Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: 12 Things You Should Never Buy Full Price

This week's Wednesday Wisdom: 12 things you should never settle for paying full price for from Business Insider.

 12 Things You Should Never Buy Full-Price


                           · Posted by ·

           We're thrilled to present this smart Business Insider story here on Savvy!
With the Internet, helpful mobile phone apps, and retailers scrambling to keep consumers in their shops, there's no need to pay full-price for much of anything these days.
To give you a boost, we tapped a few savvy shoppers for their tips on all the ways you can save.
Theater tickets
"One of the greatest savings areas recently has been the theater ticket business," says Anna Aronovich, CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org.
Even if you're not going to be around NYC to score discount Broadway tickets this month, there are opportunities in nearly all cities to see shows on the cheap.
Related: 15 Things You Should Never Waste Your Money On
Some rewards programs like Optimum Rewards cost nothing to join and offer discounts on shows.
Beer
If you're looking to stock the fridge for your next poker night, don't hit the liquor store until you've checked out www.saveonbrew.com.
The company's been featured on a host of deals sites lately as one of the best ways to find discounts on brewski, says Jennifer Davidson, director of operations. (See some incredible uses for beer.)
Read on for more.
"At any given time we have over 250,000 deals online, polling over 50,000 stores," she says. Just type in your zip code, and the site will pump out the best discounts in your area.
Cars
"Everyone knows you should 'never pay retail' (for a car)," says Edmunds.com senior editor, Phil Reed.
Check Edmunds.com's free True Market Value price check, which tells you the average price of a car in your region. That way you'll know if your dealer's sales pitch is generous or not. (See eight questions every couple should ask before buying a car.)
"TMV figures are based on the actual sales of other cars of its kind in your area," Reed says. "The figure is then adjusted further for accuracy using sophisticated calculations designed by mathematicians at Edmunds.com."
Legal advice
There are a slew of new sites on the web that are offering legal advice from actual professionals at a deeply discounted rate.
Check out a few of our favorites:
Shpoonkle.com
Legalzoom.com
RocketLawyer.com
All three sites offer access to attorneys from across the country. Just search their site for a lawyer in your price range and start saving as much as 30 percent off traditional rates.
Anything that comes with a plug
"From HD to 3D and built-in WiFi, television manufacturers are constantly creating new features and releasing upgraded models that create a rapid depreciation," says Julie Vlahon of Techbargains.com.
If you're not dead set on having the latest version on the market, look to older models to save or scope out deals at warehouse stores for affordable package bundles that come with extended warranties, she says.
Laptops are also a steal during the busy back-to-school sales season, and you'll score a ton of deals throughout the holidays.
Dealnews does a great job listing the best products to buy on a month-to-month basis. Looks like February is prime time for TV lovers.
Just remember to skip the extended warranty.
Gift certificates and gift cards
If you haven't cottoned on to the secondhand gift card marketplace, you're missing out.
GiftCardGranny.com and CouponSherpa are great sources to nab discounted gift cards for hundreds of retailers. They're a also a favorite way to save, according to personal finance expert Andrea Woroch.
"You can score huge discounts for yourself or for a gift," she says.
Shipping
These days, nearly all retailers offer some sort option to deliver your purchases to your doorstep without additional fees.
Rock stars like Zappos and L.L. Bean are among the rarest breed of businesses offering free shipping on every single purchase, says NerdWallet CEO Tim Chen. But most companies will demand a minimum purchase before letting you off the hook.
To help track down deals on shipping, Freeshipping.org is an excellent source.
Patio furniture
"Spring is when retailers heavily promote their summer merchandise, and among them are expensive patio sets and outdoor furniture," Woroch says.
"Hold off until after Summer to enjoy huge sales of up to 80 percent off. Otherwise, head over to a local home consignment shop for discounts or check Craigslist for gently used alternatives."
Don't turn up your nose a garage or yard sales, either. Chances are your neighbors might want to get rid of their old furniture to make way for something new.
E-Books
Yes, e-books are basically a discount in and of themselves, since they're far cheaper than the real thing.
But there are still more ways to save.
Many libraries have started to offer free e-book rentals from their websites. You can also check out books library-style from Amazon's Kindle store.
Video games
Check out LynxSquare.com, a group-buy marketplace that lets users sell off older versions of their video games online.
You can even pool your resources with friends if you can't afford some of the pricier games on the market, and eBay's another great source for finding discounted games. You can trade unwanted games on Swap.com as well.
Your college education
College tuition prices don't appear to be trending down anytime soon, so do all you can to find the best deals out there.
Don't stop hounding your student aid office until you've exhausted all your federal loan aid. Trust us: you don't want to have to turn to private student loans, which carry variable interest rates that can leap into the double-digits after you graduate.
If you're thinking about getting your degree online, check GetEducated.com, which publishes comparisons of online degrees nationwide.
Printer ink
Per technology consultant James Beswick:
"Manufacturers' markup on brand-name ink cartridges is very high. There are local and online services that will refill your cartridges and toners for up to 80 to 90 percent off, and I'm not sure anyone can tell the difference in the final printed product."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Clothing Sale!

