Budget Travel

September 18, 2009

Going Green to Save the Green

By Meg Hoppe

money-saving-green-tips-600x399

Save money the green way!

I know, I know, I just posted a list of money-saving tips. And I know, I know, I always complain that they’re not that helpful. But I found a great list that I wanted to re-post on principle alone; because it’s green! Anytime I can do something to help the environment I go out of my way. If I can help myself at the same time, then I am absolutely game. So here are “Eight Green Money Saving Tips” from EcoVillage Green [a great eco blog that I suggest everyone check out].

Buy Used Instead of New: Personally, I think that used items have more character. That said, there are some things that I won’t buy used, no matter how environmentally friendly they are. Use your imagination and get back to me. Truthfully though, buying used saves a ton of money. Especially if you have kids. I know, that when my brother was growing up my mom went through clothes and shoes weekly for him. The boy just wouldn’t stop growing. So why even bother buying new? There are lots of re-sale stores that have great clothing in fantastic condition. Look into them and save.

Look Online for Free Items: Listening to the news, you would think that Craigslist.org is nothing more than a prostitution hub. But I will tell you that it’s one of my favorite websites [no, not for the prostitution]. When I’m not perusing Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, or Anthropologie for things I cannot afford, I love looking at the free section on Craigslist. That and the apartment section for places I cannot afford. People give things away for so many reasons; they’re moving, divorcing, getting married etc. Often times the things that they have a really nice. For example, my mother [she seems to be a trend in this blog and the last], bought a really nice bunk bed set for my old room from Craigslist. It was in great condition and she got it for a steal. Check out other sites like Freecycle.org to see what else you can find.

Eat at Home Instead of Eating Out: A few friends and I have a weekly

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Dinner NEVER looks this nice

Sunday Night Dinner ritual. Every Sunday around 6p.m. we all congregate at a friend’s apartment and each of us brings something that we made or bought. There is normally a theme for the night [last week it was Cashews; there was Cashew Chicken & I made delicious Caramel Cashew Cookie Squares & brought Chianti]. Sunday Night Dinners are something that we all look forward to and it is a far cheaper option for us to eat in. Honestly, you can cook a meal for a family of 4 on $30.00. You can also buy for several meals instead of just one, it’s win win.

Form a Hand Me Down System w/Friends & Family: Sharing is caring, that’s what I’ve always said. Granted, I normally don’t always care to share, but that is irrelevant. For people with children, you know how quickly the grow out of things. So instead of just throwing clothes and other things away, share them with friends and family who also have children. It saves a lot of hassle and money if you know that you have a network of people to go for something.

Look for Opportunities to Barter: Again, I will point out the amazingness of Craigslist. They have a barter section already on the page. Come on, you can’t hate the site now. If you tactfully barter, chances are you will be able to knock quite a bit off the price. Just make sure you know when to quit.

Be a Frequent Yard Sale Shopper: I love yard sales. Hands down, I love them. Flea Markets are in that vein as well. You can find the coolest one-of-a-kind things at yard sales and flea markets. These are really good places to haggle and get a good deal. But you just need to be prepared to find something that you might have to store for awhile. What you find will be unpredictable, but completely worth it.

Go Green

Go Green

Have a Yard Sale: My mom had a yard sale once when we were little. It’s a great way to make sure that items you loved will pass into the hands of someone else who will enjoy them as much as you did. Even if you just get a couple bucks, it’s a couple bucks that you didn’t have before.

These are some great tips that I enjoy because they stress being green. Take all of the money that you save with ALL of the money-saving tips I find and deliver to you to do something fun and green with your family or friends!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

The Mecca of Money-Saving Lists

By Meg Hoppe

money saving

While taking in my daily 5th cup of coffee and reading the new tweets from my Twitter crowd, I stumbled across this great post from TIME magazine. Someone at the lovely TIME magazine spent a few hours [or minutes, whatever] compiling a list of my favorite things: Money Saving Tips. The writer then went the extra mile and put them all on one easy to read page entitled, A List of Money-Saving Lists: 422 Ways to Save in Total for me to peruse at my leisure.

