Thrifty Resolution Ideas for 2011

>> 12.30.2010

Us bloggers love creating resolutions (I’m sure you’ll be reading a slew of resolution posts in the next couple of weeks ) so I’ve come up with a short list of ideas that might just improve your life and budget over the next year…

To Lose Weight and Save Money:

*Cut back on meat- One of the main reasons why my weekly grocery budget is so low is that I don’t buy meat (and Nate eats about half of the amount a normal person might eat). Because of this habit, I don’t have the urge to go to fast food restaurants (no choices for me there) and all of my entrĂ©e choices at other restaurants are a good $2-3 cheaper than the meat choices. In addition to being better for the animals, reducing your meat consumption will also help out with the environment… I’d call this resolution a win-win-win!

yum... chik'n!

*Say goodbye to sodas- Come on, you know that leaving this habit behind in the new year will instantly cut back a huge chunk on unnecessary calories. At one can of soda a day, you’re looking at losing 1.32 pounds per month or 15.94 in a year (here’s how I calculate those numbers)!! Already switched to diet soda? Imagine cutting the costs… if you drink just a six-pack per week and one restaurant soda that adds up to about $20 per month and $240 in a year.

*Make exercise a social activity- Convert your shopping or happy hour friends into a walking partner. You won’t need to spend money in order to see each other and you might just get healthier along the way!

*Stop buying food that you don’t need- Packaged snacks, extra meals (in case of apocalypse?), and desserts are totally out for 2011. Instead of piling up your cart with brightly colored boxes, make a list (mental is fine) of meal ingredients and stick to it!

I know it looks sparse in there, but we eat as we buy: milk for cereal, fruit and yogurt for snacks, veggie soup/ pasta for dinner and leftover lunch, plus a few condiments and extras to make meals with foods from the pantry. Options are so overrated!

More Thrifty Ideas:

*Learn a new skill- Do I hear DIY? Can you imagine helping to tile your son’s bathroom in twenty years and saying, “piece of cake, I learned how to do it in 2011!” Remember there will probably be sewing, caulking, or sodding mistakes along the way, but those money saving skills will last a lifetime.

*Get bold- I promise, you can be polite and make friends AND get what you want. For 2011, try practicing using a few key phrases like, “is that the best price you can give me?,” “do you offer any discounts for x, y, or z?,” and “ Believe me, once I left behind the shy part of my personality, I never looked back!

*Explore your area- Can a few fun day trips replace an exotic vacation this year? Why not forget about your old routines once in a while and follow local coupons to new restaurants and businesses?

Are you planning any changes to save money in 2011?


Sale Wording Decoded

>> 12.27.2010

"Last chance for 30% off!!!"

Decoded: "We'll have a different sale tomorrow."

"Up to 75% off in stores now!"

Decoded: "Some of the markdowns will be 75% off, but most are under 50%."

"Take an extra 20% off of sale items this week only."

Decoded: "We don't really want to go through the trouble of marking down things now, but we'll have to mark an additional 20% off next week if anything is left over."

Thrifty little tip: No matter what threats or promises those retail stores are throwing at you post-holidays, just remember that prices are bound to keep dropping. Decide for yourself if you'd like to risk waiting for another price drop before your favorite sweater sells out (if there are dozens available, it probably won't!).


Taking off...

>> 12.21.2010

I'm off to enjoy the holiday week with my family. To those who will be celebrating, Merry Christmas!

*I'm not kidding about the warm part.


Deals and Duds: IKEA

>> 12.17.2010

Before you go out and join the mobs at IKEA's winter sale (they have two big sales- winter and summer), I wanted to share my take on  I can't remember who said it, but a random TV personality summed up my thoughts on IKEA the best: "they make you feel like you can afford everything." The trick of the IKEA experience is that you walk in feeling as though you can buy anything in the store. The prices are all within a college student or recent grad's budget (they'll hook you when you're young) and many of the designs are innovative or current, but that doesn't mean that you should buy everything!

Don't get me wrong, I love IKEA, I'm talking six-hour-round-trip-driving type of love (thankfully, I have one 20 minutes away now). After a good decade-long love affair with the Swedish big box store, hundreds (probably thousands) of dollars spent, and countless Goodwill donations, I've realized that many their products aren't worth the dirt-cheap prices.

How to spot a deal from a dud at IKEA...

The deals are usually:
*items that make a big impact on a space for little money (think: instant room updates like colorful patterned bedding or a statement light fixture)
*classic pieces that will last for years (yes, these do exist)
*less expensive than similar versions at Target (Target has similar quality, but isn't as difficult
*the pieces you've seen in all of the bloggers' homes

When it comes to IKEA shopping, I stick to simply designed items that I can't find at better prices:
1. Super affordable frames that you'll be able to use in any room.
2. Not only are the dishes cheap, but the simple designs are hard to get tired of. I've had my 365 set for over five years.
3. Yes, these magazine files are cardboard, but they're super cheap and hold up quite well. If you suffer from ugly/ cluttered shelf syndrome (like certain guys I know), these will solve your problems in a hurry.
4. I'll always remember the day that I upgraded to a closet full of wooden hangers- my clothes never looked so expensive. I'll never go back!