We're moving THIS weekend, so in preparation I am cleaning out my closet!  Most of the things I'm getting rid of are hard to part with because there's nothing wrong with them - I just have to down size a little...

So I'm listing a handful of them on eBay.  You can check them out here!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: Savoring as a secret for making your $ last

This week's Wednesday Wisdom: Savoring as the secret to making your money last (from my favorite financial literacy source, LearnVest).

The Secret to Making Your Dollar Last


                                          Posted by LearnVest



Research psychologists have all the best tricks up their sleeves. Maybe it’s because they study humans like guinea pigs to figure out what really makes our complicated selves tick.
Feeling stressed? Reason yourself out of it (studies show this actually works). Rushed all the time? Slow down, and you’ll be a nicer person (a famous study we cite shows that this is true, no matter who you are).
Feeling broke? Or wish you could stretch your dollar more? We’d normally tell you to head straight to My Money Center and Budgeting Tool (you can’t have enough free tools at your fingertips) — but today, we’re going to give you a break. We’re going to let you in on an easy way to stretch your dollar and enhance your happiness, and it’s also totally free. It’s called savoring.

What Is Savoring?
Savoring is the ability to prolong and stretch enjoyment or positive emotional experiences. It’s the difference between wolfing down a meal vs. lingering over every bite. It relates to how much time you spend sitting in front of a sunset (if you even stop at all).

Scientists have consistently found that the ability to savor promotes happiness (see here or here). Which makes sense. The more you can prolong positive emotional experiences, the more positive emotions are filling up your day. In fact, the tendency to savor benefits individuals across the lifespan: studies show it predicts the subjective well-being for grade-school children, adolescents, college students, and the elderly.
Read on for more.
Savoring is also one of the best tricks for maximizing your finances, because you are getting more happiness for the buck — for the same experience, product, or expense. Which leads us to the ironic point . . .


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pinterest Inspiration for a New Kitchen

I just love this idea I found on Pinterest from Apartment Therapy for how to creatively use paint, hooks, wheels, and a paper towel rack (plus a few other things) to make your own kitchen island. 



We're moving in a few weekends (and still have so much to do!), just across the city, but we have a much bigger kitchen to look forward to there, and I love the idea of putting an island in that could roll to the center or out of the way.  I'll be hunting Salvation Army now to find a dresser to fit the bill!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: 10 Things You Do to Save $ that May Actually Cost You More

This week for Wednesday Wisdom:  10 things that you are doing to save money that may actually be backfiring (from SavvySugar).  Very interesting (although I'm not sure I agree with all of them, or their assumption that you won't use your bulk food - I do!).  

Check it out and let me know what you think!

