Monthly Archives: October 2015

5 Things You Can Do Now to Increase Your Tax Refund

Happy Finance Friday!  (Emphasis on the Friday)

5 ways to increase tax refund

I know what you’re thinking.  The topic of this post pains me as well.  I can’t believe tax season is right around the corner.  It’s painful to think about, but a little planning might go a long way when you’re expecting that big refund check in the Spring.  Here are a few things you can do now (before the holidays hit), that might help you maximize that refund:

1.Make donations to charity

-This can include money, clothing, food, travel, etc. that was spent to make a charitable donation.

-If you are receiving something in return (i.e., race entries) you must deduct the value from the total.

-Just remember to keep in mind only 501(c)(3) charities are deductible and to keep your receipts.  Make sure if you are making a large donation that you receive the correct paperwork for your records.

2. Open a Traditional IRA

If you and/or your spouse do not have access to a work retirement plan, this is a great option to investigate.

irs traditional ira table

(Source)

3. Pay January’s mortgage in December

I realize this is a lot to ask, especially with only a few months left in the year and the holidays around the corner.  But if you think you can swing it, the mortgage interest paid is deductible on your tax return. (Note – you may want to consider what you pay in mortgage interest to evaluate whether this is worth it or not.)

4. Maximize 401k Contributions

If your employer offers a 401k, you may want to consider boosting your contributions for the next few months.  The more you can stash away here, the lower your taxable income will be.

5. Contribute to a 529 Plan

If you are saving for college, this is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.  However, this is a state plan, so it may vary.  Consult your tax professional or look into the benefits of this plan to determine if it’s right for you.  A little research might go a long way.

Here’s another article that includes different topics to consider that could save you some money:

9 Things You Didn’t Know Were Tax Deductions

Note –  taxes are complex and everyone’s situation is different, please discuss these options with your tax professional before you implement them to make sure that they are right for you.  

On another (more fun) note, I completed this indoor workout last night and it kicked my butt (in the best way possible).  I would highly recommend it.  It takes approx 15 minutes to get through the circuit, so if you’re low on time you can make it as long as you like!  I followed it up with a fresh cheeseburger casserole:

cheeseburger casserole

Amazing.  I couldn’t get enough.

cheeseburger casserole pickles

Have a great Friday, everyone!

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London – Day 2

Somehow I managed to take an overload of pictures in our 3 days in London. We really had to book it in order to see all of the sights that we had on our list within that small window of time, and my legs/feet were really feeling it by the end of every day.

Incase you missed it, here is the recap of London – Day 1

One of the things that we planned before we left for London was to book 2 days on The Original London Tour buses.  These buses were awesome because you could get on and off whenever you felt like it, but it gave an overall tour of the city with awesome views from the upper level of a double decker bus.

When the bus pulled down Regent Street it was so cool to see all of the historic London buildings with the NFL, UK, and USA flags hanging from them.
london nfl regent street

original london tour

It did get a little chilly on the upper level of the bus though since it was not enclosed.

london

london by bus

I was happy that our bus drove past The Royal Courts of Justice.  That was one of the places we were able to cross off of our list on Friday.

royal courts of justice

We also were able to see tons of incredible architecture and buildings that have been restored and preserved.

london tours

After a few miles on the bus, we decided to hop off and do some exploring by foot (and also find somewhere to eat!).  But first we were able to see St. Paul’s Cathedral.

london street maps

st pauls cathedral

Of all the history and incredible beauty of London buildings, the churches are what really get me.  Something about an old European church; I just can’t take my eyes off of it.  I don’t know if it’s the details, the enormity, or the presence of history, but they are just so captivating.

After that we found a hidden gem pub called The Banker to get some food and beers.  It was right off the Thames River and the food was excellent.  Kris had a pulled pork sandwich and I had a cod sandwich (more fish n’ chips, of course!).

the banker london

After lunch we made our way back to the hotel and took in even more historic sites.  This is an obelisk that was brought from Alexandria.  Now I’m not a huge history buff, and I don’t pretend to know exactly what all of that means… but this thing was pretty cool.

London Egyptian obelisk

London Egyptian

We then made our way down the Victoria Embankment Gardens.  One of the buildings had a staircase that went straight into the ground because the water of the Thames River used to come up to the building until there was a man-made embankment created in this area.

london

victoria embankment gardens

Then we made our way down to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

houses of parliamnent

big ben

london

Pictures don’t even do these buildings justice.

Then, of course, what would a trip to London be without seeing Westminster Abbey.   (Again with the European church obsession.)

westminster abbey

They must have been doing some restorations to the front (I’m not even sure if that entrance is the front, it was so huge).

westminster abbey

westminster abbey

After that we headed back to the hotel.  Kris had the opportunity to go check out the Crown Jewels with his co-workers while I went exploring on my own and had the best take-out Vietnamese of my life.  (I know you can’t really compare a private tour of the Crown Jewels and take-out… but I’m telling you, it was so good.  I almost wasn’t even upset that I couldn’t go.)

And that about wraps up Day 2 in London!  Day 3 will follow shortly.  Thanks for reading!

Proscuitto Caprese Salad + WWWP5K

Yesterday in an attempt to detox from all of the fish n’ chips and beer consumed in London, I created this salad.  It is fresh, filling, and it tastes great! I made it again for lunch today and I’m looking forward to it. Gotta love days that you look forward to your lunch!

Proscuitto Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

  • Greens of your choice (I used Spring Mix with Herbs, and it added a little extra flavor dimension)
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 slice of fresh mozzarella, diced (approx 1/5 of the cheese ball below)
  • 2 slices Proscuitto
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • drizzle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar
    proscuitto salad ingredients

proscuitto caprese salad

After work I hit the road around our neighborhood for the Automatic Worldwide WP 5k 2015.  I came across this blogger challenge yesterday afternoon and thought it was such a great idea.  I was also pretty happy with my time considering I hadn’t run in a week and ate all the food in London.

Don’t mind the time on my Fitbit… I started timing my workout and then didn’t leave the house for about 45 mins. (And yes, I’m that obsessed weirdo wearing both a Garmin and a Fitbit just to go for a short run.)

3 mile run garmin fitbit

Dinner was a pan fried chicken sandwich topped with mayo, tomato, red onion, & baby spinach.  And since it’s getting cold out and we needed some comfort food, we paired it with my favorite Trader Joe’s soup.

tomato roasted red pepper soup

chicken sandwich tomato soup

Thanks for reading and have a great Tuesday!

What foods do you eat when you need comfort food?

London – Day 1

Good morning and happy Monday, everyone!  After a full Sunday of traveling, I am exhausted.  I headed out for the London airport early yesterday morning where I caught my flight to Toronto, and finally made it back home to New York around 8pm.  Here’s the beginning of the recap of our trip.  We got to see a lot of incredible sights. The pictures don’t even do them justice, but they’re still pretty cool.

Here’s a recap of our first day in London:

We originally bought bus passes for the weekend, but we ended up walking most of the time.  Many of the walking areas were gorgeous and one of the first things on our list was to see Buckingham Palace.

london sidewalk

london parks

And it did not disappoint!

buckingham palace

buckingham palace

buckingham palace

It was so crazy how many visitors were at the palace at all times.  It was constantly swarming with people taking pictures and looking through the gates.

buckingham palace

After we walked around Buckingham Palace, we decided to walk through St James Park.  The park was absolutely gorgeous and it is filled with different kinds of ducks, birds, and geese.

duck st james park

After we walked through the park we checked out some of the other areas in search of a pub to get some food.

downtown london

kings arm menu

We found a great pub with good beer and ordered some appetizers to share that included some traditional fish n’ chips (of course).

fish n chips

After dinner we headed back to the hotel before we did a Jack the Ripper tour. The tour was pretty neat, but we were exhausted by the end.  Our guide told the story of Jack the Ripper and led us around to different spots in London where the famous serial killer had struck.

london tower

jack the ripper

The buildings and the architecture all around London were beautiful and overwhelming.  It’s such a neat feeling to be in a place that holds so much history.  We packed a lot of sight seeing in our short 3 day trip; I will be sure to share the rest soon!

How to Avoid Checking a Bag & Other Travel Tips

One of the biggest hassles when it comes to air travel is waiting for baggage (and chasing it down when it doesn’t show up). I am not an avid traveler, but I seem to be air-bound at least a few times a year. So here are some tips for your next trip!

Shop the travel section at Target. Here is what I have in my gallon sized plastic bag for London (all 3ozs or less):

  
From the left: Bronzing lotion (this is a travel bottle that I bought and filled myself), shampoo, conditioner, face wash, mouthwash, lotion, and hairspray. 

 Bring snacks! Airport foot is expensive and unimpressive.    

 
Check the weather forecast. I get the feeling it can be pretty rainy in London so I jumped at the chance to use my Lulu Lemon raincoat that folds up into one of the pockets :

 
  
Plan outfits that allow you to re-wear certain pieces. And roll your clothes instead of folding them.

   
I think I learned this tip from a high school friend that was wise beyond her years. 

I also found out the hard way that airlines are cracking down on the 10kg per carry-on rule (that supposedly has always been in existence, however, unenforced). 

I also threw in my lucky charms for good measure:

    

And converted some cash money before we left (ok, actually I can’t take credit for this one… Thank you Kris!) 

    

Lastly, load up that kindle and try to enjoy the ride! 

What are your favorite travel tips?

These Boots

Today is full of packing and running around before we fly out to London tonight!  But I just wanted to pop in before the big trip begins to say hello and share a few exciting things!

I accidentally found these boots at Target yesterday and I’m in love.

trina shearling style boots

They are warm, comfortable, and super cute.  Plus, I suspect there will be a ton of walking this week, so I will get my money’s worth out of them.

Damn you Target, you get me every time!

We also picked out the granite for our countertops today!  The house is coming together so quickly and we’re getting pretty excited.

granite

A bit of a random post, but that’s what’s going on over here today.  Now I’m off to spend 6-ish hours at the Toronto airport.

