New Site

I know I haven’t written in a while, but I now have a new site. Www.SwagNotSwine.com please follow me.

My goal with this segment is to not only continue with a pork free diet, but a more healthy diet overall. No more sugary drinks and snacks, and avoiding all other high calorie and fat intake, and depending on healthier alternatives. Not only will I be documenting my personal progress, but sharing positive advice, support and information for all of you to also begin or continue a healthy, positive lifestyle.

Change is good and it’s good to change. Enjoy!

-Samantha Jonas-Rongo

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4th of July Shooters

Celebrate this 4th of July with this flight of three tasty red, white and blue shooters, or as some call them, shots!

America.  Land of the free, because of the brave.  We are a country that certainly has our issues, but we always manage to bond together and work through them.  Always united.  All of our blemishes and accomplishments are what make us the great country that we are.  Always growing, always changing.

The fourth of July is less than a week away! Oh how that crept up on me.  These three shots are not only festive, but also taste delicious!  They take tequila, vodka, and silver rum to a whole new level.  The best part about them is that they can also be made into drinks too if shooters aren’t your style.

The Red

1oz Vodka

.5oz DeKuyper Watermelon Pucker

1oz Cranberry Juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake and strain into a large shot glass. This shot tastes like a gummy bear!

The White

1oz coconut Rum (I prefer Malibu but if not available, Bacardi Coconut)

.5oz Lime juice

1oz Sprite

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake and strain into a large shot glass. This shot is super refreshing

The Blue

1oz Patron or Jose Cuervo Silver Tequila ……Silver, not Gold!!!

.5oz Lime juice

.25 (literally a splash) of Simple Syrup …..Not Maple, Simple Syrup. Its clear and specifically for drinks.

.5oz DeKuyper Blue Curacao

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice. Salt the rim of shooter glass. Shake mixture and strain into salted glass. This shot is probably the strongest of them all but the salt, lime and simple syrup help take the edge off the tequila.

Enjoy and remember, Drink Responsibly!

Food Pyramid Turned My Pyramid Turned My Plate

Most of us have seen the iconic USDA Food Guide Pyramid at some point. It was first introduced in 1992, was remade in 2005 as My Pyramid, and in 2011 was changed to My Plate. All of these eating guides incorporate the different food groups and try to give us an understanding of how to eat a healthy diet. But have you ever wondered if they are correct? Who wrote them?

What research are they based on? Does profit or the food industry create a bias in these models? Why have they changed? Do you really need to eat 11 servings of grains in a day? Is there really a one size fits all diet? This article will help you understand the answers to all of these questions.

Food Pyramid

THE FOOD GUIDE PYRAMID

The original Food Pyramid was created in 1992 by the United States Department of Agriculture. It became the uncontested model for a “healthy diet” in schools, doctor’s offices, on food labels, and in the media. For more than 20 years, Americans tried to follow this high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet recommended by the Food Pyramid. The results are in, and sadly Americans are sicker and more over weight than ever before in our nation’s history. So what went wrong?

As the Food Pyramid held the power to greatly influence the multibillion dollar food industry, was the original Food Pyramid solely based on nutritional science, or was it was influenced by commercial interests? As more research has been done, it has become clear that a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat is not optimal for disease prevention. (1)

A diet high in pasteurized dairy and carbohydrates causes inflammation and an overly acidic body pH, which is an underlying factor in almost every chronic disease. (2) It is also clear that many people are allergic to or have a difficult time digesting dairy and grains.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid has six levels. Foods from the six major food groups are shown in the levels of the Pyramid. The food groups are:

  • grains;
  • vegetables;
  • fruits;
  • milk and dairy products;
  • meat, fish, beans and nuts;
  • oils and fats.

File:MyPyramidFood.svg

MY PYRAMID

The 2005 My Pyramid model, which was like the original one turned on its side, was heavily criticized from the beginning as being too confusing and overly vague. The one good thing about this model was that it incorporated exercise as one of the “steps to a healthier you.” However, it still placed grains as the largest source of calories and did not incorporate our need for healthy fats.

With the massive increase in processed foods, this model did not help Americans navigate all of these choices. Many products advertised the number of “whole grains” it contained while being full of refined sugar, food additives, trans fat, genetically modified corn and soy, preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, and other unhealthy ingredients. (3) A great example of this is breakfast cereals. The idea that Lucky Charms, Coco Puffs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a good and healthy breakfast choice—just because it contains whole grains—shows how far off track we’ve gone.

MyPyramid was a visual illustration of suggested healthy eating habits and physical activity. Like its predecessor, the Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid combined the government’s dietary guidelines and recommended allowances into six food groups. But instead of illustrating the number of servings based on a one-size-fits-all 2,000 calorie intake, the MyPyramid symbol itself showed six vertical color bands, each representing varying proportions of the pyramid. These colors represented the food groups as follows.

  • Orange for grains
  • Green for vegetables
  • Red for fruits
  • Yellow for oils
  • Blue for milk
  • Purple for meat and beans
  • Fruit Group should provide 4 daily servings, or 2 cups.
  • Vegetable Group should provide 5 servings, or 2.5 cups.
  • Grain Group should provide 6 ounce-equivalents (1 ounce-equivalent means 1 serving), half of which should be whole grain..
  • Meat and Beans Group should provide 5.5 ounce-equivalents or servings.
  • Milk Group should provide 3 cups/servings.
  • Oils should provide 24g or 6 teaspoons.
  • Discretionary Calories: The remaining amount of calories in each calorie level after nutrient-dense foods have been chosen. Up to 267 calories could be consumed in solid fats or added sugars if the other requirements were been met

MyPlate Food Pyramid Replacement

MY PLATE

In 2011, the new “My Plate” was introduced. This is a significant improvement from its predecessors as it is much easier to visualize what it actually means on your plate. My Plate really makes meal planning easier. Just by looking at the icon, you know right away that vegetables and fruits should take up half the plate (with the veggie portion being a bit bigger), and grains and protein foods should take up the other half (with more grains on this side). And with a side helping of dairy, you’re reminded to include milk or another dairy food (like cheese or yogurt) in your daily meal plan.

Because My Plate is a divided plate, no one food group overpowers the others. That’s because dietary guidelines encourage eating a variety of foods and discourage “super-sized” portions which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

Although the food guide icon has changed, the USDA’s message about eating well has stayed the same. Everyone still needs to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with lean meats or other forms of protein and low-fat dairy products.

Oils provide important nutrients and are recommended in small amounts but aren’t included on the My Plate icon. Choose oils over solid fats, but limit the amount you eat.

Exercise is also no longer included in the icon, but it’s still an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Everyone should and will benefit from exercise. Starting at 2 years old, kids need at least 60 minutes of moderate to physical activity each day.

Criticisms are that it still does not help us navigate what kinds of foods should be in each category. Before the industrialization of our food supply, these categories were very simple. Now we are bombarded with thousands of choices and new “food products” on the shelves of the supermarket every week.

So what should we eat!? The question, “what is a healthy diet?” seems to still remain once we take a deeper look at the shortcomings of these food models.

12 Smart Ways to Save on Home Insurance

Key chain: Home shape and car keys

Few of us would consider the possibility of not having homeowner’s insurance.  Like paying for health insurance or utilities, it is just one of those annoying-but-necessary expenses we simply have to put up with, whether we want to or not, or whether we ever actually use it or not.

But have you ever stopped to consider whether you might be paying too much to insure your home?

The problem with expenses like insurance is that because we accept them as a fact of life, we don’t always think about making sure we are getting the best possible rate.  The truth is that homeowner insurance policies can vary a lot, and even if you shopped around when you first purchased your policy, new options or reductions may have become available in the meantime.  The most important thing to remember is that it is not your insurance provider’s job to make sure you are getting the best rate.  YOU must be your own best advocate when it comes to paying less for insurance.   As such, it is best to be vigilant about re-checking your policy once a year to make sure you are always paying as little as possible.

Still not sure where to start?  Here are 12 very smart ways to save on homeowner’s insurance that you may not have considered:

Shop Around

While it is easy to get attached to a particular agent or agency, particularly one who has served your family for years, it always pays to shop around.  Even if you decide to stick with your current provider, comparing prices and getting multiple quotes will give you a much clearer idea of what you could or should be paying, and will also give you more leverage for negotiating rates.

Take Advantage of Special Discounts

Many insurance companies provide special discounts for a variety of factors, including age, driving record, student report cards, and more.  They will not automatically apply these savings—you have to ask for them!  Be sure to review an updated discount list each year to see if your family has qualified for any new discounts.

Raise Your Deductible

One of the quickest ways to lower your insurance payment is to raise your deductible—the amount you would have to cover before your insurance kicks in.  This works because the more you have to pay out of pocket in case of emergency, the less risk the insurance company has to assume.  Of course the flip side is that in the event of an emergency, you would need to cover a much larger deductible, which means that this is only a good option if you are willing and able to keep an emergency fund in place. (In a sense, your emergency fund is like your own mini insurance policy.)

Only Insure the Cost to Rebuild

Most home insurance policies will automatically cover the total value of the home, rather than the cost to rebuild.  If you live in an area where the property values are higher, this means that you may be paying a premium to insure your land, when all you really should be insuring is the cost to rebuild in the event of emergency or disaster.  It is important to note that changing the amount you have insured may or may not be an option depending on your mortgage company.

Combine Policies

While shopping around is important, it can also payoff big time to carry all your various insurance policies with the same carrier to take advantage of a multiple-policy discount.  Furthermore, bundling policies can not only cost you less money, it can also make life easier by giving you one reliable contact (your agent) for your insurance needs and questions.

Make Your Home More Disaster Resistant

While prepping for a disaster won’t necessarily lower your insurance rates (though it might), it could save you from having to make an expensive claim.  In other areas, smart ways to prepare might include cutting down tall trees close to the house

The best way to prepare for a disaster is before it happens. In addition to taking precautions for protecting your house, it is a smart idea to create a disaster preparedness kit and household emergency plan just in case.

Improve Home Security

Installing a home security system is not as difficult or expensive as it might sound, and many insurance companies will offer a significant discount for homes with a home security system.  Adding additional locks, motion sensor lights, and other home security features can help as well.  Check with your provider for specific details.

Maintain A Good Credit Score

While this is not always the case, your credit score can have a big impact on your insurance rates.  Some insurance companies will consider anyone with poor credit “high risk,” which will ultimately result in a higher rate.  While not all insurance companies use credit as a gauge, it is definitely a smart practice to use credit wisely in any case in order to avoid potential red flags.