  10 Things You Do to Save Money 

That End Up Costing You More


                                               Posted by
                                                       




We're thrilled to present this smart Wise Bread story here on Savvy!
Have you heard of the expression “penny wise, pound foolish”? It’s something I heard a lot growing up, from my parents, and it can have multiple meanings:
  1. You are very careful with small amounts of money, but throw caution to the wind with large amounts. This is akin to someone who eats from the dollar menu every day but then blows a hundred dollars every month on a gym membership that’s never used.
  2. You do things to save money now, only to have those savings cost you more farther down the road.
The second definition is what I’m focusing on today, because it’s a lot easier to fall into the trap of saving money only to have it bite you later on. Here then are 10 things that you may be doing to save money that could actually cost you a lot more in the weeks, months, or years to come.
RELATED: The Case For Expensive Shoes
1. Avoiding Regular Checkups With the Doctor, Dentist, or Optician
It’s something I did in college when money was tight. “Aah, who needs to pay money to a dentist to have him tell me I should floss more?” Well, after leaving the dentist alone for a few years, I paid the price. Avoiding the regular cleanings and checkups left me facing a hefty bill later on when I needed a bunch of costly fillings. I was lucky that I didn’t need root canals or replacement teeth. Now I have a dental plan that covers free checkups twice a year, but even if you don’t, get to the dentist and doctor for health checks. It’s a lot better to pay a co-pay now than pay for major surgery later on. And worse still, it could even cost you your life, especially as so many conditions can be treated if they’re caught early enough.
Read on for more.
2. Taking Store Credit Card Offers For Discounts, but Paying the Minimum
You are probably asked this all the time — “Would you like to sign up for our credit card today and save 30 percent instantly on your purchase?” It’s a good deal, if you actually pay off the credit card in full when you get the first statement. Sadly, when that first statement arrives, many people find it way to easy to avoid the payoff amount and instead pay the much smaller minimum payment. Before long, you’re paying the minimum every month, adding more to the store card, and you’re suddenly a credit card revolver who is paying hefty interest charges. That initial 30 percent you saved can cost you so much more if you’re not careful. Pay it late, just once, and you can add late fees and interest rate hikes to your burden.
3. Doing Your Own Taxes
Many people use software like TurboTax and TaxCut, and they do save a bunch on an accountant. These software programs are OK for very basic tax preparation. But if you have anything slightly more complex, it’s well worth your time to hire a tax professional to file your return. These people are trained in the minutiae of the lengthy tax codes, and they can find deductions and tax exemptions that you have no idea about. And while the software may be able to take these into consideration, you need to know what you can actually legally deduct before entering it. I have a tax accountant, she charges around $250 to prepare my taxes, and she has saved me thousands over the years. She asks questions that the software doesn’t, and she knows how to get me the biggest possible refund. I would never trust tax software over her for my situation, despite the massive initial saving. And remember, tax preparation fees are also tax-deductible the following year!
4. Building an Emergency Fund, but Not Contributing to a Retirement Plan
It’s essential these days to have an emergency fund. The finance experts say you need six months to one year of expenses (although how anyone does that in this dire economy, with pay raises not meeting inflation and massive unemployment, is something of a miracle). But experts also agree that you need to look after your financial future, as you cannot rely on any kind of state pension. If you’re squirreling away money now in an emergency fund or savings account, but you’re not putting money into a 401(k), IRA, or other long-term savings plan, you’re not prepared for something you know is coming — old age. And with compound interest being what it is, every day you put it off is thousands of dollars wasted. If your employer has a 401(k) match, that’s also additional money you are throwing away. Be smart and think long-term. Once you have that in place, by all means, build your emergency fund.
5. Buying the Cheapest Products to Save Money
