admin / March 31, 2008

The Blog

When did concert tickets get to be so expensive? You’ve probably guessed that it’s been many years since I went to a concert. Yes, the last time was way back in 1997. Last week I heard that one of my favorite singers…George Michael, will be in concert here this summer. I immediately thought I can’t miss this one, but when I checked the ticket prices, I discovered that they start at $50 and go upwards to $175. I’m taking a guess, but I’m probably right in thinking that the $50 seats are in the section where oxygen might be required, and George will look like a small dot on the horizon. So it looks like this Budget Smart Girl won’t be going to the concert…well, unless George just happens to read this blog and sends me complimentary tickets!

We had a notice from the local city offices that the summer water ban will still be in effect this year, and the fines for breaking it are being increased. Right now we can only water on odd or even days and there’s no watering on any day, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I’m thinking of removing some of the grass that doesn’t grow anyway and planting drought resistant ground cover. I’ve also thought about buying a rain barrel. My dad always used one and sometimes had enough water in there to water the grass all summer long. Prices for rain barrels range from $100-200. I picked up a copy of the classes offered at a local nature center and saw there’s one about rain barrels for $40, and that includes a rain barrel. I thought, great, sign me up, it’s worth $40. However, being caught up in the excitement of thinking I’d found a bargain, I didn’t read the whole class description. It seems you have to make your own barrel during the class. I did causally mention the class to my husband, and told him I’d signed him up for it. The look he gave me told me that I should still keep looking at the more expensive rain barrels.

Have people stopped shopping for groceries? That’s what I asked myself when I was at my local supermarket last week. I was half way through my shopping expedition when I realized I was the only one in there. It was mid morning on Wednesday, and I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of a whole store to myself. I thought maybe they were closed and I’d somehow managed to get inside the store, but no, assistants had seen me and hadn’t ushered me outside. An added bonus was when I got to the check out, there was no waiting, and I even got my groceries packed by another assistant because she had no customers at her check out lane.

admin / March 26, 2008

The Budget Smart Cook Has a Nutritional Make Over

If you made a New Year’s resolution to eat more healthful foods but have fallen by the wayside, here’s your second chance. March is National Nutrition month, and it’s a great time to start evaluating what’s sitting in your fridge or pantry.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Check out this Web site, Five servings of fruit and vegetables a day is the recommended amount, and it’s not that difficult to squeeze them in. I try to eat at least one at each meal, including snacks. For example, I’ll eat fruit on cereal or waffles for breakfast, an apple or orange for a mid morning or afternoon snack. A salad with greens, tomatoes, grated carrots for lunch, and maybe a couple of vegetables for dinner. Spreading them out throughout the day makes the whole process that much more achievable. And a great way to save money is to serve more vegetables and cut back on meat. For example, vegetable potpie, a vegetable lasagna etc. And a money saving tip is to buy vegetables that are in season and then freeze them.

Eat More Fiber
Fiber helps keep your blood sugar at a steady level all day so you’re less likely to get hungry mid morning or mid afternoon. A time when many of us go looking for high sugar treats just to keep us going. These days just about every food company is offering at least one whole grain product. And they’re a lot more palatable than they use to be. One ideal breakfast is oatmeal…also believed to lower your cholesterol. Serve it with some fruit and you’ve got an almost perfect meal.

Cut Down on High Fat Foods
Most high priced convenience foods are high in fat, so you’ll not only be doing something good for your health, but your wallet too. Cut down on fat and save your pennies by making your own oven fries. Try oven-roasting vegetables and broil meat, chicken and fish instead of frying them.

Cut Down on Sugar
For the last couple of years I’ve made a conscience effort to cut down on the amount of sugar I eat. And I’ve found it’s best to do it gradually. In fact, don’t even try and cut it out all at once. Over time your taste buds adjust, and you’ll soon find that foods you once thought were just right are suddenly much too sweet.

Cut Down on Soda
And speaking of sugar, one quick and easy way to cut down on calories is to cut down on soda. I know it’s tough at first, but one product I like when I’m craving soda is one of the flavored seltzer waters. Or buy one of the Pur water filter products. They now have flavors like raspberry and peach you can add to plain water. Or try a combination of half 100% fruit juice and half seltzer.

Learn to Read Nutrition Labels
One easy way to get a nutritional makeover is to start reading food labels. Learn what really is low in fat or low in sugar. It’s a way to save money too because you won’t end up buying foods that have little or no nutritional value.

