Consumer Voice

Dat Cruelty-Free Life

So a few of you have become aware and had to endure my annoying new(ish) habit, trying to live cruelty-free. What do I mean by this? Well, that is a very complex question, but I will try to give an as-brief-as-possible overview:

The vast majority of beauty, hygiene, and cleaning products use real, alive with a brain and a will and thoughts and NERVES, and yes, feelings, animals to do testing on in their labs. Most of these animals are rabbits, but cats, dogs, etc are often used as well. Most of you probably knew this, but don’t think about it or feel badly about it because you don’t see it every day and it doesn’t directly affect your life, or you just don’t care, which sucks a ton (This is an area where yes, I totally and completely judge you). I’m of the camp that human life is worth more than animal life, which is why I eat meat and train my dogs that I am their master and stuff. I’m sure at one point in time animal testing may have been beneficial, like in the very beginning, when scientists were all, “Maybe this will keep people clean! Let’s make sure it won’t kill them and stuff though.” The truth of the matter is, though, that animal testing is RARELY a necessity anymore, all of the ingredients have been tested already, and it is absolutely stupid and ridiculous that it’s still a thing.

Some companies just do animal testing because they do, and this sucks. A lot. But the biggest reason companies still do animal testing is because their biggest client, China, requires it. That’s right. It is an actual law in China that every single product go through animal testing. Keep in mind that this is the same country that has extremely questionable ethics in their meat industry. Basically, they give zero effs about hurting animals. To pull all of this together, companies are essentially so greedy and money hungry that they will not do animal testing for their products that go state-side, but will submit to animal testing to sell to the largest consumer group in the world. So the money they get from that is more important to them than another living breathing thing that they have stripped of choices. You have to also be careful because some of these companies will boast that they are cruelty-free, when in actuality they are just cruelty-free for the stateside product that you are holding, but that exact same product is submitted to animal testing to ship to another country. “Does not conduct animal testing unless required by law” is the verbiage you want to look out for.

I know this may be ignorant of me, but I try to avoid doing any research on this stuff that involves becoming aware of exactly what they do to these animals to a graphic extent. I’m just too big of a baby, y’all. I’ve seen enough though. Enough to make me sick time and time again. I know that regular testing involves blinding, burning, poisoning, and way too much more. Let’s think about this for a moment. Anything that says boasts being “tear-free”: how do you think they know? How many animals  have been blinded and hurt to ensure for the one billionth time that that is true?

I made the decision a couple of years ago that yes, my household will not make enough of a difference to make these companies change their processes. But at least I’m doing something. I’m not adding to the masses, and no animal’s blood will be on my hands. I can put on make-up, clean my house, take care of my baby, and more without feeling the guilt of giving my US dollars to greedy, heartless companies.

I have worked really hard to get my house completely cruelty-free, which is a process I am still working on, but since I have received lots of questions anytime I tell someone about my convictions, I wanted to share some of my tips and tricks on cultivating a cruelty-free environment for your home as well. You can go all-out on this stuff and spend lots and lots of money, but because of the increasing demand for natural or cruelty-free products, you can find most of what you need at Walmart or Target and for an extremely comparable price to your normal stuff. Also, I am sure there is stuff I will miss, so if you don’t see something on this list and have questions, PLEASE comment and ask, that way others can see as well. I will also be posting some resource links that I have used in this process for further help. Also #2, I am giving names of products that we use at home, but I am sure there are lots of other affordable options out there outside of these. Also #3 (Sorry.), I am going to try and list where you can tangibly buy these products, but keep in mind that all of them are available online and getting them from Amazon is probably cheaper. Prime baby!

