Monday, July 30, 2012

Money Matters

Designing, implementing and sticking to a budget has been weighing heavy on me the last few months. We recently decided to begin the process to purchase our first house, so budgeting has become increasingly important. Here's the steps I took to design our budget and some of the tips I learned along the way.

**Note: I am not a financial planner and anything you see in this post should not be taken as professional advice. This has been and continues to be a learning experience, so it's not perfect, but I've definitely made some progress.**

I created this budget with the goal to be a combination of paying down our one major credit card while simultaneously saving for a down payment. Here's what I did:

1. List out what payments you make every month.
  • Make a list of every bill you pay. Be sure to include bills that you only pay quarterly, bi-annually, annually, etc. 
  • Categorize each payment as "debt" or "bill". These are the labels I use, but use whatever works for you, just make sure you can distinguish between what's accruing interest and what you simply pay month to month.
    • Example: credit cards, car payments and student loans are all debt. Gas, electricity, insurance, cable/internet are all bills.
2. Figure out how much you owe. This step is probably the scariest and most stressful, but it's also one of the most important.
  • Take everything that you labeled as a bill in step 1 and put it to the side
  • Take everything you labeled as debt and go look up and write down the following:
    • Current balance
    • Interest rate
      • If you bought something at 0% interest for X months, be sure to write down when the 0% ends AND what your interest rate will be after that point.
    • Due date
    • Minimum monthly payment
  • Take a deep, calming breath and add up your current balances. 
  • Take a deep, calming breath.
3. Figure out how much you should (can) pay on each debt per month. This is by far the longest and probably the most complicated step, but it's the major component in paying off your debt.
  • Organize your debt starting with the highest interest rate. Your goal should be to pay this off the quickest.
    • If something was bought with 0% for X months, set that aside, but organize by when the 0% ends
    • If something with 0% ends within the year, I suggest putting that before anything else to make sure you pay it off before the 0% ends. Generally the true interest rate on deals like this are outrageous, so you want to avoid them like the plague.
  • Grab a calculator
  • For any debt that has a deadline (5 year car loan, 12 months no interest, 15 year mortgage, etc.), divide the current balance by the number of payment periods left. Write this amount down for each one. 
    • Example: if you owe $12,000 on a car and have 24 months of payments left, you should be making $500 payments each month.
    • This should be your minimum payment. This will ensure that you have your balance paid off by the time the deadline rolls around so you don't incur any penalties and so you don't have to worry about making double or even triple payments as the deadline approaches.
  • For any debt that doesn't have a specific deadline (credit card, some student loans, etc.), pick a deadline. Decide when you would ideally like to have that balance paid off. Calculate the number of payment periods between now and then. Divide your balance by that number. 
    • Example: if you owe $1,200 on your credit card and want to pay it off in the next 6 months, you should be making $200 payments per month.
    • This should be your goal for your actual minimum payment per month. Try your hardest to pay this amount each month, not just the amount your statement says
    • If your minimum payment is higher than this amount, always pay at least your minimum payment. You may also want to rethink the deadline you set for yourself.
  • Remember that on top of your debt payments, you also have bill payments to make every month. You will need to take into account your average payments for these per month
    • Don't forget those non monthly bills! Make sure you account for the amount you'll need to set aside each month.
      • Example: If you pay $75 for trash services every 3 months, you'll need to set aside $25 a month for it.
    • Don't forget other costs: groceries, gasoline, entertainment, shopping, etc. Figure out how much on average you do or want to spend on each of those costs as well.
  • Figure out how much you want to save each month. Decide if you want to save a flat amount or a percentage of your income. Decide the schedule you want to use (monthly savings deposits, weekly, etc.) 
  • Write down all of the payment amounts you've just calculated and add them up. If that total number falls under your total monthly income, great!
    • If the total is above your monthly income, start by cutting back on the amount you budgeted for groceries, entertainment, etc. This may be difficult, but no one said budgeting would be easy!
    • Once you've cut back on your flexible budget, recalculate your payment totals. Still over? Decide if you're more concerned with savings or paying down your debt. Then adjust the less imperative category to lower your total.
    • Keep adjusting until you have a number under your total monthly income. 
    • Make sure you ALWAYS pay at least your minimum payments! 
Confused yet? 


Yes, it's a bit complicated, but tomorrow I'll show you how I keep track of it all.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anchors Aweigh!

I have an obsession with all things beach/nautical related. Especially anchors. I have anchor accessories, tops, decorations, I even have an anchor tattoo on my ankle.

So when I came across this little wooden anchor in a "junk shop" in Rockport, TX, I had to get it!

This is the back. (I forgot to take a picture before I started...)
When I got it, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. It was plain wood with a thin coat of clear varnish. Virtually a blank canvas! Eventually, I decided I wanted to try painting it and then sanding it in places to give it an antique feel.

I used Sea Foam Green and Navy Blue acrylic paint.

I started by painting 1 coat of the Sea Foam Green, which looks a bit blue in this picture...

Once that dried, I followed it up with 2 coats of Navy, letting each coat dry in between

Once it was completely dry, I took some 220 grit sandpaper and went at it! 

I mainly sanded the edges, and went all the way down to the wood. I sanded the front face a little, just to get some of the Nave Paint off, so you can see the Sea Foam beneath.

When I was done with the sanding, I still didn't know exactly where to put it. But then, when we were putting up the cork board I made, I had a lightbulb moment!

I had my wonderful husband drill a hole in the back of the round part. He drilled about 1/3 of the way through. Then I took a dab of hot glue and glued a thumb tack in the hole.

Then I centered the anchor in the middle of the cork board, and voila!

What do you think? Here's the whole picture...

I wasn't sure at first, but now I adore it. I've been staring at that wall the whole time I've been writing and it just makes me happy :)

What new touches have you added to your decor lately?

The Well Crafted Home

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Upcycling Wine Corks

Last week, I hinted at some corky craftiness.

If you've been on Pinterest lately, you know that cork crafts are everywhere! Last weekend I decided to try my hand at making a couple. My favorite is my framed cord board, and it was SUPER easy to make :)

You'll need:

  • Picture frame--I used a simple black 11x17 frame that I got at Hobby Lobby for $5 in their 50% frames deal. You can use any size you want, really and can find them anywhere
  • Corks, and lots of them. My frame used 100 total.
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks. I think I used at least 10 of the 4 inch mini sticks

Start by figuring out how you want your corks to be laid out. I decided on alternating between 2 vertical and 2 horizontal.

You'll then need to lay out a row and a column along one edge of the frame to determine if you'll need to cut any corks. While I was doing this, I realized that I had corks of different sizes, which worked out perfectly. to avoid cutting any corks, I ended up having to use a pair of the shortest corks in a vertical position in each column. This gave me about a half inch of extra space so that the longer corks would fit everywhere else. I hope that makes sense! Or is it clear as mud?

Once I laid out a row and column, I started gluing pairs of corks together and then laid them out where they would go. You don't need to do this, but it makes it waaaaay easier to lay out and glue down.

Sorry this one's a bit blurry!

Once I knew that all of my corks would fit, and after rearranging them to suit my personal preference, I started gluing the pairs down. I glued them directly to the glass in the frame. Some people have suggested taking the glass out and gluing them to the backing of the frame. I think it really depends on how sturdy the backing is. Gluing on the glass worked for me and it eliminated the extra step of taking the glass out.

While gluing them down, I started with the pairs of corks around the edges and then worked pair by pair across and down to make sure no shifting happened during the process.

Once I was done, I had to figure out where to put it. I decided that my living room would be the best place. We have a little reading/sitting corner that was looking a little bland. 

Not a great picture, but you get the idea..

And this is (almost) what it looks like now!

The birdcage hanger also came from Hobbly Lobby and the picture on the right came from a little shop in Rockport, TX.

I added one more thing to the mix, but I'll share that along with final pictures tomorrow, so stay tuned!

The other cork crafts didn't turn out exactly like I'd imagined, so I'll be sharing those with you later once I get  a) more corks and b) more practice with better results.

Have you created anything with corks lately? Or have you seen something you'd love to recreate? Pin It Now!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

TGI (almost) Friday!

I don't know about you, but this week has been killer. In an I-want-to-pull-my-hair-out-and-run-away-to-a-tropical-island kind of way. Who wants to come?

On a separate note, I am very excited about 2 (well, 3) upcoming events...

1. The Olympics
2. Shark week!!

1. For those of you who don't know me all that well, I am an Aggie, along with my husband, and therefore a HUGE A&M fan. 


Did you know that A&M has 23 (former and current) athletes plus 1 coach participating in the Olympics this year? Twenty three. That's more than any other college or university in the nation. Can I get a WHOOP!!! Now, they aren't all on the USA teams, but still that's pretty darned awesome!

10 of these 23 Aggies are swimmers, which is my favorite (followed by gymnastics) Olympic sport. All Olympians are amazing to me. I can't imagine the dedication, raw talent or determination that goes into qualifying for an Olympic team. It's just amazing...

2. Growing up, I was slightly obsessed with sharks. I had books upon books about them and checked out every shark book the library had to offer. I would read them cover to cover, over and over again. Almost every paper I had to write through middle school had to do with sharks. I love sharks and would love to spend my days researching and watching and learning all about them. One of my dreams came true when we got to go cage diving in Hawaii earlier this year. 

So, naturally, one of my favorite happenings every year is Shark Week on the Discovery channel. This year is the 25th anniversary, so I'm sure there are going to be plenty of fantastic new shows! 

3. Well, duh. Does this really need any more explanation?

What upcoming event are you excited about?

What's your favorite part of the Olympics?

If you could run away to any location in the world, where would it be?
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A True Love Story...

Yesterday, I told you that my second anniversary was next week. Well, today is my parents' 31st anniversary.

That's them on their wedding day back in 1981. I look a bit like my mom, don'tcha think?

My parents are wonderful and their marriage is inspiring. The fact that they were both children of divorce/separation and are not only still married after 31 years, but still madly in love is amazing.

Can't you just feel how much they love each other in this picture?

Growing up, watching them love each other is one of life's blessings that I am most thankful for. They taught me how to be a true partner to someone; to fully be a part of a marriage, not just a fixture in it.

They taught me how to be a support system and how to let myself be supported. I'm stubborn and independent and I hate asking for help, but because of them (and because I know my husband loves and cares for me) I know it's OK to share the load.

They taught me that it's OK to be demonstrative and lovey-dovey and sneak smooches in the kitchen when you think no one is looking. As big a fuss as I made about it growing up, it was always reassuring to know how much they love they still had (and continue to have) for each other over the years.

They taught me that it's OK to have your own space and to do your own thing. The whole world won't fall apart if you're not connected at the hip with your spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend. Get out in the world and have your own experiences, then come home and share your adventure with each other.

Most importantly, though, they taught me respect. Respect for myself and my partner. Because that's what it is, a partnership. And you can't truly be in a great partnership until you respect the other person. And you should respect yourself enough to demand that same respect back.

I don't know exactly what their secret is. I don't even know if they do, but whatever it is, it's working and I can only hope to emulate their relationship in my own.

What about you? What do you think are the keys to a long-lasting, loving marriage? Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Vegas Wedding

My husband and I will be celebrating our 2nd anniversary a week from today, so I thought I'd share the story of our wedding with you.

We got married in Las Vegas. Now, I know some of you may be thinking, ooh, that's classy...

Just hear me out, OK? (BTW, this gets a bit lengthy, but there are a lot of pretty pictures and some pretty good advice if you're thinking about going this route!)

When we first got engaged, we started looking for venues in San Antonio.When we couldn't find what we wanted for a price we were willing to pay, we started thinking outside the box.

We thought about getting married on a cruise. You have a ceremony followed by a short reception on board before you launch, then your guests leave and you set sail on your fabulous honeymoon cruise. The only problem was we couldn't find a cruise with the destination we wanted over the dates we needed. (We had a very specific set of dates to work with if I wanted my best friend and maid of honor to be there, as she was getting her masters in London at the time).

This is my BFF and me in Vegas during my wedding week

Then, we thought about a destination wedding. Somewhere gorgeous and beachy with the waves crashing in the background at sunset.... Problem there: cost. And logistics. Again.

When someone jokingly threw out the idea of Vegas, I laughed at first, but then I did a little research. Turns out, Vegas weddings aren't as cheesy as they seem on TV or in the movies. Don't get me wrong--there are some chapels with drive through lanes where you can choose to be married by Elvis in gold lame'. But there are some that are beautiful. And tasteful. And dare I say classy?

After some pretty extensive research, we settled on The Chapel of the Flowers. Their website is great, easy to work with, and not at all misleading. You can never be too sure how real website pictures are, but in this case, they were spot on!

We ended up going with the "Ceremony and Strip Tour with LV Sign". Now, if you've seen my 50 States Bucket List, you know I had to choose this package. It provided limo service between the our hotel and the chapel as well as an hour long limo tour of the strip, which ended at the famous sign, where we had some great photo ops.

Once we decided on the chapel and dates, we started looking for hotels. We used my go-to website, to find the best flight and hotel combo. We scored a deal on a suite at The Venetian with a fourth night free if you paid for 3. Since we were already planning on being there that long, it was perfect! It came with some dining and casino credits as well :). 

The day after we arrived, we had some business to take care of. We had to:
1. Get my dress steamed and ready to wear
2. Get our marriage license and
3. Meet with the folks at the chapel

1. I had to cram pack my wedding gown into a carry-on sized bag. There was no way on God's green earth that I was going to risk checking it. For about 17 1/2 reasons. This scared the crap out of me. Would I be able to find someone who could steam the wrinkles out and get it photo ready on short notice? Of course. I just called the front desk at The Venetian and they took care of it in house in a matter of hours. It was fabulous! I also didn't wear a veil, so I didn't have to worry about that. (I wore a headpiece instead)

2. One thing movies and TV shows don't tell you is that you actually do have to have a marriage license to be legally married in Vegas, It's not quite so easy to find yourself in an (I Don't Even Know My) Last Name by Carrie Underwood situation. The Marriage License Bureau does stay open until midnight though, so you have well into the night to decide to take the plunge.

3. Once we got that taken care of, we went to visit the chapel where we were pleasantly greeted by one of the coordinators. We were walked through the game plan for the wedding and ran down a punch list of details. At this point we opted for an additional 45 minute photo session with a professional photographer to help remember the day.

One downside to our package is that we had to get ready in our hotel, not on site at the chapel (there are packages that include a dressing area, but we didn't pick any of those). Our group had 3 different rooms at our hotel, so we split up and got ready in each suite. I HIGHLY recommend having at least 2 rooms in the same hotel to do this.

(Yep, i did my own hair and makeup)

Once we were all ready, we met in the lobby of our hotel. From there, we walked to a couple of different photo op locations that we had decided on the day before. The strip is a phenomenal place to take pictures. I mean, it was designed to be a paradise for everyone. There are gorgeous, fantastical places recreating the most romantic parts of the world. What could be better?

If you're wondering what we did about our family, we did what worked for us. Our train of though was this: your family will love you and be happy for you no matter what you decide. If they can and want to be there, they will. If not, they're still gonna love you when you come back home.

We ended up only having the 2 of us, our maid of honor/best man, our parents, his sister and her boyfriend and another couple who are like a second set of parents to me. That's 12 people total. And we were perfectly fine with that.

This is most of us (the limo only held 8). It's amazing this picture was even was right after we almost got into a knock down drag out territory fight. With Elvis. In his pink Cadillac. Over a parking space. Awesome.
For the rest of our families and friends, the chapel offered a web broadcast our our wedding ceremony.

That's us waving to everyone watching after the ceremony.
They also gave us a DVD copy of the ceremony, which we copied and gave out to our grandparents and showed at the party/reception we had after we got home.

All in all, a Vegas wedding was the perfect fit for us. Everything worked out perfectly, like it was meant to be, and my husband and I are living our happily ever after...

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Marshmallows

I mean, do I really need to say any more? The title pretty much speaks for itself.

These bad boys are my little secret obsession. I hinted at them yesterday. My husband made them for me once while we were still dating and I think he's regretted it ever since. I love these little guys and he groans every time he sees me unpack these 3 ingredients from a grocery bag.

They're also my secret weapon. Have you ever needed to whip up some kind of dessert to serve to dinner guests who are expected to arrive in the next few minutes? And of course, you don't want it to look like you only spent 5 minutes preparing. Well, stick this recipe in your back pocket to use the next time you're in a time crunch, but you don't want it to be obvious.

Here's what you do:

1. Get your ingredients. I used dark chocolate and raspberries this time, but you can use any chocolate chips and all kinds of toppings: berries, nuts, M&M's, use your imagination!

2. Pour about half the bag of chocolate chips into a small saucepan. Add about 1 tbsp of milk to keep the chocolate smooth.

3.  Heat chips over medium heat. make sure to KEEP STIRRING! We use the paddle spoon that came with our rice cooker, but you can use whatever utensil works for you. Add more chips or milk as you see fit. The chocolate should look like hot fudge you get in a sundae shop, thicker than what you'd get from a bottle.

4. Dip marshmallows halfway into the melted chocolate. Set on a plate. I recommend not putting them on the plate you want to serve them on as they tend to be tipsy and drippy at this point.

5. Top with the topping of your choice before chocolate cools.

6. Place into refrigerator until chocolate sets--about an hour. It will still be a bit sticky when you pull it out.

(You can see some of the "tipsy" ones in this picture. Just use those as taste testers!)

7. Transfer to serving plate if desired and set out when ready to serve. Enjoy!

(Excuse the blurry cell phone pic!)

A couple of notes: my husband and I typically do this together. He dips, I top. It makes it go by a lot faster. We've also tried this recipe with orange liqueur instead of milk to give it a little kick and a different flavor.

What's your go-to dessert for unexpected or soon-to-be-arriving guests?

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