Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guest Post: Money Tips from The Newlywed Next Door

Hi Everyone! I was so excited when Frugal Femme and Budget Babe asked me to do a guest post for them on Lean with Green! I'm The Newlywed Next Door, a Newlywed from California who blogs regularly at http://www.newlywedsnextdoor.com/ about all things Newlywed.

I'm sure you've heard that money is one of the main things that married couples fight about and Newlyweds are no exception. So I wanted to give you a couple of my Newlywed money management tips.

Tip #1: Savings Account Management

I'm sure you've read a lot of great "saving" tips on Lean with Green, so first I wanted to share our best "saving" tip with you.

Divide your savings account into multiple sub-accounts.

That's right, break that one big savings account into several smaller sub-accounts for the key things you save money for. For example your sub-accounts could be: Emergency Fund, Home Repair/Furnishing Account, Travel Account, and General Savings Account.

This can be done really easily through Bank of American or ING. Here is what our ING Savings Accounts look like:

What this is great is that is makes you realize how little money you actually have in savings once you divy it up into those piles and can see it split that way.

For example, say you have $10,000 in general savings. Thats seems like a huge chunk of change. But once you break it into $5000 for emergency fund, $2000 for house fund, $2000 for Travel Fund, then you only have like $1000 of misc savings you realize that you should be saving more.

Now that we've divied up the accounts, we've set goals for each one to $x in Emergency, $x in Travel, etc.

Creating sub-accounts helps us realize our financial goals faster and it even makes saving a little more fun!

Tip #2: Credit Card Management

Credit cards can provide a lot of benefits if you use them properly. We get hotel points, cash back, airline miles, and much much more as result of our credit cards. But they can come with hefty fees if you don't pay them on time. When we got married we suddenly had five credit cards and we were always getting confused as to which ones we had/had not paid. We had to argue with Chase and Amex a couple of times when we accidently paid late.

So to avoid this I went online and figured out the date that all of our credit cards closed each month and the date they were due each month and put it an excel table in date order like this:

I then printed this out as well as emailed it to both of us to save in our email folders for easy reference. It has really helped us to see which cards were due when and we have not had a late fee since.

As a bonus, this helped us to go paperless and save trees, since we can manage all of these cards online and do electronic bill pay from our checking account.

Are there any other Newlyweds out there that have tips from merging finances, creating a budget together, or just dealing with dollars in general? I'd love to hear your comments!

Entertainment Books!

So I'll be honest. When I first heard of entertainment books I incorrectly assumed that they would be a waste of money. Sure $25 sounded like a deal, but I thought the offers would be for places I'd never heard of or didn't want to try.

But then I thumbed through and I couldn't believe the savings! Only $25 for all this! The page of coupons for $5 of a purchase at any Safeway practically paid for the book itself. There are also great savings for movie tickets, the Zoo, popular theaters and the ballet. I could go on and on. Not to mention the great buy one get one free coupons at several places you already love to eat at. And because of the entertainment book, I've found some new places to try.

So bottom line, when the opportunity presents itself to get an entertainment book, do it!

I find that because there are so many offers it can be overwhelming, so I go through and take out all of the offers I will use and sort them in new categories that work for me. For instance, I divide the restaurant offers into breakfast lunch and dinner. I also sort them by area. I live a bit north of the city, so I sort them into Seattle and north end.

Also I have categories for groceries, health and beauty, indoor entertainment, outdoor entertainment, etc. I've found this make it easier for me to utilize the offers and the savings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My New Addiction: Saving

I count down to every other Friday. Yes, that's when I get paid. But I don't count down for reasons you might think. I don't go spend that money on shoes or at the bars or on a new wardrobe. I SAVE it. Let me explain.

