admin / February 26, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Green Cleaning

While buying ‘green’ cleaning products probably won’t put a big dent in your budget, it still pays to compare prices. It’s also a smart idea to check on ingredients because some cleaning products aren’t as green as they claim.
Here are some tips on ‘green cleaning’ the Budget Smart Girl way.

Make Your Own
One way you can save some pennies (and know exactly what’s in your cleaner), is to make your own. No science degree required and no putting formulas together. I turned to homemade cleaners when I got one too many headaches from using a well-known bathroom cleaner. That got tossed in the bin and I came up with this one. I have no exact amount for each ingredient but it’s about one cup of baking soda, two capfuls of dishwasher liquid…I like the Seventh Generation brand (A tip here, I wait for it to go on sale at my local supermarket and stock up), and a few drops of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil one of the best antibacterial essential oils out there, so it’s a smart idea to keep a bottle with your cleaning supplies.
I add the dishwashing liquid and tea tree oil to the baking soda and then add enough water to make it into a paste. I usually dip a sponge into it and use it as a scrub for the bathtub and bathroom counter top. I let it sit there for a couple of minutes and then wipe it off with a clean damp sponge.
I use a homemade drain cleaner…I also use this as a toilet bowl cleaner too. I pour about one cup of white distilled vinegar into the drain, followed by about ¾ cup baking soda. I let it sit for about an hour and then flush it away by turning on the hot water tap and letting it run for a couple of minutes. For the toilet bowl, I do the same thing and then I swish it around with a toilet brush and then flush.
And speaking of baking soda, it’s one of the best things to keep on hand for cleaning. I even use it to remove tea stains from cups and my teapot. It works like a dream without much scrubbing.
You can find other homemade recipes at www.ecocycle.org/hazwaste/recipes.cfm#altcleaners

Dr. Bronner’s
I used to fill the hand soap dispenser with antibacterial soap. Well, that was until I kept reading negative press about those types of cleaners and that they did more harm than good. When I went looking for an alternative I stumbled upon Dr. Bronner’s products at my local supermarket. What impressed me the most was I didn’t have to drag out a chemistry book to figure out the ingredient list. Another plus is because this soap is concentrated I can add water, so a little goes a long way. My favorite is the Lavender Organic Liquid Soap. On their Web site it sells for $5.75 for a 8 oz. bottle www.drbronner.com, click on Dr. Bronner’s Soaps

Earth Friendly Products
Now that everyone seems to be looking for green cleaning products, the prices have come down considerably. However, this company has always offered great value for their products www.ecos.com. Besides their prices, I like the fact that they offer a range of products. Just about everything you need for the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and even personal car items and items for pets. Be sure to check out their current promotions area and newsletter.

Method
I remember seeing this brand in my local Target store about four years ago. The line of products got my attention not only because they were green, but the price was in my budget range too. And not to mention they smell great!
If you can’t find them at a store near you, check out their Web site. One product I always keep on hand is their Leather Wipes. I don’t have leather shoes, but they work perfectly for removing salt off of any type of shoes during the snow and salt season. And place a container in your closet and use them year round for removing dust off your shoes and purses. Good news is their biodegradable too.
www.methodhome.com

Holy Cow
That’s probably what you’ll be saying when you see the great prices on this company’s products. I was working on story for an animal magazine and the owners contacted me, and I’m so happy they did. Check out the 128 oz all-purpose cleaner or glass cleaner, both are just $8.99. At these prices why would you even want to use the stuff loaded with nasty chemicals www.holycowproducts.com.

Monk Would Love This One
Here’s a product I was sent to test drive, and I have to say I love it. Every time I use it I think of the TV character, Monk. I know he’d love this product. It’s the Lotus Sanitizing System and uses oxyshield technology to purify water to destroy toxins and bacteria. You add water to a spray bottle, switch on the machine, and about five minutes later you have purified water that you can use to clean your whole house. You can also use it to wash vegetables, fruit, even seafood. While it will cost you an initial investment of $169.99, it will save you money because you don’t need to buy another bathroom or kitchen cleaner again. You can find out more about this product at www.tersano.com

Refills
One thing I like most about using green products is most of the companies offer refills. So you save money, and prevent plastic bottles from ending up in the landfill. Check out refill stations at places like co-ops for even more savings.