Ask for a Long Term Discount

While it is not necessarily a good idea to stick with the same old insurance carrier you’ve always had, there might be a way to make that loyalty work in your favor.  If you have been with the same insurance company for more than five years, be sure to ask about long-term discounts, which are rate reductions based on the number of years you have been insured through a particular company.  Again, these discounts won’t happen automatically, so you do still have to be vigilant, but it never hurts to ask!

Switch to Private Insurance

If you live in a high-risk areas that has been susceptible to flooding, hurricanes, or other natural disasters, you may have been told that your government insurance is your only option.  However, this may not be the case!  Be sure to check with a local insurance provider to see if there is a private insurance option available at a less expensive rate.  You may be surprised at what you find.

Buy a Cheaper House

While it might not be practical to move just to save on home insurance, the house you live in does have a huge impact on your insurance rates.  It goes without saying that the more expensive your home, the more expensive your insurance will be.  If you are in the market for a new house, consider downsizing to a smaller house or cheaper location.  Also look for features to your new house that will help keep rates down, such as added security or features that make it more disaster-resistant.

Compare Insurance Rates by Neighborhood

All neighborhoods were not created equal when it comes to homeowner’s insurance.  Proximity to the ocean, elevation, flood risk, and any other claims common to your neighborhood all play a factor, and, according to the Allstate policy expert that we spoke with, things like how close you are to a fire hydrant and fire station, environmental issues, theft and more are also considered.

This means that even just a few blocks can make a huge difference in what you will pay for your policy.  If you are shopping for a new home, be sure to consider location in your decision, and to find out what your insurance rate would likely be before you make an offer.  (Allstate has a tool you can use called Calm and Costly Claims  that helps identify the most common and costly claims in your zip code.)  The “perfect” house might not be as good a deal as you think!

The common theme running through all these ideas is that YOU as a homeowner must be vigilant about making sure you are always getting the best insurance rates.  Your insurance agent will not do this for you!  Set a date on your calendar to review your policy using the ideas on this list, then make sure to repeat the process annually.  You just be pleasantly surprised at how much you are able to save!

What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids are cared for. We go out of our way to keep our kids safe, from buying bicycle helmets to Band-Aids to winter coats, right down to holding their hand when they cross the street.

Most of us worry endlessly about our kids’ well-being. I know I do! But as much as we worry about the little things, it’s sometimes easy to let the big things, those risks and dangers that are a little more intangible—slip by ignored or unattended to.

A big part of protecting our kids, as well as securing financial peace, is making sure our families are covered for the big things including natural disasters, an injury or illness, job loss, or worse. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to determine exactly what coverage you need, especially when it seems like most insurance salesmen only want to play on your emotions.

When money is tight, you certainly don’t want to overspend on coverage that you don’t need, but you need be protected from major catastrophe. The best approach is to do your research ahead of time and be aware of the state of your family’s finances before you get a sales pitch.

It is important to remember that it’s not the insurance agency’s role to make sure you’re getting the best deal on insurance. It is up to you to be your own advocate and to get the best rate. Insurance isn’t something you can put on the back burner and just pay each month.

To get the best rates, you must continuously (at least once a year) revisit your insurance policies and do some comparison shopping. Plans and offers are constantly changing to meet the needs of the market. Rates can fluctuate as your family’s needs and situation change as well. Adding another driver, building on an addition to your home, changing your security system, or bringing a new member of your family into the world can all raise insurance questions and call for a little guidance.

There are seven types of insurance that you NEED: Homeowners/Renters, Auto, Health, Disability, Long-Term Care, Identity Theft, and Life.

Other insurances you should consider is also boat, farm and travel.

resizedimage600583-Home-Insurance-Icons

Home

If you’re paying a mortgage, the lender requires homeowner’s coverage, but even if you’re lucky enough to own your home outright, you want to be sure that you’re protected.

For renters, insurance protects your possessions in case of fire, theft and, in some cases, flood. Renters insurance is often thought of as optional, but as a parent, you must cover yourself in case of tragedy. Renters insurance is often really quite inexpensive (less than $20/month!) and it’s very important if you have big-ticket items that might be difficult to replace, such as audio equipment, collectables, exercise gear, televisions and appliances. Take inventory of your household and make a list of those larger items that could be damaged or stolen, and would result in major financial hardship if you’d have to replace them.

There are several ways to save on homeowner and renter’s insurance. You can raise your deductible, combine policies and do some home improvements and emergency preparations to raise the protection level on your home. Improvements to home security can also help you save, as can new windows, doors, and extreme weather protection.

Auto

 When we think insurance, auto insurance is often the first thing that comes to mind. Driving is possibly the highest risk activity that any of us do almost every day, and we all know the importance of having liability coverage. In many states, it’s now illegal to operate a vehicle without liability insurance or proof of financial responsibility.

In our litigious society, unfortunately, coverage is mandatory to protect yourself from financial ruin in case of an accident or driving mistake. One moment can change your life and the life of another driver forever. Trust me, your mind will be at ease when you know you’re protected.

When it comes to auto insurance, the value of your vehicle is important when you’re determining the amount of coverage and type of insurance you need. If your car is in its twilight years, you may feel comfortable with less coverage or just liability. If you have a newer car (or if you’re paying off a car loan), you need to have full coverage to keep your investment safe.

