admin / November 25, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Black Friday and Cyber Monday

I have to admit when it comes to shopping, I hate fighting the crowds. It’s one of the top reasons I choose to stay home on Black Friday. For the last couple of years, I’ve done about 50% of my holiday shopping online, and this year, I think almost all my shopping’s going to be done via cyberspace.
If you’re brave enough to face the crowd, you might want to check out these two sites before you head out the door www.blackfridayonline.com www.blackfridaycentral.com

Tips for Shopping

Gas Prices
Gas prices might be on their way down, but you still want to save money. My advice, shop with friends or family and carpool. And try and get all your shopping done in just one trip to the mall.

Shop for Practicality, but still have some fun
With money being an issue for just about everyone this year; it’s not the time to buy gifts that don’t have some purpose. Yes, the holidays are about fun, but think about what people really need. Maybe you have a family member who’s out of work and needs a new shirt and tie for a job interview, etc. And think about something that a friend or family member isn’t buying for themselves because they’re watching the pennies. Maybe buy them a gift certificate to rent some movies or even a gift card to their favorite bakery.

Keep Those Receipts
I think stores are going to be a lot more flexible about exchanges and refunds this year, but keep receipts and tags so you can get a full refund if you need to take something back. Sales mean items get deeply discounted and if you don’t have a receipt, you’re likely to end with the sale price, which this year could be substantial. Don’t get shortchanged. At the beginning of the holiday season I take a manila envelope and write the words ‘holiday gift receipts’ on it and place all the tags and receipts inside. Once everyone’s happy with their gifts, I toss it.

Dress Sensibly
There’s one thing about getting older and that’s getting wiser about how you dress to go shopping. I wear layers of clothing because I know the malls get to tropical temperatures and running shoes so my feet don’t give out before my spirit does. And I always some snacks with me. By the time we decide to head to a restaurant, the lines are out the door and everyone starts to get cranky.

Cyber Monday
If you can’t face Black Friday or couldn’t find what you’re looking for, there’s always Cyber Monday. Here are some sites to check out before you browse. www.cyber-monday.org www.cybermonday.com Lots of great information on both these sites that should help you save some pennies.

Know What You Want
This year I made a list of everything I was looking for and spent a few hours researching the best deals. Books are always on my list and one site I really do like is Amazon. If you spend $25, shipping is free. I’ve found they have the lowest prices and the service is quick too.

Shipping
The only thing I hate about shopping online is the shipping fees. Make a note of just how much you’re paying because if you visit three or four sites, shipping fees can quickly add up. Before you know it, you’ve spend $20 or more. And that’s money that you could have used to buy another gift. Try and shop at only one site to qualify for free shipping. Or check some of the sites I’ve listed above for upcoming free shipping days.

Another Site to Visit
And be sure to check out www.pricegrabber.com This site allows shoppers to research everything on their list for the best price regardless of whether you plan to buy it online or in the store. This site also launched a free shipping feature http://freeshipping.pricegrabber.com

And Don’t Miss…Here’s another great site to stop by before you do any shopping www.dealnews.com Founder and editor Dan de Grandpre predicts more sales on luxury brands this year. He also predicts online shopping will see discounts as deep as those in 2001 after the dot.com bust. He thinks we’ll see better deals on tech gifts, gadgets and computers. And he even has advice on the best time to shop. Luxury items; check out Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, for items like HDTV GPS and Blu-ray, wait until right before Christmas for the lowest prices.

Earn as You Spend
I love to get rewards for shopping and CVS/Pharmacy ExtraCare Rewards allows you to collect what’s known as Extra Bucks. Collect enough Extra Bucks and you can get free items. www.cvs.com

Don’t Look in the Obvious Spots
On Saturday I received a flyer from the local DIY store. It’s a preview of their Black Friday deals. And yes, they have the usual DIY stuff, drills, ladders, etc. But they also have some great deals on DVDs, DVD players, MP3 players, slippers, toys, you name it and at prices that can’t be beat. So don’t just shop at the most obvious places, deals are everywhere this year.

admin / November 25, 2008

Budget Smart Leftovers

There are two ‘givens’ about Black Friday, shopping frenzy and leftovers. Some people love to eat turkey and stuffing three days later, some people head to the nearest restaurant just to get away from them. One thing I love about leftovers is the challenge of figuring out what to do with them. And being creative enough that people won’t realize it’s the same food they’ve been seeing two days in a row. I’ve come up with these recipes and hope you’ll give them a try if things turn desperate in your house this weekend.

