Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Taking Up Space

Our guest room is finally coming to a point where I'm not embarrassed for people to sleep in there.  Yesss!  

Remember Barney??  Well, Barney has been gone for a while, but the area above the bed was painfully empty.  I have hopes of making a headboard someday, but there was still a lot of wall to cover.

So I decided on my go-to cover-a-lot-of-space-cheaply trick - frames collage!  Basically, as I referred to in this post - my budget was $0, with the added obligation of using some of the stuff I had accumulated.  Luckily, I had a bunch of black frames, which fit in with the colors of the room.

I wanted the "theme" (how artistic!) of this wall to be trips.  So in theory, every picture up there is representative of a vacation.  Then I had some tree images (the main one from Ikea), one from my godmother's husband, and one that I took myself on a trip to Asheville.  So - the theme got amended to trees and trips.  Close enough.

I didn't want to do straight black and white, so there's some color in there.  Non-uniform?  Maybe.  Too bad.

Our wall is representin'  Charleston, Asheville, Mexico, St. Lucia (via Tony's parents), and Turks and Caicos.  I hope to add more as I go, hopefully more dimensional art (I'm thinking coins, paper money, cool trinkets, etc). 

The room is getting there!  I just need to jazz up the one corner and get new blinds, and we'll be set.  Come on over! 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Dogs that are so very easily amused:

Their favorite time of day - walk time.  Sandy barks like a maniac and does her trademark front paws stretch. Roxy runs around and performs the required circles - probably confused as to what is going on.  :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Our Savings Plan

A few months ago, Tony and I made the decision that we weren't happy with our savings.  As in, weren't happy with the small amount of dollars in it.

Overall, I would say we've done pretty well in our first three years with joint finances.  We had some credit cards when we first started out (pretty much out of necessity) but I'm happy to say that for quite a while now, we haven't had any debt, besides the usual suspects - home and cars.  We have a credit card we used to use and pay off to keep it active, but don't carry a balance.

I realize we are lucky in many, many respects.  We have great families who helped us through college, including allowing us to be student loan free, and helped in various ways as we were starting out.  

We haven't been forced to rack up debt because of unfortunate life situations.  I realize there are many people forced into that situation, and it's an inevitable part of staying afloat.  But given that that was NOT our situation, I would like to toot our own horn here for a sec. 

Sometimes, it's HARD.  Hard to not just buy stuff because we want it - and instead wait until we can pay for it free and clear.   But the point here is, we were doing pretty well for ourselves.  Saving a little each month and not having debt.

But it just wasn't enough.  We didn't feel confident that the tiny nest egg we had built would last us through any significant crisis or life change - lose a job, have a child, etc.

So we cranked out some Excel spreadsheets to calculate what we could be saving each month if we tried really (really!) hard.

There were 4 main parts on our budget sheet:
- Income (our checks)
- Savings ($x per month automatically being taken out and put in a separate savings account)
- Absolute bills (unavoidables)
- Leftover

Through some number crunching, we were able to figure out exactly how much we HAD to spend each month (46% of our income), and based on an end $$ savings result we were looking for, how much we would need to save each month.  It came out to 32% of our income.  Woah nelly.  

The rest (20% of our income) we would break out for our daily expenses.  If we ran out before the end of the month, we ran out.  No tapping into savings, and no excuses.

To make things manageable and keep everything in order, we are using the cash system. The money leftover after bills and savings is broken into these categories:

- Groceries
- Entertainment (going out to eat, movies, etc)
- Incidentals (copays, haircuts, oil changes)
- Fun Fund (to save for vacation)
- Personal Money (a little each month to call our own and spend on whatever)

What was leftover to go into these above categories was not much - at least not compared to what we were spending previously - on stuff like clothes, going out to eat (this was a big one!), and just buying spur of the moment stuff we didn't really need.  It was clear we would need to do some adjusting to make this work.

I'll be honest - I was so apprehensive the month before we started this process.
The what if's began.

But to make it work, we made some lifestyle adjustments.  We were never really living outside our means, and I like a bargain, so it wasn't so much our spending we needed to curb - just be a little more aware.  

More so, we took a step back and said - what do we think we "must" have that's really just a want?  We cut our cable waaay back - like, from HD digital cable and DVR to basic, basic cable.  We no longer record shows.  We only have 60 channels (the horror!), and our picture is not cinema-quality.  We canceled our gym membership.  We got slightly cheaper and slower internet.  We started shopping for groceries at Walmart (yes, it's a contentious place - but it's totally cheaper).  

It helps a ton too that Tony got a new job within his company - and he now has a company car and phone - slicing our auto payment, gas, insurance, and cell bills down significantly.  

[side note: Tony and I never fail to notice times in our life when there's something stronger than good timing and coincidence going on - we really are blessed and everything seems to turn out ok when we need it to...]

My worries surfaced:  What if we weren't home to watch our shows during their regularly scheduled times?  What if I needed to upload 1,000 pictures in ten minutes?  What if I totally needed to buy something that was $300 and we were out of cash?   What if....

Silly worries.

Through this process, I've learned two big things:
1.  Small sacrifices can make a huge difference long term. 
 Example:  Cutting out our DVR, etc lead to a cable bill that was $80 cheaper

By tweaking our lifestyle just a little, and making each purchase a conscious decision, we are going to save a huge amount of money in a year.  Huge!  

We both have good jobs, but it's not like we are rolling in dough.  It's no simple feat to save the amount we are saving.  But when you crunch the numbers and reevaluate priorities, it's amazing to realize what you can do!  Anyone who can go to Target and spend $25 without worrying too much can do this plan (in other words, I realize there are people living check to check and could not do this). 

2.  Life is simpler.  And I'm happier

I was never a big TV watcher anyways... but guess what - we don't feel chained to the TV anymore.  If there's a show on and we miss it, no big deal, that's what Hulu is for.  We don't feel the need to always be doing some sort of project or buying this or that.  Instead, we tackle one thing at a time, and only move forward when the money is there to do so.  

There's something VERY gratifying about cutting coupons and making a must-stick-to-it grocery list - and counting up the savings afterwards. 

The $1.99 new-with-tags Target shirt I got at Goodwill makes me waaay happier than a brand new $20 one would.   

And that $40 we have to spend in personal money each month - a lot of care goes into the decision on what to spend that on!

Basically, something i looked at in a negative way from the beginning has really turned into a chance for reflection and simplification.

After all, saving is the new spending.  Tony and I are recessionistas on the way to a large chunk of change in our savings account - and lots of peace of mind!  Simple is better, and life is good.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Lady Banks Rose, started as a tiny plant, now growing strong:


Peachtree City is no bustling metropolis.  (And for the record, I like it that way).

But this does present some sort of challenge when we have visitors.  I always feel the need to have "activities" planned for guests (lanyards, anyone?), even though I know my guests are just coming to visit and don't need constant stimulation.

However, with my mom, Grammy, sister, and her baby coming last weekend, I knew I should plan something - for the sheer fact they would get annoyed at my real plan - sit on the couch and stare at the baby.

So, I had the bright idea to go berry picking at a farm not too far from us.  We had never been, but I heard it was fun.  Only problem - Georgia decided to go all August on us, and be super duper hot.  Like 98* hot (no, not the band, worse than that).  Heat index of 100+ hot.

Perfect situation for a group with a baby and a grandmother.  Hey!  Let's go outside and do manual labor on a record-breaking-heat-stroke-warning day!  Sure! Bring the stroller to push between the dirt rows of crops!

So a-picking we went.  It was actually kinda fun (for me...).  Everyone else pretty much melted and hated it.  But in the end, we got to pick blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.  I got stung by ants on my feet, Lyla was panting as sweat collected in her baby fat rolls, Mom complained about her hair going flat.

But here's what we came home with:

Doesn't that just scream summer?  I love the look of fresh fruit - and I'm telling you, these tasted so much better than what you get at the grocery store.  Huge and juicy, and not sour.  And cheap!  For instance, all my blackberries were only $.98.  Can't beat that.

So, in conclusion:  Heat stroke = bad.  Berry Picking = Poor Planning.  Fresh Fruit = Good (at home, in the AC, in retrospect).

Monday, June 14, 2010

We Had Guests...

You know what's coming. 

Claire obsesses about babies.   Annnnnd, go!

Grammy, mom, Courtney, and her baby Lyla came to visit us this past weekend.  I love having guests, and this time was no exception.  Only bad part - it was a record-setting weather weekend here, with sweltering temperatures high 90s.  We all sweat (sweated? sweeted?).  But we all held babies, so it was all good.

Too much fun in the sun...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Spur of the moment blueberry/peach cobbler:

[all my posts these days seem to be about the no-recipe food Tony cooks.... what does that say about me??]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Want to Punch a Deer

(but I won't...)

Look at my poor new lilies!  They were juuuust starting to open after we planted them a few weeks ago - and then I come outside in the morning to this.

It looks like someone just took scissors and hacked off the blooms.  THEY NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO LIVE!!

But alas.  I guess there's always next year (yay for perennials!).  The kicker is - ALL of our neighbors have lilies.  WHOLE lilies.  Why our house, stupid deer??

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I know I'm not the only one who does this.

When my family is coming to visit (which isn't frequently enough, in my opinion!), I feel the need to actually do all those little projects I have been putting off - so that mom and dad will approve of and like my big-girl house.  Silly yes, but kinda true.  My parents totally wouldn't care either way, but still, I think it's the deep-seated need to make the 'rents proud.  My mom, Grammy, Courtney, and baby Lyla are headed our way soon, so it's go-time around our house.

Of course, my house is always spotlessly clean, so there's no need for furious cleaning prior to a visit.... cough cough...

One of my little projects has been to make a framed disply of some shells we picked up last year at Anna Maria during our vacation.  Yes, a year ago.  Don't judge me.

As I described in this post, we rented a boat and drove out to the shallow part of the bay - the men-folk braved it and got out and walked around - dodging crabs and rays and prickly anemones.  They collected some gorgeous butterfly-winged shells - still connected in the center, and huge - compared to what you would find washed up on the ocean side.

My new motto, which might or might not be due to my husband's growning annoyance at me buying stuff and not using it, is to work with what I've got - and make use of the collection of decorative items I've got in the closet.  Sometimes, you see something awesome and know you must have it, but it takes a year or so to actually put it into use... and when that something is $1 at the thrift store, it's hard to pass up... (I've perfected this argument, can't you tell?).

As part of a larger project I'm working on this week - I finally used those shells.  I took a frame I've had for a year or two from Goodwill ($1) that I had previously sprayed black.  I loved the intricacy of the frame - just not the gold color it orginally was.  A glass-less frame was perfect for these dimensional shells - since I didn't want to break their fragile connections.

I'll tell you what I didn't do:  take quality photos of my work.

What I did do:  I wrapped a piece of cardboard in burlap, and attached the shells with a hot glue/ super glue mix.  Who knows if they will actually stay on, but whatev.  The backside is a little scary, but no one will see that anyway.

I'm really happy with how it turned out, and I know when I see that hanging I will fondly remember a great vacation.  I'm hoping to add others like this with collectibles and mementos from other vacations - both past and future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happiness on a Pan

I've mentioned before how awesome my husband is, right?  
No?  Um, well, if he asks ... just tell him I have - he doesn't read this anyway.

He's perfect for a few reasons, but mostly because he makes food for me.  The key to my heart is totally through my stomach.  Right through my rock-hard, ab-covered stomach...

He cooks for me every night, which is a blessing because otherwise I would live on Lean Cuisines and those little  containers of microwavable corn.  (if you haven't had one, do it.  they are quite tasty, despite the weirdness factor)

Tony is super creative in the kitchen - he can Top-Chef it and look at the random ingredients we have in our house and make a whole meal out of it.  He's great at making healthy options that a carb-loving, meat-indifferent girl like myself still finds delicious and satisfying. 

Most importantly, he makes peanut butter cookies.

This recipe is so simple but so delicious:

(Tony's adaptation of hundreds of recipes like this out there:)

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven 350°F.

Mix sugar and egg together, then add peanut butter. Roll into balls on the sheet, but flatten them halfway to avoid smooshing in the oven (I learned that word in culinary school).

Bake 10ish minutes at 350.

Melt in your mouth, I tell you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Fresh backyard herbs:
(and a husband who makes homemade pesto)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Blooms

We gave in to mother nature this weekend.

Our front island has needed a little dose of color and substance for a while.  Every year, we plant something and then it usually dies.  To our credit, we planted mostly annuals last year for a temporary splash of color.  Now, our dogwood, rhododendron, azaleas, and dianthus on the other hand .... well, no excuse...

So this weekend, we made use of our spare time and planted speedwell, purple queen, and lilies.  A little color, a little dimension.  All kinda purple.  

And here's where we gave in.  Our house came with grungy pine straw beds.  I kinda hated them.  Yes, I realize pine needles = mulch here in Georgia, but they were just so run down I had to get rid of them.  Many hours of raking and running away from bugs later, the beds were cleaned out, and fresh black mulch laid down.  The black mulch made it look sharp and clean.

The only problem is, there are 76 pine trees in our backyard.  Literally.  And while we had all but two pines cut down from our front yard two years ago, those two that remain are apparently the most prolific producers of needles ever.  Because within a week, little brown lines marred our nice black mulch.  It only got worse in the fall - and by then, the mulch had faded to a dull gray anyway.  

So as pretty as black mulch is, it just won't work for our southern yard.  We gave in and put pine straw down again.  Now falling needles will only help build it up, not ruin it.  Besides, it only took three bales of straw to do the whole front (instead of 15 bags of mulch).  It's a lot cheaper to freshen that stuff each season.
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