Tag Archives: how to

9 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Technology

Ways to reduce the stress of technology I feel like I have the physical stuff part of minimalism down pat. Give me clutter and I can conquer it! But the mental part, that part for me is much harder. I constantly want to fill my day with emails and websites and checking Instagram and Pinteresting ALL THE THINGS! Those things add little value to my life. Those things only add stress. To live a simpler, happier life, I need to let some technology go. Maybe one day, I’ll let all the technology go, but for now, here’s some ways to reduce the stress of technology. Continue reading

The $100 Holiday Challenge: Did I make it?!

The $100 holiday challenge: Can you spend just $100 on gifts this holiday season? This lady tried it!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! This year we are celebrated both! This holiday season I also lost my mind and challenged myself to spend only $100 on almost 20 presents for friends and family. Check out the original post if you need a refresher.

And for those of you who were curious about my strategy, this post explains it. If you’re not feeling extra literary, here’s the short of it: I used coupons, I had a no-gift pact with my husband, I crafted and I shopped early, among other things.

Since it’s now Christmas, I can share the full details with you!

  1. Mom – $2 necklace flea market find
  2. Dad – $10 pants with a coupon at JC Penny
  3. Dog – .99 soft toy from Ikea
  4. Sister – Necklace made from materials at Michaels $10.11 with coupon and Etsy: $10.00
  5. Sister’s cat – .99 soft toy from Ikea
  6. Sister’s boyfriend – $2.78 hat with coupon from Kohl’s and coffee from my CSA (free)
  7. Mother-in-law – Gift basket made with things from the Dollar Tree: $8.00 and a neck relaxer .53 with coupon from Kohl’s
  8. Father-in-law – Set of grilling accessories: $5.33 with coupon from Kohl’s
  9. Brother-in-law – Slippers with coupon from Kohl’s: $6.39
  10. Sister-in-law – Made with same supplies from sister’s present: free
  11. Niece – Finger puppets from Ikea: $4.99
  12. Kid Cousin – $9.99 toy vehicle kit from Ikea
  13. Kid Cousin – $4.79 necklace making kit from Kohl’s with coupon
  14. Gift exchange – Made with same supplies from sister’s present: free
  15. Friend – Ice scraper from Kohl’s with coupon $7.26
  16. Friend – Purse $4.06 with coupon from Kohl’s
  17. Friend’s kid – $10 Groupon
  18. Co-workers – Nuts made with ingredients already on hand and packaged in bags from the Dollar Store $2.00

Total: $100.21

You guys, I got so close! It’s almost unbelievable! Admittedly, I probably didn’t add in tax for everything (which is pretty low here). I would have been under if everything had worked as planned– but of course it never does! I had planned on redeeming some of my credit card/debit card points for gift cards, but they didn’t arrive in time. Although I ordered them a month ago. Ugh!

Regardless, I’m considering this a win!

So what did I learn? Start early– super early. I thought I was starting early enough with a month’s leeway, but I could have used more time. The holidays are such a busy time, I’d love to just be able to sit back and enjoy them without all the shopping and craziness.

Use cash because it’s more tangible and you can easily figure out exactly how much you have left in your budget.

I also learned to look in the clearance section before even looking at something that people might enjoy. Then, use your coupons strategically. I always tried to get things for less than a dollar, if possible.

Check out those savings!

Check out those savings!

And luckily, I have a coupon crazy mom who graciously couponed for me and gave up some of her Kohl’s cash for me.

Happy holidays, ya’ll! It’s been a fun, wild ride, but I’m glad it’s over. I can’t wait for the refreshing start of a new year!

love,
melanie

12 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Gifts

12 ways to save money on holiday gifts Photo c/o FutUndBeidl on Flickr
Have I beat this topic to death yet? No? Great! Because today we’re going to talk about ways to save money on holiday gifts. You know I’m doing the $100 holiday challenge which means this holiday I’m only spending $100 on gifts. But how?! Well, I’m employing all of the strategies I’m sharing today and I’m part elf. Just kidding. Here goes…

  1. Set a limit!
    A budget for holiday gifts is essential. Without a budget and a strict limit, it’s way too simple to overspend or just buy something because it’s “easy.” I like to spend cash only when I’m holiday shopping, that way I know exactly how much I have left to spend without having to do much math.
  2. Make a list and check it twice!
    I sound like I live at the North Pole here, but making a list is important in the money saving process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve totally spaced and forgot to buy someone a gift, then I’ll have to run out the night before their holiday party (or whatever) and pick up something I did not plan to buy. Bonus tip: If you have room, it’s a good idea to pick up a few extra inexpensive and impersonal gifts like nice candies or wine. You never know when you’re going to need an extra gift.
  3. Use your points or promotions
    Do you have credit cards with points or promotions? This is the time to use them. In many cases you can cash in those points for products or even transfer those points to someone else. For my birthday last year, my in-laws let me use their points to pick out whatever I wanted from their credit card’s product catalog. I picked out a gift card for gasoline and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
    If you’ve signed up for something like Swag Bucks this would also be the time to use those. If you aren’t hip to Swag Bucks, it’s an online program where you earn Swag Bucks (or redeemable points) for your online activity.
  4. Coupons
    Ya’ll know I’m not into grocery coupons. If I have a coupon for food, I’ll use it, but I don’t go out of my way looking for food coupons. Since the holidays only happen once a year, I will coupon for gifts. A couple of my favorite places to shop are Kohl’s and JC Penny. Both often offer $10 off coupons and in some cases will let you combine coupons and offers. I always check Retail Me Not and the local circular before I go shopping.
  5. Don’t spend your hard-earned money on wrapping
    It’s easy to forget about actually making the presents look presentable (puns!) when your so focused on sticking within your holiday budget. But gift wrap costs can add up. Challenge yourself to spend as little money as possible on wrapping. I love to wrap presents in brown paper. It’s classic! You can purchase a whole roll at a dollar store and tie presents up with colorful yarn or string. If you want to get extra creative, you could stamp or draw on the paper first. And brown paper works for all seasons, holidays and special occasions! Score!
  6. If you’re crafty, make a gift (but do the math first!)
    Crafting a gift can save you big bucks in some cases. But make sure you do the math first. It isn’t always cheaper to craft gifts. If you’re an avid crafter it might be cheaper to make the gift, but if you’re a supply-less Sally, it might be cheaper to buy a gift. The one time crafting has really saved me money is when I make gifts in batches. For example, you could buy the supplies to make beeswax candles for everyone on your list. (Check out all the gifts I made last year here.)
  7. If you’re a good cook, make a gift (again, do the math!)
    Usually cooking supplies are cheaper than crafting supplies, but it still might be cheaper (and easier, and a time saver) to just buy a pack of cookies and place them into pretty jars. Let’s get real, folks.
  8. Shop early!
    If you are reading this, stop what you’re doing and start shopping now! Just kidding, keep reading this, but then make your list, check for coupons and go shopping. Yes, stores offer more deals around the holidays, but there’s too much pressure to shop under a tight deadline. You’ll be tempted to grab whatever and overspend. I know a few people who even shop year-round for Christmas, that way there is no pressure and they spread out their spending over many months.
  9. Online offers
    I know that having a smart phone is a total luxury, but it helps me save money too! Whenever I’m about to buy something, I’ll do a quick check on my phone to see if I can find it cheaper online. If I can, I’ll either ask the store if it does price matching or I’ll put it back on the shelf and order it online. Ain’t technology grand?!
  10. Useful presents
    Sometimes useful presents are the best. Useful presents don’t have to be the latest kitchen gizmo either. When I was a poor grad student, I told my mom I really didn’t need anything. So instead of going out and buying another thing I didn’t need, she went out and bought me groceries and then wrapped them. It was so nice to get boxes of cereal, canned goods and things I needed, but didn’t have to pay for!
  11. Give your time
    Honestly, I would much rather someone give me their time than any gift out there. Please come over to my house and help me do one of those crazy “Make 56 freezer meals!” things. Please come over to my house and help me clean out my closet (or just talk to me while I do it!) Imagine how nice it would be to give the gift of clean floors to a new mom or the gift of clean gutters to your elderly parents. Truly, time is the greatest gift.
  12. No-gift pacts
    This isn’t for the faint of heart and no, it’s not really “fun” either, but here’s a secret: you don’t have to give a gift to everyone. I know, I know, it’s a nice gesture! It’s the thought that counts and all that jazz, but for some people gift-giving can truly be a financial burden. If you think that gifts will be a financial burden on yourself or on your friends and family, I suggest rationally discussing no-gift packs. And make it clear that no judgments will be made on either behalf.
    My husband and I don’t exchange gifts for most holidays. We have a pact and we’d much rather save the money to go on a trip or to eventually buy a house. An alternative to a no-gift pack, if you have a large family, could be a White Elephant party or a Secret Santa gift-giving scheme.

Remember, it’s all about staying sane this holiday season and not ending the year in budgetary regret!

How do you save money on holiday gifts? Let me know in the comments!

love,
melanie

How to find the best stuff at thrift shops

how to find the best stuff at thrift shops I’ve written a little bit about thrifting before but I recently needed to break out my skillz (yes, skillz with a “z”) again and I thought it would be helpful to share some of my tips.

I’ve been trying to spend as little money as possible, but I still need to look presentable at work. It’s a Catch 22. On Friday when I tried on my last pair of clean pants and had to check the mirror (twice) to prove that yes, my pants had worn so thin that you could see my underwear right through them, I knew that it was time for some new clothes. So right after work I popped over to my local thrift store and scored some serious deals! I have so many people tell me, I never find good stuff at thrift stores, you must be lucky! Well, I’m not, friends. I strategize to find the best stuff at thrift shops. Here’s how I do it.

1. Research!
Did you know Yelp is more than just restaurant reviews? It’s true! Yelp is one of my favorite places to go for reviews of any kind. Before popping to every thrift store within a 20 mile radius, I’ll pop over to Yelp and see what the good Yelpers have to say about it. Sometimes they’ll even share information about discounts! If you can’t find anything on Yelp, Google Reviews might be helpful too.

2. Find out which days the store restocks
Thrift stores restock on different days, just ask an employee which day they restock and shop that day for the best stuff. Usually stores don’t restock on the weekends, so stuff will be more picked over then. I almost always thrift during the week. There’s less crowds and higher quality stuff!

3. Leave yourself enough time to look through everything
Often times thrift stores are stocked to the brim with merchandise. This can be overwhelming. I know. Don’t shop on a strict time limit, you’ll get frustrated. Leave yourself enough time to look through everything you need.

4. Still overwhelmed? Keep a list!
One of my favorite things to do is keep lists. One of my many lists is a running list of things I want or need. Going into a thrift store without a solid idea of what you want can lead to unnecessary purchases and buyer’s remorse. I can easily get overwhelmed in a junk shop, so I keep a list of things I’m looking for in Evernote, that way I can easily refer back to it.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset 5. Looking for clothing? Try on different sizes 
Grab a cart and pull all clothing that you like within 2 sizes up or 2 sizes down from what you normally wear. Clothing at thrift stores is all different brands, therefore different brands have different sizing. I usually wear a 4 or a 6, but I tried on clothing from a size 2 to a size 8. And guess what? The sizes I ended up buying were all over the map. (And if this is discouraging, remember, your worth is not measured by your dress or pants size, my friends!)

6. Not creative? Shop with a creative friend.
Creativity can help when shopping at thrift stores. Creativity helps you to see that ugly, dull dresser repainted a crisp, bright white. If you aren’t a visionary, bring an honest and visionary friend with you to shop. I love shopping at antique malls and thrift stores with George because he can see through the dirt. He knows if something is fixable or just plain junk. I also really admire the thrifting skills of my friend, Candra. She is a total fashonista and has the keen ability to find key wardrobe pieces in piles of junk.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset 7. Don’t be a brand loyal
There are some amazing finds out there for the taking. In my most recent thrifting excursion I found a pair of pair of “7 for all mankind jeans.” Those jeans are super pricey! Unfortunately they didn’t fit me properly, but I did manage to score pants from Ann Taylor, Levi’s, New York and Co. and some little known brands I’ve never heard of. Don’t be loyal to one brand, focus on the style and the fit of the item and you’ll have better luck.

8. Ask yourself this question: is the piece easily fixable?
Thrift stores will often have pieces that need a little work. There’s a missing button or the drawer pulls are loose. But the piece may have some big problems too. I have a terrible habit of biting off more than I can chew and I’ve done this with far too many thrifted things. I now like to ask myself if I could fix it in a weekend. If I can’t, I don’t buy it. If I can, I make an attainable (S.M.A.R.T.) plan for fixing it.

9. Outsource the “fixing!
If the piece just needs to be tailored slightly, I’ll usually buy it. 9 times out of 10 a thrifted blouse that you take to the tailor will be cheaper and will fit you better than buying a new blouse at the local mall. It’s more environmentally friendly too!

I saved even more money at the thrift store with discounts!

I saved even more money at the thrift store with discounts! 7 pairs of pants for $20.72!

10. Ask for discounts
Many thrift stores will offer discounts on either certain days of the week or offer discounts for educators, the military or students. Ask about those discounts! I know the clothes may only be $3, but another $1 off doesn’t hurt!

11. Shop often
I’m not condoning unnecessary spending, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t find something on your first thrifting excursion. It might take time to score the perfect pair of thrift store jeans. Relax and have a good time! The thrill of the hunt makes scoring a deal much more enjoyable!

Do you have any tips for thrift store shopping? Let me know about them in the comments!

love,
melanie

 

Refrigerator Pickles and Banana Peppers

refrigerator pickles and banana peppers

For someone who has a black thumb, I sure can grow banana peppers. I have them coming out of my ears, as they say. In fact, I had so many I couldn’t eat them fast enough. And although I had a bumper crop, it still wasn’t enough to make the effort and learn how to properly can. I also had a couple of large cucumbers that were looking less than fresh. So refrigerator canning seemed like the perfect way to eat up those veggies! Here’s the how to:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of white vinegar
  • 6 or so banana peppers
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp of minced, peeled garlic
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 jars with lids

refrigerator pickles and peppers Wash veggies thoroughly. Slice. I used a pair of scissors to cut my banana peppers and that made it super easy. Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer with a lid on for 20 minutes. Once brine has finished simmering, let cool. Ladle brine into jars, covering the cucumbers and peppers. Add the cloves. Brine for at least 24 hours in the fridge. Keep for up to a month.

How easy was that?! Have you ever made refrigerator pickles? Talk to me about it in the comments!

love,
melanie

How to Make Beeswax Candles

beeswax candle DIY Did you know that beeswax candles are honey hole full of benefits? Ok, that pun was forced. But seriously, beeswax candles can help with allergies, have calming benefits and burn slower and cleaner than paraffin candles. I’ve even heard that beeswax candles give off negative ions that actually purify the air. I also love the scent of beeswax candles.

In elementary school we went to visit the town of Old Salem, a living history town that depict Moravian life in the 18th and 19th century. Well, one guy, dressed in his period-correct finery, was pouring candles. Even as an elementary schooler, I thought that was pretty cool and I bought one. My parents didn’t let me play with matches, so I ended up just smelling the unlit candle like a weirdo. But I’m still obsessed with the natural scent of beeswax candles.

Anyway, I know that beeswax candles are one of those things that I can make cheaper than I can buy. So I did just that. It took me a couple of tries to perfect the process, but here’s how to make beeswax candles.

Supplies

glue wicks Glue your wicks to the bottom of the jars. The glue helps the wick to stay in place during the pouring process. Let dry, then trim the wicks to slightly longer than the desired length. (I didn’t do that and regretted it later.) Pour your pellets and coconut oil into the pitcher. 1/2 pound of pellets makes about a 1 pint jar candle. Fill large pot of water 1/4 of the way full of water.

candle making pitcher Put the candle making pitcher in the water. It might float a bit. That’s ok. Stir until the wax is melted.

candle cooling As the wax is melting either heat up your oven on low or prepare a bowl of warm water and put your jars in it to cool the candles. I did both and both methods worked. The addition of coconut oil and the intricate cooling process ensures that the candles don’t crack. The coconut oil also gives the candles a lovely baby yellow hue.

beeswax candles cooling When wax is fully melted pour carefully into jars to not disturb the wick.

candles covered in tinfoil If using the water cooling method, cover in candles in tinfoil. If using the oven method, turn the oven off and let the candles cool inside.

We just made beeswax candles! All my childhood dreams are coming true! Also, wouldn’t these make great gifts?!

Have you ever tried candle making? Let me know in the comments!

love,
melanie

Frugal Friday: How to Keep New Hobbies Cheap!

Knitting is one of my hobbies.

Knitting is one of my hobbies.

I can be a bit of a hobby addict. I love learning new things, exploring new crafts and discovering ways to use up all that free time I have 😉 But learning and exploring new hobbies can be expensive! I recently took up gardening and I was intimidated by how expensive gardening supplies can be. Here’s some tips I’ve learned to keep it frugal while exploring a new hobby.

  1. Don’t buy any expensive tools until you know if you like it!
    I’m all about buying quality items, but until you find out if you like the hobby, borrow a friend’s tools or buy used supplies.  Thrift stores, for example, can be a treasure chest of knitting supplies. After all, you might end up hating underwater basket weaving!
  2. Pick a cheap(er) hobby
    Let’s be honest, some hobbies are cheaper than others. I recently took up hiking which is good for my body and completely free! Something like horse riding on the other hand would be a bit more pricey. I’m not saying that you should totally give up on your more expensive hobbies, if you can fit it in your budget, but if you are looking to take up a hobby, I’d seriously consider a free hobby over a pricey one!
  3. Make your hobby useful
    My favorite kind of hobbies are those that are useful. I recently learned how to knit and I love giving my knitting as gifts. If your relatives are sick of getting scarves as gifts, consider selling your wares. A little side business could actually help your wallet and help balance out some of the expenses of your hobby.
  4. Lost interest in your hobby?
    There’s always those hobbies that we think that we’ll love and we end up hating. If you’ve lost interest in your hobby, consider selling your supplies to friends, family or through Craigslist. There’s no need to have that weaving kit taking up room in your closet!

Hobbies are important. They give us an emotional and creative outlet that reduces stress and keeps our minds sharp! But there’s no need to spend an arm and a leg on hobbies either. Let’s keep it cheap!

Got any ways to save money on hobbies? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

love,
melanie