admin / April 9, 2008

Why Should Budget Smart Cooks Love Their Veggies?

Well, actually everyone should love eating vegetables, but for those of us who watch the pennies, veggies offer great value. They pack lots of nutrition and can even help you stretch your food dollar. Here are some other reasons to love veggies.

You Can Always Find Them at the Store
Okay, some vegetables aren’t available year round, but stop by any produce department and you’ll always find items to make a low cost meal. Things like broccoli, mushrooms, peapods, peppers…all the basics for a stir-fry. And if you’re using beef, chicken or shrimp in that stir- fry, use less of these items and simply double up on the vegetables. I’m taking a guess you and your family won’t notice the difference.

They’re Great for the Freezer
One way to make sure all vegetables are available year round is to buy them while they’re in abundance, and therefore, cheaper, and freeze them. Farmer’s markets will be opening again, so check out the first crops of the season.

They Even Have Frozen and Canned Cousins?
When fresh vegetables aren’t available you can use their frozen and canned counterparts. But should fresh vegetables always be considered the best? Most health experts say as produce is usually frozen or canned as soon as it’s picked, the vitamin and mineral content remains intact. And most nutritionists give the following guidelines, first select fresh, then frozen, and finally canned. I have to admit I used to feel really guilty if I relied on too many frozen and canned vegetables for meals, but now I base my decision on the following points-

What’s In Season?
I look at what’s available, how much it costs and compare it to what’s in the freezer section. Another thing to consider is what’s on sale. Most stores have some type of promotion on frozen vegetables at least once a month. So even in summer, buying frozen often makes more sense. Another plus to buying frozen or canned vegetables is there’s no waste. Everything’s trimmed and prepared, so you know everything is going to be eaten. No more broccoli stalks or corn husks to toss away. Here’s a site that tells you when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, which I find really helpful www.kqed.org/topics/home/cooking/whats-in-season.jsp

What Type of Recipe Am I Making?
I have lots of pasta recipes that use peas as one of the ingredients. Since I haven’t seen fresh peas in the produce section for years, I’ve got no alternative but to use the frozen kind. Plus, the taste of the dish never seems to be compromised.

How Does the Price Compare?
A favorite dish that I make at least once a month is vegetable lasagna, and one of the main ingredients for my recipe is spinach. For those of you who have used the fresh variety, I probably don’t have to tell you that when spinach is heated it becomes the incredible shrinking vegetable. The first time I used frozen spinach for this lasagna recipe, I must admit that I did feel guilty, but now I know it makes perfect sense. The frozen spinach is cheaper and cuts the preparation time in half. The bottom line is you still get a healthful meal and sometimes for pennies less.

Remember the Five Fruit and Vegetable A Day Recommendation
Do you sometimes avoid recipes using fresh vegetables because you haven’t got time to clean, peel and cook them? If that’s the case then definitely opt for the frozen or canned varieties.

I’m Throwing Away the Veggies
I don’t know anyone who’s not guilty of buying fresh produce only to let it sit and rot in the refrigerator. Frozen and canned foods have a longer shelf life. And having to toss away spoiled produce isn’t saving you money.

Sometimes the Taste is Better
One vegetable I really prefer in the canned variety is asparagus. I don’t know why, but the fresh version just doesn’t impress me. And if you have children who are picky about eating their veggies, you can add a few canned vegetables to the odd dish or two, and most of the time they can’t taste them. Even frozen mixed vegetables can be added to things like casseroles and soups and usually children won’t complain.

