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Saturday, December 4, 2010

6 Ways Conventional Wisdom Wastes Money

Updated guidelines, better ways to save.
Most of us learned the basic tenets of budgeting, housekeeping and auto maintenance from our parents. But times have changed, and some of the things you believed to be true are not the case anymore.
Following are several examples of conventional wisdom that may cause you to needlessly waste money. Dig in and learn how to effortlessly save money by thinking outside the box.
Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles
The little sticker placed on the car windshield reminds you to change a car's oil every 3,000 miles -- regardless of make, model or scenario.
But many experts now say the 3,000-mile oil change is dead. Why? New car engines and oil quality have advanced to the point where cars can go 5,000 to 10,000 miles without a change.
"Generally speaking, vehicles don't need to be changed every 3,000 miles anymore," says Tara Baukus Mello, author of's Driving for Dollars column. "It's somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000, unless they have an engine oil sensor, and then it could be anywhere."
However, don't automatically assume you can push oil changes beyond 3,000 miles.
"It's important to consult your owner's manual for the frequency, the number of miles, the length of time between changes and the type of oil -- and to follow whatever those instructions are," Mello says.
Use Sheets With Sky-High Thread Counts
New sheets usually have the thread count listed on the packaging. There's a misguided notion that more is better, says Barbara Flanagan, author of "Flanagan's Smart Home: 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling back."


Sheets with a lower thread count are better for several reasons, Flanagan says. They can be washed and dried faster, which saves money on laundering, as they take up less space and dry quicker.
In addition to the money saved, lighter sheets are better for your skin, she says.
"You want your body to breathe through the sheets," Flanagan says, "and you want to get your laundry done in as few loads as possible, so the choice of sheets is really important."
Flanagan also recommends using waffle-weave towels over the traditional large fluffy towels that Americans tend to buy. Waffle weave towels are also cheaper to wash -- and can even be air-dried, she says.
"So that really saves a lot of money in the dryer," Flanagan says. "Your dryer is one of the most expensive appliances (to run) in the house."
Keep Ceiling Fans On in an Empty Room
The ceiling fan is a great alternative to -- or accompaniment to -- air conditioning, right?
Not unless you are in the room, says Gregory Karp, personal finance columnist and author of "The 1-2-3 Money Plan."
"(People) leave ceiling fans on in rooms where there are no people -- but ceiling fans don't cool rooms at all, they only cool people," Karp says. "They create a wind chill factor that makes human skin feel cooler. It has nothing to do with cooling your sofa in an empty room."
And in the winter, running a ceiling fan in the opposite direction doesn't offer many benefits, Karp says. In houses with high ceilings, the fans can push the heat down -- but otherwise, they will often create a wind chill and waste electricity.
And the cost can be significant, setting you back $35 per year on your utility bill to leave a large ceiling fan set on high through the night each night.
Bottled Water Is Healthier Than Tap
We've all heard stories about sketchy tap water. But a lot of bottled water is not much better. In fact, there is less quality oversight for bottled water than there is for tap water, Karp says.
"This is a beverage that falls from the sky for free. It's given away at public water fountains," Karp says. "Yet somehow, this industry has convinced us to go to the store (and) pay real money for this stuff."
Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Karp says, and checked for quality more frequently than bottled water, which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
And, according to the EPA's website, "Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all."
Lavish Vacations Beat Simpler Ones
People love to take vacations. But airfare, hotels, restaurant meals and activities can suck up money like a vacuum cleaner set on high.


Vacations don't have to be lavish. Consider skipping a trip to Paris and instead camping somewhere within your state's borders or visiting a friend in a nearby city. Travel time will be shortened, and your wallet will thank you.
How about skipping the trip altogether, and really saving cash? Karp and Flanagan offer good reasons for making room for a bare-bones vacation in your budget.
"Academic studies show time and again, and they all confirm each other, that people are much happier buying experiences than buying more stuff," Karp says. "And the reason is that experiences actually improve with time, like a fine wine."
Flanagan agrees. She says her family decided to travel for Christmas and Hanukkah instead of exchanging gifts.
"And so we don't have any sweaters or socks to show for the holidays," she says, "But we have all these great pictures of all these people in all these great places -- and everybody looking pretty happy."
Cable and Satellite Trump Rabbit Ears
Most people could save boatloads of money if they dumped their cable or satellite plan -- possibly enough to fund a modest vacation.
If you're keeping cable or satellite because you think it has a better picture than rabbit ears, think again, Karp says.
"I think a lot of people think that if you get television over your antenna that somehow that's inferior to cable or satellite," he says. "But the picture's actually better since we switched over to digital."
Now that nearly all stations broadcast programming in a digital format, the picture captured by an antenna is less-compressed than it is through cable or a satellite system, Karp says.
"The best picture you can possibly get is with a regular rabbit ears antenna," he says.
This article is part of a series related to being Financially Fit