Compare the Products
If you want to see how products stack up against one another this is a really handy site to visit. www.greenerchoices.org/ratings.cfm?product=greencleaning

The Budget Smart Girl’s Tip
I mentioned I always keep baking soda and vinegar on hand for cleaning. A great place to buy it in bulk at the lowest prices is at warehouse stores like Costco.

admin / February 26, 2008

The Budget Smart Cook’s Guide to Cooking Oils

If you’re the grocery shopper in the family, I probably don’t have to tell you that food prices have skyrocketed in the last 12-18 months. A report just in from the USDA says that US retail food prices jumped 4% in 2007…the biggest gain in 17 years. An economist for the USDA thinks that we’re likely to see another 3.5 – 4% climb in prices again this year. And something that really surprised me in this report was that oils and fats are expected to have the largest price hikes. So let’s use those oils and fats wisely and make the most of our money.

How Much Fat Do We Need?
While we should avoid too much fat in our diets, some are actually essential to our health. Our bodies need fat to provide energy to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. However, our fat intake should be between 20-35% our daily calorie intake, and 10% or less should be from foods containing saturated fats. Nutritionists also suggest that we consume less than 300 mg. of cholesterol and try to avoid any foods containing trans fats. To give you an idea of how many calories and fat you get from one tablespoon of oil, it’s 120 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Best Picks
One simple rule to remember when you’re buying fat is solid fats like butter and margarine are most likely to contain the most saturated fat and sometimes trans fat. And if the fat comes from an animal source, it will also contain cholesterol Oils from sources like nuts, seeds and vegetables are liquid at room temperature and contain more of the ‘good for you; monounsaturated fats. They’ll probably contain fatty acids like Omega-3 as well.
So with prices set to rise, look for the more good for your variety. Here’s a quick comparison of saturated fat content of three different types of fat. Canola oil, 7 grams. Olive oil, 15 grams. Butter 68 grams.

The Making of Oil
The price you pay for oil almost always reflects the way the oil is processed. Some oils are extracted by using the cold pressed method or mechanical method. For example, squeezing olives in a press to extract their oil. These usually cost more but are better for you. Another method manufacturers use to extract oil is by using a heat or chemical process. As it’s not such a time consuming process, it means a cheaper price for the consumer. However, if you can, go with the cold pressed method. Sometimes stores will have sales going on with even top quality oils. And I’ve found some really good buys with organic oils in places like my local co-op and warehouse stores.

What Oils Are Best
Some of my favorites to keep on hand are canola and olive oils. If you haven’t used olive oil before you might have to taste test a few before you find one you like. And don’t add it to food until you’ve given it a taste test. Some can be heavy and overwhelm other flavors. I like to keep the more expensive ones for salad dressings. A favorite treat of mine is French or Italian bread, some olive oil for dipping and a sprinkling of cheese. This makes a great snack too. For a little boost, I’ll store cloves of garlic in the olive oil. It’s a great way to preserve the garlic, especially if I buy it in bulk, and it gives the oil a wonderful flavor when you cook with it or use it for a dressing. I keep a bottle of canola oil for general cooking, sautéing, and using in cakes and other recipes. And I also keep some sesame seed oil in the pantry for Asian style dishes and some salad dressings.

How to Store It
I keep all my oils in the pantry, but any cool dark place is ideal. And if an oil, especially an olive oil turns cloudy, don’t worry, it’s still good to use and doesn’t ruin the taste.

How to Use Less
One trick I have for saving money and calories/fat is when I’m sautéing with oil and feel like I’m going to have to add even more, I’ll often switch to vegetable/chicken broth or even just a splash of water.

Budget Smart Cook’s Tip
You may have heard that oil has what’s known as a smoking point. This is the highest temperature it can be heated at before it starts to smoke. But never let it get to this point. Experts say it can release chemicals that are suspected carcinogens. And it also makes any food that’s cooked in it taste bitter.

admin / February 25, 2008

A Five Star Web Site * * * * *

From time to time the Budget Smart Girl will feature Web sites worth checking out.

Here’s one I read about last week in a UK magazine www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.

I’ll give this one five stars because I think it was created for a Budget Smart Girl.

The site was created to draw people’s attention to the fact that in the UK, a third of the food people buy ends up being thrown away.

Yes, we’re all guilty of this at one time or another…even Budget Smart Girls.

So they’ve started a campaign and created this site to help educate people about how much food to buy, and what to do with leftovers.

Some features of the site include-

Perfect Portions-tells you how much food you should be cooking based on number of servings.

Save Time and Money-this has a two week meal planner…meal planners are great resources for saving money.

Recipes-look through a list of foods that might be sitting in your fridge and they’re give you recipe/meal suggestions.

Storage and Tools-tips on how to store leftovers.

Definitely bookmark this one!

admin / February 19, 2008

Snacking with Benefits… or whoever thought things that tasted so good could be good for you?

Okay, I’ll admit it; sometimes I love nothing better than sitting down in front of the TV with a bag of chips or cookies. Problem is snack foods can be both diet and budget busters. So does that mean we can’t indulge now and then? Not necessarily. The days of bad for you snack foods might just be a thing of the past. Not only are companies making more healthful snacks, but they’re also selling products packed with good for you ingredients too. In fact, eating them might even be a boost for your health. And even more good news is they’re not that expensive.
So if you are going to reach for the chips and cookies, check out some of these new products first.

Granola/Chocolate Bars
I recently got to sample the Attune Granola Wellness Bars and The Attune Probiotic Wellness Bars. The Granola bars retail for $1.69 and contain 180 calories and two grams of fiber. While the Chocolate Bars cost $1.29 and have just 100 calories…not bad for something that tastes so yummy. And there’s an added plus to eating these bars because they’re packed with probiotics that support a healthy digestion and boost your immune system. You’ll find them in the yogurt aisle at Whole Foods market and online at www.attunefoods.com.

An Alternative to Chips
If it’s something savory you crave, here’s another new product I recently got to sample…Popchips. They’re not fried, not even baked, but use heat and pressure to cook them. The result is a very light product with no oily aftertaste. And unlike baked products, you don’t need a gallon of water to wash them down. They’re available in nine flavors. I recommend all of them, but if I had to narrow it down, my favorite was definitely barbeque…I’d pick this product over chips any day. I’d also give Parmesan/Garlic and also Cheddar, two thumbs up. They’re available in 3.25 – 4 oz. servings and range from $2.99 to $3.49. You might think a 16 oz. bag of chips is a better deal, but these are packed with lots more flavor, and with swimsuit weather just around the corner, I’d say go with the Popchips. If you can’t find them in your neck of the woods, they’re available at www.amazon.com. And read more about them at www.popchips.com.

Smoothies and Water Enhancers
Sometimes smoothies make the perfect food to keep you going in between meals. It’s also a sneaky and smart way to fit in some of your daily five fruit and veggies. They’re simple to make with items like low fat milk, yogurt, and fruits like bananas, mangoes and strawberries. And these days you can even buy them readymade. A company called Lightfull Foods www.lightfullfoods.com sell Lightfull Satiety Smoothies, 8.25 oz., just 90 calories and cost is $2.19. Best of all they’re high in fiber, protein, calcium, and come in flavors like Chocolate Satisfaction. They’re available on their Web site, and also at places like Whole Foods and Safeway. And if you’re in a hurry in the morning, these make the ideal breakfast on the go.
And if you’re looking for something to give a plain glass of water some flavor, there’s Simply Nutrilite, who sell ‘juice twist tubes’. Check them out at www.quixtar.com

Chips and Dip
Doesn’t it seem like every day we’re told we need to eat more whole grains? If a bowl of whole grain rice doesn’t sound that great to you, fear no more. Take a stroll down the chip and dip aisle at your local supermarket and you’ll find most brands now offer at least one whole grain variety. One of my favorites is the Synder’s of Hanover Sunflower Chips, whole grains, 40% less fat, and they’re available in such flavors as French Onion and Southwestern Cheddar Cheese. Best thing about whole grain chips, they fill you up faster, so you end up eating less of them. And a company called Corazonas www.corazonas.com makes the first snack chip clinically proven to lower cholesterol. These are heart healthy tortilla chips that are made from whole oats, fiber, and plant sterols. They’re available in 2, 7, and 15 oz. bags and retail for $1.29 – $4.88. You’ll find them at Albertsons and Sam’s Club, or on line at their Web site or www.amazon.com

Don’t Forgo the Sweet Stuff
When I’ve had a bad day sometimes eating something sweet is the only way to put a smile back on my face. There’s a new product called Sweet Fiber, that’s a 0 calorie sweetener which is boosted with fiber. Benefit number one, it doesn’t add calories. Benefit two; added fiber acts as a proven weight loss aid. Best of all, you can add it to cookie and cake recipes. www.sweetfiber.net

Fruit Snacks
I used to think I was being so good when I picked up a bag of freeze dried fruit and nibbled on that instead of candy and cookies. That was until one day I just happened to glance at the ingredients and noticed the product had added sugar, and what looked like a bunch of chemicals. Well, all is not lost. There’s a product called Crispy Green that makes freeze dried fruits, apples, peaches, pears…just fruit, nothing else. You can read more about them and visit their online store at www.crispygreen.com

