Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hooray for CSA!

I love Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). My dad and stepmom gave my husband and I a CSA basket for my birthday, and it's honestly one of the best presents I've ever received! What is a CSA? It's essentially a "subscription" to a local farm for a certain amount of food/certain amount of time. In general, it's probably a bit more expensive than buying your groceries at the supermarket UNLESS you want to make the move to eat organic-only produce. In my small basket (which feeds a family of 2), I got all of this:

4 tangelos

2 avocados

1 pint of strawberres

1 pound of sugar snap peas

1 bunch arugula

1 pound carrots

1 cucumber

3 tomatoes

1 onion

4 Braeburn apples

3 kiwi

1 mango

8 potatoes

For $27...after comparing prices online for the same organic food, I estimated the savings to be between $5-$12.

There are definitely a few drawbacks of CSAs - you have certain times/places you can pick up your basket, and it might take some tweaking of your schedule. Also, you may not like certain fruits or veggies that come in your basket. Some places (like my CSA) lets you substitute up to 3 items per week. For instance, I was supposed to get radishes last week...and I was not too keen on that. So, I substituted a mango instead! Excellent trade!

But I think the plusses far outweigh the minuses...first, you get excellent, farm-fresh organic produce most likely cheaper than what you'd pay for it at the store. Also, you get to be in touch with your food. A lot of farms who sponsor CSAs have days when you can come visit the farm! You get to try fruits and vegetables you are normally afraid of trying - you might find you really love kale! They even give you recipes to show you how to incorporate all the food you have. And CSAs are good for keeping small farms in business, and cutting down on the costs of energy due to food transportation. The less it takes to get to you, the better it is for our environment.

If you're in Washington or Alaska, I definitely encourage you to check out Full Circle Farm. They have a ton of pickup locations and are very flexible with makeup dates and food substitutions. Go to www.fullcirclefarm.com for more information.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Thursdays

Today is Thursday - most of you are aware of this. But most of you probably like Thursday because a) it's the day before Friday or b) because there's awesome TV on. However, I like Thursday because many cities offer FREE things to do on Thursdays.

First Thursday is a FREE art and culture event that many cities have to raise citizens' awareness of the arts in their communities. I did a quick search and found events happening in Santa Barbara to Portland to Boise to Austin. They happen in many cities across the U.S. and take different forms. Some cities do a gallery in a public place, some people bring in live music, some cities offer free admission to art museums. If you're interested in a free event that exposes you to new cultural things, I'd recommend doing a little research.

Here in Western Washington, lots of great things happen on First Thursdays! In Seattle, Pioneer Square hosts a free art walk, and there's free admission to great museums: the Experience Music Project, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Science Fiction Museum. In Tacoma, they have THIRD Thursday events, like free admission to the Museum of Glass and Tacoma Art Museum.

Here's to free access to art and culture (at least once a month)!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why crockpots rule

So as a child my mom would occasionally use a crockpot to make a stew. It wasn't until recently that I realized just how versatile a crockpot was. You can make anything in them from soups, to stews, to dips and lasagna. Amazing.

Where does the savings come in you ask? Well in a few ways. First of all you can dump the ingredients into a crock pot in the morning and it's all ready when you come home in the evening. This makes it much harder to rationalize going out to dinner because you are too tired to cook.

Also you can use much cheaper cuts of meat in the crockpot and by the time they are finished cooking they are literally falling off of the bone.

Personally I prefer to use the crockpot to cook a roast or whole chicken instead of the ones that involve several ingredients because well, I'm lazy.

You don't need a recipe for these. Simply add 2-4 cups of liquid either water or broth and put in your meat. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. It is really impossible to over cook. Most crock pots have a "warm" feature that will keep your food hot, but stop cooking it. Very helpful if you will be away from home longer than the recipe takes to cook.

For some awesome recipes and more details about crockpot cooking check-out http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Save Green by Being Green

Green - it's definitely been a popular term for awhile. Buying all-organic, free-range, pesticide-free, chemical-free...it can be spendy trying to do better things for our environment. So here are some inexpensive ways to go green and save some money:

  • Use a reusable bag to do your shopping. Most grocery and retail stores are selling them now for pretty cheap prices. When you do your grocery shopping, most stores take a 3-5 cent deduction for every reusable bag you bring. I keep 2 bags in my car, so I always have them on hand if I have to pick up a few things from the store. One reusable bag will keep hundreds of plastic bags from being used (fact: the petroleum used to make 18 plastic bags could drive a car for one mile). Basically, you're doing a great thing for the earth, but saving yourself a few cents every time you shop. It adds up!
  • Get compact fluorescent light bulbs - these energy efficient light bulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than traditional bulbs. They are a little more expensive than other light bulbs, but pay for themselves in energy savings in about 6 months. If you wanted to know more about how to use CFLs or what makes them different, go to: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls
  • Switch to eco-friendly cleaning products. These can definitely be expensive...what I tend to do is buy one regular sized container of, say, dish soap. After that, I buy my products in the largest sizes (cheaper by unit pricing) or in bulk at Costco. The Kirkland brand "green" cleaning products are very good. You can also make a lot of cleaning products with items you have around your house. Start using old dryer sheets to dust instead of buying specific dusting cloths. You can mix equal parts white wine vinegar and vegetable oil to clean wood floors. Find more homemade green cleaning solutions at: http://www.sideroad.com/Budgeting/homemade-cleaners.html
How many of you have "green"-ed your routine? What changes did you make?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saving Money and Helping Others

Recently I found a great way to save money and still help others at FareStart Guest Chef Night.

For those of you who aren't familiar, FareStart is a job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals. Over the past 17 years, FareStart has provided opportunities for over 3,000 people to transform their lives, while also serving over 3.5 million meals to disadvantaged men, women, and children.

Every Thursday night, a different Guest Chef works with the students to prepare a three-course meal. It's only $24.95 and all of the proceeds go to FareStart. Upcoming chefs participating include Chef Jason Wilson from Crush, Chef Eric Hellner from Elliot's Oyster House and Chef Christopher Peterson from Bis on Main.

This is a wonderful way to try some of Seattle's best restaurants on a budget and a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary without breaking the bank.

For a full list of upcoming chefs, their menus and to make reservations go to: http://www.farestart.org/restaurant/guestchef/calendar/index.html.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Having Fun on a Tiny Budget? It's Possible!

I think one of the worst things about making more with less is the lack of discretionary income to go and have a drink with your friends, or go to see a movie, or buy that new book. Guess what? You still can do all those things - just make more conscious choices and you might even have more fun than you did before! Here are a few of my tips to still have fun with little to no dough:

1) The library - in my opinion, one of the foundations of a flourishing community. Libraries are the best, and if your library card has been gathering dust since you graduated from school, it is definitely time to dust it off. Anything you'd ever want to read is available, plus you can check out movies and magazines too! FOR FREE! You may have to wait a little bit for exactly what you want, but patience is a virtue, right? Most libraries I know of have online systems where you can check out books, and when it arrives at your branch of choice, they email you when it's available! Check out your city/county library system, and I bet they offer a ton of other entertainment options, like free internet, book clubs, classes, readings and more! If you're not into renting books or DVDs....

2) Bookins.com - this is basically a trading site for DVDs and books that you no longer want, and you keep whatever you like. You enter everything you'd like to trade, mark everything you'd like, and they take care of the rest. All you pay is a flat rate of $4.49 per item. It is a really good way to sell all those copies of "Gigli" you have...but why would you want to do that?

3) Half-priced websites - try searching "half-priced, city name" and I bet you'll find a few sites that sell gift certificates to local restaurants, spas, stores, and more. This is really popular on radio and TV station websites. You can buy a $50 gift card for $25! You still get to order the exact same thing on the menu since it's a gift card, and there are no other restrictions! Great way to save some big bucks and try new restaurants in your area! Just keep checking for things because items can sell out quickly, but are usually refreshed weekly with new places!

4) Netflix - yes, I know you are aware of Netflix, but if you're into renting movies (and if you're into saving money, you are more likely renting movies than going to the theater), you should definitely do it. You can start at $5/month for 1 DVD at a time, which is essentially what you'd pay each time you rent a movie at the store, but you have unlimited time and you just drop it in the mail when you're done. If you rented 2 movies a week, you could save over $30/month - that's over $360/year!

5) Make-Your-Own-Take-Out - if you are not into cooking, I'm sure this does not sound like a way to have fun. However, if you like to be adventurous in the kitchen, this is a great way to save on restaurant bills, delivery charges, tips, etc. Almost anything you love in a restaurant can be made at home for a fraction of the cost. Just search for, say, Outback's Bloomin' Onion (delicious). Although you may have to have a deep fryer...some recipe is out there. Invite some friends over, have some cheap wine - voila! An entertaining evening! You'd probably have more fun in the comfort of your own home than going out anyway, right?

Anything I missed? How do you save money when you're having fun?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day Freebies

Well, it's April 15th - Tax Day. Congratulations to all of my friends in accounting! But I thought I'd pass on some tips for free food to ease tax time for all of us:

1) Taco Del Mar - free taco today! You have to go to their website, click on Free Taco link, give them your email address, and print your 1099 Free Taco Form. A little bit of work, but perhaps worth it for a free dinner!

2) Cinnabon - free Cinnabites from 5-8 PM at participating Cinnabon locations!

