Monday, June 13, 2016

9 ways to save 25% of your income

A recent study found that 62% of Americans don't even have $1k in savings. You can beat that statistic in one month!

Find more here.

So our family made the decision that I would take the summer off from work to stay home with our 2 year old and get some rest. Wow, what a joke! I knew that it wouldn't be easy, but adjusting to staying home is proving to be quite the task. Aside from the running after my son constantly, cooking, and cleaning, these few weeks have been difficult because of the down time. And I know, you're thinking "but you just said..." I know what I just said. [BUT] It's still true that even though the list of chores is endless, as is the toddler's endurance, there is time when I just can't stand one more second of being home. I get really bored, really easily. And right now, all the clothes are clean and put up, all the dishes are drying (no dishwasher), and the kitchen has been cleaned for the 3rd, 4th, or 5th time today. The toddler is asleep, dad is in the other room working on homework, and here I am with thousands of movies on Netflix, and can't find a single one that sounds appealing.

So, at this point, you're like "Where is this going?" I promise it's about to all makes sense. So, what is keeping me home? Why can't I just go somewhere? Two words: SAVING GOALS. Love them. Hate them. Yeah, so when I said I wasn't working in the summer, I didn't go into detail that I am a teacher who also worked at the bank until like 20 days ago. I also did not mention the loss of income this "summer off" created. (I also failed to mention the Whole30 that is life right now.)

So, SAVING GOALS don't just disappear. And you can't let them either. I can't let them. We can't let them. A goal is a goal. It does not care about your summer off or your caramel macchaito craving (neither does Whole30). It does not care if you REALLY want a new set of sheets or a new everything because you feel like you're inside the "Yellow Wallpaper." How do you keep on track and not go crazy? I'm asking. It's not rhetorical. It's a real question. It needs a real answer.

I want to talk a little bit about budgeting and goals. Two years ago, my husband and I did not have a penny. In fact, a year and a half ago, we had just saved our first $2k. So, how did we get to a secure place? How do we know in our gut that we will never be poor again? Because we have been poor. We had food stamps. He worked four jobs just to pay our necessities. I stayed at home with our child and sweated in a house that was 85 degrees. Many people don't know any of that about us. Many people think that because we have college degrees-- and full time jobs and an Audi and a house and food--that we don't suffer, that we have never suffered. It's all about the suffering. It's all about the struggle. It's about looking at each other and know we are all that each other has.

So, you have to have that feeling. You have to see that tomorrow can always be better so long as you commit to seeing it through. And tomorrow doesn't always mean the day after today. Sometimes, tomorrow means that when you kid turns 16 that you have a 4,000 sq. ft. house with a pool and your son gets home and the car of his dreams is waiting on him. GOAL is not today or the day after today. Have the discipline to tell yourself no so that you can say yes in the future to something that is a thousand times better.

So how do you save once you've made a goal? Here are a few tips that we use every day:
1. Don't pay for cable. Most people go for this one first these days (B/C Netflix, Hulu, etc.). We have to use internet for school, but cutting cable reduced our bill by $35. Just make sure that if you do get a service, it doesn't end up costing you the same amount.

2. Reduce your cell phone bill. We have tried this a couple times. We recently switched to Sprint, which will save us $68 a month. Their new promotion cuts your old cell bill in half.

3. Don't use excess utilities. It's hot. It's only June. I get it. Due to the high heats, we have started raising the temperature in our house 1 degree at a time. Every bit counts, especially when you get to August and you've already adjusted. Trust me, we did have it set at 72. Miss it already, but I won't miss the high bills.

4. Get rid of a car, reduce insurance, etc. Again, we have done this before, and we are attempting to do it again. We rarely use one of our vehicles, and although it is paid for, dropping insurance on it could save us $70 a month.

5. Begin a debt snowball. We don't use credit cards anymore, but there was a time when we had to. It does not just disappear over night. Once you have a good savings (recommended is 6 months income), the best idea, although it hurts, is to pay off those high interest debts. Start with the smallest, and add your payments up all the way to the largest.

