Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Time for the Financial Blogger Conference!

Green Tourmaline earrings, Michael Kors watch, J. Crew tweed loafers, J. Crew Factory tweed blazer and belt, Emersonmade blouse, Gap jeans, Jess LC iPad case, Apple iPad

As you may remember from a while back, there's a financial blogger conference being held in Chicago. Well, kids, this weekend is the weekend! There's a welcome reception on Friday, with events and sessions all day Saturday and part of Sunday. I seriously can't wait! That's why this week's Friday's Fancies is along the lines of casual business casual. I was thinking about an outfit that is professional, comfortable, and shows a bit of my style. And I would love to have an iPad (plus Jess LC's iPad case!) to take notes from the speakers, but I don't think that's in the cards.

Back to the conference, my brain is about to explode with excitement! I'm looking forward to meeting other bloggers; learning about blogging, monitization, and promotions; and having all sorts of fun! I'll be sure to share new ideas and thoughts when I'm back next week.

If you're just visiting Fiscally Chic for the first time, welcome! This is where I blog about "saving money with style" two or three times a week. I also post recipes, talk about running, and share other things that inspire me. We just bought a house, so decorating and home-related things seem to be the theme du jour. If this is your first time here, I encourage you to make yourself at home and take a look around. Here's a little more about me and about Fiscally Chic. If you're looking for the cupcakes, they hang out with the other recipes.

Friday's are devoted to dreaming big with a Friday's Fancies post, as hosted by {long distance loving}.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mac and Cheese Weather

A change in seasons inevitably leads to a change in meals. Once Fall rolls around, I tend to crave warmer, comfort foods like soups (especially French onion!), chili, and mac and cheese. And anything baked with apples, cinnamon, or pumpkin.

Sage is also a quintessential Fall flavor. Since our sage plant is still going strong, I've been looking for recipes with sage.

Luckily, the October 2011 issue of Better Homes & Gardens had a recipe for Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. John isn't a huge pumpkin fan, so I used the recipe as a jumping off point for my own rendition of mac and cheese.

Since we wanted a little more protein, pumpkin was swapped out for chicken. Though you should probably have a vegetable as a side.

The mac and cheese was also the perfect vehicle for using up old slices of bread. Neither of us like the "butts" of the bread and they either get thrown out or shoved in a corner in the freezer. This was my first time making breadcrumbs from scratch and I don't think it'll be the last.

Just place slices of good, stale bread on a baking sheet in a warm oven (about 200*) for an hour or two to dry out. Be sure not to let them brown. I had a few slices straight from the freezer and they dried out nicely. The dry bread can be ground into crumbs with a food processor, grater, or your bare hands.

The mac and cheese wasn't super gooey, but the flavors were spot on. Maybe it was because we excluded the pumpkin. Next time I'll add more cheese and maybe more cream or milk. I never said fall food was going to be healthy! Check out other Fall favorites at Schue Love.

Autumn Mac and Cheese
Loosely based on a recipe from the October 2011 Better Homes and Gardens

Makes: 8 (3/4 cup) side-dish servings or 4 meal-sized servings
Prep: 30 minutes               
Bake: 30 minutes               
Stand: 10 minutes
2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed (use your favorite seasoning, we used Cajun)
2 cups dried elbow macaroni (8 ounces)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk (I substituted 1/2 cup half and half and 1/2 cup skim milk)
4 oz. Fontina cheese, shredded (1 cup) 
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage or 1/2 tsp. dried leaf sage, crushed

Ingredients for topping
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (see preparation above)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Sage leaves, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350*. Cook macaroni in a large pot and drain. Keep mac in the strainer until needed. 

For cheese sauce: In a medium, ovenproof pan or dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Add whipping cream and milk (or half and half) all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly.

Stir in cheese and sage until the cheese is melted. Keep stirring so the sauce doesn't burn. If necessary, turn down the heat.

Stir macaroni and chicken into the cheese sauce and coat well.

For topping: In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oil. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and top is golden.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped sage leaves.

