Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Setting Financial Goals for the New Year

Author: Amber Brubaker

Finances are a headache, whether you have a lot or a little, but you can make it a lot easier on yourself if you plan ahead. Use the New Year as an opportunity to make some new financial resolutions. If you want to experience a little more financial freedom this year, pull out your financial reports from last year, grab a notepad and calculator, and start making some realistic financial resolutions for the upcoming year.



1. Be SMART about Setting Goals

When discussing monetary resolutions, many financial gurus turn to the pneumonic device SMART as an aid for setting and keeping goals.

Specific: Setting a general goal is the beginning of failure. It leaves you too much room to procrastinate and relax on your goal until you give up on it altogether. As you make your financial goals for the new year, try to be as specific as possible by writing down specifically what you want and why you want it.

Measurable: Record the specific numbers and time frames for each resolution. These numbers will allow you to compare your original goal to what happens in reality, which will help you stay on track and measure your success.

Action-Oriented: Include small, action-oriented steps to go along with the goals you've planned. Going through these steps will help you reach your goal in the long run, but also allow you to feel the satisfaction of keeping your goal along the way.

Realistic: Large, complicated goals are very difficult to reach. Go for small, simple goals that you know you will actually be able to carry out, taking into account the skills and resources you have.

Timing: Though your goal should last the whole year, that doesn't need to be the only date you consider as you set goals. Lay out a series of deadlines to help you keep each part of your goal, remembering to keep it realistic.


2. Analyze Trends from Last Year

Pull out banking statements, old budgets, or any other documents and reports than can help you track your spending from last year. This will be a really important step in helping you to set goals for this year.

As you analyze these documents, look for certain trends in spending. Take an average of how much you spent on eating out, groceries, monthly subscriptions, fuel, utilities, clothing, and other common expenses to help you estimate how much you need for this year. Also look at your overall reliance on credit cards and which credit cards have the highest interest rates.

These trends will help you know exactly what spending habits you need to cut back on, thus helping you make solid goals. For example, make a goal to limit eating out to a certain dollar amount per month, or resolve to conserve energy to trim utility bills.

3. Make Short-term Savings Goals

Consider any surprise expenses that could come up during the year, like medical bills, car repairs, and vacations. You’ll want a considerable amount in your savings account so that you can take care of emergencies as they arise. Make a serious goal to save a specific amount each month that will go toward those unexpected costs, and don’t touch it for anything short of an emergency!

4. Consider Long-term Savings Goals

Once you have your short-term goals underway, you can start planning for your longer-term savings goals. Face these goals toward any large expenses in the future. Perhaps you need to save for a down payment on a house or a new car. Or maybe you need to save for your children’s tuition costs. How is your retirement fund looking, and do you have life insurance?

Planning for these expenses should not wait until necessity forces them upon you. Start planning today! You might want to start a special savings fund for those things or look into insurances and finance plans.

5. Set Your Budget and Keep It!


Make setting and keeping a budget one of your resolutions, since it’s the only way you can expect to keep any of your financial resolutions. Budgets are not always fun to keep up with, but if you can find one that works for you, it becomes easier. You just need to find a reliable method with which to track your spending.

Whether you use complex budgeting software or a simple notepad, keeping track of your spending in the way you prefer is the best way to keep with your budget. If you aren't sure how to get started on a budget, check out this article, which gives step by step instructions for budgeting as well as tips for keeping with it.

This year may be the first of many financially prosperous years to come, all because you were able to make some sound financial goals and keep them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

8 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

This post is sponsored by The Bouq's Company.  I was compensated with my own Bouq's bouquet.  There are also affiliate links because I love fresh flowers!



I don't like winter.  I don't like snow.  So much that I get a little bit of the Winter Blues.  I crave the warmth from the sun and the days just seem so melancholy.  My kids were watching Curious George the other day and I heard one of my favorite lines, "Winter is a roller coaster of blah."  I wholeheartedly agreed!  Can you tell I'm a mom to young kids? :-)  

When the spring comes I can feel a tangible change in my mood.  I feel happier and lighter and excited!  I'm ready to get outside with the kids and feel the hot sun on my face!  I've lived in Utah now for almost 10 years and every winter is still a challenge.




But there are some things to help!  Now remember, I am not a physician nor have I been trained as one, but I do have mild winter blues and these help me!  So I hope they help you too.  If nothing seems to work, make sure you visit your doctor for some additional help!

Here are 8 ways to beat the Winter Blues

1. Fresh Flowers
Bright colors and flowers remind me of summer.  I love having fresh flowers in my home!  Just looking at them and smelling them makes me happy.  I buy flowers a lot during the winter to cheer up our living room and myself!  A great company that has beautiful fresh flowers is
The Bouq's Company.
The Bouq's Company has a great collection of beautiful flowers and doesn't cut them until after you purchase them!  They come completely preserved as buds and the stems are frozen so they stay fresh.  When you receive them you get to watch them open and beautify your home!  They also have a mobile app so it's easy to order and a concierge service to automatically send flowers on special occasions!  They have free shipping too!  And their customer service is amazing which is always so refreshing.

 Here are the orange lilies I ordered for my anniversary!  They do come as buds so you may want to have them delivered 2-3 days before the special day if you want the flowers to bloom by then.  I love flowers!  Don't you?  That's the only thing I ever want for my wedding anniversary.  Just some bright beautiful flowers.



2. Vitamin D Supplements
A recent NYU study showed that taking Vitamin D supplements may help with your mood during the winter. The sun provides Vitamin D in the summer, so helping your body produce the Vitamin D seems logical right?  I'm actually taking some right now.  The first week of some wintery weather - snow, cold, you know... I was pretty down.  Then I started taking Vitamin D and I haven't felt like that since!  It's been a few weeks so I'm hoping it keeps working through the rest of the winter.
As always, make sure to check with your physician before taking these!

3. Get Outside
Again, exposure to the sun allows your body to create Vitamin D which helps with your mood.  Although the sun isn't super intense in the winter, it's good to get outside and get as much natural sunlight as you can.  Take a quick walk or play with your kids in the snow for a bit.


4. Work on a Hobby
I love cooking and crafting and the winter is a great time to get some projects done!  You might have a little more time as you stay in more.  And there aren't really any huge holidays after New Years to prepare for.  So take the break and get working on a hobby!  It could be cooking or baking, decorating your home, photography, or even outdoor sports like skiing or snowboarding.

If you're looking for a good cookie recipe, this one is amazing!

5. Exercise
Winter makes you feel sluggish.  Or at least it makes me feel sluggish!  All I want to do is stay home and eat bread and chocolate.  Exercising will help get your blood pumping and give you some extra energy!  Try joining a gym or buy some awesome workout DVDs.  I personally love Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred DVD and Zumba.  My kids love to do them with me too!

6. Service
If you need a way to stop thinking about yourself and how lame winter is, think about others!  It really does lift your spirits when you help someone in need.  You can take a treat to a neighbor, take a meal to a family who just had a baby, shovel someone's sidewalk, or watch someone's kids for a few hours to let them run some errands,   

7. Embrace the Winter
There are some good things about winter...I guess. :-) Hot chocolate is probably my favorite thing!  You can also do fun things with your kids like build snowmen, go sledding, cut out snowflakes, bake cookies, and watch movies together.  Take your kids to museums, indoor swimming pools, or exercise at an open gym.  There are lots of indoor activities you can do!


8. Take a Vacation
If you need a break from the cold, try heading south where it's a little warmer for a few days.  Or just take a few days off and do some fun local things.  Break up the day to day.  Also having something to look forward to really helps winter not seem as long.  Your vacation will be there before you know it!


I hope these tips help you because they sure help me!  Don't just get through winter this year with the winter blues, try to make the most of it and spring will be here in no time!  I hope.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Gift Giving Obstacles & How to Hurdle Them



Author: Whitney Hollingshead

The gift giving season often presents some interesting challenges. Here are five common challenges and some great tips on how you can overcome each one.




1. For the Person Who Doesn't Want Anything

Every year you probably encounter someone who tells you “Oh, I don’t need anything this year.” The odds are you are going to get this person something no matter what they tell you, so what should you get? Here are a few gifting tips that should help:

Go Sentimental - pick a gift that connects to memories shared together such as a board game you both enjoyed as children or a mix CD of songs that relate to inside jokes.

Focus on Frequent Use - select an item that this person will use or already uses often. For example, if you notice a commonly used item is getting worn out, purchase a replacement.

Make it Fun - choose a “frivolous” gift that this person will love, but would never spend money on, simply because the gift is not a necessity.

2. For the Person Who Has Everything


Do you have someone on your list who buys everything they want before you can purchase it for them? Do you know someone who literally has every gift you've already considered? Check out the strategies listed below:

Focus on Favorites - if this person loves the Denver Broncos, they would most likely appreciate more Bronco gear. If this person loves dark chocolate, fill a basket with tasty treats.

Add a Personal Touch - pick a photo from the past year and put the picture in a nice frame.

Purchase Tickets - give this person a set of tickets to a cultural event, concert, sports game, etc. Focus on activities you know this person will enjoy and don’t expect them to take you with the extra ticket.

3. For the Person Who is Very Picky


Year after year you keeping giving gifts to someone who either complains loudly or asks for the receipt to return the gift. This person can easily drive you mad. The best solution may seem to be a gift card or cash; however, this person may complain that you didn't spend enough, you picked the wrong store, or that this type of gift is so impersonal.

The key with this person is to accept that you may never succeed in finding an acceptable gift. The receiver of the gift should be gracious, no matter what gift you give them. So do your best to choose a gift and do not take it personally when this person complains again.

4. For the Person Who Has Expensive Taste

You’re on a tight budget, but your boss and sister-in-law both have very expensive taste. While this person may want a luxury car like one of these, you can barely afford a scented air freshener for the car. You don’t want to feel inferior in your gift giving, but you also really want to stay on budget this year.

Focus on giving this person a gift that money cannot buy. This gift may be a personalized service you can offer to them, a special gift that you can make by hand, or maybe even the gift of your time. Remember that giving gifts really shouldn't be about spending a lot of money.

5. For the Person Who Lives Far Away


Perhaps you have family members and friends who live across the country that you won’t be able to see for Christmas, but you would still like to send a gift. Here are some tips to consider:

Buy Online - purchase the gift from a website that offers free shipping and gives you the option of including a gift message with the shipment. Some sites will also offer gift wrapping services.

Use Flat Rate Shipping Boxes - visit your local post office and examine the flat rate shipping boxes before you shop. Choose your box and then purchase gifts that you can fit into the box.

Personal Delivery Service - is another friend or family member traveling to visit this person for the holidays? Ask them if they are willing to put your gift in their suitcase.

Keep it Practical - if you are deciding between a few different gifts, choose the gift that is easier to get to the recipient. For example, a book is much easier to send than a handcrafted wall hanging.

Final Tips

Even in the face of gift giving challenges, do not allow yourself to get caught up in the stress of the process. Use the tips above, make your shopping experience fun, and enjoy the rest of the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Best & Easiest Frozen Birthday Party Ideas

This post is sponsored by Get Away Today.  I did receive compensation for this post and there are affiliate links.  I wanted to share it with you because I love Disneyland!  I grew up in Southern California and got to go often.  This is an excellent resource to plan your trip there!


My daughter will be turning 4 in February (I cannot believe I'll have a 4 year old!) and I can guarantee she will ask for a Frozen birthday party.  It's perfect for a February birthday.  In fact her first birthday was a Winter Wonderland theme.  I was looking at pins today for this post and she was standing right beside me.  Well she wanted a Frozen party right now!  Today!  But that's a 3 year old for you right?  

There are so many ideas floating all over the internet that it takes forever to find just what you're looking for.  That's why I compiled this list!  

Or you can always give the ultimate gift - a Frozen Disneyland Vacation!  Wouldn't that be amazing?!  Your children will never forget their Frozen themed trip!  There's lots of Frozen fun going on over the holidays and coming to Disneyland in 2015.  There's meet and greet with Anna and Elsa, a parade, and you can ice skate at Olaf's rink.  For more information on the Frozen details Disneyland has to offer, go to Get Away Today.

You could surprise them with with one of these super cute gifts! (The second is my favorite).



Whether you're taking your kids to Disneyland or not, a Frozen birthday party is still an excellent idea.  If you're like me, you love planning birthday parties, but to a point.  You have a budget and a time constraint.  It needs to be fun, but easy.  
I've got your back.

The Outfit

If you have a spare hour, I know that's asking a lot, here is a super cute, simple, and easy Elsa dress you can make your daughter for her birthday party.


