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?


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!?!



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:

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

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.

  • 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