Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sunny days are here again...get that laundry outside.

I covet my neighbor's clothes line. I know we are not supposed to covet anything, but I do and it is a clothes line. She has 3 lines and it has to be at least 15-20 ft long. It is in a sunny corner in her back yard and right up against my yard, so of course I have to watch her hang her sheets, towels and clothes ALL year long. I am so jealous.

Unfortunately we just don't have any sunny lawn space to give up for a clothing line. I do, however, have a sunny patio where I put two wooden racks from mid-March to mid-October depending on the weather. The only things that don't fit on the racks are our sheets. The larger rack on the right in the picture was given to me by my mother for Christmas one year...we are a twisted family. She hangs laundry year round and rarely uses her dryer. She knew I wanted to hang my laundry outdoors and found this at a farmer's market. It is huge and can hold quite a bit of laundry.

I hang about one load a day and in the summer when it is really hot I can hang two loads. It takes a little longer for clothes to dry on racks. I put the laundry in my dryer for about 10 minutes before hanging outside. I find that this helps soften the clothing, especially the towels. After the ten minutes I hang any clothing that gets hung on hangers, like my husband's dress shirts and pants, in my laundry room where we have a small clothing rack. I am able to do this all year and it saves a little bit of dryer time through out the winter.

The perks:
* I have not done any calculations, but I have noticed reduced electric bills when I don't run our dryer all of the time. It usually takes a good 45-50 minutes to dry a load of our laundry and now I use the dryer about 10 minutes a load.
* Drying outside also helps removes stains from clothing.
* A great chore for my three year old to get involved with and she usually likes to help.

Are you able to hang your laundry outside? Have you noticed a reduction in your utility bills?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In today's economy, it pays to ask for a discount.

Asking for a discount can be intimidating for many people. In my past life I would negotiate with vendors for better pricing and deliveries to help my company's bottom line. Currently the bottom line that I am responsible for is my family's, which is more precious to me than my previous employer. I have a Family Balance Sheet to maintain and by simply asking for a discount or price adjustment I can help my family's finances.

Some recent examples:

1. I was at a big box store to purchase a bridal shower gift from a registry. My budget was $25, but since the registry was pretty much filled I settled on a gift that was $30. This particular store runs occasional coupons in the Sunday paper, but unfortunately I didn't have one with me. When I got to the register I asked the sales person very kindly if she knew if there would be a coupon in the next day's paper and if so could I bring it in for a price adjustment. She wasn't sure but told me that she would give me the 20% discount on my purchase. I was thrilled that I saved $6.00 by simply asking a question and my gift ended up being within my budget.

2. We use credit cards on a lot of our purchases to earn points and to get coupons in the mail from certain stores. We pay our cards off every month. Recently, one day after a store credit bill was due I realized that I never mailed the bill. So with two kids in tow I went to the store to pay off my bill. When I got my next statement I had incurred about $30.00 in late fees. I immediately called the credit company and pleaded my case. Again in a kind manner, I told them that I was only one day late and I had paid off the balance. I also told them that this was my first offense. The customer service person had no problem reversing the $30.00.

3. We recently refinanced our mortgage and will save about $9000 over the remainder of the loan. What I failed to do when we switched companies was close our checking account with the original bank. The mortgage payment was automatically withdrawn every month and there was about $100 left in the account. When I received my statement at the end of February, I noticed that a $20 bank fee was deducted. Again with two kids in tow I went to the bank to close out the account and ask about this $20. I opened the account so long ago that I couldn't remember what the minimum rules were. The customer service person was sorry that I was closing my account and had no problem giving us back the $20. Now that is customer service!

4. Recently, my hubby received a parking ticket outside of our house. His car was parked behind our van in our driveway and the tail end was blocking part of the sidewalk. At 2:20 AM, an officer cruising our neighborhood gave him a ticket. He noticed the ticket on his way to work that morning and went to the police station over his lunch break. The officer told him that people do walk their dogs through out the night and the car cannot block the sidewalk. But he did reverse the ticket and my hubby was very grateful. (I am also grateful knowing that the police cruise our neighborhood in the middle of the night.)

The moral of these stories is to simply ask. In a nice, respectful manner you might receive an additional discount, fee reversal and maybe even a ticket reversal. Although you probably only get one chance to reverse some of these offenses. In today's economy people are more choosy on where they are spending and placing their money. They want your business and in many cases are willing to work with you to get your business.

