From September 2014

Thrifty Tuesday: Part 5 ~ Saving Money with Green Living

Hi there! This week wraps up my 5-part creative cost-cutting series for the month of September! Thanks for joining me for the journey thus far. Our last topic includes ways to save money through green, eco-friendly living. Yes, some of it might cost a little more upfront, but it can truly save you hundreds, if not thousands, in the long run!

7 Ways to Save Money by Living Green | Lea Ciceraro | |

A Few Tips for {Green} Living (tips #64-70)

64. Buy/build/rent an eco-friendly, energy-efficient home with solar panels (sometimes you can even sell unused energy back to electric companies!) and well-water (then you don’t have to pay for city water). This will significantly cut down on your monthly utility expenses!

65. Investing into some energy efficient items for your home can save money in the long run, such as energy-saving lightbulbs, low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets, etc.

66. If you’re able, move to a city/state where the cost-of-living is on the less expensive side, taking into consideration things like property taxes, sales tax, state income tax, and even toll roads in the area.

67. Grow a garden! If you have a greenhouse or live somewhere with mild weather all year round, great! This will come in very handy. If not, you can get a jump start on your spring/summer garden by planting your seeds in small containers and keeping them inside first, giving them a chance to sprout. This also saves lots of money, because buying seedlings can be rather expensive! And use rain barrels to water your garden!

68. Compost! Not only will this cut down on your household waste, but it will be great for your garden, and it will be another thing you don’t have to buy! Plus, in some cities you can opt for a smaller trash can which ends up costing you less!

69. Move closer to your job if you’re able to. It will not only save on gas usage, but it will cut down on time spent commuting. It may even open up the possibility of commuting by foot or bike!

70. Try to become a one-car household, if possible, especially if you do not have any children of driving age yet. Carpool and utilize public transportation.  You will save money on gas, car maintenance and repairs, possibly a car payment if you didn’t buy it with cash (recommended that you do, though!), and insurance!

What else would you add to this green living list that has worked for you? Please let me know in the comments below!

Thank you again for coming along on this money saving journey with me!

Friday’s Thoughts: Right Speech (samma vaca)

I want to start posting some thoughts on Friday’s to help you wrap up the week and send you into your weekend. These posts will be more of personal essays rather than tips, tricks, and lists. I want to give you some things to ponder as you sit back and enjoy a couple of days off from work (if you work a typical 9-5 schedule that is!).

I’ve thought a lot this week about patience, and a friend of mind once told me in the most beautiful way that patience to her is “being in the present.” She said:

“Satya was nearly a year old when I realized, for me, patience means being in the present. If I am in the present moment, I don’t need to try to “have” patience. There is nothing left to have, your mind is in the present and nowhere else. What happened a moment ago or what will happen a moment later is irrelevant.”

Perfect. Let’s carry that thought with us through this journey! She also reminded me that the potential of Buddhahood is present in every being. Which is what inspired today’s focus!

Right Speech | Lea Ciceraro | |

Right Speech; as per Buddha’s Eightfold Path. I am nowhere near an expert on Buddhism, so for those of you who are Buddhist, I’d love for you to join in this conversation and elaborate on what it is you might also be seeking with Right Speech, as you will likely help provide everyone with an even deeper understanding. I’ve never felt tied down to any one religion in particular, so I’d love to explore and try to understand what each one has to offer.

My understanding of Right Speech is to be conscious of your thoughts and words and thus avoid criticism, condemning, gossiping, and harsh language (among others). According to AccessToInsight.Org, Right Speech is “…abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, and from idle chatter.” All of the info on that link is very interesting and worth reading, and there’s so much of it that I won’t try to reproduce all of it here.

I much too often find myself being critical of others or just not being positive with my language, sometimes just in thoughts and sometimes in a whisper to the person I’m with. But I never say anything aloud to the person the criticism is about, so I’m not being mean to them, right? Wrong. Kind of like your mom probably always told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Mom’s onto something! ;-) And my own mama always said, “ALWAYS be nice to EVERYONE, no matter what.”

There’s so much bullying going on these days in so many forms, whether it’s road rage induced, or in a tiny little grade school classroom, or on the Internet. Maybe if more people adopted a Buddhist approach and took each part of it seriously, there would be less bullying… less feelings hurt… more love. Anyway, that’s another topic in itself.

