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Personal Finance Interview with Derek Markham on Natural Living

Personal Finance Interview with Derek Markham on Natural Living for Mint.com

For Derek Markham going green extends beyond recycling a few cans or turning down the thermostat in the winter. He and his family have incorporated natural living into all facets of their lives and they've found it's not only better for the environment, but it's also helped them grow as a family, not to mention helping them save money.

"So much of who we are as adults comes from the ideas and experiences we are exposed to as children, and while I know that our kids will grow up and make their own choices, I want them to have these types of ideals as their foundation," he says. "I strongly believe that in order to build a more peaceful and more sustainable world, our children will need to make different choices that favor connection, community and the natural world."

Derek blogs about everything from green living to parenting to relationships on his blog, Natural Papa.

Here, he discusses his blog, offers tips for going green and shares why tiny living has a lot of advantages.

Tell us about Natural Papa. When and why did you start the site?

I started in it 2008, mostly to get started writing again, and I chose the name and focus for it because I saw a lot of green living sites written by women and mothers, but not any that were written by fathers, and thought that it would be of interest to other guys like me.

I began by writing about topics such as homebirth and homeschooling and fatherhood, but have since found that relationships, marriage and self-improvement are also compelling topics, so there are a fair amount of posts about those as well.

On a side note, starting Natural Papa and posting regularly there was actually the entry point for becoming a freelance writer, which is now what I do full time, so looking back on it, starting a blog was a pivotal moment for me.

Who should be reading it?

I originally geared it toward men as my audience, but quickly found that women make up a large portion of the readers, so I think it may appeal to both mothers and fathers (or parents-to-be) who have an interest in natural living and the green lifestyle as well as those that are exploring different options in parenting, relationships and living more simply.

How would you define natural living?

Natural living can encompass a lot of things, but for us, we concentrate on eating whole, naturally processed and organically grown foods. We also choose natural materials over synthetic materials for our home and our belongings when we can, make an effort to avoid personal care and cleaning products that are full of questionable ingredients and choose diet- and lifestyle-based approaches to health.

We try to live with a deeper connection to the natural world, including growing some of our own food and working to make our home and land more sustainable for the future.

How can living simply save families money?

There are a number of ways to save money through living simply and one approach is to look at all of the things we think we need and to question them. For example, we have never bought paper towels (we use washcloths and rags), we only wash our clothes in cold water and line dry them, we use vinegar for cleaning purposes (as well as concentrated soaps such as Dr. Bronner's), we don't own a TV or pay for cable, we use only cloth diapers for our kids (disposables are not only expensive, but are incredibly wasteful), we make almost all of our own food and rarely go out to eat (cooking from scratch is much cheaper), we shop at thrift stores when we can, we keep a close eye on our energy-wasting habits to keep our utility bills low (we heat with a woodstove, and I cut all of our wood), and we grow some of our own food. These are just some ideas, but other families may find different ways to save money by living simply.

Can you offer some examples of green living practices that individuals and families can switch to that offer great savings?

Any of the above examples can end up saving families money, but it really depends on the individual family. Buying whole foods and preparing them at home instead of buying processed foods is a big one for us, especially when it comes to organic foods. Before I started working at home, I commuted by bike, which saved a lot of money on gas (and wear and tear on the car), and we still try to combine errands so that we minimize the amount of money we need to spend on gas. Homebirths can be much cheaper than standard hospital births, and by co-sleeping with young kids, it's not necessary to buy a crib and all of the baby gear that is so often sold to new parents.

Are there any areas where being green is actually more expensive than taking a more mainstream approach?

Buying all organically grown food can be more expensive (when compared to standard mainstream grocery store foods), but we tend to look at our food budget as also being part of our health insurance, so it all depends on how you view it.

Choosing renewable energy for the home and installing a solar power system can also be more expensive, at least up front, but it can be a good long-term investment. Many of the mainstream cleaning and home products are ridiculously cheap when compared to the "green" cleaners, but they also tend to have ingredients that are associated with health issues, so there's a trade-off.

Purchasing clothes that are made with organic fibers or that have a more ethical component to them (such as Fair Trade or a commitment to a living wage for their workers) can also be more expensive.

You have a whole section on your site devoted to tiny houses - can you tell us about what a tiny house is and why they're gaining in popularity?

Tiny houses are homes that are much smaller than the average house (usually less than 1,000 square feet, but many times quite a bit smaller than that). Tiny houses can fit into a smaller footprint of land, use less energy and resources and cost less to build and maintain. Tiny houses can also be built on a trailer, so they can be moved easily, which opens up a lot of options in terms of locations. Living in a tiny house is an exercise in minimalism as well, and a good lesson in living with less stuff.

What are the advantages of downsizing to tiny living?

We found that living in a tiny house helped us to grow closer as a family, as we only had one room, and it caused us to really change the way we related to each other. We also found that we didn't need nearly as much stuff as we thought we did, and could live without many of the things people take for granted and spend a lot of money on.

Living in a tiny house can also be a way to save quite a bit of money, especially if it can be built without having to take out a loan, and can be a way to get to "mortgage-free" a lot quicker. Many times, a tiny house can be built onto a small section of a piece of land that is otherwise unused, which can also save money when either leasing or renting, or buying property. Cleaning a tiny house is also faster and utility costs are lower, and they can be built to be much more sustainable than traditional houses, in terms of keeping them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

How has green/simple living helped teach your kids the value of a dollar?

We try to teach them about how to ask ourselves if we really need something before we buy it, and to think about what happens to that thing when we no longer need it (or it gets broken or used up). We also focus on longer-term issues, such as repairing or reusing or repurposing items, or buying things used instead of new, in order to maximize the amount of money we have. We try to explain to them that when they have a limited amount of money available, it's important to choose wisely how that money is spent, and that by choosing to save it for a bigger purchase, it can be much more fulfilling and make more sense than spending it impulsively.

Follow Derek on Twitter and Facebook.