Like much of America I am totally in love with A&E’s Mad Men. The writing is sharp, the characters are captivating and above all the costuming is out of this world. As a lover of classic clothing this show is an absolute drool-fest for me. I’m pretty luck in that my mom and grandmother both held on to lots of their classic pieces, so I’m able to wear a number of vintage pieces passed down from the women in my family. There are, however lots of great opportunities to flesh out my retro inspired wardrobe right here in Columbia! Are you craving that vampy Joan Holloway look? Do you swoon over Betty Draper’s classic look? Or are you more in line with Peggy Olson’s prim working girl style? Here are some of my tricks to get that great retro look on the cheap.
You can easily take a classic black sheath and transform it from 1950s to 2000s with the addition of great accessories. Raid your grandmother’s costume jewelry and add a circle pen with a pair of peep toe wedges. Tie on a splashy graphic neck kerchief and you will be a blast from the past. I recently attended an art event at 701 Whaley and, feeling daring, wore an birdcage veil with a feathered hairpiece. My sister, costuming guru that she is whipped it up for me and I can’t WAIT to have another event to wear it*. Women in the Mad Men era embraced the power of simple accessories like gloves, hats, and scarves. Incorporating them into your wardrobe can really make you a standout in a sea of kaki. Do remember, however, that the idea is to be fashionable, not costumed, so unless you are planning on performing in a retro burlesque show, don’t overload. Hat OR gloves OR scarf, not all three.
Fall in love with Resale
Columbia has an absolute wealth of consignment shops loaded to the gills with quality products. In some of these stores however, there may be 100 less-than-ideal pieces for every OMG NO WAY find. Approach these stores with that in mind. It’s a hunt, not a shopping trip. If you keep that attitude, you can quickly become addicted to the thrill of the find. Also, don’t judge the resale shop by its exterior. I regularly peruse “Curious Closet” on St. Andrews Road (near Zorbas). They have a great selection of gently loved designer pieces beautifully presented and color-coded. Just this week I found an amazing vintage jacket (circa 1965) for less than ten dollars. As posh as “Curious Closet” is, another one of my personal favorites is “The Sunshine Store” on Two Notch Road. It looks like a total dive, but give it a chance. I have found some beautiful vintage things there most of them less than 5 bucks. Also, with Halloween right around the corner it’s a wonderful place to look for costume pieces.
Go For Quality
When looking at vintage or vintage style pieces don’t jump on the first retro peice you see. Some of the jackets and suits I’ve found in my hunting are beautiful but fragile. What’s the use of a great tweed suit if you can’t sit down in it? Look carefully for things like dry rotting, moth damage, or age stains. They can be the death of a vintage piece. If the piece is a modern take on a vintage style quality is the key. I’ve purchased some inexpensive vintage inspired pieces that disintegrated after one wash. Be sure you are allocating your fashion dollars to pieces that will last. You don’t really save money if your wardrobe is one-time-wear disposable.
Remember, Classics are Classics for A Reason
I can hear my mom saying this in my ear right now as I type. Her elegant wardrobe is fashionable today, but she just as easily could have stepped out of a 1960s. If you go for quality classic pieces, whether you pay $10.00 or $1,00.00, you can look like a million bucks.
Enjoy the holiday weekend Readers and check out those Labor Day Sales!
*If you are interested in beautiful retro hairpieces, keep your eyes open around town for pieces on consignment in various boutiques. If you have a custom request let me know and I’ll send you my sister’s way!
Most people hate to admit when their significant other is right and they are wrong. Luckily for Ellis, I’m not one of those people. When I began this project earlier this year Ellis, an experienced writer of web content, admonished me. “Honey, if you are going to do this, keep in the habit, otherwise life will get in the way of posts.” And as he predicted, my otherwise busy life overshadowed the blog. But I’m back! And determined to keep you up to date on my quest to being at the top of my game, both fashionably and fiscally. So rather than updating you on all the things that have transpired since my last update, I’ll just jump into “today’s” issue – the importance of a rainy day fund.
