Monday, November 30, 2009

No-Spend January

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and it was filled with the 3 Fs: family, friends and freaking good food!

So what about going a month without spending money? What?! A month without spending? Well, I'm definitely toying around with the idea. I L.O.V.E the holidays but come the second week of January and the excitement has worn off, I usually feel a little sheepish about how much I spent. So - a detox, of sorts.

This was the post by Sox in Budgets are Sexy that inspired me. Now Sox is pretty intense, and I don't know if I can quite do what he did, but I'm determined to reign in my spending and hopefully learn a few things, too.

Here's my proposal:

*No spending money on clothes, shoes or other accessories. Period. The holidays will have just happened, and while there will be killer sales, I can suck it up for a month. It's a high probability that I will get at least one clothing item for Christmas, and really, I have plenty of things to wear.

*No spending money on going out for meals or drinks. This does not mean that I can't eat out in restaurants; this just means I cannot pay for a meal in a restaurant. If my husband and I go out for dinner, no joint account money (thanks babe!). Do I have any friends that would like to take me out to lunch or dinner in January? :)

*No other incidental purchases, like coffee, nail polish, candy bars, etc.

*I WILL spend money on things that need to get paid - rent, groceries (I may have to look at upping my budget to account for how much more I'll be eating in), bills, and gas. Obviously, if an emergency expense comes up, I will have to pay for that as well. But we're not talking an I-was-hungry-and-so-I-got-Thai-takeout emergency; this will have to be something that will significantly impact my day-to-day routine (sickness, car emergency, etc).

What are my strategies?

- Be much better about packing my lunch. The expense of lunches out has started creeping up on me again. Stay tuned for another lunch post on how to actually eat and like what you pack for lunch...

-Preparing. I'll be getting work on my car done in December and going to the dentist/doctor to not have any co-pays or other forseen medical expenses taken care of.

- Host people at my house for dinner/drinks instead of going out.

- Getting tips/support from you all! :)

I'll be tracking my progress on the blog so you can hear about my triumphs and struggles. Anyone else want to have a No-Spend January with me?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Meal Planning Challenge

I've finally gotten this meal planning thing done and I have to say, it's been going very well and we're saving lots of money. But I still have a ton of food in my cupboards, it's always stuff that I'm sure I'll eat at somepoint and never get to. I'm now using it as inspiration for my meal planning. All that food that's sitting in my cupboards is just wasting me money. It's good to have staples, but some of these things need to go!

As a new weekly feature, every Monday I will posting my five challenge foods for the following week and look for your suggestions as well as search through recipes and utilize sites such as Recipe Czar. I will post my menu and recipes for the following week on Friday afternoon.

The rules are easy. I must use the below five ingredients in meals for the following week. I can use them in any combination, like two in one recipe, but I must use them all.

Here are next week's challenge ingredients. As an FYI we are traveling for Turkey Day so we won't have any leftovers.

Panko Bread Crumbs

Sundried Tomatoes

Canned Chicken (really not as gross as it sounds)

Cranberry Sauce

Roasted Red Peppers

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Deals

Thank goodness it's Friday! Busy weekend ahead of Thanksgiving prep, seeing friends and taking in "New Moon"! Here are some good deals for your weekend!

*Take 25% off your whole order at - enter code GIFT123. This offer is good until November 23rd!

*FREE clutch with a $25 purchase at Sephora (in stores or online). It's filled with 8 samples! Enter code CLUTCH4U if you order it online, and be sure to bring a print out of this if you get it in stores.

*$20 off purchase of $125 or more at! This offer expires on November 23rd and make sure to enter code 9GOBBLE.

*FREE scarf at when you buy a sweater! Enter SCARF09

*FREE CD (with U2, John Legend and Dave Matthews Band, no less) at Starbucks when you make a purchase of $15 or more! I got a bag of coffee, a latte, and a free CD yesterday! The CD is with the RED project, so part of your purchase goes to support AIDS relief in Africa. PS - if you have a Starbucks card, don't forget to register it! You get a FREE drink when you purchase beans plus you get a FREE drink on your birthday!

