Monday, December 28, 2009

No-Bake Cookie Twofer: Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Cookies and Coconut Bon-Bons

Plateful of Christmas CookiesImage via Wikipedia

I hate to cook, but I quite like to bake. This really doesn't work out well for me because we don't have an oven here in Costa Rica. What's a girl to do for delicious baked goods during the holidays without an oven? Buy them at the local bakery? Nope. The bakeries here don't make anything good (in my opinion) besides doughnuts and whole cakes; everything else is dry and brittle, full of hydrogenated oils (trans fats), and/or tasteless. Costa Ricans also seem to be generally confused about chocolate; for some reason they think it's supposed to be made with shortening and have no taste of cocoa whatsoever. The result is much like the oily and rubber-like "icing" top on a Hostess cupcake. No thank you.

My solution to the no-oven dilemma? No-bake cookies! That's right, cookies made entirely on the stovetop. Quick, easy, delicious.

These first cookies, I'll admit, don't look that great, but they *do* taste good. A variation that I tried with half the batch is to roll them into balls instead of just plopping them onto the wax paper. Let them chill in the fridge an hour or two and then roll them in powdered sugar, so they end up looking like doughnut holes. The result is a much prettier, still tasty cookie that looks nice when paired with the bon-bons in the following recipe. Almost like I planned them to go together.

Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups sugar
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 Tbs cocoa
1/2 cup peanut butter (optional but recommended)
3 cups rolled oats (or sub rice krispies cereal)
1 cup powdered sugar (optional)

  1. Combine all ingredients except peanut butter and oats in an medium-size pot and cook over medium heat. Bring to a boil.
  2. Let boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and oats.
  4. Spoon out quickly onto wax paper or aluminum foil.
  5. (optional) Refrigerate for 20 minutes to an hour, then roll into balls and coat with powdered sugar.
  6. Cookies will harden as they set.

Coconut Bon-Bons

1 (15 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup butter margarine
2 1/2 cups sugar (powdered works best, but either will do.)
1 (12 ounce) package shredded coconut
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk/cream/condensed milk
1 cup crumbled or ground peanuts

  1. Mix together condensed milk, butter, 2 cups sugar, and coconut. Cover with wax paper and chill for 24 hours.
  2. In medium-sized saucepan, combine cocoa powder, milk, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool 20 minutes.

  3. Roll coconut mixture into 3/4-inch balls and dip into chocolate.
  4. (optional) Roll in nuts.
  5. Place on wax paper to cool and dry.

Serving suggestion: Ever had frozen bon-bons? These are better; I guarantee it. Freeze them. You'll thank me. There's a reason there's only 1 left.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Give Homemade, Wrap Homemade: How to create your own festive and frugal wrapping paper, gift bags, and gift boxes.

Since we've dedicated the last several posts to homemade and frugal gifts, it's only fitting that we now share homemade and frugal ways to wrap those gifts. There's no use worrying about saving money on gifts and then spending the money you saved just to wrap them, right? So here are some ideas for cheap, cute, thoughtful giftwrap.

Make your own wrapping paper
Turn paper grocery bags into functional works of art. Use them plain and dress them with pretty ribbon or colored twine or get creative and decorate the paper with paint, crayons, or colored pencils.

If you're making paper for more than one gift, chances are you'll want to mass-produce to save time. This is where the stamps come in. Use rubber stamps and ink, X-mas cookie cutters with paint or make your designs by carving some potato stamps. If you've got kids, give them some finger paint or crayons and let them go to town. This is a great opportunity to involve them in the giving process.

If you don't have paper grocery bags lying around, art and school supply stores offer economically priced brown or white butcher paper on large rolls. No paint around? Dying with coffee or tea can give some surprisingly classy-looking results. I especially like the vintage-y combo of coffee or tea-dyed newspaper.

Alternate Wrappings
Don't have the time to make your own wrapping paper? Or perhaps you're not feeling very artistic? No problem. Try wrapping gifts with other spare items such as:
  • scrap fabric

    Traditional Japanese wrapping cloth,furoshiki,...Image via Wikipedia

  • maps (if you don't have a bunch of old ones lying around like I do, you can pick them up from your local tourist information office for free)
  • old newspapers or comics
  • children's artwork
  • magazine pages—choose festive spreads or be clever and pick pages that hint at the recipient's interests or even the gift itself

Boxes, Bags, and More

Need something to protect your gift before you wrap it? Try one of these before you pay for a gift bag. (If you must buy gift bags, hit up the dollar store first; they usually offer them for 1/4 what regular stores charge.)
  • shoeboxes
  • coffee cans
  • oatmeal canisters
  • baskets
  • glass jars
  • check out this tutorial about how to turn a cereal box inside out for a frugal, eco-friendly gift box

Hole punch, add ribbon, et voila!
  • scrap cardboard from food boxes
  • scraps leftover from grocery bags or wrapping paper
  • cards from old board games
  • playing cards
  • last year's Christmas cards

  • old hair ribbons, bandannas, or scarves
  • scrap fabric or ribbon
  • Christmas ornament (homemade or otherwise)
  • for children: spare GI Joes, Polly Pockets, or other small toys
  • a sprig of holly or spruce
  • tissue paper (or plastic grocery bag) pom-poms
  • candy canes or other festive-colored candies
  • a few loops of cranberry garland
  • small glittered pine cones
  • paper grocery bag handles (these can be quite easily glued into cute bows)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Giveaway: Peapod $10 credit

A grocery store in David, PanamaImage via Wikipedia

In honor of nothing in particular, TAiMH is giving away a $10 credit, good on your next order from, the online grocery delivery service. There's no minimum purchase amount to use this credit, so if you just want to get $10 of free groceries, that's fine by me. Use it however you like. If you don't already have a Peapod account, it's quick and easy to open one. Peapod's service is not available everywhere; check their website for details.

To enter the giveaway, just leave your e-mail in a comment below, so we can contact you with the credit code when you win. ;)

Giveaway ends 12/30.

Disclaimer: does not sponsor this blog in any way. I'm pretty sure they have no idea we even exist.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Quick Hack: Easy Recycled Materials Christmas Candle Holder

Make a pretty, festive, tapered candle holder for absolutely free with items you have sitting around the house.