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — buy cheap and buy twice. Now, being a Wise Bread blogger does not mean I don’t like quality items. I just don’t like to pay retail for them. Almost everything I buy is well below the RRP or MSRP, but it’s usually a well-made product with a good rating. That goes for clothes, shoes, electronics, tools — you name it. However, if you buy a screwdriver set for $1 at a dollar store, or get your shoes for a few bucks at a flea market stall, the chances are you’ll be buying them again real soon. Cheaply made, poor-quality items may save you a few bucks in the short-term, but you’ll only have to pay more later to replace them. And if you replace them with more cheap junk, you’ll be repeating the cycle. You get what you pay for. The only time I would say that this is not true is buying generic brands in grocery stores. In that case, you’re usually buying the same product that’s in the name-brand tin or packet but for half the price.
6. Putting No Money in the Parking Meter Because “I’ll Be Back Quickly!”
You may be a world-class speedy shopper or errand runner, but you just aren’t that lucky. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, if you try and dodge the parking meters, you will get a ticket. These days, a parking ticket can run you anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on which city you live in. Is it worth gambling that 25 cents for a ticket?
Getting Suckered Into BOGO Deals and Other Sales
BOGO, when it’s genuine, is hard to resist. But even then, whether it’s BOGO free or BOGO half price, you have to stop and ask yourself, “Would I really have bought this much of this item at this price anyway?” For instance, if you go to a store looking for jam, and you see BOGO free on jam, that’s probably a great time to stock up. But if you’re looking for a new pair of sneakers and see BOGO half off, stop and think. You went out looking to spend $60 on sneakers. Now you’re spending about $100 after taxes. Did you even want two pairs? Will you wear them both? Do you even like the second pair you’re buying? Sure, it can be a great deal, but if you really only want, and need, one pair, you should only buy one pair.
Also be careful when exploring the sales. It’s easy to see those 75 percent off stickers and go crazy, thinking you’re saving money. If you are planning to resell the item for a profit, go for it. But don’t think that you’ll get anything near full price for it somewhere else. There’s a reason it’s on sale. And if you are just tempted to buy it because it’s cheap, ask yourself, "Would I have bought this if it were more expensive?" I see so many people buying bargains that just gather dust in the basement. And they would happily sell them for the price they paid just to have that money back.
8. Driving Miles and Miles For Cheaper Gas or Other Bargains
At the time of writing this article, the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.28. And the average vehicle MPG is around 23. That gives you around seven miles for every dollar you spend on gas. Do the math. For example, if you want to put 10 gallons of gas in your car, and drive four miles out of your way to buy gas that is five cents cheaper per gallon, you have spent 57 cents to save 50 cents. And you’ve wasted your time, put more wear on your tires, and used up oil as well. True, it’s not a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just not worth it. I’ve also talked to people who traveled 30 to 40 miles, one way, to buy something used from Craigslist. So right there, you’re adding up to $10 to the cost of the item you’re buying.
9. Avoiding Routine Car Maintenance
Most of us use a car to get to work. It's something that we need to make money. It’s also something that needs regular maintenance, just like your own body. But many of us like to save that money and do only the basics. We’ll take it in for an oil change, run it through the car wash, and that’s about it. Of course, then the time comes to get your next oil change, and the mechanic has to inform you that your tires are worn on one side because you didn’t rotate them. Or you discover that little knocking sound you ignored is the sign of a major repair. When it comes to cars, the old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” couldn’t be more true. Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.
10. Buying Food in Bulk and Then Throwing Half of It Away
I’m guilty of this one from time to time because bargains are so hard to pass up. When you see a whole bunch of bananas on sale for less than half the price, you grab them. But then you watch them turn black because you bought too many. I have lost count of the food items I have bought over my lifetime that I never got a chance to use. Ironically, when I was a poor student, it didn’t happen. I would shop from day to day, buying fresh produce and cooking it that night. It would last two or three meals and then I’d start again. The fridge was bare. These days, I have so much stuff in the fridge I don’t know what’s in there, and I think that’s a big problem. We load up on cheap bulk items and then have no way of using it all. So while buying in bulk is good for lots of things, be careful when buying perishables. It’s not a bargain if you throw it away.