You can also prep the mac and cheese the night before. Take the prepared dish of mac and cheese (with the bread crumb topping) straight from the fridge to the 350* oven. Bake, uncovered, until bubbly and top is golden. It was about 40 minutes for me.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our Fiscally Awesome Weekend

What started as a fairly laid back weekend, turned into something fun and unexpected:

We picked up some new art (on sale!) for the front room. Then to even things out, we had drinks and a light dinner at Two Brothers, a microbrewery in Warrenville.

On Saturday, we brewed a batch of pumpkin ale, which will be ready just in time for Halloween! The house smelled like pumpkin pie with all the pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. We saved the spent grain and might try cooking or baking with them.

Side note: Homebrewing is more for the love of beer than saving money. However, it might be a little less expensive this time. The ingredients cost about $45 for two cases (or about $1/beer), compared to a quality 6-pack of pumpkin ale for $8 or $9 (about $1.50/beer).

I managed to put off sewing the curtains for the back room for another weekend because we bought a leather couch from our neighbors for a song and a few beers. It might be "leather," but I can't tell. Now that we have the couch, we probably won't paint the walls. No more excuses with the curtains! Except for needing a curtain rod.

The same neighbors offered to help John replace the brake pads on his car. The guys ran into a few issues, but finally had things back in working order on Monday. It turns out only the rear brake pads needed to be replaced, which was about $25.

On Sunday, we enjoyed homebrews, pizza, football, and Risk with Jess and Mr. Lively. I always get kicked off the board first, so maybe I shouldn't have bought the game from that garage sale.

John was also Mr. Fix-It with our toilet. The one in the second bathroom was leaking around the base, so he replaced the wax seal that seals the connection between the toilet and the hole in the floor for about $4. Thank goodness for YouTube videos!

I made more progress in the shop by sewing and listing a few more pillow covers. Plus, my very first buyer contacted me to make a duplicate of the first pillow she purchased! I had to run out and buy some more fabric and of course I managed to walk out of the store with more fabric than planned :)

How was your weekend?

And thanks for all the lovely comments from Friday's post! Some of you said you were thinking about getting Hunter boots and I totally recommend them. They're perfect for rain and slushy winter weather.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting Cozy with Fall

J. Crew striped sweater, Gap cords, Tiffany pearl studs, Jess LC silk scarf,
Fossil watch, wire basket from One Sydney Road, Hunter boots

Before we get to this week's Friday's Fancies, it's time to take care of some official blog business. Announcing the winner winner, chicken dinner to my One Sydney Road giveaway! The lucky winner of the $50 gift certificate is:


Congratulations, Stephanie! Now you can get your dauville gold-brushed bowls. I'll be getting in touch with you to discuss the juicy details. Even if you didn't win, One Sydney Road is offering free shipping on any order over $50 until 9/30/11 ! Just use code 'FRSHP08' at checkout.

Now for some Friday fashion. Can you believe it's already Fall??? It seems like this year is flying by! Maybe it's because I've had a pretty busy year with moving, weddings, and other fun things. This weekend will be the first in a while that we don't have anything major planned. Hopefully I'll finally sew the curtains for our back room. Though we still haven't decided whether we'll paint the room or not. Plus, I'll need to get a curtain rod. Definitely first world problems.

Anyways, in honor of Fall, I thought I'd pull together an outfit for one of my favorite Fall picking! The Hunter boots are perfect for walking through a muddy orchard. Plus, I had to feature one of Jess LC's new scarves!

Belmont silk scarves

Jess has done it again with designing two beautiful new collections. The Belmont collection has square and rectangular silk scarves. 

Quincy iPad case

She also debuted the Quincy collection of leather iPad cases and coin purses. If I had an iPad, I would totally snatch up the gold and fuchsia case. Jess is pretty much a genius in my book. Speaking of books, the lookbooks are full of sparkly goodness. Find the ones for Quincy and Belmont here. Props also go out to Danielle for photography, Alaina for styling and modeling, and Liz for modeling. Well done, ladies!

