Feb 25, 2011

Simple, Tasty, Cheap: Wine!

One of the main themes of this blog is that you don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy wonderful things. Well I certainly think wine is one of those things! While having wine on hand is definitely considered a luxury, it doesn't have to cost a fortune! Surprisingly it isn't all about the wine itself! Sure, you've got to have something that is at least decent; rancid wine will not taste good no matter what you serve it in. However, you can take a $5 bottle of wine that would be absolutely terrible in a plastic cup, worthy of a dinner party...if served in quality stemware! Here are a few must haves without breaking the bank!

First, you've got to get full lead crystal stemware! I'm am one of the most frugal people I know. I hate to buy anything without a coupon or discount of some sort. So I hope you'll take my word for it when I say that in order for your wine to reach even 1/2 of its potential, you've got to get proper glasses! They are worth it! We learned this from some good friends of ours who really introduced us to wine about 6 years ago. Sure we drank wine before, but we thought we were doing really well to get the wine by the gallon out at Sam's Club for $7.50/bottle! We even served that stuff at a Christmas Dinner Party! I shutter to think of our poor guests! I think we've come a long way from then, but then sometimes I wonder... :) Anyway, we were at our friends one night remarking on what wonderful wine they always had, and they kind of looked at each other and laughed. The wine they were serving us costs about $10! We were shocked and certain they were under-estimating. We thought it was at least a $25-30 bottle of wine. They told us that it was all in the glass. Since we didn't believe them, they pulled out one of their cheap crystal glasses and poured the same wine in both glasses and had us taste. Seriously, they tasted like two different wines! There was really no comparison. So here is what you should be looking for:

The glass on the left is one of our old wine glasses that we registered for when we got married. They're nice glasses and real crystal, but they're a lot thicker glass, not as high a percentage of crystal, and not shaped optimally. The glass on the left is a Riedel Cabernet/Merlot full lead (24%) crystal wine glass; this is what you want (or something like it). You can actually get these at Target, but they'll cost you about $15-20 per stem. I did just find them on this website for $24.95 for a set of 2, but then you have to pay $4.95 shipping. If that's all you can do, they're still worth the price. But, if you have any connection to anyone in the restaurant business, get them to order them for you! My husband worked in a fine dining restaurant and he was able to get these through one of their suppliers for an amazing $6/stem!!!! These glasses are full lead (which is about 24%) crystal, so they have microscopic cuts in the interior of the glass (you can't feel them) that aerate the wine (that's why people swirl wine in their glasses). Plus, the shape of this glass causes the wine to hit your tongue at just the right spot - so that the flavors are distributed for ultimate enjoyment!

The next thing that will really help the taste of your wine is a decanter. Once again, you'll need to make sure to get one with full lead crystal that will not only let your wine breath and release the aromas and flavors, but will aerate it. The one pictured below is a traditional decanter by Riedel (normally about $35-40), but you can also get one like this that you can slip directly into the bottle and it aerates while you pour! Don't ask me how it does it, just believe me! Super cool! Just remember to open the bottle about 10-20 minutes before you want to drink it, so that it has time to breath.
Having these simple, yet elegant items, will transform your cheap wines into surprisingly flavorful and enjoyable delights! If you can get them through a restaurant, then your investment is small. You'll have super nice wine glasses and be able to buy cheap wine and have it taste good. Otherwise, you'll be endlessly buying wine that cost at least twice as much and will not taste half as good! Now, here are a few go-to wines that I can pretty much always count on!

Rex Goliath (Free Range Red, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, or Merlot) - $6-$8
Glass Mountain (Cabernet Savignon) - $8
Smoking Loon (Pinot Noir) - $8 - $10
Twisted (Merlot or Cabernet) - $5-$7
Robert Mondavi Reserve (Cabernet) - $7-$8
Beringer Founder's Estate - Old Vine (Zinfandel - 2007) - $7-$10
Frontera (Cabernet/Merlot Blend - magnum @ Sam's Club) - $8-$10

Other things that are helpful:
Vacuum Pump (it helps to seal and preserve left-over wine so that it stays fresh)

Wine Journal (so you can remember the wines you really like, where you got them, and how much you paid for them).

