If you’re a gardener, chances are you know how rewarding growing your own food can be. Whether you run an at-home farm, tend to a small patch of blueberry bushes, or have an apartment window herb garden, you know how satisfying that harvest of something you’ve grown is. Gardening has been linked to some serious health benefits, too—even significantly lowering levels of cortisol and feelings of stress.
Turns out, growing your own food at home offers much more than a chance to get outside and get your hands dirty. Growing your food can be an incredibly cost-effective hobby, with a 600 square-foot garden producing about 300 pounds of fresh produce worth around $600 annually. When packs of seeds cost around $3 each, the opportunity to grow your investment, literally and figuratively, is clear.
Just by planting and tending to tomatoes, lettuce, or potatoes, you could save some serious money as a result. The average American spends close to $6,800 a year on food, which equals 12.6 percent of their total spending. Of that, $760 is spent on fruits and vegetables. By spending under $100 to build up your own plot of fruits and veggies, you could save around $800 a year—money that you could then save or invest in more seeds to save even more at the grocery store!
You don’t need a green thumb to see how that math adds up. If you’re worried about a black thumb ruining your chances of saving some serious green yearly, learn more about gardening tips that will turn even the smallest of garden plots into a bountiful harvest. Plus, read up on the many benefits of gardening on your health and overall happiness—you’ll be grabbing gardening gloves and mulch before you know it!
Sources: Country Living | An Oregon Cottage | Balcony Garden Web | The Penny Hoarder | Earth Easy | PSECU | Good Housekeeping | AARP | Money
The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?
Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC, an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.
Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.
Location: Hanahan, SC House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn List price: $234,000 Price paid: $232,000
How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?
You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why you’re giving up so much.
Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadn’t kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. That’s what put me over the edge.
I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “We’re in this together.”
When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.
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The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”
What made you choose Charleston as your new home?
I’d have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.
How did your house hunt go?
I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because I’d already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it.
What were your biggest challenges?
There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!
How did you find the house you eventually bought?
Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But I’m from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house.
Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?
I was emboldened because I could always back out—you have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.
How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?
It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.
How was the mortgage process?
It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubs—especially during COVID-19, when they’re afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.
How did you finally secure the loan?
Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”
I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.
How did you close on the house during the pandemic?
That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.
How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?
I couldn’t get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilà.
Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28 years?
Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like it’s a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didn’t have the energy in New York.
Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?
It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.
What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?
When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.
It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget. Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change. In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip. Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store. Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!
1. Check mail for coupons and ads
Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away! Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up. Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.
2. Make a grocery list.
I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money). Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.
3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.
If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt. Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.
4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.
The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling. That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan. Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.
5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.
There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy. You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area. When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.
6. Buy frozen veggies.
While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies. One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer. Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.
7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.
There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves). On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.
That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that. I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices. Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.
8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery.
Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery. Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you. If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.
9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.
While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher. I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer. My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!
10. Buy Bulk Bin items.
You know those bulk bins at the grocery store? That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money! Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs. What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.
Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes. Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes. I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month. Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store. But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!