Turkey Divan in Pastry

(Serves 4)
If you want to serve something that everyone will love, this is the dish for you. It uses puff pastry and a basic chicken divan recipe.

•½ package of puff pastry
•2 cups of cooked turkey, shredded
•¼ cup of mayonnaise
•¼ cup of milk
•1 can of cream of celery or chicken soup
•2 cups chopped broccoli (you might have some of this leftover from Thanksgiving too)
•1 cup shredded cheese
•I beaten egg for the pastry.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Roll out pastry so it measures about 10 by 10 inches. Place on a baking sheet.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients, (except the beaten egg), together and place down the center of the pastry
4. Cut the edges of the pastry so you can bring each piece over the mixture like a braid. Make sure all the edges are sealed. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
5. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed and is golden brown.
This is great served with sliced carrots…also something you might have leftover from Thursday’s meal.

Turkey Linguine
(Serves 4)
My rational about making this dish is pasta is far removed from the traditional Thanksgiving feast. So it’s a way to use up the turkey, but because of the pasta, no one thinks leftovers.

•12 ounces of linguine pasta
•1 16 ounce jar of Ragu Alfredo or Roasted Garlic Parmesan sauce
•1 cup frozen peas
•1 6.5 ounce can of mushroom stems and pieces
•Allow about 4 ounces of leftover turkey for each serving, or more if you like, shredded
•Parmesan cheese

1.While the linguine cooks, place the Ragu sauce in a saucepan, add the peas and drained mushrooms and heat over a low heat. You can also add some milk to thin out the sauce.
2.Drain the pasta and add the sauce and toss until all the pasta is covered.
3.Place pasta on four plates and top with the turkey and then sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese.

This topping is also good on baked potatoes too.

admin / November 24, 2008

The Blog-You Know Things Are Bad When…

If there’s anyone out there who’s not still convinced that the economy’s in a slump, here’s all the proof you need. On Friday I was taking a break from writing and was reading the latest entertainment news online. The big news of the day was that the soap opera Days of Our Lives had been forced to let two of its highest paid actors go because that’s the only way it could keep the soap on NBC for the next 18 months. I thought, wow, you know things are bad when actors are given the pink slip, not for sliding ratings, but budget cuts. I guess no job is safe these days.

And speaking of jobs, last week I was listening to a career advisor talk on a local radio show. The topic was how you can recession proof your job. She said if you’re in a job that brings money into the company, like a sales person, as opposed to a job where you’re costing the company money, you’re more likely to keep that job even in a bad recession. Something to think about if you’re looking for a new career.

And if you think times are bad just for us humans, even the birds must know something’s going on. We have three bird feeders and a feeder for suet in the backyard. I like to feed the birds for two reasons. One, I like to give our feathered friends something to eat when it’s cold outside. And two, I own an indoor cat who gets easily bored and watching birds land on the feeders keeps him entertained for hours. Last week I bought a bag of birdseed and some suet and filled all the feeders. We live in a wooded area so there’s no shortage of birds, but this year the number has tripled. I looked out just this morning and it reminded me of the Hitchcock movie, The Birds. I’ve never seen so many on the feeders and then even more were sitting in the trees waiting for the other birds to finish feeding. I can’t imagine we have any more birds in the area, so I can only assume people can’t afford to buy bird food or are cutting back on the amount they use and the birds are feeling the pinch too. The problem is now our bird food is disappearing in just a couple of days instead of weeks. Guess I’ll be putting on my Budget Smart Girl’s hat and looking for better deals on even bird food now.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

admin / November 20, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Gourmet Foods

Budget gourmet might sound like an oxymoron, but even Budget Smart Girls can enjoy gourmet or gourmet like foods now and then. And here’s the good news, because the economy’s in a slump, lots of companies, yes, even those who sell high end foods are slashing prices. I searched the Web and found these sites offering gourmet foods this holiday season. They’re great for either treating yourself or giving as a gift. I’m taking a bet that others will think you’ve spent a lot more than you actually did.

