disposable substitute for the good old damp cloth people had always used.

My intention here is not to campaign for never using disposables. My hope is to let people who are trying to spend less and save more implement one more way to do that.



*I’m not among those noble people who wash dishes after every meal. That might be an argument for using paper dishes, but no. Because there are other people in my household to be considered, I daren’t fill up the sink with my dishes. I rinse them and put them in a dishpan off to the side on the counter. Because they aren’t sitting in water, they don’t develop a stink. When I’m ready to wash them I fill the dishpan with hot soapy water and leave it to soak until the water has cooled off enough to be comfortable for my hands.

52 Weeks to Effective Use of Money

This year, I’m going to take a new topic each week to blog about. Ways to spend less while still living a normal life. Ways to earn some extra money without undermining the quality of your life. Efficient strategies to use the money you have to its best effect. Money I don’t have to spend is money I don’t have to earn. Money I don’t use on boring “everybody does it” stuff is money I can spend on things that really matter to me.

This week is paper products and disposables, because so many Americans use so many paper and disposable products, it’s likely to be useful to many. I recently saw an article that re-defined paper products as not just paper towels, etc., but also paper checks, wrapping paper, anything made of paper.

With the natural progression of technology, I rarely use paper checks anymore. When one more provider starts accepting online payments, I won’t need checks at all. Ordering checks through the bank usually costs more than ordering them online. If you search on “order checks online,” you’ll find many companies. Most of them offer a discount for your first order. If you order from a new company every time, you get the new customer discount each time.

Wrapping paper alternatives can be fun. A receiving blanket makes a suitable wrap for a baby gift. Perhaps a kitchen towel for a housewarming gift. Dollar stores carry themed or colorful plastic tablecloths that can be great for wrapping large or awkward gifts. How about a red-checked tablecloth wrapping picnic supplies or the ingredients for a great Italian dinner. Reusable gift bags and gift boxes save resources and don’t have to be paid for over and over. One year I made Christmas bags from cloth, with drawstrings. If the whole family is on board with this, they can be used year after year and become part of the tradition. Just about any box can be painted, decorated, or covered with cloth to make an original and reusable gift container.


“Floss the Teeth You Want to Keep”

I saw that phrase on a sign outside a dentist’s office years ago. I remembered it because it’s true and useful. I confess that for decades I lied to dentists and hygienists. ‘Oh, yes, I floss’ (this morning, so I’d be sort of telling you the truth today).

Then one year they showed me the x-rays from that day and the same view from a year earlier. The bone loss was clearly visible. The bone is what makes your teeth stay in, and I do want to keep my teeth. That day I started flossing and do so to this day. One of the excuses I had was that I didn’t feel like I had time. I timed it once, it took less than a minute. I have time.

Here’s a relevant clip from my book, Frugal Living for the 21st Century, now available in paperback on

“Lately I’ve noticed dental floss costing more and/or having less floss in the container. Since dental work is many times more expensive than dental floss, I still buy it. Consuming less floss per use is one idea. I thought that would happen with a dental floss holder I bought at Search on “Flossaid Dental Floss Holder.” It probably would have, but my teeth are close together and the holder didn’t hold the floss taut enough for it to work. …

I tried some other things. Nylon upholstery thread was strong enough, but too round to slide down between my crowded teeth. Regular strength sewing thread fit between my teeth but broke right away. So did embroidery floss. So, I went back to dental floss. Walmart’s Equate brand costs 87 cents for 55 yards. The name brand costs $2.62 for the same amount. So far, Walmart’s is the least expensive floss I’ve found.

I looked for reusable tools that can do some of the things that floss does. All sources agreed that flossing is by far the best. But what if you can’t floss or want to do more than just floss? The goal is to disturb the colonies of bacteria, to stop plaque from forming.

One tool is the rubber-tipped dental stimulator, the kind that used to be built in to the handles of toothbrushes. This tool is flexible and pointy. You run the point along the intersection of your gums and teeth, disturbing the plaque at the gum line. You can also put the point in between your teeth at the gum line and wiggle it to improve blood flow to the gums.

Another tool is the interdental brush. It looks like a teeny-tiny bottlebrush. They come in different sizes and degrees of softness. They slide in between the teeth at the gum line to brush the insides where a regular toothbrush won’t go.

GUM® makes a semi-disposable form of these called Soft-Picks®. Each one lasts more than one use, but not for long enough to be a permanent tool. I tried one of these. I had thought it might hurt or feel creepy. In fact, it felt good and I could tell it would clean the gum area between the teeth better than floss alone.

Both of these tools can be disinfected just like your toothbrush. You can use mouthwash, hydrogen peroxide, or rubbing alcohol.”

Today, New Year’s Eve, is a good time to renew your vows to floss regularly, if you don’t already.