Thursday, December 14, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes - 2017 Edition

This Saturday, I'm hosting my annual Christmas Cookie Exchange. I started hosting this party a few years ago and it's quickly become my favorite holiday party! This year, I'm going to share some of my favorite Christmas cookie (and treat) recipes! I have a huge collection and have a hard time choosing just one recipe every year!

Cranberry Orange Cookies

Photo Courtesy of Allrecipes.com
These babies are my old stand-by favorite. Everyone also raves every time I make them.  I think the fact that they aren't some form of chocolate is what makes them so good! The orange and cranberry flavor combination is light, but also very festive. I'm tempted to make this cookie every year!

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars

Photo courtesy of marthastewart.com
While these aren't cookies, per se, I make them and add them to cookie platters that I take to parties or to work. I wouldn't recommend them for cookie gifts (since they need to be refrigerated), but they're great on a platter! Cheesecake is always a good choice and the eggnog flavor is there without the weird texture that bothers a lot of people.

Peppermint Kiss Cookies
My friend always makes Hershey kiss cookies for our cookie exchange. And I love them. The peanut butter cookie with the soft hershey kiss on top are truly perfection. But I found this variation on the traditional recipe and fell in love. Mostly because it utilizes my favorite (and most dangerous) hershey kiss - candy cane!

Photo courtesy of www.overthebigmoon.com
Two Tone Christmas Cookies

Photo courtesy of www.bhg.com
This is another one of my old stand-by favorites. I believe it's one of the first Christmas cookie recipes I ever found on Pinterest (if that tells you how old it is!). It's also where my love affair with cinnamon chips began. I didn't even know cinnamon chips existed until this recipe! While these are good, I'll be perfectly honest and tell you that my favorite part of them is the aesthic aspect. They are so darn pretty on a platter!

Cookie Butter Truffles



I first found this recipe in a Food Network holiday edition magazine. And the men in my life (my husband and his buddies) are obsessed with it. I get asked to make it all the time. It's super rich (hello, cookie butter), but also a super easy and delicious recipe.  These hold well enough to go in a cookie gift, but I think are probably better on a platter. Cookie truffles and balls hold up better when they're cold than when room temperature.

I hope these recipes give you some great ideas for festive treats.  What's your favorite Christmas cookie recipe?! I'm always on the hunt for new ones!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Measuring Success, November Highlights and Bumpdate! - 12/5/17

I totally missed doing my monthly progress and bumpdate last week. I'm not even going to apologize. From here until....whenever, I'm blaming it all on baby. I figure that's totally acceptable. Anyway, we're just going to do the update now. In December. And I'm going to cover some November highlights. Then we'll get back to our regularly scheduled program (whatever that may be these days...)


How far along: 27 weeks

Size of Baby: Cucumber

Cravings: Still on the Fruity Pebbles kick. And sweet tea. Other than that, I still haven't had any real crazy cravings.

Weird stuff: I've been sick for two weeks. Two. Freaking. Weeks. I hardly ever get sick and, when I do, it doesn't last very long. This makes me a terrible sick person. I also like to drug up and knock whatever I have out and that just doesn't work while growing a human. So yeah. Over it. And I haven't slept well or comfortably in I don't know how long. And most of that is from being sick and the lack of ability to breathe when not in an elevated position.

Fun stuff: We still don't have a name, but even if we did, we're keeping that under wraps until little man is here. We have jokingly started calling him LMZ for Little Man Zinn. He's very wiggly and kicking and active these days. Pretty sure he also does somersaults in there. That's all I can guess from the weird movements I feel. We have our 28 week appointment next Monday and I have my second glucose test sometime soon after that. But the fun appointment is later in December when we get our next ultrasound.

