27th Year Challenge: Month 5

Okay, I am way behind in getting on my challenge list and year 28 is rounding the corner faster than I’d like to admit.  I’d like to say I have been busy working out, travelling, and doing things around the house, but let’s get real.  I was probably watching Arrested Development on Netflix in anticipation of the new season release and eating ice cream.  In fairness to myself, we were also busy with a lot of outside projects that sucked up what seemed like every weekend (more on those later).  But back to the challenge. 

At some point, we did manage to find some barstools for our kitchen.  I searched and searched.  I wanted something with a back so they would be comfortable to sit on and I thought I wanted something white to stand out against the dark wood and appliances. 

I loved these from West Elm but wasn’t sure how well the wood color would match to the somewhat reddish wood in our kitchen. 

Rustic

Then I liked these little fellas from Crate and Barrel but wasn’t so hot on the price.  Also, I wanted something with a back. 

Felix

I thought I had found exactly what I wanted in these from CB2.  They had the higher back, were white, and had clean lines.  But I didn’t want to pay $300 for 2 chairs.

Phoenix

So I held off.  I searched craigslist and every homegoods store I could think of.  Knowing I didn’t want to spend a bunch on the barstools, I focused almost exclusively on sale sections of websites like the ones I mentioned.  One day I was searching around on Restoration Hardware’s website.  I have never purchased anything from there because frankly, the prices seem crazy and often, the style just isn’t really mine.  But just when I least expected it, I found the perfect stools.  They were on final sale and were exactly what I had been looking for – The Hagen Stained Chair

Hagan

At $59.00 for the counter-height, I knew these were the ones.  I worried a bit about how the white stain would look but when they came in, they were perfect. They don’t look all grainy like they did in the picture.

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They add the perfect amount of white to the kitchen which is otherwise pretty dark in terms of tone.  They are incredibly comfortable and the legs are metal which, if you have a dog that likes to randomly chomp into furniture, is a huge plus.  And did I mention $59.00?  Seriously.  I couldn’t find anything I liked at Target for that price.  They came fully assembled which was extra awesome because I had read reviews on some from Target and people complained about assembly and the fact that the chairs were hard to level.  Don’t worry, Target, I still love you and will spend massive amounts of money on your products, but I wanted some sturdy chairs.  These fit the bill.  So I guess that means I have 5 out of 12 items on my challenge list complete.  I will take it!

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These chairs were SO worth the wait.  I have recently started following a new philosophy for decorating our house.  I don’t buy anything unless I absolutely love it.  I used to find myself doing things on Pinterest because they looked good, were cheap, and seemed easy enough.  But I almost always later wanted something different.  So I decided that even if it means that many of the rooms in our home remain unfinished, I’m okay with that.  I will wait, and search, and save until I find exactly what I love.  These barstools are perfect and I am so glad I waited until I found them!

Best Free Websites For: Saving You Money

Ok, so the economy is in the crapper, the dollar will soon be replaced by the rupee, we have a do-nothing Congress, and unemployment is rampant.  Blah, blah, blah.  These are all true statements, but only we own our own financial future.  You know what people did in the past when things were tight?  They worked two jobs, they worked three jobs, and they pinched pennies, they ate rice and beans, and they liked it.  If that is what you find yourself having to do, or you’d like a bit of financial freedom, check out these sites when you have the time.

After all, financial freedom is not so much about being rich and having the fanciest car or the fanciest house, it is about having control over your own future.  Money, debt, and the economy often feel as they control our future.  I should know, since I went to law school.  In any event, it is time to stop blaming “they” and take control of our own finances.  Check out these sites for a little financial freedom of your own.

1.  Mint, to save more and spend less:  This is far and away the best personal finance website for family use.  Meaghan and I use this to track all of our expenses, set goals, receive reminders for bills, and it even has a mobile app for Android or Iphones.  You can enter all your expenses into categories, set budgets for each month, and include all your loans, checking and savings accounts, and brokerage balances to stay on track.  You can also try Yodlee, which is also very good, but the interface can sometimes be a little sticky.  Both are completely free when you sign up.

