admin / June 21, 2010

The Blog-Quick Meals Using What’s in the Garden

I spent a good part of Saturday morning weeding and cleaning the herb garden. I first planted it about six years ago and one thing I’ve learned is herbs are fast growers. They also give basic foods some gourmet flavor too. After moving from the herb garden to cleaning the area around the pond, I decided a quick supper was just want we needed. With some many herbs on hand, I found a cheese pizza in the freezer and topped it with chopped tomatoes (fresh and sun dried) and chopped herbs, like oregano and basil. It made the low cost pizza taste a whole lot more expensive.

Many of the experts I’ve featured on Budget Smart Girl keep in touch with me and it’s always great to hear what they’re doing. Remember Danny Kofke the author of How To Survive (and perhaps thrive) On A Teacher’s Salary? He contacted me to say he was going to be a guest on HLN’s The Clark Howard Show. Last week he sent this link so I could share it with you.

This week on Budget Smart Girl Today it’s officially summer and whether you’re packing up the car for a long road trip, heading out on a plane or just staying close to home, we’re all looking for bargains… maybe even some free entertainment. This week, two articles about ways to save on travel and some deals and places to visit across the country.

Have a good week

admin / June 16, 2010

Buy It or Make Your Own

During every trip to the supermarket I ask myself is it cheaper for me to buy that item already prepared or should I make my own. It’s not only money that I base my decision on, time plays a factor too. Here are some guidelines I’ve come up with and items I will and won’t buy already prepared.

If you’re short on time then opting for readymade makes perfect sense. One great example is potatoes, whether they’re mashed, oven roasted etc. I keep at least one package of each in the freezer or pantry. And the great thing is instant potatoes taste a lot better than they used to and they’re always on sale too.

If it’s not only your wallet you’re watching, but your weight, sodium or fat intake then going the homemade route makes more sense.

Check the Season
Right now the produce department is brimming with berries, green beans, corn, etc. During the summer months I opt for buying fresh veggies, but when a particular vegetable or fruit isn’t in season, I’ll choose canned or frozen. Another example is red peppers. I love roasted red peppers but they can be pricey. I have found some good deals but when the prices go low…like right now, I’ll buy them, roast them myself and then store them for future use.

Things I’ll Never Buy Readymade

Fruit, Vegetable and Cheese Platters
They look tempting but they can run about $20-25. They’re easy to put together yourself and I can’t imagine handing over that much money for something that wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to do yourself.

Flavored Oatmeal
I used to love the individual flavored packages of oatmeal… that was until I did an interview and we got onto the subject of premade foods. The interviewee pointed out the true cost of these little luxuries. Now I make my own and add things like chopped dried fruits and they’re just as good, if not better.

Sometimes I’ll buy soups to keep in the pantry if the price is right, or like last week, I had two $1 coupons for a brand that was on sale. However, most of the time I’ll make my own. It’s cheaper, you control what’s in there and it’s a good way to use leftover items like vegetables and cooked chicken.

Individually Wrapped
Lots of supermarkets have a special section with items that are washed and prepared for you and individually wrapped like potatoes, onions, etc. But have you seen the price for such convenience, $2 for one onion! Think I’ll pass on those.

Smoothie Mixes
Manufacturers must know we’ve gone smoothie crazy because each week another premade smoothie mix hits the stores. I’ve checked the ingredients on most of them and it’s just chopped frozen fruit. How easy and inexpensive is it to get a freezer bag and make your own mix.

Some Things I Will Buy Readymade

Salad Dressings
I do make my own but I will more a ready prepared one when I have coupons. Seems like I always have at least one on hand. They’re usually for a dollar so on double coupon day that’s $2 off a salad dressing that costs around $3.95. I probably could make one for that price but it’s nice to have one ready and waiting in the fridge if I don’t get around to it.

Spaghetti Sauce
Once again coupons and the fact at least one brand always seems to be on sale swings things in the favor of readymade.