Weight gained: I have no idea. I don't get on a scale except for the morning that I'm going to the doctor. You know, have that initial shock at home versus in front of the nurse. I've been getting a LOT of comments lately. The belly definitely "popped" over the past few weeks and there isn't really much "is she or isn't she?" anymore, so comments abound! Most are positive and many have told me that I don't look huge, I look healthy and haven't gained a ton of weight. Then I have others that have asked me if I'm sure there's only one, if I'm due in January and, my personal favorite, that I waddle. I'm going with the positive comments.

Exercise: November was such a bust. It was a crazy month that ended with two weeks of being sick. If I got in two classes a week, it was a good week. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm hoping to get back to my 3-4 classes a week schedule. I feel so much better when working out!

Endurance: Gone. It's gone. There is no such thing as running anymore. Stairs are worse than ever. But then I have these moments where I can do amazing things like sprints in spin class. Then I want to die. So I'm just keeping it slow and steady. 

Classes/Exercises: I've stopped going to boot camp. It's more running than I want and, honestly, I just don't feel that up to it. I'm contemplating buying myself a pair of 5 or 8 lb weights for the house so I can keep my arms in shape, but that hasn't happened yet. I'm still doing spin, yoga and pilates. I'm now standing more in spin than sitting because, quite frankly, it hurts to sit. So I try to stick to the class as taught, but I stand when it hurts and sit when I can't breathe. And, so far, it's working for me. 

November Highlights!
November is by far my favorite month. It's my birthday, Thanksgiving and then we start the Christmas season. What's not to love?! Here are some of the fun things that happened this month!

Little Man's Room
We moved all of the furniture out of our little guy's room and into our guest room. The guest room is now a very scary place! We picked out our paint color (hooray for choosing the right one on the first try!) and spoke to a friend about doing a mural.  Aaron's done most of the painting and the mural should happen sometime this month. I'm so, so excited for this project! No worries, it'll get it's own blog post later!


Also, the lighting is terrible, but it's a really pretty Carolina (or sky) blue.

My Birthday
We celebrated my 32 birthday this year with our friends.  It was a low key, but awesome weekend. Thanks to my friend Sarah for making me this beautiful and delicious cake!


Thanksgiving!
We hosted Thanksgiving again this year.  I totally forgot to take a picture of my table or the food, but it was an awesome day having all our family together.  Next year, this photo will look a little different!


Pioneer Woman came to Raleigh!


And finally, I met the Pioneer Woman (from Food Network) for the second time! She's come to Raleigh twice now and my friend Sarah and I have seen her both times.  Last time, Sarah and I were there until midnight (!) to see her, but because we were at the end of the line, we also got a little more face time.  This time, we got through much quicker but didn't get to talk to her as much. Oh well, I still love her!

How was your November?! We're already five days into December and it's already looking a little crazy.  Happy beginning of the holiday season friends! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November 2017 Maternity Stitch Fix Review

Confession - This box arrived like two weeks ago. I managed to take photos of everything before I sent it all back and had the best of intentions to do a post last week, but a cold and Thanksgiving got in the way of that. So you get the review this week! Without further adieu, here's my November Maternity Stitch Fix Review!



I kept all five items in my last fix. I sold one of them, but it was still a big investment for me, so I put this box off until my birthday instead of October, when it should have arrived. Even then, I had already decided I would only keep one item out of the fix. In my note to Kelly, I requested dresses that I could wear to showers and maternity photos, preferably a maxi, and maybe some work tops. Mom took me maternity shopping for my birthday and I picked up a bunch of cute things, but you would be surprised how hard it is to find good work maternity clothes! When I peeked (cause I always peek), I was a little disappointed. No maxi dress and the tops weren't really thrilling me at first glance. But, I decided to reserve judgment and see what everything looked like. I was actually pleasantly surprised!

Laila Jayde - Bowie 3/4 Sleeve Dolman Knit Top L ($58)

When I first pulled this top out, I wasn't too thrilled. It's brown. I'm not a brown shirt person. But it's so soft and comfy! I loved the fact that it wasn't maternity, but honestly, I don't need another a) dolman or b) casual top. So I sent this one back.



