I know some people have this thing against leftovers but it doesn’t bother me in the least. I get a kick out of seeing how far we can stretch one meal. And since there’s only two of us, most dishes I make feed us for two dinners, if not more. One of my favorite recipes, Mexican Cornbread Casserole, will feed us for three days (dinner only) and costs about $12 total, which is only $2 per person, per meal. It does get a little more expensive when you factor in fresh avocados, which we like to add on top of the casserole (after it’s been cooked or reheated), but that’s usually only an additional $1.50-$3.00 total depending on whether they are on sale. And it’s so good that we don’t get sick of eating it. The same goes for the Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti I like to make. That tends to feed us for four dinners, so it comes out to about $1.50 per person, per meal (and that’s over-estimating beef at $5 per pound and using two jars of spaghetti sauce (it’s too dry with just one jar in my opinion)).

I will usually make these multi-meal dishes on a Monday so we can eat them for dinner Monday through Wednesday or Thursday since we’re a little more relaxed regarding eating out on the weekends. Unlike some people who feel one should never eat out (and I get where they are coming from since it’s almost always more expensive to eat out than make the same dish at home), I see nothing wrong with it as long as it’s not excessive and you’re not sacrificing saving for your future just so you can eat out all the time. For me, going out to eat is an adventure. I like trying out new places and just relaxing with with my husband in a new environment. After a week of working and eating at home, it’s nice to get out on the weekends and do something different.

If you’re going out to eat on a daily basis, though, that’s just foolish. Not only is it wasting money, it’s not healthy. Portion sizes are always bigger and you can’t control the fat or salt content of your dishes. Plus home-cooked meals can often be even yummier than restaurant food. Sure, there are some things I prefer not to make myself (like steak tacos and Thai food), but pasta? Why pay for that at a restaurant when I can make tastier and way cheaper spaghetti at home? It’s a no-brainer if you ask me.

What are your favorite dishes that yield leftovers?

A new year brings a new opportunity to contribute to your Roth IRA. Not only for your 2015 contribution, either. You can still contribute to your 2014 Roth IRA until April 15th!

The annual contribution limit for 2014 and 2015 is $5,500 (and $6,500 if you’re over 50). Don’t fret if you don’t feel you don’t have enough to contribute to your Roth IRA – $5,500 is just the limit. Not everyone has the means to contribute that amount and that’s ok. Many brokerage firms will take monthly contributions of even $50 a month. No matter what amount you choose, it all adds up. And something is better than nothing.

My recommended strategy for contributing to your retirement accounts

In order to take full advantage of your retirement accounts, you should only put money into your Roth IRA after you have contributed to your 401k up to the company match. In other words, if your employer matches 3% of your 401k contribution, your best move would be to put 3% into your 401k, and the rest into your Roth IRA in order to make the most of the tax advantages. And if you have the means to do so, contribute the match into your 401k, contribute fully into your Roth IRA, and then go back and increase your 401k contributions even more.

It’s never too late to take advantage of the options out there. Many brokerage firms have a great selection of no-load or low-load funds to chose from. A couple of my favorites are Vanguard and Fidelity. Check them out – sooner is better than later!

Christmas is nearly here and I’m reminded of a discussion I had with a family member last year. We got into a bit of a heated argument over why I put a stop to gift exchanges years ago, which I won’t get into here.

However, one thing that came up was how on one Christmas many years ago I gave them a CD which I had gotten via an old (now defunct) site that would reward purchases with points that could be saved up to cash in for free merchandise. I shared with them how I had racked up the points to “pay” for their gift. Mistake, I know. But since they are a close family member, and younger than me to boot, I felt that sharing this knowledge might help them see that Christmas doesn’t have to break the bank and there are other ways to be generous without feeling the financial pinch. Instead I find out that they were offended that I didn’t pay for their gift. I guess they didn’t stop to think that even though I didn’t pay for that gift, I did give up the option to get a free item for myself when I spent my points on them. So is there really any difference?

The point of this story? Don’t overshare! Haha, no really, the point is that you can choose to look at something in a negative light or a positive one. Trust me, this is not always easy. It takes a lot of effort to change one’s mindset.

I’ve personally not been feeling the best the past few months, but I have consciously made the decision to get into the holiday spirit and be generous even though I know the sentiment will not necessarily be appreciated nor reciprocated. I’m the type of person whose feelings get hurt easily, so the challenge for me is to find enjoyment in the act of giving and not expecting anything in return. Wish me luck!

And Happy holidays to our readers!

Many years ago my mom started a new Christmas Eve tradition called Crazy BINGO. Basically she’d wrap up some cheap gifts (candy, gag gifts, little trinkets) as well as one “grand prize” of $10-$20, and everyone would play BINGO (or more recently Uno Attack), picking out a gift when they won. The fun was trying to guess which package contained the best gift, and stealing it when you won as you had the option to take a new gift or take someone else’s (and then they could choose to do the same). The game play would end once everyone was in possession of a gift. Then the gifts would be opened and people were free to swap with one another. Of course no one ever swapped the main prize, especially when it was $20!

This tradition almost ended last year because my mom hasn’t been feeling well and didn’t want the hassle of finding the gifts. I happily took over because it’s one of the things I look most forward to every year. The main prize is now less than $20 as I don’t want to blow my holiday budget, but I’ve still been having a lot of fun finding interesting inexpensive items for this game. Dollar Tree, the One Spot at Target, and Five Below are all great places to snag some decent stuff without spending a lot. In all I spent under $20 this year to keep this tradition going. That includes the “grand” prize of a $5 Target gift card I scored for free during one of my epic shopping trips.

While I can’t share the items I purchased as of this writing since some of participants will likely be reading this, I can share with you a quick photo I took last night after wrapping them.

Crazy BINGO Gifts

There are a total of eight gifts since we’re expecting eight people to be present for the game.

There’s a good chance I’ll have completely forgotten what’s in which package by the time Christmas Eve rolls around so I can enjoy the game just as much as everyone else. Or I can mess with everyone and covet the wrong gift in an attempt to throw them off the trail. Muhahahaha!

What fun traditions do you participate in during the holidays?

Even though we like to focus primarily on financial matters on this blog, today I want to talk about relationships, and our marriage in particular. We’ve been married for nine years, but together for a total of fourteen as of this coming January. What continues to amaze both of us is how well we still get along. And we very rarely fight (we do play-argue a ton, though, because we love to tease one another and have a good time).

So what’s our “secret”? I think it comes down to respect and appreciation, among other things. But those two are at the top of the list. We still say please and thank you and do not take one another for granted. We also approach each other respectfully even if the other person has done something to aggravate us. A good example of this comes from an incident that happened this morning.

To give you a little background, Joe shaves his own head in our master bathroom. I also keep a night light plugged in for when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom so I don’t wake myself, or him, up fully by turning on the overhead light. Early this morning when the alarm went off I went to use the restroom, but as I felt around the outlet, the nightlight wasn’t there. It then occurred to me that Joe had removed it last night to plug in his clippers and had forgotten to put it back (which he does from time to time). I didn’t want to turn on the light as I was planning to go back to sleep (since I don’t work on Fridays), so I went back in the bedroom and said, “Joe, can you plug in the nightlight so I can use the bathroom? I can’t find it”. He quickly apologized and jumped up and took care of it for me. When he came back to bed I thanked him for finding it for me (since I had no idea where he had put it and couldn’t see it in the dark). Then we got a little snuggle time in before the alarm went off again and he left for work.

Now, I could have just gotten aggravated (to be honest, I did feel a bit aggravated, but I did not let that color my response) and “yelled” at him for not putting it back, but what kind of start to the day would that bring, and over something so trivial? I can totally see people doing that, however. I actually know of a couple who would probably get into a huge fight over this exact thing. But in the end reacting in a negative manner will only bring resentment and bitterness to a marriage, not love and togetherness. And if it was really that big of a deal to me, I could always bring it up later so we could talk about it without emotions getting involved.

Even though I said we never fight, that doesn’t mean we don’t disagree with one another or never get on one another’s nerves. It’s just in how you handle it. We’re extremely lucky in the regard that we both tend to approach things in the same way so it makes disagreements easier to handle. For instance, we always take the other person’s feelings into consideration, and we never call each other names (except when we are playing around and it’s obvious we’re not upset). Our neighbors are always screaming at one another (we can hear them through the not-so-insulated walls) and it just blows my mind to hear people treating each other that way. I honestly can’t think of even one instance when either of us screamed at the other one in an angry way. The only screaming that has ever occurred in this house is when one of us needs the other one’s attention ASAP and they are on a different level and we can’t come to them for some reason (like if we hurt ourselves, for instance).

If you happen to be in a relationship where fighting or screaming is the norm, I challenge you to try a gentler approach and see what happens. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised to see how your reaction can positively influence your partner’s response (and if not, they suck and you should separate… kidding!)