There are several other ways to save on car insurance. Shop around, compare rates, and don’t become too loyal to just one agency or provider. There are good driver discounts, multiple car discounts, and even good grade programs for driving teens and students. Installing safety upgrades or attending defensive driving courses can also help lower your monthly payments and save you when it comes to paying for coverage.

family health insurance coverage

Health

Health insurance is so important. As parents, we know we must take children to the doctor for regular checkups. We also know that serious health issues can come out of nowhere, and without coverage they can leave households financially devastated. For the many of us just surviving in todays middleclass, we make enough to pay all our bills, not enough for the extras, and too much for any assistance such as government plan health insurance such as Medicaid, family health plus and their attached HMO plans.

Many employers offer health insurance at a cost which also requires deductibles and co-pays, but if yours does not, or if you’re independently employed, private insurance providers are available. Under the Affordable Care Act, you may qualify for low-cost coverage based on your income. Keep in mind though, low-cost means anywhere from $200-$400 per person a month with deductibles and co-pays which is low cost for health insurance.

Consider a Health Savings Account and/or a high deductible plan to save the most. An HSA can save families thousands of tax-free dollars every year, which you can use toward your deductible, so your monthly premium will be lower. You can use your HSA for prescriptions, and depending on the plan, eye exams and preventative care.

Disability

Disability insurance should cover 65% of your income, and most employers offer disability coverage. It’s often something that’s overlooked, but one in seven workers will face a disability before retirement.

You should be sure your disability insurance is long-term. My personal opinion is that you should have 3–6 months of expenses saved up, which would cover your needs in the case of a short-term or minor disability. It’s the long-term scenarios that you should plan for. Most disabilities (90%) are not covered by worker’s comp or social security.

The effects of a disability can financially ruin a family if you’re not properly prepared. Many workers facing disabilities can be out of work for three years or more. Consider what would happen to your family should they face an unforeseen accident or tragedy that leaves you unable to work.

Long-Term Care

As a parent, long-term care is not necessarily something that’s on any of our minds, but it’s a necessity for anyone over age 60. If your parents cannot afford long-term care insurance, this may be something you want to consider.

Consider the scenario of a parent who is facing a condition like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and requires long-term care. This situation can quickly eat up your parents’ retirement savings and even dip into your own savings and accounts. Those who qualify for Medicaid will receive some assistance, but it often leaves patients with limited options and plans for complete care.

As you near your 60s, long-term care should be on your horizon and part of your post-retirement financial plan. It’s a way to make sure you don’t financially burden your children or spouse and ensures you won’t leave them unable to make ends meet.

Identity Theft

If you’ve never faced the horror in dealing with having your identity stolen, then consider yourself very lucky. With data breaches on the rise among major retailers, it seems like everyone is at risk. Identity theft can cost you big-time in terms of time, money, effort, and just general headaches. In a worst-case scenario, identity theft can damage your credit and make recovery very difficult—even if you’re an innocent victim.

Part of your insurance portfolio should include identity theft protection. You should be sure it includes an identity restoration service that can fix the damage and get your identity restored and safe once again. Teaching your family good identity-safety habits such as limiting your exposure online and protecting your passwords can help protect you as well, but should the worst happen, insurance will be a lifesaver.

Long Island Insurance Company

Life

Life insurance can be a little confusing. The general rule of thumb is you need term, not whole life. Cash value insurance can sound like a great way to invest and save money, but truth be told, it doesn’t offer high returns at all and generally is a poor performing product.

Term life insurance, on the other hand, is a way to cover yourself until you’re debt free and in a position to invest. It offers a way to help your spouse or children settle your estate and survive in relative comfort should something happen to you.

Term life insurance can help you cover burial costs and the costs of paying off your debt, plus further support of your family, particularly if you’re the sole breadwinner.

Facing uncertain scenarios in life is always unsettling, but having the proper insurance coverage can ease your mind and allow you to sleep a little easier at night. Look into the faces of your children and think of all the ways you would love to keep them safe. Insurance is one of the most simple, practical, and logical ways to protect your loved ones. 

Week 3 of Budget 101

Part 3: Save on the Big Things

After spending the last week sorting out your budget and then recording all your purchases, you hopefully now have a fairly clear idea of where your money is going.  Over the next 6 weeks be sure to keep those worksheets handy–you will need to adjust your amounts as we work to lower expenses in the various categories.  Be sure to also continue recording all your purchases in the expense tracking worksheet too!
(NOTE: If you are new to “Through The Eyes Of I” or missed out last week, you might want to start at Week 1 of Budget 101 before starting this week’s assignment!)

This week we are going to tackle lowering the BIG 3:  Housing, Transportation, & Insurance.  I will readily admit that this is not my area of expertise.  Not even close. From this point forward it should be known that you are taking financial advice from a girl who thinks a cute pair of designer shoes or a great book is a perfectly reasonable investment, not just an impulse buy.

In other words, some of this stuff is a little over my head.

Since this kind of stuff overwhelms me, I’m guessing that it probably overwhelms many of you too. So let’s figure it out together and be better for it.  Luckily for us, the internet is a vast pool of knowledge.  This week, we’re going swimming.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to your finances and the money you’re spending is this premise: Everything is negotiable.  

The great thing about NOT being socialists is that we live in a country where companies have to compete for OUR business. This is something they don’t really want you to figure out.  Most companies would rather have you believe that they are doing you a favor by financing your home or car, or providing insurance, because if you believe that, you’ll pay whatever they tell you to.  The truth is that they NEED your business, and that if they are not willing to negotiate, there is probably someone else out there who will.