Healthy Recipes to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Last year was the first year we actually did something Irish (think corned beef hash, Guinness, and soda bread), at the invitation of friends, for St. Patrick's Day.  And it was surprisingly fun!  This year, I've been searching out healthier recipes for alternative St. Patty's Day recipes - some of the classics, and some a little different.  Since I'm not a hard-core St. Patrick's Day observer, I figure it's okay to switch it up a little!  I think these would be fun to have for a green St. Patty's Day get-together with friends.  You could even split up each part of the meal potluck-style for less work.  Enjoy!








      Green Beer
     



 



Have a happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

5 Ideas for Repurposing Pillowcases

If you're like me, my pillowcases seem to be mismatched and a variety of hand-me-downs, with the exception of our nice pillowcases that match our best sheets, of course a gift from our wedding registry.  We love these sheets and usually wash them over and over again so that they're the sheets we (almost) always have on the bed.  So I already own several pillowcases that I just don't really use.  I love these ideas for how to re-purpose a pillowcase.

1- Keep your underwear under wraps.  
  • When traveling, no one likes to have their bag opened and have underwear laying out (or especially flying out!) in a crowded suitcase.  Tuck your intimates in a pillowcase so they are more discreetly packed for your next trip.



2 - Protect your dresses.
  • Cut a hole in the top of a pillowcase and slide it over a hanger for a DIY slipcover to protect your nicer dresses.





3 - Protect your small appliances from dust.
  • Slip a pillowcase over a sewing machine or other infrequently used small appliances that could collect dust in its crevices.


4 - Make lettuce last longer. 




5 - Make a child's smock.
  • Cut a large neck hole in the top of a pillowcase and two smaller holes in the sides for arms.  Gather the fabric between the neck and each armhole and tie with a ribbon to fit smaller shoulders.

A (Not-So-Early) Morning Prayer of Un-Domesticity

A (Not-So-Early) Morning Prayer of Un-Domesticity

{This is a re-post from my previous blog, Rewards of the Simple Life. It's one of the outcomes of my journaling over the summer about learning to find contentment in the everyday moments of life.}

thestir.cafemom.com
As I look at the pile of dishes ever-growing on the counters,
the assorted mugs, teacups, and glasses abandoned on once empty surfaces,
and the general feeling of dishevelment,
I am reminded
that I am no domestic goddess;
no Martha Stewart,
Rachel Ray, 
or Pioneer Woman.
I am just me.
And although being me means that there will not be perfect order,
perfectly cooked meals
or promptly cleaned up spills,
it does mean that I am being true to who I am made to be,
which somehow at the same time, allows me to grow into
what I'm not quite
...yet.
I have been made by One whose vision for me is wider
than the state 
of my countertops
or the clarity of my thoughts (or window panes!);
whose call to me is found 
outside 
of my own imperfections,
a call to grasp this day as an opportunity
an opportunity to love
to embrace change
to reach out to a neighbor
and to do what I can do,
while asking for help at every turn
along the way.
Thank You
that You do not call me to be perfect, successful, or domestic;
as Mother Teresa said,
You just call me to be
faithful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekly Meal Plan {3/12-3/18}

Happy Monday everyone!  Here is our meal plan for the week ahead:



Monday: 
Pork Chops - We get these from Costco for a great price and freeze most of them right away. 
  • Rub each side of chop with generous salt and pepper.
  • Saute in heated pan at medium-high heat in olive oil for a few minutes on each side until brown.
  • Transfer to an oven preheated to 375.  Bake for 10-12 more minutes or until done. 
Sauerkraut - I am going to make my own with a great attachment piece for my Kitchen Aid mixer that my in-laws gave me for Christmas, but you can buy already made sauerkraut for a pretty cheap price to save time.

Potatoes - Mashed or baked, your choice.  (we haven't decided yet!)

Tuesday:
Pork and Baked Beans in Crockpot (note: I will significantly cut back the number of pork chops from what this recipe calls for - probably to 2-3 chops, halved or quartered)

Spinach Salad with walnuts, craisins, and shredded mozzarella


Wednesday:
Leftovers from yesterday's meal


Thursday:
Rosti - A simple Swiss potato dish. I use a recipe from Simply in Season, but this recipe is very similar and offers some helpful tips for perfecting the art of making Rosti. (note: I will use cheddar cheese rather than gruyere as this recipe recommends, simply because it is cheaper.)

Spinach Salad with bacon crumbles, vinaigrette, and hard-boiled egg slices


Friday:
OUT to eat!


Saturday:
Chili in the crockpot
Cornbread from Simply in Season (note: sometimes I like to add in creamed corn for a more creamy, sweeter alternative)


Sunday:
Leftover chili
Spinach salad
Freezer raiding for dinner (to each his/her own!)


