Bike Bonus!

>> 4.28.2011

Yep, I'm still trading the car for a more gas-friendly bike commute a few days every week. It's amazing because as the weeks go on, I'm choosing the bike over the car more and more (4/5 days last week). I'm loving the $$ savings and additional 200+ calories I burn each day... but I'm not sure that either have made me as excited as the bonus I found out about this week.

I was on the phone with my insurance company this week to get quotes on combining Nate's car insurance with my car and home insurance plans and found out that we'd both be able to qualify for "car pooling" policies because we each only commute by car a few days a week. Sure, $100 a year won't be breaking the bank, but it's nice to know that we won't be paying $100 more than we need/ want to pay!

thrifty little tip: Ask about the "what ifs" when speaking with sales associates (think- insurance, cars, phones). You might find ways to save money now, but you're more than likely going to learn handy pieces of info that will carry on to future money saving decisions!

While I was on the line, I went ahead and got a few quotes our home and future home purchases. Maybe there would be other ways to cut $100 here or there? Kate, the agent on the line, let me know about a few key factors that would significantly impact home insurance costs:

*Buying a solid brick house vs. one with siding (in the size and price range of my area) would save $200+ per year.
*Having an active alarm system adds a 10% discount to a policy. She let me know that this would probably end up covering around half of the carrying costs of the alarm.
*Buying a newer house makes the insurance a lot less expensive, but making sure that the basics like plumbing, roof, and electrical are updated will help as well.
*The only difference between two-story and one-story houses is the cost to rebuild which will affect the coverage amounts.
*Keeping a higher deductible will save another $150 per year... which is fine because making a lot of smaller claims can raise the bill right back up.
*A seller might not fully disclose all of the problems with a property so, if I want to avoid any potential money traps, I can call her if I'm ever interested in making an offer on a home and she can pull up the claim history for a house. I'm definitely going to keep that trick in my back pocket!!

Solid is the new sexy.

What helpful bonus tips and tricks have you learned by asking a lot of questions?


Even More Progress

>> 4.26.2011

I'm sad to say that I just might deserve the Lazy Blogger Award about now. I've had my  guest bathroom livable for over two weeks and I haven't even shown you the progress!

I might have shied away from showing the updates because: 1. this room is hard to take good pictures of! 2. there's a lot left to do including painting and rehanging the cabinets, adding framed art, and making some much needed touch-ups... 

Still, I wish I could accurately photograph the walls; they're a really calming light green color (I swear!). 

Either way, I'm loving the smooth texture and more modern light fixture/ mirror combo compared to the mess we were living with before:

 While we're here talking about progress, I can't avoid sharing a picture of the yard from last night:

I'm amazed at how well the sod grew back in after Nate's love and care over the past few months!

1,000,000 years ago I blogged about wanting to turn my weedy mess into a backyard oasis and I think we've actually gotten most of the way there!

I'll keep you updated as we add a little more color and those screens I was talking about.


Used Them

>> 4.20.2011

Since you all apparently let me blog about anything, I thought I'd go ahead and share the other easy project I did this weekend with my new (thrifty-fail) cake tools.

It was my job to decorate the cake for a birthday party on Saturday and I thought I'd pull a classic "pipe on top of the cake with colored icing" move. Unfortunately, the cake we ordered from the bakery came with cocoa powder dusted on top (which icing does NOT like to stick to) and I had to improvise:
Looking at the picture, I kinda want to go back in and fix the lettering... oh well, it looked good in person.

Thanks to my shiny new tools, I was able to carve through the powder into the frosting on top to show the birthday message. This turned out to be a fantaccident (fantastic accident) because it took 1/4 the time of the piping project and came out with similar results. I can see myself doing this again with powdered sugar as well.

Are there any other cake decorating addicts out there?

PS If you're wondering, it was my grandpa's 80th birthday party.
PPS He happens to have that Jiminy Cricket image tattooed on his leg.


easy weekend project

>> 4.19.2011

Please don't get mad at me for blogging about this. I know that DIY headboards are so 2009, but trust me, you'll want to blog about one too once you do it yourself.

