11–17 of 17 entries from the month of: September 2013

10 Budget Hacks

September 11th

One vivid memory I have of elementary school is not having Guess jeans. Never mind all the things we did have – a great home, a pool, two parents who adored us, bikes, a pantry full of food, vacations to southern California. No. Never mind that stuff. Once the mid-80s Guess jeans, Esprit bags, high top Converse trends hit suburban Phoenix, I felt like a pauper. All the other kids had Guess jeans. Why was I wearing JC Penney? WHY OH WHY?

My mom would laugh at my requests and she would not be swayed. She could not understand why any parent would purchase $100 jeans for a growing child. It simply didn’t make sense.

Today, I think my mom is a genius. Then, I thought she was trying to forever keep me unpopular. My third grade brain decided wearing the “right” jeans and tennis shoes, made you a better person. Being cool meant complete happiness.

Jars of Renewal: Savings Plan

Eventually I saved enough babysitting money to buy a Guess t-shirt in 7th grade, but by then the brand was fading from popularity. The shirt didn’t fit for long and I’m pretty sure I regretted the expense, even if it did look super cool with my puka shell necklace and double barrel bangs. My mom just shook her head, sure that at some point I too would figure it out: things weren’t going to make me cool. Money wasn’t happiness.

I’d love to tell you there was some huge “a ha!” moment soon after when, say, volunteering at a soup kitchen or wrapping Christmas gifts for orphans, I knew this to be truth. Sadly, there was no clarifying moment of cheap grace. I always loved helping others and I always loved going into a fancy department store, or Gap, or Target – or heck, even Costco – and coming out with a cart full of shiny, bright, stylish items that gave me the rush of NEW.

I am human, and therefore complicated.

Jars of Renewal: Savings Plan

Now, as I’ve combined households and finances with someone, I’m embarrassed I haven’t done a better job of listening to what my wise mother has been trying to say for two decades: save more, spend less. Ashamed, really. Instead, I have a closet full of shoes, more books than I’ll ever be able to read and a passport full of stamps from flights I often put on credit to pay off …  when I could. They were, of course, “once in a lifetime opportunities.” All of them. Really.

I know it is tacky to speak of money; if I’m insulting your Victorian sensibilities, look away.

Jars of Renewal: Savings Plan

My current top 10 budget hacks:

  1. It goes without saying but: the ultimate budget hack is to not spend more than you earn. Track every expense in a free Google doc and Mint. Compare utilities and other expenses monthly to review usage. Change phone/energy plans to best meet your needs and uses. Review receipts and track expenses by category to see where you are going over budget and need to make changes. You can’t change it if you are in denial.
  2. No movies. It is never really just the movies. It’s a $12 ticket and $30 worth of high fructose corn syrup. Instead, we have an $8 a month Netflix account and if we are in the mood for junk food, I’ll bake a pan of sea salt brownies. If we want something else, we go to Red Box for $4.
  3. No shopping. This sounds simple, but I’d gotten in the silly habit of buying a new piece of clothing every time I had a big event. Sometimes it was a full outfit, other times it was just something small. I’d spend my lunch hour at Target with a giant $4 iced coffee from Starbucks. New makeup. New socks. Some new peanut butter I hadn’t tried. The result is too much of everything. I have zero need for more clothes, makeup or for-the-love-of-god — peanut butter. To meet this goal, I’m limiting how much I look at magazines or let myself spend time in stores, which fuel my desired consumerism.
  4. I plan our meals using Stacey’s tracker. This means shopping with coupons for a specific ingredient list, and trying to cook enough for two meals, plus lunches. We eat leftovers and we take our lunch. We also don’t go out to eat on a whim anymore. We plan one night out a week and make it great. It feels like a treat. We are eating healthier as a result, and our food expenses are budgeted to about $120 per week, together for a total of 40 meals. We eat a lot of eggs, Crockpot roasts and fresh fruits and veggies. Sure, this takes focus, but it really does make life so much easier once you get in the groove. No more having to swing by the market on the way home for this or that. You know. It’s planned. It’s printed. It’s on the fridge.
  5. I’ve changed my beauty routines. No more manicures and pedicures. I do them myself, saving more than $100 a month. I also have limited my beauty product use to a dime size. We use everything to the last drop, and it last ridiculously longer.  I’ve also been cutting coupons specifically for beauty products and even joined a coupon group at work that swaps information on what is on sale at what store each week. (When I do want a splurge, SWIHA has a fantastic hour-long massage for $35. And the Aveda school in Tempe does a great haircut for less than $20.)
  6. As for hobbies and gift giving: it is a time to use what we have. I’m making gifts from my current yarn and fabric stashes. I’m using paper stock and stamps to make birthday cards. And when I need a gift, I often turn to half.com for a book I’ve loved and want to pass along. Most books are $.75, with $2-$3 shipping. Along with a handmade card, you can’t go wrong. Is it cheap? Yes. Is it thoughtful? Also, yes.
  7. As for health – it’s time to floss. And exercise daily. And drink a lot of water. And wear sunscreen. These sound simple, but all will help keep long-term health expenses at bay. I’m also planning to ride my bike to work once it cools off. That will save ½ gallon of gas per day, or $1.75. It’s minor, but it will add up as I build awesome quads. Also, I’ll be less tempted to visit Target at lunch if I have to bike there.
  8. It isn’t all austere. With a little research, I’ve found some fun free things to do in downtown Phoenix. The Phoenix Art Museum has free admission on Wednesdays from 3-9 pm. The city’s concerts in the park series start again soon. There are countless trails we will hike, and roads to cycle.
  9. It’s the little things, really. Like that $3.45 cup of espresso I became so accustomed to each morning. Instead, we buy our (fair trade) beans in bulk. With milk and stevia, it comes out to $27 per month for more than 90 cups of coffee. $3.45 per cup just went to less than $.30 per cup. I take a thermos to work and sip my coffee during the morning. If only all changes were so simple to see such change!
  10. Give yourself a cash budget for the extras. I put a $20 bill in my wallet on Sundays. This is my soda money. My mid-week Ben and Jerry’s-after-dinner-run money. It’s the little bit of extra I get to play with, and if I don’t spend it – I get to save. Suddenly, I love that idea far more than the thought of spending.
Jars of Renewal: Savings Plan

I hope some of these may be helpful if you too are trying to live la vida frugalista.

~K

 

P.S. Mom, I finally heard you.

Posted in
Domestic Art, Journal
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Through the Blue Door of Wonder

September 10th

One Community: September

I found this great door in our neighborhood. It is on the back of one of my favorite houses. I love that messy tangle of tiny white lights and how they are plugged in even during the twilight hour. I wonder what is on the other side of the blue gate? The front of the house looks like someone may garden pots by the front door, but doesn’t care about the swarm of Bermuda grass sadistically and methodically taking over an another wise lovely desert landscape.

Is there a garden? A bbq? A hammock? A picnic table carved with the initials of lovers? A small fruit tree, planted a the birth of their first child? A rose bush planted over the ashes of their beloved pet? (A parakeet named Thelma, of course.)

Forever wandering, my curiosities.

My mysterious imaginary backyard these days would have a gate and tiny white lights too, though the gate would be dutch and painted a darker, cobalt blue — my favorite shade against the rusty red of desert adobe. There would be a modest outdoor kitchen with a faucet and bbq and maybe even a pit for fires. There would be a small shed with gardening tools and folding chairs, its awning providing enough shade for the compost during the hot summer days. There would be a telescope. And of course, there would be vegetable beds, pots of flowers, and a few chickens we had miraculously taught Nelson were “friends not food.” And, while we are dreaming, let’s throw in a three tiered fountain decorated in colorful Mexican tiles, and a small swimming pool full of happy, tanned, rambunctious children.

I, of course, am sitting in the shade, sipping a margarita, pulling Jackie Onassis sunglasses off of my face while shooing the chickens and children and the dogs away from the tomatoes.

They are on the dinner menu in the form of salsa and gazpacho and slipped into salads next to the basil and arugula. And everyone knows tomatoes, like people, are their happiest when still warm from garden.

 

Oh, to dream!

~K

 

Posted in
Arizona, Community
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Kermit Z Frog Hat

September 9th

Stafford Hat

I have never knit lace before, or followed a knitting chart. This pattern provided just the right amount of challenge. We spent a good bit of time this weekend on the couch, listening to the rain fall and watching a BBC miniseries on Netflix.

Stafford Hat

I’ll be making several of these this fall for friends in cooler locales.

Stafford Hat

Love these colors, and the rhythm of knitting. Perhaps I’ll even finish that sweater I started two years ago, or the tri-cabled scarf that I’ve carried in my purse for 8 months? It is a lot more enjoyable to knit in cooler weather — that I know for certain.

For now, more hats. These are too fun and are a great way to use up my current yarn stash.

~K

 

Posted in
Domestic Art, Journal, June Cleaver
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One Community: September

September 5th

One Community is a monthly photo project in which participants photograph their homes and community with a theme in mind. The theme varies by month. The goal is to both showcase similarities and differences in our communities worldwide – and bring us all closer together in understanding through art. This month’s words were chosen by Rebekah: work, gold, centerpiece and balance.

One Community: September

I’m living in my hometown again, although this is my first time living in Phoenix proper. I logged the first 30 years in the Easy Valley, once upon a time. Now, I conveniently live in a neighborhood not far from work, where the billboards are in Spanish, the laundromat and torta shops fight for customers with loud paint jobs and sign twirlers, and the corner title and loan shop’s flickering neon can be seen from my bedroom window.

My new community is a bit rough around the edges, and I love it.

After the sun goes down, folks come out of their homes. Baby strollers and dogs on leashes and couples holding hands. Giggling girls with Justin Beiber backpacks and bright pink high tops and buns of raven black hair tied on top of their shiny heads after a day at the nearby elementary. Teenagers with arms of tattoos and ripped jeans and voluptuous brown skin piling out of tiny tank tops, leaving nothing to the imagination. (Or helping those teenage boys cool off.) Together we all wander the sidewalks before the night falls, happy the temperatures have dipped beneath 100. We walk off dinner. We walk to pass the time. We walk to talk about our days, or have a moment of quiet, or just make sure the dog doesn’t poop inside. Again.

The neighborhood has pockets of beautiful desert landscape, intense views of Piestewa Peak , oh the sunsets. The sunsets! These showgirls use every hue in the box of 64, and perform nightly for free — something we can all appreciate.

One Community: September

One Community: September

Work: because survival in the desert is work this time of year, even if you only dart from from one air conditioned space to the next.

One Community: September

One Community: September

One Community: September

One Community: September

One Community

Gold: So many great examples in the flora and fauna on a quick walk around the block. The desert is a shy beauty, but when you are patient — you can find her gems.

One Community: September

One Community: September

Balance: Holding on for dear life, praying the next storm is gentle — or better yet, that there is sun in the forecast.

One Community: September

Centerpiece: Green and turquoise and knitting. Because it is still my house. What else would you expect?

-K

 

One Community participants include:

Sarah is a life-long Missourian who shares her home with her husband, two sons, and an old grumpy dachshund. Like every good Midwesterner, she can (and will) talk to you at length about the weather.  Sarah blogs at www.beautyschooldropout.net 

Colleen lives with her handsome hubster and two feisty felines in Portland, Oregon. She loves rain and sun (in that order), words and pictures, and chatting up the neighbors. She blogs at: www.underaredroof.com

Rebekah lives in Kilkenny, Ireland with her husband. An American by birth, she’s discovering what it means to be an expat on the Emerald Isle. She blogs at Honeysuckle Life.

Kara is a cheerful nerd living in downtown Phoenix, AZ with her law-studying husband and an anxious pound puppy. She works full time in the mental health field but in her off time enjoys sunshine, great food and the occasional craft beer.  www.sunshine-cupcakes.com 

Wife and Mom to a houseful of boys in sunny San Diego; word geek and all-kinds-of writer; maker of things both creative and useful. Sue is now blogging again at nobaddays.wordpress.com 

Teresa lives in Massachusetts with her husband, college aged daughter and two crazy cats.  She is a creative spirit who tries to find the lesson, blessing and humor in everything and she blogs at http://laughteramongtears.blogspot.com

Stephanie is a lifelong Wyomingite with ranch girl roots.  She has her own marketing and graphic design business and in her free time, she enjoys knitting, fishing with her boyfriend, and team roping.  She blogs at: www.nowicanseethemoon.co  

Eduarda Schroder is a curious, visual creature who believes all pictures tell a story.  She hails from Mozambique, via Portugal and NJ, and now is desert rat living with her husband and two teenage daughters in Chandler, AZ.  http://of-blue.blogspot.com/

 

 

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Community, Photography
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The Magic of Travel

September 4th

Missoula, MT

Ever visit a place and have it remind you of something you value, but have neglected? Like blowing dust off an old, rare book — travel often reminds me of places within that have been hidden by the cobwebs of life.

Wrapped in self doubt, laziness — bright and shiny distractions.

Spending time in Missoula with Finny and Digs reminded me of why these dusty books are worth unpacking, revisiting, cleaning off. There is a way of life I observed that is beautiful in its simplicity. Digs’ family eats out of the garden. They raise chickens for eggs. This is a life of happy, barefoot children, scruffy dogs, a pantry full of Ball jars in shimmering jewel tones, a local museum full of great art, a downtown full of local shops supported even at the higher costs, and cars that are dirty and will remain dirty because, really, why bother?

Finny spends her days in California in a greenhouse or at home in the garden, talking to her bees, the dog and the kumquat tree. Her arms are strong, her shoulders brown. She’s never looked happier.

Missoula, MT

I am struggling trying to figure out how to incorporate this way of life in my new reality — city living and a full time desk job. (I job I love, but nonetheless, not not one I can do from home while watering the basil and waiting for the bread to rise.) We will make this place a homestead yet. With no land to garden, we’ll have a couple terraces of pots full of herbs and peppers and tomatoes. We’ll juice the local winter harvest of citrus and send boxes of the whole fruit to loved ones far away — including to that happy family in Missoula. I’ll grow bushes of basil in the temperate fall and winter, freezing pesto in ice cube trays for year-round dinner parties.

And I will continue to walk Nelson through our new neighborhood, eyeing properties with irrigation and big backyards perfect for bean poles, fruit trees, forests of tomatoes, a poultry run, and porch for a swing and cobalt blue pots full of ruby red geraniums.

This simple life is in my heart. I am so thankful for travel for reminding me.

~K

 

 

Posted in
Journal, Travel
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Ocean

September 3rd

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

There was once a boy named Ocean who was frightened by bears and refused to go to the local swimming spot in the river by himself. One time, he’d ridden his bike down the dirt path, past the lone bench, over the first tiny creek and to the bigger creek only to see a menacing mama bear. This kept him from going swimming alone again.

He’d bring his siblings, but they were too young and most lived with his dad and “his new wife.” (These little ones had interesting names too, like Phoenix, and Coral and Star and Nova.) His parents, he explained, were once members of the Rainbow people. They’d landed in Montana, but he’d since spent little time here. He’d lived with grandparents in Minnesota, and an uncle in the woods.

He liked living with his uncle best. He taught him how to shoot a gun. If Ocean had a gun now, he wouldn’t be scared of going to the swimming hole alone. But Ocean’s mama found out about the uncle and the gun and went to the woods to collect her eldest son. There would be no more “crazy uncle” time.

So, Ocean hung around the path to the watering hole, waiting for someone he thought he could trust to accompany him. If there were other people, the bears would likely stay away. That’s how we found Ocean on that warm August day. Flip flops and toes covered in dust, a towel around his skinny neck and a loneliness in his eyes.

Were we going swimming, and if so, could he please join us?

Of course he could. While I tried to sip wine and read a magazine, and Finny happily floated along in the icy water ignoring the whole scene gleefully, Ocean told me his story. He was nervous about going into the 7th grade the following week. He hadn’t spent much time in this neighborhood, even though he loved living with his mom and being back in Montana. He missed his dad a lot too. His dad now lives in Kentucky.

And so, we kept him entertained, challenging him to build cairns for us. We dared him to build one with 10, then 12 and finally 15. By the time he was done, a good hour had passed. The freckles on the tops of his shoulders were dark and his smile was wide. He’d succeeded in finding company, he so needed.

Missoula, MT

Dear 7th graders of Missoula — be nice to Ocean. He is a good kid who deserves a break. There are mama bears lurking in the shadows watching over him.

~K

 

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Community, Travel
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Often, All That Remains

September 2nd

Missoula, MT

On our recent trip to Montana, we toured the Missoula Art Museum. Jane Waggoner Deschner’s exhibit, called, “Often, All That Remains,” was the rare experience that left me weak in the knees — powerful, transformative art.

Quietly, we walked the small room, examining “found” photos Deschner embroidered with famous quotes. Sometimes the quotes were ironic, others funny. Some made me want to cry.

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Her exhibit takes two forms of art I love — photography and embroidery — and throws them together in a provocative way. I could have spent all my museum time with just this show.

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Deschner writes, “The idea for stitching into photographs came from remembering the sewing cards from my childhood. I discovered only a few other artists (mostly European) who embroider into photos, so I have developed my technique through trail and error. What I have come to love are the connections I create with needle and thread, typography and design, and generations of unknown people, both ordinary and famous.”

Missoula, MT

Missoula, MT

Deschner is from Billings, MT. If you get a chance to see her work, do so!

 

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Journal, Travel
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