Thursday, December 22, 2011

Secret Santa's

It's very hard for most people to buy their children toys for Christmas, I just can't believe there are this many people nation wide whom are paying off peoples layaway accounts. It is very heart warming to hear that people are this giving this season. I wonder do why there are so many secret santa's this year though. I know there are people who give every year but never such a phenomenon that you hear from anyone who works in retail. At my local Walmart a lady came in yesterday to pay off any layaway accounts that she could, only to find they had already been paid off. From their she went and looked at the Santa cops toys which were for donations. She noticed that most of the toys were around 10 dollars or less and decided she should buy more expensive toys to donate. She bought $1,500 worth of toys around 20-25 dollars each and left them in the donation buckets. It is a really nice story to hear, and I'm sure a lot of families will be very excited to have a stress free Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cake Pops

I figured out what me and my boys will be making for Christmas gifts, cake pops. Cake pops can be made by preparing any cake mix of your choosing. Prepare according to the directions, then let the cake cool. You can then take pieces of the cake and roll them into shapes. There are two different kinds we will make which will be presents and snow men. For the presents you would take the cake and make about 1 inch squares with them, when your shape is ready place a sucker stick in the center and freeze for about 30 minutes so the square is firm. After the cake is firm you decorate it with colored frosting. We will use fruit roll ups cut into thin strips to tie around the present and create bows. For the snow men we need to roll out two balls for the body a 1 inch ball for the head and a 2 inch ball for the body. When all shapes are made center both balls, and place the sucker stick in the center, freeze, and decorate. Once again we will decorate with frosting however we will use cream cheese frosting for these ones. You can make faces with cookie decorations, or candy. Once again we will use fruit roll-ups cut into thin strips so we can tie scarfs around the snow men. When they are all finished we will wrap a few in cellophane and bows. I have a very big family so I am always looking ways to show everyone I care, without going broke. Hopefully this will turn out well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hot therapy sacks

Supplies needed:
Sewing thread
Fabric - at least a quarter yard
Essential oil – any scent you choose

Step 1: Pick the fabric you like and cut it to be about 14 x10 inches.

Step 2: Fold your fabric, right sides together so you piece will now measure about 7x10. Sew down 2 sides together leaving one of the short ends open.

Step 3: Turn your fabric inside out so the right side of the fabric is showing. Give it a quick press with a hot iron to press out your seams and make the fabric looks crisp.

Step 4: Pour your wheat into a large bowl (usually in the bulk section of your grocery store). Add a few drops of essential oil. It’s not necessary to have essential oil but it will create a pleasant aroma when the wheat is heated. You can use lavender, vanilla, lilac, etc. Stir the wheat to distribute the oil.

Step 5: Fill your sack with wheat. Anywhere between 3 -4 cups is a good amount.

Step 6: Fold the top open edge under so it is folded inside the bag about half an inch.

Step 7: Pin the edge you have just folded under and sew

You now have your finished hot therapy sack. Let whoever you are giving them to they can microwave them on high for 1-2 minutes and they now have a warm compress. You can often get remnants of fabric for very cheap at your craft store or even Wal-Mart, just make sure it’s a big enough piece of fabric.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Childrens hand prints

A great mom or grandma gift for Christmas would be to buy a white or off- white fabric of a size you choose for the kind of gift you would like to give, (tablecloth, table runner, or a wall hanging). You could also buy something premade like a shirt, or an apron. Buy fabric paint of a color of your choosing (you can find at craft stores or even Walmart). Then have each of your kids put their hand print from the fabric paint and write their own name on the fabric if they are able to do so. This is a great gift from the heart that will be irreplaceable, and cherished for years.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cheesecake bars

This recipe will give you 32 squares to share with friends and family
• 10 tablespoons butter, softened
• 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 cups flour
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 (16 ounce) packet cream cheese, softened
• 2 egg
• 4 tablespoons milk
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Heat oven to 350.
2. In a medium bowl blend thoroughly butter, brown sugar and flour with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
3. Put 1 cup of the mixture aside for topping.
4. Press remaining mixture into two 8x8x2 inch baking dish sprayed lightly with cooking spray; bake for 15 minutes.
5. In another bowl combine sugar and cream cheese, mixing until smooth.
6. Thoroughly beat in egg, milk, lemon juice and vanilla.
7. Spread over the baked crust and sprinkle with remaining brown sugar mixture.
8. Bake for 25 minutes.
9. Let cool, then chill for at least 1 hour.
10. Cut into 16 squares out of each baking dish

