Saturday, May 30, 2009

4 Tips for Thrifty Home Decor

Need a thrifty way to spruce up your home? There are lots of great resources for frugal and unique items that require just a little bit of creativity.

Here are some tips on trying your hand at thrifty home decor:

1. Become a regular at your local thrift store
There are tons of great home decor bargains to be had at the thrift store. Some of the furniture might be old, stained, or beat-up... but think outside the box and you'll find some great pieces to reuse in new ways.
  • Wood furniture can be sanded and repainted for a quick refresh
  • Picture frames can be reused as is (love the distressed look!), repainted, or repurposed.
  • Artwork on canvas can be painted over. Use multiple canvases painted a solid color as a grouping, or do easy stripes or stencil shapes.

2. Discover a flea market
You'll find some of the same items at flea markets as you will at thrift stores, but flea markets tend to have a much wider variety because there are so many vendors.
  • Old doorknobs and furniture knobs can be reused or mounted on wood and used as hooks
  • Old children's books and old cookbooks are great sources for pictures to frame
  • Salvaged metal work, sanded and sealed, is great wall decor.
  • Windows, with or without glass, can be painted and hung on the wall.

3. Reuse fabric
There are many places to find old, funky fabric, including thrift stores and flea markets! Look for bolts of fabric, sheets, curtains, or clothing. Yard sales are another great resource, as are the bargain/remnant bins at fabric and craft stores.

  • Put fabric in a frame or wrap it around a canvas and secure with staples. Hang as artwork.
  • Recover old chair cushions with new fabric. Simply remove the screws holding the chair seat in place, wrap and staple the fabric, then screw back together.
  • Recover old pillows, or get new pillow forms, with new pillow cases.
  • Wrap unsightly but practical items in fun fabric and use for a new purpose. Upturned garbage cans work as a plant stand. Stacked milk crates can be an end table.
  • Drape fabric over a curtain rod for an easy swag or scarf look

4. Don't be afraid of used upholstered furniture

A good vacuuming and a can of Resolve will clean up reasonably-used furniture. (Skip anything that smells like cigarette smoke or anything with holes too big to patch.) Then just spruce it up!
  • Buy or make a slipcover. A slipcover isn't cheap, but is a lot less expensive than buying new furniture!
  • Use a coordinating blanket or throw to cover the back or arms of a chair or sofa
  • Add homemade or store-bought throw pillows for a splash of color

Finding your own style, and finding a way to express that style frugally, means taking chances. Not everything you try is going to work out, and that is OK!

Take a few of the ideas above, or come up with your own ideas, and go for it! The great thing about frugal decorating is that if you don't like the end result, you are not out much money and it's inexpensive to try something else.

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Menu Plan Monday

I had way too many leftovers last week, so I'm taking it easy on how much I cook this time around. Plus, this is my first week back at work so I'm not going to stress if we need to pickup takeout one night!

Freezer Gnocchi w/Marinara
Veggie Pasta Bake
Bread Casserole w/ some frozen veggies

The Bread Casserole is a recipe from Super Baby Food. This is my first time having it, so we'll see how it turns out.

See more meal ideas at OrgJunkie!
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

What's it all for?

I read many personal finance blogs, and so many of them give them same advice:

- spend less than you earn
- have an emergency fund of 3-6 months living expenses
- fund your 401k and/or IRA
- get out of debt (or never get into it)
- etc.

Well, my husband and I have done all this. We have all those good habits, we don't spend a lot of money on clothes or hobbies, we make an honest effort to be frugal in all that we do.

I fervently focus on accumulating savings in our emergency fund and retirement accounts. I've always been a saver and I get a lot of satisfaction in watching those numbers tick up and up and up.

Now that I'm faced with the end of my maternity leave, I've started to wonder, what's it all for? Why am I so committed to frugality and saving... saving... saving? Is it so that 30+ years from now, we can retire in comfort?

But 30 years from now, will I look back and think that I'd trade some of that fat savings account for more time with my babies? Is it worth sacrificing some money now and some future comfort in retirement to have that time?

Or am I working not just for my future retirement, but to mitigate the possible risk of " WHAT IF" scenarios right now? What if my husband loses his job? What if I can't ever find another job as good as the one I have now?

It all comes down to the most basic personal finance question of all.. What are our goals? What is important to us, both now and in the future?

Money isn't a worthwhile end in and of itself, money is simply a means to an end. Should I know what the "end" is that we're working for?
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pick Your Own Berries

Berries are a wonderful, versatile Summer food. They can be eaten fresh, frozen for smoothies, baked into muffins and so much more!

I'm a big fan of strawberries, but usually only buy a small amount because they are expensive. The best price I normally see, even for local grown in season, are $3 per quart.

An inexpensive and fun alternative is a pick-your-own berry patch. We tried this for the first time this weekend with our 2 year old and 2 month old in tow! The berry farm also had some horses and donkeys, which are great free entertainment for a 2 year old.

I didn't do any picking, as I'm not coordinated enough to stoop down while wearing baby in a sling. Our toddler was interested in the berries and plants, but didn't distinguish between perfect berries and the ones half-squished on the ground.

So my dear husband was the one to fill our buckets and he had a blast! I think he might actually go back alone to get us some more berries.

We ended up getting about 6 quarts for 10.50, or about $1.75 per quart. This was a great savings over the supermarket, so we stocked up!

In addition to quick snacks (alone or mixed with cottage cheese or yogurt) Here are some of the recipes I have planned:

Strawberry Muffins
Strawberry Mango Smoothies
Stawberry Puree (for dipping, or for drizzling over waffles)

The farm we visited also does pick-your-own blueberries, so we plan to head back there next month!

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Menu Plan Monday

Memorial Day threw me off, and I forgot to post this yesterday!

We hit the pick your own berry patch and the Farmer's Market this weekend, so we have lots of fresh produce to use this week.

Leftover Garden Pasta and/or corn on the cob, with Bread Salad (to use up the last of my homemade bread)

White Beans, Tomato & Zucchini with a side of Rice Salad

Stir fry & (frozen) dumplings

Cook out (veggies & hot dogs, with some Grilled Peaches)

If we have enough zucchini, I'll also make some Zucchini Balls as snacks for my daughter (leaving out the nuts).
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Waste in Freebies / Free Samples

I like to get something for free as much as the next person, but the proliferation of freebies and free samples I see on blogs has me wondering about the impact of signing up for all this free stuff.

Every free sample I get in the mail has to be packed in miniature packaging and shipped to me on boats, planes, trains and/ or automobiles.

Once I get the sample, I toss or recycle the shipping materials and, eventually, the packaging itself. If you add up 10, 20, 30, etc. little sample bottles, that is a lot of trash.

In addition, what is the financial impact on the manufacturer to send out all these samples when many of the recipients might just want the freebie and have no intention of ever buying the product?

I suppose it must be profitable for them or else they wouldn't do it. But it just seems so wasteful to me.

Because of these concerns, my freebie philosophy is to only sign up for freebies of products that I would actually be interested in purchasing.

So, no Joint Juice and energy bar samples for me! What is your freebie philosophy?
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Losing Weight and Saving Money

I'm working on losing the baby weight, and came across this great article relating weight-loss tips to financial habits.

Her tips are simple and encouraging. Here is my favorite bit:

If you trip going down the stairs, get up and keep walking. Don’t throw yourself down the rest of the stairs.

I love the analogy and its application to both weight loss and saving. If you blow your diet, or blow your budget, its never too late to get back on the wagon. Recover from a donut for breakfast by having a salad for lunch, not pizza!

Likewise, if you make a financial mistake or splurge on something you regret, don't throw up your hands and go out for some retail therapy. Just learn from the mistake and get back on the wagon.

Weight loss and financial responsibility are both ongoing, day-to-day processes and one failure (or one success) won't make or break you. Its the accumulation of the little successes that add up over time to help you achieve your goals.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Homemade Bread

I'm usually reluctant to buy bread at the store, because it seems overpriced and because there are so many unpronounceable ingredients!

I've made bread at home in the past, but it's been flavored bread or heavy wheat loaves. Today was my first attempt at a loaf of white bread for toast & sandwiches!

It was very easy and took less time than I expected. The majority of the time was just waiting for the dough to rise.

It was easy, and thrifty too! Next time, I'll make the recipe 1/2 wheat flour and 1/2 white flour to see how that works out.
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Menu Plan Monday

We're back from the beach! We came home early... unfortunately our little travelers didn't fare as well as we'd hoped. Oh well, no long term damage done. :)

Here is the meal plan for this week. We're sticking close to home!!

