I bought a house!

…and by house, I mean condo. After months of searching and several failed attempts at other offers, I was finally successful. I closed over the weekend, and I am now officially a homeowner!

It’s not much to look at now, so no pictures yet. But here are the vital stats:

  • One bedroom in the heart of Dupont Circle
  • 24 hour door person. No more packages being sent to the mailroom at work.
  • A block from the metro and a 15 minute walk to work (oh, and basically a 15 minute walk to everywhere else!)
  • Older kitchen, but it has brand new appliances, including a gas stove. I have been waiting years for a gas stove again!
  • Five, yes that’s right, FIVE closets.

Oh, and did I mention, there’s a pool on the roof?? See for yourself…

I’m in heaven!

I’m starting minor renovations this week to get the place in tip-top shape before I move in. More to come on that in the next few weeks.

Get ready for the Discountess to kick it into high gear this fall. Homeownership and renovations aren’t cheap! Still, I’m very excited, so I’m going to focus on that for the time being. Wahoo!

Getting in the Auto Zone…Again

Had more adventures with my car this week. I recently discovered that my hazard lights no longer work. Just after that, the car lock remote stopped working and the internal locking system followed suit.

It should be noted that until last year, I the car I drove was a glorified wind up toy. So when I was told that I needed to find the electrical panel to see of a fuse was blown, clearly I was confounded. Luckily, I made a swift recovery, and figured out where it was with the help of my friend Sara.

Of course, we had no idea how to tell which fuses worked and which didn’t, and I wasn’t about to try. I headed to the AutoZone in Alexandria on Sunday afternoon to see if they could help. That’s when I met St. Lemus of the automobiles. See below.

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Well, actually, his name was just Lemus, but he was a saint to me. He came out and helped me figure out which fuses (2) were busted and then helped me replace them.

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It turns out fuses are pretty cheap! I got a value pack for $7.99 plus tax, and it even included a fuse tester (that’s the yellow thing). We used a handy-dandy little guide from the box in my car to get the right fuses in their place. In 30 minutes, I was out the door with a working car remote.

Unfortunately, the hazards still aren’t working, so I’m going to need to tackle that this week. I think it might be a wiring problem. Not sure that I can figure this one out on the cheap, but I’m going to try! Any ideas on where to start??

The Miracle of the Price Adjustment

I took a few days off last around last weekend as a birthday present to myself. After my 10:30 Barre3 class on friday, my friend Christina and I headed to Anthropologie to buy myself a birthday outfit (s). I got some money for my birthday, so don’t worry, it was in budget!

Anyway, I got a bunch of cute stuff, including this, this (in grey), this and these (in gold). All on sale too. But, no sooner than I walked out of the store, the annual summer tag sale started. Christina sent me a text telling me to check if any of my clothes went on sale further, so I went in with my Anthro card in hand and did just that.

Now for those of you who don’t know about this handy little money-saving tactic, I will explain. The price adjustment allows the customer to come back in the store if an item that they buy on sale goes down in price within a reasonable time period, usually 7 – 14 days. Anthropologie’s policy is 14 days.

I was well within the time frame, and Christina was right, EVERYTHING I bought was further on sale. Score! I got $80 back on my card (which I promptly spent on this and this). BUT, the important thing is that I got more value for my money. I literally walked out of the store like I was walking on air. It was all I could do to not stop people in the street to tell them of my good fortune. It felt that good.

If you are looking to replicate this kind of experience for yourself (and I highly encourage it), here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Be patient. This process takes a little time. Every store has a different policy, and since people don’t do price adjustments very often, you have a 50/50 chance of the sales associate not knowing what they are doing. Don’t fret! That’s what managers are for, and in the end it’s totally worth it.

2. Find ways to look busy at the counter. During the process of the sales associate re-learning the price adjustment system,  you might find yourself with some extra time. I used this time to organize my purse and check my messages, but there are many other things you can do. This technique is always helpful when long line is forming because your transaction is taking so long. You can avoid all of those evil glares from waiting patrons by simply playing a move on Words with Friends. Highly useful.

3. Learn your favorite stores pricing policies and hold onto your receipts for the allotted time. If you take a moment to figure out the policies of your favorite stores, you will be ahead of the game. Just set a calendar reminder to check the company website a few days before the time period is over. Or you can download a free app, like Slice, that will track your purchases for you and send you a reminder when one of your items gets further reduced.

Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Macy’s, Piperlime, Nike, Levis, Cole Haan, Abercrombie, and The Limited all provide price adjustments within 14 days.

J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and Ann Taylor Loft provide adjustments within 7 days.

Now, go forth, and adjust!

May Budget Breakdown

Well, it was a poor showing for me this month, which is to be expected. Writing this post was as painful as going on a weekend-long eating and drinking bender, and then getting on the scale on Monday morning. Ugh.

Here is the full budget breakdown for May:

Auto/Transportation – 4% over
Cash/ATM – 130% over
Food/Drink – 108.1% over
Personal Care – 154.43% over (remember my pre-Discountess addiction to CVS, well it’s baaaccck…)
Bills/Utilities (includes rent, cable, etc) –69.17% over (though I will say that due to my cycle of paychecks, I paid 2 rounds of bills this month)
Groceries – 35% over
Shopping – 45.65% over

I was even or I only used part of the budget (i.e. I saved) in the following categories:

Business/Office – 0% used
Entertainment – 0% used
Dry Cleaning – 12.16% used – Thank you, ZIPS!
Gifts – 63.33% used
Gym – 100% used

You’ll notice that there are more items in the over-spending category than the savings category (eek!), so this month, my goal is to remedy that. I guess it’s time to stop eating out and start having people over! Of course, that’s easy to say when it’s pouring down rain outside, but it becomes harder when I walk out of work on a beautiful night and the wind whispers the word “mojito” in my ear.

Thankfully, D.C. has a ton of fun, free activities during the summertime, so I’m going to try to take advantage of those so I can get my finances back in order. Wish me luck!

 

Dry Cleaning That Won’t Clean You Out

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This weekend, Zips changed my budgeting life. No. Joke.

I realize I wrote about my dry cleaner ripping me off quite a while ago, but due to various factors (primarily laziness), I didn’t try a different option. Until now.

I headed to Zips on a recommendation from a friend. MAN, what a difference! The aforementioned laziness had also contributed to a huge stockpile of dry cleaning, so by the time I managed to make it over there I had 16 items. Eek. In the old days, that would have meant that I would be bracing myself for a bill that was well over $100. But, not at Zips! My 16 items included 13 full service dry cleaning items and 4 shirts that needed a wash and iron. For all that, my grand total bill was $31.84 (paid in cash, up front). Ah-ma-zing.

To give you a frame of reference, I went and picked up the last of my dry cleaning from my old place right after I left Zips. I had three items –  1 dress, 1 sweater, and 1 pair of pants – that cost me a total of $24.31.

Say what??? For an extra, $7.53 at Zips, I got 13 more items done.

Consider me a changed woman.

Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn

This fabulous snack suggestion comes from my cousin who runs an adorable Bed and Breakfast in Jericho, Vermont.  Incidentally, her brother was our tour guide during our recent trip to St. John. I guess that side of the family digs the hospitality business.

Anyway, her suggestion is something that I’ve actually done before – not only to save money but also to have a diet-friendly snack food on hand at home. I crave salty snacks so homemade microwave popcorn really hits the spot and isn’t as bad for you as potato chips.

All you have to do is buy a set of brown lunch bags and a pack of popcorn kernels (I get bags of it in the bulk aisle at the Safeway). I put about 2 tablespoons of kernels in the bag, folder over the top a few times, and toss it in the microwave for about a minute and a half. The same microwave popcorn cooking rules apply here – if the popping noise starts to space out  then it’s probably done. Keep a misto sprayer on hand for when it’s done. I usually do a couple of sprays and add some seasoning. My favorite is Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning, but you can do all kinds of things.

Thanks to my darling cousin for doing the math. Here is the budget breakdown.

Total cost to purchase some chemical-laden Orville Redenbachers: $5.59 for 10 packs

Total cost for the homemade version:
1 pack of brown lunch bags, $1.29
1 package of popcorn kernels, $1.99

For a grand total of 50 servings at $0.06 a serving.

In her own words: Ba da bing, good, low-fat popcorn. Thanks for the suggestion!

Have any other Discountess (and diet) friendly snack ideas? Send them my way!

Dressing the Part

I AM actually making an effort to get over my gratuitous March spending, but April is turning out to have a lot of stumbling blocks. Something about springtime makes me want to have dinner and drinks out every night! Ugh.

While I’ve managed to keep it mostly in check, my biggest challenge is coming up in 2 weeks. I’ve been invited to be a guest at the White House Correspondents dinner. Woo hoo! I was actually lucky enough to go last year, and it was a blast. The best people watching ever – there were movie stars literally everywhere. It was totally cool and very intimidating.

To give you a sense, here’s my favorite picture from last year. It’s just me, my table mate (who was very nice), and our good buddy Reese Witherspoon. NBD. Reese was super pregnant in this picture BTW, and you can’t even tell. Totally sickening.

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Anyway, I can’t just show up to this thing in some old frock when there are people running around looking as awesome as (pregnant) Reese. But, then again, I don’t really need to be spending a zillion dollars on a new ensemble either. Hence the dilemma.

Last year, I bought a new dress, earrings, and lipstick (Note: Due to my new years resolutions, I haven’t bought a new lipstick since January. It’s KILLING me.). I also had my hair done (we all know that Reese didn’t do that herself!), and hopped an Uber to and from the event. Obviously, I ran up quite a tally.

This year, I’m attempting to do it for a fraction of the price. My goal is to get it all – new dress, hair, everything – for $150 or less. For dress, I’m looking at Rent the Runway, eBay, and other consignment stores (Current and Ella-Rue are my favorites), but haven’t found anything yet. The hair is also a challenge. Despite all of my googling, yelping, and other general research, I cannot seem to find an updo in DC for less than $80 plus tip. $80 to stick my hair in a bun. No thank you.

Obviously, I have my work cut out for me in the next two weeks. I’m not afraid to do things by myself – I just don’t want to look like I did it myself. Make sense?

What do you think – can I do it? If you have any suggestions to help my cause, please send them my way! I can use all the help I can get.

P.S. If I had unlimited funding (Read: $1,990), I would wear this. Sooo awesome.

March Budget Breakdown – Better Late Than Never

As you can tell, I’ve been a delinquent Discountess. My end of March vacation to St. John and a series of spring weddings have rendered me without time to blog/keep my life and brain in order. After this weekend, I’ll be back in action. I have one more wedding, and then my schedule returns to normal. Well, more or less.

So at almost half way through the month of April, I give you the March budget breakdown. What I’ve learned this month is that vacations do not lend themselves to saving money. Not shocking. Still, the vacation (which I will give the full rundown on later) was fabulous and worth every over-budget penny spent! And, because I wasn’t in DC for a full week during the month, I was able to keep my grocery budget in check (of course my food and entertainment costs were off the hook, but I’m choosing the positive point of view). I also saved in the shopping category—a new feat for me. Aside from a few incidentals for the trip, I mainly stayed away from the stores last month.

Here is the full budget breakdown for March:

Cash/ATM – 14% over (I changed the starting number this month because the old one was too low, but this still isn’t good. I’m chalking it up to vacation needs and moving on)
Entertainment – 120% over
Food/Drink – 135.6% over
Personal Care – 5% over
Bills/Utilities (includes rent, cable, etc) – 56% over

I was even or I only used part of the budget (i.e. I saved) in the following categories:

Auto/Transportation – 71.5% used
Business/Office – 50.8% used
Groceries – 92.7% used (Astounding!)
Dry Cleaning – 18.8% used
Gifts – 65.4% used
Gym – 100% used
Shopping – 70.4% used (YES!)

Also in March, I managed to keep with my goal of taking the stairs at work more which has been a good change. Plus, with the new spring weather, I’ve been able to run outside as well!  The goal on the docket for April was supposed to be about my morning coffee purchase, i.e. I shouldn’t be purchasing it every day. I was doing well for the first week of the month, but this week I’ve hit the Brown Bag for my Swings coffee every day. Perhaps we should save that one for May? Anyway, since it is now springtime, my goal this month is to clean house on my spring/summer wardrobe. I plan to get it all out (it’s been in storage for the winter) and use a discerning eye about what I should actually keep and what I should get rid of. I’m hoping I can scrounge up a few good consignment options, so I can line my pockets for future wardrobe investments.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Great Oatmeal Challenge – Complete!

Well, I did it. Yesterday, I completed my Great Oatmeal Challenge. It took me over 6 weeks and approximately 32 oatmeal breakfasts to finish. Talk about a feat!

Thanks to all of you who sent recipes and ideas to keep me from getting bored! Since I make my breakfast at work, it was a little hard to try all of them. I did manage to try a few, but mainly I stuck to oatmeal, flax-seed, cinnamon, and either berries or half a banana. You should see the cabinet where I keep all this stuff in my office. It looks like I knocked over the Harris Teeter.

The fruit was a great addition, and it helped the oatmeal be a more filling. I really need a stick to your ribs breakfast. Otherwise, I become ravenous in the afternoon, and I’m entirely inconsolable until I eat a bag of swedish fish. It’s a bad, bad situation.

My challenge did help me stay off the fish (mostly), and it also allowed me to save a BUNCH of money. By my calculations, each bowl of oatmeal cost a whopping $0.08. Not too shabby! The fruit cost extra, but even adding in the cost of fruit, the meal is still well under $1. Compare that to a $3 oatmeal from Starbucks, and I think you’ll see who the clear winner is…

ME.

February Budget Breakdown

Forgive the lack of posting in the last few days, I’ve been crunching numbers (among other things). All I have to say is thank GOD February is over. What a miserable month. I managed to have some fun (see the shopping and entertainment line items), but I am officially itching for spring.

Again, shopping and the grocery store seem to be the biggest culprits of my budgetary failure this month. Also, my gym budget hit me hard because I had to pay out my last month of membership at WSC and my first month at Barre3. Man, that was a wallop. And let’s not forget my VERY fun California trip, which also helped push the shopping budget over the edge (and we all know that it teeters on the brink during normal months).

Here is the full budget breakdown for February:

Cash/ATM – 10% over (Worse than last month – I think I need to change this budget number.)
Gifts – 45% over (I counted a some of my California trip here, since it was a bachelorette weekend.)
Gym – 325% over (EEK! My WSC membership ends on March 10th, so it won’t be an issue again. Phew.)
Personal Care  – 8% over (A big improvement over last month, but still over.)
Shopping – 207% over (Ugh.)
Groceries – 41% over

I was even or I only used part of the budget (i.e. I saved) in the following categories:

Auto/Transportation – 41.6% used
Bills/Utilities (includes rent, cable, etc) – 67% used
Business/Office – 0% used
Entertainment – 87% used
Food/Drink – 99.5% used
Dry Cleaning – 15% used

In terms of meeting my “no booze” goal during February, I passed with flying colors. I even went to a work dinner and just drank water. Talk about iron will!

Now that we’re in March, my goal is to take the stairs at work. Of course, this isn’t a financial goal, but I still think it’s a worthy one. Now that I’ve quit the gym, I also seem to have quit cardio. I’ve been going to Barre3 a lot, but I still need something to get the heart rate up. And since it’s still FREEZING cold outside, my runs aren’t happening as often as I would like.  And so, I will walk up the stairs at work. I already live in a walk up apartment, so that won’t be an issue.

Is that goal lame? I was going to make March “no shopping for clothes month,” but I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that yet. Plus, I’m headed to St. John with the family mid-month, and I’m in need of a new bathing suit. Priorities!