I’m reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and there’s a great page (p. 121) in there where she describes a yoga teacher once asking the question during a practice, “Why do we practice yoga?” She goes on to explain how yoga in Sanskrit can be translated as “union” and “…the task at hand in yoga is to find union– between mind and body…” There’s obviously a LOT more to yoga than that, but today what I want to take from that is finding the union between my body, my thoughts, my actions, and Right Speech.

After all, not only am I a member of society, a teacher, and a photography business owner, but most importantly I’m also a wife and a parent, and “with great power comes great responsibility.” ;-) What kind of example do I want to be setting, especially for Maximilian and Oliver? This needs to not only start with my words and actions, but on a more difficult level: my thoughts.

Where do you feel you stand with “Right Speech?” Have a wonderful weekend, friends!


Thrifty Tuesday: Part IV ~ Fun & Entertainment & Shopping

This week’s focus of my Thrifty Tuesday series is all about the fun stuff. My goal is to help you find ways to make that discretionary income last, once all of your bills are paid and you have put a little money away into savings.

23 Ways to Help Stretch Your Fun Money | Lea Ciceraro | |

Fun & Entertainment & Shopping (tips #41-63)

41. State parks! Look into getting a state park pass that will last for a year, and then get out and explore! Many are beautiful day trips, too.

42. If you want to go out to eat, use to get good gift certificate deals. Of course, NOT going out to eat will save you tons more. Or, if friends and family are asking you for birthday/holiday gift ideas, you could suggest gift cards to your favorite restaurant(s)! That way you can still indulge once in a while but it doesn’t have to come out of your pocket.

43. Cancel cable and go to less movies in the theater, but try Netflix (especially streaming!) instead. I promise life without cable isn’t that bad. ;-)

44. Use the library instead of buying books. There are often great movies and TV series available to check out, as well!

45. Find out if your employer offers discounts on any products or services around town.

46. Unsubscribe from weekly store ads to reduce shopping temptation.

47. But, if you must shop, always scour the sale racks and just don’t even let yourself look at the full-price items. One of our favorite things to do is something we like to call “thirfting at Old Navy!” I don’t know why they have such great deals all the time, but if you wait for their sales and stick to the clearance racks, you can make out with several new pieces of clothing for just a couple of bucks each!

48. Also, if you want to shop at a store that you know your size in like Old Navy or Gymboree, you can go to the website and see ALL the sale items from their main inventory instead of just your local store. Sometimes you can find stuff for about 50% that way.

49. Did you know that you can link your debit card to a Target REDcard account and it still works just the same as your regular debit card drawing from your checking account, but you also get 5% back on every purchase!? And don’t forget to scour their Cartwheel app for even more coupons!

50. Keep an eye on websites for deals on things you’re already looking to spend money on (don’t use these as an excuse to spend money on things you don’t need!) like Groupon, LivingSocial, BabySteals, Totsy, Kidsteals, BabyHalfOff, GreenBabyBargains, etc.

51. Never be afraid to ask for a discount! I learned this from my dad. He asks everywhere he goes (for military and/or senior status!)! And I’d say 7/10 times, he’s successful!

52. And, did you know that stores like REI and Crate & Barrel have Outlet sections on their websites? Great deals there, too!

53. Amazon is LOADED with ways to save money. One is with their program called Amazon Basics, where you can get inexpensive electronics accessories (I know I could always use more rechargeable batteries!). Another is with Subscribe & Save (15% off with a subscription of 5 or more items– easy to change and update each month (seriously, we get our awesome dog food for half of what it costs at Whole Foods!). And you can save even more with Subscribe & Save if you’re signed up for Amazon Mom (think: baby wipes!!). I’ve saved tons on diapers, wipes, vitamins, dog food, batteries, cleaning supplies and laundry detergent, canned goods, bath and body products, etc.! If you’re a student, you can get an Amazon Prime membership at a discount via Amazon Student, plus a free 6-month trial period!

54. Another note with Amazon: You can go through Amazon Smile to shop, which allows you to pick a charity you want a portion of your purchase to automatically be donated to! We personally chose the Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. :-) What better way to grab that Halloween candy and support a great cause!

