admin / September 29, 2008

The Blog-A Little Time, A Little Savings

For the last month or so, it seems like my do list has been getting longer and longer. I’ve been putting in extra hours trying to finish my new manuscript. And attempting to finish work on my Budget Savvy Cook manuscript for its deadline of September 30th. Despite being frustrated by the lack of time, I haven’t stopped spending a few hours here and there trying to find ways to save money.

For example, last week I realized that my car was due for an oil change. I had a coupon for $20.99 which is due to expire this week. Should I try and squeeze it into my schedule? I usually drop the car off at the store and then walk to the library, so it’s not completely wasted time. I knew things would be tight this week so I went on the store’s Web site to see if they had any other coupons that had longer expiration dates. And what did I find? A coupon for an oil change for $18.99 and a free tire rotation. And then if you upgrade to a higher quality of oil, there’s a $10 rebate. My tip here is before you do any shopping, visit the company’s Web site.

I’m a big fan of coupons I can use at the grocery store and these days I try and find coupons you can use at other venues too. This week I’ll be use a 10% discount coupon I was sent for having the Petco Pals card. It arrived just at the right time because we’re running low on cat food. And as the ink cartridges in my printer are almost empty and I’m running low on typing paper, I’ll be heading to the cartridge refill store with my $3 off any cartridge refill and a free ream of paper coupon. And let’s not forget my frequent user card that’s almost full and will yield one free cartridge on my next visit.

These might all seem like small amounts of savings and money, but these days every penny counts, so don’t overlook any coupon that lands in your mailbox.

admin / September 25, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Changing Your Shopping Style

I’m a writer and therefore I eavesdrop while I’m out and about. One thing I hear all the time is a conversation that goes something like this-

Cashier ‘Did you find everything you were looking for today?’
Shopper ‘I did and more. In fact, I only came into the store for one thing and I’m leaving with an armful/cart load’.

Does it sound familiar? It’s easily done, but it can create a budget crisis. Shopping for groceries without a list, and impulse buying at the department store are probably the top two reasons most of us spend more than we actually earn. Are there ways around this dilemma?

Psychology 101
Stores like supermarkets put lots of effort…and not to mention money, trying to analyze our shopping habits. They arrange their store and placement of goods to try and make us fill our shopping carts to the brim. So, are we completely helpless each time we walk through the door of a store? Not if we use a little psychology of our own. How many times have you run to the supermarket just to pick up a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread and ended up with a cart load of groceries you probably didn’t need? Think about why the milk and bread are usually placed at the back of the store. Yep, you have to roll that cart right by a bunch of shelves loaded with items that are just calling your name. My tip, if you’re just shopping for items like milk and bread, opt for somewhere like Walgreens…that’s hoping you don’t buy a whole bunch of cosmetics on your way to the bread aisle.

End Caps
Yes, some of the end caps in stores are actually bargains. For example, the 10 cans of vegetables for $3. But most of the time they’re not any cheaper than other items in the store. We just assume they are because the store has gone to all that trouble to make a nice display so we can find a bargain that much quicker. And they must have our best interest in mind, right? If only that was true! My tip, check out the prices before you put the items into the cart.

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Plan
Whether it’s your grocery list or a set plan for errands you want to run, stick with it. I know it’s tempting to just pop into the dress store because you were driving by and noticed that they’re having a buy one get one free deal, but the more stores you visit, the more you see, the more you see something you want.

Keep A Spending Book
Okay, this might sound a little obsessive, but everyone I know who keeps a log of how much they spend each day or week are usually the people who always have money left in the bank. If you keep track of where your money’s going, you’ll be surprised just how much of your budget is wasted on items that you don’t really need.

Do Some Research
Don’t shop for big ticket items before you’ve done your homework. Yes, it used to be a hassle going store to store, writing down brands, sizes, prices, etc. but now there’s no excuse. The Internet does the work for you. Know what you want to buy before you head to the store, stick to your plan, stick to your budget, and don’t get swayed about other products you see. And most of all, resist the charm of the sales person who tells you that while you’re buying A, you should also invest in B. Be an informed consumer.

admin / September 25, 2008

Ways To Make Money While You Shop

Does it seem like putting food on the table is taking, and please excuse the pun here, more of a bite out of your budget? The other day while I was shopping, I realized that within the last month or so, many of the items I buy on a regular basis have jumped up in price, some by almost a dollar. However, there are ways you can turn some of your purchases into free money and free gifts. If you already use coupons, you probably know there’s also something called a refund that can help stretch your budget.

