Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lessons in Chic-onomics: Fashion

I’d like to make “Lessons in Chic-onomics” a regular feature on Fiscally Chic. In it, we’ll examine why we spend money and our priorities instead of “do this” and “don't do that.” How you spend your hard-earned money is definitely a personal decision, so this is just an avenue for helping you think about your spending habits. And these aren’t black and white issues. But maybe I can help you save a little money in the process.

OK, so our first lesson in chic-onomics covers clothes! Fall clothing lines are in full-swing and the weather is getting a little cooler in Chicago.  So obviously there’s the temptation to go out and buy all new sweaters, boots, scarves, and coats. But before I go crazy and overhaul my wardrobe, I like to think about the following items:

  1. Why am I buying this? Is this a need or a want?
    • When I moved to Chicago, I obviously needed a new winter jacket since the weather is much colder than St. Louis. On the flip side, I have more scarves than I can shake a stick at. Probably don’t need a new one.
  2. Do I already have something similar in my closet? While out shopping, I find myself drawn to items I already own. This might be great since things will match (see #3 below), but do I really need that many button-down shirts, cardigans, and pencil skirts? Unless I get rid of one, probably not.
    • Take inventory of what you already have and make a list of items that you need to fill out or update your wardrobe.
  3. What will I wear it with? If I can't think of three separate outfits, it might not be right for me.
  4. Do I love it? Not just like it, but really love it and want to wear it every day?
    • Recently I needed a new pair of casual shoes. The overly friendly saleman talked me into buying a pair of shoes that cost double of what I wanted to spend and they didn’t exactly fit my needs. They were cute, but I didn’t looove them. So I returned them. I continued my search and found exactly what I wanted at Gilt and they were under my budget! Score! Actually, they were out of stock, so I did additional searching online and found them for even less ($39!) at (plus free shipping and no tax!). Even better!

5. Does this item fit me now? Do I need to lose weight to fit into this? Or will I have to get it tailored?
6. Are there hidden costs in maintaining my purchase? Like spending money on dry cleaning?
7. How often will I wear it? What is the cost per use?
    • I will happily spend $100+ on a pair of running shoes because I know I'll use them almost daily. For instance, I ran approximately 375 miles in my last pair of shoes which is $0.31 per mile. The silver shoes I recently purchased for a wedding: $30. I've only worn them once, so we're looking at $30 per use. Ouch in comparison to the running shoes 



8. If I’m patient, will it go on sale? Or if I have to have it now and the price goes down, can I get a price adjustment?

In general, I would rather buy higher-quality investment pieces and jazz things up with accessories, be it scarves, jewelry, or flowers. And I rarely buy things full price.

Since I love numbers and equations, here’s a little quiz to help you calculate whether an item is worth buying. I found this quiz in InStyle magazine a few years ago and it hits the nail on the head. (Obviously there are items that don’t follow these rules, such as wedding dresses and suits for interviewing if you work in a casual environment.) Start with a value of 100 and add or subtract as you go:
  • Does it go with more than three things you own? YES (+5); NO (-10)
  • How many seasons can you wear it in? ONE (-5); TWO (+0); THREE (+5); ALL FOUR (+10)
  • Would your boyfriend, boss and glammiest girlfriend all approve? YES (+5); NO (-5)
  • How often will you wear it? OFTEN (+10); SOMETIMES (-10); ONCE (-15)
  • If it’s a clothing item, does it need dry cleaning? YES (-5); NO (+5)
  • Will it transition from day to night? YES (+5); NO (-5)
  • When was it last in style? WHEN WASN’T IT (+10); FALL 1991 (-10)
  • Do you need to lose weight for it to fit? YES (-50); NO (+5)

50 and below – Purchase at your own peril.
50 to 95 – Proceed with caution.
100 to 120 – You love it. It looks great and is a good choice! 
121 and above – Buy one in every color!!

