Tuesday, June 29, 2010

CSA All the Way!

I talked about my first experience with community supported agriculture (CSA) over a year ago, and over 400 days later, I still love my experience. Newlywed Next Door and I even had a conversation about how to pick a CSA, and I thought folks might be interested in what was helpful for me when picking a farm.

First, to find CSA in your region, try an internet search. Some areas have a very vibrant CSA community. My hometown of Portland, Oregon is a bastion of community supported agriculture - they have a coalition of all the CSAs in the area so you can search from one list in the Portland area, or even in the state.

Here are some factors I consider when choosing a CSA:

1) Flexibility - the CSA order I have has two pickup options - weekly or every other week. There's usually so much produce we have a hard time using it in a week so we love the every other week option. Plus, they offer ways to get substitute days (say if you'll be out on vacation) so you don't pay for food you won't use. Another great thing as far as flexibility - see if you have the option to sub out certain fruits or vegetables you don't care for. Not all CSAs will allow you to exchange fruits and vegetables.

2) Produce available - many CSAs typically offer food from their farm and they also partner with other farms for a wider selection of produce. But again, not all do - some just offer what's on their farm and it might not be a very diverse selection. It's worth looking into unless you'd be happy with just salad greens and carrots.

3) Cost - is it worth it to get a CSA? I pay 30 for a basket and it's essentially our only produce for the week. I build meals around what we get in our box. I honestly think it's on par with grocery store prices but the quality is obviously way better, so it's a better deal. We typically get about 8-10 pounds of fruit and veggies - this week we got lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, grapes, peaches, nectarines, oranges, carrots, a cucumber, spring onions, and radishes. But if you don't want to commit that amount of money to that much produce, the farmers markets are really good options.

And if you're in the Seattle area, definitely check out Full Circle Farm. They are a great farm with great people and awesome food!

Does anyone else use a CSA and do you have any thoughts on what else to look for?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Deals

Happy Friday to you all! I'm definitely looking forward to the weekend - big US soccer match against Ghana tomorrow morning, nice weather (finally!), and a whole mess of errands...okay, I'm not excited about those. Here are your Friday Deals!

*30% off in stores and online at Old Navy! Enter code ONBIG30 if placing an online order. Ends Tuesday, June 29th.

*Nordstrom is having their half-yearly sale for men!

*25 FREE songs from Urban Outfitters on iTunes! You've got until Halloween to take advantage of this!

*FREE samples of Nivea Happy Sensation lotion and Starbucks VIA instant coffee at Walmart.com. Who knew that I would be going to Walmart.com so frequently?

*My newest store obsession Boden is having a 50% off sale!? WHAT? Really cute stuff that was full price yesterday is now half off! I love this nautical-looking sweater - $27! The original price was $68!

*Take an extra 20% off clearance at Express.

That's all for now! Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clean and Green: Making Your Own Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Do you ever feel like you're spending a ton of money on cleaning products and then literally watching it go down the drain? Are you searching for eco-friendly cleaning options? Do you feel like I'm one question away from advertising an "As-Seen-On-TV" product?

Seriously, all you need to do is raid your cabinets. White vinegar is particularly versatile. It's a natural deoderizer and disinfectant. Here are a couple of ways to use vinegar:

*Mix equal parts vinegar and water for a multipurpose cleaner.

*Pour 2 cups of vinegar around your toilet bowl and let stand for an hour or so to clean your toilet.

What else can you use in your kitchen? Baking soda and coarse salt (good for scrubbing), olive oil (good for cleaning stainless steel appliances and polishing unvarnished wood), and lemon juice (cleaning copper and brass).

Here are some articles and posts I love with some great ideas!

25 Ways to Clean with Vinegar (thanks to my good friend Taiece for pointing this one out)

Do you all make your own eco-friendly cleaning supplies? Any other tips or methods to use what you've got to save money and the environment?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves!

Cue Aretha Franklin. I've never really thought about myself as someone who fixes things...in fact, I usually break things. But aside from my clumsiness, I also don't have much confidence in the area of home maintenance and repair. I totally bought into the gender stereotype that it's "man's work" - mostly because it was easier for me.

Enter The Home Depot. Okay, not really. The store itself still really intimidates me. But they have an amazing breadth of FREE classes for home improvers! My favorite? The Do-It-Herself workshops. These are geared toward and attended by women, and I'm a big fan! I've taken two sessions with my good friend Kate - one about painting and one about eco-friendly gardening. They've been fantastic! Not only are you typically in a small group, but you can ask all those questions you've been afraid to ask to an expert in their different departments. It's essentially like a tutoring class for those of us who might be behind in the subject of fixing things.

Best part? Free stuff! Out of the two workshops I've taken, here are all the things I've gotten for free: issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine, a can of primer, a strawberry plant, and a 4x8 wood garden bed! Yeah!

