Monday, May 31, 2010

Once a Month Grocery Shopping

In our ongoing effort to save money I meal planned, for an entire month. It was a bit of undertaking, but overall easier than I expected. Basically I planned my meals around four basic proteins and then bought them in bulk. For instance 5 pounds of ground beef can be found cheaper per pound than one. And you can buy items like pork chops in value packs. Then divide them into meal portions and freeze what you won't using for the week you purchased them.
Plus the added advantage is that I only have to do small trips to the grocery store each week to pick up perishables like fruits and dairy and it's pretty hard to say we don't have anything to eat with a fully stocked freezer.
Some people really go the distance and cook their meals in a weekend so they are fully prepared and just need to be baked or reheated. I didn't put in that much effort. It seemed overwhelming. But I did selected meals that were quick and easy to put together like enchiladas and steamed salmon. Also when I do make something that is a larger recipe, like my lentil chili, I'll freeze the remaining portion.
The key is having everything planned out. That way you don't end up with a bunch of say frozen chicken leftover the last week. It keeps the week well balanced and prevents the question what should we have for dinner.
So far I've spent $168 for a month's worth of groceries including some lunch and breakfast items. I'm hoping to not spend more than $25 a week in perishables keep us under $300 for the month. This will bring us under by quit a bit per month and we plan to add that extra money to our savings.
We do have two nights planned for eating out, but now it will be a enjoyable experience rather than just being too lazy to cook.
We'll see how it goes!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Deals!

Happy almost Memorial Day Weekend! Hope you get out and do something fun for the holiday! So many people are having sales this weekend!

*25% off and FREE shipping with purchases over $75 at Gap when you enter the promo code GAPSUMMER online. Good through Monday.

*$15 off every $60 you spend at Express with code 7286. Good through Monday.

*20% off coupon for H&M. Expires June 6th.

*40% off sale items at Ann Taylor - enter code SALE40 at checkout. Good through Monday.

*40% off one item at Borders with this coupon! Ends tomorrow.

*Nordstrom is having their half-yearly sale for women and children - prices vary but good deals on great things are to be had for sure!

*FREE small breakfast and coffee at IKEA this weekend!

*FREE insole from Dr. Scholl's when you like Dr. Scholl's for Her on Facebook! Literally you get 1 insole, but the people at Dr. Scholl's are hoping you'll like it so much you'll go out and buy one so you'll also get a coupon. Just in time for summer sandals!

When you shop online, don't forget to use ebates! You get cash back and sometimes even special deals!

Have a wonderful long weekend everyone!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Profiles in Saving: Mrs. Smith

Our second Profile in Saving comes from one of my very good friends, Mrs. Smith. Besides being an excellent cook, a great conversationalist and a nature lover, Mrs. Smith is a twentysomething Western Washington resident who will soon have her Masters in Teaching! Bravo, Mrs. Smith!

I've long admired Mr. and Mrs. Smith's savings mentality, and they were an inspiration for Profiles in Saving. I hope you love Mrs. Smith's words of wisdom as much as I did.

LWG: How did you develop your financially savvy identity?

Mrs. Smith: I really don't know for sure - my mom is pretty prudent about spending, and she was always pretty honest about what we could and couldn't afford. Her general financial philosophy was "be reasonable, and hopefully you'll be able to pay at the end of the month." Not exactly sophisticated. I will say I think New England is a pretty financially conservative area in general - people just aren't really big status consumers for the most part, and growing up in a rural area, I never had the opportunity to develop big spending habits as a kid or a teen. It was 30 miles to the mall, and most of the restaurants near home were diners. So I guess part of it is just how I grew up.

I think the other part of it is I'm terrified of not being able to pay for my lifestyle. I carried about a $1000 credit card balance for two months at the end of college (the cost of a totally worthwhile spring break trip with some girlfriends), and it freaked me out! I couldn't wait to pay it off, and I spent most of the money I got as graduation gifts paying it off as soon as I could. We had one month when we first moved to Washington where our expenses exceeded our income - I hadn't found a job yet, and there were a lot of moving expenses. But it scared the crap out of me, and I've never forgotten it! I think about it when I'm making the littlest decisions, like "should I get a new shower curtain?" Little things add up.

LWG: How do you integrate saving into your regular routine?

Mrs. Smith: Like I said, I think about the wisdom and value of almost every purchase. Almost. I have a tendency to overspend on cosmetics and treats - coffee, special food, new lip balm. But I'm very aware of that habit and I pay attention to it. I figure if I mostly restrict it to things under $5, it's never going to get too out of hand, and I do think it's a good thing to feel like you have a little financial freedom.

