11/26/14

Thankful

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. -M. Beattle

I found myself stressing about the upcoming holidays over the past few weeks. Wondering how I was going to manage to put up our usual 3 Christmas trees, host Thanksgiving dinner at our house, while also enjoying dinner elsewhere earlier in the day and what our plans were for Christmas. I admit I was not exactly looking forward to the next several weeks. The crowded stores, cold weather, full time job, travel and so on makes it a hectic time of year.

Then, I had an epiphany or what Oprah refers to as an 'a-ha' moment. I am blessed. I know that. I sometimes forget how blessed however. It's important to stop putting these self-imposed deadlines and expectations on ourselves. Christmas is not about having the cleanest, most well decorated house or buying elaborate gifts. It's not about competing with other bloggers who have had their homes fully decorated for the holidays since October or those who have finished their Christmas shopping, ordered holiday cards and planned their Instagram-worthy celebrations already.

It is about remembering all you have. It's about contentment, reflection and appreciation. It's acknowledging all of those who have supported you, the experiences that have shaped you and the lessons learned.

Instead of worrying about decorating, buying presents and allowing stress to consume me over the holiday season, I will instead focus on what truly matters.

My husband: my rock, my heart, my best friend and my partner in life. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for him.

Our furry kids, who make me feel like the most important person on earth, when they greet me with tongues out, tail wagging love every single time I come home, even if I was only gone for an hour.

Having the strength and gumption to leave a company I love and respect deeply to chase a passion and take a chance elsewhere. New beginnings are both humbling and refreshing.

Our extended family for their unconditional love and unwavering support.

A beautiful, comfortable and safe house to come home to. A true shelter from the storm both literally and figuratively.

Friends to laugh with, cry with and enjoy copious amounts of wine with. They each inspire me with their talents and kindness.

The experiences we have shared this year. We were able to travel more this year than the past several combined. Seeing new places is good for the mind and soul. Never stop exploring.

What are you thankful for?


11/19/14

Dear Santa...

I always seem to struggle with coming up with a list when my relatives ask what I would like for Christmas. The thing is, there is not much that I really need at the moment. So when Justin asked me last night what our plan was this year, I wasn't sure what to say.

In the past, we have exchanged small gifts with each other and then purchased something we both needed/wanted. A few years ago, we bought a TV. One year it was a new iPad. Last year, we didn't exchange gifts and saved up for new bedroom furniture (purchased in the Spring) instead. This year, there isn't a big-ticket item we need or really excited about.

Luckily, Justin came up with a great idea. We have been very disciplined the past few months, essentially eliminating almost all 'extra' expenses. We have made some great strides financially and want to ensure we don't lose focus during the holidays. However, we also agreed it was important to treat ourselves, just a bit. Being on a money diet is similar to a regular diet. If you deprive yourself too much, you just may end up binge eating buying, which isn't good for anyone.

So, Justin came up with...activity gifts. We agreed to exchange gifts with one another but the 'gift' must be something we can enjoy together. This way, we are selecting something we think the other would enjoy but also spending time together. Some things I'm considering: couples massage, painting class, day trip somewhere fun, cooking class, concert tickets (two of our favorites Alan Jackson and the Beach Boys are coming to KC), photography course, a Feng Shui course (not sure he'll go for that) or a night at a local b&b. Regardless of what we both select, I'm excited for 2 great date nights ahead!

If you are interested in something similar, UMKC offers really affordable classes on a variety of topics, under their Communiversity Classes. Click HERE for a full list. Also, the Culinary Center of Kansas City is a fantastic place and offers really interesting class options. Of course, Groupon and Living Social offers great deals for fun activities as well.

For more tangible gift ideas, here is my 2014 Christmas Wish List. This could easily be applied to a colleague, best gal pal, sister-in-law, aunt, whomever....

1. Desk Calendar

In this all-things-digital era we live in now, I find cute little desk calendars a welcome reprieve. THIS ONE from PaperSource would be just darling on a desk. Plus, I like to cross off the days as they pass.

2. Replacement Kendra Scott Earrings
I asked and received these earrings 2 years ago for Christmas. I wore them constantly. Then, last year I was leaving a concert and wrapped my scarf around my neck and one of my earrings fell off in the process. We looked everywhere for it but couldn't find it in the crowd of people:(

The very ones I love are on sale for $35, down from $60. I may just have to pull the trigger.

3.  Plaid Blanket Scarf
Zara started the trend last year with their immediately sold-out version. This year, these are everywhere.





These do pop up on flash sites, like GroopDealz and Jane but are only up for a few days. Every time I have looked, they have been Sold Out.


4.  New Shoes!
Because of our spending-freeze, I haven't bought any clothes or shoes in a. long. time. My closet is full of stuff, so I have learned to be creative. However, my shoe collection is lacking. I'd love a new pair of booties.
Loving These from Nordstrom

Now, these items below are NOT on my wish list at the moment but are really interesting new products. They are definitely items I would consider purchasing once our spending freeze is over.

5. Home Depot/Lowes Gift Cards

Although we haven't tackled a new house project in awhile, that does not mean we don't have several projects still on the horizon. I feel like a broken record, but we will be redoing our master bathroom in 2015. I have a plan in mind and the tile picked out, just got to save our pennies!

It's not the most exciting list, but these are all things I would so appreciate.
What's on your list this year?

Is anyone else in denial that Christmas is just 35 days away!?!

xoxo,S


11/14/14

Our Best Saving Secrets For a Better Life

Justin and I have made no secret of the fact that we are frugal. It's one of the main reasons we DIY and share our projects here, for others that want to save money but still have a beautiful, comfortable home. We also refused to go into debt for our wedding or for vacations or large purchases. We are mindful of every dollar we spend. Our goal is to be completely debt free. I don't just mean free of credit card debt (we don't have any anyway) but free of all debt: car loans, student loans, mortgage etc.

We all have to spend money to survive and to live. The basics (shelter, food, clothing) cost money. And life wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without some splurges as well; wine, vacations and dinners out come to mind. We try to lead a balanced life, where we are focused on our long-term goals (paying off our mortgage early, having a fully-funded 401K and zero debt), while still having fun and enjoying life. We do this by budgeting, saving up to purchase items in cash and by saving as much money as we can.

 I have gathered up our top savings tips in our quest to be debt free. It's not glamorous and sometimes it's not very fun either, but it is important.

This is going to be a long post, I'm afraid. I have tried my best not to rehash the typical 'money saving strategies' you find over and over and over again, like skip your daily latte and bag your lunch a few times a week.

Here's how we save money:

Never Pay Full Retail Price. For Anything. Ever.

How To Save On:

Groceries
  • Shop with a List
You better believe that anytime I go to the store, I have not just a stack of coupons but a plan. Do not go to the store without a list. You will buy random things. You will forget what you do need. You will spend more money on impulse buys.

  • Meal Plan
Meal planning not only saves money but time and energy too. It seemed that that biggest challenge we faced with dinner every night was just simply deciding what to make. Meal planning takes this stress away. There are loads of free websites and blogs that share Meal Planning ideas and how-to's. Just do a quick Google search or browse Pinterest. Now, we go to the store once every two weeks. No more multiple quick trips every week. We spend a noticeable amount less on groceries when we meal plan, as well as have way less waste.

  • Check Websites for Weekly Sales/Coupon Match-Ups
I turn to websites like TheKrazyCouponLady, MoneySavingMom, TotallyTarget and RedefinedMom that do the work for me. Every week, they list the best deals at national stores (ex: Target, CVS, WalMart etc) and do the coupon match ups for you. All you have to do is figure out what you need, print coupons from the links they provide or cut out coupons from the Sunday newspaper and write your shopping list.

  • Stack Coupons/Discounts with Sales
Target and I have had a rocky relationship. It started out in lust, than hate when I would spend WAY more than planned every. single. time. I went in there, to now a full-fledged love affair. This is in large part to their current coupon policy and new app. Every time I go, I score great deals on food, clothing, cleaning supplies, dog food etc by shopping sale items and matching a Target coupon, a manufacturer coupon and/or a Cartwheel discount on each item. Savings on top of savings. If you haven't already downloaded the free Cartwheel app, do so. Also, check Target.com for monthly Target coupons to use in-store.

  • Shop Where Has the Best Prices
For basics, I check my attitude at the door and walk into Aldi. Their prices on chips, crackers, yogurt, baking supplies, bread, dips, ice cream and cereal to name a few are significantly cheaper than a 'regular' grocery store, even with sales and/or coupons. They also have a surprisingly great selection of healthy, organic and gluten free options. I know some people rave about their produce. Unfortunately, I have never been impressed with the produce at my local store. 4-6 months of the year, we buy our produce at the farmers market. Local, fresh, often organic and priced at pennies on the dollar compared to the store.

  • Use Caution With Shopping at Warehouse Clubs 
We do have a membership to Sam's Club, which was bought as part of a Groupon deal. Although convenient (there is literally one right next to my work), it's not always the cheapest option. However, we do find great deals on staples like trash bags, dishwasher pacs, house-brand body wash, whitening toothpaste and some food items. Their bakery offers the best priced cakes, cupcakes and desserts in town and are always tasty. We keep some frozen items from Sam's on hand for nights we both work late and don't feel like cooking, and they offer great prices on frozen chicken fried rice, tilapia, crab cakes and quesadillas to name a few that are easy, affordable and tasty. It is easy to blow your budget at these types of places though. Buy only what you will use. For those of you without children (like us) or who may not be able to consume 3lbs of strawberries or 10lbs of potatoes before they go bad, consider sharing purchases with a friend or relative.

  • Cut Out Soda
We rarely consume soda, and I don't typically consume caffeine at all. We drink loads of water, 100% juice and green tea. This saves at the grocery store, as well as when eating out. Plus, it's much healthier!

  • Clear Out the Pantry and Freezer
A few times a year, we dedicate a week to using up everything in our pantry. We find that we buy things that then get lost at the back of a pantry shelf or buried in the freezer. The week that we dedicate to eating what we already have means that some of our meals are, let's say, creative. However, it clears out room, uses what we have and prevents us from buying more of the same stuff. For example, the first time we did this, I pulled out everything in our freezer and discovered we had about 3 large containers of frozen chicken breasts. They had all been at the bottom of the freezer bin, with other frozen food on top. Because we didn't easily see them, we kept buying more of the same. Needless to say, we ate chicken every night that week.

Online Shopping
  • Don't Buy Without a Promo Codes
Before you buy anything online, do a quick Google search for promo codes. RetailMeNot is also a great way to quickly search for online promo codes. Ebates is another favorite. This offers you cash back on your online purchases. We got $75 back after booking our honeymoon online. Even our little purchases add up!
Ex: I had wanted a Clarisonic for a loooonnnggg time. However, I don't like to spend that much money on myself. They ring up typically around $150-200. I found a great promo code that gave me 50% off at BeautyStoreDepot, plus the site always offers free shipping. I bought my Clarisonic Mia for $70 and have been thrilled with it ever since. *On a side note, I not only got a great deal but the Clarisonic came in 3 days in a box full of beauty samples and a hand written thank you note. Amazing customer service!

  • Have an Email Address Dedicated to Saving
Sign up for savings with your favorite vendors. This way, you will be the first to know when a sale starts. I use a separate email address for all store email-subscriptions. This way, I don't check the account if I am on a spending-freeze, which means I won't be tempted to buy anything. If I am needing to make a purchase, it makes emails easier to locate.


Clothing
  • Shop Around
I'm a girly girl and love fashion. As much as I could easily spend my paycheck at Anthropologie and J Crew, I don't. I shop at TJ Maxx/Marshalls, Target (for basics like t-shirts, belts, tights, PJs), J Crew Outlet and I stalk the clearance room in the back of the Banana Republic on the Plaza in KC. It is not about buying the cheapest clothes, it's about buying quality items that will last, at a discount.

I also shop at the regular J Crew store online, as I typically find great promo codes to use on already marked down stuff. I invest more in classic pieces like blazers, dress pants, pencil skirts, handbags, shoes and watches. I spend less on costume jewelry, t-shirts, jeans (I rarely wear jeans) and on casual non-work items. Ann Taylor often runs flash sales where everything on their site is 50% off for a few hours. Thanks to emails from both Ann Taylor and J Crew, I know when they are running sales and coordinating promo codes.
  • Mix It Up With Accessories
I try to mix up my outfits and use accessories to keep things fresh. It's amazing how a statement necklace or scarf can dress up an outfit. Again, I pick up accessories on sale at J Crew, Target and even Forever 21. Although I don't buy clothing from Forever 21 anymore, I will pick up inexpensive costume jewelry, scarves and sunglasses there for cheap.

Decor/House Items
  • DIY
I couldn't post about this and not mention DIY, right? Justin and I try to handle as much of our home maintenance that we can ourselves. We do all of the painting, installing of light fixtures, faucet upgrades etc., ourselves. We self-taught by watching tutorials on YouTube or by attending free demonstrations at our local Home Depot. Home Depot offers classes on Saturday morning on a range of topics, such as tiling, gardening, installing faucets etc. Check your local store for schedule and class times.

For furniture, try building your own. With sites like Ana-White, the plans and step by step instructions and buying list is lined out for you.

When it comes to electrical (other than installing a light fixture, which anyone can do. I have done it by myself a few times.) and plumbing, it is best to hire a professional. These are areas where things could go horribly wrong and end up costing much more.

  • Be Patient
I think this biggest lesson in decorating is to wait. Wait until you find a piece of furniture or art that you really love. It is so much better to be patient and fill your home with meaningful pieces than it is to run to Target/Ikea/WalMart/wherever and buy a whole bunch of cheap stuff, just for the sake of filling a room. It ends up costing more in the long run with buying temporary pieces that don't last and you quickly grow tired of.

  • Don't Be Afraid of Discount Retailers for Accessories
As for finding deals, I am a big fan of Hobby Lobby, Gordmans (don't forget your coupons), Home Goods and Tuesday Morning. You can find name brand, quality pieces at great prices. Almost all of our bed linens, throw pillows and picture frames are from Home Goods. They are all name brand, good quality and were purchased inexpensively.

  • Be Thrifty
Literally. Thrift stores offer quality, solid wood furniture for cheap. They pay be outdated or need new hardware, but with some paint and love, you can have quality pieces on a budget. The dresser in my office was purchased for $15 at a thrift store. Thanks to some paint, I have a solid wood, 9-drawer dresser which holds loads of craft supplies. I don't think I have ever seen a thrift store that did not have a wood bookshelf or kitchen table available and usually for less than $15. Grab them up and get painting!

Entertainment
  • Visit Your Local Library
I am a huge fan of the library. I reserve what I want online and get an email when it is ready to be picked up. I'm in and out in 1 minute and am able to borrow tons of books and DVDs for free. It can't be beat. Also, many libraries now offer e-books for those that would rather read on their Kindles.

Right now, we are watching Breaking Bad Season 4...all four seasons we've rented form the library for free. What a crazy show! House of Cards is also another great show, that we have been able to catch thanks to the free DVDs at the library.

  • Redbox It Up
We also use Redbox, if there is a new release we want to see. Again, we look for coupon codes and typically are able to find one for $0.50 off or buy-1-get-1-free., making it $1 or less per movie.

  • Throw A Party
Yes, really. It is much more cost efficient to entertain at home than to go out. Don't allow being on a budget keep you from having fun. Some fun, cheap ideas are fondue dinners, potlucks, chili cook-offs or wine tastings (everyone brings a bottle to share). Click HERE for a recent budget-friendly party we threw for Justin's birthday.


Vacations
Being on a budget, does not mean not going on vacation. I firmly believe in the importance of vacation. We work, so that we can afford to do fun things on our time off, to enjoy time with our family and to explore new places. We need to take vacations! With that said, vacations do not need to be expensive or to some far away, tropical island.

  • Research
I know I have said this a million times on this blog, but do your research. It's amazing how much you can save by visiting places during their 'off-season' or by comparing a Tuesday-Friday stay versus a Friday-Monday stay.

  • Pay With Cash
First and foremast, save for your vacation. We have saved for every vacation we have taken. It is such a relief to come back from vacation and not have to worry about vacation debt following you home. I spoke in greater detail about saving money on our honeymoon HERE and about our Napa trip HERE.

  • Road Trip!
We are big fans of road trips. They are typically short (fewer days off from work), inexpensive and very fun. Our road trip to Arkansas was such a fun weekend, and yet it barely cost us $200. Details HERE. My road trip through Texas was also a blast, see HERE.


Insurance
  • Review Your Home, Auto and Life Policies Every Year. 
It amazes me that so many people don't do this. Rates can change year after year and the vendor with the best deal one year may not have the best rate the next year. It takes a little bit of time, but we have saved hundreds, if not thousands at this point, by taking an hour each year to review our options.


Now on to the not so fun part-

  • Learn To Say No
We have turned down invites with friends and family, when we hadn't budgeted for an expensive dinner out. Typically, we offer to host instead or agree to meet up before dinner for a cocktail or after dinner for dessert. If we know in advance, we will budget accordingly and go. We are always mindful of our 'eating out' budget however. It is SO much cheaper eating in.


  • Realize that Sales Racks= Spending, not Saving
I have been guilty of this very thing in the past. You decide to window shop and aren't planning on  actually buying anything, but then you find a great dress at Anthropologie for 50% off. You think about how much you are saving. The dress was originally $250, now just $125. You are saving $125, right? NO. You are SPENDING $125. I realize that sales and deals aren't easy to pass up, but if you are really dedicated to paying off debt/building savings, think about how much you are spending, not 'saving' on purchases. 

  • Learn to Go Without
This Fall there were several concerts and sporting events that Justin wanted to go to. With tickets starting $75 a pop, it was going to add up fast. He selected one game and two concerts to attend and skipped the others. He was a little bummed but he kept his eye on the prize. We  could've easily come up with the money, but we knew it was better spent paying off debt and getting us closer to being entirely debt free.

  • Don't Charge More Than You Can Afford to Pay Off That Month.
It sounds like common sense but with so many people in credit card debt, it's apparently more difficult for people to follow this than I realized. If you have credit card debt of any amount, STOP USING YOUR CREDIT CARD! Make paying off the balance your top priority. Spending an average of 24% on interest is just stupid. If you don't have the money to pay for something, you can't afford it. Plain and simple.

If you can use credit cards responsibly, meaning you pay them off in full each month, than take advantage of the perks. We redeem our credit card reward points for gift cards for Home Depot typically, which allows us to upgrade our home on a budget. However, I NEVER carry a balance or pay any interest!

  • Get Help With Your Budget
Mint is one of my favorite financial resources. It links all of your accounts (bank, loans, investments, etc) all in one place, so you can get a clear and up-to-date view of your financial status. It also breaks down your spend into categories, allowing you to keep your budget in check. It's easy to use, free and secure. Although I make our own monthly budget in Excel every month, I love having this handy tool to check myself throughout the month.

  • Go On a Spending Freeze
My husband and I have spent the month of October on a spending freeze. We have not purchased anything that we did not need. In order to be successful, I have not checked my 'retail' email accounts with emails from Groupon, Living Social, Jane, One Kings Lane, Joss&Main and all store-related distros. This way I'm not tempted even by a 'great' deal. Out of sight, out of mind. I have also unsubscribed from all catalogs. For one thing, they ended up cluttering up our kitchen counter and I rarely have time to actually flip through them, and again the temptation to buy is not there anymore.

  • Be grateful for what you have. 
It is easy to get caught up in the 'keeping up with the Jones'' mentality. A friend gets a new car and suddenly, we want a new car. Or, a colleague moves into a bigger home and suddenly we're checking out real estate listings. I get it. It happens to me on occasion too. It's important to step back and appreciate what we do have. If you really struggle with this, volunteer. Spend sometime at a food bank or homeless shelter. You will realize how blessed you already are.

Do you have any tried and true savings tips? I'd love to hear them!

Also, Justin and I are more than half-way through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University Course. Once our class concludes, I'll be sharing our experience and things learned. It's a great tool and I highly recommend it. More details to come!

xoxo- S&J

10/19/14

The hunt is over...our new coffee table is here

Several years ago, I purchased this coffee table off Craigslist for $15.

 *This is an old photo but one of the best I could find of our old table.

It filled my requirements at the time: large, glass, cheap. I only meant for this to be a temporary solution, as the glass had a crack on one corner and it was so unbelievably heavy, that Justin and I could barely move it enough to vacuum around it. However, it was the right size and shape and so it stayed. I always kept my eyes out for its permanent replacement but I could never find the perfect solution. Tables were either too small for our 98" long sofa, the wrong shape or $$$.



Fast forward to last month, Justin and I were enjoying a beautiful fall day on the Plaza in Kansas City and wandered into one of our favorite stores, Restoration Hardware. We were told that they were having a sale and that several items were marked down to make room for new inventory. We weren't planning on purchasing anything, just browsing. Then, I heard Justin call for me and say, 'check this out.' He was looking over a gorgeous, mirrored coffee table. I thought it was beautiful but assumed it was over our budget.

We glanced at the Strand Mirrored Coffee Table tag, which was marked about 50% off retail (originally $1195). We also had a generous Plaza gift card gifted to us at our wedding and still unused. We talked about it for awhile, looked around the rest of the store but kept finding ourselves pulled back to the table.

It filled all requirements, plus it was something that was classic enough to be used in our future home(s). So, we bit the bullet. Although it was at the very top of our budget, we are confident that this will be a table that we will love for years to come.

This beauty has made herself comfortable in our great room, and we are in love.

see those two on the left? They're the loves of my life.




As soon as we add crown molding to this room, this space will be d.o.n.e! Only took 6 years...

xoxo, S


9/28/14

How to Pick the Perfect Shade of Paint and What To Do When You Don't

I'm back with yet another master bedroom update, but this time I am finally calling the room done. Our bedroom has gone through a variety of looks and had been painted once already since moving in 6 years ago. Although I loved that wall color, I was in the mood to change it up.

This was the current state-


We tried dozens of colors on the wall. I knew I wanted a dusty blue, which proved to be one of the most difficult colors to find. Unfortunately, many of the samples we tried were too bright, too dark, had green undertones, looked like it belonged in a little boys room or just didn't look sophisticated enough for an adult bedroom.
 Our Process for Selecting the Perfect Shade of Paint
1. Gather paint chips and tape them on the wall.
2. Begin the process of elimination
3. Move the paint chips around different areas of the room and leave up for a few days. This will allow you to see how light effects the color. You may like how a color looks at dusk but it may be too bright in the morning sun and vice versa.
4. Once you have your top contenders (I usually gather my top 3 or 4 colors), get samples. Home Depot offers small tester pots for less than $3. We were actually given a few free testers from Benjamin Moore.
5. Paint sample squares on at least 2 of the walls of the room you are painting. Again, give it a few days so that you can see the color in various lighting.
6. If you are still not 100% satisfied, try having one of your contenders lightened or darkened. I have done this several times and any paint shop can handle this.
7. Once you select your paint color, purchase quality paint. I highly recommend Behr's Premium Plus Ultra Paint and Primer in One. It is well worth the few extra dollars to get quality paint!


After visiting Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, Lowe's and Home Depot for paint colors, I ended up selecting Sherwin Williams'  SW7659 Gris lightened by 40%. It came out perfect!
As usual, I did the cutting in, Justin handled the walls, Charlie supervised and Zorro slept.



So far, so good. We then thought we would do a metallic paint on our tray ceiling. We love the copper metallic tray ceiling in our dining room, and thought a nice blue metallic would be equally gorgeous.



We were wrong.

The blue looked really bright when the sun was shining and did not match the wall color at all. Plus, it looked so dark at night that it made the room feel closed in. #paintfail

I'm a firm believer in taking some risks in regards to decorating. I love when spaces are unique and reflective of the home owners. However, not every risk pays off. I quickly primed over the dark blue mess and painted over with the wall color.


 Much better!
We love the airy, calm blue.


I also finally found the perfect euro shams in a charcoal velvet at Ikea. The best part is that they were just $10 each!

It's nice to have one more room crossed off our list. I've been gathering tile samples and loads of inspiration pics for our master bathroom, which I hope we can tackle this Winter. The life of a DIYer  never stops...

xoxo, S+J

9/14/14

New Faucet = New Feel

Shortly after I moved into our house, I made the decision to paint horizontal stripes in our half bathroom. Six years later, I actually still really like the look. However, I never got around to finishing up other items on my to-do list in there.

We have focused on other areas of our house and ignored the half-bath. My plan has always been to replace the boring, basic mirror, upgrade the lighting, paint the vanity, replace the sink and add a window treatment. Now, I can say that we have successfully crossed one more item off our list.

While browsing Home Depot's website, I found a perfect faucet. It fit our criteria: it was bronze, unique and less than $100.

We had originally thought about purchasing this faucet-
We just never pulled the $164 trigger. I was convinced I could find something similar for less. Although it took a few months, I finally found a similar, more budget-friendly option HERE-

At $54, it fit all our must haves and was a staggering $110 less than the first option. I did a quick Google search and found a 15% off coupon, bringing my total to less than $50 and free shipping. 

Luckily, Justin is very handy and was able to swap out the faucet pretty easily. 

Original chrome faucet-
  


Officially installed!



Now, we are motivated to replace the light fixture and the cabinet hardware since the chrome pulls no longer match.



It's come a long a way from where we started, but we still have a ways to go-

We are definitely enjoying the upgraded faucet. It's amazing what a simple $50 can do to transform a vanity.

xoxo, S+J

9/10/14

How To Plan a Fabulous Honeymoon Without Budgets or Knee Braces Getting in the Way


I just realized that I never blogged about our honeymoon, which at this point was now 1 year ago! Better late than never, right? It was truly the best vacation I have ever had...even with an injury.

Let's start at the beginning. The 'I Do, Me Too' were spoken and the reception was underway. Our wedding was a success. We were married, blissfully happy and enjoying the night dancing with our friends. I remember literally letting out a sigh of relief. We made it without any disasters...or so I thought.

At the end of our reception, around midnight, something terrible happened. I was preparing to walk out of our reception and into our adjoining honeymoon suite, when my dress got caught and as I took a step, my knee twisted and dislocated. I had dislocated my left knee the first time in high school and it's one of those injuries that once it happens, you are much more susceptible to it happening again. Luckily, one of my husband's best friends is a doctor (he actually works for Harvard), so I was in very good hands. He used what we had on hand ( a plastic bag, ice and duct tape) to secure a knee brace to get me through the night. I was not about to go to the emergency room in a wedding dress.

Justin's groomsmen carried me into our suite and my bridesmaids helped undo the buttons on the back of my gown, take off my shoes etc. I remember Justin and I looking at each other as we sat on our bed in our honeymoon suite covered in rose petals, with about 10 of our closest friends in the room helping us, and just laughing. There was nothing else we could do at that point. So much for the romantic evening we had anticipated. I have never been so thankful for our best friends, especially Sarah and her husband Brian, as I was at that point. Our friends made sure that our gifts were delivered to our room safely and that everything was removed from our reception hall. They looked over every last detail for us, as I laid down with my knee elevated and Justin next to me holding my hand.

The say marriage is for better or worse, and there was no truer testament than starting our first night as a married couple in such a chaotic way. I really wouldn't have changed a thing though.

Our wedding was on a Friday night and our honeymoon was booked for early Sunday morning. So, that Saturday I headed to Urgent Care and got the ok from the doctor. She gave me an actual brace for my knee and told me to be very careful, continue to ice it and wear the brace for 8 weeks. I rested up and prepared for our honeymoon. My sweet father-in-law picked us up at 5am to take us to the airport. The upside of traveling with a knee brace is that airlines will typically take pity on you. Traveling with a knee brace on your honeymoon? Everyone feels bad for you. We scored upgraded seats, the flight attendant kept passing me mini bottles of vodka and orange juice and we were the first ones on the plane and the first off. I joked to Justin that I may never travel without a knee brace again haha. Once we arrived, I was greeted by a man with a wheelchair and a sign with my name on it. He insisted that I take the wheel chair. He wheeled us through the airport as quick as possible. We were literally off the plane and into a cab within 10 minutes of landing. It was glorious.
Justin just had to take a pic.

How To Plan A Fabulous Honeymoon Without Busting Your Budget

We approached our honeymoon like we do every thing we purchase or plan, armed with as much knowledge as possible. We were flexible on the location. All we cared about was that there was a beach and plenty of frozen cocktails readily available. After much research, looking everywhere from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, to Puerto Rico to Jamaica, we found the best deal we could in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. Neither of us had ever been there, so we were especially excited to visit somewhere new.

1. Research, Research, Research.
I realize that I sound like a broken record. This is the first step in every trip we plan, as it truly pays to do your research. We visited every travel site imaginable.  We ended up using CheapCarribbean.com I had used this website a few times prior and typically find the best deals on this site. After much consideration, we selected Secrets Vallarta Bay, an adult-only, all-inclusive. It was perfect for honeymooners.

Also, September is typically rain season in Puerto Vallarta, which meant steep discounts. We experienced a short rainstorm the day we arrived but then nothing but sunshine the rest of the week. Make sure you check out the forecast before booking.

For additional savings, we went through Ebates.com first, which gave us 5% cash back as well, which ended up being about $100. Every bit helps, right?

We read through dozens and dozens of reviews on every travel site imaginable. It took time and we had to create a spreadsheet that clearly identified the major points of every resort we were considering, but we ended up at a fabulous place and remained under budget. Our spreadsheet included how many rooms and restaurants were on site, proximity to the nearest town/city for nightlife, main demographic (did it appeal to families, couples, young singles, etc) and what was included in the price (all-inclusive or not).

2. Give yourself a break. Literally.
The week before our wedding, we had out-of-town family and friends in, which was great. We got to spend time with those we love. However, we also had all of those millions of little errands to run and last minute projects to complete that seem to be inevitable before any wedding. It was a fun week but a busy one. Plus, the actual wedding day is such an emotional high that we were absolutely exhausted at the end of it. Not to mention the whole dislocating the knee at midnight and not being able to sleep a wink that night.

Even without a physical injury occurring on your wedding day, you will still need at least a day to recover from the wedding. You will want to sleep in a bit, see your family, open gifts and to recap the momentous day before. Don't book your honeymoon for the day after the wedding. Trust me. Your honeymoon will be the much better when you have had a day (or more!) to recover from the wedding.

3. Make the most of it.
Once you have arrived at your honeymoon destination, let everything go. Stop worrying about whether or not your wedding pictures will turn out ok (they will) or that the caterers forgot to serve the groom's cake. Let all of that stuff go. You and your partner will never have another honeymoon. Sure, they will be other vacations but it won't be the same as a honeymoon. Enjoy every moment of your new wedded bliss.

We joined in the many activities that our resort offered. I was obviously more limited due to my knee, but I still sat on the beach and enjoyed a margarita with the other ladies during a guacamole cooking lesson. We played trivia at the pool. I chatted with some ladies and made bracelets on the beach. We befriended a great couple from Chicago. One partner wanted to lay at the pool and relax (my bestie, Chuck) and his partner wanted to participate in all the water activities. So, Chuck and I became fast friends and frozen cocktail consumers, while Justin and Gerson kayaked, played beach volleyball and para-sailed. A win/win for everyone. Although some of the activities may border on cheesy (water aerobics, for example), we ended up meeting some awesome people this way and it broke up the monotony of laying in the sun all day.

As tempting as it is to sit and be waited on at the resort all day, it is still a good idea to get out and enjoy the culture of the city. We explored downtown Puerta Vallarta, bought a few souvenirs and enjoyed a cerveza or two among the locals. One of our favorite spots was a church built in the 1851. We also took full advantage of the $25/hour massages offered outside the gates of our resort. #heaven

One of our favorite experiences was taking a boat ride to a private, candle-lit island, where we dined on the beach. Our new fellow honeymooner friends were also aboard. It was truly a magical evening.

4. Make friends
My husband is one of those people that naturally and easily makes friends, wherever he goes. It is a trait I am most envious of. One of the parts that made our honeymoon so amazing were the fabulous friends we made, most of whom were also honeymooners. Our last night there, we had dinner with 6 other couples. It felt like we were among old friends at that point and was a perfect end to a great week. We have all stayed in contact and hope to have a reunion anniversary trip one of these days.

Although your honeymoon is all about you and your spouse, it was nice to chat with other new brides and swap wedding stories. The boys talked about sports and played beach volleyball together. It made for such a fun week with a nice balance of romantic time together and also fun times with new friends.

5. Go for All-Inclusive but Pay Attention to the Fine Print
This may be a controversial statement, as some folks are opposed to all-inclusive and think they are all the same. They are not. I am all for adventure and for trying new local restaurants while traveling, but it was such a relief to eat and drink to our hearts' desire without having to worry about the tab. Your honeymoon is all about you and your partner. This is your time to be spoiled, to be pampered, to be waited on.
That's Justin way up in the air, parasailing

We brought some cash to tip (always remember to tip!) but left our wallets in the safe in our hotel room. The cost associated with staying at our all-inclusive resort compared to similar resorts that were not all-inclusive was hardly noticeable. We believe firmly that we saved so much money this way. I shudder to think what our bar tab alone would've been, after all those frozen cocktails we consumed on the beach.

We also made sure that our resort offered plenty of dining options. Ours included a few breakfast options, several lunch and dinner options, 24hr room service, a stocked mini-bar and plenty of snacks and drinks pool-side. Had our resort had more limited dining options, we probably would've gotten bored with it.
 The table-side dessert coffee presentation was fantastic!

 Overall, we had an amazing experience while staying on budget and with a busted knee. A special thank you to our dear friends that we met on this trip, who made it all the more special and memorable. May we meet again soon!

We're already dreaming about our next beach vacation!
xoxo -S