The Saturday Question: How Do You De-Clutter Your Home?

Beyond dusting and scrubbing, spring cleaning also means getting rid of the junk that accumulates while we’re coping with the rigors of raising a family.  How do you manage to purge the extra stuff from your home?  How have you dealt with extra baby gear, maternity clothes, or toys?   Do you tackle the whole house at once or have you created a nifty system for handling one area at a time?  Please share your tips!

Saving Money on Breakfasts, Lunches, and Snacks

In this post I discussed my dinner menus that save me money on groceries.  What do we eat the rest of the time?

Breakfast foods.  We don’t eat a wide variety of foods for breakfast.  My daughter and I eat toast with peanut butter or microwave oatmeal most mornings.   Sometimes I’ll make homemade waffles or wholegrain pancakes. My husband eats granola (or other organic convenience foods) at work.

Lunch foods.  Andy eats a black bean burrito (which we make in big batches and freeze) every day for lunch–and after about six years, he has still not grown tired of them!  Audrey eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, macaroni and cheese, a quesadilla, or something like that along with apple slices, carrot sticks, or other snack-like items.  I tend to eat leftovers from dinner for lunch.

Snack foods.  After feeding my daughter kamut puffs as a finger food, I somehow got addicted to them myself.  I buy them by the case!  My husband likes to munch on pretzels.  We eat a lot of homemade popcorn, too.  I also bake cookies, cinnamon rolls, or coffee cakes every once in a while.

As you can see, we don’t get too creative with our breakfast, lunch, and snack foods.  However, we try to make up for it at dinnertime.

What are your cost-saving tips for breakfasts, lunches and snacks?  Post a comment and tell us all about your favorites.

Advocating for Family Leave Time

It was heart-wrenching to go back to my career after my baby arrived, but luckily I had worked out a solution that gave me as much time off as possible over the course of his first year.  It required some creative thinking, some begging, and some negotiation, but it was worth it!

As you may have read in my last post, I found that the time I spent at home increased the quality of our lives and the quality of the environment. We were able to prepare homemade meals, hang cloth diapers out to dry, and generally spend less money. 

So how do you ask your supervisor for the best solution for your family?  Here are a few tips that worked for me.

  • Think of a win-win-win solution. It’s possible to come up with a situation that is best for your family, your business, and your clients.  In my case, I found that spreading out my sick leave provided more consistency to my students, less cost to my school district, and an easier job for my supervisor.  When I presented it as such, my boss was very supportive.
  • Problem solve before you make a proposal.  Are you the only one at work who can do a specific task?  If so, can you train someone so that they’ll be ready when you go on leave?  Can your company bring in an experienced, retired person to work temporarily during your leave so that training won’t be an issue?  There’s always a way to solve the dilemma and it will impress your supervisor if you can come up with it!  In my case, my leave request meant that there would be a Spanish class I wouldn’t be able to teach a few days a week.  I proposed that we changed the course to Spanish Language and Latino Art and teamed up with an amazing art teacher.  My principals were thrilled and my students enjoyed the whole experience.
  •  Realize that family leave time is your right.  If you end up being pressured by your supervisors to come back before your three months of leave time is up, remember that it’s your legal right to have that time off.  The only exception is if your business has fewer than 50 employees or if you haven’t worked a total of 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months.   Otherwise, they have to let you have the leave and give your job back afterwards.  

In short, there are ways to negotiate a personalized solution that works for your family and your budget. You’ll be glad you took the initiative to explore all options and be even more appreciative when baby arrives and you get the chance to sleep in!  How did you handle going back to work or how did you make staying home fit into your budget?  We’d love to hear your stories. 

Thanks for adding your Thrifty Green Thursday links below so that all of our readers can learn from your simple tips on how to save a bit of money and the planet.  Everyone’s welcome, but if you don’t know where to start, click here for directions.  Thanks for joining us this week!


Menu Planning with Your CSA or Organic Veggie Delivery

I have a friend–let’s call her “Glee”–who recently admitted to me that she canceled her CSA membership because too many veggies were withering in the fridge.  “Meal planning is just impossible,” she said.  Many CSAs operate only during summer months, but in mild climates like ours, they go year-round.  Here in Oregon, your winter CSA selections will consist of many rutabagas, potatoes, and beets.

