Friday, April 29, 2011

House and Birthday Weekend!

The moment has finally arrived! We're closing on our house today! John and I are all sorts of nervous and excited. Nervous since this is the biggest purchase of our lives. And excited because we're buying a HOUSE! With a yard! And a basement! You better believe that when we get the keys, we're driving straight to the house to take pictures and drop off a few things.

And then we're going out to celebrate! Not just for buying a house, but also because it's my BIRTHDAY on Sunday :) The restaurant is a surprise, so who knows if cupcakes or champagne will be involved.

What's on my 27th birthday wishlist? A house is a pretty awesome present. This necklace would be nice. Or a few pretty things for the house. Either way, I'm looking forward to a fun weekend with family and friends.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Friday's Fancies!

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lessons of a Student-Athlete (I'm Famous!)

I have some super exciting news to share with you! As some of you know, I was on the women's swim team at Saint Louis University (SLU). SLU recently started a Sports Business Concentration program and interviewed a number a student-athlete alumni for the business school's alumni magazine, Shareholder....including me! We were asked about how competing in athletics at SLU has influenced our lives. The story was written by John Gilmore.

One of the biggest takeaways from being a collegiate student-athlete was learning to set priorities and improve my time management skills. Plus, I had to let go of being a perfectionist, which is still a work in process. At the start of each season, I’d have a goal in mind. It could have been to set a new personal record or achieve a certain grade in a class. School was my number one priority, so I wouldn’t beat myself if my swimming times were a little slower than I wanted. And since I wanted to compete in swimming throughout college and still have a life, I wouldn’t drive myself crazy if I didn’t get an A+ on every paper or test.

I also learned about the real life application of the 80/20 rule. In school, I noticed that when writing a paper, I could get 80 percent of the way there in 20 percent of the time. The remaining 80 percent of my time spent on the paper would be for minor details that wouldn’t make a significant difference in my overall performance. Sound familiar while drafting a blog post?

You can read the rest of the article and Spring 2011 issue here. And thanks again to SLU for asking me to be a part of article!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Think of the Savings - Cell Phone Edition

Or "What would you do with $50?"

On Monday morning, my cell phone met its untimely death. It decided I had dropped it one too many times. When I opened the cover later in the day, it snapped right off. Fortunately, my two-year contract was up at the beginning of April. So I don't have to pay an arm and a leg more for a new phone. Just an arm and two years.

I stopped by the nearest Verizon store after work to see the current cell phone offerings. Yes, I said "cell phone." Not "smart phone." Since I sit in front of a computer all day and have the Internet at home, there's no need for me to be tethered to my phone for my short commute or on the weekends. Sometimes it's nice to disconnect.

Plus, I had to think of the savings. Even if the phones were the exact same price, I'd be paying $30/month more for the data plan and I don't need a third "computer." If I want to access the Internet on a cell phone, it's only $10/month (about a half hour a day for the whole month). Yes, I would have to pay retail if I want to switch to a smart phone before 20 months, but the savings from not having a data plan should offset the increase. Plus, the price of electronics tends to decrease over time as their use becomes more prevalent.

So I stuck with my basic phone. And this is where things get especially interesting.

From Verizon
At the Verizon store, I settled on the Pantech Crux. It looks like a smart phone, but is a cell phone. After rebate, it should only be $50. Not too bad. But they don't sell that phone in the store. Verizon would order it for me and have it shipped two days later. Not a problem since I can still text and use the speakerphone.

When I got home and showed John the phone on the Verizon website, I see that the phone is FREE. WHAT?!?! It's as if the Verizon store ordered the phone online, shipped the phone to me, and pocketed $50. I could possibly understand paying a little more in the store for the convenience of walking out with a phone, but having to wait the same amount of time seems a little absurd.

So I called the store and then customer service to see if I could get a price adjustment. At first, things seemed futile. Even though I called about one hour after leaving the store, my order had already been processed so there was no way to cancel it. Thanks to some careful working by customer service (I didn't catch her name, but thank you Verizon Wireless customer service lady!), we're going to try a new strategy. I'll let you know how things work out. Hopefully I don't wind up with a Zach Morris phone!

To be continued...
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Synergy and Carrot Cake

I think "synergy" is one of the most overused and overrated corporate buzz words. But when used in the context of cooking or baking, I'm quick to oblige. For example, take this carrot cake I baked for Easter. I generally don't like raw carrots or raisins. And cream cheese frosting is just OK on a red velvet cake. However, bake everything into a carrot cake, and I'm all over it. About three years ago, I had a piece of carrot cake in Springfield, IL at Cafe Moxo that I still think about. I sat there dissecting the flavors, trying to figure out why that cake was so special. My conclusion was all the extra "stuff." Coconut and pineapple being the silent stars.