Credit cards

For all you holiday shoppers out there that are thinking about getting credit cards to pay for holiday gifts, you should probably think about it thoroughly. If you can't afford the gifts now, then you probably can't afford them latter. I know this time of year more than any stores are offering credit cards with a percentage off your purchase, cash back on your first bill, and no interest for X amount of months. This sounds fabulous at the time, you could buy more gifts, not pay for them right away, or even buy yourself something. Most likely after you proceed with all these credit cards, you will end up in a rut that will eventually kill your credit score. Please beware of all these fancy offers that sound too good to be true. The credit companies will get your money while stressing you out come the new year. As for the credit cards with no interest financing remember if you fail to pay your card off at the end of the period you will be charged for interest from the point of purchase not solely on your remaining balance. At the average interest rate of 20% your $1,000 purchase if not paid in say a 6 month period will end up costing you at least an extra $100 dollars. And keep in mind that you would need at least to pay at least $167 every month to pay the credit card off before your 6 month period is over. Can you really afford that or should you stick with what you can afford now?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Extra soft Chocolate Chip cookies

This recipe will make about 40 cookies to share with friends and family
• 2 1/2 cups flour
• 1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
• 7/8 cup packed brown sugar
• 5/8 cup butter, softened
• 5/8 cup shortening
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 (4 1/2 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
• 1 1/8 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 1/4 eggs, beaten
• 2 1/4 cups chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour and baking soda.
3. In a large bowl beat brown sugar, sugar, butter, shortening, pudding mix, vanilla, and almond extract.
4. Mix until well blended.
5. Add eggs and mix well.
6. Beat in the flour mixture.
7. Stir in chocolate chips.
8. Drop by rounded teaspoonful and bake 10-12 minutes.


With Christmas coming up a lot of people out there wonder how they will afford to get all their co-workers, friends and family presents and still afford their regular bills. Last year I made everyone gifts. This doesn't have to be hours spent hand making items wondering if you will ever be done. I made gift bags of food. People love sweets (as long as they aren't diabetic). I made several different kinds of fudge, cookies and Muddy Buddies and placed them into tins I bought. You could also get festive colored cellophane or gift bags, which would probably be cheaper than the rout I went. If you are a crafty person you could also try to make handmade candles, soaps, or jewelery. Just be sure to price items you will need in order to hand make your gifts. If your cost will be just as much or more than buying new items it's probably not worth all the hassle. When you are finished with your product you will find that people enjoy how much thought and love went into your work it won't matter that you didn't spend a fortune. I will post recipes for some of the things I have made in the past to give ideas throughout the month. Good luck and have fun!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Improve your credit score

Improving your credit score takes time and a lot of hard work. There are no quick fixes to improve it immediately. You will need to get a copy of your credit report, and thoroughly look it over. Be sure to dispute any information listed on your report incorrectly.
Your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score. Make sure you make your payments on time. If you are not current on your payments or have a late payment be sure to get current and stay current.
Amount owed accounts for 30% of your credit score. Keep all your revolving account balances low. Keeping credit cards around 15% or below your credit limit will help significantly. Pay off your debt rather than moving it around. Don’t get more credit cards to raise your credit limit, doing this will most likely backfire.
Re-establish your credit history if you have had problems.
Opening new accounts responsibly and paying them off on time will raise your credit score in the long term. However don’t open too many new accounts in a short period of time, as this will hurt your credit score.
The longer an account is open and paid on time the more it will raise your score.

Good luck, and be patient

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Low risk investing

With today's economy and the way the stock market is you may wonder where you can invest your money with little to no risk. These are a few options for you.

Savings bonds – usually offer a low return however very low risk

Certificates of Deposit – CD’s have set maturity dates, but are locked into a set interest rate at the time of investment.

Treasuries - T-bills are issued by the U.S. government. They are very low risk investments, being fully backed by the government. You can choose the maturity date for your investment. Short-term T-bills are the safest investments with maturity dates of 13 or 26 weeks.

Open money market / high interest savings accounts – Money market accounts yield ranges from .5 – 4.00. They are FDIC insured and a great way to quickly turn around your money. Only down fall is most require a minimum balance which can be high.

401k Plans – It is wise to invest in your company’s 401k plan if they offer one. Your funds are put in on a pretax basis.