Some Work Involved
I’ve found that it does take more time and effort to look for refunds than it does coupons, but it’s definitely worth it. One of the easiest ways to learn about all the current deals is to subscribe to one of the many coupon and refunding publications. Some have print editions and others are online. The latter tend to be much cheaper to subscribe to. And if you don’t mind reading a newsletter on your computer screen, it’s a great way to get a subscription at sometimes half the cost. A few sites you might want to check out include-
www.refundcents.com and www.refundexpress.net

Go to the Web Sites
The Internet has made refunding just that much easier. I often go straight to a company’s Web site to find if they’re currently offering promotions or refunds on certain products. The best thing about visiting the site is you can print out the refund form and not have to worry about sending a stamped addressed envelope or go searching in your local stores for the right form to submit.

Check The Aisles
I’ve found a couple of good promotions for things like ‘try it for free’ that I haven’t seen anywhere else, right in the supermarket aisle. So it pays to keep your eyes open while you shop.

It’s Easy, but…
Refunding is fairly easy, but there are some rules you have to follow. Most refunds have an expiration date so make sure you beat the deadline. Also, read the instructions carefully. Don’t forget to include everything the company asks for. Sometimes it’s the UPC label (this has lines and numbers printed on it). Sometimes it’s just the cash register receipt with the product and price circled. Sometimes it’s both. Manufacturers are really picky about receiving everything they’ve asked for. If you forget just one thing, they’ll return everything to you. This often means that by the time you send everything in again, you miss the expiration date.

Start Saving Those Receipts
If you want to give refunding a try, then it’s time to start saving your cash receipts and also the UPC codes and filing them. If you really want to get serious about it, cut out the UPC codes from everything you use and not just the ones you currently need for a refund. Somewhere down the road you could find a refund for a product whose UPC you already have, and yes, you won’t have to buy it again.

Some of the Bonuses
So what are some of the rewards you get for buying a product? It could be in the form of a total refund of your purchase price. A coupon for a free item. It could be a coupon for say $3 off of produce or chicken. Sometimes your rewards come in the shape of gifts. I’ve received t-shirts, relaxation CDs and exercise DVDs. And lots of companies offer books and toys for the kids so it’s a great way to build up a supply of stocking stuffers for free.

More Sites to Check Out
Try this site if you want to look for more free offers and promotions www.shopfree.com And if you’re new to refunding, I’ve found this site is one of the best for explaining what letters and codes mean on forms and boxes www.dennis.gleeson.tc/cterms.htm

admin / September 22, 2008

The Blog-A Wise Investment

There are two types of purchases, those for items we need and those for items we want. While I always struggle thinking about purchases in the ‘want’ category, sometimes buying them isn’t all that frivolous.

Take for example the predicament I faced this week. On Saturday I was looking through the flyer for the local DIY store and noticed a section on everything you could possibly need for the upcoming fall season. Rakes, plastic bags to collect the leaves, and this little goodie… a sweeper that you push over your grass or sidewalk and it picks up leaves for you. Now that got my attention because our house backs on to a heavily wooded area and yes, by mid October, we’re knee deep in leaves. The price for this yard helper was $59.99. No, it wouldn’t break the bank, but did I really need to add it to my repertoire of garden tools? My initial thought was no but then I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day. I have leaves to clean in fall and then again in spring, so this yard helper would get used for about six weeks. No, it wouldn’t do all the work for me. I’d still have to push it and empty it frequently into garbage bags. I wouldn’t be able to use it on sections of garden with rock and mulch. But it would cut down on the amount of raking I have to do and all the aches and pains, especially in my hands, from all that work. And after all, my hands need to be in top condition for writing, right?

