Monday, September 28, 2009

Save money and still eat well

As we go into Autumn and Winter, many of us are tightening our belts in preparation for leaner times (because of job layoffs, or just the naturally-increased spending that comes with wintertime holidays). Here are some ideas of how you can save money on grocery shopping, without sacrificing your health or palate:

1. Eat vegetarian. Meat is expensive and vegetables are not, especially vegetables that are in season.
What's in season right now? Autumn brings squash, apples, several times of tart berry, mushrooms, root vegetables, and leafy greens. Winter explodes with dark green leafy vegetables of many types, root vegetables, leeks, and (during the late Winter months) asparagus. Your grocery store will advertise what is in season, either through ads, marked displays, or simply by it being the cheapest thing in the veggie section.
Note: Sometimes prices are marked down because the veggie, fruit, or meat is about to go bad. What to do? Buy it, clean it, prep it, and freeze it. You can do this especially easily with meat, but for veggies just put them in a make-ahead casserole or soup and freeze it, and fruits can be prepped and frozen for smoothies. Voila!

2. Plan your weekly meals. Plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks. If you buy a bag of apples, have a plan for them. Don't buy anything that isn't going to go with your weekly menu. Take a day where you typically stick around the house and may have some free time (Sundays, for instance), and use that day to make up meals ahead of time, and plan your upcoming weeks' meals. I keep a list on the fridge of meals I have planned for, so as to not forget.

3. Eat oatmeal for breakfast. It is shockingly cheaper than cereal. You can buy it in bulk (and save money on both the brand-name markups and be green because you aren't supporting the waste-creating packaging....plus, it's cheaper!). Oatmeal of the rolled and steel-cut variety can be used in baking (breads, bars, cakes, etc) and in main dishes (toppings, toasted in soups) and never goes bad. It's a fantastic staple.

4. Don't fuss over side dishes at dinner, or desserts. You don't need the traditional protein, starch and vegetable dinner. Nothing is wrong with no side at all and no dessert. A restaurant meal is expected to be large- a meal at home less so. If you absolutely MUST have a side (the Queen is coming for tea, etc) stick to small portions of what you already have, like fresh veggies, or pasta with a light lemon sauce.

5. Eat your leftovers. If your household is sick of eating reheated what-we-had-for-dinner-last-night as lunch, encorporate the leftovers into a new dish. For instance, the roast chicken can be cleaned off the bones, and the meat shredded and used for quesadillas, or in soup, or even tucked into a calzone with sauce and cheese. Then boil the leftover bones in water to get homemade chicken broth. Got some cooked rice that's just sitting in the fridge, drying out? Reheat it with a little broth and toss in diced green chiles, cheese, and maybe a can of tuna, and you have yourself a simple, filling, totally new dish!

6. Bake your own bread. It makes a definite difference in price, and health, and as long as you aren't letting the loaf sit out uneaten for more than a week, you won't be wasting anything. Buy the bulk yeast instead of the packet stuff, for maximum cost efficiency. It's very easy (just requires time, and effort if you're making a leavened dough), and also can be fun and creative. Once you're comfortable enough with simple recipes like white and wheat, try oat, cheese, nut, beer, cinnamon, spiced, etc.

7. And the best tip- make more things from scratch. Seriously, most of what you're paying for in the grocery store is convenience. Everyone loves the option of being able to come home from a long day and have dinner ready to go in 10 minutes. You can still do this, if you make it from scratch and toss it in the freezer. It'll also be healthier for you, and cheaper. Plus, you'll be gaining confidence in your cooking ability, getting to be creative, making your house smell yummy, and learning even more tips and tricks for making your dollars stretch.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Recycle That T-Shirt- Tote!

Got an old t-shirt you don't want to throw away, and don't want to make into a dress? How about making it into a tote for yourself or someone else?

Materials you'll need:

  • The old t-shirt (needs to be heavy weight cotton)
  • Pins
  • Medium-sized bowl or plate
  • Chalk pencil or fabric pen
  • Scissors
  • A threaded sewing machine

Step 1:
Turn T-shirt inside out and pin the bottom of the T-shirt along the hem. Sew bottom of T-shirt closed. Flip shirt right side out and lay flat on table, making sure all seams are lined up.

Step 2:
Place medium-sized bowl or plate upside down about half-way over the neck hole. Using a water-erasable marking pen, trace along the edge of the bowl. Cut along the outline, making sure to go through the front and back sides of the shirt, in order to create an opening for the bag that's larger than the original neck hole.

Step 3:
Line up the hems on the front and back side of either sleeve and cut, making sure to go through both sides of the shirt. Repeat on the other sleeve. If you're like, you can make a small rolled hem of this (which is now the bag handles). Otherwise, the material will curl inward a bit, but it shouldn't affect the integrity of the fabric.

Step 4:
You're done! Don't put rocks in this one, but DO use it for groceries, beach bags, sports bags, etc. Note that the bottom will not be squared-off, like a paper grocery bag is, so it won't stand up on its own.
Now go make some bags!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time Management Tricks

Do you find yourself with NEVER enough time to do everything you need to do? Try this time management trick:
Get yourself a journal and a good pen and carry these around with you everywhere.

Keep track of what you do each day, and approximately how long it takes you to do each task (round to the nearest 10 or fifteen minute mark). Yes, I know this is a pain and will require you to stop what you're doing often in order to record the task you just finished. Entries can be as simple as "Showered, dressed- 30 minutes", "Ate breakfast- 10 minutes", "Checked email- 45 minutes". Even repetitive tasks (like, for me, checking email) should be recorded each time you do them. Do this for a week, including one weekend.

Now sit down with your journal and look at the tasks you did regularly, over that time period. Arrange these tasks into three categories: Must Do (i.e. shower, sleep, eat), Like to Do (i.e. read a book, laundry), and Non-Critical (i.e. everything else). Give this some serious thought.

Once you have those tasks arranged, look at the time frames you have there. You can sacrifice the Non-Critical activities, or at least reduce the amount of time you spend on them, to open yourself from free space. Anything in the first two category that is a huge time drain, evaluate. Is there a way you can spend less time on it? What about doing it in smaller chunks of time as opposed to one large chunk?

Once you've seen that there are opens areas of time in your schedule, you're good to go! Want to write the next great novel? Or workout? Or study French? Meditate? Now you have identifiable areas, if only 15 minutes here and there, to do these things in.

An added bonus is that you've just identified those activities which you don't need to be doing, but are doing anyway (possibly out of habit now). Ditch those and free up your time!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Facelift

Thanks to my uber-creative and digitally-talented oldest brother, my blog got a facelift this weekend. Check it out!

I think it's adorable...it also reminded me that I haven't posted in a month. Eeep! I think I need to post more often, even if I don't necessarily have new crafty tips. We'll blame this lapse on costuming for other people, which has eaten my time tremendously. But with a cute new face on my blog, how can I *not* post more? ;)