admin / June 30, 2008

The Blog-Isn’t It Ironic?

Here’s a story I heard on one of my local news stations last week. Seems like lots of people are tired of the ever increasing price of gas and so they’re leaving their cars at home and opting to take public transport instead.
Great, you think, they’re saving money and saving energy, but wait, there’s more. The folks who run public transportation for the area think because of their increasing ridership, they now have no alternative but to put the prices up.
My first thought, how ironic. And doesn’t it seem like we just can’t win these days? We switch to a cheaper mode of transportation and then get hit with more price hikes.

And thinking of other modes of transportation, we finally gave in and bought a bike rack. Up till now if we wanted to go farther afield with the bikes we had to take them in two cars. Now we just need one car and we’re happy knowing that we’ll be saving money on gas this summer.

With the holiday weekend just around the corner, lots of people have the word vacation on their minds. I’m hearing about more people who are putting their plans on hold. Yes, even vacations that were already planned because they can’t afford the gas or the airline price increases. If you’re interested in half vacation, half adventure, I did find this article by from the Sierra Club that might give you some ideas. www.sierraclub.org/outings/national/budget.asp.

And this week I found out that what you think is a bargain, isn’t always one. Yesterday I stopped by the local produce stand and saw they had some watermelons. I needed one for a couple of recipes and thought $6 was a good price because these were monster watermelons. Nope, I should have saved my money and waited another day. I walked into the supermarket this morning and what greeted me at the door? Yes, a box of watermelons that are on sale this week, any size for just $3. Lesson learned…you can’t get a bargain every time!

admin / June 26, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide To Easy Ways to Cut Your Budget

These days it seems like it’s not just us Budget Smart Girls who want to save some money. When the going gets tough here are some ways I’ve found to cut your budget.

What Can You Eliminate?Sit down and look at your bills, bank and credit card statements. Do you have any expenses that aren’t really necessary? Things like the weekly pedicure, the two meals you had at the fancy restaurant, the daily latte at the coffee shop? Circle anything that isn’t essential in your life.

Added Services
Most things that fit into the non-essential category include added services, things like cable TV, text messaging on your cell phone. Do you really need them and do you really use them? How about eliminating voice mail from your phone service and switching back to an answering machine? And are you really watching all 100 channels on cable? Look for ways you can cut back on all the bells and whistles. And if you have more than one company in your area offering the same service, go ahead and do a price check. Even ask your current provider if they can beat or at least match their competitor’s price. It doesn’t hurt to ask and they can only say no.

Brown Bag It
What did you eat at lunchtime today? Are you relying on vending machines or the local deli? Try switching to a homemade lunch and see how much money you can save in a month. Another way to save some money is to take leftovers from the previous night’s supper.

Go Vegetarian
Okay, you might not want to go completely vegetarian, but how about a compromise? You give up eating meat three times a week and opt for something cheaper like beans. Or if you are using meat, cut down on the amount and replace it with beans and vegetables.

Shop Less Often
I’ve switched to making a biweekly trip to the supermarket instead of weekly and have shaved off at least $50 to the food budget. The more times you visit the store, the more likely you are to buy things you don’t need.

Buy in Bulk
One of the best buys at my local supermarket and co-op is food that’s stored in their bulk bin sections. I often find lots of organic items at half the price just for the little effort of weighing and bagging my own food.

Buy Store Brands
Years ago I’d shy away from a supermarket brand item, but they’ve come a long way and many are even better than the big name brands. I can save at least 50 cents to $1 on items like cereal, fruit spread, soup, peanut butter. It might not seem like a lot, but it quickly adds up to more savings for you.

Don’t Buy It
Why buy a pricey item when you can rent it or share it. If you need a drill or a carpet cleaner just for one job around the house, why not check out your local rental center. Or ask family and neighbors if you could borrow it.

