Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Budget Basics

The economy stinks! How many times have you heard this or said it yourself? Tough times are here and having a household budget helps immensely.

Ten years ago, when I quit my job as a medical technologist, I had to set up a very strict budget to prove to my husband that I could afford to quit work. At the time we were raising 3 children. I set up a budget we could live with and have stuck with it to this very day! Here is what I did:

I bought a notebook and pulled out our old check registers and analyzed where our money went. I did pages of utilities, groceries, insurance payments, taxes -everything we spent money on. Then I started making lists of what we needed to pay for and what we really didn’t need. In the beginning, I had to cut it down to the bare necessities. I cut out entertainment, meals out, and other unnecessary purchases. Then, I worked out a budget based on when we got paid and when our bills were due. I bought another notebook to keep track of our expenses.
We get paid twice a month. The first paycheck must cover groceries and miscellaneous for two weeks, car payments, utilities, and credit card payments. The second check must cover groceries and miscellaneous for the last two weeks of the month, the mortgage payment and the three savings accounts that I have set up to cover taxes and insurance, Christmas and birthdays, and retirement. Most of our health and dental expenses are reimbursed through a flexible spending plan set up by my husband’s employer.

You have to exercise discipline and planning but budgets really work. You can’t consistently overspend and you have to be diligent and creative. Currently, we have an excellent credit rating and are credit card debt free. Our cars are paid off and we are putting our last child through college using the money we would be spending on car payments. We can even afford to take a nice vacation every year.

Most experts advise people to live within their means. Know how much money you take home and plan accordingly. Reduce wasteful spending such as magazine subscriptions, movie rentals, meals out, and impulse shopping. Evaluate each purchase to see if you really need the item and are getting the best deal.

Here are a few helpful hints to get you started:

1. Credit Card Debt: STOP using credit cards immediately. Minimum payments are a necessary expense and should be put into your budget. Try to pay more each month on the card with the lowest balance until you pay it off and then apply that amount to the next lowest until you have them all paid off.

2. Grocery and miscellaneous expenses: This includes food, sundries, gas, meals and snacks out, dry cleaning, and other small expenses. Calculate what you need or can afford to spend in this area. It may help you to manage these expenses by using cash only. That way, when you run out of cash, you are done spending until next paycheck. Also, cash can be further divided up if you want to allocate some of it to different things or spit it between yourself and your spouse.

3. Think of your budget as a game you are playing. Strategize how you can save more money each month.

4. Research ways to save money by reading articles on the internet and at the library. When I first started out, I read a whole collection of books from the library written by Amy Dacycyn called the Tightwad Gazette. Check with your employer about money saving plans like the flexible spending accounts and other pre tax deductions.

Caution: There are many wonderful websites devoted to budget planning on the net but use good judgment and do not give them too much personal information!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MLB Baseball Bead Bracelet Store


I have just opened a new store today called The MLB Baseball Bead Store at http://sites.google.com/site/mlbbaseballbeadbracelets/.

I make and sell 30 different kinds of baseball team bracelets. Each bracelet is made from mostly glass beads in traditional colors and plastic letter beads. Each bracelet is strung on an elastic cord and measures approximately 7 ½ inches. Custom sizes and teams can be requested at
jewelgirl22000@yahoo.com.

Bracelets sell for $5.75 each and shipping is $2.50 for 1-3 bracelets.

Wearing a baseball bead bracelet is an excellent way to show support for your favorite team. They also make wonderful gifts and are very inexpensive!

Coming soon: NFL Football Bead Bracelets!!!!!

Bonus savings coupon: 25 cents will be taken off your first purchase now through August 3rd, 2010!!!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christmas in July


Christmas in July!

Is it too hot to be thinking about Christmas?

Target, Sears, and Toys R Us are having “Christmas in July” Sales this week.

Target will have 500 items on sale tomorrow, July 23rd starting at 3 am ET. The sale is online only and is called the Back in Black Friday sale. There is a preview on their website available now.

Sears.com and Kmart.com have a Christmas Lane department on their sites featuring Christmas decorations. Christmas Lane is supposed to be open for the whole month of July. Ornaments are 20% off at Sears and 30 % off at Kmart and they both offer free shipping on all orders over $39 for the week of July 18 - July 25th only. Kmart has layaway. Sears will be displaying Christmas items and playing Christmas music in some of their stores until July 25th.

Toys R Us has a Christmas in July sale too. They offer free shipping on purchases of $49 or more. Some Toys R Us Stores are having a similar sale. Check their website to see if the store in your area is participating but the sale ends July 24th. Games, toys, and action figures are at their lowest prices of the year.

I am also having a Christmas in July sale in my eBay store. I am happy to learn that I am not the only one. There are many other Christmas in July sales occurring on eBay.

When my children were young, I shopped year round for their gifts. July and August were always good months to find clearance items.
Can you remember how short and busy the Christmas season is? Shopping in July would be a good way to get a jump start on the season and to spread out the expenses.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chocolate Cravings

Yesterday, I heard on the news that chocolate prices are expected to increase. A hedge fund manager has bought up most of the supplies of chocolate in Europe which may cause a shortage on the market forcing the price to go higher. Prices were already on the rise due to a decline in production in Africa. The growing season is almost over for the year. People who use a lot of cocoa powder and chocolate chips might want to stock up. Most baking chocolate and chocolate chips can be stored for about 18 months at 60-68 degrees if properly sealed. An opened can of cocoa can be stored for about a year on a cool, dry, dark shelf.

