Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review: "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget"

I told you all last week I'd give you a review of "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget" - it's a book written by the contributors to WiseBread, a financial blog. So far, I love it! They have so many useful suggestions of doing creative things to save lots of money! I think one of my favorite suggestions so far is putting leftover coffee from your morning pot in ice cube trays, freezing them, and them blending them to make a frozen coffee drink. That will be great, especially now since summer is just around the corner! Another use of leftover coffee - put it in the refrigerator for iced coffee! Iced coffee is a popular choice at neighborhood coffee shops, and if you'd rather save your $3, just use what you may have dumped down the drain and get a refreshing iced coffee. Great idea, WiseBread! Go to their website or buy their book for more great ideas!However, sometimes you feel like you want to go out and get that cafe experience. It's definitely a ritual I love - going to coffee shops with friends, walking down the street from work after a tough meeting and relaxing with a latte...I love the idea of going to a coffee shop. Instead of a $3.50 latte, I've switched to an iced coffee with milk. At under $2 for a 16 oz in most coffee shops, it's refreshing, energizing and you don't feel like you're going without. Next time you need that escape, try it!
Oh, and did anyone catch "Un-Broke" on ABC on Friday? I'd love to hear what you thought about it! It didn't really talk about much that I didn't already know, but then again, I think I like learning and talking about money more than most people. It did have a really helpful unit on stocks and bonds (taught by the e-Trade babies). And I love that talking about money is prime-time on a major network, not just relegated to CNBC!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Un-Broke" - Celebritizing Financial Literacy

As I was programming my DVR to tape "The Soup", I came across a special on ABC called "Un-Broke". Intrigued, I looked it up on and found that it is a financial literacy special featuring celebrities like Rosario Dawson, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Christian Slater, Seth Green and more to talk about financial literacy and making it sexy and funny! It looks awesome! Here's a clip of Christian Slater talking about the value of a 401K...

Tune into ABC on this Friday, May 29th at 9 PM!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Avoid These Foods and Your Pet Avoids a Trip to the Vet

I'm not about to tell you how having an animal will save you money. They are black holes for your bank account - you get an animal and all of a sudden, you're buying toys, beds, food, maybe clothing... Your money evaporates. I WILL tell you that getting a dog has been something that has probably made me healthier (I have to go out and walk my dog every day, even when it's raining and cold) and infinitely happier. If you weigh those options, getting a pet is an investment in your physical and emotional well-being.

My dog Gracie has had a rough time with the vet - when we got her, she had mange (gross) and patellar luxation, a genetic defect that caused her to essentially dislocate her left hind leg when she ran. This was all before she was 1 year old. So we decided to invest in pet insurance, and it's definitely been a smart choice. It helped with Gracie's leg surgery and other things that have popped up. If you don't have pet insurance, I'd definitely do some research and consider how often you frequent the vet (ours know us by first name). But regardless of if you do or don't have insurance, everyone wants their animal to be happy and healthy. Here are the top 10 foods all you dog owners should avoid, courtesy of Michelle Johnson, an animal care expert, via :

1. Chocolate - To dogs, chocolate acts as a stimulant, making your dog's heartbeat accelerate or beat irregularly, leading to seizures and even cardiac arrest. To compound things further, it also acts as a severe diuretic, causing frequent urination, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. If you even suspect your dog has consumed chocolate, take him to an animal hospital immediately.

2. Grapes and Raisins - Grapes and raisins create havoc with your dog's kidneys and digestive system. What's worse is that the amount of grapes needed to cause problems can vary greatly among individual dogs. Symptoms include frequent urination, vomiting, and diarrhea.

3. Onions - Onions cause the breakdown of a dog's red blood cells, which deprives his cells of much-needed oxygen. If you're in the habit of feeding your dog table scraps, make sure the dish was not prepared with onions, as the effects can be cumulative over a period of time. Symptoms can vary greatly, ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to loss of appetite, fever, or exhaustion.