6. Don't eat out. Ever. Whole30 is really persuasive in this task. It is nearly impossible to eat out, and although eating 3 meals a day at home has increase grocery bills, I'm not dropping $10 every time I drive thru Chick-fil-a for my son and me. Instead, we spend time as a family cooking and hanging out together. It makes for a much healthier outlook on food.

7. Know when to treat yourself and how. So let's say it's been a while since date night and you really have the urge to go out. One of the greatest things our movie theater (Carmike) offers is a budget matinee. It's 4-5:30 every day and each ticket is only $5. Combine that with the $4 popcorn bucket refill, and you're out of there for less than $15. My family wondered how we could ever afford going to the movie "all the time" (2 times a month) when we were living below the poverty line. Well, that's the cost of two meals at McDonald's now, folks.

8. Don't buy things that aren't on sale; don't buy things you don't need that are on sale. We bought a house that was nearly the same configuration as our old apartment. We only needed a few things. That being said, I waited mucho time to get them.  Nothing we have in our house[that we bought] (with the exception of a thoughtful, but cringe-worthily expensive anniversary present) cost more than $200. Most things were less than half of that. And I'm talking pairs of things. Target is the most reliable store I can think of. The reason being this: SEASONS. Target is all about trends. Once something is nearing the end of a season--right now lobsters and sandals--it WILL BE marked down 30% and then 50%. I promise. You just have to wait. And again, have the discipline to say no. We've all seen the target memes. Went in for toothpaste, spent $147.93. Set up a fund and determine what you are willing to pay. Then go in and see. I went into Target from September to probably April until I found side tables. They were marked down to $40 each. This also goes the opposite way. Don't just buy another pair of yoga pants because they're $9.98. I promise, they will be the same price every single year. I would know.

9. This is the most basic, but the most difficult. Find out what you make every month. Subtract your essential payments. Save almost everything else. For instance, here is our old model:
Rent: $745
Power: $150
Gas: $35
Water: $28
Car Insurance: $138
Car Payment: $273
Misc Debt: $171
Phone: $156
Internet: $40
Health Insurance: $210
Life Insurance: $30
Total: $1976

Income: $3830
Minus: $1736
Save $1k a month
Spent $200 a week on gas, groceries, etc.
($60 gas, $80 groceries, $60 misc)
I really don't remember having this much money. I think I forgot a payment somewhere. However, we live on about $50 less a week now. We use little to no gas now, and the only thing we purchase is groceries. 
[$3830 a month equates to less than $48k a year. $12k is roughly 25%]

So, clearly with these tips, you can save more than the 25%. Hope your future looks even brighter now!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Your Friend, Beatrice


I've been thinking a lot lately-- too much, actually. There is one thing in the world that puts things in perspective for me, really calms me down. This is going to sound crazy. Baking is that one activity, that one place I can go to reign in all my anxieties and fears. Don't ask me what it is about baking-- the measuring, the watching, the waiting, THE CLEANING-- that puts my in such a good place. Clearly, these aren't things that we would normally associate with relaxation. However, something happens between the science and the art of baking that leads to a very beautiful, very tasty place.

So, while I do not have any terribly new material here, I thought I might share an update to an old favorite. I have posted (maybe a few times) about Barefoot Contessa, but specifically I want to go back to the chocolate cake. There is nothing wrong with this cake. In fact, it is sinfully right. But, what could be better than chocolate? Hmm...maybe chocolate and peanut butter. Just let that simmer a moment.

For 12 cupcakes:
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Measure all of the dry ingredients out and add to a mixing bowl. Mix on low for a few seconds until equal throughout.
Now, for the sake on my kitchen (and sanity, of course), I usually measure out whatever I can in the same measuring cup-- So, that means, I do milk, add the vegetable oil, vanilla, and egg. This is especially useful, because we need to whisk the egg a tad before adding it into the batter. So, add all the wet, minus the coffee, whisk a little, and slowly pour that mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Preferably, in an alternate universe, we all have kitchen aid mixers and have the beater going on low speed.

