Quick Tip Mondays: Keeping Your Brown Sugar Moist

Every Monday I plan on posting a small quick tip for my readers. Most of them are tips I have been taught by my mom or Grandma, or found on via Google when I had a problem to solve.

Today's quick tip actually came from my husband.

I have a canister of brown sugar, and it goes rock hard, even if the brown sugar is only a couple of weeks old. I have a "brown sugar bear" in it, that is supposed to keep the moisture in the sugar. It doesn't seem to work for my canister. This bear works in my mom's well-sealed Tupperware, but I think because my canisters are from the dollar store and don't have the greatest seal that it can't keep up with the air constantly getting in.

So my hubby decided to help me make apple crisp the other day, and was quite frustrated when he had to get the brown sugar out and it was rock solid. So he goes to my daughter "we are going to teach mommy a trick!". And proceeded to get a piece of bread and put it in the jar, and re-seal the lid. The piece of bread magically added moisture back into the jar, and the next day it was like the brown sugar was brand new! I took the bread out and tossed it into the green bin (compost).

Today's quick tip - put a piece of bread into your brown sugar canister, and a day later your brown sugar will be nice and soft.

Have a great Monday everyone!

Learning to Budget: Step 4 - Re-evaluate

It's time for the final post in my learning to budget series. The last step is re-evaluating your budget.

Once you have completed a month of your budget it's time to sit down and re-evaluate.

Get all your receipts and bills together, and your completed budget form and decide on how to continue for the next month.

Here are a few questions to get you started on your evaluation of the first budgeting month:

1. Do you need more or less cash each month?

2. Did you pay all your fixed expenses on time? If no, why not? What can you do to change this in the future and ensure you have the money to make sure your expenses are paid on time?

3. Is your income coming in as expected? Do you have enough income? Is there anything you can do to change this if it's not?

4. Are you saving like you set out to?

5. Is your budget working?

6. What do you need to change to make it work better for you?

Essentially, everyone's situation is different, and so you want to create a budget and a system that works best for you. I am continuing to tweak the way I write out the budget and how I store/pay my bills, trying to find a way that works the best.

Good luck with determining what works best for you!

Learning to Budget: Step 3 - Find Ways to Save Money $$$

It's time for the next step in my Learning to Budget series.

Step 3 is all about finding different ways to save money to help make your budget balance, and make it easier to manage your finances.

I have compiled a list of simple ways that you can use in your life to help cut costs and save some money.

Because we are doing renos on our house, and want to sell it this summer, I am doing some serious penny pinching and so we are surviving on the "bare necessities". Some of these items may seem a little  extreme, but when you are trying to save money and make your budget balance you may need to go to extremes.

20 Different Ways to Save $$$

1. Use cash for variable expenses instead of your debit or credit card. And keep track of where it's going. And when it's gone DON'T pull out the debit or credit card!

2. No fast food/restaurants. 99% of the time you will spend more at a restaurant than if you made a meal at home, so a quick way to save money is to cook!

3. Meal Planning. I am going to do a whole post dedicated directly to meal planning, so stay tuned for that.

4. Make your grocery list, and STICK to the list when you are shopping. And I've been told to never go grocery shopping when you are hungry - you will buy items you don't need.

5. Sell items around the house that you don't need. Go through your basement, your kid's toys, your kitchen, your closet, etc. If there is something collecting dust or an item of clothing you never wear, sell it! You can use free web classifieds, facebook groups, consignment shops - there are lots of different options. And you end up with cash in your pocket!

6. Decrease the amount of clothes you buy for your children. My kids have ALOT of clothes, and ALOT of clothes for each size. I don't buy myself clothes anymore - but I have a serious addiction to adorable children's clothing. I can't seem to go into Costco and NOT come out with a piece of child's clothing. If you do laundry often your kids don't need as many items of clothing in each size as you think.

7. Don't buy something just because it's on sale or a good deal. SALE - such a dangerous word when shopping! Well it's 50% off so I have to get it ... but it's not something I need right now, but I don't know if it will go on sale when I do need it! I have to exercise serious self-control when shopping because I have this conversation in my head often, and unfortunately sometimes I fail and then tend to regret it later when there is no money to pay the bills! :)

8. Buy second-hand. I'm not a big "used" shopper - I like the feeling of "new". But I'm trying to get better because the majority of the time you can get really great items in great condition for a great price.