Now, if you read my previous post on this, you’ll remember that when it comes to money saving tips, I’ve heard just about all of them. There are those few that actually make a difference, but for the most part they are meant to placate us. Whatever, sometimes I need placating so I read the article and clicked the links and here’s what I found:

There is little to nothing new to say about saving money. Sorry Forbes, Oprah, and whoever else. Ideas like shopping around for prices, haggling [a tactic my mother takes very seriously which quickly escalates to mortifying], and coupon cutting [come on, it’s been around since the dawn of time]. Personally, I think that wasting space for those ideas in an article about saving money should be put into an article about wasting time. Common sense, I know it’s a dime a dozen, but these things are second nature now.

There were of course some interesting ones. There is a pretty good piece about saving green at Starbucks; and for a Banana Strawberry Vivanno lover, this is important. However, The Huffington Post’s article entitled, The 7 Most Inappropriate Products for Children made me belt out in a mortified laughter that topped all else. As I perused the Pole Dance Doll, Shave the Baby [the caption makes it], and one of my favorites the breast feeding doll I thought, clearly, this holiday season we’re all saving money not buying the kids on our lists a darned thing. Their toys are getting out of control.

Brad Tuttle of TIME did a really good job getting together a great list of lists. Maybe my cynicsm just stems from the fact that I’m a budget writer and I’ve read about 200 of these lists.  The article is definitely worth a solid read through, if not just for that Huffington Post piece. Maybe you will find something helpful that I overlooked. Make sure to leave a comment if you do!

And share with me, either here or on my twitter,@CallMeHoppe your best budget tips!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

September 11, 2009

College Money Saving Tips

By Meg Hoppe

College

"Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the Peace Corps."

If there is one thing I know how to do, it is budget in college. During my undergrad I was a pro at paying little to nothing for amazing things. Since I made next to nothing working my 3 jobs, this was a good thing. So here are some tips for all you college students out there on how to save money at school.

Buy Books Online/Rent Them: My freshman year, I paid about $500.00 for books in one semester. After that, I never spent more than $200.00 on a semester’s worth of books. In fact, after that I went back to my campus bookstore probably less than 5 times to buy a book for class. My solutions: the library and the Internet. It is a little known fact that your universities’ libraries will most likely have your class books on the shelves. If they don’t, your school is probably a part of an inter-library web with other schools so check them out too. It is super simple, just go to their website and search online. Simple, easy, and most importantly it’s free.

The second option that I mentioned is the online option. When I started looking online for books, I hit the proverbial jackpot with this website [formerly campusi.com]. The great thing about this site is that it’s not an actual vendor. You type in the title, ISBN # [uber helpful by the way] and the site pulls up all of the online vendors who have it and how much they are selling it for. So, instead of shopping around for an hour, you can spend 5 minutes and get the information you need to buy the cheapest book.

Save and then Splurge: My best college friend has over $7,000.00 in credit card debt alone. According to American Progress, in 2008 American credit card debt had raised 8.2% to $951.7 billion. When you graduate school, you have a 6 month grace period before you have to start paying off your loans. The last thing that you want to have to worry about is a mountain of credit card debt. Instead of charging everything that you do, save up for what you want and pay in cash. If you really want a new game system, start saving and then buy it when you have the cash. I cannot tell you the grief that saved me in college.

Go to Campus Activities: I don’t just think this is a good idea because I was Homecoming Chair one year and Mainstage Co-Chair another year for my Campus Activities Board. Campus Activities is a great way to participate in some really awesome events that are predominately free. I cannot tell you

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

Hokey logo, yes. But welcome to college. The club logos are bad, the food is bad, but the events are pretty good.

the amount of free singers, comedians, mentalists, etc. that we had during my undergrad. The events were always fun, included free food [it is a time honored fact that free food brings students], and often left people walking away with something. What more can you ask for,  free night out with friends and dinner. Both of which are hot commodities in college. Don’t just assume that only freshmen and dorks go to campus events. They are planned to be fun and free for you. Take advantage.