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Make a Coffee-mate Snowman Craft

Coffee-mate Snowman
Coffee-mate Snowman
Photo by Joe Bianco
User-Submitted Article
Snowmen are not only Christmas decorations, they are a decoration to keep around all winter long! This is an easy and inexpensive Snowman Craft made out of an empty Coffee-mate plastic bottom. This is a great craft to do with children!
Difficulty: Moderately Easy


Things You'll Need:

  • One empty Coffee-mate bottle
  • 8-1/2 x 11 piece of red felt
  • Small piece of black felt
  • Small piece of orange felt
  • Three small black buttons
  • Two brown-colored pipe cleaners
  • Hot glue gun or Elmer's Glue
  1. 1
    Coffee-mate Snowman
    Coffee-mate Snowman
    This is a delightful craft for teachers to do with children ages five to seven years old or a fun snowman project for parents to do at home with their children. Remove the Coffee-mate label from the white plastic creamer bottle. Cut at least five or six tiny black pieces of felt into square shapes. Glue these black square pieces onto the face of your Coffee-mate bottle. This will be your snowman's mouth. Cut a small, long triangle shape out of the orange piece of felt and glue this above the snowman's smile. Cut two medium size pieces of black felt into square shapes. Glue the eyes slightly above the orange triangle nose on the snowman's face.
  2. 2
    Snowman with card attached.
    Snowman with card attached.
    Take your red piece of felt and cut out a scarf to glue onto the snowman. The scarf can be cut as long as 11" long or a little bit shorter if you like. Cut small lines on the ends of the scarf, to really make the scarf, actually look like a scarf with fringe. If you prefer, you can tie a ribbon around your snowman with a small card attached to it with a personalized note written for a person you are giving it to.
  3. 3
    Snowman made from a Coffee-mate plastic bottle!
    Snowman made from a Coffee-mate plastic bottle!
    Next, glue the three small black buttons in a row on the snowman's body/middle/section. Then puncture a small hole on each side of the snowman and insert the brown-colored pipe cleaners for each of his arms. Bend each pipe cleaner inward on the inside of the snowman's body to secure them.

Gift Cards Are Better This Year: 3 Tips to Buy Them for Less

By Michael Koretzky | 1 day ago
Gift cards are making a comeback after three years of sluggish sales – and the federal government might be the reason.
A new survey from research firm TowerGroup predicts that spending on gift cards for the 2010 holiday shopping season will increase for the first time since 2007, reaching $91 billion in sales. And in two years, that should reach an amazing $100 billion.
Why the jump when we’re still in the grip of a recession? Because of the CARD Act, says TowerGroup senior research director of bank cards Brian Riley.
“The new protections afforded to consumers under Title IV of the CARD Act have greatly increased consumers’ willingness to use gift cards as a form of gift giving,” Riley says.
When it went into full effect this summer, the CARD Act got a lot of attention for how it protected consumers from credit card tricks like skyrocketing interest rates and hidden fees. But the act also contained provisions about gift cards – placing limits on expiration dates and banning “inactivity fees,” for instance. For more about what the CARD Act did to improve gift cards, see Tips for Buying and Using Gift Cards.
Those clear new rules have also led to a spike in gift-card giving among employers.
“Gift cards are the most commonly cited gift for employees (40 percent),” says a new survey from Successful Promotions magazine, ”followed by cash bonuses (32 percent), apparel (24 percent), food or beverages (24 percent) and calendars (18 percent).”

How to get your gift cards for less

You should never pay face value for a gift card. Here are three ways to get them for less…
1. Auction sites: You’ll find discounted gift cards at eBay and other auction sites, but because you have to be extra-careful when buying this way, you may have to pay in time what you save in money. You’ve got to check the seller’s rating, for example, as well as verifying details like the expiration date. And don’t forget to see how much the shipping charge is. As for how much you’ll get off? You may get lucky, but I was just on eBay and saw discounts from face value of 10% or less – not a big deal. Also be aware that some sellers are getting cute by offering a card with, say, $100 face value for a “buy-it-now” price of $1 – but the shipping is $94.
The deals at auction sites will probably get a lot better if you wait until the day after Christmas.
2. Specialty Sites: Sites like and offer discounted cards, and they’re safer than auction sites because the value of the card is secured by the seller’s credit card. I went to and the discounts were 10 – 20 percent, but the pickings were slim. and offer discounted coupons on eating out and movies.
3. Warehouse Stores: If you’re a member of Costco, Sam’s Club or BJs, you might find discounted gift cards there. Again, 10 – 20 percent off face value. Of course, you won’t find every card, but you might find one you like. Costco recently had a $90 iTunes card for $75.
And if you find an unwanted gift card in your stocking this year, check out our story Get the Most From Your Unwanted Gift Cards.

10 Products That Pay for Themselves

By Cindy Perman,
You want a good return on your stocks and other investments, but what about the household products you buy?
10 Products That Pay for Themselves
You might not think of your morning coffee or holiday lights as a source of high ROI – return on investment – but you should.
“I'm a big believer in investing in quality over quantity, so buying certain products that are longer-lasting or better made help you spend less in the long run,” said Tsh Oxenreider, author of the blog Simple Mom and the book Organized Simplicity . “Being frugal doesn't mean spending the absolute least amount of money. It means being good stewards with the money you have.”
So what items give you the biggest bang for your buck? Check out these 10 Products That Pay for Themselves.

Coffee makers pay for themselves in 2 months
Coffee makers could pay for
themselves in about 2 months.

Coffee Maker

People waste so much money on expensive coffee drinks that David Bach, a personal finance coach and author of the “Finish Rich” series, actually uses the term “The Latte Factor” to refer to all those little expenses like $4 lattes that add up and eat into your net worth.
If you ordered a $4 latte every day on your way to work, that works out to $20 a week, $80 a month – and nearly $1,000 a year! If you buy a good coffee maker, say $80 or more, and buy quality beans, you can have an equally good cup of coffee – for a fraction of the price.
Oxenreider, who says she and her husband are big coffee drinkers, estimates that a $10 bag of beans makes 30 cups of coffee, which works out to 30 cents a cup!
Product pays for itself in: 2 months.
Water Filter
Water filters could pay for
themselves in less than 2 months.
More from 

Water Filter

Whether you go with a $20 pitcher water filter or a $150 carafe filtration system, Consumer Reports estimates that you can save hundreds of dollars per by filtering your own water instead of buying bottled water.
Not to mention, you’re keeping all that plastic out of our ecosystem, says Consumer Reports home editor Bob Markovich.
Oxenreider says they have a pitcher model, which costs $20 up front. They spend $15 for three filters and replace the filters every 75 days. That’s $60 for the year.
If you bought a bottle of water for $1.50 every day of the week, that adds up to $10.50 a week and $42 a month.
Product pays for itself in: Less than 2 months.
High-Efficiency Shower Head
High-efficiency shower heads could
pay for themselves in about 4 months.

High-Efficiency Shower Head

Showerheads that carry a “water saving” designation can lower water flow rates to less than 2 gallons per minute, less than half of what they were 20 years ago. That’s a savings of about 2,300 gallons per household per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
That not only saves money on your water bill, but on your water-heating bill. The EPA estimates the average household could save 300 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, which is enough to power a television for one year.
You can buy a water-saving showerhead for as low as $15. Assuming an electricity rate of about 15 cents a kilowatt hour, that would save you about $45 a year.
Product pays for itself in: 4 months.
Dryer Balls
Dryer balls could pay for themselves
in about 1 month.

