Thursday, December 21, 2017

Shopaholic on a Budget: One Year Review

In January of this year, Aaron and I went on a budget. Last year was a big year and we spent all of the money! And at the end of December 2016, the day before we got paid, we had $24 in our checking account. We both have good jobs and we really don't have that much debt, so it shouldn't have happened. But it did. So we got a budget.  It's been a year (mostly) living on that budget. Here's how we did!



You can read the original Shopaholic blog post that started this series here.  Overall, I think we've done pretty well. About mid-year, our focused changed when we found out we were pregnant. Nothing makes you more budget concious than when you start daycare shopping! Trust me! Aaron was a little sad because we only saved $4,500 this year. We planned to save a lot more than that, but we also did a lot. Here's what all we accomplished this year:
  • Made two extra payments on our house. This will be our second year doing this. We spread those payments out equally over twelve months and just add it to our bills. 
  • Started tithing. We were really bad and didn't tithe at all for the first few years of marriage. This year, we made a commitment with our church and met it!
  • Went on two vacations (not including wedding travel!). We went to the beach for a week and to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN with our friends. 
Us, the Great Smoky Mountains and Baby Z!
  • Survived 5 weddings in one year! Two of them were overnight travel.
Aaron as a bromaid at our friend Joylynn's wedding in New Bern, NC
  • Survived $1,500 in taxes.  We won't even go there. 
  • Paid off our TV. Our TV died (or so we thought!) at the end of last year and we bought a gigantic new one. Turns out the TV didn't die (we gave it to our friends to see if they wanted to try and fix it and bam! it magically turned on), but we paid it off in about three months. We are still paying off the couches.
  • Paid off all our credit cards and will finish Christmas with almost no debt. This is huge! We had so much debt at the end of last year. It took us a good three months to get the credit card paid down. There will be about $200 left on the credit card at the end of this year, but that will easily be paid off in January and won't really cut into our savings. 
  • Started baby prep! We have painted the room (which isn't cheap), bought two car seats through store and consignment sales, two strollers and a few other items. We've also started a diaper stockpile. It hasn't been a huge amount of money, but it's been a good investment that we won't have to make later.
  • We're doing one last house project before baby comes: backsplash and under cabinet lighting! Everything is bought for that, but we've asked our parents for help with the project for Christmas. 
When I look at that list, I'm pretty darn proud of us. Don't get me wrong, we have strayed from the budget from time to time. The summer was pretty rough with all the weddings and vacations. We've also made some changes to our budget this year. We paid off my cell phone, so that bill went down $35/month and we got rid of cable. That alone is a savings of about $70/month. With daycare and (hopefully) a new car purchase coming up in the next year, those will definitely help out!

Here's our plans/what's coming up in 2018:
  • Saving for a big downpayment for my new car! And car repairs, boo! This was on the list last year and is still our main focus. We thought we would be able to save more and get more car, but that's not looking like reality. We're still planning to have a hefty downpayment so we can make sure our car payments are around $300 or less. And no, I will not be buying a minivan. 
  • Having a baby. We just got the contract for the doctor. That's not even the hospital or anything else. Yay baby!
  • Trip to Colorado. Aaron's cousin is getting married and we had talked about making it a big trip before we found out we were pregnant and we're still going to make it happen. Get the traveling in while we can!
Obviously, our budgeting won't be slowing down any time soon. It's not always been easy. I'm always out of spending money by the end of the month (sometimes, by the beginning of the month...), but it's so rewarding when you see what all you can do with a little planning! Here's to next year, new goals, new babies and new challenges! 

What about you? Do you budget? What big things did you do this year?!

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!