The Fresh Market
This site has lots to offer, but check out the artisan vanilla granola for $3.99, lemon curd $4.99 and the cheese straws $14.99 There are enough good deals here that you can put together your own gourmet gift basket. www.thefreshmarket.com

Spices
Spices and herbs can really add some pizzazz to budget foods and I always keep some in the pantry. One company to check out is www.spicehunter.com I love all their spice blends but a personal favorite of mine is their Flavor Discoveries line, $5.99. I add these spices to everything from soup to scrambled eggs.

World Market
Take a stroll through the aisles of The World Market and you’ll find a ton of gourmet foods. And don’t pass on World Market’s own brand name items. They have a dark chocolate spread and gourmet drinking chocolate that are both excellent. Many of the food items are only available in their stores, but check out their Web site to get an idea of what’s available, click on the ‘eat and drink’ tab www.worldmarket.com

Gift Baskets
If you’re looking for ready made gift basket full of goodies, check out www.overstock.com. Type in Gift Baskets and then search by price.

Chocolate
Being the chocoholic that I am, I’m always looking for gourmet chocolate and these days it’s not hard to find and at prices most Budget Smart Girls can afford. I found this site that has lots of items for under $15.99. And what I liked about this site is you can type in the amount you want to spend. Sounds like it was made just for us. www.worldsfinestchocolate.com

Cheese
One of my favorite stops in the supermarket is the cheese counter. Sometimes the selection is overwhelming and sometimes the price is, well, let’s say unbelievable. But I found this site where you can select cheese by price. I was surprised to see they sell an Asiago for under $10. That’s sometimes the highest priced cheese at the store. It’s full of flavor so a little goes a long way. And a wine and cheese get together makes a really low cost way to throw a party during the holidays.
www.wisconsincheesemart.com

Breads
Just the other day, I decided to pull out the bread machine and make a loaf of bread from scratch. Check out this site for mixes you can give us a gift, use for the holiday meal, or combine with other goodies in a gift basket. www.preparedpantry.com Check out the Gourmet Artisan Breads and it’s a good site too for learning bread making and baking.

admin / November 20, 2008

A Budget Savvy Cook Hosts Thanksgiving

Just the thought of preparing Thanksgiving dinner can send most people into a panic. And this year, I’m guessing lots of people are in a panic wondering how much it’s going to cost. Here are some ways to keep the cost down.

Buy A Few Items at a Time
I know a few people who plan their holiday meals in September. I’ve never been that organized, but I have found one way to help lower the cost of a holiday meal (and the sticker shock when I get to the checkout) is to spread the cost over several weeks. Sometimes items like stuffing, cranberry sauce start to go on sale a few weeks before the big event. And as they usually won’t spoil before the big day, that’s when when I stock up.

Test Before
Thanksgiving or any special meal isn’t the time to test drive a new recipe. If you’re going to try a new dish, do it before the big day. And do it on a smaller scale. For example, imagine wasting a dish that serves 10 people because it didn’t turn out very well, as opposed to something that serves just 2.

Turkey
If you’ve never cooked a turkey before or haven’t had much success, check out this Web site for tips and hints, www.eatturkey.com

Appetizers
One way you can save money is to cut down on the number of appetizers you serve. When you’re going to eat a huge meal, why offer lots of food before you sit down at the table. One thing I like to do is fill martini or margarita glasses with cashews and peanuts or even Chex Party Mix and place them around the room. Give people something to drink and it’s all they really need pre-meal.

Desserts
I don’t know anyone who can manage to eat dessert straight after they’ve eaten turkey and all the fixings. Sometimes I’ve made two desserts and they’ve gone uneaten because people can’t eat one bite more. A way around that is to make or buy two pies, pumpkin and pecan are my top picks, take a cookie cutter and cut both pies into smaller servings. People seem to think that’s more manageable. And if you put them in a box, it makes a great gift for the guests when they leave.

