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Monday, January 31, 2011

Ways To Save Money Part 1

Thought I would do another post with tips/advice as I often have friends ask about how to budget. I started writing down a lot of different ways that we save money and came up with a BIG list so I decided to do a few posts on the matter.

Who doesn't love to have some extra dollars here and there which add up so you can save them for retirement, a down payment on a house, a trip, or lots of crafting projects :)  This may sound crazy but making budgets and saving money is kinda fun to me... guess that is part of my organized side and my job in the finance world.

Ways to Save Money {Part 1}

1. Make a budget. How can you possibly figure out how to save money if you don't know how you are spending it? I made our budget in excel but I'm sure there are other applications out there to do this as well. Separate it by month and put your revenue at the top and subtract out expenses. We like to use expense categories such as Mortgage, Utilities, Gas, Food & Essentials, Restaurants, Entertainment, Miscellaneous. But you can do yours however makes sense for your family. Look at your credit card purchases and keep all receipts so you can do this at the end of every month.

2. BYOL (bring your own lunch). Here is some simple math: lunch at your local sandwich place: $8 x 2 people x 5 days a week = $80. 1 loaf of bread, 1 lb turkey, cheese, veggies, fruit, crackers to feed 2 people for 5 days = $15  In a year, you can save $3380! Sounds like a no brainer to me!

3. Don't buy coffee/tea drinks from coffee places. You can save a ton by buying coffee/tea at the store and making it at home or drink the free stuff they provide at your work. I personally don't drink coffee but I know this is something very important to some so if you must then just try to cut back a little. I know people that go buy coffee 2 times a day every day which really adds up.

4. Drink water. Water at restaurants, your office, etc. is free (and better for you than other drinks) and usually filtered. Much cheaper than soda and other drinks.

5. Get a Reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water. Now that you are drinking more water, might as well refill something instead of spending money on multiple bottles. This is what I use and I love it. It never leaks even if it gets turned upside down in my bag.

from Target
 6. Cook at home. We only go out to eat once a week for dinner and cook-in the rest for a few reasons: it is cheaper, healthier especially in the sense that you know what goes into your food, and we simply enjoy cooking together. We even get together with friends pretty often to eat at someones house/apt and switch off so the costs are rotated.

chicken santa fe
7. Buy lots of produce. Buying in season fruits and veggies is very cheap. People say that it can be really expensive to eat/cook healthy and I disagree. For example, bananas which seem to always be in season are like a dollar for 5 or 6 bananas... extremely cheap! Almost the same thing for roma tomatoes too.

8. Incorporate food items like raisins, craisens, and canned beans that are cheap and versatile. And healthy to have on hand for throwing into salads, wraps, and various dishes. I love throwing chickpeas into things and always have some in my pantry.

9. Use the food you have already so you don't waste. Need to buy chicken stock or ricotta cheese for a meal and don't use all of it? Well make a point to have meals the next week use up the items you have so they don't end up expiring in your fridge. We are often guilty of this and are making it a goal to do better about it this year. It amazes me how much food gets thrown out.

10. Pack a snack. I have some friends that tease me about this but hey, it saves money. It is wonderful for people like me who like to eat small amounts throughout the day. If you are out running errands or on a trip, snacks from home are much cheaper than what you will find having to stop somewhere for something to eat. Granola bars are great for this.

Stay tuned for at least 2 more sessions with many more tips.
These are my opinions on useful ways I have found to save some mulah... some you may like and dislike but hopefully they at least get you thinking :)

Linking up to these parties:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cake Truffles

In honor of my birthday in a of couple days (and my husbands birthday the day after), I thought I would share this fantastic recipe :)

The word FUNFETTI makes me happy! If I am having a box cake I like funfetti cake but I am not really a huge cake person. I would much prefer cheesecake, brownies, pie, etc. Cake truffles however don't seem to be so cake-like... you know what I mean... big globs of frosting on top of dry cake is just not my thing.

I found the recipe here and this is what I did.

Cake Truffles
-1 box cake mix
-1 jar icing
-2 bags Dark Cocoa Wilton's Melts for coating (or use chips or baking squares)

Bake the cake just like the box says and during cooling when it is only slightly warm tear it up with a fork (or your hands) and mix it around in a large bowl. Pull out any harder corner pieces that didn't tear well.

