Friday, July 31, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

Welcome to the start of another fabulous weekend. Let's celebrate Friday with a list of the best posts of the week...

What blog posts have you come across in your journeys this week? I'd love to hear about it!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Go Frugal with Snacks

The Greenest Dollar has yet another great post that I'd like to share with you. I'm all about snacks, and when they're healthy and frugal -- what more could you ask for?

Healthy, Frugal Travel Snacks


If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you know how it is when it comes to meal and snack options. Greasy fast food, chips, candy bars, soda…

After a few hours you’re bloated, dehydrated, and yearning for something healthy. Plus, all that convenience food really gets expensive after a while.

Eating well (and frugal) on the road takes some planning, and I learned that the hard way last time A and I took a long trip. We’re both vegetarians, and didn’t plan our food out in advance before we left.

We were hungry, to say the least. And it wasn’t pretty.

We’re leaving for vacation this week, and this time I resolved not to make the same mistake twice. So I decided to write a post about healthy travel foods while I researched options for our own trip.

Health Travel Snacks
I’m going to start out with some of the basics here…

  • Vegetable sticks, cherry tomatoes
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • GORP (peanuts, raisons, dried fruit, Cheerios, almonds, chocolate chips, or whatever else you want to throw in there)
  • Granola
  • Fruit (apples, oranges, grapes, pears, and bananas travel well)
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Edmame
  • Popcorn
  • Pita chips
  • Pickles and olives
  • Hummus (goes great with celery, carrots, and pita chips)

A Note on Hard-Boiled Eggs...
I’m thinking about boiling us some eggs the night before we leave (super YUM with Tony Chachere cajun seasoning!). As far as I’m able to tell from researching online, hard boiled eggs are fine for a few hours out of the fridge. If left in the fridge, they’ll last a week.

I remember boiling and coloring eggs as a child; we’d leave them out for days sometimes, eating them as we went along, and I never got sick. But, I probably wouldn’t do that now! I’m sure they’ll be fine for a few hours in the car, though.

Out of the Box Ideas

Travel EnchiladasI

I found this intriguing idea at Road Trip America.

Take a whole grain tortilla and spread it with reduced fat cream cheese. Sprinkle the cream cheese with nuts and dried fruit (dried pineapple bits are a favorite), and then roll it up like an enchilada. These are surprisingly good!

Wow, I might have to try that one…

Cheese Crisps

This recipe came from a Facebook friend (thanks Heather!). She makes them all the time for her family when they’re traveling, and swears she’s can’t make them fast enough! Here’s her recipe:

Use several cups Shredded Cheese (hard type works better) (Sharp Cheddar &/or Parm)
Italian Seasoning or Mexican Seasoning or your favorite flavors to taste
Mix thoroughly. Next:

  • Line cookie sheet w/ parchement paper
  • Place 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp scoops of cheese mixture on cookie sheet
  • Bake @ 350 for approx 10 min. or til golden brown & bubbly

When the cheese cools it will crispy & delicious! Also, Lowfat cheese is less greasy; harder cheeses crisp better & don’t spread as much. You can also play around w/ the mixture to your liking!

Banana Split PB & J

Image courtesy of Cooking Light

Image courtesy of Cooking Light

I love peanut butter. I eat it everyday, and I’ll spread it on anything.

So you can imagine my sheer delight when I came across The Banana Split Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich in Cooking Light last December.

I have made this luscious sandwich several times now, and let me tell you: IT IS YUM.

I’m definitely making one for the trip, but obviously I won’t be able to grill it. Here’s the original recipe, from Cooking Light:


  • 2 (1-ounce) slices firm white sandwich bread, divided
  • 1 teaspoon butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon semisweet chocolate minichips
  • 1 large strawberry, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small banana, cut lengthwise into 3 slices (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon pineapple jam


Spread one side of each white bread slice with 1/2 teaspoon butter. Combine peanut butter and honey; spread over plain side of 1 bread slice. Sprinkle with chocolate chips; top evenly with strawberry slices and banana slices.

Spread pineapple jam over plain side of remaining bread slice. Carefully assemble sandwich.

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sandwich; cook 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.

What I’ll Do…

I’ll probably just end up toasting the bread, and leaving off the pineapple jam (which is what I usually do because to me, the pineapple makes it too sweet with everything else).