4 toothpicks
1 candle
2 rubberbands
pocket knife or craft knife
wide ribbon or scrap of fabric
any plastic container with a spout that roughly fits your candle (I used a small bleach bottle.)

  1. Cut your container about 2 inches from the top.

  2. Cut it again about 3 inches from the bottom.

  3. Discard the middle piece.

  4. Invert the top piece and insert it into the bottom piece. Glue to secure them together. This is your holder.

  5. With your knife, cut small notches into the middle of your toothpicks. This isn't essential, but it helps the glue hold them together better. Two of the toothpicks will need one notch on each side; two of them (the top and bottom toothpicks) will only need one notch each.

  6. Stack your toothpicks in a star formation and glue, preferably with either superglue or a hot glue gun.

  7. While the star is drying, wrap your ribbon or scrap fabric around the holder and glue in place. Use the rubber bands to hold the ribbon or fabric in place while the glue dries.

  8. If desired, paint or otherwise decorate the star. Gold glitter looks especially nice in candlelight, I think.

  9. Once both the holder and the star are dry, glue the star onto the ribbon/fabric. Balance between the candle and the toothpick container until it dries, et voila!

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33 Easy and Frugal Homemade Holiday Gift and Decoration Ideas

a red blown glass Christmas tree ornament, a t...Image via Wikipedia

With the unemployment rate at a record high and the economy doing so poorly, many of us have resigned ourselves to giving and receiving less this holiday season. But that doesn't have to be the case. Homemade gifts are more thoughtful and personal, as well as more frugal. There's no reason being on a budget has to mean toning down the fun and festivity of the giving season.

Making homemade gifts for kids can be more challenging. They've likely had a list of expensive toys or video games ready for the past month. If this is the case, choose one or two of the less expensive items on their list and combine it with one or more homemade gifts from the "Especially For Kids" section below. This way they get just as many presents as they're used to, but you spend less money. Plus, it's a great way to introduce children to being creatively frugal and ushering them away from consumer comercialism.

The key to creating fantastic, frugal, homemade gifts is to know your strengths. What do you do well? Cook? Bake? Sew? Build? Knit or crochet? Draw? The following are a set of lists of inexpensive, easy-to-make homemade gifts your friends and family are sure to adore, organized by talent. I haven't seen this type of organization before; I hope it's helpful.

  1. Homemade preserves, jams, and spreads. Make a variety, put them in cute jars with printed or handwritten labels, and arrange the jars in a basket. You can often find small inexpensive baskets at garage sales, craft stores, or home and garden stores.

  2. Homemade sauces, condiments, and marinades. Package as in #1.

  3. Homemade cookbook or recipe cards. Know someone that loves your cooking? Compile recipes of their favorite dishes (or ones you think they might like). Print them on paper and arrange in a decorated binder or write them by hand on homemade recipe cards. If you're not strong in the art department, you can usually find cute sets of inexpensive blank recipe cards at Marshall's. If you can find or decorate a cute box for the cards, even better.

  1. Loaf of special homemade bread. Make it a regular white loaf, or if your loved one is more health conscious, try a whole wheat or mixed whole grain loaf. Tip: Spice it up: make a flavored and herbs like rosemary, dill, tomato-basil, or sourdough or make it look fancy by braiding it.

    If fresh bread won't work for travel or other reasons, try making bread mixes instead. Put each in a small paper bag and label nicely. Include handwritten recipe cards with instructions. Collect bags in a basket or larger gift bag.

  2. Two words: gingerbread men (and/or women, snowmen, wreaths, etc.) These are super fun to make and decorate and they're a great project to do with kids. Make them to eat or to use as ornaments.

  3. Assorted homemade cookies. This is good if you have multiple people to "buy" for. Make one or more batches (depending on how many people your giving to) of several types of cookies and package in small baggies tied with festive ribbon. In a nice basket or other container, one for each gift recipient, put one baggie of each type of cookie. If you're in a pinch, even personalized brown lunch bags can be prettied up. As in #1, if the gifts have to travel a ways or for other reasons keep for a long time, consider making mixes instead.

  4. Homemade pancake, waffle, muffin, or biscuit mix. Package as above. A small wooden scoop is a nice touch. You can find these at craft stores. Package the mix in small brown bags or mason jars tied with a ribbon and hand-labeled.

  5. My all-time favorite baked gift: cherry pie. Do not underestimate the giving power of a homemade pie. Cake, flan, or other delicious desserts are also welcome. (Hint, hint.)

  1. Handmade tool belt, tote, makeup bag, purse, pencil organizer, or messenger bag.

  2. Ready-to-hang embroidered or needlepoint work in frame.

  3. Embroidered/personalized handkerchiefs, scarf, pillows, or sachets.

  4. (Relatively) quick knitted/crocheted items such as scarves, gloves/mittens/glittens, cozy winter hats, socks, woven belts, etc.

  1. Picture in handmade frame: Make your own from wood, or if you're less skilled with carpentry, try making simple ones from rigid cardstock and decorating them with felt, marker, paint, fabric, and/or glitter.

  2. Handmade Christmas ornaments. Ideas: dyed popcorn and/or cranberry strands, oranges with cloves, gingerbread ornaments, sparkly pine cones, photo ornaments, paper snowflakes, felt cutouts, etc.

  3. Try this fabulously simple salt-dough recipe to make paintable ornaments: Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup water. Roll out dough and cut either by hand or with cookie cutters. Bake at 250F for 2 hours.

  4. Colored, scented, and/or decorated candles. Go a step further and make candle holders, too!

  5. Bowls, planters, vases, or ashtrays made from old vinyl records—bad ones can usually be found for around 50 cents each at thrift stores.

  1. Coffee mug with treats: Find some plain mugs at a thrift store or garage sale, get some ceramic paint, and create a personalized, useful coffee mug. Stuff it with a baggie of whole coffee beans or candies, and tie with a ribbon.

  2. Decorated plant pot with seeds or small plant and care instruction card.

  3. Thoughtfully designed, personalized stationery, note cards, postcards, or phone/address book. Make them on the computer or by hand the old fashioned way with rubber stamps, colorful paper, and glue. Warning: rubber stamps and decorative papers don't come cheap. Attempt this only if you already have these items.

No talent required
  1. A pound of pistachios, nice teas, or coffees, packaged nicely by hand.

  2. Homemade cocoa mix: recipes here. Package in a decorated mason jar or paper lunch bag.

  3. Gourmet, homemade teas: Recipes here. If you can find a cute inexpensive teacup or pot, arrange your homemade teas inside it and add a pretty ribbon.

  4. Homemade organic body scrubs, lotions, oils, bath salts, or bath bombs. Recipes here.

Especially For Kids
  1. Homemade play dough: make a variety of colors and place in assorted tubs or other plastic containers. Label and package in a dressed up box or basket, preferably one that they can use permanently to store their new play dough.

  2. Handmade stuffed animals.

  3. Lacing cards made from old greeting cards or magazine pictures glued (glue stick works best) to cardstock.

  4. Homemade crayons. Collect broken or super short crayons, melt them down, and create beautiful swirled crayons in fun shapes.

  5. See "cookies" under "Baking" above. Duh.

  6. Painting Set. Combine some paint brushes, assorted paints (corresponding to the child's age and ability), paper, and perhaps a palette. For the palette, try an old cutting board or plastic lid with a child size thumb hole cut out. Or if that's out of your crafting league, check your local art supply store, dollar store, or toy store for inexpensive ones.

  7. Drawing Set. Combine assorted weight pencils, charcoal, and erasers with an inexpensive drawing pad and perhaps a tracing pad. Depending on the child's age and ability, you could throw in some drawing books as well. You can often find these in the "bargain" section at bookstores.

  8. Gardening Kit. Combine and package a few different types of seeds and/or bulbs, toy gardening tools (sand castle kits from the dollar store work well and are cheap), a labeling kit (popsicle sticks and cardstock rectangles), and perhaps a toy watering can.

  9. Costume Chest. In a large box, decorated perhaps with the child's name, combine various articles or clothing that would be fun for playing dress-up. Raid your closet for items that either don't fit or are out of style and make a trip to Goodwill to make up the rest. The more outrageous the better.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quick Hack and Holiday Gift: Homemade body scrubs, lotions, oils, bath salts, or bath bombs

tower o' bombsImage by Amanda *Bake It Pretty* via Flickr

Everybody loves a nice relaxing bath, and I don't know a female on the planet who doesn't love receiving bath-related gifts. Last year, I made a batch of each of these and made bath gift baskets for all my friends and relatives, even the guys. (They got manly scented salts and bombs only, and they loved them. MDT especially is sucker for a hot bubble bath. His favorites are the bombs. What a surprise.)

This year I'm too far away from most of my friends and family to make these, so I'm sharing the recipes with you. Have fun!

Already got your holiday gifts covered? Get together some girlfriends and have a DIY pamper party. Everybody brings one ingredient, in bulk, and you get to spend an evening with your pals drinking wine and making pretty stuff. At the end of the night, swap for your favorite fragrance combos and take home a basket of goodies. You'll be set for the next year.

Bath salts

6 cups Epson salts
2 T baby oil
1/2 tsp of the essential oil of your choice
1/8 tsp food coloring - gel works best
assorted jars or containers

Mix liquid ingredients first. Add in salts and stir. Package in 1 cup jars.

To use
Add 1/4 cup salts to warm running bath water.

Salt (or sugar) scrub

6 cup sea salt or sugar (large grain, unrefined works best)
3 cup oil (almond, olive, baby, etc.)
30 vitamin E capsules
a few drops of the essential oil of your choice
Dried flower petals, dried herbs, the zest of lemons or other citrus fruits (optional)

Dissolve vitamin capsules in oil over low heat. Mix all ingredients, and package in small jars.

Powdered milk bath

This is one of my favorites. I love stepping out of the bath with baby soft skin and smelling pretty. It's a simple pleasure.

3 cup powdered milk
1/2 tsp essential oils

Combine and mix well. Package in small jars.

You can substitute vanilla extract for the essential oils.

Vanilla and honey bath oil

1 cup baby oil
1/2 cup honey
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup liquid soap (optional, for foam)
small bottles (I save all my condiments bottles—hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.—and recycle them for this.)

Combine and mix well. Package in small jars.

Bath bombs

These are super fun. I love love love using them. So much, in fact, I always make several extra for myself.

2 T citric acid
2 T cornstarch
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 tsp essential oil
5 drops food coloring
Dried flower petals, dried herbs, the zest of lemons or other citrus fruits (optional)
3 T oil—olive, coconut, almond, etc.
Wax paper, molds, or cupcake tin

  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Mix oil fragrance and coloring in another bowl.
  3. Incorporate wet mix into dry mix.
  4. Roll into balls, place on wax paper. Or, if using cupcake tin or molds, scoop mix in and pack well.
  5. Wait 2 days.
  6. Store in sealed containers or wrap in colorful plastic wrap

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick Hack and Holiday Gift: Homemade Gourmet Tea Blends

Christmas spice teaImage by hiromy via

Besides tasting lovely, tea is said to have many health benefits including increased energy, reduced blood pressure, immune system strengthening, enhanced concentration, and even healthier, younger-looking skin.

But contrary to popular belief, you don't have to spend a small fortune for gourmet tea. If you make your own, it's ridiculously cheap, especially if you grow your own herbs. But not to worry if you don't have an herb garden—all the ingredients for the following recipes are easy to find and can be acquired on the cheap at your local grocery or farmers' market. Moreover, when you make your own tea blends from loose tea, not only is the quality of the tea much higher, but it's more economical as well. In general, loose tea costs less than tea bags and you can resteep loose tea, thereby stretching your tea dollar, so to speak.

Make these frugal, gourmet teas for yourself or package them in neat jars or tins and give them as gifts to your favorite foodies/tea-lovers. Include an inexpensive tea strainer or infuser, maybe a small jar of honey or some homemade tea biscuits or scones and you've got the perfect gift for your favorite foodies/tea-lovers/anglophiles.

Don't forget to check the brewing tips at the end of the post!

On to the recipes.

This first isn't exactly a tea but rather a spice mixture. Add a bit to your favorite black tea along with a splash of warm milk, and you've got Chai (literally just means "tea," but is used worldwide to refer to Indian-style spiced tea with milk). This mix is a personal favorite and a result of lots of trial and (tasty) error. Perhaps the name is a bit biased, but so be it.

Perfect Chai (Indian Spiced Tea) Mix
Yields 3 cups of mix. (Each cup of mix makes 24 cups of chai.)

2 cups powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground cloves
4 tbsp ground cardamom
4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tsp ground allspice


1. Cover the vanilla bean with the sugar and store overnight in an airtight container. The sugar will absorb the vanilla flavor. In the morning, remove the bean and throw it out.

2. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. If some of the spices are not ground to a fine powder already, pulsing them all together in a food processor should do the trick.

Add 2 tsp of mix to a half-filled cup of hot black tea, fill with warm milk, and stir.
It's also quite good cold; just sub iced tea and cold milk.

Gourmet Herbal Teas

Combine any flavors you like and mix with loose tea—red, green, or white all work well. For an even more thoughtful and personalized gift, choose herbs with target benefits to create a custom blend for your loved ones. (The links above are to the most economic bulk loose teas available on Amazon at the time of this writing.)

your choice of herbs
mortar and pestle (depending on your selection of herbs)
small jars or plastic baggies
basket or other gift container

Suggested Blends
(All herbs should be dried and either whole or crushed, not ground.)

1 part ginger root, 1 part cloves, and 1 part nutmeg
1 part chamomile flowers to 1 part peppermint leaves
1 part dried ginger root to 2 parts peppermint leaves
4 parts anise, 
1 part cinnamon
 bark, 1 part cloves, and 1 part vanilla bean

3 parts rosemary, 
3 parts lavender flowers
, and 3 parts marjoram

1 part cloves, 1 part allspice, and 1 part cinnamon bark
2 parts lemon verbena leaves to 1 part lavender flowers

Mix herbs thoroughly, toss the mixture with the loose tea of your choice, and store in an air-tight container.

Brew 1 tsp of tea in 1 cup of not-quite-boiling water.

Tea Brewing Tips
1. Most teas take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to brew. Any more and you risk oversteeping, which makes the tea bitter.

2. Like coffee, tea doesn't take well to boiling water. I do recommend boiling the water to purify it, but just make sure you let it cool a few minutes before adding it to your teapot.

3. You can reuse or resteep loose tea leaves up to 4 times. Just let each brew steep a minute longer than the one before. Don't try this with tea bags; it won't work. That's a difference between loose tea and tea powder. Just another reason why making your own loose tea blends is more economical than buying boxed flavored tea or tea bags.

Want to get ahead on next year's gifts or just want to keep yourself in organic cooking and tea ingredients? Winter's a perfect time to start a little indoor herb garden.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Quick Hack and Holiday Gift: Homemade Hot Cocoa Mixes

One of my favorite things to do in chilly weather is to cuddle up under a patchwork quilt near the window with a good book and a cup of delicious homemade hot cocoa.

Below are recipes for American-style hot cocoa mix, Mexican-style hot cocoa mix, and chocolate syrup.

Not only are these recipes quick and cheap hacks that cost significantly less than making hot chocolate with a store-bought dry mix or Hershey syrup, but pair a jar or two of these mixes with a nice mug, a bag of mini marshmallows, and a few candy canes for stirrers, and you've got a great, homemade holiday gift.

Note: A lot of cocoa mix recipes call for powdered nondairy creamer, but you'll want to steer clear of those ones. Almost all nondairy creamers, such as CoffeeMate and Creamora, contain hydrogenated oils (trans fats). Because most store-bought hot chocolate mixes are made with these nondairy creamers, they too are choc (sorry, I couldn't resist) full of trans fats. Swiss Miss, get a clue: Drop the hydrogenated oils! (Ironically, even their sugar-free and low-fat packs, the types marketed to more health-conscious consumers, contain trans fats.) Tsk, tsk.

Delectably Fat-Free Homemade Cocoa Mix

4 cups nonfat powdered milk or powdered soy milk
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups powdered sugar

Additions/Substitutions: You can use regular granulated sugar if you prefer, but I find that powdered sugar mixes better and makes the end product creamier. For a really rich cocoa, Italian style, add 4 oz unsweetened dark chocolate, coarsely chopped.

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well. Transfer to storage jar(s).

To make hot cocoa
Use 2 Tb per mug (or to taste), fill with hot water.

"Chocolate Fiesta" Mexican Hot Cocoa Mix

1/3 cup light brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp powdered vanilla (or 1 whole vanilla bean)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups powdered milk or powdered soy milk
1/2 tsp of red (cayenne) pepper (optional)

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well. Transfer to storage jar(s).

To make hot cocoa
Use 2 Tb per mug (or to taste), fill with hot water.

Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

In a small pot, boil water and sugar. Gradually whisk in cocoa powder, sea salt, vanilla extract, and corn syrup. Keep whisking until everything has dissolved and simmer until desired thickness. Let cool and transfer to bottles.

Use for hot chocolate, cold chocolate milk, or as a dessert topping.

Save your ketchup, mustard, syrup, and other squeeze bottles to reuse for this project. Remove the labels and add your own!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Quick Hack: Candle holders from bottles and cans

Last week the electricity kept going out, sometimes only for a few seconds, sometimes for several hours. I never did find out what was going on, but I found myself in need of candle holders, ASAP. And so I found another way to upcycle plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

What you need:

These are both super quick and super easy.

Aluminum Can Candle Holder
  1. Carefully remove the tab from an empty can and cut around the can about an inch from the top.
  2. Recycle the bottom portion or reuse it, for instance, as a planter.
  3. Push the flap back up to create a flat surface on top.

  4. Flip the can top over and carefully fold in a couple centimeters of the edge, towards the inside, so that it doesn't have sharp edges.
  5. Set a tealight inside and you're ready to go.

  6. These also float, so if you feel like being fancy, you can make a bunch and float them in a large bowl, preferably glass for the nicest effect.

Plastic Bottle Candle Holder
  1. Cut the bottle roughly a third of the way from the top.
  2. Turn the top section upside down and insert a candle in the cap. If it doesn't fit snugly in the cap, drip some wax around the base until it's stable.
  3. Pour a few inches of water in the bottom section for stability.
  4. Insert the top section, upside down, with the candle into the bottom section. The water should not be high enough to touch the cap.
  5. Light and enjoy.

The bottle candle holder isn't very pretty when not in use, but the water and the clear plastic actually do very pretty things with the candlelight in the dark. With a bit of paint or some ribbon, I think it could look quite nice just sitting around.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friends

I've never really had friendly neighbors before.

The house where I grew up was in a small neighborhood of mostly elderly people who rarely left their houses. The couple next door was friendly. My father and they would exchange garden produce and they'd invite my sisters and I to swim in their pool. But most of my exchanges with the other neighbors were limited to waves and hellos.

In my adult life I've lived in four cities: St. Louis, New Orleans, London, and Boston. In none of them did I even know my neighbors. I couldn't have told you their names. No one came by to introduce themselves when I moved in, and few even had a smile to offer when passing.

What ever happened to the days when new neighbors showed up on your doorstep with a casserole or invited each other for dinner or just to chat on the front porch? I wondered. Didn't I see that on Leave It to Beaver or Little House on the Prairie?

I don't want to slag on Americans in general (There are plenty of other people to do that, right?), but what's the deal? I made attempts to get to know and befriend the people in my neighborhood in every place I lived, but without luck. Nobody was interested. And look, I'm a pretty damn interesting person. I don't smell. I'm not insane, annoying, or pushy. I don't have any weird tics or a third eyeball or anything. So what gives? I don't have trouble meeting people or making friends elsewhere, but I'll be damned if I can make friends with the people who live 50 feet away from me and whom I see nearly every day.

Until now, that is. Since MDT and I have been in Costa Rica (a little over a month), not only have we met all our immediate neighbors (and their extended families), but we even consider them our friends.

The couple across the street is awesome. They have been incredibly helpful. The guy is a contractor, and has come over to help us fix several things around the house that had us stumped (the frighteningly named "suicide shower" that is endemic to Central America, for one), and given us lifts to town, etc. His girlfriend made us rice pudding, her parents brought us Guanabana shakes, and her daughter stops by almost daily to practice her English and play with the cats and often brings us oranges or bananas that she's picked. They're like our adoptive family. It's pretty cool.

Plantains brought to us (and wrapped with birthday paper) by Angelica, age 7.

An entire branch of bananas from our friend Pablo.

Our landlady and her daughter live next door and two doors down, respectively. They've also brought us fruit and given us rides, and her seven-year-old granddaughter is always running around playing and bringing me flowers.

Flowers, picked and delivered by Angelica. Yes, that's a giant tin of tomatoes. We didn't have a vase.

Another neighbor, a guy MDT plays fútbol with, has invited us for drinks at the bar next door and to his upcoming birthday bash, and others routinely give us a lift to or from town if they're passing by. We know everyone's names (and their dogs', cats', and horses').

It's always difficult when you're new in town, but this time we're new in the country, and the language is new, too. I can't even believe how much at home they've made us feel here, in so little time. When our time comes to move on, we'll be very sad to leave them.

Um. . . so where are you going with this?
I know this post isn't exactly about personal finances or being thrifty, unless of course you count my passing mention of us walking everywhere (not owning a car) or the fact that we've saved money on food because people keep bringing us stuff. But the whole point of being frugal and minding your financial situation is, ultimately, to be more comfortable, right? I'm not saying having money makes you happy. But I am saying that life's a hell of a lot easier when you don't have a huge debt hanging over your head or when you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay your bills at the end of the month or how you'll ever be able to afford your own home (seriously, can someone fill me in on how the hell people do this?).

I've talked a lot about sharing garden produce, tools, rides, etc., in other posts. And I hate to take things back to the kindergarten level, but you know what? It's nice to share. And to be friendly. It's makes everyone more happy.

So go make a casserole, already. Pick a neighbor you don't know very well, knock on their door, and make their day. Go ahead. You'll feel good afterward, and you just might make a new friend.

Thanks to One Mint for including this post in the Economy and Your Finances Carnival.

The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friendsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

And the winner is....

Congratulations to Marina, the winner of the rolled canvas poster print. I hope your daughter likes her new wall decoration!

Thanks to everyone who entered. More giveaways to come.


And the winner is....SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another Easy-to-Win Giveaway: 16”x20” Rolled Canvas from

Just in time for the Holidays, our sponsor is rolling out another giveaway: a 16¨ x 20¨ rolled canvas print (with free UPS shipping to the US, of course). Rolled canvas prints are perfect for home decor, photo prints, and signage. And they make fantastic, thoughtful gifts.

Ready to enter?
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling us what photo gifts you want to have printed for their family and loved ones.

Really want the print? For additional entries, you can do any or all of the following and leave a comment here telling us you've done it:
  1. Blog about this giveaway and link to this post and (2 entries)
  2. Tweet this: ¨Win a 16¨ x 20¨ rolled canvas print + free shipping! Perfect for home decor, photo gifts, and signage. #giveaway¨ (2 entries)
  3. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and/or MySpace. (1 entry each)
Giveaway ends at noon on November 23rd, so get your entries in quick!

We'll announce the winner on the blog and a coupon code will be sent to the winner’s registered email on November 27, 2009, so if your blogger profile doesn't display your email address, be sure to leave it in your comment.

Good luck!

Thank you to for providing us here at TAiMH with our own free print. It´s awesome. And thanks to UPrinting for hooking us up with them. See their review at YouTheDesigner.

Another Easy-to-Win Giveaway: 16”x20” Rolled Canvas from DigitalRoom.comSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Couchsurfing to Save Money and Make Friends While Traveling: Our Experiences.

Reminded by the mention of couchsurfing in Man vs Debt's recent post that I compiled for the Money Hacks Carnival I hosted last week, I've decided to write a review, of sorts, of couchsurfing based on my and MDT's experiences as couchsurfers. We have not as yet had the pleasure of hosting any surfers as we've been in the process of moving first across the U.S. and then to Central America and setting up shop here. But, as we've been here in Costa Rica a whole month now (!!!) and just purchased an air mattress, perhaps we'll receive guests soon and I'll be able to update this article with our experiences hosting.

What is CouchSurfing?

I heard about a year or two ago, but didn't try it out until this fall. MDT and I had decided to move to Costa Rica, but needed a place to stay during our two-week house-hunting visit. describes itself and its purpose thusly: "CouchSurfing offers you, via our website and regional events and activities, the opportunity to intimately encounter the world. Through meaningful connections with locals, Couchsurfing seeks to promote self-awareness and understanding of others. Being a CouchSurfer means you are part of an international community of travelers who recognize similarities and appreciate differences in all peoples."1 It's a travel community with a (supposed) purpose and with a general attitude of acceptance that can come off sounding a bit peace-and-lovish. Not that I have anything against peace and love, of course. But I've had enough random experiences with, let's say, "the less down-to-earth" sort to be slightly wary of people one might encounter via couchsurfing. However, my concerns have so far been unfounded.

As an aside, I have had a close encounter of the hippie kind here (an aging—and braless—Californian woman who invited me to her monthly New Moon women's group where they dance and "summon [their] ancestors and [their] progeny," but it had nothing to do with couchsurfing.

I will say, however, that on the couchsurfing site it's best to carefully read the profile of anyone you're considering staying with. Personally if I see phrases like "sacred space," "auras," "star-child of the universe," (yep, that one's real) in a profile, I just move on. Depending on where you're traveling to, the type of people you'll see on couchsurfing vary widely.

To sign up for, you simply fill out a basic profile (10-15 minutes, depending on how in-depth you want to be) and then you're free to start searching for available couches. The search feature is easy to use and includes information about each registered couchsurfer (and/or host—you can choose to be one, the other, or both). Select the area you're planning to travel to and start browsing profiles. You can do more in-depth searches if you're traveling to populous areas with a larger selection of profiles.

Our Experience

We e-mailed (via's interface) eight or nine people. A few didn't respond, and a few who did weren't available at the times we needed, but we ended up finding three available hosts in different areas.

Our first night in Costa Rica, we stayed with a young Tico man in what turned out to be his mother's house (though she was out of town). This first couchsurfing experience was the worst: the house was filthy, I mean disgusting. It looked like nothing had been cleaned or so much as dusted for five years. The young man and his friend, who was also staying the night, were mostly friendly and we chatted, somewhat uncomfortably for me at least, for an hour or two before we were shown our room. It was during the chatting that MDT spotted and discreetly pointed out to me the biggest roach I've ever seen in my entire life—and I've lived in New Orleans. This thing was big enough to have facial features I'd probably recognize if I saw it again. I behaved very well, however, and no one noticed my horror. The bathroom was horrible, so much that we couldn't even shower for fear of coming out dirtier than before, and the bedding was so repulsive that we slept (or attempted to sleep), fully clothed, on top of our jackets laid on top of the bedding. It was an experience I hope never to repeat.

At this point, I was pretty terrified of what to expect of our next "couch," but thankfully, our second host, another young Tico, just our age, was a ray of sunshine—and has since become our good friend, whom we hang out with often. He, too, lives with his parents (or rather they live with him), but his house is very clean and he and his family are very hospitable. We only planned on staying with him for a day or two, but he offered for us to stay as long as we like, and he even devoted several days of his time to driving us around town and helping us house-hunt. He showed us how to make traditional Tico-style food and introduced us to his friends. We felt very much at home, even though he is the only one in his family who speaks English and our Spanish at the time wasn't fantastic. After a few days, we were already friends, hanging out, going to the bar, etc. He even took us to the beach for the day where we all swam, ate home-grown oranges, and picked coconuts. You couldn't ask for someone more generous and friendly.

We stayed at a hostel in another town for a few nights, and then for our last night in Costa Rica we stayed just outside the capital with an Italian girl a few years younger than us (and her mother), who own a nearby gelato establishment. The girl picked us up in a taxi and brought us back to her home, which was pristine, huge, and magnificent. I'm not sure if I've even been in such a fancy house. The girl was very hospitable, but left soon after we arrived to go to a friend's party. She invited us along, but we'd been traveling for two weeks and just needed to shower and rest that night. She very trustingly left us alone at her house, telling us to make ourselves at home, and after briefly showing us around disappeared for the rest of the night. We had showers and a snack and settled down to watch one of the movies she'd pointed out to us before she left. Her couch was magnificently comfortable, but we were given the guest room to sleep in, whose bed was also immensely comfortable. I commented to MDT that we might as well have been in a hotel. The girl returned around 3 am with a friend, partied a bit more (which woke up MDT but not me), and was still sleeping when we left in the morning. We had a bit of trouble maneuvering around her two very large (but deceptively friendly) dogs whilst attempting to unlock and get through the front gate without letting them loose, but otherwise it was a relaxing and good experience.

The verdict:

If you're looking for a possibly wild and crazy experience and are the adventurous (and imperturbable) type, give a try. Don't expect to be waited on or fed—though it could happen. If possible, talk with the person on the phone before you stay with them, just to get an idea of who they are and if you'll get on well. Again, much of your experience will depend on the culture and general way of life of the area you're visiting. That said, we had three very different experiences in the same region of the same country. My advice, if you're interested in couchsurfing, is to try it out in your own country first and see what you think before you do it halfway across the globe.

If, however, you're not an extremely social person or are just looking for an easy, relaxing vacation and you're on a budget, you might want to skip couchsurfing and check out some hostels or budget hotels.

Even if you don't need a place to stay, I'd say that couchsurfing is a good way to meet people wherever you are traveling, or even in your hometown. There's even a search option to find people who are willing to just meet you for coffee or a drink and talk with you about their country, culture, travels, etc. It's a great way to get to know an area and to meet a variety of people.

Other Opinions?
Have you ever couchsurfed? If so, what do you think about it? If not, would you ever consider doing it?

1. From the homepage.

Thanks to The Financial Blogger for including this post in this week's Festival of Frugality, to Sadie for including it in the Carnival of Savings, and to One Mint for including it in the Economy and Your Finances Carnival.

Couchsurfing to Save Money and Make Friends While Traveling: Our Experiences.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Money Hacks Carnival #90: Minimalist Edition

Without further ado, this week's best in financial blogging:

Editor's Picks

PT presents PocketSmith: A Calendar-Based Financial Planner posted at PT Money.

freefrombroke presents Its Official First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit Extended Now For Existing Owners Too posted at Free From Broke.

Miss M presents Lending Club Update: Some Interesting Developments posted at M is for Money.

DR presents Balance Transfer Credit Cards posted at The Dough Roller.

D4L presents 10 Stocks Taking Their Dividends Up A Notch posted at Dividends Value.

Credit Cards

Ray presents Best Credit Card posted at Financial Highway.

Manshu presents Disney Rewards Visa Credit Card posted at OneMint.

David presents Quicken Rewards Visa® Credit Card posted at Credit Card Offers IQ.

Mr Credit Card presents Bombshell Deal From Chase and British Airways posted at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog.

Debt Management

oneadvice presents Debt Management Solution posted at One Advice. Looking for a debt management solution which is right for you? Be clear and concise about your debt management requirements before signing ANYTHING....

Real Estate

Paul Williams presents How Big of a Mortgage Can I Afford? posted at Provident Planning.

Tom presents Save Money By Selling Your House Without A Real Estate Agent posted at The Canadian Finance Blog. Selling your house without a real estate agent can be a great way to save money, but only if you do your research and are willing to put in more of your own time.

General Financial Planning

Miranda presents Elements of a Financial Checkup posted at Personal Dividends.

Hank presents Get Back To The Blocking And Tackling Basics of Personal Finance posted at Own The Dollar. A lot of people have forgotten the basics of money management. We need to get back to the basics to be successful.

Wojciech Kulicki presents X Marks the Spot: Navigating Financial Treasure Maps posted at Fiscal Fizzle.

J. Money presents Try working on finances when you're in the mood :) posted at Budgets are Sexy.

Studenomist presents Are You An Expert On Personal Money Management? posted at Studenomics.


Matt presents How To Start Your Own Personal Hedge Fund posted at The Online Investing AI Blog. presents Penny Stock Scams posted at Trading Stocks.

Praveen presents Just Bought Hyatt Hotels (H) posted at My Simple Trading System.

Jeff Rose presents 2010 Traditional and Roth 401k Contribution Limits posted at Jeff Rose.

Small Business

Christy Horgan presents Hip Hip Hooray! Permanent exemption from 404(b) for Small Business is Possible! posted at Gray Matters.


FMF presents How to Buy a New Furnace and Air Conditioner posted at Free Money Finance.

Kris presents Ask the Internet: Eating Healthy at Conferences? posted at Cheap Healthy Good.

Baker presents Travel Hacking for Noobs: How We Save Hundreds on Airfare, Get Free Accommodation, & Make Money while Overseas posted at Man Vs. Debt.

pkamp3 presents California… What…? posted at Don't Quit Your Day Job - Personal Finance, Economics and Investing.

The Financial Blogger presents Do You Cheat Sometimes? A Look at Fidelity posted at The Financial Blogger. A look at financial fidelity.

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the carnival and to all our lovely readers. I hope you enjoy this week's posts.

Money Hacks Carnival #90: Minimalist EditionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homemade Pico de Gallo with Garden Tomatoes

We can't help reiterating that one of the best ways to save money is to make your own food. It's almost always fresher, healthier, and tastier this way.

Take my salsa recipe. We were able to pluck nearly all of the major ingredients from our summer garden—the tomatoes, cilantro, and habaneros. Yes, the onion, lime, garlic, salt, and black pepper were store-bought, but these come cheap. So in a sense we only paid a pittance for about a liter of deliciousness.

Try out this recipe, but also experiment. Add your own ingredients like chipotles, mangoes, etc., if you wish to create your own flavors. Let us know about your recipe in a comment below.

Homemade Pico de Gallo

6 medium red tomatoes
6 medium yellow tomatoes
1 1/2 medium white onions
1/2 medium orange habanero (substitute: 1 Tablespoon cayenne)
1/2 cup cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 lime, or to taste
salt, pepper to taste

1. Chop all ingredients and throw in a large mixing bowl. Chop garlic and especially the habanero super-finely.
2. Add the juice of one lime, salt, and pepper to taste.
3. Refrigerate for at least an hour before eating for flavors to blend.

You'll never want to buy any of that jarred stuff again.

This recipe was included in the Carnival of Gluten-Free Recipes and the Carnival of Savings.

Homemade Pico de Gallo with Garden TomatoesSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, October 22, 2009

As Promised, The Next Big Giveaway: 100 Custom Postcards from UPrinting

We promised another giveaway today, and here it is. Our awesome sponsor UPrinting is offering two lucky TAiMH readers 100 free custom postcards (with free UPS shipping to the US, of course). Make them for yourself or someone else. Use them to promote your blog, special event, or business. Get creative and use them for invitations, thank-you cards, moving announcements, or whatever your little heart desires. These are really fantastic cards: 4 x 6, full-color on both sides on a sturdy 14-point glossy cardstock.

Ready to enter?
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling us how you might use the free postcards if you win.

Really want the cards? For additional entries, you can do any or all of the following and leave a comment here telling us you've done it:
  1. Blog about this giveaway and link to this post and
  2. Tweet this: Win 100 free custom postcards for invitations, biz promo, etc + free shipping! Enter at TAiMH: #giveaway
  3. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and/or MySpace. (1 entry each)
Giveaway ends at noon on Thursday, October 29th, so get your entries in quick!

We'll announce the winner on the blog and a coupon code will be sent to the winner’s registered email on November 6, 2009, so if your blogger profile doesn't display your email address, be sure to leave it in your comment.

Good luck!

Don't forget to enter our other current giveaway from UPrinting, for an awesome 24 x 36" vinyl banner with grommets ($62 value plus free UPS Ground shipping).

Thank you to UPrinting for providing us here at TAiMH with our own set of 100 free postcards. We love them.

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As Promised, The Next Big Giveaway: 100 Custom Postcards from UPrintingSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

UPrinting Business Card Giveaway: And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered and helped promote the UPrinting business card giveaway.

The winner by randomly generated selection is:


Congratulations! UPrinting will be contacting you soon with the coupon code for your 250 free business cards. We hope you enjoy them and that you have success promoting your new business.

If you didn't win, don't fret. We'll be offering lots of other giveaways in the future. In fact, there's a new one coming up today, so check back in a bit. You can also enter the UPrinting Vinyl Banner Giveaway; it runs until October 29th.

As a side note, MDT and I have recently moved abroad for some long-term travel, so until we get settled into the new blogging groove here, posts may be fewer and farther between than usual. But we'll do our best.

UPrinting Business Card Giveaway: And the winner is...SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Investing for Retirement: Retirement Accounts Overview

Retirement Basics: Common Sources of Retirement Income

Social Security Benefits

Though the future of social security is uncertain to say the least, right now the deal is that you pay into the system for as long as you work (6.2% up to the "wage base"--$102,00 in 2008), whether you're an employee or self-employed. In the case of the employed, the employer must also pay the same 6.2% on the worker's wages. In addition, both the employee and the employer must pay another 1.45% each on the total yearly income of the worker. The self-employed do not pay Social Security tax as such, but under a separate law are required to pay 15.3% of their total income; they basically pay both the employee and the employer shares of the Social Security tax, though they can deduct half (the employer's share) when they file their federal income taxes.

The calculation process for how much Social Security benefits a person will receive is ridiculously complex, so I won't get into it here, suffice it to say that it's based on the average of the worker's covered earnings (the largest amount covered in 2008 was $102,000) for the 35 years in which the worker earned the most.

Workers can begin receiving benefits at age 62, but they will be "reduced benefits." Workers are not eligible to receive the full benefits until the normal retirement age, which is currently defined as 67 years old for anyone born after 1960. For ever year after normal retirement age that a worker delays receiving benefits, the benefit amount will increase when they do begin accepting them.

Social Security also provides for the worker's spouse (though currently same-sex spouses are not covered) and children, and with a little maneuvering, it is even possible for the spouse and children to receive benefits even if the worker decides to continue working after his or her retirement age. A worker's widow or widower is similarly provided for, as is, in some cases, even a divorced spouse or divorced widow(er).

The problem is that even if (and it's a big IF) social security benefits are still around by the time we get to retirement age, it's doubtful they'll be enough to live comfortably on. Even now, the average individual's monthly social security check is only around $950, and it's taxable. Obviously, you're going to want to secure other sources of retirement income.

For more information about Social Security benefits visit their website.

Work Pension Plans/Employer-Sponsored Benefit Plans
There are two main types of employer-sponsored retirement plans: defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.

A defined benefit plan promises a specified monthly benefit at retirement. The plan may state this promised benefit as an exact dollar amount, such as $100 per month at retirement. Or, more commonly, it may calculate a benefit through a plan formula that considers such factors as salary and service--for example, 1 percent of average salary for the last 5 years of employment for every year of service with an employer. The benefits in most traditional defined benefit plans are protected, within certain limitations, by federal insurance provided through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

A Cash Balance Plan is a defined benefit plan that defines the benefit in terms that are more characteristic of a defined contribution plan. In other words, a cash balance plan defines the promised benefit in terms of a stated account balance. In a typical cash balance plan, a participant's account is credited each year with a "pay credit" (such as 5 percent of compensation from his or her employer) and an "interest credit" (either a fixed rate or a variable rate that is linked to an index such as the one-year treasury bill rate). Increases and decreases in the value of the plan's investments do not directly affect the benefit amounts promised to participants. Thus, the investment risks and rewards on plan assets are borne solely by the employer. When a participant becomes entitled to receive benefits under a cash balance plan, the benefits that are received are defined in terms of an account balance. The benefits in most cash balance plans, as in most traditional defined benefit plans, are protected, within certain limitations, by federal insurance provided through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

A defined contribution plan, on the other hand, does not promise a specific amount of benefits at retirement. In these plans, the employee or the employer (or both) contribute to the employee's individual account under the plan, sometimes at a set rate, such as 5 percent of earnings annually. These contributions generally are invested on the employee's behalf. The employee will ultimately receive the balance in their account, which is based on contributions plus or minus investment gains or losses. The value of the account will fluctuate due to the changes in the value of the investments. Examples of defined contribution plans include 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, employee stock ownership plans, and profit-sharing plans.

A Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) is a relatively uncomplicated defined contribution plan geared towards the self-employed and owners of small businesses. A SEP allows individuals to make contributions (up to 25% of their annual earnings with a maximum of $49,000) on a tax-deferred basis to individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Fidelity has a good site with more detailed information regarding SEPs and even an SEP-IRA Contribution Calculator.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE)
Don't get confused, you're right--whoever thought up the acronym for this defined contribution plan cheated a bit. Nevertheless, that's what it is, even though it's easy to confuse with the Simplified Employee Pension Plan above. Whatever. There are two main options for this type of tax-deferred IRA: 1) the employer contributes 2% of the employee's pay each year and the employee is able to contribute up to $10,500 per year. 2) The employee contributes to the plan (with the same maximum contribution) by deferring a percentage of their salary, and the employer must match that contribution (up to 3% of the employee's salary).

A Profit Sharing Plan or Stock Bonus Plan is a defined contribution plan under which the plan may provide, or the employer may determine, annually, how much will be contributed to the plan (out of profits or otherwise). The plan contains a formula for allocating to each participant a portion of each annual contribution.

A 401(k) plan is a defined contribution plan where employees can elect to defer receiving a portion of their salary which is instead contributed on their behalf, before taxes, to the 401(k) account. Sometimes the employer may match these contributions. The money in the account is then invested in stocks, mutual funds, and/or other securities. There are special rules governing the operation of a 401(k) plan. For example, there is a dollar limit on the amount an employee may elect to defer each year. An employer must advise employees of any limits that may apply. Employees who participate in 401(k) plans assume responsibility for their retirement income by contributing part of their salary and, in many instances, by directing their own investments.

An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is a form of defined contribution plan in which the investments are primarily in employer stock.

A Money Purchase Pension Plan is a defined contribution plan that requires fixed annual contributions from the employer to the employee's individual account.

For non-retirement specific investment information, see our Investments Primer.

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