Decorations
This time of the year, your own backyard can be the best source of cheap table decorations. Branches and twigs can be placed in the middle of the table. And every time I receive flowers, I keep the card holders. I write each guest’s name on a piece of card and slip it inside and either place it across the plate or slip it into the wine glass. And if you have lots of side dishes, you can use them to put a note on each one so no one takes something they don’t like or can’t eat. This works great for buffets too.

Leftovers
Yes, the dreaded leftovers. Think ahead about what you plan to do with them. And don’t make so much food that people are bored with them by Saturday.

Wine
And if you’re looking for some great deals on wines, here are some you might want to try-
Alice White and Rex Goliath which cost between $8-10. The Alice White Red Lexia pairs well with turkey and the Rex Chadonnay is also recommended for the Thanksgiving meal. www.alicewhite.com and www.rexgoliath.com
Another wine that costs under $10 is produced by Redwood Creek www.redwoodcreek.com

admin / November 20, 2008

Sample of The Budget Smart Girl Newsletter-Rachael Ray, Couponwinner and more

Here’s a preview of some of the type of content you’ll find in the upcoming Budget Smart Girl newsletter-

Eye Glasses
One thing that can really take a bit out of your budget is the cost of prescription glasses, but a new site might have the answer, check out www.eyebuydirect.com. It lets you go online to preview lots of frames with prices starting at only $7.95. Think of it as your online glass shop and the good news is you don’t have to waste time going to the store.

emporio-armani-ea9265-high-res

Rachael Ray
If you’re a fan of Rachael Ray, you’ll know she not only cooks great 30 minute meals, but budget friendly ones too. Starting November 17th, Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine is giving away daily prizes. Everything from family travel packages to an LG refrigerator. Check out this Web site detailing all the goodies- www.rachaelraymag.com/giveaway

Coupons
These days who isn’t looking for coupons to help their money go even further? Check out www.couponwinner.com to find codes and printable coupons on everything from apparel to computers and from thousands of retailers from across the country.

Boston Market
And here’s a deal that’s not only good for your wallet, but you’ll be helping children in need too. Visit your local Boston Market. The company is offering a coupon book that costs just $1 but yields $35 in savings for Boston Market goodies. All proceeds go to Give Kids the World Village.
www.bostonmarket.com Click on ‘holiday giving’ on the right of your screen.

Tips to Use
Do you often throw out lettuce because it’s turned brown before you could eat it? As soon as you buy it take out the white core. These usually turn brown first then turn the rest of the lettuce brown too. Also, you can add freshness to lettuce by soaking it in ice cold water for about 15 minutes and then spinning it dry in a salad spinner.

admin / November 18, 2008

The Blog-What’s So Bad About Lentil Loaf?

While I was getting the oil changed in my car last month, I decided to walk to the library and spend an hour or so in there while the car was worked on. I passed the time by looking through some of the cookbooks and came across one for children called The Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook by Judi Gillies and Jennifer Glossop. I skimmed through it and thought it had some great recipes that were very budget friendly. I decided to check so I could give it a test drive. The first one on my list was the vegetarian shepherd’s pie, which turned out to be a great hit at the dinner table. Next on my list was the lentil loaf. I used organic red lentils I purchased in the bulk bin at the supermarket so it made this dish even more budget savvy. I even made the mushroom gravy the book suggested accompany it. Side dishes included a baked potato and a combination of peas/carrots. The lentil loaf turned out perfectly, but then I ran into a roadblock. I made the mistake of announcing lentil loaf was for dinner. Lentils, wait a minute, that’s not real food, is it? What a fool I was because I ended up eating it myself. It was really tasty and the leftovers made great sandwiches. Yes, I was eating lentil loaf for lunch for a whole week.

The moral of my story, don’t tell them what’s for dinner or what it’s made of before they actually try it. Anyway, I can really recommend this cookbook. I tried out a few more dishes and then ordered my own copy from Amazon.com. The ISBN is 1-55074-977-3. It’s published by Kids Can Press and if you buy it from Amazon, it’s just $10.17. Eating vegetarian is a great way to make your food dollar stretch even further and even if you just cut out meat/poultry/fish a couple of days a week, it can save you money too.