If you haven't already, I would encourage you to check out (and consider purchasing) the Simply in Season cookbook.  It is full of many useful recipes, organized by season and featuring produce that is fresh in that season.  The recipes are simple and can be creatively adapted to your liking (often they add ideas for changing them up a bit).  It is my go-to cookbook on days that I don't know what to do with the produce I have around!

Enjoy your week!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freezer Day


{This is a re-post of a November 2011 post on my prior blog, Rewards of the Simple Life.  It is still useful and relevant to reread today!}

I have been realizing how necessary it is for me to plan ahead with meals or at least have quick go-to meals on hand for weekday evenings.  Since my classes are often in the afternoons and evenings, I often have to pack dinner for a few days, as well as leave Ben to "fend for himself" for a few evenings while I'm gone.  All that to say, some freezer restocking was much needed!  I was inspired by this post from Money-Saving Mom to plan my own freezer/cooking day to stock up for the next few weeks.






After using MSM's model to plan out what meals I wanted to make, what ingredients I needed to buy (which involved inventorying my pantry) and then making a to-do list for my afternoon.  I decided on 5 different meal options to make, and 2 baking recipes to try.

- Broccoli Cheddar Pockets (from Food Network magazine)
- Cheesy Chicken and Rice Bake
- Pizza Dough and Sauce
- Broccoli-Cheese Potato Soup (from Simply in Season cookbook - one of my favorites!)
- Sloppy Joe meat

- Chocolate Chip Walnut Banana Bread
- No-Bake Energy Bites

I was ambitiously hoping to also make shredded barbecue chicken and my favorite black bean burgers, but I lost steam by evening and opted for a break instead.

I set out to work, and was amazed at how smoothly everything went with my plan in hand.  I rarely take the time beforehand to think about the order that I should cook in to make sure things get done in a good order, which leaves me frustrated later that something is cold while another thing still has hours left to bake.  My take-away from my freezer day was to continue planning out my cooking/freezer days with this method.  For me, planning = a much higher degree of success!











 After adding 5 new meal options, it seemed like I needed to have some way to keep track of what I have in my freezer so that it actually gets used! Until I can think of a more creative method, I have started a list on the side of our freezer that lists the number of each thing that we have in our freezer for quick reference.  That way, when I use something, I can cross it off and know how much I have left for the next time.

It feels so good to be organized!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: 6 Tips to Stay Organized while Grocery Shopping

This week for Wednesday Wisdom: 6 Great Tips for staying organized (and taking advantage of online resources and phone apps) to help you save money at the grocery store from SavvySugar.

 6 Ways to Stay Organized When Grocery Shopping


                                   Posted by
Browsing the supermarket aisle is always fun, but doing it week after week can get old, especially if you have other errands to take care of. It's important to be more efficient when shopping for groceries to avoid wasting time and potentially forgetting some grocery essentials. Here are a couple of tips that will help you be more organized:
  • Keep a list. Lists are always crucial to organization, and just to make sure you don't forget anything or buy unnecessary items, document your weekly grocery needs. There are plenty of ways to do so — you can keep your own Google Doc, a text document, or a simple notepad. There are even free printable grocery lists online that let you check off which groceries you need. A good one to check out is the very detailed Ultimatest grocery list (they even have a vegetarian version).
  • Use apps. Experiment with grocery shopping apps and consider keeping a running list of groceries on an app like Ziplist, which lets you sync up with lists of other people on your phone for convenience. You can even use discount-seeking apps like Grocery Pal, which shows you what items are on sale, and coupon locator apps like Coupon Sherpa or Yowza!!. The coupon apps will display bar codes, which the cashier can scan to give you the discount.
  • Time it well. Pick the right time to go grocery shopping. You want to avoid going when there are crowds, because shopping and waiting in line for the cashier may take longer than usual. It's also good to go before the supermarket rush because most items will be in stock; this will prevent you from having to go back if a certain item was not available. The best dates to shop may differ depending on the grocery store, so be sure to observe your supermarket and pick up the crowd patterns. Lifehacker suggests Wednesday night as an ideal time because "many grocery stores release their new sale advertisements that day but also honor the sales items from the previous week." Personally, I like going on Saturday nights to avoid the crowds.
Read after the jump for more grocery organization tips.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Looking Beyond Ourselves: Supporting Struggling Schools


