Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's Tax Time

Here is some great information I wanted to pass on to you all that a friend of mine recently gave me. I hope it helps someone out!

www.irs.gov Offers online Free File Fillable Forms for you to fill out and eFile your federal taxes for Free if you are comfortable doing youir own taxes.

If you prefer to use tax software, they also offer FreeFile, which is a link to an outside website like Turbo Tax and H&R Block. You have to go through the IRS website to get there in order for it to work. These sites offer their online tax software for FREE for people who meet certain criteria. Most of the companies want your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) to be less than $57,000 or less, depending on the company. (Check last years tax return to get an estimate of your AGI if your Gross income is over this amount.) There may also be an age limit, usually 52 or younger. Some tax software is only available for certain states. And U.S. Citizens and resident aliens with foreign addresses. The criteria are clearly listed with each tax software company's website. It's very easy to get to this point.

Once you choose a Free File company, it takes you step by step through each phase of the tax software asking questions and making suggestions to increase your refund. You can also do your state taxes through some of these sites but they charge a fee for eFiling those. I use the tax software to figure out my state return without filing and then do my state return at Maryland's tax website and check numbers against each other because the state site can be a bit tricky.

Once you are finished and ready to file your Federal Return through Free File, you have the option to have a check mailed to you or direct deposit into your bank account. I always do direct deposit and get my return within 2 weeks. If you have never eFiled before, you will have to choose a 4 digit pin number and enter last year's AGI. If you don't have last years AGI, you will have to print out a form to sign and mail to the IRS. That will be the only thing you will have to mail in.

After you efile, you will receive an email from the software website that your return was electronically sent and the IRS has sent a confirmation that they received it. You will get a follow up email letting you know that the IRS has accepted your return. You can also log into the software website to check for this information.

After your return has been accepted, you can check on the IRS website to find out the date your check will be mailed or direct deposited. It's theWhere's My Refund? link located on the main page. Very helpful and reassuring!

Maryland's State Taxes iFile can be done through Maryland's website. They have their own software to help you figure out your return and efile. Resident Maryland Tax Return under Tax Year 2011 is which link you choose.

This software hasn't been crystal clear in the past which is why I suggest that you do your State return on the site where you are filing your Federal returns (but don't file there!) to get a return or payment amount to compare to the State's site. eFile your taxes after your numbers match or close it to. I was $5 off on my parent's state return last year which drove me crazy. Come to find out it was a mistake on the state's site, not my calculations, so I filed and sent the state a nice little email about the glitch.

Every year you can log into the State's site and all your info will be pulled up including your and your dependent's names, social security numbers and address. The online software website you choose to efile your Federal returns will not let you do that. You will have to enter in your personal info each year even if you use the same site every year.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Foster Parents

Okay everyone I know this is a little off compared to what I usually write but because of recent happenings in my life I just had to share my opinion.

I have been taking care of my daughters god daughter since the 1st of September. She has lived with us and been treated as if she were my own. The plan was for her to live with us til this September so mom could get on her feet and get a place of their own etc... Yesterday that all changed when she came to retrieve her daughter so they could move out of state with the promise of visiting in the summer. As we had no court ordered papers just ones we had signed and notarized the parental rights superseded them. So now my home and family is minus one family member and we are all heartbroken even though we knew this time would eventually come.

So to all the foster parents and families, I offer my prayers to you and commend you on a job well done. I don't know how you do it! Keep up the good work and may God bless each and every one of you. You all are very special people!

To all those considering becoming Foster Parents, make sure not only your heart can take it but the other family members as well. Raising a child as your own and then losing them is not an easy task to handle.

To all the children in foster care, may God bless each one of you with a loving family!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It shows in the numbers.....

We have all heard it time and time again..exercise is good for you and important to your body. So how many of you actually exercise? I don't mean cleaning, working in the yard or whatever household or job related activity you do. I am talking about taking time out each day or every other day to do some deliberate exercise such as lifting weights, walking, or something similar.

I will be the first to admit that I only do it occasionally and I go through spells where I will exercise consistently then stop all together. It is a vicious cycle for me and one I really need to conquer.

I will use my boyfriend as a perfect example...He takes several medicines day and night for cholesterol, diabetes etc.. Well during the months of September 2010 thru May 2011 he was very diligent in going to the gym 3-4 times a week to get in some cardio on one of the machines and to use some of the weight machines.  He was able to decrease his diabetes medicines and when the doctor did bloodwork his numbers were great. Well then summer rolls around and he figures he will get enough exercise working out in the yard and stops going to the gym. It wasn't long and he not only had to increase his medicines to where they were but eventually had to go even higher as the months passed and his numbers weren't good on his next set of tests.

Just recently  he started back to the gym and guess what? You got it...his numbers are going back down to the point where he may have to adjust the dosage of his insulin. 

So there's the proof! Exercise is a key ingredient to feeling better and being healthier. Get in the habit but don't burn yourself out. If you happen to get in a rut don't quit. I know easier said than done but we can all do it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

McDonalds Sweet Tea

My daughter was in love with McDonalds Sweet Tea and then she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and put on a special diet which restricts her from eating white sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, artificial anything etc... Needless to say the tea was cut from her diet. Well, that's until I found a recipe for it on topsecretrecipes.com.

Yes I know how to make sweet tea and I must say it's pretty good but apparently it doesn't taste like McDonalds. So I set out to find a recipe that I could tweak to fit her diet guidelines.

Mcdonald's Sweet Tea

3 Lipton tea bags - standard size
2 qts water
1 cup sugar

Bring water to a rapid boil, remove from heat, add tea bags, and cover and let set for 1 hour. Add to pitcher and add sugar. Mix well.

*please note that I use decaf tea bags and instead of white sugar I use Sugar in the Raw.

Needless to say my daughter is very pleased with the results.

Forks Over Knives

Have you ever heard this mentioned as a book or movie? Have you watched the movie? If not I recommend that everyone watches this eye opening film.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading and researching healthy eating and came across this particular movie in Netflix. I put it in my queue to watch at a later date and didn't think much more about it.

When I walk on the treadmill I like to watch a movie, read a book, etc on my iPad. A few days ago as I was preparing for my walk, which is usually 30-35 minutes, I decided to watch this. Over the next 3 days I watched this in amazement. In between I would research and read more about what was discussed in it until I came to the decision that I want to change our way of eating to eventually become a family who eats a whole food plant based diet on most days if not everyday.

I will not throw myself or my family straight into this and I may not even bring them in at all right away until I can make it a habit for myself. My plan is to start slowly by removing dairy products and to incorporate this way of eating at breakfast. Once I accomplish this, I want to move on to changing lunch, then snacks and then eventually dinners. Wish me luck and I will try and keep you updated along my journey.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

E-coupons and Printable Coupons

Are you familiar with the term E-coupons? It is the newest invention among couponers. Just go to the site,register your store card or cards, and click on the coupons that you want on the cards. It's that easy! Some of these work a little differently that the traditnal coupons though. One site you can earn money but it doesn't save you at the time of shopping and one site uses your savings to help build a college education for your child.

The printable coupon sites are great also as you can just pick which ones you want or you can print them all. Also some sites will let you print more than one of each. However, I have never been able to print more than 3 of one coupon.

I will share the list of sites I use and/or am familiar with. If you happen to have any not listed please share them with us. Thanks!








SavingStar.com - Giant, Food Lion, CVS, Rite Aid. Can register multiple cards from same store. Reloads on Thursday. When you buy a product, the savings does not come off your grocery bill like a coupon. You get credit for it on SavingStar.com and when you reach $5+ you can request the money back via your bank account, PayPal or gift card.

Safeway.com Register your card and/or log in, click on the Just for U tab then Coupon Center and add all the deals to your card each week. Pretty sure you can stack these and manufacturer coupons.

P&G eSaver Looks like you can register any store card since you type in the name and number. It says "Coupons must be redeemed from card to add more". Not sure if that means you have to use the ecoupons you select before you are offered any more?

uPromise You don't get the instant discount, but the ecoupon amount will go into your uPromise account for college. Plus click the "Coupons and Deals" tab to find promo codes for discount at TONS of online stores.

FoodLion This is powered by RedPlum, which also has some ecoupons so I'm not sure if they will conflict. Never hurts to try!

RedPlum You can load eCoupons to your FoodLion card. Looks like the same ecoupons from the FoodLion site.

Shortcuts.com Register your Safeway card as a Carrs card. I have redeemed ecoupons from Safeway using this site. Also has printable.

Coupons.com For your Safeway card and has printables. Interestingly, some of the eCoupons are the same as the printable and I'm wondering if they can be stacked?

2012 Personal Challenge #3 - Green my laundry room

Well I started off the year with making my own laundry detergent and fabric softener sheets only to be disappointed in the detergent and not liking the messy softener.

The detergent worked great on everyday clothing without a lot of dirt but didn't do much for work clothes or my 2 yr old clothes so I have decided to try and find an inexpensive but good natural/green laundry detergent.

In my search I was able to find Sun and Earth laundry detergent at our Giant, regular price $8.99, on sale for $7.99 for 100fl oz and doing 52 loads. I love the light citrus smell and hope that it works well.

As for fabric softener I will be using white vinegar in a downy ball and sprinkling arm and hammer baking soda in the wash. I only use fabric softener in the winter as I hang my clothes to dry during warm weather.

After reviewing a ton of information regarding the use of oxi-clean I have chosen to forgo using this product and instead use Arm and Hammer washing soda which can be found in the laundry section next to the borax.

I already reuse the dryer lint to make homemade fire starters, I only use water when I iron, I use a timed setting on my dryer and I wash clothes in cold water. Not too sure if I can do anything else to make it greener except maybe vent the dryer into the basement during the winter to add some extra heat. Hmmmmmm that's a good idea so I guess I will be researching that also.

