Friday, May 31, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 5/31/13 Edition

Every Friday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: What coincidence, I have a stack of user manuals just taking up space in my apartment. Unclutterer shows you how to digitize them!

Best Financial: Fabulously Broke in the City advocates for savings accounts. The time to start saving was yesterday, so make it today!

Best DIY: So many projects, so little time. Via theKitchn.
Best Before & After: A before & after fitting of the weather, a tiny balcony upgrade via Apartment Therapy.

Best Random: For fellow bloggers, I found a site that helps you make info graphics! It is called

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dream Garden

In my last post, I talked about my dream house. So what about my dream garden? When I have a little home of my own, one of the first things I'll do is put in a garden. If I get a decent backyard, I'll create something like this:

Cottage Gardening

Since I live in a small apartment, what could I do about a garden now? What about "small" gardening? I've featured a few of my favorite small gardening options below:

1. Vertical Garden

Try re-using an old shoe-holder as a vertical garden. Instructions can be found here.

2. Herb Garden

Lazy Liz on Less

Scared of trying to grow vegetables? Start off with a small herb garden.

3. Pallet Garden

Life on the Balcony

This is my favorite small-space garden option, by far! Now that it is nice outside I've been itching for a balcony or patio to relax on. A full tutorial on how to make a pallet garden can be found here.

4. Mason Jar Garden

Not Just a Housewife

Another use for a mason jar! Get full instructions here. A tip on finding mason jars: check out estate sales. I recently scored a few at one in my neighborhood.

5. Compact Vegetable Garden

Boys' Life

Great option for a small backyard. I can see this being a good beginner's garden - looks easy enough! Instructions here.

Happy Gardening!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My (Little) Dream Home

Like many people, I dream of someday owning a home. But when I dream of a home, I don't envision myself living in mansion or having a home theater. In fact, bigger isn't better, when it comes to your home. I agree with Becoming Minimalist - I'll be happier in a smaller home. Some of the reasons they touch upon in the article are reasons I have for wanting to living in a smaller space (and own a smaller home): less space to clean, less expensive, less desire to accumulate needless things, etc....

So what is my dream home? I've found a few examples to showcase here.

1. The B-53 house from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
This two-bedroom option from the maker of tiny houses still only comes in at 777 sq. ft. You can upgrade to three bedrooms if you need to, allowing the house to maximize to 884 sq. ft. This is the perfect size for my (future) family. If I have more than three kids this might be an issue - I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!

2. The Bungalow Company 

Isn't this one of the most gorgeous things you've ever seen? The scenery helps, of course.

The Bungalow Company
The Bungalow Company
The Bungalow Company

The plans show this as a spacious one-bedroom, with the bedroom taking up the entire second floor (image on the left). A perfect option for a couple or even one person and a few pets.

3. Best Small House Plans from Houseplans

This plan is only 930 sq. ft., but packs in two bedrooms!


4. Cusato Cottages

These plans came from the same designer who provided an alternative to FEMA housing after Hurricane Katrina. This is my largest one on the list at 1,200 sq. ft.

Cusato Cottages
Cusato Cottages

Oh, to dream...right? Well, for now I'm very happy in my little studio. If I were to move to a different studio, I would opt for a loft-style. During my apartment search last fall, I came across the Foundry Lofts in the southeast region of DC. These are waaay out of my price range, but it is fun to look at, isn't it?
Foundry Lofts
Foundry Lofts

These are my little dreams, anyway. Do you have a dream home? What is it like?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 5/24/13 Edition

Every Friday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: I'm in love with the simplicity of this teeny-tiny apartment featured in Apartment Therapy's Small Cool contest.

Best Financial: Buzzfeed has compiled a slew of recipes that you can use yourself to create your favorite store-bought food. Healthier and cheaper!

Best DIY: Father's Day will be here before you know it! If you have kids (or if you don't), check out It's Overflowing for a list of DIY gifts.
Best Before & After: A fresh kitchen makeover via Better After.

Best Random: I did a major fist-pump after reading this article from Seize the Latte. Magazines always make me feel worse about myself. Who needs that? Answer: no one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Starting from a Blank Canvas

After much consideration, I decided to go a whole new direction in my bedroom. Here is where we left off:
(c) SingleSimpleStudio

Now I’ve moved the pillows to the living room:
(c) SingleSimpleStudio
And I have replaced the Ikea duvet cover with the West Elm one in the bedroom:

What I have now is essentially a clean slate. I can pick any colors that I want! What to do? I have some ideas that I cryptically shared in this post.

What would you do if you had a blank canvas? Would you paint? Hang pictures? Draw something on the walls? Finger paint?

Stayed tuned for more of what I have planed!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Preparing for a Financial Windfall

Inspired by this post at Get Rich Slowly, I decided it would be a good exercise to come up with a plan for what I would do in the case of a financial windfall.

What if I came in to money suddenly? How would I handle it? I don’t think this is highly probable or even possible, but it is fun to think about, nonetheless.
One good piece of advice is to sit on much of the money until the emotion wears off. This allows you to take a step back from the situation and really assess. Put the money in a savings account and don’t touch it for six months. But after that? What would I do?

To figure this out, I’ve listed some windfall ranges below and written down how I would handle each one.

1. Put towards paying off student loan debt
What if you were rolling in the dough?

1. Pay off remaining student loan debt ~$12k
2. Get emergency fund up to 6 months of expenses ~ $11k
3. Take a trip to a country I’ve never been to ~$2k


1. Pay off remaining student loan debt ~$12k
2. Get emergency fund up to 6 months expenses ~$11k
3. Take a trip to a country I’ve never been to ~$2k
4. Invest the rest (Max out Roth IRA and start a Traditional IRA) ~$11k
5. Start a “house fund” - money for when I want to buy my own place ~$14k

1. Pay off remaining student loan debt ~$12k
2. Get emergency fund up to 6 months expenses ~$11k
3. Take a trip to a country I’ve never been to ~$2k
4. Max out Roth IRA and start a Traditional IRA ~$11k
5. Use half of the remaining funds to start a “house fund” - money for when I want to buy my own place ~$32k
6. Use the rest to help my parents (either put money towards their debt or start another retirement account for them) ~$32k

100k and above
1. Pay off remaining student loan debt ~$12k
2. Get emergency fund up to 6 months expenses ~$11k
3. Take a trip to a country I’ve never been to ~$2k
4. Max out Roth IRA and start a Traditional IRA ~$11k
5. Put ½ of the remaining towards a “house fund” - money for when I want to buy my own place
6. Put ¼ of the rest towards helping my parents (either put money towards their debt or start another retirement account for them)
7. Contribute the remaining ¼ to charity. Ideas: Give a loan via; Gift an endowment to my alma mater; Set up a study abroad or language scholarship at my high school; Donate to a local nursing home, assisted living, or hospice

What are the results? Well, they don't surprise me too much. The first two items on each list - paying down debt and stashing money away in my emergency fund - are two of my financial goals without a windfall. I can also see that I value four other things: exploring a new place, saving for retirement, saving for a home, and helping my parents. These plans fit with my values, and in a moment of emotion, it will be a good list to have to return to. Monetary decisions are largely emotional, so anything I can do to remind myself of my priorities will help!

What would you do with a financial windfall? Do you think you would splurge? Would you help your family? Save for retirement? Donate to charity?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 5/17/13 Edition

Every Friday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: It's getting to be that time of the year again: ant invasion season! Make your own ant repellent using Apartment Therapy's recipe.

Best Financial: Via Get Rich Slowly. What would you tell your former self about finances? I would tell my college self that you really don’t need all those loans. I took out way too many for undergrad. Ten years later, I’m still paying for those pokey stix I had every Tuesday!

Best DIY: Fancy up your boring shelf. Via Ikea Hackers.
Best Before & After: Who says men can’t be interested in decorating? Via Better After.

Best Random:
This isn’t a link at all, but something someone said to me this week. “Malls - they are black holes of humanity.” Couldn’t agree more! I. HATE. MALLS.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Duvet Cover - What am I up to?

Today I bought a new duvet cover from West Elm. Not to fear, it was on sale!

West Elm

But you may wonder, why did I buy a new duvet cover when not too long ago I purchased pillows to match my current duvet cover?

All I will say is you soon shall see :) But I'll give you a few visual hints to keep you guessing where this new duvet cover fits in:
Wall Sticker Deal
Chasing Paper

Confused yet?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Believe the Numbers

Sometimes, we all need a good "punch in the face." I like this terminology especially when it comes to debt and finances. Hence, why I follow blogs such as Punch Debt in the Face and Mr. Money Mustache, the former advocating punching down the debt, the latter advocating giving yourself a good face-punch when you make dumb financial decisions.

Today's punch in the face is an exercise on how much your car is really costing you. Today I'd like to draw your attention to a great calculator that can tell you how much your vehicle is really costing you, how you are paying way too much interest on your loans than you should, your real hourly wage (factoring in commuting and buying lunch at work), as well as how long it will take you to reach financial independence.