This article in the NY Times highlights the challenge that teachers have to offer the best support to their students in challenging, high-pressure environments that struggling schools often become.  As a former teacher myself, I can attest to the challenges that are present in struggling schools for any teacher, and particularly for young, inexperienced teachers, even those with the best of intentions.  And I'd be remiss if I said that it is only inner-city schools that are struggling (although struggling schools are often concentrated in inner-city school districts with less financial resources and a greater number of students to work with).  Rural schools, city "fringe" schools (sometimes known as the "second city" suburbs), and schools with highly transient, changing populations also struggle to meet students' needs and achieve state standards. 

I often am tempted to be discouraged when it comes to all the needs and reform required to make education better for all students, especially those who need it the most.  The inequality is almost too great to know how to handle.  Yet if we are overwhelmed and do nothing, I know we are ignoring the needs of our sisters and brothers who attend schools that need support and resources so badly.  So I propose a few small ways that we (including myself!) can support struggling schools in our communities:


Ways you can give/help:
- Volunteer at a local inner-city or rural school, or contact your local Boys and Girls Club to find after-school programs that would welcome volunteers.
- Find a classroom near you to "adopt" with Adopt-A-Classroom
- If you're really creative, design a project and funding for a needy classroom with The Generation Project
- If you live in or near the D.C. area, consider donating gently used books, CDs, DVDs, and electronics to Books for America, an organization that donates these books to children in homeless shelters, schools, and community clinics in the D.C. area.
- Find ways to advocate for more equal funding and support for all students in your area.  Get in contact with a local education advocacy or policy group in your area, or write or talk to your local representatives to find out initiatives and policies taking place in local school districts and cities.

I am challenging myself, along with you, to consider how your support and advocacy can help to support children you often have big dreams but less resources to realize those dreams because of financial circumstances, struggling schools, or little administrative support.

“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” 
Mother Teresa  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meal Plan for a Busy Week

Good morning! This week promises to be another busy one, although a little less busy than we've been lately... needless to say, the weeks are flying by!

This week, I'm posting our make-ahead meal plan for 2 featuring some wholesome comfort food for the chilly beginning to March.  Whenever I know I'm going to be particularly busy in the days ahead, I like to have a few make-ahead or low-prep meals planned so that food is one less thing to worry about each evening.  In warm weather, I usually turn to low-prep meals like salads, veggie burgers, and BLTs.  In cold weather, I like to use my crockpot or make casseroles ahead of time to have on hand when needed.  This week, I'm turning to warm, filling soup and a delicious corn and chicken casserole from a dear friend of mine from church.  Even if you're not a corn lover (like my husband...), you will love how delicious this recipe is (this one has been approved by my non-corn-loving husband!).


Monday:

Potato Soup (from Simply in Season)
- 2 TBsp butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
Melt butter in large saucepan. Add onion.  Saute until translucent.

- 3 c. potatoes, diced
- 2 cups water or broth
- 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
- 1/2 tsp pepper (to taste)
- 1/4 c. celery, chopped (optional - I don't include b/c I don't usually have on hand)
- 1/2 c. carrots, diced (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. paprika or celery salt
Add, cover, and cook at med-high heat until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.  For a creamier soup, remove some of the cooked potatoes and puree them, then return to the saucepan. (I have never done this - I like to have the whole potato chunks in the soup.)

- 2 c. milk (I usually add 1 c. skim condensed milk and 1 c. low fat milk)
- 3 TBsp. flour
Mix together until smooth. Add to soup and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.

*For a variation, you can add in 1/2 lb. of browned ground turkey or beef and 1 cup shredded cheese, and then stir in 1/4 c. plain yogurt before serving to make a cheeseburger soup.  My favorite variation is to add a little cooked and crumbled bacon into the soup to add a great flavor and a little extra crunch.


Tuesday:
Leftover soup and a baguette from the grocery store or homemade from your breadmaker (my favorite!)