And if you’re going to pass on Black Friday this year and just stick with buying your holiday gifts online on Cyber Monday, I found this site that’s worth checking out. www.cybermonday.com/

admin / November 13, 2008

One Ingredient for the Budget Savvy Cook

Some of my best money-saving habits began by pure accident. Take for example, the time I was making mashed potatoes. I’d drained and mashed them, then walked to the refrigerator, opened the door, and yes, had forgotten I was out of margarine or any other type of low fat spread. I began to think, if only I’d checked before I boiled the potatoes. I thought about what I could make with a saucepan of smashed potatoes and would just adding milk really work? But then I noticed a box of cream cheese sitting in the dairy compartment.

I’d seen a few of the TV chefs add it to potatoes, I’d never tried it, but hey, now was the time to do it. I have to say, I actually preferred the taste and texture. It takes a little bit more work to incorporate it into the potatoes but it’s well worth the effort. Now if I’m making mashed potatoes, 95% of the time, I’ll use cream cheese.

So why is cream cheese such a great find for a budget savvy cook? If you’ve shopped for butter or margarine in the last few months, you’ve probably noticed a jump in price. Okay, it won’t break the bank, but cream cheese is a bargain. And there’s always a sale going on. And if you’re like me and stick with the supermarket brands, you can often get an 8 ounce package for just a $1. And with the holidays on the horizon, it’s always on sale from mid November to the first week in January. I’ve even bought a few packages to put in the freezer. The consistency changes, but if you’re adding other ingredients, no one notices.

And there’s more to love about cream cheese than just adding it to mashed potatoes.

Appetizers and Party Fare
It’s one of my secret ingredients to making appetizers for holiday parties. You can add other items like chopped smoked salmon, chopped cucumber, chopped dill and serve it as a dip with crackers. You can swirl it onto crackers using a fancy nozzle and a piping bag. One of my favorites is to add dill and pipe it onto cucumber slices. I often fill filo pastry cups with it and top each one with an olive, or chopped sun dried tomato.

Sandwiches
And it makes a great sandwich filling all by itself. I add some herbs like oregano, basil and then spread it onto the bread and top it with sun dried tomatoes. It’s also a great way to use up any leftover roasted vegetables you might have sitting in the fridge. And another ingredient I like to add to the cream cheese is the Mediterranean Grinder Rub or the Grill Shakers from Spice Hunter. I know they’re supposed to be for grilling and adding to meats and poultry, but one day I thought I’ll do some experimenting. All you need is just had about a teaspoon for a 8 ounce package. I’ve found it’s best to let the mixture sit in the fridge for about an hour so everything can blend together. The taste is really gourmet for just pennies.

Scrambled Eggs
And another trick I found to great tasting scrambled eggs is to add some cream cheese while you’re scrambling them.

Soups
And I love soups that are creamy and rich tasting but hate having to add cream. One thing I’ve found that works just as well is cream cheese. Once you’ve finished making the soup, just stir in cubes of cream cheese and let it melt slowly over a low heat.

Pastry
And it seems it’s not just potatoes that taste great with cream cheese. I’ve substituted cream cheese for butter when I’ve made pastry. You can’t really taste the cheese, but I think it makes the pastry flakier and almost like puff pastry but without all that effort.

admin / November 13, 2008

The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to Selling and Buying on sites…other than eBay

I know eBay is supposed to be the best venue for selling and buying items online, but I’ve not had much luck as a seller there. A few years ago I decided to buy a few items from eBay and was pleased with the price I paid and the quality of merchandise. Thinking I’d now like to be a seller there, this past summer, I decided to sell some clothes and shoes on their site. Some items were new, so I thought I’d at least get a few bids. And taking the advice of others who’d sold stuff there, I started the bidding low. I was disappointed that not one single thing sold. I even relisted a few of the items, but still didn’t get any takers.