Knowledge is power; use it to your advantage!

When it comes to saving money on your housing costs there are a lot of factors that will come in to play, far too many to get into specifics here.  Do you rent or own?  Do you owe more on your house than it’s worth?  Are you looking to buy?  Are you in an apartment? Is your lease coming due soon?  Your individual circumstances will determine your course of action, or even whether there is a course of action possible.

As far as transportation costs go, unless your vehicle is constantly in need of repair or way more expensive than you can afford, it is almost always more cost effective to stick with the car you have than get a different vehicle. Thus, your current car payment is probably not going to change much.  That said, if you need a new car, it is almost always better to buy used than to lease or buy something brand new. Your auto insurance, on the other hand, can definitely be negotiated!

Likewise, health, life, & home insurance prices can also be negotiated and shopping around pays.  When my Husband and I needed health insurance last year, we took a lot of time to price things out.  When we took into consideration how little we actually go to the doctor, we discovered that it made a lot more sense financially to buy only catastrophic coverage with a high deductable, then to pay a huge premium each month for medical coverage we weren’t using.  As with most things, it is very important to do the math!

How to negotiate when chartering a gulet

Here is your assignment:

1. Research options for lowering your mortgage payment or rent

Once you’ve done your homework, decide if making some changes or re-negotiating your rent or mortgage would be the right solution for your family.  I found some awesome, super informative, and, most importantly, short articles to start with:

How to Lower Your Mortgage Payment Without Refinancing (homeowners)

How to Negotiate Low Mortgage Interest Rates [Video] (homeowners)

I Owe More Than My House Is Worth (homeowners underwater)

How to get the best mortgage rate (looking to buy a home)

How to negotiate lower rent (renters)

Tips for Reducing your Insurance Premium

2. Research options for lowering your insurance rates

If you haven’t shopped around for auto, homeowners, health, or life insurance lately (or ever) then you need to.  Do some due diligence to find out what options are available, then make some phone calls (or send some emails) and get new quotes.  You might be surprised at how much money you can save.

 Here are some great articles I recently wrote to get you going:

What Every Mom Needs to Know About Insurance

9 Smart Ways to Save on Car Insurance

12 Smart Ways to Save on Home Insurance

It’s only two tasks, but this should be plenty to keep you busy this week!  If it seems daunting, just remember that every dollar saved on your mortgage, rent, vehicle, or insurance is a dollar that can be spent on shoes.
Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and don’t forget to let me know how you’re doing! What big things do you want to save money on?  Do you think it will be possible?  What is something you know you can’t save on?

Week 2 of Budget 101

PART TWO: MAKE A BUDGET

It’s been a week.  How’s that no-spending thing going? Well, here’s the good news:  You can start spending money again.  Of course the bad news is that after today’s assignment, you might not want to. Hopefully last week’s exercise started you thinking about the reasons WHY you’re spending and also got you to start making a serious distinction between the things you WANT and the things you NEED.

(NOTE: If you are new to “Through The Eyes Of I” or missed out last week, you might want to start at Budget 101 Part 1: STOP SPENDING before starting this week’s assignment!)

Before we go any further, I want to make a quick but important distinction that just because something is a “WANT” instead of a “NEED” doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It’s okay to want a pretty comfortable house with all the amenities, vacations or cute shoes. What’s not okay is to want all those things at the expense of your financial well-being,  your marriage, relationships, your children or anything else that we know is more important than stuff. It’s okay to WANT, but not to GET if you are not at a stable financial stance to do so. ***Don’t go on vacation, then come back and not pay your electric and gas bills. Don’t go out shopping with your friends and then go and tell your family you’re struggling*** If you are not struggling with your spending or find that you have plenty of money leftover for your savings, life & retirement accounts at the end of the month, have no trouble paying all your bills on time, know exactly where all your money is going, have great credit and don’t stress out over unforeseen expenses, then you probably don’t need to be reading this series.  In fact, you probably could write it better than me because you are obviously doing something right. I have multiple bills including a retirement and savings account, life, funeral and health insurances that I pay towards monthly, and I don’t have school or credit debt so I say I am pretty financially stable BUT…… most of us, including I struggle with money or budgeting, at least in some area. Believe me when I tell you there is plenty of room for improvement. This week’s assignment is going to require a little more effort.   The hard truth is that no one can fix your budget for you.  There are no magic solutions or ten-minute fixes that will have permanent results.  Improving your financial outlook will require change, and change is HARD.  Do it anyway.

As I tell my stepson, never neglect to do something just because it is hard, because it is the things you work hardest for that will reward you the most. Don’t let fear stop you either. It can be very scary to open up the Pandora’s box otherwise known as your finances, especially if you’ve been turning a blind eye.  In some ways, ignorance is bliss.  But if you’re still reading up to this point, you probably know, deep down, that this is something you need to do.  Take a deep breath, muster up your courage, and just do it.  You’ll be better for it. And now that the pep talk is over, it is time to get down to business:

HERE IS THIS WEEK’S ASSIGNMENT:

                      CLICK TO DOWNLOAD MY PERSONAL BUDGET WORKSHEET

1. Assess your income and fixed expenses

Print out the nifty budget worksheet above, then grab your bank statements, your bills, your check register, & any other financial information you can think of.  A calculator might come in handy too.  Then grab a glass of wine, sit down (with your spouse if your married), and start crunching the numbers.  Use worksheet number one to list all your sources of income, as well as all those key fixed payments you MUST make each month

Use worksheet #2 to add up all the subtotals of your fixed expense categories, then subtract that total from your income.  The remaining number is what you really have to work on creating a budget for.
In the coming weeks, we will work on finding ways to lower both your fixed AND variable expenses, but we need a place to start from, and this is it.