It is the Mustache Calc - A Mathematical Punch in the Face.

Now, as a rule, I hate math. I have ever since the 6th grade. But math cannot tell a lie (unless you, the human, screw up the computation). So let's do a little experiment. I'm going to use this online calculator to show me how much it cost me to own a car when I used to have one.

  • Vehicle cost: $6,000 (bought it salvaged)
  • Estimated sale price: $3,000 (estimated Kelly Blue Book)
  • Lifetime miles: 50,000
  • Yearly miles: 20,000
  • MPG: 27
  • Cost of gas: $4/gallon
  • Yearly maintenance: $500
  • Yearly insurance: $1,100

Cost per year: $5,762.96
Cost per mile: $0.29

As you can see, gas ads up, maintenance ads up, insurance ads up, and finally, the price slashes in half once you purchase the thing.

Let's compare this to my current transportation costs:

Metro/Bus pass: $600 ($50/month)
Car2Go/Zipcar: $240 ($20/month average)
Cost per year: $840 - No insurance, no maintenance, no gas. 

Let's look at that one more time:

How I feel about paying for a car.
OWN CAR = PAY $5,762.96 A YEAR

Yeah, I'll take the "no car" option, please!

I realize not everyone can go without a car. I couldn't when I lived in the rural Midwest. But if you live in a big city like DC, NYC, or Chicago? You don't need a car! Use public transportation, your feet, your bike, or heck, even the services like Zipcar or Car2Go. None of these cost you as much as owning your own car does.

At any rate, enjoy playing around with the calculators, and perhaps they'll give you a good punch in the face, financially speaking!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Best of the Blogosphere: 05/10/13 Edition

Every Friday I feature a blog post in the following categories: Simple Living, Financial, DIY, Before & After, and Random. Here are this week's picks:

Best Simple Living: A few easy ways to make a small space more enjoyable (and livable), via Apartment Therapy.

Best Financial: Get Rich Slowly asks an important question: What will make you feel financially secure? For me, financially secure means being debt-free and having 6 months of an emergency fund stashed away. What about you?

Best DIY: How to make a gallery wall, via 7th House on the Left. What a great idea to block out the design before using the hammer and nail!
Best Before & After: This one from Design Sponge wins for sheer inventiveness. Who would think to wallpaper a refrigerator?! However, this DOES give me the idea that I can use some removable wallpaper on actual walls in my apartment.

Best Random: How I feel about the days of the week, via I Love Charts.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Out with the Old, in with the New

A year-and-a-half ago I was in a relationship with a guy who collected a lot of stuff. Because he had stuff he didn't know what to do with, he gave me two 8x10 picture frames. I used them to house some sketches of Prague that I purchased when visiting the city back in 2011. At the time the ex gave them to me, the frames were in decent shape, but over the last few months they've really declined. As you can see from the photo below, the frame on the right was starting to break in the back, so much so that it had almost fallen over completely!
(c) SingleSimpleStudio

Since these were breaking, it was time for some new picture frames. In comes a cheap TJ Maxx purchase:

(c) SingleSimpleStudio
(c) SingleSimpleStudio

I think the new frames look much better than the old ones, and they were only $8 a piece! The silver also reflects the light better and even such a small light reflector makes a difference in the room.

Here's to getting rid of old things! Who needs stuff from an ex anyway?

Monday, May 6, 2013

I Love Lamp!

Finally, back to some apartment stuff!

On Sunday I went to my go-to store for apartment decoration - TJ Maxx. I picked up a few things using gift cards (thanks, Mom!). One of them was this awesome lamp, which I had seen a few weeks ago. I'm so glad they still had it!

Before I got this lamp, the area by my bed looked like this. The taller lamp is old and the shade was about ready to go - you can't see all the marks on it from this distance, but they are there! It was a flimsy piece to begin with. I think I got it at Target for $15 about five years ago. It has served its purpose!

Here is the look of the room now with the new lamp. Much improved, I think!

Seeing the new lamp in its place reminds me that it will look much better when I do a bit more decorating. The wall above the bed is sad, I know. As is the bedside table. I have plans to paint this table to match the color of the pillows as well - add that on my growing "to-do" list.

The bedside table, by the way, was tucked behind my couch before I moved it by my bed. The old lamp is now next to my couch, but the jury is still out on whether it will stay there.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Financial Follies

Phew - what a week! You'll notice I haven't done much on the blog front this week. That's because I've been spending all my extra free time and energy on learning the ins and outs of my investments. Building off of Monday's post on creating an Investment Policy Statement (ISP), I spent the rest of the week actively looking at what investments I currently hold and learning about what retirement options are available to me.