I moved into my house when I started grad school. It’s a sweet mill-style bungalow with hardwood floors and tall cabinets. I fell in love. But after all of the inspections were done, I knew I was in for a world of work. The house had to be re-wired, the foundation needed to be “shored up”, and the AC unit was deemed “on its last leg.” It was, however, still working which, on the grad school budget, was good enough for me. That unit, which I have recently learned is older than I am, has kept chugging along all this time. That is, until this summer. In Columbia, which is “Famously Hot”, there is nothing more upsetting than opening your back door after a long day at work to a wall of heat. Well that nightmare has been a reality for me on multiple occasions this summer. The coils of the old unit freeze from being over worked, and I’d open the door to two wilted panting puppies and a homemade sauna. Earlier this summer Ellis wanted to go ahead and replace the relic of a unit, but once we got it kick-started again, I hated to do it. But just as Ellis predicted, the unit finally died here we are without any AC, having to coordinate replacement of Old Less-Than-Faithful. Thankfully the last few days have been unseasonably cool so the house is pretty pleasant.
Ellis and I juggled multiple HVAC repair guys coming in and out of the house giving us estimates ranging wildly in price (ranging over $3000.00 from highest to lowest quote). We decided on this great repairman who was referred to me by a staff member at my office. Thankfully we’ve been saving along and along to prepare of rainy (or in this case, hot) days. I am also excited to report to you all that if you are planning on making any home improvements THIS IS THE YEAR! This year, thanks to some changes in the Federal Tax Code, homeowners are eligible for a multitude of tax credits for home improvements that make your home more energy efficient. You can take a look at a great breakdown of the different credits here, but for our purposes we will be able to get back 30% of the cost of the new unit come tax return time! It will be hard to see all my hard saved money leave my little nest-egg account, but it just goes to show how incredibly important it is to have that money available. This should also be just the incentive I’ll need to do my taxes earlier than April this year.
And for the official record: Ellis, you were right. Twice!
Next time, Mad for Vintage Fashion
I’ve recently set a savings goal for myself. I’ve been funneling most of my extra money into paying off my student loans, but I’ve decided to shift focus on that just a little to build up my rainy day/vacation/project fund up a bit. Trying to get $ 5,000.00 of extra money in the bank, even for a penny pincher like me, can be a little daunting. I’ve found that the best way to reach any goal, whether its going to the gym (which I’ve been pretty naughty about lately) or saving for retirement is to set realistic goals.
My tip for the day is to make a cheat sheet. I went into Excel and created a little sheet that shows if I save $X.xx each day, how long it will take me to reach my goal. I’ve done several breakdowns on the sheet (36 months, 24 months and so on) to show just how much on a daily basis I’ll have to cut out in order to reach my savings goal. I took this little sheet and slipped it into my wallet OVER my check card. That way I will have to go through that worksheet in order to get to my spending money. Is that fab dress on sale at Marshalls worth dipping into my potential nest egg? Sometimes the answer might be yes, and that’s ok! I honestly believe that in order to be on any kind of diet, financial or otherwise, one cannot totally eliminate the things you really enjoy. I have an addiction to art deco and vintage style clothing. If I can wear pearls with it, if it has a high waist, or could at any point be paired with pin curls, I’m hooked. I’m an absolute sucker for anything peep toe, and I don’t plan on eliminating these types of purchases from my life. However, keeping a very visual reminder of what my goals are per day has been a great help in making the final decision on non-essential buying.What helps you keep your play money in your purse?
"Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free!" - Everyone's grandma
No, I'm not talking about "that"! Me, even as technologically challenged as I can be* almost everything I could ever want to watch on TV, I can find for free online. Now by "free" I don't mean illegally downloaded on the internet "free". I unapologetically have HUGE issues with the RIAA, digital rights management and other intellectual property rights issues**, I don't condone outright stealing. But even for the IP protection purists out there, there is enough legit online media to keep me entertained for years. The first new love of my life is Netflix streaming. Even with the cheapest priced deal (which is about 9 bucks) you can stream as much of the online content as your little laptop will allow. Watching Deadliest Catch on your 12' Eee PC doesn't sound like your idea of a relaxing night? Well if you have an Xbox, you can make by the magic of technology throw it up on your 65' plasma screen TV so big you could see it from space. There are tens of thousands of titles available in both tv and movies available. While they don't have everything, there is plenty of escapist material to keep me satisfied. And while I've not watched it personally, I have it on good authority that every episode of Law and Order SVU ever can be streamed through Netflix. For more current shows, I've also fallen in love with Hulu. As if their super bowl commercial wasn't enough, they have more recently aired shows available for viewing on demand from their website. Unlike Netflix, they are commercial broadcasts, but often you can opt to watch a show (the Daily show for example) without interruption if you watch an extended commercial in the beginning of the broadcast. For keeping up to date on more current broadcasts this can't be beat.