Dryer Balls

Dryer balls save money in two ways: They eliminate the need for dryer sheets and they are estimated to reduce the drying time by up to 40 percent as the little spines lift and separate the clothes.
They cost about $10 for a package of two and last for about two years. (Though, one convert noted that the more dryer balls you use, the fluffier the clothes . She uses six for a family of five, her mom and dad use four.)
The average household does about 400 loads of laundry per year. Dryer sheets typically cost around $5 for 80, which means you’d spend about $25 on dryer sheets for the year. Plus, if it cuts your drying time by 40 percent, that would save about $80 in energy costs per year.
Product pays for itself in: 1 month.
Battery Charger
Battery chargers could pay for
themselves in about 6 months.

Battery Charger

If you use your camera a lot, or you have kids with tons of toys that eat batteries, a charger is a huge money-saver, not to mention space saver when you go on vacation!
Heidi Miller, author of The Frugal Girls blog, said she uses rechargeable batteries in everything from her digital camera to the Wii remotes. “Rechargeable batteries have proven to pay for themselves and much more in the long run,” Miller said. “It’s a simple way to save some cash.”
A battery charger costs about $18 and four AA rechargeable batteries cost about $6. A four-pack of regular AA’s costs about $4. Let’s say you have to replace those batteries once a month – this product would pay for itself in less than six months. Or, if it’s Christmas Day, with excited kids logging hours on their new toys, it may pay for itself in one day!
Product pays for itself in: About 6 months.
Solar Holiday Lights
Solar holiday lights could pay for
themselves in about 2 seasons.

Solar Holiday Lights

Solar holiday lights cost about $30 for a string of 100, compared with about $10 for a regular set of 100.
The real savings, of course, comes on your electric bill, which can soar during December, depending on how Clark Griswold you get. (Remember Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation,” with the 20,000 outdoor lights and tree that wouldn’t even fit in the house?!)
A string of 100 lights can use as much as 90 kilowatt hours of electricity in a season. If you calculate it at 15 cents an hour, that’s $13.50 and that strand pays for itself in about two seasons. (That may not seem like a lot but multiply it by 10 strands and you’re over $100 in electric costs.)
Not to mention, Oxenreider points out, you won’t have to worry about hiding the extension cords!
Product pays for itself in: About two seasons.
Programmable Thermostat
Programmable thermostats pay for
themselves in about 1 month.

Programmable Thermostat

We waste a ton of energy while we’re sleeping and at work. With a programmable thermostat, which you can get for as little as $40, Consumer Reports estimates you can easily trim up to 20 percent off your heating and cooling bill by adjusting the temperature 5 to 10 degrees during those times.
If your monthly bill is $175 or more, that $40 product will pay for itself in just one month.
And, here’s the real bonus: You can set it to turn on half an hour before you wake up or before you come home from work – so no more freezing runs to the shower or hovering over the stove for warmth while the heat kicks on.
Product pays for itself in: 1 month.
Portable Thumb Drive
Portable flash drives could
pay for themselves in about 1 year.

Portable USB Flash Drive

You can get a decent portable flash drive for about $20 for transferring pictures and files from work to home or to another friend’s computer, or just to back-up your work.
A 100-pack of blank CDs costs about $20, but the real savings in the portable memory is that you can reuse them over and over again. CDs you can only write once. If you consider that you may use 5 CDs a month to back up key files or share photos from birthdays or family outings, a thumb drive would pay for itself in less than 2 years.
Not to mention, they save time – and the grief of lost files. “The cost of a portable hard drive is very low, compared to replacing invaluable lost data or copies of pictures!” Miller said.
Product pays for itself in: About 1 year.
Composite Decking
Composite decking could pay for
itself in about 2 -3 years.

Composite Decking

It can cost $10 to $20 a square foot for composite decking compared with $5 to $7 a square foot for real wood.
“These blend ground-up wood and plastic, freeing you from termites and the usual refinishing – typically required every three years or so,” Markovich explained. “That can save you hundreds if you hire someone to do the job,” he said.
And, if you do it yourself, well, it can help you save your marriage, too! Power-washing and staining a deck is messy and puts love to the test. Say you want a 200 square-foot deck. The composite costs $2,000-$4,000 but the estimated life span is 50 years. Wood costs $1,000 to $1,400 and generally lasts less than 10 years. Plus, you have to spend a good $200 on supplies if you’re washing and staining it yourself and up to $400 if you’re paying a handyman to do it.
Product pays for itself in: 2-3 years.
Electric Car
Electric cars could pay for themselves
in about 5 to 6 years