9. Shop clearance. I'm more of a clearance shopper. Especially at my favourite children's retailers - I always head straight to the clearance racks and stock up for the next season. I got a Mexx snowsuit for my daughter 2 years ago for $35 - regular price of $180!!! Brand new and on clearance.

10. Tithe. This should be point #1. How many times have you heard - "if you give to the Lord, He will give back"? Well it's true. Give your "first fruits" faithfully to the Lord and He will take care of you.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or dink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?" (Matt. 6:25 NIV) 

"Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." (Prov. 3:9-10 NIV)

11. Don't use your debit or credit cards EVER. If you have trouble with self-control (like me!), then keep the plastic at home - hidden away (not close to the computer either!). If you do need them to buy a specific item, ONLY buy that item!

12. Keep track of your receipts. Know where your money is going. This will help you to budget easier, and you will need these for Step 4 of my series. 

13. Go to the library. I love to read and I love books. I have a problem buying books, when I could just go the the public library and borrow it for FREE! Use your library card, rather than buying a book you are just going to read once and put on the shelf.

14. Make your lunch. Don't go out for lunch every day at work - get up a little earlier, or stay up a little later, and pack a lunch.

15. Don't buy coffee. It's only $1.50, but it adds up every week. Make your coffee at home, or at the office.

16. Don't smoke. It boggles my mind the amount of money people spend on cigarettes - I'm not a smoker and never have been. You could save THOUSANDS of dollars every YEAR by not smoking.

17. Go for a walk/go to the park. Take advantage of the beautiful outdoors and the free "entertainment" it offers.

18. Cut out all entertainment that costs money. This may seem a little extreme, but there are a lot of different ways you can have fun at home or around your neighbourhood for no or very little money. Instead of going to the movie theatre, go to the library and check out a movie, make popcorn and watch it at home.

19. Don't shop at the big box stores when doing your grocery shopping. By this I mean Wal-mart, or the big Superstore/Supercentres that offer so much MORE than groceries. I have a VERY difficult time going into Wal-mart and coming out with ONLY groceries - it seems that some item of clothing or other household item that wasn't on my list enters my cart. I prefer to stick to the No Frills grocery store around the corner and remove myself from unnecessary temptation.

20. Make homemade gifts and cards for birthdays and special occasions. It was just my mom's birthday, and rather than buying her a card I gave Kaylen a piece of cardstock and some crayons and Grandma got a special keepsake card. Kaylen's birthday is coming up and I used some of my fabric collection to create her gifts - I'll post about them later.

And of course FREE, FREE, FREE. 

These are just a few ways you can save money. Hope they can help you out! Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Step #4 - re-evaluating your budget.

Learning to Budget: Step 2 - Make a Budget + Free Printables

Once you have completed step 1 of our budgeting series, Get a Plan, you can move onto step 2.

It's time to sit down and spend some quality time creating your budget.

I have created a free printable budget sheet which you can download here. I have taken a number of different budget sheets and created ones that work for my needs. I hope they work for you too. 

These budget sheets are designed to be filled out and used every month, and are broken into three sections.

1. Income Sources
In this section you will list ALL your income sources - salaries, benefits, gifts, etc. Use your after-tax take-home income sources - whatever amount is deposited into your bank account - that's the amount you want to use. If you use your pre-tax income and forget to remove your taxes, you are setting yourself up for failure because you will always run short of income by the end of the month.

2. Recommended Percentages
This section will be filled out once you have all your expenses determined. You will divide each expense by your total income to determine how your income is being spent, and where you need to work and improve. I have found this very helpful - we are spending {gasp} almost 50% on transportation! But now that I know this, I can start to address it.

3. Expenses (both fixed and variable)
On the budget sheets I have tried to list all possible expenses, and they are divided by category. Include all your expenses that you will pay out each month, and then also include the different items you may not pay out that month, but need to save up for. For example, we pay our license fees once a year, but if you save a little each month you will have the amount when you need to pay it out, rather than trying to find that extra cash on the month it is due. When there is an asterisk (*) you are supposed to use cash for these expenses. Once the cash is gone, it's gone, so budget and spend accordingly.

The expense sheets have 5 different columns to fill out.

