Monthly Archives: January 2012

Keep Receipts

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Yeah I know, you know what I am going to say, “keep your receipts”. We all know to do it, so why don’t we? I think there are 3 main reasons. First, we don’t want extra paper hanging around. Second, we don’t have anywhere to keep them. Third, we don’t do it immediately and just end up throwing them away. A good way to store our receipts is to staple the sides of a manilla folder together so it forms a pocket. Write on the tab the specific areas the folder will hold such as house, college or medical. In order to stay organized with them, you need to know WHY you should keep them.

1. Double check: Always double check your receipts, it is not uncommon to find that you were double charged for items, or that a sale price was not correctly applied. For example, recently at Wal Mart the items I purchased after Christmas should have been 50% off, but were rung up at regular price. Some stores have a policy that if the item is rung up incorrectly you can get it for free! Have 1 spot you put all receipts in your wallet or purse so that they will not get lost or in the way of everything else. Even a tiny coin purse will do the job efficiently. As often as you can, go through those receipts and decide where the next step is for them.

2. Reconciliation: If you charged either to your credit or debit cards, you need receipts until you are sure that the correct amount was charged to your account. Keep all those in an envelope where you open your bills and go through them when your monthly bank statement or credit card statement arrives or you can look at your account online. If they were charged or refunded to your card correctly, then you decide if you need them for the long term. Make sure you are checking your credit rating number once a year so that you can see if anything on the report is incorrect. If you have receipts or monthly statements showing payment it is much easier to get bad marks removed.

3. Warranty and Guarantee: Many things we buy have great warranties, but only if we keep the original receipt with the paperwork. Once you know you have been charged correctly, receipts should be stapled to the paperwork that come with an item. I have a filing cabinet and one section is dedicated purely to this type of paperwork.

This includes more than what we purchase at a store. If you buy items at a home party those are equally important. For example, my Pampered Chef cookie bar stone pan was broke and I needed my receipt to show it was less than 3 years old to have it replaced free of charge.

4. Reimbursements: Have you ever bought something for work and could not get paid back because the receipt disappeared? All those type of receipts should be turned in immediately! Don’t forget to make a copy just in case the next person loses it. On the top of each receipt make a short note of why it needs to be reimbursed. Such as the trip you were on, who you took to lunch or who authorized the purchase. Have a file in your cabinet specifically for these types of receipts. If you cannot turn one in right away, keep it in the file with your copies. Once you are reimbursed toss the receipt and the copies.

5. Taxes: If you itemize, then you need to keep your receipts for anything that can be a deduction such as school, medical expenses and daycare. Do you do your own taxes or do you take them to a professional? If you keep your receipts organized, it will save YOU a lot of time and frustration. If you hand them off organized it will save you MONEY. How you organize these receipts will depend on what you need to claim. I create a new folder for each category. As you receive your end of year statements, put them all with these folders so that they don’t get lost. Then when it is time to file your tax return, you only have to deal with 1 folder at a time. After the receipts have been totaled, staple each category together with a grand total on top. All the bundles go into a manilla envelope with the year written on the front and a copy of the tax return inside. Be sure to SEAL so that nothing is lost. This allows you to easily file all the information yet still have access to it if needed. The one exception to this are receipts for your house.

6. Resale: Receipts that paid for work done to the house should be kept in a separate file along with the contact information of anyone you hired to do the work. This allows you quick access if something goes wrong, such as the new roof leaks. While the file cabinet is a good place, another is a binder. This is especially true if you are having a major renovation done or a custom build. This way you can have everything together in 1 place, including permits.

The same rule applies to your car. If it were to be in an accident the insurance company would want proof that you did any special improvements to the car, such as a larger motor or expensive rims. Do not keep these in your car!!!! However, they should be handed off when you sell or trade in your vehicle.

7. Proof of Payment: Especially when you pay cash, a receipt is your only proof that you paid. My daughter lost a book in 5th grade and we paid for it. In 6th grade she was told she still owed on it. She took the receipt to her new school and was able to prove we had paid for it. If your child does not receive their annual, a receipt is all you have to show they did indeed pay for it. All school receipts should be kept till the end of the school year when you are told your child owes no money. If you do automatic payments from your checking account, monthly statements are proof that it was done on time and can save you late fees. Unless you have a business or a sudden influx of money, bank statements generally only need to be kept a year.

8. Refunds – Lets say you pay for a trip that is cancelled, a receipt is how you are going to get your money back. It should be dated, signed and specify what the payment was for. Often the receipt will tell you who to contact for that refund. Paying for many things with your credit card also provides insurance to help with refunds.

