tax return check on 1040 form background

Don’t Make These Tax Filing Mistakes

Here we are at tax season. Again. Hopefully, you’ve rounded up your receipts, figured out allowable deductions, and loaded all of that onto the proper tax forms. And if not, it’s not too late. You have time.

But this is not the time to get sloppy. Make sure you don’t run any of these red flags up the flagpole of your tax return and you will greatly reduce the chances of getting hit with the most dreaded of all tax events—the audit.

tax return check on 1040 form background

Messed-up math

Double-check to make sure your arithmetic is correct. Math errors are not limited only to miscalculations. They could also be truncated numbers—dropping decimal places. Negative numbers need to have brackets around them. Consider attaching a spreadsheet or adding machine tape. Messed up math is the number one tax filing mistake so double-check everything. E-filing makes sure that math calculation errors don’t occur.

Sloppy records

If you are self-employed your deductions need to be very carefully documented. As a member of this group, don’t be tempted to blur the line between personal and business expenses, especially mileage deductions and home-office usage.

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Baking supplies on a wooden board, horizontal, close-up

Shelf Life of Baking Supplies + Free Printable Cheat Sheet

Look up the word ‘impulsive’ in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. In my basement pantry, I have bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—left over from one of my Gift-in-a-Jar marathon projects.

And those two containers of candied fruit that must be ten years old by now, which I keep only because they’ve become a novelty. They appear to be the same as the day I bought them and perhaps one of the reasons fruit cake has gotten such a bad rap!

Baking supplies on a wooden board, horizontal, close-up

So what’s the deal with baking supplies, anyway? We know that notoriously they’re on sale at rock-bottom prices starting around Thanksgiving and continuing through the end of the year (check the calendar!). It’s the right time to load up but wisely!

I still have bags of all-purpose flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each, which I’ve stored in the freezer. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk dates to nuts.

One of my basic rules of grocery shopping is this: When it’s on sale, buy enough to last until the next time it’s on sale. Baking supplies become so cheap this time of year, now is the time to stock up.

Which begs the question: How long will baking supplies last in the event you decide to buy enough to last the year? It all depends on the items and if you have the storage space to keep them at their optimum.

To make the information that follows more useful I put together a handy cheat sheet for you. Below you’ll see a link to download a free printable version that you can attach to the inside of a cabinet or another place to serve as a reminder.

baking supplies shelf life storage printable cheat sheet taped to cabinet

Baking powder

Store in a tightly lidded container; 18 months unopened, six months opened. Stored in the freezer, baking powder is good indefinitely.

Baking soda

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place; good for two years unopened, six months opened. Kept in the freezer, good indefinitely.

Brown sugar

Store in freezer and use within six months opened or unopened.

MORE: Make It Yourself—Cheaper, Better and Faster!

Butter

Comes two ways: salted and unsalted. Salt is added for flavor and as a preservative so it will have a longer shelf life. Salted lasts up to five months refrigerated; unsalted has a short shelf life of about three months in the refrigerator.

If you do not plan to use unsalted butter right away, it is best to freeze it. When properly wrapped so it won’t pick up any odors, butter can be frozen for around six months. It’s best to defrost butter overnight in the refrigerator.

Canned evaporated milk

Store unopened on the pantry shelf for up to six months. Best to check the “use by” date on the product. After this time, it will not turn sour, but it will turn yellow and lose its flavor.

Chocolate chips

Store in a cupboard at room temperature; 18-24 months unopened, one year if opened. I can attest to the fact that chocolate chips will last what seems like forever in the freezer. They may get a white haze, but this will not affect the taste when used in baking.

Cooking oils

Store on pantry shelves at room temperature; good for up to a year; check if still good with the smell test. Oils can become rancid.

Eggs

Properly stored in the refrigerator, fresh eggs are good for four to five weeks past the “sell by” date.

Extracts

Expect these to last up to three or four years when kept at room temperature. (See pure vanilla extract below).

Flour

Unopened flour lasts for up to a year; opened, six to eight months. Whole wheat flour is good for up to a year unopened but use within six months if opened. If you have room, store flour in the freezer.

MORE: 5-Minute Artisan Bread: The Master Recipe, Tools, Resources

Granulated sugar

Store in a cool, dry place; good for two years unopened; use within six months if opened.

Karo syrup

ACH Food Companies, Inc., the conglomerate that owns and markets Karo syrup, says its Karo syrups are safe for consumption for an indefinite period of time whether it has been opened or not. I know, kinda’ creepy, but that’s the fact.

Light corn syrup may turn slightly yellow with age, but this is normal and not harmful. Storage conditions affect product quality.

Before or after opening, Karo syrup may be stored at room temperature. Bottles may be refrigerated after opening; however, the syrup will be thicker and pour more slowly.

Marshmallow creme

Store at room temperature for four months unopened; store in the refrigerator once opened and use within two months.

Marshmallows

Keep in an airtight container on the pantry shelf; good for three months.

Molasses

Store unopened in a cool, dark place for one year; store opened for six months in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator. Make sure the lid is tightly sealed.

Nuts

Stored in a tightly sealed container, shelled nuts will be good for up to six months in the pantry; 9 months to a year in the freezer.

Powdered sugar

Store in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator); good for 18 months unopened.

Pure vanilla extract

Store at room temperature; as long as it is pure, it has an indefinite shelf life. In fact, it even gets better with age.

RELATED: Still the Most Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

Raisins

Up to three years stored on pantry shelf at temperatures up to 80 F. Can be refrigerated.

Shortening

Store in the pantry at room temperature. Unopened, shortening lasts up to a year; opened, three to four months until it turns rancid.

Spices, ground

Store in a cool, dry place for two to three years. Here’s a tip to extend the shelf life: Don’t measure or sprinkle spices over a boiling pot. The steam from the pot will hasten the loss of flavor for what spice remains in the bottle. Measure spices into a bowl beforehand and then add them to the pot. Note: Paprika and cayenne pepper should be refrigerated.

Spices, whole

Whole and ground spices don’t spoil, they just lose their strength. Store in a cool, dry place for two to four years.

Sweetened condensed milk

Store in a dry, clean and cool place; good for one year unopened; invert can every two months. Carnation does not recommend using sweetened condensed milk past its “best before date” for quality reasons.

I am still searching for information on candied fruit. So far I can find no indication that it will ever spoil or change in quality or texture.

I’ll keep you posted.

11 Ways to Simplify Your Life in 2020

Would you be willing to accept a reduction in pay if you could work fewer hours to spend more time with your family? It is a lovely thought, but how realistic? Working less usually means earning less—hardly an option for most people.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot take small steps to simplify our complicated lives. A little bit here and there, and before you know it your efforts will add up to something significant.

Simplify life concept with phone, coffee, notebook

Simplify your life to find less stress, more time

1. Declutter

Getting rid of clutter is a cheap, fast and effective way to become physically and financially sound. It’s also the path to emotional and intellectual happiness. Dejunk your home one drawer, cupboard, closet, and room at a time. Expect to experience a new feeling of “lightness.”

MORE: How to Donate to Do Good and Declutter, Too

2. Track your money

Money is leaking out of your life at a rate of at least 10% if you are not keeping track of where it is going. One of the most helpful things you can do to simplify your money in 2020 is to download an app like Personal Capital.

Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation. You can connect accounts, such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more. Plus, it is FREE.

3. Cultivate contentment

Decide to be happy with what you have. The social imperative that we must consume to be happy breeds dissatisfaction and nonfulfillment. The constant ratcheting up of standards demands that we constantly upgrade in order to keep up. It takes a conscious effort to desire less.

MORE: How Materialism Leads to Discontentment

4. Phone control

Just because it happens to be a convenient time for someone to call you doesn’t mean it’s convenient for you to answer. Let your calls go to voice mail. Every instant message does not deserve an instant response. Telling your phone who’s in charge will greatly simplify your life.

5. Record it

Write down what you need to remember and forget everything else. Don’t allow your mind to dwell on things over which you have no control. You will never regret making this a new habit.

MORE: How to Break Bad Money Habits

6. Share, lend, borrow, rent

Part of the reason we have such a love affair with shopping and consumerism is that we think we need to personally own everything we use. Before you agree to complicate your life further with yet another possession, consider the alternatives.

7. Stop paying for cable

Due to hidden fees on top of basic service,  the average monthly cable bill rose to $217 in 2019. Cutting the cable is a good step toward simplifying your life in 2020, and frankly, something you may never regret. With so many free or at least cheaper options, you might not even miss it at all.