55. Some people feel like they get as good of a deal on bulk items at their local warehouse store like Sam’s or Costco. Check it out for yourself and see what suits you, especially if you live really close to one! Buying certain items in bulk can certainly save you lots of money. I even heard that Amazon has started offering a bulk pantry items program!

56. Get creative with your coupons! Look for double coupon days at grocery stores, and see if you can combine certain coupons. Sometimes you can combine store advertised coupons with manufacturers’ coupons (and sometimes there are certain rules like the discounted amount has to be different on each coupon).

57. Group your errands to make for shorter and less car rides and gas usage.

58. Make sure your car has good tire pressure and a recent tune up. Inflating to maximum recommended pressure can improve gas mileage by 3% and regular wheel alignments also boost fuel economy.

59. Sign up for points on sites like Pampers and get some really good coupon books from them every so often, which also include coupons on everyday items as well, like paper towels and toilet paper.

60. Hand-me-downs from friends and family are fabulous. Furniture, adult clothing, kids clothing, baby items, whatever.

61. Or search secondhand via thrift stores, Craigslist, Freecycle, and garage sales!

62. Also, try resale shops like Kid2Kid or Once Upon a Child for secondhand toys and baby gear, for about a third of the cost of buying them new.

63. Finally, if you have a certain skill set, try to use that to barter with someone else for a service or item you might need/want.

Thanks for tagging along for this money saving journey! Next week will be the last post in the series, and then I’ll do a recap post as well. As always, feel free to comment below and let me know what has worked for you and/or what you would add to this list!


5 Ways to Give Yourself the Gift of an Amazing Week

Do you ever long for the weekend because it’s a time to relax, unwind, and spend time with your loved ones? And sometimes it’s beautiful and perfect, but other times it’s one crappy run of luck or turn of fate (or constant encounters with rude people) after another? Without going into more detail for the sake of of moving forward, that was our weekend. Far from perfect. The kind that makes you dread the work week beginning again when you’d rather hit the open road and get out of town with your family to reset you mind for a while. But when that’s not an option and your routine must continue business-as-usual, there are a few things you can do for yourself to give yourself the gift of an amazing week. Why? Because you deserve it. And why call it a gift? Because you have the power to make the decisions that shape your day, your week… your life.

5 Ways to Give Yourself the Gift of an Amazing Week by Lea Ciceraro | |

Remove Toxicity

This could mean a number of things. Toxic relationships. Toxic technology. Toxic substances. You get the point. If there are things in your life that are working against your health and well-being, get rid of it (or at least reduce it). Challenge yourself to unfollow at least a dozen pages that you currently follow on Facebook, Instagram, Feedly, etc. that you feel bring nothing but stress or negativity into your day (there are a number of news sites I choose to not follow anymore because I couldn’t stand the constant influx of horrible things being reported on!). Unfriend people with whom you don’t have a solid, happy relationship with and don’t really talk to anymore anyway. As far as food and drink consumption go, have some hot tea instead of alcohol in the evening when you unwind from the day, and eat a few more vegetables instead of sweets this week. You’ll be surprised how much happier and more positive you feel when you remove toxicity.

Use Less Tech and Get Outside

For most of us, the weather is starting to turn into something beautiful, cooler, and more enjoyable than the hot, sweaty days of summer (at least for me, here in the South, I’m welcoming Fall with open arms and wish it would arrive a littttle faster!!). Turn off your computer, put your smartphone in a drawer, and go enjoy the great outdoors! Pack a picnic. Go for a walk. Shoot a manual, film camera instead of digital or using your iPhone (you may even learn something in the process of not using something totally automated!). My husband just told me that he has a friend at work who has a “no smartphone rule” when he gets together with friends. Which is brilliant! Handheld technology usage is getting out of hand and making people so impersonal (and sometimes just plain rude!). So do yourself a favor and use a little less tech this week, and just soak in the world around you. You might be surprised what you see/learn/encounter when you get off your devices and get outside.

Do Something Nice for Someone Else

I’m a big believer in altruistic actions and paying it forward. Go be the reason someone has a great day. Whether it’s handing a few bucks to that homeless vet you always drive by at the gas station corner, donating books or clothes that you no longer use, or paying for someone else’s coffee at a coffee shop. Just find something that you can do for someone else. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how you can help them. And don’t expect praise in return. In fact, don’t even post about it to Twitter of Facebook (you “Like” seekers know who you are!). ;-) Do it because you wanted to and expect nothing in return (hence, altruism). Not because you want to show someone else how awesome you are. Go be a great person this week! And then make a habit out of it. You will start feeling like you live in a much happier world and that can’t help but lift your spirits.

