Don’t throw those beer bottles in the recycling bin!

Returning bottles in the US might not be as profitable as it is in Norway, but something is more than nothing! Photo by Dianne Yee (Flickr/Creative Commons).
Returning bottles in the US might not be as profitable as it is in Norway, but something is more than nothing! Photo by Dianne Yee (Flickr/Creative Commons).

When I lived in Norway, I hardly ever bought bottled or canned drinks. Everything in Norway is expensive, but alcohol and soda were especially expensive relative to the cost of other groceries. Whenever I did buy a drink, though, I would always take the bottle back to the supermarket for a return on the bottle deposit.

As the video below shows, you put the bottles into the machine, the machine scans to make sure that the bottle was subject to the bottle deposit, and then it spits out a receipt that you can use at the store that houses the machine.

A bottle ≤500ml gives you 1 krone (~12¢ USD) back, and anything >500ml gives 2.50 kroner (~31¢ USD). If I took a few of my bottles and some of my flatmates’, I’d get quite a bit of cash back!

Here in California, we have a similar bottle deposit system. California Redemption Value (CRV) is 5¢ for containers <24 ounces and 10¢ for anything ≥24 ounces. It is a bit less convenient to return bottles here, in that bottle recycling centers aren’t as common and aren’t open all the time. I’m too lazy to return the bottles myself, so I let my roommate take care of this. When our communal bin of bottles gets full, she’ll drive them over to the nearest recycling center and get a redeemable receipt. Each load yields $5-10, depending on how many containers were in there. Not a bad way to save (or earn, depending on your perspective) a bit of cash!

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5 tips for saving money on weekday lunches

You might not have the time, skill, or inclination to pack a lunch as pretty as this one. But you should be packing your lunch, regardless! Photo and bento by Amorette Dye (Flickr/Creative Commons).
You might not have the time, skill, or inclination to pack a lunch as pretty as this one. But you should be packing your lunch, regardless! Photo and bento by Amorette Dye (Flickr/Creative Commons).

I have a confession to make. I broke my rule of not buying food on campus (an extension of the no campus coffee rule). On Friday I paid $3.99 for some bland turkey breast, tough brussels sprouts, and so-so sweet potato mash from an eatery run by the university. It tasted okay.

I didn’t even break the rule for a good reason. Sure, I had to eat my lunch during a meeting, and most of the time I pack pretty pungent lunches. But I certainly could have spent some time Thursday night making a non-smelly lunch for the next day.

I broke the rule because of a coupon. The normal price would have been $6.99, but I happened to have a coupon for $3 off.

Here’s the thing with coupons: they’re sneaky. If I had thought about it carefully, I would have realized that I wasn’t saving $3. I was spending $3.99. If I tallied up the cost of packing my own lunch, it would have come up to way less than $3.99, and I would have been able to control the portions, flavoring, and nutritional content.

Most lunch options on my campus cost around $7. Assuming that a term is 16 weeks, and that I buy lunch on campus Monday-Friday for the entire term, that is $35/week or $560/month on lunch. A generous estimate of what the average PhD student on my campus makes after tax is $1,800 a month. That is 31% of take-home pay going to weekday lunches!

And yet I see other graduate students buying lunch all the time. Some might buy coffee on campus, as well. They’re spending way more of their money on mediocre food than they should be. Often, they don’t even know how much money it is. It’s just an automatic decision. When I talk to them about bringing lunch, they all seem to be on board with the idea, but claim that they’re too busy to pack their lunch, or that they don’t know how to cook, et cetera, et cetera. The litany of excuses is never ending.

Just think about what you could do with an extra $500 or so a month. (I’m arbitrarily subtracting $60 to account for the cost of groceries that turn into packed lunches.) You could save it for retirement (Emily at EvolvingPF has a great overview of how and why to do this), pay down your student loans, or save it for a memorable trip. You could use it for a purpose that really matters to you.

With that said, here are some tips for saving money on lunch. Students, underpaid entry level workers, and everyone else, take note:

Continue reading “5 tips for saving money on weekday lunches”

Quick tip: grow scallions in water

Photo: Janet Lackey (Flickr/Creative Commons).
Photo: Janet Lackey (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Several of my local grocery stores had scallions on sale this week, $0.99 for 3 bunches (or $0.33 a bunch). I bought one bunch at a local Korean market and promptly cut them in half: one half was all green, and the other half was both white and green. I chopped up the all-green half and put it in Tupperware for later use. Then I put the white parts (with the roots intact) in a mason jar with a bit of water and stuck the jar near the window. Why? Because scallions will keep growing in water!

As a single person cooking for one, it’s pretty hard for me to finish a whole bunch of scallions. I usually just need one or two sprigs, but they’re always sold in bunches. They seem to wilt in the refrigerator very quickly, too. I used to think it was a waste to even buy scallions until I discovered this water-growing trick on the internet.

You may be able to do this even if you don’t have a sunny window for  your jar of scallions. It has worked for me it in the middle of winter in southern Norway, where there is just a few hours of sunlight a day.