This yard helper was looking more tempting by the minute and then I remembered I had two rebate coupons from this DIY store. Remember the school supplies I purchased from there a couple of months ago? One coupon was for $5, the other $10. If I used both, that would bring the purchase price down to $44.99. Without giving it much more thought, yesterday I headed to the DIY store and brought home a yard sweeper.

The moral of this purchase for a Budget Smart Girl… if it’s a want and not a need, yes, give it plenty of thought. Do you really need it? Will it save you time? Remember saving time can also save you money too? Will it save you money? Can you rent it? Do you know anyone who will let you borrow one? How many times do you think you’ll use it? Is the upkeep expensive?

In this case, the pluses outweighed the minuses and I saved $15.

admin / September 18, 2008

More of the Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Hair Color

I hope that you’ve been putting some of the tips from last week’s Girl’s Guide into action and as promised, here are some more-

Tips and More
The following tips are from Sandy Taylor Furst, President/CEO of Style Like A Pro www.stylelikeapro.com

Scrub only your scalp, never the ends. Only massage the shampoo through the ends because they’re older and more environmentally stressed.

When conditioning your hair, only condition from mid-shaft through the ends because your scalp and root hair is fresh and doesn’t need conditioning.

Rinse your conditioned hair for eight seconds, rinsing longer just conditions the drain. Rinse until the hair feels silky not slimy or squeaky clean.

Towel-dry your hair and do not use the microfiber towels. They do the trick of opening the cuticle and pull out moisture, but they leave the cuticle open and your hair remains frizzy.

Don’t shampoo your hair every day. It wears out your hair and its valuable color.

Products to Look For
Lauren Leetun, a senior account executive with Massey Communications in Orlando, Florida, highly recommends the Watercolors Color Maintenance shampoo. “I use it once and a week and on the days I use it nearly everyone asks me if I had my hair colored again,” says Leetun.
You can buy the shampoo at www.haircarechoices.com, click on hair, then click on Tressa, and then Watercolors Color Maintenance Shampoo and select the color you want, cost is $10.99.

And Christophe of Beverly Hills has teamed up with CVS/Pharmacy to create color enhancing products at a budget friendly price. They have both a color extending shampoo and conditioner, available in 2 and 10 oz. bottles for $2.99 – 7.99. www.cvspharmacy.com

Stephanie Nimmer, a master colorist with Godiva Salon in Atlanta, Georgia, www.godivasalon.com says “Protect your investment with products that are specially formulated for color treated hair, look for the words color treated, color protect, color locking, color therapy.”

Her favorite pick is Color Protect Line by Paul Mitchell.

Some of My Own Tips for Saving Money of Hair Color

It’s Not Permanent
If you’re using a color for the first time and not sure it’s for you, try a product that washes out after a few shampoos. That way you don’t have to wait until your hair grows out.

Think First
Many years ago, I decided to give myself an all over color at home. I hated the results and ended up paying lots of money to have a professional put my hair back to its original color. Doing it yourself can save you money, but if something goes wrong it can end up costing you even more money.

Products
Check if there’s a sample size you can try before you invest in a full size bottle. Over the years, my bathroom cupboard has housed many almost full bottles of shampoos and conditioners that I didn’t like.

New Talent
In many salons, how much you pay for a service can depend on what colorist you select to do the work. Colorists who are just out of beauty school charge less. And don’t worry that they don’t know what they’re doing or that the results won’t be as good. One time the colorist who always highlighted my hair was out sick, so the salon booked me with a recent beauty school graduate. I came away with highlights that I was over the moon about, they seemed to last longer and I paid $50 less. In fact, I liked her work so much that I never went back to the original colorist.

admin / September 18, 2008

Save Money and Save your Health

One way to save money on food and boost your health at the same time is to cut out down on the amount of meat and animal products you eat.

