Upcycled Bedspread

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I bought this lovely bedspread at a thrift store a few months ago.

I tried throwing it on the bottom of my bed as an accent, but that’s when I found that it had a few holes and some paint spots.  I threw it in my closet hoping I would someday be inspired to use the fabric in other ways.  I am not the best seamstress, but I am handy with the sewing machine and I thought this fabric could be used elsewhere.  Then I forgot about it until this weekend.  I was looking at a chair that has been sitting in my bedroom begging to be recovered.  Great chair, but the fabric doesn’t match anything in my room.  This was a gift from an old friend.  She and I were both heavily into auctioning at the time.  She bought this for a few dollars at an auction.  Awesome gift!

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And then I remembered the bedspread in my closet and voila!  New cover.  Isn’t it fancy now?  I am thinking about painting the chair either an off-white, black or maybe even green.

The fun didn’t stop there.  I had to make pillows out of the fabric too.

This envelope pillow case is covering a throw pillow purchased at a thrift store for about $1.  I washed the pillow in hot water when I brought it home.  The little pillow in the photo below is sitting in the wingback chair that I bought at an auction as one of a pair for one dollar.  Yup, I bought two wingback chairs for a dollar.  That included a footstool that my silly husband got rid of without my knowing about it or it would look like the pillows right now.  I covered both chairs with slipcovers that I purchased at Big Lots for less than $10 each.  Not a bad deal at all.

Isn’t it amazing what can be done for very little money?  I paid less than $2 for the bedspread, about a dollar for the throw pillow and the chair above was a gift.  I love thrift stores and auctions.  They have some amazing things that are just waiting to be loved again.    You may even have things you have purchased over the years in storage that could just use a little face lift.  If you still cannot think of a way to re-use it, give it to a friend, family member or thrift store.  There is always someone who would enjoy your trash.

Tips for Better Thrift-ing

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I love, love, love thrift store shopping.  I have gone thrifting since I was in college.  Everyone was into vintage clothes at that time, but many of my friends stopped shopping at thrift stores while my trips continued.  Many of the people who have never been thrifting think of thrift stores as dirty or not having anything with any kind of style.  Once I get them to set foot into a thrift store, I normally can’t get them to leave.  One of my co-workers has started wearing a lot of thrift store finds and she looks amazing!  It’s really smart to visit thrift stores while you are on vacation.  Often, people with a little more money to spend on clothes drop their designer duds off at Goodwill and Salvation Army.  Thanks!   I really appreciate your generosity.

I just recently found this post on Get Rich Slowly – http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2008/12/14/embracing-the-thrift-store-ethic-18-top-tips-for-buying-used-clothes/ There are 18 tips about shopping at thrift stores.  I have added my own tips to the bottom (19-23).   I hope these tips help

  1. Set a budget. This is difficult at first — you don’t know how much things cost. But eventually you’ll be able to tell yourself, “I’m going spend $20 today”. It becomes a game to see how much you can buy for $20.
  2. Discard your prejudices. Some people consider thrift stores and used clothing shops nasty dirty places. Some are. Most aren’t. Explore your neighborhood. Find a shop or two that you like, and you’ll be hooked.
  3. Go with a friend. It’s good to have a second opinion. Your friend may have an eye for what looks good on you — and vice versa.
  4. Try things on. Sizes vary widely between manufacturers and even by eras. (Today’s clothes have looser fits.) But go in knowing your general size and measurements. Note that some places don’t have dressing rooms, so it’s smart to wear a modest thin layer in case you need to strip down in the aisle.
  5. Examine each item thoroughly. It sucks to get home to find your new shirt has a hole in the pocket. Or that the slacks you thought were a steal actually have a broken zipper.
  6. Check washing instructions. You don’t want to pay $3 for a silk blouse if you’ll never dry-clean it.
  7. Use the tags as a guide to find quality brands you like, but don’t limit yourself. Sometimes a brand you’ve never heard of can yield a favorite piece of clothing.
  8. Think layers. Maybe that shirt with a stain on the sleeve has a great collar for wearing under a sweater. For $3, you can afford to buy a single-purpose shirt.
  9. Use thrift stores as a way to diversify your wardrobe. Buy colors and styles on which you normally wouldn’t spend much. Wear the new clothes a few times to see how you like them, and to gauge the reaction of others.
  10. Used clothing stores are great for certain accessories. Why pay $30 for a new belt in a department store when you can get a better belt in your size for just $2? I like to shop at second-hand stores for hats. (Nice hats.)
  11. Look for clothes new with tags. Sometimes unsold department store inventory finds its way to used clothing stores and thrift shops. You’ll generally pay more for these items, but not much.
  12. If you won’t wear it, don’t buy it. You don’t save money buying a $3 shirt if it just sits in your closet for two years.
  13. Wash clothes when you get them home.
  14. Watch for sales. Used clothing stores (and thrift stores) run periodic specials. Our favorite local store just ran a half-off sale. The local thrift stores often have specials on certain items.
  15. If you go to the same store often, ask when they rotate stock. Stores get new shipments regularly. Most also have extra stock in storage. If you become familiar with the owners, you might even ask them to keep an eye out for particular items.
  16. Take your time. At normal clothing shops, everything is neatly organized. Not so at most thrift stores. When thrifting, it’s more important to be patient, to browse the racks methodically.
  17. If buying used clothes becomes a habit, institute a “one in-one out policy”. Every time you bring home something new, get rid of something old. (Give it away, take it to a thrift store, or save it for a garage sale.)
  18. Have fun! Buying used clothing can save you money. It’s also a fun way to kill a Saturday afternoon. At $3 an item, you can afford to be adventurous sometimes.
  19. Keep an open mind. If you go into a thrift store with one particular item in mind, you are not going to find it.  If you go thinking that you need shirts, sweaters, pants or children’s clothing, you are more likely to find items you like.
  20. Tag team with friends or family. My  We tag team by looking for what the other person is looking for.  It makes it much quicker and we have a lot of fun finding things.
  21. Know your designers.  When you can’t try clothes on at a thrift store, I find it much easier to know which designer fits me best.  I know that a certain size or style in a particular brand will fit better than most.  I also know what types of style look better on my frame.
  22. Wear light clothes that will allow you to try things on. I wear a light t-shirt or tank top in the summer to try shirts and sweaters over.  I know some people who wear bike shorts or something to try pants on over.  It helps when you can’t find a dressing room.
  23. Don’t forget to check out the appliances and furniture. You never know when you are going to find that really great deal you weren’t even looking for.

Scrap Wood Mirror

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Okay, so I have been making a lot of things lately.  So has my Dad.  I just have to share what my Dad has been making lately.  He has been taking scrap wood and wood found in my grandpa’s garage and making the most beautiful items with it lately.  It all started when I saw a Pottery Barn inspired mirror featured on A Soft Place to Land.  It was a guest blog by Living with Lindsay – http://asoftplace.net/2009/08/pottery-barn-inspired-mirror/ This mirror is super cool and she uses salved wood to make it.

Here is the mirror that Pottery Barn was selling…

Here is my Dad’s interpretation…

Isn’t this incredible?  Please excuse the photo of my messy fridge.  Because of Lindsay’s cool post, my Dad has gone completely mirror crazy.  This is the mirror that I received for a Christmas present.

He had to purchase the mirror, but the wood was scrap wood he had in his basement.  He has since started purchasing scraps of Purpleheart and other exotic woods to use along with the scrap.  It’s amazing what can be made out of things that others might call junk or firewood.  I had been after my Dad for some time to utilize the wood that was lying around in buckets in his basement.  He had been giving some of it to my husband to burn in our bonfire and it made me crazy!  Now he thinks every little scrap is valuable.  I will be posting more of his beautiful work in the near future.

The Frugality of Generosity

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Many of my posts are dedicated to finding ways to save money. One of the best reasons to save money is to be able to give more away!!

I realize I feel differently about philanthropy than most people. My profession is fundraising. I do this for a small private Quaker college (Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio). However, I am not just talking about Wilmington College. I am talking about generosity in general.

I have read tons of books about finance or becoming successful over the years and I have yet to find a single one that does not tell you to give some of your money away. The thought is that when you give money away more comes back to you in a different way. It may not be exactly what you expect, but I believe this to be true. The more generous (and purposeful) I have become with my money, the more money I seem to have and the more meaningful my life has become.

My hometown of Wilmington, Ohio has been in the news a lot over the past year. We lost one of our largest employers (DHL). This eliminated 8 thousand jobs from our community. Times are tough here. My husband lost his job before the announcement of DHL was all over the news. He found his new job before too many people flooded the job market and before our unemployment ran out. We make a lot less now, but we have jobs and a new respect for money. We no longer argue over finances. We work together. There are too many people who will suffer over the next year or two. My family is extremely blessed to still have a home, transportation and food on the table. If you also are one who is fortunate enough to still be able to provide for your family, count yourself lucky.

During these tough economic times, there are many organizations who are trying to help everyone without a job or a home. My husband and I have learned not only to save more money, but also to give more away. This does not ever mean giving to strangers on the street. Give your money away purposefully. If you want to help the homeless or the hungry, give to a homeless shelter or food pantry. They will happily give you a receipt for tax purposes and you can feel confident that your money is being stewarded properly.

If you do not have much money to give, give of your time and resources. Start a clothing, bedding or food drive. Or help a friend or family member in need. Do they need babysitting during hours you are at home? Maybe they have a child with a birthday coming up and you have clothing or toys in their size – give them to the parents to give as gifts. There are many ways to help out.

And I would not be responsible if I didn’t mention higher education. I know it probably doesn’t sound as needy as a homeless shelter, but it is definitely worthy of support. Think about a few things for me. Manufacturing jobs will likely be few and far between in the near future. What will those people do for a living? Colleges will help re-educate these people to join the workforce in a different way. Higher education will keep young people AND some of the unemployed out of the job market for awhile giving the economy time to recover. Also, many of our students had parents that may have been laid off or lost a portion of their income. These kids are finding it increasingly difficult to find financial aid. Banks aren’t lending money to these students and the government has been forced to take some financial support away from higher ed. We want these young people to have an education and we want them to stay out of the workforce for a few years.

When you make gifts to these organizations, it does not have to be a lot.

It matters who you give to and when, but not necessarily how much. Please keep this in mind when you go to write out a $10 or $25 check to an organization. That money helps a lot when lots of people give. The more generous you are and think of others, the more it WILL come back to you.

12 Tips to Buying Healthy Food on a Tight Budget

My husband and I are trying to find ways to slash our budgets and grocery bill is one of those areas that we are constantly struggling to reduce. I have friends who are amazing coupon queens. I keep trying and trying to use coupons to save money, but find that I am spending a lot of time cutting coupons, watching for deals and running to different stores just to save a dollar or two! I commend all of the mother’s and father’s out there that can do this and stay sane!!

One of the reasons that I am so discouraged is because I find myself more inclined to buy products that I wouldn’t normally buy and coupons are generally only offered for pre-packaged foods! Pre-packaged foods should not be on our healthy shopping list (minus a few items). Also, many of the items that I use on a consistent basis are available in a cheaper generic brand that is just as good. Here are some tips that I have found over the years.

1. Buy from your local farmer’s market. Don’t go crazy. Think about what you will actually use and prepare based on the season.

2. Buy from the outer perimeter of the store. Try not to go down the aisles. Grocery stores are very good at putting things at a level that will entice you to buy them. The healthiest food is on the outer perimeter. However, whole grains are generally down the aisles so put blinders on if you have to.

3. Learn to like oatmeal and cream of wheat or rice. If you like those pre-packaged packets of hot oatmeal for breakfast, learn to make your own from regular oats and the boxes of simple cream of wheat or rice. This is much healthier and you get less sugar and other junk. I know what I am putting into my own oatmeal and it DOES NOT take more time than the packaged stuff. There are about 30 servings in a 42 oz box of oats. This means your morning oatmeal costs approximately .10 per serving. The packets of oatmeal cost more like .40-.50 cents per serving and you get less food! The big box can last a few weeks!

4. Make your own bread. I know this sounds tedious. It did to me too, but I just whipped up some French bread that is now in the process of rising as I write this. It really only took a few minutes and I had all of the ingredients on hand. There weren’t that many. I also didn’t get high fructose corn syrup or any of those ingredients that I can’t even read! Plus, the ingredients I have on hand (flour, butter, milk, eggs, water, yeast, salt, etc) will make a lot of other types of bread also.

5. Make your list of meals and snacks for the entire week. My family and I eat different things for our meals, but if you think ahead you can have everything ready ahead of time.

6. Eat the same things every day for breakfast and lunch. I know this sounds terribly boring, but it really isn’t if you like what you eat. This helps me maintain my blood sugar and energy levels because it’s the same each day. Plus, I can make sure I am using up all of my fruits and vegetables for the week.

7. Prepare your food ahead of time. I know this sounds hard, but it’s not. For example, bring your chicken breasts home and throw them all in a crock pot to cook. Take them out and shred them and place in containers for different meals. We freeze some and put some in the fridge for a meal coming up. You can make casseroles, chicken fajitas, quesadillas, chicken spaghetti, chicken and rice, chicken salad or just eat the shredded chicken in a tortilla or on some bread. It is really juicy this way and easy to grab and go! Do the same with other types of meat. When I do this, I find us eating much healthier and my cooking time is cut in half.

8. Cut your veggies right when you get home from the store. Cut them however you are likely to eat them. I like to have carrot and celery sticks ready to eat for the week.

9. Buy the amount that you need for the week or that you know you can cook and freeze. If you buy too many items in the produce aisle, you will find them rotting in your fridge. Just buy the exact number you will eat. For example, I like to eat an apple a day when I can get them cheaply. I buy one per day for me and usually one per day for my daughter. If I run out sooner, that’s okay.

10. Stop buying pop. This is directed mostly at myself. I really like to have a diet soda every day, but I also really like iced tea. Diet soda costs me a lot more than making my own pitcher of tea. I know entirely too many people who spend a ton on soda. Cut it out and watch your bill drop.

11. Back to pre-packaged, but this must be said – Stop buying instant potatoes! They have no nutritional value and are not cheaper. I know that is why some people buy them, but a bag of potatoes can be turned into numerous things. You can also make your potatoes healthier. Make French fried potatoes in the oven using olive oil. Make rosemary potatoes with garlic. Make your own mashed potatoes. Take baked potatoes to work and top with salsa or cottage cheese. Use leftover potatoes for other things. Leftover baked potatoes make incredible (but not as healthy) potato skins. Yum.

12. Stop buying fat free and low fat items. This does not pertain to dairy products. Low fat and skim milk are still better than whole and low fat yogurt and cottage cheese are okay too. Otherwise, low fat and fat free is really not necessary if you are eating whole foods and using portion control and they are always more expensive. Portion control is a must for saving money and watching your waistline. Some fat is healthy and necessary. Stop depending on pre-packaged fat free foods.

Halloween by Dollar Tree

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Many of us are living on a shoestring budget this year and the idea of decorating for Halloween seemed to be out of reach. I love decorating for this particular holiday so I had to find a way to do it with very little money. My research led me to an unlikely website, the Dollar Store Crafts blog (www.dollarstorecrafts.com). I got a few ideas and headed to the Dollar Tree.

I found most of my Halloween decorations at the Dollar Tree. I know you are probably picturing some of the tacky and cheap items that can often be found at dollars stores. You need to keep an open mind when shopping for decorations at the dollar stores. Some of the most hideous items can be turned into tasteful pieces with scissors, paint, glue, glitter or ribbon.

For example, you can purchase simple glass cylinder candles for a dollar each and decorate them by tying ribbon, twine, wire or anything else you can think of at the top. Hang beads, letters, skeleton hands, skulls, and bones from the twine or wire. Decorate the outside of the candle with stickers, painted letters or stenciled pictures. River rock can be used in centerpieces on plates with the candles and other fun pieces.

For my Halloween centerpiece, I used three glass cylinder candles with orange and black ribbon tied around the top of the glass container. I placed them on a white serving dish (already owned), poured black river rock around the candles on the dish and placed small skulls and skeleton hands around the rock.

I then hung skeleton garland around the light fixture above for a fun, simple and extremely cheap decoration.

Try looking at dollar store items in a different way. I could have used the skeleton garland by separating them and tying them to the front of the candles. The skeletons could have hung on a Halloween tree (this was new to me too). Take fake birds used for crafting and spray paint them black. Place them in Halloween displays on a table or in a wreath.

I use a lot of pumpkins in my Halloween/Autumn decor. I use them in baskets and on trays or plates. They can also be placed on display on candle holders. Try painting them. You can paint a design or paint them all one color. Don’t be limited by your budget. Use your imagination and keep the spirit of the holidays alive and well during these tight times.

Baby steps to waste reduction

I have been trying to reduce my food waste and grocery bill as I discussed in my last post. This is my weekend to buy my groceries for the next two weeks. It takes a lot of work in the beginning and I am having to change many of my old habits.

One example of sacrifices that I am trying to make is with my coffee creamer. I have always liked my coffee to be either Folgers or Maxwell House and I would use a flavored creamer. To top it off, I have used Sweet-n-low or a generic sweetener similar to it. My coffee was expensive! So, I have switched to a much cheaper generic brand of coffee. The taste is not that bad. It just takes some getting used to. To reduce my creamer consumption and waste, I have started using dry milk. It’s jut like using regular milk in your coffee (except cheaper) and gives you an added bonus by adding protein and calcium to your morning joe. I poured the dry milk into an old creamer container for quick use and I am reusing a container. I am desperately trying to wean myself off of using the little sweetener packets, but this is where I am having some trouble. I used part sugar and part sweetener in my coffee this morning, but I am adding a lot of calories by adding sugar and I am not quite ready to cut the sweetness altogether.

These changes are obviously going to take baby steps. We may not make a huge difference within the first week or two of making these changes, but it will come in time. I have to reassess every single thing I do. Hopefully, I will really see a reduction over the next few months. I will keep you posted.