For the Peanut Butter Frosting:
Add 1 1/2 sticks butter to mixing bowl
Whip for 1-2 minutes on low
Add 2-4 tbsp peanut butter and 1 tsp vanilla
Whip for 1 min on low, stir butter with spatula
Add 2 cups powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated
If this is too thin, add more powdered sugar. I believe mine ended up around 3-4 cups sugar
When travelling with cupcakes, I tend to want a thicker icing so it doesn't move or melt.
Cut up some peanut butter cups for garnish.

For the Chocolate Frosting:
Melt 3/4 cup Semi- Sweet Chocolate Morsels
Add 1 1/2 sticks butter to mixing bowl
Whip for 1-2 minutes on low
Add 4 cups powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated
Add cooled melted chocolate to mixer, and combine.
Add 1 tbsp milk, pinch of salt, and 1 tbsp coffee, and combine.
At the end, I added up to another cup of sugar to make my desired consistency.

Once we have all that distributed evenly (see note below about over-mixing), we want to turn the mixer off and measure out our coffee. We also need to stir the batter from the bottom of the mixer. This batter, since we start with the dry and add the wet, tends to form a glue-like substance in the bowl.

Pour the coffee slowly into the bowl, mixing on low speed. Turn off as soon at it is fully incorporated.
Measure out 3 tbsp of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake about 15 minutes.

Okay, so when I talk about the science of baking, I mean this:
Flour can be mixed quite a bit when dry, so we want to take care of mixing the dry ingredients to form evenly distributed dry ingredients. The moment you mix in the wet ingredients, gluten is activated in the flour, so the more elastic it becomes. For pizza dough, this is good--a nice chew; for cake, this is bad--very bad. No one (most likely) ever said, "Hmm, this cupcake is delicious; it's so chewy."

Vegetable oil, while it is not pleasing to the eye or to the waistline, does give a great deal of moisture to the cake. This is one of the most pleasing cakes in regard to texture. In a pumpkin or spice cake, I might switch it out for applesauce, but please don't try it here.

Hot coffee is going to make the batter runny. There is no way around it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Strawberry Dream Cake

I'm a sucker for anything nostalgic. For me, the new year always comes with a certain pleasant and warm feeling. Yes, I said warm. While it has been anything but warm outside, my oven is always hot in January and February for some reason. Perhaps it's all the birthdays, or maybe even pink treats for Valentine's. Oh, don't get me started on Valentine's Day again...I am starting to get to the point, I promise. There's just something about snowflakes and pink hearts and NFL playoffs that do me in. The Broncos might break my heart, but I can at least dream for now. So, what is dreamier than than Peyton winning another Super Bowl? Ehh...nothing. But, this Strawberry Ice Cream Dream cake might just change my mind.

  • 1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 (85 g) package strawberry-banana flavored Jell-O
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup strawberry puree
  •  For the Frosting:
  • 3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons strawberry puree
    For the strawberry puree: either thaw frozen strawberries or use fresh ones, blend up until smooth-- it does not require many strawberries, maybe 1/3 of a 12 oz bag
    For the Cake:
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
    • Combine (wet ingredients) milk, strawberry puree, and vanilla
    • In  a separate bowl, (dry ingredients) sift together flour, baking powder, and salt
    • With an electric mixer, cream sugar, butter, and Jell-O packet for 5 minutes.
    • Add one egg at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated
    • Next, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, always begin and end with the dry
    • Do not over mix. Separate batter into three round 8 in pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, checking progress after 20 minutes.
    For the Frosting: 
    • Cream butter with an electric mixer for 8 minutes on medium speed
    • Add powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla and whip for 6 more minutes 
    • Mix in strawberry puree

    This cake with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream is like childhood in a bite. So, this is the good part of nostalgia. The bad part? I'll get back to you on that one (Broncos kick off in an hour).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat

No Such Things as a Bad Apple, but there might be a bad apple pie...
You know how something looks like a good idea, but something inside you hesitates just a little. Listen to your instincts. Maybe you have seen the pictures swirling around with beautiful rings of apples which look like roses. Run. Or, at least read how not to burn them. Don't "wing it" like I did.  Now that I have sufficiently warned you, let me talk about pie. Apple pie.