I hope your Wednesday is off to a great start!

Fall Indoor Full Body Workout

Good morning, friends! I hope your week is off to a good start.  I was a bit disappointed in myself yesterday because I did not hit the road for a run like intended.  It was chilly and windy yesterday after work and I was feeling a little grumpy.  Today will be tough to squeeze in a workout, but just incase the opportunity presents itself, I created this full body circuit that can be done indoors with a set of dumbells and/or a medicine ball.

Fall Indoor Full Body Workout

If you happen to try it out, let me know how it goes.  Hopefully I wil have a chance to get to it today!

What’s your workout plan for the day?

Weekend & Workouts

Good morning!  I can’t believe we’re about to have another Monday in the books. But before we get started, I could use a little motivation for the week considering I ate apple pie for most of my meals this weekend.

apple pie

I’m still working on my picture abilities, but I promise it tasted better than it looks.  Just incase you were curious, I used this recipe for the apple filling and this recipe for the double pie crust.

Friday night we had some visitors staying with us and we layed low.  Saturday we drove to Pittsburgh for a baby shower.  We could tell by the sky when we were leaving that it was going to be an interesting drive.

buffalo skyline

Despite the snow and rain we encountered, the leaves were so beautiful!

new york fall leaves

first snowfall

On Sunday, we prepped ourselves for a cold tailgate!  Doesn’t mother nature know it’s still only October??

snow tailgate

Workouts for the week looked a little something like this:

Sunday – 3 mile run

Monday  – 4 mile run

Tuesday – hot yoga

Wednesday – 6 mile run

Thursday – hot yoga

Friday – rest

Saturday – rest

I was pretty happy with my exercise until I ate all the apple pie on my rest days.

This week is actually a short week for us because we are leaving for London on Wednesday!!  We still have so much to do in over the next 2 days.

motivational quote

(Source)

How do you keep your motivation over the weekends?

Finance Friday – Cleaning Out the Freezer

Good morning, and most importantly – happy Friday!!!  It’s been a while since I had a Finance Friday post.  This one is a little more light hearted, but it’s completely legit.

freezer and wallet

Over the past several months, while consolidating our lives and attempting to save for big purchases like a house and a wedding we have become fairly thrifty with certain things.  One of the biggest expenses that we were battling was our food bill.  Food is just plain expensive, especially healthy food. So that’s when we had the idea to start using our freezer for more than emergency food (you know, those days when you don’t feel like cooking so you decide to take a look in the freezer?).  It does require some planning, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it!  So here are my tips:

1. Buy the family size portions of meats and produce

Lots of times there will be sales on bulk items and I used to think “I’ll never finish that before it goes bad”.  Now I think, “yes! freezer potential!”  (OK, maybe I’m not that excited, but you get the picture).  Side note – it’s much easier to split things into one meal portions BEFORE you freeze them.

2. Plan your meals for each week

At the beginning of every week, I take the items out of the freezer that we are planning to use and put them in the fridge.  It will take a day or two for them to thaw completely.

3. Shop the daily deals

OK, this may seem like a no brainer.  But I’m specifically talking about the meats that are on sale.  You know those ones that you usually walk right past because they might be a few days older than the rest?  They are perfect! If you’re taking it home to put it directly in the freezer, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been on the shelf for a few days. (Just make sure once you thaw it that you use it timely.)

We have been slowly implementing this in our house for a few months, and while there are other factors that come into play (how many times we eat at a restaurant, etc.), I charted out the amount I was spending at grocery stores over the past 3 months and this was the result:

food bill graph

In August (at the beginning), our food bill was almost $600 for two people.  Now granted October is only half way over, we’re under $200 and going strong!  Even if we continue at this rate we will have cut our bill by nearly half.  Plus, it makes you feel really accomplished when you’re not wasting food.  We all know that food guilt. *Insert picture of your grandmother telling you there are starving children in the world so you should eat your broccoli*

So in the words of our newest YouTube obsession, Matt Bellasai – that’s it, that’s all, that’s everything.  I hope your Friday goes fast and your weekend is long!

Butternut Goat Cheese Salads

I actually found this little gem in my drafts from August and although, it’s actually not what I’m having for lunch this week, it is perfect for the season!  (And it was delicious).

butternut goat cheese salad

Butternut Goat Cheese Salads

Ingredients:

If you’re in the market to spice up your lunches and celebrate the season, definitely give it a try.  I would also like to try it with pomegranate seeds instead of the craisins.

pomegranate seeds

I put these on a chicken kale & wild rice salad last night and it was glorious.  I also squeezed in a 6 mile run with the Queen B and made enough salads for lunches the rest of the week. Success!

6 mile run garmin 220

…And then ate two huge bowls of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin O’s before bed because I was starving.

trader joe's pumpkin o's

No regrets.  They kind of remind me of Apple Jacks or something, but pumpkin.  If that makes sense? Definitely worth a try.

Have a great day!