Strawberry Sandwich

I found this yummy looking sandwich over at Reader’s Digest. And boy, the picture makes it look really, really good, so give that link a click if you want to check it out. I’m drooling as we speak…

Here’s the recipe:


1⁄2 slice Mestemacher or other dense 3-grain bread (equal to 65 calories)
2 teaspoons farmer cheese
3 strawberries, sliced
1⁄2 teaspoon honey
Coarsely ground black pepper (optional)

Place the bread on a plate and spread with the farmer cheese. Top evenly with the strawberries and drizzle with the honey. Add black pepper, if desired. Cut in half and eat.

Any frugal, healthy snacks that you'd like to add? Let me know!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Frugal Tip Tuesday: How to Embrace Frugal Food Shopping

Food shopping is something everyone has to do. Plus, it's an area where you can easily cut costs with a little work.

I've read numerous articles about the best way to save money food shopping. Each week, I try to incorporate them into my regular outings. But I'm beginning to realize that what makes the most sense is what fits best into your schedule and lifestyle.

Here is what I've learned:

1. Menu Planning
This is an essential step. It requires some dedication and planning, but in the end it's worth it. My husband is the cook of the family, so this step actually makes his life a little easier. It's also helpful to plan ways to reuse leftovers in other meals. We usually only plan our dinners for the week, since lunch is mainly sandwiches.

2. Once-a-Month vs. Once-a-Week Shopping
I have yet to test this theory (stay tuned for future blog posts), but I think you can spend as much shopping weekly as shopping monthly. When either my husband or I shop, we only buy sale items and use coupons whenever possible. We keep an ongoing list of what we need, so the most we hit the grocery store is once a week. This works for us, but I would like to test the monthly shopping trip. In the book "America's Cheapest Family," they swear by monthly shopping trips.

3. Shop Sale Items
Unless your married to a certain brand for a certain item (e.g., you can't bear to not buy Yo-Baby Yogurt), try to buy items that are on sale or generic brands. Many times, they're just as good -- if not better!

4. Use Coupons
The trick here is to only clip coupons for items you normally buy. If you use every single coupon in a flyer, chances are you're not saving money. Many coupons are for new products. Stick to your guns when it comes to your favorite brands and use corresponding coupons -- especially when those items are on sale. You'll save even more!

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Simple Ways to Green Your Garage

Our friend at The Greenest Dollar offers some great advice on how to green your garage. Read on...

How to Go Green in Your Garage
My garage is the bane of my house. I stay organized and green pretty much everywhere else, but when it comes to the garage I have a serious lack of inspiration. Being a fairly new homeowner means that my garage hasn’t gotten to the state of, say, my dad’s garage (which only the brave should enter), but it’s still a problem.

Most people consider their garage last when it comes time to make the house more eco-friendly. But when you think about it, your garage is probably one of the most used rooms in your home.

Here’s how it usually works: you come home from picking up the kids at school and what do you do? You pull right into the garage and enter your home through the side door. This means that you, your pets, and your kids all go through the dirtiest and, usually, most polluted room multiple times a day.


Fortunately there are some fairly easy ways you can green the garage and make it healthier for your family.

Tip 1: Properly Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)
I’d be willing to bet that most homes (including my own) have several cans of old paint stacked in the garage. There might be cans of paint thinner, containers of old gasoline, antifreeze, bottles of oil, and who knows what else.

These nasty things are referred to as Hazardous Household Waste, and according to the EPA, the average American has over 100 pounds of the stuff languishing and fuming in the garage. Yuck.

HHW is not something that can be tossed in the trash; it must be disposed of safely.

For instance, take any paint that’s still good to your local Habitat of Humanity. They’ll either sell it in their Re-Store, or use it one their homes.

If there are paint cans you want to keep, then follow this great piece of advice from the DIY Network: seal the opening with plastic wrap, and then put on the lid tightly with a hammer. Then, store the paint can upside down. Storing it lid-side down will tightly seal it up and prevent fumes and fluids from leaching out.

As far as the other dangerous chemicals in your garage, just tossing them in the trash is not an option. Visit Earth911 to see if there are any centers in your area that take them year-round. Otherwise, call you local city government to see when their next hazardous waste collection day will be. Most towns accept hazardous waste at least twice per year.

Tip 2: Seal Your Doorway
Making your garage more eco-friendly also means protecting your home from the fumes that might leak in.