2.  Create a budget for your variable expenses

Use a pencil to fill in each category with what you are currently paying each month, then add up your subtotals and see how it compares to the number you are shooting for.  Then go back and lower different categories as necessary.  Obviously some things, like your water and electric, won’t be adjustable, but other things can probably be cut significantly.   Include SOMETHING in your savings budget, even if it is just a small amount.  If you have credit card payments, include those in your household expenses as well.

3. Take some time to self-reflect

This step may be the hardest, but it is also the most important.  Complete worksheet #4 and make some concrete decisions and goals based on what you’ve discovered through this budgeting exercise.

Maybe you’ve realized it is time to cut up your credit cards, or, at the very least, put them on ice. (Fill a bowl with water, put your credit cards in, and freeze.  If nothing else, it will slow you down!)  Maybe you’re ready to start packing a lunch instead of going out or to give up cable.  What you spend your money on is a very personal decision that only you can determine for yourself (or with your spouse.)

4. Track your spending

The last page of the PDF packet is an expense tracker.  Print out as many as you need, and use it to keep track of everything you spend.  At the end of each day, and then again at the end of each week, go over your expenses to make sure you are staying on track.  The more frequently you “check in,” the less likely you will be to let your spending get out of control.  Little things add up quickly!

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Whew, what a week!  I know this probably seems like a lot, but please don’t give up on me!  I promise it will be worth it in the end, and your bank account will thank you.  Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and remember, I want to hear from you!  How did your first week of the challenge go?  What did you learn about yourself or your budget?
Keep in mind, once again, that I am not a financial expert.  You are welcome to use these worksheets to help you–they are what make sense to me–but there are lots of other budgeting books, worksheets, & software available that might work for you better

Home Made Ice Cream Cake

Can’t decide between cake or ice cream, or are in the mood for both? Have both!

Ice cream cakes are some of the most satisfying, and easy desserts to put together. You can even make them with your children to make it an even more special treat, and fun activity.

This version made out of ice cream sandwiches takes the cake, literally, because the layers are almost pre-made for you. Simple and pretty when cut and served, it will be love at your first creamy bite.

This recipe is so easy, no directions are needed, its all self explanatory. And depending on your personal preference of toppings, you can add however much you would like.

This recipe is basic and includes ice cream sandwiches, whip topping (not whip cream, because it’s too creamy), peanuts, chocolate syrup and caramel. Get creative and go funky, add crushed Oreos, strawberry syrup, candy, etc….the options are endless.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake Recipe Real Simple

 

Mmmmmm! Enjoy!

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

About Budget 101

My goal for this series is to guide you through a series of assignments intended to put you on a sounder financial footing.  Basically it is eight weeks to a better budget. It is my personal guide, a beginners budget 101. Each week we will tackle one specific area for us to work on, and then complete assignments related to that segment of our financial life. Keep in mind, just as anything you need to do in life, following this series will take some effort & commitment on your part. There are many ways to budget your financial life, and this is the blood, sweat, & tears edition. Okay, well maybe no blood 🙂 Every Sunday will mark a new week towards a better budget. Come join me and save! Click on Budget 101 in the menu scale, and use the drop down to view the series by week.

Disclaimers: 

  • I am not a financial expert or certified financial planner.  I have degrees in business administration, criminal and business law, have studied accounting, and am a certified tax preparer and tutor.  I have no credentials whatsoever beyond my own experience to qualify me for teaching anyone about saving money.  There are plenty of money experts out there who could probably explain this stuff far better than me, and some I will even refer you to.  My only goal here is to try to break down the scary world of budgets and saving into manageable bites.  Yes, this is the baby steps guide to saving. This is my personal guide, and it has worked for me.

Week 1 of Budget 101

Welcome to My Beginner’s Guide to Saving!

My goal for this series is to guide you through a series of assignments intended to put you on sounder financial footing.  Basically it is eight weeks to a better budget. Being that you are reading this, you are starting a lifestyle to a better you, and  better financial situation.

Part One: Stop Spending!!!

Saving is not easy. We live in a crazy consumer driven “have to have it” society, where the latest electronics, cars, fashions and cars are constantly being promoted; and we are made to feel like we’re missing out if we don’t have the latest or the best.  The sheer quantity of stuff available to purchase at any given time is pretty much a bottomless pit.  There is always more, more more! So we want and spend more, more, more!

So what’s a girl (or boy) to do?

Well, it’s pretty simple really:  STOP. BUYING. STUFF.

At least in theory it is simple…….

In practice, it is sooooo much harder……

Our reasons for spending money on stuff we don’t need are plentiful and varied.  It makes us feel good.  We want to look better.  We want our house to be pretty.  We want what everyone else has.  It’s fun.  We’re bored.  We’re lonely.  We want people to like us better.  We want to be “ahead of the curve.” We’re “tech junkies”.  We can’t pass up a “good deal.” We think we might need it someday.  The sales pitch worked.  We’re stressed.  We’re trying to fill a void.  It was on sale.  We’re addicted to Starbucks, tobacco, scrapbooking, shoes, video games, books, fun, etc.