Just Another Meatless Monday
There’s a site called Meatless Monday and while its goal is to help prevent Americans from getting heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, it’s a great resource for anyone who wants to cut down on meat to save money. Check it out at www.meatlessmonday.com. If you’ve never tried vegetarian recipes before, this site has a bunch of good ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It’s Not Just About Veggies
I know lots of people think that the word vegetarian comes from the word vegetable and that’s all you eat on this type of diet. While vegetables do play a big part of the vegetarian way of eating, they’re only part of the picture. There are beans and nuts, things like barley, lentils. All low cost foods that add protein, fiber and essential vitamins without breaking the bank.

Tofu
Okay, I know tofu isn’t everyone’s favorite thing, but it has lots of pluses when it comes to eating well while you’re watching the pennies. It’s a good and cheap source of protein and yes, it’s tasteless, but that’s a good thing too. Being bland means that tofu will absorb just about any flavoring that you add to it. I always keep a couple of packages of tofu in the pantry and often end up marinating it in soy sauce, a little sesame oil, honey and then stir frying it with carrots, broccoli, onions, peppers and serving it over brown rice for a quick and healthy dinner. A box of tofu costs around $2.89, so it can be turned into a bargain meal.

Veggie Burgers and Sausages
These days just about every supermarket sells some type of veggie burger. Some are made from soy, some from wheat gluten and some from a combination of vegetables and beans. Some taste better than others, and by that I mean some have an unpleasant aftertaste. Test tasting is essential until you find one that the whole family likes. Some of my favorites are the Morningstar Farms products. Grillers and their new Asian burgers are top picks of mine and be sure to check out the Morningstar Web site and sign up for the newsletter at www.seeveggiesdifferently.com . Boca is another brand you can find at the supermarket and I especially like the Bratwurst ‘sausages’. I often serve them ‘as is’ or chop them up and use them in recipes that call for regular sausages and no one ever knows the difference. And another brand that’s a particular favorite of mine is Quorn www.quorn.us. They do a range of products from crumbles to roast. They have no aftertaste, but they’re usually higher in price.

Make Your Own
Over the years, many of these veggie burgers and products have gone up in price, so I’ve been experimenting with some of my own recipes. I haven’t found one I really like yet, but I’m close. And I’ll share it with you once I get all the measurements worked out. One thing I have found is that roasting the vegetables adds a lot of flavor to a veggie burger and that black beans give the best consistency.

Cookbooks
Here are some of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks. Look for them at your local library or even at the bargain book sections at stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders.

Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin

Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, a must if you like using a slow cooker.

The 15 Minute Vegetarian Gourmet by Paulette Mitchell, one of my favorites and the meals are really quick and easy to put together when time’s a factor.

And be sure to check out any of the Moosewood cookbooks, they’re classics and full of good ideas about using things like beans, lentils and vegetables.

Sites to Check Out
Here are a couple of sites I regularly check for new ideas for meatless meals
www.vegkitchen.com and www.veganyumyum.com

admin / September 15, 2008

The Blog-It Pays to Recycle

Yes, it literally does pay you to recycle now.

A few months ago I was reading about a new program called RecycleBank. Just like a garbage service they stop by your house, empty your recycling bin and record how much recycling you have and then depending on the amount, you earn reward points to exchange for goods and services in your area, or at some online merchants. I was so intrigued, and as I’m an avid recycler anyway, I thought I’d definitely sign up for this program. Seems like the local garbage service read my mind because last week I received an automated phone message from them telling their customers that this week they’ll be attaching a disc to the recycling bin because they’re now part of the RecycleBank program. The service isn’t available in all areas or even all states just yet, but if you go to their Web site at www.recyclebank.com, you can check if your state’s on the list and sign up. Okay, it might not be money you’re earning, but to me reward points that I can exchange for things like grocery items and dollars off at stores like Petco and Target are just as good.