That does sound like a challenge!   I don’t belong to a CSA.  Since I don’t have a car, it just wouldn’t work for me.  However, I do have something similar, which I’ve mentioned before: every other week, I get a box of organic vegetables delivered to my door.  Now, unlike a CSA, 100% of the vegetables are not local, which means I get a little extra variety, although I suppose I lose a few eco-points for that luxury.

Unlike “Glee,” however, I find meal-planning with my organic veggie delivery is very easy.  I never planned menus or meals before, but now that I’m forced to eat through fifteen pounds of vegetables in two weeks, I can plan meals based on what I receive.

Here’s what arrived on my door one Monday morning:

  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Leeks
  • green pepper
  • eggplant
  • Swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • potatoes
  • beets (steamed, pureed, and froze for future chocolate beet cake)
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes

And here’s what I made for dinner over the next two weeks:

  • Brussels sprouts with wild rice, feta, and hazelnuts (organic Brussels sprouts were on sale for $.99/lb at the store)
  • Potatoes au gratin with salad
  • Eggplant parmesan with salad
  • Sweet potato cakes with salad
  • Swiss chard enchiladas
  • pasta with broccoli, tomatoes, feta
  • peanut noodles with carrots (x2)
  • veggie burgers with sautéed mushrooms and homemade buns
  • spicy cauliflower with homemade naan
  • flamiche aux poireaux (leek tart) with sliced apples
  • green beans and potatoes (green beans were frozen)

We also ate out one night and had leftovers another night.

What I like about basing my meals around my organic veggies is that I don’t have to menu plan in the traditional sense.  I can just look at my veggies, think of a meal, and make it.  Almost everything I made during those two weeks required nothing but the vegetables and a few staples (flour, eggs, pasta, etc.).   I make sure to eat up the more delicate vegetables like lettuce first, and I very rarely waste anything.

My veggie-based meal planning helps me spend much less on food than the average family.  (Here‘s where I explain how I spend just $175 a month on mostly organic groceries.)  On Friday I’ll dish about what we eat for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks–so stay tuned!

This post is a part of We are THAT Family’s Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival.

Fabulous Green Baby Shower

Although I’ve often written about planning a green baby shower, I’ve never gotten to experience once firsthand.  Thanks to my incredible, intelligent, caring, physically fit, and highly attractive teaching colleagues I had the chance to attend one thrown in my baby’s honor. 

Now it’s quite humbling to have friends take the time to organize a baby shower, especially when those friends are all middle school teachers challenged with managing spring behaviors at the end of the school year.  It’s even more of a gift when said friends are thoughtful enough to take the time to make it green.

Here are some of the eco-friendly ideas they worked into the shower:

  • Cupcakes: These hand-held dessert devices didn’t require any utensils and were quite delicious.
  • Real dishes: We ate on decorative plastic plates and used an assortment of teacher mugs to swill our festive punch.
  • Heirloom gifts: The thoughtful presents we received included two homemade quilts, an adorable green (of course) sundress, a CD of kid-friendly music, a soft fabric soothie for baby and even a teddy bear for Roscoe.  All of them were carefully chosen and will be well used by our children and probably passed down to others as well.
  • Simple reusable décor: The “Welcome Baby” sign has become a tradition at our school and has now attended its third baby shower.  A fabric table cloth made our school library table appear quite classy when laden with cupcakes and punch.  Also perched on top was a money tree fashioned out of a fabric plant and decorated with bills clipped on with tiny ribboned barrettes.

Now that I’ve been on receiving end of a green baby shower, I have to say that the creativity and thoughtfulness of the green theme made it all the more fun.  Have you attended or thrown a green baby shower?  If you need ideas, check our posts here and here for some easy tips.  We’d love to hear about your experiences!

Book Title Brainstorm

 Help!  We need a new title for our book!  After two years of working on The Green Baby Guide; Down-To-Earth Ways to Save Time, Money, and the Planet our publisher’s sales team has informed us that our title has to change—and we have less than two weeks to come up with another one.  Apparently “green fatigue” is in full swing, and they want to keep the word “green” out of the title.