Learn About Basic Nutrition
One way to monitor what you eat, and what you buy is to learn about basic nutrition. No, you don’t have to register for a class or read textbooks on the subject. Thanks to the Internet, there are some informative sites that present everything in a down to earth fashion. Some even have interactive games and tools you can use.
Two great sites to check out include-

admin / March 26, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Car Maintenance

Besides your house, your car is probably the biggest financial investment you make, so it’s worth looking after. Keeping up with regular maintenance and spotting problems before they start can save you money and extend the life of the car.

Read the Manual
If you’ve just bought a car, or even if you’ve owned it for many years, take an hour or so and read through your car manual. Think of it as your best friend who knows all about your car and can advise you on what to do. It’s also the best place to start when you start hearing something strange in the car.
The manual also gives you a schedule on service maintenance and advices you on things like when to rotate the tires or change the filter etc.
And bookmark your carmaker’s Web site. They often have great tips and you learn more about ways to keep your car in tiptop shape.

Find Someone You Trust
I know for most women, finding a reliable and honest car mechanic is a bit like finding Mr. Right. Once he comes into your life, you want to hang onto him for forever. I used to take my car to the dealership where I bought it. They were great, honest, but then they had a change in management and the service was never the same. My advice is to shop around until you find someone you’re comfortable with, and someone who won’t talk down to you just because you’re female. When you find them, stick with them. You get to know them and they get to know your car. I’ve been taking my car to the same place for seven years and now they remember my car, the make, and year as soon as I call to make an appointment.

Get A Second Opinion
If you can’t find someone you trust and are told your car needs some work, shop around. I know some businesses will try and add more work that’s not really needed or even put another $100 or so on the bill. Get an estimate and then phone around to see what others are charging. And remember companies have to get your permission and signature before they can do any work on your car.

Watch Those Tires
Here’s something I’m really guilty of, not keeping my eye on the pressure in my car tires. Not keeping them properly inflated wastes gas and also wears out the tires more quickly. I recently purchased tire pressure indicator caps that give you a quick color guide. Green the pressure’s okay. Red, it’s time to add some air. I’ll be telling you more about them in an upcoming product review. And when you’re checking your tires, look at the tread. Do they look a little worn? If so, it’s time to shop around for some new ones.

Oil Change
One thing I’m really good about doing is taking the car to the store for an oil change. I make sure once the car has added another 3,000 miles, I immediately make an appointment. The service station where I take my car also gives a free courtesy check of things like belts and hoses, and often throws in a free tire rotation too.

Sites of Interest
Here are a selection of Web sites I’ve found that have some really useful tips

Car Talk
If you ever listen to NPR, you might have caught a show called Car Talk. It’s hosted by Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Listeners can call in and ask questions about problems they’re having with their cars. And if you think that sounds boring, it’s not. Tom and Ray present all the information in such an entertaining way, it’s a great way to learn about cars…even for us ladies.

admin / March 24, 2008

The Blog

One thing I really like about the Internet is it’s easier than ever to find contact information for just about any company. Last week I was making enchiladas and needed a can of green chilies for the sauce. I went to the pantry, pulled out one made by Pace, opened it up, and surprise, surprise…the can was only 25% full. These aren’t the most expensive things to buy, but these days even throwing away couple of bucks feels like such a waste.
I went to my computer and typed in Pace and found their Web site. I clicked on contact us, and filled in the feedback form and explained what had happened. They responded in less than an hour with an apology, and offered to send me a free coupon for a replacement. So I’ll give them five stars for their easy to use Web site, five for their response time, and five for offering to replace it, no questions asked. By the way, Pace is owned by Campbell’s.

On the other side of the coin, if you do love a product and have only good things to say about it, why not praise the company. We all like to hear good things about our work, and it often guides a company to give you better service. In fact, when I worked in PR, I took a course in media training. All the participants were sitting around talking about their good and bad experiences with companies.
One lady said she’d praised a hotel because of the great service she’d received. Not only did the hotel thank her, but gave her a gift certificate for a free night’s stay, just for taking the trouble to write to them. Another lady said she’d complained to a food manufacturer when she’d purchased a can of fruit salad that was supposed to contain cherries and didn’t. The PR manager thanked her for bringing it to their attention and gave her $10 in coupons. He said if more people actually complained and gave them feedback, then they’d be able to provide a better service to all their customers.