I was thinking of just putting everything in the donation box in the basement, or keeping them for a future garage sale, but then I thought, why not hold onto them and try a different venue.
So I went straight to an expert on the online auction scene and asked Ina Steiner who’s the editor of www.AuctionBytes.com to offer her advice on what sites we should try other than eBay.

Here’s what she had to say-

“Etsy is very popular to both buyers and sellers who are into the handmade movement. And it’s really fun to window shop. It’s very visually oriented. www.etsy.com. Lots of small online sellers have diversified beyond selling on eBay. Ecrater www.ecrater.com and Bonanzle www.bonanzle.com are two of the more popular sites at the moment. And then there are the auction and fixed price niche sites such as www.GoAntiques.com and www.Tias.com for antiques and collectibles.

We just launched a merchant directory called www.EveryPlaceIsell.com. Sellers can create a free listing pointing to all of the venues on which they sell. Shoppers can use it to find sellers and support independent merchants. For shoppers who come across a seller but may want to see if they list on a different venue, or check their eBay reputation, it’s a great tool.

As fees have gone up on sites like eBay, which now requires PayPal or a merchant credit card account that also take their share of the fees, shoppers should be aware that they may be able to find better pricing on the merchant’s own Web site. EveryPlaceIsell.com is one way to find out if they have their own Web site.

One thing I’d advise is to be careful of fraud, whether you’re buying or selling online. Yes, there are bad buyers who can rip off sellers. My top fraud tip: Never, ever send money via Western Union, unless it’s to your mom. It’s like sending cash to a stranger in the mail.”

If you want to learn more great tips, you can sign up for Ina’s newsletter and listen to her podcasts at her Web site. And be sure to check out my previous Girl’s Guide on buying and selling on Etsy.
And here are some other sites I found, I can’t vouch for them because I’ve not sold or bought any merchandise there.

http://us.ebid.net/
www.oddbark.com this site is more for classified ads.
www.wensy.com

And one place I have done business with for many years now is eBay’s partner site half.com www.half.com. There’s no charge to list books/dvds/cds/games, etc. And you can leave them on the site until they sell. They reimburse media mail rate postage and take a small commission. For awhile, I was lucky enough to be selling four or five books a month there, but recently it’s been much slower. I’m not sure if it’s the time of the year or if people are watching their pennies now.

With the holidays just around the corner, selling on some of these sites might be a good way to make some holiday cash. Or if you’re a buyer, you might pick up a bargain or two.

admin / November 10, 2008

The Blog-The Deals Are Everywhere

I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but where I live, my mailbox is now the daily recipient of offers from local supermarkets and restaurants. Yes, they’re all trying to get my business. One supermarket is once again offering their premium deals. For every $50 you spend, you get one point, collect eight and you get a $10 gift card, 15 nets a $20 gift card and so on. Another supermarket is offering a two week deal. Week one, a $5 coupon when you purchase $50 worth of groceries, week two, $10 off a $100 purchase. And a home delivery service that was going out of business was recently purchased by an out of town supermarket chain and therefore given a second chance. They’re offering $20 off a $100 purchase and free delivery. Their flyer also said they’re lowering their prices too. Restaurant wise, most restaurants are either offering $10 off the total price of the meal, or a two for one offer. One Mexican restaurant has an enchilada or taco platter for two for $14.99 and then if you take the receipt in there next time you eat, they give you $10 off. So technically, if you ordered the enchilada platter on the second visit, two of you could eat for just $4.99.

So what does all this mean? Everyone wants our business, which hopefully translates into better customer service too. And we don’t have to go searching for coupons now, looks like they’ll be landing in our mailbox on a regular basis.

And here’s a follow up to two products that I recently purchased and mentioned in a previous blog. The first one is the Yardworks, Sweep It. It cost around $50 and I have to say I love it. It’s saved me lots of work cleaning leaves. I give it an A and was well worth the money. The second product is the Color Maintenance Shampoo I purchased from Hair Care Choices. Cost was $10.99. I use it just once a week, so it will last a long time and it’s great. It brightens up the highlights and adds a wonderful shine to my hair. So I also give this an A and yes, it was definitely worth the money.

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss