Things I Love

My plan is to start a series where every few months, I share with you purchases that I love and scored for a great price. Some will be with the purpose of letting you know so that you can run out and get the same deal! And others, like today’s, are just to share strategy, as too much time has passed to point you to the deal.

ImageThe coverlet. Anthropologie has some really fun bedspreads, but they are quite expensive! I wanted to add a pop of color to the foot of our bed and I already had some yellow accents going on. I also needed a lighter blanket for the warmer months (all twelve of them). I spotted this lovely piece last spring and did what I always do with things I love: waited for it to go on sale. My tactic is to bookmark an item on my web browser and check on it weekly to see if the price has dropped. It usually only takes a few weeks for that to be the case, but man, Anthropologie is stubborn with their sales. This bad boy hovered at the painful price of $198 for so long that I finally gave up. Fast forward nine months to January and I found myself on the store’s main webpage. And what to my frugal eyes should appear? A winter sale! 25% off already marked down home items. At this point, the coverlet was out of my brain and I was just poking around for fun. I went through the sale items and there she was in all her mustard glory! I got very excited to see not only was it on sale, there was an additional mark down. I put it in my cart to get an estimate on the total costs and took a night to think about it convince my husband this was too good of a deal to pass up. The next day, I checked back on the site and saw this…

ImageThey had sweetened the pot! 50% off an already on sale item? Carted, swiped and shipped. A $200 item for $64! An important thing to note here is that I slept on it. Yes, it was mostly to get my better half on board, but it was also my way of avoiding a spontaneous purchase, even if my eyes had been on it for almost a year. And look how it paid off!

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The other item brightening my space these days is my Pottery Barn set of arrow bookends. Arrows are like, so in right now you guys. They’re the new chevron. Back in December, I made a bookshelf for our living room, and since doing so, we’ve had some books fall over now and again. And again. So I’ve been finding objects around the house that I think will look nice and can serve as a bookend. I ran out of options fast, so I knew we needed to make a purchase. The arrows are functional and decorative (my favorite combination), so I did my usual thang and bookmarked these babies when they caught my eye. $69 for a pair. The thing about Pottery Barn is they are constantly having sales, but it feels like it’s on things you don’t want at all. Like baskets. And towels. And $4,000 furniture that’s $200 off. So, my hopes were not high that I would be getting the bookends anytime this season, but I was happy to plan ahead. I may have had a breaking point one boring weekend when I called all the local PB’s to see who had them in stock because I HATE PAYING FOR SHIPPING and when I discovered none near me did… ItriedtoconvincemyhusbandtodrivemetoSantaMonicatogetthem. We’d be saving $14 on shipping! Our books would fall less! It would fill up our dull afternoon! For non-Angelenos, getting from the Eastside (where we are) to the Westside is a whole thing. Luckily, my husband shot me down and I would spend another sleepless night with an arrow shaped hole in my heart.

Then I remembered something! Pottery Barn almost always offers free shipping on holidays. President’s day was this month and I thought it might be my opportunity to pounce. So I did what any normal girl would do: I put a reminder on my calendar. Yes, that’s an actual photo of the way my calendar currently looks. You can tell it’s authentic because I didn’t try to make my Imagehandwriting cute (thought about it). Then I waited. And a week before the holiday the bookends went on sale! $15 off! Totally unexpected and added even more pressure to my “will they, won’t they” free shipping date. What if the sale ended before Monday? What if there was no free shipping and I waited and missed out for nothing? Oh, the pressure. The holiday came and what do you know? There was a special code for free shipping; one day only. Carted, swiped and shipped. For free! $29 saved and one less book on the floor. A win-win.

Because I’m a freak, I sometimes check back after I’ve bought something to see if the sale is still going. I like to reassure myself I got a good deal and all that. Other times, it backfires and they drop the price more, and then I’m mad at me. In this case, I’m glad I did because they had sold out the very next day! How is that for an ending?

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Weekly Tip: A Well Stocked Kitchen Is Invaluable

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Pottery Barn’s new pantry set

I have made reference once or twice to doing things on the cheap, but part of the reason it was so inexpensive is because I already had the materials I needed on hand. I know this is not the case for everyone, and therefore if you tried to make what I made, you’d be starting from scratch and the venture would be more expensive than I made it seem. The best way to overcome the problem of an empty pantry is to stock up little by little as you shop. The only reason I have as many spices or baking ingredients as I do is because I have experimented with meals and they’ve accumulated over time. If you are just starting out in cooking, you wouldn’t be in this position. A great place to begin is to make a list of what ingredients you wish you had on hand and slowly shop the sales to cross them off. There is no need for a binge shopping grocery store trip in order to stock up. Budget for a $5 investment towards this in your weekly allowance and that should do the trick.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, cornmeal, powdered sugar ¬†(I’m guessing you already have most of this)
  • soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, a variety of vinegars (apple cider, red wine, white wine, rice, balsamic…)
  • Any and all spices. This could take a while. Spices are crazy expensive in California. But there are ways around this. Buy the small size unless it’s an ingredient you use A LOT. In my kitchen, chili powder comes in handy often, so I always buy the taller size. Another thing: spices expire! Did you know that? No use in buying bulk for something that may get tossed in a year. Right now Vons is having a sale where if you buy two already discounted spices, the third is free (check the expiration, they could be trying to clear the shelves). I noticed Whole Foods also sells a good selection for $2.99 a piece. That is cheap!
  • Freeze some meats. Get the manager’s special even if it’s something you know you aren’t going to cook that week and freeze that baby up! You’ll be glad you did when you’re scrounging for a meal.
  • broths, rices, pasta noodles: most of these you can find in the .99 cent range
  • peanut butter, mustard(s), ketchup, mayo, lemon and lime juices
  • Salts! Maldon is being called for more and more in recipes these days. My local butcher sells it for $7, which is the lowest price I’ve found. $10 on Amazon. Trader Joe’s sells a white truffle salt and oh my word is it good on popcorn. It’s also good to have kosher, sea salt and good old fashioned table salt (for baking). I can understand if this is not a priority in your kitchen… but just some food for thought! ūüėČ
  • And my personal favorite and perhaps the most important of all… butter: unsalted and salted!

If you write out your version of this list and give an estimate to the cost of each (subtracting what you already have, of course), you’re probably looking at a $50 investment spread out over a couple of months. But what this price tag gets you is invaluable. The ability to whip something up out of ingredients you already have on hand is creatively fulfilling and saves you a lot in the long run. Hopefully the amount you have to buy to create a meal of your choosing is less and less with each trip. Good luck!

The Purse Fund

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Last year, I found myself newly married and wanting a purse (these obviously go hand in hand). I had gone through my phase of fake leather, Urban Outfitters, cheapo purses and was ready to upgrade to the real deal. I had developed a penchant for handbags in my college years after my mom bought me a Coach purse for doing well in school. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a normal gesture or the rewards system my family used–though, I could be into that. I had worked forty hour weeks as a waitress while taking twenty-one unit semesters, summer courses that kept me from returning home, volunteered at a hospital and did community service with 7th graders in order to gain acceptance into UCLA. So, she was sweet and bought me a little congratulatory gift for all my effort (which paid off, I got in). Little did she know, that was all it took to convert me. That chapter wore out its welcome and I stopped the expensive habit a few years later. Enter the Urban Outfitters phase. Now, back to 2013: here I was, a newlywed, wanting something that was once a justifiable expense to be a mutually accepted reality in our lives. Then I realized, no man would ever see the price of a designer purse and understand (to be fair, I didn’t test this theory). That’s when I thought of The Purse Fund! I realized I could buy my own with the scraps I saved up over the course of a few months, and similar to our Way2Save account, we would never feel the hit.

I started saving in a paper envelope that I kept in my dresser. The banker would poke fun at me when I’d cash a $3 check that I got from a rebate. I sold mounds of things on Craigslist: nothing is junk! Everything has a price tag! One person’s trash…you know! The rule in our house is if either of us bought something before we were married and chose to sell it, we get to keep the proceeds. If it was a joint purchase after marriage and we sell, it goes into our checking. I made that up. Because of this. *pats self on back* I used eBay sparingly, as I think it’s the devil, but I managed to sell a vintage dress and older designer purses I had hung onto. I even sold two used cell phones for a decent price here. There are numerous places to get cash for your clothes in Los Angeles, which I did a bit of as well. Since starting the fund I have been able to buy two purses. I currently have enough for a third, but I’m holding out to save a little more.

The icing on the cake is once you’ve worked for the money, you aren’t going to just spend away your sweat and tears. You’re going to find the best possible deal because you know the value of a dollar. So with that in mind, my first purchase was for one marked down by $100. The second? Are you ready for this? $310 off! I have the outlet mall and Black Friday to thank for that. I realize not everyone likes purses the way I do. But I know you have that special something you want to splurge on occasionally. For my husband, it’s adding to his blu-ray collection. For my sister, it’s probably video games. For many women, it’s shoes. You can apply this method to any old thing you like and watch the cash pile up. It works like this: seek quality first, be willing to wait (sell/save), remain frugal in your purchase. Just because you have the cash doesn’t mean you spend it.¬†

Your Crappy Wells Fargo Account Just Got Cooler

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How much do you save a month on average? Does your money earn any interest? Online banks are where you will find the best interest rates outside of a CD or using the stock market. We were previously with ING, the once hyped, now Capital One-owned online bank. We decided to transfer our funds elsewhere once the buyout happened and I realized how many times they had dropped our interest rate in one year. The brick and mortar banks are useless if you are trying to earn interest. We only bank with Wells Fargo for checking, linked to a small savings that we use as an emergency fund because it’s easily accessible. Their savings account rates range from .01% to .08%. With figures like that, you better believe our savings for a quality frugal lifestyle are not with them.

While hunting for an online bank, you will find mostly bad reviews because everyone hates banks. Do not be deterred dear stranger, as banks aren’t the happy place you go for fun. Unless we’re talking about some no-name suspicious looking website–pick your bank based off their savings account interest rate, buzz or presence on the web, whether they are FDIC insured and how much the interest rate has gone up or down in the last few years. As of today, CIT Bank, Barclays, Discover and Ally are the highest online rates out there– ranging from .85% to .95%. Still historically low, but better than the bigger banks.

In addition to your separate online savings, Wells Fargo customers can sign up for an account called Way2Save. Every debit purchase and automatic bill withdraw (or bill pay transaction) is tallied. At the end of each business day, $1 for every one transaction is transferred from your checking to your linked savings. In other words, if on Thursday I use my debit to grocery shop, fill my gas tank, buy a coffee and shop at Target; $4 would be transferred into my Way2Save on Friday. Last fall, we converted our crappy WFB savings into the less crappy W2S. It’s the most thoughtless saving I have ever done–not once have I felt the hit in our checking from the constant deductions. The interest rate is a pathetic .01%, which is why the money outside of the emergency fund shouldn’t stay there for long.

The possibilities with the additional cash are really exciting. For the strict saver, it’s probably an extra $200 a month that you didn’t have to think about putting away. The most we have had transfer over was $21 (after the weekend), which felt simultaneously good and bad. Add that to what you’re hopefully already putting toward saving every month and things are looking pretty good. So far it has been more of a luxury sum for us, where we use the set aside money for a calculated purchase of our choice. It’s a sweet spot where we can pay for something without feeling like we’re actually spending our money. Next week I’ll talk about something Way2Save bought us and you’ll see what I mean. I would recommend this approach to people who are comfortable in their saving methods outside of this system and just want to have a little guilt-free spending money. For others, it could be all they save that month and that’s really great (in fact, better). Another use is to link it to your retirement account and have your monthly contributions made that way. I might even take my own advice and switch it up!

While this account charges a $5 monthly service fee, it is waived if you have ten debit transactions a month. Remember the part about $21 in one weekend? Yeah, not a problem for us. But you can also avoid the fee by keeping at least $300 in the account at all times or forgoing the entire debit idea and just setting up an automatic transfer into the W2S account of $25+ a month. I know it’s only $5, but if the bank offers a way to avoid those fees, why wouldn’t you take it? The key here is to recognize that even if you’re looking at $1 a day, you just added $365 to your year-end savings that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Or you just paid for your round trip airfare for that weekend getaway. The AppleCare that used to add insult to injury? You just bought it. Let’s face it: we’re a financially undisciplined society and more likely to pull from savings or spontaneously swipe even if we can’t afford to. Here’s a way to mitigate that urge. Do you have a crappy Wells Fargo Bank account? It just got cooler.

The Kitchen Island Project

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Pottery Barn’s Hamilton Reclaimed Wood Kitchen Island

Last month, I was in major project mode and one of the results of this was a new kitchen island. A big frustration in that space had been the table and chairs. They were lower than the counter surrounding it, we never sat in them and I always ended up using it as a chopping station where I had to crouch over to work. We have a much bigger patio table a few steps away and when it’s just the two of us, we often use the coffee table to eat our dinner. So I looked into buying a kitchen island. Because I seek quality first and deals second, my first stop was Pottery Barn. Purchases like these are always a little scary when you’re a renter, because you have no idea what your future home will look like. It’s one thing to get a nice couch you think will fit anywhere, but something as stylized as an island is trickier. Most remodeled kitchens have them these days. The beauty you see above is $1,899, which hurt my heart as I could not justify the amount for something we may or may not need in the future. So, I announced to my husband I was going to make my own. I have never attempted a piece of furniture in my limited wood working history, but I believed this would be a fun challenging adventure. Just the thing I needed to satisfy my boredom! I had no outline to follow, just the inspiration of the aforementioned piece and my own ideas of what would work for me. This will not be a “how to” post, as I still want to have friends when this is done.

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Wood from the first trip

I took a scouting trip to Home Depot where I picked out the types of wood I liked and totaled the costs. I chose a thicker piece for the top of the island, because I wanted to emulate a butcher block without it actually being one. I also played with the idea of covering the entire top in marble, but as the pleasant woman at Home Depot informed me, it is a minimum of $900 to order marble for a kitchen project. I spent about an hour there planning ahead¬†so I knew exactly how much we were going to have to spend. Thankfully, wood for DIY projects at Home Depot is a little cheaper than $1,900, so I was in the safe zone. I almost exclusively use pine when I’m building something, so I worked no differently here. By the end of the project, including multiple return trips, I spent about $100 on wood and cutting. I had already owned the Golden Oak stain, wood glue,¬†polyurethane and sandpaper.

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the island post stain

I wish I could tell you the project was fun, easy, inspiring and that I’m a new woman as a result. But it was truly hell. My husband stepped in about halfway through the assembly process and took over everything that required a drill or screwdriver. In other words, he put it all together. I can’t tell you how many times we had to take apart and reassemble various pieces for lack of foresight on my part. When all the originally purchased wood was put together, we realized the island needed more reinforcement. I went to my local hardware store and bought two more pieces to make the cross-section you see in the back. That’s a tough measurement, because you have to buy the piece of wood, which is eight feet long, have it cut in half so that it is manageable, take it home, hold it up to the spot where it would lay and pencil in the exact angle the wood would need to be cut on either end. Then take it back, have them cut it and pray to God it was the right fit. After completing this process, the table was still unstable. I was advised to add even more reinforcement on the sides, which meant repeating the steps above. Aesthetically, I did not like that idea, but I agreed it had to be done. That final step worked and the table was ready for my attack. I took two days to stain (should have done that first!) and about three to cover the top in multiple coats of polyurethane. A lot of dry time.

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paper towel holder

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cheap hooks

Now for the best part… the part that made it all worth it! Accessorizing! I knew from the Pottery Barn inspiration that I wanted to affix some sort of hook system and that all the add-ons would be an antique black iron. I was working with a small space on the side panels, and I didn’t want them to scream “I’M RUSTIC!!!!”, even if that’s what I was going for…that meant no Anthropologie. I landed on two very simple small hooks that I found in a box at my local hardware store. They were $2 each.

Next, I thought it would be cool to have a paper towel holder on the other side, which would free up even more counter space since the previous one had been an upright design. I could only find one black iron model and it would take time to ship, plus it had bad reviews–which is weird for a paper towel holder, but moving on… I found one in nickel at the Container Store for $16.99 and bought some $7 black spray paint at Blue Rooster in Los Feliz. The two became one and I was starting to get really excited!

The last stop was Crate and Barrel, where I got my nifty marble slab. It was somewhat of a painful purchase at full price and particularly because I knew Sur La Table was having a sale at the time for one four inches shorter and $20 less. I liked the idea of the slab filling one entire half of the island, so I stuck with my vision and got the more expensive one. No regrets. After that, I simply took things from other parts of the kitchen and filled the island, freeing up a ton of cabinet and counter space. The day after I completed the project, I realized I could add our wall-mounted bottle opener to the front for that little extra touch. So I sprayed it black and slapped it on and there you have it! A completed kitchen island that didn’t cost anywhere near $1,899! Let’s tally the cost, shall we?

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bottle opener

Wood and Cutting: $100

Screws and foam brushes: $10

Paper Towel Holder: $17

Hooks: $4

That’s a total of $131 for the island and its attached accessories. I sold the table that was previously in its spot for $40, so if you want to subtract that, you’re looking at $91 out-of-pocket to produce. I feel joy everyday while using this. I love the rustic touch it gives my Old Hollywood kitchen and the fact that if I had to give it up at some point, I know it was fairly inexpensive and could possibly even sell well for being handmade. There is so much room for affordable creativity when you’re willing to put in the work.

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the completed kitchen island (pre bottle opener)

Not All Cash Is Green

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I know those look like ink cartridges, but your eyes are playing tricks on you. That’s actually money. Remember what I said about knowing the value of a dollar? Don’t underestimate the value of this plastic in disguise. Allow me to explain…

Staples allows people to recycle used printer cartridges and will pay you $2 a pop for them. Huh?! It doesn’t even matter if you bought them there. I hang onto my used cartridges for a few months at a time until I have enough to bring in. Last week I took nine in and got $18 in store credit. It took me just under a year to save that many, though that may be a conservative amount compared to some. For fun, let’s say you use ten cartridges a year, which is about what I do. That’s $20 a year of cash back for your purchases. $80 in four years. In my experience, the average lifespan of a printer is right around there. Guess how much my printer cost? Correct! $79.99. This means that barring the cost of the first, you could theoretically go a lifetime without having to pay for another one. Each subsequent purchase would be covered by the cost of the cartridges. And this example assumes you use a fairly small amount per year; imagine all the upgrades you could make with more. That, my friends, is what we call cheating the system.

The thing to know is that you don’t get the money at the time of recycling. Ideally, you would¬†plan ahead (words to live by on this blog!) and make a special trip to drop off the cartridges. A few weeks later, you’ll get the credit via email; which means you have to go back to Staples to use it. That is why it’s important to recognize the value of a dollar. It would be easy to shrug off the $2 incentive as a waste of time because it’s not a ton of cash, but I know you’re smarter than that. Now look at the picture again.

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See? Your perspective has changed already.

How to make Restoration Hardware Affordable*

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Maxwell Chair

Who do you know that is under forty and can afford this store? No one? Me neither. I love looking at all the beautiful pieces of furniture, the vintage Monopoly set we’ve been eyeing for years, the clever stocking stuffers at Christmas time… But if I have ever considered buying something from Restoration Hardware, it has always been through Craigslist. More on this in a future post, but Craigslist is your friend. Or at least he’s mine. He may be my best friend. When my husband started working from home, we decided to get a more comfortable chair for the den since that would now be his work space. So naturally, my first resort was CL.

I had fancied the Maxwell leather chair from Restoration Hardware, but figured it was highly improbable that we would get it at full price. It retails for $2410 (for the luxe depth), they charge $149 to bring it to you and then there’s that wonderful 9% sales tax. So when all is said and done, you would be spending $2775.90. On Craigslist, RH stuff usually sells surprisingly close to full price, but it’s still a better deal than in the store. No one seemed to be selling the chair I wanted in the time frame I needed it, so I moved on.

In my google searching, I had discovered that there are two Restoration Hardware outlets in the Los Angeles area; one in Long Beach and one in Camarillo. I called both to see if they had the chair in stock and neither did. This is the part to pay attention to, the part that makes all the difference in getting the best deal you can: I called again. And again. And every week until one of them said yes. In fact, they didn’t even have it in stock when we spoke; but on a previous phone call, one kind clerk had informed me that the list of weekly orders comes on a certain day, meaning they could know up to one day in advance if something would be available that week. You better believe I called a day in advance so that I could plan ahead and be there if they had it.

The beautiful thing about Restoration Hardware outlets (and probably a lot of others!) is that the outlet price isn’t where the deal ends. They usually have some sort of promotion on top of the lower price. On this particular day, it was an additional $20 off every $100 spent. To start, the chair was already over $1,000 less than the total value stated above. Then with the promotion and the fact that we were able to haul it away ourselves, we ended up saving $1,318.20.

We bought a quality product that will last; no faux leather that will rip apart in two years. It actually looks better as it “ages” in that you can scrape it up and it only enhances the vintage look of the leather. We were able to get the luxe model, unused (it would have been if it was from CL) and without flaws, which is an important note: when shopping for furniture at an outlet always ask if there are any defects.

The kicker here is that because Eric works from home, things like the square footage of the office and any work-related furnishings are TAX DEDUCTIBLE. The chair being such had not occurred to us until this past weekend when we met with our tax accountant. She deducted the entire thing because it was bought specifically for our home office. How about that? The government honors Restoration Hardware purchases!

As a friend told my husband when he sank into its depths, “this is the chair you will be sitting in when your future son-in-law asks for your daughter’s hand in marriage”. I think he’s right. We’ll have it forever.

*Affordable is a relative term, and for the purposes of this blog, I will be speaking as if the reader is someone seeking a quality frugal lifestyle. I go more into this concept in my introduction.