Beauty and Hygiene

jason

  • Make-up: Milani is a company that sells their stuff in Walmart, Target, etc, like they have a little section beside Loreal (Not cruelty-free) and all of those other companies. It’s very affordable and its quality is comparable to all of the other drugstore make-up brands. Other good ones are Yes To, Bonne Bell, e.l.f., and Wet’n’WIld.
  • Teeth Care: Toms of Maine is another brand that can be found in Walmart, Target, etc and they have toothpaste, mouthwash, and whatever else you could need.
  • Bath/Body/Face Care: We have used an assortment, all of which are awesome and have different scent options. Burt’s Bees, Yes To, Shea Moisture, JĀSÖN (<– what I have in my shower right now. It smells so delicious I could die. $7 for a huge pump bottle.), Nourish, Seventh Generation, BWC (Beauty Without Cruelty!), the list could literally go on and on.
  • Hair Care: Lots of the above brands make haircare products, but my favorite find is definitely OGX (Organix). They have the products that I need and it smells good and works! I used to be a total Aussie girl, but this is has been an easy switch.
  • Deodorant: Sooo this has been one of the harder ones for me to find. I switched to Toms of Maine deodorant, and it works great, but finding antiperspirant has proven harder. The true blue natural people will tell you that our bodies don’t need it and that it’s actually bad for you, which is why I only use deodorant and not antiperspirant, but I get that some people would prefer the strong stuff. THANKFULLY, Toms just started putting out antiperspirant! There are other brands out there that are totally researchable as well.

Household

method

  • Cleaning Products: These are a tough one because so many of us have our sworn favorites, but you can find cruelty-free versions for comparable price and at the same stores. A few are: Attitude (Target, Walgreens), Method (Target, Safeway, Kroger), Mrs. Meyers (Target, CVS, Whole Foods), Caldrea (Target, probably others), Nature Clean (IGA, Safeway, Whole Foods, Toys”R”Us), Biokleen (Locally, Cook’s Natural Food, but you can put in your zip code on their website and see who sells them near you. Also widely available online.). Another list that could go on and on.
  • Laundry: There are tons and tons you can buy online, I buy Molly’s Suds (on Amazon) because they are affordable and work really well. I started using them when I began washing Grady’s laundry and didn’t want to have to buy baby detergent. It’s safe enough for the whole family. Some honorable mentions are most of the above-mentioned cleaning brands as well as Seventh Generation, which you can purchase at Walmart and Target.

Baby

babyganics

Sorry guys, but the classic Johnson & Johnson is not cruelty free :(. But you know who is? Babyganics (Target), Honest (Target), California Baby (Target), Burt’s Bees (Walmart, Target), Shea Moisture (Walmart, Target), Yes To (Walmart, Target), plus lots more! I usually use either Babyganics or Honest and they work really well and are comparable in price to the classic baby brands.

You can google all of these brands to find their website and order online, or go through Amazon, or go to your local drugstore. There are loads more cruelty-free brands out there, but I tried to focus on the ones that are cheaper and easy to find in order to bust the myth that living cruelty-free is difficult and expensive. Bottom line though, even if it was, is it worth it? Food for thought :).

Here are some helpful links that I have used again and again in this area.

http://www.crueltyfreekitty.com/

http://www.mybeautybunny.com/

http://www.leapingbunny.org/

Do you have any other good websites? Share them in the comments!

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Tips on Getting (And Staying) Debt Free

Some of you may have seen on Facebook yesterday, but Bryan and I are officially Debt Free! Just in time for me to quit my job and us to have a baby!

WEEEEEE’RE DEEEEEEEBT FREEEEEEEE!

Sorry, Just had to get that out of my system.

I feel better now.

This is us mailing in our last payment!

This is us mailing in our last payment!

It’s been a long, bumpy road for us to pay everything off, but it has been so worth it. I want to give a quick snapshot of our journey, and then some tips on how everyone can have a smoother process to experiencing this freedom.

Bryan and I got engaged in 2011. I had a small car payment, but had always been pretty responsible with money. I also had never had much of it to be responsible with. I waited tables through college, so I always had cash on me, and therefore had a cash budgeting system in place. Something I was not great with was saving. I saved for small things in the near future: shoes, trips, etc, but never did any long-term saving.