Add icing and mix together. It will look like it is not enough icing for all that cake, but it is so just keep mixing.

Form into balls. I made 55 with still a tiny bit of mixture left in the bowl because it got harder to form them near the end and 55 seemed like plenty. Your hands will get very sticky. Make sure to lick the cake icing mixture off of them when  you are done :)  Freeze for a couple hours or overnight.

Melt your chocolate coating. I used a combo of chocolate chips and Wilton's melts because that is what I had on hand. Dip the truffles in using two forks and put on a rack to cool. You can add toppings/sprinkles at this point if you desire before they cool. I went with colorful sprinkles... they weren't the ones that came with the icing.

Store leftovers in refrigerator. I stored some in the freezer and pulled them out when I needed them and put them in the fridge - it worked like a charm and they tasted just the same. These were so yummy and moist! You could definitely adapt these for any occasion using different cake or different colored melts. And how cute would these be at a birthday party! I served them on my DIY free dessert stand :)

Linking up to these parties:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Homemade Baby Gift

My friend Brooke H. had a sweet baby girl in December and I knew I wanted to give her a personalized baby gift. I decided to make a decorative thing for her nursery and 3 onesies. I wanted the decorative thing to have her monogram on it because who doesn't love monograms and I knew none of her previous gifts would be anything with her name.

I made a little flower garden of sorts:

I had Eric cut a wood block similar to the size of the big wood block used in the Name Blocks and then had him drill 3 evenly spaced holes. I painted it and 3 pieces of dowel with white craft paint.  I used my Silhouette software to create the monogram and followed the instructions for it to cut the design with baby pink colored vinyl and attached it to the block.

I used wood glue to secure the dowels into the holes.

I made the rosettes using this technique. Then I attached them to the dowels using hot glue and placed a round piece of felt over the back to cover up the dowel and to act as the back of the flower. I had previously seen the nursery which was painted a melon green color with pink accents so I knew this would fit right in! And polka dots are so in :)

For the onesies, now that I had figured out freezer paper stenciling, I made 2 onesies using that technique and 1 onesie using the Silhouette t-shirt vinyl technique since there was a really intricate design I had in mind.

The Grow one and the Clemson onesie were made using freezer paper stenciling. I had honestly been thinking about doing the Clemson one since I found out Brooke was pregnant since they are huge Clemson fans too! I love that it is even more personal than the ones that say baby tiger or future tiger since it has her graduation date calculated. I found the paw image online and imported it into the software for the design. It is definitely one of my favorite onesies I've made.

The tiny dancer idea came from here so thank you Jamielyn. Her's was a pink onesie with white vinyl and I decided to do a white onesie with pink vinyl. The color is called Light Pink by Silhouette. Doing Silhouette t-shirt vinyl was incredibly simple with their instructions. I made the designs in the software the same way I did for freezer paper stenciling but then to cut it out I didn't need the cutting mat. And after you peal away the negative space, it is ready to iron on.... no waiting for paint to dry and doing more coats etc. Of course the vinyl is more expensive than paint and you can't make any color you want but I love the quick results and the feel of it! 

I looked through every font on the Silhouette and could not seem to figure out the one that Jaimelyn used for "tiny" but the one I used came close.

These onesies were 12 month onesies. Since I was sending the gift a little after she was born, I figured she probably already had many clothes for now but would be nice to have some things to put away for when she is a little bigger. I am very happy with how this homemade baby girl gift turned out! Welcome to the world Taylor Louise!!

Can't wait to get my hands on some more t-shirt vinyl!!

Linking up to these parties:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thrifty Valentines Decor

I know a lot of people don't even decorate for Valentine's Day since it is not as big of a holiday as say Halloween or Christmas and I never had any V-day decor before this year. Then my mom mailed me a sweet care package... I never get tired of receiving those! Inside were two homemade Valentine's items - a pillow and a frame.

This pillow is made from a canvas type bag found at the dollar store. She basically just stuffed it and sewed it shut... genius!

The frame was painted red and the words inside are stickers on the background paper. Very similar to the one she did for Halloween.

I am now on my way to collecting some Valentine's items and hope to make some homemade ones for next year to add to these. I'm thinking some blocks and a table centerpiece that has some red fillers in it perhaps. These are perfect for V-day but also simple and subtle. You would hate for your decor to end up looking like this, right? Yikes! A tad overdone for me.