Listen to Happy Music

As my husband put it, “Put on some ska and start dancing!” Of course, your choice doesn’t have to be ska music. But, it’s soooo happy! You can’t help but be in a good mood when you listen to Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, or Buck-0-Nine (a few of my personal faves!). I’m a big believer that music can have a profound effect on your mood and attitude. So, for this week, put aside the angry or sad stuff, and crank up the happy tunes! My kids even love listening and dancing to it. It puts us all in a great mood!

Slow Down

Are you one of those people with a full schedule, or one or more kids to keep up with, or multiples projects to tackle at work (or anything else that keeps you busy and on your toes for the better part of almost every day)? Take some time to consciously slow down this week. Breathe. Do some yoga. Lay down in the grass and look for cloud animals. Stop and smell some flowers. Even just walk or drive slower than usual. :-) And speaking of slow down and ska music, check out THIS song by Reel Big Fish!

Lea Ciceraro | |

I hope you found this post helpful and will go out and give yourself the give of an amazing week (and life!). Let me know in the comments below if you have anything you’d add to this list, and please do let me know if you try any of the above ideas this week and how it worked out for you!


Thrifty Tuesday Part III: Recurring Bills

This week’s post about creative cost cutting solutions is centered around those recurring bills that are a regular part of your monthly budget. With some creative thinking and a couple of phone calls, you can do wonders to reduce your living costs!

15 Tips to Save You Money on Recurring Bills | Lea Ciceraro | |

Recurring Bills (tips #26-40)

26. Refinance your home for a low if it works for your life and your current home situation.

27. Check out cheaper car and/or home/renters’ insurance. And sometimes grouping those can save you even more money. It really does pay to shop around.

28. Same goes for your cell phone plan! If you must have a smart phone, check out what your actual data and minutes usage are. You might be surprised how little you’re using in comparison to what you’re paying for each month. Downgrade your plan, if you can! And ask for discounts! A lot of cell phone companies offer discounts to certain employers and professions (i.e., nurses, teachers, etc.).

29. Compare rates with other gas and electric companies (and TV/internet/phone, if you like– although we dropped our home phone line and cable altogether). Changing to another company sometimes gives you a huge “switching incentive” that could save you from paying that bill for a few months, and just get you a lower rate overall!

30. Also, some energy companies will give you a discount if your home is green certified! Check into it!

31. And, unplug appliances and turn off lights that aren’t in use. Being extra conscious about that really adds up!

32. Set your thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter. For every degree above 72°F in the summer, you’ll save up to three percent per month in energy costs.

33. In the winter, be mindful of that gas fireplace usage if you have one! We got a shocking bill last January, not realizing how expensive it was to flip that switch and enjoy the fireplace! Ouch.

34. Same goes for water usage. Be smart about not letting your shower run for too long before you hop in (even better, let a bucket collect the water while it’s warming up, and use that to water your garden!), turn off the sink faucet while you are brushing your teeth, turn down the faucet while doing dishes, etc.

35. And, don’t run your dishwasher until it’s completely full. Same thing with laundry (and use cool water).

36. Use a rain barrel to collect water for your lawn, plants, and garden.

37. Paying extra on your student loans/car payment/mortgage will save you TONS of interest down the line, and it will get paid off sooner!

38. On that note, never buy or finance a brand new car! They immediately lose value the moment you drive it off the lot. Instead, opt for a pre-owned or used vehicle and save yourself thousands. Even one that is just a year or two old but has been traded back in to the dealer for whatever reason can save you thousands. Plus, any issues or recalls have already been worked out which leads to a few less things for you to worry about right off the bat.

39. Check our favorite financial planning guru Dave Ramsey for more awesome help and ideas! Using his budget forms have been a life saver to help us live within our means and reduce our monthly spending!

40. Also using tools like is helpful to get an overall picture of your debt (if you have any) and to track your spending. It’s very eye opening. If you’ve been too scared to take a look at your current financial situation, now is as good a time as any!