Local paper to track down free events: I will have it be known that I still do this. Local papers, Time Out as an example, will always list free events in your area [you can always check out MetroMix.com for cool things too depending on where you go to school]. You would be surprised how cool some of these events can be and how cheap they can be too. For example, I once got two free tickets to a Shiny Toy Guns show just for being a Chicago native. The show was in an art gallery and had an open bar. It was absolutely amazing, and absolutely free. It’s also great to become a fan of local places on Facebook or follow them on Twitter because so many businesses advertise free events or discounted rates on those sites.

Alcohol: I can sit here and tell you not to drink, but I think we all know that you’re going to. What you might not realize is just how expensive alcohol can get and how quickly it can add up. So you need to know a few tricks to keep your bank account satisfied with your vices.

  1. Specials at Bars: If you’re over 21 and you like to go to the bars with friends. Check out the specials. My local haunt [yes my friends and I call our pub our local haunt] has a daily beer and liquor special that is $2 and $3 respectively. Let me tell you, paying $2 for a foreign draft and $3 for an amaretto stone sour is a treat even now. So check and see what kind of specials the bars you’re at have. Most of them will have something on the busy college nights, so ask around why people go to what bars on what nights. I promise you, it isn’t for the atmosphere; it is for the cheap alcohol.
  2. Drink with Friends: If you don’t have the cash to go out, start a fund with friends and head out to Jewel. Believe me when I tell you that you’re not experienced enough in drinking to taste the difference between Ketel One Vodka and Smirnoff Vodka. So get the cheapest that you can. You will be amazed at how much more fun you can have just having a small party with your friends than going out to the bars on “Thirsty Thursday.”
  3. Bring a Budget: If you are going out to the bars, bring cash and pay only with what you have. It will keep you within a predetermined budget and you won’t find yourself hitting your credit limit on your Visa. Not only that, but if you’re aware that you have a budget, you can pace your drinking all night and have a healthy buzz with enough time to sober up for the walk home.

Food: If you want to be able to eat on $.12 I have two words for

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

Who said Ramen can't look delicious?

you: Ramen Noodles. Granted, they aren’t healthy, but you would be amazed at one can do with them. I liked to cook the noodles separately and put a little olive oil and parmesan cheese on them [clearly the money not used on real food was spent accordingly]. Sometimes I would use the noodles [cooked and uncooked] in a salad. And though it sounds gross, sprinkling a little [I stress little] bit of the seasoning on uncooked noodles and eating them like chips was absolutely delicious. I have a great list of friendly budget recipe books with Ramen Noodles and other college friendly food here:

Check out Local Specials through Your School: When I was in school my Campus Activities Department had one day a month that was called DU Day at the Lake. Basically, if you brought your school ID to the local movie theatre you could see as many movies as you wanted for $3. Let me tell you, classes were barren those days as most students took in every movie that they possibly could. Check out specials that your school has for local businesses. Most of the time the local establishments make so much money from you, they like to give back, whether in the form of coupons, free nights, or discount events.

Movies: Movie nights are a standard must in college. It’s always great to just grab a movie and popcorn with the friends. You have friends, hopefully, who own movies, hopefully. So ask around if someone has a movie that you want to watch before you go out and get it. The most important part of the borrowing system is to remember to return the DVDs when you’re finished. My best friend in college had a problem with people borrowing movies and never returning them. So she stopped bringing the cases to school. She noticed that if people just saw the cases, they would ask to borrow a movie without wanting to watch it that night. Now, if someone came in with a certain request for a movie, she would be more than willing to share.

If you watch movies endlessly and don’t want to ask around, sign up for Netflix. While you might not think it’s more economically sound to sign up for a service like Netflix, it is. I promise if you get movies often, the service will pay for itself after one or two rentals. The best part about Netflix is that you can order them online and just wait a day. It’s so easy and so worth it. The watch online portion is especially phenomenal. I was MIA for two weekends during my junior year because I had found Dexter on Netflix and couldn’t tear myself away. Drop the Blockbuster nights and sign up for a cheaper online service.

