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Stimulate this! Great ideas for using your economic stimulus package

As soon as I heard about Bush's Economic Stimulus plan, I started in with the subversion. I'd use my stimulus check to buy things, but entirely not the things Bush and big retail corporations wanted me to. My debit card wouldn't be swiped at Target or Sears or Olive Garden; with the whopping $2,100 my family will get (we have three children) I wouldn't buy a single gallon of premium unleaded gas, nor sink a nickel into video poker machines (I'm scandalized and saddened that's where Oregon's kicker went). No. I'd buy things that would work gently against big government and big big oil.

I made a promise to myself that I would spend my economic stimulus money on things that would save me from spending future fossil fuels, future money and future greenhouse gases. I decided I would invest my stimulus package into my little urban homestead's soil, air, and food stores. I'd get off the grid, just a bit, I'd use it to live lighter. I made a list of ideas and (helped by a substantial tax rebate) I've already started in on it. Do you have any ideas to add to the list? Where will your stimulus package go?

  • A membership in a CSA. You'll get organic produce all season long, you'll help a local farming family, you'll be good to the earth, and you'll save money. Maybe you'll even teach your children how great artichokes are. A few recommendations of Portland-area CSAs are here; here's a comprehensive list. You'll pay between $200 and $800 depending on the length of season, size of box, farm, and options.
  • Fruit trees or bushes. I just went out and splurged on a bunch of blueberry bushes, some currants, two fig trees, and a couple of grape plants. I'm planning on getting a couple of cherry trees once my stimulus package comes through. Huckleberries are native plants, too! Livingscape Nursery is a great place to get fruit bushes and small trees; check out Portland Nursery for large trees. $15-60 per plant; I've budgeted about $200 and expect to be producing a few hundred dollars worth of fruit a year in four or five years.
  • Insulated windows; roof insulation; etc. Your house will be worth more; you'll save on energy costs; you'll be happier!
  • A chest freezer. Preserve food from that CSA, buy a half a cow, you-pick produce in season or the fruits (and vegetables) from your aforementioned garden. Freezers range in price from $200 to $800 or so; any recommendations?
  • Chickens and supplies for a coop. You can start with $100 or so of chicks, food, and supplies; or spend a lot more for a ritzy coop. Either way, you'll have fresh eggs, garden fertilizer, funny pets, and a new respect for farmers. I wrote about getting chickens here; if you need more info, email me or check out the PDXBackyardChix Yahoo! group.
  • Purge the plastic. Buy Sigg bottles or Kleen Canteens; reusable tote bags (or buy a sewing machine and make some out of thrifted materials!); glass baby bottles; stainless steel lunch containers; glass jars and storage containers from IKEA; wooden toys; ceramic storage bins for flour.
  • Canning equipment. Ball jars (or the equivalent) are pretty cheap, but a nice big canning pot isn't so much. Invest; take a class at Preserve; or buy a book (I liked Blue Ribbon Preserves, though canning is still a future skill, not an acquired one). I plan to (hopefully!) organize a couple of learn-to-can parties this summer, so stay tuned or email me.
  • Smart financial choices. Pay extra on your mortgage or save for a down payment on a house; save for college; put it in an IRA; pay off a credit card and then cut it up (or cut it up first and then pay it off ;).


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Awesome post. We resolved last night not to buy anything that could be counted as economic stimulation and also to donate at least 10% to a local charity or somesuch. Thanks for the inspiration!

I love your list. We're subversive most of the time when it comes to buying things, and our farm life is pretty well established so I am thinking the money will most likely get donated to one or two good places. I thought I had decided where it would go, but you have me thinking about a good local environmental type place. Maybe Zenger Farm.....I will have to do some thinking. Any ideas?

Lovely bike setup, Sarah! I am fixated on step-through bikes these days.

Since our kicker check went to PPS (yep, my husband thought it would be a good idea to check that little ol' box on the forms last year), we have the stimulus check earmarked to go towards a shed "project" in our backyard.