Electric Car

The sticker price of electric vehicles is high but operating costs are much lower – an estimated 2.5 to 4 cents per mile, compared with an estimated 12 cents for a standard vehicle that gets 25 miles to the gallon.
The average commute is about 40 miles a day, which means you’d save $3 to $4 every day, or $800 to $1,000 every year just from your work commute.
When you factor in federal government tax rebates of up to $7,500, these cars would pay for themselves in about 5 to 6 years. If demand picks up, volume would help drive down the sticker price, which would make them even more cost-effective.
Product pays for itself in: 5 to 6 years.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Do-It-Yourself: Homemade Peppermint Oreos

by Crystal on December 2, 2010

Yum! Here’s a super easy recipe for Homemade Peppermint Oreos. These would be great to take to a gathering or even to give as gifts this Christmas.

Thanks Money Saving Mom

Do-It-Yourself: Vanilla Sugar, S’More Kits and Chai Tea Kits

by Crystal on December 2, 2010
If you’re thinking about giving delicious homemade edible gifts for Christmas this year, here are three creative ideas:

Vanilla Sugar from Angel Navy Wife

S’Mores Kit from Thig & Thistle (submitted by Courtney from Women Living Well)

Chai Tea Kit from Like a Bubbling Brook (photo from Basic Tea)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Do-It-Yourself: Homemade Sugar Scrub

by Crystal on December 1, 2010

Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs is giving away a free Sugar Scrub Printable Set — which includes a printable for the adorable paper canister shown above as well as the gift tags. You can find Kelleigh’s recipe for Homemade Sugar Scrub here. She estimates that this costs her about $0.26 per gift for all the ingredients needed.
If you’re one of my relatives reading this, you have my complete permission to make one of these as my Christmas gift, okay? :)

How to play Dreidel on Hanukkah

How to Play Dreidel on Hanukkah
Enjoy this fun Jewish tradition this Hanukkah.  Play with the family while eating potato latkes and singing songs!!

The Story of Dreidel
The game of dreidel originated during the rule of the Greek King Antiochus.  During this time laws were passed to ban the study of the Torah and other Jewish traditions.  When Jews would gather to study the Torah they would bring a top with them. If soldiers came, they would hide what they were studying and pretend to be playing gambling games with the top.

Dreidel Song
Sing this song while playing dreidel or lighting the menorah.

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it's dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!

My dreidel's always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let's begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it loves to dance and spin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. Come play now let's begin
Sides of the Dreidel
There are four sides of a dreidel.  Each side has a letter from the Hebrew alphabet.

Nun = stands for the Yiddish word 'nite' which means "nothing"
Gimel = stands for the Yiddish word 'gantz" which means"everything"
Hay = stands for the Yiddish word 'halb' which means "half"
Shin = stands for the Yiddish word 'shtel' which means "put in"

These letters form an acronym that stand for:
Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – "a great miracle occurred there"
Rules of the Game
1. Start with as many players as you like.

2. Each player gets the same amount of Hannukah gelt (gelt: Yiddish for money).  You can use anything for gelt including coins, candy, etc...  I have traditionally used chocolate coins as my Chanukah gelt.

3. At the beginning of each round, everyone puts one piece of gelt into the pot in the middle of the circle.  When ever the pot empties through out the game everyone will put other piece of gelt into the pot.

4.  Go around the circle taking turns.  When it is your turn, spin the dreidel.  The letter the dreidel lands on determines the players move.

Nun = player does nothing
Gimel = player takes the pot
Hay = player takes half the pot
Shin = player puts a piece of gelt into the pot

5.  You are out when you have no pieces in the pot.  You win when you have the entire pot
Have Fun!
We had fun playing dreidel in the office!

DIY Gifts: Lotions, Potions & More

By MP Dunleavey | Wednesday December 01, 2010

Those last-minute "gotta get the neighbor a gift" moments can lead to reckless rampages through the mall. Chill! This selection of handmade treats can be made in one relaxing afternoon or evening. By you.

body-scrubDailyWorth's own Hilary Fetter—marketing guru by day, craft maven by night—says that lotions, body scrubs and lip balm are surprisingly simple to make with easy-to-find ingredients. Get recipes for her Peppermint Balm Balm lip balm, Orange & Spice & Everything Nice lotion or Sugar Cookie Body Scrub here.
Forget those lumpy wax balls you made in third grade. Vintage tins add a touch of whimsical elegance to these home-made candles, that will dazzle friends, family and your hard-to-buy-for boss.
Not crafty? Amanda and MP don't live in the DIY zone either. Fortunately, there's—a terrific site with step-by-step gifts anyone (even we) can make. Amanda loves the teddy bear night light and MP, who envies Hilary's stockpile of personal beauty products, is tempted by the scented bath salts.