"He chose poorly." - The Grail Knight - Indania Jones and the Last Crusade
Now, without even digital rabbit ears, every media consumption decision that we make in our household is a proactive decision. The days of getting home, turning on the tube, and vegging out to a marathon of What Not to Wear are over. The shows that I want to watch, I have to find. Looking at what is available via streaming, webisodes, and even Blockbuster has opened me up, interestingly enough, to a much wider variety of media. I've seen some WONDERFUL documentaries that I would have missed(SEE KING CORN, it will amaze you). I also have been able to create my own viewing marathons(30 Rock is best when consumed in bulk).
"Your house is your larger body." - Kahlil Gibran - The Prophet (On Houses)
I would say that by far the best part of cutting out our cable television has been the calm it has brought to our home. Of this, I have been very pleasantly surprised. I come home, not to a house with the six o'clock news blaring the days bad tidings, but to classical music. The wonderful impact of this is only further multiplied if Ellis beats me home and I'm also greeted at the back door by the smell of garlic wilting in olive oil as dinner has been started. I have read much more. Let me just say, READING the local news online is much more palatable than watching it when I get home between screaming car salesmen and sofa superstore liquidations. Adding even a small bit of calm into your home can make such a huge impact on your overall state of mind! I don't think I'll ever go back to broadcast television. Thank goodness for the internet!
Now, because this is a financial blog, I wanted to end with a little info on the returns for cutting out cable can have on your pocketbook. Currently Time Warner's basic package for cable is about $50.00. Excluding tax, installation, and hardware, by simply cutting the cord on your cable company you can save $600 a year! Do that for 5 years and invest and you can easily turn that into $3,240.44 (assuming 3% return). So what would you rather have? 100 channels of "nothing on", or a cruise to Jamaica? I say, get the pina coladas ready mon!
*I can find for free online.I knew I was in over my head when the remote control for the tv had its OWN TV!
**For more on IP, feel free to email me. My mentor and favorite professor in law school is the Queen of IP law!
So as my friends and family know, I love to cook. My darling Ellis and I cook at home most nights. Not only is it cost effective, it’s a great way for the two of us to bond. We are also very adventure eaters – willing to try even the most bizarre cooking endeavor. In just the last few weeks we have cooked ceviche (shrimp and fish “cooked” using lemon and lime juices only) and beef tongue (delish if cooked correctly). This week has been pretty busy for both of us in the office, so we have sadly been surviving on ramen and easy mac. Wednesday I’d had enough. While my first instinct was to go out to eat after hours of yard work, in the interest of spendthriftyness I decided to cook a truly decadent meal at home instead. Today’s lesson – be adventurous and save big.
I am very lucky to live in a city with a thriving immigrant population. Just a short drive from home there is a “Little Korea”, a “Little Mexico”, and a “Little India”. While its not as tourist traveled as other Chinatowns, its people are just as wonderful and it has just as many unique and exotic offerings. One of my favorite dates is to go to an Asian grocery store, find something that looks yum (even though the label is often not in English), and take it home to cook. This is a WONDERFUL cheap date. Asian markets have all kinds of exciting fare. Even if you don't spend a single dime, its so fun to walk around, look at the colorful jars of eel, packets of freeze dried prawn, and other fun poorly translated household items. My adventures in cooking from the Asian grocery stores have produced results from totally disgusting to fan-freakin-tastic. This most recent meal, I can say without a doubt, has been my finest hour. And not only was it tasty, a great meal for 2 with leftovers came to a grand total of $8.65. Here is the rundown on making a cheap, easy, delicious, and exotic meal for under 10 bucks.
Tom Ka Gai - Thai Coconut Soup $5.09 for 4 servings
- One packet of Tom Ka - available in Asian grocers. At my stop it was $0.99
- One can of coconut milk - also in Asian stores, but sold in the ethnic food section of most grocery stores $1.15 a can
- One can of chicken broth - $0.95
- 1/2 cup of water - virtually free out of the tap
- A few handfuls of sliced mushrooms - the entire container was $1.35 on sale, but this was just a lucky break
- 2 chopped green onions - I got one bunch for $0.65 which is more than enough
This is the most simple dish to make. Squeeze the Tom Ka (pronounced DOM ga) out of its pack into a soup pot. Its a paste and comes out easily if you run the pack under hot water first. Add all of the other ingredients, stir, and simmer over a low heat until mushrooms are tender. Keep stirring occasionally so that there is no risk of scorching. That's all there is!
Steamed Pork and Spinach Dumplings $2.99 with plenty of leftover dumplings
- One bag of frozen prepared dumplings - there is a WIDE variety of dumpling types in the freezer section. Try them all. I think that of all the types I've tried so far, this one is my favorite. They are $2.99 in my grocer of choice and come in a large bag. A good serving is 4-6 and there are about 5 servings per bag.
Take out the number of dumplings that you plan to cook. You want them to be separated, which can be tricky if still frozen. These dumplings can be stored in the fridge, but must be eaten fairly quickly. If they are frozen together, and you can't break them apart, don't fight them. Being too rough will result in the dumplings splitting open and the stuffings dropping out. If you MUST steam them together, the only disadvantage is that they may not come out as pretty. Prepare your steamer (I use a metal steam basket, but bamboo works too) by spraying it with PAM to eliminate sticking. Place it in a pot with water (mine allows about 3/4 an inch) bring to a rolling boil and cover. Steam the dumplings for 10-12 minutes. BE CAREFUL not to let the water cook out!!!! Add water to your pot as needed to prevent burning the bottom of your pots. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
First is "how?" Not being an owner of these shoes, I will admit that I had to google their going price. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but WOW!!!! They are anywhere from $150.00 to $200.00! Where is the money coming from that these young women women can afford such a luxury? In a time in American history where cash strapped parents are working nights and weekends to support their college bound children and state and private universities whose stock-laden endowments have fallen so sharply that they are laying off staff and cutting back academic programs, I have gone from fashion opposed to fiscally shocked! I in no way begrudge these women their earthly delights. Quite the opposite in fact. I am a huge advocate of living well, but I find the juxtaposition of these shoes on a campus where there is a hiring freeze and where non-tenured and adjunct staff are being let go in droves very surprising. Moreover, I think these types of expenditures present us with a much larger issue - wants in the short term and needs in the long term.
The global economic crisis, at least on a micro-economic scale, is due in part to the shortsightedness the the average consumer. Now don't get your feathers too ruffled. I am well aware of the responsibility that business and the banking industry bears in this clusterf*%k, but this blog isn't for Bank of America, its for individual consumers. I think this is particularly true in America. We live in a culture where we are one browser click, one credit card swipe, and one fast food drive through away from getting what we want exactly when we want it. This is the "why". We are now realizing, in a most painful of ways, that this type of consumption is not sustainable. The average credit card indebted young adult household in America now spends nearly 24 percent of its income on debt payments!! (Source: "Generation Broke: Growth of Debt Among Young Americans") Now add to this, that today's average consumer has 13 credit obligations on record at a credit bureau, including credit cards and installment loans (auto, mortgage, and student loans, etc.), 9 of which are likely to be credit cards, we are spending ourselves to death on things that we really can't afford. Up until recently we've coasted, but now, people are having to pay the piper. My hope is that with this downturn in the economy that we as a people will do two critically important things. First, we will be come better educated about our finances. The time of avoiding the mailbox and screening phone calls for debt collectors is over. Second, I hope that people will become more disciplined in how we consume. We need to learn what we need versus what we want and what we can afford versus what we can't. If we can do this, Americans can rescue themselves from the economic crisis.
Now, after all of the hatin' on the Ugg wearers and gloom and doom economy talk, I want to end this post on a positive note. So why not see what that $200.00 Ugg purchase price could do for us if we spent the money in another way. Let's say you took that $200.00 and deposited it into an account paying 3% interest (a CD for example), and continued to contribute just $200.00 each year, in 10 years you would have saved $2,605.13. Translate that into monthly terms, and you are only having to save about $16 bucks a month. While I'm sure Uggs are very comfortable, which is what I hear motivates people to wear them, I think I would feel much more comfortable knowing that I had a nice little nest egg to fall back on in case there is an economic down turn when I'm in my thirties.
Dear Eager Student Loan Pay-off-er,
Thank you for making your extra principal payments. You are must be smart and beautiful. We, however, don’t like it when you do that because we won’t make as much money. So if you don’t mind, you can make a payment of $X.xx which will ensure that you won’t be rid of us for at least 20 years. We promise, that smaller payment will be so cool! You can buy stuff you want right now like shoes and purses and we can make a BIZILLION dollars in interest because we are patient and student loan pay-off-ers are impetuous and short sighted.
We love your interest!
So for all of you out there who are also paying off some student loan (or any other type of loan with a scheduled payoff) you keep making those additional payments. Check your state law. There is no prepayment penalty on student loans of any kind, and in most states there is no prepayment on mortgages up to a certain value (Currently in SC, you can pay your mortgage off early without penalty for mortgages under $150,000.00). Your bank will send you letters about how smart and beautiful, and in time, while you may have fewer shoes, you will be working your way towards that beach house on Edisto Island.
1.) Be real… be real real
In order to be fiscally healthy (and by proxy mentally healthy), you have to be honest with yourself about your financial situation. I think a lot of people my age just keep their head in the sand about money. Women in the South aren’t brought up to talk about money. Credit card companies start targeting vulnerable and uninformed college students as soon as the leave the nest. By the time they graduate, they are up to their eyeballs in credit card debt with astronomical APRs. Do these kids even know what an APR is?!? Sit down with your calculator and put all of your bills on the table. Literally. If you are paying online, print an invoice. One can never take control of their financial futures if they don’t know where the starting line is. Is this a difficult thing to do? YES, which is why people don’t do it. I do this every single month. Yes, I still write checks for all of my bills, but doing this forces me to look closely at each statement, see how much progress I’m making.
2.) Get your game face ready
Once you’ve got a good grip on where you stand financially, its time to formulate a plan. Goal setting will keep you going even when you are discouraged, but be realistic. If you are $50,000.00 in debt, you might not want to shoot for being debt free by the end of this year. Setting unrealistic goals is the quickest way to failure. Start small and start from the top down. If you are carrying a credit card balance over from month to month where you are paying 27% interest, pay that off before you start making principal reduction payments to your mortgage, which is only charging 5.5% (the going rate these days for credit worthy borrowers). Even if you are only able to pay an additional $20 or $30 dollars a month, they will add up to big savings in the long run. Depending on your financial situation, it may be a long journey, but making small steps will make being debt free much more attainable.
3.) Think about returns
I’ve read lots of information on the early payoff of student loans being a mistake. While I’m not an expert in the field, I completely disagree. When I graduated from law school, I made a decision not to adjust my lifestyle from my “grad school” budget and take the “real money” I was making and have my student loans paid off in 10 years. Now it’s true, my student loan interest rate is fairly low, but for whatever I pay ahead on my loans (going towards my principal reduction), I am getting an automatic return on average of 6%. Now if you can find an investment these days paying that, call me. Its either the best deal in town, or I’ll have some beachfront property in Kansas that I’m sure you can’t live without.
So tonight I’ll be making out all of my bills on the kitchen table with my calculator, check book, and student loan amortization schedule, which I prepared on my computer. And you know how I’ll feel? Stressed, well maybe a little, but also accomplished as I look at the steady gains I’m making each month on becoming debt free.
In this little experiment I want to share the skills that I’ve learned with others. While I’m not a financial expert, I’ve had to learn to budget the hard way. I grew up poor, worked my way through an exclusive (and expensive) private college, and scrimped and saved for grad school – all the while trying to live like a million bucks.