How did you do? Did some of your purchases surprise you? If you need help finding the latest looks for less, I recommend visiting Jill. She finds the best clothes at a fraction of the price!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Photo Booth Art

How was your weekend? I'm starting to taper for the Chicago marathon, so I had a little extra time on my hands. As in I only had to run 12 miles instead of 20 on Sunday. To keep myself from going crazy, I baked an apple pie. If you ask really nicely maybe I'll give you the recipe :)

And I worked on decorating the apartment. Even though we've been in our place for almost a year, there are still things that need to be finished. Like our gallery wall. And organizing the office/spare room. But that one's a different story for a different time. It's nowhere near ready for its close-up yet. Instead, I'll share with you an easy art project that's hanging on the in-process gallery wall.

Step 1: Get an invitation to a wedding where there will be a photo booth.
Alternate Step 1: Find a photo booth in your area.

Step 2: Hop in and take shots with friends and family. (The photographic kind!) If you use an 8X10 frame, you'll need 5 photo strips.

Thorsen Photography
Step 3: Pick up a picture frame from Ikea, Target, or your home store of choice. I used a black 8X10 Ribba frame from Ikea. It was only $5!

Step 4: Use photo splits or tape to stick the strips to the mat.

Step 5: Put your pictures in the frame.

Step 6: Find a spot on the wall and hang your pretty artwork.

Step 7: Sit back and enjoy!

Did you bake anything this weekend? Or maybe finish a project around the house?
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Friday, September 24, 2010

It's a Pesto Fest-o!

And you're invited!

Although it's technically fall, it still feels like summer in Chicago. Like go running in a tank top and get sweaty walking to the L kind of hot. So in honor of the lingering heat and to use up the rest of our basil plants, we made chicken pesto pasta for dinner last night.

We bought these basil plants at the beginning of summer and they've served us quite well. Basil for pesto, in bruschetta, in omelets, on sandwiches, and sprinkled on top of pasta. It's like Bubba talking about shrimp in Forest Gump. Boiled, broiled, baked, coconut shrimp, and on and on. The large plants were from Home Depot (there's also oregano in the bucket) and the smaller ones were from a local farmer at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. I'm not sure what variety they are, but would recommend the Home Depot plants because the leaves are bigger and the plants seemed to grow faster. It probably cost about $15 for all of the plants (HD and Green City), dirt, and the HD bucket. Overall, the plants totally paid for themselves since we enjoyed basil the whole summer.  

Anyways....when it comes to cooking, I follow recipes the first couple of times and then Rachael-Ray-eyeball-it or improvise after that. So I'll give you a good recipe to use and add a few of my twists.

Pesto sauce
Recipe adapted from "Joy of Cooking" 1997 edition
Enough for 1 pound of pasta

-2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, roughly chunked up
-2 medium cloves garlic, peeled (or 4 or 5 if you're a garlic junkie)
-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
-1/3 cup pine nuts

Process to a rough paste in a food processor the basil, half of the cheese, garlic, and the olive oil. Be sure to scrape down the bowl to be sure that everything is incorporated. The pesto should be a thick paste. Add the rest of the cheese, pine nuts, and a little more olive oil if the pesto seems dry. Give everything one last whirl in the food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour over a bowl of pasta, add some grilled chicken, and you have dinner!

-I like my pesto on the chunkier side, so I don't go crazy processing the cheese or pine nuts.
-Use immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
-If freezing, add the nuts and cheese after thawing.
-Pine nuts are super expensive right now due to a worldwide shortage. Therefore, don't break the bank by getting them just for this recipe. You'll survive without them.
-Pine nuts have a lot of oil in them, so be sure to store them in the freezer.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hungry like a Wolf

When we left off I decided to tackle the brutal 20 miler on Saturday afternoon/evening. I'm training for my first marathon, so running 20 miles is kind of a big deal. Ideally, I would have gone out on Sunday (and had Saturday to rest), but the weatherman lied to me and said that it was supposed to rain on Sunday. If you were in Chicago, you would have noticed that it was sunny for most of Sunday. But, whatever. 