4. Macadamia Nuts - While the exact chemical compound is still unknown, even a small amount of macadamia nuts can cause fever, irregular heartbeat, seizures, or mild paralysis.

5. Alcoholic Beverages - Dogs' physiologies are not equipped to handle alcohol consumption. They are extremely susceptible to alcohol poisoning, and even small amounts can lead to digestive problems or even death.

6. Bread Dough - Because it is soft, dogs will often swallow the dough without chewing it. When the dough hits your dog's stomach, his body heat will cause the dough to rise inside his stomach. This rising action can cause bloating or vomiting. To compound things further, the rising action creates alcohol as a by-product, and your dog may experience the symptoms listed in the previous paragraph.

7. Caffeinated Beverages - Similar to the effects of chocolate, caffeine is a stimulant and can negatively impact your dog's heart rate, causing seizures or heart attacks.

8. Avocados- Avocados are toxic to many animals. The offensive chemical damages heart, lung, and other essential tissues. Be aware since guacamole's main ingredient is avocado, that you keep any such dips well out of your dog's reach.

9. Pitted Fruits - (Peaches, Pears, Cherries, and Apricots) The pits of these fruits contain small doses of cyanide, which can be fatal to smaller dogs. Also, if the pit is swallowed whole, it may become lodged in the intestinal tract, where the blockage will have to be surgically removed.

10. Raw Fish - Raw fish, especially salmon, can contain parasites, usually fluke larvae. The dog consumes the fish, and the larvae hatch in your dog's digestive tract, attaching themselves to his intestinal walls. Symptoms can take up to a week to exhibit and usually mimic other canine diseases, such as distemper or parvovirus. The hazard here is misdiagnosis by the veterinarian, leading to an improper or ineffective treatment. If you choose to feed your dog fish, be sure to cook it thoroughly to kill any bad critters that could be hiding inside.

I hope this helps everyone - I know it helps me. My husband and I thought our dog loved avocados...well, she might, but just because you love something, it doesn't mean it's good for you (fried chicken, anyone?).

And the (second) love of my life, Gracie, camping last summer - isn't she cute?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Paying You to Buy a Book?

You read that right! Would you be interested in someone paying you if you read a book that gave you ideas on how to save money? I found a great book called "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget" written by the people at WiseBread. They have partnered with to give you a $15 rebate on their $10 book when you buy it on Amazing, right? I should get it by the end of the week, and I'll give you a review when I get it.

What is Ebates? It's an online store that gives you cash back on purchases you make through them at some of your favorite online shopping sites, like Macy's, J. Crew, Nordstrom -they have over 1,000 stores. They mail you a check every month with the money you earn by buying things you would have purchased anyway. I signed up for it with the WiseBread promotion, and I'll let you know how that goes, too!

Anyone out there use Ebates or a site like it? Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


You know that shirt that's in the back of your closet with all the tags on it? The one you had to have but then you realized it didn't go with anything in your closet and now it's too late to take it back. Wouldn't you love to be able to exchange for something you'd wear weekly, for free.

With the clothing swap concept you can. According to the AP, this trend is taking on a life of its own with huge swaps among strangers in Manhattan bars. Read the full article here:

Clearly we are far from Manhattan, and there aren't currently any large scale clothing swaps taking place in the Seattle area. However, you can easily arrange one among friends. Which I'm hoping to do with my girlfriends soon. It's easy on the budget and a great way to get ready for summer.

And these swaps aren't limited to just clothing. People are getting together to swap books, dvds and computer games. If those items are more up your alley look into organizing an electronics swap with your friends.

For more information about various swaps check out these online sites. Some you can swap directly and just pay shipping, others are a round-up of swaps in your area:

So do you swap?