8. Take a break

You may not realize how screen time is affecting your purchasing and lifestyle choices. If you are addicted to Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and television in general, taking a break will simplify your life. If you’re not willing to go cold turkey, at least disable notifications. Then limit the number of times each day that you check your various feeds. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real thing that has no merit—a fake fear.

9. Drive a simple car

High-end, luxury automobiles are nice to drive but can complicate one’s life. Typically they are gas-guzzlers and expensive to insure, register, maintain, and repair. It’s a simple step, but one that may take a while to achieve—but totally doable.

10. Select a patterned carpet

Light-colored, plush carpeting is beautiful but can be life-altering. It shows every speck, spot, fleck, and crumb. If you want your carpets to look good without having to spend all your free time spotting, vacuuming, de-flecking, and un-crumbing, go with something speckled, patterned, or multicolored.

11. Get up earlier

The best hour of the day is the one right before you normally get up. It may take you a few weeks to truly enjoy that hour right before dawn, but when you create the habit you will be amazed by the simplicity that 60 quiet, stress-free minutes will add to your day.

Question: Is simplifying your life in 2020 on your list of New Year’s resolutions? If so, what area do you plan to tackle first? 

Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do!

Discouragement plagues all of us from time to time. If you’re discouraged about your situation—be it financial, family, job, or just basic uncertainty about the future—there are some things you can do to counter those feelings and attitudes. The most important is to know this will not last forever.

couple sitting at a table holding credit card statements and totally discouraged

Let’s say your neighbor just got a fabulous, brand new vehicle. You are overwhelmed by feelings of desire and envy.

There was a time that you would begin immediately to find a way to get a new car, too. But things are different now. You have a new set of values. You no longer make financial decisions impulsively.

The car you have already is paid for and meets your family’s current needs. But still, those feelings are bubbling up. Just as soon as you recognize them, start erasing!

Replace those destructive attitudes with thoughts of paying for your next vehicle with cash; of not making huge monthly payments, not paying triple insurance premiums, not paying $400 for the annual registration fee, not forking over $600 for that 50,000-mile tune-up.

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Merry Christmas!

Mary and Harold Hunt, with their grandsons Sam and Eli

My family and the entire EC staff join me on this beautiful day to wish you and yours a most joy-filled Christmas! Thank you for being such loyal fans, friends, and followers!

Merry Christmas!

Who Stole the Joy?!

It was an unusual interview. The interviewer explained she was writing an article for a national women’s magazine on clever ways to put more joy into the holidays.

In that I’ve written a book on the subject, she called hoping I would help her with the story. I knew that I could.

In my typical overly excited manner I proceeded to pitch to her one marvelous holiday cost-cutting idea after another—some of them principle-based, others uniquely practical.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that something wasn’t right. One after another, my ideas landed with a thud. She didn’t like them at all.

And that’s when she made a comment that effectively brought the interview to a screeching halt.

She called me a grinch.

Now she didn’t actually come right out and say, “You Grinch!” She said that if she wrote an article encouraging the unthinkable practice of not incurring debt, buying fewer gifts or cutting back in any way, her readers would think she’d interviewed that old you-know-who himself.

While she suggested my ideas would take all the fun and joy out of the season, she assured me it was nothing personal. But still, she called me a grinch. Read more

7 Festive Holiday Dessert Drinks

It doesn’t have to be a full-blown dinner party to count as holiday entertaining. Why not ask your invited guests to bring their favorite sweets while you provide the beverages?

Then knock their socks off with a buffet of these festive holiday dessert drinks. You’ll avoid spending a bundle and reduce your stress in the process.

Homemade Hot Buttered Rum for the Holidays

Hot Buttered Rum

  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup spiced rum
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 4 sticks cinnamon, for garnish
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl until blended and smooth.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a 4-cup (or larger) measuring cup. Add the rum and then 2 cups of boiling water. Stir until the butter mixture dissolves.
  3. Divide the buttered rum among 4 mugs. Garnish with the cinnamon sticks and serve. Yield: 4 servings.

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Pumpkin soup in a bowl with croutons

Homemade Soup to Soothe the Soul and Budget—in Minutes!

LOYAL READERS  know by now that I love to cook. And I prefer to make things from scratch. But given my crazy schedule, many days I have zero time to get a meal on the table—not even 30 minutes (sorry, Rachael Ray). I’m always on the lookout for the fastest food.

I need quick and easy meals that are also delicious. If something is fast and tastes good, it’s so much better than eating out. And way cheaper, too.