In April, I started making "birthday resolutions", and I split them into the categories of personal and financial. My first financial goal was to build my savings account to cover 6 months of living expenses, and my second goal was to increase my retirement contributions by 25%. 6 months of living expenses is hard to save PERIOD, not to mention when you don't have all that much saved up to begin with. Although saving even the smallest amount is better than not saving at all, I would save $50-$100 per paycheck and call it good. It was always the last thing I did after paying bills, maybe treating myself to a couple of coffees, buying my dog a new treat...you get the idea. It was not exactly a priority. My checking account, on the other hand, always had enough money. Then I thought "Why do I keep all this money in my checking account?". Let me be clear - it's not all this money (I work in nonprofit), but more, what is this money doing in my checking account when it could be used more effectively somewhere else?

After April, I decided I was going to transfer everything that remained in my checking account into my savings every time I got paid. In a little over two months, I have significantly increased my savings account, nearly tripling it. I will have met my October savings goal by the end of next month. Pretty impressive, right? But I have to tell you, it's kind of fun! I'm a competitive person by nature, so seeing how much I can save makes me want to save more - I've become addicted to saving!

What are your savings strategies? I'd love to hear of other ways I can get competitive!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rewards Clubs Worth Joining

I really love rewards clubs. Like really love them. But sometimes, some of them are just not worth having. Like the companies that fill up your inbox about a sale that's open to everyone? That's not really a reward, thanks. Or rewards perks that cost you more than the value you'd actually get out of them. Nope, don't want that either.

How about companies that actually give you something in return to thank you for your loyalty or patronage? That's what I'm talking about! We don't have sponsors or anything like that, so I'm not plugging companies for any benefit except to pass some cost-saving tips on fun stuff for you. Here are some stores at which I have a rewards membership and thoroughly enjoy:

*Borders - I love books. I especially love new books (that new book smell gets me every time). I could spend hours in a bookstore just browsing the shelves, looking at travel guides, cookbooks, magazines...sounds like a little slice of heaven. With me cutting back on spending, I'm definitely utilizing the library more (or going to Goodwill, like some of you have suggested), so my book buying budget is practically nonexistent. However, Borders makes it more affordable if you have a new book addiction. Every 2-3 weeks, I get a coupon emailed for 20-30% off any item in the store. Oh yeah, and it's free to join (unlike Barnes and Noble's reward program).

*REI - if you like spending time in the outdoors, it is definitely a good idea to become an REI member (in my opinion). For $20 (for a lifetime membership), you get discounts on equipment rental, special member-only offers for gear or clothing AND an annual dividend from all eligible purchases, usually about 10%. Once you spend $200 (which is not hard to do when you buy a tent or a couple of sleeping bags), you've already earned back your lifetime membership fee. Plus, REI has fantastic customer service when it comes to returns and exchanges, but they extend this to everyone, not just members.

*Aveda - Pure Privilege is Aveda's point-based reward system. For every dollar spent, 10 points are awarded and they can be cashed in for anything from products to spa treatments to vacations...okay, I'll never spend enough at Aveda to pay for my luxury spa weekend in Vermont, but I did get a massage before my wedding last year with my points. Plus, they offer double point events every so often. It's $10 to sign up, but every year on your birthday, you get a FREE gift (up to a $20 value), coupons for products, and other great offers. It's definitely the most relaxing reward membership I have.

*Sephora - Frugal Femme told me about her love for Sephora's Beauty Insiders. Another point club, once you have a certain amount of points, you get a FREE gift. Also, you have access to special promotions and limited edition products.

*MAC - another Frugal Femme find, if you bring back 6 containers of any MAC product, they will recycle them and give you a FREE lipstick. Maybe not quite a reward program, but definitely a great incentive to recycle!

And one I'll sign up for soon...

*Godiva - FREE chocolate every month. FREE gift every month you spend $10 or more. FREE shipping on one online order. Any time I can get free chocolate, that is definitely something worth signing up for.