Bryan, on the other hand, was already very successful and had seemingly plenty of money. He also had a lot of debt. He owned/owed on 2 cars and a motorcycle, and owed for multiple credit cards and store credits.

shortly after getting engaged, we decided to sell my car and one of his and get a ridiculously expensive, albeit used Land Rover and therefore combined our finances before we tied the knot since I would be living at home my senior year and not paying rent and utilities. I don’t recommend this for every couple AT ALL. It is not for everyone and arguably wasn’t for us. Here are the reasons I am glad we did it, though:

1. It forced us to confront our personal money problems and prepare early for being a team when it comes to finances.

2. Since we paid for most of our wedding ourselves, it enabled us to use almost all of my paycheck to 100% cash-flow our wedding and honeymoon. That’s right, we owed exactly nothing when it was all said and done.

3. It forced us to live out the usually bumpy first year of marriage during the year we were engaged, making our first year of marriage pretty enjoyable. Again, This would absolutely not work for everyone, and it took a lot of loyalty, willpower, and seeing the big picture to make it work for us.

4. Finally, If it weren’t for this decision, I don’t know that we would have taken our initial Financial Peace University class at our church. We were at our wits end, and something had to give. Bryan wanted to go, but since I was the more stubborn one about money, he prayed about it and trusted that God would convict me to make the decision to go to the class, which I THANKFULLY did. (My husband is kind of a superhero. There is no way I would have been that patient and trusting.)

Now, because of some bad decisions that had been made on both of our parts, and mostly because of bad decisions made by Bryan before we met, we were in debt about $90,000.00 (My gracious parents made the decision a long time ago that they wanted to pay for their kids to go to college, even it meant paying out loans. If I had this responsibility upon myself, it would have made our debt-toll quite a bit higher. This is something I am thankful for every single day and seriously could not have asked for better parents.)

As of yesterday: August 27th, 2014, we have paid every penny off! I am not going to lay out a plan for paying off debt, but here are some tips and tricks that got us through this mess, and how we intend to never get ourselves back in it again. (Bear with me, this will be a bulleted list. I am OCD and bulleted notetaking is my life. It gives me joy.)

debt free 2

  • Make the decision TOGETHER that you are going to do this 100%, fully, no looking back. Both partners have to have both feet squarely on the train for this to work. If you are single, get an accountability partner who is 100% in this with you and will tell you like it is and not pretty-it-up. Does this mean that one or both of you can’t waver ever? Uh, no. That’s a nonexistent, impossible scenario. It just means that when one partner struggles, the other one is there to encourage you back on the train. Choo choo.

 

  • If you are a part of a couple, learn to live on one income. No, I don’t mean one of you should quit your job. I mean pick the person who makes the most and force yourselves to budget based on that salary only. Pay all of the minimum payments on all of the loans with the main income. I am completely aware that this is not realistic for every couple and every situation, but I highly recommend that it be a goal as you pay off more and more. Here’s why:
    • The obvious reason: if one of you loses your job or wants to change jobs or wants to stay home with your kids, you aren’t screwed. I would never in my right mind want to readjust our budget like that. It was a pain in the butt to get it figured out and streamlined to begin with, and to have to par it down even more would induce suicidal thoughts.
    • It frees up an entire income to put towards paying off debt and saving money.
    • It teaches you to live well within your means like, for real. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. I would much rather have plenty of wiggle room than be maxed out within our budget.
    • It allows you some extra spending money to reward yourself a bit along the way. Since you’re using the main family salary to pay the minimums, you can afford a big date night or weekend getaway to reward yourself after your close out a credit card account or pay off a load.

 

  • SELL EVERYTHING. I mean this. That motorcycle I talked about? Gone. That Land Rover we bought and I loved so much? Gone. We’ve had several cars since then because we have just been trading down and trading down until we had cars that we owed a manageable enough amount on to pay off. Downsize your home if you have way more house than you need. Get creative with your selling. We had a bunch of random kitchen items that we would have never been able to sell on their own, so we took a photo of the whole lot together and put it on Craigslist as a kitchen starter kit. A college student came and got it like the next day. Have a garage sale. Consign your clothes. Be weird and unmaterialistic. Every little bit counts.