The duds are usually:
*the impulse buys
*poorly constructed with cheap materials
*the items you buy just because you [traveled far/ waited in long lines/ don't want to go home empty handed]

Sometimes it's difficult to spot the duds in IKEA, every department has its share of deals and duds. The most important thing to remember is to look at each product individually instead of as a part of a fancy display:
1. You can do better than fake wood and poorly constructed furniture, especially when Craigslist is spilling over with "solid wood" (use it as a search term) pieces at half of IKEA's prices!
2. The lighting at IKEA can be tricky- an interesting statement piece can transform a room... while a poorly made light can stop working and cause you to pay ridiculous electrician fees thinking that something is wrong with the wiring to your dining room just to find out that their fixtures break easily (I sure wish I would have spent that $200 from the electrician on a new chandelier instead!).
3. I love a cheap rug as much as the next person (I have an IKEA runner in my kitchen), but I wouldn't say that all of their rugs are great buys. Instead of spending $100 on a rug that you'll have to replace a few years down the line, just spring for the long-lasting high quality stuff!
4. I think there's a reason why they've placed the little extras like these votive candle holders near the exit, you're not going to want to leave empty handed and you'll grab the first inexpensive thing you find. Although it might be only $2, put down that votive- you don't need it!

Whew, you can tell that I'm a bit passionate about IKEA shopping! I'm interested to hear what you think, what are your favorite finds from IKEA? Have you ever walked away with a dud*?

*My duds: light fixture that only lasted a few years, ugly "what was I thinking?" accessories like candle holders and mirrors, Euro shams that look cheap on my pillows, bedding that felt too rough to sleep with, chairs with screws that wouldn't go in all the way, side table that wobbled, table that scratched easily, storage boxes I didn't even need... I could go on and on! 


One year Later

>> 12.15.2010

On December 14, 2009 I was busy pouting over the sad state of my house. I had barely gotten over removing the popcorn texture from the ceilings before Nate (then boyfriend) moved in with his giant mess-o-stuff. It's crazy how much can change in one year!

I snapped this picture last night, December 14, 2010. Can you spot the differences* between the two rooms? 

*In the last year, I've made quite a few changes to the pictured space:
-Added in the kitchen backsplash as well as revealed the finished kitchen.
-Replaced and moved the light fixture in the dining room (CSN) as well as the living room (Craigslist).
-Bought a new blue chair from World Market.
-Put plates on the light switches. 
-Bought/ stained/ painted/ recovered a Craigslist dining table and chairs.
-Bought/ stained a Craigslist entry cabinet.
-Bought a couple of Craigslist rugs and two X-benches (2010= year of the Craigslist finds).

Of course, we did a few projects in the bedroom and in the yard. Oh, and I can't forget that I also got a new puppy, did my first marathon, half-Ironman, and got engaged. I can't wait to see what happens in the next 365 days!!


Face Paper and Glitter Felt

>> 12.13.2010

I'm daring to deck the halls today with my newly finished DIY felt stockings:

From the moment that I saw these picture frame stocking holders on clearance at Target last year, I knew what I wanted to do to cheese them up for the holidays...
A little fake mistletoe and a few hundred pictures later, we were ready to replace the "face paper" with our smoochy selves. Nate used Photoshop and the white border trick to size the pictures for the tiny frames and I trimmed the borders before popping them in place.

I originally thought to add our names to the stockings, but I feel like they represent our personalities enough to go without those details. (Obviously, he's all about argyle and I'm Miss Glitter Felt.)

And yes, we've hung our stockings on the EXPEDIT next to the tree. Sadly, our fireplace doesn't have a mantle... but, really, what's more festive than an IKEA bookshelf ;)?

Do you hang your stocking in an unexpected place?

ETA: I almost forgot to do a budget breakdown:
Red glitter, red, and white felt- $6.50 (50% off at JoAnn's and plenty left over)
Silver and white embroidery floss- $2 (40% off at Michael's)
4x6 prints from CVS- $2 (1-hour)
Frame stocking holders- $5 (2009 Target clearance)
Total: $15.50 for both


Big DIY vs. Small DIY

>> 12.09.2010

I decided to make stockings this year. I wanted to have a cute coordinating theme with a bit of each of our personal styles and decided that I'd save some money by going DIY with the project.

After a several hours of hand stitching and carefully trimming my felt masterpieces, I realized that there's quite a difference between doing big DIY and small DIY projects.

DIY projects usually:
*save money
*allow for personalization
*provide a sense of accomplishment

Just like my Christmas stocking project, when I've done my own demolition, retextured my own walls, or reshaped my own landscape I've done all of the above, but on a much different scale. That "sense of accomplishment" sure takes a hit once the neighbors aren't able to notice my personal touches and my bank account shows that I've saved $15 rather than $1,500.

Still, with as small as those DIY perks are, I *think* throwing in a few of these mini craft projects are worth it every once in a while (especially if it means that I don't have to worry about making my walls fall down). Hopefully I'll be back with the finished projects next week for Kim's Dare to DIY party!

PS. Here's a picture of the bones of my felt flower for those of you who are into that type of thing:
(I'm not really into pattern making or templates so I just cut it freehand)

Are you more into the big or small DIY projects?


Creating a Decomposed Granite Path

>> 12.07.2010

The nice thing about living in Texas is that we're able to spend time working outdoors during every season. The 80 degree temperatures that pop up every few weeks in December are actually perfect for yard work... if only the daylight lasted longer, creating this decomposed granite* path wouldn't have taken so long!

*I've been calling it "crushed granite" but later found out that there is a difference between crushed and decomposed- the decomposed stuff is in finer pieces (I think).

A quick rundown on how we got here:
1. Nate dug trenches and installed the recycled edging along our path site.
2. We dug (f-o-r-e-v-e-r)/ shoveled/ dumped the ground within the path area until the depth reached at least four inches.
3. I put down and stapled weed blocking fabric along the path route (I made sure to leave the fabric loose to account for the pressure of people walking along the path).

4. The easiest part was actually laying out the granite! We worked in one inch layers- we raked out an inch of granite at a time then 5. watered and 6. tamped 7. repeat!

In all, we used one inch of granite sand to help with drainage then 3-4 inches of decomposed granite. After hours of searching the internet for complete instructions on this project, I was left without a clear requirement for number of inches of granite to lay. Thankfully, Nate came up with the idea to ask the granite suppliers what they recommended for our area and came up with the solution.



There's still a lot of work to do on the yard plan: clear and plant the beds, create paver patio (where large mound of dirt is), and add camouflage around the compost and A/C unit. Who knows, maybe we'll finally have that backyard oasis by spring...


I'm Crazy (About Christmas)

>> 12.03.2010

Really, this post is 50% crazy and 50% Christmas.

You see, I have a bit of an obsessive compulsive way of decorating my home for the holidays. I must not buy anything new or full price... ever! Which basically means I have to plan for my needs an entire year ahead of time. Luckily, that also means I get to do a lot of fun Christmas clearance sales shopping and begin December with a load of "presents" for myself.

It's been a long decorating road, but I feel like I've finally collected a fair amount of holiday cheer...

2005- This box of silver ornaments from IKEA and a garage sale 3 foot tree were my only two pieces of decor.
2006- I found a 7 foot beauty on sale after Christmas... but only had a small box of ornaments to decorate it with. Oh, and not to mention the one strand of lights that I zig-zagged across the visible side of the tree.

2007- Additional lights and a tree skirt were the two big updates to the tree that year.
2008- I realized I "needed" more ornaments and added a few gold stars into the mix.
2009- This was the year of the blogging... I did a little diy action to add some extra sparkle, but went a little green with envy when I saw the amazing ideas on the web. Going into holiday clearance time, I was ready to spring into action and bought a whole mess of ornaments and decoration (adding red into my silver and gold theme):

Oh, and I FINALLY got one of those extension cords that you can tap on and off without reaching around the tree:

 I wouldn't be crazy Christmas clearance lady without saving away my receipt with the ornaments. Let me repeat: I pack my receipt with the ornaments on purpose so that I can review it the next year (crazy!).
I'm like Dexter with one of his trophies.

 This is the first year that Christmas is doing a little spreading in the home. I actually had enough extra ornaments to add a centerpiece on top of the new beaded runner:

Hugo even got into the spirit by dressing as a snowman:

(kidding- I got distracted while taking a picture of the new advent calendar)

Before I forget, here's the new red, silver, and gold tree (next to the old, ugly and 80's door):

*See last year's tree here.

How do you buy your decorations? Do you plan ahead or go out and buy as you wish?



>> 12.01.2010

I think I'm in the top 10% of most needy bloggers... I know I ask you all for your opinions a lot, but I could really use some help on this one!

Since the beginning, I've HATED this thing:

My sliding glass door.

It's 1980's, it's broken, and it's awful!
Luckily, it's finally time for me to kick it to the curb. Woo! My choices? Not so "woo."

Here are the thoughts bouncing around in my head:
1. I want to get the most bang for my resale buck. I want to make back most of the money I put into this project (selling the door I have now isn't an option).
2. I'm not sure a fancy or upgraded door will be a selling feature in my house.
3. The cheapest option is to go with something that is in stock at Lowe's/ Home Depot.
4. I hate all of the in stock options! 

The dream would be to have some fabulous Pella French doors, but this just isn't the dream house.
What would you do? Would you pay for an upgrade in a door or stick with the bland basic sliding option? What do you think a potential buyer might expect?

PS Groupon is hosting a sign up special right now. They'll give you $5 in Groupon Bucks after making your first purchase. I use Groupon all the time- here's how I check if I'm getting a good deal.


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