2.  Portfoliomonkey, to weigh the risk of your portfolio: This site is pretty fun to mess around with to determine the relative risk/reward in your portfolio.  You can add and subtract hypothetical trades to see the affect on your overall investment strategy.  The analyzer function will show you how your money could grow or shrink.  Another free service.

3.  Google Finance, to screen your next stock pick:  Add stocks or funds to your watch list, use technical analysis tools such as bollinger bands and volume indicators, see portfolio related news and overall market data, and best of all, it is completely free.  I also recommend Zecco for your trading needs.  You get $4.95 stock trades, which is about as cheap as it gets for online trading, along with some other cool features.

4.  Hipmunk, to plan your flights and hotels:  This site is really fun to play around with if you need to find a flight with the perfect layover time and you don’t want to use 5 different site engines.  Kayak is also very good, but Hipmunk has some more exciting features and is much more fun to use.  When you run a search, you can narrow to results to the lowest price, least travel time, and my personal favorite, the least agonizing.  You can also save searches and open new tabs rather than have 20 windows open (like most free travel sites).  Definitely one to check out when you are planning a vacation.

5.  Dealnews, to find the perfect deal on many consumer goods:  You name it and this site compiles daily online deals for electronics, clothing, hardware, software, tools, gifts, subscriptions, etc.  I go on this at least once a day to see if something I’ve been looking for is listed.

For instance, I’ve needed an HDMI cable for the upstairs Roku player.  These are one of the most overpriced items you can find in retail.  They will claim to have gold plated, titanium enriched alloys that will blow your face off when you watch movies.  In reality, they are all about the same.  A 6 ft. cable at Best Buy?  $24.99 for a Dynex brand cable.  I’ve seen them as high as $80 or $100.  What did I pay yesterday when I came across one on Dealnews?  $1.73+ free shipping, and it also linked to Amazon where you could read reviews to really determine if it was worth the money.  In case you are keeping track, if I went to Best Buy I would have spent about 14X as much.  This is my favorite retail site, without a doubt.  Much to the chagrin of my wife, I’ve even ordered an entire pallet of name brand toilet paper from this site for less than .40c a roll.  That was almost 5 months ago and we’re not even halfway through it yet.

6.  PNC Bank, for your banking needs:  We could not be happier from having recently switched to PNC Bank.  Granted we have not had any customer service issues and have not really tested them yet, but their Virtual Wallet accounts are amazing.  It basically comes in three parts.  You get a spend account (which we for direct deposit and to pay bills), a reserve account to save for short term purchases, and a growth (savings) account that currently returns .85% on all balances up to $99,999.00.  With twenty grand in savings, that means you’d be looking at nearly $20 a month for keeping your money there.  They are also offering up to $150 in promotions to move your account to PNC.

Even better are the virtual management tools.  You get a calendar that tracks all your bills and marks your paydays so that you have a snapshot of your checking and savings accounts at all times.  With the Performance account you can transfer money between all three accounts, use foreign ATMs, send money to anyone you owe electronically, make deposits through your Iphone, and setup simple programs to save money. Every time we pay a bill on time, I make our checking account pay $5 to savings.  This way, much like common animals, we are rewarded for our good behavior.  The best part, all these features are free with a direct deposit account and after making qualified purchases with your check card.

7.  The Simple Dollar, to read up on personal finance:  Trent, the author of my favorite personal finance blog, is pretty amazing.  He posts regularly, responds to reader emails on the site, and analyzes every aspect of personal finance.  He discusses family finance and planning, debt paydown strategies, and best of all, how to make homemade meals and replace common consumer goods on the cheap.  He usually even documents his receipts to show you how much you can save by doing things at home.

8.  Young House Love, to inspire yourself to complete another home project.  Meaghan is in love with this site, and although I haven’t explored it much, what I have seen is pretty cool.  This couple walks you through their home projects and renovations, most of which they do entirely on their own and with simple tools and materials.  They have really awesome taste in home design, so if nothing else, you will love the pictures on their blog.