Friday, March 26, 2010

Design Inspiration: Rainbow Book Displays

I've been absolutely dying over rainbow-ordered bookshelves for a while now. I am a prolific reader and incorrigible collector, and I've never liked the kind of bookshelf displays where there were one or two books and a whole lot of vases or those weird, useless wicker spheres people seem to like so much (??). Yet I recognize that shelves absolutely packed with books have little visual appeal. Enter the organization-by-color phenomenon (yeah, it's everywhere, but it's so awesome, it should be).

How incredible is this bright and airy library by Craft & Creativity on flickr? IKEA shelves and an incredible effort in organization and sorting. What an eye. Oh lord how I love it.



New library, originally uploaded by Craft & Creativity.

This version creates such a different mood with the dark wood and colorful accessories. Love the deep blue walls, too. Just stunning. This is precisely how I would want my library to look (possible in my dreams only, of course- le sigh).


bookshelf spectrum revisited originally uploaded by Chotda aka Santos



This one is more simplistic, and gives off a sort of bachelor-feel with the open shelving instead of bookcases. This would look terrific with inset shelves (the ones with no visible hardware that look like they're floating).


Rainbow Books originally uploaded by Andrew Coulter Enright


If you own a huge number of black and white rather than colored books, here is a way to balance the rainbow with the monochromatic to create a beautifully symmetrical look:


Rainbow of Books originally uploaded by MindOnFire


...And if you don't have enough books to fill the shelves, or prefer the spare, minimalistic look, try coordinating a few spines with other objects in their color family like this lovely display (yeah, I know, I said I didn't like vases in bookcases so much- I make an exception here.) Also, varying vertical and horizontal placement can create visual interest.


Rainbow Order originally uploaded by paperpie

Have you thought about or actually accomplished organizing your books by color? Do you like this look or are you "over it" since "everyone's doing it"? I like to be a little different so it is strange to think about adopting something super-trendy, but sometimes trends stick because they are just plain awesome, so I'm calling this aesthetically pleasing idea wonderful enough to not care less whether everyone else likes it, too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blog Award and Some Exciting News Slash Shameless Self-Promotion

Awww, I'm super touched. A new favorite blog of mine, Memory Bean Designs, just included me in her "I Love Your Blog" awards. Thanks so much Tamara Nicole!



Here are the rules:

*Post the award on your blog*

*Link the person who has given you the award*

*Pass the award to 15 other blogs you’ve discovered*

*Remember to contact the bloggers you’ve nominated*


I would like to pass this award on to some of my most beloved reads- I hope you will check them out if you're not already following!

Fellow thrifty Bostonian Amy of TheBargainHunterExtraodinaire
"Struggler" of Struggling to be Stylish (a must-read!)
Becky of Pump Up the Frump (such gorgeous outfit photos!)
What Would a Nerd Wear calls her outfit pieces 'works cited' - how awesome?!
Kelly at Profiscamur! - a brand-new favorite
Admire the styling and beautiful collages at Lemondrop Vintage
Art, food and more from Angie at Lonesome Road Studio
Easy elegance in daily style from Rags and Finery
Thrifty, nutritious food and smart commentary at Cheap Healthy Good
Fabulous style blogger Londyn's new foodie blog, Blog Food
Witty, wordy, tattooed pin-up girl Ms. Bitch Cakes (weight-loss inspiration and hottness)
Gorgeous home-design blog focusing on bright colors and run by a DUDE (!), Will: Bright Bazaar
Be inspired to make your home more beautiful at The DIY Showoff
Stunner Christina (like a prettier Maggie Gyllenhall) of SecondSkin
Last but not least, The Freelancer's Fashion Blog by a RIDICULOUSLY glamorous but down-to-earth Finnish burlesque-dancing retro pin-up.

I adore reading each and every one of your blogs and find your talent, discerning eye and wonderful prose to be a constant inspiration. So, thank you!


My exciting news (well, for me, perhaps not nearly as much for you!) is that I've been accepted to write for the Boston Examiner as the "Budget Living Examiner" for my part of Cambridge. It's a new gig for me and I don't have a whole lot of content up (and much of it is similar to the content here, just consolidated and not in first person) but I would be so appreciative if you would check it out!

If you're interested in making a few extra pennies a day through your knowledge or expertise (I'm sure it's possible to make more, also), please apply to write for Examiner and put my name (Desiree Pappenheimer) or ID# (42177) in the referral box (shameless, I know)... for every person you then refer who is accepted, you will get $50! It's like a chain of awesome.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Money for Nothing Monday: Opening Retirement Accounts

Once you’ve completed the steps in the first Money Monday segment, (the principles for most of which, once again, were instilled in me by Ramit Sethi of I Can Teach You to Be Rich) you should begin to think about your retirement accounts. Hopefully you’re already taking advantage of any pre-tax savings plan your company offers, most commonly a 401(k). Contribute the minimum to your 401(k) that will enable the company match (if any, in this economy), and then gauge your ability to live without a little bit extra, up to the max (usually $15K/year or thereabouts). At a young age it’s unlikely you’ll contribute any more than 5% or so, but the more you do, the lower your taxable income right now. The older you are, the more you should (and can legally) contribute.


Your company's plan will have a financial adviser who can help you understand the mutual funds offered in their particular plan, but you will need to choose your own. Think about how many years your money will spend in the market before you want to draw it out (i.e. retire). If you have many working years ahead of you, be more aggressive in your allocation; if you’re retiring soon, choose conservative—thankfully the work is done for you when they categorize the various funds.

If you are not employed by a company offering a 401(k), pension or profit-sharing scheme of some sort, you will need to look into a personal retirement fund like a Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account). You can pay to have these managed by a professional broker, of course, but another option is to use an online trading site like E*Trade or TDAmeritrade, where you can buy into funds and individual stocks for a low per-trade fee and barely any maintenance (monetary or time-wise). Ramit suggests you buy a target-date fund, which basically manages your money for you based on when you plan to need the money (again, the formula has to do with how much risk you can withstand in the short-term; historically, the stock market does always return). Once you have selected your retirement account provider, research the various options they allow you to buy into. Most have a minimum contribution, so you should have $500 to $1000 transferred to the account in order to buy (plus any applicable fees). If you don’t have that much to put away, you can wait until you do, or you can get yourself excited about retirement funds (woo-hoo!) and buy a small amount of some stock that you really love or believe in (yeah, I mentioned I have a little Harley and Vicky’s stock?) and then wait until you have enough for a (boring old) target date fund.

If you contribute annually to your Roth IRA, your tax burden will be lower (you can contribute a few months into the new year for the previous year, too) and you will, of course, be growing your savings for the long run. Try not to trade too much unless it’s just fun money for you—trades cost money and the way to make money is to stick with a good stock or fun for the long haul. The best thing about the target date fund (or perhaps just not caring if your favored stock does well for the moment) is the “set it and forget it” (probably Ramit’s via the infomercial guy, I don’t recall) mentality. Once you are contributing regularly to a fund like this, your money will grow without you even paying attention. Try not to freak out at minor ups and downs. Mantra: Long Haul.

If you have at least one of these retirement accounts, you’re on your way to being able to maybe retire! Nice. If you do not, maybe get rid of some of the stuff you’ve accumulated and stop buying stuff for a while so you can get on that. It’s never too early, and it’s really never too late unless you want to be rich and not just get by (in which case it’s now or never).

Happy Saving!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thrifty Eats: Batch Cooking

Sundays are a wonderful day to kick back, enjoy the weather if it's lovely out, and perhaps get some chores and projects done around the house. I try to reserve a few hours of my Sunday to cook in bulk, no matter what my other obligations and desires are, because it ends up saving so much time and effort throughout the week, never mind money!



The first step in this process is to take stock of your pantry and refrigerator. If you're a Virgo, you will likely love this one: make a list of what you have on hand, with food group categories and quantities (this can be fun and be made permanent in Excel, if you are a spreadsheet girl like Struggling to Be Stylish). With a quick glance at your list you should be able to come up with one or two meals that can be made with only a few additional ingredients. Cross off your items as you include them on a separate meal-planning list, and create a shopping list for what you're missing while you're at it. Trust me, it sounds complex but you will waste so much less and avoid spending on take-out because you can't figure out what to make! Be sure to actually examine all foods you're planning to use and toss any expired produce or growing-its-own-colony bread. Once you've disovered what you need and made room for it, step two is, obviously, going shopping.

The old adages will serve you well here: don't shop on an empty stomach. Avoid the middle aisles where the chips and cookies live and try to stick to the whole, fresh foods around the perimeter. Make a list and stick to it. Try not to bring children who are easily swayed by fancy packaging and promises of gobs of salt and sugar.

The biggest mistake most Americans make when shopping for produce is buying far too much. If you've planned your meals you should know exactly what you need, and perhaps grab a few extra pieces of fruit for snacks. Don't worry that you'll run out-- you can always go to the store again if need be. It makes a lot more sense to shop twice a week than to end up throwing out piles of spoiled greens and smooshy zucchinis.

I like to do much of the washing and chopping immediately when I get home from the market so that vegetable snacks are easy to grab instead of junk. I keep Tupperware filled with carrot and celery sticks stacked on one side of the fridge, and sometimes diced peppers for quick meals as well. This is when I begin a big pot of chili or pasta with vegetables, also, while I'm getting the rest of the groceries put away and the kitchen cleaned up again. When it's done and cooled, I separate it into containers, label them and freeze them. Then I have my very own "Lean Cuisines" for work lunches or nights I am only cooking for myself. Saving $5-$10 at every meal by not getting takeout is definitely worth the extra effort.

Here are a few of my own "batch cooking" recipes, all of which are ridiculously easy and freeze tremendously well, published on SparkRecipes by SparkPeople (a terrific free healthy lifestyle site if that's something you're interested in!):

Vegetarian Chili
Lentil Stew
Spinach Mushroom pasta

Invest in a label-maker or just use small post-its to indicate what something is and when it was made, whether you store it in the fridge or freezer. Most leftovers have a shelf-life of one week. Most frozen goods can be stored six months to a year. Indicate when it should be tossed by, not just when it was made! Here's my fridge with the new system in place:




You're looking at a whopping 9 cubic feet of storage space (about a third of your average fridge) so planning is essential for me. You may not want or need to be quite this OCD about it, but keeping things visible, neat and labeled will help diminish the amount of money and food you waste.

The last thing I'll mention here is that these frozen meals and any leftovers should never be reheated in their plastic containers. Ziploc has pledged to not put any terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad dioxins or BPAs in their products, but no other brand has to my knowledge, and due to a lack of awareness/caring/FDA testing or regulation, we're still unsure how dangerous many other plastics in common use are. Better to defrost at room temperature until it's possible to slide your meal out and into glass (or microwave-safe ceramic without metal-based glazes) before microwaving. Or as a last resort in a time pinch, nuke for a few seconds to defrost/loosen from the plastic before doing most of the actual cooking in glass or ceramic.

Do you enjoy batch cooking? If so, please share a favorite recipe (it doesn't have to be meatless by any means, by the way).

Happy cooking!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oh, Honey, No: The Denim Suit

My unwavering abhorrence of the denim suit (or "denim queen" look) was mentioned not too long ago, but I have since noticed its pervasive evilness encroaching ever closer and I'm afraid someone close to me might be pulled in. The Gap, for instance, has spent millions advertising its new denim shirts, vests and jackets as "perfect" with their new jeans. Please, no! Ack!



I don't really care whether it's two different washes and therefore not a "suit," I believe that denim is best in (and should only be used as) one piece of your outfit only, lest you look like a cowboy/hayseed/farmer (not that there's anything wrong with that if you actually are one). This rule should count for chambray, dark wash, stonewash-- everything denim. Calvin Klein is jumping on the uglywagon in April's InStyle, too, with a pale-blue cropped-vest/ankle-zippper jean combo (and a done-way-better-by-Helena-Christensen-Wicked-Game-style-rolling-around-on-the-beach shoot, yawn), which makes me long for the day when 80s nostalgia is just that: nostalgia, not imitation. Even Cameron Diaz looks less gorgeous than usual to me because I'm all crazy distracted by the unattractiveness of the two denims together:




...Whereas the chick on the right (is that some sort of Kardashian? I don't really pay attention), although I don't necessarily approve of denim shirts, at least improves it with the contrast of black and a lot of skin.

Guess, on the other hand, is doing Spring denim right with a single piece-- a faded vest, fresh because dark denim has been at the top of the wash-chain for a while-- worn with a soft and girly full skirt with lace trim. Gorgeous.



(OK so the bag is a little bit on the gigantor side, as is her hair, but I'm looking at the outfit, not necessarily the styling. Guess is always a little bit over the top; I'll forgive them).

How do you feel about the "denim suiting" look? I just can't abide and I hope I don't have to see it on the streets come spring! Unfortunately, it appears that I will. Sigh.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frugal Friday: Flexitarianism

OK, so "flexitarianism" is kind of a silly name because it's not like we're going to be eating flex. (Flax, on the other hand is a good choice, and lacking it can be like, deadly, if you don't eat fish. But I digress). Perhaps you've heard about it, though-- the movement is trying to encourage people not necessarily to become total vegetarians but just to include more meatless meals in their weekly diets, or to be more "flexible" in their choices.



If you've read Omnivore's Dilemma or any Michael Pollan, or seen Food, Inc. or the Meatrix, then you are aware what the situation with factory farms in this country is. If you don't, even though it's difficult to face, you should know. The word disturbing comes to mind-- or perhaps horrifying. Unfortunately, we can hardly expect the meat-and-potatoes mentality to change overnight, nor for avowed carnivores to pull an about-face, or for the increasingly-poor-and-underemployed masses to be willing to pay twice or three times as much for non-feedlot meat. It is essential, however, that we reduce the demand for cheaply-produced meat so that conditions improve for both the animals and for the impact of bacterial illnesses, etc. (Did you know that beef raised eating pasture and not in a crowded feed lot does not HAVE e.coli? It's not even a possibility. Cow stomach pH cannot support e. coli unless they're fed unnatural things like corn and soybeans [which are also nearly exclusively genetically modified, but I suppose that's a topic for another day]).

Even if you don't care one iota about the animals or worry about getting sick, think about this: major, major disasters have been created by man over-farming, throughout history, such as desertification (yeah, those huge, uninhabitable deserts in Africa? Humans created those. By over-grazing our livestock. Seriously). Large-scale pig farming alone is responsible for a staggering number of alarming events, and chicken and beef lots are really no better.

But what's a wife to do with a small grocery budget and a hungry man who demands his steak? To be honest, while change is difficult for all of us, if you adopt some "flexitarian" ideals you will be surprised how inexpensive and also satisfying it can be to go meatless now and then, and how quickly your stubborn significant other will learn to love it (especially if by happy coincidence he happens to drop a bit of belly and you make a big deal out of how sexy it is, ahem!)

Even when you're not cooking fully meatless meals, you can control cost, calories and contribution to the problem by dividing up your plate into just a quarter protein, a quarter whole grain and a full HALF vegetables. I do not recommend that you try to choke down three cups of broccoli at every meal-- variety is incredibly important, for both satiety and phytochemical benefit (if you don't eat all of the colors of veggies and fruit, you're missing out on essential nutrients). Instead, find a great book like More Vegetables, Please or How to Pick a Peach and learn delicious and easy prep for two or three (or more!) vegetables per meal. A little extra work, perhaps, but worth not dying of butt cancer. (It's true, not eating veggies gives you the asscancer. Come on, do you want that? I don't think even your burger-chugging boyfriend wants that). Also, PUT BUTTER ON THEM. Or cook them in olive oil. Use spices. Don't try to eat them all plain and boring and virtuous (although some veggies are delectable with nothing at all, like fresh spring asparagus.) ...And for the love of all that's holy, don't try to eat tomatoes in December or strawberries in August because they are out of season at those times and will be a pale, pathetic shadow of the real thing (not to mention far more expensive.) Next week I'll talk a little bit more about meatless recipes and finding local, seasonal produce, but a good start for at least knowing what to look for during which months is this great Pro-fruits-and-veggies site.

Do you have a stubborn meat-eater at home? Have you been able to or do you think it will be possible to influence their ways at all, with these tips, if you're interested in trying it?

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

PSA For Bloggers, Journalists et al.

I apologize in advance for getting up on my soapbox about this, but I really have to rant for a second because I see this all of the time in blogs and also in my very favorite alternative weekly, The Weekly Dig, which I respect tremendously but have gotten on the case of regarding their occasional lenience toward typographical errors. (I've offered to proofread every article for free, but they haven't taken me up on it).


I know that some of you may have been victims of a less-than-stellar school system where your teachers just didn't know any better and taught you wrong, or maybe you just didn't listen, but there are two very simple grammatical rules that many, many intelligent (perhaps brilliant, and certainly talented) writers make every day:

1. Its vs. It's:

Somewhat surprisingly, the staffer at the Dig with the best grasp on this concept is an Art person, Taylor Seidler. He (she? I know Taylors of both genders but I'm thinking guy?) seems to get it. (Hello, copyeditrix Cox? Canhazyourjobplz? Willdoforfreez.) The rule is that "its" as a possessive is treated the same way as his and hers. His/Hers/Its. No apostrophe, EVER. Would you put an apostrophe in "hers"? Horrors, no, right? "Her's?" Ew. That's a grocer's apostrophe (apple's, 59 cents/lb!). So... why would you put one in "its"? Well, it is because "it's" as a conjunction of "it is" does exist in the written language (although, truth be told, if you're writing formally, you shouldn't be contracting anyway. [Blogs are not formal.])

Please, for the love of the language, learn the difference. Think to yourself "could I put 'it is' here? If not, why the hell am I using an apostrophe? Do I want my readers to suddenly doubt my otherwise credible voice (or cringe)?"

2. My brother and I went to the store vs. This is a picture of my brother and me:

Simple rule, again. Take the other person out. Would you ever say "this is a picture of I"? No. You'd sound like an idiot. So please don't say "this is my dog and I" either. It's "my dog and me." I know you were over-taught never to say "me" by your mother, and yes, "my friends and I went to the store" is correct, but you need to realize when "me" is appropriate, which is actually quite frequently. Example: "If you have any questions, come see Colleen or me." Never I.

The issue is not that you can't (obviously) get your point across without perfect grammar, it's that your content is distracted from by errors. People aren't going to focus on your wonderful prose if they can't get past the horrible lurching sensation in their bellies when they encounter this kind of error. And we do exist, oh boy, do we exist- "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" was a major best-seller, don't forget.

Thanks to my friend Sam, fellow violist and co-author of the astoundingly intelligent music blog minnesotaorchestra.org/insidetheclassics/ for this additional, helpful link: 10 Words You Should Stop Misspelling.

End rant. Thanks for your time and I hope this was helpful and more amusing and edifying than terribly didactic.

Special Savings: Sears

I am passing on some special sale info which Sears sent me for you guys!

Here are the sale details:

Sears Family & Friends Night Sale – Online from Saturday, March 20, 8 PM CT to Monday, March 22, 4 AM CT; in-store Sunday, March 21, 6-9 PM

Link to site – http://www.sears.com/vip


Link to PDF coupons - http://www.sears.com/ue/home/31010_f&f_flyer.pdf

Link to in-store bonus savings passes - http://www.sears.com/ue/home/031010_f&f_coupon.pdf

Plus, there’s an online Sears VIP contest where you can win up to $1,000 in gift cards by simply inviting your friends to check out the Sears sale – the contest starts Tuesday, March 16, and ends on Sunday, March 21: http://www.sears.com/vipcontest


The extra $ off is in ADDITION to clearance prices, in most cases.

Here are some of my favorite picks from the site (some on sale, some regular price but remember you should get extra off with the savings pass info above):

HOME & GARDEN:

Enliven your bed-making experience with these gorgeous patterned sheets starting at $14.99 (twin)- savings of 50% before any additional discounts:



This beautiful shade of periwinkle will bring some cool color to your kitchen area, or use it as a decorative fruit bowl or centerpiece on the dining table. $29.60:


Serve in style with this graphic bird-design platter, $24.99:


Keep those receipts organized by month so you can examine your spending! Expanding file by Smead, $2.49 (these are like $7 at the drugstore!):

Stock up on gorgeous shantung throw pillows, only $14.99:



Another gorgeous decanter option, $27.98:



I refuse to use paper napkins, and I'm obsessed with butterflies, so I adore these napkin rings, $26.99/4 (also available in dragonflies and other nature-inspired elements):




APPAREL:


Gorgeous plum-pink-hued satin party dress, $29.99 (sizes 10 and 12 only remaining- act fast!)




On-trend, this tuxedo jacket will create gorgeous curves on a boyish figure, $29.98:


How impossibly cute will this classic houndstooth tweed skirt be next fall? For $4?! You'd be insane not to buy it now (still available in sizes 10-18):

Stock up on soft, classic tees at a great price, in 5 colors & 4 sizes, $3.99




If you love ruffles and magenta as much as me, this jersey-blend tee for $9.99 is perfect.




...And how STINKIN' cute is this rose-embellished ankle-strap stiletto?? $24.99


Enjoy a little spring shopping with less guilt!

Happy saving :D

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tightwad Tuesday: Wine in a Box

If you are a wine drinker, an excellent way to save cash is to buy boxed instead of bottled. Some of the most prolific and popular American vineyards, such as Turning Leaf and Woodbridge, are beginning to offer most of their varieties in a box (with a bag-and-spigot system housed inside). The advantage is that the wine stays fresh longer because it is not exposed to air until poured, and the transportation costs and fuel expenditures are far, far lower without the glass—one large box equals four to five bottles but weighs only as much as one or two.


Hopefully some of the smaller craft vineyards will catch on to this trend. I've seen some from the Pacific Northwest embracing non-glass packaging technologies, selling .75 liter lined cardboard containers. Some purists and sommelier-types likely demur, but proponents claim that the new methods are superior to cork, which can degrade and crumble or allow oxygenation to spoil the wine. For some good information on the method and its advantages, check out About Boxed Wine. There is also a Chowhound discussion on the subject.

You could always invest in a lovely decanter set so that no one but you ever has to know the source of your party libations. Here are some options in several price ranges (click pics to buy):


Mirabel Decanter from Crate & Barrel, $36.95



Bohemian decanter from Pottery Barn, $29.00



Riedel Vivant decanter at Target, $16.99



Milk glass decanter at Swanky Lady Vintage on Etsy, $10



"Swanky Vintage Pressed Glass Decanter" at To Hell in a Handbag on Etsy, $7


(For more awesome inexpensive vintage options, check out my Etsy favorites!)


If you really can’t abide your wine a box, consider a simple, inexpensive table wine. The French don’t drink expensive wine at every meal; usually it’s the equivalent of what those in the know dubbed “Two Buck Chuck,” the Charles Shaw brand sold at Trader Joe’s. Not every store is permitted by town bylaws to sell alcohol, unfortunately, but if one near you does, stock up on this perfectly decent brand for $2-3 a bottle. In general, except for on special occasions, try to stick with wine produced in your own country (in your own area is even better if you are on good terroir), to reduce the transport impact.

Happy cost-cutting and crystal-shoppin' :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Money Monday: Money for Nothing

Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it is unspeakably essential that you start setting aside anything you can, for retirement and in case of a layoff or medical emergency, even if those possibilities seem less remote than imminent starvation. (Difficult to care about social security shortfalls when you want to gnaw your own arm off for sustenance, I know.) The simple math facts are that the earlier in life you begin to save, the less you actually have to put away in the long run in order to have a decent retirement (or at least hopefully not die naked in a ditch). So even if it’s only $20, which you make returning cans or forgoing one latte per week, start a savings account and contribute to it regularly. Do it NOW.


I’ve had an account with ING for a year now, and I couldn’t be happier. They pay a slightly higher interest rate than most banks because they are online only and don’t have to support expensive edifices. They also usually hand you $25 or $50 for joining or adding a checking account… email me for a referral and we’ll probably both get some dollars ;) There are other options- check out this article for comparisons. You could start a regular savings account at your brick-and-mortar bank too, but my favorite thing about ING, pointed out recently by my financial guru, Ramit Sethi (of I Will Teach You to Be Rich), is the “Bucket” system.

For someone very visual and very Virgo like me, being able to move money in and out of labeled accounts within my savings account (they call it opening a “new one but it’s just a sub-account) is the best method of saving for specific goals ever invented. It's like having jars labeled "Summer Vacation,"House Down Payment," "In Case My Job Goes Up in Flames," "Car With Four Wheels," except you can't steal quarters for laundry or bus fare out of them.

My new “buckets” are the main “Dez-Savings” that I transfer money into, and then:

VACATION

HOME IMPROVEMENT

EMERGENCY

WEDDING

My dream dress by The Secret Boutique on Etsy, $650 (custom)

Right now I have a month and a half’s pay in Emergency, slightly more in both Wedding and Home Improvement, and about week’s pay in Vacation. If I hadn’t diverted $1000 to my Roth IRA to buy a target-date mutual fund (more on this when I discuss Ramit’s book in detail), I’d be a lot closer to re-doing the kitchen, setting an actual wedding date and location, and planning a honeymoon. Oh well. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, but it took a great deal of straining against impulses for instant gratification.

If you’re one of those lucky people who has achieved most of the improvements and toys and sojourns that your heart desires and you have money languishing in a savings account, even a high-ish interest one, you should probably move some of it out into a Roth, CD, or other investment. (By the way, I am a firm believer in having some fun money in the market: I bought a tinch of Harley and a wee bit of Victoria’s Secret stock when I was in my early twenties, and I hang on to them, in addition to my more sensible holdings. They say buy what you love, don’t they?)

The next thing to do, once you have set up your savings accounts, is to find ways to cut expenses and up your income so that you can increase your rate of savings. You simply must track your expenses. Some people really like to do so electronically, through a service like Mint or their own bank’s online statements. The only problem with this solution is a little-known ethical one: most small business owners are charged several dollars per debit or credit transaction by the issuing bank or the card machine leasing agent. They have to take cards because “no one carries cash anymore” but they lose money on every transaction. This eliminates their already-miniscule profit margins and helps to drive them out of business, destroying neighborhoods and contributing to the Walmartification of America.

If you can get off of the debit card habit, give yourself a cash allowance and keep strict track of how much you have on you and how much you’re spending on incidentals. If you run out, examine where it all went. And try to do a little bit better next time (or re-evaluate whether your allotment is realistic). Think of your spending like you’re on a business trip and will have to account for every penny or it’s lost to you forever. Learn to ask for a receipt every time and to collect them in a centralized place (if you find a gorgeous flat wallet or pouch or a small notebook with a pocket , you’ll adore looking at it so much you’ll remember to put the receipts in it. Hopefully).

Pink Giraffe wallet clutch by DesignSK on Amazon, $13.99


Growing your savings is akin to tending a garden: plenty of work-- but in the end, enjoyable. Do avoid fixating on the long-term—retirement— so much that you forget about surrounding yourself with beauty, rest and relaxation, and the occasional rich meal prepared by someone else or good bottle of imported wine that makes life worthwhile.

Happy saving!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kitchen Renovation Plans

A minor renovation on my eentsy-weentsy kitchen in my weird little condo has been a savings goal for a while now. Incredible size limitations prevent any true structural changes or appliances wider than 24," so the changes will be strictly cosmetic. Its sole saving grace is that the cabinets are classic and white and not some god-awful oak veneer or something. I replaced the knobs long ago with oval brushed nickel ones from Target (updating that horrid shiny brass hardware goes a long way for very little!) and this weekend I scrubbed the tops of the cabinets (as mentioned yesterday), with so much force that a day later I can't lift my arms above my waist (as not realized until today). But it was worth it for my beautiful, clean new display shelves:





The "before" having been a jumble of appliances, tupperware, picnic baskets, egg cartons and various other flotsam and jetsam, this "after" is quite nearly a miracle.

In a similar divine-intervention-required way, I plan to turn the little drab grey hovel (flecked grey formica countertops, grey tile backsplash with black trim, grey dingy once-white walls) into something bright and colorful (I did already put up the framed butterfly shown, which is very real and quite dead and was caught and pinned by my grandfather):

Kitchen Re-Design
There's good light from two side windows, and the white cabinets and (staying-white) appliances reflect it well. Of course my space is only eight feet square (sigh). I'm thinking a mosaic backsplash in oceanic colors, and mirrored or decorative tin tiles behind the stove. countertop. I am incredibly enamored of Silestone countertops and especially their cobalt blue options, but recently learned that blue is least favored for kitchen colors because of its suppressive effect on appetite. Who knew? (Also, not such a bad thing if you're home alone, right? But I suppose you want other people to want to eat your cooking). So, I'm leaning more toward Dali which is white with recycled glass bits:

"Enjoy," "Dali," and "Stellar Marine" by Silestone USA

I'd love to carry the hardwood from the rest of the condo through the space but I think it might just be too small. I'd like to do a 12" stone tile on the diagonal to try to make it appear at least slightly larger. And a white sink, most likely. I know everyone is into stainless for everything but I just think the kitchen is too tiny to pretend it's industrial. I'm sticking to cottage charm if I'm going to have any luck of turning it around to a renter or buyer!

I'm also working on creating my own triptych as the backdrop for the glass and silver collection atop the cabinets. Here's a rough workup:



...and the work in progress:



...More on creating your own acrylic masterpieces at another date.

Hope Springing forward treated you alright today! Let me know what DIY projects and renovations you're taking on or just dreaming about! Do you play around and create covetous lists on Polyvore?

Fun fact: Losing just one hour of sleep makes people much more dangerous on the road the next day (so be careful out there)! The exactly parallel effect occurs when we Fall Back - there are the same percentage fewer accidents as there are more after the clocks Spring forward again!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Quick Thrifty Tip: Caring for your Silver

Whilst staging my above-cabinet vignette this rainy Saturday, it became necessary to give my silver collection a polish before putting it on display (once you start scrubbing one thing, you can't let the others not sparkle too, right?). I love silver and have a wine rack, footed chafing dish set and miniature tea set in this particular grouping, all of which needed de-tarnishing. (If you aren't aware, silver oxidizes when exposed to, well, oxygen, i.e., the air. You can combat this with your jewelry by wearing it often, rubbing it gently (the oils in your skin mitigate tarnish) and/or keeping it stored in an airtight container (plastic bags seem to work well). But if you're decorating with your silver you will (unfortunately) need to polish it.

The sensible, thrifty way to polish your silver (environmentally sound also, of course) is to eschew fancy chemical polishes that are near ten dollars (or crazy electrosometingorrather sink systems like the one my mom got scammed into when I was a kid) and simply take your nearly-finished toothpaste tube- the one that you've rolled already and have extracted every last possible morsel- and slice it up the side to the mouth and lay it flat as possible, and use a rag (you've hopefully been collecting holey shirts and socks for this purpose) to collect the remaining toothpaste, and polish away. Severe tarnish will take some scrubbing, but you should start to see shine come through the very dullest silver fairly quickly.

Left, unpolished (dull, blah) teapot. Right, post-toothpaste-treatment (bright! shiny!) teapot (please pardon crappy cell phone photo)

This trick works with nearly all kinds of toothpaste (save, perhaps, berry childrens' with crazy sweeteners and that sort of thing) from plain white to gel-ly blue. It's quite remarkable, and a great use of something you'd usually just throw in the trash. Wash in warm water and dry with a kitchen towel and you'll have your coveted shinyliciousness back! Repeat anytime your pieces start to look dull again- save your toothpaste tubes for a silver-polishing day! Which, by the way, you should schedule any time you have a cold. Inhaling menthol as you rub tarnish away leaves your nasal passages... very... clear.

If you have any special awesome thrifty hints, please share them- I might publish yours on the Cambridge MA Thrifty Living Examiner page- More info TBD!

Happy Saturday Night!

Thrifty at Home: Spring Cleaning

While the mercury here in the Northeast may protest that it's quite nearly Spring (this weekend, anyway- ~shiver~!), it's just about that time of year to start switching out your cold-weather wardrobe (if you're lucky enough to have decent storage) and to tackle some of the long-neglected projects you've been meaning to get to.

For me, this weekend is all about the kitchen. First of all I'd like to figure out what is making that absolutely god-awful smell in the refrigerator. Yeah, um... It was cleaned pretty recently but evidently since something has died. Here's my recipe for the ultimate fridge-scourer that costs about 41 cents and won't kill your birds, poison your children or pour horrid chemicals down the drain:

1 lemon, cut in half (visible seeds removed but not squeezed yet)
baking soda (you'll probably end up using 1/8th to 1/4 cup)


That's it. Sprinkle your baking soda over stuck-on food, mystery glops of ancient condiments, and anything that's not sparkling to your standards. Then start scrubbin' with that lemon half. The acid will react with the baking soda and do pretty much all of the work for you. A little elbow grease never hurts, though. Wipe your mess up with a dry rag or recycled paper towel (not to be preachy but really, try to buy non-virgin paper products and do your part change the demand in this country!) and then once more with a warm, wet rag to get up any leftover grit from the baking soda (or weird chunks of stuff you really don't want to think about).

This also works tremendously well in tubs for soap scum and that other weird crud in there. No more caustic, horrible-smelling spray bottles that shouldn't be around kids or pets and need ventilation to use (creeeepy, am I right?) ...and as an added bonus when you rinse your concoction down the drain you probably give your pipes a little flush with the remaining fizziness.

In addition to the fridge-scouring, I am tackling the tops of the cabinets. Last weekend was the fronts (amazing how much brighter the white doors were after a good scrubbing- who knew they had really turned greyish?) with the same general cleaning recipe- white vinegar can be used in the place of the lemon if you find it gets too expensive or wasteful to always use lemon halves.

So, apparently. if your cabinets don't reach the ceiling, and you never dust around the decorative platters and picnic baskets atop them , a certain sticky film overtakes them and every surrounding surface. A scrub brush, hot water and dishwashing liquid are really all it took to remedy this unappealing mess (and something along the lines of greased elbow lightning, I suppose, but think of the calories burned and teacher arm averted).

Next will be shelf liner and an actual decorating scheme including some of my collection of amethyst and cobalt glass and sterling silver (centered around the glass bowl found at Goodwill (discussed here):




...and then I swear I will dust regularly so as to never, ever have to go through this kind of intense scrubbing again.

Sadly I didn't have the foresight for before pictures, but I'll be sure to post some "after," if only so you can gawk at the astounding microscopic-ness of the kitchen itself.

I transferred a big chunk of money from my regular savings bucket at ING into my home improvement bucket, and I'm having visions of ocean-colored mosaic backsplashes and recycled-glass-flecked Silestone counters... sigh... Someday.

Happy productive weekend!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dream Interiors: Home Office

Hello lovely Wicked Thrifty readers! Sorry to have disappeared on you for so very long. Living and work have kept me extremely busy lately. There are some major changes in store for my life and for this blog, too... first of all, you may notice I just said "me." Yep. The Royal We was definitely fun to write in, but after that (single, granted) negative comment I really started to wonder if it bothered people. According to the poll, a third of you loved it, a third of you didn't care one way or the other, and a third of you hated it. Not a very helpful poll :P But, since half the time when I was writing I had to go back to edit "me" to be "we," perhaps it was time for the change.

As far as life goes: that new title I'd mentioned a few times finally materialized (perhaps it was the Dress Smart book? Or a year's-plus worth of thinly veiled impatience?), so work has gotten even busier. Plus, during the past month I've been trying to climb back on the super-healthy bandwagon after noticing the scale creep up and the bad habits start to turn into a lifestyle. DANGER! Also, my fiance is moving into my apartment in two months-- I've lived there over five years now, so it's a major, major change involving the need for a massive yard sale and re-thinking everything. Not to mention that he wants to sell ASAP because he hates the place, so it's going to be a scramble to renovate and redecorate in order to attract either a renter or buyer so we can move into a place that wasn't built in 1860 and might have a closet to speak of or a doorway he might not smash his head into.

So... to that end, I've been obsessing rather inordinately over home decor, as well as food and exercise. Much less than fashion. (Although I do suspect that as soon as Spring shows itself, my singular fiend will be for a new wardrobe, having filled out the coffers with a dozen wool skirts but realizing the lighter options are meager!) You can expect that this blog will focus much more on those kinds of things (and my health-nuttiness when it comes to eating!)-- I hope you'll stay with me!

Today I thought I'd share a little inspiration board I've been working on (with clippings at home, re-created via Polyvore) for my "someday" home office.

Dream Home Office

This rug has been calling to me for many months. I could definitely also go zebra though (faux, of course). The general theme is obviously super-girly, hot pink, a little bit French provincial and a little bit goth, with feminine details but BOLD color. No pastels here, thank you. Most of the items pictured are decidedly NOT thrifty, but when and if I actually have a spare room to make into an office, I'll DIY most of these projects... Surely I can find a crap thrift store armchair and cover it with some sort of amazing flocked velvet. Tables with beautiful legs and lines can be sanded down and painted black or stained a deep, deep ebony. I'm sure I can create some kind of funky chandelier and spray-paint the whole shebang magenta, too. No doubt the curio will be the biggest investment, but maybe my fiance's friend will be done with his cabinetmaking course and will want to show off his new skills for a song... My biggest desire for this room, though (and actually for every room in my house) is a gigantic mirror with some kind of awesome frame on it. Sadly, large mirrors are hard to find and inordinately expensive. *Sigh.* Let me know if you have any suggestions for a great source!

A girl can dream... and will! Happy home-decor daydreaming to you, too!

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