The Budget Smart Girl’s Tip
Sometimes snacks can be used to provide our bodies with vitamins and minerals we often miss out on when we skip meals. Think of items like cheese and low fat crackers that provide you with calcium and fiber. Fruit salad and fruit kebobs that can give you some of the recommended five a day.

admin / February 19, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Stress Relieving Products

Looking for products to relieve stress at a Budget Smart Girl’s price isn’t always that easy. In fact, the price of some items is enough to send your stress level skyrocketing. However, as being a Budget Smart Girl is all about living the good life without breaking the bank, I went searching to see what I could find. I also sat down and thought about the inexpensive ways I relieve some of the stress in my life.

Web Site Resources
My search for sites relating to relaxation and stress relief mostly yielded ones selling products that sounded questionable at best, but I did stumble upon this one that I really liked. www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR99999

A Soak in the Tub
After a day of sitting at the computer, I often wish we had a hot tub or Jacuzzi bath, but failing that one of my favorite and inexpensive ways to relax is to soak in the tub. You can add to the ambience by adding candles and listening to some of your favorite music. And if you’re looking for bath related products, some of the stores you might want to check out are Bath and Body Works www.bathandbodyworks.com, they have a great solution of products to help you relax, sleep, candles, aromatherapy oils. And I found this site www.vitasprings.com, which seems to offer a whole bunch of good stuff at discount prices.

Relaxing Products That Won’t Break the Bank
One source of stress relieving products I turn to time and time again is Gaiam Living www.gaiamliving.com Yes, some of their products are pricey, but here are a few that fit into most budgets-
Acupressure Gift Set, contains an Acupressure Massage DVD, Music for Relaxation CD, wooden acupressure massage tool, and body map guide, all for just $20.
Chi Detox Set, They have the Detox Bath for $24, and Detox Patches, for $30. The patches are said to alleviate all the common stress related complaints, insomnia, headaches and muscle pain.
Body Therapy System for $20. The system contains a 30 minute instructional DVD, one 6” ball and two 3” balls that you place under your body to target and massage tight muscles.
Real-EASE Relaxation Tool for $40. It looks like a cradle for the back of your head and neck, but according to the catalog it offers the best muscle relaxation.
Another shop I visit for stress relieving products is The Body Shop. www.thebodyshop.com. In fact, last year my husband gave me a Body Shop gift card for our anniversary and I decided to buy all stress relieving products for my office. I chose the aromatherapy diffuser that I plug into the socket by my desk. One of my favorite essential oils to use is lavender. I also bought their Beaded Foot Massage that I place under my desk and use each time I feel my muscles tightening up while I’m typing. For just $15 it’s worth its weight in gold!

Music
I always find listening to music is a wonderful stress reliever. Sometimes it will be my favorite tunes that I can sing along too…yes, it might sound silly but singing really works as a tension buster. Or I’ll slip on my headphones, pop a relaxing, music only CD into the CD player, sit back on the couch, and close my eyes.
And if you’re not sure what type of music relaxes you the most, one of the best places to give CDs a test drive is the library. I’ve wasted too much money on CDs I didn’t like, so now I borrow them from the library and buy only the ones I know I’m going to listen to over and over again.

Don’t Get Cold Feet
One thing I hate is having cold feet…maybe that’s why lots of people don’t like winter. I think if you’re feet are warm and comfortable, it changes your outlook on even the biggest problems you have to face. Here’s a really inexpensive at home spa treatment for both hands and feet. Get some of your favorite hand cream or body lotion, put some in a plastic storage bag and microwave it for about 30 seconds. A word of warning here, check on the temperature before you plunge your feet or toes into it! Wrap your hands and feet in a towel you’ve placed in the dryer for about five minutes, and sit back and relax.

Exercise
Yes, getting just 30 minutes of exercise each day can really chase away the stress. One inexpensive way to do this is to take a walk and leave your troubles at the door as you head out. Yoga is another stress buster. Lots of community education programs offer yoga classes. In my area it’s really reasonable, just $20 for six classes. Another alternative is to rent yoga DVDs from the library and give them a test drive.

The Budget Smart Girl’s Tip
For me, one of the best stress busters is to spend time with an animal. Next time you’re under stress, trying taking the dog for a walk. No dog of your own? No problem, head to the nearest animal shelter. Just being around an animal is believed to reduce our blood pressure. And you might even like to sign up as a volunteer to walk the dogs each week. The animals get to exercise with a friend and you reduce your stress.

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