Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Blog

Thanks for following my blog.  I am changing my blog and importing all my old blogs t0 my new one.  Please join me.



Thursday, February 3, 2011

H & R Block vs Turbo Tax

So it's that time of the year again. The time we all sit down and figure out how much money we owe the government or if your lucky, how much money you will get back.

This is a tremendously stressful time for many people. Luckily, I have been able to avoid the stress of tax season. When I first started paying taxes, I did them myself. Had to fill out the forms and do all the math. I never thought it was that difficult. When I got married, my husband and I always had someone do our taxes for us. It just seemed easier. When the software came out to do your own taxes at home, I gave it a try. I found it to be really easy to do.

I have been doing my own taxes now for about 4 years. Now, I will be honest. I have always used H & R Block. I think the main reason was always price. I was always able to find H & R Block for a great deal when I needed to buy it.

So, which program should you use? I honestly think it is really which one you prefer. Here is what happened with me, and my honest opinion of both products.

This year, H & R Block and Turbo Tax have free efile for your Federal return. So, I decided to give Turbo Tax a try. Turbo Tax is very user friendly. It guides you through the filing process with ease. Understanding the forms and the ability to “get help” with terms was very helpful. It takes you step by step through the forms and asks questions to make sure you are getting all the credits and deductions that you deserve. The entire process took about 30 minutes. This was going very slowly and making sure I understood the entire process and answered all the questions.

When I was finished, I was a little surprised at the refund amount. It was much lower than I expected. Before actually doing my taxes, I had used some tax calculators and had estimated a higher amount. Although, the tax calculators are just a “ballpark” figure, it was much different than what Turbo Tax had given me.

After seeing the amount, I had decided to go to my old tax staple, H & R Block, just to see what my figure was with them. Just like Turbo Tax, H & R Block is very easy to use. It is easy to find definitions to terms and is helpful for us non-tax professionals. The software guides you step by step, asking you questions and making sure that you get the credit and deductions that you deserve. Because I have used this software in the past, the process was a little quicker than when I used Turbo Tax, but only by maybe 10 minutes. When I had finished the process H & R Block had found me $2500, more than Turbo Tax. It was a lot closer to the estimate that I had with the tax calculators.

I then went back and re-entered my info into both Turbo Tax and H & R Block to make sure that everything was correct. All the info was correct and the amounts were the same as before with both, Turbo Tax being less. That being said, I decided to file with H & R Block.

Overall, both programs were similar and very easy to use. efile is available with both and you can efile your state taxes with both for an additional fee. Just so there is an understanding, I am in no way bashing Turbo Tax. I found it extremely easy to use, but I am going by my experience and money talks. I got more money back with H & R Block and I will continue to use their software.

*Edit* I forgot to mention that also with H & R Block, it had information that Turbo Tax did not offer.  It had to do with a retirement fund and the state of California.  The information needed to be added on a certain line of the tax form.  Without this information that H & R Block provided, my return would have been rejected and I would have had to re-file, with no understanding why. 

FTC: I am not sponsored or was I asked to review either of these products. This is my honest opinion based on my experience with both.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Easy Ways To Save Money

Everyone needs to save money for something at least once in your lifetime.  Whether it is for something big, small or even for your future, saving money sometimes seems like more of a chore. Especially, for those of us that are on a tight budget.  

Right now, I am trying to save some money for a few things.  In February, my family is taking a trip to visit family and friends in Washington and then in May, my husband and I are going to Vegas.  I am also trying to build my savings account back up.  

Here are a few of the ways that I have found to be easy for me to save money.  And a few ways that have worked for others.  

1.  The $5 Project - This by far is my favorite way to save money.  It works a lot faster and better if you use cash more than your bank card.  It is a very easy concept.  Every $5 bill that you receive, you put away.  You will be surprised how many $5 bills you get.  Last year, I did this and in about 4 months, I had a little over $400 saved.  That is $100, a month.  Not too bad.  You can also change the amount to $1, $10, whatever works for you.

2.  Recycle - If you are lucky enough to have a recycling center near you, you can take your plastic bottles, newspaper and cans to the center.  Some places will even have coupons available that give you more money for them.  This is such an easy thing to do and it helps the environment.  Put out some bins, label them and start saving.  Take them to the center and save all the money that you get.  Easy as pie.

