Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Way of Life

Last month, Aaron and I totally revamped our budget. A few things are changing in our life, and in order to prepare for that, we needed to change our spending habits. 
We did a lot of research. 
None of the cookie cutter budgets fit what we wanted. We picked things that we liked about different styles, but we're focusing on the Dave Ramsey way of life. So far, we've paid off one of Aaron's student loans, and things are looking very promising. We've only been doing this for one month, but it just feels so good to be getting out of debt! That just leaves two more student loans plus my car loan, and we'll be debt free. I know it will take a few years, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that my friends, feels amazing.
Here are a few of the things that we've changed so far:
  • We quit going out to dinner so often. This may seem kind of silly, but it has worked. When we do want to go out to eat on the weekends, we usually go during lunch. Not only are the portions generally smaller at lunch [better for my waistline], but the prices are usually cheaper, too.
  • During the work week, I come home for lunch since my office is about 5 miles away. Aaron packs his lunch on most days.
  • I go grocery shopping once a month. Again, I've only been doing this for a month, and January was pretty successful, but I have some kinks to work out. My plan is to do all of my bulk shopping once a month, and then pick up milk/eggs/bread as needed. To some this may sound crazy, but here's how it worked for us: 1) not going to the commissary weekly saved me $5 a week in tips for the baggers alone ($15 savings for the month) 2) Bulk shopping [buying family packs of meat & breaking it down] saves me so much, compared to buying single serve packages for each meal. 3) The less I'm in the store, the less money I spend. In other words, every time I go, I may pick up extra things not on my list if they are on sale, etc. even if I don't necessarily need them at the time. 4) I'm not wasting my day off going to the store with a grumpy toddler. On the days I need milk, Aaron will pick it up on his way home from work...saves time & gas.
  • I've started making more things homemade. This includes buying dry beans to prepare instead of buying canned. Making my own soup. Making my own rolls, pizza crust, bread sticks, etc. You get the idea.
  • I've gotten back in to couponing. I quit for a while right after I started work because it was just too much for me to keep up with at the time. It's definitely worth it for us, though, because most of the hygiene items that we use are on a Walgreen's/CVS sales rotation.
I don't have any hard figures at the moment for how much these small changes are helping us, but I'm hoping that once I work out the kinks I can share them with you all. 
If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can't save for the future until you get out of debt. **
This, for us, was life changing. 

**Another blogger pointed out my mistake. You can put money into savings while getting out of debt.  However, I continually tell myself that I can't start really saving until we get out of debt. We have a savings account with an amount that we are secure with, and until we pay off our debt, we don't plan on adding to that. If you do not have a savings account, but want to save while trying to become debt free, please ignore my mantra!

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Life

When we first found out that we were moving to Fort Sill, I was overwhelmed with negative comments. Some of the people had been here and experience first hand what the Lawton/Fort Sill area had [or didn't have] to offer. Most had not, but had 'seen on t.v.' or 'heard' about what it was like here. Not only were we moving to our first duty station, but it just so happened to be 1,000 miles away from our friends and family. It was nerve wracking, to say the least, and everyone else's two cents didn't help.
In the short time leading up to our move, I tried staying positive. 
I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry about it a few times, and I often had worries about what life would be like that far away from familiarity, but mostly, I was looking forward to our 'new' life together.
Life is what you make it.
After 7 months of living here, I'm writing this [mostly for myself], but also on the off chance that someone else can relate to how I was feeling.

This is what I heard:
There's nothing to do in Lawton.
The crime rate is terrible.
Better watch out, it's tornado alley!

This is how I feel:
There is so much to do in Lawton! You have to be proactive, but there are lots of things to do. Even if the things going on in town aren't your cup of tea, OKC is 1.5 hours away, Wichita Falls less than an hour, and Dallas is about 3 hours away. I guarantee you will find something to do with ALL of these big city choices so close by!

As for the crime rate, there are several websites that you can go to to check it out. For me, someone telling me how bad the crime rate in the town was did nothing but scare me. It certainly didn't stop me from moving because the move wasn't my choice to begin with. All I can say about that is either live on base, or live on the good side of town [which we do], and take all of the necessary precautions to make sure that you're not a victim due to your own stupidity [locking cars, deadbolts, windows, etc].