Wednesday:
Chicken Corn Casserole

1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. celery salt
2 c. milk
2 c. corn or if you are using fresh corn, can be a bit more
2 c. cut-up cooked chicken
 
Melt butter over low heat.  Stir in flour, salt, pepper, celery salt.  Cook until smooth and bubbly.  Add milk.  Bring to boil for one minute.  If it happens to get too thick, add a bit more milk.  Should not be too thick.  Remove from heat. 
 
Combine sauce, chicken and corn.  Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole (or 8x8 baking dish for a thicker casserole).  
 
Topping
 1 c. crushed saltine crackers
2-3 Tablespoon melted butter
 
Combine together and top casserole
with crumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. 
 
* This recipe makes six servings.
 


Thursday:
Leftover Corn and Chicken Casserole and a Green Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing


Friday:
Go out to eat OR make BLTs with leftover salad lettuce and homemade or store-bought bread.  Great with a quick homemade corn, black bean, and frozen green pepper and onion salad tossed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

There IS Good in the World: Hopeful Updates, News, and Inspiration from Around the World

{Saturdays are dedicated to finding the good that is happening in the world in small ways by linking to news stories, updates, and inspiring individuals around the world as seen on the web and in the news this week.  There IS good in the world!}














Be inspired, and do your part to use your resources, talent, and passion 
to better the world around you!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cheap Date Friday (Don't Be One....Plan One!)

Maybe the biggest challenge of all when having to live frugally on a tight budget - date nights.  It's not always easy to plan out a budget-friendly date or give up eating out.  We've been there.  Actually, we still are there.

Which is why every Friday we'll be posting a Cheap Date idea for your weekend ahead.  Hopefully this will help you (and us!) to approach dates in a budget-friendly, adventurous way!

{March 2 Edition}


Dinner In + Ice Cream Out + Movie Night


  • Dinner In:  Pick this out ahead of time, if you can!  Even if it's something already made that you will heat up, plan ahead.  It will save you from quick, tired decisions later that will likely not be great for your wallet.  Our favorite is Ben's honey mustard rosemary pork with roasted sweet potatoes and onions.  Another one of our easy and quick favorites is quesadillas.  It's especially fun if you work together to cook!  Catch up on the day, listen to music, or catch up on your favorite shows on Hulu while you're cooking together. 

    We LOVE our ice cream...
  • Ice Cream Out:  We save money (and calories!) by picking only one part of the meal to eat out (we especially like saving this for dessert).  Going out for ice cream will gets us out of the house and ends the meal on a sweet note.  Local Peeps: If you live in the Lancaster area, check out Carmen and David's Creamery (for delicious homemade ice cream) or Splits and Giggles (really cheap ice cream and a great selection of flavors!) in the city.  If you're a fan of frozen yogurt, there are lots of great places that serve low-fat frozen yogurt with as many toppings as you like.  
         (Lancaster area: Check out Berries, a new fro-yo spot!)
  • Movie Night:  Usually by the time Friday night rolls around, we're beat! The combination of a week of work, school, errands, meetings, etc., etc. adds up.  Friday night, we're ready to crash, relax, and curl up with a good movie.  We have Netflix, so we often surf that, but if nothing catches our eye, then Redbox is a great second option.  $1 for a movie, so if it's not great, we don't feel too bad.  Sometimes we even get two to keep our options open. 

 Enjoy your night to relax together!
“Familiarity does not breed contempt. On the contrary the more familiar it is the more rare and beautiful it is. Take the quarter in which one lives, it is lovely, it is a place rare and beautiful and to leave it is awful.”
-- Gertrude Stein

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feeling the Winter Blahs? Update your life without breaking your budget.

If you're like me (and this author), the long winter months can lead to restlessness and a desire to change, update, and reorganize.  These great tips from SavvySugar can help a frugal person beat the winter blahs by updating little parts of your life by reusing or repurposing what you already have.

Update Your Life Without Emptying Your Wallet


                            

Every so often, I find myself feeling a little restless with some aspect of my life or another: my wardrobe, my apartment’s d├ęcor, my Friday night routine. The problem is, if I bought an entirely new wardrobe or redecorated my crib every few months, I’d be broke. So, I’ve come up with a few savvy ways to change things just enough without ending up penniless.