The unique aspect of our eco-friendly guide is that it’s focused on frugal, eco-friendly baby rearing—which seems to be just what parents need in this economic recession.  Most green baby guides focus on buying high end organic products, which isn’t really accessible for all families.  How can we express that in a catchy title?  So far we’ve come up with the following:

The Down to Earth Baby Guide (This seems rather vague.  We’re not sure people would know what to expect)

The Budget Friendly, Earth Friendly Baby Guide (Sadly, Walmart has just started to use our little catch phrase but maybe this would work?)

What are your ideas?  We would love to hear them so that we can get this book titled and off to the presses soon!  Also, we hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day and get the time to put your feet up, enjoy your children, and maybe even eat a little chocolate.  Thanks for joining us!

The Saturday Question: Which Are the Best Summer Baby Slings?

Although my first child loved his fleece pocket sling, our second will be born in the summer and may find it too warm. Does anyone have a suggestion for a great summer sling that might keep baby cooler than fleece could?  Your suggestions will help those of us preparing for warm-weather babies.

Getting Enough Protein on a Vegetarian Diet

According to Meatless Mondays, Americans eat 100-200% of the recommended daily allowance of  protein.  Too much protein can cause liver disease and osteoporosis. 

Here are some easy ways to get the protein you need:

  • Enjoy animal products other than meat (in moderation).  One egg has 6 grams of protein, an ounce of cheddar cheese has 7 grams, and a cup of 2% milk contains 8 grams.  Watch out, though–many dairy products are high in fat, and some cheeses cost more than meat.
  • Use whole-grain products.  Barilla Plus pasta contains 17 grams of protein per serving–10 more grams than regular pasta.  A cup of whole wheat flour has four more grams of protein than white flour.
  • Think beans.  Add chickpeas (21 grams of protein per cup) to salads or blend them into hummus.  Throw some black beans in salsa or into a burrito.  Edamame–soybeans still in their pods–make a high-protein snack at sushi bars, and they’re available frozen in many supermarkets.
  • Go nuts.  Add to salads and stir-fries or eat a handful.  One cup of almonds boasts 27 grams of protein!
  • Don’t discount tofu, seitan, and other vegetarian staples.  A pound of firm tofu has 72 grams of protein and costs just a dollar or two.

Yes, it is possible to get enough protein without biting into a cow or pig.  Do you have any other ideas for beefing up (heh heh) the protein in your meat-free diet?  Let us know!

Suddenly Frugal By Necessity, Not By Choice

Upon hearing that my husband was laid off a few weeks ago, both of us found ourselves surprised by our own relief.  Obviously for many families losing a job can be tremendously stressful—especially with young children involved.  In fact, if my husband would have been laid off a few months later we would have been in serious trouble.  By that point I would have signed a half time teaching contract for next year which wouldn’t have been enough income to support our family.  Thank goodness I still have the option to teach full time next year and we have enough of an emergency fund to ease us through the summer. 

We know there will be financial sacrifices with my husband staying home to care for our kids, but for the last three years we have embraced the adventurous life of voluntary simplicity.  In the past, we didn’t need to shop at thrift stores, give home haircuts, or make our own cleaning supplies, but we enjoyed the challenge and delighted in the fact that we were helping the planet and beefing up our savings account. Every month we dutifully deposited money in our emergency fund, thinking we wouldn’t need it anytime soon. 

The down side of all of that working and saving was that we always felt harried.  We spent weekends catching up on family time and chores. When our son would get ill, we had to cobble together daycare coverage using our sick leave with occasional help from friends and family.  There wasn’t any flexibility in our schedules and we felt overwhelmed by the pace of our life—especially since our second child is due in just a few weeks. 

Now that my husband is an official “domestic engineer,” I don’t have to rush home from work to cook a meal while trying to spend quality time with my son.  Instead when I arrive on our doorstep, dinner is in the oven and my family is completely relaxed.  I’m also amazed by how much the bond between my son and my husband has grown over just a few weeks.  Here they are enjoying swimming lessons together–something that never would have fit into our work schedules before.

Over the summer we’ll have to be careful with our budget, but next school year (which starts in September) we’ll actually be better off financially with me working full time and my husband staying home.  When we sat down and crunched numbers it occurred to us that the savings in taxes and childcare are impressive.  What a thrill to be able to have more family time and save money too!  

