coffee cup and saucer on a wooden table. dark background.

Coffee Hacks, Tips, Tricks, and Copycat Pumpkin Spice Latte

Whenever I write about my love of coffee that admittedly has turned me into a coffee snob, reader feedback is as enthusiastic as it is voluminous. I’m happy to know I’m not alone in my snobbery.

coffee cup and saucer on a wooden table. dark background.

Many of you bring up interesting points—questions, too. Like what to do with brewed coffee that is no longer ideally fresh but too good to throw down the drain. Others want to know how to make your own cappuccino, lattes, and even the “steamer,” made popular by Starbucks—surprisingly containing no coffee at all.

Short of purchasing an espresso machine that uses high-pressure steam to make espresso and has a gizmo that steams the milk as well, there are ways we can improvise to create reasonable facsimiles of our favorite coffee drinks.

READ: How to Store Raw, Roasted, and Ground Coffee to Keep it Fresh 

Popular coffee drink hacks

Espresso

Both cappuccinos and lattes are typically made with espresso. You can fake that by making very strong brewed coffee.

Cappuccino

A cappuccino is an espresso-based coffee drink that originated in Italy, and is traditionally prepared with steamed milk foam. Variations of the drink involve the use of cream instead of milk, and flavoring with cinnamon or chocolate powder.

Caffè Latte

Your very strong coffee mixed about 50/50 with hot milk and then topped with foam makes for a very tasty latte. Experiment as necessary to find your ideal proportion of coffee to milk.

Caffè Mocha

A caffè mocha, also called mochaccino, is a chocolate-flavored variant of a caffè latte. Other commonly used spellings are mochaccino and also mochaccino. Here’s a recipe for Caffè Mocha Mix.

Caffè Mocha Mix

Mix well, store in an airtight container.

To use: Stir about 3 teaspoons of mix into a cup of hot freshly brewed strong coffee. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

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How to Afford Big Ticket Items

Finally, you have a couple of months where things are going well. The bills get paid on time and you actually have money left at the end of the month. Then Pow! Without warning, the water heater bursts, the car breaks down, and the first half of the property tax bill is past due—and suddenly you’re broke.

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How can you possibly plan or budget for life’s big-ticket items? Many people believe it just can’t be done, that they have no choice but to rely on their credit cards to cover the cost of emergencies—whether it’s something they should have known was coming or not.  Read more

6 Awesome Gifts of Summer to Make Now for Christmas

Even if you didn’t have an abundant garden this year, don’t worry. You can still make these wonderful gifts of summer to hold onto for Christmas. You can find everything you need at a local farmer’s market.

How wonderful it will be when you welcome the holiday season knowing your gifts are ready to go.

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Photo credit: AFamilyFeast.com

Freezer jam

Mix 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries with 4 cups sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir one package dry pectin into 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Freeze and store frozen until ready to give. Makes 5 pints.

Isn’t that a cute label for “Christmas Jam?” It’s a free printable HERE from AFamilyFeast.com

MORE: Peach Freezer Jam

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Young couple looking at their dream house

5 Home Buying Mistakes That Will Make You House Poor

Buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make. This is not the time to make mistakes that could easily plunge you into a financial situation you cannot afford. 

During my 18-year career as a real estate broker, I learned a lot of things but none as valuable as what not to do! I didn’t learn this in a seminar or while studying to pass the licensing exam. I witnessed real-life situations where buyers did really dumb things related to buying real estate—buyers who then went on to regret the decisions they’d made.

Avoid these five home-buying mistakes and you will avoid getting in over your heads with a house you cannot afford—and save yourself many thousands of dollars and heartaches in the process.

Young couple looking at their dream house

Mistake: Allowing a lender to determine how much you can afford

When you meet with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage, that lender is going to tell you how much house you can afford and how much money the company is willing to lend to you. Understand this: He or she is concerned about only two things: 1) Your ability to repay the mortgage and 2) the size of his commission.

This lender wants to steer you into the biggest mortgage possible. Ignore that number. It is not based on what you can afford because the lender has no idea what you can afford.

You need to set your own housing budget before you ever sit down with a lender or other real estate professional, which is based on your specific financial situation and lifestyle. And that housing budget should be realistic enough so that you can afford to make progress on all your other important financial goals like maintaining a healthy emergency fund, getting debt-free, and funding retirement accounts. Read more

Month of September 2019 with beautiful blue background and the calendar

September 2019 is the Perfect Time to Buy These Things

Smart savers don’t buy things on a whim whenever a passing desire hits them from out of left field. Smart savers know what to buy and when. When they find bargains on items they use up, they stock up with enough to last until the next time that item goes on sale. And for certain, they know what to buy in September.

Month of September 2019 with beautiful blue background and the calendar

These folks know that summer clothes are on sale around Labor Day. So they wait, patiently, then stock up for next summer. They know which is the best day in September to negotiate a great deal on a new or certified used car. They just know this stuff!

Plants and trees

Garden centers are clearing out their stock of summer plants, trees, and shrubs. Check your local nurseries and garden departments in stores like Home Depot and Lowes for super deals! You still have plenty of time to plant and get these things growing well before winter sets in. The local tree farm where I live has its annual $.50 tree sale in full bloom—buy one at regular price and get a second for just fifty-cents. Look around, you might have something similar where you live.

Appliances

Starting this month expect to see sales on home appliances as stores are clearing out space to load in new 2020 models. Look for huge discounts and sales on last year’s models of stoves, microwaves, refrigerators and small appliances, too.

Read more

Looking over the shoulders of a happy couple creating a budget they can live on and love

How to Live on a Budget and Love It

For many years I wouldn’t have anything to do with a budget because I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone—or anything—telling me how to spend my money. And where did that get me? Into one big financial mess.

Looking over the shoulders of a happy couple creating a budget they can live on and love

Every month, when I ran out of money, I would turn to MasterCard and Visa for a bailout. To me, any available credit was the same as income. It was my money to do with as I found necessary. Really bad idea.

What I learned from going through that experience and finding my way back to solvency is that, as much as we may loathe it, a budget is the ticket to financial happiness―not the straitjacket I feared it would be. I’ve come to prefer calling this a “spending plan” rather than a  budget, but honestly, the terms are interchangeable. It’s just a way to pre-spend your income on paper first.

A good spending plan gives every dollar a specific job to do. Once you have it just the way you want it, the plan becomes a handy road map for keeping your finances on track.

ALSO: Getting Back to Normal After a Disaster

So, take a deep breath and let’s walk through the basics for how to create a successful budget that you can love.

Step 1

Write down your total take-home monthly income

This is the easy part. Jot down what you earn—what you see in your paycheck. Because many expenses are billed monthly, it makes good sense to use your monthly income to create your budget.

Pro-tip

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you quickly convert your net take-home pay to your average monthly income:

  • paid weekly: multiply your weekly net income by 4.333
  • paid every other week: multiply your biweekly net income by 2.167
  • paid twice a month: multiply your semimonthly net income by 2
  • paid quarterly: divide your quarterly net income by 3

Step 2

Write down your fixed expenses

Start with fixed bills like savings, rent, mortgage, car payment, credit card debt, insurance, then factor in other monthly costs that are always the same. These are your essential fixed expenses. 

Step 3

List your variable expenses

You know you’ll have these bills, but the amounts vary. Examples are your phone, utilities, food, household expenses, gasoline, medication, public transportation, shoes, and clothing. These are your variable expenses and you can assign an estimated amount to each based on past experience, rounding to the closest $10.

Step 4

List reasonable amounts for nonessential expenses

This includes entertainment, eating out, hobbies and other ways you spend money on a regular basis.

Step 5

Find the extras

Go to your checkbook register, credit card statements, Quicken reports or what have you, to see what expenses you’ve left out. You’ll likely see items for car maintenance and repair, gifts, vacations, Christmas and holidays. For items that do not recur monthly, determine the annual cost, then divide by 12 to see how much you should set aside each month to anticipate that irregular expense.

Step 6

Figure out your totals

Add up your expenses, then subtract that amount from your income. Ideally, you’ll come out in the black, with at least a little money left over. But if your expenses exceed your income, you’ll see a negative sum. Don’t panic—this is just the start of an ongoing process.

Step 7

See where you can cut

If you came up short, go back to your monthly expenses and see what you can get rid of. Look first to your nonessential expenses. Which items can you remove altogether for a while (eating out seems like a fine target; perhaps hobby expenses, for a season)? Keep going through the list, making adjustments until your total expenses are less than your income.

MORE: 23 Ways to Chop Your Grocery Bill

Step 8

Follow your spending plan as closely as possible

Track your spending every day by writing down what you spend. Does it match up with what you planned in your budget for this month?

Take notes and research ways you’ll be able to do even better next month. At month’s end, add up your actual spending and compare it with what you planned. Use this information to create the next month’s Spending Plan.

Even if you find yourself in a particularly tight financial position right now, take heart. As you pay off debts and find more ways to cut expenses, you’ll begin to sense a significant loosening of financial pressure. Soon you’ll be ready to add new categories to your spending plan for things like saving for a new car, home improvements or going back to college.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be on your way to reaching financial freedom.


READ THIS NEXT:

7 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

Don’t Go Broke for the Wedding Gift

Simple 15-Minute Projects to Slash Your Utility Bills

Young couple in distress and worry for the way things used to be

Getting Back to Normal After a Disaster

Life on earth has never been perfect, but you’d have a hard time convincing some people of that. It’s not that they are ignorant. They have selective memories.

Perhaps you can identify if you long for the way things used to be—before the disaster, when life was predictable; when mortgages were simple, retirement accounts moved in only one direction (up) and students could carry their 100-percent-financed college degrees straight into six-figure jobs.

Young couple in distress and worry for the way things used to be

Now that it appears things are no longer quite so perfect, you’ve put your life on hold. You’re anxiously pacing the floor trying to hold on until the insurance claim pays out, you’re called back to work, real estate sales bounce back, your loan modification comes through or some debt-settlement scheme that returns your life to the “perfect” way it was.

Here are some immediate ways to bring order and calmness back into your family life after the chaos and confusion that follows a disaster.

Reconnect

You can’t get through a crisis alone. Since we all were impacted differently, it is vitally important to talk about the stress and pressures you have experienced with the people closest to you. Reach out to friends and family. It will empower and help both of you.

Accept what you cannot change

As hard as it is for some of us to accept the fact that we cannot control everything, that is the truth. If you’ve lost your home, a loved one, or filed for bankruptcy—as terrible as these events have been for you—you cannot change what has happened.

Read more

Young astonished couple checking a long grocery receipt at supermarket.

23 Ways to Chop Your Grocery Bill

Need a foolproof way to cut your food/grocery expenses by 25% this month? Announce to your family that there will be a complete ban on the consumption of food during the first week of every month. There. That should do it!  Twenty-five percent right off the top.

What?! Don’t think you can pull that off? Me either, but not to worry. Here are some much less painful—and I hope a bit more realistic—ways to chop the high cost of food.

You couple aghast at the cost of their groceries while looking at the receipt

Create a shopping list

Do this at home when you are hungry. You will be more creative and thorough.

Not hungry

You will be compelled to buy everything in sight regardless of what’s on your list. Tip: If you can’t avoid it, head to the bakery a pick up a cookie or grab a protein bar on your way in. That will be enough to silence your hunger and clear your mind.

Leave the kids at home

You will stick to your shopping list with much less frustration and stress if you fly solo.

Avoid convenience or specialty stores

You won’t find many bargains there.

Groceries online

Online grocery shopping is the latest and greatest for many (me!). It keeps me out of the supermarket where, even with a list, I’m an impulsive disaster just waiting to happen. I shop at KingSoopers (part of the Kroger Family of stores) and pay a flat fee of $4.95  per order for its ClickList service. (Read more about that here.) Walmart offers its groceries online program with free same-day pickup is now available at hundreds of Walmart stores nationwide (store locator). Walmart does not charge a pickup fee but has a minimum order requirement of $30.

Read more

pizza-on-homemade-pizza-stone

Use This for That in the Kitchen to Reduce Clutter and Save Money

Over the years I have been uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin.

pizza-on-homemade-pizza-stone

Currently, I have standing appointments with Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, Molly Yeh, and Alton Brown. They come to my home and demonstrate every technique imaginable while I sit, front-row-center in front of the television. Or sometimes my coaches show up on my iPad right there on my kitchen counter, where they walk me step-by-step through recipes and techniques.

They’ve taught me the importance of three things: fresh ingredients, the right equipment and a lot of practice. Which brings me to the topic of today’s column: the right equipment. Read more

A home dehumidifier sitting on a wood floor in a utility room

Best Inexpensive Home Dehumidifiers and How to Choose

Humidity, or the lack thereof, is a popular topic this time of year. Where I live in northern Colorado, it’s dry! We have like no humidity. Well, not exactly, but it averages in the low mid-20 percent during the summer and fall months. We have a humidifier in our home, and it runs 24/7 year-round for health and comfort.

Recently, lots of readers have inquired about how to deal with the opposite—high humidity, which can get pretty miserable. A dehumidifier can be a godsend for those who live in high humidity areas to remove excess moisture from indoor air.

older man hot and sweaty heat of summer

What is a dehumidifier?

Think of a dehumidifier as a vacuum that sucks the air from a room, removing the moisture and blowing dry air back into the room again. The condensation drips into a collection tank inside the machine that must be emptied from time to time.

Many people find that a dehumidifier works together with the air conditioning system to keep the rooms in a home comfortable even on the hottest days with super high humidity. Others rely on a dehumidifier in place of an air conditioner.

Dehumidifiers come in a variety of sizes, typically rated according to how many square feet they can dehumidify and how many pints of water they can produce in a day. Most home dehumidifiers are controlled by thermostats and humidity sensors so you can make the room as hot and dry as you wish.

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