When you’re a Budget Smart Girl, you’re always looking for ways to save money. Last week I stumbled upon a money saving idea purely by accident. I wanted to put mulch around two of the trees in the front yard. Every other area in the yard is covered with either mulch or rock so I really wanted it to match, but the local DIY store had a great deal on some mulch that wasn’t the same color. They had an end of season sale, 5 bags of mulch for $10 and I thought for that price, what did I have to lose? I purchased the 5 bags put it around the trees and then stood there thinking, maybe I shouldn’t have been such a penny pincher on this project, but then I had an idea. I took just a small amount of the mulch from the other areas and spread it over the new mulch. I’m happy to say everything matches again. I also found out that you can now buy special spray paint that brings back the color of the mulch when it’s faded, so that’s enough option if you’re looking to save a few pennies on landscape supplies.

admin / September 11, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Hair Color

I have this philosophy that if your hair looks and feels good, you feel good about everything else in your life. One thing that makes my hair feel good is getting it highlighted. My obsession with highlights all started when I was visiting a friend in LA, got my hair cut and the stylist suggested highlights. On the urging of my friend, I took the plunge and have been hooked ever since.
These days I’m paying a lot more for the highlights than I did back, oh, so many years ago. Having to pay more means that I want my color to last longer. As I’m sure other Budget Smart Girls face the same dilemma, I went searching for some expert advice. The good news is there are lots of tips and hints out there. In fact, so many that I’m dividing this guide into two parts.

Tips On Making Your Color Last Longer
The following tips are courtesy of Kenneth Darrell, you can check out his line of hair care products, especially the Chemcare Shampoo at www.kennethdarrell.com
1.Wash your hair in cold water. Think of your hair as a delicate fabric. You wouldn’t throw it in the hot water cycle…it would fade the color.
2.Shampoo your hair less frequently. Try to extent your shampooing to every third day or more if possible.
3.Use shampoo made for color treated hair. These shampoos are lower in sulfide, which are the lathering agent. Unfortunately, they also fade the color. Shampoo for color treated hair may not lather as much, but they will cleanse the hair just as well.
4.Confirm that you’re using the right color and color process for your hair type. Also, make sure that you leave your color on for the recommended time according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
5.Always shampoo twice when cleaning hair color from the hair. If there is residual color left in the hair, even a little bit, the peroxide used in many color processes can cause significant fading over the first few days.

Shampoos and Other Hair Care Products
Darrell says that these days most professional brand products are now available over the counter at the drug store or supermarket. He recommends a quality product made for color treated hair and likes brands such as Redken, Paul Mitchell and Sebastian.

And Isabella Mushiev, who is a senior colorist at the Anushka Spa and Salon www.anushkaspa.com, says “Most shampoos that are sold on the mass market contain detergents that will fade hair color quickly, especially reds. It’s best in invest in hair care products like Keratase that are not only detergent free, but specifically color safe and contain UV protection. This makes a big difference in preserving your color. She also recommends talking to your colorist about sealing your color with a glaze treatment. It only takes about five minutes and is inexpensive.

Your Coloring Schedule
And if you’re wondering how to get maximum benefits from highlights without breaking the bank, Shawn Butner, also a senior colorist with Anushka Spa and Salon has put together this helpful schedule-

Month One: Full head of highlights
Month Three: Face frame highlights
Month Five: Partial highlights
Month Eight: Face frame highlights
Month Ten: Partial highlights
Month Twelve Full head of highlights

“The difference in price between a full head of highlights and face frames or partials is substantial, and if you follow this routine, you will get the most mileage out of your color, save some money and of course, look gorgeous,” says Butner.

I’m going to try this schedule and will let you know how it works for me. And there will be more tips and product recommendations in the next Budget Smart Girl’s Guide.

admin / September 11, 2008

Fall’s Best Buys for the Budget Smart Cook

One of my favorite things about fall is taking a walk through the produce department and checking out all the new fruits and vegetables that are at their peak this time of the year. Apples, squash, root vegetables…the great thing is they’re budget friendly too. Here’s why a Budget Smart Cook should use them in every day meals.

They’re High in Fiber
Fiber is not only good for our health, but it’s a friend to the wallet too. Fiber helps to keep your blood sugar at a constant level and makes you feel fuller faster. Making a vegetable pot pie from fall produce is a budget stretcher and a great way to boost your fiber intake.

Prices Goes Down
The more produce that arrives in the stores, the more affordable they become. Some vegetables don’t freeze well, but if you use them in recipes that do, you’ve saved yourself some money.

