Category Archives: Home

6 Tips When House Hunting

I will be writing a series of posts about the process of moving over the next couple months. Whether you’re moving across the country or across the street, this guide should help decrease your stress level and increase your bank account!

Moving Part 1: House Hunting

Moving is expensive and can be very stressful without a plan. There’s the house, packing, how to get your stuff from point A to point B, and paying for it all. Since I am in the process of moving halfway across the country (for the second time), I learned from my previous mistakes and have been able to experience a stress-free move (so far)! One of the most important and possibly the most expensive part of your move is finding a new place to live. Below I outline some steps to take to make finding a home stress-free and actually fun!

1. Budget. Think about how much you can/are willing to spend on housing. The recommended amount to spend on a mortgage or rental is NO MORE than 25% (or a week’s worth) of your annual salary AFTER TAXES. The “after taxes” part is really important because it makes a HUGE difference in your ACTUAL income. See “Your Salary”.

2. Prioritize. Make a written list of what you’re looking for in a home, starting with your #1. If you’re a pros/cons person, write it down and take it with you when you go and look.

3. Research. Start looking 5-6 months ahead on websites like Zillow, Trulia, and various real estate websites to get an idea of what types of houses or rentals are in the area and their prices. Getting an idea of what you can afford in the area you’re looking will help cross things off your “wish list” or re-arrange your priority list.

4. Help. Get a Real Estate Agent! This really did make the entire house hunting experience so much easier. We are renting, so it’s a little harder to find an agent that is willing to work with someone for a rental, but when you find the perfect person, your life will start getting so much easier. I worked with THE BEST realtor possible!

5. Take A Tour. Plan a trip to view a variety of places, even if you think some may not be what you’re looking for. The townhome we ended up renting was one that I was about to cross of my list and then thought, “Why not? We’ll be there anyways”. It ended up being perfect in every way!

6. Narrow it down. Now that you’ve set your budget, make your priority list, know the neighborhoods, and see your prospective future homes you can start narrowing down your options. I would recommend crossing off overpriced options (rent/mortgage costs more than 25% of your take home income) from your list, but if you end up looking at them and choose one, make sure than you not only can AFFORD it, but happily live there without breaking your budget and feeling stressed all the time.

FLHouseFor me, the most important part of finding a home was price. I’ve made the mistake of living in an apartment that was WAY over what I could “afford” (I had money to pay my bills every month, but it was stressful and hard to get ahead). Make sure that the home you end up choosing allows you to have the life you want to live. Don’t try to Keep Up With The Jones’ and become “house poor” (aka broke).

Good Luck on your move!

For more information on starting a personal budget, check out our Getting Started tab at the top of the page.

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Sam

10 Thrifty Tips to being the Hostess with the Most-est

When you live far away from most of the important people in your life, you should feel very lucky if they decide to come visit you. While I realize that sunshine and 80 degree temperatures might play a large role in motivating them to fly south and visit me during the winter, I am still happy they come :) Because I am so thrilled to have good company, I am dedicated to making sure they have the best time possible—and as always, I am looking for ways to do this without breaking the bank.

Once people arrive at their travel destination, they spend the majority of their money on accommodations, food, and entertainment. My goal as a hostess is to incorporate the needs of my guests into my everyday life (budget included) so that while they are in town they can spend less and enjoy their stay without wasting an ounce of their vacation mojo on money worries or guilt trips.

10 Thrifty Tips to being the Hostess with the Most-est

Room and Board

Open your home, and make sure they feel comfortable in it – Hotels can cost upwards of $100 a night. That means if someone you love is coming to visit you for 3 days, they will spend more than $300 on a hotel room alone.  Saving money on a hotel room—that your guests hopefully aren’t spending much time in anyway—will help them save a substantial amount of money and cost you nothing! Plus, you get to see them more, and there is less fuss about coordinating schedules and transportation because you are all located in one place.

Conveniently be doing a load of laundry while they are in town – Chances are you probably do your laundry at least once a week anyway, why not help them out a little by doing it while they are in town? If they are flying, you should tell them ahead of time so they have the opportunity to save on baggage fees—no extra work for you and they might save up to 40 bucks!

It's easy to throw in a few extra pieces of clothing into a load of laundry, and it will help out your guests!

It’s easy to throw in a few extra pieces of clothing into a load of laundry, and it will help out your guests!

 Food

Stock your fridge with a variety of snacks you know they like  Do this before they get to your house so that they don’t feel like you are making extra trips to the store or spending extra money to meet their needs.  Use the money from your predetermined grocery spending allotment to buy the food everyone will like. Zero extra spending for everyone and an increased level of comfort for your guests!

Because we have a sweet tooth due to arrive in a couple of days, Joe picked these up while he was at the grocery store :)

Because we have a sweet tooth due to arrive in a couple of days, Joe picked these up while he was at the grocery store :)

Stockpile coupons for your favorite restaurants – Look for ads online or scan the weekly newspaper for coupons to your favorite restaurants. Save the best ones to use when your guests are in town. This will eliminate awkward battles at the end of the meal once then bill lands on the table.

Make freezer meals ahead of time – The great thing about this tip is that you can make meals like enchiladas or baked spaghetti WHENEVER YOU HAVE TIME and pop it in the freezer until you want to bake it. If your guests are jet-lagged or worn out from a busy day, you can offer to throw it into the oven and give them a nice comforting meal at home, but because the meal is frozen and it won’t “go bad”, there are no awkward refusals if they prefer to go out. These meals are created using money from your regular grocery spending allotment for the month, which means nobody spends extra!

I use these ingredients with the addition of chicken and MORE CHEESE to create enchilda casserole - recipe found at http://pinchofyum.com/chicken-enchilada-casserole

I use these ingredients with the addition of chicken and MORE CHEESE to create enchilada casserole – click on the picture for the full recipe found at www.pinchofyum.com

Get up in the morning and brew their coffee while you make breakfast for the entire household – Breakfast is often taken for granted, but it is an easy way to sneak in some hospitality. There are no arguments about who pays when everyone is still in their PJ’s :)

Entertainment

Be knowledgeable about free fun in your area – Many fun activities (especially if you are an outdoorsy type of person) are FREE! Take advantage of these—biking, hiking, parks, museums, or camping—while your guests are in town. Everybody wins, nobody pays!!

Free hikes are one of my family's favorite vacation activities

Free hikes are one of my family’s favorite vacation activities

Research special events that will be happening while your guests are in town – Once you find events you think they might like—Google promo codes to see if you can get a better deal. For example, I live in Arizona, so spring training is in full swing right now –and so are the promotional deals. Why wouldn’t I offer a picnic in the ballpark as an option for my guests?!?

Provide transportation – Last year, my fiancé and I took a trip to visit his sister and aunt in San Francisco, and one of the things that made our trip so amazing was that his sister drove us ALL OVER the city—showing us ALL of the places we wanted to see. The best part was that she didn’t complain one single time (at least to us, haha, but that’s really all that matters)!! Without her kindness, our trip wouldn’t have been the same.  Since then, I’ve promised myself to pay that favor forward to all of my guests as well.

Joe's sister took us all over San Francisco without making us feel guilty or like we were an annoyance for her. Transporting your guests to the places they want to go is priceless!

Joe’s sister took us all over San Francisco without making us feel guilty or like we were an annoyance for her. Transporting your guests to the places they want to go is priceless!

Find out what THEY want to do and do that – Planning ahead will help all parties involved save money and put your guests at ease, but be sure you are taking their interest to heart. It’s their vacation—Give the people what they want!!

We want to know: What tricks do you use to make your guests feel at home when you are playing hostess? What are the key components of a stress-free, cost efficient vacation if you are playing the role of guest?

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 Brittany

 

Decorating on a Budget – Dollar Store Edition

Decorating for Christmas is really exciting, but can also get expensive. There are several ways to save on Holiday decorations.

Idea #1: Buy decorations AFTER the holidays for next Christmas.

  • What I do: I don’t live in a house with a lot of extra storage space, so buying out a Christmas store after the 25th is not my best option.

Idea #2: Save holiday decorations given as gifts for future Christmas’.

  • What I do: I definitely do this and love it! You get a great inventory of items given to you by people you love. The downside is an interesting mix of decorations…all of which may or may not work well together. I do it anyways.
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Not all of my decorations fall into a specific style-type, but I love looking at decorations that remind me of special people in my life.

IDEA #3: Make your decorations from inexpensive craft materials.

  • What I do: I also am not the craftiest person on the planet, so sometimes my big ideas turn into a pile of Christmas vomit.

IDEA #4: Dollar Store.

  • What I do: You can find some GREAT decorations at various Dollar Stores/Dollar Generals/etc. They have similar items you would buy at target, but for half the cost!
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It’s no “Winter Wonderland”, but it works!

My Christmas 2013 Decorations:

Wrapped Wall Art: Simply wrap your wall art in wrapping paper and slap a bow on a few!

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This is my favorite!

ChristmasDecs 

Happy Holidays! 

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Sam

Home Decor for Dummies (and Cheapies): Starting the Master Bedroom

Moving into a new home can be exciting and provide you with a wide variety of opportunities—new beginnings, new style, new furniture, an ultra clean kitchen—but the road to making a new place feel like your place is not always smooth.  Whether you are redoing a room in your current house or beginning projects in a brand new abode, you will need to research styles you like, look for the perfect items to replace the hand-me-downs you’ve been using since college (I’m shamefully guilty of this crime at 26 and 11/12 years old), and fully commit your hard-earned money and spare time to the cause. I am nowhere near an interior design whiz—although HGTV is one of my favorite channels to have on while I’m multitasking around the house on the weekend—but I am a newbie in my house, and I am ready to make it feel more like a home. This post is the first in a series of many geared towards the everyday girl (or guy) who wants a personalized home but does not have the instinct or cash to match that of the beautiful rooms portrayed in magazines or on TV. Whether our tastes are similar or completely different, this article may help provide inspiration to get started on your next home improvement project while sharing some ways in which you can save money along the way.

 When to Start? I make my best attempt to remain conscious of my spending across all areas of my life, and putting together a home is no different.  We moved into our new place 4th of July weekend and have slowly been acquiring small items and brainstorming how to start the process of completing our home, which is why now—at the end of October—we have just begun really feel some changes within our home. Remember, everyone is different, but if you are looking for a rough idea of how and when to get started,  here are the factors that significantly impacted our decision to start making more major changes now:

  •  We have a consistent and reliable income: Both my boyfriend and I work in the school system, and our jobs did not officially start until the beginning of August. No work means no paycheck, and groceries and other bills were taken care of using the money we had stockpiled before the move. Now that we are financially stable, we can take home décor off the back-burner.
  • We have time: When you move, things get crazy for awhile. Now that the dust has settled and we feel comfortable in our new lives, we can dedicate time and energy to turning our home into a place that we love.
  • We found greatness: We have had our eyes open since we moved, but have just recently found a couple of major furniture pieces that we love. Once those are in place, it is easier to build a room around them.
  • Snowbirds: We want to have a nice, warm, cozy home for all of our favorite snowbirds when they decide to fly south for the winter. In our minds (probably more my mind than my boyfriend’s), the “deadline” has always been just before winter gets annoying in the Midwest.

We are in the first phase of decorating our Master Bedroom. Pictures and Prices below:

 BEFORE:

This is our before picture, which takes "use what you already have to a new level"

This is our before picture, which takes “use what you already have to a new level”

AFTER:

Upgrades: Headboard; His nightstand; textured picture frame; Her nightstand dish. See all updated items and their price listed below.

Upgrades: Headboard; His nightstand; textured picture frame; Her nightstand dish. We also moved the lamp to our guest room and that plastic storage bin into our closet where it truly belongs. There is more to be done, but this is a good start. For more about decorating in phases, read our list of “5 Ways We Save”  after all the pictures. See all updated items and their individual prices listed below.

Breakdown of New Pieces and Prices

Antique Divider Doors

Price: $0.00

My boyfriend inherited these awesome antique room dividers from his mom and we have been trying to find the perfect place for them. We've also been looking for a new headboard and really liked the idea of wood paneling--over the weekend a quicker and cheaper alternative won out. What do you think?

My boyfriend inherited these awesome antique room dividers from his mom and we have been trying to find the perfect place for them. We’ve also been looking for a new headboard and really liked the idea of wood paneling. While brainstorming over the weekend we decided to combine the ideas and really liked the results. What do you think?

His Nightstand

Price: $0.00

A late afternoon garage sale score--so late that we got it for free. We are going for a rustic meets cozy feel in our bedroom and might decide to stain this wood in the future. For now, we kind of like having one piece of furniture with lighter wood to brighten the room up a bit.

A late afternoon garage sale score–so late that we got it for free. We are going for a rustic meets cozy feel in our bedroom and might decide to stain this wood in the future. For now, we kind of like having one piece of furniture with lighter wood to brighten the room up a bit.

Textured Picture Frame

Price: $7.00

From the clearance section of Target

From the clearance section of Target. At $7.00, it is the most expensive piece we purchased so far!

Her KnickKnacks

Price: $4.00

 

This white dish is one of my favorite thrift store buys. I got it for $3.00, and I love the pattern. The bright white is nice with such dark, rich browns in the nightstand and headboard. I filled the dish with pine cones I purchased at Dollar Tree for $1.00

This white dish is one of my favorite thrift store buys. I got it for $3.00, and I love the pattern. The bright white is nice with such dark, rich browns in the nightstand and headboard. I filled the dish with pine cones I purchased at Dollar Tree for $1.00!

Total Expenses Thus Far: $11.00….Still Looking For: Curtains, Curtain Rods, Bed Skirt, and Small Lamps

5 Ways We Save

 1. Slow and Steady: Even though it would be nice to have our interior projects completed as fast as a snap of the fingers, it is not monetarily a priority or creatively possible for us. To avoid debt and intense downfalls of cash flow, we have slowly made purchases over the last few months as well as saved designated spending money that never left our envelopes for the items we know we will need to spend more on.

2. Thrifting: I am officially a thrift store regular, and I am loving it. I don’t buy something every time I go, but thrift stores are great places to find plant pots, dishes, mirrors, and frames for less than $5.

3. Use What you Already Have: We have used tables, curtains, pots, baskets, lamps, and most recently a pair of antique dividing doors several different ways. Sometimes items will endure a timeout in the back of a closet or the garage for a couple of months before we realize they are the missing piece of a complete different interior decorating puzzle—and out they come!

4. Don’t be Afraid to Push Pause: You can start without finishing. if your place isn’t being photographed in Better Homes and Gardens this month and you aren’t having guests over anytime soon, don’t feel like you need to move from start to finish without stopping to catch your breath and rebuild your funds. It’s okay to use a storage chest as a nightstand or have pillows that don’t match your color scheme for  a few days, weeks, or months. Cut yourself some slack!

5. Splurge Sparingly: Sometimes a splurge needs to happen. Every once in awhile won’t put much of a dent in your budget, but every single time will sink your ship. Splurge wisely.

How do you know you are ready to start a major (re)decorating project? What are you tips for making your home look good on a budget?

Less than ONE WEEK until we post our October Debt Tracker Progress Reports!

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 ♥ Brittany