I Don’t Have Those Ingredients
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started to make a recipe and realized I don’t have a particular vegetable sitting in the refrigerator. One thing I always fall back on is my pantry supply of canned and frozen foods. The only concern I have about canned vegetables is their sodium content. I usually rinse them in water, which won’t get rid of all the sodium, but at least cuts down on some of it.

admin / April 8, 2008

The FDA’s New Ruling

I received this news release shortly after I posted last week’s Budget Smart Cook article about what to look for when you’re reading labels and thought I’d pass along this information to you.
The FDA has recently acknowledged that products containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can’t be considered ‘natural’ and shouldn’t be labeled as such.
Lots of products…including sodas children seem to love do contain high fructose corn syrup. So read the label carefully, and if it’s one of the top ingredients, don’t waste your money.
The news release did list some food products that are free of HFCS. As they seem to fit into the snack food category…and I know lots of you are looking for healthful snacks to buy, here are some products to look for-
Hansen’s Natural Soda and Sparkling Refreshment
Skippy Peanut Butter
Smucker’s Organic Grape Jelly
Hershey’s Symphony and Skor Bars
Dannon All Natural Vanilla Yogurt
Nature Valley Roasted Nut Crunch Bars

admin / April 7, 2008

The Blog

The talk goes on…or so it seems. On the TV, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, everyone’s talking about the sliding economy and how to survive it.

I read this interesting article on Yahoo, written by Gina Hughes, The Techie Diva about haggling in a sluggish economy. Here’s a link if you want to read it http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/hughes/25219. Haggling…or as us Budget Smart Girls like to call it, getting the best price you can, is great even when the economy is at its best. My father was an expert at haggling. I think it’s because his family were so poor when he was growing up that it just became a way of life. Dad became so good at it that other people would take him along to a store to negotiate a lower price for them. While I did learn a thing or two about haggling, I have to admit I don’t have the same skill as my dad…but I’m learning. And whether the economy is sluggish or growing, don’t be afraid to ask for a better price. After all, they can only say no.

Friday afternoon I decided it was time to give my office a good clutter clearing. I sorted through files of paper I’d been collecting for future stories. I did come across a couple of Web sites I’d jotted down and thought I’d pass them along to you. One is www.consumersearch.com. It lets you search for just about any item you’re thinking about buying. The other one is www.lemonade.com Remember the lemonade stand you had when you were young? This is based on that idea. You set up your own stand selling items you select and take part of the proceeds. I don’t know anyone who’s used it, so I can’t vouch for it, or how much money you’ll make, but it’s worth checking out.

One thing I did realize is I have too many books. I don’t mind donating them to charity, but if I can get some money selling them, that’s okay with me too. Where to sell them, or what to do with them got me thinking about another topic for The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide. So this week you’ll be seeing the first of many articles about how to get rid of ‘stuff’ around the house while earning money.

admin / April 2, 2008

What Do Those Food Labels Really Mean?

When you shop for groceries do you ever take the time to read the label before you put an item into your cart? With food prices going sky high it’s more important than ever to get the best return for your food dollar. Food labels aren’t always the easiest things to figure out, but be sure to check out the following-

Just The Facts
The Nutrition Facts section on a product is easy to spot. It’s usually enclosed in a box and tells you what a serving size is, plus, things like the number of calories, sodium, cholesterol, etc. You’ll also find information about vitamin and mineral content.
So how do you decide if a particular item is really worth buying? One thing that often fooled me was serving size. For example, if you’re looking for low fat snacks like crackers and chips, you might note that the fat content says 2.5 grams per serving. Great, you think, that doesn’t sound too bad. But hang on, there’s something else you need to check first. What do they consider is a serving size for this particular item? For some products it might be just five chips. I don’t know about you but when I’m in the mood for a snack, five chips aren’t going to take the edge off my hunger. In the above example, you’d need to multiply the number of servings you think you’ll eat by 2.5. What looks like the idea food, could actually be a bad choice and a waste of your money.

What’s That?
The second thing you’re looking for when you check out packaged foods is the list of ingredients. The main ingredient is always listed first and so on, in descending order. If you buy a can of mushroom soup and don’t see mushrooms getting the top billing, it might be time to move onto another brand.
And one thing I try to avoid is any food with a long list of ingredients, especially ones that sound like compounds that I read about in Chemistry 101.

But I Don’t Have the Time
And what if you don’t have time to check every label when you shop. I’ve found products I like and I know what’s in them so I stick with them. And here’s a guideline to help you make healthy choices.