Stir it up. What are your go-to ideas for DIY holiday hits?


body-scrubSugar Cookie Body Scrub
Makes 1-3 scrubs, depending on jar size. This recipe is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled or more!
Time: approximately 5 minutes

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water soluble castor oil (optional, but cuts down on the slippery shower effect of the olive oil)
  • 2-3 drops each of vanilla and almond essential oil (can use just almond, as vanilla can be harder to find and more expensive)
Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir. Scoop into a jar. Voila!
chapstickPeppermint Balm Balm
Makes 25-35 tubes
Time: approximately 20-30 minutes

  • 6-8 tablespoons of beeswax (about 2 ounces; available at most natural food stores and some grocers)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa butter
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (can be an oil blend of a quarter olive, quarter sesame or almond—anything will be moisturizing!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vitamin E oil (can pinch off the top and squeeze vitamin E supplements, if you have them!)
  • 1/8 teaspoon honey
  • 10-20 drops of peppermint essential oil
Use a cheese grater to grade the beeswax into chips if you bought a block, otherwise, melting it will take until the New Year. Completely melt the beeswax chips in a double boiler (or improvise one, by putting a glass jar holding the wax into a pot of cool water; simmer until wax melts).

Once beeswax is melted, add the coconut oil and cocoa butter. When these are melted, add the olive oil (or oil blend). Stir with a chop stick (it’s easier to clean lip balm from than a spoon!).

Remove from heat. Add vitamin E, honey and essential oil. (The essential oils will evaporate before they infuse your balm with scent/flavor if you add while still over the heat.) Stir with chop stick.

Pour mixture carefully into balm tubes. Voila!
lotionOrange & Spice & Everything Nice Lotion
Makes 10 oz. of creamy lotion; Quantity will depend on bottle size
Time: 30 minutes

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa butter
  • 3/4 cup almond oil (may substitute other oils, like olive)
  • 2 tablespoons shaved beeswax chips
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon distilled water (may substitute prepared and cooled orange spice tea, for added scent)
  • 1/8 cup glycerin
  • 1/4 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vitamin E (same as above)
  • 20 drops orange essential oil; 20 drops clove essential oil (Don’t go overboard with the clove oil—in large quantities it has a numbing effect. Good for toothaches or scrapes, not for hands.)
Fill a large pot half full of cool water. Place a glass jar or other small glass container, preferably with a spout (like a Pyrex measuring cup), into the pot with water. Voila, a double boiler. Melt all “oils” ingredients until completely clear and mixed.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, until edges begin to congeal. (Very important!)
Place all “waters” ingredients into a large blender—start whirling them with the centered of the cap removed (don’t worry—there’s not enough to whirl out onto your counter).
Slowly add slightly congealed oils mixture to whirling waters. Blend on high until mixture starts to thicken (a minute or two). Pour into bottles (with pumps if you choose!) or other packaging of your choice. Voila!
Lotion will continue to thicken over the course of the next hour or so as the beeswax and coconut oils harden.

The Importance of Having a Will

Estate planners tell us that nearly 70% of Americans die without a will. Folks, this is dumb – really dumb. If you hate the people in your life, die without a will, because you're going to tie them up for years.
A will is a gift you leave your family or loved ones. It is a gift because it makes the management of your estate very clear and light-years easier. If you don't have a will, the state (not known for its financial prowess) will decide what happens to your stuff, your kids, and your financial legacy. You don't want this to happen. Even if you're single, get a will right now!