I’ve been seeing lots of articles about the rebates most of us will shortly be receiving from the IRS. Most have been focusing on ways to use the money. Suggestions have included, paying off your credit card, putting the money into a savings account for a rainy day, and even going out and buying yourself something nice. One idea I haven’t seen so far, and maybe I’ll be the first to suggest it here…start your own mini business. You never know when you’re going to lose your job or get sick and can’t work, so it’s a great idea to have something to fall back on. It could be something you can run while you’ll still working your day job, something you can run from a small corner of your home. One thing we should all try and do these days is to try and create multiple streams of income. If you look at most successful entrepreneurs they don’t make their money all from one source. If one market or sector is slow, they’ve got another market to keep them afloat.

admin / March 18, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Easter

The economic outlook might seem dismal right now, but that shouldn’t stop the Budget Smart Girl from enjoying this week’s Easter festivities. Being on a budget doesn’t mean having less fun… it just means you have to be a little more creative.

Table Settings
Easter, whether it falls in March or April, is the perfect time of the year to head outside and go searching around the yard for some free table decorations. Small twigs can be turned into bird’s nests to sit on each guest’s plate. Fill them with mini chocolate eggs and a nametag.
Larger twigs can be placed in a vase and decorate with hanging Easter Eggs. You can buy empty plastic eggs, attach some wire and hang them from the branches for a low cost centerpiece.
Another idea is to place a stack of twigs and branches in the middle of the table and place eggs, chocolate bunnies, etc, throughout the stack. When the meal’s over, guests can help themselves to the treats.

The Meal
Even when you’re counting the pennies, you can still be the host who throws an enjoyable feast. There are lots of low cost meals you can put together that look like you’ve spent a fortune.
Don’t want to buy a whole ham? Buy a smaller piece, cut it up and add it to a frittata or quiche.
What do you associate with Easter? Yes, eggs. They’re great value and can be turned into soufflés, scrambled eggs with chives, or sun dried tomatoes, or even silvers of smoked salmon. Serve the eggs over croissants and you’ve got a quick meal that’s pleasing to both the eye and wallet.
And for dessert…with so many treats in the stores, why bother making one, when you can put together a platter of Easter goodies, chocolate bunnies, caramel eggs, etc. I find most people end up just nibbling on all the Easter goodies and don’t have room for dessert anyway, so this is a really great option.

Where to Find the Treats
This week just about every supermarket and drugstore is selling Easter treats at half off. Also, check out places like Target and Walgreen’s. And if you can wait till Saturday to pick up Easter treats and decorations, so much the better. I’ve known stores lower their prices by as much as 75% even before Easter’s over.

And here are some sites I’ve found that give you a guide to what’s out there-
Check out their free eCalendar while you’re on the site., so many goodies to choose from here. Home of my favorite crème eggs! And check out the new Easter hunt kit.

If you’re throwing a party and want to buy in bulk, check

And if you’re going to be doing some baking this weekend, check these two sites-
Be sure to check out their promotions section. You’ll find they have sweepstakes, coupons and free stuff.

For all things Easter, check out this site-

The Budget Smart Girl’s Tip
Holidays mean after the event sales. I’m guessing with the weak economy, stores will be slashing prices even more this year, so stock up on non-perishables ready for next year’s party. And why not buy some extra chocolate goodies. You can use them in your baking in the next few months or so.

admin / March 18, 2008

Why The Budget Smart Cook Loves Eggs

This Easter don’t just think about chocolate eggs because the real ones are one of the best deals for a budget savvy cook. I’m taking a guess that this coming week supermarkets are going to slash egg prices. So why not buy a box and start discovering all the great meals you can make with them.

Those Little Nutrition Powerhouses
On the nutrition scale, eggs are close to being a perfect ten. In fact, eggs just about have it all…protein, B vitamins…especially B12 and B2, vitamins A and D, iron, choline and phosphorus. And let’s not forget, they’re low in calories too.

They’re Not So Bad
It wasn’t that long again that everyone was nervous about eating eggs because of their high cholesterol content. Yes, they do contain cholesterol (the average size egg contains 210 mg). And yes, you should monitor your cholesterol intake. However, eggs are low in saturated fat, and as saturated fats are now believed to play a bigger role in raising our cholesterol levels, it means that for most of us, they’re perfectly okay to eat in moderation. (And moderation is considered one egg a day). However, if you really are worried or been told by your doctor to cut back on cholesterol, just eat the whites. The whites are cholesterol and fat free, but still contain lots of high quality protein.