And then I saw Lauren's family carrot cake recipe on Health on the Run. It has all sorts of extras: pineapple, coconut, raisins, and walnuts. I had to try it! I figured Easter would be the perfect event. Easter bunnies like carrots, so I'm sure they wouldn't pass on carrot cake. Plus, it was recently my Nana's birthday and she really enjoyed carrot cake.

The verdict? This cake was extremely moist and perhaps one of the best carrot cakes I've ever had. Even John liked it. And he doesn't generally like shredded coconut or cream cheese frosting. I don't want to post the recipe here since this is Lauren's family recipe. If you want to make your own amazing carrot cake, swing by Health on the Run.

In home news, Friday's final walkthrough went well. Everything from the home inspection was fixed. And it turns out there are some plants growing near the house. I can't wait to see what they are.

How was your weekend?
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Friday, April 22, 2011

If We Celebrated Easter Near the Beach

Would you mind indulging me in one more non-finance related post? Pretty please? Thanks! Easter is this Sunday and I've been trying to figure out what to wear. From the looks of it, I'm wishing it was about 30 degrees warmer. And that I could be magically transported to a Church near a sandy beach. In reality, it should be in the 50's this weekend. So I'm sure my actual outfit will involve a cardigan. You can see more inspiring looks at Friday's Fancies, hosted by {Long Distance Loving}. Thanks for inviting me, {av}!

If you'd rather hear about non-fashion things, we have our final walkthrough of the house this afternoon! Our agent said that all of the repairs have been completed, so we'll be double-checking things. I haven't been to the house in a couple months, so this will be a nice little reunion. We also plan on bringing a tape measure to measure doors, rooms, and windows. Which means we're one step closer to decorating! The actual closing is next Friday, so I'll be practicing my signature until then.

What are you doing this weekend? We're spending Easter in Chicago with John's family. And I plan on baking a carrot cake.

(Dress, Belt, Flower necklace, Ring, Earrings, Clutch, Shoes)
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flowers = Happy

I was thinking about writing a serious post, but this crummy weather has me in the grumps. One good remedy for that is a post about happy and pretty things. Like this table I designed over the weekend :)

In addition to my fabric buying extravaganza on Saturday, I made a quick field trip to Trader Joe's. Picked up a few things for dinner of portobello mushrooms, tofu sausage, and pasta in a white wine sauce as well as two dozen flowers ($10). One dozen pink ranunculus and one dozen white tulips. Chicago has been unseasonably cold (it even snowed on Monday!) so flowers are a nice reminder that it's actually Spring.

Plus, Easter is right around the corner. I could see this table working well for an Easter or Mother's Day brunch. Bring out your nice china or even mismatched plates for a more casual look. We'll be spending Easter with John's family, so we've been enjoying the flowers during breakfasts and dinners.

The runner is a folded tablecloth from Crate and Barrel and no longer available online. I purchased it from the Outlet for $60. It's probably twice as large as this table, so I might cut it down and use the remaining fabric for something else. Or maybe we'll get a larger table....haha! The white vases were picked up from Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul for $1 or $2 each. The blue vase is from Ikea ($5) and the mason jar once held salsa. Wine glasses, napkins and silverware are also from Crate and Barrel. Can you tell that we registered there?

I hope everything is going well for you. Hopefully the weather is a little better where you're at. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. That also adds some sparkle to my day.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

Pillow Fight!

Before I jump into some recent weekend excitement, I thought I'd share a short recap of the St. Louis half marathon. As I said before, this race was just for fun and to motivate me to stay active during the winter and my busy time at work. The time wasn't spectacular for me (2:11:33), but we had fun and were able to see friends and family. The race course in St. Louis is still hillier than I remember or maybe it felt that way because Chicago is pretty flat. John and I ran (and walked) the whole race together, which made things interesting. He wanted to go faster while I was struggling to keep up. We fell into a rhythm around mile 10 and even picked up the pace at the end. That's us after we recovered after finishing. A big thanks to everyone that volunteered and cheered for the runners!

Another plus of seeing my parents in St. Louis was that my Mom brought her sewing machine for me. With the new house (we've been cleared to close!), we'll need drapery and other nesting-type things. I'm excited for more pillows, but John would rather have me focus on drapes or a shower curtain for our second bathroom. We'll see...

While John was having a dude's day on Saturday, I decided to take a field trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics. It may have been a while since I looked at fabric, or maybe I wasn't looking hard the last time, but seriously....their fabric selection has vastly improved! No more stuffy, boring fabric! I wanted to buy the whole store! I only walked out with 5 yards (plus 4 yards from Crate and Barrel Outlet), some zippers, and supplies. Maybe the sewing machine was a bad idea...haha.

I haven't used any of the new fabric yet, but I did sew a pillow I've been meaning to make for about a year. Here she is! With a zipper! And you'll see that she nicely coordinates with a pillow I made from Orla Kiely fabric.
And what will I be doing with those 9 yards of fabric? Some might be used in the new house. I'm also considering whipping up a few pillow covers and selling them on Etsy. John's definitely hoping for option two. Though maybe I can convince him otherwise if there'll be a giant pillow fight :)

Where are you on the pillow fight continuum? Necessary or superfluous?
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Think of the Savings - Part 2

To continue with my unofficial St. Louis-themed week, I thought I'd share some money saving tips I picked up in college. The ideas weren't particularly obvious at the time and come from likely and unlikely sources.

Rethink gifts
My college swim coach was full of entertaining stories. He is a former American record holder and apparently beat Ms. Pac-Man. He also really enjoying saving money. This included driving across the country well below the speed limit to maximize the miles per gallon on his car. As a younger coach, his club swimmers would give him gifts for Christmas and his birthday. Instead of cookies or mugs, he asked for practical things. This may have been laundry detergent, socks, or whatever he needed. Since someone else was picking up the tab, he could save the money he would have spent on socks.

My version:
There have been times that I can't think of anything I really want for Christmas or my birthday. Maybe clothing styles didn't seem very exciting, but I knew there were things I need or would have to purchase in the future. I asked for those items as presents. For example, I buy running shoes approximately twice a year. So I asked for a gift card to a running store. That meant I could free up a little extra money for the down payment. And the gift giver knew the gift was appreciated and wouldn't be returned.

From Etsy seller cj prints

Lay off the spending
This tip is getting a little more publicity these days, but it didn't occur to me a few years back. The former dean of the business school didn't buy anything (except for necessities) for a year. No new jeans unless they were beyond repair. No frivolous trips to the mall. No new electronics. He learned that excessive material possessions don't make you happier. And his life was less cluttered.

My version:
This tip could go many ways, and it doesn't have to go to the extreme of one year of no spending. You could cut out shopping for a month. Perhaps abstain from meat once or twice a week. PBJ sandwiches are even cheaper than a brown bagged turkey sandwich. Not counting the STL race shirt that came with my race entry, the last item of clothing I bought was a pair of shoes from Nordstom Rack, using a Groupon, in December. And of course the money I would have spent is now sitting in savings.

Who taught you an unexpected money tip?

(PS - Have you voted yet?)
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Unfiltered Beer Review - Urban Chestnut

Hi, everybody! Hope your week's off to a nice start. I'm still a little sore from the half marathon, but don't have any major pain. All things considered, we did pretty well, finishing in 2:11. Since I don't have any pictures from the race yet (they're on my parents' phones), I'm left with sharing another highlight of the weekend. Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, one of the newest breweries in St. Louis.

It's no surprise that I like a craft beer. Urban Chestnut isn't just a craft brewery by definition (small, independent, and traditional). It's a craft brewery. In my definition, a craft brewery also makes darn good beer. Beer that uses traditional ingredients and is also innovative.

It's like the guys at Urban Chestnut read my mind. (PS - They both came from Anheuser Busch, with the brewmaster being from Germany). Their brewing philosophy is called "Beer Divergency." "A 'new world meets old world’ brewing approach." Their beer list is split between Revolution (artisanal American) and Reverence (traditional European-style) beers. The accountant in me loves the balance of it.

John enjoyed the Wasandis (in the stein) from the Revolution series. It's an unfiltered pilsner with a good dose of hops. I had the Schnickelfritz (in the pilsner glass) from the Reverence side of the list. It's a Bavarian white/wheat beer with yeast that offers clove, nutmeg or even vanilla and/or banana-like aromas and flavors. We also shared the pretzel plate. Maybe I'm biased, but I enjoyed my drink the best. And I may or may not have picked it based on its name.

A nice little perk of Urban Chestnut is the free sample tastings, which we'll probably take advantage of the next time around. We stopped by on Saturday afternoon and the race was Sunday morning. Though a bartender was nice enough to give me a second smaller glass of the Schnickelfritz since my pour was from the bottom of the keg. Notice how the beer in the smaller glass is clearer. The beer in the larger glass is cloudier because of some extra sediment. I knew that the Schnickelfritz was unfiltered, so this was an unexpected and appreciated gesture. Either way, I wasn't complaining about my beer smoothie.

Urban Chestnut isn't available in stores yet, but you can buy growlers of malty or hoppy goodness at the brewery. For those of you in St. Louis that can't make it to Midtown (3229 Washington Avenue), Urban Chestnut is starting to offer draught distribution to St. Louis, MO area bars and restaurants.

We'll definitley be back to Urban Chestnut in the summer to enjoy more tasty beer and their upcoming biergarten.
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Looking Forward to the Weekend

Update: Voting is open! Vote for me (Cathy D - Fiscally Chic) at Makeunder My Life.

Happy Friday! I'm sure many of you have seen the YouTube video of Rebecca Black's "Friday" by now, but have you seen some of the spoofs? The best is Stephen Colbert on "Jimmy Fallon Live." It's too funny!

The weather isn't very Friday-appropriate in Chicago. It's cold and foggy. To bust through the dreariness, I created a spring flower-inspired outfit for Jess LC's "Design Your Look" challenge. We were asked to create a collage with our favorite spring clothing and accessories, plus two pieces of Jess LC jewelry. The winner will receive two pieces of Jess LC jewerly and $200 towards the outfit. Sign me up! Voting starts on April 11.

Hope everyone has some fun, fun, fun, fun this weekend!

(Shirt, skirt, shoes, clutch, necklace, bracelet)
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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Think of the Savings - Part 1

Over the weekend, I was talking with a friend about the status of our house. When discussing mortgages and down payments, she asked in amazement, "How did you save all of that?" It's a valid question since Chicago has a higher cost of living and we're putting down 20%. The short answer is that we're savers and that we're very fortunate. John and I are extremely fortunate that we don't have any student loans. So a huge "thank you" goes out to our very generous and fiscally chic parents. Plus, scholarships paid for some of our college education.

We're also lucky that this is home buyer's market. Home prices in the Chicago area hit a new low in December 2010 since the market’s peak in 2006, falling 30 percent as compared to March 2002. Mortgage rates are at a 60 year low. To put things in perspective, our 30 year fixed mortgage is at 4.875%. My Mom said the lowest rate they ever got was 7%. Plus, we're only buying as much house as we want and need. We could afford a larger or more expensive home, but have no desire for that. A smaller house leads to a smaller mortgage, smaller down payment, and smaller monthly payment.

As for being savers, we like to "think of the savings." John may have coined the phrase, but it's been mastered by one of John's close friends from college. He likes to wave his arms emphatically when "thinking of the savings." In order to protect the innocent, he'll remain anonymous. Though I couldn't resist posting his picture from one of John's Nerd Parties.

Stay tuned for more ways to "Think of the Savings."
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Monday, April 4, 2011

Blinded by the Light

Hi, friends! I've finally emerged from the rock I've been hiding under for the last week (hence being blinded). Did you miss me? I missed you. To ease back into blogging here's a quick round-up of what's gone on since we last chatted:

Our loan has been approved (YAY!!) and we've increased our earnest money payment to 10% of the purchase price. Basically, we put down a small amount when we made an offer on the house to show the seller that we were serious and interested. If we walked away from the house, the seller would get the money. If the offer wasn't accepted or a contract wasn't finalized, we would get that money back.

Another sneak peak: the argyle garage
Since the offer was accepted, we entered the attorney review period. The attorneys reviewed the contract and we hashed out the details of how home inspection issues would be addressed and remedied. In our case, the seller has agreed to fix everything we requested from the home inspection (none were serious safety concerns). Five days after the attorney review period, earnest money needs to be increased to 10%. The increase in earnest money provides the seller with additional security and assurance that we will buy the house. And rightfully so, 10% is a lot of money for John and I to walk away from! Fortunately, all of our earnest money go towards our final down payment of 20%.

What else is up?

I bought a case of apple cinnamon Carb BOOM! energy gels for long runs and upcoming half marathons. I've tried different brands and flavors and this is my favorite. It tastes like apple pie filling :) Plus, the St. Louis half marathon is next weekend and I ran 10 miles with Jess on Saturday. I registered for STL to stay active during the winter, so I'm not planning on a super time. And I haven't really tapered. I'm going to run the Cleveland half marathon in May and plan to taper then.

Stephanie and I met up for coffee and breakfast at Floriole. The quiche and latte were great and the conversation was even better! She lent me "The Happiness Project" recently and I've really enjoyed reading it. Have you read it? Gretchen Rubin makes monthly resolutions and tries all sorts of different ways to increase her happiness. One thing she did was start a blog because research shows that novelty and challenge make people happier.

Maintaining a blog can definitely be a challenge, but I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences. Plus, I get to meet new friends and "hang out" with all of you. Why did you start blogging?
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