Tuesday, January 31, 2012

End of Month Budget Update & Monthly Top Referrers

Well, what's seemingly becoming a monthly trend, I fell really short in some areas of my budget this month.  There were some areas which were a bit more successful too so I'm clinging to those like a tiny little life raft in the middle of the wide open sea.  Since I'm trying to bring a more positive spin to things, we'll start with the successes first:

Food--somehow I managed to stay within my food budget for once.  Maybe it's because the semester started again and I have no time to the grocery store?  Maybe it's because my garage somewhat looks like a grocery store due to my stockpile?  Either way, I managed to only spend $177.26 out of the monthly $200.00 budget.  Pretty good score! 

Lunches for Me -- I would really like to get to the point where I eliminate this category all together since I should be bringing my lunch from home every.single.day. to save money but I do feel like I need some backup plan for those days when I either forget my lunch or I simply don't have anything in the house to bring (if that day ever comes, we have a problem!).  Due to 2 days in a row of forgetting my lunch and having to buy from the cafe onsite at work, I did spend $11.84 of a $20.00 monthly budget.  However, I scored some really cheap noodle type meals on sale a couple of weeks ago and have stuck those in my desk drawer at work so that even if I find myself without lunch one day, I can still eat something without having to spend anything in the cafe. 

Lunches for Tyler -- Tyler buys lunch at school almost every day.  At only $1.80 for lunch, his dad and I figured it was cheaper to let him buy than to pack a lunch every day.  Plus, it's a whole lot easier on me to not have to remember to pack a lunch for him when he's at my house, fight to get his lunch box back from his dad when it inevitably gets left over there, or to stress about whether or not his dad will remember to pack him a lunch when he's over there (his dad is SO forgetful about stuff like lunches and checking the backpack each day).  So, we typically switch off on funding Tyler's lunch money account.  However, for the month of January, I did try to pack a lunch for Ty on those days that he didn't like what the cafeteria was having or on any day that he would allow me to pack him a lunch simply to try to cut down on the frequency of having to fund his lunch money account.  It worked!  I didn't have to fund his account even once the entire month of January!  So, I currently have $45/month budgeted for Tyler's lunches and didn't spend a dime of it! 

Pet Expenses --With a big dog who eats A LOT and a cat who needs wet food (expensive) and cat litter which won't leave my house smelling like a vet's office, I have a monthly budgeted amount of $60.00 to spend on pet expenses.  However, I had a bit of a stockpile built up of cat litter so my expenses for January were a little lower than usual.  Thanks to finding an outlet to buy dog food for really cheap (a post coming on that soon!), I only spent $22.55 out of the budgeted $60.00 in January!

And now for the areas where I didn't do so well:

Eating Out -- I posted about this in the middle of the month but my eating out budget of only $50.00 was totally stomped on this month.  I ended up spending a whopping $146.55 on eating out this month.  This amount undoubtedly MUST be lowered in February.  It's got to.  It's crazy! 

Fuel -- Again, a trip down to the beach house really put me in the grave on this one.  I blew by the $250.00 budget for gas this month and ended up spending $350.54.  Yikes!  Part of it is due to the increase in gas prices that happened right after Christmas (gas went up to $3.49/gallon at one point where I'm at--YOWZERS!) but part of it was just because I wasn't budgeting my driving very well.  I'm attempting to reign that in and try to be smarter about where I drive to and consolidating my errands. 

I'm really hoping that the Blogger Challenge that we've got going on for February will help me to realize some more positive savings in my budget for next month.  Cross your fingers for me! 

Let's move on to a more delightful topic, shall we?  My top three referrers for the month of January were. . . .drum roll, please!

In this order:

SingleMama from singlemamalife
Sarah from Downtown Southern
Jess from Little House. Big Heart.

Thank You wonderful ladies and your awesome readers for all of your love and support of my little ole' blog! 

The BIG 1-0-0!

Ladies and Gents, the big day is upon us.  The moment we've all been waiting for. . . .this very post marks the monumentous 100th post here on Living on a Dime or Less.  Can I get a Boo-yah?!  Thanks, Tyler. . .Mommy heard your Boo-yah, Buddy!  I know, it's your favorite thing to say.  I hear it all day long, Love. 

In recognition of the fact that I've actually made it to the Big 1-0-0, I'm going to share some stuff about myself.  I was trying to have these big lofty goals and type out a list of 100 things about myself.  But, y'all don't want to read all that, I don't want to write all that, and the list would lose its luster (meaning, there would be nothing exciting to say about me) after. . .oh. . .like 5 things.  And maybe even that's a stretch!  So, instead, I'm going to share a list of things that have something to do with the number 100. Here goes. . .

  • If I were to have my choice of 100 of any item, what would I choose? Hmm, this is a hard one.  I'd probably take 100 snuggles from my little man.  Yes, that's totally cheesy and oh-so-sappy but I totally miss that little dude and his snuggles when he's with his dad.  It's amazing how one hug or smooch from him will make every horrible thing in my mind just disappear in that very moment.  So, I'll take the risk and be outright cheesy--just this once.
  • 100 candies of my choosing, what would I choose? Hands down, without a doubt, 100 Rocher's would be all mine.  I LOOOOVE those candies.  And my mom sends them to me every year at Christmas and I love her more than usual for it.  She doesn't know that.  Well, now she does, I guess. 
  • What would I do with $100,000 (hey, it has "100" in it!)? I would put half in savings (See Mom & Dad, you did teach me something useful and smart to take into adulthood with me!), pay off any debts that I currently had (including school loans. . .oh how they are going to make graduation in May bittersweet.), put some in a college fund for the wee-man, buy some new furniture for my living room, put carpet throughout my house, and probably buy myself a few new fancy little somethings to make myself feel luxe and glam.  Dang, I could blow through $100G's pretty easy, yeah?
  • I have 100 days to spend free of any responsibility. . .what do I do? I take my little sidekick and I travel: 20 days at my mom's cabin in Wyoming, 30 days (got to account for jet-lag!) in Germany, 20 days at the beach house, 20 days on some remote Carribean Island, and 10 days at home just my little dude and I. 
  • 100 new pairs of shoes or 100 new pieces of jewelry: Unless it's diamond jewelry, I'll take the shoes.  I love shoes.  Love.Shoes.
I'll just leave it at that since I'm having a really hard time coming up with anymore questions that have 100 in them.  Maybe it is due to a long day at work. . . .maybe it's just because I have zero creativeness.  Either way, I'm thrilled to have made it to 100 posts and I'm even more thrilled that you've joined me for the ride!  Stick around a bit and let's see where this crazy journey takes us, why don't we? 

Thirty by 30--Update for January

Update for end of January:

 Today (October 8, 2011) marks the beginning of the last year of my twenties.  Today, I am 29.  In approximately 365 days, I will be 30.  Gosh, I feel old. 

So, to commemorate the last year of my youth my twenties, I've created a list of 30 things that I want to accomplish by exactly one year from today.  My Thirtieth birthday. . . OMG, that sounds strange.  Real strange.

Here goes. . . .

1. Graduate with my Bachelor's Degree from college--after that's typed out I realize how odd and ill timed it looks.  I'm slow at finishing what I start. . don't you know this by now?
2. Go to Great Wolf Lodge--this is a GREAT water park that's fairly close by and I think Ty would really enjoy it!
3. Visit the 17th Street Farmer's Market
4. Try to wakeboard
5. Build a piece of furniture
6. Refinish a dresser--technically, it's a nightstand but I'm choosing not to sweat the small details! :-)
7. Go to Busch Gardens
8. Go to a baseball game
9. Attend a football game at my University
10. Go apple picking
11. Take a hayride
12. Go camping
13. Eat a deep fried oreo
14. Finish decorating (or redecorating?) my bedroom
15. Have a girls night
16. Visit the James Center at Christmas to see the lights
17. Play in the snow (if we get any!)
18. Take Ty to Starbucks on a Fall morning--one of our favorite past times!
19. Go fishing with Ty
20. Go on a hike
21. Go to a fair
22. Volunteer to read a book to Ty's class
23. Eat lunch with Tyler at school
24. Plant a garden
25. Go to a concert--I'm going to cheat and include a musical into this category.
26. Try a new Richmond restaurant
27. Volunteer @ a community outreach event
28. Go sledding
29. Visit a museum
30. Visit a winery

Some of these are things that I've never done, but would like to do, and some are things that I have done but really enjoy doing and want to do more of. 

I'll try to post an update every couple of months or so to keep track of what kind of progress I've made toward my goal. 

What about you?  Do you have a bucket list of sorts?  Share something from it! 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend Goals UPDATE--weekend of 1/27/12

**Here's how I did with my To-Do list this weekend:

  • World Globalization Exam for class--uh. . .my professor never sent it to me!  Not sure what's going on but I think he might be holding off until a meeting that we have scheduled for Tuesday night.  Maybe he'll forget?  That would be AWESOME!
  • Start research for term paper in HR class
  • Prepare case study for possible presentation in next week's class
  • Do exercise for HR class
  • Buy dog food
  • Sweep & mop floors downstairs (yes, this has been on the list for like 6 weeks straight and never seems to get done.  I HATE sweeping and mopping!)--YES!  I FINALLY got this done!  YAY!!!! 
  • Laundry
  • Vacuum all carpets in house
  • Clean bathroom
  • Help Friend move on Saturday
  • Go to Tyler's Pinewood Derby race car event for Scouts on Saturday morning
  • Hang pictures in Tyler's bathroom
  • Keep working on paint project for Tyler's bathroom
Holy Bajeebers. . .that list was longer than I thought it would be.  Wish me luck!

I'm Feeling Blue. . .

Holy Bajeeeebers. . .This post is wuh-ay overdue.  I've been talking about these projects that I've had in the works for what feels like forever.  Oh, you think this is the big bathroom reveal?  No sweetie, that one's not quite done yet.  Just a little while longer. . .please run down to your local big box store and purchase a small amount of patience.  And then throw some my way, cuz I could really use an extra dose of patience after how long that bathroom is taking me to finish.  It is certainly slow in coming along.  No, this post is about the nightstand that I was refinishing for Tyler's bedroom.  That project is the one we're talking about now.  That's what I've finally gotten finished. 

Above, is the sad little nightstand that I picked up from Goodwill several months ago.  I paid a whopping $10 for it and trust me when I tell you this squat little dude is HEAVY!  I think it's technically categorized as "crate style" furniture and it matches the style that the Little Man already has in his bedroom.  It just needed to be refinished to match the color.  So, after sitting in my garage and getting comfy for a few months, I decided to give it the makeover so that it could finally become a part of the family in Ty's room. 

In case there are any other aspiring nightstand re-doers out there, I remembered to take some step by step pictures along the way but not enough to be considered a tutorial by any means.  Therefore, I hope this post will help someone, but if you need more detailed instructions, I would suggest you check out Sherry & John's projects page over on their blog Young House Love (if you don't already read their blog, it is a MUST ADD to your blogroll!) as that's where I got most of the information that I used to finish this project.

First, I started off by removing the drawer hardware, removing the drawer, and giving the entire piece a nice wipe down with a wet rag.  You can even see in the picture above that some dust had moved in.  I had to give that dust and cobwebbies their eviction papers.   Time to move, Fellas. . .I've got some refinishing to do! 

 As you can see, the top of the piece had some dents, dings, and scratches.  So, in order to get a nice smooth surface that was going to take well to painting, I needed to sand down the entire piece focusing special attention on the top to try to level everything out.  Pay no attention to that screwdriver on top.  It had no part in this production and was simply stopping to take a rest on its way to another project.  Not sure how it snuck its way into the picture.  On top of that, I am now realizing that I got no pictures of the piece after I had sanded it all down.  Sorry about that!  Clearly, I was a little too excited to move onto the next step which was. . . .

Breaking out the primer and cute little foam roller.  Once everything was all sanded down and smooth, it was time to prep the surface with a good latex based primer.  The dude at Home Depot recommended this stuff

Glidden GRIPPER in grey (HD guy said that since I was painting the nightstand a dark blue, the primer would do better if tinted so as not to show through the paint as white).  To apply the primer, I picked up this little Touch UP & Trim Kit which I think cost me about $2.00 total.  It came with the roller and a very convenient little tray.  The size of this roller was perfect for the little nooks and crannies in the nighstand.  A little bit small for the larger surfaces (like the top, sides and back) but I made it work just by working in smaller sections on those areas.  Here are some pics of Getting all Gripper with it

Here's one with the whole piece covered in primer.  In total, I put two coats of primer on just to make sure that everything was nice and covered. 

This is where the lack of pictures will probably do the most damage.  Once I actually started painting, I was just on a roll and didn't even come up for air, let alone to take a picture.  Actually, I had to switch the positioning of the piece so many times in order to paint a different side/angle, I didn't have any time to take pictures.  I was too busy moving, painting, moving again, painting again, etc.  It was a painful rinse & repeat process.  Although, the paint that I used was Valspar Ultra Premium semi gloss in Royal Navy.  This is the same paint (as in, same can of paint--it was leftover!) that the rest of Tyler's bedroom furniture is painted in so I knew it was going to be an exact match.  Plus, it meant I didn't have to buy more paint.  Score!  As for a brush, I used one of my Purdy paintbrushes.  These are the only paintbrushes that I use.  They are more expensive than other brushes, but they are high quality and really produce an excellent finish.  I say that like I have a ton of experience in painting but I don't.  I just copy from those that do and Sherry & John over at YHL certainly qualify as professionals (in my book, at least) in the furniture painting department.  They recommended Purdy so that's what I use! 

After the entire piece was painted, the question of what to do about drawer hardware needed to be addressed.  Initially, I was going to replace the drawer pull and put something else on.  But, as I got the piece painted, I actually kind of liked the lines of the handle that came with it.  That, and reusing the original handle was going to save me from filling in the screw holes left behind if I had decided to use a different handle.  However, something definitely needed to be done with the color.  

I decided to go with a rich brown since Tyler's room has some brown sprinkled througout and I figured a brown handle would tie right into his room.  I also just happened to have a can of glossy brown spray paint in my arsenal so it saved me from the cost of buying a new handle and new spray paint.  I'm all about keeping it cheap!  

Sorry about the sideways picture. 

Two quick coats of spray paint on the handle and it we were ready to put everything back together.  Are you ready for the big reveal? 

TA-DA!!!!  I'll be honest, I'm not toally sold on the brown handle.  I don't think I love it.  It doesn't tie into the lamp and the rest of the room like I thought it would so I'm considering pulling it off and painting it another color.  Maybe red?  Brushed Nickel?  What do you think?  But, I do like the nightstand!  It matches the rest of Tyler's furniture very well and he LOVES having somewhere to put the remote to his TV and his cup of water at night.  Since I have yet to ever highlight Tyler's room, here are a few total package pictures so that you can get a feel for what his room looks like--

Tyler also has a bookshelf on the other side of the room which is the same color as well as a dresser along the wall (you can kind of see the shadow of it in the whole room shot) that is also the same color.  This is probably the one room in my entire house that is as finished as it's going to get with the exception of getting his TV hung on the wall--I can't seem to find the right wall mount for the TV.  Boo! 

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed my first little furniture makeover post.  All in all, here's about what I spent to finish the project:

Nighstand: $10 at Goodwill
primer: $11 at Home Depot
foam roller kit for primer: $2

The rest of the items used for the project I already owned so there was no additional expense there.  So, overall, I only spent $23 to get a new piece of funiture in my son's room that totally rounds out the room!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Weekend Goals--Weekend of 1/27/12

A relatively short list of weekend goals this weekend but that's because some of these items are going to be very time consuming.  Ick.  I think I'd rather work all weekend than actually be off work and have to get some of this stuff done.  SAVE ME!!!

  • World Globalization Exam for class
  • Start research for term paper in HR class
  • Prepare case study for possible presentation in next week's class
  • Do exercise for HR class
  • Buy dog food
  • Sweep & mop floors downstairs (yes, this has been on the list for like 6 weeks straight and never seems to get done.  I HATE sweeping and mopping!)
  • Laundry
  • Vacuum all carpets in house
  • Clean bathroom
  • Help Friend move on Saturday
  • Go to Tyler's Pinewood Derby race car event for Scouts on Saturday morning
  • Hang pictures in Tyler's bathroom
  • Keep working on paint project for Tyler's bathroom
Holy Bajeebers. . .that list was longer than I thought it would be.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: Getting "Ooh La La" without too much Moola-la!

I'm girlie.  Therefore, I like girlie things.  And you just can't get too much more girlie than make-up.  Am I right or Am I right?  I'm right.  Back in the olden days (i.e. before popping out a mini-me who seems to suck my disposable income bucket dry on a regular basis) when I had more money than I knew what to do with, I would peruse the counters of the department stores looking for new (and expensive) face products to wrap up, take home, and add to my collection.  I've always been somewhat obsessed when it came to the make-up arena.  Even before I was old enough to have a regular (or even part-time) job, I had a massive make-up collection.  Ask my mom. . .at one time it involved a very large purple Caboodles (yeah, remember those?!). . .that doubled as a suitcase.  No joke!

Mine looked similar to this.  That sonofagun was HUGE!
Now that I'm older, and more mature less financially able to spend hundreds of dollars at the makeup counter each month, I'm always looking for ways to continue being able to get my fix while not bleeding my budget dry.  You must understand, makeup might technically fall into the "wants" category when it comes to deciding what is a want vs. a need but it's not.  It is clearly a "need" for me.  Actually, it is a "need" for everyone that I continue to wear makeup.  Because without it, well. . .that would be a devastating blow to humanity.  You don't want to see me without makeup on.  It's simply not okay.  We're talking life and death here, peeps.  Okay, maybe not totally life and death.  But it would sure feel like death if I didn't have my makeup.  At least, I would look like death without my makeup! 
Anywhooooos. . . if you're makeup mad like me, there is a thrifty way that you can continue to keep your face fresh and fabulous while keeping your wallet fat and happy!  So far, I've found that the key is knowing what areas you need to spend a little and what areas you should save a little. 

Foundation: This is an area where I would recommend that you splurge a little bit.  Maybe not department store type splurging (although, foundation is so important, that I wouldn't blame you if you did!) but you at least want to make sure that you have a good foundation that's the right shade for your skintone and the right formula for your skin type.  If there was only one item that I could spend a little more on than the rest of my makeup, foundation would be it.  For me, I use Cover Girl Nature Luxe.  I actually received a sample of this during a product test that I was doing for BzzAgent and I LOVED it!!  It's soft and smooth while still giving me great coverage.  I typically wait to buy it when I have coupons for it but without a coupon it's still only about $12.  Not dirt cheap, but not too bad, either.

Mascara: In my opinion, there is only one mascara that anyone should ever use.  And it's a total throwback to the eighties.  Yeah, I went there.  The neon pink and green tube is a dead giveaway but after trying what seems like every mascara under the sun, I keep coming back to this stuff.  Three little words: Maybelline Great Lash.  It's like crack to a crackhead. . .life altering.  It seriously works better than anything I've ever seen before and at less than $5, I'm a serious lifer! 

Bronzer: If you are a pale gal like me, bronzer is a year round addition to your makeup bag.  I've tried a number of different bronzers and there is one that I totally love.  Physicians Formula makes a great bronzer in a few different shades that work for almost any skin type/tone.  While it's not really on the totally cheap side (I think it's like $9 or so for the bronzer), it does last quite a long time.  I think the last time I bought a new bronzer was at least 4 or 5 months ago.  When it's something that I use every day and it lasts that long, that's not such a bad price. 

Everything Else: Pretty much everything else that I use would fall into the "get it as cheaply as possible" category.  Eye shadow, eye liner, blush, lip liner, and lipgloss, etc.  When I have coupons that make things super duper cheap, I might buy the "brand names" (like Maybelline, Cover Girl, Revlon, Almay, etc) but when I don't have any coupons, I still have one very excellent, very cheap trick up my sleeve: e.l.f.  If you haven't heard of e.l.f. cosmetics, let me pull you over to the dark side with me.  This line of makeup is extremely affordable and widely available.  You an order online at e.l.f.'s website or you can buy it in select stores. I buy mine at Target but I think you can also pick it up at some drugstores and maybe even WalMart.  Every product is between $1-$3.  I mean, aside from being totally free, you can't get much more affordable than that.  I am a huge huge fan of this brand.  You would think that with the items being so inexpensive that the makeup quality would be kind of. . .well. . .ahem. . .subpar?  But it's totally not!  They have SO many different cool products and some of them, I love more than anything I've ever tried before.  Like their liquid eyeliner. . .it is SO easy to use and I love, love, love it! I have been so pleased with every product from the e.l.f. line that I've bought.  In fact, the entire makeup bag that I have down at my mom's beach house is nothing but this makeup in it.  If you haven't tried it out, I strongly encourage you to do so and let me know what you think! 
So there you have it, all of my makeup secrets!  This is how I get "Ooh La La" without spending too much off my Moola-la! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

February Blogger Budget Challenge

After what I thought was a genius suggestion from the.mrs over at rich.in.love (who is absolutely hilarious and fabulous in every way!), and in a completely desperate attempt to try to stick to my budget at least once in my life, we're hosting a Blogger challenge for the month of February centered around budgets.  Whether you're an old pro at sticking to your budget, a newbie in the budget ring (welcome to the fight, love!), or simply interested in sitting back and watching the action, I invite you to join in! 

Here are the details if you want to join in:

On February 1, which is next Wednesday (YIKES!), put up a post on your own blog declaring your participation in the challenge (link back to this post so that your readers can have the background for what we're doing!) and post the areas of your budget that you plan to focus on for the month of February.  For example, I might post that I'm planning to reduce my "Eating Out" spend from $200 a month to $100.  Or, I might reveal that I plan on actually sticking to my "Target" budget of $200.   There can be 1 area, or 100 areas. Whatever the case is for you.  Give us the details so that we can help to hold you accountable over the course of the month.  Then, each week, on Wednesday, we'll each post an update for how we're doing on those areas of our budgets.  Share with us what you've done to stick to your budget, what you did to go over your budget,. . .whatever it is. .. just the experiences that you're having!  These updates will be on our own blogs, but I invite you to share any successes that other blogger participants may have experienced too.  Let's use this as an opportunity to give the shout outs to each other and support each other!  I plan to (with the permission of each of you, of course!) highlight those that are participating here on my own blog and I think it will be a great way to support each other throughout the process.  

There are some pretty simple rules:

1. Be honest
2. Be supportive of each other

Really, that's it!  So, who is in?  Since I'm not all bloggy expert in how to do link ups and all that jazz (I'm learning as I go, peeps!) leave me a comment here on this post so that I can at least get a good feel for who plans to participate and can check out your blogs on Wednesday.  Also, when I post my initial Blogger Challenge post on Feb 1, I'll post a list of who else is participating so that we can all bounce around and check out each other's progress.  Sound good?   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend Goals Update--Weekend of 1/20

Here are my goals for this weekend.  Ugh. . .that list looks long!

  • Type two papers for HR class
  • Finish reading book for Econ class--yeah right, it's 490 pages.  Umm. . .I think I'll just wing the exam this week.  I don't see much else of a choice.
  • Laundry
  • Start painting last (or, I hope it's the last!) project for Tyler's bathroom--started, but didn't finish.
  • sweep and mop downstairs floors
  • dinner with friends Saturday night
  • clip coupons on Sunday
  • clean Tyler's room
  • lunch with a friend Sunday afternoon
  • give Tyler a haircut
  • Finish up the nightstand project for Tyler's room and write post about it--post coming soon!!
Additional things that I got done this weekend that weren't originally on my list:
  • bring consignment sale items downstairs (from attic) to start prepping them
  • Get valentines day decorations out of the attic--found out that I had bought stuff to make little V-Day goodie bags for Tyler's classmates last year on clearance so I don't have buy anything but a little Vday candy this year.  SCORE!!
  • Changed out three door knobs from hideous brass ones that were there when I bought the house to sleek brushed nickel ones.  I documented the process as best I could and will write a post on that soon!!
Hope everyone had a great weekend!!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Weekend Goals--Weekend of 1/20

Here are my goals for this weekend.  Ugh. . .that list looks long!

  • Type two papers for HR class
  • Finish reading book for Econ class
  • Laundry
  • Start painting last (or, I hope it's the last!) project for Tyler's bathroom
  • sweep and mop downstairs floors
  • dinner with friends Saturday night
  • clip coupons on Sunday
  • clean Tyler's room
  • lunch with a friend Sunday afternoon
  • give Tyler a haircut
  • Finish up the nightstand project for Tyler's room and write post about it

Eeek. . .lots to do this weekend!  Hope I can finish it all.  I'll post again on Monday letting you know how I fared.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Check, Check, Check It Out--Blogger Giveway!

Blogger Buddies, I have been made privy to an awesome awesome giveaway that Cassity is doing over on her blog Remodelaholic.   I LURVE this blog and all the great ideas that she posts on a regular basis!  Long time follower. . .even though she has no idea who I am, I am in total awe of her! Cassity is giving away one of these UH-MAZING dresses to one (seriously) lucky winner:

Shabby Apple Nothin' LIke a dameShabby-apple-dress-ballerinaShabby-apple-dress-tiber

Wow!!  I'm totally digging the purple one!  I can see it being perfect for almost anything from running errands to going out with friends.  Love it!  There are two ways to win and the giveaway is open until the 25th.  Hop on over here to check it out and find out how you can win!   

DIY Dry Shampoo!

OMG. . .I just found this and I absolutely cannot wait to share with you.  I stumbled across this website called Refinery 29 while procrastinating here at work today.  I'd never heard of it before but maybe that's because I'm pathetically behind the times or something?  Anyways, it seemed at first as if it was this high fashion New York City-ish diva website--and I'm all about being a diva, but I'm not exactly what you'd call "high fashion" or even "low fashion" for that matter.  I'm more like "no fashion". . . but, I digress.  I wasn't sure that I was going to find anything on the site of value.  That is until I stumbed across what could possibly be not only a HUGE money saving recipe for me. . but it could also be life changing.  I swear!  It was. . . .

*drum roll, please*

*clearing of the throat*

A DIY recipe for DRY SHAMPOO!!!!  Okay, are you as excited as me?  No?  Hmm. . .well, I'm excited.  You may not understand.  I've spent what feels like a fortune trying to find the right dry shampoo.  It's no secret (or maybe it is?) that I don't wash my hair every day.  Yes, I shower. . .I just don't wash the strands on a daily basis.  This is for a number of reasons.  Or maybe just, like, two.  1. I am lazy, short on time, and just don't have the energy to actually wash, condition, dry, straighten, and style my hair ever-y-dang-day.  It's much easier to just straighten and style on a regular basis and save the other stuff for only like twice or three times a week (depending on if I have any hot dates on the weekend--and most times, I don't.) and save my time on those other mornings for fighting with Ty to get dressed or making sure that Ty, the dog and the cat are all fed before rushing out the door to work.  2. I don't like how quickly I run through shampoo and conditioner when I use it every day.  Skipping a day or two (shh, don't tell!) between washings cuts down on how much I use.  A dry shampoo is my only savior on those days.  Better yet, it's like the best friend who keeps all your secrets and comes to your rescue to get you out of a jam when you need it.  A good dry shampoo can literally make or break your hair success.  This is major, people.  Major.  With a capital M. 

Over the last year, alone, I've tried the following dry shampoos:

Bumble & Bumble Blondish Hair Powder--$35
Can I get a WOWSERS on that price?  Yeah, this was recommended to me by a previous stylist so I grabbed a can, handed over my credit card, squeezed my eyes shut, and signed the receipt before I could back out.  I hardly spend $35 on my highlights (well, maybe a little more than double that, but who's counting?!). . .whatever. . . I knew spending $35 for a product for my hair (again, simply because I'm lazy and prefer to hit the snooze button than to get up and wash my hair!) wasn't a smart idea.  But my stylist recommended it.  She must know, right?  Maybe but not always.  I simply wasn't impressed with this stuff.  It made my hair sticky and I just really didn't like the way it made it feel kind of almost waxy.  I tried it several times to try to give it the benefit of the doubt but I just didn't like it.  I think I ended up giving the can to a friend of mine. I know I didn't finish it. 

Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo--$19

The next time, I took my chances at Sephora.  The gal I spoke with highly recommended this stuff.  Rather than a spray (like the B&B), this is actually a powder with a pointed nozzle which you simply shake into your hair at the roots.  I still wasn't thrilled to spend $19 bucks on something for my hair, but I figured it was just the price of the commodity.  So, I did it.  I have to say, this stuff isn't that bad.  I still wouldn't say that it's worth $19 but I liked it a whole lot more than the Bumble & Bumble stuff.  It did seem to soak up the oilies (I don't really get oily hair. . .but I sometimes like to think I do to justify the fact that I buy these products.  I clearly have issues) and made my hair seem more like "first washed" hair.  But, it does kind of have an overpowering lemon scent to it.  I'm pretty sure my co-workers think I wash my hair with pledge.  That's kind of what it smells like.  But, I do like the bottle that it came in because I'll be able to use that in the future (just wait. . .you'll find out what I mean!)

Suave Professionals Dry Shampoo--$3.00
Now, THIS price is more my style!  I found this little beauty while I was grocery shopping one day.  I frantically dug through my coupon tote to see if I had any coupons for Suave products and I did!  B1G1F (for those of you newbies to couponing, that acronym stands for "Buy 1, Get 1 Free"!). . I did my Happy, Happy, Joy dance right there in the personal care aisle at Kroger.  It wasn't pretty!  Anyways, I snapped up two cans and I've been using this product ever since.  I have to say, that this stuff hasn't let me down.  I don't know that I really like it as much as the Oscar Blandi powder but I definitely like the price.  The price is totally living in my kinda world!  But, it's a spray and while it doesn't leave my hair anywhere near as sticky as the B&B, I think I just prefer a powder better.  But, beggars can't be choosers so if the price is within my budget, I'll make it work.  The Suave does have a very pleasant fruity scent. . .not overpowering, though.  Almost like pineapples.  It's quite lovely! 

So, now that I've forced my product reviews on you, it's time to get into the actual content of my post.  This DIY recipe that I found for making your own dry shampoo.  I thought about making it myself and trying it before posting the recipe, but my excitement got the better of me.  I just simply cannot wait. 

This came directly from the Refinery 29 website:

"Make your own dry shampoo with equal parts baking soda and baby powder. Take a container of baby powder, pour half into another container to save for later, then fill the baby powder container to the top with baking powder. Add a few drops each of yellow, red, and blue food coloring. Shake well and remove top to dry. Wait 24 hours and it will be ready to use."

OMG. . .I'm so excited, I can't stand it!  I'm not entirely sure what the food coloring is for, but I'm guessing it's to make the powder more of a natural skin tone color?  Also, I'm sure you could add a drop or two of essential oil (not too much or else you might end up making your hair oily!) to the mixture to give the powder a nice scent.  I'm planning on using the bottle from the Oscar Blandi dry shampoo since it has a nice pointed nozzle that gets right down at the roots.  But, you could use the baby powder bottle or any canister which has a shake top to allow you to control the amount that comes out. 

 Since I already have a mostly full can of Suave Dry Shampoo spray at home, I'm going to wait to make this up until I'm getting close to being out of the Suave.  Or maybe, I'll just go ahead and make up a batch of this and save the Suave for when I run out? Who knows.  But either way, I'm SO excited to have found this recipe. $3 for a can of Suave isn't too shabby, but this recipe sounds like it's going to be much cheaper than even $3!  YAY! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Couponing for Newbies--The Grocery Game

Now that you've done the pre-work in order to prepare yourself for the wonderful new world of being a coupon goddess, you are probably wondering where you can find the deals.  Right?  Yeah, there are alot of very different opinions on this topic.  I can only share with you mine.  And we all know that its worth my weight in gold.  You agree, right? Yeah, sure you do!  Anyyyyways, there are about a million  alot of ways that you can find the deals.  I prefer to start you all off rather slowly.  I want to try to keep you from getting overwhelmed.  So, I'm going to make this as basic as I possibly can and only share one resource with you today.  Don't worry. . .we'll build on it slowly!  It's no question that couponing and searching for the lowest prices on your everyday products is a time consuming effort, however I (and you!) only have so many hours in a day.  I simply don't have the time, nor the energy, to devote 8 hours a day to couponing or searching for deals.  I'm an extremely busy single mom who works full time and goes to school part time.  Anything extra that I do has to fit into the already limited time that I have in each day.  So, I choose the path of least resistance (read: I take the easy way out!)

Here is a resource that I love when sorting out my deals: 

The Grocery Game -- I LOVE this resource!  This site will actually match up the coupons that have come out in recent weeks to the sales that are currently being held at your local stores.  The site compiles the sales and coupons and puts it all together in a nice neat little list for you.  The list tells you what the item is, what coupon (including what insert to find it in!) to use, what the sales price is (for comparison shopping to ensure that you're getting the right size), what the final price is and what your percentage saved would be.  It's SO easy: all you have to do is print the list, pull your coupons, and shop!  Depending on your area, there are a number of different stores that you can receive the lists for.  For example, in my area, there are lists for Target, Walgreens, CVS, Food Lion and Kroger.  You can subscribe to just one list or you can subscribe to all that are in your area. 

Now, there is a cost for The Grocery Game but IT'S WORTH IT!!! (In my opinion. . which we've already established is important.  And gold in color.  And potentially heavy.)  For anyone starting out in the coupon/cost savings arena, the cost of subscribing to the lists are literally recouped in one trip to the store.  I promise.  The cost is $10 for one list each eight weeks.  If you want more than one list, each additional is $5 extra.  For example, if I subscribe only to Kroger, then I pay $10 every eight weeks.  If I choose to subscribe to Kroger and CVS, then my cost would be $15 every eight weeks.  If you get only one list, it breaks down to $1.25 a week.  I cannot stress enough: it's SO worth it!!!.  To get you started, you get a FREE four week trial membership to any one list of your choice (in your area, of course).  If you're at all cautious about the value of this service, I strongly urge you to try out the free four week trial.  If you cancel anytime during that four week trial, you won't be charged a single penny.  I actually stumbled across The Grocery Game before I ever started couponing and decided to give it a try.  I stuck with them for years.  The only reason I ever cancelled my membership was because they upgraded their internet browser and didn't support the one I was using any longer.  I printed the list from work (shh, don't tell my boss!) so I was no longer able to access nor print the list.  Therefore, I wasn't using the service so to save money, I cancelled it.  However, my dinosaur of a company has finally upgraded to a more current internet browser so I can start using Grocery Game again.  I'm signing back up pronto!   They just make it too darn easy not to use the service.  Seriously!  For a time strapped gal like myself, having someone else do the work is my kinda jam! 

In the six or so years that I've been part of the Coupon Goddess Club (Founder, CEO, Solitary Member), I've had other couponers who have scoffed at The Grocery Game because they say that they can match up the sales themselves and save the money of the membership fee (again, we're talking $10 for eight weeks).  This is so true.  They totally can. . .instead, they spend hours pouring over each store circular, then search through their coupon binders for every item in the circular to see if there is an active coupon out for that item.  I even know couponers who have a dedicated day set aside in their schedule to go to the store and peruse every aisle to see what is on sale.  Not to shop, but simply a "scouting mission".  An entire day.  Just to gather information so that they can go home, spend hours matching up sales and coupons, write out a list, and then go back another day and do their shopping.  I'm completely overjoyed if this method works for them, but I don't have that kind of time.  I'd pay someone $125 a week to do that work for me.  But I don't have to.  With The Grocery Game, I only have to pay them $1.25 for that kind of work.  See why I love them so much?  Another reason why I don't like the DIY strategy when it comes to matching up the sales and coupons is because the circulars don't list the unadvertised sales that happen in the stores.  That's why they're called "unadvertised"!  But, GG catches these.  And they share the secret with you!  Therefore, while those other couponers are spending every last minute they have scanning store circulars and nose deep in coupon binders looking for deals only to miss half of them, you're dashing through the store gathering your deals up, spending less money, and relaxing at home with your stockpile!  Worth $1.25 a week, isn't it?! 

*Disclaimer: I am in NO WAY affilliated with The Grocery Game or Teri Gault (founder of this fabulous service).  I have not, in any way, been compensated for the opinion that I have shared here.  I have not been offered free subscriptions, money, or even a pat on the back for sharing the word about this service or the website.  It is just that I like them that darn much! In fact, nobody at GG even knows who in the world I am!*

Come back next week and I'll share some more resources with you!  We're going to build a little bit at a time until you're a seasoned couponing pro! :-)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Budget Woes

I'm starting to feel like a broken record.  I already feel like a complete failure.  And I'm REALLY starting to get so very discouraged.  I cannot seem to get this whole budget thing figured out.  I mean, I have a budget.  I just can't seem to stay within my budget each month.  I'm learning as I go and sometimes learning comes with some painful mistakes along the way.  I get that.  I also recognize that alot of the success or failure of my budget adherence is totally within my control.  If only I felt like I had any control and we might be getting somewhere. 

Before this month, I would start out at the beginning of each month with a renewed vigor for sticking to my budget.  I would always start out with the "This month is my month" attitude.  I was ready to tackle that budget monster once and for all and show it who was boss.  I would dutifully keep all my receipts in a handy and neat (okay, maybe not entirely neat) fashion and I would record them into my budget at the end of the month.  And then I would cry.  Sometimes that ugly "can't catch your breath" type sobbing.  Yeah, it wasn't a pretty sight.  It never failed that I was shocked at how miserably I had done that month.  At the end of last year, I analyzed my process a little bit and realized that I was lacking any sort of record keeping throughout the month.  I mean, if in the middle of the month I was already over my budget or getting close to being over my budget in some areas, then that would be an indicator that I needed to reign it in a bit.  As much as I hated to admit it, I needed to become more intimate with my budget.  We needed to have regular dates.  At least twice a month.  So, I instituted that this month.  And it didn't go so well.  Let's just say that if it had been a blind date, I would have texted my best friend and asked her to come up with some bogus emergency so that I could run away and never look back.  It is that bad.  It's only the middle of the month and I'm already painfully over my budet in some areas or the forecasting isn't looking so pretty. 

With almost two full weeks left in the month, here's how some areas of my budget look currently:

Gas (the kind that feeds your car): I'm already over budget ($250 for the month) by $21.17.  And I fill up at least weekly just to get back and forth to work, school, and home.  Not good.

Gas (the kind that heats your house): I have a budget of $50/month for gas.  This amount worked perfectly in the summer when my gas bills were consistently under $50 (and coincidentally, it was summer when I created my budget).  I recently went on the budget billing plan because I noticed that my gas bill was steadily increasing each month.  I was floored when the utilities rep told me that my budget amount is $98.00/month.  That's almost double my budget!  I asked her why it was so much and she read off my winter bills for last year.  Apparently, they were so high last winter that I blocked it out of my memory with the highest one being right under $300.  Yeah, that would have given me a heart attack this winter.  So, now I've got to figure out how to double my budget for that area.

Eating Out: I'm already over my budget ($50) by $57.09.  Part of this I attribute to the fact that we were out of town last weekend.  I managed to make meals at the house that we were at all weekend but didn't account very well for the meals that we would have to eat while traveling.  Another reason is because it was Tyler's father's birthday yesterday and we all went out to dinner last night.  My treat. Still, it's within my control and I've let it get out of hand.  Ugh. 

. . .and those are just the areas that have their own categories on my budget.  There's a whole host of entries from the "here and there" shopping that I've done over the month.  I have found alot of great deals on clothes and shoes for Tyler this month so I've snapped them up.  It's going to save me money in the long run but it's certainly not helping me get out of debt now.  In my defense to some of this extra spending is that to try to avoid overbuying clothes for future seasons for Tyler, I did make a list of what I have already and what I think I'll need (not want, but need) and I've done fairly well at sticking to that list.  If I find a cute shirt on clearance, it doesn't matter if it's only $2.50.  That's money that I shouldn't spend just because it's on sale if he doesn't need it.  But I digress, the extra spending this month, regardless of how good a deal it might be, isn't helping to get me out of credit card debt.  Which seems to be piling on and on.  AARRGGH! 

Why can't I just figure out a way to be independently wealthy so I don't have to worry so much about the little wrenches that get thrown into my budget?  How do you do it. . .how do you handle the wrenches or just sticking to a budget to begin with? 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: Couponing for Newbies--Getting Started

If you're a total newbie to the world of couponing and grocery stockpiling, then this post is for you.  Totally basic and honestly, just kind of broken down to the bare bones so that you can build onto your skills (because it is a learned skill!) as you go. 

When I started with couponing and stockpiling, I was like a sponge.  I went out and soaked up everything I could possibly find on how to buy groceries for less.  Unfortunately, there are about a million (or more--no joke!) resources out there on this very topic.  It didn't take long before I got completely overwhelmed.  So, what I've tried to do is take what I've learned over the last six years and break it down to try to make it less intimidating to someone who is totally new to the world of using coupons and building a stockpile.  What follows are my tips and tricks to start out.  We'll build on your skills as we go!  For those of you who are NOT new to this, then please jump right in with your own tips and tricks.  Share with the rest of us what you've learned.  Don't be shy, you can also share with us what mistakes you've made along the way (I've made a ton of them!) so that we don't make the same mistakes ourselves!

  • Make a basic list of the items that your family uses on a regular basis--this will help to serve as a very rough guide on what items you'll use and what items to pass on.  Trust me, it's easy to end up with an entire linen closet worth of products that your family will never use (hmm. . .diabetic testing strips for a family full of non-diabetics?  Anyone?  Maybe it's just me.) just because they were free or extremely cheap.  I told you I've made mistakes in the past.  This is one of them.  I got sucked into the "but it's only .10" or "it's totally free!" trap.  Even if it says it's free, nothing is ever totally free.  Just hang with me here, you'll soon come to see what I mean by that statement.  Additionally, it would help you to know upfront what items (or brand names) your family is totally loyal to and what items you could negotiate on.  To avoid overwhelming yourself, just walk around your house and take a peek at what items you already have.  What things do you HAVE to have in order to make your household run.  Take this example from my bathroom list (and this is just a peek at part of my list): toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, shaving cream, soap bars, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair spray, etc.  Once you have this basic list of what items you need, you can then analyze what brand names you can't live without or what brand names you CANNOT buy.  For instance, if your son is allergic to Wisk laundry detergent, then you probably shouldn't buy it for your home. . unless of course you or your son enjoy dealing with full body rashes and painful itching.  I told you, I've made mistakes.  Or, if your husband REFUSES to drink brand of orange juice other than Tropicana, then its possible that the (normally) really great Minute Maid sale this week might just be a big waste of money for your household.  It seems basic, but it's important to know these things upfront.  Once you have your list nailed down, along with the brand names or items that you must have/cannot have you can get started on building your stockpile.  Well, almost.
  • Clear an area to store your stockpile--Read my lips (or my blog?) when I say this: IT NEED NOT BE A HUGE AREA!!!!  I've had friends and acquaintances tell me that they could never stockpile because they don't have the room.  Guess what?  It really doesn't take much room.  NO ONE here is expecting you to convert your garage into a stockpile room.  No one is asking you to dig a cellar beneath your house to store 5,000 packages of toilet paper or anything like that.  Honestly, you can start your stockpile with a very small area.  Afterall, your stockpile takes time to grow.  And it only grows as big as you want it to or as big as your space will allow.  It's also amazing how much room you'll find to store the hot deals along the way!  I started off my stockpile with exactly ONE shelf cleared in my linen closet (that stuff needed to go anyways!) and ONE shelf cleared in my pantry.  That's it!  Just those two shelves!  Of course, I found more space as my stockpile grew but I was one of those people who said I'd never be able to stockpile because I "didn't have the room".  Amazing how wrong I ended up being! 
  • Make a "normal price" price list--Before you even begin couponing, you need to be able to tell what's a good price for something and what's not.  Therefore, make a trip to your local grocery store or big box store and jot down a few prices.  Take your basics list of the things that you buy on a regular basis and write down what you normally pay for that item.  In order to know whether you should buy something, you will need to reference this "normal price" list to see how good that sale really is. 
  • Make a list of the meals that your family enjoys or normally eats-- This list will become your "watch list". You will start off being successful with couponing if you already have a clear picture of the meals that your family enjoys and eats on a regular basis.  Doesn't mean that you have to only eat those things but if you have some recipes that you find yourself making regularly because they are quick, easy, cheap or enjoyed by your family, write down the ingredients to that recipe.  For example, if your family really enjoys spaghetti bake, you may want to add pasta sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and pasta noodles to your watch list.
  • Gather some recipes for some "cheap" meals--For the first little bit that you are stockpiling, you may actually notice your grocery bill going UP.  Yes, I know it seems counterproductive but bear with me.  See, until you get a little bit of a stockpile built up, you'll be buying your normal grocery items while still spending that little bit extra to buy the things that are on super sale.  Making a little bit more sense now?  My friends look at me like I've sprouted an extra head when I tell them that their grocery bill may actually increase for a little while.  It does take some explaining!  However, you can counterbalance this by cutting back a little bit on your meals.  NO, I'm not suggesting that you feed your family less food, I'm suggesting that you find some cheaper alternatives to make while you make the transition over to building a stockpile.  If you don't have any cheap meals ideas, just google "cheap meal ideas" and you'll soon be rolling in the dough cheap meal recipes.  If you need some personal guidance (ala. . .your wonderful Living on a Dime or Less goddess. . .ME!), I will put up a post soon with the recipes to the cheap meals that I used when I first started out.  And I still use these recipes.  Cuz they're cheap.  And easy.  And I like cheap and easy.  Get your mind out of the gutter!  I'm talking food here, people!  Basically, your "cheap" meals recipes should include ingredients that are cheap even when you have to pay full price for them.  But they should still be nutritious too! 
  • Design a coupon organizing system--Don't pick up your scissors yet!  You can't start cutting out those coupons until you have a solid system in place of where you're going to put them!  There are a variety of systems that work for different people.  I can only share with you the one that works for me.  I have two coupon organizers. . .they look like this. . .

and it I got two of them out of the dollar bin at Target.  However, you should be able to find them in the office supply section but they might be more expensive.  I also know alot of people who use a system of just a binder and those inserts that hold baseball cards.  That seems to work very well for them.  What I do is seperate my coupons into the two "envelopes": one is for edible (i.e. food) items and the other is for non-edible items.  Within each organizer, I break each section down further.  Here's how my system is organized:

* refrigerated items
* frozen items
*baking items (spices, flour, sugar, etc)
*breakfast items
*snack items
*canned goods
*breads & pastas

Non-edibles* bathroom items (toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, etc)
* haircare items
*face items (pretty much anything that would be used on my face)
*body items (soap, bodywash, lotions)
*ladies personal care items (tampons, sanitary pads, you know. . .anything for the girl downstairs!)
* cleaning products
* laundry products
* air freshener products
* medicines
* shaving and deoderants (there are so many coupons for each of these that these two products specifically get their own section but combined together--does that make sense?)
* pet
* random--this includes pretty much anything that doesn't directly fall into one of the above categories

Over the last six years, this system has worked really well for me.  I usually cut out my coupons on a Sunday and just sort them according to the sections in my organizers.  I have some fellow couponer friends who sort their coupons based on the layout of their store but I just can't see that working for me.  I don't know my store that well!  Think about your habits and decide what you think will work best for you.  You may have to try out a few different ways and tweak it as you go.  The one rule is that it needs to be simple enough that you can not only maintain it but you can also easily find the coupons that you'll be looking for on a regular basis. 
  • Start buying/clipping coupons each week--now starts to exciting part. . .but don't get too excited.  You will need to start buying the weekly paper that has all of the coupon inserts (usually that's the Sunday paper) and clipping out the coupons.  I will warn you, before you will really start seeing a major difference in your shopping bill, you've got to gather a decent inventory of coupons.  This may take up to three months.  Yes, you heard read that right.  Three months.  There's actually a science to couponing.  Most products are on a twelve week cycle meaning that a coupon will be issued or a  sale on a specific item will usually happen every twelve weeks.  Therefore, it might take you that long to actually gather every coupon that you'll need in order to start taking part in the deals.  To get a little more complicated, the art of couponing is to be able to find a specific item on sale WITH a valid coupon out.  That's the tricky part.  You could start using the coupons that you'll be clipping each week immediately, but unless you are combining the coupon with the product while it's at a good sales price, then you are not really taking full advantage of the savings. Sure, some deals will come along for you immediately but others you may not have the coupons for yet simply because you haven't been clipping them for that long.  There are blogs and services out there that will do all of the hard work for you.  They'll track the sales, match up the coupons, and issue lists which will tell you what stores to shop, what products to buy, what coupons to use (including which inserts to get them out of!), the final price you'd pay and the amount you're saving/percentage off regular price.  I will highlight these blogs and services in a future post (coming soon, I promise!) and until you really get the hang of matching up the sales and the coupons, I strongly suggest you follow this easy lead that others are giving you.  I promise that I'll post some good blogs/websites soon for those of you who are just itching to get started.  In the meantime, take the advice that I've laid out for you above and start prepping to save.  Trust me, there is something to be said about good prep work!