Have you had success recently by simply asking or negotiating for a discount?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Whole Wheat Pitas

I love to cook and would much prefer to eat something homemade then made from a box. Homemade food tastes better to me and my family and a lot of the time the meals are healthier and less expensive than their store made, processed counterparts. Make It Yourself Monday gives me a chance to experiment with some recipes that I might not have tried before.

Whole Wheat Pitas
This recipe caught my eye in my latest Cooking Light magazine. I buy pitas at the grocery store occasionally, but never considered making them. I was a little intimidated at first; the thought of making my own pitas seemed daunting to me. This recipe for whole wheat pitas was incredibly easy.

I am now hooked. I don't know if I can go back to store bought pitas. The recipe calls for two types of flours: bread and white whole wheat. I didn't have either so I did have to buy both types. You could probably use regular whole wheat flour in place of the white whole wheat if you have the regular on hand. I didn't so I bought the white whole wheat. I will definitely be making these pitas again so the flour will not go to waste.

While the pitas were baking I whipped up a batch of tuna salad and the sandwiches were delicious. My 3 year old liked her pita with some cream cheese and homemade strawberry freezer jelly. She gobbled it up and asked for another.

This recipe is definitely a keeper.

If you enjoyed this article, then you might enjoy some previous "Make It Yourself Monday" articles:

pizza dough

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

I love to cook and would much prefer to eat something homemade then made from a box. Homemade food tastes better to me and my family and a lot of the time the meals are healthier and less expensive than their store made, processed counterparts. Make It Yourself Monday gives me a chance to experiment with some recipes that I might not have tried before.

I can't believe I have never made hummus from scratch before this past weekend. I buy it all the time, especially when it is B1G1F, and we love it with pita chips or veggies. This weekend, I made two different types: Garlic and sun-dried tomato hummus and basic hummus.

I found the garlic and sun-dried tomato hummus recipe on Cooking I modified the recipe slightly after reading some of the reviews and it turned out delicious. The recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes in oil, but the non-oil packed sun-dried tomatoes are cheaper so I bought those and just re-hydrated what I needed in some warm water per the instructions on the bag. I also added some extra virgin olive oil and used 3 large cloves of garlic instead of 2. I LOVE garlic so I didn't mind the extra garlicky flavor. This was very yummy and my 3 year old loved it too. I had some leftover tortillas from a taco dinner last week and I baked them in the oven at 325 degrees until slightly crispy for dipping. We also dipped lots of veggies: yellow & red peppers, celery, carrots, and broccoli.

I found this recipe for basic hummus in Good Housekeeping magazine. It was also very good and it was inhaled as well.

As far as price, I did have to buy the 3 oz bag of tomatoes and that was $3.99, but I figure I can make 2-3 batches with the one bag. I also had to buy the tahini for the basic hummus and a 16 oz jar of organic tahini was $5.25, but the recipe only calls for 2 Tbsp. so that jar will make 16 batches of basic hummus. The 15 oz can of garbanzo beans range in price from .65 - $1.19 a can. The other ingredients such as garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper are usually always in my pantry. A store bought 8 oz container of hummus costs me about $3.99, but I usually only buy it when it is B1G1F. These recipes make almost twice the amount of the 8 oz container and cost less even with the sale price.

Going forward I will definitely make hummus myself instead of buying it. It is so delicious and easy to make. In my humble opinion the store bought just doesn't compare.

If you enjoyed this article, then you might enjoy some previous "Make It Yourself Monday" articles:

- Fries
- Pizza Dough
- Granola

This post is linked to Carnival of Super Foods - Beans and Legumes Edition at Kitchen Stewardship.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Looking to save money with your friends? Try swaps.

Swaps are a great way to save money, socialize, try new recipes and reuse resources.

1. Soup swap - Depending on how many people involved, simply make enough soup to go around. I just participated in a swap with four other moms and we each made 4 1-quart containers to swap. I came home with four different soups. I promptly put them in the freezer and I now have some new dinner ideas. I'll just add a side salad and some homemade bread and dinner is served. We chose to make quart containers because we all have families with small kids, but you could increase the size. Make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

2. Dessert swap - Now you will have dessert to go along with your soup. The same mom's group that I belong to did a cookie swap right before the holidays, but this doesn't have to be a holiday event. We each made a dozen cookies and there were about 6-8 mommies involved. If a dozen is too much, make it a half-dozen. Cookies usually freeze really well. Again make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

3. Babysitting swap - Would you like to go to the grocery store without kiddos? How about getting back in to the gym? Do you have a good friend that you trust with your kids? She might be looking for a sitter too? Set up an arrangement and take turns watching the kids. This gives you some free time without paying a sitter and the kids get some social time with friends.

4. Clothing/baby item swap - Before you box up your items for the yard sale or thrift store, have a swap with friends.

5. Coupon swap - Once I go through my Sunday coupons I hate to just throw the unclipped ones away. That is like dollars being flushed down the drain. Round up your frugal friends and pass those booklets around. Save the coupons!!

6. Magazine/Book Swap - My cousin and I have been swapping magazines and books for years. She gives me her Real Simple and Martha Stewart and I give her my Cooking Light and Organic Gardening. When I am done with the Real Simple and Martha I pass them on to someone else.

Do you and your friends find ways to save money together?

Monday, March 9, 2009

How To Make Oven Fries

I love french fries and a big dollop of Heinz ketchup on the side. Although, I hate the guilt I feel when I indulge, knowing that they just aren't that good for me or my family.

I have found that I can have my fry and eat it too...

I have been making oven fries for years. My favorite potatoes to use are yukon gold or sweet potatoes. I cut the potatoes into eighths and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. If I am baking yukon golds I might also sprinkle with garlic or parmesan and if I am baking sweet potato I sprinkle a little brown sugar on top. I bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until desired crispiness.

Yukon golds ready to go into the oven.

Oven you think you can eat just one?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

If an economic crisis hits you, are you ready?

A few years ago our business and my dh's health were both struggling. We weren't making enough income to cover our business and our home expenses. We were very grateful for our emergency savings and it carried us until we were able to turn our business and dh's health around.

When the economy started to crumble recently and it became a hot topic of conversation on TV, radio, Internet, and among clients and family members, we decided that we weren't going to let the negativity affect our mindset. While we are not naive to think that the economy won't affect us, we just weren't going to dwell on it. Our business had a very good year in 2008 and we had every intention of continuing that trend.

For a variety of reasons, including the current economic situation, our business slowed down in February and we just barely covered our business and personal expenses. It is a scary reality when the brakes are put on full force and you are heading into a brick wall, but we have been here before and we will get through it again. Being self-employed can be scary in these situations because there is not a guarantee of a paycheck, so we have devised a plan to help us get through this hopefully minor hiccup.

We try to have regular monthly meetings to discuss our Family Balance Sheet. At a recent meeting we worked on some strategies to get us through our own economic crisis:

1. Silence is deadly
What tripped us up years ago was our lack of communication at our business. That sounds really silly, but we both had our roles at the office and we weren't discussing them with one another. It wasn't that we weren't talking at all; we just weren't connecting the dots.

At the time our business was going fairly well and we thought things would continue on their own, but surprise surprise it doesn't work out that way. We learned a scary yet valuable lesson and now try to meet monthly to discuss our business and our family finances. We also meet weekly to discuss schedules and any immediate concerns. These meetings aren't formal, sometimes it is in front of the TV after the kids are in bed. Sometimes we take the kids to their grandparents house and we go for dinner date/meeting.

Even if you aren't business owners, plan your meeting today with your partner and be proactive about what ever financial situation you are in.

2. TGFEF - Thank goodness for emergency funds
During our first crisis, we nearly depleted our emergency fund and we were really grateful to have it to rely on. We are still in the process of building it back up and the prospect of depleting it again is scary. We didn't need it in February and if we make some changes now hopefully we won't have to dip into it in the near future. There is a reason that funding an emergency savings account is usually the first thing on a to-do list from any personal financial planner, blogger, author. We learned this first hand and having an emergency savings saved our credit score, our sanity and probably our relationship.

3. Slice-N-Dice the budget
We have two budgets that we review: business and family. Categories in our family budget, such as dining out and clothing, fall into non-essential and will have to be cut out until further notice. After reviewing our expenses in February, I noticed that I overspent on groceries. I need to be more diligent at the store and stick to my list. I have been faithful about planning our menus for the week, but I know I have been throwing non-essential and impulsive items into the cart.

4. Think outside the box
We have been brainstorming ideas for additional sources of income with our business. We have plans to target new and different customers, add products and services that we haven't explored before and develop new products to market to our professional peers.

On the home front I have been very busy cleaning out closets, drawers and cupboards to prepare for our spring yard sale. In the meantime there are a few items that I might try to sell on Craigs List or Ebay. I have never done this you have any advice for me??

5. Faith in one another
We have gotten through rough patches before and we will do so again. The difference this time is that we are trying to be proactive before our finances get out of hand. The last time we didn't realize we had a problem until we were right in the middle of our financial crisis. We are partners in business and life.

Are you prepared if an economic crisis hits you? Do you have any advice to offer others in crisis?

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seven frugal reasons why I'm ready for Spring

Are you getting ansty for spring like we are? It has been a long winter and we are ready for spring, sunshine, longer days and being outdoors. The daffodils are poking through, the temperature is slooooowly creeping upward and a big smile has returned to my face...well that is a bit of an exaggeration. I should probably say my smile is getting bigger...anyway... Spring isn't just a change of season; it is a change of lifestyle as well. These lifestyle changes save us money and help our Family Balance Sheet.

# 1. April 1st is the official start of yard sale season around here. I love to have yard sales and I love to go to them. I have been busy all winter going through closets, drawers and cupboards to prepare for our first one in May. We usually put any money that we make towards our summer vacation. To keep prep to a minimum I don't put stickers on everything, instead I have one table per pricepoint, i.e. 25 cent table or $1.00 table. I make signs on my computer and tape to the tables. I usually do another sale in July at my cousin's house and after that sale I box everything up and take to the Salvation Army for a tax deductible receipt.

We like to go to sales too, but I try to stick to essentials, like clothes and books for the kids and my husband is always looking for tools. The whole point for me in having sale is to get rid of stuff, so the last thing I need to do is bring more stuff into the house. The thrill of finding an amazing bargain is what gets us out of bed very early on a Saturday morning.

# 2. I agonize all winter when I use my dryer knowing that cash is flying out the dryer duct. We don't have a sunny spot big enough for a clothes line, but I have a huge sunny patio where I put two wooden racks to air dry our clothes. As soon as the temperature hits around 50 degrees and it is sunny I put my clothes outside to dry and I will continue to do this until the fall. I dry everything on these racks except our bed linens and my husband's work clothes. I hang his work clothes on hangers in our laundry room. To help prevent crunchy towels, I do throw them in the dryer for about 10 minutes to soften up before I put outside.

3. As soon as the weather breaks, you can smell what everyone in our neighborhood is having for dinner because the grills have been dusted off and fired up. We hardly turn our oven on from May - October except maybe for baking desserts and even desserts can be done on the grill - grilled pineapple anyone?? For me the best part about grilling is that my dh loves to do it!! Our favorite summer meal is simply grilled marinated chicken and a garden salad.

4. For some strange reason I find it very therapeutic to grow tomatoes. Every year I grow a small vegetable garden of tomatoes, peppers and some herbs. This year I would like to expand my garden and maybe add fruit, like blueberries and raspberries. I still have some tomatoes in my freezer that I am going to use this week for a pasta dinner.

5. Let the sun shine in...the sun doesn't just make me smile, it lights our home. It is so nice to not have to rely on a light bulb to light our house. I rarely need to turn on the lights from April - October.

6. Fresh air. For a few weeks before it gets too hot, it feels so good to turn off the heat and open the windows and air out the house. We have ceiling fans in the bedrooms and we try to go as long as we can before we give in and turn on the AC.

7. Walking, parks, bicycles...Free exercise. Just being outside lightens our moods and puts smiles on our faces. My husband and I walk almost every night when he gets home from work. We put the kids in the strollers and head out for about an hour. We have some of our best conversations on those walks and we really look forward to them.

Are you as excited as I am for Spring? What are you looking forward to? How does Spring save you money?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pizza Dough

I love to cook and would much prefer to eat something homemade then made from a box. Homemade food tastes better to me and my family and a lot of the time the meals are healthier and less expensive than their store made, processed counterparts. Make It Yourself Monday gives me a chance to experiment with some recipes that I might not have tried before.

We are a pizza-lovin' family, but for some reason we usually order our pizza out. This weekend I decided to try my hand at making pizza dough and found that it was surprisingly easy. I found this pizza dough recipe from Bon Appetit magazine and it was really easy to make. I used my food processor and it did all of the work for me. After the hour it took for the dough to rise, we rolled the dough out on a pizza stone and garnished with mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, broccoli and garlic powder. My 3 year old helped me put the veggies on top. I then baked the pizza in a 475 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese was melted and the bottom was baked through.

Our pizza before the we put it in the oven

Dinner is ready...our homemade pizza was very yummy!!

We all loved our homemade pizza and it didn't cost us $10-$15 that we would have spent from a pizza shop. I had all of these ingredients in my pantry and fridge so it made our "night in" very affordable.

Do you make your own pizza? What are your favorite pizza toppings?

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