Monday, April 29, 2013

Cheapskate April: DIY Gel Manicure

I can’t believe Cheapskate April is already almost over.  I had really good intentions of posting three times a week this month about money-related topics, but with various spring projects going on around the house and impending life changes for us, my world outside of the blog has been chaotic.  That’s been the story of 2013 so far.  Good intentions, but weak follow-through.

I do have a couple more things I want to share with you before this month ends, though.  Cheapskate April, at its core, was about saving money by identifying your needs and your wants, and figuring out how to find a harmonious balance between them.  After a couple of years of going back and forth over a budget, growing a family, and buying a house, Tots and I have identified our necessities, our not-necessities-but-life-would-suck-withouts, and our wants.  Through some arguing and calculating (but mostly arguing), we’ve struck a balance that works for us right now; give us about 6 months and I’m sure we will have added and removed some things from our list.  That’s the beautiful thing about budgeting; it’s as flexible or rigid as you make it.

One of the things fell prey to our budget almost immediately was my beauty regimen.  Seriously, with how quickly it got shredded, I almost wonder how long Tots had been plotting his attack the budget.  Now, let me stop and tell you something: I'm not really a girly-girl.  I know everyone says that, but seriously.  I barely know my way around the makeup counter.  I don’t get my hair cut every six weeks or whatever is recommended, I’ve never been to a spa and I’ve never had a facial.  I rarely paint my nails because I’m usually such a clutz and so haphazard that my nails take a beating anyway… until I was introduced to the shellac manicure.

If you’ve had your nails shellacked (shellacked? I have no idea if that’s the correct form for that word) before, you know those puppies are durable.  I did dishes, sanded furniture, and lived my typical clutzy life for a week and a half before I saw the first sign of wear.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  Unfortunately, the budget fairy didn’t approve of that price tag.  Neither did Tots.  Cue Pinterest, for a cheap DIY option!

***Okay, so to really drive home the fact that I'm not a girly-girl, I will admit that I have no idea what the difference is between a gel manicure and shellac.  In this post, I'm sort of using the terms interchangeably, in error I'm sure.  All I know is that I like my nails to be strong and shiny, and I like not having to repaint them every other day.*** 

Jenna, from Ramblings From Yours Truly, wrote a blog about her process.  I experimented with it a little, and tweaked it to work better for me because I'm impatient.  This is now my go-to whenever I feel like putting a little bit of effort forth, but don't want to go nuts.  It does take a little time, but for me, it’s worth it to save the thirty-something bucks.  Seriously, just turn on a movie, pour yourself a drink, and quit bitching.  The time will fly.

What you need:

Gelous Advance Nail Gel Coat (there isn’t a substitute for this that I’m aware of)
Nail color of your choice (it doesn’t matter what brand; I’ve used everything from Revlon to Sally Hansen to my cheap Wet N Wild polish)
Quick Drying Top Coat (I recommend Sally Hansen Insta-Dri.  Not only does it set your polish in about a minute, it also gives it a beautiful shiny finish)

1. Shape your nails with a nail file, and remove any remaining nail polish (if you’re like me, you probably don’t have any left from the last time you painted them).  Even if your nails are bare, give them the once over with nail polish remover.  This will remove any dirt, nail dust, or oil. 

2.  ONE FINGER AT A TIME, apply a decent coat of Gelous (don’t glob it on, but don’t be too stingy either) and then immediately apply your nail polish.  You want to get your color on there while your Gelous is still wet.

3. Let your nails set for about 10 minutes.  You just put a ton of crap on there and it needs to dry before you do anything else. 
4.       Apply another coat of your nail polish.

5.       Let set for another 10 minutes.  Watch something on Netflix so you don’t smudge your nails fast-forwarding through commercials on your DVR.

6.       If you’re satisfied with the color, apply one last coat of Gelous.  If you’re not satisfied with the color, cuss a little because you’ve already spent 20 &%$#*ing minutes on your nails, and now you have to apply another %&$#@ing coat of nail polish.

7.       Let the Gelous set for about five minutes.  Apply a coat of Insta-Dri, and have your roommate/husband/pizza delivery guy open a beer for you.  

8.       By the time you finish your beer, your nails should be pretty dry.  Unless you drink like a frat boy in his fifth year of college… then you might have to have two.  You should still be careful with them for a while, but the Insta-Dri does a really good job of hardening all of the polish.  I usually do my nails at night about an hour before bed and by the time I wake up, they’re totally hardened.

There you have it, a cheap alternative for your weekly manicure.  What are some ways you save money on beauty “necessities?”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cheapskate April: Saving on Necessities

As promised in my last post, I want to share with you the ways we save on our miscellaneous (“Walmart”) budget.  It’s not anything ground-breaking, but it really makes a difference for us.

This budget fluctuates a little, but we do our best to spend less than $100 per Walmart trip.  It doesn’t always happen, but it’s pretty gratifying when it does.  One thing I like to do when we leave is take a look at the receipt and figure out what is sucking the most of our money.  A lot of times, the highest-priced items are one-time purchases or irregular items.  What I’m looking for are the items that we have to buy regularly that really drain our budget.  When I find something we can either do without or substitute for something cheaper, we make the switch for at least a couple of months.

One thing I’ve found to be crazy-expensive is laundry detergent, but until recently, it was something I thought of as a necessity that we couldn’t substitute or go without.  That is, until I joined Pinterest.  If you’re on Pinterest, you’ve probably come across at least a dozen different detergent recipes, but from what I can tell, they’re mostly the same.  I had been considering trying homemade detergent for a while now, but finally got the motivation to make it happen this month.

The recipe I used comes from, and you can find it here.  The really cool thing about this stuff is that I spent around $35 on all of the ingredients, but I’m going to have enough to last me a year (of maybe six months, considering how fast Mr. O goes through clothes!).

It might not seem like a lot, but when I was spending around $8.00 every time I bought detergent (at least once a month), it really does add up.  The best thing about this might not even be the money I’m saving, but it could be the hassle of buying detergent!  I don’t know how it goes at your house, but it seems like I always realize I should buy more detergent when I’m down to about a quarter of a bottle, but I keep putting it off until we run out completely and we’re walking around piles of laundry (lovingly dubbed “Laundry Mountain”).  

I should disclose that I haven’t tried this detergent yet, but it smells amazing!  All of the comments I’ve read so far have been really positive, so I can’t wait to give it a try.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you ever made your own detergent?  What did you think? 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grocery shopping on a budget

Hopefully, if you're hanging out with me this month, you've taken some time to sit down and really think about your budget.  This means you know exactly what you need to set aside for your rent/mortgage, car payment, credit card payment, student loans, and any other debts you might have.  If you're like me, you looked at what was left of your anticipated income and wondered what the heck you're supposed to do with that?

After we built up a nice little nest egg in our savings account, our goal was (and still is) to put as much money toward paying off our debt as possible.  Tots jokingly refers to Dave Ramsey before I go grocery shopping and tells me to buy nothing but beans and rice.  Since I'm dedicated to feeding my family as healthily as possible, that isn't really an option, but I'm not above buying store brand EVERYTHING and only buying things that are on sale.  My goal is to spend $50 or less every week on groceries (food only).  We have a separate budget for other necessities (toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.) that we call our "Walmart" budget (because we're not classy enough for Target), and so far it's our most flexible budget.  I plan to tell you more about our white-trash-Walmart budget in a later post.

As far as groceries go, I can typically meet my $50-or-less goal when I sit down on Sunday afternoon and plan meals for the week based on the grocery ad.  I should stop now and tell you that I'm really lucky when it comes to meat; my family raises cattle, so we buy our beef in bulk.  We just bought 1/2 a cow.  It was a LOT of money up front, but that means our grocery budget will be manageable for the year.  It also means I know where my beef came from, what it ate, and who raised it, which is comforting.  I've found it's a lot better than what I can buy in the store (less fatty, and better taste!), and when it all breaks down, it's significantly cheaper.

Ok, so back to grocery planning.  I try to make sure every dinner at least has a protein and a veggie.  Anything on top of that is a bonus :).  I also try to make sure it doesn't come from a Hamburger Helper box or a soup can, but if those things are on sale, I'll buy a few to have on hand for our busy nights.  I'll also buy a frozen pizza or two if they're on sale.  By the time Friday gets here, I usually don't want to cook, so we do a supreme Freschetta pizza and a cheap bottle of wine (the whole healthy idea sort of goes out the window on Fridays).

I try to buy whatever is in season for vegetables, but my small town grocery store doesn't have a great selection (and more often than I'd like, what they do have is shriveled and gross), so I buy a LOT of frozen vegetables.  This is great, because it's relatively cheap and I don't have to worry about using them up before they go bad.  When I do find something fresh, I might buy a little more than I need and freeze it for later use.

For meat, we tend to eat a lot of beef when we have it on hand, but I also buy a lot of cheap frozen chicken breasts, and occasionally some frozen ground turkey.

I also try to always keep yogurt and peanut butter on hand, because those are snacks that O and I both enjoy.  Breakfast for me and the little one (Tots is usually gone by the time we sit down to eat) usually is oatmeal, eggs, or applesauce, so we go through all of those items pretty regularly.

Maybe the trick to saving on groceries isn't so much what I buy, but what I don't buy.  I try to stay away from things that aren't good for you anyway.  This makes sense to me, because a lot of times, those foods are more expensive.  I don't buy "healthy" fruit snacks for kids (also known as gummy artificially-colored sugar-laden tantrum bombs), cookies, chips (much to Tots' dismay), or any kind of beverages (besides milk and beer.  O needs his milk and well, we like our beer).  This includes sports drinks, pop, bottled water, Kool-Aid; the whole nine yards.  I figure if we want something to drink, water is the best option. 

There you have it!  It's not rocket-science; it's not even hard, really.  It's just about choosing need over want.  How do you save on groceries?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What's the most fun you can have with an Excel spreadsheet and your bank statements? That's right folks, it's time to BUDGET!

I would be remiss if I got too far into this month without writing about budgeting.  I can almost feel all of you closing your browser and going back to Facebook, and I can't blame you.  Budget is a four-letter word in my house (yet somehow I was a straight A student who excelled in language arts), but I feel like I need to blog about it because it's important. (Notice the bold letters?  Yep, it's that important)

When Tots and I got married, we had two very different ideas of money management.  Our backgrounds were comparable, we lived fairly similarly in terms of haves and have-nots.  Our families were both pretty average in terms of income; they weren't rich by any means, but we certainly always had the necessities.  What was so different was our relationships with our own incomes.

To put it simply without going into too much detail, one of us was a spender, one of us was a saver.  As you can probably guess, this occasionally put a strain on our pocketbook, as well as our relationship.

Fast-forward a few years and some tough times.  Throw in a sort of-surprise pregnancy (O wasn't necessarily unplanned, but he wasn't really planned either).  We were two people with a mountain of debt in the form of student loans, a brand new mortgage, auto loans, and a small fortune in recently acquired credit card debt (moving from one city to another brought about some unexpected costs).

Somehow, Tots stumbled upon Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.  I thought he would leaf through it and toss it aside, but it really sparked his interest.  He began analyzing our spending habits and figuring out why our paychecks would just "disappear."  I was less than surprised when he told me that we were quite possibly single-handedly keeping the lights on at our local McDonalds and Subway restaurants (I love me a $5 foot long!).

If you're not familiar with Dave Ramsey, you should take a moment and check out his site.  His debt-reduction tactics center on creating a budget and paying off your debts, one by one, starting with the smallest.  Once your smallest debt is paid off, you move on to the next smallest and so on.

As soon as we sat down together and took a look at where our money was going, it was pretty clear to us that we needed to make some changes.  We thought about our goals and our dreams, and we knew that they wouldn't be achieved at the rate we were going.  We either needed to win the lottery, or one of us needed to die so we could cash in on life insurance.  Since we don't play the lottery, and since we both kind of liked having the other around, we decided it was time to put down the shovel-- quit digging ourselves further into debt, and make some real changes.  It wasn't easy, but we sat down with our hopes in mind and started putting together our budget.

Was it fun?  Absolutely not.  But it has really been a good thing for us.  We know where our money is going, and we have far fewer "surprises" from month to month.  It's also nice to know that Tots and I are on the same page as far as money goes.  It's one less thing to fight about, so we can save our battles for the important things, like what to watch on Tuesday nights or which way is the right way to fold a t-shirt.

If you're looking for an easy way to get started with your budget, I encourage you to take a look at your bank statements first, and figure out where you're spending your money.  Then, take a look at your bills.  What do you have to pay?  Think about rent, loans, credit card payments, utilities, anything that you get a monthly bill for.  With what's left, you can figure out some of your more flexible debts.  Things like your weekly grocery bill and your entertainment fund.  There are tons of free budgeting spreadsheets available online to help you get started.  Happy budgeting!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Unless you live under a rock or have been in a coma for the last few years, you’ve probably heard of TLC’s Extreme Couponing.  It debuted in spring of 2011, and couponing has become main stream ever since.  I’m not talking about your momma clipping coupons out of the weekly grocery ad; today’s couponers are a whole different breed.

Before O was born, I did a little bit of couponing.  I didn’t get all crazy with it—I wasn’t one of those people who walked out with $60.00 worth of groceries for $6.00 (I’m not nearly organized or patient enough for that)—but it is a good way to save a little dough if you don’t mind spending some extra time doing it.  I only had two rules for my couponing:

1.       I wasn’t going to buy anything simply because I had a coupon.  If it wasn’t something we needed or already used, I wasn’t spending the money (no matter how little) on it.
2.       I didn’t want to spend more than 3 hours a week clipping coupons or looking for them online.  I know three hours seems like a lot, and it is, but it’s time-consuming, and it’s pretty easy to get sucked in.  

Keep in mind, this was something I was doing before O was here.  It’s probably pretty easy for you to guess why I’m not doing it anymore.  Also, I never saw too much success.  I remember my most rewarding trip to Target: I saved $15.00 on $120.00.  It took me at least two weeks of clipping coupons from the Sunday paper and numerous hours of online couponing.  Once we got to the store, it probably took me 2 hours to find everything I needed (and to make sure I had all of my coupons).

Although I didn’t see too much success with couponing, I will say that there are some websites out there that make it a little more convenient.  If you’re interested in couponing, or if you’re just getting started, you should really check these out:

Good luck, if you decide to give it a go!  Do you coupon?  If so, what do you do to stay organized? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cheap-skate April is HERE!

March is finally gone—good riddance.  My family spent most of March battling illnesses and running from one family event to another (getting much of our family sick, probably).  As you might have guessed, I didn’t squeeze a crock pot meal into my last week of March.  I like to think it’s ok, since I was an over-achiever the week before, right?  Right.

This month is all about the Benjamins (or lack thereof).  I’m going to be exploring and sharing some money-saving ideas through the month of April.  I’m no expert; I’m still learning about budgeting (and sticking to the budget!), but if I can do it, anyone can. 

According to a quick Google search (hey, this isn’t a research paper), total U.S. consumer debt is at $11.4 trillion in student loans, credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.  Sadly, Tots and I contribute (or have contributed) in all four of those categories.  If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance you can relate in at least one of them. (

It’s time to tighten the belt!  I hope you’ll tag along with me this month and pinch your pennies.  What do you do to keep your budget in check?  Do you have any genius ways of saving money?