It’s important to make sure that the doorway from the garage into your main living area is properly sealed. Add weatherstripping if there is not any already, and make sure that cracks are sealed with caulk or expanding foam.

If you have a room above the garage like an office or rec room, then be aware that fumes can very easily leach into your home through the garage ceiling. The easiest fix for this is to make sure your garage is painted, which will help seal up small cracks.

And, take this piece of advice from the University of Illinois: don’t seal doors that open to the outside, especially your main garage door. This will hinder ventilation.

Tip 3: Just Say “No” To Insecticides and Pesticides
Did you know that many insecticides originated as nerve agents for warfare?

Seriously. They’re called “organophosphates”, and they’re really, really bad for human bodies and the environment. And yet, millions of people have sacks and cans of this stuff just sitting out in the garage.

Want another reason why you should ditch pesticides? Well, of the 30 most common brands, 19 are linked with cancer, 13 are linked with birth defects, and 21 with reproductive effects according to There’s a lot more badness where that comes from, but I didn’t want to run out of room.

The point here is that not only is this stuff toxic when you use it (and extremely toxic when it gets washed into your local groundwater for the fish and other wildlife to enjoy), it’s also emitting harmful fumes in your garage. They need to go.

Your best resource to safely dispose of insecticides is, again, Use their searchable database to find a drop-off location.

Tip 4: Ditch Your Lawnmower
I ditched my traditional lawnmower last summer. I hated it: it was noisy, we had to buy gas for it, it took up a ton of space in our very-small garage, and it emitted fumes every time we turned it on.

So, we donated it and got an old-fashioned Scotts push mower, exactly like this one from

I love love love our pushmower, and here’s why:

1. It’s good exercise. When did exercise and exertion become a bad thing? I love pushing this around the yard. And it’s not hard, it’s just more work than those gas-guzzling, fume-emitting machines that most people use.

2. It’s quiet. I could mow at midnight and no one would ever know.

3. It’s small. The thing take up no space in my garage. It’s a thing of beauty.

4. It doesn’t need gas. I never have to go the gas station, get two measly gallons, come home, mix in the oil, yadda yadda. That eliminates stress from my life, and saves money.

Please consider getting a push mower. They’re truly wonderful, and now that I’ve got one I’m never ever going back to a regular lawn mower.

The reasons why this ties in to having an eco-friendly garage is because with a pushmower, you don’t have to store cans of gasoline and oil, both of which emit nasty fumes.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

Who isn't glad that it's Friday? Here are some great posts from this week...

Now, onto the weekend...

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Frugal Tip Thursday: Be Frugal When You Buy Liquor

This frugal girl loves her wine (and beer for that matter). Every week or so, my husband and I buy one or two bottles of wine (depending how good or bad our week is going) and a six-pack of beer. Granted, we don't buy the most expensive wine. It's usually an $8 bottle of wine (we're big fans of Little Penguin or Yellow Tail). For beer, we usually get Corona, or the poor and cheap man's Corona -- Bud Lite with Lime. Yum!

Always looking for the best buy, I mentioned to my husband that perhaps we should start buying our wine and beer by the case. Let's compare if buy Little Penguin Pinot Noir wine ($7/bottle) and Corona beer ($7/six-pack) by the bottle versus by the case:

Cost for a Case
Wine (12 bottles) = $71
Beer (24 bottles) = $32
Total = $103

So let's see, a case of each would last us at least 3 months. If we were to keep buying wine and beer by the bottle and six-pack, it would cost:

Cost per Bottle & Six-pack
Wine: 1 bottle per week for 3 months = 12 bottles x $7 = $84
Beer: 1 six-pack per week for 3 months = 12 six-packs x $7 = $84
Total = $168

Basically, every three months we would save $65 or $260 a year! If that's not reason enough to stockpile wine and beer, I don't know what is.

Now granted, I know there are other frugal sites or blogs that would say I should abstain from drinking, cut back, etc. I'm sorry, but I'm about living life and enjoying the best of it...all while not breaking the bank. I enjoy an occasional massage, nice dinner out, etc. I don't agree in having to sacrifice everything to save a few dollars. You have to thoroughly enjoy the things you spend your money on. It's about saving on the stupid stuff that you have to spend your money on (i.e., insurance, toilet paper, etc.)