They Taste Good
Even if you’re not a big veggie fan, there’s just something about a sweet potato or parsnip that can convince just about anyone that vegetables aren’t all bad. Try making homemade fries using sweet instead of white potatoes. Here’s a quick and easy recipe I’ve used for years. Slice the sweet potatoes like French fries, toss them in some oil and then coat them in a combination of curry powder, cumin and coriander and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. You can also cut them into round slices, add the oil and spices and use them as a homemade baked snack.

They Make Great Soups
Fall sometimes has me thinking and yes, dreading the cold winter months ahead, but one thing that does put a smile on my face is coming inside to a welcoming bowl of soup after I’ve been outside raking leaves. Put a hearty bowl of soup, like minestrone or roasted squash together with some bread and you’ve got yourself a satisfying meal for pennies.

Classic Roasted Vegetables
These days, just about every cookbook has at least one recipe for roasted veggies. My favorite combination is red onions, carrots, sweet and white potatoes. Roasted veggies are the ideal side dish for the plainest and cheapest cuts of meat. And if you’re looking for a budget meal, serve them on their own with a generous serving of cheese. One cheese that compliments roasted vegetables is feta. The vegetables are sweet and caramelized, while the feta is salty.

Not So Boring Potatoes
Not that I ever think that mashed potatoes are boring, but we all like variety when it comes to preparing meals. Try a combination of mashed white and sweet potatoes, or even a combination of parsnips and potatoes. If you have children who refuse to eat vegetables but love mashed potatoes, it’s a great way to hide just about any vegetable you can think of. And leftovers can be turned into patties, rolled into breadcrumbs and lightly fry on each side until their golden brown.

admin / September 4, 2008

What’s a Healthy Snack?

One treat that often finds its way into my shopping cart is a package of peanut butter cups. This might be one of my guilty temptations, but the good news is some snacks can actually be good for us. So if you’re on a budget…or even a diet, how do you make the right decisions about what to slip into the shopping cart? Here are some ideas-

Just What Nature Intended
Elaine Wilkes N. C., M. A., who is also known as The Snack Therapist, suggests selecting a snack that’s as close to nature as you can find. Go with the fruits and veggies and stay away from anything that’s highly processed.

Read Those Labels
Don’t just put any item into the cart, get used to reading the label. And Wilkes says pay close attention to those first three ingredients. If you see sugar listed there, put the item back on the shelf.

But Not All Sugar is Bad
Having told you to avoid sugary snacks, here’s one exception to the rule. If you’re making a choice between a snack containing sugar and one made with high fructose corn syrup, opt for the one containing sugar. Many manufacturers use corn syrup because it’s cheaper and they make more of a profit, but studies have shown that consuming too much of this sweetener can pack on the pounds. And if you think that snacks containing artificial sweeteners are okay, think again. Wilkes says they trick your body into overeating because it’s basically getting ready for something sweet anyway, so there’s no advantage. And check the amount of sugar in a snack. A good rule of thumb is 4.2 grams equals one teaspoon of sugar. Look at the grams on the label and divide it by 4.

Hold the Salt Shaker
Peggy O’Shea Kochenbach, a registered dietitian, says salty snacks have really taken off because lots of people crave these types of foods. But new guidelines suggest we eat less than ½ teaspoon of salt a day. And the bad news is that most of us consume at least two teaspoons. So once again check those labels and remember that 2300 mg. of sodium equals one teaspoon of salt.

Watch The Low Fat Snacks
Don’t just grab any low fat snack because many have added sugar to make up for the loss of taste when the fat is removed. Kochenbach suggests aiming for a snack with 3 grams of fat per 100 calories. But stay away from saturated and trans fat.

Watch Those Granola Bars
The granola and energy bars always look like a good pick, but not all of them are. Go for the ones with fruit and fiber and not sugar and chocolate.

Make Your Own
So what snacks should you stock in your pantry? Both Wilkes and Kochenbach give peanut butter high marks. A small salad with a dressing containing olive oil is a good choice because it’s a good type of fat and helps our bodies absorb the vitamins in the salad veggies. Other choices, low fat cheeses, whole grain crackers, low fat/low sugar yogurt, nuts and yes, even guacamole dip.

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss