Door Dilemma Decision

>> 1.28.2011

*Sorry about that title, I have a thing for alliteration.

I received a lot of great advice on my sliding glass door dilemma last month... so much so that it took me a while to come up with a decision. If you don't remember, I was trying to decide whether to replace my 1980's sliding door with a nicer (more expensive) set of french doors or go with a standard in-stock sliding door. After considering all of your points, I decided to go from this:


to this:
I think I'll paint the new wood trim white for a more substantial looking frame.

Honestly, anything would have been an improvement! The reason why I decided not to splurge on the nicer door was because I started to feel like I wouldn't get my money back out of the purchase. I already have upgraded granite countertops in the kitchen, wood floors in the living areas, and a nice tub in the bathroom so it was about time to go with a moderately priced option to balance things out.

Even though this was a cheaper(ish: $900) choice, I think the change you feel in the room makes a world of a difference. The modern glass lets in a lot more light while sealing out the draft and the fresh, white look cleans up the look of the space.

This was never intended to be a blog picture, but it's the only one I could find with a picture of the sliding door from the inside during the day:

And after:

Trust me, the difference is amazing in person!

A few additional thoughts:
1. Yes, I know about the 2010 energy rebate program; this door would not have qualified, but is barely out of range and costs less than my alternative -rebate.
2. Yes, I could have saved a ton of money if I didn't pay for install, but I have no idea how to install doors and I hear that they can be pretty tricky. It was worth the extra money not to deal with those issues.
3. This is an example of "the extra."
4. I saved an additional $75 by using one of those Lowe's moving coupons (Google it), but made the purchase the day I found out my credit card is having triple points in February (boo!).
5. I skipped the screen doors because: a. my dogs walk/ run into them b. it saved me money c. I think it brightens the room up more

How do you feel about adding curtains around sliding doors? I'm thinking it might balance out my room a bit. Thoughts?


Guest Post--New Wintry Recipes: Easy, Delicious, Affordable!

>> 1.27.2011

If you've been a long time reader, you might have noticed that I keep it pretty light on recipe posts around here (and by light, I mean a grand total of one). So, after 300+ posts, I think it's time to share a couple more... guest post style (can you tell I'm not the biggest cook?). Take it away, Tara!

One of the hardest places for me to be frugal is in kitchen (or perhaps that’s the grocery store?). Either way, sticking to a budget when it comes to food is my biggest struggle. The largest problem seems to be my cooking, which means the lack thereof. This is particularly odd, since my mom, the most thrifty, frugal mom that ever was, cooked fanatically and gave me the best example I could have asked for. Every meal, snack, dessert, you name it, was home-cooked and done so very frugally. Sadly, during a college career, my idea of a meal quickly became opening up a can of “something” or anything else equally as quick and easy and the concept of a thought-out, budgeted, balanced meal went out the door.
However, now that my budget is requiring me to stick to it a little bit more like super glue than say, flour paste, I’ve been trying to make an attempt to mimic her in all ways possible. I recently asked her for some frugal recipe ideas for the wintry months and am here to share them with you. If you’re seeking some meal ideas that won’t break the bank and that promise leftovers for lunch to save you even more, these are for you. Oh, and did I mention that they’re so delicious that even if you weren’t on a budget, you should still make them?! Ah, well they are! Fast, easy, delicious and affordable. Thanks Mom!
Cabbage and Tomato Mix
1 small cabbage cut into wedges
1 lb. ground beef (I use Boca and Morningstar ground crumbles instead)
1 small onion
1/3 cup rice
2 cups canned tomatoes - use any flavor that sounds good
1 small can green chilies (optional)
1 cup boiling water
Salt and pepper

Brown beef and onion together. Put cabbage wedges in a 2.5 qt. casserole dish. Mix the beef/onion with rice and salt and pepper and distribute around the cabbage wedges. Pour tomatoes, chilies if using, and water over all. Cover and bake at 350º for one hour.

Chili Joes
1 lb. ground beef (or crumbles!)
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 15 oz. cans vegetarian chili
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup diced green peppers
1/4 cup diced red peppers

Brown beef with onion. Add rest of ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve over whole wheat hamburger buns or your favorite hearty bread (homemade is best!). Top with cheese if desired. (I would also add more veggies: mushrooms, olives, fire roasted crushed tomatoes, etc.)

