New Blog – The Organic Beauty Expert

First, let me point you over to Delight.com –– kind of like woot, this site offers a deal of the day, but the stuff on the offing is much prettier and seriously luxe.  (I’m actually REALLY tempted by this bath caddy; I love my baths, but can I really justify $35 for a bath caddy?  On the other hand, I do a lot of my best thinking in the bath… Decisions, decisions.)

Second, delight.com has a sister site, DelightfulBlogs.com, which rates, reviews, and recommends “blogs of interest to creative Generation X and Baby Boomer women.”  (I missed gen X by a few years, but I don’t think they’ve come up with a cute name for my generation, so I’ll take it.)

Following this winding path of my stream of consciousness, the new blog of which I speak, The Organic Beauty Expert, popped up as one of the featured blogs at delightfulblogs.com, and of course I was intrigued. I don’t know much of anything about organic beauty products (or why I should choose them over traditional beauty products other than, you know, the toxic chemicals which I now assume to be in just about everything), but I reckon this site might teach me a few things.

I was especially interested in this post on some wallet-friendly alternatives to Origins’ Plantidote products.  I recently bought some of the Plantidote Serum thanks to a generous subsidy by my organic enabler, but I simply don’t have the Benjamins to shell out for the whole line of products.

So check it out!  I’ve added  The Organic Beauty Expert to the blogroll for your convenience.

Coupons!

Since going organic, I’ve been a little disappointed in the number of coupons offered in the newspaper that are for things I actually want to BUY now.  Being a great lover of the calming Sunday morning ritual of clipping coupons, I dutifully go through my circulars every week, but usually only turn up a few lonely coupons for organic products.

If you too are saddened by your lack of coupons, never fear!  Mambo Sprouts Marketing offers free coupons––by mail and printable e-coupons––at their website for organic and green products!   Coupon booklets are also available periodically at Whole Foods and Wild Oats Markets.

[NOTE: Be aware, the website asks for your zip code, but only requires the first three digits––I got a bit flustered when I couldn’t enter all five digits!  Also, the e-coupons are not available with Firefox; use IE or Safari to find and print them.]

You Gotta Have a Plan

By nature, I’m a planner, a list-maker, a goal setter, a little type A, and possibly a little OCD.  This is not to say that I always cross everything off my lists or follow through with all my plans––I’m much too right-brain for that––but if you need a list, honey I’m your girl.

Sometimes my attempts at organization fizzle like wet firewood, but one thing that has stuck is a routine of making a weekly meal plan, a shopping list from that plan, and then shopping only once a week (save any emergency trips to the store for essentials like… ice cream).  I don’t plan out every single meal, but I do plan every dinner I mean to cook for the week and then buy accordingly.  This helps us stick to a budget in terms of how much we spend on groceries and also how often we eat out.

I’ve been planning our meals this way for about a year now, but it’s a big change for me.   My mother is a combination of a pantry cooker and an impulse cooker.  She makes one ENORMOUS trip to the grocery store once or twice a month and stocks up on staples for some of her standard meals.  Then, she goes to the store two or three times a week for the remainder of the month, either to pick up things she forgot, things that need to be fresh (like bread or specialty produce) or if she gets an idea to cook something different than her standard pantry meals.

I’m not saying that’s a bad way to go––it certainly kept my family fed for the 18 or so years I was living at home––but it’s a LOT of work.  I tried shopping that way when I was first on my own and found that, cooking for only one or two people, a lot of food that I purchased on my big monthly trips spoiled before I could eat it.  Plus, all those shopping trips can really bog you down.

I first got the idea to do weekly meal plans and shopping trips from Flylady––an online group that tries to help people organize their lives and get out from under all-consuming clutter.  I eventually came to find the whole Flylady program (the daily emails, etc.) to be too much for me, but I still find a lot of her principles useful and smart.

Many diet programs, including Weight Watchers, also suggest planning out meals in advance, so you know exactly what you’re eating and when.  Very helpful when counting calories.

And, if you’re anything like me, you may collect cookbooks and interesting recipes from magazines.  Meal plans are a great way to make sure you try some new recipes or even some new foods that might not be on your comfort list yet.

Anyway,  I love gadgets, so when I came across Meals Matter, a web site and group of web-based tools produced for FREE by the California Dairy Council, I was pretty excited.  First of all, FREE is a term certain to perk up my little ears.  The tools on the web site are the kinds of things you’d normally find at subscription-based web sites, and are very cool.

The menu planner lets you plan out breakfasts, lunches, and dinners including which will be cooked at home and which will be eaten out.  You can even just put “no plan” if, like me, you prefer to only plan  one or two meals a day.  If you use a recipe from the site’s database, you can automatically add the ingredients to your shopping list––or you can manually enter any items you like.  Finally, you can keep a list of what you have on hand in your pantry for those moments of desperation when you have to make dinner, but don’t know what you have on hand.

And here’s another tip: save the weekly ad flyer from your favorite grocery store.  When you sit down to plan your weekly meals, go through the flyer and plan meals around what’s on sale.   Major grocery chains’ specials are listed at the Coupon Mom website in conjunction with coupons from the newspaper circulars.  If you’re shopping at a health food store like Wild Oats or Whole Foods, check their websites––many stores now publish their flyers online.  This makes it easier to eat around what’s in season and what’s on sale at your grocery store.

Organic on the Cheap

A reader and I got to talking last weekend about the high cost of eating organic. While proponents of organic will explain that the cost of conventional foods are higher than their price tags make it seem (in terms of cost to your health, the environment, etc.), that doesn’t ease the burden of the cost of organic foods on consumers in the here and now.

