Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some tips to save money shopping for organic food

The more we hear about our food and the entire food production industry, the more a lot of us start to get scared. Buying more organic food is a great option to protect both your family's health and the health of the planet, but it can be very expensive. It is, however, very possible to eat more organic food without breaking the budget by implementing some simple (and some less simple) strategies.

  • Eat less meat and dairy. Probably the easiest way to save money shopping for organic food is to eat less meat and dairy - a proposition that isn't very appealing to most people. Meat and dairy, however, have some of the highest concentrations of any food we buy, and also tend to have the biggest price differential between conventional and organic. It doesn't make sense to feed your family organic carrots and conventional hamburgers, but it also isn't viable for many families to eat organic, grass fed beef every night. The best thing to do is to shoot for a balance. Consider having more meatless meals, so that you can afford to splurge on the organic stuff when you do eat meat, or at least to switch one meat meal a month to organic.

  • Join a CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where customers by a "share" in a farm's produce for a season. Members pay upfront, giving farmers much needed startup capital, and in turn often get first pick of the produce for the rest of the season. This can be (although isn't always) the most affordable way to buy local, organic food. Check out Local Harvest to see if there is a CSA in your area.

  • Look beyond Whole Paycheck. Most local grocery stores, and even Walmart, offer organic food these days. Ethical issues aside, shopping at these larger stores can be a great way to save money while still getting organic.

  • Buy in bulk. Natural food stores and some grocery stores often have bulk bins for grains, fruit, and some other products. Generally this is less expensive than buying the same organic products pre-packaged.

  • Cook more from scratch. While organic Oreos or organic mac and cheese can be very appealing, try to focus on buying whole, unprocessed organic products and creating your own meals from them. This will save you money and be healthier (and probably more fun!)

  • Use coupons. Whether or not you are a coupon queen, you can probably benefit from organic food coupons. Because organic food companies tend to be smaller, they don't often have coupons in the Sunday paper because they are very pricey to run. About Frugal Living has a great list of organic coupons that you can print or request online, but go ahead and try emailing any organic company you enjoy. The smaller companies are much more likely to mail coupons directly to you if you ask for them. Also, Go organic for Earth Day and Mambo Sprouts both offer booklets with coupons for a number of different brands of organic food.

  • Focus your organic dollars. If you have read much about organic food, you've probably heard of the dirty dozen, the twelve most pesticide-ridden products. If you can't afford to buy everything organic, focus on them. Also, consider changing your eating patterns. Some foods are much less expensive in their organic form than others. Eating more carrots and fewer apples, for example, could save you a ton of money.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Enjoying what you have

My apartment complex has a pool. Until fairly recently, I have looked at it longingly but used it only rarely, even when I was only working 5-7 hours a week. Why? Because I always felt like if I didn't have a long stretch of time to devote to "going to the pool," then it wasn't worth it. Then one day I realized, all I need to do is put on a bathing suit, and walk out to the pool. Even if I only have half an hour, I have time to go put my feet in the water or sit on the steps for a little while, and still change back into my regular clothes.

This made me think about all the other things that I have that I don't use regularly.

My video games, particularly Wii Fit which I used to really love
My DVR/free cinemax, with which I could record lots of movies to watch while I write or fold laundry
My books, which should be passed on to someone else if I don't want to read them again
My digital camera, with which I could create art
My fabric, yarn, etc
My kitchen and baking supplies

And I'm sure there are many more things. I tend to get overwhelmed by any relatively large project and so just leave things to do "later." But no more. I'm going to start pulling things out that I have and haven't enjoyed in a while and really make good use of them. And I'm going to go to the pool.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Do good: Plant some trees for free

Register at Cool Tribe and complete your profile, and they will plant a tree on your behalf.

Sign up for the Celestial Seasonings newsletter, and they will plant a tree.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Taking Care of Yourself is Frugal

On Friday, I wrote about Frugal ways to pamper yourself, but today I'm going to get a little more philosophical. A lot of frugal folks, particularly women, don't want to spend any money or time taking care of themselves. I know this because this is a trap I fall into when I start to get stressed or anxious about money. There are a lot of good reasons, though, why taking care of yourself is a very frugal thing to do.

Taking care of yourself saves money on healthcare. There are some obvious ways in which taking care of yourself saves money on healthcare: wearing sunscreen and taking care of your teeth, for example, are no brainers. There are other ways that spending some time on yourself can help though. Getting enough sleep and exercise, drinking water, and learning to manage your stress all improve your overall health. A little time now can keep you from getting sick and being totally out of commission later.