We won't be getting a check but I'd love to see families pay down debt or save for college or retirement funds.

My husband and I joked that maybe we should take a family vacation to Mexico - spend the money to revitalize Mexico's economy, in turn solving the immigration issue, and then have a relaxing time knowing we're not going to Target.

We used our check to purchase a Kidz Tandem bike at Clever Cycle. It is great! Now I can ride around with all the kids. I only have to drive one day a week.

We have a couple home repairs in mind, but we are going to buy a couple of used appliances on Craig's List!

Rock on Cafemama!! Our family are planning to buy bicycles and a bike trailer too.

cafemama, you are truly an inspiration. when do you sleep?
our check will be going towards our mortgage. i don't know how subversive this is, but the larger picture is moving from the 'burbs (ick!) to portland so we can realistically bike/bus/walk, so we can invest in the solar panels we want, so we can establish the vegetable garden, etc. we're urban-raised and we're despising this suburban lifestyle and all it entails, so our exit strategy is the number one priority right now.

Love the set up. I have been waiting to see a pic!

Our "stimulus" package is going to energy efficiency upgrades like insulation and maybe a furnace upgrade down payment. So, our money just may go to the big corps like Home Depot (depending on how we go about the insulation project), but it's something we really need to do. And, thank you for the stimulation to kick us in the butt and get on with that project!

Awesome list, Sarah.

dvmmom, I think working toward an urban veggie gardening biking/busing/walking future is totally subversive! i don't have any data on it, but i have to believe that living in the 'burbs is a way bigger drag on the environment than either inner city or true farmland (wasn't there something about that in that big time magazine piece?).

and i love the idea of getting used appliances (and bicycle gear or building supplies or whatever!) off craigslist with your stimulus check. it would be great to spend some of it at the rebuilding center. and olivia, you should see if there are any local building supply places in your neighborhood -- jonathan now refuses to go anywhere but brown's better boards on powell for lumber/nails/hardware (though some things you just *have* to go to home depot for...)

We're going to buy a reel lawn mower so we won't have to use the stinky gas propelled one anymore. And we're going to build our first raised bed for a vegetable garden. Our yard is mostly shaded, so this will be an experiment. I'd also like to buy a rain barrel and make or buy some sort of composting contraption. I'll be composting in the shade - does anyone have any tips?

My husband thinks we should thank Dubya by donating our stimulus check to Barack Obama...lol

Sarah, the lawnmower is a great idea! I just read that a power lawnmower emits as much pollution in an hour as if you'd driven a car for 350 miles! (I mean, who knows what the variables are there, but it's still not good for your microclimate I'm sure)

as for composting, Steve Solomon has a great description of how to make a pile. you don't need sun, I don't think, in fact he suggests you compost under a canopy/tarp/etc. I'll write up a summary of it soon and link to it, I need to do it anyway b/c my husband has promised to do all the work if I will just make a bullet-pointed list for him.

Look on the Metro website for a guide to composting.


There are also directions to download on how to make your own wood and wire bin or you can buy a metro composter (that's what I have) from metro for $35.




Composting is really easy, although so far we've done it mostly to recycle our food waste. My job this summer is to see if we can actually use it in our garden! When you do start composting, you'll be absolutely amazed at how fast everything decomposes. We have no trace of our 3 huge halloween pumpkins.

Thanks for the tips, Mamas!

I love this list!!!! Thank you for the wonderful ideas. I am going to try to get in one of the classes at Preserve!

Boy, I am interested, hau, in hearing about that shed project!

We've got a few things earmarked for our check...we're finishing our deck project from last fall by hiring someone to come build planter boxes. I plan to fill the planters with herbs, peppers and lettuce to supplement what we plan to grow in our garden. Second, we plan to buy 2 really good sleeping bags so that we can achieve our goal of taking our family camping this summer and in the future. Third, we're planning to buy a camcorder to capture the memories of our little boys while they are young. We'll be headed to the stores to buy these items, but we feel we're investing in our home and our family in so many ways by treating ourselves with these purchases.