Have I missed any rewards clubs worth joining? What do you guys like and what companies give back to you?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eating on the Cheap - Seasonal Produce Edition

Whenever I read articles or listen to people about how to save money on your grocery bill, I hear over and over to buy seasonal produce. Well, that sounds easy enough! But how do you know what's in season? Unfortunately, I have zero agricultural knowledge and I can only gather what's in season by perusing Pike Place Market every two or three months...so I have no idea. And if it's in big numbers at the grocery store, I usually assume it's on sale (there's the value of marketing for you). But I did find out for you! Here's what in season for summer:

Bell peppers
Butter lettuce
Cassaba melon
Chayote squash
Crenshaw melon
Green beans
Green peas
Honeydew melons
Jalapeno peppers
Lima beans
Passion fruit
Persian melons
Sweet corn
Summer squash

What is an olallieberry? No clue. But buying produce on this list will save you money on your grocery bill because they don't take as much effort to produce. Bonus - try to find the seasonal produce in your area from local farmers so it's better for your community and our environment.

For seasonal produce in fall, winter, and spring, visit Fruit and Veggies - More Matters

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Friday Deals

Just in time to start your weekend, here's some free stuff and good deals!

*Orange Julius - FREE LIGHT SMOOTHIE. I posted this last Friday, but since it's today, I thought you could use the reminder. Don't forget the coupon though. Get it here.

*FREE ROOTBEER FLOAT at A&W! It's their 90th anniversary and they're celebrating by giving everyone a small float from 2-8 PM.

*FREE MARS CHOCOLATE - go to their website for information on their Real Chocolate Relief Act. It's for the first 250,000 people every Friday, but it's worth taking some time to fill out some info for free chocolate, right?

*$2 OFF at Jamba Juice when you pair a meal and a juice together. Details here.

Enjoy! Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

M.A.C. 25 percent off

For all you ladies out there who love your M.A.C. products all online purchases at M.A.C. are 25 percent off until tomorrow. This was just too good not to share.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Deals, Volume 1

Here's an attempt by us at Lean with Green to round up some of the best deals for you we could find! We'll definitely try to make this an every Friday thing, but don't hold it against us if we can't (we both have full time jobs and do our own research).

1. Get $1 off of a Blackberry Bliss at Jamba Juice when you say their "blissful" word of the day! Just go to summerblissisback.com, find out their word of the day, and shazam - dollar back in your pocket and a delicious way to cool off during these hot days. You're welcome.

2. The Body Shop has some good deals going - for a wonderful smelling and moisturizing foaming bath, their Coconut Foaming Bath is $7 (normally $17). It's probably one of my favorite Body Shop products, so forgive me for a little bias. Oh yeah, and when you purchase any men's product from now until the 21st, you get a free shave gel! Father's Day is next Sunday, people!

3. Speaking of Father's Day, TCBY is offering a free cup or cone for dear ol' Dad next Sunday, June 21st. Yummy!

4. Orange Julius is offering FREE light smoothies next Friday, June 19th. Just print out the coupon and take it to a participating location.

That about does it for this week's Friday Deals! Please submit any deals you hear of to leanwithgreen@gmail.com or leave some comments and let us know! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Did You Fill Up on Gas Today? (And Other Ways to Save at the Pump)

As I watch the price of gas go up each week by 3-7 cents a gallon, I'm starting to get memories of last summer and the nearly $4/gallon (here in Seattle anyway) fill-ups. Granted, it's not that bad again...yet. But just like last summer, I will do my best to be a conservative driver for both spending purposes and environmental impact. Here are some helpful suggestions to ease your pain at the pump:

*Fill up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Gas stations typically raise their prices Friday-Monday (before and after the weekend), so your best bet to save a couple of cents a gallon would be to fill up midweek.

*Check gasbuddy.com for the cheapest prices near you. It makes zero sense to drive to a station charging $2.76 a gallon when it's 15 miles away when a station a mile away is charging $2.81. 30 miles round-trip to save a maximum of $1.25...and excuse me for not showing my work, but I'm guessing that you're probably not saving time or money. In fact, you're probably wasting both.