Monthly Total - this is where you write the amounts of your monthly expenses. If you have weekly expenses, multiply this amount by the amount of weeks in a particular month.

Payment Frequency/Due Date - include when the expenses are due and how often you pay them. We pay our mortgage every week, so I write "every Friday" in the column next to the mortgage. This helps to keep track of when the money is due so you can ensure the money is in the bank, and your bills are paid on time.

Actually Spent - this is most important for items where you use cash and other expenses that are variable. You fill this section out at the end of the month, or after an expense has been paid.

Paid/Saved - I added this section to keep track of expenses that I have paid, and also to keep track whether an item has actually been paid out, or if the amount needs to be saved. 

Importance - this section allows you to mark the importance of an expense. Our paycheques are erratic and irregular, so this helps me to know which expenses are the most important. I put a star beside the expenses that are most important and MUST be paid.

Here are some tips on creating a successful budget.

1. Be honest and realistic. Don't inflate your income, or lower your actual expenses. It may be tough to realize how little you make, or how much something costs, but it's important to be honest to be successful. Make sure you create your budget in a way that works best for you, and don't be in denial.

2. Write down EVERYTHING.  Include ALL your income - if it's your birthday and you get cash gifts, include these on your sheet. Include ALL your expenses and plan ahead!

3. Budget for life events. Certain life events occur every year and you should budget for them accordingly. If you plan on purchasing gifts for birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries, put a little bit away every month so that when you need the money to purchase those gifts it's there. If you want to go on a vacation save up for it!

4. Use cash for certain variable expenses. If you read the Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey refers to this as the envelope system. Every week or month you fill each category envelope with your budgeted amount of cash, and then you spend accordingly. You don't use your debit or credit card once this cash runs out. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Use cash for food (grocery and restaurants), vehicle gas and repairs, clothing, babysitters and entertainment, and toiletries. 

5. Calendar System. Along with my budget sheets, I also have a calendar where I write down all my fixed expenses on their corresponding due dates. This allows me to look and see exactly which expenses are due on a particular week so I can ensure the money is available to cover those expenses.

Good luck with your budget! I am no expert in this area, but I just wanted to share what is working for me!

Our next step will talk about different ways to save money and make your income stretch a little further!

Learning to Budget: Step 1 - Get a Plan

As our renovation is slowly coming to completion, the money is starting to run low. I finally decided to sit down and start budgeting - something I should have done YEARS ago. But it's better late than never. So I thought I would share my "learning to budget" journey through a blog series!

Step 1: Get a Plan

When I start something new, I usually plan it all about before I start. When I decided we needed to start budgeting I knew the first step was to get a plan.

I purchased "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey and began reading it. 

What I especially appreciated about this book is that Dave gives you real life examples, and simple steps to help create your budget, get your finances on track and get rid of your debt. It takes some time and hard work, but anyone can get their finances in order. I would suggest this book no matter what financial situation you are in.

To get your plan you need to consider what you are trying to accomplish.

Do you feel like you are constantly living paycheque to paycheque and want to know where the money is going?

Do you need a full budget marking your fixed and variable expenses?

Do you need a simple budget to keep track of your variable expenses?

Do you want to start building your savings account - have some extra money for emergencies?

Do you want to get a handle on your debt and get rid of your debt once and for all?

Do you want to save up for a vacation or some other large purchase?

Do you want to start tithing?

Why do you want to budget?

I think it's important to know why you want to budget to make sure that you actually follow your plan and your budget.

We needed a budget for a number of different reasons:
1. To map out exactly what our monthly fixed expenses were.
2. To find our where all the money was going.
3. To determine how much debt we had and how much extra money we had to continue our renovation.
4. To determine exactly when the money was coming in (our paycheques are sporadic) and exactly when the money was going out and how much we needed to have in the bank each week to pay that week's bills.

My Plan

The first step of my plan was reading "The Total Money Makeover" and learning some tips and tricks, and now I had some budget forms to use.

The second step was to compile all my fixed expenses (utility bills, phone bills, mortgage, etc.) so that when I was ready to start my budget I had the paperwork on hand.

The third step was determining what I wanted to get out of budgeting and what I wanted to accomplish.

Next Step ....

Now I'm ready for the next step - making a budget! Stay tuned for the next post detailing Step 2.