Beefing up the Coverdell ESAs (Education Savings Accounts) for the children and paying down some debt!

Hey all! Making your own rain barrel is also really easy! Check out this website as one example of an urban farmer making one herself!


Ah, I too just got an xtracycle and my kids and I LOVE it. We rode it 4 times yesterday... and once in the rain with my son's approval. I decked mine out with a padded seat and running boards for my son's feet. Hope to see more of them out there!

Using it to pay off some debt incurred while on extended maternity leave.....wooohhhh, subversive!! spending longer than a mere 12 weeks with my infant!

What a great list for daydreaming. I had thought of paying down some debt I incurred while staying at home with my girls for a couple of years, or down payment on a Sweetpea bicycle (handmade by a girl for girls)or maybe - gasp - a getaway to a spa! But sadly, my check is going to pay for my out-of-pocket expense for my two kids' health care that my workplace doesn't cover. Sort of ironic. Oh well - I'll live vicariously through this list!

OK Sarah I had no interest in getting a new bike (much less one that could double as a car) and now thanks to your post and seducing shot of the Electra Townie I am obsessed with the idea. Too bad I am spending $600 to get rid of carpenter ants (granted over 3 years). But still I am coveting. Let me know how it goes biking around with 1-2 kids and some groceries- I am still considering the splurge!

ok - now I totally want this bike gig. Can you post more about your final set up and how it works for your 3 boys?? I'm in love with the idea, but fear I need some more inspiration to get me over the hurdle.

i love that you guys are all converts! so far it's going great (i'm exhausted, but imagining how much i'll kick butt this year at hood-to-coast ;). i've even ridden with all three boys on pretty long (3+ miles each way) errands and it's worked out, no falls, no meltdowns, only a little bike-walking. i've written up something in more detail for cafemama, to upload soon!

I am so ridiculously in love with my new xtracycle that I think my husband was getting jealous... until he rode it last night! We, too, have had no falls yet, no meltdowns, and only a little walking (across busy intersections or up a little stretch of hill I thought I could make it up!). We've ridden to P. Nursery, Grandma's (at least 4 times), a friends about 5 mi round trip for a BBQ loaded w 2 kids (2.5 and 4.5), salad, jackets, boca burgers, and drinks, to the movie store... all over.
Mine is an existing (1995) trek mtn bike I had that I had fitted with the xtracycle kit and a used bobike maxi seat for my 2.5 yr old. The 4.5 yr old rides on the snap deck behind her. I put some foam down on the deck and upholstered it with bike seat fabric to make it more comfy. I also fitted some running boards along the bottom of each side for his feet to rest on(and for climbing on) and am about done with a handle bar I made from some conduit... it will come up from under the bobike seat for him to grab. My son loves how everyone waves to us as we ride by. He says, "Mommy, they are all wondering, wow, how did they get THREE people on ONE bike?"

The shed "project" has indeed taken on a life of it's own. First we had envisioned building a garage, but when we got the estimates back and realized that maybe it wasn't what we wanted in the first place especially since my husband did not intend to park a car in the garage. It morphed into a bike shelter + shed + greenhouse (eventually) so that we can tackle the project in phases, and more manageable for the budget. Has anyone built a bike shelter? As for the shed, we might just purchase a kit, but it is still a bit undecided.

Hau, a friend is building two bike shelters. I don't know what the building plans for them are, but the thing that is really cool is that they will install a living roof on top! (how convenient for your greenhouse....) Good luck with your project.

Sarah G- I bit the bullet and am going extracycle. I love Clever Cycles! Hopefully my bike will be done in time to cruise Memorial day weekend. I am jazzed! And on a side note I havent bought a helmet in 15 years. Who knew they were so cute these days!! Thanks for the inspiration!

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