Updates for this challenge will posted in the future.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rudolph Day

I know Christmas just ended and here I am bringing it up so soon. On my forum one of our members suggested we do a Rudolph Day on the 25th of every month and do something related to Christmas. We can prepare for the upcoming Christmas season by making cards, making gift list, making gifts, buying a gift etc... Or if we choose we can listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie. Doing a little each month will help keep you from getting so frazzled during the holiday season.

I know it is a little late to join in for this month as it is today but hopefully you will join in next month and share with us what you did.

Body Wash vs Bar Soap

I bet it's safe to say that a majority of the population uses body wash over bar soap.  Up until about a year ago I mainly used bar soap but made the switch to body wash because I was able to find it on sale and use coupons making it more affordable.

However, I have been finding that bar soap actually works out to be cheaper because it lasts longer and if you use a soap saver you get to use every last bit of it. No more little slivers being stuck to soap dishes or going in the trash. Add your bar of soap to the soap saver, close, wash, rinse it out and hang to dry.  Thats all there is to it!

Now there are several places you can purchase these nifty little inventions or if you can crochet or knit you can make them yourself to save even more money.  Why not make the change? It's better on the environment as there will be less plastic going into our landfills and it's better on your wallet.

2012 Personal Challenge #2 - Find a better alternative for trash bags

This challenge has several parts to it. One, to find a better bag for our environment and two to cut back on our household trash.

The first one was easier than anticipated as I walked into Walmart on a search to find a trash bag easier on our environment. I was pleasantly surprised to find a bag made by Hefty called "Renew". These bags are a bargain at $3.34 for 20 bags and are made from 10% post consumer and 55% pre consumer materials for a total of 65% recycled plastic. You can also bring down the price by finding and using coupons.
Now all I need to do is to cut back on the amount of trash we produce which will also cut down on the amount of bags we use making them even more earth friendly.

How do I intend to complete the second part of my challenge you ask?
Well, I plan on buying less prepackaged items, prepare more items from scratch, buy in bulk, recycle, up cycle, and making a compost pile. Look for updates on our progress in the near future.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What is the difference between Recycle and Upcycle?

Let's first take a look at their definitions:

Recycling is processing used materials (waste) into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling) by reducing the need for "conventional" waste disposal, and lower greenhouse gas emissions as compared to virgin production.[1][2] Recycling is a key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" waste hierarchy.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.

To get a better feel of what the difference is please check out this article.

2012 Personal Challenge #1 - Give up Paper Towels

For the start of the 2012 year I decided to forgo buying paper towels even with the family not being 100% on board with the idea. Questions like how do we prevent splatters in the microwave, drain grease from bacon and other fried foods, and wipe up spills etc... I didn't have all the answers and we are still trying to figure out the best alternatives for some of these things but It's been almost one month and it's working out just fine.

As a family of 6 we were buying 1 -2  six packs of paper towels a month. Not only were we wasting money but adding to our landfills. That's when I decided we needed to do something.

I purchased 8 bar mops from Walmart for $7.45 with the intentions of rolling or folding these up in a pretty jar or bowl and setting them on the counter but haven't found one I like yet so for now they're folded up in a drawer with one being hung on the oven door handle at all times and others taken out as needed.

So now some of the answers to the questions asked by my family.

1. How do we prevent splatters in the microwave? Well we are using leftover parchment paper I had in the pantry but as of yesterday I purchased a splatter cover from Walmart for $1.97.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

2. How do we drain grease from bacon or other fried foods? By using paper bags instead of paper towels and we have a grease catcher to pour grease into from the bacon and other foods. Eventually we won't have to deal with this as I cut fried foods like bacon out of our diet or cooking it on a broiler pan in the oven. While at Walmart yesterday I saw a microwave plate that you cook bacon on and the splatter cover I purchased fits this. This may be a purchase in the near future.

3. As far as spills go... If on the counter, table, stove or in refrigerator use the dish cloth and then rinse out. If it's on the floor grab a rag and wipe it up.

I will update you in a month with our progress in this challenge.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My personal challenge to give up paper napkins in 2011

A few years back I purchased six blue cloth napkins from our dollar store and six more from Kmart on clearance with all intentions of using them everyday. However, these were put in a drawer and only brought out occasionally. Then I hit the jackpot with someone offering a bunch of restaurant ones on free cycle. Once again I decided I was going to use these on a daily basis and failed. Well I didn't give up and  now it's been a year since I've purchased paper napkins and strictly use the cloth ones. No more running out of napkins and no more extra trash in the landfill. 

I know there are people out there who will argue that you are wasting more water, using more detergent, using more electricity etc...by having to wash them but I can honestly say there has been no difference in any of these things.  No need to do a load of just napkins just toss them in with your towels and washcloths and you're done.