Cheap Christmas: Top Ten Gifts Under $30

Only two weeks left until Christmas!  The tree is trimmed, the lights are strung, the Michael Bublé Holiday Station is on full blast.  And the gifts are….uh oh.  For those of you like me, that put off Christmas gift shopping and aren’t willing to fight the crowds at the mall, online shopping is an easy option.  Plus, I think you can get better deals and avoid those impulse purchases at the check out line.   As I was finishing our shopping list, I came across some great steals.  I thought I would share my top ten gift options under $30.  From $10 white elephant gifts to slightly more pricey tech gifts for family, this list has something for everyone!

Under $30

  1. Amazon Dot– Amazon is running a special on this fun tech gift at $29.99.  This is a great gift for all ages and you do not have to be an amazon prime member to use it.  We have one in our kitchen, and recently canceled our prime.  We just hooked it up to our free Pandora account and play our favorite stations through it.  We also use the hands free kitchen timer and the weather updates.  Overall, this is probably one of the most used items in our home.  At $30, it is a steal.
  2. Movie Pass Subscription– This gift is for the big movie fanatics out there.  All you can watch movies in the movie theaters for $9.95 per month?!  Sign me up!  Oh wait, I already did that.  We are in our first month of movie pass and have already seen three movies!  It works at most theaters and although it can be a little challening to get seats to popular movie showings, it is worth the inconvenience.  Now you can give this gift to a family member with a three month pre-paid subscription for $29.85.  Or you know… you can drop hints for friends.
  3. Roku–  Again, this is a household favorite.  For other fellow cord cutters out there, meet your new best friend.  This device is any easy way to play hulu and netflix  through the TV.  It is also small and easy to hide out of sight.  We use ours about every day.

Under $20

  1. Portable Hammock– One way that our families have cut down on Christmas gifts is by doing White Elephant instead of getting gifts for multiple family members.  It saves money and it makes for a fun tradition.  The problem with this game is that your Cousin Rick probably doesn’t want the same thing as Aunt Susie.  It is always a challenging to find gifts that work for either gender and all ages.  This year we decided on the portable hammock as one of our holiday White Elephant Gifts.  I think it appeals to all different family members.  On a side note, we generally try to include gifts that we would want to win.  We are planning on upping our camping game next year to minimize the money spent on vacations, but to still find a way to get away.  So really we are secretly hoping everyone hates the hammock so that we can win it.
  2. Stainless Steel Tumbler– One of these were gifted to me a few years back and it remains one of my most used gifts to date.  Whether you are a coffee addict or a Diet Dr. Pepper addict (who  me?), this tumbler will come in handy to keep your drinks at that ideal temperature longer.
  3. Panini Press– I know, random.  But this is another gift that I got a few years back that has been one of my favorites.  It is great for white elephant because it can be used by all ages.  It is also great for a college dorm, for when you are craving a warm meal but there isn’t easy access to a stove.

Under $10

  1. “If you can read this, bring me a glass of wine” Socks-These are great for White Elephant, assuming everyone if over the age of 21.  It also makes for a great photo op after the game.  We used these last year and they were a hit. Also, if you want you can break the pair up and guft them separately for an even cheaper gift option. 
  2. The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach– What better gift than the gift of financial literacy? Did you really expect me to make it through this list without one financial planning book?  This is definitely one of my favorites.  It really gets you motivated to take a hard look at your finances.   Honestly, I wish someone had gifted this to me in my early twenties.
  3. Easy Budget Debt Snowball Calculator– Speaking of financial gifts, I wanted to support another member of the Debt Free Community and her Debt Snowball Calculator.  This is a great way to map out your debt and create your repayment plan using your real numbers.  This is especially great for recent college graduates who may be overwhelmed by their student loan debt.  This gift is practical and useful.
  4. Blue Tooth Speakers- Ok, so this one is a little over $10 at $10.90….  but it is a great white elephant gift because it can be used by all ages.  It is hard to get a good tech gift under $10, but this one is close and is sure to impress.

