admin / April 29, 2011

Dirt Cheap Gardening

Gardening is one of my hobbies. I think of it as not only being therapeutic but something that adds to the value of your property. Having a nice looking garden doesn’t have to break the bank either. Here are some ways I’ve found to stretch my gardening budget-

Free Advice

One way to waste money and kill plants is not knowing what you’re doing or what plants are right for your area. If I ever have a gardening question or weed I can’t identify I always stop by my local extension service for advice. It’s free, they also have brochures and sometimes classes you can take too.

Divide and Conquer

For the last few years I haven’t purchased any new plants. Instead I’ve been diving older ones that have outgrown their area. It’s a great way to extend your garden for free. My number one tip for doing this, don’t attempt it on a hot day, make sure you water the plant well once you replant it and check on it for about a week after it’s been transplanted and keep it watered.


Another way you can get free plants is to swap with other gardening enthuasists. They might have a plant you want and vice versa or even be willing to take a cutting from a well established plant.

End of Season

Patience is definitely a virtue when you’re a gardener. Not only when waiting for plants and trees to grow but if you can wait till the end of the growing season you can net lots of good buys. I’ve purchased at least 50% of my garden flowers and shrubs this way. Some have only cost a couple of dollars and the best plants in the yard.


If you need to fill in a spot in the garden, quickly and cheaply my favorite pick are herbs. They grow fast…some too fast to watch out, they’re always green, inexpensive, no green thumb required. And yes, you can use them in cooking too.

Plants in Distress

Another way you can net a bargain or two is to look for plants in distress. Yes, it’s sad to think some garden centers and nurseries have staff who either don’t know anything about plants or can’t be bothered to look after them, but some plants get abused. I’ve seen some that just need some water and TLC and have asked if I could buy them at a discount. Most of the time the store is more than happy to let you have them. What they don’t know is after a good water and some sun, they look better than the ones still in the store.

Quick Landscape Trick

One of my favorite and inexpensive ways to spruce up the yard after the winter is to put down a new layer of mulch. Sometimes you can buy bags as cheap as $2. You’d be surprised just how good it makes the garden look. Sprinkle it over the old mulch and it goes a long way too.

Free Trees

Today is Arbor Day and check out this site. For just a $10 membership you can get ten free trees.

Catalogs to Check Out

And here are two of my favorite catalogs, good prices and lots of gardening info too-

Check Out the Companies

And this site has lots of information and even a section on how gardening companies rate with other users-

Plant Some Food

With food prices on the increase and rumored to stay that way, now’s a good time to plant not only a veggie garden but trees and shrubs that yield food, like apples, pears, blueberries and strawberries, check out for tips and supplies for growing veggies etc.

admin / April 27, 2011

A Cheap Home Makeover

We’re one month into spring, days are longer, and sometimes it’s nice to give your home a makeover. Sometimes I’d love to do some remodeling but the cost is prohibitive. However, I have found some low cost (and sometimes free) ways you can give your house a spring makeover-

Clean Out the Clutter

Realtors say clutter is one of the reasons many homes don’t sale. If you’re selling your house, or just realize you have too much stuff sitting around the house, now’s the time to tackle it and maybe sell a few things online or even have a sale this summer. Just getting rid of a few odds and ends can make your house look that much neater and bigger too.

A Cheap Makeover

If I’m getting bored with a room but don’t have enough in the budget for a huge makeover one thing I always turn to is paint. Even top quality paint can be purchased for around $20 or less. You’d be surprised at just how great…and clean a room looks with a new coat of paint or even a different color added to its walls.

Move Them Around

I have to admit I get bored very easily and sometimes I sit in a room and start to think about ways I’d like to change it. Some of my ideas would break the bank, but an inexpensive way to make everything look new again is to rearrange stuff. Last year I decided to move the two couches in the living room around and put the side table on the other side of the room. Sometimes I move photos and bits and pieces from one table to another. And one way I’ve found that can really make a room look new is to move stuff from one room to another. Every time the clocks change in spring and fall take a few minutes to change things around. That way you can have a warm and cold weather look to your home.

Have a Swap Party

You’ve heard of people holding clothes swap parties, how about swap parties for things like vases, paintings etc. You might just find something you’ve been admiring in a friend’s house is something she really hates and wants to get rid of.


If you are thinking about selling your home one of the first things that greets a buyer is your yard. The idea is to make them think if they moved in they’d have very little work to do. So trim hedges and shrubs, cut out dead branches, and pull up the weeds. And one thing that can really be inviting to any visitor is a water feature. They used to cost a fortune but you can set one up on just about any budget these days.

Windows and Carpets

Two things that most people notice when they come to your house are the carpets and windows. It doesn’t take much to clean the windows and screens, and most supermarkets rent carpet-cleaning machines these days. And to make sure things don’t get dirty all over again, keep one pair of shoes just for wearing exclusively inside the house.

Consignment Stores

There are lots of consignment stores in the area where I live and one’s just for household items and furniture. Last year I took some items in there to consign and while I waited for the assistant to look them over I did some browsing. I was just amazed at all the great stuff people no longer wanted and everything was reasonably priced. If you’re looking to decorate a home quickly and cheaply these are the places to head.

Little Touches, Big Impact

I love candles sitting around the house. Some I use them for fragrance, some just for decoration. Grouped together or used singly they’re an inexpensive way to give any room a makeover. The folks at PartyLite recently sent me a set of their new Glolites to try and I have to say they look and smell good too. Currently I’m using them in my living room but I’m very tempted to light them when I indulge in one of my spa evenings. The thing I like best, price and that they last a long time for the money. Here’s some information about them-

GloLites are made in the United States. The outer wax is richly textured, and the glow is nuanced.  Each candle is individually hand-crafted, so slight variations in color and texture may occur and no two are exactly alike.  You will create the most drama by arranging these candles in odd numbers and in varied heights. They are slow burning and long-lasting, allowing you to enjoy the magic for longer than a comparable sized standard pillar candle. They come in three sizes:

3”x4” (lasts 40-55 hours) – $12.95

3”x5” (lasts 60-75 hours) – $14.95

3”x6” (lasts 85-105 hours) – $16.95. 

 Each size is available in two light and fresh fragrances:

The white candles feature Sea Salt & Driftwood.™ The scent of salty air blends with watery notes and warm driftwood for a clean, calming fragrance, like a shower of sea spray, gently misting the coastal air.

The blue candles feature Calm Waters.™  This clean, cool citrus scent tempered by soft, floral nuances washes over you like a serene ocean breeze. 

 Purchase online at:

admin / April 22, 2011

Fresh, Frozen or Canned?

One section of the supermarket with steadily rising prices and yes, less than top notch quality is the produce department. So should you ever feel guilty about opting for frozen or even canned veggies? Most health experts say as produce is usually frozen or canned as soon as it’s picked we shouldn’t worry too much because the vitamin and mineral content remains intact. I have to admit I used to feel really guilty if I relied on too many frozen and canned vegetables, but seeing how some of the produce doesn’t look that great I now base my decision on the following-

Buying in Season

Wouldn’t it be great if all our favorite fruits and vegetables were available year round? My rule of thumb is when a certain produce is in abundance buy the fresh version. Once the season winds down I start to take a different approach. I look at what’s available, how much it costs and compare it to what’s in the freezer section. Another thing to consider is what’s on sale. Most stores have some type of promotion on frozen vegetables at least once a month, so even in summer buying frozen often makes more sense. Another plus to buying frozen or canned is there’s no waste. Everything’s trimmed and prepared, so you know everything is going to be eaten, no more broccoli stalks or corn husks to toss away.

What Type of Recipe Am I Making?

I have lots of pasta recipes that use peas as one of the ingredients. I don’t know why but fresh peas aren’t something I see a lot of in the produce section so I’ve got no alternative but to use the frozen kind. The taste of the dish never seems to be compromised and it’s sometimes cheaper too.

How Does the Price Compare?

One dish I at make least once a month is vegetable lasagna and one of the main ingredients is spinach. For those of you who always buy the fresh variety you know that when spinach is cooked it becomes the incredible shrinking vegetable. The first time I used frozen spinach for this lasagna I did feel guilty, but now I know it makes perfect sense. One box of frozen spinach goes a lot further than a bag of fresh spinach and it cuts the preparation time in half. The bottom line is you still get a healthful meal and sometimes for pennies less.

Remember the Five Fruit and Vegetable A Day Recommendation

Do you sometimes skip making meals with fruits and vegetables because you haven’t got time to clean, peel and cook them? If that’s the case then definitely opt for the frozen or canned varieties.

I’m Throwing Away the Veggies

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

Sometimes the Taste is Better

One vegetable I really prefer in the canned variety is asparagus. I don’t know why, but the fresh version just doesn’t impress me. And if you have children who are picky about eating their veggies, you can add a few canned vegetables to the odd dish or two without them even knowing. Even frozen mixed vegetables can be added to things like casseroles and soups and usually children won’t complain.

I Don’t Have Those Ingredients

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started to make a recipe and realized I don’t have a particular ingredient. One thing I always fall back on is my pantry supply of canned foods. Canned mushrooms is one that comes to mind. And in the middle of winter I always keep a couple of cans of peaches and cherries on hand.

Still Keep It Healthy
I do have one concern about canned foods and that’s their sodium and sugar content. For fruits I usually opt for the ones packed in their own juices and with beans and vegetables I make sure I give them a rinse with cold water. It won’t get rid of all the sodium but at least cuts down on some of it.

admin / April 20, 2011

Eggs, a wise choice for the Budget Smart Cook

I don’t have to look at the calendar to know it’s almost Easter. The supermarkets are full of eggs and not just the chocolate kind. Eggs are a bargain any time of the year but as we head into Easter Sunday, they’re one of the best deals out there. Here’s why eggs are always on my list of pantry staples-

Nutrition Powerhouses

When it comes to perfect nutrition eggs have just about everything. Protein, B vitamins, especially B12 and B2, vitamins A and D, iron, choline and phosphorus, And yes, they’re even low in calories too.

But wait a minute, aren’t they bad for me?

Not so long ago eggs… and excuse the pun, took a good beating from some bad press. We were told to avoid eggs because they weren’t good for us. Most of the criticism was because eggs contain cholesterol. While it’s true eggs do, the average size egg contains around 210 mg. However, it’s now believed that saturated fats play a bigger role in raising our cholesterol levels. And as eggs are low in saturated fat, they’ve been given a second chance.

If you do need to watch your cholesterol intake, or have any type of heart disease, then you definitely need to follow your doctor’s guidelines about egg consumption. But for others moderate egg consumption (which is considered one egg a day), shouldn’t be a problem. And another way to enjoy this low cost food without worrying about the cholesterol is to eat just egg whites.

A Best Buy Every Week of the Year
Eggs are just about one of the best buys in the supermarket. My local store often runs specials on eggs and I know most of the warehouse stores have some of the best deals in town.  I can often get two of three meals out of a dozen eggs and most of the time they cost around $2.69. sometimes less when they have a sale or they’re a coupon item at the supermarket.

Not Just for Breakfast

If you think eggs are just food for breakfast, you’re missing out on lots of options. I serve eggs any time of the day. One of my favorite lunches is a curried egg salad… chopped hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, mayonnaise and mango chutney. Serve it with pita bread and a side of fruit salad (kiwis, strawberries and grapes) and you’ve got a healthy and quick lunchtime treat. One of my favorite quick and easy dinner recipes is a frittata, eggs mixed with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, maybe some spinach, baked in the oven and top with cheese. Another one is egg and bean burritos, scrambled eggs; black beans and salsa rolled in a tortilla, and topped with chopped tomatoes and sour cream.

They Are Cook Friendly

Another great thing about eggs is no advanced cooking skills are needed. but I do have a few tricks I always rely on. I’ve tried lots of methods for hard boiling eggs for salads, but I’ve found this one yields the best results. Place the eggs in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover the eggs by at least one inch. Bring to a full boil, cook one minute, and then remove the pan from the heat. Put a lid on the saucepan and let the eggs stand for about 15 minutes. Drain them and then run cold water over the eggs, and let them stand for five minutes. Then you’re ready to peel them. With this method there are never any uncooked yolks or dark circles around the yolks.

One quick meal I love is a fried egg sandwich. I sometimes add a slice of cheese and I know some people like a couple of slices of bacon too.  Here’s a trick if you like fried eggs, but want to cut down on the fat. Dip a paper towel in some oil and gently wipe it across a skillet…a non-stick one works the best for this. Heat it until it’s really hot, crack the egg into the pan and reduce the heat down to low. Now cover the pan so the egg can be ‘steamed’. It takes about three to four minutes for soft cooked eggs, but if you want it sunny side up just flip the egg over and cook it for a few more minutes. It makes a great low calorie breakfast served on toast with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper and at a budget friendly price.

admin / April 15, 2011

Places to Sell Unwanted Items

I”m gearing up for a late spring/early summer garage sale. Yes, they’re a good way to get rid of unwanted stuff while making some extra money but there are online options too. Some places you can sell things like clothes and shoes, while other sites are strictly for swapping things like books and CDs. Either way you get money or stuff you really need while clearing out your closets.

Here are some sites I found that you might want to check out. I’ve not used all of them and as usual a word of caution, check out the rules, the terms and conditions before you do business on any site. I’ve been lucky so far. The only thing I’ve lost were points I traded in for some books that I never received.


I’ve been subscribing to this newsletter for a couple of years and if you’re going the selling route it has lots of helpful articles-

Auction Site

You’ve heard of eBay, this is also a bidding site-

 More Sites to Check Out-

Here are other sites I found and some don’t charge you for using them-,code,ab,ad,index

Unwanted Clothes, Shoes, Purses…

Here’s a site for fashions. I’ve listed items here and so far sold one. Once again no charge for buying or selling.

The Next Best Thing To a Garage Sale

I stumbled upon this site a few week’s ago and I haven’t used it yet but seriously thinking about listing some items there. Seems you utilize Facebook and Twitter to attract viewers-

Children’s Clothes and Toys

I don’t know a mom out there who doesn’t want to get rid of your children’s clothing at some point and this site helps you do just that-

Books and More

Once upon a time I let previously read books sit on the shelves. Not the smartest of things for an avid reader because you quickly run out of space. For the last three or more years I’ve been swapping and trading them on various sites. Here are some to check out-

Auction Tools

I’ve found the most time consuming thing is taking photos and then listing all the items but some sites have auction tools to speed up the process, here’s one I found-

You Don’t Have to Be A Seller

These sites are also a good way to pick a bargain or two. Just like new items it pays to do some reasearch. If I find something I’m interested in I’ll do a search online to see if other sites or buyers are offering it and check out the going price. Another thing, check out the seller’s feedback before you do business with them.

admin / April 13, 2011

April is Soyfoods Month

You know I often promote things like tofu as a low cost ingredient for meals. April is soyfoods month and the perfect time to give at least one soy food a try. The Soy Foods Council of America sent some information to pass along to you and also a couple of recipes to try. Before I get to that here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate soy food into meals and tips for using them-



Just in case you missed my tips for using tofu (which I know all by itself doesn’t look or taste that appetizing) is to freeze it for a few days. And then let it thaw for a few days before you intend to use it. Drain it well and either break it up into bite size pieces or cubes…in fact, some tofu is already cubed for you. The next trick is to marinade it for a few hours, longer if you can. The freezing gives it more texture and the marinade gives it lots of flavor. I use soy sauce, pepper and chopped garlic for most recipes.

Silk Soy Milk


I’m not a big fan of regular soy milk but the Silk brand…the vanilla is really good, is a favorite of mine. I’ve found it’s always on sale, has a long shelf life and makes desserts like rice and bread puddings that much creamier and richer tasting.

Ready Made Veggie Burgers

Another thing most of you already know is I always keep a package of veggie burgers…yes, they’re really soy burgers in the freezer for a quick meal. Some of my favorites are made by Morningstar Farms and Boco (there’s a $1 coupon on this site)

Web Site to Check Out

If you want to learn more about soyfoods, visit this site-

Tips and Recipes from The Fitness Gourmet

Here is some information and recipes I thought I’d pass along to you-

Soyfoods can be found in any grocery store and are an easy substitute for dairy or meat in favorite dishes. The Fitness Gourmet and certified nutritionist, Patricia Greenberg, suggests incorporating easy soyfoods into family meals for excellent nutrition and taste:

  • Healthier:  Children and adults across the US are selecting soyfoods daily to get high quality protein and numerous nutrients.  Soyfoods are not only low in fat and cholesterol and lactose-free but are also a great source of iron, calcium, fiber, vitamin B-12, magnesium and zinc.  
  • Quicker: Soy meat substitutes, such as soy ground and soy sausages cook up in a fraction of the time it takes for traditional meats.. They’re also ideal for pre-made meals and can be stored in the freezer or refrigerator for quick and easy meals later in the week.
  • Tastier: Soyfoods can easily replace or compliment traditional ingredients to make great tasting recipes

Shelled Edamame Chicken Stir Fry

  •         1 1/2 lbs chicken breast
  •         1 egg white
  •         1 tsp cornstarch
  •         1 tsp soy sauce
  •         Dash white pepper
  •         1 1/2 cups Sunrich Naturals Shelled Edamame
  •         1 medium onion
  •         3 cloves pressed garlic 
  •         1 sweet red pepper
  •         1 cup carrots – sliced
  •         1 tbsp cornstarch
  •         1 tbsp vegetable oil 
  •         2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
  •         2 tsp sesame oil 
  •         1/4 cup chicken broth

REMOVE bones from chicken, cut into small pieces. Mix egg white, 1 tsp soy sauce and white pepper in bowl. Stir in chicken. Marinate for 20 to 30 minutes.

CUT onion into small pieces. Cut up pepper and carrots.

HEAT wok. Add 2 tbsp vegetable oil, stir fry chicken until it turns white. Remove chicken. Add onions and garlic, stir-fry until light brown. Add chicken, Hoisin sauce and sesame oil; stir for one minute. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Add cornstarch and stir until thickened. Stir in Shelled Edamame, carrots and peppers. Steam for 3 minutes.

Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.

Macaroni Casserole

  •      1 cup chopped onion 
  •      1/4 cup chopped celery 
  •      1/3 carton (10 oz) Imagine® Natural Creamy Portobello Mushroom Soup 
  •      1/4 cup SOY DREAM® Enriched Original 
  •      1 tbsp dried parsley 
  •      1/4 tsp pepper 
  •      1 can (15 oz) soybeans, rinsed, drained & ground 
  •      2 cups dry macaroni, cooked 
  •      4 oz cheddar-style soy cheese, grated 

PREHEAT the oven to 350° F. Sauté onion and celery in a non-stick pan (add a little water if needed to prevent sticking). 

ADD soup, SOY DREAM, parsley and pepper. Mix well.

STIR in ground soybeans, cooked macaroni and half the soy cheese. Place in a lightly oiled 2-quart casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.

BAKE at 350° F for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and casserole is bubbly.

admin / April 11, 2011

The Blog-Cooking for the Month

One thing being busy teaches you is to be prepared. Last week I was really grateful that I’d planned ahead about what to make for dinner.  Some items I’ve been relying on when time’s been short are frozen vegetables and yes, I hate to admit this but one night I wanted to make mashed potatoes and couldn’t muster up the energy to peel them, wait for them to cook and then mash them. My answer, instant mashed pototoes. I always keep a few packets of the Idahoan brand in the pantry and have to say with some milk, pepper and butter or low fat spread added, they taste close to the real thing. A couple of other standbys have been veggie burgers and wholewheat rolls from the freezer. Combined with homemade oven fries and it’s a quick and easy meal.

Some articles of interest-

Spring cleaning that pays you, well sort of-

Some freebies-

This week on Budget Smart Girl-the spring cleaning article got me thinking about ways you can sell and swap items you no longer need. And April is soyfoods month, recipes and ideas for meals.

Have a good week.

admin / April 8, 2011

Earth Day-Go Green…Save Green

 I have to admit when it was still considered a bit quirky to be ‘green’ I was keen to do my part to help the environment. Things like recycling bottles and magazines, buying recycled paper, composting yard waste, walking and riding my bike instead of driving to the local store. Although my main motive wasn’t to save money, when I think back these are all ways that I probably did manage to keep more money in my purse. Here are some ways you can go green and save green at the same time-

Free Exercise

Maybe a pricey health club membership is out of your reach right now, but there’s something that’s free and can really keep you in shape, and that’s taking a walk. It also makes the ideal free activity the whole family can do together. Daylight Savings is already kicked in and with warmer weather on the horizon; it’s the perfect summer workout. And as it looks like the price of gas isn’t going to tumble anytime soon, why not dust off the bike, tune it up and head out for a ride.

Another Person’s Treasure

How many times do you get tired of something and toss it into the trash? Okay, I’ve been guilty of this one more times than I care to admit to. But you’ve got some other options. Either sell it and make yourself some pocket money. Donate it to charity and take a tax deduction. If you really want to get rid of it, why not put a sign on it saying it’s free and leave it at the end of your driveway.

Paint Recycling

The area where I live has a center where you can take items like paint, vanish etc. to prevent them getting into landfills and contaminating the water supply. It’s not only a free way to rid yourself of some leftover paint but they also have a section that houses full cans of paint people have turned in for one reason or another. Some of the colors might be a bit wild, which is probably why they found themselves there in the first place, but if you’re in the mood to try a new color for free, check if your area has one of these centers.

Leave the Room, Turn it Off

How many times do you leave a room and forget to turn off the light or TV knowing you won’t be returning there for an hour or more? Or do you leave the cord you recharge your cell phone or laptop with, in the outlet all the time? If you really want to know what appliances are taking the most electricity I found this neat little item in the Real Goods catalog called Kill-a-Watt  from

Rechargeable Batteries

I’m gradually making the switch to rechargeable batteries and like many ways to go green, the intial investment is high but then the savings kick in later.

Rethink and Reuse It

I always look for ways to use leftover containers and boxes. Things like oatmeal containers and pasta sauce jars are perfect for organizing everything from the pantry to your craft supplies.

Recycle Bank

Where I live when we recycle we get points that we can trade in for coupons and gift cards. Check if your local area has a similar program

Neighborhood Swap

And here’s something more people are doing, swapping unwanted items with neighbors and friends. A great way to keep things out of the landfill while getting something you need.

Some Web Sites of Interest

I found these Web sites you might like to check out the ecomall has links to just about anything related to things like organics, recycling and products that can help save the plant and your budget.

admin / April 6, 2011

Ten Ways to Eat Organic Foods on a Budget

I have to say if I had my preference I’d opt to buy organic produce but sometimes the prices are twice as much as the regular variety. However, I have found some ways that you can buy organic foods even when you’re watching your money.

Local Farmer’s Market

Spring is here and summer’s just around the corner which means more farmer’s markets setting up shop for the year. These venues are some of the best places to buy organic produce and even other organic food items like honey. Best thing is the vendors are willing to give you a deal and you can buy in bulk and save more money.

Community Supported Agriculture

For an investment to a local organic farm you get produce delivered every week or biweekly. Check out

Bagged Produce

I’ve found that companies who sell organic foods in bags tend to offer better deals for  things like apples and kiwis.

Warehouse Stores

I used to have a membership at Costco and when I did one thing I really liked was the variety and price of their organic foods. Everything from field greens to apple juice.

Pick Your Own Farms

You’ll have to wait unti almost the end of summer to take advantage of this one but head to one of your local pick your own farms. You’ll sometimes find organic produce like strawberries and raspberries at lower prices because you do some of the work.


Supermarkets aren’t the only places to buy organic foods. I’ve found some good deals at places like Vitacost and Amazon

Supermarket Brands

The store where I do the bulk of my grocery shopping has its own brand of organic foods. They taste great and sometimes aren’t that more expensive than their regular items. Everything from pizza to pasta sauce.

Grow Your Own

One of the cheapest ways to afford organic foods is to grow your own. Last year I grew organic peppers and tomatoes. You can either start them from seed or buy the plants. Two companies to check out are and But just about every DIY store now sells organic seeds and the prices aren’t as high as they were a few years ago.


One reason I take a trip to the local co-op is because of the great choice of organic foods. Something always seems to be on sale and once again if opt for bagged produce like apples and pears you can net a great bargain.

Bulk Bins

Head to the bulk bin section of the supermarket and you can always find some organic items for half the cost. Some of my favorites are organic oatmeal, beans and dried fruits.

Check out the new Budget Smart Girl Store Dismiss