Conserve Energy
Yes, the price of gas isn’t going down any time soon, if at all, so let’s just accept that we have to find ways to save on gas. Can you join or start a carpool? Can you share a ride with some neighbors? Can you walk or even take the bike to the store? And combine trips. I write down a list of all the errands I plan to run and make sure they’re all done in just one trip to town.

Other Energy Wasters
And do you leave lights on when you leave a room? How about drying your clothes outside?

Sell Something
Have you got stuff sitting around the house that you haven’t used for years? Try a garage sale or even eBay.

EntertainmentYes, all work and no play….even when we’re on a budget we still need some recreation. How about borrowing books, CDs, and DVDs from the library? And check your local community for free events. The area where I live has free concerts and movies in the park every week all summer long.

admin / June 26, 2008

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Remember the old American Express commercial with the tagline, ‘don’t leave home without it’?

Great advice, but the thing I never leave home without isn’t my credit card, it’s my grocery list.

In fact, I’m adamant about not even entering a supermarket unless I have my list with me. If you’re currently trying to cut your grocery budget, a list is a must.
I try my best to stick to mine, and am proud to say only one or two items not on my list ever find their way into my cart.

I’ve gone so far as to create a master grocery list that’s stored on my computer. Each time I put my list together I print out a copy and circle items I need on that trip to the store. And I’ll also put the list on the fridge door so if anyone uses the last of an item, they can just circle it.

My list is ever evolving and some items get deleted, others added. And that’s the plus to having it stored on the computer because you can go back and edit it. And it’s divided into sections based on specific areas in the store. Produce, deli, frozen foods, dairy, etc.

I also use my list when I’m checking the supermarket flyer. I’ll put an S next to any item that’s on sale that week, just as a simple reminder to look out for that particular brand. And yes, if it’s non-perishable, on sale, and even if I don’t plan to use it that week, I’ll buy a couple of them and store them for future use.

And if I have a coupon for any item, I’ll put a C next to it, so I don’t forget to use it. Sometimes one item will get both a C and S, which is an added plus.

A grocery list is also a good way to see what you and your family are actually eating. Are there items that are always circled every week? Did you buy foods that sat uneaten in the fridge? Was there some type of food or brand the family hated? It cuts down on wasted food and also gives you an idea about what coupons you should try and hunt down.

Another plus to making a list is it often helps me plan meals and keep the pantry stocked. I’ll run through the list while I do a quick search of items I already have on hand. And check if I need to replenish the cans of tomatoes, beans etc.

If you’ve never shopped from a list, give it a try. I’m taking a guess that you’ll be more organized and save some money. I’ve found some wonderful resources on the Internet that can help you put one together in next to no time.

www.mygrocerychecklist.com

www.grocerywiz.com don’t forget to check out the coupon section on this site, you can print coupons from your computer here.

www.checkmark.heart.org This site is run by the American Heart Association and gives you a list of recommended products for heart health.

www.lifejot.com, not just for grocery lists, but other types of shopping lists too.

admin / June 24, 2008

Don’t Bite Me!

If you’re a regular visitor of this site you’ll know that if the budget allows I always opt for natural and/or organic products. So you can guess how excited I was to be sent a sample of a new product called Don’t Bite Me! No, it’s not to keep the vampires away, but designed to keep those nasty mosquitoes and other pests of summer at bay.

It’s DEET free, made from vitamin B1 and aloe vera and comes in a patch that you stick onto your body. It’s good for up to 36 hours and is safe to use on children. Seem too good to be true? I have to say I was a bit skeptical about its claims, but I gave it a try.

Negative aspects, the patches are a bit tricky to apply. If the sides get stuck together before you can put it on your skin, that patch is history. Children will definitely need help with application. Plus, it’s a bit stinky, nothing that’s not tolerable mind you.

Positive aspects-yes, it actually works. My house backs on to a densely wooded area and as you can guess we get ticks, mosquitoes you name it. I wore the patch a couple of times, once while I was cutting the grass and didn’t get one bite. Today I thought I’d go outside and do some weeding and didn’t wear a patch and got three bites. And believe me mosquitoes always seem to head for me. In fact, I’m pretty sure people ask me to outside events because they know the bugs will pick on me. So if it works for me, I’m sure it will work on anyone.