When you have filed this year’s tax return, go through your paperwork from past years and toss all the items you no longer need. Doing it once a year allows you to complete a major purge. If the warranty is expired, toss it. If you no longer own it, toss it. If you have reconciled it, toss it. I have heard a variety of numbers on how many years we should keep our tax returns so I suggest just ask your accountant. They know your finances far better than anyone else!

Many areas offer free shredding so that your financial information is properly destroyed. If you don’t have that option, invest in a personal shredder to protect your identity. This includes carbon copies of checks because your signature can be learned, checks can be washed and reused, and account information makes everything accessible to thieves. Don’t forget to destroy old checks on accounts you have closed, thieves could still use them and damage YOUR credit. Many years ago my checkbook was stolen and the stress it caused for months was immense. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have my identity stolen and don’t want to.

Meanwhile, invest in a fire safe to keep papers that are the most important. This includes birth certificates, most recent tax returns and insurance policies. Keep your receipts, keep yourself safe and keep more of your hard earned money.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a great article about the documents you need to prepare in case of your death.

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Make Friends

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When I go to a store and find exactly what I want for a good price, it is like winning a prize. But it does not have to be a surprise, you can plan on those great deals by making friends with the people who work there. It does not matter what store or what they sell, getting to know the employees can save you a lot of time and money.

For example, at Lowes the department head lowers the price on items on different days. Knowing which days each department puts their items on clearance ensures you get there before all of those items are gone. They can also let you know which items in the coming week or 2, they plan on reducing the price for and sometimes, sell it at that price in advance. You just may get that mirror you have been wanting for the dining room but could not afford.

Clothing stores want regular customers and if you know a sales person well enough, they can let you know when new items you might like come in, or when they will be marked down. Nordstrom is known for their personal shoppers, but did you know anyone can have one? Not only will they pull things for you in advance, they can do so before their once a year annual sale so you can skip right to the register.

Grocery stores must sell items before they need to be tossed, but sometimes after they have been marked down, they may not be so easy to find. At Safeway I have had someone on the floor take me around and show me items that were marked down over 50% that I had missed.

If purchasing a major appliance or electronics, don’t just go by the prices you see on the shelf. One should always ask the employees if they have floor models that are marked down, they don’t just advertise it.

While many box stores sell a variety of plants, frequently they don’t have the time or trained staff to properly take care of them. Many times I have gone in only to find plants that were past being good to transplant. By finding out when the next shipment comes in, you can get them fresh from the nursery and usually much healthier.

Making friends with the sales associates is just good business. I hope the next time you go to the store you give yourself a little extra times so you can speak to the employees and get know them and find out all the ways they can help you. Let me know what deals you find!

Chedder Dumplings with Tomatoes

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Chedder Dumplings with Tomatoes

I was shocked when I made dumplings for the first time and found out my husband had never had one before. To me, it was something that my mother always made with stew, and with 4 kids, she never made enough. Hubby thought the idea of a steamed biscuit was unappetizing but I soon won him over. When I finally got him to a point where he liked tomatoes I tried these cheddar dumplings and he was hooked. Now when he sees them he gets that gleam in his eyes that I love to see. If you don’t think you can make a biscuit, I promise you CAN make a dumpling.

INGREDIENTS:
2 cans Diced Stewed Italian Tomatoes
1/2 c Tomato Juice or water
1/2 Tb Minced Garlic
2c Flour
4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 c Shortening chilled
1tsp salt
1 1/2 c Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 c Milk/Buttermilk

Time: Prep 5 to 10 minutes Cook 25 minutes

In a hot skillet combine the stewed tomatoes (this includes all the liquid in the can), tomato juice and garlic. Bring it to a simmer and give it a taste. Depending on the brand you purchase you may want to season with a little salt.

In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening and add the cheese. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the milk. You can substitute buttermilk if you like a little tang in your biscuit. Mix it well and it will look VERY sticky. Don’t worry, that is what a dumpling is supposed to look like.

Drop the dough by spoonfuls into the simmering tomatoes. Each drop should be about 2 or 3 tablespoons worth. It is okay if they are touching in the pan, but spread them out the best you can.

Sticky Dumplings

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. No matter how good it smells do not open that lid, the steam is what cooks the dumplings. At 20 minutes insert a toothpick in the center of a dumpling and see if it comes out clean. If it has dough sticking to it, replace the lid for another 5 minutes. When the toothpick does come out clean, remove the lid and continue simmering for 5 more minutes.

Fluffy pillows of bread

They are so easy to serve.

They go well with say meatloaf, and you can pour the extra tomatoes on top.

I hope you give them a try!

MEALS IN ADVANCE: Mexican Meat

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We all have those days when we are running from dawn till dusk and simply don’t want to plan (much less cook) the nightly meal. So what do we do? Pick up the phone and order a pizza or throw that frozen lasagna in the oven.