Linking up to these parties:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Eating Local in 2010

One of my goals for 2010 was to go to 5 local restaurants in Charlotte that we had not eaten at before. You may be thinking "Only 5? I could do that in a week or 2!" But we usually eat out only once a week and I knew these new places would be spread out among visits to our already favorite local places... my 2 favorites being Cantina 1511 and Crepe Cellar :)  This goal became a joint goal of ours since we go out to eat together (whether with other friends or just the 2 of us).

I am happy to report that this goal was completed! I believe supporting local restaurants and local farms is important and Charlotte has a lot of really great local restaurants that use these local farms! I just LOVE this city! This was a great goal that gave us a reason to try new places and get out of the comfort zone of usual places we go.

So this is where we went:
Remember that these are just my opinions of the restaurants

1. Sonoma

Charlotte does something called "Restaurant Week" 2 times a year where participating restaurants charge a fixed $30 per person for 3 courses (you get to choose your food from several options of each course) and some places include a glass of wine. There are local restaurants as well as some chains but most are upscale type places where you couldn't normally get that great of a deal. Anyway, we went to Sonoma and my friend Brooke came too. It is right in the center of uptown and the food was fantastic! Each person got an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. I had scallops as my main course and they were delish!

2. Old Stone Steakhouse

This is actually in Belmont (barely outside of Charlotte) which is a quaint old fashioned looking town. It has a general store and a good number of antique shops. Our friends Jeremy and Holly picked this place when we went out to eat with them and their adorable daughter Haven. We sat on the back patio which was nice in the Spring. They have a big variety of options and range of prices (tend toward the slightly pricier side) on their menu even though they are called a Steakhouse. I got a pasta dish that was very good and big enough for leftovers the next night. I think everyone else at the table got steak since they had many different ones to pick from. The spinach artichoke dip and their house side salad were good as well.

3. The Icehouse

This is in the South End neighborhood of Charlotte very close to our friends Katie and Kyles apartment which is who we went with. This building used to be a brewery and has a warehouse-ish and modern type look inside with ginormous flatscreens everywhere you look. Many might consider this to just be a bar since their claim to fame is serving over 200 different beers but there is something for everyone on their extensive reasonably priced menu AND it's not your typical bar-ish food. The wraps are great and so is the bbq sandwich. Eric loved the meatloaf (he is a big meatloaf person). We actually went back a few months later for lunch when my friend Shannon and her husband were in town. It would be great for watching a game. I'm sure we will go back more times- I want to try out their patio when the weather is nice!

4. Carpe Diem

happy 1st anniversary!
Eric and I went here to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary. It's in the Elizabeth neighborhood fairly close to uptown and was recommended to me by several coworkers. The food was fresh, colorful and wonderful! Perfect for a special occasion since it is on the pricier side and they take reservations. I got the Eggplant Roulade: eggplant stuffed with zucchini, arugula, and Chapel Hill Creamery fresh mozzarella served in a smoked tomato marinara with fresh grated Parmesan. YUM! We also had a salad with marinated grilled grapes on it... I know that sounds strange but it was was fantastic! I guess you just never know until you try something new :)

5. Dish

This low key small restaurant in the Plaza Midwood neighboorhood was featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives for its southern comfort food. My friend Brooke told us about this place as well and so we knew it would be the perfect outing when Eric's friend Will was in town for a Southern History Conference. The prices are true to the type of place it is so definitely budget friendly. I had the chicken and dumplings with mac and cheese, Eric got cajun meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and Will ordered shrimp and grits. Every dish comes with a biscuit and a deviled egg. Portions were plenty big and we all had nothing but good things to say about our meals! Certainly not the healthiest (as most comfort food isn't) so I wouldn't go there on a regular basis but I would definitely go again.

(all restaurant images are from the restaurants' websites unless otherwise noted)

We are going to carry on with this goal in 2011 and aim to visit 5 more local restaurants we haven't been to before. Have you ever had a goal like this in your town? If you have been to any of these places or have any to recommend for 2011, I would love to know!