3.  Save Your Change - What do you do with your change?  I put mine in a jar and save it.  This is a method that I have used since I was a kid.  Change adds up quickly.  I usually wind up throwing mine in my purse when I get it and once my purse becomes too heavy for me to carry, I clean it out.  Most of the time it is a crap load of change weighing it down.  I empty it out into my jar and I am usually surprised at how much I have in a short amount of time.  You can take it to the bank (if you are lucky enough to have a bank that still accepts change) or to your local Coinstar.  

4.  Pay Yourself First -  Make your savings like a bill.  Every month or paycheck, whichever is easier for you, put a certain amount of money into your savings first.  Before you pay any bills, pay yourself first.  I know, this one is hard.  I have a hard time doing this one myself, but once you are doing it for awhile, it gets easier.  Set an amount that you feel comfortable with putting aside and save that.  

5.  When Shopping, Put The Saved Amount Away - Once again, this one is very hard for me, but such a great way to build up your savings.  If you are shopping and the original total comes out to be $75, and you have $25, in coupons, so your new total is $50, you take the $25, and put that into savings.  Do this with every purchase that you make, you will have saved so much money.  You can also do this with bills that you have payed off.  For instance, if you have a car payment that is $200, and it is now payed off, you continue to pay that $200, but instead you put it into savings.  It is kind of like the concept of "paying yourself first".  You can also do this with bills that you have lowered, like a cable or phone bill.  

6.  Rebates or Refunds - When you get a rebate or refund, put that money into savings.  I see it as money that was already spent, so depositing it into savings is very easy to do.  Oh, and take advantage of rebate offers.  Most stores and companies make these very easy to do online now, and they usually come quickly.

7.  Sell Your Stuff - Get rid of all that old crap you have laying around and put that money into savings.  You know what they say, "One mans trash is another mans treasure."  Once again, that money was spent a long time ago, so the money can be easily saved.  

8.  Give Up Expensive Habits - Do you buy coffee every morning or lunch every afternoon?  Start bringing your own and take that money that you would normally spend and save it.  A quick, easy and painless way to add to your savings.

9.  Make Money Off Of A Hobby Or A Skill - OK, I'm not telling you to go out and start hookin' on the street corner.  If you sew, good at fixing computers, can type up resumes, paint, whatever.  Use those talents and make some extra money.  All the money you make from your special talents can go into savings.

10.  This really isn't a tip, lol.  I just really wanted 10 things, but couldn't for the life of me think of anything else.  I'm sure I will after I post this.  If there are any things that you can think of, let me know.  I would love to hear them.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year Resolutions

I normally don't make new year resolutions.  I find it to be meaningless, since 99% of the time, I don't keep them.  I don't really like the phrase "new year resolution".  Right off the bat, I think to myself, not gonna keep it.  I just defeated the purpose of the resolution before I started.  Not a really good start.  

I decided this year that calling it a "what I want to accomplish this year" sounds so much better.  It just relieves a lot of stress of having to keep it.  "What I want to accomplish" is more of a check list of things that I want to achieve for the new year. If I can cross a majority of those items off my list, I feel I have succeeded. 

So, for the past couple of days, I have been thinking about the things that I want to accomplish this year.  Some of the things seem to be a continuous battle that I have.  It is one of those, I do really well in the beginning of the year, but towards the middle of the year, priorities change and it just becomes least important.  Until the beginning of the next year, of course.  

So my "What I want to accomplish this year" list is as follows (with some explanations, just because) :

1.  Pay off the car~~We bought a new to us car last year and only had it financed for 2 years.  We have paid for a year now and our goal was always to make payments for a year and then pay it off. This will actually give us a few hundred dollars a month, which will be very helpful.

2.  Pay off our debt~~Not that I need to explain this to anyone, because it is personal, but we owe some money and would really like to get that resolved this year.  This would be a huge weight off my shoulders.  

3.  Put money into savings~~OK, this is one of those continuous battles that I seem to have lately.  A few years back this was a very easy thing for us to do. I guess when you are bringing home more money it is so much easier to save. Now we have found ourselves in a living paycheck to paycheck world and it makes it difficult to save.  I do have some good ways to do this and will share in a later blog.  

4.  Cook a new meal every week~~This is what I would love to do, but honestly, it will probably be more like every 2 weeks, but 2 new recipes a month is still pretty good right?  I think so.  There are a lot of people in this house and everyone eats at different times, so it is hard to find something that I can cook and will stay good for the next 6 hours.  I do have some tricks up my sleeve to make this work, so I feel confident.  

5.  Try Once a Month Cooking~~I know I have blogged about this before, but I would really like to try it.  Doing OAMC would really help with cooking a new meal every week (or two). No real reason why I don't, just laziness, I guess, but would like to accomplish this.

6.  Spend more "quality time" with my family~~Now, I put quality time in quotations because, I do spend a lot of time with my family.  I want it to be more memorable.  My son is getting older and I'm sure pretty soon will begin to want to spend more time with friends than with his parents.  I want to do more things together, instead of just being together.  Movie nights, game nights, bowling, even reading with my son.  Those things I would love to do more.

7.  Blog more~~I like blogging.  I find it enjoyable to be able to express myself in word.  I also like being able to communicate and share my ideas, tips and whatever else I have going on in this head of mine.  My goal is to blog at least three times a week.  We'll see how well I do.  

8.  Try to use more "homemade" cleaning products~~This is one thing that I have started doing already and I have noticed that it has saved money and I feel like I am doing my part in helping the environment.  The latter sounds a little corny, but it makes me feel good, so I don't care.

9.  Recycle more~~I have noticed that since we have moved to California, we haven't been recycling as much as we did.  This actually saddens me.  I know, corny, but we recycled everything in Oregon and now nothing.  It is just sad, so I am changing that this year.

10.  Don't sweat the small stuff~~I tend to forget this motto.  I think it is important to make sure that it is remembered. I tend to get upset very easily and fly off the handle.  Then go back and realize that I could have handled the situation better, and it wasn't that big of a deal anyway.  I need to remember that, I have the love and support of my family and friends and there is nothing more important than that.

11.  Really cherish the people in my life~~This shouldn't be on a list.  This should be something that I do everyday, but I think that sometimes I need to be reminded.  I need to step back and be thankful for all the people in my life and every once in awhile show them how important they are to me.  I have remarkable family and friends and I think they should be aware of that.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Entering Sweepstakes

I have entered sweepstakes on and off for almost 10 years.  At one point I was entering religiously, everyday for hours.  I would sit at the computer and that is pretty much all I did.  Then I just stopped.  I would enter a few, here and there, but was not as serious as I had been.  

I recently had gotten back into entering sweepstakes again.  Still, not as religious as I was, but I do spend more time doing it.  I have found that I do enjoy it.  It is really easy to do, and I usually do it when I'm watching TV.  There are two sites that I use: and I like these sites because they have the sweepstakes broken up into categories, and is my favorite.  It lets you check mark the ones that you have entered and then puts them in a favorites folder for you, so that it is easier to find them.  I use to use all the time, but now prefer  Both of these sites are awesome.  You can also Google, sweepstakes and can find a listing of other sites.  

So, have I won anything from entering these sweeps?  Yes I have.  Some really great things.  Aside from numerous small prizes, like books, toys, DVD's, CD's and gift cards. I have won clothing, jewelry, 2 theater systems, 2 trips to Vegas, money, a shotgun and various other prizes.  

If you would like to enter sweepstakes, just follow these simple rules.
  1. You should not have to pay any money to enter a sweepstakes. 
  2. Make sure that you read all of the rules and follow them.
  3.There are three main types of sweepstakes entries; online, snail mail and in person.  I usually only enter sweeps online.  I find this way is easier for me.  You can certainly enter however you chose. 
  4. Don't get greedy. Don't enter a sweepstakes for  something that you do      not want or will not use.  Let someone who wants or deserves the prize to win it.  It takes the fun out of it.
  5. Open up and use another email address just for your sweeps entries.  You WILL get a lot of spam and unwanted emails.  So save yourself the hassle and don't use your regular email.  If you have gmail, I know that you can have other email accounts forwarded to your gmail account, so that you only have to open one email box.  I do that with mine.  It saves me time.
  6. Have fun.  Don't take it too seriously. If you win, you win. And if you don't, there are hundreds of other sweeps that you can enter and win.