As you probably know, I adore chocolate. I have a “chocolate problem”. Sometimes I crave it and eat too much. Usually I just don’t allow it in my house but now I am experimenting with eating low fat chocolate in order to try to satisfy my cravings without gaining a lot of weight. I eat chocolate fat free pudding and have tried several of the 100 calorie packs of cookies. I have also found two new low fat chocolate recipes. So far, it is working well for me.

The first recipe is really easy and has only two ingredients: a cake mix and a can of diet coke. Simply mix the two together and spread in a greased cake pan and bake according to the directions on the box. I use a Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devil’s Food Cake Mix and sprinkle powdered sugar on top. It is a delicious, moist cake and when cut into to 16 pieces has only 120 calories per piece. It tastes even better the second and third day. It can be topped with frosting (more calories), fruit, or fat free whipped cream. You do this with a brownie mix also. You can experiment with different kinds of cake mix and diet soda. Diet cherry soda and yellow cake mix is very good.

The second recipe is a healthier version of the 5 minute chocolate cake in a mug recipe from Spark Recipes. Here is my version:

Mix evenly together in a microwave safe 4 cup bowl:

4 tbsp. flour
5 packets aspartamine (equivalent to 4 tbsp. sugar)
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Add to dry mixture and combine evenly:

2 egg whites
3 tbsp fat free milk
3 tbsp. applesauce
1/8 tsp vanilla.
Cook for 3-4 minutes in microwave until set. Cool and eat.

Makes 2 servings but the whole cake is about 286 calories. I like to add a few walnuts and chocolate chips which push the calorie count significantly up. It tastes kind of like a chocolate sponge cake but the melted chocolate chips give it more of a lava cake taste. It satisfies my cravings and is actually quite filling.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Penguins Are Cool!



This weekend I have been crocheting penguin appliques. I sew them on potholders, bags, and hats. I love penguins! They are so cute! I am selling both the appliques and potholders in my store right now and the potholders are on sale for a week. Christmas will be here before we know it!

Last summer we went to the zoo in St. Louis and visited the Penguin and Puffin Coast Exhibit. It is an amazing place. You can see several different varieties of penguins and puffins. At the entrance is a rocky outdoor exhibit with a waterfall and you can see several penguins if is not too hot outside. Inside the building are two domed rocky landscapes showing the natural habitat of penguins and puffins. It is an open exhibit with acrylic guard rails being the only barrier between you and the penguins. You can walk through the exhibit and watch the animals swim and play. There is usually a lot of splashing going on and it is fun to watch both the penguins and the visitors. It is also a good place to cool off on a typical hot and humid summer day in St. Louis. The temperature of the house is around 50 degrees year round.


The St. Louis Zoo is open every day beginning at 9 am and closing most days at 5 pm except for summer weekends where it stays open until 7 pm. Admission is free but there are minimal charges for some of the exhibits. The Penguin and Puffin Coast exhibit is free.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Strawberry Daiquiri Heaven


My favorite drink is a frozen strawberry daiquiri. I also like strawberry margaritas. Daiquiris are a very refreshing drink on a hot summer day. I like to sip one in the pool or on a Friday afternoon. I usually make them from a mix but I thought I might try making some from scratch because I have a bottle of rum leftover from my last trip to Jamaica and some frozen strawberries in my freezer. All you really need is rum, lime or lemon juice, ice and strawberries. You don’t even need a blender. I found a variety of recipes at www.strawberry-daiquiri-recipe.com/


Easiest Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
1 ½ oz. rum
1 ½ oz. lemon juice
4 strawberries
1 tsp. sugar
Pour rum, juice and sugar over shaved ice in a cocktail glass and garnish with strawberries.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri in a Blender
2 oz rum
1 oz lime juice
6 ice cubes
4 strawberries, sliced
2 tsp sugar

Blend all together in blender until smooth. Serve and enjoy with a strawberry slice.

Pitcher of Strawberry Daiquiris
1 cup light rum
3/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 (16 ounce) package frozen whole strawberries

Pour rum and lime juice into blender container. Add sugar and whirl to dissolve. Drop frozen berries into blender container, a few at a time, blending until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses.

These recipes and more can be found at strawberry-daiquiri.com. There is also an article about how the strawberry daiquiri was invented. During Prohibition, Cuba was the place to go and many new drinks were invented using Bacardi rum. The main ingredients are rum, lime juice, and sugar but there are an infinite amount of variations.

I also found an easy Strawberry Daiquiri Cake recipe from Betty Crocker that looks very festive and delicious. It would also make great cupcakes.

Strawberry Daiquiri Cake
From Betty Crocker

Cake:
1 package Betty Crocker® Super Moist® white cake mix
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 box strawberry jello
1 tbsp. grated lime peel (need about 5 limes for cake and frosting)
1-2 tsp. rum extract

Lime Frosting
1 container (1 lb) Betty Crocker® Rich & Creamy vanilla frosting
2 teaspoons grated lime peel

Garnish
8 fresh whole strawberries

1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Grease bottom only of 13x9-inch pan with shortening and lightly flour, or spray with baking spray with flour. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, eggs, gelatin, 1 tablespoon lime peel and the rum extract with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

2. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

3. Stir 2 teaspoons lime peel into frosting. Spread frosting evenly over cake. Store loosely covered at room temperature. Just before serving, cut each whole strawberry in half, leaving leaves on. Garnish cake with strawberry halves.