Other positive aspect, buying them won’t break the bank. A five pack retails for $4.99 and a 10 pack for $7.99. The press release states they’re available in such stores as Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreen’s and Wal-Mart, but I ordered mine online from www.dontbitemepatch.com. There you can even save even more money by buying larger quantities. And I’m so happy with this item that I went ahead and ordered six packs.

admin / June 23, 2008

The Blog-Creatures of Habit

Are we really changing our habits due to the bad economy? Seems like in the last seven days or so I’ve read no end of articles about the way we’re changing our daily routines because of the high price of items like gas. I read one piece that said push mowers were in short supply because everyone wanted one. Another article said that bike and scooter sales had spiked and that more people were traveling to work on one of these alternative forms of transportation. Um, I thought, doesn’t seem like that’s happening where I live. The neighborhood is still buzzing with gas powered mowers, and I haven’t seen anyone going to work on bikes or scooters. In fact, yesterday we decided to eat out for Sunday lunch and rode bikes to the restaurant instead of taking the car. On the ride home I just thought about how many cars I saw…seemed like everyone was out and about for Sunday drive! Maybe my neck of the woods is the exception.

And another sign of the times…I heard on the radio last week that because of the slumping economy many Baby Boomers are now putting off retirement. And I personally know a few who were already retired and have gone back to part time work to pay their bills. I’m wondering if my parent’s generation will be the last of the retirement crowd, and if by the time I reach my golden years, retirement as we know it will be history.

And this article didn’t surprise me. In fact, if you’re the one responsible for buying groceries in your family, you know this only too well. Food prices have made the biggest jump in 18 years. I’m more concerned than ever about not wasting a single thing and making the most of leftovers, so I was happy to find this site last week. www.supercook.com Type in what you have sitting around the pantry or fridge and it will give you suggestions on dishes you can make. An added plus is they actually give you the recipes too. I have to admit I got hooked on it and spent a bit too much time roaming around the site. For a Budget Smart Cook, it’s definitely worth a visit.

admin / June 19, 2008

A Budget Smart Cook’s Secret Ingredient

One of the things I love most about summer is that fresh herbs can be found just about everywhere, in the produce department of any supermarket, at farmer’s markets, and yes, your own backyard. And there are two great things about herbs. One they’re packed with flavor, so a little goes a long way. And two, they can make even the blandest of foods taste like gourmet fare.

Herbs Go with Just About Everything
You can add herbs to just about any dish, everything from sandwiches to pasta If you’re got a recipe you love but you’re growing tired of it, try adding some fresh herbs. One of my favorite ways to use herbs is to add ones like thyme, basil and oregano to homemade or even store bought mayonnaise. Just about any type of sandwich tastes better when you use an herbed mayonnaise as its base. And herbs like thyme and savory make stews, soups and casseroles taste like a gourmet chef put them together.

Other Uses for Herbs
And herbs can transform ordinary dishes into something special. Combine them with other ingredients and make recipes like a pesto sauce to top vegetables, potatoes, fish, or toss it with pasta for a really quick summer supper, or used as a sauce for pizza. And I’ve used herbs like basil to turn leftover vegetables and beans into a minestrone soup. And a few snips of chives can turn a plain omelet or scrambled eggs into a whole new recipe.

Try Them First
If you’ve never cooked with herbs before, taste-test them before you add them to any recipe. Some are overpowering and a little goes a long way. While you want to add some zing to a dish, you don’t want to overpower the other foods. Go easy on things like rosemary. And cilantro is another herb that can ruin a dish if you get too heavy handed. In fact, I’ve found there’s no middle road with it, you either love it or you hate it.