3) Dunkin Donuts - free donut with the purchase of any size coffee!

I went to the company websites to check it out, and Dunkin Donuts was the only one not advertising the free donut. But everything else checked out! Happy Tax Day and bon appetit!

Why I love Podcasts

I love podcasts, because they are FREE and there are so many of them that I never run out of stuff to listen to. But, I'm finding that several people I talk to about podcasts really have no idea what they are or how to access them.

So here's my basic, not very technical explanation. A podcast is an audio or video digital file. You download them via iTunes or Zune Marketplace just like you would a song or tv show. Except they are FREE.

Podcasts are recorded regularly, usually once a week or even some once a day. You can subscribe to podcasts and iTunes or Zune Marketplace will automatically download it into your library for you. When you sync your device they will automatically sync as well. That way you make sure not to miss a single one.

So what kind of podcasts are out there??? The answer there is something for everyone, from knitting to humor to news to cooking and entertainment there are countless options. Literally thousands.

Also how long are podcasts? They can be anywhere from 1-2 minutes up to an hour or more. Popular tv shows like The Soup will have a 2 minute video clip, while NPR and other radio stations will have entire radio shows available. Of course there is plenty original content available, such as Adam Carolla whose show is now exclusively available via podcast.

Podcasts are perfect for riding the bus or train. Also they are great to hook up to your computer speakers and listen to while preparing dinner or cleaning the house. I even enjoy listening to them on long runs.

My favorite is The Splendid Table. It's called "The show for people who love to eat." They explore the history of various foods and explore cuisine all over the world. I learn a lot and am always inspired for a new dinner.

If you have a favorite podcast, please share in the comments below.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Budgeting - Not a Dirty Word

Hi everyone,

Obviously, the current economic situation has made us all pause for the cause and re-evaluate if we are spending our money wisely. Maybe not even that, but how many of you have ever looked at your W-2 at the end of the year and asked "Where did all of my money go?". The solution: set up a budget. Now, I think what that initially says to people is CUT BACK. But the word "budget" is actually defined as an itemized allotment of funds for a given period. There, that's not so bad, is it? Basically, having an idea in your head about how much you want to spend is essential to keeping all of your financial ducks in a row.

Some advice I've heard is to keep ALL of your receipts for a month - even if it's a quick coffee run or an unexpected car maintenance bill, keep it all. Then, you can see your spending patterns for a considerable amount of time. This seemed like a little bit of a hassle to me. I didn't want to be that person with a huge stack of strips of paper in my purse. Like there's even room in there anyway. Plus, it's not exactly the most eco-friendly solution to opt to get receipts if you don't have to. Enter my favorite tool in my budgeting bag o' tricks: mint.com.

Mint is a FREE (always a good price, but especially in a recession) expense tracking website. You can input your bank accounts, credit cards, auto and personal loans, and retirement accounts and monitor them at the same time. Then it automatically categorizes items that you're spending money on as "food" or "entertainment" or "gas". At the end of every week, it emails you a report of income, expenses, and upcoming bill due dates. Normally, you'd have to pay someone to do that. On top of all of that, it even searches for deals for you when it comes to interest rates on other credit cards, or banks offering better rates on car loans. AMAZING and way easier than doing all that work yourself with hundreds of receipts. Don't worry - Mint is not a sponsor. I've been using it for 2 years and it has revolutionized the way I look at my spending. I have since realized I spent way too much on coffee per month (uh huh - it definitely adds up), and not enough on saving for emergencies.

Budgeting - not a dirty word. Instead, it's the first step in a long and happy relationship with your money.

Living up Leftovers

I get really tired of eating the same dinner two nights in row, but I find that each dinner I make has plenty of servings so it wouldn't be very cost effective to just throw them away. So here's the solution I've come up, meal plan to use your leftovers in a different way so it's like a whole new meal. I find this works best with a large pieces of meat like a roast or whole chicken, which are perfect for the crockpot (but that's a whole post in and of itself). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Use leftover corned beef and cabbage for Reuben sandwiches.

  • Make a whole roasted chicken and shred leftover chicken for tacos, salads or burritos. Also you can use to make a great chicken noodle soup.

  • Roast Beef. Use leftover roast for french dip sandwiches.

  • Use leftover meatloaf (yes I eat it and love it) for meat in pasta sauce.


Dear Readers,

Welcome to "Lean with Green!" We're just two twenty somethings trying to navigate our way through this recession, save some money and have a good time doing it. We're not pretending to be financial advisors, but these are helpful tips, advice, etc., that have helped us make more with less and still have fun.

We hope you'll share your fantastically frugal tips with us at leanwithgreen@gmail.com.

Happy Saving!
BudgetBabe and Frugal Femme