Friday, August 19, 2016

Summer-to-Fall Home Decor on a Dime

My Mother's Day present from Reina

When it comes to home decorating, I must begin by explaining I’m a happily divorced single mom in denial. After 10 years of working full time, I still mistakenly believe it is somehow possible to live the Pinterest worthy, creative life of a stay-at-home mom who has time for home décor, crafting, and baking. Reality bites me each time, but I keep trying. The benefit to this kind of thinking is I keep moving forward. Multiple home projects vie for my attention, and I want to do everything all at once. Fortunately, I’m learning to pace myself by focusing on one project at a time. (Doing things slowly helps the budget as well). 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about inexpensive home décor solutions for busy working moms who don’t have the time or money to achieve the Better Homes and Garden look but crave a cute, quaint, and cozy home nevertheless. As we enter fall—a season ripe for new beginnings—how about trying a summer-to-fall home makeover challenge with a tight budget in mind?

1) Begin by clearing out the clutter room by room. Next, get the kids on board, with bribes if you must, and do a deep cleaning.  Buy a fresh bouquet of flowers at the market to reward your efforts. You can find sunflowers or daisies for $5 or less at street fairs or even stores like Sprouts. Click here for an elegant summer-to-fall floral centerpiece idea that I made for no cost with flowers donated from an event. 

2) Decorate with candles. Inexpensive luminaries make any dwelling feel more relaxed and create a comfy atmosphere. Make a candle garden with some sand and shells your kiddos collected from this summer’s beach expedition or items you have in your kitchen like dried peas or beans. You can find pillar candles at discount or craft stores for a dollar or two each and tie them with twine or ribbon.

3) Free your treasures by unboxing (and actually using!) them. Take out your wrapped, hidden, and tucked away treasures—like grandma’s tea cups and great grandma’s gloves—and stop being afraid to use or display them. If an item does happen to get broken, you can take the pieces to create a mosaic.

My "Courage" banner goes perfectly with Grandma's handkerchiefs. 

4) Fill a blank wall or hallway with framed pieces of your kids’ art work, a cherished greeting card, or even grandma’s handkerchiefs. Craft stores regularly offer coupons for frames, so you can score a good deal if you look for discounts. 

5) Accept hand-me-down furniture from friends, family, or even the curbside. Look at an old chair, table, or chest with a creative eye for its potential. Then resurrect furniture pieces with a little sanding, a fresh coat of paint, and other unique ornaments such as pretty knobs available from the dollar section at Michaels. Likewise, reupholster old chair bottoms with red tag material on sale at fabric stores. Here's how I reupholstered my patio bistro chairs for $5!

6) Use overlooked items around the house, such as pretty baskets or picture books, to create arrangements. Scour your side yard and garage for old pots to reuse. Buy herbs, plants, or fake flowers at discount stores to create a kitchen windowsill herb garden, table top arrangement, or crafty seasonal wreaths.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reupholstered Bistro Chairs {for only $5}


A few summers ago, I inherited this adorable white iron bistro set from Mom. It fits in nicely with my white patio cover, and I often enjoy using it in the mornings when I have my tea. The only problem is I'm not a fan of the lighthouse/sailing look, so I added yet another project to my list that I finally got around to last week when I found a coupon for Joann's. Apparently, upholstering material skyrockets to $40+ per yard, but I found this red tag fabric on sale for $6. With my coupon, I scored a yard of it for $5. That covered my chairs and then some (for place mats, perhaps). 

Reupholstering the bottom of the bistro chairs was easier than I thought, so I highly encourage this DYI project. Here's what I used:

  • New upholstering material
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Fabric scissors
  • Staple gun

I began by removing the staples with a flat screwdriver and then used the old piece of material to trace a pattern for the new material. I cut out two squares with fabric scissors. Then I wrapped a piece of new material around the cushion and stapled the material all around the sides, similar to wrapping a present. Viola! 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Pineapple Fried Rice {in a pineapple bowl}

Eating pineapple fried rice straight out of a pineapple bowl—served by Reina and her friend—was a highlight of our summer staycation. Yes, this was another one of Reina's ideas for her cooking night. Since I’m such a routine-oriented person, I challenge myself to try new things, so I highly recommend this unique recipe. An added plus for busy families? So EASY because you can use leftovers!

Pineapple Fried Rice Recipe

1 package Thai Curry Pineapple Rice
1 pineapple, cored, fruit cut into small chunks
1 small head of broccoli, cut up
1 cup of carrots, diced
½ onion, diced
3 stalks green onion, chopped
2 cups cooked white rice
1 lb. chicken breast, cubed
Olive oil for cooking

  1. Cut pineapple lengthwise in half, core, carve out insides, and set aside fruit. Cut up fruit into
    small chunks for later.
  2. Heat ½ tablespoon oil in skillet, stir fry until onions are translucent, and set aside.
  3. Next, heat ½ tablespoon oil in skillet and stir fry chopped broccoli and carrots. Set aside with onions.
  4. Then heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet and stir fry cubed chicken about 5 minutes until done. 
  5. Add to wok with chicken the pineapple, rice, veggies, and green onions. Empty contents of Thai curry spice packet into wok and stir thoroughly, coating entire mixture. Stir fry quickly for 2 - 3 minutes, but be careful not to burn mixture. 
  6. Placed desired amount into carved pineapple halves. Enjoy a refreshing summer meal!  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Habits of Cheapskates that Will Save you Hundreds of Dollars

Those who know me can attest that I'm a magnet for deals. In fact, saving money is a challenge that has inspired and motivated me on my life's journey. Whether you can identify with being a cheapskate like me or not, I think you'll find these tips helpful as you focus on spending your money more wisely. Take what you like, leave the rest, and tell me what works for you.

Create Budget & Allowance Goals  
Create a budget goal at the beginning of each month when you pay your bills. Think of it as a game in order to challenge yourself to stay on track.

Go on a spending freeze in the clothing department. Instead, combine overlooked outfits, accessories, and shoes in unique ways. See Creating New Outfits without Spending a Dime for ideas. 

Make your kids EARN their allowance by doing their share of the daily and weekly house work. Next, teach them to budget their own money by making them responsible to purchase the items they want.

Slash Your Monthly Food and Beverage Costs in Half
Plan meals around weekly grocery sales ads and cook most of your meals at home. This will save you $200+ per month depending upon how often you go out to eat. Be willing to shop at several stores (one for canned goods & snacks, one for produce, and another one for meat & poultry) so you can get the best prices in each category.

Duhhhh, brew your own coffee. It's not that hard, folks. Besides, Starbucks is overpriced and overrated. Utilizing your own coffee pot at home will save you a whopping $50 - $100 per month if you typically go out for coffee several times a week. 

Buy movie treats at discount stores and fast food at warehouse stores when you eat away from home. Even if you are not a warehouse member, you can still take advantage of fast food court deals like $1.50 for a hot dog and soda.  

Make your own iced tea. On a sunny day, fill up a large jug with water and 2-3 bags of your favorite tea. Leave jug out in the sun for several hours to brew in the heat and then refrigerate. 

Grow your own veggies in raised garden beds. 

Discover Hidden Savings around the House
Do it yourself. Absolutely DIY whatever you have time and energy for, such as car washes, manicures or pedicures, window cleaning, and yard work. Remember that the kids can help with most of these chores. 

Learn to fix things yourself and eliminate the huge service costs. Youtube video tutorials on how to fix things around the house. 

Turn off lights in vacant rooms around the house, cut out cable and use Netflix instead, and drop your landline.

Hang clothes out to dry on a clothes rack on your porch or back yard.

Use drought-tolerant landscaping to save on water bills and simplify your yard work routine.

Get up early on Saturdays for yard sale drive-bys so you can snag furniture to repurpose.

Look for Discount Shopping, Coupons, and Freebies
Join a warehouse like Costco or Sam’s. Not only will you have access to deep discounts on bulk items, but you can also save hundreds of dollars a year on gas.

Sign up for department store credit cards like Khols & JC Penny that send frequent coupons to cardholders (including $10 bonus cards, no purchase required) and carry items for the entire family.

Get FREE STUFF on your birthday. How does a free Denny's grand slam, ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins, and entry to Glen Ivy sound? You’ll get all this for free, and much more. Check out 59 Birthday Freebies to sign up for sweet deals. 

Clip coupons for items you’ll actually purchase and do a coupon exchange with other moms.

Borrow or barter with friends to exchange childcare or hair styling services. Swap books, DVDs, clothing, and more.

Limit data by grabbing free wi-fi where available when you are away from home to save on cell phone bills.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

{Thrifty Chick Summer Challenge} New Outfits without Spending a Dime!!!

Yep, I scored this dress in
a free clothing exchange.
Since summertime living is not always so easy when the budget is stretched thin due to the added expenses of vacation, child care costs, and back-to-school supplies, one area where you can easily compensate is the clothing & accessories department. Begin a low or no-budget seasonal clothing challenge by thinking of saving like a game. How can you get innovative with what you already have by finding inexpensive ways to create new outfits for the summer to fall transition?

SHOP IN YOUR CLOSET. An absolutely free fix for a shopping craving? Shop in your own closet and drawers by pulling out clothing you rarely wear or accessories you’ve forgotten about. Then mix and match outfits by combining unexpected pairs. Considering most people wear only 20% of their clothing 80% of the time, that leaves an untapped 80% of potential new outfits in your closet. Use lacy tank tops, overlooked jewelry, and light scarves to add some zest to your summer threads. Likewise, iron clothing you haven’t been wearing to create more items to choose from.

DO A CLOTHING EXCHANGE WITH FRIENDS. Get your girlfriends on board by having everyone take a mere 20-30 minutes to de-clutter the closet or go through bags set aside for donation to charities. Have the ladies pick out tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories they no longer want that the others might enjoy. Then plan a time to meet . . . over wine and treats! Not only will you benefit from the fellowship, you’ll also get to shop for FREE.

That'll be $2.99. Brand
new. Paired with a hot pink
necklace and navy sweater,
it becomes an instant
work outfit (see left). 
CREATE NEW PIECES OUT OF OLD ONES. Re-design old clothing into new summer items by cutting off sleeves to make tank tops or create shorts by cutting off pant legs. Patch up holes and sew falling hems on pant legs. Tie dye a t-shirt, iron on a patch or image, or (for the truly dedicated) break out your sewing machine to start something from scratch. Use fabric glue to attach ribbon, buttons, jewels, or fabric flowers to shoes, tops, and purses. Everyone will think you’ve gone out shopping, but you’ll hold the secret of knowing you hardly spent a dime.
A friend gave me this dress because it didn't fit right . . . 
and another friend gave me this coat that was too big on her. What a sassy pair they make.
Here's my $2 garage sale dress paired with my $3 cord jacket and a colorful necklace I hardly ever wear.
Add that same necklace to my brand spankin' new $2.99 top . . . 
or this longer necklace on a different day. Gotta keep your outfits spiced up a bit. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

My Mini Version of Eat, Pray, Love

In mid-July, I spent the weekend behind bars. Nestled away in the hills of Sierra Madre among deer, coyote, and even the occasional evening bear, I retreated for the weekend at a lovely Catholic monastery securely tucked behind iron gates. Although not quite what I expected, the retreat turned out to be my own mini weekend version of Eat, Pray, Love.

First off, the meals. So fresh and scrumptious. We suspected they were prepared with ingredients from the garden on the property, and we were grateful to be relieved from the chore of cooking. We were also delighted to linger over our food. Satisfied tummies allowed us to concentrate our attention on a lot of prayer and meditation. Well, a little too much meditation for this busy body and mind, if you must know, yet I did experience the benefits of slowing down to a peaceful pace. Finally, the lovingkindness. We focused on loving thoughts coming from within ourselves and then flowing outward to others. Here, I realized that as long as my focus is properly centered on Christ, He can channel His love through me towards others. 

Mindfulness, meals, and meditation aside, I came to the retreat not knowing what to expect and went home grateful to understand that I don't have to go anywhere to meet with my Savior. 

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" 
~1 Corinthians 3:16 
One breakout session enabled us to create vision boards. Loved it. Found my zone. 
Our collective vision boards

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summertime Reading {all year long!}

Perhaps reading is a lost art these days now that hand-held electronics have taken over our world, but I'm old-fashioned and have actual printed books checked out from three different libraries at the moment. You can find Reina and I sitting on her bed most week nights at about 10 p.m. while she works on her art and I read aloud from whatever book we are currently into. Inspired by Read to Your Bunny, Reina's baby book that encourages parents to read to their children for 20 minutes a day, I've made it a priority to read to Reina since she was an infant, and I cherish our reading time even more these days because I know this little ritual is coming to an end now that she's almost a big, bad senior.

Because reading helped me to survive a lonely and awkward childhood, I don't believe in banning books. Yes, we've read some that may be considered too mature for my seventeen year-old, but I feel it's better for us to discuss various issues at home since she's slapped in the face with them by society regardless. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not into junk like Fifty Shades of Gray. I'm just sayin' I think it's important for parents of teenagers to be open to discussing topics of all kinds so their kids feel safe going to them instead of just relying on their peers.

Here's a list of the books we've enjoyed in the last few years that I recommend for mothers and teenage daughters to read together:
  1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 
  3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 
  4. The Son (sequel to The Giver) by Lois Lowry 
  5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 
  6. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Most of these books have corresponding movies. One way to get an uninterested younger kid involved in reading is to read books with your child that have been made into movies and then watch the movie together. Creating a themed night with dinner or snacks inspired from the book and movie is a fun way to connect with your child. Movie or none, getting excited about reading yourself will positively influence your kids. The benefits of reading with Reina over the years have paid off because, despite the constant temptation of electronics, Reina devours most of the books she reads.


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