Reconnecting with an Old Friend – The D.C. Public Library

Courtesy of the original Discountess (i.e. my mom), I am the proud owner of a new Kindle Paperwhite.  I got it for Christmas, but had to finish out my regular paper books before I could really embrace it. Thankfully, my recent flight to California took care of my last actual book, so I could really start enjoying my Kindle.

Mom gave me a book on the kindle to get me started which I have been mowing through on my daily bus ride. Naturally, I was concerned about what to do when I finish. Much to my horror, the cost to buy a book on kindle is about the same as buying an actual book. WHAT? There are no printing costs! Clearly, the Discountess can not throw away all her shopping money fleshing out her e-library. Someone told me that the library will actually let you borrow e-books for your Kindle, so I decided that was the best course of action and went about figuring out how to do it this week.

This is the Georgetown library. It’s where I went when I was 4 or 5 to get my very first library card. I thought I’d have to go in to get a card, but a little online research revealed that I could sign up for my card online.  I haven’t had a library card since I was a kid! I was slightly worried about the sign up process because I checked out a book for a middle school science paper, lost it in my house, and then found it when I moved home after college. I returned it , of course, but was worried that the system had me flagged and I would have to pay $1,000 worth of late fees. Lucky for me, the process went off without a hitch – no late fee payment required. Phew!

They sent me an email immediately with a customer login and pin code, so I could start searching right away. The book download process was pretty convoluted, so it took a good old-fashioned phone call to the branch librarian to figure out how to do it.

He told me that they get 30% of the best seller titles in an e-version. Not the best selection, but better than buying all those books from Amazon. He also said that if I don’t finish my book in the 3 weeks I’m allotted, I can renew it online. Pretty cool! I downloaded the Tiger’s Wife, which I’ve heard good things about, and saved myself the $11.99 that it would have cost me to purchase it from the Kindle store. I feel like a literary champion.

Now all I need is some new book recommendations. Any ideas?

Checking In On the Great Oatmeal Challenge

I’m about halfway through my tub of Oatmeal, which means I’m about a month in to my challenge. I’m not bored with my combos yet, but it’s dangerously close. I’ve mainly been doing one of two things to take my breakfast up a notch  – adding berries OR adding half a banana and a dash of nutmeg. The latter version tastes a bit like banana bread. Delish!

I did give the pumpkin “pie” oatmeal that my friend Kate recommended in my last post, but I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite. I could never get the sweetness to vegetable ratio right, so it just tasted starchy. Plus, it made my breakfast an unsettling neon orange color.

Any other thoughts for me as I start month 2?  I’m desperate for a new option!

Gearing Up for Oscar Night

I LOVE the Oscars. They are my Superbowl. For the past few years, I’ve hosted an Oscar fete at my house, and this year is no exception. I have 8 of my nearest and dearest coming over tomorrow night for champagne, dinner, and red carpet action.

Today, is prep day. As we know, I love hosting parties, but doing it cheaply can be a challenge. Here’s my strategy for getting this done on a dime.

1. Use what you have. I remembered to look at my cupboard  before heading to the grocery store. As I suspected, I have a bunch of unopened crackers and chips from my last shindig that are still good. Those are going to be the centerpiece of my hors d’oeuvres. As luck would have it, I also happen to have some leftover champagne and wine that I’m planning to use up as well!

2. Rely on the kindness of strangers (or in my case, friends). Every one who accepted the invitation offered to bring something. In my pre-Discountess days I would do all the cooking all myself, but this year, I decided to take my friends up on their offers. Someone is bringing a salad, and another person is bringing dessert. I’m still doing hors d’oeuvres and the main course. I’m hoping this will save me time, and make things simpler too.

3. Make an easy, one-pot dinner. I learned this lesson the hard way. The first year I did my party, I made and elaborate steak dinner with sweet potato fries…for 10. Needless to say, I was in the kitchen the entire time. This year, I’ve opted to do chili. Chili isn’t the most glamorous meal, but it’s easy, everyone likes it, and I can make it ahead. Very important! I’m going to have a full fixins bar with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, onions, avocado etc, so that everyone can customize their own dish.

4. Invest in your dinner, wisely. Yes, the cheaper option would be to use all of my own plates and dishes, but that would mean that I would be up doing dishes for hours after everyone leaves. I’ve opted for disposable glasses, bowls, and plates to make my life easier. It is on a Sunday night after all.

Wish me luck! My first order of business is to straighten up my messy apartment. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Can It Be? Another J. Crew Warehouse Sale Is In Our Midst!

Are my eyes deceiving me? Is this too good to be true? J. Crew is opening their warehouse for shoppers yet again. Mark your calendars for next weekend!

Clearly, I didn’t buy enough in January, so they had to host another sale. It’s the only plausible explanation. I will probably take a breather from this one, but I won’t stand in any of your ways! Here are the details.

20130216-073155.jpg

If you go, remember my tips from last time, and let me know what you get!

Pillow Talk

I’ve had the same black and white bedding for absolute ages (absolute ages = about 10 years), and I’ve been hankering for a change. That said, it’s not something I have really needed, so I haven’t really done anything about it. That was until this past weekend when I decided to dust off my (very old) sewing machine and give my bedding a facelift.

To start, I decided to change my pillows. My friend, who happens to be a very talented seamstress, agreed to give me a tutorial on pillow making. I dispatched myself to G Street Fabrics and JoAnn to get the necessary materials to recover 2 big pillows from my bed (and in the process picked up an extra pillow and fabric – I just can never leave well enough alone). Between the two stores, I managed to find two great fabrics, a deep pinkish orange and a complementary print for my bed.

My tutor and I set up shop at her house. We had dueling sewing machines for the better part of 3 hours as she helped me learn how to make perfect pillow coverings. Of course, she had the pattern all in her head, but for those of you who don’t have a teacher around, this is a comparable one.

Here are some helpful hints that I learned in this process.

1. Check the remnant section of the fabric store for good deals. I found my orange fabric in the remnant section at G Street Fabrics. For those that are unfamiliar with the lingo, remnants are leftovers from the large bolts of fabric they sell. The stores want to get rid of every inch of fabric, so they offer the remnants at a cheaper price to get the most out of their original investment. Remnants are prefect for smaller projects, like pillows, and when the fabric is less expensive, it does take some of the pressure off about screwing up.

2. Never be too cool for instructions. My sewing machine is (much) older than I am. I have no idea how these instructions have stayed with it for 40 years, but I am oh-so glad they did. Each machine is a little different, so getting it set up and remembering everything took a good 45 minutes. Without the instructions I would have been totally lost.  If you have an oldie (but a goodie) like me and don’t have the instructions, check YouTube for an instructional video. You wouldn’t believe how many are out there!

**Incidentally, after reading this handy little book more closely, I realized that my machine has super powers (and by super powers I mean the power to automatically sew buttons on, monogram etc)!
Sewinstructions

3. Always, always iron. Of course, we know I hate to iron, but when it came to getting the seams right, it was invaluable. Check out those seams (and the antique sewing machine) below.

MSSewing

4. Don’t be afraid to screw up. Take this advice with a grain of salt because a) I was scared of screwing up and b) I had my very patient teacher checking my work at every step. BUT, the moral of the story is that you have to try, and if you screw up, you can start over. This pattern is VERY forgiving, so you have some wiggle room.  If your seams are ugly, stick them on the inside where no one will see them!
Cost Breakdown
Orange Fabric ($2.97/yard): $5.94
Printed Fabric ($9.99/yard): $9.99
Matching Thread: $4.29
Extra Pillow: $9.99
Total cost of my bedroom facelift: $30.21 plus tax
Here is the finished product. What do you think?
Finished pillows
I’m super excited! It’s a great new pop of color in my formerly black and white bed. Next project, is creating a new duvet cover. I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Great Gym Debate

vs.       

So I need some advice here. I have been a long time member of the Washington Sports Clubs, but recently I’ve developed an affinity for Barre3 classes.  I used to think that if you were spending money on exercise – be it for memberships or races or classes – it was worth it because it was good for you. However, the Discountess in me started to do the math.

My monthly membership at WSC is $73.95, which is a far cry from the $225.00 that an unlimited Barre3 membership would cost. Money aside, I find that I’m going to, and enjoying, the Barre3 classes more. I probably went to the gym twice last month, which nets out to just shy of $40 a spin class. However, I bought a one-time, two-week unlimited pass that for Barre3 last week, and I’ve gone six times and hit the little gym in my office building once. That’s a lot more bang for my body, but is it enough bang for my buck?

I will say that part of me really wants to hate WSC, so this is tainting my decision. They WAY overcharge for what you get. The good, small group classes always cost extra. At one point, I was going to a Total Body Conditioning class that was so popular I had to wake up at 6am, two days in advance of the class just to get in. And the towels, don’t EVEN get me started on the towels. You spend an hour at the gym, working like a trojan, and finally you’re done and can hit the showers. Yet, when you get there, you find that the towels are so tiny that you need about 7 of them to cover yourself up enough to keep from mooning everyone. Strippers have more coverage!  Do you think that WSC has any idea how demoralizing it is to work so hard on your body and only to feel like you’ve not accomplished anything when you get to the locker room? It is the WORST feeling. Period.

So here’s the big question. Do I quit the Washington Sports Clubs, spend the extra money on Barre3, and hit the office gym when I need it? Or do I quit the Barre3, even though I like it more, and stick with WSC to save the extra $100+ per month? I’m torn. What is the Discountess to do??

January Budget Breakdown – Progress!

Rabbit, rabbit folks! It’s the first of the month, which means it’s budget breakdown time. These rabbits are high-fiving in celebration of my successful January budgeting. Ladies and gentlemen, I done good.

So as you remember from my post at the beginning of the month, I set a monthly goal for myself, which I’m very proud to say that I met. My credit card stayed firmly in its holster all month, and my debit card got the workout. Woo hoo! It was a zero interest January. And for the record, in all of my shopping excursions I did not purchase any lip gloss, black shirts, or purses. I’m virtually a new woman!

As for my progress in January, here are the details.

I’m over in the following categories:

Auto/Transportation – 9% over (I’m calling this a wash)
Cash/ATM – 105% over (Eegad – you know it’s bad when your percentages hit triple digits!)
Gym – 120% over (this is for my gym membership and my favorite Barre3 classes. I’m going to need to figure out how to prioritize this next month –  I really can’t go on with both memberships.)
Personal Care  – 174% over (Someone should buy stock in CVS. They’re having a good month too, obvi.)
Shopping – 178% over (Perhaps the eBay splurge was a bad idea…)

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

Bills/Utilities (includes rent, gym, etc) – 41% used
Business/Office – 48% used
Entertainment – 32% used
Food/Drink – 79% used
Dry Cleaning – 51% used
Gifts – 0% used (January was a selfish month, I guess.)
Groceries – 88% used (This is an ALL OUT miracle.)

Despite some aggressive spending in the shopping department, I was able to save on some of my other big monthly expenditures – namely groceries, food and drink, and bills. My savings, thankfully, outweighed my spending, which meant that I was able to save 60% more than my target savings amount for the month! Yessssss.

Moving on to my February goals. February is typically my “no booze” month (well technically it’s no booze between my two favorite February holidays – the Superbowl and the Oscars. It’s a solid 3.5 weeks. It counts.). I’m doing that again this year, with one minor hiccup. I’m headed to California on Presidents day for a bachelorette party. I refuse to be the no booze girl at the wine tasting, especially since I LOVE wine. So I will do no booze from Superbowl to the Oscars with the exception of Presidents Day weekend.  I think that’s good enough. Don’t you?

Did any one else stick to their January financial goals? Let me know! We can get together and look down our noses at all of the gratuitous spenders we know.

Call Wells Fargo, Another Warehouse Sale to Hit Your Debit Card This Weekend

 

OH. NO. Another warehouse sale this weekend, and this one is 3.5 hours CLOSER to home! Sadly, I think the old bank account cannot take another hit, but far be it from me to stand in your way from finding an awesome bargain or two.

I’ve been to several of these before, and it was nothing short of fabulous. Very good deals to be had. I’ve walked away with items from Tory Burch, DVF, Bettye Muller, Three Dots (love them for staples), and a $20, three strand pearl necklace from the 2009 sale that I wear all the time. Incidentally, my friend Laura found that necklace, turned it down, gave to me to buy, and she has regretted it ever since!

Some of the participating  boutiques include Hysteria, The Shoe Hive (where I got my Bettye Muller green patent leather peep toe flats in 2010), Periwinkle, and Current Boutique.   Here is the full list of participants. There are far more home and consignment stores this year than in the past, so it should have something for everyone.

Anyone planning to attend? Let me know what great bargains you come home with!

The Great Oatmeal Challenge

Today is the start of the great oatmeal challenge. The Safeway currently has a special on Quaker Quick Oats for Just 4 U members–a whopping 42 oz. for $2.50. That’s a lot of oatmeal for not a lot of money, no? My goal is to see exactly how many breakfasts I can get out of that $2.50 canister.

Note: This is the part where my mom, who I might add fed us oatmeal for breakfast for YEARS on end, turns up her nose and starts talking about how gross it is. She’s lucky we didn’t feel the same way.

So,  starting today, I will eat oatmeal every morning (work week morning, that is, since I keep the canister at work) until my supply runs out.  Straight oatmeal for days on end might be a tall order, so I am planning on supplementing it with something to spice it up. Typically, I do a teaspoon of flax-seed (which gives it a nutty flavor) or some cinnamon with a splash of agave to sweeten it up. Today, I’m trying flax, strawberries, and agave. There is a whole list of ideas on the Quaker website. The PB&J recipe is a bit much (see below), but I’m sure there are others that I can tap into. Got any recipe ideas for me?

PBJOats

Wish me luck! I wonder how long this is going to take. Anyone care to wager a bet?

 

 

Home Waxing – A Cautionary Tale

Without my family’s annual winter beach vacation, I have been slacking off on – what I affectionately refer to as – routine maintenance. Part of it has been a time thing, part is a money thing (usually it’s about $50 a pop for a professional job), and part is just plain laziness.

But in the last few days, it’s started to get the better of me. My go-to salon for waxing is the Red Door Salon and Spa. They use a special kind of wax that doesn’t hurt as much (to me at least), so I’ve been a devotee for years. Plus, there is one near my office, so it’s super easy to pop out on my lunch break to take care of business.

But lately I have been really busy (and poor and lazy), so I haven’t been able to get over there. So, as I was perusing the aisles of Target this past weekend, I saw these wax strips and decided to give them a try (for a grand total of $6.99). I suppose I was feeling extra Discountess-like that day. A total savings of $43 – not bad, right?

Well now, with the full experience in the rear view mirror, I can safely say I was wrong. SO SO SO WRONG. This is not something you should do at home. AT ALL. It was awful. AWFUL! Here’s why:

1. It hurts. Of course, it hurts when a professional does it too, but something about the element of surprise when someone else does it makes it an easier pill to swallow.

2. It takes a while. What is normally a 15 minute blip in my lunch break took me 25 minutes to get it right (insert more pain here). Slow is definitely not the way to get this done.

3. Without a mirror and some serious acrobatics, you can’t entirely see what you’re doing. This is not a time for guesswork. Trust me. One misstep, and you guessed it, more pain.

4. Did I mention that you can seriously hurt yourself? Let’s just say, I managed to give myself some sort of bruise in the process. Enough. Said.

So for you Discountess readers who are looking to cut costs, my recommendation would be–cut elsewhere. This is an experience that even many professionals screw up, and I was no exception. I was too big for my britches. I failed, and I have a bruise to prove it.