Investing in Bonds

Investing in bonds- A bond is basically a loan you give a financial institution in exchange for interest. A financial institution will take your money for a bond, and at maturity of the bond is obligated to pay you the borrowed money along with the interest accrued on the bond.
You will want to start your investing in your 20’s and 30’s. Although it is hard to imagine needing money for retirement this early, your best chance for a carefree retirement is to start saving now. I know everyone has different things they are saving for be it for a family, house, cars, or travel, keep in mind you will need money later in life. This stage is the best stage in life to maximize your capital. You can invest for longer periods of time (30-40 years).
Your ability to reach your goals and achieve financial security, however, depends in part on maximizing your current income through investments. You now have the opportunity to create the important habits of saving and strategically investing now so you can enjoy its benefits when you grow old.
Since you have a longer time frame investing, before you will need to access your money, you are in a better position to consider investing in higher-yield, higher-risk instruments. There are higher-risk bonds that carry high coupons (interest rates). Keep in mind, however, that while your higher-yield investments can appear more exciting (because of their potential to earn more interest), it’s important to round out your portfolio with some strategically chosen lower- and medium-risk investments as well, including bonds.
When you are in your 40’s and 50’s you can still invest for long periods of time (20-30 years), however your risk tolerance is slightly different now. You will want to choose less risky investments, low and medium. If you didn’t or couldn’t invest earlier in life you need to begin making up for lost time. You are probably living a little more comfortably than when you were younger, so you may have more money for investing. However since your investment horizon is somewhat shorter now, you will want to rebalance your portfolio to make sure that you have allocated your assets appropriately. It’s usually recommended by financial advisers that at this point in your investment life it would be prudent to shift your investments to focus more on medium-risk and low-risk instruments, while still maintaining a smaller percentage of investments in higher-risk instruments. Remember that the key is spreading, or allocating, your assets across investments of varying degrees of risk to blend the risk you’re taking and to maximize your interest-earning potential. Be sure to consult a financial advisor for investment recommendations.
Hopefully by the time you reach retirement you have appropriately invested and can have a comfortable healthy retirement.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Parmesan Chicken

I found an inexpensive recipe that my family loves, and it costs less than $9.00 to feed a family of four. Serve with some rice, and your choice of veggies.

Yield: 4 servings

1/4 cup Dijon or coarse ground mustard
1/8 cup apple juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cups fresh soft bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

To make Chicken Parmesan, Line a 13x9" pan with heavy duty foil and add a wire rack. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In shallow pan, mix mustard, apple juice, garlic, and 2 Tbsp. melted butter. In other pan, mix the crumbs, Parmesan cheese, almonds, 3 Tbsp. melted butter, salt, pepper, and dried basil. Toss until evenly mixed.

Coat chicken in the mustard mixture, then roll it in the Parmesan cheese and bread crumb mixture until thoroughly coated.

Place Chicken Parmesan on rack on top of the foil. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and thoroughly cooked.

Saving money on grocery shopping

We all spend hundreds of dollars a month on food. The best way to save money is to clip coupons on products you buy regularly. I always buy Sunday and Wednesday newspapers every week. On Sundays paper will have general merchandise ads along with coupons. The Wednesday newspaper has grocery ads. I generally look through the ads to find products I use often. If you shop at Walmart they will honor most advertised prices (with the exception of buy one get one free, and percentages off). I have found that Walmart is generally less expensive on most grocery and general merchandise than other stores are. Ad matching and using coupons can saves hundreds of dollars every month. It also helps for you to know you got the best price possible. I’m not talking about extreme couponing, just getting good deals. It will only take you about 30 minutes a week to get a better price, not the hours a day extreme couponing takes people.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Everyone needs savings

Everyone needs money in savings. Homeowners may need savings for unexpected circumstances that may arise. You never know when a water heater may fail and require replacing or maintenance. If you have a family, it is always good to have money set aside be it for vacations, or anything financial that may arise. Most people think that you should set aside money for your children’s college education, however I do not believe in this. I believe you should save for your own retirement. If you have enough money to send your children to college, than do so. If you are struggling however, I believe you should save it for yourself. If you instill good work ethic into your children at a young age, they may qualify for a scholarship. They will become better people knowing that they can work towards and achieve a goal for themselves. If they don’t qualify for a scholarship there are always student loans. Your child will take school more seriously if they are paying for their own education, thus receiving higher grades. The one thing in life you can’t get a loan for is your retirement. There are no such things as retirement loans. If you are living with your parents saving 15% of your money will help you greatly when you decide to move out. Everyone should try to have at least 6 months of their living expenses should an unexpected job loss occur. People living in apartments are throwing away thousands of dollars a year on a place you don’t own. Saving for a home is the best alternative to apartment life. Than when you are paying your mortgage, you are creating an asset that will pay you more in return should you decide to sell your home later. There are so many countless opportunities when saving your money.