 

  • Cut your cable. I’m not even a little bit kidding. You will live. We cut ours and got Netflix, Jetflicks, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. AND WE SURVIVED. And no, we aren’t those weird people who say things like “We just don’t watch very much tv.” (<–What?) I watch practically every show on television and did so using those streaming services. And don’t come at me shouting about sports. That’s why God invented Buffalo Wild Wings and friends’ houses. Offer to bring some food if they can host the watch party. And when you’re out of debt or to a manageable point in your journey, get the cable back. We did. I promise you will survive.

 

  • Get creative with eating out. I am the last person who will tell you to stop eating out, because who does that? I mean you should cut back for sure, and make a monthly budget for when you do. All that jazz. What I’m talking about it how to be able to eat out more within your “eating out/entertainment” budget. Here are some ideas:
    • Get water. This is an easy and obvious one.
    • Don’t get alcoholic beverages. Seriously, you can enjoy the company of friends and each other and buy yourself a six-pack for way cheaper. It’s a win-win.
    • Share. I know this sucks and takes some skill, especially if you have different tastes. Do what you gotta do, get an extra side dish, get separate salads before the entrée, all that good stuff. You can even pre-game at home before you get to the restaurant so you’re not famished and tempted to get separate meals. We definitely did not do this every time, but it practically doubles the number of times you can eat out every month within your budget.
    • Save the big spending for bigger occasions.  We rarely ate out together (Eating out without the other one came out of our “personal spending” budget, not out joint entertainment budget) unless it was for date nights or group activities. Sure, we grabbed food while running errands or similar situations plenty, we just knew where to go that wasn’t going to break the bank. (Holla for Sams Club’s cheap-as-crap pizza combo!)
    • Enjoy the company without the spending from time to time. What I mean is, sometimes it’s possible to sit with your friends and not get coffee or whatever, or eat before you come when it’s a group of other people who you know will be ordering. I have coffee with a group of girls regularly on Tuesday nights and only get a drink some of the time. I can make coffee at home a lot cheaper and sometimes I would really only be buying it because I’m there, which is not a good reason. Bryan has lunch with a group of guys from church every Thursday in a local mall food court. Back when we first started (And even still sometimes!), he would bring his own lunch and eat at the table with them. They used to make fun of him, but now several other guys have taken FPU and started doing the same thing!

 

  • Cut out anything else extra. Monthly subscription boxes? Cut ’em. Regular music buying? Stop it. Gym memberships even? Buy INSANITY and work out from home for a short time while paying stuff off. All of these sacrifices suck, yes, but remember that it’s only for a short time and it is SO WORTH IT in the end. Plus, like I’ve stated above, it is totally possible to find creative measures to make it suck less.

 

  • If you have the time, coupon. Yes, this takes dedication, but it’s kind of like throwing money away if you have time and don’t anyway. I started it and then stopped because of the time factor, but now that I am coming home from my job, I plan on starting back up again. There are lots of websites and free tools to get started. My favorite one is http://www.thekrazycouponlady.com.

 

  • Give each other/yourself loads and loads of grace. This crap is hard, and everyone will tell you that you’re crazy for trying. Don’t let it discourage you. I can’t tell you how many fights, breakdowns, and minor relapses we each have had that set us back, but we always forgave each other, recommitted, and got back on the train. Give each other grace and forgiveness for past/current mistakes as well. It was freaking hard to accept that ALLLLLL of this debt that Bryan had accumulated before I even knew he existed was now on my shoulders as well. It took a while to forgive him for that and get to the point where I was as driven as he was to get rid of it. Thankfully, Bryan was a lot more forgiving and patient for my unwillingness than I was for his debt mistakes.

You will survive, I promise.

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too hard or not worth it. I am standing here today with so much freedom telling you that IT TOTALLY IS.

If you’re just starting out in your journey, I want to really encourage you to pick some sort of learning material. Obviously, I am a big supporter of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, but there are others as well. You just want to make sure you pick one that is based on your personal values-system and beliefs, and that ultimately DOES NOT BELIEVE IN BEING IN DEBT.

People have all kinds of opinions about Dave Ramsey as a person, and I’d love to talk to you about it sometime if you want, but regardless of personal beliefs, he is an expert and his methods are TRIED AND TRUE to work, if for no other reason than giving you a head start and getting you and your partner on the same page when it comes to finances. Bryan and I teach FPU at our church now, so if you are in the NWA area and want to take it, please let me know! We’ve had all kinds in our class. Singles, older people, engaged couples, Christians, non-Christians, etc.

 

This was part of our first graduating class of FPU!

This was part of our first graduating class of FPU!

I have lots more tips and tricks to share if you want them. I hope our story encourages you just like others’ stories did us. I would LOVE  to talk more about it with you. Just let me know :).

Love, Alex

Money Money Money Mooonay (Mooonay!!)

So as I talked about in my last post, the ladies in my small group (Becca, Heather, Raven, and Dia-these names will come up a lot, there will be a quiz later) and I – and two of our husbands… kind of – decided to do an experiment based off the one found in “7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker. We did things sloppily and out-of-order, and we changed some of the rules, but learned so incredibly much.

So it begins. This one is a little embarrassing to start off with, as it was our trial run, our practice round, if you will. We didn’t really know what we were getting into and had not read the entire book yet. We at first thought we’d do each experiment in the course of a week, so that is how long this one (sort of) lasted.

Her rules:

  •  She and her family would only spend money in 7 places total for a whole month. Let’s first establish how wonderfully crazy this chick is. Her places were:
    A farmer’s market
    Gas station (just one!)
    Online bills
    Stuff for her kid’s school
    A limited travel fund (she is a speaker as well)
    Emergency medical stuff
    Target (which she severely limited herself to using only in emergencies )

Notice there are no restaurants, movie theaters, or any other type of entertainment, which if you know anything about me, is such a buzz kill. Since we were only doing it for a week, we decided that free reign of 7 places in 7 days was a little on the lenient side, so we decided to change it up.

Our Rules:

  • 7 transactions ONLY in 7 days.

Yeah, I know. That’s not a lot. This is especially true when it’s your mom’s birthday and you have agreed to dinner, a manicure, and a movie. Bam! 3 transactions. 2 hours.

This was my downfall, people. Right out the gate. This is a pathetic way to start off the telling of my experience, but it was the first one we did. And as you know I am both a rule follower and extremely type-A, so to do things out-of-order would have me twitching. Ask Bryan how it goes for him when he suggests we watch a show or a movie in a series out of said series, I dare you.

Raven stuck it out for 2 weeks and didn’t cheat, and for that, we celebrate. If only this were a relay where when Becca, Dia, Heather and I failed, we could have passed a proverbial torch to Raven and celebrated the group win. C’est la vie.

You’ll just have to trust me that it gets better from here. The funny stories, the complaining anecdotes, the accidental lessons learned, all still to come. While bated breath won’t be necessary, I know the edge of your seat will be worn down by the next blog post, amiright?

Anyway, I did learn stuff. Just from reading and failing, I learned how much we Americans spend on crap. I am only tiptoeing into bleeding heart mode when I say that there are soooo many other things we should be focusing on.

Her statistics are eye-opening, saddening, and, if I’m being honest, embarrassing. We are turning a blind eye to so much suffering and heartache in the world while we buy our 15th scarf, $50 moisturizer, and newest pair of shoes. I know what I’m saying is controversial, but read the book and learn what I’ve learned and try not to feel convicted.
This is still overwhelming to think about, and I’m on the home stretch of the experiment! So yeah, hang in there with me. The stories get funnier and the truths get stronger. Sorry I failed on this first one, but in keeping with my first post  I’m not going to beat myself up over it. 🙂

What do you think so far? Ready to try it for yourself yet?