Monday, May 18, 2009


This weekend was an expensive one! A birthday party, a girls' night, warm (which of course meant purchasing a new bocce ball set at Target) of the best weekends I had in a long time, but definitely not my cheapest weekend ever. I wish I would have followed the advice I'm about to lay out, but here are some good ways to keep your tabs low when out having fun with friends.

*First and foremost, make sure you have a game plan and a ride home. A designated driver, a bus, a taxi...but if you are drinking more than a glass of something, you should not be driving.

*Have a pre-party. Not only are you more likely to get some quality socializing time in at a home versus a crowded, loud bar, but you can also bring grocery store purchased alcohol, which is far cheaper than getting drinks at a bar.

*Get a round of water in between each round of drinks. First of all, you forget how quickly alcohol can dehydrate you. But second, what's the point of just chugging things down? You're there to enjoy your friends' company and a couple of drinks, so you don't want to finish in 45 minutes and completely destroy your budget. You'll still have a drink in your hand, you'll feel better the next day, AND you'll cut your bar tab in half.

*Don't go to a bar with a cover charge, or go before the cover starts. Covers can range from $5-$20 - and most of the time, you don't get anything for that except entrance. By arriving 10 minutes earlier, you avoid paying more money than you have to. Put it towards your cab fare.

*ASK how much drinks are or to see a menu. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a receipt and been shocked at how much two or three drinks ended up costing. You don't want to be surprised - and having all of the information is your best defense.

*Eat something before you go out. Having a few beers or glasses of wine definitely kicks in the "I need to eat something fried" instinct. Bar food, while almost never good for you, can also be pretty expensive. $10 for a few chicken fingers? Order pizza in at your pre-party or make a delicious spread of crackers, baked cheese and roasted garlic (like my friend did this weekend), but just be sure to eat. You'll be glad you did.

I hope this blog doesn't sound like I'm a big drinker! :) I'm really not - and I usually prefer staying in with friends than going out. But I know not everyone feels that way, and I'm sure most of you would like to save some of your hard-earned money for other things than overpriced drinks. So have fun, be safe, and save your money!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Get your grill on!

Now that it's finally above freezing temperatures here in the northwest it's time to break out the grill. No matter how you grill, charcoal or gas, it can save you some money, just don't plan to eat filet mignon each night.

With grilling season in full swing most supermarkets have some sort of meat in their weekly ads. The weekly ads are now available online at most markets Web sites making them even easier to check out.

Each week scan the ads for what meat is on sale and incorporate that into your meal plan. At any given time you can find a wide variety of steaks, chicken, fish and ribs to fit your palette and your wallet. Toss on some veggies drizzled with olive oil and some fresh herbs and you've got a meal.

This fast, fun approach to dinner saves you money not only with the weekly specials but because you aren't buying several ingredients for one meal. It also makes grocery shopping much faster! The easier dinner is the more likely you are to eat at home.

What are some of your favorite things to grill? Anyone have a great marinade to share?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Travel Like a Tightwad

"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then, take half your clothes and twice your money." - Susan Heller

Oh man, I love to travel. I love packing. I love getting mini bottles of shampoo or contact solution. I love when the plane touches down at your destination. I love it all. Unfortunately, traveling is one of those things you can't do when you're living frugally - or can you? YES! You should travel! See sights, eat interesting food, learn something new...just be smart about it. Here's some of my tips to travel on the cheap:

1) Travelzoo - this is my favorite travel website. Travelzoo searches everywhere for the best deals for every destination. They search cruises, travel packages, car rentals, airfare, name it, they do it. They have sections on their website, like "Today's Top Deals" or "Memorial Day Deals" - feel like going to Costa Rica? You can stay at the beachfront Hilton for $99/night. And that's just the first one I saw. Plus, I signed up to get their weekly emails on what's out there. I definitely look forward to Wednesdays when I can dream about Tahitian beaches or Parisian cafes.