Sharing at some of these parties:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beef Cheese Ball

I made this to take to the Alpha Chi Omega Charlotte Alum Christmas Event. It was a recipe swap and ornament decorating party! What a great party idea right? I was so excited to go to this since it involved making an appetizer or dessert and sharing the recipe AND doing something crafty! 3 other Clemson girls and I went together and we had a great time :)

p.s. my sister gave me this snowman platter a few Christmases ago... isn't it so cute?! he has a red hat you can't see in the picture.

Beef Cheese Ball

-8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp (I used red. fat)
-2.25 oz. jar of dried beef, finely diced
-½ tsp onion powder
-1 ½ tsp Worchestershire sauce
-Dash of celery salt
-Dash of garlic salt
-½ - ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
-½ cup chopped pecans
-Dried parsley - use your own judgement, it's mainly for color

Serve with crackers

Mix first 7 ingredients and shape into ball. Spread pecans and sprinkle parsley on wax paper. Roll ball in pecans and parsley until covered. Place a half pecan on top if desired. Chill for a few hours before serving. Make sure to pull it out of a the fridge about 20 minutes before serving so it can soften a little. This also freezes well if you want to make it ahead of time and thaw before using.

this is the dried beef I use

all done rollin' around
I got fancy and put the recipe on these recipe cards Homemade by Jill created. The recipe swappers were impressed!

When I made the beef cheese ball, I actually made 2 so that I would also have one for the Gingerbread House party... sneaky I know but also time saving. It was a big hit! Both times I served it, people loved it. Many didn't believe I had made it since it seems so fancy but now you know that it's really simple!

Would be wonderful for quickly approaching super bowl parties. Let me know if you try it out. Enjoy!

Linking up to these parties:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

DIY Free Dessert Stand

I'm sure near the top of many of your New Year's resolutions is to spend less/budget better. I am completely on board with doing things the thrifty way and how does it get any thriftier than something you can make for ZERO DOLLARS! Yep that's right, using only things you have on hand and trust me you have these items.

My idea for this came about when I saw this post with a cute candlestick dessert stand that you can take apart. Problem was after a few trips to goodwill I still couldn't find one of those candlesticks needed for that project. Enter plan B. It was only 1 day until we were having friends over for our Gingerbread House Party and I reeeeally wanted a dessert stand to display some treats on. So I made one using only items in my house and I still wanted it to be able to come apart - so nothing permanent. If you are like me you probably don't have space to store a big dessert stand intact.

I used:
-2 white platters I had on hand - 1 bigger than the other, you could also use plates)
-tape- double-stick to be exact but I think other non permanent tapes would work as well if you fold them over
-wrapping paper
-A jar of peanut butter.... wha??? just trust me on this :)

Wrap your jar of peanut butter in the wrapping paper. It can even be some other jar/container with a flat top. It helped that the jar was fairly full to make the dessert stand more sturdy and that it was plastic (non breakable). Cover the lid in double-stick tape and place smaller platter/plate on top and push into tape. Then place that in the middle of your larger platter to complete the stand! So quick, cute, and did I mention FREE!

You could also doublestick tape it to the bottom platter if you wanted it to be extra extra sturdy. Since it was already pretty sturdy and just adults at this party I wasn't really worried about it. This can work for any type of event since you can just switch out the wrapping paper. Or even use fabric scraps. You can also switch up your platters/plates. Afterwards, it's a piece of cake to take apart by just pulling the top platter off the tape and unwrapping your jar. Just make sure not to wrap up a food item you are going to need that day :)

Of course this doesn't have to just be for desserts especially since so many New Year's resolutions are about eating healthy! Use it for appetizers or fruit or whatever really! However, here are the recipes for the Crinkles & Snickerdoodles.

Linking up to these parties:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My First Freezer Paper Stenciled Shirts

I am sure you have seen freezer paper stenciled shirts before on blogland... they are nothing new, but ever since I got my Silhouette I really wanted to try them out since it would make them much easier to do.  Since I decided to make some of the gifts I gave out this year, that was able to present me (present, get it? hehe lame I know) with the perfect opportunity.

This is a wonderful blogpost I referenced with a tutorial video and she does hers without a Silhouette machine. This post is also a great resource.

I decided to do a trial on a onesie first before I made shirts for Eric's nieces and nephew. I used a design from my Silhouette software library and had my Silhouette machine cut the freezer paper creating the stencil saving all the little inside pieces needed for the stencil (all described in the video tutorial). Then I ironed it to the onesie shiny side down so it will stick.