Don’t get me wrong, doing those things does not make us a bad person, they are a great tool and a treat! But what if we had other options? There is a way to make meals in advance so they can be pulled from the freezer when needed.

This is the first recipe in a series where I will teach you how to make 1 dish and spread it out over several meals. A good place to start is with Mexican Meat which can be used in a variety of meals.

USES:
Tacos
Burritos
Enchiladas
Nachos
Chimichangas
Taco Salad
Mexican Lasagna

INGREDIENTS:
5 lbs Beef Roasts
Salt
Pepper
1 Jar Salsa Verde
1/2 c water

For this particular batch I actually cooked about 13 pounds but the idea is the same, you just double or triple the ingredients accordingly. Begin by placing the roasts in your cooking vessel. I am using my roaster oven that sits on the counter, but you can use a slowcooker or a pan in the oven. If cooking in the oven make sure you either have a tight fitting lid or cover with tinfoil and seal it all the way around.

Season each roast with salt and pepper on all sides. Place into your cooking vessel and pour in the water. The temperature should be 350 degrees or low on a crockpot. How long it needs to cook will depend on how thick your roast is. Figure 6 hours as a good starting point, but for a very thick roast (as the ones I used) give it 8 to 9 hours. Not all slowcookers work at the same speed so you need to adjust according to the one you have.Continue to cook the roast until is is falling apart as seen below.

Remove the roasts and set aside for a minute. Skim the grease off the liquid that remains in the pan. Return the meat to the juices and begin to break up into large pieces. The meat will absorb most of what is left in the pan as it begins to cool.

When the meat has cooled enough to handle, start shredding it. As you do, remove any bones or pieces of fat that you find.

Now add your salsa verde, mixing it in really well throughout the meat.

All that is left is to divide the meat according to your needs. I made 6 bags for my family of 4. If you have little ones then you can probably get even more. I place the meat in the bottom of a ziplock bag and spread it from one side to the other, forming alog. Then I roll the bag to keep the shape and press out as much air as I can. When I store the bags in the freezer, I can just stack the logs. They are good up to 3 months.

Usually when I make a batch I keep one out for dinner, why cook twice? Always be sure to label and DATE your bags before placing them in the freezer. To use, remove from the freezer in the morning and it is ready to be reheated for dinner. !

I hope this saves you a little time in the kitchen on those busy days!

Should You Use Fabric Softner?

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It is time to do the laundry and after you have sorted and loaded the washer, it comes time to load the soap. The very last thing is to add the fabric softner. I mean, you want the clothes to smell nice and be static free, right? Except it may not be the best thing depending on what you have in that load.

Turn the bottle around and read the back label to find a warning. Fabric softners should not be used with any child’s clothing because it reduces the effectiveness of the fire retardant in the material. It should never be used with bedding for the same reason. Fire retardant is specifically put in those items in case you are asleep when a fire breaks out, this gives you extra time to make it out safely.

Fabric softner should not be used with any items made of terry cloth or fleece because it will increase the flammability of that item.

This is not brand specific! I have yet to find a liquid fabric softner that does not have this warning on the back. However, as people have become more aware of the products they use, companies are trying to make products with fewer chemicles so keep an eye out in the future for “natural” brands to prevent this from happening.

In the meantime there are natural options that you can try. Adding 1/2c of baking soda to the wash or 1c of white vinegar to the wash are two old techniques.

I hope I helped you today!

Jacked Up Tacos

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We all have those go to meals that we can make without thinking. The taco is one of those for me. While I still do the old-fashioned tortillas, occasionally  I jack it up a bit by using some fry bread instead. I use the same recipe as when I make sopapillas.

 

INGREDIENTS:

2 c Flour

3 tp Baking Powder

1/4 c sugar (optional)

3 Tb Shortening

2/3 c Warm Water

Frying Oil

Favorite Taco Toppings.

 
Begin by mixing all the dry ingredients together and cutting the shorting into the dry mixture.

Pour the water into the dough, but not quite all of it. Knead the dough first and make sure you will actually need it all. Depending on how dry it is, your flour may want more or less than the amount of liquid called for in the recipe. It will be a little sticky, but you should be able to knead it without getting it all over your floured hands. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you heat up your oil.

I prefer to use my electric skillet because I can control the temperature much easier. If doing this on the stove top, I suggest investing in a thermometer. It is important the oil stay a consistent 350 degrees for if it gets too low, your bread will absorb way too much oil. If the temperature gets too high the outside will look done but it will be raw in the middle. Use enough oil to go 2/3 the way up the pieces you place in the pan. Once the bread rises it will drop to halfway up so don’t panic that your bread will be overdone.