Your transportation

As stated earlier you should spend no more than 15% of your income on transportation. This means your auto loan, auto insurance, and gas must all come out of this 15%. Car shopping can be very a very stressful ordeal. The dealer will try to sell you a car that you probably don’t even need. Explore all the options when buying a car, and research into them. You will need a car that will accommodate for your lifestyle, and fit your needs. Once you have narrowed your choices down to a few different options, go to a dealer that sells those cars. Make sure you test drive the vehicle(s) to ensure yourself that you will like the automobile. If you still want to purchase the vehicle, check with the dealership to see if you would be able to check the car out with a mechanic so there are no surprises. When it comes time to purchasing try to haggle with the dealer, they will most likely reduce the price on the vehicle. Don’t sign any paperwork if you are unsure about the purchase you are about to make. It needs to be your choice, not something you were pushed into by the dealership. Once you’re comfortable with the transaction, you will need to either pay cash or finance the automobile. Don’t get into anything you can’t afford to pay off if you finance. Having a down payment saved before financing will save you tons when it comes to interest. Find the lowest interest rate possible, having a higher credit score will help you achieve this. Now that you have that automobile, you will need to find the best insurance you can. If you are financing, check to see if you can afford Gap insurance. If your vehicle has been totaled by accident, theft, fire, flood, tornado, vandalism, or hurricanes your insurance company will pay you the cash value on the automobile. This cash value will most likely be less than the retail value in which you still owe. Without Gap insurance, if your automobile is totaled you will still owe that gap between the cash value and the amount of your loan. Gap insurance will pay the difference between the two, which will ensure that you don’t pay for a vehicle you don’t own. Although you have Gap insurance you will still need auto insurance to protect yourself from accidents. Do your research on the correct insurance company for you. Most insurance companies will give you an estimate on what you will pay for it. Weigh out how much you want to pay for your deductible, and how much each insurance company will charge you. Saving money on gas is really tough with gas prices skyrocketing. To save money, plan your trips out. If you are picking the kids up from a school close to the bank, post office, or grocery store that you will need to make a trip to later, than do it in one trip. This will save you money by not driving back and forth. If you are in the market for a new car, consider the cost effectiveness of getting a better gas mileage vehicle. You may pay more for an eco friendly automobile, however in the long run you will save money in gas, which will only go up.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The life category

As I said earlier 25% of your monthly income should be in what I call the life section. This doesn’t mean entertainment although that is part of the life section it isn’t all of it. In this section you would account for your entertainment, cable, internet, food, etc. Make sure you are not going over 25% if you can’t afford cable or going out to eat, then don’t do it. The best way to keep this on budget is to keep track of your budget for a month or more. Then look at what you can cut back on. Do you get gourmet coffee every morning? If so make your coffee at home before you leave work, you will be amazed at how much money you can save. Try quitting a vice if you have one, like smoking, or going to the bars every weekend. Make all the adjustments to your budget that you can to keep yourself at or under your 25%. Shop around for bundle deals with cable, internet, and phone lines. Make sure you get the best deal. Sometimes not having a home phone is economical. My family only has cellular phones that way we can always reach people when we need to. I haven’t had a home phone in quite some years. However you will need to ensure that you don’t go over your minutes or texts (that can cost you quite a bit of money). Make sure you do your research also when looking for cell phone plans, and cell phones. Read reviews on phones you like. Maybe your life better suits you to have an iphone, maybe it’s an android or a blackberry you should go with. Every cell phone will have different things they can do and different ways to account for your lifestyle.
When grocery shopping, make sure to create a list of the items you will need and stick to them. Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, that causes you to purchase items that you don’t really need. At the end of the shopping trip the cart will be filled with junk food. I always plan a weeks’ worth of meals that I will make for the week and create a list, that way it saves time from wandering down the aisles wondering what I will buy. Try to eat in as often as possible; it’s always cheaper than going out. Make a little extra dinner than you know your family will eat and save leftovers to take to work. When you run out of ideas for meals try to buy a magazine subscription to give you more ideas.
Trying to stay entertained is quite a feat if you don’t have much money. If your budget doesn’t allot for much entertainment (after all your other necessities) look into free entertainment. Take your family to the park; go for bike rides, and every once in a while go see a movie. The more exercise you and your family get the better you will feel.