As the video shows you, you don't need a Silhouette but it sure does help A LOT! I would never want to do a complicated design with just an exacto knife. Freezer paper is found near the wax paper and foil stuff by the way.

Then I used a paint medium that mixes with acrylic paint to turn it into fabric paint. A couple of coats later and voila! Looking back I think I would have picked an easier design for my trial... the little tiny stencil lines (like the propeller) were challenging especially when done on a teeny tiny onesie. I added the word later and love that font with the plane!

With the trial being a success, I picked up some shirts (and onesie) for Eric's nieces (1 yr, 3 yrs, 8 yrs) and nephew (11 yrs) and repeated the process with different designs I created in the software. Well the skull design I bought from Silhouette.

Here are the results: skull for the boy, i rule crown for the 8yr old, and cupcake for the 3yr old). They got their shirts as part of their Christmas gifts.

And onesie for the baby that says "sugar and spice... I LOVE that she is making a kissy face while wearing it ha! Priceless!

I dare say Miss Abby IS as cute as a cupcake... don't you agree? The cupcake even goes with her play kitchen stuff.

Her royal highness

The boy did not want to "model" his shirt for me but boys will be boys. Well my first freezer paper stenciled shirts turned out great don't you think!?! These were fun to make and even more fun to give and tell the person you made a shirt just for them! Plus it is very friendly on your wallet :)

I have made a few more freezer paper stenciled clothes since then that I can't wait to show you soon! Do you have any fun shirts you made or ideas for neat designs?

Linking up to these parties:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chocolate Crinkles and Snickerdoodles

For the holidays I decided to make some treats I hadn't tried before.

2 of those things were Chocolate Crinkle cookies and Snickerdoodles. Snickerdoodle is such a funny name for a cookie, don't ya think? I think it could be more realistically called Cinnadoodle (considering there are no Snickers or anything close to that in the cookie) but sadly I was not consulted in the creating of this cookie. Chocolate Crinkles actually makes sense. Anywho... on to the recipes.

Chocolate Crinkles from here

1-1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
powdered sugar (for coating)

Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat on low until the chocolate is mostly melted. Stir slowly until the mixture is smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate mixture, and then add dry ingredients. Stir until the flour is all incorporated. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight. It will firm up considerably.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Put about 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar into a shallow bowl. This is the part where you have to work quickly. Scoop out heaping tablespoon-sized balls of cookie dough — roughly 1-1/4 inches in diameter. Roll them very briefly between your palms to make them more even, if you need to. Drop the balls into the powdered sugar, about 4-5 at a time. Gently shake and toss the bowl to coat the balls with sugar. Don't be shy with the powdered sugar - some of it bakes in so you need a lot for it to show up! (Note: You want the dough to stay firm and chilled, so you have to do this part rather quickly. I actually put the dough back in the fridge between batches.)
Arrange the coated balls on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1-1/2 inches between them. If you have to wait for the oven to finish preheating, put the cookie sheets in the fridge while you wait.
Bake the cookies for about 10-11 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.

The blog I got this from said she was able to make 3 dozen even though where she originally got said 5 and I got about 4 dozen when I did it.

I took no pictures of the process due to hands covered in powdered sugar... it was also everywhere else in my kitchen too.

Snickerdoodles from here (Bake at 350 has some other yummy looking treats... check it out!)

2 & 3/4 c flour
1 & 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c butter
1/2 c shortening
1 & 1/2 c sugar
2 large eggs
2 TBSP sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt; set aside. In another bowl, cream the butter, shortening and 1 & 1/2 c sugar. Blend in the eggs at low speed.
Add the flour mixture (I did this in 3 additions), and mix until combined.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon.
Roll 1 TBSP of dough into a ball and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.
Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes. Do not overbake. the centers will be soft, but will set upon cooling. (A very thin cookie spatula helps in transferring because they are so soft.) Cool on a wire rack. Makes 4 & 1/2 dozen.

The snickerdoodles were by far my favorite of all the treats I made over the holidays... they just may be one of my favorites of all time. I do love cinnamon! You should definitely try them! You definitely don't have to wait until next holidays to make some yummy cookies :)

Linking up to these parties:
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