Sound familiar?

The truth is that whatever the reason, much of what we spend our money on is unnecessary, a want rather than a need.  I need to eat, but I want to drink my Keurig K-Cups coffee every day. I need to wear shoes, but I want to have dozens of pairs in every color and style imaginable. I want to get my hair done, but I have student loans and bills I need to pay. I want to take dance classes, but I need to pay for health insurance every month (why is insurance so much anyways?…347.00 a month!)  😦  So much for AFFORDABLE in Affordable Care Act.

It is so very important to realize the distinction between what we think we need and what we actually need. But its not an issue of wants Vs. needs, but wants Vs. Priorities.

It is the first critical step on the path to savings.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should never spend money on anything, and live an austere and boring life, void of pretty things, entertainment or yummy coffee drinks.

But for the sake of this series, we are going to start by curbing all spending so that down the road we can figure out how to get those things we want in a way that fits our budget.

Which brings me to this week’s assignment:

1.  Stop spending!

Try to go these next seven days without spending money on anything except what is absolutely necessary, as in matter-of-survival necessary.  No clothes, no candy, no quick stops at McDonalds, no craft supplies, no nothing.  Don’t worry, it’s only a week.  You won’t die.  I promise. It is a great way to get your budget back on track in a hurry!

2.  Make a list of wants and needs

Spend your time reflecting on all the things you spend money on in a months time, and divide those things into a “needs” list (i.e.  I need to pay rent, pay utility bills, pay health and life insurance bills, buy food, make car and insurance payment, etc.) and a “wants” list (cable, , Starbucks, etc.)

  •  Don’t just make a mental list.  Sit down and physically write down every single thing you can think of that you spend money on, from the mundane to the major.

3. Get inspired

Read a few financial articles to get yourself motivated.  It will give you something to do while you’re trying not to spend money.

4.  Find new (free) ways to fill your time

Think long and hard about the reasons you spend money frivelously.  If you are using shopping as a way to fill a void in your life then you need to seriously explore other hobbies that don’t cost anything.  Go to the library and check out some new books, make it your mission to explore every park in a 20 mile radius, set a goal of organizing every closet and cupboard in your house by the end of the summer, or better yet, have a yard sale and make some money off the things that you already have that you don’t need.

I think the thing that surprised me the most when I stopped spending money out of boredom was how much more creative I became.  The world is full of free activities. You just have to look a little harder.

And that’s it for this week!  Stay tuned for another riveting installment next Sunday and remember, I want to hear from you!  If you’ve decided to take this 8 week challenge, or if you have any ideas for fun free activities you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.  Saving money is so much more fun when you have someone to share it with.
Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Simple, Healthy Baked Avocado and Egg

Simple, Healthy Baked Avocado and Egg

Avocado Baked Eggs | thetwobiteclub.com

Avocado Baked Eggs are made by filling creamy avocados with eggs and then baking and seasoning them in the oven until the yolk is set to your liking. This dish really couldn’t be any easier to pull together.  It’s fresh, simple, smooth and tasty.  Avocado, egg, seasoning, bake… done!

You can decide to add a couple of add-in ingredients, which you totally don’t have to do, but bacon and cheese seems like it would be amazing!

You could go Italian and do tomatoes and basil, go Greek and do feta and oregano.  Or how about tex mex!  Salsa avocado baked eggs, anyone? Either way, these avocado baked eggs are a perfectly decadent, filling, and gorgeous breakfast!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 avocado, or more.
  • 2 eggs per avocado. (I recommend medium or large eggs)
  • Adobo or salt and pepper
  • optional add-ins* (cheese, bacon, tomatoes, green onions, salsa, fresh herbs, etc.)
    • If using bacon, cook and set aside.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Slice your avocado in half lengthwise to the pit.  Twist the two sides in opposite directions and gently pull apart.

  • Remove the pit. Scoop out a little of the avocado from the center to make a little additional space for the egg.

  • Season the avocado with Adobo. If Adobo is unavailable, salt and pepper will do perfectly fine.

FOR EXTRA JAZZ: Sprinkle a small bit of your choice of toppings into the hole for the egg, then gently crack the egg into the avocado.

  • Crack your egg inside the avocado. If you like, place avocado in shallow dish that you will be baking them in ahead of time in case the egg spills out. Extra large eggs tend to always spill over.

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  • Top with the remaining toppings of your choice and season again with Adobo or salt and pepper.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending on how you like your yolk set.  Check after 15 minutes and then continue cooking to your liking.

I’m all about a little bit of texture, and, to be honest, when you eat these on their own it’s soft even more due to the avocado and egg.  Spread that avocado and egg on a nice slice of toasted bread and you’ve got the much needed texture.

Avocado Baked Eggs ~ Creamy avocado baked with eggs, salami, and white cheddar cheese.

*The optional add-in toppings I used in the photo above were sliced salami and shredded white sharp cheddar cheese

My favorite way to eat avocado baked eggs is spread on toast.  YUM!

Enjoy,

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Ruby Red Cranberry Syrup and Margarita Recipe

Makes ~ 3-4 cups syrup (great holiday gift!). Store in refrigerator for up to one month.

Learn to make, and enjoy this beautiful homemade ruby-red cranberry syrup. Use it for cocktails, margaritas, daiquiris, etc. or also over pancakes and waffles. This recipe makes approximately 3 to 4 cups of syrup, and can be stored in the refrigerator for up 6 weeks.