The Legacy Drawer

Making a will is one of the best things I've done for my wife, Sharon. We have what is called my Legacy Drawer. It is a file drawer in our study that has everything one of us would need if something happened to the other one. It has letters of instruction on everything in there: a full will, a full estate plan, all of our investments, copies of insurance information, etc. A 12-year-old could read through it all and know exactly where things are and what everything is. Learn how to set this up in

How to Get a Will

The easiest and most cost-effective way to go about making a will nowadays is to use one of the online legal services. I recommend, which offers state-specific wills created by professional attorneys for public use. All you need to do is fill in your information, and the will is tailored for you.
You can also contact a good estate attorney; however, that will cost a bit more money. Typically, with your attorney, you can create mirror-image wills. That way, if one of you dies, the surviving spouse will get the entire estate. Everything is pretty much the same in both wills, with the exception of simply switching the names – hence mirror-image will. That is what Sharon and I have.
Also, after someone has died, 98% of the time I recommend that the survivors keep the will and all related papers for seven years. But double check with an estate attorney.
This is something we all need to be doing. You are going to die, so go out in style, and die with a will in place.
Need a will? Get a will today with

DIY Monogram Mugs

November 22, 2010
DIY monogram mug
Friends! I’m so pleased to share our first gift DIY of the season. Maude made these fantastic monogrammed mugs over the weekend. Don’t they look terrific? The idea came when we saw these fun initial cups at Anthropologie and remembered our kitchen was lacking in hot cocoa mugs. We decided to create a whole set.
It’s a very doable project. Inexpensive. Eco-friendly. And family-friendly too — these mugs are dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

1) We started with a trip to Goodwill, where we collected 8 plain white mugs. Enough for the entire family. There was even a little one without a handle that we thought would be perfect for baby food for June. Mugs were 50 cents each and we had dozens and dozens to choose from.
DIY monogram mug
2) Then we gathered supplies. Scissors, pen, tape, graphite transfer paper, Black Pebeo Porcelaine Pen in Fine Point ($4 at Michaels, also available here) and a print out with the family’s initials.
For the font, I had something very specific in mind. I love the look of this Sketch Block Font and had it mentally filed away as the sort of thing a kid could replicate well — because it’s inherently imperfect. For this project, it worked like a charm! Since we were adding our own sketchiness, I started with a similar, but non-sketchy Rockwell font. Look for any slab-serif font (with names like Egyptian or Glypha) and they should work equally well.

3) Cut out an initial and a piece of transfer paper. Tape the initial and the transfer paper (dark side down) to the mug.
DIY monogram mugDIY monogram mug
4) Trace the initial. Any pen or pencil will work and you’ll want to experiment with different pressures to see what’s best. You’ll just need a light outline. If you want, you can make your own transfer paper by rubbing a graphite pencil all over a sheet of plain paper.
DIY monogram mugDIY monogram mugDIY monogram mug
5) Take your Porcelaine pen and trace over the lines of the initial. Get the edges nice and thick then fill in with diagonal sketchy strokes. A few notes:
- The sketchy strokes look best if they’re all one direction.
- The pen didn’t produce very smooth lines for us — which was fine because of the sketchy nature of the lettering. But later, I tried a red Porcelaine pen and produced very smooth strokes. So, I’m thinking my black pen was an old, dried out one. Who knows? This was my first experience with Porcelaine, so I’m not sure.
- It helped to have a blank paper handy where we could test the paint pen.
- We definitely got better at it as we practiced. So plan on it. Until it’s baked, the paint will scrub right off in soap and water. We redid mugs at least 4 times.
DIY monogram mugDIY monogram mug
6) Once the lettering is done, let the mugs sit for 24 hours. Then bake them at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. It’s fine to bake them with graphite residue. The graphite will wipe right off even after they’re done baking.
DIY monogram mugDIY monogram mugDIY monogram mug
7) And that’s it! Once they’re baked, they’re done. We pulled them from the oven, wiped them up and they were ready to go. For fun, we filled cellophane bags with hot cocoa mix and marshmallows and put them in the mugs.
DIY monogram mug hot cocoa packagingDIY monogram mug
The project turned out so well that it has my mind spinning with other possibilities. Maybe we’ll make a monogrammed mug for their teachers with a Starbucks card inside. Or a matching 2-cup set for Grandma and Grandpa. Fun for Christmas, but equally fun for other events too.
What do you think? Is this a project your kids would enjoy? Are the mugs cool enough that you would buy one in the store if you saw it for sale?
P.S. — You can find links to gifts we’ve made in past years here.

Thanks Design MOM