Do you have inexpensive wines that you really enjoy? Share the love and leave a comment! I'm always looking for something new! Check back often for future posts on new wines I've found!

Feb 23, 2011

Do you have time?

Do you know how long it takes you to dry your hair? What about taking a shower, putting on your make-up, or un-loading your dishwasher? There are things we do every single day and they usually take about the same amount of time. But if you're like me, you rarely think about how long it takes you to do things - and this could seriously prohibit you from getting very much accomplished in your day. See, I had my first baby 5 months ago today and I can't tell you how many people told me things when I was pregnant like "enjoy your time now because after the baby comes, you'll never get anything done". Honestly, I think that's nonsense! I thought it was then and I still do. The only reason things don't get done is because I don't manage my time well - and that has nothing to do with my precious little baby. So, at the start of this year I made a conscious decision (not a resolution) to start managing my time better - and it has been an eye-opener! I didn't give up anything to create more time and I didn't stop sleeping as much (and yes, I do get plenty of sleep with a 5 month old); I just started organizing myself a little better and I started by paying attention to how much time it takes me to do things. I now know that it takes me 7 minutes to dry my hair if it is sopping wet, but only 5 minutes if I allow it to air dry for about 10 minutes first (which is really better for the over-all health of my hair). I also know that it takes about 4 minutes to unload the dishwasher, 6 minutes to straighten my hair (if I'm really going all-out one day), and 3 minutes to put on my make-up. It takes me 13 minutes to take a shower, and 23 minutes if I'm shaving my legs (isn't that ridiculous that it takes an extra 10 minutes???) - but I also know that I have to bank on more time than that because that's simply the time I need upon stepping/getting out. Why is this important? Well, first of all - it's important to know at the end of the day when you ask yourself the question "where did the day go?" - where it actually went. Secondly, it's important because you can mulit-task if you know how long it is going to take you to do something. Here are some ideas on how to effectively use this knowledge:
Example One: When I make rice (which we keep on-hand in the refrigerator to add to meals throughout the week), I know that I am going to be bringing 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil before I add in the rice - if I start out using cold filtered water from my refrigerator - that it will take right at about 7 1/2 minutes for the water to start to boil. I also know that it takes me 5 minutes to dry my hair. With this knowledge - I can put the water on to boil, go the bathroom to dry my hair - have time to put away the brush and hair dryer - and be back in the kitchen just in time to put the rice in the water. 
Example Two: On Sunday mornings we have to leave the house by no later than 9:15 in order to easily make it to church by 9:45 (without having to feel rushed). I know that I need to take a shower/get ready, feed and dress the baby, and eat breakfast (thankfully my husband cooks on Sunday mornings). My husband likes for us to sit down for breakfast at 8:45, so I need to be completely ready to go by that point. Since I know exactly how long it takes me to take a shower, dry and straighten my hair, and put on my make-up - I can set my alarm clock without worry and know that I will be able to get as much sleep as possible and have plenty of time to get sufficiently ready.

This kind of time management can be played out in a million different scenarios; the possibilities are really endless. Now, I can hear some of your objections already - so let me address them (or what I think they will be). You may think that this will stifle creativity, require you to live by a clock, and give you a sense of urgency that would keep you from ever being able to sit down and relax. If so, then you missed the point entirely! What is the point of organization and structure if it's not to allow more freedom? When you know how long it will realistically take you to do things, then you can more adequately plan for relaxation time! Here are some examples:

Example One: Little Johnny walks up to you in the kitchen to ask if you can read him the book in his hand - a book you know well! It has a whopping 23 pages of relatively small font and few pictures! Oh how you hate to tell you sweet son no when he asks you to read him a book, and you'd love to be able to sit down and read him one - but you've just put the water on to boil for the rice and don't want to have to get 3 pages into the book only to have to stop & get up to tend to the rice! But wait! Since you know that it takes the water 8 minutes to boil, you can then tell sweet little Johnny that you don't have time to read that book - but you'd be happy to read book "x" (a book you know only takes you 5 minutes to read). The you can sit down and relax with your child and have plenty of time to read, laugh, tickle, and answer the million and one questions you'll get, without having to worry or be preoccupied about the water on the stove! 