Grow Them Yourself
One way you can have a constant supply of herbs and save even more money is to grow your own. And no, you don’t need to be a master gardener to do it. They’re fairly hardy, don’t need a lot of watering, and they grow and spread quickly. I have a terraced area at the back of the house and I planted a variety of herbs there just a few years ago and now the whole area is filled in with no space between the herbs. Another great thing is animals such as deer and rabbits leave them alone. Few pests bother them, so growing them organically is a possibility too.

When Summer Winds Down
While summer’s bounty doesn’t last forever, herbs can be dried or even frozen. They can also be added to oils and vinegars and enjoyed in the dead of winter. I’ve even managed to keep herbs like basil and dill thriving right up to the holidays by bringing them inside and growing them on a windowsill. And if you’re thinking of drying herbs, don’t dry more than you think you’ll use in a six-month period. They quickly lose their flavor and once dried be sure to keep them out of direct sunlight. As far as freezing goes, I chop them up put them in ice cube trays, add water and freeze them. You can leave them in the trays or add them to freezer bags and take out a few cubes at a time and add them to stocks and soups.

admin / June 19, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Wine

There’s nothing that says luxury and the good life more than sitting down on the patio and sipping a glass of good wine on a hot summer’s evening. I used to think that being a Budget Smart Girl meant that I’d either have to forgo this one little pleasure, or be forced to buy a wine that wasn’t that great. However, as the philosophy of the Budget Smart Girl’s lifestyle is to have luxury but at your own price, I did some research and happy to say you can enjoy a great glass of wine at a Budget Smart price, and here’s how-

Don’t Always Look at the Price
Here are some great tips from Glen Agrittelley who’s considered to be one of Dallas’ top wine experts and owner of the Mercy Wine Bar in Addision, Texas. “Rather than look for the cheapest wine, I’d look for areas that are up and coming. Most of the wines from California are well marketed which means the price of the advertising and marketing is built into the wine. Look for wines from New York, and Hill Country of Texas that are much less known, but still have good quality and are a good value. And look outside the US. Wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal are great values now. South African wines also fall into this category. While wines from France, Italy and Australia are of great quality; it’s harder to find the great values unless you are very knowledge about wine. Right now wines from Sicily also offer great value and good quality.

Vino
Here’s a Web site worth checking out www.vino100.com It’s a national wine franchise that offers small batch artisan wines from around the world for $25 or less. They have the Vino 100 Wine Barometer that is a graphic and easy to understand wine rating and information system that indicates how fruity to dry a wine is. And also shows how light to full bodied each bottle of wine is too. I think it’s a great resource if you’re not sure what to buy and don’t want to waste your money on something you or everyone hates.

French Wines
Here are some tips from Sherri Sauter Morano who’s based in North Carolina. She’s not only received the prestigious Master of Wine title, but is also a wine educator. Morano says if you’re looking for a good French wine visit www.wines-France.us/ click on the American flag and look under the buying guide. There you’ll find a list of 45 wines that are all under $20. Some stores she recommends include Best Sellers and Total Wine. And has this tip for preserving leftover wine. Put it in the fridge, yes, even the reds, to protect it from interacting with oxygen.

The Simple and Savvy Wine Guide
I own a copy of this great book called The Simple and Savvy Wine Guide by Leslie Sbrocco www.lesliesbrocco.com. The whole book is really a must read for us Budget Smart Girls. Here are a few of Sbrocco’s picks for bargain wine-
Under $15
·Cameron Hughes-California $10
·Concannon from California Central Coast $10
·Raimat from Spain $8-$10
·Columbia Crest from Washington State $8-10
·Michel Lynch Bordeaux France $10-12
Under $20
·Acacia From California $17-20
·A-Z Wine Works from Oregon $18-20
·Fescobaldi from Italy $18-20
·Mad Fish from Western Australia $15-17
Sbracco says the best way to learn about wine is to taste it. She suggests buying six bottles of different types of wine, sparkling wine, pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and have a wine tasting party.
Her picks for some good online wine stores include-
www.wine.com
www.klwines.com
www.67wine.com
www.zachys.com

Wine Myths Demystified
Most of us waste money because of the stories we’ve heard about wine. The Wine Market Council has put together these tips to clear things up-
·Myth 1-A bottle of wine needs to be consumed the same day it is opened.

