I have written several posts, and read dozens more, about how to save money. So many articles seem unsatisfactory to me, so I’m writing my own little primer here, starting with budgets.
The first step, as almost anyone will concur, is to know where your money is going. Until you know what your costs are, you can’t tell what to target. There are a few ways to do this: take your debit or credit card statements and add up your different expenses, or, if you live on cash, keep your receipts for a month or so and add everything up.
The categories you use in your budget need to make sense to you. Maybe you need one called “Road snacks” for when you stop at Starbucks, gas stations, or Jack in the Box while driving. Some people have a broad category called “Automotive” which includes car payments, gas, insurance, and maintenance. I, even as analytical as I am, only have our budget broken down into about 10 categories. One is called “Legit Other” which includes anything from car repairs to doctor visits, and another is “Extra Other” which means “crap I shouldn’t have spent money on”.
Let’s say you’ve made a budget before, but you couldn’t stick with it. Try to figure out what you didn’t like about it. Was it hard to read? Was it too detailed, too time intensive? Maybe you need to physically write it out on paper, maybe you need an app to help you. This process can be fluid until you find out what works best for you.
You can also build your budget from the ground up: list your costs like rent, car payment, utilities (I usually use a number a little higher than our average), gasoline or transportation, credit card payments (if applicable), and food. Hubby and I also each have an “allowance” of spending money to keep us sane. I can go buy crafty things without impacting the house budget, and he can buy action figures or pirate swords. Figure out your total basic costs, subtract this from how much you earn, and the left overs (assuming there is any) can be used for goals or fun.
Prioritizing your spending is a whole other blog post, but keep in mind that you’re tracking your spending because you have a goal you want to meet. It can be paying off debt, saving up for a car, a home downpayment, a van to tour with your band, or just to have an emergency fund so you don’t charge up your credit cards.
You need to come up with an amount that’s feasible for you to put toward your goals. Beware of over-enthusiatically budgeting for 100% of your excess income to go toward your goals. Living like a monk gets tiresome fairly quickly, and you can’t actually live on Ramen noodles. At the same time, don’t run the opposite direction: “All this leftover money is for fun! I’m off to Spain!!” (I mean, unless that was your goal, but still).
If you need a “rule” dedicate at least 75% of your after-necessities money to goals, and 25% to fun, like eating out and movies. If that is sustainable after a couple months, try increasing the amount going toward goals. If it’s making you insane, and driving you to throw the whole system out the window, ease up a little until you can handle it. We’re trying to build a system you can live with easily, without thinking, so you can meet your goals.
If you can’t bear to face your expenses, you can also look at your statements or receipts and just tally the number of times you went to a specific place last month. Did you go get a fancy coffee 20 times? What you may be considering a “rare treat” may actually be much more common that you are aware. Keep in mind, knowing how much you were spending gives you a fantastic starting off point to work from. Knowing you immediately cut your expenses by 10% or more is very motivating. Don’t be too scared or ashamed of the numbers.
That’s all for today, kids. To sum up, figure out where your money is going so you can have more control over its destination in the future.
Here we are with another Kornberg guest post! Not only did she pet sit while we were out of town, she’s providing useful advice! I’m definitely keeping her.
Kornberg’s guide to not spending obscene amounts of money on college textbooks:
Part 2 of how to reduce your spending on accessories. If you missed part one, you’re a terrible person, but here it is for your edification.
If you are the type of person to buy lots of purses, give some thought to why you’re buying them. I kept looking for that “perfect” purse. Each one would have some fault: the opening was too small, there weren’t enough pockets, the strap was too short, whatever. To finally restrain myself, I thought about the features I wanted in the ultimate purse, and what items that purse would need to carry.
At the time, I was in college, and I wanted to be able to carry my spiral notebooks, pens, calculator, and snacks for class, along with regular “purse stuff”. I wanted a pocket just for my cell phone, because what always happens? Your phone has fallen to the bottom of the purse, and you forgot to turn off your ringer, and OF COURSE it goes off in class during an exam, and everyone hates you, and you paw around in there for twenty minutes trying to shut the damn thing off. I like to avoid masses of people hating me for legitimate reasons, so a pocket was a high priority for me.
I also wanted a long strap, so I can wear it across my body. This is better for your back, and I’ve always found it to be the most comfortable. I get sick of shoulder bags digging into me after awhile, and I like to have my hands free for important things, like playing on my cell phone. I also didn’t want a big purse, because that just enables me to be a packrat.
Taking all these criteria into account, I designed and made my own purse. I figured it was easier than hunting every mall and thrift store for the perfect bag, and also pride in my own creation would be even more motivation to stop buying other purses. It’s worked for 10 years now. I still have the same purse, and I even patched it up a bit recently. I have a few other purses, all of which were gifts, or free.
There are several things to consider when looking for or designing a purse:
1) Are you a clutter-bug? If you tend to collect random crap in your purse, is this something you want to prevent or enable? If you want to prevent it, get a purse small enough to hold your essentials, and that’s all. That will force you to keep it clean. If you want to enable it, you’re nuts. You’re not Mary Poppins. But get a slightly larger bag to accomodate your hoarding.
2) What do you need to carry? When checking out purses, or starting your preliminary crafting, make sure your basics – cell phone, keys, wallet, make-up, water bottle, toy velociraptor – will fit, and are accessible. If you are constantly fighting with your purse to jam things into it, you will not be happy.
3) What do you need quick access to? For me, it’s my cell phone and keys, which is why they have their own pocket that’s easy to see and reach.
4) What kind of strap do you want? Maybe you only need the space of a clutch, but do you want to have it in your hand all the time? Keep in mind that straps can be added or altered on purses fairly easily, so if you find one that’s almost perfect, check out the strap area to see if you can make it fit your needs easily.
5) What kind of opening do you need? I prefer purses that open fairly wide so the inside is well-lit, and I can find my
flask chewing gum easily. If you’re the type to just chuck your purse all over the place, consider a zipper so your stuff stays inside.
6) What other things bother you about past purses? I have one friend who is petrified of germs, and hates having to set her purse on the floor at restaurants or in bathrooms. I would suggest one with a hard bottom, with those little metal feet, so it doesn’t actually touch the floor, and possibly made out of vinyl, or some other material that she could easily clean and sanitize.
These same principles can be used for anything you’re buying a lot of, such as sports equipment (I’m guessing). Take a minute to assess what you like and don’t like about the items you already have, and find an item that will meet your criteria.
There are lots of ways to waste money; two of my personal bank-draining demons used to be shoes and purses. How did I kick the habits? I’ll tell you, because I’m just a damn awesome person. How awesome? I’m not making a joke about how modest I am. That’s how awesome. You don’t come here for run-of-the-mill humor; I’m assuming you come here for crafting and to bask in my radiance.
Let’s start off with shoes. I grew up in a desolate area, with nary a movie house or coffee shop in sight. It was basically not even suburbs, but suburb adjacent, and we shared it with cows. Once a mall was built in my late teen years, it became our sole source of entertainment. We spent evenings and weekends wandering the air-conditioned wonder, taking in the endless delights of Sbarro and Claire’s.
I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent on cheap earrings and plastic garbage. Payless fed my shoe habit with their relentless “Buy one, get one half off” sales to draw in vulnerable, naive teens like myself.
In an effort to curb my habit, and avoid being buried alive in accessories, I forcibly grew my own feet to a women’s size 10 1/2, or about an 8 in men’s. (Actually, I just inherited my 6’2″ dad’s feet, without the height to match; but I can go snorkeling without flippers!) Since I have yet to find a store that consistently sells shoes large enough for giant-monster feet like my own, my spending decreased dramatically.
Unfortunately, flip-flops are one size fits all, and they became my new addiction. They’re comfy, cheap, and easily accessible. I finally realized I had over-dosed this last year. I found 3-4 pairs I had never even WORN, so I handed them off to a friend who has worn the hell out of them.
At this point, I still love my flip flops, but I have realized I have ample to last me for the next ten years at least. I have also developed a bunion, which flip-flops are bad for, so out of fear I will stop buying (but probably not wearing) them. So all you have to do to reduce your shoe-buying, is stick your feet in a nuclear reactor. You get Godzilla feet, and your wallet gets a break. I bet you never knew it was so simple!
For serious though, take an inventory of all the shoes you have on hand. I generally keep one pair of nasty sneakers for things like yard work (HA! Yard work! Right.), and one pair of old flip-flops for the beach, or playing at the river (much more likely than yard work). Other than that, the same rules for reduced clothes-buying apply to shoes: buy durable, simple, classic styles. That way they won’t wear out or break, and they will match with everything.
You can also consider reducing the color palette in your wardrobe. I have one friend who wears only black and shades of grey; everything of hers matches everything else, she doesn’t have to separate her laundry, and she always looks sophisticated. I’m not planning to go that extreme, but if I get rid of my brown office clothes, I can avoid buying a new pair of pants and shoes. I don’t even really like most of my brown stuff anyway, so I’m seriously considering it.
If you have shoes that you like, but look a little worn, or aren’t quite what you want, consider painting them, or altering them in some other way to make them what you do want. The basic rule you should always follow is make it last, make do, or do without, before making any purchase.
There are probably one million websites that will give you strategies for how to pinch pennies and save money. I am not going to cover any of that ground in this post. The one thing many of them tell you, is when saving for a specific goal, put that money in a jar as a visual motivator. Sounds great! But a plain jar? That’s not the Clever Chick way. Let’s make it fabulous!!
First off, you’re going to need a jar of some kind, preferably large enough to hold all the massive wads of cash you’ll be saving. We’ll be adding a decoration to it, and I pulled one out of an old calendar. You could use something from National Geographic, or any old magazine. You also need some glue, hopefully mod-podge, and a paint brush to spread it around.
I chose and trimmed this picture to fit between the bulges on my jar.
If you want to label your jar, I recommend using shirt paint. This, however, shows why it’s important to test your shirt paint on a separate sheet of paper first:
Ca-splosion! But, I managed to recover:
Once the word “Vacation” was dry, I flipped the picture over and spread Mod-Podge on the back. Just so you know, this picture shows waaaay too much mod-podge being used. You should probably put a fairly thin coat on the back. You also have to complete this part of the process relatively quickly so the paper shapes to the jar properly without bubbles, creases, or tears.
I laid my jar down on the gluey picture (of course making sure it was right way up), then wrapped the label around the jar. It might be easier to lay the jar on its side, then wrap the picture around it starting from one end. It would probably be easier to prevent air bubbles and creases. I also used the picture to cover up some ugly label stuff I couldn’t get off the jar.
This step needs to be completed fairly quickly, because once the glue gets on the paper, the paper starts to absorb the moisture. The paper can become weak and tear easily once it has absorbed lots of the glue (which is also why you should use less than I did). I held the jar, and smoothed the picture onto it with my fingers. Glue squished out on all sides, which I then smoothed over the outside. This is a “Do as I say, not as I do” type of craft. I probably should have started from one end of the picture, and smoothed it to the jar as I went. Instead, I ended up with a few creases and bubbles, but unless you touch it you can’t tell. Here it is, coated in glue:
Here it is, dry and complete. You can see a couple creases, but I’m not too worried about it. At least I tried it and showed you guys how to avoid that issue. I also didn’t decorate the lid of the jar, but you can do so following this previous post of mine.
And of course you can use this method for any kind of saving goal. If you’re saving for a wedding, put a picture of a wedding cake; for a house, put a house, etc. Hubby and I have a bunch of stuff around the house that we’ve been planning to sell on eBay or Craig’s list, and any proceeds from those sales go into this jar. I’m hoping that will motivate us to finally get rid of this stuff, and declutter in the process. Here’s hoping!
I am a huge fan of Netflix. I know they’ve had issues recently with changing the name, price hikes, etc, but so far I still love them. There are a ridiculous amount of movies I want to watch that they have, and it makes checking the mail fun again. Unfortunately, those red envelopes are always getting buried under junk mail on the coffee table, so I wanted them to have their own special place where they won’t get lost.
The materials I used are a light bulb box, because it was made of really sturdy cardboard, left over paint, and a post card. I found the original idea that inspired this on pinterest using a cereal box.
First, trim the top of your box to look like this:
I used a nail to punch two holes at the top to hang it from.
I painted it blue, and let it dry overnight. I wanted to use this postcard to decorate the box, but I don’t necessarily want it on there permanently. I have these tiny plastic picture mounters that I used.
You can barely see it, but they are little plastic triangles that fit over the corner of your photo or postcard, and are sticky on the back. I put one each on the upper right and lower left corners, lined up the post card, and stuck it to the box. I then added the mounters to the other two corners.
I tacked it to the wall near the TV so my movies are always visible, and conveniently located for enjoyment.
My new Netflix box is hanging next to this set of framed movie monster postcards, and they look great together.
I keep a grocery list on my fridge so that the minute I run out of something, I can just write it down. I have a goldfish brain, so if I don’t write it down I forget immediately. Spending too much time hunting for a pen has the same effect; by the time I’ve found the pen, I’ve forgotten why I needed it, and then I see something shiny and get distracted.
In order to accomodate my growing senility, I wanted to have a pen on the fridge. There are probably simpler ways to do this, but who cares? My way is cooler. This project requires a small container, such as the tic tac box pictured below, a magnet strong enough to hold up said container, glue (I should probably switch to some kind of non-toxic, this maybe the key to my loss in brain function. Oooh! KEYS! So pretty!), and some kind of magazine or other decorative paper.
First, I ate all the tic tacs, then removed the paper label, and the plastic top. At this stage, make sure a pen will actually fit into your container. I pre-measured my paper (you can see the green piece below, already folded to fit the plastic), then slathered glue on the plastic, and stuck the paper to it.
I used more of the same glue to attach the magnet to the back.
Last thing, I glued on this lovely portrait of H.P. Lovecraft. Let me tell you, MANY people are jealous when they see this on my fridge. Pair it up with those 2 cool magnets I made at the same time (that’s David Bowie on the right), and you can bet people are trying to pocket this stuff when I’m not looking. Just because I can’t remember things for more than ten seconds doesn’t mean I won’t notice.
I seem to have a fixation with decorating my fridge. Or with finding excuses to use lots of glue…
You may have noticed that I like to cook a whole bunch of food at once to I don’t have to do it every night. The other day I washed and cut up 2 heads of cauliflower, and threw them in a baking dish with olive oil and garlic salt. Since the oven was already on and the cutting board was already dirty, I decided to bake some lentils, too. They were already cooked (the night before I made pasta, and since the pot was already dirty I threw a whole bag of lentils in to boil while we were eating dinner. Noticing a pattern?).
I chopped up the remains of a white onion, 2 raw jalapenos, and some red onion, for a total of 1/2 cup of large chunks of onion.
The laready cooked, refridgerated lentils, fresh out of their tupperware:
Yes, that’s a Star Wars cup in the background. I mixed the ingredients in the pan to avoid dirtying extra dishes.
I added 3 tablespoons or so of olive oil to moisten it up, 1/4 cup good parmesan cheese, and probably 2 teaspoons or less of garlic salt. You can make it spicier by adding chili powder, or Sriracha. Once it was done cooking, we each added Sriracha to our own portions to control the level of spiciness. Hubby like things way spicier than I do. You can make it vegan by leaving out the cheese or using a vegan cheese substitute. I haven’t tried those, so I’m not sure how it would work. You can also add some cumin for additional flavor.
I baked it at 350 for 30 minutes or so, until it was bubbling and a little crispy around the edges. The veggies had cooked a little bit, but they were still fairly crunchy, which I liked. You could always saute them before mixing them into the lentils if you want them more done, but I liked the variety of textures.
It’s happened to all of us (I presume): you either buy a brand new shampoo, and you hate it, or you get down to the last inch of shampoo that refuses to come out of the bottle. Now, I may be ridiculous when it comes to saving money, but I’m not one of those “Extreme Couponers” or “Hoarders”, so let’s keep this all in perspective. I paid for an entire bottle of shampoo, and, so help me, I am going to use that entire bottle of shampoo.
Everyone at some point thinks “Hey, this new brand looks like it will help solve all my problems!”, or “They’re out of my regular shampoo! I guess I’ll grab this”, or “It’s on clearance!! And there are EIGHT BOTTLES for a DOLLAR!!” (ahem; I’m sure everyone has done this, or else just me and my dad have). Inevtiably, the shampoo will be terrible. It leaves your hair flat, frizzy, or smelling like bacon, but not in a good way.
As I’m typing this, I’m really rationalizing to myself that everyone has these issues, and is concerned about them. Right? It’s not just me???
Anyway, neurosis aside, there are lots of uses for shampoo. If you have a whole bottle, you can use it instead of laundry detergent. 1/4 cup or less per load should work great. This is also helpful if you run out of laundry detergent, but can’t go to the store immediately for whatever reason. I know I can’t be the only one who has started a load of laundry late at night, or when visiting friends or family and put all my clothes into the washer and started it before checking to make sure there was detergent, and I am NOT going out in public in my Batman pajamas, because I will end up on People of Wal-Mart for sure.
You can also use shampoo to wash your pets. I like to that the shampoo bottles that are almost out, add some water, and shake it up. This makes it easier to get the shampoo spread over the wriggling, screeching pet so the bath can end more quickly. I like the way human shampoo smells better than the pet kind anyway.
You can actually use shampoo in the dishwasher also, if you run out of dish soap. Don’t try to use Dawn, because that will cause an epic bubble flood, but that is actually an easy way to mop the floor, if you’re prepared for it. If you’re not in the mood for epic bubble floods, use shampoo instead.
You can use it as body wash, to wash your car, or lots of other stuff. Shampoo is just soap, so if you have a brand you hate for some reason, just use it anywhere you would use liquid soap.
I think my goal when I write posts like this is to spread my fixation with getting my money’s worth out of everything I buy. That way I won’t seem like such a nutcase.
Mi Madre is a constant reader of my blog (one of the two I have), and when she and I were on the phone yesterday she told me something awesome. She said that when my sister and I were teens, she despaired of us ever cleaning a thing voluntarily. After reading the Deep Clean Week posts, she said it should reassure parents everywhere that kids do develop the ability to clean, and in fact I probably clean more thoroughly than she does. She really did say that! In fairness, she lives on a farm, and has greater concerns than sweeping the floor thoroughly. Our conversation ended yesterday when she had to go herd cows out of the vegetable garden. No joke.
Bottom line, I hope all you people enjoy my practicality as much as I do. If not, here’s a kitten for some entertainment value!
This is a much simpler reupholstery project than the ottoman we did recently, so I’m hoping this will illustrate the basic concepts in a simpler way. This used to be an office chair, then the back broke off. Now it’s a stool, and the vinyl is going to bits. Hubby and I have our computers set up next to each other on a long desk, so you have to walk past one of us to get to the other computer. Having a full-size desk chair in that narrow space is a pain, but this little guy fits right under the desk:
You will need, scissors, staple gun, and some cah-LASSY fabric, like leopard print:
For this small piece, I just flipped it over onto the fabric:
And cut around it:
The seat has rounded corners, so to make sure everything stays even, we fold it over on either side, staple in place, then do the other two sides. I hope I’m explaining this well!
Having the middle of each side anchored makes it much easier to do the gathers on the corners.
Here’s the finished under-side:
And the finished top. The fabric has that fur texture, which is why it looks like it has stripes in this picture, but it doesn’t. That’s just the light.
If you wanted to be REALLY clever, you could make a cover that goes on and off for cleaning. I don’t know how to deal with elastic, so I just did it this way. This would be a good place to use a t-shirt you really like, but doesn’t fit also. I love projects like this, because they add those little unique, personalized touches to your home. Plus, I get to keep a piece of furniture that fits my needs already, rather than buying something new.
Making chocolate covered strawberries is so easy, I just laugh every Valentine’s Day when stores want to charge me $15 for 4 strawberries. Those bakeries must roll around in their money cackling at all the poor saps they trick into purchasing them. Well, no more!! I will save you from being ripped off! Clever Chick to the rescue!!
First, buy a box of strawberries, wash them, and let them dry thoroughly. If they aren’t dry by the time you’re ready to start making them, pat them with a paper towel. I was making chocolate dipped cherries also. You can dip tons of stuff, but lets focus on the strawberries for now.
This is the stuff you need:
You can find it in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips. For the love of candy DO NOT buy unsweetened or baking chocolate. Those will make your mouth hate you, and probably yourself and loved ones will hate you also.
Hey look! I figured out how to get my camera to take pretty pictures close up!!
The chocolate needs to be melted in order to dip stuff. Generally, you don’t want to microwave it because it can scorch and taste terrible, and it’s just generally a bad idea. The grocery store does sell small containers of microwaveable chocolate (usually located by the fruit) that you can melt in the microwave, and then dip stuff into. That method is super easy, and still cheaper than buying chocolate covered strawberries. But, we’re doing this like I do everything: the cheapest way possible! Hooray!
So to melt it, you should use a double boiler. This is basically 2 pans that sit one inside the other, with an inch or two of space in the bottom inside. I don’t have one, so I do this the simple way. One pan with 2 inches or so of water in the bottom, and a bowl set into the top that fits almost perfectly. You will be melting the chocolate with indirect heat, rather than directly on the burner. So put water in there and start it boiling.
Drop in some chunks of chocolate (they come out like ice cubes from a tray) and let them melt. You will have to stir it around a bit. If it starts to get stiff, or chunky, make sure your strawberries are dry, and if they are turn down the heat. You should probably have it around medium or lower.
We you start dipping, start with the biggest strawberries first, because that’s when the chocolate will be the deepest. Rotate them around in the chocolate, then lift, and let any extra drip back into the bowl. Set them down on a cookie sheet covered in foil or wax paper. They will cool to hardness at room temperature.
Don’t put them in the fridge unless you have to. I would make these the day you plan to eat them, and only put leftovers in the fridge. If they get too cold, once you pull them out condensation starts to form on them, which make the chocolate melt. I think I spent a total of $5-6 for this whole batch, and a bunch of chocolate dipped cherries also.
It may seem complicated, but once you try to make these once, you realize how ridiculously easy it is.
Update: I forgot to list the other things you can dip that are awesome: marshmallows, blueberries, chow mein noodles, pretzles, potato chips, banana slices (if you will be eating them immediately), and even BACON. I would recommend doing the salty things last, and for bacon you can drizzle it on top instead of dipping it. This makes my mouth water. I promise, chocolate covered bacon is so good!