We haven't been here during 'peak' tornado season [March - May], but the weather hasn't been too bad here thus far. I've survived my fair share of tornadoes in Alabama, though.

There are always going to be people trying to ruin your happiness, trying to sway your opinion, trying to make you miserable. Misery loves company.
One of my biggest struggles is trying to see the positive in all situations, but at least I'm trying.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Salted Caramel Cake Pops

Last year, my dear hubby introduced me to the salted caramel mocha from Starbucks, and I became obsessed
More recently, my sister introduced me to the salted caramel cake pops and I couldn't believe how amazing they were. I found myself craving them, but they're kind of expensive, so I wanted to try to learn to make them myself.

Alas, here is my version of the salted caramel cake pops, inspired by starbucks.

1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
2-3 tbsps chocolate frosting
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup caramel melts
kosher salt

heavy cream

Make the cake mix according to directions. Bake & allow to cool completely before you begin creating the balls. Break cake up into tiny pieces into a large bowl (this should be super easy since the cake is fresh and moist). Add frosting a tablespoon at a time. Less is more. You don't want the balls to be so moist and sticky that they don't stay together. Once you have a nice, firm consistency  let the mixture rest for 10-15 minutes. Roll mixture into 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls and place on a wax paper covered sheet tray. Once all balls are formed, place in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes in order to firm. [Optional: dip sucker sticks in melted chocolate before inserting into the middle of the balls.] 

After balls have hardened, put chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second intervals until completely melted. Dip each ball with the chocolate and tap to get rid of excess chocolate. Allow to dry [10-15 minutes]. Melt white chocolate in microwave in 30 second intervals until completely melted. Melt caramels the same way. I found that the caramels didn't get as soft as I wanted, so I added a tbsp of butter and a tbsp of heavy cream and microwaved until it was a smooth consistency. Put a dollop of white chocolate on each pop. Then put a dollop of caramel on top of that. Add a sprinkle of kosher salt and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.

They aren't perfect, but they taste like heaven. I promise, they're so good, you won't regret the time it takes to make! Plus, take these to a party and you'll really impress your friends!

During this process, though, I did find a few things that I want to change next time. Instead of chocolate chips, I want to use candy melts. From what I hear, the consistency is a lot thinner and would be easier to work with. I also want to create my own caramel frosting to use in the mixture rather than chocolate frosting to add more of a caramel flavoring. Lastly, I'm going to use coarse sea salt in place of kosher salt. My hubby said these didn't have enough salt on them to truly be called salted caramel. So there you have it!

Do you have any fun ideas or tips for cake pops?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New, New.

Want to know what happens when you neglect your blog for over a month? You lose followers AND have 600+ unread posts to read. So. Much. Fun.

But I'm back, with an update on last year's goals, and a few new ones.

-Lose 10lbs [done 11/9/12]
-Make at least 2 garments for myself that I will actually wear! [fail! I started a skirt, but never finished.]
-Make a quiet book for Adelei [fail! This year, maybe?]
-Start couponing more seriously [done! I've gotten quite good, especially for the lack of good stores in our town.]
-Try 1 new recipe per week [done! I'm always trying new things. I hate getting stuck in a rut!]
-Blog daily [not including weekends] 
Obviously this was the most epic of failures. I've decided that this isn't really realistic for me at this point in my life. 
-Create my own button/header, etc...revamp blog [done! 5/9/12]
-Create Adelei's 1st year scrapbook [fail. Admitting that is so embarrassing.]
-Create & maintain bill/budget notebook [done. 6/12/12]
-Exercise daily 
Yikes! This one varies. I try to exercise daily. But sometimes it just doesn't happen. Usually I get it done when the baby is napping, but sometimes this Momma needs a nap, too!
-Start taking vitamins [done. 11/1/12]
-Establish a health/beauty routine & stick with it [done. 10/5/12]

-Lose 15lbs
-Read at least 12 books
-Improve my etsy shop
-Create a recipe binder/smashbook
+ plus the goals from last year that I didn't quite meet.

What are your goals for 2013? 
I'm looking forward to getting back in to blogging and catching up with you all.

Happy New Year!