Pennies For Produce

Our Farmer’s Market opened late last month, and my mouth immediately started watering for homegrown produce like you would not believe! We were among the first to arrive on a rainy Saturday morning and it was more than an hour later before we left with 3 bags of microgreens, sunflower sprouts, and spinach; a bunch of radishes, a gallon of strawberries, a loaf of bread, a jar of sugar-free blackberry jam, and an aloe plant. We spent $46.50 (nearly a quarter of the “market money” we had saved over the winter).

Though we love our Farmer’s Market and could talk for hours about the benefits of buying local, the story of how we came into our “market money” is what I really want to talk about today. You see, it never ceases to amaze me how much valuable stuff people throw away – including actual money sometimes.

Last October, when our Farmer’s Market ended for the season, Angie and I came up with the idea to save our change over the winter to spend at the market next season. We thought we’d end up with maybe $20 – $30 at most but, pretty soon, we started finding change all over the place, from pennies at the car wash to quarters in the parking lot of our apartment. Then there were the carts at Aldi. We live next door and often walk through the parking lot on our outings. Despite having to pay a quarter to use a cart, there are still a lot of folks who leave them in the lot (or in the grass). We returned nearly $8.00 worth of carts. (That’s 2 quarts of fresh, juicy blueberries or 4 bags of spinach, by the way.)

Another thing that we passed on our walks was the dumpster – 5 of them to be exact. In or near a typical apartment dumpster, you can find all sorts of stuff. We’ve been rescuing a lot of these items and taking them to Goodwill for years. This time, we started listing some of them on Marketplace. Though it was often a pain in the rear to meet up with people, we managed to make $38 on a couple of items that we found. And speaking of found – on several occasions we stumbled upon $1 and $5 bills at the park. We racked up another $12 this way.

Then one random day in February, we decided to declutter the hall closet. There’s not much in the hall closet of two people who have been minimalists for the better part of the last 7 years, but we did manage to scrounge up some puzzles, a couple pairs of bowling shoes and a tiny space heater to add to our Marketplace listings. We also threw in the money we made from ditching our microwave, for a total of $55.

On the night before the Farmer’s Market opened, we sat down in the living room floor, dumped all our change on the carpet, and started rolling. When we ran out of rollers, we were at $67 – and we hadn’t even touched the pennies! I would venture to guess that we left at least $20 – $30 in the jar for next time – the very same amount we thought we’d have in total in the first place.

Our actual “market money” total was $180, enough to fund our trips to the Farmer’s Market for at least 6-8 weeks (even including our over-exuberance on week one). We’re pretty proud of that, but detailing our good fortune is not the only reason I started this post.

In this world, there are two types of people – the ones who throw pennies away and the ones who pick them up. The penny tossers are also usually the same folks who throw away their dollars without much thought. How many times have you heard someone say (or have said yourself) – “It’s only a dollar (or $5 or $20)”- when contemplating some random purchase? The penny tossers don’t see the bigger picture. Small amounts of money don’t matter, they will never make you rich, so there’s no logical reason not to buy the candy bar, the mocha latte, or the lottery ticket. I mean, there’s a real chance that ticket could be worth a million dollars, right??

The penny pickers on the other hand, they know the real score. They know that all denominations of money spend exactly the same – and they all save the same too. We pick up pennies because they add up, maybe not to enough to make you “rich” but then again, what is the definition of rich anyway? When we take our $180 in mostly found money to the Farmer’s Market this season and trade it for delicious tomatoes, squash, melons, and berries – I’m pretty sure we’re going to feel like we hit the jackpot.

But, if that’s not enough to inspire you not to walk past unwanted change on the ground, this ingenious math from FI Tradesguy might:

Let’s assume that picking up a coin off the ground and putting it in your pocket takes two seconds (it does, I do it all the time!) That means you can pick up 30 coins per minute and 1,800 coins per hour. Here is the simple table showing the hourly rate of picking up coins at two seconds each.

1,800 coins X $.01 = $18/hour

1,800 coins X $.05 = $90/hour

1,800 coins X $.10 = $180/hour

1,800 coins X $.25 = $450/hour

I pick up change because of the mindset behind the action, but I also pick up change because I don’t want to pass by a couple seconds of really high paying wages. Every time you find a penny and pick it up, you can tell yourself that you just made $18/hour. Find a quarter and make $450/hour! Granted, you only worked for two seconds, but who wants to pass up $18 or $450 per hour? No matter how long you can work that gig.

Honestly, I’d never really thought of it that way but the excited feeling I get when find a quarter says that there’s some truth to that logic. $450/hour is some serious cash. Who wouldn’t be happy to find a quarter??

Minimalism Meets the Microwave

The microwave oven is one of those marvels of modern convenience that even after 73 years in existence is still the subject of controversy. Just the other day, I saw a post on Facebook about how microwaving broccoli removes 98% of its nutrients. (That’s not exactly true, by the way. Cooking broccoli by any method, especially those involving water, removes some of the nutrients.) There are folks who stand firmly in the anti-microwave camp because of the potential of certain plastics to release harmful chemicals when heated. There are others who believe microwaving can increase carcinogens in our food. On the other side, there are folks who swear microwaves are not only safe, but they are the healthiest way to cook.

Personally, here’s what I believe – the microwave is a giant piece of counter clutter (at least in our home) that serves zero purpose beyond reheating leftovers. Seriously, I’ve looked at our microwave just sitting there for the past 4 years, spending most of its days as a timer for whatever we’re cooking on the stove. So, one morning, while Angie was cleaning up the kitchen, I mentioned ditching the microwave. “Let’s do it!” she said.

We posted the microwave on Marketplace and within an hour, it was gone. Our counter now looks like this:

I’m not advocating that everyone ditches their microwave. I am, however, suggesting that we ditch clutter, whatever form that clutter may take. In this scenario, the word “microwave” could just as easily be replaced by any number of things. Do you have too many dishes? One too many televisions? Maybe an end table that’s only purpose is to serve as a clutter catch-all? Those are the things I recommend ditching. In our case, it just happened to be the microwave.

Several years ago, we stopped using the microwave except to reheat certain leftovers, like rice or pasta. This was a decision we made based on our own research and a desire to eat better. At the time, we were moving away from processed foods, including microwavable convenience meals and side dishes. Though microwaving itself might be safe, processed foods definitely are not and neither are most of the plastics that they come in. A package might say BPA-free, but there are many, many other chemicals in microwavable packaging, such as glues and dyes that can potentially be harmful. And don’t even get me started on microwave popcorn! That stuff is bad on so many levels!

Around the time that we stopped using our microwave, we also bought a hot-air popcorn popper. I can honestly say, I now prefer the flavor of lightly-salted hot air popcorn over any other (including the sinfully delicious and ridiculously overpriced popcorn at the movie theater). We also started batch cooking so that we could avoid answering the question of “what do you want for lunch?” with something quickly zapped in the microwave. Today, we make a huge pot of soup or chili once a week and that serves as lunch most days. We usually pair it with a salad or a grilled veggie quesadilla. And of course, in a pinch, we rely on the most steadfast of lunch menu choices, a good ole peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Aside from quick meals, we also used our microwave for melting butter for baking, quickly thawing foods, and heating water for tea, but even those have substitutes. I’ve started heating the butter (which is now vegan butter) in a ramekin while the oven is preheating. We try to remember to set out frozen foods early enough to thaw or we put them in water to speed up the process. And heating water – well, you can do that on the stove. Without the microwave, things do take a bit longer, but when I consider the pace at which we want our life to go, there really is no reason to rush. We can wait a few extra minutes for a great cup of tea.

It has been nearly a month since we sold the microwave and neither of us has missed it. The internet, yes, but not the microwave. This tells me that it really was just a piece of counter clutter that needed to be removed and I kind of wish we’d done it sooner.

Do you have a microwave? What, if any, modern conveniences have you decided to live without?