Once the dough has rested it is time to start rolling it out. Make sure you dust the counter and rolling-pin with flour so the dough does not stick. Unlike when you are making a sopapilla, this time you want to roll the dough as thin as you can and about 4 inches in diameter.

As always, when frying with oil lay the bread in the pan going AWAY from you so there are no splatters in your direction. If the oil is up to temp there should be lots of little bubbles around the bread when you place it in. You may find that in order to keep the temperature at 350 degrees that you need to set the temp to a little higher than that. Also be sure to allow the temperature to come back up between batches, so don’t be too quick to put in more pieces.

They will look puffy and have golden brown edges halfway up when they are ready to turn. If you are using a deep fryer you still need to check that both sides are done as sometimes they will just float to the top and only the bottom is cooked. Floating is a good sign they are ready to be pulled out.

While the bread is frying, turn the oven to warm and place paper towels onto a plate. Try to drain as much oil off each piece as you can, then place on your plate. The towel will absorb any extra oil.

Serve with all your favorite taco toppings, like the Mexican Meat Mix in the freezer or some homemade refried beans.

Layers of tacoey goodness await! This is a good time for the Mexican Meat you have in the freezer.

I hope you enjoy my simple, jacked up tacos

Sopapillas

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I am addicted to bread. I love it in just about any form. Fry breads are a traditional form of bread for many cultures and about 18  years ago I tried sopapillas for the first time. Often thought of as a Mexican bread, it also has roots in Argentina, Chili and Peru. Each country has their own way of serving such as with cinnamon, sugar, honey or even stuffed.

This recipe leans more towards Mexico and can be served with dinner or as a dessert. It makes a large batch, however my family likes to eat them the next day as a snack so they don’t go to waste. You can certainly cut it in half without any worries of affecting the end product.

INGREDIENTS:

2 c Flour

3 tp Baking Powder

1/4 c sugar (optional)

3 Tb Shortening

2/3 c Warm Water

Frying Oil

Powdered Sugar (optional)

As with most breads, begin by mixing all the dry ingredients together. Cut the shorting into the dry mixture. There are many ways to do this. My mother always accomplished this by using 2 knives and actually cutting the shortening into the flour. I simply am not coordinated enough to do this.

Cuttig with 2 knives

You can use a fork and by pushing it down onto the shortening it will break up into the flour.

Breaking it up witha fork

Coating your hands with flour is very effective and gives you the added bonus of really feeling what you are doing and how large of pieces you are creating. The big downside is that your hands will warm the shortening and in many recipes you want to avoid that, such as when making biscuits.

My favorite way is with a pastry knife which you push down and twist to break up the fat into the flour.  I find it to be a multipurpose tool and use it for many other things as well.

Pastry knife

Pour the water into the dough, but not quite all of it. Knead the dough first and make sure you will actually need it all. Depending on how dry it is, your flour may want more or less than the amount called for in the recipe. It will be a little sticky, but you should be able to knead it without getting it all over your floured hands. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you heat up your oil.

I prefer to use my electric skill because I can control the temperature much easier. If doing this on the stove top I suggesting investing in a thermometer. It is important the oil stay a consistent 350 degrees for if it gets too low, your bread will absorb way too much oil. If it gets too high the outside will look done but it will be raw on the inside. Use enough oil to go 2/3 the way up the pieces you place in the pan. Once the bread rises it will drop to halfway up so don’t panic that your bread will be overdone. As always, when frying with oil lay the bread in going AWAY from you so there are no splatters in your direction. If the oil is up to temp there should be lots of little bubbles around the bread when you place it in. You may find that in order to keep the temperature at 350 degrees after you place your bread in that you need to set the temp to a little higher then that. Also be sure to allow the temp to come back up after batches, so don’t be too quick to put in more pieces.

Speaking of which, lets go over how you make you little bits of bready goodness. You can roll it onto a floured surface to 1/3 an inch thick and use a pizza cutter to make squares. I rip off pieces of down and make 1 inch balls in my hands. Before I place them into the oil I flatten then out. Or you can cook them in the shape of the ball itself and not bother with flattening them. They will look puffy and have golden brown edges halfway up when they are ready to turn. If you are using a deep fryer you still need to check that both sides are done as sometimes they will just float to the top and only the bottom is cooked. Floating is a good sign they are ready to be pulled out.

While the bread is frying, turn the oven onto warm and place paper towels onto a plate. Try to drain as much oil off each piece as you can then place onto your plate. The towel will absorb any extra oil.

There are 2 ways to serve, one is as is and the other is coated in powdered sugar. I tend to serve them plain at dinner and coat the leftovers in sugar for the next day.