No rain! Thanks
Out we went. South on the Lakefront Trail for 10 miles with John encouraging me from his bike and toting gels and Gatorade. (Isn't he awesome!) And then back north 10 miles in the dark. I will admit that it was pretty cool seeing the Chicago skyline all lit up. But this may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Especially the last 2 or 3 miles. Note to future running self: Do not run 35 miles in 3 days. And do not listen to the weatherdude. All I could think about was getting home and eating.

And eat, I did! An amazing turkey burger on a pretzel roll and some veggies. And then some peach yogurt and a cupcake from Molly’s. And a protein bar at 3:15AM. And a three egg omelet for breakfast, and on and on. That's one of the best things about running and training for a marathon. Being able to eat everything! It's like Kevin from "The Office" discussing ultra feast when Pam was pregnant.

I spent Sunday afternoon baking peanut butter oatmeal cookies with Jess. Or rather, I sat on the couch and  chatted about life while she baked. And then she shared homemade macaroni and cheese. It was the perfect end to an awesome weekend!

How was your weekend? Was it relaxing or packed to the brim with activity?
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Not my Typical Weekend

Hi everyone! Sorry for the delayed post. It was a crazy weekend! Highlights included volunteering at the Brown Elephant, bottling beer, running 20 miles (and proceeding to eat everything in sight), and hanging out with Jess. Since there's so much to share (plus photos!) I'll split it into two posts.

Going with the theme of gifting an “experience” rather than stuff, I got John beer making classes for his birthday. Four weeks ago we went to BevArt and started to brew our very own beer. It's an IPA, if you're wondering. That class was about two hours long: the first being an introduction to brewing (sanitation is key!) and the second being actual brewing. The guy at my elbow was our super knowledgeable instructor. He's currently brewing an African beer using bananas.

One of the perks of taking the class is that we were able to use BevArt’s equipment and let everything ferment there. So you can try out brewing without buying all of the equipment or making a mess in your apartment. They also offer wine making classes if that’s more of your style.

Saturday afternoon we bottled our beer, which took less than an hour. They even quick-carbonated some of it so we were able to taste it! Looks like somebody approves :)

We now have 47 bottles of IPA sitting in a corner and patiently waiting 2 weeks for the secondary fermentation to complete. We almost bought a kit to start brewing at home, but they were super busy. John will probably go back in a few weeks to purchase everything and ask all sorts of questions. We’re thinking about making a Christmas Ale since my absolute favorite beer is Great Lakes Brewing Co’s Christmas Ale. Fortunately it's available in Chicago starting around Thanksgiving.

Afterwards, I made the game time decision to run 20 miles to prepare for the Chicago Marathon....

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do You Rue?

Have you heard? The latest and greatest in online shelter mags just hit the virtual newsstand today! A big congrats goes out to all of the Rue gals. I've met Crystal and Alaina in person and they're extremely passionate about Rue, and not to mention quite fashionable.

More shots from the magazine to follow after I've had a chance to really dig in :)
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Raspberry Champagne Cupcakes

I promise this blog won't be all serious, all the time.  So to lighten things up, I thought we'd talk about something a little sweeter. A little pinker. Yes, we're talking about cupcakes!

For my sister-in-law's bachelorette party day, I was in charge of bringing cupcakes. These could either be purchased or baked. Didn't matter. Seeing that I love baking and had some free time, the obvious decision was to bake them. At first, I was all gung ho and thought I would make everything from scratch. The morning of the party. (oops) As the clock was ticking, it was either bake them from scratch and show up late; or play it safe, use a box mix, and arrive at brunch on time.

Box mix won. Though I don't think it mattered. I substituted some sparkling wine for the water in the mix and the cake became light as air. As if every bite was a sip of champagne. And the frosting tasted like raspberry frozen yogurt. Bring these to any event and you'll get an automatic invite for next time.

Raspberry Champagne Cupcakes
Original recipe can be found at Gimme Some Oven

I used white cake mix and followed the recipe on the box except for substituting about 3/4 c of the water for champage/sparkling wine. The original recipe suggested using a champagne on the sweeter side.


  • 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons champagne, at room temperature
  • A few tablespoons of raspberry preserves (with or without seeds, I love Smucker's)
With an electric mixer on low, beat the butter until it starts to get fluffier. Then start adding the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Taste it every time. That way you can make it as sweet as you want and probably won't use as much sugar. Mix on low until well blended, and then on medium for another two minutes.  Add vanilla and champagne, beating on medium for another minute. Add a couple of spoonfuls (to taste) of raspberry preserves.

The additional raspberry preserves may make the frosting a little thinner, so add a little more powdered sugar to thicken things up. If this frosting is too thick, add a little more champagne. 

You can buy the cupcake liners from Bake it Pretty
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Buying Happiness

Before this blog really gets off the ground, I have to set a ground rule. And there's no way to sugar coat it:
Credit card debt is a no-no.
If you can't pay off your credit card bill at the end of the month. Don't buy it! Now, I'm not bad mouthing credit cards in general since I use one. They're convenient and you can earn perks such as cash back, hotel stays, or airline miles. I'm talking about the abuse of credit cards. Are those $100 shoes really worth $120 or $150 dollars when you include the cost of interest? Maybe, but most likely not.

So if you can't have it all, what do you do? You have to make a choice. Think back to high school or college economics class, and please don't have a nightmare. What were some of the first things you learned? Opportunity cost and scarcity. Until you earn more money, the money you have is a scare resource. There are only 24 hours in a day. And you only have so much closet space. Put another way, if I have $75 to spend, I have to choose between a new dress or dinner at the new restaurant in town. Check out Live Creating Yourself every Friday for her debate between purchasing fashion vs. furnishings.

Unfortunately, Americans (and especially Millennials) want what's bigger, better, newer, and faster. And we want it now! Maybe even yesterday. Especially if Ms. Jones has it. Let's work on changing that mentality. Because when you boil it down, will "it" make you happier?

The NY Times had a fantastic article about that very subject recently. Studies have found that people are happier and enjoy their purchases more when they've saved up and planned to buy something long before they buy it. Even better, buying experiences such as vacations or theater tickets can lead to even longer-lasting happiness. Bonus points if you've saved for it. This is because those experiences create memories and you can build stronger relationships with family and friends. Pretty powerful stuff, eh?

Based on personal experience, spending money on a deep sea fishing trip during our honeymoon (happy second anniversary!) was more valuable to me than the dress I bought to wear to my sister-in-law's rehearsal dinner. Why? Because I have some great stories about the mahi mahi and 8.5 foot sailfish we caught.

Personal photo
What about you? Would you rather spend your money on an experience or the new "it" item?
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Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm on a Blog!

Welcome to Fiscally Chic! Let's talk about living simply, living your dreams, and having some fun in the process.

What is Fiscally Chic? Let's check with Webster.
Fiscal: Of or relating to financial matters.
Chic: Smart elegance and sophistication especially of dress or manner.
Put those together and we'll talk about saving money with style and living life to the fullest. In other words, let's make saving up for that vacation to Europe, new home, or starting a business a little less boring and a little more chic.

And who am I? I'm Cathy, an accountant and lover of cupcakes, running, nesting, and my hubs. This blog was born out of my Midwest sensibilities, the thrill of a good bargain, and helping others. My Mom always bought things on sale and preached about quality over quantity. Business is in my blood and my favorite board game growing up was Monopoly. I could be found inventorying my Halloween candy after trick or treating. And my goldfish in college were named FIFO and LIFO. Are you geeked out yet? No? Then let's learn to become fiscally chic!

Personal photo from Talia

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