Monday, December 26, 2011

Organization Tip: Bucket Budgets

Trying to organize finances can be frustrating and stressful.  Budgets are about as much fun as dental work, but how can we track our spending without them?

My solution is a percentage budget, or what I call my Bucket Budget.  It has been such a huge stress relief for me that I thought I'd share it.    

The details of percentage budgets vary, but the general idea is the same.  Your income (based on gross or net) is divided into three or four categories or "buckets" of money:
  • taxes (if basing on gross income)
  • savings
  • living expenses
  • fun money

As long as money is going in and out of the appropriate buckets, you don't need to track every dollar.  And if you set it up so your buckets don't mix, it's like putting your finances on autopilot.

To get started, determine how much money you need for your living expenses, which include all of the basic costs of living -- mortgage or rent payment, transportation, utilities, food, etc. -- that you have to pay every month.  Base this amount on recent spending history.  BE REALISTIC.  Add a little for contingencies if you want.

Whew!  That concludes the complex calculations portion of this process.  You can use round percentages for the other categories.  Let's say your net income (take-home pay) is $3000 per month.  You've determined your living expenses are $2100, or 70% of your monthly pay.  That leaves 30%.  Most financial experts I've read suggest putting 20% into savings, so we'll go with that.  That leaves you with 10% ($300) for you to spend on whatever you want.  In summary, your breakdown is
  • savings 20%
  • living expenses 70%
  • fun money 10%

Now to put those finances on autopilot.  Set up two or three bank accounts:
  • savings
  • checking for living expenses
  • checking for fun money (you can skip this if you prefer to use cash for your fun money)

When you receive your paycheck, divide the money into the appropriate buckets.  You can use direct deposit from your employer or set up recurring transfers to make this completely automatic.
  • deposit 20% ($600) into your savings account
  • deposit 70% ($2100) into your living expenses account
  • deposit 10% ($300) into your fun money account (or take it as cash if you prefer)

Because your setup is automatically covering savings and living expenses, you can spend your bucket of fun money -- every cent if you want to -- without worrying about how it's going to impact your financial situation. :D

Your budgeted percentages may vary depending on your personal financial situation and goals.  If you live outside the U.S., you might need to change the categories.  But I think the general principle can be useful in most cases.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Solstice in the Snow

The Mile High City was treated to a snowy solstice.  About 9.5 inches (24 cm) of snow fell overnight.  I love snowy nights.  Everything is hushed and it never really gets dark.  It's beautiful.

My house is very close to a school and my street usually benefits from priority plowing.  Not today.  With school on break, the neighborhood streets were not plowed this morning.  Fortunately, I was able to take a snow day.

By early afternoon, the sky was clearing. 
snow and blue sky are a beautiful combination
Around 3:00 p.m., I headed out to shovel the driveway.  I opened my garage door to a surprising amount of snow.
view from the garage -- there is a driveway under there somewhere
While I was outside shoveling, the snowplow came down my street.  It was amusing to watch as three of my neighbors immediately got in their cars and left.  I guess they were all just waiting for the street to be cleared.
whew! reached the end; looking back toward the house
To finish its duties on the shortest day of the year, the Sun set with a colorful flourish.
the view from my front door

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DIY Gothy Hair Bows in Two Easy Steps

black velvet, black lace, black ribbon and a skull!

Once, I received a handmade hair bow as a freebie with an etsy purchase.  It was handmade, all right... terribly handmade.  The bow was a piece of fabric sewn in a loop with visibly sloppy stitches and stuck to a bobby pin with a big glob of hot glue.  One look at Frankenbow there and I knew I could do better.

I decided I wanted a hair bow with trailing ribbons, maybe due to memories of the braided ribbon barrettes that were THE thing when I was a little girl.  The first bow I made was so easy that I made another.. and another... and another...  They are really fun to make. :-)

This is the type of barrette I like to use.  They're great because you can tie your ribbons, etc. right to the barrette without interfering with its function. 
they come in various sizes

Step one: Make a bow with fabric, lace or wide ribbon.  This can be done by cutting the material to your desired size and then folding or squishing it together in the middle.  Tie the middle with a piece of thin ribbon, leaving plenty of extra ribbon hanging.
bow made with wide velvet ribbon

Step two:  Tie the bow to the barrette.  Do this by running the thin ribbon under the metal arc on the back of the barrette and tying in tight knots.  You can then leave the ribbons trailing or cut them.  I like to add a drop of hot glue over the knots for extra security.

Note:  Before tying, consider if you want the barrette to open on the left or right.  One option will be easier for you, depending on how you wear the bow and whether you're right- or left-handed.  For a pair of bows to wear on either side of your head, I suggest making one with the barrette opening on the left and one opening on the right. 
this barrette has a spiffy plastic guard so it won't damage hair

If you want a simple bow, you are done!  Or you can add more ribbon, beads, lace, charms... whatever suits your fancy.
this large bow is made from strips of lace
just tie on as many as you want in different lengths
spiderweb lace on top of velvet bow, with a skull bead... for that goth Elmyra look

Elmyra
small lace bows with cross charms (stitched on with needle and thread)
lace bows with flowers and matching ribbons

a pair of Elmyra-style bows with ribbons
it is awkward trying to take a picture of the back of my head ;-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Organization Tip: Convenience is Key

Here is my dirty clean little not-so-secret:  I am a neat freak.  Well, more like a neat superfreak.  Organization makes my little black heart smile.  But it’s more than liking tidy spaces; I actually enjoy the process of cleaning and organizing.  It’s very satisfying to have a place for everything and everything in its place.  I love alphabetizing, categorizing and color coding.  Show me a room overflowing with stuff, tell me I get to declutter and organize it, and my eyes light up.

Yes, I’m completely crazy.  But I like to think of it as a feature, not a bug. ;)

Enough of my gushing about organization!  Let's move on to the tip...

Organization tip:  Convenience is key 
Getting organized takes effort.  However, once you are organized, staying that way can be rather simple.  One key to lasting organization is convenience.  If you have to walk three rooms down the hall to put your dirty socks in the laundry room, you might just drop them on the floor instead.  Put a laundry hamper right where you take off your socks, and dropping them in the hamper won’t take any more time than dropping them on the floor.  If your shoes come off at the front door but never quite make it to your closet, consider putting shoe storage at the door.  Make it convenient to put things in their proper place, and you’ll be less likely to end up with a big, scary mess.

Bane’s personal example:  Hooks and hamper in the closet
I have hooks in my closet for items that I wear repeatedly, such as the bat pajama pants and sweater that I wear during the evening post-shower, pre-bed time slot.  Folding these items and putting them away in a drawer every single night would be time-consuming.  Hanging them on a convenient hook takes mere seconds; I have no excuse to leave them lying around.
bat jammies!
Similarly, I have a hamper in my closet for dirty clothes.  Having the hamper right there where I’m undressing means I have no excuse for leaving dirty clothes on the floor.
conveniently located hamper
Of course, not everyone has room in the closet for a hamper.  You might want to choose one that is decorative enough to leave in plain view.
this wood hamper is quite elegant

this damask hamper is foldable and costs only $20

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Might Need Another Bookshelf

I don't often look for books at my local thrift store because the selection seems limited to 20-years-out-of-date cookbooks and Fabio-fronted romance novels.  Today I ventured into a Goodwill store that opened just a few months ago and was surprised to find a very impressive selection of books.  I chose eight, all in practically new condition, and had to stop myself from buying more.  Hooray for finding a new source for books! 

all these almost-new books for only $11!

You will probably be seeing new GIY projects based on tassels, tiebacks and trimmings and/or creative paint finishes before too long. :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Weather Delays and Whimsical Wishes

The weather has been thwarting the completion of my To Do list the past week.

Put up new mailbox
It has snowed three of the last five days
Finish installing new light switches
Don’t want to traipse through the snow to the electrical panel to shut off the power. (I find it odd having the electrical panel on the outside of the house.)
Put new bat decals on my car
It’s too cold to be outside.  Yesterday's high was 10 F (-12 C), and it was -2 F when I was driving home last night.  That’s too cold even for me!
Repair grout in shower
Don’t want to drive in the snow to the home improvement store to buy grout

Luckily, the forecast is for sunny skies and a relatively balmy 40 degrees the next several days.  Maybe I can cross a few tasks off my list... and post something interesting!

In the meantime, a selection of whimsical items I might buy if I were less practical and more filthy rich.

The Florentina Prince Bed from PoshTots can be yours for $6,706!


The Anne Armoire is $7,200 worth of amusing.


This Gothic bookstand from Design Toscano is actually reasonably priced at $199


Love the French Gothic Iron Bed from Victorian Trading Co.  Not so much the $2,795 price.

Black crystal chandelier for $509, anyone?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Theme Post: Outerwear


December's one-day theme at Sophistique Noir is Outerwear.  As one of three people in Colorado who doesn’t engage in outdoor winter sports – the other two being an obsessive gamer who shuns silly things like fresh air in favor of reaching the next level and a woman who has sworn not to set foot outside until she has completed her stop motion animation of the entire collected works of Shakespeare – I don’t have much use for outerwear.  I also get hot easily, further lessening the need.  This is a lucky break for me, because I require Tall sizes, which are sold in limited styles in few stores (all online).  My coat collection is small.

From left to right: black hooded sweatshirt, which is usually all I need for my drive to work; plum color hooded pea coat, which I have worn two or three times; black down parka, which I wear when shoveling snow; black and stripey scarves.  I also have a long wool coat that I wore when working in DC and commuting by Metro (and haven't worn since).


The hall tree is one of the few pieces of furniture I bought new and won't alter.  I spotted it in a clearance section for $159.  It has two barely visible scratches on the mirror, so I asked if I could get a discount. They knocked the price down to $99.  Sweet!  Mad negotiation skills, I have them.  ;-)

Now, to bring this post around to a DIY theme, let's look at an outerwear-related home renovation project (one I do NOT recommend).  It's a good thing I have a nice hall tree because my coat closet is... well, less than optimal.  

Winning second place* for WTF!? Home Renovation is the chimney running through my coat closet.  (Yes, the drywall is as crooked as it looks, and that's water damage from the hole cut through the roof.)  It might not be so bad if the chimney was useful.  But the fireplace sits alone in the unfinished basement, and I’m 107% certain that any attempt to use it would result in my entire house burning to the ground.  Thus the fireplace wins third place for WTF!? Home Renovation.

But let’s look at the bright side.  The closet is the perfect place to store my ironing board.

And there IS an 8" bar in the closet on which I could hang one parka.  So in all fairness, it still qualifies as a coat closet (just not a coats closet).


*First place goes to my laundry "room," which will turn up in a future post eventually.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Office Supplies in Their Natural Habitat

With the addition of the newly gothed office supplies, my office is less barren.  Still needs some artwork on the wall, I think.
I spend too much time in this room
new filigree paper sorter and a bat sticker for the laptop
purple notebook with swirls :)
bulletin board with Badtz Maru pins


Maybe it's silly that the aesthetics of one's office supplies matter, but somehow a "to do" list isn't as unpleasant when written in a pretty notebook.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks for Pets

Pets hold a special place in our hearts.  They make us laugh, they relieve our stress, they love us with loyalty.  They don't judge us, they don't criticize us, they don't lie to us.  They give their affection unconditionally.

Today I give thanks for my dog Bean Sidhe ("banshee").  I got her in March 1998 when she was just eight weeks old.  Much has happened in my life in the 13 years since then.  I have had four different jobs in four different states; driven five different cars and lived in eleven (!) different apartments.  Relationships have come and gone.  Through it all, Bean Sidhe has been the only constant, the one thing I could always rely on.  No matter which job I come home from, or where home is, she is excited to see me every single day.

I am happy to say that other than having a little arthritis which is well controlled by medication, Bean Sidhe is pretty spry for a dog of nearly 14.  She lost her hearing about 18 months ago, but it doesn't seem to negatively impact her life.  (In fact, she now sniffs around the backyard in peace, blithely unaware that the neighbor's dog is barking at her.)

Without further ado, on to the picspam of the aspect of my life for which I am most grateful today.

shooting rubber bands - she holds it with her paw, stretches it with her nose, then lets it fly  :-)
snoozing on the afghan my mom crocheted for me her granddog
(I wish my hair was naturally that glossy black!)




toasting herself by the heater

toasting herself by the fireplace

burrowed into a pillowcase with the pillow
2009; 11 years old and going grey
she used to burrow completely under her blanket; now that she is deaf, she keeps her face out so she can see where I am
despite 13 years of practice, the burrowing isn't always 100% successful ;-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Create a Faux Tin Ceiling with Wallpaper


Cost: $150 for a small room  (with half of the primer, paste and paint still left after the job)
Materials needed:
  • wallpaper primer
  • textured paintable wallpaper
  • wallpaper paste
  • latex paint for base coat
  • metallic paint
  • paint roller with extension handle
  • roller covers
  • paint tray

(Apologies for the lack of step-by-step photos. This project was done pre-blog.)

I love the elaborate ornamentation that was a hallmark of Victorian interior design. Rooms were filled with furniture, windows were swathed in draperies, and walls were covered in a multitude of coordinating wallpapers. Even ceilings could not escape decoration. Elaborate plaster ceilings were found in the homes of wealthy Europeans. In America, tin ceilings were a practical alternative. Tin was stamped and then painted white to resemble plasterwork.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in tin ceilings. There are now many resources for tin or faux tin ceilings, from custom metal to embossed plastic tiles to textured wallpaper. Some are available in multiple colors, including plasterwork white, silvery tin, copper with or without patina, and even black.

For houses sporting the oft-hated "popcorn" ceilings, one route to a decorative faux tin ceiling is covering the popcorn with glue-up polystyrene tiles. The process is easy and does not require one to disturb the popcorn – a very important consideration if it contains asbestos.

Another option is applying textured paintable wallpaper (available online, and the larger home improvement stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot carry a pattern or two in stock).  This requires removal of the popcorn, of course. The removal process is messy but not difficult as long as your ceiling has never been painted.  Paint acts like glue and the texture may be hard to scrape off if the ceiling has been painted.  You might want to test a small patch to see how difficult removal will be.

Assuming you have asbestos-free, never-been-painted popcorn, you can remove it thus:
  1. If possible, empty the room.
  2. Cover any remaining items and the floor with waterproof dropcloths -- globs of wet goo will be falling from the ceiling.
  3. Working in small sections, spray the ceiling with water using a spray bottle or a tank sprayer. Spray enough to wet the popcorn but not soak through to the drywall.
  4. Scrape off the texture material with a wide metal putty knife. Texture that has never been painted should slough off with little effort.
Now your ceiling is free of texture (or maybe you were lucky and had a plain drywall ceiling to begin with!). You can move on to the papering.

1.  Prime the ceiling
Roll on a coat of wallpaper primer. The primer makes it easier to adjust the wallpaper when hanging, and is critical if you ever want to remove the wallpaper without destroying the drywall.

2.  Hang the paper
Tip: Even if your wallpaper is pre-pasted, use paste. By my estimation, rolling on paste is roughly 88 times easier than soaking the paper with water.

DIY Network has a good how-to on papering a ceiling. The photos show only one guy, but I know his helper is there somewhere because no sane person attempts to wallpaper a ceiling by himself. :P

I, however, take the "Y" in GIY too literally sometimes, and I was determined to do this thing all by me onesies. I managed it only because
a. the room is just 9' x 11', so the strips of paper were short enough to manage
b. the bed I made in an earlier project worked perfectly as pair of sturdy platforms to stand on
c. I'm tall and have absurdly long arms, allowing me to reach an 8' ceiling with only a 12" platform
wallpaper applied to ceiling

3.  Paint a base coat
You will get MUCH better results from your metallic paint if you base coat with regular latex paint in a color very close to the metallic.  In fact, I think it would be nearly impossible to get a decent result without a latex base coast.  I used Behr paint in a medium grey called "Porpoise."  It's important to allow several hours (a full day is best) for the wallpaper to dry completely before rolling on the base coat.  If the paste isn't totally dry and set, the moisture from the paint might cause the paper to come loose from the ceiling.

4.  Apply the metallic paint
Allow the base coat to dry completely, then roll on a coat of metallic paint. I used Martha Stewart Precious Metals in "Tin."  Metallic paint has poor coverage and is unforgiving of sloppy technique.  It must be applied evenly, without a lot of overlap, or it will appear streaky.  This is when you will be very happy that you painted a base coat. Repeat with a second coat of metallic paint.
the layers of paint

this photo shows how reflective the metallic finish is
Your faux tin ceiling is complete! I am thrilled with the end result in my room.  It will really look fantastic after the crown molding is installed.