Hope this list helps. Happy shopping!  Oh… and Merry Christmas!

 

Four Dinner Slow Cooker Chicken

One of the most important parts of sticking to a budget is finding budget friendly week night meals.  For us, the challenge has always been finding something both affordable and easy.  A lot of nights we don’t get home from work until after seven and we don’t have the energy to cook a full meal.  This led to a lot of take-out and midweek meals out at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  Recently, we started reincorporating crockpot meals into our weekly meal routine and I am obsessed.  Since starting with the crockpot routine one month ago, I can say that we have had NO weekday meals out!
Our favorite recipe, which we have done twice in the last month is crockpot shredded Mexican chicken.  It is so EASY!  The thing that I love about this dish is that there are so many options that you can make with leftovers.  If you are like me, you get bored of eating the same food night after night.  This recipe gives you so much freedom as far as leftover meals.  So I thought I would share this simple recipe for four nights of crockpot chicken dinners for a family of two! Below are your supplies for all four nights which total approximately $20.  For our family of two, this equates to $2.50 per person per meal.  The costs may vary at your location.  You may also elect to skip certain meals or ingredients.

  1. Two pounds Chicken ($5)
  2. Large container of Salsa ($4)
  3. Taco seasoning (optional) ($1)
  4. Small tortillas ($2)
  5. Large tortillas ($2)
  6. Corn ($1)
  7. Black Beans ($1)
  8. Spinach ($2)
  9. Shredded Mexican Cheese ($2)

Preparing the Chicken

Starting with the basics, how do you prepare the chicken?  All you need to do is to get two pounds of fresh chicken.  You lay the chicken in the bottom of the crockpot and cover with taco seasoning and salsa.  Then cook on low for 7-8 hours.  About an hour before the chicken is done cooking, remove the chicken breasts and shred the chicken with a fork.  Then return to the crockpot to cook for the final hour.  And Viola!

(1) Night One: Tacos 

This one is pretty straightforward.  We typically start with tacos the first night, because we are exhausted by the end of the day Monday.  For chicken tacos, we simply place the shredded chicken on the small tortillas and top with spinach and cheese.  Sometimes we will squeeze a lime over the tacos for extra flavor.   We sometime add beans on the side, but make sure to save some of the beans for your salad on Wednesday!

(2) Night Two: Chicken Quesadilla

This is definitely our favorite dish of the week, which is why we tend to make it on Tuesday night.  Melt butter in the bottom of a large skillet over medium heat.  Brown one side of a large tortilla, then remove the tortilla.  Then add more butter and place a second tortilla in the bottom of the skillet.  As soon as you place this tortilla down, cover the whole tortilla with a layer of cheese and a thin layer of chicken.  Top with the previously browned tortilla.  Use a spatula to flatten the the ingredients together over the skillet.  Let it cook for approximately 3-5 minutes and your done!  No need to flip since you have already browned the other side.

(3) Night Three: Sante Fe Salad

By this point in the week, we are generally craving a lighter option.  Thus, the Sante Fe Salad.   For this meal, you start with the spinach.  Then top with chicken, corn, beans, and a small amount of the shredded cheese.  We generally use a balsamic dressing on top, but any type of vinaigrette would work.   You could also use southwest ranch to really heighten the flavors.

(4) Night Four: Chicken Burritos 

At this point, you throw whatever you have left from Monday through Wednesday night onto a large tortilla.  Then you wrap it all up and enjoy!  Sometimes we brown the tortilla filled with the ingredients to make it more cohesive, but it isn’t necessary.

By this point, you have made it through a week of dinners and it is finally Friday!  This is definitely one of our go to meal plans that we are going to try to include in the meal plan every few weeks.  There are so many other options that you could make that we haven’t included in this list, but these are our favorites.  Also, my husband likes large portion of protein, but you could extend the life of the leftovers by using smaller portions in salads. Hope you enjoy these recipes!   I would love to hear what you think!

Europe on a Budget

Who doesn’t dream of that magical Europe Vacation?  It is not as far out of reach as it may seem.  Over the years I have researched different ways to travel on a budget and I have come across a few tricks.   I spend a lot of time researching, which also means a lot of time reading through reviews.

Recently, I came across the website Tripmasters.com and I was shocked by the prices.   You were able to book flights and hotels in Europe for the typical cost of the plane ticket alone.  After doing further research, I realized that there is some sort of relationship between the airlines and the hotels that allows you to book the flight for a cheaper price.  This means that there is a four night minimum for hotels, but this four night stay does not have to be spent in the same city.

IMG_7512

Getting to the good stuff.  My brother-in-law is living in Warsaw, Poland for a year with his wife and one year old daughter.   This is a temporary move for work. When they went to book their rental home in Warsaw, they intentionally got a place that was big enough for visitors.  They kept asking when we would come visit.  We knew we had a place to stay, but we would still have to buy plane tickets so we were still talking about a lot of money.  Also, I’ve never been to Paris or Berlin or Amsterdam or London or so many other locations.  Poland had not registered at the top of my list.  When we looked at flights they were over $1,000 each.

We really did want to go visit, so I started researching ways to do multi-city travel, which would allow us to still have some great time with family but we would also get the adventure of visiting a new city on our own.  That is when I came across Tripmasters.  We explored adding on a city to the back of trip.  We looked into everything from Paris to Iceland to Milan.   However, Prague ended up being the cheapest option.  It is supposed to be absolutely beautiful and very cheap.  The current conversion rate is 1 USD to 22 CSK.  Since we are staying with family on the front end, we knew that our costs would be low.  Not only do we have the place to stay, but we won’t be required to eat out every meal like we would if we were staying at a hotel.  However, we will likely spend more in Prague since we will not have access to a kitchen.   This made Prague the perfect option for our budgeted travel.  We were able to book flights as well as nine days in Europe for two people for only $2,072.29.  

trip2

trip

The trip includes five nights in Warsaw, followed by three nights in Prague, Czech Republic.    The package price includes our flights from the United States, a hotel for five nights in Warsaw, flights from Warsaw to Prague, our hotel in Prague, and our flights home.  We are not canceling the hotel in Warsaw even though we will be staying with family because we weren’t sure how a cancellation would impact the rest of the trip.  Also, since my birthday falls in the middle of our time in Poland, we may sneak away for a night and stay in the hotel on our own.

IMG_7513

I was so excited to find this deal.  I will definitely post an update regarding how the trip goes and whether we run into any roadblocks, but I am hoping it will be a smooth trip.  Assuming there are no complications, I would definitely book through Tripmasters again.  They have a number of packages, but there is also the option to build your own trip.

Lastly, I would note that we are able to travel because we have our budget.  We put away money every month towards vacation and we work hard to find budgeted trips on the backside.  We keep a sinking fund for vacations, which means that we never go into debt for our travel.  Currently, we are putting extra towards student loans every month, but we also put away $300 a month for vacation.  That allows us to have $3,600 per year towards travel.  This year that amount funded our Europe trip, as well as a four night all-inclusive trip to Puerto Vallarta.

You have to decide what, if any, amount you would like to put away towards vacation.    This is what works for us, but others may want to use those extra funds towards debt.   You have to decide what is a priority for you and create a budget that reflects those priorities.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Budgeted Brunette

 

Best Wines Under $10

img_7327No better way to celebrate Wine Wednesday than with a list of some of the top wines available for under $10.  In full disclosure, I am far from a wine connoisseur.  But over the years, I have tried my fair share of budgeted wine.  There are certain ones that I kept coming back to and others that I choose to avoid.  Here is a list of my top ten picks.  I should note, that Malbec is my favorite wine and I generally prefer red wines.  So there is definitely some bias in my picks.  However, I tried my best to diversify this list so that there is something for every taste.  I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

LaFinca

10) La Finca Malbec ($4.99) – I first discovery La Finca Malbec right after college in my early twenties.  It is basically a twist on Trader Joe’s popular Two Buck Chucks.  For an extra $1.50, you get a wine that is much more unique.  Also, the classy label seemed more appropriate for events with friends or family.   Over time I have strayed away from this wine for some of the options below, but it was my favorite for years and deserved a spot on the list.  It is also one of the only options that I included below $5.00.

Rose

9) The Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016 ($9.49)- This $9.49 option from Aldi is a newer addition to the list.  However, after recently learning that this wine won the top spot at the International Wine Challenge’s Great Value Awards, I had to give it a try.   I had my first glass during The Bachelorette finale on Monday, and I can definitely say that this pick is a winner.  Great addition to any summer event, particularly since you can say that you brought an international award winning wine to share. 

proesecco

8) Cupcake Prosecco ($9.99)- I had to get some sort of bubbly on this list, but honestly it is hard to find a good budget option.  Also, this one barely made the list because it is right at the top of that $10 cap.  At some locations, it is priced over that amount.  However, it can be found for under $10.  This is one of my favorite options for a girls night or for a special celebration, when you need some bubbles.

trapiche

7) Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec ($8.99)- I told you that I am partial to Malbecs.  This option is a great go to wine.  All of the Trapiche wines are delicious.  Actually, this wine made the list because the Trapiche Broquel is my absolute favorite wine, but I hate spending over $10 for a bottle of wine when there are so many other great budgeted options.  The Broquel is reserved for special occasions at our house, like when I got my new job.

Dark horse

6) Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.29)- My first Cabernet Sauvignon to make the list.  In my opinion, Cabs are the best dinner party wines and this one is sure to please.  It is very dark, like the name implies.  The interesting label makes for a great gift and the wine is sure to please guests.  This has been a fail safe over the years if we aren’t sure of our hosts tastes.

crest

5) Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.97)- This wine was first given to us by a family member around the holidays because of the high scores that it had received.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the scoring system was from or why it was a “high scoring wine”.  That being said, I do know that this is a great option.  We loved it so much that we made it our Cab option for our wedding.  The price tag doesn’t hurt either.

red blend

4) Apothic Red Blend ($7.97)- We gave this bottle of wine to a family member as part of their wedding gifts a few years back.  They loved it so much, that they ended up testing us a few weeks later while they were at the grocery store wanting to know the name of the wine.  This is definitely a unique option because it is a blend, but I promise it will not disappoint.  The other great thing about this option is that the beautiful label makes for a great budgeted wedding gift.

bogle

3) Bogle Merlot ($7.77)- Now were getting into the REALLY good stuff.  Bogle Merlot is my husband’s favorite.  It was a struggle to put it at number three, but the last two options are just too good.  All of my spouse’s family love this wine.  At our wedding, we had a “Bride’s Pick” and “Groom’s Pick” wine, and this was his choice.  Bogle makes a number of good wines that are all worth a try.

white

2) Lindemans Chardonnay ($4.77)- Another family favorite that we first tried courtesy of my father.  This is one of the only white wine options on this list because this is the only one that you will ever need.  Just kidding…well sort of.  We really don’t venture out much because this is our favorite white wine option.  And with a price tag of $4.77, there is no need to.  Even a 1.5L bottle only costs $6.97.  It is just so good.  I think that the secret is out though.  Every time that we have gone to Total Wine lately, this option has been sold out.  Maybe I shouldn’t be putting this in here.  It is going probably increase demand and drive up costs.  Ignore everything that I just said, it isn’t that good.

alamos

1) Alamos Malbec ($7.97)- I mean, you had to know that a Malbec would top the list.  Actually, I am enjoying a glass as I type this post.  The Alamos has been my favorite budgeted option for a few years now.  Over the years, I have shared it with family and friends.  I am pretty sure that it is my father-in-law’s favorite now.  We actually recently had a house warming and three different family members showed up with a bottle of the Alamos.   Needless to say, this was the “Bride’s Pick” at our wedding and it was the first wine to run out.  Definitely worth a try!

I would love to hear what you think about these picks!   Leave a comment below with your thoughts.