Frugal $ense: Save the planet and some money

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Little things do add up. Just like a sustained effort toward saving money can one day build a fortune, incremental efforts at reducing plastic consumption can save some fossil fuels and reduce the amount of trash dumped in landfills. Statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency show that plastics accounted for 11.1 percent of the total municipal solid waste generated in 2003, totaling around 26.7 million tons. In an effort to reuse some of that plastic, Jessica Cartledge, the Frugal $ense winner for April, combines her love of gardening and money into one tidy earth-friendly package. Congratulations, Jessica!

April’s Frugal $ense winner: Jessica Cartledge
Jessica Cartledge of LaGrange, Ill., won $100 for submitting the following tip:
Garden recycling
I love gardening but it often costs a lot to buy new pots and seed starting kits. I began using my old milk jugs and plastic lettuce containers to start my seeds. They make great terrariums for seeds to start growing, and I reduce the amount of plastic that I have to throw out.
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Bankrate: What kind of plants do you grow?
Jessica: A lot of herbs — basil and rosemary and tons and tons of tomatoes. It’s been so expensive buying pots that I figured I’d get the plastic jugs instead and just start them out from seeds, because I always end up throwing those little things away that you have to buy.

Bankrate: It’s a good way to reuse plastic containers.
Jessica: I’m trying to recycle; I’m kind of crazy about that. I recycle everything. And I just feel like I throw away so much garbage that I thought I might as well use it for something. There’s a new fertilizer that uses old pop bottles and they put a compost tea in it and sell it for $15 and that’s great, they’re helping the environment. But, I thought, hey, I could do that and put plants in the jugs, and it’s worked out really well.

Bankrate: Do you have any more earth-friendly frugal tips?
Jessica: I grow a lot of stuff from seeds instead of going out and buying the started plants, so that does save a bit. If you start plants from seeds, you have a little pride in it as well. Plus, I get so many of them that I give the plants away to family and friends. A lot of times, with gardening, if you have perennial plants, if you grow one it’ll sometimes blossom into a few more or you’ll have little seedlings. So, I have a gardening club where people exchange plants with me and I give them my plants. You end up having so many more plants that you don’t have to buy them.

Next: “I used to be a florist. …”

Bankrate: How long have you been planting?
Jessica: For a long time, five or six years. I used to be a florist and it drove me nuts how much money people spent on flowers, so I’m much more into plants and growing them and cutting them myself.

The flowers get marked up so much, and that’s another thing — you can have your own cutting garden and just plant them and cut them yourself. And they last longer, I’ve found.

Bankrate: Do you have any favorite ways to save money on a day-to-day basis?
Jessica: I’m such a nerd about all this, actually. I put a lot of my money into money market accounts, I read money blogs, the Internet is just full of ideas. I also really like the coupon Web sites; I just bought a computer and checked the coupon Web sites and got a really good deal — $500 off a computer.

Mainly, I just try to stay on top of my bills so I know what I’m paying and what’s coming in and going out. I also do odd jobs occasionally to make some extra money.

Plus, I read a lot of money books to learn about investing. I’m all about getting my money to work for me. I always pay myself first.

And I always check Bankrate for new tips.

Bankrate: Paper or plastic bags at the grocery store?
Jessica: I get plastic now but I’m going to buy my own reusable bags. I haven’t gotten to that point yet but I’m convinced. I definitely want to convert to reusable bags. The plastic bags I get now I use as trash bags, so I reuse them.

Investing in some tote bags is definitely my next step.