But there has to be a way to eat healthfully and thriftily, right?

As a proponent of the mantra “all things in moderation,” I think one good strategy is to spend your food dollar more wisely by picking and choosing the organic products you buy. You don’t have to go all-organic overnight — especially if money is an issue. The Environmental Working Group has produced a guide called Pesticides in Produce that lists the 12 fruits and vegetables with the most and least pesticides. Choosing to go organic for those with the most pesticides will decrease your exposure exponentially — something that is especially important for kids.

body+soul magazine also has an article about eating organic in its March 2007 issue suggesting that buying organic chocolate, peanuts, and soy will also drastically limit your intake of pesticides.

Next, choosing where you buy your organic goodies may also have an effect on your grocery budget. Big-box stores like Walmart and Costco have begun introducing more organic items into their product lines and Super Target recently announced that they are now a “certified organic produce retailer.”

But when it comes to discount organics, the key words are buyer beware. Walmart has come under fire recently both for their new house brand of organic milk and for allegedly mislabeling non-organic products as organic. Organic advocate groups claim that stores like Walmart are “diluting” organics by watering down the standards for organic products. For example, Walmart brand of organic milk (which comes from the same supplier as Safeway, Costco, Target and Wild Oats store brands of organic milk) is produced at a factory farm where animals have no access to the outdoors and are fed a diet of grain rather than grass.

So, perhaps the best place to search for deals on organic foods is in your own local community. LocalHarvest.org offers a comprehensive, searchable list of local farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs, which allow consumers to purchase a “share” of a farm’s produce for an entire season. Eatwild.com is a directory of more than 800 pasture-based farms selling grass-fed meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products in all 50 states.

Finally, consider this: Americans today spend only one-tenth of their household income on food, compared to spending one-fifth in the 1950s. Spending a little more for organic isn’t something we have to do, but it’s a choice we can make to improve our quality of life.

It’s Nifty to be Thrifty!

Thrifty Planet is an online directory of thrift stores and other stores that sell recycled or previously owned merchandise. The site owners encourage us to “Make a stand now by using the Resource Guide and it will lessen the impact on future generations and the environment.”

I love thrift stores, consignment stores, and factory outlets. In fact, at a consignment store in California, I bought a red leather purse for five dollars. When I got it home, I googled the name of the Italian designer, and found out that, new, purses from this designer go for $300-$450!

Boo-ya.

Designer resale and consignment shops are amazing places to find stupendous deals on brand-name clothes and accessories. Just this weekend, I saw a cute, classic Kate Spade purse in perfect condition for only $40. Places like Goodwill and Salvation Army can also yield good finds; I have found clothes from stores like Target and even Banana Republic with the tags still attached at Goodwill stores.

The keys, I’ve found, to thrift store shopping are two fold: first, go at a time when you’re in the mood to dig. Browsing at a thrift store isn’t going to turn up the good stuff, you really have to want to look through every item on the rack to make sure you aren’t overlooking a diamond in the rough. Second, shop only at stores in which you feel comfortable. I’ve been in Goodwill stores that made back alleys look safe and comfortable; likewise, I’ve been in Goodwill stores that are as clean and well-maintained as any department store. In addition, be aware that thrift stores and consignment shops have seasonal sales just like any other store; paying attention to when your favorite store changes inventory or has sales will help you net the best finds.

Any good stories of amazing stuff you’ve found at a thrift store?

The Coupon Game

I’ve never been terribly good at being frugal, but certain aspects of it have always appealed to me. Like coupons. I love me some coupons. Speaks to my OCD, I think.

In any case, some time ago, I discovered the Coupon Mom website. Obviously, people who aren’t moms can also use and benefit from it, because what it does is compare the weekly circulars from your local grocery stores with the coupons that have come out in the Sunday paper and then combines them for you so you can get the best deals. It’s really kind of awesome. The idea is, if you buy things only when they are on sale and stock up, you will never have to pay full price for an item, which sounds good to me!

Today, we went and did some major shopping in preparation for yet another impending snow storm this weekend.

I spent $65.30 at Walgreens, but I saved $49.63 with a combination of sales and coupons. That means I got almost $115 worth of groceries (at full price) for $63.

Not too shabby.

For instance? I bought five boxes of cereal. Cereal normally costs about $4 a box. I paid $0.50 each for the five boxes. And now? I won’t have to buy cereal for MONTHS. Cereal doesn’t go bad, and we have room to store it. Where’s the bad?

Not everyone likes clipping coupons. I happen to enjoy it. But the best part about the Coupon Mom system is that you don’t clip the coupons! You save the entire circular, and then, when something goes on sale, you go back and clip out just the coupon you need. The online list tells you which circular it’s in (by date and brand) and even reminds you when certain coupons are about to expire. It even tells you the percentage you’re saving on any given deal, so you can decide for yourself if it’s worth buying those five boxes of cereal.

Also? The web site is free, unlike some other grocery game websites. And we love free, precious. Yes we do.

Drugstore Doubles

[via not martha]

Look like a million without shelling out the Benjamins. Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice dishes the dirt on drugstore doubles: products that give you the same bang as their pricey counterparts for a lot less buck.

I’m not much of a diva when it comes to cosmetics; there are so many choices out there, I’m frequently overwhelmed. But one thing I do know: I never want to pay more than I have to for quality products. This seems like a great guide to getting the good quality for less.