Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom: Spending and Living Simply "South of the Haimish Line"

{Wednesday Wisdom is a series designed to connect you with financial wisdom from around the web to help you save and live more wisely with less.}

 Wednesday Wisdom: Great tips and insight from LearnVest on how to live more simply and consider living more with less.

How to Spend 

"South of the Haimish Line"


Recently, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece about the “Haimish Line.” The Haimish Line is an invisible line sometimes crossed when you go from spending less to spending more—in doing so, Brooks contends, you often sacrifice warmth and connection to attain luxury and space. According to Brooks, “haimish” is a Yiddish word that suggests “warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.”
An exclusive, white-tablecloth, four-star restaurant where servers disappear and diners are on their Blackberries would be north of the Haimish Line. A small, casual diner on the corner bustling with loud conversations from neighborhood folks talking over each other would be south of the Haimish Line. A new dorm building with a shiny, new, unused lounge would be north of the Haimish Line;  the well-worn lounge of ratty furniture that students veer toward would be staunchly planted south of the Haimish Line. The Haimish Line even slices across neighborhoods: densely packed urban neighborhoods where kids run home from school and and people have stoop conversations versus spread-out suburbs of isolated living in separate homes and cars.
Brooks advises that we learn to spend our money well and stay south of the Haimish Line.
I found this essay so compelling because money often buys privacy, space, exclusivity and “luxury”—all of which are the very opposite of “unpretentious conviviality.” In America, the picture of success is a bigger house (where the family is more spread out), moving to the suburbs (with more distance between neighbors), a nicer car (to be more vigilant about spills in), and flying first class (ok, so some things are not worth getting all concerned about “the Haimish Line” over).
Seriously, though, there is something to be said for not unwittingly losing the warmth of “haimish” in our lives as we grow in our financial prosperity. As LearnVest helps you tackle your finances (check out our Take Control Bootcamp) and increase your earnings (check out our Career Bootcamp), we also hope to help you to spend your money well, to stay south of the Haimish Line. Here are a few ways:

1. Buy a Smaller House

I grew up in a modest house in the middle-class suburbs of North Jersey. We had neighbors all around us, just a few steps away over a row of bushes in one direction or another. We ran around the adjoining woods with the neighborhood kids, played kickball in the cul de sac, and had barbecue get-togethers in the summertime. When I left for college, my parents moved “on up” to a larger, more luxurious house in a wealthier neighborhood. The entryway had dramatic two-story high ceilings. The rooms (there were eight of them) were huge and echoing; some would stay unused for weeks at a time. The plot of land was bigger, the large, stately homes more spread out. Instead of dinners over each others’ houses, neighbors exchanged waves from driveways before getting into their quiet European luxury cars and driving away.
I never grew to like my parents’ second house: While it was bigger and “nicer,” it lacked the haimish that makes a house a home, and a block a neighborhood. The next time you’re financially ready to change your living situation, don’t automatically assume bigger is better, or that a tonier neighborhood is the direction to move in. It may be what people expect, but consider investing in the things that truly make you happy about your home—there’s a good chance those things are south of the Haimish Line.

2. Eat Out at a Communal Table

Dinner out is often a treat, but for some reason we usually equate a nice dinner with a north-of-the-Haimish-Line fine restaurant, replete with white tablecloths, spaced-out tables and hushed service. Next time you go out, look for a great restaurant with a communal table, a trend that a lot of restaurants are embracing. A communal table is a long table, often in the center of the restaurant, where random diners are seated to share. It is usually a much livelier place to sit, just from the effects of the cozy proximity of neighboring diners, and overlapping and sometimes shared conversations. If you can’t find a restaurant with a communal table, try a place where seats are very close to each other, or eating at the bar, where you can easily strike up a conversation with the bartender or a neighbor.

Where Do You Draw Your Haimish Line?

Does the pursuit of luxury mean that you have to sacrifice warmth? Weigh in on LV Discussions.

