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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Snacking Makes you Immune to Advertising?

Photo credit: Alamy via the Huffington Post
Is there actually a benefit to munchin' in front of the tube?

According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, when you watch a commercial your brain "unconsciously practices how to say the name (even if you are not actually mouthing the words)". However, when you are chewing your "mouth cannot subtly whisper the products name". This prevents the brand from taking residence in your brain. This doesn't just work with snacking, but also chewing gum, or talking... but the catch is that it only works for brands that you are not familiar with... interesting!

So while we are told that eating mindlessly while watching sitcoms may not be good for our waistlines, it may help our wallets!

Now is it the same for kids not "wanting" something they see on TV just because they happen to be eating some Cheerios at the same time? Who knows, I don't really want to test that theory!

Topolinski, S., et al., Popcorn in the cinema: Oral interference sabotages advertising effects, Journal of Consumer Psychology (2013),

Read more at:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Make Dumplings - Save Money - Be Happy

I know its been a while... a lot has been going on!
We were out of town (back to the Minnesota homeland) for the month of December. Then we had a death of a very close family member while we were there. I also started doing a little more contract work, so I have been falling behind on my "fun" stuff!

Photo credit: *
Its been about 6 years since my infatuation with dumplings began; steamed dumplings to be exact. My favorites are still the kind you can find only at your Chinese take-out place that are really doughy and have that wonderful blend of pork and who knows what else. And the sauce... oh the sauce... sweet, salty, & spicy maybe with a sprinkling of green onions and peanuts. I still have not quite figured out how to duplicate the sauce; and its a crap shoot if I order from a random Chinese place if they will happen to make the sauce the way I like it.

Moving on. I would love to eat those doughy dumplings every time I have a craving- but that obviously will not work for my checkbook (even though they are usually not too pricey considering, but still $4 for 6) or my waistline. So, I have tried several of the frozen variety that range from $5-$8 and you usually get between 15 and 20 dumplings; some come with sauce; most don't. And usually I am not extremely impressed with what's stuffed inside, not to mention the overall taste.

If you have about an hour (or less if you have helpers). You can whip around 50 of these babies for  for under $10 (depending on what kind of  meat you use). They are not as exotic as my doughy faves, but also not as sinful... and really are quite tasty.

Steamed Dumplings
1 lb ground (turkey, pork, beef etc.- leaner the better); I think turkey tastes great, and less fat to boot [$3-$6]
1/4 cup (more or less to taste) of chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts [$1 or less]
4 scallions sliced [$0.25]
14 oz bag of coleslaw (or broccoli slaw) mix (optional)[$2]
12 oz package of wonton wrappers [$3]
2 options for sauce to add to the wonton mixture: 1) Franks Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce (1/4 cup); 2) Mixture of 1 tbsp each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, minced garlic, & minced ginger

Dipping sauce: if used Red Hot Sweet Chili- use that to dip; if used other mix 1/4 cup each of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, throw in a tsp of ginger, sugar, and dark sesame oil and top with scallions, red pepper flakes, & chopped peanuts if you want!

  • Grab your steamer basket and fill the pot with water to almost where the basket hits... bring to a boil. Fill a small bowl with tap water
  • Mix meat, shoots or chestnuts, scallions, coleslaw, and whichever sauce you are using in a big bowl.
  • Use one wonton wrapper and place tablespoon amount of mixture in middle; use water to moisten edges of wrapper and fold in half- secure.\
  • Decide how many you want eat, throw the rest on a wax paper lined cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, toss in zippie and take out as desired.
  • Depending on the size of steamer you can cook 5-10 at a time for approx 5 minutes- 8 minutes from frozen (test to make sure meat is cooked). Try to make sure they don't touch one another to prevent sticking. You can use non-stick spray on the steamer or throw down some leftover coleslaw to keep the dumplings from attaching themselves to your basket.
  • Dip, eat, love

 My 2 year old twins  really liked these; they prefer the sweet chili sauce ones to the other sauce.

* I vow to try this recipe soon, they really look wonderful

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grocery Shopping: Short & Organized = Sanity & Savings

Who doesn't want to stay sane AND save money while shopping?
Photo credit: ACEI Ch
With toddlers in tow, grocery shopping can be a challenge, if not a nightmare. While they love riding in those cars attached to the grocery cart, I never know when the window will close. Will they last all the way to the dairy aisle? Or will the meltdown begin by the bananas?

What I didn't realize, is what I learned from all this. My grocery shopping trips have become very efficient. First, I need my list to be in order of the store so I am not racing all over the place. Second, if I have coupons that I  may need to refer to while shopping, those must also be in order of the store.  Third,  I tend to only buy what is on the list, since that is all I have time to grab (and sometimes not even that).

When I do have the chance to go by myself, not surprisingly, I tend to spend more time in the store... and buy more as well. While I may have more time to price compare, I also have more time to take advantage of the all-too-frequent impulse buy.

While going to the grocery store with my kids is not my favorite thing, I am actually saving money because I have no other choice but to be quick and organized.

Simple but True: Short & Cheap

1. Make a list as you run out of things- keep it in your kitchen
2. Make a menu- add what you need to your list (you can base your menu on your coupons or whats on sale**)
3. Order that list based on your store. For example, produce, cans, breakfast, snacks, frozen, dairy, bakery- or however your store is laid out.
4. If you are a coupon clipper, keep them in order so you can grab and go while making your list. Then order your coupons based on your list.
5. Stick to your list (unless its truly something you forgot) and get out of the store promptly!

Oh! And don't go when you (or your kids) are hungry!

Don't get the paper? Online coupons are awesome:; 

 **Check out for menus based on what's on sale at the grocery stores you frequent. They give you recipes to choose from based on your preferences and then you can print out a grocery list as well!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

High Interest Checking Accounts

Many financial institutions advertise interest bearing checking accounts (yippee!), but wait... they are as widespread on the interest spectrum as there are theories on how to raise your kids!

According to Bankrate,com, as of May 2012, high-yield checking accounts averaged over 2% while interest on traditional interest-bearing checking accounts was a whopping 0.06%. So you could be making 33 times more money if you just do your research (or read this!).

So of course you want the high-yield account... what's the catch? You will likely have to meet certain monthly requirements, and of course, you have to move your checking account (which can be a hassle with all the automatic bill payments these days). Read the fine print for the reqs before you sign up to make sure you can meet them (i.e. direct deposit, certain number of debit transactions, minimum balance etc.)

A great place to start:
  • Check out the results of's survey on interest bearing checking accounts for both banks and credit unions.
  • Play around on's interest rate finder for checking accounts (both online/ national and those in your area). While Bankrate is very helpful, is a bit less biased by advertisers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Islamic Banking and Saving for College

Graphic from
 There are special requirements in Islamic Law when it comes to finance. I find it very intriguing. Maybe our country would not have gotten into such a financial mess if we took advice from our ancestors and global neighbors!
 I met a woman this weekend who would like to start saving for college for her 1 year old. The problem is, she cannot have an account that accrues interest because of her religion, Islam. We were talking about two different 529 plans (a prepaid trust and a college investment plan). She was asking if either of these accounts accrue interest, because if they did, she could not take advantage of them.

To take a step back, a lot of folks intertwine the meaning of income (interest) that you earn on a savings account at your local bank/ credit union and income (interest) that you earn on an investment. The primary difference is the risk you are taking and the potential reward/ loss that you may receive.

The income that you earn on your savings account is determined by a set rate and is insured by either the FDIC (banks) or NCUA (credit unions). The income you earn on an investment is determined by how the company's stock or your portfolio fares in the market. It is not insured, so you can potentially lose your investment, however the reward can also be significantly higher.

So I had to determine if this woman was talking about any form of interest (including investments) or if it was just tied to one or the other. This led me to do some research on the topic of the Islamic view of money and saving to determine specifically if this woman can use a 529 plan to save for her child's education.

What I found:
First of all, Sharia is the moral code/ religious law of Islam; Islamic banking adheres to this code. Sharia prohibits the payment or acceptance of interest and/ or fees (known as riba) for monetary loans. The reasoning behind it, is that money is merely a medium of exchange, has no value in and of itself, and is purely a way to define a common value between things; therefore, 'money' should not be used to make more money on itself through interest (whether in a bank account, or lent to someone).

One can invest in a business or property however, as long as the business/ real estate venture does not provide products or services that go against Sharia.

So, can you save for your kid's college education in a 529 plan if you are Islamic? 
Yes. However, since a person is not allowed to invest in businesses that go against Sharia, this may be a difficult thing to successfully accomplish. Technically, a person could have a prepaid trust or investment plan (as neither are providing mere interest on money) if they make sure that each investment in the portfolio complies with the Islamic law. This is one of the few if only options this person would have; they would not be able to save money in a Coverdell account or any other account tied to a traditional banking institution since that would be earning money, on just.. well, money.

If anyone runs across this post and has more information, please let us know!

An interesting find:
It appears as though the nation of Islam are not the only ones who feel this way (at least historically):

  • “Very much disliked also is the practice of charging interest: and the dislike is fully justified for interest is a yield arising out of money itself, not a product of that for which money was provided. Money was intended to be a means of exchange; interest represents an increase in the money itself. Hence of all ways of getting wealth, this is the most contrary to nature." Aristotle

  • “Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest.” (Deuteronomy 23:19)
  • “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” The Holy Bible (American Standard Bible)
  • [Jesus said], “If you have money, do not lend it at interest, but give [it] to one from whom you will not get it back.” Gospel St Thomas, V95

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tax refunds: when bigger might be better

Theoretically, you want to minimize your tax refund by claiming the correct withholding on your W4 so you can invest that money throughout the year instead of letting Uncle Sam keep it interest free. However, there are times when it makes sense to keep getting that large refund and not claim all your allowances to help reach your financial goals.

First things first: I am a huge proponent of claiming the correct withholding on your W4 so that you can make your money work for you instead of getting an interest free refund every year.

But I also want to get real. I was reading an article on Identity Theft where thieves were filing tax returns and then getting the refunds. Many of the victims are people that count on their tax refund every year. While the ID theft story was interesting (and frightening), the realization for me was that these folks are getting thousands of dollars back and this is truly a great saving vehicle for (some of) them.

For those of us that claim the correct allowance on our tax withholding and are diligent about saving that extra money, that's great, and the financially proper thing to do. On the other hand, there are folks that are not claiming the correct allowance, getting huge refunds, and then blowing it at the casino or on something that they can't afford. Then, there are the people that just can't seem to save monthly for whatever reason, so they purposely claim a low allowance to ensure the largest refund possible, and they use that as a savings vehicle. While it doesn't make as much financial sense to save your money this way. its the only way some people will save at all. So while they may not be receiving interest throughout the year, once they actually get the money, they might throw it in a CD or pay down their mortgage which is financially smart.

The Takeaway
You will get the most bang for your buck if you claim the correct withholding on your W4 (see this post for more info) and then invest your extra cash monthly in some sort of savings vehicle. If you blow your refund habitually- minimize the refund; your personality style would be better suited to getting more in each paycheck and setting up a automatic savings plan. However, if you know yourself and your habits, and you know that you just can't seem to stick with a consistent savings plan month to month... by all means, wait for that large refund, as long as you are smart with it. In this scenario, if you fail, don't  keep try, trying, again year to year and lose out on valuable time to save some green. Just do what works.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fun Savings: "Love" money, "Play" money

Saving money is always more productive when you have dedicated savings accounts for different goals. This is a given when it comes to retirement, education, and emergency funds, but what about the other stuff?

Many of us lump our savings into one place for use on.. well, whatever comes up. It's important that we have some fun too! If your savings are all bunched together, sometimes it's hard to justify taking some out for fun without feeling guilty.

Make it Fun
A great way to have fun with savings is to have a physical place for your extra cash (assuming you can find some). Think coffee can, spaghetti sauce jar, or just about anything that will hold currency (I prefer transparency so I can see how we are doing). Then pop a colorful label that states clearly what this fun money is dedicated to (whether its words or a picture your kids draw). You and your signot (significant other) can have "love" money for hitting the town and your kids can have "play" money to contribute for whatever they decide. If you don't have the energy to clean out a dirty jar, you can find some fun ones at The Find!

Guilt-free and a Teachable moment
This is a great way for you and your partner to rid the guilt of going out when you are on a tight budget and a great way for your kids to learn to save and to learn delayed gratification. Of course, you can do this in an official savings account as well, but let's be honest, its fun to see that money grow on your counter too.

Some other ideas:

Love this concept: see what your cost-cutting measures have saved you. Another idea: when you go to the grocery store with all those coupons, get a subtotal before the coupons and then throw the cash in your jar with whatever those savings were!

The Takeaway
The next time you save some cash with coupons, clean out the couch, or find extra change in your pockets or purse- throw it in a fun (and visible) place and watch it grow!