*Plan ahead and consolidate your trips. Don't go grocery shopping one day, go to the pharmacy the next, go to the dry cleaners the next, and so forth. Most Americans' trips for errands are less than 3 miles (read: walking distance). Although it's probably not ideal for most of us to talk to and from the grocery store with full bags of groceries, you can definitely do a single errand trip, saving you time and giving your car a rest.

*Take the junk out of your trunk. I was driving around with boxes for work, rainboots, blankets...probably an extra 10-15 pounds of stuff I didn't need. For every 250 pounds in your car, you lose about 1 mile per gallon of fuel efficiency.

*Drive safer. I have a lead foot, so this is not easy for me to say, but if you drive at 55 mph instead of 65, you can increase your fuel efficiency by 2 miles per gallon. And if you're a fast starter or slam on your brakes, that's not good for fuel economy either. It makes your engine work harder, which in turn, burns up more gas. Plus, your parents will thank you.

*When possible, carpool, walk, bike, or use mass transit. When I'm going to spend time in downtown Seattle, I almost prefer to take the bus. It's cheaper than parking and I don't have to sit in traffic. Challenge your coworkers for a month to see who uses their car the least and have a prize at the end of the competition. My office participated in a "One Less Car Challenge" and it encouraged everyone to telecommute, take mass transit, carpool, etc. We made a big chart and people could sign up and put stars next to their name for every day they did not use a car. At the end of the month, we had a party for everyone who had at least 1 star next to their name. I know - gold stars...a little elementary school. But it totally worked!

*Keep your car in good shape. Make sure your tires are inflated at the right pressure, change your oil regularly...these things all add up to a more fuel efficient car.

I think I covered a lot of the basics, but I'd love to hear about any other tips or strategies from you all - what have you done to save money on gas?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Falling in Love with Leftover Rice

As I mentioned in the "Lunch!" post, I'm not a huge fan of leftovers. Don't get me wrong - I love the principle and the rationale. How great is it to cook one meal and get 2 or 3? Plus, it's obviously the best use of your time and money. However, I get bored easily. Warmed over lasagna for dinner, then lunch the next day, dinner the same night...ugh. Sounds awful (to me). What I'm now trying to do is look instead for recipes or foods that can be added to for an even better meal the next time around. Hence my new love for rice.

Rice is one of the cheapest and most versatile grains you can get. You can have it plain, have it with stir-fry, make sushi...the list goes on. And, if you eat brown rice, it's also one of the healthiest whole grains you can eat. 1 cup has a good percentage of your daily values for fiber, and has lots of minerals, like selenium and magnesium. But just like everything else, I get tired of eating plain ol' boring rice more than once in a day or two span. Recently though, I came across some fantastic ways to repurpose your leftover cooked rice!

*Use it as breakfast. Huh? Yeah, it sounds weird. But when you think about it, it's a grain just like oatmeal or cereal, and probably better for you. After reading Bethenny Frankel's "Naturally Thin", I decided I'd try it and I LOVED the recipe she used. Here's a video of her making it.

*Make fried rice. Here's a good recipe from Recycle This:

-1 green onion
-2 large eggs
-1 teaspoon salt
-Pepper to taste
-4 tablespoons oil
-4 cups cold cooked rice
-1 - 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Wash and finely chop the green onion. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

Heat a frying pan and add 2 tablespoons oil.
Add the rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes, using a wooden spoon to break it apart. Add the eggs. Cook, stirring, until they are only lightly scrambled.

Stir in the soy sauce as desired.
Stir in the green onion. Serve hot.

*Add to soup to make a heartier, healthier meal. Some soups are all liquid and no substance. You're hungry 30 minutes after you have a bowl of chicken noodle soup. By adding rice, you're adding filling fiber and whole grains.

*Make a delicious rice pudding. Add milk, raisins, a touch of vanilla extract, cinnamon, and sugar to leftover cooked rice. Put in a saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce heat. Remove from heat after it starts to thicken up, around 7-10 minutes. There are a ton of recipes out there for rice pudding that use coconut milk, orange zest, dried cranberries - find one that sounds good to you!