41 Hawthorn - Zaza Open Cardigan L ($58)



I was super excited to see another non-maternity item. However, I might need to put a moratorium on cardigans from Stitch Fix. I love them and it's so hard to turn them down! I liked that this one is actually a dark gray, instead of black, and that it's open. Open cardigans are my jam. But, I don't need another cardigan. And the arms were a little long and awkward on me. I sent this one back.

Also, I took front and side photos of each item so you can see what your belly will look like. I've learned that for the most part, I'm more comfortable in body con than baby doll/empire waist. I just look gigantic in the second.



Skies are Blue Maternity - Arnett Maternity Lace Knit Top L ($58)



Nope, nope, nope. This was a whole bunch of nope. We'll start with the positives. I love the color. Green is actually my favorite color and jewel tones are my best friends, color-wise. I like the 3/4 sleeve. It's my favorite length for fall and winter because it's easy to layer. And that's where the good things end.

Kelly tried to hit the note for work and maternity photos/showers with this, but it just wasn't me. Funny, it doesn't look bad in the photos. But it just didn't feel right. The top felt super matronly on me. The lace felt old lady-ish and the lacy arms were ick. When I was a kid, I hated lace because it was itchy. Apparently, that still stands. This was a heck no and went back. Oh, I also felt like a stuffed sausage.



Daniel Rainn Maternity - Pistaci Split Neck Maternity Blouse L ($68)


When I peeked, this top was my absolute least favorite item in the entire box. Mostly because the photo card doesn't really do it any justice whatsoever. I was hesitant to like it because I can generally buy Daniel Rainn much cheaper at TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack, but it's hard to find maternity at those stores. When I put it on, it was actually really tight in the shoulders and arms, but it was very promising. The main color is a very light gray with white polkda dots. It's neutral enough to go with any of my maternity pants and, while maternity, I figure I can easily wear it afterwards, too, without it screaming "maternity." I decided to exchange it for an XL and keep it. I actually received the XL this weekend and it has a bit of room, which will be good!



Loveapella - Abie Faux Wrap Knit Maternity Dress L ($68)



Remember how I said earlier that for the most part, body con is what I'm most comfortable in? This dress is the exception to that rule. I love my LulaRoe Julia dresses, which are very fitted. But this one? I don't know. I didn't feel great in it. Kinda huge, actually. I've found that I actually kind of hate the wrap top right now. It wraps weirdly on me (at least I feel like it does) and the wrap always hits smack in the middle of my boob. It's weird. I loved the pattern on this and, honestly, if it hadn't been a wrap top, I probably would have kept it and worn the mess out of it. But, yeah, my boobs don't need any extra attention. This one was sent back.



I ended up really liking this fix. I was sad I didn't get a maxi (apparently they were all summery, boo!), but was pleasantly surprised with the tops she sent. It ended up being between the dolman and the Daniel Rainn and I ultimately chose the Daniel Rainn because I need work shirts. I liked that both pieces have the ability to be worn after the baby is born. That's the hardest thing with maternity clothes, for me, is that they have a limited life span. I hate to buy too many! 

What are your thoughts? Did you like something I didn't? Would you have kept something I sent back? Happy Tuesday folks!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 Ideas: Desserts!

Happy Friday! I don't know about you, but I've been waiting for this day all week! This week has been long and insane and I'm oh so happy for it to end! It might help that my birthday is this weekend, but I'm still mostly just ready for the week to be over! Today, I'm closing out my Thanksgiving posts (yay for 3 posts this week!!) talking about everyone's favorite - the desserts!



You can't have Thanksgiving without desserts! The best part about Thanksgiving is eating way too much at the meal, then getting a little of all the desserts. And then coming back and grazing some more later in the day. It's a whole day of gluttony! So, without further adieu, here are some of my personal favorites and recipes I want to try!