2) Timing is everything - almost every destination has an off-season. Most people would much rather go to Hawaii in January than in July (I'm not picky - I'll go whenever). There are different hotel rates, different airfares...sometimes, even excursions or activities are cheaper. Figuring out when the off-season is for your destination could save you beaucoup bucks - maybe you'll even have enough money to extend your trip or indulge in a spa day!

3) Rent a condo - if possible, try to find a condo to stay in while you're on vacation. First of all, condos tend to be owned by an individual or small group instead of a large hotel company, and might be more open to negotiating a better deal with you during the off-season. And don't be afraid to negotiate either. The worst they'll do is say no. If they say yes, you've saved money just by asking! Next, condos tend to have more amenities, like a kitchen. This matters because you should...

4) Make your own meals - eating every meal in a restaurant can really add up after only a few meals. Add tip, parking and're looking at a huge chunk of your vacation fund. What my husband and I did when we went to Maui for our honeymoon was stock up on bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, lunch meat, fruit and other snacks. We kept it in our mini-fridge and had breakfast on our lanai every morning. After laying out at the pool all morning, we'd come back up to the room, get out of the sun and have a nice lunch. We ate about 8 meals plus snacks for around $50, and we would have paid triple that if we would have eaten every meal out. We put that saved money towards macadamia nuts and coffee instead. Half kidding...

5) Miles credit card - this is very controversial, I'm sure. I will say that it has worked really well for my husband and I, but ONLY because we have the cash and pay in full every month. Basically, instead of putting regular purchases (groceries, gas, utilities) on our debit card, we put those on our Alaska Airlines Visa and earn miles for what we buy. Every year, we get a $50 companion fare (a $50 ticket when someone else buys a ticket...and we just found out this goes anywhere in North America!), plus 3,000 miles. And it's 20,000 for a free continental U.S. ticket. You earn your way to tickets with regular spending. I personally like this more than cashback cards, because what's the likelihood you're going to spend that cash on things you don't need? Whereas with a miles card, you can only use it to fly AND miles are good for 7 years. So even if you think you don't travel very often, you'd probably fly at least once in 7 years.

Now I've gotten the itch to travel! Just for fun, me and my husband on our honeymoon in Maui at the Old Lahaina Luau (we got 10% off for booking online).

For more traveling tips, feel free to check out my friend Kirsten's blog here. She does a Travel Tip Thursday section that has some great ideas!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fun and Frugal Gift Ideas

I don't know what it is about late spring and early summer, but I always feel like it's the second-busiest time of year for gift giving. Blame graduations, Mother's/Father's Day, spring birthdays, summer weddings - I even feel like more babies are being born at this time in the year (maybe that's just a coincidence). You might already be strapped for cash, but you don't want these festive occasions to go without a gift! By stretching your creative skills and using just a little bit of money, you can give some fabulous gifts to your friends and family.

1) Homemade recipe book - I received a homemade recipe book for my wedding shower last year made with love by my stepmom and it was honestly one of the best gifts I've ever received. It was a simple, small 3-ring binder covered with cute scrapbook paper and filled with recipes from my friends and family. I have my grandma's famous sticky bun recipe to campfire standbys from friends. Plus, there are blank sheets of notebook paper to add to the book later on. Sentimental, personal and practical - a great gift. You can be as creative as you'd like!

Cost: $10 and up, depending on materials used
Time: At least an hour to assemble and decorate, more if you plan on collecting recipes from others
Good for: new moms needing kid-friendly recipes, or a newlywed to add to their kitchen

2) Potted plant - I used to be a big fan of giving people flowers for their birthday. Beautiful, festive, and easy. But after a week, your present is shriveled up or in the garbage. The solution: a potted plant. There are a ton of varieties that are easy to take care of and that do well in office settings. Added bonus - people surrounded by nature at home or work tend to be happier. And don't you want that for your friends? Pick small, bright ceramic pots for an added happiness boost. Another great plant to pot - herbs! I love the idea of giving someone a basil plant and then adding a recipe card for homemade pesto or something! See Frugal Femme's post "Herbalicious" for more details.