Those are my tips, there is also a wonderful Sweepstakes 101 tutorial on If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you read it.  Until next time my friends.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Prepare for Parent/Teacher Confrences

Fall, Parent/Teacher conferences are approaching. Mine is this coming Monday.  These are important for us parents. They supply us with much needed information on what is going on in the class and more importantly, how our children are doing.  The conferences also give us the opportunity to have some one on one face time with the teacher and hopefully, form a greatly needed rapport with that teacher. Also, we can share what we expect our child to get out of the school year and let the teacher know what we are doing or what we are willing to do to help out.  

First of all, make a list of questions that you have for the teacher.  Making a list will ensure that you don't forget any important questions or information that you have.  A lot of times, these conferences are scheduled to only allow about 15-30 minutes between conferences, and it is easy to feel rushed.  

Make sure that you stick to what is important, your child and what is going on in the classroom.  This is not the time to ask about what time lunch is, and basic school policy questions.  You can talk to the office staff about that at any time.  These types of questions just waste valuable time.

Make sure you listen carefully to what is being said and try not to be defensive.  Believe me, this one is hard.  It is instinctual for us, as parents to want to defend our children, but make sure you keep an open mind.  If there is some kind of problem, the best thing to do is try to figure out a solution together.  This would be in the best benefit for your child.  Working together with the teacher is going to get better results.

Take a pen and paper with you so that you can take notes. This is important so that you don't forget anything when you leave.  Sometimes, these conferences can become overwhelming.  There is so much information given in a short amount of time and you don't want to forget anything that was said.

Go over the conference with your child when you get home.  Make sure that they understand what is going on, as well as what is expected of them from the teacher and yourself.  This makes sure that everyone is on the same page.  

Keep in touch with the teacher.  Keeping in constant contact with the teacher, even if it is a "How are things going?" when you pick up or drop your child off at school gives the teacher an opportunity to let you know if there is something, even something small.  

Most importantly, if you are not getting the help or information that you expect from your child's teacher, make sure you make an appointment with the principal.  I have never had a problem with any of my son's teachers in the past, but as much as the schools want the parents to help out, that is a two way street.  Here in California, a lot of the teachers are overwhelmed, have 30 or more kids in their class and I can see, that it is very easy for them to get frustrated and let things go.  Kids fall through the cracks. I have seen this happen and if you are offering your help and are involved in your child's schooling, and still don't feel that you are getting help from the teacher, make sure you bring this up to the principal.  Remember, this is your child, their education and their future.  You are giving your all, your child should have a teacher that is giving their all.

I hope that these tips help you out with your conferences and until next time my friends.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

OAMC~~Once A Month Cooking

I have entertained the idea of Once A Month Cooking a few times before. It completely intrigues me to be able to cook all my meals for the month at one time, freeze them and then take them out and reheat for dinner.  This idea is perfect for my family. 

First of all, I love to cook, but I tend to run out of ideas on what I want to make and then I don't ever have all the ingredients, or I just don't have the energy to make dinner one night.  We eat meals at different times.  There is always some excuse or reason that I have.  I know, pathetic.  So I wind up making meals that are super easy and convenient and we all don't eat the same thing, and then this becomes a problem. I start making the same things over and over and then I have to buy more food, so the money I spend on groceries goes up.

Anyway, OAMC, is something that I am really interested in trying.  I have the freezer space. I have a crap load of recipes that would work well and I really do have the time.  So why am I so hesitant?  I'm really not sure.  I don't have a reason.  So, I think that I have made my decision to try this OAMC thing.  I don't think I am going to cook for an entire month.  I think I might try a week, maybe two, at first and see how it works for me.  

If and when I decide to do this, I will post the recipes and maybe some pictures so I can share this journey with you.  What do you think of this idea?  Do you want to try OAMC or OAWC cooking with me?