Trisha Yearwood's Chocolate Pie
Chocolate Pie has long since been one of my favorites. I don't like it super sweet, almost more on the semi-sweet side. I've made this pie a few times and it always comes out really good.  I've stopped making the graham cracker crust, though, and use the Pillsbury pie crusts.  I find that I like a traditional crust more than a graham cracker crust. Both are pretty awesome though!  You can find the recipe here.



Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie
I originally found this recipe in a magazine and have loved it ever since.  When I went to find the recipe online, I was saddened to find that someone gave it two stars! What?! It's one of my favorites.  For as much as I love all things pumpkin, I'm not a huge fan of straight pumpkin pie. The cream cheese makes it a little lighter, but still with the awesome pumpkin taste.  And who doesn't love apple butter?! If you want some pumpkin, but something a little different, check this one out here!



Pioneer Woman Blackberry Cheesecake Squares
I normally don't make this recipe for Thanksgiving, but it's one of our favorites in my family.  It's pretty easy to make and is something different than your usual pies!  Make sure to read the full post/recipe for tips on how to bake the cheesecake! You can find the recipe here.

Image from www.thepioneerwoman.com
Pioneer Woman Chocolate Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie
I watched the Pioneer Woman make this on her episode this past Saturday and was so, so tempted to make it for Thanksgiving this year. But when I looked at what everyone else was making, I thought it might be too much pumpkin.  But I'm so intrigued! It starts with a store-bought pumpkin pie, then you add chocolate ganache and top with a seriously delicious-looking marshmallow whipped topping. In a word, it looks orgasmic. I'm thinking this would be great to make and take to someone's house and totally make it look like you worked a lot harder than you did!  Check out the recipe here.

Image courtesy of The Food Network
Five Flavor Pound Cake
By far, one of my most favorite recipes in the world comes from my beloved Granny's Cookbook. It's an old church spiral-bound cookbook that's from my Grandma Ollie's hometown in Virginia. There is nothing healthy in that book, but I have yet to find a recipe that is anything short of amazing.  The pages are old and yellowing and are starting to tear at the binding from use. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll find handwritten notes from my Grandma in the margins.  It's one of my most treasured items. And this is where my recipe for Five Flavor Pound Cake comes from.  My mother would hurt me if I shared that recipe, but I've found a fairly similar one here.  The best part about Five Flavor, is the bottom of the cake.  The cake itself is moist and delicious, but then you spoon over this syrup while the cake is still hot and all the juices land at the bottom of the cake and create this crust of yumminess. You can eat this cake with whipped cream or by itself. It's always, always a winner. Not cheap! But a winner. 



I hope you've enjoyed talking about food for an entire week! I most certainly have! And I'm even more excited to eat it all next week! Happy Friday everyone! Go make your menus and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 Ideas: All About Sides

The week of pre-Thanksgiving planning continues! I think most people would agree that the big day revolves around the bird (the main event) and the sides. Me? It's all about the sides and dessert.  Today, I'm talking about the sides!


But first, let's talk the bird.  Some people devote days upon days for thawing and then brining their birds.  I don't. My turkey goes straight from the freezer and into the oven. And it's glorious.  For years, I've used the freezer to oven turkeys.  First, it was Jennie-O, but now I've moved on to Butterball. The turkey tastes amazing and is super juicy, but the best part is that I literally just pull it out of the freezer and put it in the oven. Miracle people, it's a miracle!

The Butterball turkey from last year!
Now, on to the real potatoes (ha!) of this post - all my favorite sides!

Mashed Potatoes
I'm not going to link to a recipe for mashed potatoes, because, really, it's an art. Half art, half science. And a lot of tasting! Here's how I make them:

Cube a 5 lb bags of russet or red potatoes. If I do russet, I peel them. If I do red, I don't. Cut them in about 2-inch cubes. You want them to hold up when you boil them, but also easy enough to mash. Tip - I cube my potatoes the night before.  Just make sure that you put them in water so they don't oxidize and turn black!  If your fridge is big enough, just use the pot you're going to boil them in the next day.