Cost: $6 and up, depending on plant variety and pot
Time: Barely any - go to Home Depot, Lowe's or even some grocery stores, like Trader Joe's and walk out with a great plant in minutes
Good for: a recent grad to put in their new cube...if they have a job...

3) Mug filled with tea/coffee - it sounds so manufactured because you can buy them at any Starbucks/Borders/random bookstore, but a friend gave me a yellow mug filled with delicious tea for my birthday a couple of years ago and I loved it! Every time I drink something out of that mug, I think of my lovely friend Julia. You can find good quality and affordable mugs at Target, and select the recipient's favorite tea, coffee or other warm beverage. Wrap it in clear plastic wrap, tie with a pretty ribbon and it's even a beautiful presentation.

Cost: around $12 for mug, supplies and wrapping
Time: minimal - maybe a half hour to find the perfect mug
Good for: your friend to start her day and think of you!

4) Magazine subscription - I love to read magazines! I subscribe to 4 (which is down from 7 a few years ago), and who wouldn't want a fun magazine to read for a year? The key is knowing who you're getting it for - maybe you have someone who is super organized and would love "Real Simple", or a healthy cook who might need "Cooking Light" for some inspiration and new recipes. Make sure you have the recipient's address!

Cost: depending on type of magazine/frequency of issues, starting at $12
Time: almost none - go to magazine website, pay online
Good for: anyone who likes to read and learn new things!

I'd love to hear any other ideas for fun, frugal gifts! Do share!

Monday, May 11, 2009


I noticed that the more I cook at home in an effort to save more money, the more fresh herbs I use. Sure you can always substitute dried herbs, but lets be honest, it's just not as good. And some times there is no substitute, like when you need cilantro for homemade guacamole.

So this weekend I planted my herb garden, which I did last year as well. It's really easy to do and super cost effective. There are some upfront costs between 10-20 dollars depending on how many herbs you decide to plant and what supplies you already have on hand.

While you may think you don't spend $10-$20 on herbs in a season, keep in mind one package of basil from the grocery store starts at $2.50. And if you're like me and love some caprese salad, you quickly make your money back. Also the herbs can really liven-up any salad, chicken marinade or pasta dish, leading to enjoy eating at home even more.

Herb gardens are the best because you don't even need a yard to plant them in.

A simple terracotta pot will do on a porch with good sunlight. You can plant several herbs in one pot. There is also the option of a windowsill garden if you don't have a porch.

Herbs can be purchased at local nurseries, grocery stores, or home improvement stores such as the home depot. Most herbs cost between $2.50 and $5.00 each. I recommend getting the starter plants rather than the seeds, primarily for the instant gratification.

I planted basil, oregano and cilantro this year in addition to my rosemary and lavender that survived the winter freeze.

Share you herb garden plans or favorite uses for fresh herbs in the comments below.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

10 Date Ideas for Under $20

As mentioned previously, one of the toughest things to do on a budget is doing something fun on the weekend, especially with your significant other. Many couples go out to dinner, go to movies, travel...but when money's tight, those things aren't great options. Plus, dinners in and rented movies can become boring. Here are some things I love to do (or plan to do) with my husband that brings us closer together without breaking the bank:

- Go out for happy hour. Duh, I know. But my husband and I do this once every week or two, and don't feel deprived. There are a lot of places that have drinks and food on special. One Seattle favorite: Talarico's. Talarico's is a pizza joint that my born-in-NY husband says is the best pizza west of the Mississippi. Slices are bigger than your head for $3 and one is plenty for dinner, and they have Chianti for $5. Dinner always costs us less than $20, including tax and tips.

- Watch "The Soup" on E! It does keep you in the house, but it is the one of the funniest shows on TV and laughing with your partner is the key to a happy relationship. And it's free!

