Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Update: Kitchen Garden

I've been meaning to write a post about this for about a month! I finally bought some plants for my kitchen garden back in June and I can say this endeavor has been a success so far!

You might remember that I intended to do an Ikea run and get some pots and hooks from the Fintorp series:

And you also might remember that I wanted to do something like this:
Via Pinterest

Well folks, I did it! I only have two plants in the window right now. But hey, they aren't dead, so this is already a success!

On the left is lemon balm and on the right is lemon thyme. The lemon balm is delicious in water and the lemon thyme has been a wonderful addition to various dishes I've made. I'm hoping to get a few more plants before the summer is over. Maybe some basil or oregano? Yum!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Products: Laundry Detergent

As I've mentioned several times, I've been replacing some store-bought items with homemade versions. My latest homemade product attempt is laundry detergent. I followed a recipe from the blog Steph Makes Stuff almost exactly. Her recipe calls for Downy Unstoppables, but I didn't see the point in adding those in, so I skipped that ingredient. Here are the ingredients that I used:

2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
2 bars fels naptha soap
Drops of essential oil (optional)

The whole thing took me about 15 minutes to put together, and that was because I had to grate the two bars of soap. I followed Steph's instructions to only use two teaspoons, and after my first load of laundry, that amount seemed to do the trick. I might add a tiny bit more, but no more than a few tablespoons at the most. This laundry detergent packs a big punch in small quantities!

I have also made hair gel recently, which has turned out well. That will likely be my next "homemade product" update, and perhaps another foray into homemade shampoo and conditioner eventually. The first one I tried made my hair very greasy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Room for Wine

I would love my very own wine cellar. But since I don't even have a basement, I take what I can get! The "what I can get" is a small wine rack on my kitchen buffet. I haven't been making full use of it, though. As you can see, the wine rack houses one bottle plus lots of other stuff:

A few weeks ago I saw this photo from Apartment Therapy, which was the first time I encountered a photo of my exact buffet!
Via Apartment Therapy
I inherited the buffet from someone when they moved out of an apartment, so I still have no idea where it came from. I knew you could adjust the shelves, but I was too scared to do it myself. Until I saw this picture and became majorly motivated to use the wine rack in all its glory.

It really was easy. I thought I'd have to take the whole thing apart, which was not appealing. Before I started, though, I consulted my dad, the master carpenter and Solver of All Building-Related Problems. He said I could just hammer the shelves loose, move the friction-fit pieces that hold the shelves in place, and then hammer the shelves into their new settings. That's exactly what I did. Moving the shelves took all of five minutes. Cleaning them took much longer, so the project turned out to take about an hour. Check out my full wine rack now! The sun was quite bright when I took this picture - I'll have to get a better shot some other time.

It might seem like a tiny project, but I'm very proud of myself. And happy that now I can display my lovely wines in their proper place!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pre-Tax Savings is Awesome (And Other Financial Updates)

Sooo...it’s been a while. Hello again! June was an unusually busy month. But busy in a good way. I’ve been living life, which means I’ve been doing things that don’t involve sitting at a computer and writing blog entries. And that’s okay :)

But now that things have calmed down a bit, I want to get back to blogging. Maybe not as often as I was in my peak - I’m aiming for once a week right now as opposed to 2-3 times a week. Why is that? Well, for starters, I don’t have that many projects lined up for my apartment. I like the way it is now, and aside from a few tweaks here and there, I don’t have any major projects planned.

That doesn’t mean I’ve shied away from my goals, I’ve just been focusing on my financial goals for a while. I started off 2014 with a post about my goals, and the financial ones I laid out for myself were as follows:

  1. Get my emergency fund up to 6 months worth of expenses. By my calculations, I need to save about $9,000 more than I currently have saved up.
  2. Increase my 403b retirement contributions. I'm currently contributing 10% of my salary to this account (pre-tax) every month. My employer also contributes a very nice 12%! After I meet my first goal, I'm going to shoot for increasing my contribution to 15% by the end of 2014.
  3. Contribute to my Roth IRA or start saving for home down payment. I put these two together because I'm not sure if I'll get to them this year. If it looks like I will, then I'll start researching which is the best course of action.

And wouldn't you know it, I’ve met ALL THREE and it is only July! I even exceeded some! Holy crappola!

I filled the emergency fund last month, which led to a chain reaction. It allowed me to stop using post-tax money from my paycheck and instead gave me the ability to send roughly the same amount I was contributing to the e-fund into my pre-tax work retirement account (403b). When I did the math, I discovered that I could actually contribute 20% of my paycheck instead of the 15% I thought I would do. Amazing! And when I went from 10% to 20%, I saw a reduction in take-home pay of about $350/month. Now that I don’t need the post-tax money to put in my emergency fund, I get to pay less taxes because I have less take-home pay. Ah, the beauty of pre-tax investing!

My third goal of the year was to contribute to my Roth IRA or start saving for a down payment. I’ve already done both! Thanks to a windfall, I was able to max out my Roth IRA for the first time EVER. Boy, does that feel good.

So...with all of the above out of the way, I figured it was a perfect time to start saving for a down payment. I decided to go for it notwithstanding the following: I live in a high cost of living area, thus housing prices are high; it is a renters market here; and based on the amount I can currently put towards this goal, I might not be able to buy for another 5-7 years. Those were all reasons for me to say “no, don’t start this account.” But in the end, I figured that I have to start somewhere, and if in 5 years I have $30,000 saved up and I decide not to buy a place, then I can either keep on saving or take some out of the account to max out some retirement accounts. Saving money is never a bad decision.

Next came the question of where to put this money. Luckily, I found a decent online savings account for this purpose: Barclay’s ‘Dream Fund.’ What enticed me to this particular account is that it has a decently high interest rate (0.95%) and comes with a few bonus interest deals as long as you make consistent payments and don’t withdraw money for a certain amount of time. I don’t plan on touching this fund for at least 5 years, so no problem there! I will also be making regular contributions every month, set up in the form of an online transfer that happens automatically.

Financially, I’ve never been in better shape! Barring any major disaster, my financial situation is only going to get better. Even if there is a disaster, I have all my ducks in a row so I know I’ll be able to weather the storm, come what may. What a change compared to when I started this blog two years ago: in debt and hardly any savings to speak of.