Cover the potatoes with plenty of water and boil them for about thirty minutes. To test the doneness, stab with a fork.  If the potatoes come apart fairly easily, they are done.  If not, give them a few more minutes. Once done, drain out the water.

From there, I add about half a stick of butter. I cube the butter and throw in with the hot potatoes.  I use a fork to mash them at first.  Add a splash of milk. Don't add too much, you can always add more, but you can't take it back! After I add the milk, fork mash a few more times, then switch to a hand mixer.  The hand mixer gets them really creamy. If you like them more rustic, you can just mash by hand with a fork or potato masher.  Add more milk, or to make them richer, add some half and half.  It's my favorite thing to add! Once the consistency is right, season with salt and pepper to taste. I tend to go lighter on the salt and let people add more if they want. But really, you just keeping adding the milk and/or cream, salt and pepper until it's where you want it.  Another tip - you can make these in the morning and then put them in the crock pot until you're ready to eat. Then you have time to clean up the dishes! Make sure to use a liner, though, so you don't have to chisel off the baked on potatoes later!

Butternut Squash Casserole
This is one of my favorite casseroles that my mom makes. It's so good! It's kind of like a sweet potato casserole, but a little different. And the topping is almost orgasmic. It's made using Williams Sonoma Butternut Squash puree, which sells out really quickly.  So if you want to make this, get your jars now!  The recipe can be found here.

Here's the link for the puree.  You're welcome!

Shrimp and Grits Dressing
True story - I have never made this. I've wanted to and it's been on my Pinterest, but the downside of potluck is you have to pick and choose what you make. But man oh man does it look amazing! So I'm sharing it with you so that you can make it! I've never been a huge dressing fan, but add shrimp and grits to anything and I'm game! Check out the recipe here.

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Amy Burke. Photo courtesy of myrecipes.com
Corn Pudding
For some reason, I never had corn pudding until my mother-in-law made it for Thanksgiving one year. I've been hooked ever since! It's like cornbread...but with corn! One year, I tried to make corn pudding and used another recipe that was more like a custard than a cornbread. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't melt in your mouth good like this one.  If you're a carb lover like me, this needs to be on your table!  Here's a recipe similar to what my mother-in-law makes here.

Dijon Green Beans
Confession - I don't love green bean casserole. Mostly because I don't like onions - even fried ones.  But I love green beans and feel like you need some sort of vegetable on the table.  I make these green beans on a regular basis, but they are a great quick side to add to the menu.  The dijon and red wine sauce make them feel a little special and give a little zest to them! Also, this recipe is out of my Taste of Home Diet Cookbook, so it's actually not going to kill your calories! Double win!  You can find the recipe here.

Dijon Green Beans Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Hope this helps and gives you some ideas for sides for the big day! What are some of your favorite sides?


Tomorrow, we're going to end the week with the best thing ever - desserts!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 Ideas: Prepping, Decor and Appetizers!

Guys! Next week is Thanksgiving! That is the most magical time of the year to me. I'm weird, I know. Mostly, I'm just a fat kid that loves food. And a day that revolves entirely around my favorite people AND food? Who doesn't love that?! This whole week, I'll be doing posts about Thanksgiving.  Today's post is about prepping for the day, decorations and my favorite appetizers!


Prepping for the Day
Our Thanksgivings have become fairly routine. I love that about them. But maybe yours looks a little different.  Here's some ideas on how to handle leading up to the big day!

Guest List
I always start with the guest list and who is going to bring what.  Our guest list my us, my parents, Aaron's parents and my sister- and brother-in-law. I also think about any friends that might need somewhere to eat because no one should have to eat turkey alone!