YUM! Now it's time to start up the rice cooker!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Envelope System

One of our favorite readers Dave mentioned in on of our earlier posts about using the envelope system for budgeting. Essentially you take out cash (yes I know this is foreign concept) and divide it up into various categories. I decided to try this out this month and so far it's worked very well. We set up a detailed budget with all of our bills and expenses included. We keep the money for our bills in our account and pay those electronically and we do gas on our cards as well. Here are our cash envelope categories:

  • Free money for myself and husband
  • Eating out
  • Groceries
  • Entertainment
  • Pets
  • Car insurance (we pay bi-yearly)
  • Health and Beauty
  • Misc.
So far it's been working out very well. It definitely helps us realize how much we mindlessly spend and think about our purchases more. For instance I'm much less tempted to spend my free money on lunches out when I could instead buy clothes.

Also by taking the cash out ahead of time you don't risk over spending and then not having money in the account when the bills start to roll in.

I'm not gonna lie. It's a bit depressing when you realize how easy it is to go through these envelopes so quickly. We've spend 75% of our entertainment budget and it's only the 6th of the month. I guess we'll be learning to find some even cheaper activities.

All in all its a learning process, but I do enjoy knowing exactly how much I have to spend and feeling confident that we have enough money to pay all of our bills and put a lot into savings.

Anyone use the envelope system and have any tips?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


We all know that eating lunch out every day is equivalent to taking money out of your wallet and lighting it on fire. Typical lunches out usually cost at least $7 - multiply that by 20 days a month to make math easy...that's $140 just on lunch! The cost to your wallet is not all to think about - there's also a health cost. Eating in restaurants gives you less control of what you're putting in your body, and most of the time (depending on the establishment), restaurant food is less healthy, too.

Solution: BYOL (bring your own lunch). I have a really hard time getting psyched about eating a brown-bag lunch. PB&J...boring. Leftovers...gross. But I've been trying really hard lately to put an emphasis on bringing my lunch to work. Here's some of what I've put in my lunch this week, and maybe it will inspire you!

*Lowfat cream cheese and sliced strawberry sandwich
*Celery with hummus
*DIY trail mix of almonds, dried cranberries and dark chocolate M&Ms
*Fresh fruit (on sale) like cherries, bananas, and raspberries
*Nonfat or Greek yogurt
*Tuna with mayo/horseradish on a French roll
*Pretzels and peanut butter
*Slices of lemon (for my ice water)
*Babybel cheese with whole wheat crackers
*On Friday, I'm going a little crazy and making a Thai wrap (on pita bread with grilled chicken, cabbage, green onions and a peanut sauce - I'll let you know how it goes)

Packing lunch definitely takes some getting used to and planning ahead. Here are some suggestions I have for making things easier and cheaper:

1) I like to use multipurpose condiments, like hummus, peanut butter and cream cheese. Not only are these good to put on sandwiches, but they are also good to dip veggies, fruit, and crackers in. More bang for your buck!

2) Make lunch the night before. This is so much better than racing around the next morning. Then you can't use the age-old excuse "I didn't have time" and go get a Big Mac. Nope. Not this time.

3) Don't fall for the easy lunch "snack size" stuff at stores. You're paying more for someone to put things in bags for you. Do it yourself - get some reusable containers at places like Target or the Container Store (I heart their lunch storage stuff), go green and save money.

4) When you get bored of the standards, try some new recipes. I like to search for "easy lunch recipes for lunchboxes" or "back to school lunch recipes". If they have to get past a picky kid, I'm sure it'll pass your standards.

5) Get a cool lunchbag so it'll make you feel slightly less dorky. I have repurposed a shopping bag I got at Lululemon Athletica last January. It's perfect for the amount of food I bring and it's washable. Plus this is what it looks like:

Cute, functional, free (with purchase, in my case socks and a headband) and motivational? Bringing lunch is more fun than I thought!

Who brings their lunch to work? Any suggestions for good stuff to put in your lunchbox?