Remember the $2 thrift store curtain panel that I wanted to use as a base for the room's design?

It got stapled to a piece of plywood this weekend: 

I used the geometric pattern as a guide to centering the fabric and stapled away. The whole process took less than an hour (I started and finished during Last Cake Standing on Sunday night)!
Here's a look at my staple order:

And the headboard in the guest room:
Don't worry, the side table is temporary and I have plans to add a little art and interest to the bed.

I don't have the receipts on hand (I'll make sure to check them for a full budget guest room breakdown), but from what I can remember, the costs were:
$2 thrift store curtain panel
$14 plywood cut from Lowe's (only used half)
$6 batting at JoAnn's
$5 mirror hangers from Lowe's
*I had the staples on hand from another project
Total: $27ish
Total time: <1 hour of stapling + shopping time


Thrifty Fail

>> 4.13.2011

Go ahead, call me a dork for watching too many cake decorating shows and becoming somewhat of a wannabe cake groupie. Interestingly enough, watching every episode of Top Chef to date hasn't done a thing to push me towards becoming better decent at cooking (sorry, Nate).

The point is that I really-really want to learn how to make sugar flowers so you can imagine that I obviously snatched up Wilton's 10-piece Gum Paste Tool Set the second I saw it marked down to $20 at Marshall's... then ran home, ripped the case out of the packaging, and and destroyed any chance of a future return. Super smart move, right? Obviously I'm some sort of thrifty-goddess because I saved $10 off of retail. WRONG.

Thrifty Little Tip: Don't ever* pay more than 50-60% of retail prices on craft supplies. Places like JoAnn's and Michael's pretty much always have printable or clipable coupons available!
*they don't include a few brands like Cricut; you can buy those things off eBay if you want 

And I knew this. And I had a 40% off coupon for JoAnn's in my purse. And it was only a few stores down in the same shopping center as Marshall's. Total thrifty fail.

On a fail-related note: I have some pretty substantial recent home updates that I'd love to share photos of on the blog, but I can't seem to find my camera charger!


One Month & One Tank

>> 4.12.2011

It all started with one little dog eating a huge amount of pancakes. I was less than excited about the unexpected $140 vet bill I found myself paying and eager to cut back in other ways so that I wouldn't feel the higher credit card bill at the end of the billing period (the 15th). The idea to cut back on my gas usage came to me once I had to spend another $60 at the gas pump on the way home. As a 2-per-month person, if I could bring my driving down to one tank per month, I'd fight rising gas prices and save an additional $50-60 off of my normal budgeted expenses!

Now, I'm three days away from hitting my goal and I'm shocked at how easy it was to cut back by simply applying my thrifty thinking towards my driving. Here's what I've done to cut back:

1. I rode my bike to work (but not every day). Who knows, maybe I'll turn into a  regular bike commuter one day... but for this month I'll only need to commute 4/ 20 days to meet my one tank goal. I love that I get to multitask by exercising on my way to the office, but I'll admit that I'm often too rushed in the mornings to stretch my usual 10-minute commute into 35+.

2. I lucked out in having a short commute to work. I understand that a lot of people have to drive a certain number of miles per day and it really helps that I live close to work. On most weekdays, work was the only place I drove my car.

It wasn't until this month that I really did the math on how much a long commute can affect the gas budget. I imagined living far enough from work to spend an average of $200+ on gas for commuting alone... Knowing that for each additional $10,000 on a home price the monthly mortgage payments will go up by around $60, I realized that just living closer to work can add around $30,000 in buying power towards a home!

3. I mooched off of Nate's more efficient car. We've definitely decided to see the future cars as "our cars." One car will be more efficient and better for longer drives around town and the other will be slightly bigger for hauling a more people and/or materials for home improvement projects.

4. I planned my trips for the week like I plan my meals at the grocery store. Just as the goal with groceries is to buy no more food than what we're going to eat, the goal with gas is to drive no more than I need to for the week. At the beginning of the week or weekend, I'd think about the errands that I needed to run and planned my driving time in order to combine as many trips as I could. I was so proud last weekend when I noticed Nate was going to get his hair cut in the same shopping center as a store I had plans to go to later that day. I went ahead and rearranged my plans to head out and do my shopping with him. It was super easy and saved 1/2 off on gas!

How do you find ways to cut back on gas?


Let's Talk Retirement

>> 4.05.2011

Fun fact about me: Every year I try to give up something for Lent. This year, with the encouragement of Nate, I gave up real estate- talking about it, looking up houses, and tracking prices. I hadn't even finished 15 out of my 40 days when Nate told me he knew what I should give up next year: retirement. Don't worry everyone, I'll still be allowed to contribute, but apparently I've become a bit obsessive about planning for it. I'll blame the wedding on my new future-planning obsession (he's lucky I'm not stuck on babies yet!).

Since I'm still allowed to obsess, I figured I'd bring the discussion over to the blog. I'm no financial expert, but there are a few things I've picked up over the past few years.

Three things I know about retirement:

1. There's almost always a little extra that can go to retirement savings. Two years ago, when I was about to buy my first house, I almost lowered my retirement contribution in order to have a little extra money free for home improvements and little emergencies. Wow, would that have been a bad move! Now, I've managed to maintain my house and have thousands of dollars added to my retirement account by rearranging my priorities a little bit.

2. Skipping a company match is one of the craziest things you can do. I like to think of it not as free money, but as vacation days- it's all a part of your company benefits package. Now, how crazy would it be to skip out on vacation days!?

3. Compound interest is your friend- start as early as possible! Many people think that they can just wait 5-10-20 years before starting retirement savings and catch up as needed with higher paying jobs or larger contributions. Unfortunately, because of compound interest, that original $30,000 skipped could have been double or triple the size and impossible to build up in addition to the normal contributions necessary for retirement. Play around with this calculator and really see how much a small amount can grow untouched over the years. If you have a working teenager, imagine the head start you could give them by helping to set up an Roth IRA!

If I were an expert on a retirement savings, I'd probably know more than three things... but since I am a blogger and I'm sure some of you are curious as to what I'm doing I'll share my personal retirement savings plan:

*I contribute 10% to a Roth 401(k) (not all companies offer this) and an additional 5% company match goes into a 401(k). I like using my Roth 401(k) instead of a Roth IRA because I'm able to contribute more than the maximum for an IRA. I'm 26 so I have my investments in a mix of slightly higher than moderate risk. As I get older and closer to retirement, I'll adjust the risk level. 

*As I get bonuses and raises, I increase my retirement contributions. I'm also looking into ways to diversify my savings more.

*We plan on buying the next house to pay off and stay in mortgage-free through retirement rather than climbing the property ladder.

*I treat Social Security as a bonus and plan on not receiving any benefits.

*I'm going to have at least four kids and make sure that they all get high-paying jobs in business and medicine (kidding!).

If I was really set on retiring early or going on a spending spree in my 80's, I'd probably work at saving even more aggressively right now, but my big goal is to live a balanced life and retire at a decent age.

What do your retirement savings and goals look like?


Starting the Stacking

>> 4.01.2011

Remember when I began hoarding Lowe's gift cards in March? I got 10% back by using the tax refund promotion and 20% back by using a grocery store coupon. Of course, I wouldn't have bought the cards if it meant that I wouldn't have been able to save even more by stacking the savings with additional coupons.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long for one to pop into my inbox (I'm signed up for Lowe's emails):

We really needed a new faucet for our bathroom so this coupon was perfect!

And you better believe that I'll be using their latest online coupon (get it here) for some exciting things this weekend...

...when I say exciting, I probably mean more paint and toilet seats ;).

Thrifty Little Tip: Try as hard as you can to hit that $50 minimum exactly. Remember, most coupons are really just tricks to get you in to spend more than you normally would.


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