Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reflections on a Frugal Christmas

Another Christmas giving season has come and gone, and it is time to reflect on what worked and what did not so that I will be prepared for next year. In total, I spent less than $185 on gifts for ~22 people. My budgeted amount was $200. Overall, I am very pleased with the amount of money that I spent and how I spent it. There are a few things that I hope to change for next year.
1) I'd like to do more homemade/creative gifts, but ONLY if it is something that the recipient would truly enjoy. No crocheted-doll-pajama-holders here!
2) I would like to rush less in gift selection. I started heavy duty shopping in July, and was finished up by September. This meant that some gifts were not as thoughtful as I would have liked for them to be. I am starting shopping now for next year, so hopefully that will allow enough time for creative selection.
3) I would like to do more food gifts, but not just sweets. For next year, I decided that I am going to do a couple of "Meal in a Basket" gifts for some of my friends. I would also like to bake some breads and pies for gifts, but no more cookies!
4) I would like to find more luxury items at rock bottom prices to give as gifts. We'll see how successful I will be at this. ;)
5) I would like to find more unique items tailored to the person. I generally know what my friends and family like, so I just need to keep that in mind as I shop.
6) I would like to attend more Christmas plays, concerts, and the like. This really gets me in the mood, and I need to remember to budget some money for this.

Things that worked well:
1) I stuck by my guns and did not get my "school" friends any additional gifts even though I worried that what I got them seemed paltry. They all really seemed to enjoy their stockings and scarves.
2) Shopping far in advance. This allowed me to be very relaxed about the whole season and allowed me to keep my focus on where it should be (Jesus) rather than on consumption.
3) Giving a couple of gifts to each family member. Even though I prefer doing gift baskets, I think it is more fun for people to have individual gifts to open at Christmas time. Maybe it's just me.
4) Sticking to my budget. I will be sticking with the $200 limit next year as well.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Randomness

*Did you know that some dollar stores have 50% off after-Christmas clearance? Oh, yes, my friend. They do. I may or may not have purchased more ribbon. Ahem. I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM.

*I have had a 13 inch television for more than ten years. My sweet mama got me a 20 inch television for Christmas. It looks HUGE in comparision, and the picture is so bright and clear that it hurts my eyes a little bit. :D

*One of the .16 books I bought yesterday at the thrift was one of those Lurlene McDaniel books. Did anybody else read them when they were kids? I sat this morning and read most of it. I felt very nostalgic. :P I realized that I liked them as a kid because of the medical aspects. I guess I knew I wanted to work in a medical setting even then.

*I have this whole week off from school AND the medical clinic. Even though I have stuff I could be doing, I am instead sitting around and doing some fun stuff. It feels soooooooo nice.

*I have several ideas for real posts in mind, but I am feeling incredibly lazy. Until then, you will get the disjointed stuff that I am writing now.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

After Christmas Shopping!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I had a great time with my family. Today my mom and I ventured out to do a little post-Christmas shopping (A tangential thought: I was very disappointed when as a young lass I found out that the Canadian 'Boxing Day' does not, in fact, involve boxing.). This was the first time that I have looked forward to shopping in a while. *gasp*! We went to two thrift stores, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn, and Wal-Mart and actually had a lot of fun. My main goal was to replenish my very much depleted stock of Christmas wrap and bags. Here's what I got:

* At Hobby Lobby: Two tiny Christmas tins (.50 each), 20 small paper Christmas sacks (.10 each), three spools of ribbon (non-Christmas- .25, .25, and $1.50 respectively), and a large roll of silver striped foil wrapping paper ($3). A note for you ribbon fanatics: Hobby Lobby's Robert Stanley Collection spools of thin ribbon are normally 2/$1. Right now they are 50% off, making them .25 per spool. That is the lowest price that I know of for this size of ribbon. Unless, like me, you hit the mother lode at a neighborhood yard sale and get a huge bag of ribbon for $1. ;) The wrapping paper would also do for wedding and anniversary gifts and was $3 for 60 yards. Make sure that you get a decent amount of paper for your money!

* At JoAnn: four spools of ribbon (Christmas- in blue and silver to match the wrapping paper, .59 each), a package of Wilton cellophane bags in blue and silver patterns (.59), and a set of five clear ball ornaments to practice craftiness on ($1.19).

* At WalMart: eight plain red cloth napkins ($4 for all and I will use all year), silver glitter tree topper ($1.12), spool of Christmas ribbon (see a pattern here??? .50).

* Thrift stores: three paperback books (.16 each), wooden bangle bracelet ($3.53), four cloth napkins that look really retro ($1.59), and a brand new basket with light green gingham liner to use as the container for one of those upcoming baby presents ($2 and still had $6 party store tag attached).

Finally, I've been stalking this J. Crew coat for ages. I need a brown wool coat, and I love the fit of J. Crew coats. Also, do you know how difficult it is to find a cute chocolate brown coat??? Apparently very difficult. I look like death in every brown except for chocolate, so that is the color that I decided I needed to get. This coat was on sale for ~$200, but I was waiting for a 25% off of clearance sale. I checked this morning- no additional sale. When I get back home, there is 25% off of clearance AND the coat is sold out in the Tall size that I need. So I ordered it in regular length with Thinsulate. I also had a $20 off coupon, so that pretty much took care of shipping and tax. The damage is $158 down from $318. Still pricy, but I know it will last me for years and I will really love it. If it fits. Did anyone else do some shopping???

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Works for Me Wednesday: Creative Reusing



Now, this should be common sense to the frugal-minded.

However, this is something that is difficult for me to do as I am not very creative. It's not always the easiest for me to "think outside the box" because I tend to be very concrete in my thinking style. Making do with the things you have is the easiest way to save money. Containers for salsa, margarine, sour cream, and so forth can be used for food or other storage. Clorox or Lysol wipes cannisters and coffee creamer cannisters can be used as yarn dispensers rather than buying the expensive store-bought version. An eye-makeup remover jar can be used to store elastic bands. I recently did a mailing for my dissertation and received well over 60 manilla return envelopes. Rather than throwing them away, I cut them open, turn them inside out, and use to wrap books that need to be mailed. Try to look at things in a different way to see how what you already possess can make your life easier. Works for me! Go check out the other great ideas at Shannon's.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Weekend Review

This weekend, my friend H. and I took a road trip to Branson, Missouri. I had budgeted $200 for the trip and came home with money to spare, which is always a nice thing. ;) Here's the financial break down:

* Hotel stay $45
* Silver Dollar City $48
* Dinner at Applebee's $10
* Breakfast at hotel restaurant FREE (and delicious)
* Mystery of the Nile at the IMAX $10
* Bottle of water $2
* Coldstone Creamery (I had coupons but I forgot them. Grr!) $5
* Dunkin Donuts eclairs $5
* Shopping (I only purchased a green croc print headband!) $4
* Gas money $20

Everything was well worth the money except for the Coldstone. I maintain that Dairy Queen Blizzards are better (and cheaper!). I also was not that impressed with Applebee's, but it was 10pm and we were hungry. It was so nice to get away for a little while and relax. I can see easy ways that I could have cut costs here (shopping around for hotel rates, taking bottled water and dinner for the first night) but that was not the objective for this trip. In the future, I would like to plan a vacation to see how frugally I can do it. Yep, that's my idea of fun! Overall, we had a great time and the shopping, SDC, and IMAX were all very much worth the money.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dissertation Drama

There are rare moments when I re-think my staunch frugal stance. When you're trying to score 74 copies of the SF-36 -which requires some reverse scoring, turning the raw scores into standardized scores, and other dramatic bits- one thinks that perhaps she should have sprung for the $254 scoring software.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another Gift In Progress


Okay, I know I post a lot about gifts and gift giving, but it is one of my favorite things. As I posted previously, I am looking to put together a couple of baby gifts in the next few months. I recently received one of those great $10 off of any $10 or more coupons from J.C. Penney. Rather than purchasing clothing for myself (ahem) I decided to use the funds to get a couple of items for the baby gifts. I got this doll that teaches how to button, snap, tie, etc., and that cute pink onesie for a total of $1.58 after coupon. Both were on sale for 50% off. For the doll, I only had a choice between doctor and cheerleader, which I found odd. What choice is the right choice in this situation??? Even though I was captain of my high school dance team, I still went for the doctor doll. ;)

Updates

I am still alive and kicking! Here's what's been going on:

* Internship stuff is going disastrously. Or maybe not. I'll update more on this after Wednesday of next week. God is in control, y'all (P.S. I am from the midwest and technically do not have the right to say y'all. But it just looks so darn cute in print.)!