Fact-You can simply re cork and refrigerate partially consumed bottles; this way the wine should stay fresh for 3-5 days.

·Myth 2-Screw caps mean the wine is cheap.

Fact-Screw caps are now being adopted by some of the most cutting edge wineries because they eliminate the chance of corked wine and preserve the freshness of the wine longer.

Learn the Language
One of the best ways to save money is to gain some firsthand knowledge before you go shopping. Here’s a sit I found that’s devoted to doing just that www.intowine.com

Check Your Local Wine Store
Where I live there are several major stores that have wine tasting events a couple of times a year. You can go along and not only sample the wine, but also get some expert advice too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
If your local store doesn’t have wine tasting events, ask if they’ll let you taste test before you buy. When you’re on a tight budget there’s nothing worse than handing over your money for a bottle of wine that both you and your guests hate. Some stores will be accommodating, some might not be. And don’t be afraid to ask for some advice about what’s a good wine in your price range. Never be embarrassed about letting people know you have x amount of money to spend on something. Sometimes with that information up front, store clerks can help you find a really good bargain.

Red, White, and Drunk All Over
Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over, is a freelance and independent wine writer. www.nataliemaclean.com. She says with increasing competition from new regions and more producers, there are many delicious and reasonably priced wines to be found these days. To help us get the most for our money she has the following tips-
“Look for lesser know regions within wine producing countries. For example try Washington State rather than Napa Valley, southern Italy (Campania, Sicily, Sardinia) rather than Piedmont and Tuscany. In Spain, Priorat or Rueda rather than Rioja. And in France, the Languedoc, southern Rhone and Loire regions rather than Bordeaux or Burgundy.

admin / June 16, 2008

The Blog-You Know Things are Bad When…

I received a postcard in the mail last week and I read something that I didn’t ever think I’d see. It was from a plumber who’d done some work for us several years ago. Until August 31st he’s going to waiver his call out fee for his former customers. I’m thinking either he’s being very generous or he’s not getting the work he once did. I don’t know this man personally so I can’t say whether he’s of the generous nature, but I’m thinking times are getting tough for even tradesman like plumbers. Not so long ago the average plumber, electrician, you name it, charged $100 just to stand at your door and announce their arrival. Now they’re sending out postcards and willing to forgo the easiest $100 they probably ever made. Must be a sign of the times.

And here’s another marketing ploy I came across last week. My local supermarket is being remodeled. The place is a nightmare to shop in. It takes me twice as long to find where everything’s been moved to, and half the produce department has been taken away while it’s redesigned. Me being always short on time, and yes, sometimes short on patience when I can’t find what I’m looking for, thought about shopping someplace else. That was until I noticed they’re offering saving points at the exact time they’re remodeling. For every $50 you spend, you get one point. Earn so many points by July 19th and you can either redeem them for a gift card at the supermarket or a gift card at a local gas station. I’m thinking they must have realized their regular customers, like me, might just think about spending their money elsewhere and knew but knew the incentive to get a gift card for groceries or gas was just the thing to keep loyal customers shopping there.

And I’m glad to see a local produce stand has opened up shop in the parking lot of one of the local gas stations. I’ve set myself a goal to ride my bike down there and buy some local produce. Free exercise, saving gas and buying local, what more could you ask from a Budget Smart Girl.

admin / June 12, 2008

Top 5 Tips For a Green Kitchen

The folks at Noble Juice sent me these tips and as they’re a great way to save money too, I thought I’d pass them along to you-

COMPOST – Nearly 75 percent of all waste in landfills can be recycled
according to earth911.com, and kitchen waste is a huge culprit. Consumers can even purchase juice and water in compostable bottles if you know where to look. Noble Juice (www.noblejuice.com) is available in a 100 percent compostable, plant-based bottle that does not contain petroleum like typical plastic bottles! Readers can do their part for the environment – and their garden – by composting organic kitchen waste. Home composting kits are readily available online and ensure your kitchen waste is turned into rich fertilizer without pests or unpleasant smells.