Veggie Tacos
(minus the jalapeno!)
Garden Pasta
Pot Pie in the Crock Pot (leaving out the chicken, adding more veggies)
Stir Fry & (frozen) dumplings

See more meal plans at Org Junkie!
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

6 ways to increase your Personal Savings Rate

American's personal savings rate, or the amount of income saved rather than spent, has increased from nearly 0% in early 2008 to just over 4% in early 2009. (source)

Clearly, we've started to embrace the need to beef up those savings accounts!

There are some easy ways to increase the amount that you save:

You may have already seen these standard ideas....

1. Make it automatic

If you never see the money, you'll never miss it. Those with direct deposit available from employers can send a portion of their pay (by percentage or dollar amount) into a savings or retirement account.

2. Use a high-yield savings account

Scrap the .25% interest savings account at your traditional bank. Investigate online or credit union savings accounts that may be paying 1.5% or more.

3. Live on one income

If you have 2 income earners in your family, even if one of those is part-time or small supplemental income, try living on just one salary.

Put those extra dollars from a job, online surveys, blog ads, etc, straight into a savings account.

... but have you considered these ideas?

4. Choose a less-accessible account

Beyond your emergency fund, consider putting additional savings into an account that makes deposits easy but withdrawals a little more inconvenient.

An online account may work for you, since balance transfers can take a day or two, or consider a traditional bank or credit union account but don't get a check book or ATM card.

If you have to wait a day or 2 for the funds to transfer to your checking account, or you have to walk into the bank and wait in line to get a bank check, you'll be much less likely to blow your savings on an impulse.

5. Sweep out your Checking account

Before each payday, move all the remaining money in your checking account to a savings account. This will prevent you from stockpiling extra cash in checking. Instead, put that money to work earning interest.

This will also help prevent you from spending that extra money, which might happen if you leave it in your checking account.

6. Make it fun

Adding to your savings accounts doesn't have to be dry and boring. Find a silly challenge to involve the kids or your spouse in the process.

- Who can find the most loose change in the house or car? Dump all the found money into a change jar. (This is a great rainy day activity.)

- Take turns planning frugal dinners or date nights, and see who can bank the most savings (hint: a free Redbox code vs 2 tickets to the movies can bank you $20!)

Share your ideas in the comments!
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thrift travel fun for kids

We're going on a long weekend to the beach this weekend, so I've been looking for some things to keep my 2 year old occupied in the car.

She likes to color, but bringing her coloring books and crayons isn't practical for the car. Coloring books are too floppy to color in her lap and she'll drop the crayons in the first 2 minutes!

So, I had my husband bring home a paper box from the office (our company gives these away for free to anyone who wants them).

I cut up the cardboard lid into 2 squares, and ripped out 8 pages from various coloring books. I then stapled the pages to the cardboard, 2 per side on each square. I used twine and strung a double-sided crayon on each, using staples to hold them to the cardboard.

When she finishes each page, I can tear it off and there is another new coloring page underneath! Hopefully these will help keep her occupied on our 4 hour drive!

See more ideas at Frugal Friday.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In search of frugal hobbies

My husband has pointed out to me that I need to get out by myself more. It really struck me how true that was when he said he couldn't surprise me with any homemade crafts from our daughter for Mother's Day because he is never alone with her. I'm always home!

I do think I need to find some hobby to get me out of the house, I just want to find an interesting yet inexpensive way to do that.

My current hobbies are scrapbooking, reading, and blogging. Scrapbooking is great but it is something that I do at home, and isn't a great portable hobby (nor is it inexpensive).

I do love to read, but again this is something I do at home. I go to the library but usually have at least one of the kids with me.

I've started enjoying cooking more, now that I'm doing meal planning consistently, but again that is something I do at home.

I've tried gardening and I enjoy it but it isn't something that really piques my interest beyond just keeping our flower beds looking nice and growing some herbs and veggies for cooking. I've also tried knitting and sewing but the level of careful, tiny detail is just beyond my attention span.

In summary, I need to find a hobby that involves getting out of the house, and preferably something that is more active because my other 3 hobbies all involve sitting around!

I've found some inexpensive classes available through our town's Parks & Rec department so I plan to try their guided nature walks and maybe even tennis lessons.

Any other ideas for me??
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

We are going out of town on Friday, traveling to the beach for the wedding of a close friend. So I expect I won't actually need all 4 of these meals this week, since we also will try to use up all our leftovers.

My parents came into town last week and bought us dinner a couple nights, so I have some meals I'd planned for last week but didn't make.

Black Bean Cakes
(my special Mother's Day treat!)
Noodle Bowls (carryover from last week)
Risotto w/ veggies (the recipe only uses corn, but I'll add other veggies too)
Veg Skillet Casserole (carryover from last week)
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No free WiFi??

I had the bright idea to use my free time on Mother's Day to go to the local Border's bookstore coffee shop, treat myself to a decaf mocha and work on a few blog posts for the coming week.

My husband is home with the girls and he scooted me out the door to treat myself!

We're going out of town for a wedding this weekend, and it will be a busy week getting ready for our first time traveling with 2 kids. So I thought I'd work ahead on some scheduled blog posts to free up some time during the week.

It NEVER occured to me to check that Border's has free WiFi access. What coffee shop doesn't have free WiFi?? Well, Border's doesn't!

They apparently have some deal with T-Mobile to offer Hotspot WiFi paid plans. The cheapest is $6 for 60 minutes, and then 10 cents for every additional minute.

It was tempting to just sign up with my credit card and blow the six bucks so that I could do what I wanted to do.


Even on a day when I'm supposed to treat myself, I can't see spending $6 for 60 minutes of web access. So, here I sit with my decaf mocha, typing this blog post in Notepad!

That said, I like the idea of getting out for a bit on the weekends and writing my posts in advance. Now all I need to do is find a coffee shop that actually does offer free WiFI and I'll be all set.

Maybe I can find one using Google. Just not right now. :)
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stay at home or go back to work?

I'm 8 weeks into my 12- week maternity leave, and am struggling with the decision of whether to be a stay at home mom or return to my part-time job.

Should I stay at home?
I'm enjoying my maternity leave so much more this time than I did with my first child. My stress level is a lot lower, and I feel like I know a lot more about focusing on taking care of my baby while still getting a thing or two done around the house each day.

I'd have even more time to spend on things like cooking at home and frugal living, and we'd be able to eliminate our cleaning service.

On the other hand, my toddler is still in day care so I've had it much easier on leave than I would if they were both home with me. Also, my toddler tends to be quite shy and my husband & I feel that she benefits from being around other kids and adults at daycare.

If I stayed home, I would keep her home with me, or at least limit her daycare time to a few days a week for financial reasons.

And speaking of financial reasons, is this really the right time to quit a good, stable job and start relying only on one income? My husband's job is secure as far as we know, but I don't think anyone can be 100% sure of that these days.

Plus our retirement savings and other financial goals would surely take a hit from our decreased income.

Should I go back to work?
I'm very lucky to work for a flexible company that lets me have part-time hours. I love the work and the people I work with and I'd hate to lose that "me" time and the feeling of accomplishment I get.

Also, once I'm out of the workforce there is no guarantee I'd be able to get back in, certainly not at such a flexible job and great company.

I've juggled kids and home before, and there is no reason I couldn't now.

On the other hand, I'm dreading having to figure out how to coordinate pumping into my day, so that I can give our baby breastmilk at daycare. Plus I know from experience that working part-time and being at home part-time makes me feel like I'm doing both things only half as well as I could.

I realize that I'm very lucky to even be able to consider the option of staying at home. I just wish I knew what would work for me!

What works for you?? Anyone have thoughts to share with me?
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Monday, May 4, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Now that my baby is 8 weeks old, I'm ready to start losing some of the baby weight. I'm starting a modified version of the Weight Watcher's Core plan.

I'm still exclusively breastfeeding, so I don't want to cut back too much. So, here is the plan for this week!

Crockpot Pasta Fagioli (made with TVP instead of beef, veg broth, and whole grain pasta)
Stuffed Peppers (with TVP instead of beef)
Dinner out with my hubby for our 3 year anniversary!
Noodle Bowls (leaving out the chicken)
Veg Skillet Casserole (skip meat, add more veggies- whatever we have on hand)

See more meal plans at OrgJunkie
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