This recipe is delicious. Seriously. I have made other apple pie recipes, but finally I got the nod of a approval from my husband last night. This is it. Forget some fancy topping. Apple pie is classic for a reason--it's simple. Maybe I'm just bitter; apple roses ain't for apple pie.

Alright, this crust could be used for any pie. It's just enough sweet and salty without being either. It's so simple too!
1.) Mix 1 1/2 cups flour with 1 tsp sugar.
2.) I used 1 stick of salted butter, so I skipped the salt in the dry ingredients.
3.) Not owning a pastry blender or food processor makes one do things old school. So, if you're like me, you can mix the butter and dry ingredients by hand for about 5 minutes.
4.) Add 4 TBSP of ice water, 5 if it's too dry. Mix until just combined
5.) Wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for up to a day.
6.) Do it again. Or, you could just do double the first time.

For the filling, peal, core, and cut 5 (green) apples. Once you're ready swear off baking for the rest of your life, look up, and before you will be all your apples in a bowl. Now, add 2TBSP flour, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix it all up until evenly coated.

Take your pie crusts out of the freezer and--ON A FLOURED SURFACE WITH A FLOURED ROLLING PIN-- roll out half the dough. Sorry for raising my voice, but it's important. Transfer the first disk of dough to the pie pan and then pour in the pie filling. Roll out a second disk and cover the filling. Punch some holes with a fork to avoid pie-xplosion. You can choose to add decoration or not. Put the pie in the oven at 375 until it is golden on top. Do check the apples though. If they are not done, cover it with foil and put it back in the oven.

Like I mentioned, I spent a LONG time on these roses just to watch them burn. I removed them from the crust and kept baking until it was golden. That pie was in at 375 for a while... but it was worth it all. Tricked then treated?

Monday, October 28, 2013

B is for Breakfast and Basketball

I don't only eat desserts.(surprise!) During basketball season, things change for our family. We start eating better, more balanced meals. We eat less sweets, sigh. To turn my frown upside down, I like to embrace the change and make life just as delicious as all the other times of the year. So, B is for breakfast and basketball season. Ahh, the inspiration behind it all:
Breakfast and basketball haven't always been part of my life, but in 2011, I started to warm up to change. My heart was broken when I rooted for the Heat in the finals and they lost in an UGLY fashion. Breakfast and basketball were in the doghouse. However, soon we would all be one happy family. Fast forward to this year, and I literally have one happy family. We celebrate you--breakfast and basketball. 

Today I reveal some secrets about breakfast.
Eggs are excellent.
  • If you like scrambled eggs, use low heat to break up the protein, making them fluffy without milk--just keep working them with a spatula!
  • If you like fried eggs, to make a healthy version, use a small bit of olive oil just to coat the pan, instead of butter.
  • If omelets are your thing, I got nothin'. Still a work in progress.
 Think outside of the box.
  • It is easy to go for starches like grits or sliced bread, but try something else. I like potatoes for breakfast. Here's what I do for a fast solution: microwave the potatoes and then cut them into cubes. Put them into a plan with some bell peppers and it's delicious
  • Some explanation on the bell peppers... put a little bit of olive oil into a pan and the tiny cubes of pepper on medium heat. I usually cover with a lid to speed up the cooking time. 
  • If you must, try cereals that have limited ingredients. My favorite is Kashi Cinnamon Harvest. It has like four ingredients. I reduce some blueberries and pour it over for a warm treat in cold weather. (water, blueberries, cinnamon, and truvia) 
It's the greatest time to do the right thing.
  • If you start out breakfast completely balanced, the rest of the day is downhill. 
  • In order to round out breakfast, I like to add a little fruit and maybe some more dairy like Greek yogurt--A for effort. Terry gets the sweetened stuff instead.
  • It might seem over kill, but I promise you'll be "full and focused" for hours. I'm talking superhero style. Katniss style. LeBron style.Oh, yeah and per last night--Calvin Johnson style.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Peanut Butter Pep Talk