So for those of you who maybe need some brushing up (or a total reboot) of your home improvement skills, I'd look into the Home Improvers' Club at Home Depot. Great resource for people who want to get creative, get their hands dirty and put some sweat equity into their house!

Have you taken any home improvement classes to learn about how to take care of your house or would you rather pay someone to do it for you?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Deals!

Happy Friday everyone! Here are your Friday Deals!

*Another FREE sample of Starbucks VIA from Costco! I love that!

*Need a new phone? Stop by T-Mobile tomorrow and get any phone FREE! Of course, you have to sign a 2 year contract, but really, any phone = FREE! Nice!

*We mentioned this on our Facebook page, but check out Burt's Bees Grab Bag! Full of great products (15!!) with a value of over $50...you get it for $25 for a limited time!

*Bare Necessities is having a Friends and Family Sale for 25% off - enter FRIEND at checkout. Ends on Monday.

*Bath and Body Works' Semi-Annual Sale is still happening - I love the buy 3, get 3 FREE signature collection! I know it's June, but it could be a great time to get a jump on holiday shopping (I know -that's crazy talk). I love the Cherry Blossom lotion!

And don't forget about Father's Day this Sunday - some specials for Dear Ol' Dad:

*FREE TCBY for dads on Sunday at participating locations!

*FREE small breakfast for dads on Sunday at IKEA!

*Great deals on magazines at Amazon for Father's Day! Forbes Magazine is 88% off - $15 for a year subscription!

*Don't forget a card! You can send FREE ecards at 123greetings.com.

Remember, you don't have to do something expensive to show Dad how much you love him and appreciate everything he's done for you - wash his car, make him dinner, make a photo collage. Being thoughtful always results in a good gift, regardless of how much money you spend.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Make Your Own Seasoning Mix

I'd like to say that I started making my own seasoning mixes because I have it that together. Not true. I am lazy and I really wanted tacos. But we were out of seasoning mix. Realizing that I own every spice under the sun I figured I could make my own. And I could! It was super simple and very tasty. Now in the grand scheme of things, you aren't going to save a lot of money by not buying seasoning packets, so I don't recommend going out and purchasing all of the spices to make them. But if you have them in your cupboard why not? And it's a lot healthier for you as well because there aren't a lot of processed ingredients.
Here is a link to my favorite taco seasoning mix from About.com.
Anyone else have some recommendations for tasty homemade spice mixes?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Separate Bank Accounts Saved My Marriage

Okay that might be a little dramatic. But it has been a very beneficial step. When my husband and I got married we ahered to the philosophy that we put all of our earnings into one pot. As such we didn't see the need for having our own checking or savings accounts. We budgeted each month for us to have a set amount of spending money we could do whatever we wanted with.
Problem being this never really worked out. No one kept track of how they were spending and inevitably one person would spend more than the other. Then the arguments started. You spent WHAT on your haircut? HOW much were drinks with your friends?
The obvious solution is to get our own accounts which we finally did. They both link to our joint account, but we don't have access to each others individual accounts. It's been working great! I don't have to feel guilty about how much I spend on highlights and my husband is free to enter a poker game without me complaining about it being a waste.
Also having my own set of money has made me more conscious overall. When you are looking at a larger amount of money in a checking account a $10 lunch out doesn't seem like a big deal, but with my more conservative allowance, I'm starting to better understand and actually see how those small purchases add up. Now when I want to go out to eat, I make sure it's for something I'm going to really enjoy. I find these habits spilling over into the joint budget as well.
How do you and your significant other manage personal and joint money?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: The Automatic Millionaire

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the "latte factor", coined by author and personal finance expert David Bach - it's about how minor incidental purchases add up over time to ruin people's finances and could derail your savings and your retirement plan. After wanting to hear more of Bach's thoughts on saving and budgeting, I picked up his book "The Automatic Millionaire". It was a quick read (took me about 2 hours to get through 220 pages) and had one very intriguing point: if you pay yourself first and make your savings automatic, you don't have to do anything else to have a solid retirement fund. No budgeting. No hairpulling. No kidding.

Okay, so I'm generalizing a little bit. Bach goes into more detail and has some pretty compelling stories from individuals and couples who have paid themselves first. One couple he worked with made a combined gross of $55,000 a year (in early 2000 wages PLUS they live in the Midwest where expenses are lower); however, they were able to outright own two homes (no mortgages), put two kids through college, and have a million in the bank by the time they were 55! What the what?! The couple went back to never carrying any debt (paid for everything in cash with the exception of their first home) plus they paid themselves first with automatic 401K contributions.

Bach pretty much sold me on his idea. If you aim to put 12-15% of your pretax earnings into a retirement account (401K, 403b, IRA, etc), you don't necessarily need to worry about budgeting for specific categories, like housing, groceries, etc. I'm a little Type A (I see my husband snorting at this declaration) so I'd like to know ballpark amounts of what I'm spending every month. But I can see how if you took the guessing out of how much you need to be saving for retirement and just did it, your worries would be gone.

Two great points I took away from "The Automatic Millionaire":

1) When you're talking about "paying yourself first", ask "how many hours did I work for myself this week?". Use your pretax hourly wage and compare with how much you're saving. Are you working 1 hour for yourself, 10 hours? It puts it in perspective if you might be saving less than you should.

2) Did you know the government didn't start taking taxes out of your paycheck until 1943? They thought people could save and pay at the end of the year! Those feds are smart though, and now take it automatically out of your paycheck. If only we were as smart as the IRS!

I'd love to hear from you all about this!

Who thinks "The Automatic Millionaire" and David Bach are right - if you just worry about your retirement savings, then everything else will fall into place? Or do you think everything needs to be budgeted just so?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Deals!

Who's excited for Friday!? Me! A long week, but I've got a fun weekend ahead of World Cup, gardening and enjoying the sunshine! Here are your Friday Deals!

*FREE Sweet Tea at Popeye's tomorrow (Saturday, June 12th) - looove sweet tea!

*FREE one night rental from Redbox on Monday, June 21st if you "like" their page on Facebook.

*FREE Starbucks tall coffee at Barnes and Noble when you download their eReader app to your mobile device.

*Another Facebook deal - $1 off Skinny Cow product of your choice when you like them on Facebook. Look under the Fan Exclusives tab.

*Bath and Body Works starts their Semi-Annual Sale today. Lots of good deals - $4 lotions, $5 signature classics, and up to 50% off many other items!

*$2 tank tops at Old Navy tomorrow (Saturday, June 12th) in stores.

That's it! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keeping it Real

Let me preface this post by saying that just because I co-write a financial literacy blog, I am in no way an expert on money matters nor do I always make the best choices. The blog helps keep me on track and I get inspiration from all of you wonderful readers, but I still slip up from time to time.

As you know, my husband and I bought our first home a few months ago. After we signed our downpayment check, I definitely felt a little ill - I mean, in one transaction, all of the money we saved for two years was gone! I know we saved specifically to buy a house, but it still was a little overwhelming. And I swore to myself that we'd be thrifty. We'd paint (because that's one of the cheapest ways to dramatically change the look of a room) and we saved up for a few pieces of new furniture (with a bonus check we got from using our realtor).

But all of a sudden, I got bitten by the perfection bug. I kept looking at our house as something we needed to have perfect within the first few months of living here. A new armchair and loveseat meant new throw pillows and blankets. A new bookshelf meant buying things to put in it. And soon, new art with custom framing, new towels and a higher credit card bill than I had expected. Gulp.

After having the bill stare me in the face, I realized a few things. One - a home is an ongoing process. Things do not have to be design book staged....well, ever...but especially within a few months. Figure out exactly what you're looking for, what you want your home to feel like, and what your tastes are. Two - you do not have to buy things brand new. Look into consignment stores, Craigslist, Goodwill...there are definitely great deals out there! It just takes a little bit of patience and a good eye. Three - I need to take my own advice. :) My husband and I have now instituted a no-spend policy on house stuff for an undetermined amount of time, and I'm definitely going to be better about scouring for used furniture. It's better for my wallet and the environment.

Do you ever get off track? What do you do to get refocused on your goals?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Monthly Meal Planning Update

Success! I'm happy to report that we survived our first week of the monthly meal plan and quite enjoyed it. We have shifted some meals around, but we have really curbed the urge to stop at fast food or casual dining for dinner. When you have a full freezer full of food looking back at you it's pretty hard to justify.

Also, once we get in the routine and mind set that we don't eat out unless is a planned or special occasion, eating at home has become more enjoyable. We've focused on meals that we both agree we like and are fairly easy to prepare. We also mix standards with a few new recipes which keeps it interesting.

This week we only spent $25 to pick up fresh produce, milk and bread. If we keep this up, we'll average about $65 per week total for groceries a month including our monthly big shop and weekly pick up. That's down from almost $125 per week, a lot of which we ended up throwing away because we chose not to eat at home.

Another plus side, we have almost an extra hour of our weekend back when we're not fighting other shoppers. It's a win-win.

What are some of your tricks for meal planning?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Profiles in Saving: Mr. Smith

In our ongoing series Profiles in Saving, Lean with Green interviews people we admire when it comes to being financially savvy. This week's profile is Mr. Smith, married to Mrs. Smith (profiled two weeks ago). Mr. Smith has been a good friend of mine for many years. He works for a large software company in Western Washington, and is also the CEO of Splitts.com, an online company that matches people who are interested in fractional ownership of boats, vacation homes, and other big purchases. I loved what Mr. Smith had to say!

LWG: How did you develop your financially savvy identity?

Mr. Smith: When I was in grad school, my wife was working full time while I was working part time. We were living in an apartment, and just starting to learn how to pay the bills. I really wanted to buy a house after graduation (for no particular reason). To make this happen I had to figure out how much we’d need for a down payment and how much house we could afford, and that forced me to learn how to make and balance a budget. I also started looking at retirement since the retirement calculator was right next to the mortgage one. After running some numbers, I was shocked by how much we’d have to save. That scared me into the person I am today.

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

Mr. Smith: I love automated things. I have my 401k set to take out 9% of my paycheck, send another 15% to my employer’s stock purchase plan (which I flip immediately for 10% profit), and send yet another part of my paycheck to my investment account directly. I also dedicate most of my bonus to our Roth IRA accounts. We try to reserve shopping for replacing things that wear out and for special occasions like birthdays, and we focus our time on being together and being outside.

LWG: What do you splurge on?

Mr. Smith: Durable hobby-related items: things I know I’ll get a lot of use out of and that I’ll have for a long time. By buying something used that will retain its value, I can get a lot of value for not much money. For example, I recently bought a down jacket off Craigslist. It cost $75, but it should last for literally 20 years or more, and I’ll use it several times a month. It was also a birthday present. We also go to almost all “once in a lifetime” opportunities like weddings, and we visit family on the East Coast fairly often.

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

Mr. Smith: My dad told me “Save as much as you can in your early years.” I don’t think he even knew the full extent of how important this is. A dollar saved today is worth around $32 in retirement (based on historical averages). If you’re making an inflation-adjusted salary of $250,000 in retirement (nice job!), you’d need to save $32,000 – 13% of your gross salary – to make up for not saving $1000 today – which is 2% of a $50,000 salary. 2% vs. 13% (of a salary I may never reach) - I know what choice I’m making!

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

Mr. Smith: Math is your friend. Figure out how much money you need to save for retirement and for other major life expenses (rainy day fund, kids’ college, future car purchases). Then figure out how much you need to save each paycheck to meet those goals. Then set up a direct deposit or automated transfer so that that money is saved automatically. If you do this, you can’t fail to save because you’re effectively “buying” your savings before you get the chance to buy anything else. Of course, you might not be able to afford that much savings, which leads to my second piece of advice: analyze your spending and think about what really makes you happy. Does the $75 you spend on cable TV really make you happy? What about the $500 some people spend at bars every month? The thing you’ll realize isn’t just that some things aren’t worth it but that others are really worth it. For example, a breakfast out with your spouse once a month might cost you $25 but make you both feel great for days. Putting a value on things is especially important with houses and cars. You would think long and hard before spending $1000 on a stereo for your home, but it seems so easy to check the box for the stereo option package at the car dealer. Is it really worth spending $1000 on that? Also, be careful about anything with a subscription. $30 a month doesn’t sound like much, but that’s $360 a year – not cheap (remember, that’s about $11,000 in retirement!). The last thing I recommend is to choose your hobbies wisely. Auto racing costs $200+ dollars a day, going out to bars can easily cost $200 a month, while a membership to the Seattle Art Museum is $60 a year and hiking and playing basketball with your friends are free. Cheap hobbies tend to be good for you, too.

Thanks Mr. Smith!

Are you interested in being interviewed for Profiles in Saving? Leave a comment or contact us at leanwithgreen@gmail.com.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Deals!

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you've had a great week! Here are your Friday Deals!

*As previously mentioned on our Facebook page, it's National Donut Day today! Dunkin Donuts is giving away a FREE donut when you purchase a medium beverage, and Krispy Kreme is giving away FREE donuts with no purchase necessary. Yum!

*FREE admission to museums for Bank of America cardholders this weekend! For future reference BofAers, this happens every first full weekend of the month.

*FREE entrance to national parks this weekend! Check the U.S. National Park Service website for future dates - good time to plan for a weekend hike or camping trip!

*Walmart has a bunch of good FREE samples right now - Starbucks VIA instant coffee, Crest 3D White Whitestrips, Purina One Dog Food, and a mini roll of toilet paper from Cottonelle!

*15% off sale shoes at Piperlime. Use code EXTRA15 at checkout.

*20% off with this coupon at H&M - use through June 6th.

*While I don't normally post travel deals, fly to Maui or Honolulu from a major West Coast area for $330 roundtrip on Hawaiian Airlines! That's a great deal! Book until June 11th, and you must travel between August 9th and December 29th.

*Seattle homies - go to a participating Starbucks location after 2 PM today for "We Love Fridays" - a special treat just for Seattle customers for free tickets to local events. This Friday, it's FREE weekday admission to the Seattle Art Museum! No purchase necessary!

That's it! Have a fantastic weekend!