Who Brings What
For the past three years, we've done a potluck Thanksgiving and it works beautifully. There isn't one person doing all of the work and everyone gets to bring their favorite (or new!) dish. Think about how many people are coming, how many sides and desserts you want and then split it up.  For us, I do the turkey, gravy, appetizers, mashed potatoes and dessert. Mainly, I do the large things and some stuff I love. Each family then brings a side and a dessert and one family brings the stuffing, rolls and cranberry as either their side or dessert. We always end up with a good variety of food, but not so much that you live off leftovers for a week!  However you divvy it out, make sure that everyone is bringing something.  They can decide what to bring, just let them know if they're bringing a side or dessert. Wine is always a good choice for a last minute guest, too!

Here is our spread from last year!


Invite!
We don't do a lot of fancy parties, so I like to make Thanksgiving special by using the fancy china and sending out actual invites. It's probably more fun for me than anyone else, but whatever. It's my party, I do what I want.  This is our invite for this year!


E-invites are the way to go. I use Paperless Post for mine and try to find the free ones. I send out the invites the first week of November (lest anyone think that I will not be hosting, even when 6 months pregnant!).  In the notes, I tell people what to bring (sides and desserts) and when we need to know by. That way, we don't end up with multiple of the same dish.

Decor and Serveware
Thanksgiving, for me, is the time to bust out all my serving dishes that I registered for when we got married. It's the time to use all the fancy stuff that only gets used a few times a year. And believe me when I say, I use it all!

Table
For the table decorations, I don't use a lot. I've bought some pretty tablecloths at Bed Bath and Beyond that fit my gigantic table.  I use place mats and pull out the fancy napkins (we usually just use paper towels) and napkin rings.



Since most of my linens coordinate, I switch out what I use each year. I don't really use many decorations on the table because we end up with a pretty full table every year. Cute, decorative salt and pepper shakers are great because they don't take up a lot of room! I also use these glass pumpkins that I got at Pier 1 a few years back and call it a day.

Serving
I have a lot of serving pieces! Tons! But come Thanksgiving, I never seem to have enough. Here is the list of items I use every year and links to the ones that I have (and most are cheap!). The big key to serve ware, for me, is that whatever you buy should be dishwasher safe. It makes life ten times easier when cleaning up. 

Gravy Boat - I actually have two gravy boats. I use them whenever we have gravy. Ha! I pull both out at Thanksgiving, one for each end of the table.  I have a pottery one and one that's white.  This one at Bed Bath is $20 and would be about $15 with a $5 coupon! 

Platters - Platters are party life! I use them for cookies, turkey, burgers and dogs when we cook out, etc. We have about four. I have two round (this Nevaeh platter for $30 and a platter that matches our china pattern) and two oval.  My two oval platters match our china patterns and aren't in stock, but this Every Day White Oval Platter at Bed Bath is perfect and only $15! I would recommend at least one, but two is really helpful!

Serving Utensils - I have two full sets of serving utensils and I still run out of spoons! I actually set out the utensils for the meal and run the dishwasher the day before so I can make sure I have plenty of spoons. It never fails, I'm always down to only one or two by the time we eat! Here's a breakdown of what I have:
  • 2 tablespoons/serving spoons
  • 2 pierced tablespoons/serving spoons
  • 2 gravy ladles
  • 2 sugar spoons (note - these four came in this set and I purchased two sets)
  • 1 cold meat fork
  • 1 butter knife (note - these came in this set)
  • Pie server - I have two
Electric Knife - While this isn't a requirement (you can just use a super sharp knife), it sure makes it easy to carve a turkey! I have a cheap $20 set that's similar to this one and it's worked great for the two times a year we use it!

Serving Bowls - I grew up in a house where regular meals were served out of the pot, but the big, special meals were in serving bowls. I continue that tradition today! Here are some bowls that I have that are pretty reasonably priced:
Now, let's get to the good stuff - food!