Okay, I'll step off my soapbox you agree or disagree with my rant?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Going Green: Garden Update

Granted we had a long spell of rain in June, we're well on our way to growing some great veggies. We picked two green peppers, but they ended up being really bitter for some reason. I think we may have picked them too early because they were pretty small.

The green beans are coming in nicely and taste delicious! Our 2-year-old daughter likes them so much that she ate a whole bowl raw. (She helped me point out some of the veggies, as you can see.)

Our tomato plants are growing out of control! They're so big that they're actually bringing their cages down. There are a number of green tomatoes. It's just a matter of them getting ripe. My husband just realized our tomatoes have the late season blight. It basically creates mold on your tomatoes and you have to kill the whole plant. Luckily it didn't hit too many plants. Unfortunately, the solution is to rip out the whole plant so it doesn't infect any other plants.

My husband has also been battling the deer, groundhogs, squirrels and birds. They just about ate our cucumbers down to nothing. But the plants still have some life left in them. Hopefully within the next 2-3 weeks, we'll have an edible cucumber. Check out this one -- almost ready for salad!

Carrots and lettuce are slowly progressing. The groundhogs did a number on the Romaine lettuce and spinach. We would be eating those already if they hadn't been demolished by our rodent friends. That said, they're making a nice comeback.

We've had a few jalapenos - yum! We're also growing potatoes, which should be ready to harvest in the fall. Hubby got excited a picked a few cute, little red potatoes.

In addition, we've been getting our weekly deliveries of farm-fresh produce through Catalpa Farms, our local farm share that we participate in. It lets us try a variety of new vegetables, including kale, fava beans and garlic curls.

Some people have garden gnomes. We have a garden cat...

I'd love to hear how your garden is growing. Have you been able to harvest any veggies?

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Recycle Your Flip Flops

As a flip-flop lover, I couldn't resist sharing this post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

How to Recycle Your Flip Flops
Now that it’s mid-July your flip flops, which showed show so much bright summer promise back in May, might be getting a little worse for wear. And if you’ve had your flip flops for a few years, they might be ready for retirement.

Well guess what? We can recycle our flip flops. Yippee!

Recycling Method #1: Unique Eco
The good news? Unique Eco Designs takes flip flops that wash up on beaches (and old pairs that you send in) and turns them into funky art. They provide much needed jobs to women and children, and help support the local economy.

They also donate 9% of the sale from your flip flops to charity.

The bad news? They’re in Kenya, which means we have to mail our flip flops half way around the world.

So, does mailing flip flops so far take away the goodness you’re doing by recycling them?

I’m not sure, and don’t even know how to calculate the impact of either choice.

Here’s the address if you want to send your flip flops in for recycling:

Unique Eco Designs

P.O. Box 15565-00503

Nairobi, Kenya

But keep reading if you’re here in the U.S., because I found a better way…

Recycling Method #2: Hansen’s Surf Shop
Hansen’s Surf Shop in San Diego, CA is collecting used flip flops to send to Unique Eco. So, sending them in bulk through Hansen’s would, I think, negate the environmental impact of all of us sending them one pair at a time.

Hansen’s has become an official collection site for Unique Eco Designs. Here’s what they have to say about it:

It seemed natural that we should become UniquEco’s first collection source in the U.S. After all, we are StyleSubstanceSole – oops, Soul. We’re all about doing good. And because we live in Southern California – the land of flip flops – what better place to make a real impact? We could actually help reduce landfills one flip flop at a time.

So if you have flip flops to recycle, send them to:

3525 Del Mar Heights Road #582
San Diego, CA 92130

Hansen’s, thanks for being so cool to send in our flip flops for us. You rock big time.

Last Word…
Do any of you know more places that take flip flops for recycling? Know some ingenious ways to reuse them at home?

Amazon has a great welcome mat made from recycled welcome flip flops!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

Made it through another week! Is it me, or are they getting longer? Well, it's summer, so that's not a horrible thing. Here's this week's round-up:
Feel free to add any that I've missed...and have a great weekend!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Website Review:

I'm trying to declutter and stumbled upon a shelf full of books I never refer to and really have no use for. Now usually when I want to get rid of books, I turn to or to try and sell them to make a little money. The problem is when you go to Amazon and see 300 other people trying to sell the same used book for a penny. Clearly not a worthwhile option.

I recently signed up for Swaptree after reading about it at The Simple Dollar (a fabulous personal finance blog, I might add). Basically, you list your paperbook books (they also work with DVDs, CDs and video games). You have to list at least nine items in order to start generating trades. The site will match you up when a book you want becomes available. They even have an option where you can upload your Amazon wish list, which is what I did.

So I list nine books and I wait. Literally, the next day I received an e-mail asking if I wanted to swap one of the books I listed for a book I wanted. Giddyup! Best of all, you can print the shipping label from your computer and have your credit card charged for the cost. No more inconvenient trips to the post office! I've since received another e-mail for a swap, so I have two books ready to be shipped and I'll be receiving two books that I'm interested in reading (Angela's Ashes and The Kite Runner). I'm pretty excited to see if this process works. What a great way to recycle for the frugal reader.

Next on my list to try is Any others that you've tried and liked?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


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Being Frugal: The Battle Between Frugality & Guilt

As you well know, I try my best to get the best bargains and save money whenever possible. I always jokingly say to my husband "paying full price is for suckers!" Between cutting coupons, buying on sale and searching the clearance racks, I rarely pay full price. While some people may view frugality as inconvenient, annoying or not worth their while. I consider it a challenge.

However, my entire attitude changes for some reason when it comes to gifts. I always feel like I must spend a certain amount. I feel guilty about buying loved ones gifts that are on sale. Why you might ask? Whether she realized it or not, my mom unconsciously raised me (I can't speak for my brother) to equate gifts with love. More gifts - more love. To give you an idea, when we celebrated Christmas, it typically took my brother and I 3+ hours to open all of our gifts.

So when it comes to buying gifts for family members, including my husband and kids, it's hard not to get carried about. It's hard to break the habit, and hard not to get burned by it. For example, I recently blogged about my Father's Day frugal mishap. I still cringe when I think about how much I spent! I should also mention that gift is leaning against the wall on the floor in our office. Hmm, should I be offended?

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Frugal Date Night: Dinner & a Movie

Once a month my husband and I go out on the much-anticipated "date night." With two young children, it's hard for us to get time to ourselves. So we've committed to making sure we get out by ourselves at least every 3-4 weeks.

We had an unexpected free weekend and were able to get our babysitter on short notice. It's important to note that we don't skimp when it comes to childcare. Our babysitter is a college-age teacher from our children's school. She's CPR and first aid-certified, so we pay her more than we would a high school teenager with limited experience. But I digress.

Over the past few weeks, my interest was piqued by an add for a German restaurant in Hawthorne, NJ called Kirker's Inn. It boasted authentic German fare with reasonable prices. My grandmother was right off the boat from a town near Munich. Plus we thought it would be fun to coordinate out meal with a viewing of Sacha Baron Cohen's new movie, "Bruno."

My husband checked out the Kirker Inn's website and saw that they offered an early-bird menu Monday through Saturday from 3-6pm. This worked out perfectly since we were trying to catch a 7:40pm movie.

The restaurant was non-descript, in a brick building just off of Hawthorne's main drag. We chuckled as we were seated since were the only couple under the age of 60 and clearly not your typical "early birds."

In addition to our authentic German meal, we both tried German beers we had never heard of. Mine was called Dab and my husband's was something that began with a "K" and looked like motor oil. My beer was equivalent to a German Corona and my husband commented that his was "better than Guiness."

I ordered a potato pancake appetizer to see if it could rival my mom's. It definitely gave her a run for her money. It was perfectly cooked, not greasy and very flavorful. Even my husband was impressed.

For our main course, my husband got wiener schnitzel (veal cutlet) with a potato pancake and red cabbage. I ordered bratwurst, which came with warm German potato salad and homemade sauerkraut. Both of our meals were incredible. The taste and smell took me back to when my grandmother would cook for us. It was delicious, to say the least.

Since we had some time before the movie, we also ordered dessert -- a peach crisp for two with ice cream (to hell with the diet I say!) Again, it was just incredible. We couldn't walk by the time we left because we were so full!

Then it was onto the movie. All I can say is: if you're a Borat fan, you will love Bruno. It was hysterical.

While not exactly the most frugal date, we had a great time:

Dinner ----- $57 (including appetizer, two dinners, two beers and a dessert + tip)
Movie ------ $21 (two tickets pre-paid at
Babysitter --$60 ($15/hr for 4 hours)

Total = $138

Not too shabby, considering we've gone on dates for $200+!!

If you live in Jersey and try Kirker's Inn, let me know how you like it...same goes for any Borat/Bruno fans!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Green and Frugal -- Still Going Strong

While I have some followers who have been with Green and Frugal Living for some time. Some of you may be new.

I was just looking at my list of posts, and it's hard to believe I've created more than 100 posts in just the past six months. I couldn't even remember what my first post was about. So I thought I'd repost it so some of my newer followers could enjoy. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if I had any followers went I published this post...

Going Green & Saving Money – All in a Day’s Work

Each day, from start to finish, I’m always thinking about ways I can save money and be green. (I know, I have too much time on my hands.) But think about a typical day and the little things you can do that could go far in the long-run.

  • Make your own coffee.
    Don’t stop at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on your way into work. Make coffee at home and take it with you in a travel mug. We buy Dunkin Donuts ground coffee (when it's on sale or when we have a coupon) and make it at home. Save money, travel time (and gas), and there’s no disposable cup to throw out.

  • Pack a lunch.
    I've found that buying lunch every day to be a HUGE expense. At $5-$7 per day, 5 days a week -- that's $1,300-$1,800 annually! Now I keep a stash of non-perishable food in a drawer at work, such as cereal, oatmeal and granola bars.

  • Avoid the dry cleaners
    It kills me to have my clothes dry cleaned, since it’s approximately $5 per item. UGH! So now I make sure to only take those items that say “Dry Clean Only” to the cleaners, and I try to get at least three wearings. The other clothes, I wash in cold on gentle, tumble dry low and immediately take out of the dryer and iron. I’ve found it gets the job done…even though I absolutely hate ironing, which is why I originally dry cleaned so many of my clothes! Being lazy is expensive!

Not only will these tips help the environment, they’ll keep more green in your wallet!

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Website Review:

I stumbled upon this site,, which offers a wealth of information about anything and everything relative to personal finance. The topics range from mortgage and saving money to insurance, investing and loans.

The articles are quick reads and offer thoughtful content. Some of the articles I enjoyed included:
  • Tips for Creating a Successful Budget Plan
  • Annual Financial Check-up
  • Why Balancing Your Checkbook is a Good Idea
  • How to Get Through the Hard Time
  • Investing in Real Estate
With information dating back to 2005, you won't find a shortage of educational material on personal finance. But don't take my word for it, check out today and let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Costco Primes Us to Spend More Money...


Another great post by Heather at The Greenest Dollar. While I'm a big fan of Costco's, BJ's, Sam's Club, I do agree with the insights below.

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s really hard to save money at Costco. And, I’m not talking about saving money on the price-per-pound for ground beef, or the cheaper price-per-ounce of Jiffy Peanut Butter.

On those things yes, you’re saving money compared to buying at the grocery store.

What I’m talking about is the Ralph Lauren swimsuits. The super massaging leather easy chair and ottoman. The flat screen tvs. The Gucci handbags, and the expansive DVD section.

There is a big reason why Costco stocks these things instead of just food. And, it’s because we buy them. Big time.

I recently finished reading the book, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. And, it’s an incredibly fascinating look at how, exactly, we go about making decisions.

This post isn’t a review of that book (which was amazing). It’s a post inspired by one section of the book, on how stores prime our brains to spend more money.

All research for this post comes from author Jonah Lehrer, and is fully credited to him.

A Quick Look At Our Decision-Making Process

Think about your last trip to the grocery store. Specifically, the cereal aisle.

If you were alone, with time to choose the cereal you wanted, your thoughts might have gone something like this:

“Wow, that Bare Naked Granola cereal looks really good and healthy. Oh, but it’s $5. Too expensive. But that box of Frosted Flakes would be tasty. Oh, but that’s got way too much sugar. I need to eat more fiber anyway. Maybe Raison Bran? Oh, but that cereal’s gross. Maybe Fiber One. It’s $4? Crikey. Maybe there is a store brand that’s tasty…”

And on and on.

All these thoughts probably took no more than two seconds. Walking down the cereal aisle is just like having one long arguement with yourself.

What Lehrer points out, and what we don’t realize, is that all of these arguments trigger a specific set of emotions and associations (page 199).

Sure, we want those Frosted Flakes. That wanting is a very strong emotion. But, we know we need to eat more fiber because it’s good for us. This thought has less wanting, but more obligation, so it triggers a weaker emotion. But coupled with a lower price, and our desire for saving money (which is still a weaker emotion than our wanting of the Frosted Flakes), we might end up buying the fiber cereal.

Most of the time our decisions are not based on logic, even though we think they are. They’re based on emotion.

Our Brain’s Reaction To Shopping

Now, think about how you feel when you find something fabulous in the store. You get excited, right? Your breathing may quicken, your heart starts to pound, and you reach out to just touch it.

When we see something we want to buy, our brain is instantly activated. Know what it does?

Our nucleus accumbens (NAcc), which is the pleasure center of the brain, releases the hormone dopamine, which is the precursor of adrenaline. Dopamine is very, very powerful. Scientists James Olds and Peter Milner discovered that when rats are overstimulated with dopamine release, they’ll literally die of pleasure (pg. 35).

So, the stronger we want something the stronger our NAcc activation, and the more dopamine is released.

Knowing this, scientists can literally tell if we’re going to buy an item before we even know it. It happens that fast.

How Stores Prime Us To Spend More

Let’s go back to Costco. You know what you see when you walk through the door of every Costco store?

You see all those huge, gleaming flat screen tvs. Who wouldn’t love a big flat screen? We see these things and guess what happens? Our NAcc kicks in, and dopamine is released.

But, we may not have $1,200 to drop on a new Sony. So we walk on.

Then, we pass the jewelry counter. And the designer handbags. And the DeWalt tools. And the leather easy chairs.

With each look, our NAcc is being prodded, and the dopamine is flowing good. We want that. And that. And that. We get into a state of wanting.

All this is doing is conditioning us to crave a reward.

What’s key to understand about all this is that we may not buy a $1,200 flat screen that day. Or that $800 easy chair. Or that $300 hand bag.

But our brains have been incredibly stimulated by now to want a reward. So, we’ll probably buy that $12 box of cookies. And maybe that beautiful $20 hyacinth bush for the front porch. And, what the heck, that $30 jacket.

After all, we think, $62 is way less than those other things, right? And besides, we deserve a treat.

And the House Wins…

By strategically placing those tvs and handbags and diamond rings in high-traffic areas, Costco just got an extra $62 out of us. Just by stimulating our dopamine production.


Knowledge Is Power…

So, what do we do with this information?

Well, I’m one of those “knowledge is power” kind of girls. I really think that knowing what is going on in our brains can help us take a step back and analyze what we’re doing.

Walking into Costco, or any retail store, is always going to be fraught with dopamine production, which means our wallets are threatened. But knowing that stores are deliberately priming you to buy a reward for yourself, even if it’s just a little one, can help you stick to your list and walk away with a bit more money in your pocket.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Go Green: Green Your Office Party

Many companies today are beginning to "think green," but when it comes to partying, they may forget all about it. Here are a few tips for eco-friendly company galas (Many of these ideas are inexpensive too). If you are looking for more in depth information, just contact us.

  • Avoid choosing paper anything unless it's treefree or 100% recycled and printed with vegetable inks.
  • If you are giving gifts, make them earth-friendly. Potted plants make great centerpieces and can be given away.
  • Instead of centering the party around food and drink, come up with some fun activities that may include poking gentle fun at management.
  • Provide drinks in pitchers, punch bowls or glass bottles. Avoid disposable cups and plates.
  • If you're having the party catered, seek out one who emphasizes sustainable, local and organic food.
  • Giving out awards? Choose from recycled glass awards, fair trade picture frames, organic chocolate bars etc. You can find these and others at and
  • Have your party early enough in the day so that lights are not necessary. If you use decorative lighting, ensure that it is LED or solar.
  • Serve fair trade, organic coffee (shade grown if possible) and/or tea.
  • Plan carefully. Avoid overpurchasing food. If you have leftovers, compost, send home with guests or donate if you can. Unopened bags, boxes and cans can be taken to a local food bank.
  • Consider having your party or celebration benefit a local cause. Invite guests to bring books for local book drives, coats for a coat drive, school supplies or whatever else your local community needs.
  • Clean up with eco-friendly products and be sure to place recycling bins where guests will use them.
Brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

A special thanks to all of the men and women who are or have served our country. You made our independence a reality.

Have a great Fourth of July with your family and friends!!

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Website Review:

I somehow stumbled upon website. It's a great site loaded with some cool green products, information and calculators. I was also impressed with their blog.

Their key areas include:
  • Green Electronics
  • Cleaning Products
  • Fuel Saver Products
  • Efficient Lighting
As I perused their products, I came across some interesting items, including one I'm tempted to try called the Kill-A-Watt. It's $25 and you plug your appliance into it to see how much energy it consumes. By trying it out with each electrical appliance, you can see which ones are sucking up energy -- and money!

I like the simplicity of the site. It's easy to quickly find what you need. There's also free shipping on order over $99.

I'll let you know when I get my Kill-A-Watt and try it out. Ever used I'd love to hear your feedback.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Go Green: Have a Red, White and Green Summer

For most Americans, July 4th marks the official start of summer and that means family and friends gathering together enjoying each other at picnics and barbecues. But all this celebrating can take a toll on the Earth (and cost a lot of green as well), so why not consider some alternatives to the ways we've traditionally celebrated summer. Here are just a few ideas:

Serve filtered tap water.
It's so easy to hit one of the bi
g box stores and pick up cartons of water if you're hosting a picnic or barbecue, but you can save money and the planet when you choose to drink and serve filtered tap water instead.

Knowing that bottled water (even by the case), is 240 to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water and that 40% of bottled water should be labeled tap water because that's what it is, you may decide that the "convenience" is simply not worth the cost. Instead, set out pitchers of iced tap water (print out this tongue-in-cheek label if you like). Ask a willing helper to keep the pitchers full.

Substitute reusables for disposables when possible.
Picnics and barbecues have become synonymous with throw aways--plates, cups, napkins, tablecloths and decor. While
there are more choices for disposables made from recycled and biodegradable materials, using what you already own and remains a more earth-friendly (and budget-conscions) choice.

If you don't own enough plates and glasses,why not:

  • Borrow. Friends and neighbors are usually happy to contribute
  • Ask everyone to bring their own place settings. That's what people used to do B.P.P. (before paper plates).
  • Hit your local thrift store. You'll likely be able to pick up dozens of plates very inexpensively and when you're done, you can donate them back.

When it comes to napkins, tablecloths and decor, think outside the paper box by decorating with items you already own, like sheets. Supply guests with red, white and blue fabric markers and set them loose. You'll end up with a unique tablecovering that you can use over and over again.

Washcloths make great napkins and if they're stained with barbecue sauce, use them for rags.

No need to buy paper or plastic decor items when you scour your home (and ask your guests to if you like), for objects in your preferred color scheme and integrate them into the decor. If you've got scrap paper your colors, wrap it around empty cans and fill them with flowers (cans pictured, while made for the 4th, could be used all summer). Tie napkins with bits of ribbon and stick a flower, feather or leaves under the bow. If you're in crafting mode, make banners from old pairs of blue jeans, or flatware caddies from towels like the one pictured (make extras for guests who might want to take these home--sans your silverware!--so they'll always have their flatware at the ready). Pinwheels are fun, easy-to-make and decorative and here are instructions for making the recycled Christmas bulb candleholder shown above.

Clean up.
You're probably shaking your head, "Well, of course we'll clean up, duh!" If you're partying at your home, this is no doubt true, but be sure to provide bins for trash and recyclables as well as for items that can be composted, assuming these services are available in your community. Place signs on each container indicating what should be tossed in which bin and encourage everyone to use them.

And if you're watching the town parade or or enjoying an outdoor movie at a local park where recycling bins are not provided, why not carry a bag so you can bring your trash home and dispose of it properly. This includes packaging from food items, cans and paper goods. While you're at it, how about taking a bag to pick up a bit of trash left by thoughtless individuals? After all, not everyone is as conscientious as you!

Cook it green.
When it comes to the environment, barbecues of all kinds are problematic. The best way to cook outside in an eco-friendly way? A solar oven. You can purchase one, but to save money, gather a bunch of kids and make your own. Choose from among dozens of configurations using everything from tires to pizza boxes to a windshielf shade. Yes, cooking with solar takes more time, but hey, it's summer! And if you're only ready for baby steps, start by cooking part of the meal via solar. Pick up some veggies at the local farmer's market and grill them up. Once you see how easy it is and how yummy and fresh everything tastes, you may wave good bye to charcoal altogether.

Brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at
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