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.

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?

 

 

Fringe Benefits

For the past several weeks, I’ve been in desperate need of a haircut. DESPERATE. I hadn’t had a cut since my Aveda Institute experience in October, so clearly it was time. Though I made it out of the Aveda Institute unscathed, I decided to try a slightly pricier, but still discount option.

Fringe Hair Studio is a wonky little salon within walking distance from my Georgetown pied-da-terre. I started going there after I became outraged at the unmemorable $90 haircut that my old salon gave me. Essam and his team are great. The place is understated, but the stylists know what they’re doing (unlike my friend from the Aveda Institute). And they are reasonably priced to boot!

I went to see Abbie last week to fix my sad situation. The Aveda cut ended up being a great one, but it had grown out too much. Abbie took the cut to the next level by adding more layers, so it has a bit more shape. Results are below (apologies for the sad photo – I’m terrible at self portraits).

haircut

Hair Cut: $55

Tip for shampoo: $5 (the man had magic fingers. MAGIC.)

Tip for the cut: $10

Total cost: $70

(Price differential between Aveda Institute is $56 – STEEP. But probably worth it for peace of mind, no?)

What do you think? Too expensive for what I got or is this the bargain of the century? I’m not above going to some other place that’s a better deal. Got an idea? Send it my way!

New Years Resolutions – It’s Go Time!

Well it’s New Years time, so that means resolution time. Obviously, my big resolution is to save some serious dough this year. But, in order to do that I have some other smaller resolutions that need to happen. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

1. I will not buy anymore lip gloss. I own 30. That’s plenty.

2. I will not buy any more black shirts. The entire third drawer of my dresser is filled with black shirts. I wear a lot of black. I’m not goth or anything, they just always seem to work  I’m pretty sure I own more than 10, so that should be enough to keep me for the year.

3. I will not buy any more purses, without getting rid of one first. I have quite a few, and they all look good. I don’t need any more.  I’m giving myself a small out because I do own some that are a little old. If I consigned them, then I feel I can get a new one. But, I only can do this if they go to a loving home.

So far this has all been about buying things (a big weakness for me), but there are more resolutions below.

4. I will make, stick to, and report on my budget every month. This is going to be a hard one since unexpected expenses pop up at every turn, but I’m going to give it the good old college try.

5. I will have more dinner parties (on a budget). I love to cook for my friends. It’s a great excuse to try new recipes (and clean my apartment on a regular basis). I can host a dinner for 4 that costs the same as 1 dinner out for me, so I think it’s a wise resolution.

6. I will continue learning how to master the grocery store. I’m getting better (thanks to the Safeway’s Just For U program), but I still have a way to go to consistently meet my monthly goal of $150 – $200 on groceries and not feel deprived.

6. I will try at least one new (free and/or discount) thing to do in D.C. a month. I’m starting right away on this one. My first event is tonight! I’m headed to the Phillips after 5 to see an exhibit with a friend (cost $12). I’ve also been curious about the free movie series at the Georgetown Library.

In addition to these yearlong resolutions, I’ve decided to also set monthly goals for myself. If I make it through the month and meet my goal then I get a treat. My January resolution is to go through the month interest free, i.e. without using my credit card AT ALL. I have some money saved up to cover any unforeseen expenses, just in case. Things that I’m tackling this month include a baby shower, a weekend with friends at the Boars Head Inn in Charlottesville (including a massage – don’t be dumb), and a trip to the aforementioned J.Crew outlet in Lynchburg, VA. Eeek! We’ll see if I can make it out and still meet my goals!

How am I doing so far? Do you think I have gone crazy? I am totally in the market for any resolution recommendations you might have for me as well, so send them on if you have them!

Splurge vs. Save – Blowouts

With New Years Eve almost upon us, I have been thinking about what I’m going to wear. Due to my reckless spending during December, I need to shop in my closet for my outfit (which makes me feel totally lame). BUT, everyone wants to look good on New Years, so I decided to treat myself to a blow out before my night on the town.

My darling brother gave me a gift certificate to DryBar for Christmas – the new blow out salon in DC. I visited the DryBar in New York during my last visit, and it was quite the experience. For $40, you got bottomless champagne, a shampoo, and a blow out. I paid $10 extra dollars to my stylist to rub my head for 10 minutes. I HIGHLY recommend this. In fact, I would wash my own hair and show up there just to have them massage my scalp. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, all of their appointments are booked for new years (and at $40 a pop, my pre-gift certificate self was not in a hurry to make an appointment). So I’ve been looking for a low-cost alternative.

Enter Bubbles Salon.

It’s about a 4 block walk from my office, and according to their website, they will do a shampoo and blow dry for $25. They say that cost depends on how long and thick your hair is, but my shoulder length blond locks shouldn’t put me in a higher price bracket. Of course, there is no champagne and no head rub, but I’m hoping that I will still get a fuss-free blow out that will make my old outfit on New Years look like new.

I have an appointment tomorrow after work. Best case scenario, I get a great look for my New Year’s party. Worst case it goes up in a bun for the evening. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

Total Christmas Present Domination

Despite the fact that I wasn’t tracking my overall spending this past month, I did track how much I spent on Christmas gifts. I LOVE gift giving. Love it. It’s the ultimate rush to be the best Santa on the block. However, when faced with the prospect of gift giving on a budget, one can often feel like this.

I didn’t want my Discountessness to get in the way of being Santa numero uno this year, so I had to get creative. Mainly, I had to figure out how to buy the same amount of stuff without spending as much money. A tall order, but somehow I managed to do it! Here is how I achieved total Christmas domination.

1. Buy early, buy often. In past years, I have been a late-term present buyer. This usually means an 11th hour trip to Target and TJ Maxx for nonsensical items to stuff stockings and up to the last-minute online shopping with enormous rush shipping charges. This year, I made an effort to space out my purchases by starting to shop in November. The extra time allowed me to shop around and get the best prices.

2. Investigate alternatives. Our family sends gift suggestions each year to help facilitate the purchasing process. (In fact, we are supposed to stop buying gifts for ourselves in October to help bolster the list, but this is harder for me than it is for the rest of the bunch.  I did try harder this year, but, mind you, I set a very low bar for myself.)  Often, the suggested gifts are from the higher-end (read: pricier) stores, but with a little research you can find the same items at a better price at other places. For example, my mother’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook was $15 cheaper at Costco than it was in the store.  Price comparison sites like ShopStyle and Google Shopping are very helpful for this!

3. When all else fails, look for a coupon online. I have sung the praises of RetailMeNot.com before, and I will sing them again (along with Coupons.com and others). Even if you have to shop at that high-end store to get that ah-ma-zing gift, you can often find a coupon code for a certain percentage off. If you can’t get any money off, there is usually a way to get free shipping. It’s definitely worth a quick internet search.

So after trying all of that, I was able to complete my Christmas shopping on time and with some extra dollars in the bank. In fact, after a side-by-side original price vs. Discountess price comparison, I was able to save 29% off of the original Christmas price tally just by being careful, researching, and starting early. It definitely took more work, but in the end, having a few extra Andrew Jackson’s in my pocket was 100% worth it.

 

Mechanical Mastermind – Car Repair 101

You would not BELIEVE what the Discountess did today. Earlier week, when I was driving to a holiday party, one of my headlights went out. Cars are always wonderful until they saddle you with an unexpected expense. Thankfully, a headlight change is rather minor, but it’s still money that I’d rather spend on something else.

I started thinking that I could go to an auto parts store to buy the light and that would help cut out the cost. When I was doing my research, I came across all of these blogs where people explained how to changed the bulb themselves. Every single one said that all you had to do was pop out the bulb to replace it. Well, I can pop out a bulb. I mean, ANYONE can pop out a bulb. So arming myself with my owner’s manual, I headed to Advance Auto Parts in Arlington where I met Christian, store manager by day and mechanical hero by night. He helped me find my bulb and some gloves (apparently you can’t handle a halogen bulb with bare hands – who knew?), and then he graciously agreed to supervise me while I replaced the bulb in my car.

While I’m currently considering myself a car genius, I must admit I would not have been able to figure this out with out Super Christian. I couldn’t even figure out how to pop the hood of the car. BAD. Once we got the hood open, we located the bulb that was out. See that little grey thing below, that’s what I had to open up to replace it.

Insidecar

Then, I unscrewed the grey thing, popped the old bulb out (see, I knew I could do it), and screwed the new one back in. This is the bulb.

bulb

It was a lot smaller than I imagined. I was thinking that I’d have to take out the full light, blinker and all, but not the case!

Of course, I’m making this sound easier than it was. There was something weird about the way to screw it back in, so that took a while, but eventually I got it. Christian was with me the whole way (thank God!).

Summary details:

Time spent: 20 minutes (plus 15 to drive to VA)
Total cost: $16.88, including the bulb and the gloves. Woo hoo!
Total cost if I did it the lazy man’s way:  $ 39.95 plus tax*
*According to the Exxon near my house that would have changed the bulb in my pre-Discountess days

Total Savings (Estimating 5.95% tax in DC): $25.45

Watch out world, I am now a fiscal and mechanical genius (well still working on the fiscal genius part, but this is progress!).

Splurge vs. Save – Hair Care

 vs. 

I just ran out of my Moroccan oil. A friend of mine turned me onto using it about a year ago. I love the effect. It makes my hair shiny, smooth, and really, really soft. BUT, it costs $35+ a bottle. Granted it takes several months to get through a bottle, but that’s still pricey.

So I went in search of an alternative and found Organix Penetrating Moroccan Argan Oil (Light) for $7.99 on my favorite website, drugstore.com. I always, always check the reviews. If it’s cheaper, but doesn’t do the right job then you are still out $8. Luckily, this stuff has a 5 star rating on the site and very good feedback. I decided to give it a whirl.

I’ve now been using it for 5 days. My hair looks and feels the same as it did with the more expensive stuff.  It doesn’t really have a strong smell, which I like. Sometimes the cheaper versions of products are downright stinky, but this is nice and light.

I’m definitely the kind of person who is a sucker for advertising. If you tell me that using gold-plated shampoo will help me look like Gisele Bundchen, then I’ll try it.  But this little experiment has taught me 2 things:

  1. Absolutely no one can tell what kind of shampoo or hair products you use. Whether they cost $50 or $5, it is entirely undetectable.
  2. I’ve been wasting my money on expensive hair stuff for years, and I still don’t look like Gisele. DAMN.

Time to give up that ghost…

Resisting Neiman Marcus For Target

Today is a very big day! The much-hyped Neiman Marcus for Target collection is FINALLY out and available online. In my former life, this would have been a morning where I got up, made a cup of coffee, and got to work spending several hundred dollars to purchase a ton of stuff I don’t really need. But now, since I’ve turned over a new leaf and all, I followed the morning routine until the spending part.

I did look at the collection, and it is pretty cool. Some of the stuff is weird. For example, why would anyone want to spend $500 on an Alice and Olivia bike? It’s foofy looking (that is a technical term), and it probably doesn’t go very fast. It’s items like the bike that indicate that Target (whom I love/deeply adore) is looking for suckers with this sale. For. Sure. Still, there are some items that I had to resist purchasing. These are they:

For the home

Altuzarra Old-Fashioned Glasses
We used to have Old-Fashioneds every Thanksgiving at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. They hosted a separate thanksgiving dinner, so we’d have ours and they’d have theirs and we’d meet after for a late afternoon Old-Fashioned session. I have very fond memories of those parties, and these brought them back.

https://i0.wp.com/img2.targetimg2.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/18/14182089_120919103000.jpg

Altuzarra Gold Tray

If anyone has seen my house, they will know that I’m a big fan of black. Not that my whole house is shrouded in it, but I do have a lot of bold black and white patterns with gold, red, and yellow accents. Clearly, this would fit in.

https://i0.wp.com/img2.targetimg2.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/18/14189816_120919103000.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Bod

Lela Rose Top
So cute. Perfect to wear to my aforementioned annual Christmas fete.

https://i0.wp.com/img3.targetimg3.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/20/14206601_120919103000.jpg

Prabal Gurung Cape

It is cold in wintertime, after all.

https://i0.wp.com/img3.targetimg3.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/21/14210333_120919103000.jpg

Robert Rodriguez Top
I love the idea of this one, but I’m pretty sure it would make me look fat. Money saved!

https://i0.wp.com/img2.targetimg2.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/21/14210957_121014043000.jpg

Misc.

Marc Jacobs Gold Pouch
I always find little bags like this useful. It would be perfect as a little clutch or to use for makeup inside a larger tote.

https://i0.wp.com/img1.targetimg1.com/wcsstore/TargetSAS//img/p/14/21/14210325_120921183000.jpg

So now the big question – did I make a mistake? Should I go back in and snap one of these puppies up before it’s too late? Please advise.

Discount Gifts for Dudes

A friend of mine asked me for some advice on some Discountess-friendly Christmas gift ideas for her brother. I happen to have one of those, so I felt uniquely positioned to take on the task. In my case, my brother is extremely organized, so he put together a comprehensive (and I mean COMPREHENSIVE) list of suggestions. I’m using those to guide this post with a few extras, courtesy of yours truly.

Here are my two Discountess ground rules for holiday shopping success:

  1. When buying anything, ANYTHING online, I look for a coupon. My favorite site is RetailMeNot – they offer coupon codes and discounts for major and not-so-major retailers. At the very least, you usually can score free shipping, but lots of times they have codes for a certain percentage off your order. They aren’t the only site though – Coupons.com also has good deals for example – so it’s most thorough to Google the name of the store to find the best deal (e.g. Brooks Brothers Coupon).
  2. When looking for a specific item, I always search other sites. Yes, you can get that Calphalon 12” frying pan from Williams Sonoma, but Belk.com has is $10 cheaper (AND if you use the discount code 91441864, you can get 25% off that!).

Now, on to the ideas. Here are some of the things that I’d recommend, plus coupon codes where appropriate.

For the Meat-Eater

Nothing says man better than grilling with bacon. These bacon wrapped sirloin steaks are fabulous and thoughtful. If the guy can grill, then this is a great gift and only $49.99.

For the Traveling Man

A colleague told me about the Eagle Creek Pack It. He got one and uses it all the time for traveling. It’s one of those things you never knew you needed. Originally priced – $30.00 on EagleCreek.com, but I purchased one for my uncle from BackCountryEdge.com for 2/3 the price – $20.95 plus shipping.

For the Intellectual (and/or Car Enthusiasts)

Magazines! I personally love magazines. They are the gift that keeps on giving. My brother loves Washingtonian Magazine, so that’s always a solid Christmas bet for him. Living social has a deal right now for a year subscription for $14. I got one for my office holiday gift exchange – there is a $15 limit on our gift, so this works perfectly!

For the non-Washingtonians and for Washington style-makers, adventure-seekers, and car enthusiasts, Living Social has another deal for EsquirePopular MechanicsRoad & Track, or Car and Driver at $5 a subscription (oh and ladies, that $5 rate applies to a whole host of awesome magazines for us as well – Elle, Elle Décor, Glamour, Marie Claire, etc).

For the Athlete

Work out gear is always a good idea. In particular, my brother requested something like this long-sleeved tech shirt. According to RetailMeNot, you can get free shipping with the following code: AFPTTG.

(This one was a lob to my mom, who is in charge of stuffing my brothers stocking this year).

Any other Discountesses out there with good gift ideas for men? Please comment – I’m all ears!