* This semester is finally over. I cannot even express how thankful I am about this.

* I got my Amazon shoe order. The boots miraculously fit my ginormous calves!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! And they are adorable! I'm keeping the red wedges but am passing off the blue to Mumsie (my mom).

* Today was my last day of practicum at the health/medical center. This is sad. I very much enjoyed being there and receiving supervision from an amazing psychologist. But I will now move on to a free medical clinic where I will serve a clientele with very little money. That is going to be awesome; I went there Wednesday to shadow and I loved it. I will be the only behavioral/mental health provider in that facility!

* My friend H. and I are going to take our mini vacation this weekend since we got snowed in two weeks ago. This weekend will be in the sixties, so I'm pretty sure we're safe on the snow. ;)

* I'm getting ready to do some serious work on my dissertation. I have finished collecting data and am set to begin analyzing it on Monday.

* ROCKY BALBOA OPENS ON WEDNESDAY. When I told my friend B. that I was going to see it, she said "You're a Rocky fan??? That surprises the !#%^ outta me!!!!!!!" I'm pretty much the girliest girl you will ever meet, but I am a closet Rocky fan who owns the boxed set on VHS. I'll tell you what I told her: I'm multifaceted. ;P


More to come soon.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Couple of Recent Gifts





Here are a couple of gifts that I've given recently. The top gift was a birthday gift for my Auntie T. The bottom two pictures are of a wedding gift given to a friend from high school. My aunt is a big book lover, and one of her favorite stores is Barnes and Noble. I made four bookmarks for her and printed quotes about books on them. I also ran construction paper through my paper shredder to make the fun shreds in the bottom of the basket. The plaid things in the back are houseshoes, and there is also a mystery book, giftcard, peppermint tea, and moisturizing foot socks. For my friend, I already had a Calphalon roasting pan that had been clearanced to $8 at Dillard's. I added to that pan three items from her registry: dish cloths, tea towels, and a Pyrex measuring cup. The dish cloths and tea towels were hard to find, but it paid off since they were on sale. ;) I still wound up spending about $23 total for her gift, but I think it wrapped up nicely. I am gearing up for two upcoming baby gifts and I will post pictures when I am done.

Freebies!

Two freebies that are worth signing up for:

1) If you have a McAlister's Deli near you, sign up for their email list. In two or three days you will receive an email coupon for $5 off of your next order! I can almost eat there for that amount.

2) If you have a Fuddruckers near you, also sign up for their email list. They will email you a coupon for a free milkshake!

I have a separate email account for signing up for freebies and contests. You might want to do that to avoid excessive emails and/or spam. Happy eating!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Now I've been tagged!

How exciting! I've never been tagged before! Thanks, Mari. :) (Okay, technically I was tagged yesterday. But some of us had to write eight page papers that were due today. Ahem.).

Three Things

*Scare me: Spiders, loud noises (I am really jumpy), and having to go through Clearinghouse to get an internship site

*I love: God, my family, and my friends. If we're talking superficial things: I love shoes, organization, and reading.

*I hate: When people judge me before they know me, when people mock rural areas and their residents, and poverty.

*I don't understand: Most higher forms of math, the stock exchange, why people won't take medications that will help them

*Things on my desk: Carmex, a $10 off coupon to J.C. Penney, and a cute paperweight

*I'm doing right now: Looking to see what time it is, listening to the song "Sweetly Broken" (well, I was- I cannot type and listen), and sitting with one leg tucked under me on my broken computer chair that has no back

*Update: What I'm Doing Right NOW: The same as above except now I'm not looking at the clock

*I want to do before I die: Travel around the world and all across the U.S., become financially independent enough to have a substantial surplus of money to give away, and help as many people as I can

*I can do: Dance, speak at length about psychology and the role of integrated healthcare, and pop my double-jointed thumbs in, out, and all around

*I can't do: Go six months without falling down, geometry or trigonometry, and sit still for long periods of time

*I think you should listen to: Third Day, Leeland, and John Denver

*You should NEVER listen to: Negative music, opera, and Michael W. Smith.

*I'd like to learn: Karate, cake decorating, Spanish (better than what I currently know), Japanese, how to play tennis. Oh wait, that's more than three. ;)

*Favorite foods: Mexican food, Americanized Chinese food, and dark chocolate.

*I drink regularly: Water and skim milk. I occasionally drink iced tea, orange juice, and hot chocolate, but not on a regular basis. I don't drink soda anymore.

*Shows I watched as a kid: The Cosby Show, Full House, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Three people I tag: Liz, Monica, and Auntie T. But only if they want to play. ;)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I AM SO WEAK










I do not need shoes. I do not need shoes. I do not need shoes. But I always want shoes. I had been doing such a good job of ignoring the great Amazon shoe codes right now- the coupons wind up being $40 off of an $80 purchase. So even though that is 50% off, I had been ignoring it. Until today when the siren call of Amazon finally got me. I found out that these Kenneth Cole boots, normally $198, were marked down to $20. I have large calves, so there is always the chance that they won't fit, right? To get my total up to $80 pre-code, I also got those adorable little summer wedges. What would have been originally been a $550+ order wound up being $47.56 shipped. For two pair of boots and two pair of wedges. And with this purchase I will also get a year's subscription to Lucky magazine for free. Of course I have the money for this purchase; I have gotten to the point in my life where I am able to tell myself no if I don't have the money. I have also been pretty good lately about not buying things just because they are a great deal. It's the principle of the matter. Shoes will get me every time. I AM SO WEAK (but well-shod).

WFMW: Card Organizer and Gift Planner













Okay, so I'm a little obsessive-compulsive. I like things organized. I wanted one of those card boxes to hold my birthday cards, but I didn't want to pay for one. So, I devised this card organizer and gift planner. I started with a two inch binder and made a cover for it. Then, I organized it. In the front pocket is gift lists from my family members. I keep these from year to year to get ideas. Next is a yellow notebook where I have written down birthday/Christmas/other gift ideas. This is organized by month and person. I track how much each gift is in here, too. I also have written down what craft items I have available in case I want to make a gift. Next is the Christmas budget worksheet that I use from Better Budgeting. I use this every year. Finally, I have regular folders that go on sale each year during the school supply season. I punched holes in them and divided them up by month and category. This is where I store the cards for each person's birthday. I also have sections for Get Well, Sympathy, Baby, Stickers and Seals, et cetera. Organization and planning works for me! ;) Go check out the other ideas at Shannon's.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ramblings

So, since my blog is named The Ramblings of T., I thought I would post some current ramblings:

* I have an eight page paper due on Friday (but I want to turn it in on Thursday). Am I working diligently on it? No. I am signing up for freebies and contests. Hee!

* I fall down a lot. I think maybe more than your average 24-year-old. My most recent fall was Sunday, when I slipped on some ice on the back porch. My wrist hurts. I have never broken anything, though; I think it is because of all of the calcium that I consume.

* I made the mistake of going to My Space last night. I am on an email chain of some girls from High School, and they all have profiles on there. So I thought I would go look. I don't remember most of the people that are my age that went to my HS. I personally do not have a page on there, and I won't in the future. I think 24+ is way too old to have a My Space page. Just my own belief. ;) Why do I not remember the names of anyone my age? I have a poor memory in general, but I think it has more to do with the schools I have been to since HS and the sheer volume of people that I see every year.

* Yesterday was my half birthday. I am officially 24.5.

* People are starting to get internship interviews and rejections. I have not received either. The final day of notification is around December 15. Things aren't looking good, but that's okay.

That's all for now!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dressing Professionally on a Dime





Sadly, this is only about half of my clothing. I also opted to not show you my shoes since I had no idea how to get them all into one picture. Anyhoo, the point is that I have a lot of clothes. And most of them were purchased inexpensively. I do practicum (a.k.a. free labor) at a medical clinic and at a community mental health clinic. The dress code at both is somewhere around business casual, but it must be obtained on a student's budget. Here are some tips on how I do it:
1) I am picky about quality. There are well-made and cruddily-made items available at every price point. I try to buy nicer things for little money. Learn about what materials last and are breathable (wool, cotton, cashmere) and what fabrics are of poor quality (nylon, acrylic, etc.). Clothing that is well made should have finished seams, linings, and hems that are even and do not have visible sewing errors.
2) I have a particular style. I like things that are more "classic" in nature. This ensures that they will last far beyond one season. I expect my skirts to last at least 3-5 years unless I get sick of them. I have a harder time finding good quality dress pants that I can afford, so I only expect 2-3 years out of dress pants. I still inject a trendy piece in my outfits here and there, but I *never* pay a lot for a trendy item. Classic items often have simple lines and are not cluttered by competing details. I do like patterns and color, so my wardrobe is not too boring.
3) I shop at stores where I can get a good value:
*Try your hand at area thrift stores. I don't have tons of luck at my local thrifts, but there is one store in particular where I have purchased multiple items. I have two nice skirt suits and tons of belts and jewelry from this store. Visit frequently! When I recently wanted to try high-waisted pencil skirts and did not want to pay $300 (!) to do so, I headed straight to the thrift and got several for $2 or $4 each.
*Try J.C. Penney's end of season clearance. Ignore all of their sales flyers. The real deals are at the end of season clearance sales. I don't pay over $7 for any item during these sales. Many of their items are well made, but inspect the make and fabric content to be sure they will last. I also get a lot of cheap (under $4) trendy summer clothing here. Sign up on their website and they will also send you coupons!
*I shop at Target's 75% off sales rack. They have a lot of cute stuff there. I just picked up a blazer that is a gray and purple plaid with puffed shoulders for $7. This is a trendy item that I won't feel bad getting rid of after a season or two.
*Try T.J. Maxx and Marshall's. I don't find much at these stores anymore, but if you have to wear suits, these are the places to stalk the clearance aisles. I bought a navy pinstriped three piece suit for $50. The retail tag was something ridiculous like $300. I also years ago purchased a red wool/cashmere suit for $50 on clearance. It still fits and looks great.
*Don't forget eBay for specific purchases.
*For shoes, I like the Bandolino brand. I look at the 75% off clearance shoes on the Nordstrom website. I also have a couple of leather pair from Target. I am hard on shoes, so I only expect them to last a few years. Nearly all of my shoes are leather, as leather breathes and wears better. Shoes with leather insides also breathe way better, but they are hard to find affordably.
*For cashmere sweaters, I like the Tse brand and Neiman Marcus. I get Tse off of eBay, but it can be difficult to get it inexpensively. Neiman Marcus cashmere can be had in the spring on the website under Last Call clearance for $40, sometimes cheaper. I have a J. Crew cashmere sweater but am not as impressed with it. Remember that if you purchase cheap cashmere, get it in light colors. It will be less itchy because manufacturers can hide some itchy fibers in the dark colors that they cannot hide in the light colors. Don't forget to check your thrift for cashmere and wool!
*For coats, I like J. Crew, T.J. Maxx, and thrift stores. If you want to sink your money into something, make it a coat. Just be sure to not buy anything so trendy that you will hate it next year. You used to be able to get J. Crew coats for about $60-$70 on sale, but those days are gone. The cheapest you will get them now is about $150. They are extremely well made and are probably worth the $150. I have a red coat from a few years back (in the $60 days) and it will undoubtedly last me for years. Last year I got a wool double breasted coat for $100 at T.J. Maxx. I would've waited for it to go on sale, but I really needed it then, so I went ahead and purchased. It also is a classic style that will last for years. I have a taupe wool-blend peacoat that I got for $5 at the thrift, so once again it pays to look around.
4) I reevaluate my wardrobe. Items that just won't work no matter what or that I absolutely hate go to the consignment shop. If it is a brand that will sell on eBay, I try that too. Also look to see if items can be altered to fit you better.
5) I try to take care of my clothing. Cashmere and wool sweaters are handwashed with baby shampoo and laid flat to dry. Winter coats are drycleaned once a year. Items that need hemming or altering are taken care of. Don't wash things too much, though; it can wear out your clothing quickly. For example, cashmere cardigans do not need to be washed after every wear unless you spilled something or they smell. Be sure to protect your wool and cashmere items from moths.
6) I try to have basics that go with everything. These will be different for everyone, but for me they are gray skirts, gray pants, cardigans, fitted (not tight) tees in various colors, a few good handbags, black heels and brown heels. I also tend to shop within a certain color palette. A lot of my winter clothing is gray, pink, or mauve. As a result, most items go with everything else. I do get into some trouble because I like patterns and most of my tops *and* bottoms are patterned in some way.
I have been working on my professional wardrobe for about three years and I'm now to the point where I really don't need anything else. This allows me to add in fun pieces when I feel like it for just a little money. And I can wait to replace an item until I find a good deal. Hope this helps, and happy shopping!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Happy Birthday, Auntie!


Love,
Your darling niece