In college, I only had an ATM card for years. Every time I wanted to buy something, I'd pick it out, bring it to the register and have them put it on hold, then walk to the ATM to get cash. Usually, somewhere in that process, I'd decide the purchase wasn't worth it. Sometimes it took actually holding the cash in my hand. It's not really a practical way to live as an adult, but it was a habit that really made me more aware of the cost of things.

I'm not a coupon clipper - I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be. I need to feel like my time is valuable. Also, I haven't bought an item of clothing that wasn't on sale in YEARS, with the exception of running shoes and jeans.

LWG: What do you splurge on?

Mrs. Smith: Not much. Makeup and mani/pedis. I have sensitive skin, so I buy all Clinique, which I probably don't really have to do, but it makes me feel better about how I'm taking care of myself. Mani/pedis is really purely about feeling a little decadent, but it's a pretty cheap way to do it, especially since I don't do it that often. I have had too many bad haircuts to bother looking for a cheaper hairdresser. I used to drive to Portland (about a 3 hour drive) for a $45 haircut, and that was great, but it was ridiculous and inconvenient. Now I pay $80, which makes me cringe, and my highlights are $125, which I think is crazy. But my hair looks great, it lasts, and I don't get irritated every single morning.

The other thing I splurge on is excercise. I am willing to pay a lot more money for a gym that I actually like going to.

LWG: What is the best piece of financial advice you've ever been given?

Mrs. Smith: Last year, we were thinking about selling our condo and moving into a larger house. My mom gave me some good advice, which was "Don't buy a house until you can really afford to buy one that you'll love until your kids have moved out of the house." Fair enough. When I do buy a house, I'll have years to enjoy it, and I'll enjoy it more if it's actually big enough to entertain in and to have some flexibility with the space.

I worked for a financial consulting firm for several years, and most of my clients were retirement plans. I used to talk to people who were in their late 50's with maybe $10,000 or $20,000 saved who wanted to know how they should invest in order to get the best income in retirement. It was really tough to talk to them knowing that there was essentially no way they'd be able to retire. It wasn't exactly like someone gave me advice, but I learned my lesson well - PLAN for your retirement from the day you get your first job, and save as much money as you can while you're young. Don't go crazy trying to figure out exactly how much to put in Roth, how much to put in an IRA, how much to put in 401(k), how much to put in taxable savings. Put a good chunk in a 401(k) if you can, especially if you have any kind of match, but don't go nuts. Just put the money somewhere, put it in a balanced portfolio of stock funds, and DON'T TOUCH IT. One thing we realized is that if we ever have kids, it will be so much less financially stressful if we've already got our retirement more or less taken care of.

Otherwise, almost all the financial advise that people have given me when I haven't asked for it has been pretty crappy. Everyone always thinks they've found the new best idea, and usually, common sense and a conservative long-term view are the best way to go.

LWG: What is the advice you'd give to someone who wants to be lean with green?

Mrs. Smith: Money is important. But it's not the only thing. One thing I've noticed is that people who spend a lot of time thinking about how they're going to spend their money often end up earning less of it. Think about how you can grow as a person in your free time, not how you can spend your money. That will probably translate into spending more time doing cheap or free stuff (like volunteering, or taking up a new hobby), and the new, savvier, more self-aware you will probably start doing better in your job or figure out what kind of work you really want to be doing - and eventually, that will translate into bigger paychecks. Which you can put in the bank for retirement and look forward to spending more time on your hobbies and personal growth when you are 55 and sitting pretty on a big 401(k). I think people who are satisfied with their careers and with their personal growth don't tend to look for satisfaction in material things as much.

Thanks Mrs. Smith! Look for Mr. Smith's Profile in Savings next week!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Minimizing the Latte Factor

A few years ago, a man named David Bach coined the term "latte factor". It basically means that small, incidental purchases every day can add up to be a lot of money over the course of months and years. Your daily $3 latte habit would end up costing you over $1000 a year, hence the name "latte factor". While some people's latte factor might be cosmetics or magazines, mine is definitely lattes, but here's how I'm getting it under control and still indulging.

First off, I'm brewing my coffee at home more often. I'll make a pot on Monday, put the remainder in the refrigerator for coffee later on in the week or iced coffee! Yum! Put a little milk and sugar in it and it tastes just like what you'd get at a coffee shop. Hint: if you have a Cost Plus World Market nearby, that is my favorite place to grab bags of coffee. Their coffee is great and really reasonably priced ($6 for a pound). Ask for a punch card and for every 6 bags purchased, you get a free bag! Plus, if you go on Wednesdays, you get double punches so it only takes 3 bags! It is seriously one of my favorite deals!