What do you have going on this weekend? Something chill? Or action packed?

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Things and Good News

Hey friends! What's new with you? Have you dropped your name in the hat for the $50 gift certificate to One Sydney Road??? Time is running out and the giveaway closes tonight! As of Wednesday night there were only 23 entries, so the odds are in your favor.

What's new with me? I thought you'd never ask! This chair, for one. Actually it's old, but new to us. I rescued it from the curb last week, and can't wait to pick out fabric for a new cushion and paint or stain the frame.

I also registered as a sole proprietor* in Illinois last night! Why? Because I opened up The Fiscally Chic Etsy Shop! You might have noticed the shop link on my homepage about a week ago.

The Shop is another creative outlet and place to share items lovingly created by myself or my family. I made friendship bracelets in grade school and sewed purses for friends in high school. So why not share these things with you? Right now, I have listings for a few pillow covers and am slowly increasing my inventory. I also hope to add scarves and/or hats knit by my Mom from fleece from our alpacas.

I even shipped out my first order earlier this week! And I'm really enjoying crunching the numbers in my spreadsheets.

Yes, the pillow in the first picture is for sale and ready to find a new home. It's made from Marimekko fabric :)

What else is new with you?

*Yes, we can debate business formation, but I wanted to keep things simple. This is just a hobby for now.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making Financial Decisions with "Words of Williams"

It's Tuesday! Not much to report on the home front, so I thought I'd open up the blog to how you live a fiscally chic life. In other words, how do you spend or save money intentionally? How do you save money with style and live life to the fullest?

When I saw this post back in August 2011, I had to ask if I could share it here. It was written by the fantastic couple of Words of Williams, Kelsey and Eric! That's where they write about their marriage, finances, faith, and other awesome things. (PS - Kelsey also has a style blog at Snappy Casual.) They're expecting their first baby in March 2012 (congrats!) and I'm sure they'll plenty of financial decisions in their future. Thanks again for letting me share!

Making financial decisions with your spouse can be tough. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between needs and wants, and without careful planning, you can be left in a situation of regret for making the wrong choice. There have been many budget committee meetings lately around one major financial decision: when to buy new bikes.

The question isn’t which bikes we want to buy, because we already have done extensive research and have found what we want. Rather, it’s when to buy them that has been the hard decision to make.

The Temptation
We have seen our savings grow in the past seven months as we work to save up for 3-6 months worth of expenses. It’s easy to see the dollars stacking up and think how easy it would be to pull from savings and replenish that amount later; the consequences of which pushes back our deadline for completing this baby step and delays our financial goals in the future.

This all sounds like one of my favorite Dave Ramsey quotes:
“Children do what feels good. Adults devise a plan and follow it.”
Meaning, it would be childish for us to buy bikes now with money that has been saved for a different purpose.

We both have a gut feeling that we shouldn’t buy the bikes yet. And we are choosing to do ourselves a favor and not have buyer’s remorse, so we are holding off on the purchase at this time. We don’t think we deserve them yet (we both have mountain bikes already). After taking Financial Peace University and developing a foundation of beliefs about money, we typically agree when these types of things come up (but not always–remember our $12 negotiation?).

The Plan
So, we decided to hold off until spring 2012 and re-evaluate our financial situation at that time (it makes seasonal sense now that the summer is already winding down). We hope to save some of our Christmas money to put toward bikes next spring, and we might even start to save a little bit of money on a monthly basis so that when spring comes there won’t be as much to save in a short period of time.

We make decisions like this all of the time with our budget, and the key to the whole process is communication. If we don’t talk about these types of buying decisions, then we both lose focus of our goals. We need each other for accountability. If you are single, ask a trusted friend to be your accountability partner–someone you can call when you are thinking of making a purchase over $X amount. Just make sure they have the guts to tell you no when you need to hear it.

