Making the most of dwindling resources

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Associated Press reported last week that 64 percent of Americans say rising gas prices would cause money problems for them in the next six months.

For the first time ever, it cost more than $30 to fill the tank of my Saturn at the local Arco station. Cheapest gas price in the neighborhood, I shouldn’t complain, but even at a thrifty 33 miles per gallon, that means the 110-mile roundtrip to Trader Joe’s will cost $9.32. That’s more than I’d save on a week’s grocery list, even though the quality and selection is incomparable to our local market. The roundtrip here of 12 miles only costs, let’s see, about a buck. I can’t believe I even have to figure this out.

But, as fate would have it, at the very moment gas prices are soaring, my cash flow has dwindled to a trickle. I’m trying to see how little money I can spend now, how many things I can do without, until the cash flow is reversed. As of today, it’s still circling the drain.

So I’m into what the park rangers call deferred maintenance. I’ve cut down from an average of one trip off the hill a week to one every other week, if all goes well, which lately is not a given.

I’ve been advocating this thrift for years, when it comes to petroleum products in general. Long before crude broke the $60 per barrel mark, I refused to buy petroleum-based detergents, cleansers, pest repellents, lotions, soaps, you name it. If it carries a nationally advertised brand name in this country, it contains petrochemicals. I did this in the name of ecology.

But thrift is my middle name (some would say stingy), so I never threw away the half-empty bottles of stuff that I replaced with brands like Ecover, Seventh Generation, Aveda and Avalon. Good thing.

As all my green clean products run out, I have those rejects to use. Neatly stashed on the top shelves of cupboards are Mrs. Gooches’ shampoo, a few ounces of conditioner, two bottles of Avon Skin-So-Soft (the best ant and flying-insect repellent) and three partial tubes of Clinique sunscreen moisturizer (I did throw out their lipstick, when I learned it was laced with lead).

I’ve been making soap grafts from tiny slivers of my favorite lemon soap. And when the Ecover cleansing powder ran out, I got out the baking soda, which I’d bought for about 30 cents a box. That stuff will clean and deodorize just about anything. Yesterday, when I ran out of Aveda Tourmaline Charged Eye Creme, I chilled a cucumber from my garden and put slices over my eyelids for about five minutes. Voila! No more red, no more puffy. Amazing.

When I discovered my facial cleanser was down to a dab, I was crushed. Even the lemon soap chips are too strong for my dry, paper-thin skin. Then I found a recipe for Gentle Foaming Cleanser, all of the ingredients I have: 1 Tbs. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. plain yogurt, 1 tsp. water. In a small bowl, I add water to the baking soda, then yogurt and stir as it foams up. I wet my face and gently massage in the mixture, then rinse with lukewarm water.

This is really nice. My face doesn’t feel taut or itchy or pruned. And it cost, what, maybe two cents at most. I went back to the article in Utne (March/April), a reprint from the inventive, how-to magazine ReadyMade (Nov./Dec/2004). There I found the recipe for a soothing facial mask: 1/4 cup yogurt and 1/4 cup peeled, chopped cucumber. Blend and apply for five minutes, rinse with cool water. Simplicity itself.

If I keep finding things like this, I’ll save a bundle and may be able to push Trader Joe’s off for another week or two. I’m not only saving money, I’m using much less petrol all around and emitting fewer hydrocarbons in the process. Will it slow global warming, which is wreaking havoc on my vegetables and fruit trees? That would be way cool.

Of course, these petty economies will not likely bring gasoline prices down. But I’m inclined to think this is not altogether a bad thing. If drivers begin to demand more fuel efficient vehicles, if workers commute more often in van pools or, dare I say it, public transportation, and if those buses were converted to run on natural gas, as some already are, and the trucks that deliver everything we need used alternative fuels like biodiesel, we’d be making real progress.

If it takes a hit in the wallet to change our insane dependence on petroleum, well, that might not be such a bad thing for us and for the planet.