They’re Easy on the Budget
Eggs are one of the best buys at the supermarket. And even organic or free-range eggs, which I prefer to buy, won’t break the bank. Both varieties are usually around $3.49 a dozen. And it’s a price I don’t mind paying because I can get several meals from that one carton. And as everyone likes them, they don’t go to waste either.
One way you can save even more money on eggs is to buy them at a warehouse store. Farmer’s markets and co-ops are also good places to buy them.

You Can Eat Them Anytime
Eggs are not only low-cost but they’re also great to eat at any meal.
There’s scrambled or poached eggs for breakfast. There’s curried egg salad sandwiches for lunch. You can even use the same mixture to fill a tomato, which makes a great dinner on a summer day when tomatoes are cheap too.
In fact, eggs make an inexpensive supper any time of the year. Just last week I wanted to get rid of some of some of the items in the fridge before I went shopping the next day. I had tortillas, pepper jack cheese and yes, eggs. I scrambled the eggs added the cheese until it melted, and then added a can of chile peppers. I put this mixture down the middle of each of the tortillas, and then topped it with black beans. I rolled them up and served them with salsa and sour cream.

Budget Smart Cook’s Tip
A quick and easy meal is a quiche. And don’t worry if you’re not a great cook, quiches don’t even need a pastry crust. When eggs are on sale why not make a few different quiches and freeze them. With the warmer weather just around the corner they make a quick supper that won’t heat up the kitchen. Defrost the quiche in the morning then in the evening add a tossed green salad and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat that you can put together in less than 10 minutes.

admin / March 11, 2008

The Budget Smart Cook Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

My grandmother was from County Cork so when I see a recipe for an Irish dish, I always have to try it. One thing I’ve discovered with all these recipes is the majority of them use low cost items, but somehow they always end up tasting great.
People usually ask me if I serve corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, but my favorite dish is my own version of sausages and mashed potatoes. It’s easy to put together, easy on the budget, and I hope you’ll give it a try this St. Patrick’s Day. It serves 4

8 sausages, allow two sausages for each person and don’t choose the really thin breakfast type links. The bigger the better for this recipe. Or if you want to go the vegetarian route, I like the Boca brand Bratwurst.
2 cups of sliced onions
One tablespoon oil
One tablespoon low fat spread/margarine
Pinch of thyme
2 cups beef or vegetable stock
One tablespoon corn flour
2 pounds of potatoes, the Yukon Gold variety is excellent for this recipe
milk and low fat spread/margarine/butter
salt and pepper.

Peel and cut the potatoes into quarters. Place them in a saucepan and cover with water. Add salt to your liking and cook over a medium heat until they’re fork tender.

This next step can be done while the potatoes are cooking. In a frying pan, add both the oil and margarine. Add the onions, and a little salt and pepper and a pinch of thyme and let the onions caramelize over a medium heat. This will probably take about 15 to 20 minutes. When they’re ready put them on a plate and add the sausages to the leftover fat and cook until done and no longer pink.

Drain the potatoes, mash them and add milk and margarine to your liking and cover them so they keep warm while you finish making the dish.

Put the sausages on a plate and keep them warm. Return the onions to the frying pan and slowly add the beef or vegetable stock. Add some water to the corn flour and stir until it forms a paste. Slowly add this to the stock and bring to a boil, and keep heating it until the mixture thickens and then remove from the heat.

Place a heap of mashed potatoes in the middle of a plate and set the sausages over the top. Pour some of the onion gravy over both the sausages and potatoes. Repeat with the other three servings.

Sometimes I have leftover gravy that I’ll put in a dish on the table for people to help themselves during the meal.

If you want to serve vegetables with this I’ve found canned peas make a great side dish. Another one of my favorites is sliced carrots with just a sliver of low fat spread/butter melted over them and a dusting of parsley.

The Budget Savvy Cook Loves Potatoes
Potatoes don’t cost that much and they can really be glamorized to make any cheaper cut of meat or even a veggie burger seem like a million dollar meal. With mashed potatoes I’ve added things like carrots and parsnips. Some of my other favorites ‘add ins’ are Chile peppers or smoked paprika. And for baked potatoes one of my favorite topping is either blue or feta cheese and some of the Mrs. Dash chipotle seasoning.

admin / March 9, 2008

The Blog

Did everyone remember to move clocks and watches an hour ahead? And just when I was just getting used to waking up to lighter mornings. The days seemed longer and I felt like I was getting more done.