Paying off your Debt

The average American family with at least one credit card has about $10,000 in credit card deb. Americans seem to live off credit cards which can dig them into debt quickly. Some debt is good and some debt is bad. Good debts would be a mortgage on a home, or college, or car loan. However even though it can be a good debt, don’t borrow more than you can pay back. Shop around for the best interest rates. Bad debt is credit cards. Although credit cards if used wisely can be good for your credit, many people find that they are an easy way to pay for wants in life. It is all too easy to swipe a card for lunch, or maybe a TV you want, however if you can’t pay off your full credit card bill within a month the debt starts stacking up, until you are paying on a card for years. The best way to manage a credit card is to only use it for one or two purchases you can pay off within the next month. When you pay off your card in full you avoid all those interest charges you would’ve paid otherwise. If you are planning on purchasing a big purchase such as a new TV, save up over a few weeks or months until you can pay for it. Charge the big purchase on your credit card, and then pay it off in full when your bill arrives. Never get stuck paying the minimum on credit cards, the minimum will barely cover your interest charges and you will forever be paying off your credit cards. Make sure when paying off your debt to pay off your highest interest accounts first (well above the minimum), while you pay at least the minimum on your lesser interest accounts. Make sure you are allotting 15% of your monthly income towards your debt. Once your debt is paid off, use your credit cards very wisely so they don’t become debt again. Use the 15% that was going towards debt and put it towards savings or investing the money another way. I will go over ways to invest your money another time but you can look into savings bonds, stocks, and mutual funds. Hopefully you will all be out of debt soon and then you can look forward to your well invested retirements.

How much should you spend on your rent or mortgage?

No more than 30% should be spent on your dwelling. That means that renters should include rent, insurance, and utilities into that 30%. For the homeowners that cost would need to cover your mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, utilities, and your monthly taxes. You should break up your income into these 5 categories Housing 30%, Debt 15%, Life 25%, transportation 15%, and savings 15%.

Housing – Make sure you do your homework when looking for a house or an apartment.
Renters - When looking for an apartment sometimes it is better to look close to colleges. A lot of times these apartments are cheaper because their demographic would be students or recent grads without deep pockets. Sometimes you can make deals with landlords so don’t ever be afraid to ask for money off rent, or your first month free. Make sure you get renters insurance. Most insurance companies will give you a bundle deal when you bundle renters insurance with your auto insurance. Most people would think they would never need renters insurance they believe the land lord will pay for everything which in fact most wont. Renters insurance can cover the cost of your valuable items in your house should you lose them due to a natural disaster or a fire. Renters insurance will also pay for a hotel for you to stay in until your property is move in ready again. When I was going through State Farm Insurance, they bundled life insurance, auto insurance, and renters insurance in one low price. Broken up individually I was practically getting the renters insurance for free. Check with your landlord to see what services they will cover. Most landlords will cover some of your bills whether it’s trash, water, gas, sometimes free cable or internet. The more your landlord will cover with your rent, the more money you can have for your life section of your budget.

Homeowners – When looking for a home, make sure you are staying within your budget of 30% this must include your utilities, homeowners insurance, property taxes, and mortgage payments. Make sure you look into your property you will buy with the amount of money you’re putting into owning you want to make sure it will be a home you will love in an ideal location for you. Homeowners insurance is a must have, and like renters insurance, homeowners insurance can also often be bundled into your auto insurance for less. When buying a home always try to offer what you want to pay, and a lot of times you can get the seller to pay all or some of the closing costs on the home. Do your research and make sure you find out what similar homes or homes in the area are going for. Do your research when getting financing towards your mortgage. You can apply for several banks to finance your purchase and find the lowest interest rate. When looking for a home your credit report will report these inquiries as one when they are done in a short time period (about a month), therefore will not lower your credit score by many points. You will need a higher credit score to get the best interest rates on a home. A credit score of at least 720 will get you the best interest rates.