In a shaker over ice, mix 2-3 T cranberry syrup, 3 T silver tequila, 2 T orange liquor (not triple sec!) juice of 1 lime and a squeeze of agave nectar. Pour into chilled martini glasses. Cheers!

INGREDIENTS:

For Cranberry Syrup Recipe:

  • 4 Cups of cranberries (frozen or thawed)
  • 1 1/2 Cups of sugar
  • 3 Cups of water

For Margarita Recipe:

Use all of the ingredients listed above for cranberry syrup, including:

  • Agave syrup
  • 5 tablespoons of white tequila, I prefer Patron, but any blanco tequila of your choice is fine.
  • 4 tablespoons of orange favored liquor, (Not a triple sec)  I prefer Bacardi O.
  • Limes

DIRECTIONS:

  • Combine cranberries, 2 cups of water and sugar in a large saucepan over high heat.

Combine cranberries, water and sugar in a large saucepan over high heat.

  • Cook, stirring frequently with wooden spoon, for 10-15 minutes. Cranberries will burst naturally due to heat. If you press against pot with back of spoon, it will release more fruit, and mixture will thicken.

Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes. Cranberries will burst (press against pot w/ back of spoon to release more fruit), and mixture will thicken.

  • Strain cranberry mixture through fine mesh sieve, adding up to 1 cup additional water to make more syrup. Press and stir cranberries against sieve to extract as much syrup as possible.

Strain cranberry mixture through fine mesh sieve, adding up to 1 cup additional water to make more syrup. Press and stir cranberries against sieve to extract as much syrup as possible.

  • You will end up with this beautiful ruby-red cranberry syrup!

You will end up with a beautiful ruby-red cranberry syrup! I use mine for cocktails (margaritas, champagne, etc...), but this syrup would also be good over pancakes or waffles.

  • Makes 3-4 cups of syrup. Store in refrigerator for up to one month.

Makes ~ 3-4 cups syrup (great holiday gift!). Store in refrigerator for up to one month.

NOW FOR THE DELICIOUS CRANBERRY MARGARITA:

  • In a shaker over ice, mix 3 1/2 cups of cranberry syrup, 5 tablespoons of white tequila, 4 tablespoons of orange liquor (not triple sec), juice of 1 lime and a squeeze of agave nectar.
  • Pour into chilled martini glasses.
  • Enjoy!!!

In a shaker over ice, mix 2-3 T cranberry syrup, 3 T silver tequila, 2 T orange liquor (not triple sec!) juice of 1 lime and a squeeze of agave nectar. Pour into chilled martini glasses. Cheers!

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Moscato Pairing

“In need of a quick, inexpensive, romantic dinner without having the time to get ready, cook, or make last minute reservations? Stay home, pop in a movie, pair a bottle of wine along with your favorite pizza, set the lights dim, light some candles and relax”…..Samantha Jonas-Rongo

Moscato Pairing  

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

With notes of apricot, white peach and sage, a wonderful sweetness,
and its vibrant and refreshing quality, it’s no wonder I, along with America loves
Moscato. It pairs well with many dishes and different food combinations. A glass is delicious alongside of green salads, seafood, poultry, fruit and cheese plates, sweet desserts and spicy dishes. Here are some pairing subject suggestions that I enjoy myself and I hope you will too. This is referenced and originated from my latest post, “My Love for Moscato”. Click Here To View “My Love for Moscato”.

Enjoy pink, red or white moscato during any of these enjoyments:

  • BRUNCH – If you’re looking for a brunch wine, Moscato pairs well with breakfast pastries, eggs, pancakes and other brunch foods such chicken or even fish.
  • COCKTAIL MUNCHIES – Crackers, cheese (hard or soft), and olives provide a salty counterpoint to the slightly sweet wine. Simple bruschetta is also a perfect pairing along with these snacks.
  • FRESH VEGTABLES – The crispness of raw vegetables pairs well with Moscato.
  • CHICKEN & FISH  – Moscato is delicious with lighter chicken and fish dishes.
  • CREAM SAUCES – Mild cream sauces pair well with Moscato.
  •  DESSERT – While moscato is far less sweet than other dessert wines, it has enough residual sugar to work with many desserts such as cheesecake or strawberry shortcake.
  • FRUIT – A snack or dessert of fresh fruit, or a fruit pie is an occasion for Moscato. Peaches are a perfect match with this peachy wine.
  • HAM – Here’s another fine sweet-and-salty pairing, whether it’s a baked dinner ham, a ham sandwich or ham-based brunch..
  • PICNICS & POOLSIDE – Moscato is an ideal wine to sip poolside or relaxing at a picnic while cooling off from the heat.
  • SALADS – Want a glass of wine with your lunch or dinner salad? Grab the Moscato.
  • SHELLFISH – Sweeter wines like Moscato are a favorite pairing with crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops and sushi.
  • SPICY FOODS – The slight sweetness of Moscato complements the heat and spice to pair with Asian, Indian and other hot cuisines, along with spicy favorites such as Spaghetti, pizza and garlic based dishes.

In need of a quick, inexpensive, romantic dinner without having the time to get ready, cook or make last minute reservations? Stay home, pop in a movie, pair a bottle of wine along with your favorite pizza, set the lights dim, light some candles and relax.

Samantha Jonas-Rongo

pizzawine