I read this interesting article by Christopher Null, The Working Guy. He says that Daylight Saving Time was supposed to save energy but a study conducted by the University of California found that it actually costs us more. The study looked at the state of Indiana who until 2006 was only partially on DST. When the whole state changed to DST it actually cost residents 8.6 million extra in electricity bills. The reason…while their lighting costs went down, it cost them more for air conditioning because people were often at home instead of at their offices on hot afternoons. Plus, people had to heat their homes in the morning because they were getting up while it was still dark, and therefore colder outside. I think this study reminds us that we really have to take a closer look at what we initially believe will be money saving moves. What looks like a bargain, might not be. If you want to check out this whole article, here’s the link

And you know the word free is what every Budget Smart Girl likes to hear! I found this wonderful article from PC Magazine. It lists no end of free software. I’m gradually making my way through the list to check what programs I could use. Here’s the link,0,2704,2260070,00.asp

In the last few weeks I’ve brought some new stuff for my home office and done all my shopping online. As I’ve been swamped with writing projects these last couple of months it’s become my favorite way to shop. The only thing I dislike is the cost of shipping and handling. Once again it pays to shop around and check if you can get all you need from one merchant. That way you often qualify for free shipping. Another thing I’ve been doing is adding an item I think I’ll need in say a few months. Okay, I don’t need it that fast, but it often pushes the total into the free shipping category. My theory is I’d rather give a company an extra $10 for something that I can actually use and not throw away $10 on something intangible like ‘handling’ and a cardboard box the item arrives in.

admin / March 7, 2008

Businesses I Like

Business I like will appear from time to time on this site. I’ll be telling you about companies I like doing business with and the reason why. I might like them because they offer great value, great customer service, speedy delivery etc.

This week I have two companies to praise because of their speedy service.

I bought a Turbo Tax software program and also a new flash drive through their online store.
I placed the order on a Thursday afternoon and it qualified for free shipping. And to my surprise the package was sitting on my front door step on Friday morning. That was less than 24 hours after I’d placed the order. Nice work Staples!

I told you about the Lotus Sanitizing System in my article about green cleaning. I’ve been using mine so much around the house that it was time to buy some refill cartridges. While the order didn’t arrive as quickly as the one from Staples, I had the cartridges a few days after placing this order.

admin / March 4, 2008

What’s Your Diet and Nutrition IQ?

Do you know what your diet and nutrition IQ is? According to the Food and Health Report conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation, only 11% of those surveyed knew about the amount of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight. Or even what types of fats are actually good for you.
You might be thinking why should I care, but with food prices skyrocketing, being an informed buyer allows you to make smart choices at the grocery store. Choices that are not only good for your family’s health, but good for your wallet too. Knowing what to eat and staying healthy also saves on missed days from work and can lower your healthcare costs.
So with the help of registered dietitian Lanah Brennan, here’s a quiz to test your Diet/Nutrition IQ. Answers are below.

1. Saturated fats are found in-
b)coconut and palm oils
c)dairy foods
d)all of the above

2. Sugar is found in the following foods-
d)baked beans
e)all of the above

3.You can only get your daily requirement of calcium from eating dairy foods, true or false?

4. Which of the following foods is high in potassium?
e)all of the above

5.You can reduce the sodium in your diet by doing which of the following-
a)limiting the amount of salty snacks you eat, such as chips and pretzels
b)using herbs and spices to enhance the taste of food
c)selecting fat free, low fat cheese, milks and yogurt
d)all of the above

6.Healthy American adults should eat less than-
a)one teaspoon of salt per day
b)one tablespoon of salt per day
c)two tablespoons of salt per day

7.Both animal and non-animal foods contain cholesterol, true or false?

8.Cholesterol only comes from food, true or false?

9.There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, true or false?

10.You can only get iron if you eat meat, true or false?

3.false, you can also get calcium from eating spinach, kale, broccoli, some legumes and soybean products…yes, sometimes cheaper foods.
4.e, all are good sources
5.d, all of the above. Full fat dairy products can also contain higher amounts of salt. So be sure to check those labels.
7.false, only food from an animal source like meat and butter contain cholesterol
8.false, our livers produce varying amounts, usually about 1,000 mg. a day
10.false. You can also get iron from foods like baked beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and eggs…once again cheaper food items.

So how did you do? Score a perfect 10? Or do you need some more help learning about nutrition and diet? I’ve found these resources really useful-

Extension Service-your local extension service usually has a nutritionist on staff and can answer all your questions about getting the best nutritional bang for your buck. Some even offer grocery store field trips.
Also, check out these sites-

Budget Smart Cook’s Tip
One of the best ways to learn what’s the best value for your money is to start studying food labels.

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss