Monday Money Saver: DIY Wreath

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Sorry for the posting delay! It's been an exhausting week and I'm scrambling to get everything done. But check back later today and I'll have a post up!

More free coffee!

Dunkin Donuts is offering free samples of coffee here. I didn't want to wait until Friday to post it, since the last freebie I posted ran out of supplies really quickly. Click "free sample" at the top of the page and enter your information!

Thanks to Devon for the link!

Monday Money Saver #6: Five Easy Ways to Increase Income

The best way to have more money in the future, is to find ways to increase your income. $5 here or there may seem small, but it adds up over time. Here are a few ways you can earn extra income - either to save, or to use as your spending money, depending how you want to plan your finances.

1. Interest
Switch from a regular savings account to a high interest savings account. I switched around this time last year, and went from earning $0.25/year in interest, to what will be nearly $30 by the year's end. Wednesday's post will cover several good websites for getting a higher yield on your money. Many of these sites are FDIC insured, which means you will not have to worry about losing your money. You may potentially make more interest in a Money Market account, but it will also be riskier, since it is not insured by the government.

2. Surveys
When I was younger, my mom was constantly visiting the little survey place in the mall. I was bored out of my mind waiting for her as a kid, but now that I'm in a good 'target demographic', I can totally see why she did it. Earning anywhere from $5 to $20 for a little bit of your time, you've paid for your lattes for the week, and can divert what you would normally spend into savings or investments. You can also participate in online surveys that pay, although these are harder to come by.

3. Blogging
I started this blog because I wanted to get my money-saving ideas written down, so I can hold myself accountable to what I know are smart ideas. It's too easy to get lazy when you aren't thinking about frugality all the time. But since I was starting a blog anyway, it was incredibly easy to add in a Google Adsense bar. I may not earn much (people who blog for a living can make much more, because they have the time to put in to it). But $5 here or there really adds up over time.

4. Craigslist or Ebay
That's right. Last week's website was Craigslist, and the post focused on how to save money on buying things for your home. But you can use it to make money too! Every once in a while, go around your home and collect things that you don't need or don't use. Then take a few minutes and post it on Craiglist or Ebay, and wait for someone to want to buy your things! Not only did you make a few bucks, but you also cleared a little clutter.

5. Part-time Job
Ok. Admittedly, this one is a little more difficult. Some people don't have the time or the energy. But there are tons of jobs that are flexible and do not require steady committment. Find what you love to do, and see if you can fit it into your schedule. If you love kids but don't have your own, babysit for a friend's children or put an ad on Craigslist. If you like interacting with people, pick up a couple evening or weekend shifts at a restaurant. If you are a night owl like my fiance, take a Friday or Saturday night and drive a taxi. You can easily make $100 for one night of working at a restaurant or babysitting, or $200 for a 12 hour cab shift.

The only thing holding you back from making money is you! Adapt any of these ideas to fit your own life, and then you'll have a lot more money at the end of a year than you would have expected!

Do This Before You Get Married!

One of the biggest causes of arguments, stress, and unhappiness in a marriage is money. Everyone knows someone who has argued with their spouse (or former spouse!) about money, and generally it isn't pretty. Whether it devolves into name calling, insults, or storming out, money fights are nasty business. So don't sabotage your marriage before you are even married! This post will cover some questions that you absolutely need to ask before you get married, as well as tips about what to avoid in financial discussions.

My fiance and I went to a marriage prep class last weekend, which is required by the Catholic Church before getting married. Although the class lasted two days and covered a wide range of topics, the one that made everyone chuckle/groan was the topic of finances.

Generally, people fall into one of three categories: Savers, Spenders, or a little of both. When Savers and Spenders get married, it can lead to some pretty intense 'discussions' about where money goes. If you don't handle these discussions the right way, or you can't find a way to reconcile your opinions, you're in for a rocky ride. If you can create a set of common priorities, though, you will be able to weather many storms.

For example, my mom is definitely a spender, whereas my dad is a saver. They have had their fair share of disputes over money, but they are still together after 25 years and two kids. The key to this is that they both had the same priorities - my brother and me. It was critical to them that we both received a good education and the opportunities to pursue our interests, without turning into spoiled brats. If they had to go without the fancy TV so that we could do Scouting or sports without going into debt, they did it.

They were also able to compromise. My mom would love to spend tons of money on nice clothes and a big house, whereas my dad would rather save for retirement and wear his clothes until they fell apart. They ended up reaching a middle ground, with a modest spending and plenty of savings. Sure, they still disagree sometimes, but that's normal when people have different opinions. The important thing is how they handle it.

Talking to your future spouse is critical, so that you are both on the same page once you get married. Here is a list of questions that you should answer before getting married, and a list of things to NEVER EVER EVER do when discussing money together.

1. Are you a Saver or a Spender, or somewhere in between? How will that affect your budget? (and you MUST have a budget!)
2. What are your financial priorities? (owning a home, children's education, travel, retirement savings, etc) Another critical factor to discuss here is whether your priorities are things or experiences. If you both like things, it might make more sense to get that flat screen TV. But if you like experiences, you might choose to spend the money on a weekend getaway or date nights.
3. Is the money you earn 'yours' or 'ours'? Will you keep separate bank accounts, combine them into one, or have a some of each?
4. Who will be in charge of paying the bills? Will you take turns, work as a team, or will one person take responsibility?
5. Do you have a will or trust account set up? If something happens to one of you, what happens to the assets and debt of the other person? Who is the beneficiary on life insurance policies, retirement plans, or other financial accounts? This is a slightly morbid, but necessary step in combining your lives. Planning for the death of a spouse might seem depressing at first, but God forbid it ever happens, the lack of stress on financial matters will be much appreciated.

1. Do not discuss money if either of you are H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) This will only lead to crankiness and problems. Of course if it is an emergency, that's one thing. But if someone just had a hard day at work and needs to decompress, or is ravenously hungry, it might not be the best time to discuss the budget.
2. Never, ever call each other names, insults, or anything derogatory. This will only cause hurt feelings, and won't solve anything. You might feel like you've won temporarily, but in the long run you'll be hurting both of you. You should have left name-calling back in grade school - don't bring it into your marriage. Nobody is dumb, stupid, or anything like that. If you truly think so, you shouldn't be getting married!
3. Do not leave your spouse out of financial decisions. Even if you have agreed that one of you will be responsible for paying bills and handling the finances, make sure that both of your priorities are represented, and that you both know your financial situation. If you choose to be a one income household to raise children, the person without a career should not feel trapped. Do not play mind games with money. It's important for both of you to know your financial situation in case anything happens to the main bill-payer. If he or she becomes incapacitated, bills still need to be paid.

Wednesday Website #5:

This post might be obvious to some, but it definitely is worth mentioning.When it came time to furnish our apartment, we immediately went to You can find excellent pieces of furniture for very little money, if you can figure out when the most items will hit the market in your locale. For example, if you live in a city with a large university, check Craigslist frequently between the months of May and September and you'll be rewarded with people moving out, people moving in, and lots of furniture being posted.

We live in a large city, which helps provide a steady flow of Craigslist items. If you know what you are looking for, and you check frequently, you can score awesome deals. The picture above is our living room, and all of the furniture is from Craigslist or IKEA.

Here's the breakdown:
Couch - $150
Price included delivery and help getting it into the apartment. This couch is a clean dark grey material, and is as big as a twin bed if you remove the back cushions. It's great for guests to stay on, or for taking a nap (trust me - it's ridiculously comfortable and makes you never want to get up!).
Chairs - $50 each
I had been eying these cream colored TULLSTA chairs from IKEA for months. I didn't want to pay the $99 price the store asks for brand new chairs, so I kept an eye out on Craigslist. It took several months, during which I saw it in red, black, or a single cream chair, but eventually I found someone selling several of these. I snapped them up instantly! There is only a couple small smudges on the material, but they are barely noticeable. I can either try steam cleaning them, or just get a washable slipcover.
Bookcase - $40 for two
We had been in need of bookcases for about a year. Our books were sitting in white plastic milk crates since we moved here, and they were in need of a new home. I kept an eye out for nice wooden bookcases, and was rewarded with these foldable bookcases. They happen to be the same ones that Sherry and John have over at (although they were much more adventurous than I am and ended up painting it green). The other is located in our office/guest room, which for now is nice, but a much less inspired space.

The coffee table is the LACK coffee table from IKEA, which was about $20-$25 new. I got that because we have matching LACK side tables in the bedroom, and I liked the both the style and the potential to use them in the same room.

Curtains are from the Christmas Tree Shop (an amazing line of stores that is unfortunately only found in the Northeast). I wanted blue-grey silk curtains with a nice sheen, but could not talk myself into spending a ton on real silk. So instead I found them in faux silk at Christmas Tree Shop in Connecticut, and put them in my suitcase on my way back to Arizona! At about $15/two panels, they are much, much more affordable.

We also put the curtains in our dining room. (adjoins the living room at the point from where the pictures were taken) We have a wall with an ugly wood veneer built in cabinet, and cannot remove it since we are renting. Since I couldn't stand to look at it every single day, I had the idea to hang curtains on either side of the stainless steel shelves and cover the cabinet, while still allowing access to drawers. The other side of the metal shelving is where we store things like brooms and mop buckets, since we don't have room anywhere else in the apartment.

In this picture, the table is from Craigslist, while the metal shelves are from IKEA (about $80 for the set, but very durable - and it was the one piece of furniture my fiance really wanted in the apartment). The table cost $50 for a table and four chairs. I loved the lines on the back of the chairs, and so I'm hoping to make time in the next year to stain or paint it a darker wood color.

So there you have it. For less than $400 we added furniture and fabric to our living/dining room area and created a comfortable, inviting space. I must say, I'm addicted to Craigslist! (we got our new mattress and desk from Craigslist as well)
Side note: sorry about the poor picture quality and the weird lighting. I was using an unfamiliar camera but wanted to get the pictures taken!

Tasty Tuesday #5: Non-fried Eggplant Parmigiana

My fiance looooooves eggplant parmigiana. He used to make it for me all the time. But he's a big fan of deep-fried anything. So I started making the dish for him, and in a much, much healthier way. Instead of frying the eggplant to get the crust golden and crispy, I bake them. Here's the way I do it, to keep him happy and the pounds off!

Eggplant Parmigiana:
1 eggplant, sliced 1/4-1/2 inch thick (I like to do it in strips along the length of the eggplant because it fits better in the baking pan) ($.88)
1 cup breadcrumbs + 1/4 cup parmesan cheese ($1.50)
2 eggs ($.50)
1/4 cup milk ($.25)
1 jar tomato sauce ($3.00)
1/2 cup shredded mozzerella ($1.00)
1/4 cup grated parmesan ($.50)
1 lb of spaghetti ($.99)

Preheat the oven to 350. Cook 1lb of pasta (we used spaghetti).
Combine milk and egg in one bowl, breadcrumbs and parmesan in another bowl.
Coat the eggplant slices in the egg and milk mixture, then in the breadcrumbs.
Put the eggplant on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil and non-stick spray.
Bake for 5 minutes on one side, and 5 minutes on the other.
Once they're all cooked, lay them layer them a glass baking dish, alternating with tomato sauce and cheese.
Cover with tomato sauce, sprinkle extra cheeses over top, and bake about 10 minutes.
Serve on top of pasta!

For $8.50, you've got enough food to feed at least four people (unless your fiance is as hungry as mine is - then it ends up being one dinner for us, plus leftover lunch for me). That's much better than paying an arm and a leg for a restaurant serving! If you crave the deliciousness that normally comes from a restaurant, try grating fresh mozzerella and parmesan cheese. It makes a huuuge difference, but unfortunately they don't come cheap.

Monday Money Saver #5: Starbucks Banana Walnut Bread

This week's Money Saver idea will be home-made Banana Walnut Bread. This recipe comes from one of the little cards they had sitting next to the register.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 teaspoons buttermilk (to make buttermilk, add a splash of vinegar to the 2 tsp regular milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 ripe bananas (mashed)
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan and dust with flour.
Blend together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Mix together the eff, sugar, and vegetable oil until combined. Add the flour mixture and when blended, add the buttermilk, vanilla, and mashed bananas. Mix until combined. Fold in 1/2 cup chopped wanuts and pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Top batter with remaining 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick uinserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

I don't have the nutritional data for this, but generally when I get the banana nut bread it's because I want something tasty for breakfast, not because I know it's the best food for me.