3. Take Public Transportation

Cars provide us privacy and efficiency, but they’re not nearly as interesting as riding public transportation. One writer said that even if he made enough to have a private car service in New York, he would still take the subway for the fascinating people-watching. Take a bus or the subway, and share company with your city-mates. Or consider taking a train instead of driving on your next out-of-state trip. This retro method of transportation hearkens back to a time when a cross-country trip entailed communing with others; after all, there’s nothing more haimish than a group of strangers headed to the same destination, sharing a conversation or two.

4. Bunk Up With Friends

It certainly is a luxury when traveling to be able to afford a nice hotel with separate rooms for everyone. And if you’re a finicky traveler, this might still be the way to go. But there’s something to be said for sharing rooms, staying at friends’ or family’s homes (just make sure to be the perfect houseguest), or even shacking up at a stranger’s via Airbnb. The accommodations may not be as perfect, but in exchange, you’ll have more late night conversations with friends you’re staying with, local tips on navigating the town, and all those interesting moments that come with sharing your traveling quarters with someone.

5. Buy Some Cheap and Cheerful Items

When it comes to your wardrobe, we always recommend investing in quality pieces that will last a long time, as opposed to buying cheaper, more ephemeral items (check out our Priceless Style Bootcamp to get your wardrobe budget in line). However, quality pieces are often accompanied by more stress about not damaging or losing them. We still think the tradeoff makes quality items a better investment in general, but here are a few examples of some cheapies you can buy in the name of haimish living:
  • a cheap pair of fun, dangly earrings to loan to your friend in a pinch if you’re both going out
  • inexpensive slippers, towels and tennis rackets or bikes for house guests
  • an inexpensive coat, scarf or cold weather item you might give to a homeless person in passing
  • cheap art prints or decorative items you can use to decorate around the house, and give away to guests who love them (in some parts of the world, if a guest compliments a host on an item, it’s customary for the host to give it to her guest)
Haimish living isn’t about glorifying modest means or not enjoying the fruits of your labor. It’s simply the idea that money should be well spent, to bring more satisfaction, fulfillment and warmth into our lives. Spending south of the Haimish Line is one way to do so.

Can You Live on One Income?

 These tips are from one of my favorite financial news and information resources, LearnVest, a site that makes financial literacy easy to understand and plan for.

Can You Live on One Income? 

Find Out With These Steps

One income 
Here’s another helpful post from our friends at Savvy Sugar. Check it out:

There are too many families who were taken by surprise when one breadwinner suddenly lost his or her job, but some couples might choose to give up an income for one reason or another. Maybe one person was offered a job in another city, leaving the other one without employment, the couple wants one parent to stay home with the kids, one half of the duo is miserable at work and wants out ASAP, etc.
Before you make the choice to live on one income, you need to find out if it’s a viable option by following these steps.

1. Re-Calculate Your Housing Costs

It’s likely that your rent or mortgage accounts for the largest chunk of your expenses. Calculate what percentage of the household income would go toward these costs. If it’s a number that doesn’t make financial sense, ask yourselves if you’re willing to move somewhere less expensive.

2. Get Your Financial House in Order

Before making the decision to live on a reduced income, it’s crucial that you have a solid emergency fund and very little (if any) credit card debt. You’ll have less wiggle room after making the drastic change, and the situation won’t be so smooth if you go into it with shaky finances.

3. Experiment

While both of you are still earning your regular salaries, put your wishes to the test and live on one income for a month. Pretend the other salary doesn’t exist by directing those funds into a savings account.

4. Track Expenses

While you’re experimenting with living on one income, track your spending so it’s clear where cuts could be made if needed. Both of you can track your own expenses in a shared spreadsheet, or you can hook your accounts up to a money management program like LearnVest’s My Money Center that will categorize your expenses for you.

5. Repeat the Experiment

Live for another month on one income while earning two, but this time try changing your habits based on what you learned from tracking spending during the previous month. Spending smarter is good for your finances no matter what, and will help you both feel more in control of your money at a time when you’re making big changes.

6. Look Harder at Your Expenses

If living on one income still seems out of the realm of possibility after changing your spending habits, take a deeper look at your expenses to see where else you might be able to cut back. Could you live with one car instead of two, or find a cheaper one? Would you be willing to reduce your cable package? Scale back your cell phone plan?

7. Communicate With Your Partner

Because one person is going to rely on the other for financial support, it’s necessary for the lines of communication to be as open as ever. If you’re the one turning away from your income, ask if your partner feels like there’s too much pressure on him or her. Just because you might be able to get by on one income doesn’t mean the other person won’t feel additional stress. The two of you need to discuss whether any sacrifices are worth it.

8. Come Up With a Plan

Your previous ways of managing money might have to be scrapped when you’re living on one income. Perhaps you used to have one shared account and a personal account for each of you. That system might continue to make sense, but it might not. The most important thing is that you’re both on the same page, so agree on how to manage your money and stick to the plan.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Winner! And a Break.

You have probably noticed, I've been somewhat absent the last few days.  Although this blog is still getting off the ground, I am feeling the need to take a break this week from blogging to focus on getting in a routine for the new semester.  I have just jumped back into a full-time seminary semester, and my mind is forgetting how much work it is to read, process, write, and repeat over and over again.  I think it will only take me a few days to really get back in the swing of things - please excuse my absence while I take the next few days off to get myself adjusted!  Check back next week - I'll be offering some Cheap Date Friday ideas, have some reflections on simple living, and offer new tips on keeping your sanity while on a budget!

In other news, we have a winner for last week's cookbook bundle giveaway!  Using, a winner was selected at random from our entries:

Kaylene J, you are the winner!!

Please email me at to claim your prize!

Everyone else, see you next week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HOW TO... Preserve your lettuce a little longer

The problem with buying for just two people is that it can be difficult to get through all your perishable food items before they, well... perish!  Therefore, any tip that can extend produce's life just a little longer is worth trying in my book.  And that's how this unconventional trick came about.

How to Make Your Lettuce Last Longer
After washing your lettuce and shaking the excess water, place them in a clean pillowcase (cotton is best).  Pat dry and place it in the refrigerator in your produce drawer (if you have one).  The cotton will help the lettuce last longer than a plastic bag.  Strange, but true!  

Try it out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Painting Mason Jars

Mason jars are instantly charming to use as drinking glasses, planters, or as holders for gifts, dressings, and candles.  They are also easy to find at Salvation Army or a good hand-me-down to ask family members, friends, or church members for.

Painting Mason jars is an easy craft for a rainy (or snowy) day and requires a short list of materials:

- Spray paint (easier) or acrylic paint and a brush
- Mason jar(s)
- Newspaper for setting jars on to paint and dry

The steps to creating these fun decorations are equally simple:
  1. Set out newspaper on a flat surface.  
  2. Set the jar upside down on the paper and spray (or brush) paint in a single, even coat.  Let dry for about 5 minutes.  
  3. Add at least one or two more coats until paint looks solid and even and is the shade of your liking.
  4. Let dry over night (or at least 8 hours) and then you can be creative with its use!  I use mine as bookends, pen holders, and flowerpots.  They also make great gifts when used as a flowerpot, to hold a back-to-school survival kit stuffed with pens, pencils, and bookmarks, or as a pretty jar.  
Note: Once painted, do not use for food!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why (and How) I Sell On eBay

I began selling on eBay over the summer when we had decided for sure that I would be going to school full-time.  After deciding not to shop for the next year last winter, I resolved that I would spend the year purging my closet of all the things I didn't actually wear over the course of the year.  I figured that if I didn't wear something in a whole year with no new clothes, I never would.  Once I started cleaning out my closet, I couldn't get enough of it.  I realized how overstuffed my closet was and how many clothes I wasn't wearing or didn't even remember I had.  It was actually embarrassing to think how long I had gone on with so many things I didn't need.  But now I'm off the subject - why I began selling on eBay.  (For more on my year without shopping, which is drawing to a close, read here.) 

I decided to try selling my clothes on eBay because it seemed a shame to just get rid of all of my clothes and things in perfectly good condition go to waste.  I decided some would go to Salvation Army or Goodwill, and others I would try to sell.  Anything that was faded, outdated, or in bad shape got thrown away.

Selling on eBay is not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated it would be, especially if you have a Paypal account and a digital camera.  Yet after a few listings, I realized that I had to learn how to really sell my things to attract the most interest.  I did a little research and learned a few tips along the way.  I am sharing these tips to help those of you who already sell but want to attract more viewers and interest in your items, or to help those of you who haven't thought about selling your clothes be encouraged to give it a try!  Most of all, if you decide to go for it, don't get discouraged.  If worse comes to worse, you can donate your things to a good cause and try again with something else.  

Find sellers who are offering similar items successfully and take note of what they do.
I found the most helpful tips by observing fellow bloggers who sell on eBay and other sellers who were selling similar items and getting them sold at a good price.  This is what I noticed these sellers had in common:
  • They listed brand names first then followed with simple details such as size, color, and fit.  They didn't add lots of gimmicky phrases or describe how great it was, they gave the brand name and details that someone would be looking for in a quick search.
  • If it is an expensive item, include the original price in the title.  This will grab people's attention and increase the likelihood that they will click on your listing to find out more. 
  •  In the description, be honest about any flaws with your product, but also make a point to minimize them in comparison to the overall condition of the item.  I noticed that items were still selling if the sellers honestly mentioned any flaws in the item's description, but the sellers made a point of minimizing the flaws.
Feature a great picture - but you only need 1 or 2.  You don't need to have lots of pictures (this costs more) to sell an item - you just need to have a good, clear picture (or two) that shows the item's condition and a good angle.  Hanging your clothes up against a solid background is a simple way to make your pictures look more professional.  If you need to, iron the item and use a tape roller to get any dust or lint off of it.

Advertise your listings on your Facebook wall, your blog, or via your Twitter account.  Simple as that!

Offer reasonable shipping costs, even if they're less than it actually costs to ship it.  (Don't go too low though...)  Many browsers look for reasonable shipping when comparing items to buy.  Often people will be willing to pay a little more for an item if the shipping seems reasonable.  Buyers are also willing to wait a little longer for an item if the cost is not ridiculous.

Be honest about the handling time.  I learned this the hard way.  I tried to have a turnover rate of 1 day for shipping sold items, but I realized this often was hard to do.  I've found 2-3 days of handling time to be more realistic.  If an item gets sent out any earlier, the customers are thrilled that it came earlier than expected, which can only be a good thing!

Pay the extra 70 cents for delivery confirmation when shipping a package.
Buyers really, really appreciate having shipping information to track their item as it's shipped.  This is a small extra cost to pay for a happy customer!  It is simple and relatively quick to upload the tracking information on eBay. 

Give eBay a shot, and good luck selling!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wall Art on a Budget

"The man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest."  
Henry David Thoreau

Wall art can be expensive.  For this reason, our apartment walls have been pretty white for the almost two years we have lived here.  Last spring, we finally added our first print to the living room walls, with wedding and travel pictures following soon after.  Even one print makes a big difference, but I crave more art and color on our walls, so I stay on the lookout for prints that could be printed and framed for cheap, DIY wall art. 
Below are some of my favorite printables and ideas that could be used for fun, creative wall art.

Maps Art/Crafts

Frame-able Prints for the Kitchen

Frame-able Prints for a Workspace/Desk

Frame-able Prints for the Bedroom

Frame-able Prints for the Hallway/Entryway

DIY Painting/Wood Wall Art

I hope you find inspiration from all the creative opportunities there are to print, create, and frame your own wall art, on a budget!

5 Ways.... to Use Ground Turkey

1:  Turkey Empanadas

- Brown 1/4 lb. ground turkey in oil with one small chopped onion, 1 clove garlic, and 1 tsp. cumin in a skillet.

- Stir in 1/3 cup chopped olives (optional) and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until browned.

- Halve 2 refrigerated pie crusts and top with turkey mixture.  

- Fold each of the four sections in half and seal the edges with fingers and then press with a fork to make uniform.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Great with salsa and a salad for a delicious lunch or dinner!

2:  Turkey Sloppy Joes

- Brown 1 lb. ground turkey in oil with one small chopped onion and 1 clove garlic in a skillet.

- Mix in one 8-oz. can of tomato sauce, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce, and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer until thick.

Serve on hamburger buns with coleslaw or a fresh salad.  Enjoy!

 3:  Pasta with Turkey and Broccoli

- Cook 3/4 lb. pasta of your choice with 2 cups of broccoli, following the directions on the pasta box for cooking time.

- Brown 1 lb. ground turkey in oil with 1 teaspoon each fennel seed and crushed red pepper and 2 cloves chopped garlic in a skillet.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Toss pasta, broccoli, 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese for a delicious, wholesome meal!

 4:  Turkey Barley Vegetable Soup

- Brown 1/2 lb. ground turkey in oil, then remove. 

- Add with 1 cup chopped onion, carrot, and celery in a skillet and stir until softened.

- Return turkey to pan and add 6 cups of chicken broth and 1/2 cup pearl barley, and season with salt and pepper.  

- Simmer until barley is tender and add in 3 cups chopped spinach before serving.

Serve with warm bread and enjoy!

 5:  Turkey Fried Rice

- Cook 3/4 cup rice following package directions.

- Brown 1/2 lb. ground turkey in oil with 1 tablespoon garlic and ginger and 2 sliced scallions.  

- Add rice, 1 cup frozen peas, 4 sliced carrots, and 2 tablespoons each of Hoison sauce and rice vinegar. 

Cook until heated through, and top with additional scallion slices.

Serves 4 = 2 nights of dinner for two!
{all pictures from Real Simple}

Monday, February 13, 2012

Breakfast Sundaes

In honor of Valentine's Day, these banana breakfast sundaes are perfect for a romantic breakfast in bed.  If your weekday mornings are as busy as ours, wait for the weekend to serve these tasty treats.  With only 15 minutes of prep time, they pack a punch with little work!

Banana Breakfast Sundaes

2 oz. chocolate, chopped
2 ripe bananas, peeled and halved, then split lengthwise
2 6-oz. cartons of vanilla yogurt (or about a cup fill of vanilla Greek yogurt)
1/4 cup low fat granola
Garnish with blueberries or fruit of your choice

1.  Melt chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl on 70% power for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or heat in a small saucepan.

2.  In bowls or mugs, place two banana quarters and top with yogurt.  Drizzle with chocolate and sprinkle with granola.  Garnish with fruit if desired.


A Thank You Giveaway!


As a thank you to readers who have joined, encouraged, and given feedback on Married Living on a Single's Budget, we are offering a giveaway full of great recipes, budget-saving tips, and even fun treats that you can make (with cereal)! 

  • You Get: 
    • 4 Cookbooks!!
      • More-with-Less: an international cookbook
      • The Cereal Lover's Cookbook
      • The Crockpot 3-In-1 Cookbook
      • William Sonoma Step-by-Step Hors D'Oeuvres
  • There are multiple ways to enter; but giveaway submission ends Friday the 17th... winner to be announced soon after!  (If winner does not respond within three days, another winner will be chosen.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentine's Day Treats (that you can make yourself!)

For Valentine's Day, it is the thought that counts.  Don't be tricked into thinking it's about chocolates, flowers, or big trips... Valentine's Day is just an excuse to show those that you love that you value them.  You can show your spouse that you love them by doing things that they love most: baking them a special treat, giving them a foot massage, or watching their favorite show while eating their favorite ice cream.  Even a card or acronym with the qualities that you like best about them written out can be meaningful and special.  Be creative!

In our house, we love food for special occasions (not that I'm recommending that - it's just how we are!), so when I saw these fun treats that are special, relatively easy, and inexpensive to make - I knew they would be perfect for a special Valentine's Day treat.

Red Velvet Cupcakes in a Jar 
 (Adapted from My Cakies Blog)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DIY Winter Beauty

I don't know about you, but in the winter months, my skin inevitably gets dry, my lips chap, and my start feel like I lack some of the luster my hair and skin usually have.  Beauty products can be expensive, but the good news is that there are many do-it-yourself beauty products you can make that use things you might already have in your kitchen cabinets!

For Chapped/Dry Lips:  Au Natural Lip Exfoliator (from Fox&Doll Makeup)

Add 1 part brown sugar + 1 part honey + 1 part olive oil

Simply mix, apply to lips in a circular motion, and wipe off with a tissue for completely kissable lips (that smell and taste good too!).

For Dry Faces:  Oatmeal Face Mask (from The Well Daily)

Mix 2 tablespoons of oatmeal + a teaspoon of baking soda + a drop of vanilla + enough warm water to form a paste.

Rub into face in a circular motion, leave on for about 2-3 minutes, and wash off with warm water.  Oatmeal is kind of a beauty "superfood" - it is naturally calming to skin, helps lock in moisture, removes dead cells and treats minor irritations. 

For Rough Skin (Anywhere on Your Body!) Exfoliating Skin Scrub

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil + 1/2 cup brown sugar + 1 tsp. vanilla extract + zest of a lemon or orange

Store the scrub in an airtight glass jar for up to two weeks. Use it in the shower to smooth skin.  This scrub is especially good for rough areas like elbows and knees. Once a week, you can apply the scrub to your face and neck.

For Dry Feet:  Warm Water Soak

Warm Water + Lotion + Socks

Soak your feet two to three times a week in warm water. Rub them with an intense moisturizer and pull on your comfiest socks.  Sleeping with your socks on will leave your feet even softer and smooth when you wake up in the morning!

For Lackluster, Dry Hair:  Olive Oil Honey Leave-In Conditioner

Mix 2 Tbsp. olive oil with 1 tbsp of honey.

Work the mixture through your hair. Leave in for at least half an hour, then wash.  Your result will be soft, smooth, shiny hair!

Natural winter beauty can be easy and cheap with these DIY mixtures using things you already have in your cabinets.  Enjoy your smooth, soft winter skin!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

HOW TO.... Make your own (easy!) homemade bread crumbs.

If you're like us, it can be hard to use a whole loaf of bread before it starts getting stale.  That's why I love this easy recipe for making your own delicious bread crumbs.  It saves you money and prevents that unused bread from going to waste! 

Making Homemade Bread Crumbs with Leftover Bread
  1. Store any old or unused slices of bread in a large plastic bag in the freezer.
  2. Once the bag is 3/4 filled - full, take it out of the freezer and cut the bread into large chunks. 
  3. Pulse the bread chunks in a food processor until it is fine.  (If your food processor is as small as ours, you will have to do this in several batches!)  
  4. Toast the crumbs on a baking sheet (with a rim) for 4-6 minutes on 350 degrees.  Toss once while cooking.
Use for meatballs, a coating for meats, or as a casserole topper!  

(The crumbs will last for up to 6 months in the freezer if you don't use them right away.)

{From Real Simple - visit at}

Monday, February 6, 2012

Keeping Track of What's In Your Freezer

Keeping your freezer stocked with options is essential for having supplies for an impromptu dinner and for storing premade dough, leftovers, fruit for smoothies, and much more.

Over the summer I stocked our freezer with kale, tomatoes, and other veggies from our garden.  I also used it for saving meats from Ben's family and for storing meals I made ahead for busy nights during the upcoming semester.

Since that time, I've found it helpful to keep track of what we have in our freezer so that I know what I have to work with, and so that I don't overbuy.  I started by using a piece of notebook paper with a list of our freezer's inventory and hung it on our frig.  When we used something up from the freezer, we just grab a sharpie and cross it out.  This method worked but got a little sloppy with the quick scrawling and crossing out here and there.

Instead, I have begun to use this freezer inventory template from Organized Home.  It helps me to keep stock of what's in our freezer more neatly and visibly.  For each number of an item we have, I fill in the boxes with a small dot.  Once we use a serving, I cross out the box.  Once all servings of an item have been used up, I cross it out completely with a thick black marker.  Eventually, I'll start a new list to keep a clean record of what we have.

You can download a printable version of this freezer inventory for yourself here.

For more on organization for your kitchen, check out the tools at the 

3 Ways.... to Use an Empty Wine Bottle

1 - As bookends.
Use a pair of wine bottles to hold a small library/book collection on a side table, shelf, or by your bedside.  To brighten them up, add flowers or stalks of wheat for interest.  

2 - As a rolling pin.
Use an empty wine bottle as an impromptu rolling pin to spread out bread, pizza, and pie dough.  

3 - As a boot-shape-keeper.
Put a pair of empty wine bottles in tall boots to keep their shape while they're in the closet.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cheap Date Friday (Don't BE one, PLAN one!)

Maybe the biggest challenge of all when having to live frugally on a tight budget rolls around each weekend - date nights.  It's not always easy to plan out a budget-friendly date or give up eating out.  We've been there.  Actually, we still are there.

Which is why every Friday we'll be posting a Cheap Date idea for your weekend ahead.  Hopefully this will help you (and us!) to approach dates in a budget-friendly, adventurous way! 
{February 3 Edition}

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'm Going to Be O.K. (Lessons on Finding Contentment in Unlikely Places)

Today I started feeling twinges of discontentment.  I was feeling a general sense of unfocused worry - questioning whether I was creative enough, motivated enough, etc., etc., etc. - you know how it goes.  Or maybe you're blessed with a naturally content disposition, in which case you don't.  Unfortunately, I seem to feel twinges of it off and on occasionally during long winter days.  I shake them usually, but they still crop up every now and again.

So I went searching through favorite blogs and articles for what tips other women have for when they are feeling discontent and recognize they need to take better care of themselves.  I came across suggestions for yoga, going out to eat a nice meal by yourself, taking a class, and many other variations on these themes.  Yoga classes sound like something I could get into, I thought to myself.  So again, I started searching, looking for nearby classes that would fit into my schedule.  Ten minutes later, I sat back, frustrated.  Yoga classes are expensive!  Nothing was even close to fitting into our kind of budget.

So I went for a walk to get some fresh air and to try to inspire new ideas for myself.  My usually overactive mind was uncharacteristically blank of new ideas.  So I kept walking. 

As I strolled around a nearby college campus, I walked past its coffee shop.  Inside was a young woman sitting alone by the windows, singing to herself with headphones in while reading a novel and sipping tea from a paper cup.  Now that I could get into, I thought.  And then I realized, I can do that.  What's keeping me from walking down here and sitting in this coffee shop for a few hours, lost in thought and a hot drink?  Revelation #1.

And then I began to hit stretches of stairs, and the cool air felt so good, that I begin to skip down each one.  And then, I tripped.  And fell - flat on my face- in the middle of a busy college campus, students all around bustling back and forth to class, looking at me horrified, probably imagining I must be an over-exuberant freshman.  But as I got myself up, I started to laugh.  I laughed, imagining how I must have looked to this self-conscious college crowd, and for how good it felt to not care.  As I stood there, laughing, I heard someone else join in.  I looked over and saw an old woman sitting in an Adirondack chair on the campus lawn with a little dog in her lap, laughing with me.  As I looked at her, I started laughing harder - the kind of laugh where you start to feel so giddy that you can't quite remember why you even started.  Soon, a little old Asian man walked by, took one look at us, and began to chuckle too.  We stood there, an unlikely crew, laughing until we cried in the cold winter air.

As I walked back to my apartment, happier, calmer, more at peace, I thought to myself: I don't need yoga, or a massage, or an expensive meal to make me happy. (...Although if someone would offer me one of those things, I might take them up on that!)  For today, cool winter air, laughter, and some unlikely acquaintances were enough.  And I smiled to myself as I realized, I'm going to be okay.

Giving While on a Budget

Though we normally think of giving money first, charities and local organizations can also use your time, used items and more.  Be creative - there are so many ways to give that are not only budget-friendly, but also meaningful and personally rewarding!

Volunteer your time.

Give away your things and share with someone else.

  • For clothing and general items, and Goodwill and the Salvation Army for clothing and furniture that you're cleaning out of your home (a great idea!).  Some charities collect specific items.  The chart below (from LearnVest) shows a helpful list of organizations that collect specific electronic and other items:
ItemWhere to Send It, I Love Schools, Recycles
Cell phone911 Cell Phone Bank, Cell Phones for Soldiers, American Cell Phone Drive
EyeglassesLions Club International, OneSight, New Eyes for the Needy
Suit Pants and Skirts, Blazers, Jackets, Blouses, Dress Shoes Dress for Success
CarDonate Car for Charity, Donate Car

* When it comes to taxes, remember that you can get a tax break on these donations if you itemize your deductions.

Give your health.

Giving doesn't have to be done only by those who make a lot of money - anyone can give!  Those of us who are budget-challenged can be even more creative in how we give, and can identify even more with the power of a generous act.

Challenge yourself to think about how you can give this week in some way!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why We Gave Up Our Gym Subscription

 Soon after we got married, we joined a YMCA right around the corner from our apartment. It was convenient, helped us feel more motivated to work out, and also made us feel like we were contributing our money toward a worthwhile organization (read more on what the YMCA does in local communities).

Once it was decided that I would be going to seminary full-time this fall, we quickly re-evaluated our monthly expenses.  Certain things stood out to us right away as things that would have to go in order to get our monthly spending more in line with what we could manage on one income.  The first thing to go? Our YMCA membership.

I loved being a member of the YMCA for a variety of reasons, and still encourage others to consider joining if they can afford it because of its work in the community.  However, I also knew that the $60 a month we were spending for our family plan (which included a pool, gym, and class membership) was too much for us at this point in our lives.  So we cancelled our membership, said goodbye to our convenient treadmill workouts, and embarked on the good-old-fashioned way of exercising - in our neighborhood and at home.

5 Easy Steps.... to Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (Perfect for Valentine's Day!)

1 :    Chop 4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate into coarse chunks.

2 :    Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl for 30-second intervals in the microwave. Stir in between each time until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (Don't overheat!)
3 :    Dip washed strawberries into the melted chocolate.  Hold the strawberry by the stem end, and let excess chocolate drop off before getting to step 4.  Repeat with remaining strawberries.

4 :    Place the dipped strawberries on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  As you place each strawberry on the sheet, slide it 1/2 inch to the side to prevent a"chocolate foot" at the bottom.

5 :    Refrigerate the strawberries until the chocolate is firm - this will take at least 30 minutes.  They will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator, stored in a covered container or tray. 

Voila!  Enjoy the delicious treat you have made (and think of all the money you have saved!).  These make great Valentine's Day gifts for your special someone, family members, or friends.   Who doesn't love chocolate-covered strawberries?

{recipe adapted from Real Simple}

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