Not Just Things You Eat
And it’s not just food items you can make yourself. One reason I make my own products like cleaning supplies is I know what’s in them. Baking soda and vinegar are my two favorites and I even started making my own dishwasher powder too. It’s really simple to make
2 cups washing soda
1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda
Mix ingredients together in a storage container and use about 1 ½ tablespoons per load. I added some essential oil to mine…lemon or tangerine to give the kitchen a nice smell while the dishes are being washed. If you live in an area with hard water, I’ve found squeezing about a tablespoon of lemon juice to the mix (for each load) helps glasses from turning white. I buy lemon juice in one of those plastic lemons you find in the produce department and keep it with the mix.

admin / June 11, 2010

More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (and some recipes)

Entering the Grocery Challenge contest? Here are some more ways to help stretch your food dollar along with some recipes.

Shop at the Drug Stores
Don’t just think of the supermarket when you’re buying groceries. Sometimes you can get better deals at places like Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy.

Friends with Memberships
You might not want to pay $50 for a membership to a warehouse club but for this challenge ask if friends, family or co-workers if they do and stock up some pantry essentials. When I had a membership to Costco I found things olives, sun dried tomatoes and most cheeses were great deals. And if you want to make some ready to eat meals, these stores have excellent prices on essentials like eggs and milk.

Low Cost Snacks
I’m assuming that the price of snacks is included in the challenge and one of my favorites that’s both healthy and low cost is cheese and crackers. Visit most coupon sites and some manufacturer always seems to offer a cheese coupon. Yogurt is another item that is often on sale and most times has a matching coupon. With produce in abundance, fruit kabobs are another quick and easy snack. And you can turn berries and peaches into smoothies.

National Dairy Month
Speaking of all these dairy products. June is National Dairy Month which means a lot of in store specials and coupons on the Internet.

Products with Coupons
While I was shopping this week, I couldn’t help notice how many products have coupons attached to them these days. Even if it’s not a brand you were thinking of buying, if it’s double coupon day it can save more money.

Buy Supermarket Brands
This goes without saying, most of the time you can save money by choosing supermarket brands over the major brand names. I’ve found there’s little difference in taste or quality.

Look High and Low
And I probably don’t have to tell you the most expensive items in the store are placed at eye level. Yep, they know we’re a lazy bunch of shoppers. Most bargains are placed on the top and bottom shelves and that’s the places to look first.

Substitute Ingredients
I sometimes make tuna instead of chicken pot pies not because of cost but just for some variety. Substituting a lower cost item can help stretch your dollar too.

Here are some of my favorite low cost recipes. The first one I came up with when I thought about the wonderful deep fried stuffed poblano peppers at a local restaurant. Delicious but I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of making the recipe myself so this was a quick and easy alternative.

Chile Rellano Casserole (Serves 4-6)•2 4 ½ ounce cans of chopped green chiles
•2 cups, shredded sharp cheddar cheese
•3 eggs, beaten
•3 tablespoons flour
•1 cup of salsa, your choice of mild or spicy
•1 small can (7 ½ ounces) evaporated milk
•To serve…more shredded cheese, salsa and sour cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
Place the chopped green chiles on the bottom of the dish, top with the cheese.
Mix together the eggs, milk and flour and pour over the cheese.
Pour the salsa on top
(Don’t Mix any of these layers together)
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the center is set and the top lightly golden brown

Blue Cheese Roasted Potatoes
This one I like because it can really add some pizzazz to plain hamburgers or it’s great just by itself.
(Serves 4 or 8 as an appetizer)

•2 pounds of potatoes Yukon Golds are great
•¼ cup oil, olive or vegetable
•salt and pepper
•½ cup of crumbled blue cheese

1.Wash and scrub the potatoes well, but don’t peel them. Cut them into wedges and place in a bowl. Add the oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. I sometimes use some Mrs. Dash seasoning too. Make sure all the potatoes get coated with the oil and seasonings.
2.Place the coated potatoes on a baking sheet and cook in a 350 degree oven until they’re golden brown…usually about 30-40 minutes. While they’re cooking tear off pieces of foil and make squares about 8 by 8 inches.
3.Take the potatoes out of the oven and place a serving size on each piece of foil and sprinkle them with blue cheese. Wrap them so they look like packages. Serve immediately.

I’ve also added herbs like oregano and substituted feta cheese for the blue cheese for a really Mediterranean flavor. And if you’re a vegetarian, they’re great all by themselves or pair perfectly with veggie burgers.

Vegetable Stuffed Poblano Peppers
A few years ago I was asked to write an article on low fat Mexican cooking and had to come up with three recipes, this was one of them. It makes the most of inexpensive beans and vegetables. If you can’t find poblano peppers, green peppers work too.
(Serves 4)

•4 poblano peppers, small to medium size
•1 tablespoon oil
•1 cup of chopped onion
•1 medium size carrot, grated
•2 small zucchini, cut into bite sized cubes
•1 15.5. can pinto beans
•1 10 oz can enchilada sauce, mild or spicy to your liking
•1 teaspoon chili powder
•1 teaspoon oregano
•1 teaspoon cumin
•Salt to taste
•1 cup shredded cheese, divided. I use a sharp cheddar because it has a strong flavor and you end up having to use less cheese.

1.Wash and cut open one side of the peppers, leave the stalk intact, but remove all the seeds and membranes, rinse and place in a large saucepan filled with water. Cook the peppers for about five minutes until they turn a deeper green color. *Make sure you put a lid on as I’ve found although poblano peppers aren’t that spicy, you can get some ‘pepper fumes’ that fill the kitchen. Drain and set aside.

2.Heat the oil in a medium size saucepan, add the onion and cook for about 2-3 minutes.

3.Add the zucchini and carrots and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chili powder, oregano and cumin and make sure all the vegetables are coated.

4.Add the pinto beans, stir and remove from the heat.

5.Add ½ cup of shredded cheese and stir until it’s melted.

6.Pour about half the can of enchilada sauce into a casserole dish.

7.Stuff each pepper with the vegetable mixture and place on top of the sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce over the peppers and cover the casserole dish with foil.

8.Place in a 375-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the pepper and return them to the oven until the cheese has melted.

Serve with salsa and sour cream, or for a more substantial meal, you can serve them on top a bed of rice and warmed tortillas.

admin / June 7, 2010

The Blog-Looking to Buy or Sell Unwanted Items

One of my favorite magazines is Woman’s World and every week they feature Web sites of interest to the budget minded. Last week’s issue featured sites for thrift and consignment stores and this one caught my eye Not only can you buy items directly from the site but you can also sell items on there too. I have boxes of stuff I’m thinking of putting in a garage sale but might just check this site out first. An added plus they only take 30% commission and reimburse you for shipping too. If anyone’s used them before I’d love to hear about your experience, so be sure to leave a comment.

Looks like my first vegetable garden is a success. This week we’ll be eating homegrown lettuce and radishes. And I can’t believe how well the broccoli, beans and zucchini are doing too. I’m way behind on certain gardening chores and so far everything’s still in containers and pots. I haven’t got around to preparing the old pond I’m turning into my vegetable garden. However, seeing how well everything is growing, it’s definitely motivation.

And if you can’t grow your own produce, look for a sale. This week the local supermarket has a sale on strawberries and blueberries. Plus, you get a coupon for $2 off your next purchase from the produce department. Now I’m wondering if I’ll have time to make strawberry jam. Probably not, but I’m going to stock up and make some desserts for the freezer. There’s nothing I like more than eating something containing summer produce when the weather turns cold.

This week on Budget Smart Girl-More tips and a few recipes for cutting down on your grocery bills. Plus, how to put a new spin on everyday meals.

Have a good week

admin / June 3, 2010

Tips on Winning The Grocery Challenge

For those of you who missed my blog the other week, All You magazine is holding its second annual Grocery Challenge contest. There will be ten finalists and the winner will get a $1,000 grocery card and will also be featured in the magazine. The challenge is to spend $25 or less per family member per week on groceries during a four week period. The contest runs from June 20 to July 17th. Go to to sign up. Beginning June 18th the magazine will send you a newsletter featuring tips for saving money and also recipes. I’d love to see a Budget Smart Girl reader win this so to get you thinking about ways to meet this challenge, here are some of my tips for cutting down on your grocery bill. If anyone wants to share their tips to help those entering the challenge, feel free to add a comment.

Eat With The Season
One of my favorite tips for saving money is to eat with the season and buy only produce that’s in abundance. There couldn’t be a better time for this challenge because more produce is hitting the stores and the farmer’s markets. Make dishes using vegetables, like stir frys, pasta with grilled vegetables, sandwiches using items like grilled zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. And don’t forget desserts. Berries are in season and in a couple of weeks we’ll see peaches and plums hit the produce department too. They’re great by themselves but combine them with ice cream (one brand always seems to be on sale) and it’s an inexpensive dessert. And don’t forget fruits make great breakfast foods too. An added plus is they contain fiber and keep you feeling full longer.

Some type of pasta always seems to be on sale. Many times it’s just a dollar a box and you can do so much with it. Italian dishes, Asian dishes, hot or cold. It’s also a great way to extend meats and chicken and keep the cost of the meal down.

Another favorite budget foods are beans. There are so many varieties; you never have to get bored. Bean burritos, bean burgers and just like pasta, you can use them with smaller amounts of meat to stretch your dollar. You can even make things like black bean and corn (now also inexpensive) salsa and serve them with chips for a low cost snack.

Canned Salmon and Tuna
Besides pasta, canned salmon and tuna always seems to be on sale. I make salmon burgers for a quick meal. Tuna is great for salads when the weather turns hot. And both salmon and tuna can be made into wraps and served with a fresh fruit salad.

One way to win the challenge is to use leftovers. Most of the week my lunch consists of whatever’s leftover from supper the night before. Another thing I often do is make Sunday our leftover day. I turn it into a buffet and set out on the counter anything we haven’t eaten during the week. Items like leftover vegetables are also great in soups, which brings me to another money saying meal.

Soup and Sandwich
I don’t know about you but when the weather turns hot I don’t want to be in the kitchen or eat a huge meal. Soup and sandwich/wrap to the rescue…makes the perfect budget meal too.

Breakfast Any Time
Another money and time saving trick I use is to serve breakfast for dinner. Things like omelets, cheese and egg burritos, Eggs Benedict. Eggs are always a good price and pack lots of nutrition.

I hope you’re already using coupons, but if you’re not get into the habit of using them during the challenge. Find a supermarket that doubles their value and ask if you can swap coupons with friends and family.

Plan Meals Around Flyers
When I plan meals, I sit with my coupons and store flyers in front of me to see if I can match coupons, sales and pantry items together. I’ve discovered this is one of the best ways to stretch the food budget.

Pantry Challenge
Have you heard about a pantry challenge? Once a month you don’t go to the store…for other than essentials like milk, etc, instead you plan meals around items you already have on hand. Only the other day I was thinking if I used everything in the pantry and freezer, I probably wouldn’t need to shop for two, maybe three weeks. Do that during this challenge and you’ll definitely stay within the $25 or less per family member.

Shop Less Often
Even if you’re not relying on your pantry supply, try shopping less often. I’ve switched to biweekly grocery shopping and found it does save money. Why…because the more often I’m in the store, the more likely I am to impulse buy.

Don’t Be Loyal
One of my rules for being a Budget Smart Girl is you shouldn’t be loyal. If another store has a better price, shop there. Just the other week a supermarket I don’t usually visit was offering in store coupons, plus a $5 off coupon which I couldn’t resist so they got my business.

Next week, some more tips and recipes.

admin / June 1, 2010

The Blog-Look For Bargains

Hope everyone enjoyed the long holiday weekend. I took advantage of the sale going on at Home Depot, 5 bags of mulch for $10 and spent the first part of the weekend topping up the flowerbeds. I also finished two books that were in my to read list.

Be sure to check out all the bargains that will be in the stores this week, picnic items…food and non food. It’s a great time to stock up and replenish the freezer.

This week on Budget Smart Girl-Only four days left until the weekend so as it’s a short week, I’ll post just one article. On Thursday look for (hope this will be some help to readers entering the All You Grocery Challenge Contest), tips for trimming your grocery bill and feeding your family for less.

Have a good week.

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