Your off-the-grid savings guide

We all know Facebook isn’t famous for filling our lives with intelligent ideas. So imagine my surprise and delight the other day when I came across an FB advertisement for a device called the Bluapple that promised to save me $640 per year on groceries. 

Finally! All those hours spent on Facebook — liking family photos of people I hadn’t seen in decades and clicking “maybe” to attend events I knew I’d never go to — had at last paid actual dividends.

It’s a little blue apple you put in your produce drawer that “absorbs the ethylene gas that naturally occurs in your fridge.” 

Apparently it’s the ethylene gas that makes produce go bad. 

For only $29.99, you get a two-pack of blue apples and a one-year refill kit. Luckily for me, they were offering a $10-off coupon, so I could have all that for only $19.99. 

And by keeping produce fresh longer, I would save untold money — well, probably $640, the Bluapple people estimate — by not throwing it away. 

At first, of course, I scoffed and scrolled along. There were cat videos to not look at and the successes of other writers to read about (without any bitterness, I swear).

But then I got to thinking. We do toss out a lot of produce in our house. Mostly kale, which is my fault. 

I always tell my wife I’ll do my part to eat that stuff, but I have trouble living up to my end of the bargain. Maybe with a Bluapple in the drawer, the kale would last long enough for her to eat the whole bag I’d pledged to split.

In the end, I decided not to buy the Bluapple just because I didn’t want to believe we spend $640 a year on kale.

But I was feeling receptive to the idea of money-saving gimmicks, so I looked at a few others — some silly, some pretty neat. Here’s what I found:


Battery recharger

You can buy these things for about $25 and they apparently recharge any kind of battery, regardless of whether it’s rechargeable. 

Between remotes and my cordless mouse, we go through approximately $640 a year in AA batteries. This seems worth it.


Motion-sensor light switch

This device ($28) turns the light on automatically when you enter the room, and you can program how long it takes before it cuts the lights out again. According to one coupon website (, you can save 10 to 70 percent off your electrical bill, depending on your habits. 

My habit is chastising my family when they forget to turn the lights off, so I’ll probably skip this one so I can keep doing that.


Solar charger for devices

These things range from about $17 to $200 at Amazon, but assuming they’re reliable you can charge your phones and other devices for free. You can’t charge a laptop, but that still seemed like a good deal to me. 

The best review I found was for the Instapark Mercury 10, which retails for about $68. Before buying, though, I Googled how much power a smartphone uses. 

According to one Forbes article (, it’s hardly worth worrying over. 

If you fully drained and recharged your phone every day for a year, you’d use about 25 cents worth of electricity. 

Your iPad would use about $1.36. 

OK, so skip the solar charger unless you’re going to be camping a lot — or unless you’re preparing for a zombie apocalypse in which our electronic devices still work.


Residential wind turbine

Obviously, I would totally do this if I had the money — it costs between $15,000 and $21,000, including installation. 

That’s a lot of money, but once you have your windmill, you’re off the grid — literally — getting free electricity. 

According to this Green Home article ( these turbines can pay for themselves between six and 20 years, depending on how much wind you get and how much power you use. They don’t look too obnoxious, and they’re as quiet as a washing machine. 

Plus, you would have a windmill on your house, which is awesome. 

Eric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and dad of two boys. He’s currently working on a financial literacy book for young readers. Learn more about his other published works at Send comments or questions to