*Good flight deals going on - Southwest is charging $59 (and free bags!) for some one-way tickets. Clearly, these are just for selected cities, but hey, if I wanted to fly from Seattle to Boise, it'd only cost me $118 roundtrip! Make sure to read the fine print because exclusions apply.

*FREE shower gel and bubble bath sample from Philosophy when you become a fan on Facebook! If you sign up to receive emails, you'll get a FREE Amazing Grace perfume with a $15 purchase.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Help: Drink and Be Merry!

So, a week until the holiday season officially kicks off! I've got my card table to seat more people (a table and 4 chairs for $40 - thanks Target!), table runner, napkins, decorations, I just need some drinks! I definitely don't want to break the bank for drinks - I'm keeping my budget at $25 for 5 people. What am I going to do?

First, I'm going to make a seasonal cocktail. I saw Rachael Ray's Thanksgiving episode and thought a pomegranate prosecco drink sounded great! I can't find it anywhere to share, but basically, she took a bottle of pomegranate juice and a few slices of fresh ginger. Let that steep for awhile and add an entire bottle of chilled prosecco. Mix and voila! I found a bottle of prosecco for $7 and pomegranate juice for around $4. For a non-alcoholic version, I bet ginger ale would be fantastic in place of the prosecco, and a whole lot cheaper!

For my wine, I'm going to have a rose (I hear it is fantastic with turkey) and beaujolais nouveau, which also pairs well with turkey. You can find both wines for modest prices. Beaujolais is also a great wine to have because it comes out the 3rd Thursday of November! Perfect timing, don't you think?

I'm leaving beer off because I think it's a little heavy with all the food. I'm sure if my husband's reading this, he's getting ready to go pick up some PBR Light. I bet he'd say nothing goes better with Thanksgiving than PBR Light because it's American, it won a blue ribbon, and it goes with just about anything. I think I'll disagree, but it's a great price point!

Since I love wine, but I'm far from a wine expert, I have a FANTASTIC blog, Good Wine Under $20, and her post for good holiday wines here.

Cheers! Salut! Prost! Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free Beer!

Okay, so not exactly, but we have another guest post this week from David Seidman. David is a true frugalisto. He would rather do something himself than pay someone else to do it, and that includes making his own beer and his own business. David mixed his business smarts, his frugal sensibilities and his desire to save people money to create, an online matchmaker to help people share large purchases like boats, vacation homes, and even airplanes. If you're interested in finding about what has to offer, check it out. Here, David shares his love of the homebrew.
Okay, brewing your own beer (“homebrewing”) isn’t quite free, but it’s a lot cheaper than at the store or the bar. An average microbrew costs anywhere from $1-$3 or more at the grocery store and $4-5+ at a bar, but you can brew it yourself for as cheap as $0.50. On top of that, it’s really simple and you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

The big sucker punch here is up front – a basic starter package costs about $50, but most people wind up buying about another $50 or so in equipment, and sky’s the limit for fancy gadgets (spouses: great gift opportunities!). Once you have the basic equipment, you’ll spend about $30-40 per 5 gallon batch for good-quality beer. Cheap light beer can be, well, cheaper, and really hoppy or malty beers cost more. Wine is also simple to make but it has a different process that takes longer and doesn’t save you as much money. Also, it gives me a hangover.

So how does it work? Well, it’s a lot like cooking. You boil some water, and while it comes to a boil you steep a teabag-like bag of grains in the water. These give it flavor and color. Once the water’s boiling, you stir in “malt extract”, a syrup made from malted barley, the base ingredient in your beer, and throw in some hops. You boil this for about an hour, adding hops at a few key points along the way. Then you cool it down, pour it into your fermenter (a big bucket with an airlock), toss in the yeast, seal it all up, and put it in an out of the way place for a week or two. Like magic, the yeast will turn the malt into alcohol, and you’ll have beer! Flat beer, though. So the next step is to transfer it into bottles (there’s a gizmo for this) along with some sugar. As the yeast digests the sugar, it makes carbon dioxide, and in a couple weeks your beer is carbonated and ready to drink!

To get started, you can order any of the basic starter packages off the internet, or go into your local homebrew store. In the Seattle area, Larry’s in Kent, Mountain Homebrew in Kirkland and Homebrew Heaven in Everett are all good. They’re used to beginners and can get you all set up. They can also help you pick out a recipe and get all the ingredients. You can make any kind of beer you’re interested in drinking, and once you know what you’re doing you can even make up your own recipes, try crazy ideas (maple syrup beer, anyone?), and you’ll always have beer on hand when you want it. There are lots of great sites on the internet (search for “homebrew”) to help you out, or find a friend who homebrews - brewers are a friendly bunch (nothing to do with the alcohol…) and most people love helping their friends get started. So take up a hobby that actually saves you money! And as the homebrewers’ tagline goes: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Deals

Good morning and happy Friday the 13th! Some deals for you on this chilly Friday!

*FREE Aveda Rosemary Mint Body Wash - as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a big fan of being an Aveda Rewards member. You get free offers every few months in the mail, but this is for everyone. Go to Fantabulously Frugal and print out the coupon.

*FREE shipping on your order at J.Crew when you become a fan on Facebook! The promo code is LOVEJCREW. It expires today so get! And take advantage of their great fall sale! While you're on Facebook, become a fan of Lean with Green!

*FREE shipping on lots of holiday items at Pottery Barn! New monogrammed stockings, anyone?

*Need some new books? is having a buy 4, get the 5th book FREE sale! Plus FREE shipping on orders over $25!

*Macy's is offering 10%, 15% and 20% off items with a promo code SAVEMORE. Only available online.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holiday Help: Thanksgiving Dinner Edition

As we get closer and closer to the holiday season, Frugal Femme and I will be doing a series of posts dedicated to having fun during this special time, but also keeping your pockets lined with more than just spare change. Sound good?

According to a 2008 study by Forbes, the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 costs $44. 61. They included the turkey and 12 traditional dishes, like pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. However, the fine folks at Forbes did not include alcohol...and really, can you survive Thanksgiving without it? I digress...

As I'm putting together my menu for my second Thanksgiving that I've hosted, I'm determined to keep my costs down this year and I figured I'd throw my suggestions out there and see if any of you had any ideas! Here's what you can do to keep costs down but still have a fabulous Thanksgiving meal!

*Make it a potluck Thanksgiving. Okay, so right off the bat, I won't be doing this one. My in-laws are coming up from Portland. Since they're making the 3+ hour drive (not including what promises to be horrific traffic), I don't want them worrying about cooking. I have given them the task of picking up rolls, dessert (I don't want to bake a pie) and alcohol so that will definitely save me some money. But if you're having a local Thanksgiving (or if you're less of a control freak than I am) definitely spread the meal love around. Assign people coming over to bring something. For your cousin who doesn't cook, how about drinks? For your recently college graduate brother, why not something inexpensive like dinner rolls? This will not only take time off your hands and free up space in your refrigerator, but will save you a significant amount of money. Plus, it leaves your guests feeling like they contributed something to make the holiday memorable.

*Shop around and do it now! I just saw a deal at my local Safeway for 27 cents/lb for turkey! Hopefully I can clear out enough space in my freezer to get a great deal on the turkey, but there are definitely bargains out there. Stores will mark up prices as it gets closer - you can't have Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey, right? - and they'll definitely take advantage of late shoppers. I bought my turkey two days before Thanksgiving last year and paid around $14 for a 12 lb turkey as opposed to $3.24 (currently the deal at Safeway). WOW! That's a $10 savings!

*Buy produce in bulk. Since you're most likely cooking for a larger group, you can now take advantage of buying fresh produce in bulk. I know I'm cooking mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts, so I'll go to Costco and buy a 5 lb bag of brussel sprouts for $6 and a 15 lb bag of potatoes for $7. First, I'm doing a trial of recipes so I know I'll need more than just for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus potatoes can keep up to a month if stored correctly, so I'll just use them for regular dinners...this makes my husband very happy.

*Buy frozen/canned items. Fresh produce is obviously going to be more expensive, and unless your recipes call specifically for fresh, you can definitely substitute frozen or canned items. I think frozen green beans would be just fine in a green bean casserole. Are you going to make pumpkin puree? No, we'll leave that to Martha Stewart. Buy canned pumpkin.

*Don't make everything from scratch. Who said Thanksgiving has to have all homemade items and days spent toiling over every detail? Not me! Last year, I bought my stuffing from Trader Joe's and it was great! True, my mom's stuffing is better, but I spent $3 and 20 minutes instead of a lot more time and definitely more money.

Ultimately though, it doesn't matter how much money you spend. Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for our friends and family, and regardless of how much you spend at the grocery store, it's about the time we spend with our loved ones. Maybe start a new tradition - I'm going to start a guest book (thanks to my friends the Duttons for this idea!) and have my guests write what they're thankful for. How cool would that be to look back on years later?

What about you? Do you have money saving strategies for holiday dinners? What are your plans for Thanksgiving?

Stay tuned next week for tips on saving money on holiday beverages!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Post: Hosting a Party on a Budget

Hey all! We're VERY excited to have the lovely Alysia from Prost to the Host write a post on how to host a fabulous party on a small budget! Prost to the Host is a blog that features everything lovely and fresh in the world of entertaining! Make sure to check it out - she has a beautiful site and fantastic ideas! Thanks Alysia!

Hello beautiful! I am Alysia from Prost the Host, LLC and I organize parties and weddings in my spare time. Budget is the number one factor in determining a celebration. While the economy is slowing picking up, people are still cautious with spending and it seems everyone is on a budget. One can still have a fabulous celebration without busting the bank. As we get closer to the holidays, there are many opportunities to host. The cost to host can add up quickly if one is not careful. Here are a few tips on cutting costs without trimming the fabulous.

Time is NOT on our side
The biggest factor in overspending during a celebration is how much time you spend planning the event. Not having enough time will cause one to pay for convenience by paying expedited shipping costs, buying prepackaged food and shopping for items without price comparisons. Timing is truly of essence when you are trying to keep within a budget. If a Fourth of July party is your annual party, be mindful of the sales associated with after holiday sales and stock up for the following year. Discounts are often as high as 90% for post-holiday sales.

Budget Cuts
Determine what factor is most important to you and adjust the budget. By choosing one or two areas of importance, it will enhance the overall party and make you feel like you are not scrimping on every aspect.
*Use evites or emails to invite your guests rather than mailing invitations. If paper invitations are important, opt for printing your invitations at home or Kinko's.
*Decorations are only necessary if you have a theme. To avoid extra costs, plan your fete in locale with interest. Parks and backyards are naturally pretty and don't need much, while a gym or rental space may require more to dress up. To add a bit of drama, use candles to warm a space. Tealights come in bulk and are an inexpensive and chic way to add depth and drama without going overboard on decorations. Bring the outdoors in! Create fruit centerpieces, branches with fall leaves or herbs such as wheat grass and rosemary. Growing your own herbs is simple and an affordable way to dress up a table and branches from your yard are free.
*Know your area. Flowers from local farms are cheaper than grocery stores and florists. Being aware of the season will help gauge what is actually growing and available since out of season tulips and orchids are beyond expensive.
*If you host often, invest in buffet dishes and bulk glassware to avoid constant disposable purchases. This is an eco-friendly option that will save you green in the long run. Ikea has dishes as low as $0.79, also check out World Market, TJ Maxx etc for glassware.

Eat, Drink and Be Frugal
*If offering alcoholic drinks, stick to a simple bar. A beer and wine bar are acceptable options. Or add a liquor drink to go along with the theme. Keeping the mixers and ingredients simple will limit the costs involved.
*Search for beer distribution warehouses in your area. For example, Columbia Distributing ( offers discounted beer and wine. Call ahead for selection options and times. In addition, in the Pacific Northwest, we are lucky to have such an abundance of distilleries and breweries. Which means, in terms of beer, buying in bulk (e.g. half barrels, pony kegs etc), are more cost effective than purchasing cases.
*If wine is of great importance, join your favorite winery and receive member-only discounts. Or buy 6 bottles or more from your local grocery for the "bulk" discount. Don't forget to check out Trader Joe's and World Market for delicious and nominally priced vinos.
*There is no shame in a BYOB party.
*Food costs are a hidden expenditure that can quickly add up. Avoid meal times and offer appetizers and finger foods instead. Skip the pre-made, deli and packaged food aisles. Making the dish from scratch is often cheaper.
*Know your crowd. If you have a meat/potatoes crowd, skip the crudité platter as it will just go to waste.
*Presentation is important! Single servings look more visually stimulating than mountains of food.

Coupons, Sales and Discounts Oh My!
*If purchasing items off the internet, search for free shipping or discount codes prior to purchase. Every store has a coupon, you just need to find it.
*Sign up for store's email lists and receive discounts and coupons for members-only. Only sign up for shops you truly enjoy or your email will fill will spam. My favorite party one-stop shop is World Market as they frequently offer 25% off coupons.
*Check out the library for the Sunday newspaper and see if the coupons are worthwhile. Then purchase your own copy.
*Everyone has a website. Check out your favorite brands' websites for their manufacturer coupons and pair with your grocery "double" coupon for double savings.

Hidden Gems
We are creatures of habit. We go to the same shops and often forget of other retail options. Mix up the routine and check out these stores for affordable loot. Always check out the clearance aisle!

Craft Stores: Michael's, Joanns - always have online and newspaper coupons
Home Improvement Stores: Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowes
Discount Chains: TJ Maxx, Ross, Dollar Stores
Online: Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, Plum Party, Bake It Pretty
Clothing Stores: CB2, Urban Outfitters

Details, Details, Details
The little details really make a party stand out from the rest. These inexpensive ideas will take your party to the next level.
*Add some DIY flair to you food and drinks with food tags made of leftover paper and ribbon.
Patterned fabric cut in placemats make a table pop with color.
*If you don't have a theme, pick a color scheme. Color can bring all the elements of the party together. Color specific drinks, food and decorations have a powerful impact.

Best of luck! If you host a party and want to share with me, email me ( In the end, there is nothing shameful about living within one's means. As long as the guests are happy, it was successful. A prost to you, the party planner! Cheers!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Much Should You Save for a House?

Now that my husband has a good job and the real estate market is friendlier to first-time home buyers, we've decided to start the search for Our. First. Home. Exciting! Scary! Nervewracking! EXPENSIVE!!!! All of these words come to mind when buying a home and definitely the last in Seattle, the median price for a home is between $400,000 and $500,000! Not a super affordable place to live, but I know those of you who live in California are going to tell me I'm lucky prices are so low.

So we've been doing a little research about how much to save. As mentioned before, we did a really good job of saving over the past year, but factoring in all of the costs for a house, I'm not sure it's enough.

I'd love to get some tips and hear stories from those of you who have been in my shoes before. Besides a down payment, what else did you save for when buying a house? Closing costs? House emergency fund? Anything you wish you did differently in your search? I'd love any of your advice! Thanks, readers!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Brand v. Generic Faceoff - Tailgate Edition

After reading this Wise Bread post a few weeks ago, I was inspired to do a DIY taste test. Knowing that I'd be hosting a football party to watch the Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal seemed like the perfect opportunity to host a tailgate edition of generic v. brand taste test. Frugal Femme and I figured out what we'd test that were typical tailgate snacks and we came up with soda, potato chips, onion dip, tortilla chips, salsa and pretzels. After not being able to find generic potato chips and soda being declared a "flop", we were down to four items.

The ballots

We had our participants (i.e. willing friends) take a blind taste test and rate which item they thought tasted the best. We asked them to add their comments on why they prefered Food A to Food B. Here's what our research determined.

The Faceoffs:

1) Safeway Brand onion dip v. Lipton onion dip -in a blind taste test, the participants preferred the Safeway brand 2 to 1 compared to the Lipton brand. The Lipton brand was "too overpowering" for one participant, and another prefered the Safeway brand because it had a "nice, mild onion flavor".

2) O Organics (Safeway Brand) white corn tortilla chips v. Tostitos white corn tortilla chips - Tostitos won, but just barely (by 2 votes). Some people said they prefered the O Organics brand because there was "more crunch", but Tostitos eked out a victory.

3) O Organics (Safeway Brand) mild salsa v. Tostitos mild salsa - the O Organics won by a hair (two votes). One voter said about the O Organics brand "you can tasted the individual ingredients" while saying about the Tostitos brand "tasted like processed tomatoes".

Eric enjoying the taste test!

4) Safeway Brand pretzels v. Snyders pretzels - our testers were tied on this one. We even had a self-described pretzel expert in our group and she could not tell the difference between the generic and store brand!

So what's the point? Well, besides having a fun taste test, knowing that overall generic brands taste just as good if not better in most cases could save you a lot of money when you're shopping for party food, or just your grocery budget in general. Clearly, we know that some things are worth the splurge for a brand (soda!), but you're not missing much else.

What about you? Are you buying brands because you think they taste better? Do you always buy generic to save some money? Are there some products you refuse to buy generic?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Clothes Shopping the Frugal Way Part 2

So I went through my closet and the checklist. I determined that I really, really lack a lot of basics and truth be told, I never owned most of these basics ever. Which I think ( I hope!) has solved my dilemma of having tons of clothes but nothing to wear.

Now that my closet is clean, it's time to shop! Here are the items I'll be looking to add to my wardrobe based on the check list)

Black Tank
White and black T's (short sleeved and long)
Black turtleneck sweater
Crew neck sweater
Black pants
Heavy sweater
Cashmere hoodie
Gray Flannel pants (I might choose another fabric aside from flannel)

I also decided to add a few things to the checklist:

Black round-toe pumps
Black knee high boots
1-2 additional pairs of neutral pants such a pin stripe
1-2 dressier blouses

I have to admit the first thing I want to do is run out and buy all of these items and then some more items i "need." Of course that would be incredibly expensive. Because the next important step in this wardrobe re-hash is buying quality. Now quality does not necessarily equate to expensive, although they typically will be pricier. Some items you don't necessarily need to spend on as no matter what, they will eventually wear out, such as white T-shirts. Here's another great guide from Real Simple which details what to save on and where to spend.

For those items where it's worth it to "spend" eHow has a great article which helps you determine quality. This is a must read. And of course most important is that the fit is impeccable on you. If you have a hard to fit body, it might be worth it to invest in a tailor for a few key pieces such as black pants.

I'm determined to have a complete and classic wardrobe eventually and I'm well aware it make take a few years to eventually save up all of the money I need. Therefore I am prioritizing items. I'll start by purchasing the cheaper items such as the t-shirts and tanks. This will immediately allow me to create several different outfits at a relatively low cost. Next I really need a pair of black pants and black boots. So I will be on the hunt for those and splurge on them instead of 5 new tops that I'll rarely wear.

Next week we'll examine how to save money on these quality items.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Deals

Hello Friday! Enjoy the deals and have a fabulous weekend!

- One of my favorite deal finding sites, Fantabulously Frugal, posted about this offer from Coach Factory stores. Save an additional 20% now through November 15th!

- If you have a birthday coming up, register your Starbucks card and get a FREE drink on your birthday!

-FREE entree at Applebee's for veterans on Veterans Day (Wednesday, November 11th). Just show proof of military service. And thank you for your service to our country!

- $1 scarves at Old Navy tomorrow (Saturday, November 7th)! Saw this on TV last night, so I don't know all the details, but sounds good enough to check out.

- J. Crew is beginning their Fall Online Sale - take an additional 20% off, plus FREE shipping on orders of $150 or more. Woo hoo!

- If you have a Gap Family (Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime, Athleta) card, shop this weekend and save 30% on your order! There's also FREE shipping for orders over $75 and other good sales (50% off outerwear at Old Navy, 15% off at Gap when you order a child's item).

- Bath and Body Works is having a buy 3, get 3 free sale on their signature body card items (soaps, lotions, creams, etc). You could save over $65!

If you want to get a jump on holiday shopping, this weekend might be a good time!

Remember to become a fan on Facebook for other tips and discussions on how to save money and look good doing it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Slow Cookin'....

The slow cooker. A lazy person's kitchen accessory or a smart person's essential kitchen item? Since I love my slow cooker with all my heart, I will select the latter. My friends and I actually got in a debate - if you could only select one cooking source, which would you select from a grill, a stove/oven, or a slow cooker? While there's obviously merits for all of them (nothing tastes like a grilled burger or cookies fresh from the oven), I think the slow cooker is convenient, versatile, economical, and green!

For those of you who are new to slow cooking, welcome! Basically, a slow cooker cooks food at a constant and low temperature for hours, making food more flavorful. Ever notice how people sell things by adding taglines like "slow-cooked"? Yeah, because it's delicious. And it's also great because you can take 10-15 minutes chopping and prepping your food, throw it in the slow cooker, leave for work for 8-10 hours, and when you come home, your dinner is ready. How awesome is that?!

You can cook just about anything in a slow cooker, making it a super versatile piece of equipment to have in your kitchen. Just some quick glances at my slow cooker cookbook and here are some of the recipes: hot artichoke dip, butterscotch fondue, beef bourguignon (I'm sure Julia Child is not thrilled about this), Jamaican jerk pork sandwiches, pasta with sun-dried tomato sauce, rosemary chicken and potatoes, and decadent raspberry brownies! YUM!

A slow cooker also helps you get more bang for your buck in your grocery budget. You can buy cheaper, tougher pieces of meat, and put it in a slow cooker for a few hours. What you end up with is a tender, flavorful piece of meat (sorry vegetarians!).

And something I definitely love about slow cookers - they're an energy efficient way to cook. Now, this probably depends on a few factors - is your oven energy efficient? Do you have a low-wattage slow cooker? How long will you leave the slow cooker on? In most instances, your typical slow cooker is going to have a lower wattage than your oven. Surprisingly, it will even use less energy in 8 hours than an oven would in an hour! Check out this planet green post on the author's research on slow cookers v. ovens.

If you are interested in dusting off your slow cooker, the recipe book I love is Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes. Anyone else out there in love with their slow cooker like I am? Anyone inspired to give it a try?

Oh, and PS - dinner tonight: slow-cooked white chicken chili with corn bread muffins.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How the Recession Changed Us

I read a really interesting article in Parade on Sunday about how the economic crisis over the last year has changed Americans. You could probably guess that there was a lot of negativity:

-79% of people had been personally affected by the recession
-68% of people had lost their job or had their pay reduced, or they knew someone who had
-Over half of people had trouble paying their housing costs or knew someone who had

It talked about people cutting back on vacations, holding off big ticket purchases, postponing home additions or renovations. People are feeling cheated because they "played by the rules", and many are losing faith with elected officials.

I, like many of us out there, was personally affected by the recession. Three weeks after my husband and I returned from our wedding in September, we realized his bank was being purchased by another bank and he'd most likely be out of a job. By December, it was official, and by February, he was unemployed. He recently was hired by a great company, but for months, we lived in uncertainty.

But what I learned, and what millions of others are learning, is that through the challenging circumstances, there's still so much to be grateful for. First off, we made saving money our priority. We hosted game nights and potlucks instead of going out and spending money on food and drinks, and 46% of people said they're forming better relationships with friends as a result of the economy. In July, I started volunteering for the Humane Society - 30% of those surveyed began volunteering for a charity or cause. And my husband and I are definitely have a stronger marriage because of everything we had to go through - 52% said their relationships are stronger with their spouses.

The recession has enabled people to get more creative. More people are learning new skills or becoming do-it-yourselfers. More people are reading for pleasure. People report being healthier and more active. Frugal Femme and I started this blog!

I do tend to look on the bright side of things, and while this recession has been incredibly painful for millions of families, I think it's helping us remember the important things. It's not about big houses, fancy cars, or the hottest clothes. It's about family, friends, taking care of yourself, giving back, and helping out.

I don't know if I could have said that in February when my husband lost his job. But we both gained a lot of knowledge and lessons that many couples probably don't learn until years down the road. Many of the things Frugal Femme and I talk about in this blog are tips and strategies that I'll continue to use. After what we went through, I'm passionate about saving. I try to save at least 10% of my paycheck. And I've become better about gift buying - I now prefer to give gifts that are more personal, like a batch of homemade cookies, than going out and spending a lot of money on something meaningless.

Anyone else out there that was personally affected by the recession who feels like sharing? Do you feel like you're better off in life because you've struggled?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We're on Facebook!

Become a fan of Lean with Green on Facebook for even more money saving tips and discussion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What's On the Menu?

For the most part, my husband and I are pretty healthy eaters. I get a lot of great recipes from Eating Well, Cooking Light, and Women's Health. As you probably know, it's more expensive to get fresh produce instead of canned or frozen, and you can greatly increase the costs when you buy organic produce. However, I don't consider produce a luxury - I consider it an investment in my health and well-being. And I just love unloading my cart - I have apples, bananas, lettuce, colorful and it definitely gets me excited about eating well. I especially love unloading my bags from the farmers' market!

The worst thing about having all of the luscious fruits and vegetables in my house is they have a short shelf life, especially my organic produce from the farmers' market. Nothing is more sad than putting beautiful peppers in your fridge, forgetting about them, and a couple of days later, they're mushy. I have filled up my compost bags with more forgotten fruit than I care to admit, and I realized I had to do something to stop wasting money and great, healthy food.

My solution? A small dry erase board on my fridge. And how does that solve the problem? It serves as a reminder to me what EXACTLY I was going to do with those tomatoes. If I can plan even further ahead, I like to arrange my meals for the week in order of how long the produce will keep. Plus, I love it when friends come over and are impressed with my meals! Someone sees I have "blue cheese turkey burgers and sweet potato fries", we might get into a discussion of how to get the fries to be crispy rather than soggy. It's amazing how many good conversations I've gotten in because of my menu.

My menu for this week:

Besides remembering what to do with the food you buy, knowing how to store produce is key. Check out this article on how to store produce from Martha Stewart. What doesn't she know?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Clothes Shopping the Frugal Way Part 1

So this begins a series of posts on how you can create a killer wardrobe on a budget. And the short answer, which isn't necessarily easy, is spend more on fewer things.

WHAT??? A money saving blog is suggesting you spend more money? Essentially yes. But overtime it will save you a lot of money. Now this does not give you permission to go spend $150 on the latest "it" pair of shoes. But if you don't have a quality pair of basic black sling backs, it's worth making the investment in those.

But stop. We're not to the buying phase just yet... This series of posts will walk you through steps to creating a wardrobe that looks fabulous, will stay current and you won't be re-buying black pants and a white blouse over and over only to have them fall apart next season.

I realized that one of the reasons I never have anything to wear is because I don't have solid basics, and the basic pieces I do have, don't necessarily fit right or look well-kept. They are pilling or stretched out or the color is fading. I mean honestly it is a lot more fun to buy that funky dress, than a plain old button down. But you'll get a lot more wear out of that button down, than the dress which will very likely be out of style in a few short months. And if you have quality, well-fitted garments you will be satisfied knowing you always look sharp.

For instance, for years I decided to boycott "designer" jeans, I was certain I could find jeans that looked just as nice at a much cheaper price. So I spent three years and bought close to 15 different pairs of jeans. I always thought I had found the perfect pair, only to realize I was compromising on fit, or the fabric was scratchy, and they would inevitably shrink. Then I broke down and bought two pairs of jeans from Nordstrom and had them hemmed. I am very content with my jean wardrobe. They look fabulous, I feel great in them and no one notices that I might wear the same pair in a week. Bottom line, less can really be more.

Now this isn't to say you'll never buy a trendy piece again. But the key is to get a basic beautiful wardrobe and then each season sprinkle in a few trendy pieces.

So I know I'm already really really overwhelmed by this process. But that's why I'm going to follow my own process as we go and give feedback.

Step #1 this week take inventory of your wardrobe. Here is a link to a fabulous check list from Real Simple which I think has a wonderful take on what the basics should be, even though it is quite a long list, this wardrobe building is a process that takes year to cultivate. And feel free to modify based on your needs. For instance, a black cashmere wrap just isn't something I need to have in my wardrobe at this time. So I'll probably by pass that one. Same for the fleece vest, it's just not something I'd like to wear. However, keep an open mind on some things. For example I never thought I had a need for a black t-shirt. But then I thought about all the things it could do for my wardrobe and decided it could be a great piece to have.

Now as you take inventory keep in mind things that should be replaced. For example I have a white t-shirt. It's totally see through and doesn't fit right, so I should indicate I have it and it should be replaced. This will be useful as we prioritize items for purchase.

I'm going to focus on the always in-season, fall and winter checklists and do spring and summer later in the year.

Next week we'll focus on Step #2 which will include some potential shopping!