The Invitations

These cute and simple snowflake invitations are perfect for the party!  And she even provides a template that you can print out.


Decor

You definitely need some decorations, but nothing too crazy.  These paper snowflakes were so cute!  If you don't want to go 3D, just cut out a bunch of different ones and stick them around.  And I love the blue and white balloons!  You can also throw in some blue and white crepe paper on the ceiling or tulle around the tables.




The Food

There are some really awesome snacks that I found. Some are simple to make and some you don't even have to make at all!  Just the right amount of homemakiness (that's a word I just made up - but it fits!).







And my personal favorite...
Did I ever mention I had a hot chocolate bar at my wedding reception?!  It was amazing and I'm obsessed with hot chocolate...


Party Games and Activities

With small kids, you can only have so many games.  So I just added my three favorites that your kids and their friends will love to play!


You can make this a contest to see which team can use a whole roll of toilet paper to make a snowman the fastest and add his cute accessories.  Or you can make this into a photo shoot.



The Cake

I found both of these cakes and thought they would look amazing as one!  I'm going to try it!  Plus here's a great tutorial on how to make the ice candy.





Goodie Bag

I've never been a huge fan of giving goodie bags at parties, but this one was so cute and simple I think I would actually do it.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chewy Eggnog Cookies



I love eggnog!  The kind that comes in the carton from the store.  As I was looking for a good eggnog cookie recipe I noticed quite a few with rum...I didn't even realize that homemade eggnog had rum in it!  Is that super naive?

Anyway, I don't drink alcohol so this is a non-alcoholic version of the cookies.  And they still taste AMAZING!  I had Alan take a bunch to work and they were gobbled right up.  Someone even asked for the recipe.  That always makes you feel good! :-)

These cookies are so soft and chewy and the eggnog frosting is the perfect touch!

Chewy Eggnog Cookies





Ingredients

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup eggnog

Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened (I use unsalted)
3-5 Tbsp eggnog
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl, set aside.
3. In an electric stand mixer, mix together butter, sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy.
4. Mix in egg yolks one at a time, just until blended.
5. Mix in vanilla extract and eggnog.
6. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients, just until combined.
7. Scoop dough by heaping tablespoons and drop them onto parchment lined baking sheets.
8. Space the cookies about 2 inches apart.
9. Bake for 11-13 minutes.
10. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for several minutes before moving to cool.  Then move to a wire rack to cool.
11. Make the frosting: Whip butter in an electric stand mixer until fluffy.  Add in vanilla, 3 Tbsp eggnog, and powdered sugar.  Add additional eggnog as needed for desired thickness.
12. Once cookies are completely cooled, frost with the eggnog frosting and sprinkle with small amounts of nutmeg.

adapted from Cooking Classy

These are so delicious and might have you craving more eggnog recipes!  Here are 16 more that you  should definitely try!



Welcome to the December Foodie Extravaganza!  
Where we all share delicious recipes with the same main ingredient.  


This month the ingredient is Eggnog!  These yummy recipes will be the perfect thing to bring to your family gatherings and work parties this holiday season.  If you would like to participate in the next Foodie Extravaganza, just go to the Facebook page to join.  We would love to have you!

Enjoy these 17 Eggnog Recipes!


Gingerbread Eggnog Cookies - A Day in the Life on the Farm
Nutty Nog Caramels - Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Eggnog Rice Pudding - The Joyful Foodie 
Peppermint Eggnog Hot Chocolate - Trial and Eater
Eggnog Chocolate Chip Cake - Fearlessly Creative Mamas
Eggnog Cookies - Sew You Think You Can Cook
Fruity Eggnog Bread Pudding - Cindy's Recipes and Writings
Chewy Eggnog Cookies - We Like to Learn as We Go
Eggnog Waffles and Syrup - Making Miracles
Eggnog Pound Cake with Eggnog Glaze - Food Lust People Love 
Eggnog Kringel - Passion Kneaded
Banana Chocolate Chip Eggnog Coffee Cake - The Sweet {Tooth} Life
Eggnog Cupcakes - Baking in Pyjamas
No-Bake Eggnog Cookies - Rhubarb and Honey
Eggnog Mexican Flan - Pantry Friendly Cooking
Eggnog Fudge - Mrs. Penguin
Eggnog Creme Brulee - The Freshman Cook