I still allow myself to have 2-3 lattes a week. To me, I really like having that treat, and happiness for $3 is pretty cheap in my opinion. How do I limit myself and still enjoy? I have a Starbucks card that I load at the beginning of every month with $25. Keeping that money on a Starbucks card versus using cash or a credit/debit card keeps me accountable - once it's gone, it's gone for the month. A bonus about having a Starbucks card is that if you register it, you earn one reward point every time you pay with your card. Once you get a certain amount of reward stars, you're eligible for things like free drinks, coupons, free wifi in stores, free drink customization... a pretty good deal if you're already planning on getting coffee anyway!

What's your "latte factor" and are you doing anything to keep it in check?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Profiles in Saving: BudgetBabe

Has there ever been someone you've admired for certain qualities (their business skills, their straight-A habits, their parenting abilities, etc) and you always wanted to ask how do they do it? I thought it would be interesting to do just that. I asked a few of my friends and family members whose financial skills I admired and present them to you in Profiles in Saving! For the first profile, I decided to do myself...I was available for an interview. :)

LWG: How did you develop your financially savvy identity?

BB: I think it took me awhile to get a sense of what I should be doing with my money. I have always been good about tracking it - as soon as I got my first checking account, I diligently updated my checkbook register. I switched soon to online banking and checked my accounts multiple times a week. I even signed up for 3 years ago (way before it was cool). But I did not understand the importance of money until further on down the line. I had multiple credit cards and I only paid the minimum balance. I had store credit cards. I didn't save money I earned. My husband's unemployment really made me stop and think about what I was doing. I started noticing how my spending habits weren't matching up with my goals, and noticing the things I spent my money on didn't necessarily make me happy. Since I had my financial epiphany a year and a half ago, I'm credit card debt-free, I'm a homeowner of a house well within my budget, I have built up an emergency fund to last 6 months, and I co-write a personal finance blog! :)

LWG: How do you integrate saving into your regular routine?

BB: IFor me, it starts with being a savvy consumer. For big purchases (anything over $500), I do some research and shopping around. For everyday purchases, I shop smartly. I don't spend time clipping coupons - they are usually for products I don't buy and it seems like a waste of 30 minutes to save $2. I do shop sales at grocery stores and stock up if there's a product I use frequently. I use group saving sites, like Groupon and Living Social. My other purchase that adds up tends to be coffee - my solution was limiting myself to $25 per month. Once I go over, that's it for the month. It allows me to have an indulgence but I reign it in.

As far as savings go, I need to be better about making it automatic. Right now, anything that's left over at the end of the month goes into savings, and that's usually a decent amount. But making it automatic will just make it less work for me and make it more routine.

LWG: What do you splurge on?

BB: I definitely could slim down my clothes shopping budget. I've improved and I still don't usually spend more than $100 on clothes per month, but I do still get things that are not necessities. I try to stick with the rule of throwing one thing out if I'm going to buy something new, but that takes discipline that I lack sometimes. What I'm splurging on currently is higher quality food products. I subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) and I get an organic produce box every other week for $30. I really believe that what you put into your body is so important and it can affect everything - your health, your skin, your mood. Plus, it's better for the environment to buy local. It is really worth the investment in my opinion.

LWG: What is the best piece of financial advice you've ever been given?

BB: Save at least 10% of any money you ever get - salary, gift, inheritance, etc. My dad said that to me a few years ago when one of his friends said he'd been doing that since he was 15 and it really stuck with me.

LWG: What is the advice you'd give to someone who wants to be lean with green?

BB: I think to not obsess about saving money. I think that ends up backfiring and causing more stress and headaches than it's worth. Live your life and spend your money in a way that's meaningful to you, but make good choices.

Coming next week, a Profile in Savings about some of my best friends. They are a married couple who have inspired me in many ways, but particularly when it comes to being financially smart! I hope you learn as much as I did from them! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review: The Millionaire Next Door

I had been meaning to read "The Millionaire Next Door" by Thomas Stanley and William Danko for the last few months, so I was really excited when it was finally available on my library list! Overall, I thought the book was pretty good - I'd give it a B. While I didn't take away any specific saving strategies, I did come away with some really great ideas and insights.

Points I loved from the book:

Wealth is not the same as income - if you make a decent amount of money every year but spend it all, you're not getting wealthier.

There are seven factors to being wealthy - living well below your means, allocating time and energy efficiently in ways to conducive to building wealth, believing financial stability is more important than displaying high social status, and choosing the right occupation are among them. The other 3? Millionaires did not have "economic outpatient care" given to them by their parents, their children (if applicable) are economically self-sufficient, and they are proficient in targeting marketing opportunities.

Saving takes discipline - just because you are a college graduate with a prestigious job does not guarantee you financial independence and a sizable retirement account. You must plan to save at least 10% of your take home pay and avoid typical spending traps, like new luxury cars, expensive wardrobes and a lavish lifestyle.
A budget is essential - the authors compared a household that operates without a budget to a business that operates without a plan, goals or directions. It won't work. You must know how much you spend and analyze how you could be saving more and spending less.

Know your spouse's money habits - most millionaires married someone frugal like them, or some married people even more frugal. If you're single now, make sure talking to your significant other about money is on your list of things to do. Spenders don't tend to be millionaires.

Don't give your children unlimited access to your money - this saying by the authors really resonated with me: the more dollars adult children receive, the fewer dollars they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more. If your kids need help, give them the skills and tools they need to solve the problem instead of throwing money at it.

Did anyone else read this book? Are there any other personal finance books you'd recommend?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Saving Money on Food, Part 2 - Produce Edition

You'll remember a few weeks ago when Frugal Femme started our "Saving Money on Food" feature - she talked about cupboard challenges and using up food before it goes bad instead of throwing it away. I find the most of what I waste is produce, and a lot of that is due to not storing it properly. After talking to local farmers and researching on the web, food storage makes a huge difference. For one thing, if produce is stored properly, it has a longer life. Not only that, but if it's stored incorrectly, you could be unknowingly sacrificing many vitamins and minerals! Here are some tips:

Keep Food Dry

Moisture is one of the biggest reasons we lose fruits and veggies - it causes them to rot and get moldy! Don't wash your produce until you're ready to use them.

Keep Produce Cold

There is an exception to this rule for some items (apricots, avocados, bananas, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, pears, pineapple, plums, potatoes, tomatoes and onions), but almost everything else should be kept in the refrigerator. It slows the aging process and keeps produce fresher longer and keeps vitamins in tact.

All Refrigerator Space is NOT Created Equal

Do you know that some places in your refrigerator are better for storing specific produce items than others? For instance, keep berries in the front of your fridge - it's warmer there. Other things that can go in the front? Citrus, melons, corn, and peas. Your crisper drawers are for things that need a little more humidity, like leafy greens and lettuce, fresh herbs, cucumber, broccoli, radishes, carrots, zucchini and other squash, eggplant, green beans, and peppers. Apples, cherries and grapes stand up pretty well so they can go just about anywhere.


It's so sad/frustrating/wasteful when I buy perfectly good fruits and vegetables and I forget about them until they have a layer of fuzz. It might actually be more entertaining to light money on fire. I make sure to use the produce that goes bad quicker (mushrooms, berries and greens) first. For certain fruits, I try to figure out another way to use them if they might be going bad soon. Overripe bananas are the best for a good banana bread, and freezing berries for smoothies or baking would be a good way to use things that might have a quick shelf life.

Any tips you'd like to share about using food up before it goes bad? I'd love to hear!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Deals!

Did this week fly by for you all? Man, it's mid-May already! Hope you all have a fun weekend in store! Here are your Friday Deals!

*$1 off coupon for Suave Professionals products when you become a fan on Facebook.

Image by Suave

*FREE samples at of Eucerin lotion and Prilosec OTC. PS - did you know that has a whole section for FREE samples, tools and music downloads? What the what?!

*FREE glass of wine at P.F. Chang's on Tuesday, May 18th at 5:18 PM. It's to promote their new wine Vineyard 518.

*Spend $25 at and get a $25 gift certificate to Nonprescription orders only.

*Have you heard about Ebates yet? It's one of my favorite online shopping sites, and right now when you shop through them, you get 11% cash back in honor of their 11th anniversary! Awesome, right!? Click to join here and start getting rewarded for your shopping!

*Vera Bradley is having a Last Chance sale! 50-70% off certain colors and styles!

*20% at philosophy when you enter the code HAPPINESS at checkout for Friends and Family time! Ends 5/20.

*Ongoing deals and freebies: FREE bagels at Noah's (or Einstein Brothers) with coupon before 11 AM every Friday until the 22nd, and half priced Frappucchinos at Starbucks through Sunday (3-5 PM). frappucchino with a little bit of whipped cream and sunshine sounds perfect for a Friday afternoon, don't you think?

Image by Starbucks

Happy weekend all! Have a great one!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Act Your Wage

I was driving down the street the other day, and I saw this sticker on a car. I literally sat at a stoplight for 30 seconds, analyzing the sticker, thinking about what I thought it meant, forming an opinion of the driver of the older, white van who believed in this so much he put it on his car.

Clearly it's talking about not getting in over your head, and not spending more than you make. Who cares if you don't have a brand new convertable? Or if your house isn't the biggest on the block? If you act your wage, you'll be sitting pretty when it comes time to retire or send your kids to college.

Acting your wage is not just about not spending more money than you have - it's about enjoying life on a financial level with which you are comfortable! As Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross said, "the best things in life are free", and while I think that's a nice sentiment, you do need money to function on some level. Yes, it would be nice to jet off to some exotic locale for a vacation, but for now, I'll take the trip to eastern Washington (it's exotic in its own right). And not to say you can't vacation at an exotic locale - by all means do if it's in the financial cards! As new homeowners, a trip to Australia is not in our budget. Since it's important to me (er, us), we'll save for it and go when it is feasible.

Think about how many lives are damaged by out of control spending and unnecessary debt - marriages are ruined, friendships are ended, families destroyed. At Lean With Green, this is definitely the message we want to get across. Life is too short to be mired in credit card debt for meaningless purchases or wasteful spending. You can be happy without stuff!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Deals

TGIF, right?! I hope you all have a fun weekend in store! Here are your Friday Deals!

*20% off all ladies' styles at with the code GAPLUVSMOM. Good until Sunday, so it might be too late to get something for Mom, but get something for yourself!

*Starbucks is doing a Frappuccino Happy Hour starting today through May 16th! You get the yummy blended beverages for half-price between 3 and 5 PM.

*FREE sample of Nivea Happy Sensation lotion!

*New York and Company is doing another 50% off sale! Crazy! Ends Sunday.

*Express has a great coupon! $15 off $30 or more, and $30 off $75 or more! Ends tomorrow!

*Still wondering what to get Mom? Well, if she's into books, check out the Borders coupon for 33% off one item! Good through Monday!

*20% off at Harry and David when you enter code DISCOUNT20. Yum! Love their pears!

Happy weekend, y'all!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A New Frugality?

I loved this article on MSNBC, and I wanted to share it with you all. The main point of the article is that while the economy has showed signs of improving (adding jobs, rising stock market, and increased consumer confidence), many people are still not spending money the way they used to. And economists think this "new frugality" might stick long after the Great Recession is over. The bad part about that? Since the U.S. market is so dependent on consumer spending, the recovery could take longer than other recoveries. But I like to look at the positive side of things - what it says to me is people are putting themselves and their families first and saving instead of spending to keep up with the Joneses.

I do think the recession started a change in my life and in the lives of my friends. For me, obviously it hit home quick - Frugal Femme and I started this blog shortly after my husband was laid off last year and I needed to figure out quick how to make things work with significantly less income. It was nice to be a part of a community who made saving a priority. For my friends, I've noticed less gatherings at restaurants and fewer shopping dates - more of the home gatherings, happy hours and spending quality time together. I definitely think it's made me closer to my friends rather than spending a lot of money at a bar to barely hear what they say.

How about you? Have you taken a new approach to life since the recession hit? Do you think your new habits will stick with you long into the recovery?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Discussion: How Much Do You Have Saved in Your Emergency Fund?

Until about a year and a half ago, I had no such thing as an emergency fund. While I was responsible and I had a savings account, I never felt that bad about dipping into it if my bills were higher than normal or after the holidays. After my husband became unemployed, I understood just how important it was to have at least 6 months worth of living expenses saved up. And I started saving. It took a little more than a year, but we saved up 6 months of expenses! Oh yeah, and that was on one income.

According to USAA, about 22% of people have NOTHING saved in an emergency fund! If you're one of them, don't fear! It's not too late! You have to start small - put away what you can, and try to set up automatic deposits from your paycheck. It's easier to not spend money you think you don't have. Next, make sure you have easy access to it. I wouldn't recommend putting it in a long-term CD. Your emergency fund has to be somewhat liquid so you can get it quickly when you need it. Last, look around for the best rates - check out Bankrate or Mint. You want to make sure your money is getting the most interest it can.

Another important thing to remember about your emergency fund is that it is not a fixed amount for everyone at any point in time. Since my husband and I just bought a house, we have to adjust how much we have saved and contribute a little more to cover the mortgage payments. Did you recently have a child? What about buy a new car? Anything that you would consider essential to living your life needs to be counted for in your emergency fund - don't short yourself. Evaluate every time you add a significant expense to your life.

What about you? Do you have an emergency fund set up? How long would it be good for?

*A couple weeks
*1 month - 3 months
*3 months - 6 months
*More than 6 months
*What's an emergency fund?

Leave your answer in the comments below!