The Good Stuff - Appetizers!
I love Thanksgiving so much because I grew up going to the most epic Thanksgiving meals.  My mom's cousin hosted every year and we'd have a small 1,500 square foot house packed with about 30 people and counters full of food. We had three to four different types of meat, casseroles galore and at least 5 desserts. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. We don't do anything like that now, but my deep love of Thanksgiving comes from those meals and much of what I do is based on that. For example - appetizers! I like for people to come over early and hang out while we finish things up. Inevitably, a few items need to be heated or cut before serving, so it's fun to have some easy appetizers on hand.  Here's our favorites:

Deviled Eggs
I love deviled eggs. Oh so much. So much that I make them every year to make sure they are made the way I prefer (with a little pickle relish). The Pioneer Woman has a really great basic recipe that I use as my base, but she also has a ton of ideas for topping the deviled eggs.  This post has 12 (twelve!) different ways to top basic deviled eggs.  I think this year I'm going to put bacon on top!

Shrimp Cocktail
This Davenport tradition comes straight from those Thanksgivings growing up.  My cousin Alice always had shrimp cocktail as an appetizer and my dad and I loved it! So, I continue that. I get one of the frozen trays, thaw it out the night before, put it on a cute platter and move on! Super easy and always a crowd pleaser.

Cream Cheese and Pepper Jelly
My favorite appetizer and "party food." Super simple - take a block of cream cheese, put it on a cute plate, dump your favorite pepper jelly on top. Add crackers and pretzels for dipping. And you're done. I've started doing half a block of cream cheese. We were wasting a full block before, so now I do half and it's perfect.

Baked Brie
My mom brought a baked brie with her one year and it was so good! It's another quick appetizer you can do if you want to shake things up.  Here's an easy recipe that uses Pillsbury Crescent roll sheets.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about my favorite side dishes (with links!) and my biggest shortcuts! What's your favorite part about Thanksgiving?!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shopaholic on a Budget: Baby Prep

It's been a while since I've done a budget post. Mostly because we were really terrible at it for a while. This summer was expensive between two trips, weddings, wedding showers and everything else that happens in life. We kept looking at the bank account each month and going, "Where did the money go?!" We have a good amount of disposable income, but in about six months, that's going to be gone. So we've made some big plans to help get ourselves in decent shape for when little man gets here.



Everyone likes to tell me that you can't prepare for a kid. I get that. I do. I'm sure I'll really get that in March. But for now, we're going to do the best we can to put ourselves in a good spot for when he gets here. Here are some of the big things that we know we need to plan for:
  • Daycare - I'm very lucky and my employer just approved 12 weeks paid parental leave.  That's at my full salary and benefits. That's HUGE! Aaron also has the same employer, but since the benefit is shared between us, I'll be the one taking the 12 weeks.  He will be taking some time off after the baby is born, but not three months.  So that means by about May, we'll be paying daycare.  Neither one of us will be staying home. Daycare is looking to run between $800-$1000 a month and that's actually not bad for our area.  That's nearly my mortgage! 
  • New (to us) car - My beloved Baby Mazda (RIP) was totaled two years ago.  Thankfully, I married a man with multiple vehicles, so we used the money from the car to buy my gorgeous dining room table instead. No regrets on that one either! I've been driving the Corolla and Aaron's been driving the truck. The truck is 15 years old and has a laundry list of repairs to be made.  We'll be replacing the Mazda with an SUV (no minivan for me!) and still keeping the Corolla and the truck. So we're looking at a hefty down payment to get our monthly payments down around $300. 
  • Colorado trip - Aaron's cousin is getting married in June 2018. It's probably one of the last times for a while that we will be able to see the majority of his mom's family at once, so we're taking advantage and making a trip out of it! We're still playing around with the budget on this, but we're planning on at least 5 days and some sightseeing. I'm trying to keep the budget around $1,000 - $1,500. 
And on top of all that - baby stuff! I know that we'll be buying some stuff ourselves, but I don't know how much. We'll just take that as it comes.  Here are some things we have done and are doing to set ourselves up for not-failure (success sounds really weird there).