Buy Store Brands: I know you think that Keebler cookies taste better than Jewel brand, but I am here to tell you…they don’t. No really, they absolutely do not taste any better. They are more expensive by about $2 but taste the same. So instead of spending an arm and a leg on name brands, stick with the store brands. For the most part, they have the same ingredients. The only reason that “name” brands charge more is because they have a branded image that allows them to charge more for the same product Jewel sells.

Be smart with your money because it goes faster than you think. Work as much as you can so you don’t have time to spend, and take in the cheap things with a group of friends to make it memorable and fun. Being able to remember the fun you had in college is completely worth it. Also, being able to stay in the black with Chase is completely worth it.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

June 2, 2009

5 Great Summer Cocktails

By Meg Hoppe

The summer is a great time to just kick back with some good friends and good drinks for a night. So many of my best memories from years past revolve around lawn chair conversation with a pitcher of my favorite margarita being passed from friend to friend. This summer, I’ve picked some of my favorite cocktails to accompany any summer night party.

Habanero Margarita

Mango Habanero Margarita

Mango Habanero Margarita

  • 2 parts tequila
  • 2 parts mango puree
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 2 dashes habanero sauce

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a chilled glass then enjoy.

This recipe is my new summer favorite. I had a great variation of this for the first time at a FlatTop restaurant near my house. When I got home I scoured the Internet for recipes to this great drink and they had ones that seemed close but never necessarily hit the mark for me. I almost gave up when I stumbled across this one that I found on NibbleDish.com. I experimented some with the fruit puree and found that it’s a great drink to mix and match with. So if you’re looking for something a little different with a kick, give this amazing drink a try!

Melonade

  • 1 ounce Midori
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • Lemonade
  • Club soda
  • Sprite

Pour Midori and vodka into a highball glass. Fill with lemonade and float a splash of club soda and a splash of Sprite on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I first discovered this recipe a few summers ago during a July 4th party with friends. The sweet Midori mixes so well with vodka and some lemonade. In fact, it was such a hit at the party that it’s become a staple at any Hoppe party. The mixture is easy enough to make for a large group or small one.

Bellini

  • 1/2 ounce peach liqueur
  • 1 ounce peach juice or nectar
  • Chilled champagne or sparkling wine

Pour liqueur and juice into a chilled champagne flute. Slowly top up with champagne or sparkling wine.

I have always been a huge fan of the Bellini. The peach mixed with champagne or sparkling wine is a great way to top off a warm evening with a few close friends. The recipe is simple enough to replicate and alter [if you so wish] easily enough.

Mojito

Mint Mojito

Mint Mojito

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 8 mint leaves
  • Half a lime, chopped
  • 1/2 ounce sugar syrup; club soda
  • Ice cubes

Mash up mint, lime, and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a scoop of ice, then the rum. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled tumbler 1 inch from the rim; top up with club soda.

I remember trying a Mojito at the behest of one of my close friends. While I wasn’t automatically sold on the combination of rum and mint, the drink quickly grew on me. What’s so great about the Mojito is that it’s such a universal drink that can take so many forms. You can easily add a great ingredient like pineapple or pomegranate to make your own twist on a Cuban classic.

Chapala

  • 5 small chunks watermelon
  • 1 lime, chopped
  • 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces gold tequila
  • Apple juice
  • Ice cubes

Mash up watermelon, lime, and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a scoop of ice, then the tequila. Shake vigorously and strain into a tall, chilled glass 1 inch from the rim; top with apple juice.

This recipe is an old favorite of mine because it is a great summer party drink. I made Chapala for the first time for a large group at a BBQ and it went over brilliantly. I love experimenting with this drink keeping the fruit in for a very Sangria feel while introducing other flavors to the mix.

The best thing about these recipes is the versatility in their enjoyment. It is easy to translate these drinks to “mocktail” status for friends who prefer non-alcoholic nights and add different flavors and feelings with the addition of fruit. Enjoy the recipes and never be scared to experiment every now and then with your cocktails!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

Blog at WordPress.com.