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Economic forecasts for 2010 show a few rays of sunshine, but there are likely to be months of stormy weather ahead. Consumers do not have to be passive; there are positive steps they can take to improve their health, both economic and otherwise.

Say good-bye to Wall Street.
Community banks consistently help rebuild neighborhoods, lend funds to start-up businesses and invest in the local community. Reward them by shifting checking and savings accounts, CDs, mortgage refinancing and other banking products. Odds are that fees charged will be lower and customer service will be greater than with a big-name bank with Wall Street ties.

Choose a phone service that does double duty.
Some cell phone companies get fixated on maps and celebrity spokespeople. A good part of their budget goes to advertising on radio and TV.

Lesser-known phone companies such as CREDO and Earth Tones advertise via the Web and through affiliations with environmental and other progressive groups.

The double duty comes in whenever a bill is paid for cell or long-distance phone service, as a percentage of those funds is donated to not-for-profits. CREDO customers get to vote each year on how the funds are divided among a list of groups.

Credit cards can do double duty, too.
The answer to the question, “Can a credit card save the rainforest, protect wildlife and stop overpopulation?” is both “yes” and “no.” In the sense that every little bit helps, these affinity cards do raise funds for the groups. Other revenue is necessary to make a big impact, but using one of these credit cards makes a statement about one’s values, and every little bit really does help.

Incredible shrinking mail.
The service provided by Catalog Choices really works. Sign up online, search for catalogs to stop receiving and, within a couple of months, the mailbox will be emptier. The Opt-Out service to stop credit card offers works, too. The two months leading up to the holiday season is prime time for mail-order catalogs and other junk mail. Thanks to these two services, which are free, mail boxes can now be as lonely as the Maytag repairman.

Reusable shopping bags.

Don’t leave home without them. This year major retailers are selling reusable shopping bags with their store name and logo on them. Reusable bags have become mainstream. Locally, consumers can find reusable shopping bags at a variety of retailers. Although lots of shoppers still do not buy or use them, a reusable bag is one small step for retailers and one giant leap for Mother Earth.

Contact Eco Gal at info@evanstonroundtable.com or ecogal247@yahoo.com