Living on our Future Realistic Budget
We've been living on a fairly tight budget for a while. We have our spending money (we each get $100 a month) and going out money ($150 every two weeks). I've upped our grocery budget and accounted for miscellaneous items like hair cuts, household purchases, and our monthly bills. We're saving what will mostly be coming out for daycare and car payments moving forward ($1,300).  This gives us an idea of how much we will be able to live on once these new expenses start kicking in while also allowing us to save a good amount each month. 

Pay Off Debt and Save the Rest!
Other than this summer, we've been doing our best to save as much as possible as well as paying off debt when it makes sense.  At this point, our only debt is our couch (which has 0% financing), my student loans and the mortgage. Everything else is paid off and is just monthly bills. We paid off all of the credit cards and our new TV. We decided that since we weren't paying interest on the couch, that it made more sense to throw our money at savings for the down payment for the car. 

Smart Car Purchasing
When I married Aaron, I was vehemently against buying used. I had a bad experience with a Saturn that lasted all of 4 months (and it was not my fault). My family had mostly bought new and just drove the car until it died, so that's what I planned on doing. However, the car that I want is more than we can justify brand new, so I've compromised in that area.  We're looking at cars that are 2-3 years old, from a reputable dealer and with 50,000 miles or so.  This allows us to save some money and get a nicer model than we would have been able to get brand new. We're also trying to get enough of a down payment that we're only financing about $15,000 - $20,000 to keep our payments reasonable. We aren't planning to purchase until summer of next year. It's a long plan, but one that will benefit us the most if we stick to it.

Utilizing Used 
Oh babies. Babies are expensive and I haven't even had one yet. Just doing the registry was exhausting! We've already made a few purchases from consignment sales and were able to get some really good items for awesome prices. We've purchased two strollers (regular and jogging) for $70 total and I scored a basically brand new convertible Chicco NextFit car seat for $125! You can read about my experience with and tips for consignment shopping here. We also have friends that have baby stuff that they've offered to give us. One of my mom's friends gave us two pack and plays, so now we have one and my parents have one. My goal is to register for what I want, see what we get and then fill in with used items from our friends. Obviously, there are some things you want to buy new, but there are so many items you can get much cheaper (or even free!) if you go used. 

Cutting Back
This one we haven't done that much with, but every little bit counts. We just paid off my iPhone 6s, so that cut our Verizon bill by $35 a month! I won't be getting a new phone until mine turns into a brick and even then, it'll probably be a used one that we pay outright. We've also talked about cutting cable and getting Sling TV.  We already have Hulu, Netflix and Amazon from when we cut the cable before, so it won't be that different. That will save us another $25 a month. We cut back our spending and going out when we started the budget that we're on. We aren't being crazy, but we are finding ways to give ourselves a little more room. 

I think the hardest part with budgeting, at least for me, is that it's a long-term goal. It's not a task I can finish immediately. I like to get things done, mark them off my list. And that's not really how budgeting goes. Kind of like getting healthy. It's a lifestyle, it's a journey. It can take a while to grow your savings, pay down debt, etc. Meanwhile, you're living with this tight budget and not seeing anything in return. But this month, we finally got to see some of it in action. 

September was the three paycheck month for us. We used to struggle with the third paycheck. It threw off our payment schedules and we always spent the money before we even knew what had happened. Earlier this year, we started planning it out. Not actually touching those paychecks until the end of the next month. We were able to put both of our third paychecks, minus money for groceries, gas and going out, into savings. That's double what we're normally able to save in a month! Those are the wins I like to think about when in the middle of budget crunch.  

What are some ways you've been working your budget? If you've had kids, what are some ways you found to save money? Help a girl out!