What are the fruits of my labor? My retirement funds are on their way to new, and I think better, investment vehicles!

Let's start with a summary of where I began:

Roth IRA
I've been contributing to the Roth account since rolling over an old 401k about 5 years ago. It is currently with Wells Fargo Investors and has a 100% holding of Franklin Income Series Class C (FCISX). It has been performing rather well, but over the last year I've done some investigating and discovered that there are some hidden fees associated with the account:

Yearly Wells Fargo fee: $40
Expense ratio: 1.14%
Management fee: 0.38
Admin fee: 0.15%
12b-1: $0.65

I forget what most of these mean except for the yearly fee of $40 and the expense ratio. The expense ratio means that I get less of the returns because of a fee to manage the account. For example, say this account has a 7% return for 2013, I only get 5.86% of the earnings. NOT. COOL.

TIAA-CREF 403(b)
This is my work retirement account. My company contribution is amazing (12% of my salary!) and I've been contributing 6% as well since last June when I started this job. I haven't been too dissatisfied with this account. Here are the holdings:

TIAA Traditional Annuities - 39%
CREF Inflation-Linked Bond - 15%
TIAA Real Estate - 10%
TIAA Mid-Cap Growth and CREF Stock - 36%

The expense ratios here range from 0.45% to 0.92%. Not terrible, but not great either. Also, I've recently discovered that annuity rates are subject to the TIAA board, and right now they are at 3%. So I'm only earning 3% on that money, and I have almost 40% invested there!  Another thing about the TIAA annuities is that if I have over $3,000 in those shares and want to move the money, TIAA will only pay them out to me over NINE YEARS. Seriously? NINE YEARS! NOT.COOL.

As you can see, things aren't bad, but I know I can do better. After a week of reading my retirement options at work and seeking advice from the Boglehead's Wiki, I've decided to go with the best index funds around. This means I'm using Vanguard for my Roth IRA and Fidelity for my 403(b). For the record, Fidelity is the only other retirement option available to me at work besides TIAA-CREF.

Let's look at my new choices:

Roth IRA - now with Vanguard
Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund Investor Class (VASGX) - expense ratio 0.17%

With a low expense ratio, this is going to make me more money. Additionally, this fund is actually invested in three index funds - the Total Market US Stock, the Total Market International Stock, and the Total Bond Index Fund.

Vanguard re-balances this fund itself, so I know it will always stay 80% stocks/20% bonds. I won't be contributing to my Roth for a while, choosing to focus on upping my 403(b), so a simple, cheap, and automatic fund for the Roth IRA is what I'm looking for!

403(b) - now with Fidelity
Spartan Gloal Ex-US Index Fund (FSGUX) - expense ratio 0.34%
Spartan Total Market Index Fund (FSTMX) - expense ratio 0.06%
Fidelity US Bond Index Fund (FBIDX) - expense ratio 0.22%
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Fund (FINPX) - expense ratio 0.45%

Thankfully, Fidelity has some really great low-fee index funds as well. Since I'm going to be contributing to this fund exclusively for a while, I've diversified this one a bit more in the bond area (to include TIPS, aka inflation-protected bonds), but I've also added US and international stock.

Most importantly, these accounts combined align with my overall asset allocation strategy. I talked about this on Monday and determined that it would be 70% stocks/30% bonds. I ended up with only slightly altered percentages. My entire portfolio (i.e. both accounts) now have an asset allocation of:

  • 75% stocks (55% US, 20% international)
  • 25% bonds

One final word on why I am investing this way. It is because I agree to the following theory on investing, which is actually the Bogleheads investment philosophy (named after Vanguard founder John Bogle):

  • Invest early and often
  • Never bear too much or too little risk
  • Diversify
  • Never try to time the market
  • Keep costs low
  • Minimize taxes
  • Invest with simplicity
  • Stay the course

These points all seem like common sense to me, so I can't understand why anyone WOULDN'T want to invest this way. But to each his own, I guess!

I know some of you aren't interested in investing, so this post may have been complicated for you to follow (and frankly, boring!). But if I can give my fellow 20-30 somethings any advice, it would be to invest in low cost index funds and start early. Take advantage of your work retirement accounts. Make sure you pick funds that have low expense ratios.

I hope this has been pretty simple to follow, and I've linked to definitions of terms in case you want to learn more. Next week it is back to apartment stuff!