The four recipes that follow (presented as “recipe cards” so you can easily print them) are my family’s favorites!

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sleeping in airport

How to Survive—and Not Go Broke—When Stranded in an Airport

The busiest travel season on record has begun and will last through Jan. 5. An estimated 47.5 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines according to experts—up 3% from last year. Throw weather into the equation and your chances of getting stranded while waiting for a flight increase immeasurably.

If you’ve ever set foot in an airport, you know what a ripoff that place can be if you have to buy basic necessities while you wait for a flight. The delay alone is going to feel like you’re out of luck, but your lack of planning can quickly take you out of money, too.

sleeping in airport

Over the years, having traveled more than 1.5 million miles myself and spending more than a few nights in an airport—I’ve learned that it’s easy and super smart to prepare and anticipate the inevitable.

Here are my best tips for surviving an extended stay in an airport.

Part of your plan

Assume you will be delayed. Just plan on it. Then if you are not, what a nice bonus. But always prepare with an extended delay in mind.

These 7 things

Always carry these seven things with you. Every airline allows you at least one free carry-on bag. Make sure it includes:

Snacks

Of course, if you are stranded for a long time, you’ll be forced to buy airport food, ka-ching! But statistically, your delay will be short—a few hours—so the healthy snacks you are carrying will be more than sufficient.

Empty water bottle

I would rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than pay $4 or more for a bottle of water in the airport gift shop. Make sure you have an empty water bottle in your carry-on bag, then once through Security, fill it up at a water fountain or bottle filling station which most airports have now,

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Sleeping in an airport is bad enough. Waking up with dry, morning mouth is even worse. Brushing your teeth might not fix the plane situation right away, but it will do wonders for your attitude.

Extra underwear

It’s an easy thing to tuck into your bag. Trust me on this. Keep a pair with you. Cleaning up after a long night will make your day so much better.

Sweatshirt or travel blanket

Airports are notorious for being cold, especially late at night. If you must sleep, you’re going to want something warm and comfy.

Phone charger

Of course, you need this with you. Consider an extra fully charged battery, too. The phone charging areas will be crowded and the outlets overloaded if more than a plane or two has been grounded.

Something to do

A good book, crossword puzzles, sudoku—anything that will help pass the time, not require an electronic device, and help you escape the situation at hand.

Know your rights

Airlines operate under a cadre of rules—many of them having to do with passenger rights. But they’re also granted many leeways when it comes to delays. For example, the federal government doesn’t require airlines to offer any compensation for a delayed flight.

Vouchers

Even though it may not be required by law, many airlines will offer vouchers for food, hotel, and taxi—but you need to ask. It’s considered good customer service, so speak up.

Bumped!

If you are involuntarily bumped because your flight is overbooked—and you arrive more than two hours late, you may be eligible for four times the price of your ticket up to $1,350. Learn more about how to collect on that here. Good idea: Print these guidelines and keep them in your carry-on bag.

Check your credit card

The one you used to purchase your ticket. Some offer reimbursement for travel delays, so keep your receipts. There will be stipulations, like food and lodging up to $500 if delayed longer than six hours. Know this stuff before you go. You will feel so much more in control when things go sideways at an airport.

Be courteous

As you deal with airline and airport personnel, remember they want to get home for the holidays, too. It’s no fun for them when flights get canceled and airports are jam-packed with angry passengers, all of them waiting for the weather to clear. There is nothing that your yelling or getting upset will do to hasten a solution to this situation, so just be patient. And nice.

Get some sleep

If you know you can’t get out until tomorrow or many hours from now, find a place you can get some sleep. Sleeping in airports is a website where travelers share their experiences and advice with fellow airport sleepers. You’ll discover some really cool—even fun—stuff about airports and exact places no one else knows about where you can get some sleep! And set an alarm on your phone. Trust me on this. No one is going to hunt you down to wake you up for your new flight!


2019 Holiday Gift Guide — Best Ideas for Grandparents

Gifts That Don’t Cost a Dime

11 Easy 3-Ingredient Party Dips That are Absolutely Delicious!

Diderot and his red robe

Remember Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe Before You Head out Shopping

The eighteenth-century French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote an essay entitled “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.” It seems someone gave Diderot an exquisite gift. Diderot was so happy to get a new red dressing gown, (not something your typical guy today would get too excited about, but remember this was the 1700s), that he promptly threw his old one away.

Diderot and his red robe

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