Trans Fats
For the last two years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required that food makers list the amount of trans fat in everything they make. Good news you say, but wait a minute, there’s a catch. The FDA labeling allows food manufacturers to claim 0 g of trans fat as long as the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. 0.5 grams might not seem like a lot, but it can add up over the course of a day. So even if a product says no trans fat, check the label.

How Low is Low?
I like to buy products that are for example, low in sugar, but there are varying degrees of what’s considered low in fats, sugar, etc.
Low fat is 3 g or less of total fat per serving.
Low in saturated fat, is 1 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low calorie means 40 calories or less per serving.
Low cholesterol is 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low sodium is 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Very low sodium is 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Nonfat means the product has less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.

It’s Organic…or is it?
Organic produce and products tend to be more expensive than their regular counterparts so make sure you’ll getting what you pay for.
The US Department of Agriculture’s current definition is as follows,
For vegetables and fruits etc, it’s any produce that’s produced without the use of pesticides, sewage sludge, and synthetic fertilizers. And for animals, including their milk, organic means they’re not given any hormones and antibiotics.

Is It Natural?
I used to think if a product had the words natural stamped on it, it was a good buy, but that’s not always the case. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean the food is good for you. Some products say 100% natural but still can contain high amounts of sugar and fat.

admin / April 2, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Selling Your Arts and Crafts

Maybe you read my blog last week and remember me talking about ways you can spend the tax rebate that’s coming your way very soon. I suggested one way to use the money was to start your own mini business. Perhaps you could start a business while you’re still working at your day job? Or maybe you already have a small business but are looking for ways to grow it. One thing you might like to try is making your own arts and crafts and selling them.

Starting Out
You can make the most profit if you buy items at wholesale prices and to do that you’ll need a business ID number. They’re fairly easy to obtain, and even if you change your mind about starting a business, it doesn’t usually cost a penny.

Start with Friends and Family
An easy way to make your first sale and obtain your first set of customers is to let your family, friends and co-workers know you’re in business. If you’re trying to sell something that’s wearable, like a sweater or jewelry, why not wear them to work and see if you get any comments. You might even ask if you can put photos of your crafts on the notice board and take orders from there. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to turn strangers into customers. Best of all, it’s like getting free advertising.

Craft Consignment Shops
They work just like clothing consignment shops. You take your items along to the store for them to check out. If they agree to stock them, they sell them for you and then take their commission. And some clothing consignment stores will also take jewelry and purses on consignment, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Read the Fine Print
If you’re selling to consignment stores or even on line, there will probably be a contract for you to fill in and sign. Read it carefully and don’t be in any rush to sign it. Even ask if you can take it home. Read how long they will offer your items for sale, will they reduce the price after a month or so? When do you have to collect unsold pieces, and most importantly how do they pay you? When your account reaches a certain amount? I know many companies are getting picky about writing checks until accounts reach $25. And do they actually pay you in money? Yes, this might seem a strange thing to say, but I had one friend who makes jewelry and she took some pieces along to a clothes consignment shop and didn’t read the fine print on the agreement. She sold lots of stuff, but when she went to collect her money, she was told their policy was to just give in store credit. She ended up with a few nice dresses, but the whole point of her taking them to the store was for her to earn some extra income, not add to her wardrobe. So read that small print and ask about anything you don’t understand. Even check if there’s a competition clause, meaning will you be allowed to sell your items at another store in your immediate area. Some consignment stores won’t allow you to do that, so it pays to ask.

Places to Sell Your Goods
Arts and crafts shows are some of the best places to sell arts and crafts and here’s a site you can use to find one in your area.
www.artandcraftshow.net
The Internet has opened up a brand new market for crafters. I surfed the Web and found a whole bunch of places you can sell just about anything, from sweaters to candles. Check them out and definitely check out their terms of use, payment etc.
www.craftassoc.com check out this site before you visit the other sites, it has some great information and links.
www.cafepress.com
www.etsy.com
www.artsefest.com
www.homegrownmarket.com
www.lillysplace.net
www.craftmall.com
www.handmadecatalog.com
www.aokcorral.com

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