So, my official Thrifty Green Thursday tip is to set up your emergency savings fund!  Even if you can only sock small amounts of money away each month, it’s worth it to know that you’ll have a bit of padding in these rough financial times.  It’s amazing how powerful that saving momentum can be once you start trimming here and there and seeing your balance inching up.   Since we believe going green truly involves simplifying, buying less, and buying used, you really can go green and set some green aside in case of a rainy day.  

We would love to have you join us with your tips on saving money and the planet.  Just be sure to add a link on your post that directs readers back to this post.  That way they’ll have the chance to explore everyone’s tips.  For directions on where to begin, just click here.  Thanks for joining us this week for Thrifty Green Thursday! 

Saving Money on Organic Groceries

I spend $175 a month on groceries for my small family of three.  I wrote about spending less on groceries in this post about eating meat-free.  Several people (okay, two people) asked me how I manage to pull this off.  According the USDA’s “thrifty” meal plan, a family with a man, woman, and three-year-old would spend $414.20 per month.  (We’d spend $800 on the “liberal” plan!)  So it seems that we are spending less than half of what other “thrifty” eaters are spending–and we eat mostly organic food!

This is a bit puzzling to me, as we don’t do anything too extraordinary to save money on food.  I haven’t planted a garden since two summers ago (and it was a failure), I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t shop at Costco or other huge warehouse stores.  I also buy many expensive ingredients, like olive oil, nuts, and fancy cheese.  If I had to, I could save even more money if I got better at gardening, stopped buying organic foods, and cut out a few costlier items on my grocery list.

So here are my only real “tricks” to spending less on organic food:

Eat Vegetarian.  Going meat-free is the main way I save on groceries.  Now, most people do not want to cut out meat from their diets, which is why I wrote about Meatless Mondays a while ago.  Cutting out meat just one day a week can still save you money!

According to this article, “How Much Meat Do We Eat?,” the average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.  Now, I know you can buy cheap meat at the grocery store, but let’s say I wanted to eat mostly organic/free-range/hormone-free stuff.  I just looked at the sale prices for meat at our natural food store: $5.99 for top sirloin, $3.79 for ground chicken thigh meat, and $6.99 for tilapia filets.   With that average of $5.59/lb, we’d spend $279.50 a month on meat if we bought 600 pounds a year–which would more than double the amount I spend on all of my groceries now!

Know my prices.  I never buy butter for more than $2.00 a pound (it’s usually around $4.00/lb, so when it goes on sale, I stock up.  It lasts at least six months in the fridge and longer in the freezer.  I also never spend more than $2.00/lb on natural peanut butter.  I can get it for $1.50 at Grocery Outlet.  It costs more than $4.00/lb if you buy it from the machines at Whole Foods or other grocery stores.

Limit convenience foods.  Looking at my receipts, I see that I did buy a few convenience foods: tortillas, boxed macaroni and cheese, pretzels, and jarred applesauce.  All of those are fairly inexpensive.  The organic applesauce cost $2.29 for 25 ounces–that’s about $1.47/lb.  Fresh organic apples often cost more than that.   Organic shells and cheese cost $1.29, or about $.40-$.60 a serving.  That’s a pretty cheap–albeit no-frills–meal.

Cut back on household goods. I am not sure if the USDA’s meal plans included household goods or not.  I know that many people include things like paper products and cleaners in their grocery budget.  In the six weeks I was tracking expenses, I spent nothing on household goods.  We buy recycled toilet paper, Biokleen laundry detergent (I wrote about how it’s actually cheaper than conventional detergent here), dishwashing liquid, soap, and baking soda and vinegar when we need it.  I bought the Biokleen detergent almost a year ago for $11.00 and still have a lot left!

Make things from scratch.  I make most of my own baked goods, including bread, cookies, and other snacks.

Don’t eat too much. Our caloric needs are not very high, which allows us to spend less on groceries than–say–a 200-pound body builder or an avid marathon runner.  This isn’t exactly a tip, but it does partially explain why we spend less on groceries than other families our size.  Some of our meals probably seem down-right insubstantial to others.  We regularly eat nothing but a bowlful of soup or a salad for dinner.

Those are my main cost-cutting tips.  What are yours?

Stay tuned for more posts on this subject.  I’ll show what, exactly, I was spending that $175 on and give some examples of what I made for dinner.

This post is a part of the Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival over on We are THAT Family. This is a themed edition, where we share our favorite frugal ideas.