SEEK OUT ORGANICS – Organics are better for consumers, and for the
environment. According to a recent LOHAS study organic fruits and vegetables use 30 percent less energy to produce and organic production helps tie carbon up in the soil, helping to lessen the impact of agriculture on global warming. Beyond environmental reasons, the same study shows that organic fruits and vegetables are higher in antioxidants and flavonoids than their conventional counterparts.

GREEN YOUR GROCERIES – What’s more important to a kitchen than food? Next
time you go grocery shopping, take a reusable bag with you. Use a cloth bag or re-use a plastic bag that you have at home. Not only will you ensure that the plastic bags don’t wind up in the landfill or on the side of the road – you are also saving petroleum. Did you know you could drive a car one mile with the amount of gas it takes to make 14 plastic bags?

DITCH DISPOSIBLES – Paper plates and towels are convenient but waste
enormous amounts of paper. Instead, ditch the disposables and use cloth towels and re-usable plates.

APPLIANCE SMARTS – Readers can save energy – and money — by making sure
appliances run efficiently. Refrigerators should be set between 38 and 42 degrees as setting them too cold wastes energy. Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they are full to help save energy as well. Use Energy Star appliances, which are appliances that have been government certified energy efficient. In 2005, Americans using Energy Star appliance saved
emissions equivalent to 23 million cars!

admin / June 12, 2008

The Budget Smart Cook Goes Sunbathing

When you’re cooking on a budget sometimes you need to be aware of what foods can offer the best nutritional bang for your buck. One vitamin most of us don’t think a lot about is vitamin D. I remember back to home economics class and that it was known as the sunshine vitamin.
It seems that recently vitamin D has been taken a lot more seriously. Last year a couple of studies were published that found a connection between vitamin D levels and rates of certain cancers. It seems people who live in sunnier regions of the globe had lower rates of breast, colon and ovarian cancers.
Rickets used to be the biggest health problem connected with lack of vitamin D, but these days it seems researchers are connecting everything from high blood pressure to osteoporosis to low levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is present in very few foods so as budget smart cook it’s essential to include those foods in some of the meals you serve your family.

What is Vitamin D?
It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means our bodies can store it.

How Much Do We Need?
The USDA recommends between 200-600 iu’s per day. The older we get, the more of the upper range we need.

What Foods Contain It?
Look for milk and dairy products that are have vitamin D added to them, egg yolks, there’s also cereals that usually say they’re vitamin D enriched. And let’s not forget the dreaded cod liver oil, and yes, salmon. And some orange juice has vitamin D added to it. Good news is it isn’t destroyed during the cooking process like many other vitamins. And long time storage doesn’t reduce its potency either.

You Are My Sunshine
And you don’t just have to eat certain foods to get your daily intake of vitamin D. If we go outside, the sunlight triggers the synthesis of vitamin D in our skin. And the reason we need more vitamin D as we age is because our bodies aren’t as efficient at this synthesis. And experts say we can take in about 10,000 iu’s for just 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sun. And the good news is our bodies can store it and use it later, which goes to explain why many of us get ‘the blues’ during winter. Researchers are now finding one of the health problems connected with lack of vitamin D is depression.

Supplements
Yes, you can take vitamin D supplements, but as vitamin D is fat soluble, take too much and you’ve got even more problems. So go the food and sunshine route, and if you really think you need to take supplements, check with a doctor or nutritionist first.

A Yogurt Offer
And now some yogurt manufacturers are offering vitamin D enriched varieties. Check out this site to learn more and to print a $1 off coupon for Yo-Plus.
www.yo-plus.com

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss