The joys of moving, and learning something new

As I alluded to earlier this week, I recently moved into a new apartment! It’s the perfect change for me right now, and I couldn’t be happier.

However, that did mean a lot of moving, packing, and figuring out what was mine. I’d lived in my previous place for almost 4 years and the amount of stuff that accumulated…my god. I was very lucky that prior roommates (here’s looking at you, Dee) had left things behind for me to keep so I didn’t have to buy a ton of new stuff. Like the bathmat! Always need one of those. And the TV stand, and some art! Score. But it did mean that condensing a 2BR apartment’s worth of stuff into a 0BR apartment’s worth of space was a bit challenging. Plus, some random items turned up that no one is claiming: a huge container of bleach? A sock? Lots and lots and lots of empty mason jars???

Oh wait…the mason jars are mine.

Anyway, one of the lucky items that I got to take with me from the old apartment to the new was the shower curtain. Who wants to buy a new one? Not this girl. I’m all about thrifty reducing, reusing, and recycling. However, the clear plastic shower curtain liner was not looking happy. Luckily we didn’t have mold or mildew problems, but it was covered in soap scum. Gross. So, I scoured the internet to find ways to clean a shower curtain liner and came up with…

Put it in the washing machine.

At first I was all like, “whaaaaaat?” And then I was like “hmmmmm.” And then I was like, “why the hell not.” So I tried it, and it worked! I unfortunately don’t have before and after pictures, but you’ll have to trust me. Here are the steps:

  1. Take the shower curtain liner off of the rod and remove any hooks.
  2. Find some towels or sheets that also need to be washed.
  3. Start your washing machine on the cold/delicates cycle. Very important.
  4. Add detergent (I used a little less than I normally do). Let the washing machine run for a minute or to to let the water fill up. Note: I live in a building with top-loading washers but I’m sure this will work just as well with front-loading – perhaps even better.
  5. Add another item first, then the shower curtain liner, then the rest of the items. Close the lid and let the machine do its magic.
  6. When the cycle is done, take the shower curtain liner out and hang it back up to dry in your shower. Do not put it in the dryer. The heat will melt it.

My liner doesn’t look 100% brand-new, but all of the soap scum is gone. Magic. I know shower curtain liners only cost about $5 but this load of laundry cost me way less than that, plus I saved money by not going to Target and getting distracted and buying ALL THE THINGS.

See? Learn something new every day. Happy Friday!

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Update on 2013 Money-Saving

At the beginning of the new year, I wrote a post about 25 ways to save money in 2013. We’re almost in mid-February now, and it’s a good time to check in on progress. How are you doing? Is your savings goal still relevant? What tips are working well and which ones seem too hard to keep up? I’ll share my own successes and failures…

I resisted the online shopping sales by auto-sorting all of my emails from J. Crew, Banana, and Ann Taylor into my archive folder. Success!

I’ve been unable to stick to just one drink at happy hour…but I was able to stick to only two on multiple occasions. Partial success.

I haven’t used any coupons. Failure.

I had to adjust my savings goal down to be more modest. I have a new housing situation which requires a bigger rent budget, so I won’t be able to save as much money as I thought I would this year. On the other hand, I am being realistic and adjusted my goal as appropriate. So…partial failure.

I cancelled a zipcar reservation and decided to walk the two miles to a real estate workshop. Success! (Saved $40, plus free exercise!).

I haven’t created a travel budget yet, and I’m dreading it. There are so many places I want to go, and this year I want to be adventurous and spontaneous! Plus I have a lot of vacation time (almost 6 weeks) and I want to put it to good use. Failure.

I regularly g-chat JJ to talk about saving, which has helped me to keep saving top-of-mind and get inspired. Success!

I’m encouraged by my successes so far, and I feel pretty good that I’ve made it to February and still have all of this momentum to save. How’s the saving going for you?

Big Curled Hair How-To

How to: Big Curly Hair | Arlington Darling

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my hair (aren’t we all?). It’s either straightened and long, or pulled back into a smooth, chic ponytail. I occasionally vary my look and do a high teased bun, but rarely.

So I surprised myself the other day when I dusted off my curling iron and without further ado (and without watching any youtube hair how-to tutorials), I started curling my hair. The only thing guiding me was the voice of my BFF JJ, repeating in my head: “curl the curls away from your face.” I’ve been watching the girl curl her own hair since high school, so she knows what she’s talking about.

My result is in the two images on the right.

I don’t have a fancy technique, I just recommend getting in there with your tools and figuring what works for your hair. I’ve done it about five times now, for special weekend occasions (a.k.a. going out to bars – no inaugural balls or anything). I don’t do this look for work – it’s too Brigitte Bardot for daytime. Here are my tips:How to: Big Curly Hair | Arlington Darling

  1. Start with clean, damp hair.
  2. Blowdry your hair upside down. I never use a hairbrush when blowdrying because I don’t think you need it, and you definitely don’t for this hairstyle. Blowdrying upside down gives you the volume needed to pull this look off.
  3. Use a straightener (if your hair is curly) to tame any flyaways close to your hairline that you won’t be able to reach with the curling iron.
  4. Use a big-barreled iron (mine is 1″) and make sure it is hot!
  5. Section your hair into two big bunches with a clip, a top section and a bottom section.
  6. Using the iron, curl sections of your hair (anywhere from 1-3 inch sections work best on my hair), curling upward and outward with the iron. Hmm, how to explain that better? Must…use…my…words… Okay. Position the iron onto a section of hair so that the barrel is on the outside (the hair is between the iron and your head). Clamp the very end of the hair, then roll the iron upwards around the section, in a motion toward your head. This is opposed to rolling it under. Does that make any sense? How do the youtube hair girls explain this? I guess they have a youtube channel so they can just show you. That’s smart of them.
  7. After you curl each section, set it with hairspray. I’m a Jersey girl so I cannot stress the importance of this part enough.
  8. I always leave the face framing pieces until last because they need to be the best. As JJ says, make sure you position the iron so that the curls curl away from your face (Using the same motion that I described in #6 except by now I hope you understood what the heck I was trying to describe. This is why I start with the bottom  underneath sections…).
  9. Hairspray your whole head, and then hairspray it upside down. Then flip! Then hairspray it again! And then fluff!
  10. Be fabulous.

Recipe: Extra-Yummy Chocolate Box Cake

As you all know by now, I’m a lady of convenience. Yes, I like fresh food and yes, I try to be healthy, but sometimes there’s nothing better than opening up a box of packaged food, adding one or two ingredients, heating it up, and calling it a day.

Martha Stewart I am not.

So when my cousin asked me to bring a dessert for Christmas dinner, I wanted to make something special for my family, but easy. So! I took a box of chocolate cake mix and jazzed it up a bit (it was for Christmas, after all – can’t just serve regular ol’ boxed cake! I do have some standards).

Extra-Yummy Chocolate Cake | Arlington DarlingIngredients:
1 box of dark chocolate cake mix (like Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker)
Ingredients to make a boxed cake mix (usually 3 eggs, 1/3 cup oil, and 1/4 cup water)
Butter
Milk

To Make:
1. Empty the dry cake mix into a bowl.
2. Add the usual number of eggs.
3. Substitute half of the oil with melted butter (so if the box calls for 1/3 cup of oil, do 1/6 cup of oil and 1/6 cup of melted butter).
4. Substitute milk for water (so if the box calls for 1/4 cup of water, use 1/4 cup of milk instead).
5. Mix together until blended well (use a hand mixer for a fluffier texture).
6. Bake according to box directions.

I think it tasted much richer than boxed cake usually does and it had a nice gooey quality. As you can see from the picture above, I then frosted it using about a can and a half of regular vanilla frosting and added some festive Christmas sprinkles. Whatever floats your boat. I also used a bundt pan which added to the festive-ness.

No one in my family asked if I had made it from scratch, so I guess I wasn’t truly fooling anyone, but… after all was said and done about half of the cake was eaten so I think that’s quite an accomplishment. Definitely making my boxed cakes this way from now on.

25 Realistic Ways to Save in 2013

I get frustrated by common money-saving tips such as “brew your own coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks every day.” Umm, duh. Okay. However, I don’t even drink coffee! So… how does that help me?

So my friends JJ and JJ (sisters) and I decided that we needed a list that fit our lifestyles. Although we’re all pretty good with money, we want big things from 2013 and beyond, and so each of us has motivation to amp up our savings goals. We each have slightly different housing circumstances, incomes, spending habits, and goals, but generally we are pretty similar and together we came up with these 25 ways to save money in 2013.

Now, I’ll preface this list by saying that not all of these items are attainable every day, and some may not be applicable to you. You have to be smart and pick and choose the ones that will work for you and give you the maximum impact — and be okay with not following them religiously all of the time! I can’t cut out 100% of online shopping; it doesn’t make any sense for me to blindly do that. But I am going to think twice before buying things online. And remember: I’m not a financial expert, and nothing in this list is rocket science. It’s all pretty common-sense. But I’m hoping this will work for me this year. It has so far!

Here we go:

  1. Stop unnecessary clothes shopping. Ask yourself, is this an item that I current don’t have and that I truly need? Example: I have been wanting some high-quality ankle-length running pants (like Lulu Lemon’s) for a while. But I currently have some older pants that I can run in so I’m not going to buy new ones.
  2. Only get one drink when you go out and are paying. (Or alternatively, bring a flask! JJ’s idea, not mine haha.) This one will help save calories, too. Obviously there are rough days at work that will require more than one drink, but hopefully this year they’ll be few and far between ;).
  3. Get rid of memberships/subscriptions. I enjoyed my PopSugar Must Have boxes for a while, but were they really worth $35 a month? Ask yourself that hard question. If you still need a treat, go for something you actively purchase on your own – it won’t cost as much and you’ll have more control over when and how often you indulge.
  4. Practice mindful grocery shopping. There is a Trader Joe’s on my way home from work, and I’ve stopped countless times to grab random items just because I was hungry and they looked tasty – blocks of cheese, gourmet crackers, etc. No more! Make a list and go only when you need items for a healthy meal.
  5. Limit eating out (including lunch at work). This one is so hard, because eating out often equates to time with friends. And there are so many delicious restaurants to try. Instead, offer to cook, host a potluck, or go somewhere cheaper. But don’t cut this out entirely or you’ll feel deprived and boring. The exception is if you currently go out for lunch every day — definitely stop doing that, it’s a big money waster.
  6. Reduce treating others while out. It feels great to be generous, but it’s completely acceptable to also be honest about what you and everyone else at the table owes. If you split a $50 item or meal with a friend, don’t just accept her casually thrown $20 — ask her politely for her fair share.
  7. Create travel budget and stick to it. Gas money and train tickets add up quick! As ladies who frequently travel between DC and NYC, this one gets the JJs and I pretty hard. Try and plan in advance — even if you don’t know when you’ll be going, set aside the money for the trip so that you can make sure to save up for it.
  8. Don’t pay full price. Shop the sales if you need something! Just don’t go overboard. Wait until the item you need (yes, need) goes on sale, and then buy.
  9. Cut and use coupons. I’ll expand on this in #18, but only use coupons for things you were already planning on buying.
  10. Have manicure/pedicure parties. The ones from a salon are great and very relaxing, but they’re such an expensive luxury. Treat yourself at home. Example: I never used to paint my nails and just got into it about a year ago. Now, I do them once a week myself and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Plus you can change the color more often since they chip after a few days (could be a negative but you liked how I turned that one into a positive, right? ;)). Could also be fun to invite friends over to do each others’ nails.
  11. Put off waxing unless you have a special date. Ummm… I’ll let this one speak for itself. Desperate times call for desperate measures, ladies.
  12. Limit online shopping. This goes hand-in-hand with #22. Example: to do this I set my Gmail account to automatically archive the sale emails from my favorite stores so that I’m not tempted. Spending money online is too easy. Make it harder for yourself.
  13. Drink coffee from home. If a friend wants to meet up for Starbucks, invite them over instead. Or suggest meeting across the street from Starbucks in the park (assuming the weather is nice), and bring your own coffee or tea in a travel mug.
  14. Have low cost/free date nights. Easier said than done, but try.
  15. Lower/set gift budgets and stick to them. While it’s satisfying to buy your mom the perfect present, even if it is $74.99, if your budget is $40 then stick to it. Shop early so you can find exactly what she’ll love and you’ll still have plenty of time before the holiday/birthday/anniversary to get it on sale (see #8).
  16. Set a savings goal. This one is critical! I should really move it up to the top. Example: Until I asked myself what I was saving for, saving was nearly meaningless for me. I wasn’t motivated. But my goal this year is $10,000 toward a future down payment on my own place — don’t get all excited, it’s not happening any time soon. But I really want my own home…so every time I make a purchase this year, I’m really asking myself: “Is this purchase more important to me than my goal?”
  17. Ask people for cash/visa gift cards instead of gifts at holidays. Yes, this one’s a little boring. But if you’re serious about saving, ask for cash or Visa gift cards at holidays, birthdays, and major life events. Then, put them immediately into the bank. Don’t ask for regular store gift cards unless the store sells your necessities (Target, the grocery store, CVS) — otherwise you’ll be tempted to go into the store and buy more than the gift card value.
  18. Don’t buy Groupons or Living Social deals unless you were already planning on doing it. Like #9, only buy Groupons or Living Social deals that you would already use anyway. They’re fine for the occasional getaway or special event that you can do with your friends, but don’t get sucked in (“hey, only $80 for skydiving!”) unless it is truly something you would have done at full price.
  19. Don’t host parties – host potlucks or BYOBs instead. If you like to entertain (or you’re trying out #5), host a potluck. Themed ones are great since they encourage people to get creative. And if you’re having a party with alcohol, don’t be shy about asking folks to bring their favorite beverage to share.
  20. Save any bonuses or raises, or use them to pay debt. If you get a raise at work, treat yourself once as a reward for your hard work, but then put the extra cash each month directly into savings. Example: My company paid out some of my vacation days at the end of 2012 due to a change in our leave policy, and it felt so good to achieve a % of my savings goal just by moving the entire amount en masse to my savings account.
  21. Try to drive less, take fewer taxis, carpool, and get reimbursed from work when you can. This tip covers many life areas: health, environment, and wallet. Example: I’m often tempted to take a taxi home when I’m out late at night, but for $15 less and 15-30 minutes extra, I can take public transportation just as easily. To make public transportation more palatable I always bring my ipod or my Nook to keep me entertained.
  22. Pay for things in cash to be more mindful. This tip is a pretty common one, but we all know that it varies in practicality. But it can work in mysterious ways — for example, I often feel too lazy to make a separate trip to the ATM, so if I am about to buy something that will eat up a large portion of the cash in my wallet, I might skip it just so I don’t have to go to the ATM again! I know, that’s horrible and so lazy. But it also helps to save the money that’s in my wallet.
  23. Have regular check-ins with a financial buddy. Talking with someone can help you identify areas for improvement, discuss financial decisions, and celebrate reaching your savings goals. In other words, accountability! Example: I’ve been gchatting with JJ every few days to tell her about what I’ve abstained from buying.
  24. Keep a diary. A service such as mint.com is good, but you could also go old school with a journal or a spreadsheet. Once you see you’ve been dropping $150 on bars a week, you’ll have a better idea of where you can save.
  25. Review monthly spending and see where you could have cut expenses. This one is great for improving month over month. If you split your goal into smaller pieces (example: my $10,000 goal is $833 each month), you can review as you go and make small adjustments to ensure you reach your goal instead of falling behind.

What do you do to save money? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!