Taking care of yourself prevents impulse spending. For a number of reasons, when you feel taken care of you are much less likely to shop. First, if all you do is scrimp and save, sooner or later you'll burn out and have an "I deserve this" moment, which can cost quite a bit depending on what it is that you want. If you work little pleasures into your daily life, this is much less likely to hit you. Second, you'll be happier and therefore less likely to go shopping as a means of therapy. Finally, you'll discover how the things that you already have can bring you joy and won't really want as many other things.

Taking care of yourself helps you enjoy life more. It's hard to remember what you're saving for after a while if it's all business. Being sure to take good care of yourself will help you maintain a positive outlook on things. This can keep you focused on your frugal choices, and help to make them permanent.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

15 Frugal Ways to Pamper yourself this summer

1. Read a good book. There's nothing good on TV anyway, so curl up in the evening with a good junk-food type novel that is purely for enjoyment. Or sit on your porch or by the pool in the middle of the afternoon and soak up some vitamin D while you read.

2. Pull out all the bottles of various bath and body stuff that gets buried in your closets and use it.

3. Take a nap. In the middle of the day. You know you want to.

4. Find a local winery and see if they have free tastings. Grab your honey or your friends and go spend a frugal and extravagant afternoon.

5. Go to the pool/lake/beach/park, or whatever you can visit inexpensively in your area, and pretend you're on vacation.

6. Serve sandwiches for dinner. Or a cheese plate and fruit. Anything that saves you time, keeps your house cool, and is fun to eat.

7. Go to the bookstore and browse the books or magazines. Spend an hour in a comfortable chair reading a book, while your children and honey (if you have them) do their own browsing. Watch for free coffee coupons to make this even better.

8. Three words: Starbucks ice cream

9. Put on some music and dance. Research shows that dancing is one of the top two things that really make people happy.

10. Have a cup of tea in your nicest tea cup or a glass of lemonade in your prettiest stem glass.

11. Find some free yoga videos online and get your ohmmmm on.

12. Don't forget to play. Whether or not you have kids, schedule in some time to play a board game or throw a ball or frisbee around.

13. Take a walk. It's 104 degrees out here, so I tend to skip this one, but once it cools down, a walk really calms my mind.

13. Find your favorite "guilty pleasure" TV shows on hulu and watch them while dinner cooks or you fold the laundry (Gilmore girls is on if anyone shares my preferences ;) )

14. Pull out some stationery you like and write a nice letter.

15. Put cucumber slices or mint leaves in your water, soak your feet in any old basin, and rub some kind of a mask (storebought or homemade with wacky grocery ingredients) into your face, and pretend you are at a spa.

For more great ideas, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom

Uncertainty and money

It's been a while since I've moved into a stage of my life categorized so completely by uncertainty. I remember a time when I reveled in it, when quitting my job and moving across the country felt like an adventure. I know that I had some money anxiety then, but it seemed to be par for the course, and so I just accepted it.

I don't feel that way now. My husband is graduating and we're moving to a new state (our third!). In a lot of ways that is very good for our financial state and our cash flow, and really I am so over this grad student's wife thing. On the other hand, there's a lot of uncertainty associated with it.

We're not sure exactly when we're moving. Since I already quit my job, this might be a bit of a problem. We've never gotten by on just hubby's stipend before, and even though it will be higher as a post-doc, it might get tighter than it's been in a long time.

We're not sure exactly where to move to. The city where we will be living is a rather large one, with a number of different neighborhoods, and as much as we're trying to do apartment research online, it's hard to tell what the right place to be looking is until we can actually get up there (and again, we don't know exactly when that will happen).

I don't know exactly what I'm going to do. I've been a teacher for so long, and we'll be getting up there after the school year starts, so I don't know whether to plan to just substitute, look for another job, or just stay home and "keep house."

We dont' know how much money we'll net. Hubby's salary is a whole new thing for us, and will put us in a tax bracket we've never dreamed of, so it's hard to tell how much of it we'll actually see.

We don't know how much things will cost. It seems likely that the cost of living will be higher, so it's hard to make budgets.

I know this is a good thing in my life, but I just feel so completely unsure of anything right now. I don't know where to begin.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do good: Do Something 101

Staples is partnering with Do Something, an organization which promotes teen volunteering to sponsor Do Something 101, a nationwide school supply drive. According to Money Saving Mom, there are lots of free or cheap school supplies at CVS this week. It seems like a great and inexpensive way to make a difference in a child's life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Frugal Friday - Shredded Meat

This may seem like an obvious tip to many more seasoned cooks, but it was a new one to me: if you want your meat to go further, shred it.

I discovered this one kind of by accident. I was making chicken tacos for dinner, and I threw two chicken breasts in the crockpot with some liquid and seasoning. I came home, pulled out the chicken, shredded it with two forks and served it with tortillas, cheese and salsa for a really simple weeknight meal. It was then that I noticed the magic of it.

We had leftovers. A lot of leftovers.

Huh? Two chicken breasts is usually my pre-portioned meal for the two of us. When I serve it whole, we each eat an entire chicken breast, easily. But shredded, we had only eaten about half of it.

Curious to repeat, I threw some pork chops in the crockpot with bbq sauce the next week, and yup! We ate less of that too!

The key, it seems, is perception. One chicken breast on a plate seems like an appropriate amount of food, so we eat it. When the meat is shredded, though, our eyes serve as less of a guide than our stomachs and so we eat only as much as we actually want. I've since done similar things by slicing steaks or slicing chicken breasts in half, and have found it to be a universal in my house that when the food is in smaller pieces we eat less of it.

Since meat is one of the more expensive parts of our food budget, this is a great way to make it stretch!

For more tips, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I want to be a domestic goddess

So, I've been spending an awful lot of time at home, and I've noticed that the things that I expected to take up almost all of my time - cooking and cleaning - well, aren't. When my house was a disaster I could spend the entire day cleaning it just to make some progress, but after a month or so of keeping up with it I realized it only takes a few minutes to keep it clean. My meal prep and planning is also a cinch, since I'm still making huge one-pot or one-dish meals with planned leftovers like I did when I was working. The first couple weeks I spent some of the extra time baking, but we can only eat so much bread and brownies before that starts to seem like a bad idea.

So, what exactly is it I should be doing with my time? I'm still only working part time, about 9 hours a week, and have the rest of the time to work on managing our money, improving our home, and . . . I don't even know what else people do. I wanted to take part of this summer to learn some new domestic skills, grandmother skills as I like to think of them, but I don't know what to learn or where to look. So, dear reader, I pose this question to you. What domestic skills are essential, and what are nice to have? Gourmet cooking? Decorating? Crafting? Ironing? (Please don't say ironing, please dont' say ironing, lol)

All comments are welcome!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5 ways to earn some green by being green

As most of you know, I'm a pretty firm believer in helping the environment while saving money, and I've written about plenty of ways to do that (buy less stuff, use all of what you have, drive less and drive smart, turn off the lights, etc). Since I am currently jobless with no prospects in sight, I thought I'd come up with a few ways to help the environment while making a little extra money.

1. Write about it. On a blog with ads, or on a site that pays for content like Associated Content or Squidoo get on your soapbox and shout to the world about your favorite environmental issues.

2. Earn some quick online money. My new favorite site Planetup lets you earn 1 penny, donate 1 penny to charity, and offset about 8 pounds of carbon through their partners for every short (less than one minute) video that you watch. Planetup also has a great link exchange program which just started so you can offset some carbon while promoting your favorite online projects. Also if you like taking surveys, Hotspex will plant a tree for every survey you take, while earning you points that can be exchanged for frequent flier miles or gift cards.

3. Sell your stuff. It's amazing what people will buy on craigslist, so before you throw something out, try listing it. If nothing else, someone will take it free to haul and you'll keep it out of a landfill. I also like to sell books to used bookstores. I know I could get more money selling them individually online, but sometimes it's not worth the extra hassle for a few paperbacks. Plus I like to support those stores, since their business model is very environmentally friendly. I recently even discovered that my local used bookstore would buy magazines, earning me a few cents for something I would definitely throw in the trash otherwise.

4. Recycle. I will be honest and say that I have never exchanged cans for cash, although my high school marching band and childhood girl scout troop both collected them as fund raisers. I have been led to believe it's fairly easy though. To make it even easier, my parents' hometown has decided to encourage recycling by giving out recycle cans with a microchip that calculates the weight of the products you're recycling and earns you CVS extracare bucks. Cool!

5. Adopt a highway. This one is mostly for groups looking for a fundraiser, but many communities will pay groups to clean a stretch of highway. It's like a service project and fundraiser in one!

Anyone have any other ways to earn green will being green?