Friday, January 17, 2014

Italian BBQ Chicken Pizza recipe

I went in search of a pizza recipe that rivaled a restaurant, and I finally found one.  It takes a little more time to prepare, but the results are well worth it.  Everyone loved the dish, including the kids!

olive oil
pizza crust dough
Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce
chicken breasts, finely chopped
Lawry's garlic salt
red onion, finely chopped
marinated artichoke hearts
sundried tomatoes
bacon, cooked and crumbled
Italian seasoning
  1. Heat oven to 450º.  Drizzle olive oil on pizza pan.  Roll out pizza crust and spread BBQ sauce on crust.
  2. Season chicken with garlic salt.  Sautee chopped chicken in olive oil until browned.  Sprinkle over top of BBQ sauce.  Sautee artichoke hearts and chopped red onion in olive oil.  Top pizza with chopped red onion, artichoke hearts, and crumbled bacon.  Chop sundried tomatoes and add to top of pizza.  Sprinkle one bag shredded mozzarella/provolone over pizza.  Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  3. Bake at 450º for 25 minutes or until browned.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Invention of Sarah Cummings - Olivia Newport

The Invention of Sarah Cummings is book three in the Avenue of Dreams series by Olivia Newport.  Ms. Newport does a fantastic job crafting the character of Sarah Cummings.  She chose to stay consistent with the Sarah Cummings we met in previous books of this series, and keeps the character fallible throughout the story.  We get to see how Sarah grows and changes, but not altogether so much that it isn't believable.
Sarah's story is that she grew up in a happy household, but traumatically lost both parents in a carriage accident when she was still in her early years.  She was taken immediately to St. Andrew's Orphanage in Chicago, but was unhappy and restless.  She was put into service in the Banning household in her early teens where she continued to be unhappy.  When an opportunity arose for her to act like she belonged to high society, she took it and ran.  The persona she developed in order to stay recognized as one of a higher class got more and more complicated until eventually her two world collided.  How the character adapts to her situation is what makes this story come alive.
I am certainly a fan of Olivia Newport and will continue to stay tuned to novels she releases in the coming months.  Her historical accuracy makes this novel a delight to read.  I learn something new every time I embark on another Newport novel.  The book appears to be a bit thinner than its competitors, but don't let that fool you.  I got many hours of good reading from it and never felt for a moment that it was moving too quickly.  The author did a fantastic job with the length of the book.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, January 6, 2014

How to Go to College for CHEAP

Some students will owe more in student loans than what they pay for their first house.  Unfortunately, factors such as where friends are going, location, and advertising play a big role in the decision-making process.  Students may not realize the enormous cost difference between schools.  One of our local private schools charges an average of $26,830 per semester including room and board.  That's about $107,320 for a bachelor's degree over four years.  A state school in the same town charges an average of $15,336 including room and board for the same degree, resulting in $61,344 over four years.  You don't have to leave school with a 30-year commitment to paying off debt.  In fact, you can go to school for cheap or even get paid to go to school.  

Here are some ways to go to school for cheap:

  • CLEP, DSST, AP exams.  I have personally CLEP-ed 21 credit hours.  If I had know about CLEP earlier, I would have tested out of several more college courses, maxing out at 32 credit hours for the school I am attending.  Private schools tend to accept more CLEP hours, state schools tend to accept less.  I encourage all high school students to CLEP like there is no tomorrow.  More than one senior in high school is already a sophomore in college before they even start.  Look at the pass rates and start with courses you know you will need for your degree and that have high pass rates.  Use to study for the CLEP.  They'll tell you when you are ready to take it.  I have passed EVERY CLEP I studied for using InstantCert.  Plan to study for about a week on InstantCert before taking each test.  Cost is $19.95 per month, but if you use promo code 68970 you can save $5 on your first month.
  • Study for the ACT -- don't just wing it.  If you are a good student in school to begin with, your ACT score will reflect that without any additional studying, but by studying you can raise your score by a few points or more.  Most colleges offer scaled discounts (aka scholarships) based on ACT score.  Depending on the school, you may not even have to apply for these scholarships -- they just automatically adjust the tuition based on your ACT score.  I'll use our local state school, Missouri State University, for conservative numbers just to show you the thousands an incoming freshman can save by making a higher than average score on the ACT.  Missouri State requires an application for these, but schools like Evangel University don't for ACT scholarships.
    • $1,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT score of 24.
    • $2,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 26.
    • $5,000 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 10% of class (or 3.90 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 28. 
    • A full-ride scholarship will be offered to 35 students each year that graduate in the top 10% of their senior class, have a 3.90 GPA, and have an ACT of 30.
  • If I say "scholarships" you say "duh!"  Scholarships.  Duh!  Scholarships.  Duh!  Most schools -- private and state -- have hundreds of scholarships in-house (meaning, donors give money to the school directly to disburse to the students) ripe for the taking if you just apply for them.  Go to the school website and find the link to General and Departmental scholarships.  Bigger schools will integrate all their scholarship applications into one online link, which makes it ridiculously easy.  But if you have to work to find the application, that's even better -- that means you'll be competing with less people, because if it isn't easy for you to find it isn't easy for them to find, either.  And they'll quit looking.  You won't.  Most people don't apply for scholarships because they don't think they qualify academically or because they didn't come to school on an athletic scholarship.  Forget all that.  Many applications don't even require an essay, just data.  For the ones that do require an essay...
  • Go to and pay to have a qualified editor revise your scholarship essays.  I imagine that you think your essay already looks pretty good.  Well, let me just tell you... it's worth the 5 bucks.  Some of these people can take your pretty good essay and make it a spectacular essay.  (This also works for specialized program applications where there is a competitive rate of admission.)
  • Attend a school in your state to get the best possible tuition rate.  You don't want to be charged a surcharge for out-of-state tuition.  It makes a big difference.
  • Live at home or with another relative.  When you see with your own eyes how much schools are charging for room and board, I think you'll agree you can do better.  Let's use the same state school mentioned above for room and board cost examples.  Out of their quoted $15,336 cost per year $7,428 of it is in room and board.  If you could reduce your cost of education for a 4-year college down to $7,908 per year now you're really talking.  That would be $31,632 over a 4-year period.  
  • Go to a community college for the first two years, then transfer to a state college. Cheapest possible route right here.  Tuition is dramatically different.  Said state school above is quoting $7,908 for tuition and books for the year.  Community college in the same town is charging $3,760 for one year (assuming 15-credit hours for each semester and includes $1,000 in books for the year -- more than anyone will ever need to spend on textbooks).
  • Most colleges quote $1,000 in textbooks per year to present their cost of attendance to students.  If you buy all new textbooks you may very well spend that much, but I'm assuming you are smarter than that.  Used books are available at your college bookstore, but you can get a much better deal on eBay, craigslist, and Amazon.  Amazon even offers a "rental" option now.  Plan ahead a couple weeks to allow for shipping then count all the cash you saved.
  • Know the facts about tuition cost at the schools you are looking into.  That is a big factor, if it isn't the biggest factor involved.  Use the College Affordability & Transparency Center.  It is a government website and -- believe it or not -- the facts are presented in an easy to understand way.  Since the government issues most student loans, you can trust that the statistics on average debt students leave that school with is accurate.  Also, it gives you the NET PRICE students pay, taking into consideration grants and scholarships the students received.  This makes the numbers more fair than what is published on the school websites, because some schools have more generous donors than others per student capita.  For example, students at private schools typically receive more scholarships.  Private schools are still more expensive, but the gap may not be as big as you think, depending on which school you are comparing.  Get the facts.

Here are the obvious no-brainers...

  • FAFSA.  Fill out your FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible.  All schools require having one on file, so you might as well do it early get more free money.  On January 1st, you won't have your taxes back yet, but estimate the numbers.  Then go back once you have your tax returns and use the IRS Retrieval Tool to transfer the information.  The sooner you get this done, the better.  That's why I said January 1st.  Although the federal deadline isn't until much later, states also use this information.  Their deadlines are earlier, and the money goes out first come first serve.  After they are out of money for the school year they are OUT.  
  • Athletics and other extracurricular groups can get you scholarships that others may not necessarily qualify for.  
  • Parents.  They may help with your tuition, but then again... if you use the steps above you could already be attending for free or getting paid to go to school.

Now, let's put it all together.

Highest ACT score you can get.  Try for a 24 or higher.
CLEP like crazy. (Shave a year off by testing out of 30 credit hours if you can.)
Apply for FAFSA early.
Apply for general and departmental scholarships. 
Buy used textbooks.
Community school for the first two years.  Live with parents.
State school for the last two years.  Live with parents.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Save thousands & cut your mortgage down by years

I'm not a world-wide syndicated radio host, but I've been lucky to have some good influences in my life.  Combined with the fact that I am fan-crazy for Dave Ramsey, I decided to jot down some of what I consider to be the most essential financial tips I've heard in the last several years and share them with you.  

Paying off your mortgage early and saving tons of money sounds like a scam, but it's not.  

Ready?  I'm going to start with the easiest tip first: Instead of making one fat monthly payment on your mortgage, divide it in half and make payments bi-weekly instead of monthly.  For example, if your mortgage payment is $1,000 per month, send $500 every two weeks.  Done.
How is this different that making one monthly payment?  Well, if you pay every two weeks you will make 26 half-payments per year.  That is equal to 13 monthly payments.  There is only 12 months in a year, so you are basically making one extra payment a year.  You may not even notice the extra payment, because you have conditioned yourself to make a half payment every two weeks.  This actually makes a HUGE difference to you in the long run.  You can cut off years of your mortgage and thousands in interest by using this one small trick.  If you think you can't afford this, think again -- even someone drowning in other monthly debt obligations can still make this small change.  
According to Jeremy Vohwinkle, "To better understand the true savings, on a $100,000 30-year mortgage at 6.5%, you'll pay $127,544 in interest, plus the $100,000 principal, for a total of $227,544. Paying one-half of your regular monthly mortgage payment every two weeks will result in interest of $97,215, a savings of $30,329. Obviously, the larger your mortgage and higher your interest rate, the greater the savings."
If you have room in your budget (you have one of those, right?!) to not just do bi-weekly payments, but actually add to the principle every month, great!  If you don't have the money right now, make a plan to pay off whatever is holding you back from kicking your mortgage to the curb (credit cards, cars, etc.).

Now, for the details to make your switch as easy as possible.

  • The first payment you make needs to be about 2-3 weeks before your due date, and the second payment just before your due date.  That way, your full monthly obligation is met before the due date.
  • Make sure that extra payments are applied directly to principle and that the payments are applied as soon as they are received (not held until the second payment is received).  Most lenders automatically apply payments and apply extra payments to principle, but not all.  Check first (that's important).
  • Beware of scams that charge you money to set this up.  Their facts are usually right on (such as how much exactly your will save and how many years exactly you will cut off), but charging a one-time set-up fee of $200 or more is a rip-off.  You can do this yourself or your online bank may offer this program for free or for a very small fee (like $1 per transaction). 

Making additional principle payments

Everyone knows that by making additional principle payments on your home loan you can shave off time and interest.  But how much, and is it really worth letting go of those extra dollars now for the return later?  For example, if your mortgage has $150,000 and a 30 year term with 6.5% interest, and you add a mere $25 to the house payment every month, you will end up saving $16,790.81 in interest over the course of the loan.  The bonus will be that you pay the whole thing off 2 years and 2 months sooner.  How about adding $100 extra per month?   That would save $51,725.04 in interest and 6 years 11 months of payments.  Adding a whopping $400 per month to this mortgage would result in saving $110,963.93 in interest and paying the whole thing off 15 years and 9 months early!  
If you want to know exactly how much you will save -- and are ready to have your mind completely blown -- use this Early Mortgage Payoff Calculator to plug in your exact numbers.

Now, let's double it.

By doubling your mortgage payment you may think that you are cutting your loan in half, right?  Make twice the payment, pay it off in half the time.  Sounds good, but the reality is that it is actually far better than that!  You will actually pay off your mortgage in a third of the time.  It makes "cents" when you think about how interest is calculated.  You can literally save thousands and thousands of dollars in interest.  
What would you do if someone gave you thousands of dollars?  Now, you can give it to yourself by paying your mortgage off early.  What would you do with all that extra money?  
Let's say that you DID make double payments on your mortgage and as a result you pay your 30-year mortgage off in 7-10 years.  Now you own your home outright and have extra money because you aren't making a mortgage payment anymore.  Let's say your mortgage payment was $900 per month.  What would you do with that $900 now?  

And then, as Emeril says, "Kick it up a notch!"

Since you paid your home off in 10 years, let's say you spend the next 20 years investing that same amount of money every month.  In other words, instead of sending it to the mortgage you are now sending it to a mutual fund.  Now you are really killing it!  At the end of your 20 years (this is when you would have finally paid off that mortgage had you stuck with the minimum payments) now you have $316,110.29 in the bank!  I purposely used a small interest rate, because I want to communicate that you don't have to be an investor guru to make plan work.  If you can get more of a return than that (I think around 10% is the average of a mutual fund left alone for several years), then your success goes up exponentially.
I am including the Dave Ramsey Investing Calculator here for you to see how much you could earn if your mortgage payment became your investment contribution every month.  
Recap.  You made double payments on your 30-year mortgage paying it off in 10 years, max.  You spent the next 20 years using your would-have-been mortgage payment investing monthly in a conservative mutual fund and have over $300 K in the bank.