Nothing screams Halloween like orange and black. This translates into chocolate and peanut butter--my first loves. So, I did what any self-respecting baker would do and I waited until my husband left to head to the grocery store. I also picked up some dark chocolate and cream cheese. Can't be anything wrong with a little more of either, right?

So glad I decided to get the cream cheese. The recipe for these brownies creates a rich, deep flavor that is unlike most brownies. The cream cheese gives it a nice tang which cuts through the often overly sweet nature of brownies. The frosting adds the sweetness back in at just the right amount.

Prepare your glasses of milk in 3..2..1..
Cream 1 stick (1/2) butter with 8 oz of cream cheese and 1 3/4 cup sugar.
Beat in one egg at a time, adding 3 eggs in all.
Add 1 tsp of vanilla.
Add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of cocoa powder with 1/2 salt and 1/4 tsp baking powder.
Stir in 1 1/4 cup peanut butter chips and 1/3 cup dark chocolate morsels.
Pour mixture (more like spread the globs) into a 13x9 baking dish and bake until barely anything come out on a toothpick.


For the icing cream 3 tbsp butter with 3 tbsp cocoa powder. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar very slowly so it doesn't begin to snow in your kitchen. Add 1-2 tbsp of whole milk and then prepare to add 1-2 cups more powdered sugar. I added 1 tsp of peanut butter and 1/2 tsp of vanilla to achieve the consistency and body I wanted. There is nothing wrong with you leaving out the peanut butter in icing, which would mean you add less powdered sugar. Baking (and cooking in general) is all about doing what you're comfortable with. If you want to add or subtract something, just think it out and go with it! Chances are if you like something you make, so will others around you. Be bold; be brave. Failing is a possibility, but it makes succeeding just that much sweeter--literally. Okay, pep talk over.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fallin' in Love with Fall

It seems that everyone I know is uh-bsessed with one thing--pumpkin. Me too. The greatest time of year is when you finally hit that one day when it is just cold enough to wear boots and you don't look crazy. That day was last Saturday. However, my date with pumpkin couldn't wait that long...

The picture says it all. These babies were moist and delicious. The frosting was creamy and sweet with a hint of cinnamon. Fallin' in love with fall.

The cupcake recipe is:
1.)Cream 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 1/3 cups sugar. Add 2 eggs which have already been beaten.
2.) Blend in 1 cup mashed cooked or canned pumpkin into the wet ingredients.
3.) In a separate bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour,1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
4.) Alternate adding the dry ingredients with 3/4 cup milk and stir until just combined.
Note: important with many recipes, you do not want to over mix the ingredients, as it will effect the density, rising, or texture of your goods.

Onto the icing, a simple recipe for cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup butter
8 oz cream cheese
2+ cups powdered sugar
splash of vanilla
+cinnamon if you want
I say more than 2 cups of sugar if you want to transport your cupcakes. Most of the time I find cream cheese frosting to be the most delicious, but the most challenging frosting for decorating. I added the cinnamon too, because the cupcakes were just begging for it.

Disclaimer: these are more spice than pumpkin tasting. The pumpkin here provides texture and richness. But, that is what I look for in a pumpkin recipe.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I gave these all away! (Well, not all of them...) The wrapped box below is another great idea for holiday gifts! The boxes come in packages of 3 and it is so easy to tie a big bow and include a handwritten note. I better stop before I give all my secrets away...