Eat for dinner and save the rest for tomorrow’s lunch!

Author Tara Alley is a freelance writer from Montana who cherishes living the simple life and sharing it with others. When not baking or finding more ways to “green” up her own life, she also promotes drinking green coffee for Coffee Home Direct. You can reach her at alley.tara[at]gmail[dot]com and follow her on Twitter @hopesiempre.


How Much Extra?

>> 1.25.2011

I haven't gone into any details about my personal monthly budget lately so I figured it was about time to revisit things on the blog. Now that I'm engaged, things work a bit differently. Nate uses his cash back rewards card  for all of our food and entertainment purchases (and pays it off each month) while I cover the housing related bills. We split up payments based on which accounts make sense (ex. the mortgage is in my name), but really consider the money we bring in to be "our money."

Here's how a typical month's budget breaks down: 
 As you can see at the top, I consider 100% of the budget to be the amount we take home after paying taxes and contributing to retirement accounts.

In the end of each average month, there's a surplus or extra of 54.3% (and 63% if we needed to really tighten up)... meaning if one of us lost a job or wanted to become a stay at home dog-mom, it would be okay. Usually that money goes into fun things like new roofs, emergency vet bills, or future savings. Although we aren't rich by any means, our cautious spending allows us to live relatively stress-free during these tough economic times.

...and here's the big butt but: I don't know how much extra a budget should have. Obviously we're doing just fine now, but what about the future needs/ wants (*cough* house)? What kind of wiggle room do you think a budget should have?


DIY Bathtub Repair

>> 1.21.2011

I have a confession, I've fallen into the bad blogger habit of only wanting to share the rainbow and sunshine posts- you know, the ones where every project turns out perfectly and every room is clean and organized. I have tried to share a few behind the scenes struggles (remember my table refinishing problems?), but now is the perfect time to share a big issue I had after redoing the bathroom.

I was in need of some major(ish) bathtub repair.

You see that horrible secret up there in the red circle? Probably not... let me zoom in:

Yep, my wonderful/ beautiful/ perfect/ splurge of a Kohler soaking tub had a chip in it! I still can't remember the details (blocked them out?), but for some reason I was using a hammer in the bathtub ONE MONTH after having it installed. Of course, I happened to drop the hammer in the tub and chipped its perfect, shiny finish right after getting it. I didn't want to blog about it because it just made me feel sad, hopeless, etc.

Thankfully, the nice people over at Multi-Tech Products guessed that I was the type to drop hammers in my tub asked me to do a review on one of their DIY repair kits! I didn't even know that these existed, but I was especially surprised to find out that they were so cheap!

The kit came with everything I needed to get the job done (don't you hate when you have to go to the hardware store for additional supplies?):

I followed the three step instructions that included a little prepping, a little mixing, and a little applying. If you don't count drying time, the whole thing took less than an hour!
Yep, that's the toilet laboratory... 

There's a slight difference (unnoticeable unless you're looking for it) in color of the finished product (they do give you toner to make a custom color with), but overall, it looks great! I especially love how smooth the tub feels now- the patched area feels exactly like the existing surface.

If you're interested in a DIY repair kit, refinishing product, non-slip tub application, you can check out Multi-Tech Products on the web: or by phone: 800-218-2066.

Even if you're not the type that ruins your own new bathtubs, can you imagine how much you could save by buying one with a tiny scratch and major discount then using a $30 kit to repair it!? I know I'm going to keep this option in my thrifty arsenal for the future. Oh, and for all of you who love free stuff, how about some FREE shipping? Just use this code: MTPTLB2011 in 2011.

Do you have any destructive tendencies? Any post-renovation repairs that need to be made?

*Within this review, any opinions expressed were strictly m-i-n-e.


Déjà vu

>> 1.20.2011

I can't believe that I'm back here again, but I just happen to have another money saving story related to boring home repair. Remember that water damage cause by the now fixed roof?

If you look closely, you can see the chaos inside the house created by my trim painting project. For the record, priming and painting the trim in the entire house has taken 3x as long as I thought it would! 

The rotted out board was obviously affected, but my back porch area was actually in need of a good bit of siding and soffit repair because of the leak. Because of the nature of the repair, I wasn't willing to touch it with a ten foot pole. Instead, I called a local siding company and they had it fixed within the week:
I'm obviously doing the paint repair to save a few extra bucks.

When the estimate came back at $365, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the number, but it was less than the $500 I was expecting them to come back with. Plus, I didn't really want to drive back and forth from work to my house to get more bids so I decided to go ahead and hire that company. Instead of telling them my thought process, I went ahead and tried to see if there was any extra money to be saved:

"Thanks for getting back to me with the estimate on my siding and soffit repairs. Unfortunately, we're looking to get closer to $300 on this project. Let me know if you have any ideas to reduce the bid." ~taken from my actual email

Magically, the cost lowered by $20. I know, that's not a ton of money, but it's something! Just imagine how long it would take to clip $20 worth of grocery coupons... spending two minutes typing out a question to save $20 isn't so shabby!


On Priorities

>> 1.18.2011

As I wrote about prioritizing yesterday on my wedding blog, I couldn't help but let my brain drift back towards my current obsession: houses. 

Waaay before "wedding brain" (or Nate) even came into the equation, my brain was fixated on houses. I've even acknowledged it several times over the past few months saying, "I'm so glad that I started down the house path before I walked down the aisle." Now, as I plan our wedding, I can't help but imagine how each penny could go towards improvements in my own home or a down payment on the future "forever" home. If there's anything that will help a person pinch pennies on a purchase, it's having their mind stuck on wanting something else... and boy, do I ever have "house brain!"

So, there I was last night all proud of myself for putting my priorities in the right places and having the sense to put tens of thousands into a mortgage over funneling it into a wedding when I realized that there are other things in life that could possibly be worth prioritizing over a house and a wedding. For instance, I do know a couple of people my age with "retirement brain." They're the types who scrimp, save, and work like crazy now so that they can retire as early as possible. I'm on track to retire comfortably at an average age, but will I wish later on that I had invested more of that wedding or house budget to live the easy life ten years earlier? I don't have it yet (I promise, Nate!), but what about those "baby brainers?" I'm sure I could have finished out a couple years worth of a college savings account by now if that's where I wanted to be.

Where are your $$$ priorities right now- do you have wedding, house, baby, retirement, education, or vacation brain?

Have you ever overly prioritized a life event and then missed the money spent later on?  


Thrifty Souvenirs

>> 1.12.2011

Lucky Mom: She got to spend the last two weeks traveling in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Lucky Me: I scored the most amazing souvenir- a super chic grey and white Alpaca blanket! This one just might be my favorite of all time!!

It represents the region, cost a remarkably low $11, and I'm absolutely in love with it... hitting the trifecta of thrifty souvenirs.

Unless your recipient is a shot glass/ snow globe/ magnet collector, the money and time spent on the usual souvenirs might just go down the toilet (or in Ecuador, the trash can... look it up). We don't want that to happen, now do we?!

Here are my top five thrifty souvenirs to pick up on trips:

5. Housewares- I'll take the beautiful dishcloths my mom brought back from France over a t-shirt any day!
4. Local art- Seven years later and I'm still kicking myself for skipping out on a local watercolor painting of a building in Santa Fe. Okay, so that wouldn't have been super cheap, but I could have at least bought a print or a postcard!
3. Jewelry- There have been a few vacations where I absolutely had no interest in anything in the cheesy souvenir shops. Instead of forcing myself to spend on trash, I put all of my budget into a beautiful necklace or bracelet by a local jewelry maker. Now, my recycled gold necklace might not scream, "Buffalo, NY," but I remember visiting my sister every time I wear it.
2. Ornaments- What can be better than reliving past trips while decorating the tree? Hint: any small trinket can be made into an ornament by simply adding a hook or some string!
1. Food- I promise, this won't end up going to waste!

What would you put on top of your thrifty souvenir list?


Boring Before and After

>> 1.11.2011

I'll apologize in advance because this topic is soooo not blogworthy.

I got a new roof last week... woo. The $x,000 project might have been more exciting if changing the shingle color would do anything to my (obviously lacking) curb appeal, but we really got nothing out of the swap (other than a more weather-proofed home). With my house being slightly uphill from the street, you can barely even see the thing- and that's only if you try.

We need to do some power washing where I removed a rose bush on the side of the house STAT! 

I actually had to stand on a chair to get this before shot of the back of the roof:
As you can see, the back door had to wait until after I sunk money into the roof.

 And the after:

As a bonus for those of you who stuck around until the end of this post, I'll share how I instantly saved $400 on this sucker:

1. I got more than one bid.
2. I read every single detail of the proposals and eliminated unnecessary costs. Eighty dollars to remove and replace a satellite dish left by the previous owners- I don't think so!
3. I used the competitors' bids against one another. I'm a believer in going with the company with the highest recommendations, but I also believe in paying the lowest price possible. In this case, I simply told the roofer that he was coming several hundred dollars over the other companies and told him to "let me know if [his company] could be more competitive."  Magically, those extra costs disappeared and I had a roof by the end of the week ;).

Anyone else starting off 2011 by spending money on boring home improvement expenses?

PS I have to give some blog love to Lori from Thrifty Decor Mom. Thanks for the award!


This is a good one:

>> 1.06.2011

Like they say, it's as easy as entering "PLATE" at checkout.

Nate and I go out to eat once a week as part of our monthly budget. We spend no more than $30 per week on dinner (we also have a dessert budget, but that's another story!) by limiting our restaurant selections to those that have coupons or promotions available. We've found that Groupon usually has the best deals in our area, but this promo might have them beat.

Here's how to decide if you'll get a good deal on
1. Determine if the restaurant is one that you would want to go to. It's not a good deal if you hate the food!
2. Take a close look at the restrictions. Do you have to spend your coupon on certain days of the week or times of the day? Is there a minimum purchase?
3. Find out what the price range is for the restaurant's menu. Will you need to spend over the minimum purchase restriction to eat  meal?
3. Calculate the actual savings. If Restaurant A costs $15 for a $25 certificate, it will end up at $4.50 after the 70% promotion. If you can enjoy a meal at $35 (the minimum purchase for Restaurant A), then your total meal cost will be $35- $25 certificate = $10 (in restaurant) + $4.50 (paid up front on A dinner for two for $14.50 is a good deal based on my budget... but if you end up needing to spend $60, the total cost would be $39.50 or over my weekly budget.

 What's your favorite way to save at restaurants?

ETA: As of Monday, January 10th, you can use 'SPOON' to get 80% off.


IKEA x 3

>> 1.05.2011

I'm feeling like a lazy blogger today, so I'll just share my IKEA stories in list form:

1. Santa must have been listening this year when I went through not one, but two sets of Euro shams. He just knew the grey velvety SANELA IKEA shams would be the perfect solution:

 Shame on me for not paying the $30 in the first place!

2. I had another crazy Craigslist moment when I stalked out this HOVET mirror for over two weeks just to save $80 off of the already low price. Hey, $80 is $80... I'm pretty sure it was worth driving through over an hour of rush hour traffic and suspending the mirror in the air with my arm on the way home so that it wouldn't break. 

Remember that resolution I was talking about? Well, over a year later and this sucker still needs some sort of trim:
I probably also need to add a couple of pictures to those frames...

3. and my IKEA closet that IKEA Hacker featured (!) a couple of weeks ago also needs a bit of a trim job as well. These things do take time, but waiting over a year to finish a project is a little over the top, no? 


Progress and Promises

>> 1.03.2011

Happy New Year everyone! Nate and I continued our tradition of waking up to watch the sunrise on January 1st and I must say that we were not disappointed at the view over Town Lake Lady Bird Lake.

I can't say that we're disappointed with our final DIY project of 2010 either:
See that orange area to the left of the path? It's the new decomposed granite patio. It's funny how quickly projects like that one can get done when you get a new fire pit for Christmas :). We were originally going to go with a paver patio in that area for a little extra visual appeal and to make for easier clean-up, but we weighed out the cost and labor options ($350+ and many hours work from us) and decided that a simple granite patio area would be fine.

We're really moving along compared to the before:

 As for the "promises" portion of this post, I wanted to share my resolution for the next year:

I will completely finish one project before moving on to the next!

I've gotten into the bad habit of saying I'll get back to paint a touch-up or hang up a picture... and then never doing it (*cough* unpainted baseboards *cough*). For me, 2011 will be my year of finishing! As for those orange chairs above, they're waiting for their final coats of black spray paint (a paint that I bought for the project over SIX MONTHS ago) so that they can round out the new patio area. More progress posts to come!


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