Here are some questions you can ask when deciding on a financial decision:
  1. Is this a need or a want? (Be honest!)
  2. What is the opportunity cost (what am I losing out on) if I spend this money now?
  3. Have I made a purchase like this in the past and neglected to use that item as much as I thought I would? (I’m guilty of this! Ahem, Nintendo Wii, I’m looking at you!)
  4. How will I feel after making this purchase?
  5. How long have I been considering the purchase? (If it is a want, you can still buy the item. But, we know that it’s better to have walkaway power and buy the item out of a rational mind rather than an emotional one.)
These are just a handful of questions to get the brain flowing. I am sure if you think hard enough you can come up with more. The trick is to think. If you slow down to think about the purchase at hand, you can often take the emotion out of the situation. Emotions often cause us to make poor financial decisions. For proof, read about the stupid taxes we have paid over the years.

How do you make big financial decisions?

I'll go first, John and I definitely talk things over before making a big purchase. The house being the largest one to date. And sometimes I even check in with him before making a small, impulsive purchase. Gotta watch for those as little purchases can add up and undermine our budget.

Don't forget to stop by Words of Williams for other thought-provoking and entertaining posts.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fridays are for Giveaways!

Necklace and tote from One Sydney Road; J. Crew blazer, ballet flats, and top; Gap jeans;
Deco Shell Earrings from Upper Metal Class; Fossil watch

Or at least this Friday is :)

As a huge thank you to all of you, I am giving away a $50 gift certificate to One Sydney Road! Piper has curated an amazing online boutique and I've purchased several items for myself or as gifts. In her words, OSR is full of inspired finds for you + your home. From tea towels and artwork to jewelry and purses, she has you covered!

Since I couldn't pick one thing, I'm going to let the lucky winner decide. Since OSR ships around the world, the winner can be from anywhere around the world!
Thank you again for your support of Fiscally Chic and good luck!
To enter:
  • You must be a follower on Google Friend Connect... so click there in my sidebar first if you haven't already! Then, check out One Sydney Road and leave a comment with your favorite item from the store.
Additional entries:
You have until September 22 to enter. The winner will be announced September 23!

Don't forget about the rest of the Friday's Fancies crew!
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Wedding Planning Tips

Happy Thursday! Today I'm back with some wedding planning and savings tips. First, the most important step in planning a wedding is deciding on your priorities. That will help guide all of the other decisions. Our number one priority is the marriage itself, so we made sure to put an emphasis on the marriage prep (definitely recommend the Engaged Encounter retreat!) and ceremony. After that, we wanted to have a great time at the reception, surrounded by our family and friends. So we made sure to pick a unique location with fantastic food and fun entertainment.

Keep in mind that planning a wedding is a big emotional event. But it's only one day! The wedding industry may try to convince you that you "need" something because it's your wedding and special day. Yes, we wanted a rockin' reception, but I didn't need shoes that cost hundreds of dollars that I might never wear again.

After determining your priorities, work on the guest list. This will help you figure out how much space you need at your reception site. Plus, knowing the number of guests will also directly impact the number of invitations, meals, favors (if doing), centerpieces you will need. Since John and I had a "destination" wedding of sorts, our guest list was slightly smaller than if we had the wedding in Cleveland or Chicago.

The dress, accessories, and such

I ended up finding my dress at David's Bridal. Yes, a big surprise to me too! I wasn't sure what I wanted, so my Mom, sister, and I went there first. The only other time I went dress shopping was when I tried on a few dresses by myself at a place in St. Louis while out Christmas shopping. I figured David's had a large selection and then we could try on other dresses at other stores. I'll admit that my expectations were somewhat low, but loved my dress! I think it was the first one I tried on at David's. Their stores can be hit or miss with service. I had great service in Ohio, but the store at Sunset Hills, MO was less than spectacular. So schedule a time window and maybe even go in the morning during the week.

Today, all sorts of retailers have wedding dresses (J. Crew, BHLDN, The Limited, etc.) at reasonable prices. You might also find your dream dress new or used at sites such as Savvy Cinderella or Once Wed.

Accessories can cost an arm and a leg, so my Mom made my veil. I wanted a simple veil and bought the tulle and comb for less than $10 at Joann Fabrics (with a coupon). There’s are all sorts of tutorials online. Here are some from Weddingbee to get you started.

Want to know another secret? The flower in my hair was simply a silk stem from Joann's cut to size. We stuck it in my updo like a hair chopstick. No clips or barrettes needed!

My friend did my hair. She's not a professional, but is really good at hair and crafty things. If you have friends or family members that can (and want to) help in other areas, let them get involved! It will give your wedding a personal touch.

Flowers were something I didn't know much about before doing a little research. I looked a pictures and knew what was pretty to me. Of course the wedding magazines didn't show prices. So I was shocked at my first estimate from a florist. Little did I know that orchids would cost an arm and a leg! So back to the drawing board to find flowers that were local and would be in season in September.

The venue and reception

Be creative with venues and timing. It’s usually cheaper on a Friday night (and may have more availability) or Saturday during the day than a Saturday night. There may also be a discount if you have your wedding during the "off season" (like the steamy summers in St. Louis). This was a bit of a non-negotiable for us since our Church booked up fast, so we cut corners elsewhere.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but buffets can be more expensive than plated dinners. With a buffet, the caterer has to make more food since there are no set portion sizes. Plus, there may be wasted food at the end of the night. Although, you don’t have to pay for as many servers

If possible, try to get kids prices for meals and reduced drink prices for the under 21 crowd.

For the cake, get a smaller, fully decorated one to display and cut and then have sheet cakes in the back for the rest of the guests. Some couples will order a cake with one tier to cut and the rest made of Styrofoam.

Other tips

Please, please, please get recommendations before hiring vendors! We found our venue after talking with friends in the restaurant industry. They knew the owner of the catering company and raved about the reception space and food.

That being said, I wish we did a little more research with photographers. We listened to the recommendation on spending the money on a professional photographer. The pictures are what you have for the rest of your life so make sure to get a good one. However, we were dazzled by the pictures and were less than thrilled with their customer service at times.

If possible, negotiate with vendors. Or let them know about your budget. If they can't work within your budget, they may be able to recommend someone who can.

DIY is key, and always use a coupon! Though make sure you have enough time to tackle projects. Etsy is a fun website to find all sorts of handmade goodness. John's Mom made our programs and I made our table numbers.

Phew! Did I miss any tips? Any brides with anything else to share?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Third Anniversary Wedding Recap

Holy moly! I have a whole new appreciation for wedding bloggers! It's tough stuff putting together a wedding recap! So I'm going to cheat a little and let the pictures do the talking. These are all photos taken by friends and family since I don't recommend our photographer. They know how to sell and took beautiful pictures, but the customer service was lacking. Long story short, we should have gone with our neighbors in St. Louis, Zettl Photography. I totally recommend all of our other vendors.

John and I met at Saint Louis University, so we decided to get married at St. Francis Xavier College Church on SLU's campus.

Pictures were taken around SLU's campus, including in front of the Scottish Rite Cathedral across from campus.

Where John proposed!

Getting our plungers at Humphrey's, the bar near campus.

John wanted a pinata at the reception. I vetoed that, but friends brought one anyways as a wedding present.

We had our reception at the lovely 9th Street Abbey in Soulard. It used to be an old church!

The best cake from The Cakery!

I might be biased, but our wedding is the best I've ever attended :) Happy anniversary, John!

More details on planning the wedding tomorrow!

Dress: Oleg Cassini for David's Bridal
Veil: DIY (similar instructions)
Shoes: Naturalizer
Bridesmaid dress: Jim Hjelm Occasions, ordered from The Perfect Bride
Tux: Savvi Formalware
Church: St. Francis Xavier College Church on Saint Louis University's campus
Reception: 9th Street Abbey and Patty Long Catering
Cake: The Cakery
Flowers: Sisters Flowers
Limo: A Perfect Touch
DJ: Millenium Productions
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