Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Budget Friendly Living: Simplify

Recently I did a post about planning and how it can help you with your budget. I was looking around at what else we do that really makes an impact and I got to thinking about the way we approach our lives.  I almost think that is more important than any other "tips" I could give.  When I think about my life, I try to make it as uncluttered and uncomplicated as possible.  We are busy and do a lot of things, but the more complicated life gets, it seems the more expensive it gets.  Here are just a few examples:

We like the simple things in life.  Hubby and I often take a walk together to spend some time chatting about how our day or week has been going.  Its nice to reconnect, get in some exercise, and be outdoors a little (even in the heat wave we are having).  However, its also much cheaper than going to a movie, watching cable TV, or going out to dinner.  We do go out, don't get me wrong, but sometimes, the simpler activities make it easier to reconnect than shouting over restaurant chatter or whispering between scenes in a movie.

We also don't have phones with data plans.  I find technology has really stressed me out over the years.  I never had a cell phone as a teen because I didn't want to be that accessible to people.  I didn't like Facebook (although I admittedly got a profile a few months ago...) because it was too impersonal and I didn't want people I don't like/from the past to find me and bug me.  I like my privacy.  A data plan, especially for Hubby because of work email, means that one more layer of my privacy and my "alone time" is being stripped away.  I am constantly accessible to people.  We have cable internet at home, and we have some mobile devices that can connect to wireless, but we don't have it on the go, which means we can "unplug" sometimes.  And frankly, we have the cheapest cell phone plan of anyone I know.

We don't have a lot of stuff.  I am not trying to live like a nun, but we don't OWN a lot of things.  We have Netflix (streaming only) and Redbox instead of owning a lot of DVDs, and we have and use a library card (this is new for me and I am still SUPER excited about it).  We only keep the things we use, and we buy high quality stuff for the things we use a lot (for me its kitchen gear - shocker, right?) so we don't wear them out and have to replace them all the time.  We save up for the expensive items slowly over time, and then we have it pretty much forever.  This reduces spending AND waste.  Yay for the environment!  Some of this stems from my hatred of clutter after leaving my parents' houses (they collect EVERYTHING and it makes me crazy!!), but a lot of it is because we don't attach our self worth to what we own, and we don't shop as a hobby or to make ourselves happy.  We probably have a smaller TV than most people, but we also have no debt except our home.

And conservation. We try to conserve everything here; water, power, gas, waste, time, stuff... And I think the savings really add up.The really easy ones are water and electricity. We save in lots of ways. For example, we don't run our dishwasher very often to save on both. It makes life a lot simpler to just do dishes as they come.  And yes, I do a LOT of dishes, but that is part of life.  We also plug everything into a surge protector.  Last winter we had a bad ice storm that took out our power and ruined everyone's TV except ours because we had a serge protector.  And at the end of the day, we turn everything off at the switch so it doesn't passively draw power, but we don't have to constantly plug and unplug it.  Simple, right?

The options are endless and these are just the things I was thinking of today... and I am ALWAYS open to suggestions. :-)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Budget friendly living: Plan

Hubby and I do pretty well on a single income. Granted he works in the tech field so he makes more than some, but we still have to budget like crazy to keep things running smoothly. Because hubby is such a wonderful nerd, we operate our household on a fiscal year, from Aug to July, rather than a calendar year. As EOF approaches (end of fiscal) and we set about making our yearly budget, I am reflecting on the ways we save money. I thought maybe I would start sharing some of the strategies we have used over the years that have worked the best. I'll try not to list the commonly cited ones, for example adjusting your thermostat (although we do that too), so you aren't reading the same old tips again.

I started making a list of everything we do and realized that it was WAY too much to handle at once.  So I think maybe I will share them here and there when I am scrambling to get out a new post in a timely manner... Hey, I am being honest here!

So for my FIRST tip:
Before everything, Plan.
Hubby and I are planners by nature and we admittedly take this mantra to the extreme, but having a plan is super important. For everything. Funny, but most of this one ended up about food... Sorry about that :-)

Plan your menu a week or two ahead and make things that use common ingredients. I am notorious for buying a whole quart of buttermilk or opening a carton of chicken stock or a bottle of wine for about 1/2 cup, and then trying desperately not to waste it the day before it is sure to go bad and cooking 1,000 random items just so it doesn't go to waste.  Throwing away food is like throwing away money, so waste as little as possible.

Plan grocery trips for once a week and STICK TO THE LIST to avoid impulse buys. Hubby and I have been slipping on this lately and it shows in our overbudget grocery bill. If you have a REAL list made out from your menu plan, you can really cut down on the time spent in the grocery store, and if you only make one trip a week, you will only be tempted to go off list (and have to resist) once.

Plan your errands and outings so you can do them all at once and in the same area. This saves on time and gas. Just be sure you don't eat out during your string of shopping trips.

Plan on eating your leftovers in your weekly menu, or better yet take them as lunches so you don't have to buy groceries for another meal.  Freeze leftovers to avoid waste if you know you wont eat them in time.

Plan your budget well in advance.  Hubby and I do it yearly, which is pretty weird, but we have been doing it a while and know our spending habits enough to do it that far in advance.  Some people say do it weekly, but I think monthly is the very shortest increment I would advise. That way you aren't tempted to build in splurges, you can plan better for monthly bills like rent/mortgages, and you can start thinking long term about spending and saving.  How do you build a budget? Start off by tracking your spending for a few weeks or months, categorize it, and then figure out how much you need for different things.  This will also show you where you can cut back.  Don't go cold turkey on spending, but adjust it every time you make a new budget until you meet your goals.

Plan for the future.  If you save up a down payment for a house, save up to buy a car in cash, and plan for other large purchases like furniture and appliances, you will save a ton of money in interest.  Don't wait until your dryer dies and then scramble to pay for it.  Keep a budget for replacing large items.  Car paid off? Keep paying yourself the car payment, and then you will have enough in a few years to buy one in cash.  This is a common recommendation, but it is SO important, and most people still don't do it...

Plan for the unexpected.  If you have an emergency, you have to cover it somehow.  Having an emergency category to your budget is critical to saving money, because you will not have to dip in to savings or even worse, borrow.  Get insurance for your car, your property (home owners or renters), your body (health insurance and life insurance), and anything else valuable.  Don't skimp on insurance unless you are starving.  It will come back to bite you! When budgeting for vehicles, make sure to build in maintenance costs so your car doesn't break down.  Take care of your investments so they last longer, and it will cost less in the long run.

Well, that is all I have on my mind today.  I guess this ended up being a lot of silly stuff after all (and I feel ridiculous now that it is all typed out) but I am posting it anyway.  Sigh... :-)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baby ren faire costume complete!

I was really proud of myself this year. I had a couple projects to make for ren faire and I wasn't sure I was gonna get them all done in time. Hubby and little man gave me lots of help with housework and "me" time so I could get it all done. And I must say, I was really proud of the results!

Me and Little Man
I officially finished my friend's pouch that he wanted for LAST year, but it didn't get done.  Sigh.  I try- I really do.  Then I worked on Little Man's outfit, and it came together quickly and BEAUTIFULLY, much to my surprise.  I must be getting better at this, because his outfit was almost a no-brainer. And last but not least, I made some upgrades to my outfit.  Mostly it was structural improvement as the weight of the dress was creating too much stress on the seams, but I also made myself a French Hood in the early Elizabethan style.  I was hoping to get to Hubby's pants since he had been wearing the pants from his musketeer costume for the last 2 years with his upper class surcoat, and I had hoped to get to making some hose (basically stockings or long socks) for Hubby and my friend, but alas, their legs must show a little longer.  These were not REALLY on my list, but were just an "It would be awesome if I got to it" addition, so I don't feel too bad.  After all, I have to have something to do next year.... :-)

Group Photo

What is the next big thing then?  Well, my friend asked if he could commission me to make him a Fantastic 4 costume for Halloween.  I have the blue stretch material already... Mwaa ha ha...

Update:  I now have these for sale at my Etsy shop here!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baby Ren Faire Costume Continues

A while back I shared some of my research on period appropriate renaissance faire costumes for children, specifically babies. I am really just doing my best guessing here as I am neither a historian nor an anthropologist, so don't come back and say how wrong I am.  This is just what I have been able to gather together, so yeah... Don't hate :-)  Anyway, disclaimers aside, I finally got started last night!  Its only been 4 months since my first post on that.  Sigh, lag time sucks. But I found a pattern I could adapt, and while this is not exactly what I had in my head, its what I can reasonably make in 2 weeks knowing that it will probably be worn twice at the most.  So I made some concessions on fancy-ness and decided to do something a bit more "mini me" since my husband really liked the idea of our son in the same fabric as him.

I had simplicity 5813 from a baptismal outfit I made for our godson, and I figured it would be perfect for adapting to the ren faire vibe.  I am using the dress (A/B) along with the slip which can be seen in the line art - the sleeveless thing, as well as the cap without a brim.  I am using the dress pattern as the gown and the slip pattern as the shift.  Of course, I had to make a lot of changes to make it period appropriate.

For starters, the dress opens in the back, but I wanted a Spanish surcoat sort of look for whatever reason, so I decided to make it open in the front and closed in the back.  This also follows my husband's doublet style, making it match him that much more. I decided to go with loops for the buttons in the front rather than making a placket, again to match my husband's doublet.  I also wanted long sleeves for the gown, but I decided to make them of another fabric and make them detachable since we are having such an awful heat wave here in Wisconsin.  I also cut the front and back of the bodice twice since I am leaving off the collar and need a way to finish the neck and armhole edges.  I will make one cut the facing and the other the fabric.  If this gets too thick, I may find a lighter fabric to line it, but for now, that's the idea.  For the shift, I decided to keep the extravagant length so it could be worn in future years, since our son cannot walk or crawl yet anyway and it is unlikely to bother him much.  It may be a pain to carry him with all that fabric hanging around, but its my own fault!  I also had to add sleeves to this, so I borrowed the sleeve pattern from the sweater and hopefully it will work out okay.  For the hems, I think I may take up some of the excess with the idea that it can be let down later.  I may not since he isn't crawling or walking like I said, but if it seems like WAY too much fabric, I have options at least.

Now for the I hopes.  I HOPE to make the sleeves detachable, but I also hope to make the sides and shoulders adjustable so he can wear this next year.  I am thinking that I will add eyelets to them both and leave a little pleat of slack in the side of the skirt so when cinched up tight you can't tell, but leave that bit of room to make it adjustable in the future.  It will only be adjustable to a point, of course, but it at least gives me the hope that this can be worn more than once!

Well, that is as far as I have gotten as of today, but I will keep you posted on how it turns out!  And I will learn from my mistakes at Easter and have frequent fittings with the model!

my heap of pattern pieces all cut out.  If little man takes a nap, I know what I am doing this afternoon!