Example Two: Back to the rice (can you tell I eat a lot of rice). You've poured the rice into the water and now know that you have 40 minutes before it will be ready (if you're cooking brown rice). Great! Now there is time to do your Yoga routine! Before now, you were always worried you were going to burn the rice and were constantly checking it...and lifting the lid to see if it was ready (which we all know you're not supposed to do). How much time did you waste thinking about it and checking on it? But, now that you know exactly how long it takes to cook, you can leave it and completely relax! And what is the use of doing yoga if you're preoccupied with something else??? When you're completely finished with your routine (not skipping the last 10 minutes of relaxation) - then you can slowly waltz into the kitchen feeling refreshed and peaceful to beautifully cooked rice! :)

So give it a try! Use one of the apps on your phone to time and record some of the things you do all the time and see if this works for you! I think you'll be amazed! Feel free to post your own ideas for time management in the comments section! Also, look on the side toolbar and vote on what you'd like to see on Save Simply next!

Feb 22, 2011

Gracious Gifts with Little Green

In this day and age (and I mean since the fall of 2008), everyone is looking to do things cheaply. Even if you can "afford" to spend more money, we have all become more conscious of what we spend and the luxuries we allow ourselves. We have also re-evaluated what is really important. What is pretty much universally recognized is that we no longer look at the price tags of things, but the value. We have not lost our desire to have or give nice things, but we have lost the feeling (in general) that it is necessary to spend an obscene amount of money on something - in order to make it a meaningful gift. Here are a few ideas that I've come up with that I think show a lot of consideration and thoughtfulness, for little or no money. For the most part, the biggest cost is time - and that really is the greater gift!

Free Babysitting - parents ALWAYS love this gift. Last year, before I had a baby, I gave my closest three girlfriends certificates for one night of free babysitting - up to 4 hours! I cannot tell you how much my friends loved this gift! Around Charlotte, that is a $40-$50 value, and all it cost me was time! My husband was working nights at the time, so I had a lot of evenings completely free - so it worked out perfectly. But this can be done as a couple as well - if your husband doesn't work nights. If you don't have kids, what a wonderful way to get an idea of what life will be like with them! If you do have kids, either take them with you, or leave them with your spouse. Either way - don't discount this idea just because you have kids! A great pairing with this gift is a restaurant gift certificate. You may be thinking that if you did that, it would turn your no-money gift into something expensive - but it doesn't have to! If you go to restaurant.com & enter in your zip code, you'll find listing  of local restaurants with gift certificates at discounted rates. Right now in Charlotte, you can get a $25 GC (good for $25 off of a $35 + ticket) at Arooji's Wine Room for only $5 using coupon code EAT! If you give that along with your free babysitting, your friends can go out to a super nice restaurant for a few drinks and appetizers - for about $10 + tip - where it would normally cost them nearly $75-85!

Speaking of certificates...

Make a coupon book for your friends! Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that help you out, not necessarily something tangible! Make a coupon book for your friend that includes things like:
- will take your kids on a walk one afternoon, so you can have the house all to yourself for 1 hour
- will pick up "Johnny" from school on the day of your choice
- will take "Susie" to her piano lesson, and feed her dinner; she'll be home by 7:00!
- will weed your front flower bed
- will return your books to the library
- will take your church nursery duty
- will water your plants & collect your mail next time you leave town
- will walk your dog on a cold night
- will serve as the photographer at your child's birthday party
- will allow you to spontaneously show up at my house and demand a cocktail

All you couponers out there: What do you do with all of your excess goods? What about the stuff you get great coupons for, but don't personally use? Well, here are some ideas! These are all things I've gotten recently using coupons and sales - for FREE (unless otherwise noted):

Assemble a gift basket/bag for a friend who is...