- Play card/board games. Minimal purchase required for endless hours of entertainment. I recently brought out the deck of cards for a heated game of Gin. And I'll never turn down a game of Scrabble - just don't get in fights when SOMEBODY adds "s" or "y" to all of your creative words and gets more points for them (I won't name names).

- For a day date, go for a hike. I found this website ( that lists hikes in many U.S. metropolitan areas, but check out your local guidebooks or state websites for other ideas.

- After your hike, have a picnic. Pack some fresh fruit, a baguette, some cheese and maybe some sparkling water/wine (if possible) for a "Parisian lunch".

- Rent a dance video and learn to salsa, samba or waltz! There's some sites online that teach you basic steps (like, but there are hundreds of instructional dance videos. If you have digital cable, you can even find them for free OnDemand (usually under "exercise").

- Make dessert together. I personally love making chocolate covered fruit or fondue, but even cut-and-bake cookies are fun when you're in the kitchen with someone special.

- Explore your local festivals. With summer coming up, there are so many things going on in your community. One of my personal favorites happens in Portland, Oregon - the Festa-Italiana ( Free to get in, great vendors, music, dancing and people watching. This year's festa is happening the week of August 22nd, and you should definitely check it out if you're in the Northwest.

- Go bowling. I challenge you to have a bad time bowling. Funky shoes, cheap beer and dances after a good (or bad) bowl. I have a strike and a spare dance (not that they are very often seen).

- Try something new. Go to a rock climbing wall ($7-$15 depending on where you go), go kayaking ($15-$18/hr for a double), go see a foreign film. The options are endless, and getting out of your comfort zone is fun!

What are some things you do on the cheap to have fun with your significant other? I would love to hear new ideas!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

10 Ingredients, 40 recipes

So as much as I love talking about saving money, I also love talking about healthy cooking and living. (Ehem, I did just make two dozen Funfetti cupcakes just so I could bake and eat a few, but never mind).

Anyway, one magazine I love is Women's Health. They are a great mix of nutrition, workout tips, relationship, fashion, etc. They had a wonderful article a year or so ago on how to use 10 ingredients (plus pantry basics) to make 40 different, HEALTHY meals! First of all, I love this article because it reminds me of good staples to put in my kitchen - things like red wine vinegar, breadcrumbs, tortillas, chicken broth, etc. These things (although probably not put together) are definitely a skeleton for dozens of meals. Add a couple of canned or fresh ingredients and you have a great dinner!

But what I love most about this article is that it takes the guesswork out of leftovers. You can prepare turkey the same way and have about 7 different ways to use that same prepared turkey in other fun dishes. And by using everything you have in your pantry, you're saving money at the grocery store (or at least you're not wasting food you don't eat).

Without further delay:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cutting Coupons to Trim Your Budget

Maybe some of you grew up in a similar household - I'd remember coming home from school and watching my mom cut coupons at the table. I'd see coupons for 30 or 40 cents off, and remember thinking "That doesn't seem like a lot of money." Then, we'd go to the grocery store, and I'd watch my mom rifle through her stack of coupons and be so embarrassed. My mom was the Queen of Coupons.

Until recently, I pretty much thought coupons were a waste of time. But after I noticed the difference it made on my grocery budget, I thought it was worth the 10-15 minutes to save $10-$25 each trip! Typically, I get the Sunday paper (which I love to read with a cup of coffee anyway) and sift through the coupon section.

But there is a digitally savvy way to be a smart shopper now - online coupons. There are great sites like or You essentially just click on the coupons you want, print them out and start saving money on your grocery bills. Some sites like let you load the coupons on your grocery store savings card!

There's even coupons for organic food. I recently signed up at Kashi ( to receive coupons and already got one for a free frozen entree. According to a good friend, Amy's Organics also offers coupons if you just email their customer service department and ASK (thanks Stace!). That's all!

Any other good coupon collecting tips out there? Here's to eating well and saving money!