                     ... under the weather!
Kleenex, Halls Cough Drops (can be gotten for $.19 at Target this week with coupon stacks), Wolfgang Puck Chicken Noodle Soup, Saltine Crackers, Ghirardelli Chocolate Bar, Pack of Gum, and maybe a bottle of Nyquil, Thereflu, or something like that (I get coupons for those all the time and can normally get a bottle for $1-2). Then look on the Redbox website for a coupon code for a free movie rental - stop by and pick a classic for the "sickie" (just remember that you'll need to pick it up and return it the next day). How awesome would all of this be to get when you're sick?!?!? And the total cost is about $.19 - $2.19...and a little time.

                     ...just had a baby!
Ghirardelli Chocolate Bar, Pack of Gum, 2 Vitamin Waters (purchased for $.50 last week), 2 Frozen Smart Ones Meals (can be purchased at Target this week for $.90 each after coupons and $5 gift card), Kleenex, Rimmel Nail Polish, Yo-Plait Yogurt, Baby Wipes (can normally be purchased for less than $1 with coupons/sales), Package of Diapers (can normally be purchased for about $4-5 with sales/coupons). This is a little more of a pricey gift basket, but the total is still only around $8.80 for about $30 worth of stuff.

                  ...just got married or moved!
Nestle Tolls House Refrigerated Cookie Dough, Philly Cream Cheese, Activia or Yo-Plait Yogurt, Simply Lemonade (purchased for $.50 last week), Eggs (purchased one dozen Egglands Best last week for $1), Tombstone frozen pizza (purchased 12 inch last week for $1.50), Tostitoes Chips (purchased for $.79 last week), Dean's French Onion Dip (purchased for $.07 last week), Breakstone's Sour Cream (purchased for $.40 last week). This little convenience food care package will be great for someone who is trying to get settled in and needs quick convenience food and the total cost is about $4.25, for about $25 worth of groceries.

                ...just got a new pet!
We do not have any pets, but boy do I get a lot of dog/cat food and treat coupons! Plus, a new Petsmart just opened up in a shopping center really close to my house, so they've been advertising like crazy. I've gotten several coupons for $5 off anything - no minimum purchase required. Much to my shame, I haven't actually done this, but I should have used all those coupons to go in and get little treats or bags/cans of food to keep on hand. I could give such a fun gift bag to a friend with a new puppy - with toys, treats, and puppy food. What a fun little "happy" that would be to give/receive! Or, I could get bags of treats to keep on hand for when people come to visit who have pets!

The lesson learned is: just because you can't personally use it, doesn't mean that someone else you know can't! So, these are just a few ideas to get you started. Look for more ideas coming soon, and please feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section!

Feb 18, 2011

Starting Out

When I was about 14 years old, a friend of mine (Sharon) called me "The Budgeteer". Ever since then, I think I've lived up to my title. I grew up in a family with 8 children, so things were always tight. We were taught not to waste, be resourceful, be grateful for what we have, be wise in our use of money, and save - from the earliest age. I've carried those lessons with me throughout my life. There is nothing particularly special about me, truthfully. In this day and time, everyone is interested in saving money. Everyone is re-evaluating their spending habits and what they think of as necessities. Everyone is carpooling, couponing, and cutting out cable - so you may not find anything here that you haven't seen or heard before. But, I hope that every now and then you'll find a little nugget that will help you in some way! I have to admit, though I grew up being taught to conserve, I also grew up to appreciate the finer things in life. Not having the budget necessary to support my tastes, does not mean that I don't try to figure out ways to afford all the things I want. So, I have learned to think of saving money as a game/hobby. And I guess that is what sets me apart from some of the crowd; determination. I'm a firm believer in "where there is a will, there is always a way". So, I hope you'll find some new ideas on how to make things you find in boutiques, dine at fine restaurants on a budget, attend fine music concerts for free, go on weekend get-aways, enjoy good wine for about $6/bottle, and cut your grocery bill in half...among other things! Thanks for stopping in and please feel free to leave a comment whenever you'd like to share a thought or idea!