Sunday, February 28, 2016

No-Buy Month Challenge: The Results

Back in January, I mentioned that we were planning to do a no-buy month challenge to help detox from the holidays. And it's about time that I share the results. We planned for January to be a month with no discretionary spending. Aside from bills and you know, feeding ourselves, we weren't supposed to spend anything extra.
What did we cut out of our budget? 
You are supposed to cut out anything unnecessary. And for the most part, we did that. No unnecessary purchases, that meant nothing for the house, no new clothes, and no salon visits. We even cut the dog's toy budget, not sure how he felt about that.  

What did we keep in our budget? 
A kept a few things that were technically unnecessary within our budget. For example, date nights. We have a category for this in our monthly budget. It's nothing excessive, just enough to cover a nice dinner out once a month and a little extra for activities in the city. This is really important for us in terms of fostering our relationship, so we didn't touch our date budget. Also, we didn't completely eliminate eating out. We did spend significantly less, but I knew it would be impractical to believe that we would cook 3x day. So yea, we still left a little money for Chipotle.  

Did we Cheat? 
Well yes, yes we did. How much we cheated depends on your definition of cheating. We had a nice little stack of gift cards from Christmas. Between the lure of the after Christmas sales and gift cards, we did a little shopping. Gift cards bought a couple of trips to Starbucks and Tom got new pants from J.Crew. We also picked up a few things for the apartment (nothing over $10) like dish towels and new clay pots for our succulents. You don't really realize how often you just "pick" things up at Target until you're not supposed too. 

Did we Save any Money? 
Even though we cheated a little, we definitely saved a bit. Obviously, we couldn't go every month forgoing dry cleaning or not buying dog treats. But we can work to spend less. 

What did we learn? 
I'm thankful we tried this challenge because is was a good lesson in living with less. We ended the month with savings and identified the categories in our budget where we can stand to improve in the future. We will absolutely be trying this again in the future. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

HodgePodge Clothing Budget

Normally there's a trend to my clothing budgets, but this is a bit of a mashup. Partly because I'm including a few items that I normally wouldn't. In the past, I've always kept two separate budgets. One for regular clothes that I keep strict track of here. The other budget included what I endearingly refer to as adventure gear (for hiking, camping, workouts, etc.), that I sort of tracked, but not really. As I've become more active, I have been spending more in that category and I need to reign it in so I'm combining my two budgets. This simplifies things. I missed sharing my January clothing budget (oops!) so below are my purchases from both January and February 2016. 
Anthropologie Seenebec Dress  - original $138, on sale for $24
I'm certainly not a tall thin Scandinavian girl like the model above, but this dress is so flattering to my figure. I fell in love when I tried it on last summer (anthro dresses just work for me), but I wasn't prepared to spend +$100 on it. When I randomly found this on the sale rack, grabbing it was a no brainer. 

Anthropologie PostCard Tee - original $58, on sale for $18
Sorry this one isn't in the collage, finding high quality images to use can be a struggle. 
J Crew Pom Beanie - original $60, currently only $30, purchased with gift card  

Anthropologie Mittens - original $30, on sale for $6 X 2 pairs = $12
I love these mittens so much I bought two pairs! Aside from being cute, they are lined with fleece (super warm), making them the perfect winter accessory.  
The North Face Ski Gloves - original $55, on sale for $27

Brixton Fedora - original $58, currently on sale in this cute color 
January/February Total: $139
Last year, I was $300 under my yearly budget. But this year, I'm actually increasing my budget to accommodate for adventure gear. That being said, I'm setting this years budget at $1750, which is just shy of $150 a month. I spent less than that during January and February combined, so it seems that my 2016 budget is off to a great start.  

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Husband's 27th Birthday

Hubby turned 27 on Monday and we are headed off to New York {1st trip of 2016} in a couple of weeks to celebrate in the Adirondacks and Lake Placid. With this new adventure on the horizon, I had to fight the urge to go completely overboard on his birthday. Let's save some of the fun for our trip. But in the meantime, we still had to celebrate on the actual day.  
Because Tom's Birthday was on a Monday this year, most of his day had to be spent at the office. Not the funnest thing to do on your birthday, but that's reality. I thought waking up him up with a homemade donut cake would be a nice little pick me up {aka sugar rush} so I made these while he slept. 
Later that night, we headed out to dinner at a new to us Italian place. Boston really does Italian food well, especially lobster ravioli. 
After the most amazing dinner, it was home for presents. Can you guess what his favorite color is? I tried to use hints of green throughout. 
But first we opened gifts from family! 
We had lots of phone calls and thank you's to make after. 
And by then, we were ready for cake.   
Husband's cake this year was an ice-cream cake….chocolate cake with oreo cookie ice cream.  
Can I be honest? This was my first attempt at making an ice cream cake and I wasn't sure how it would turn out. The cupcakes were meant to be a back-up just in case the ice cream cake didn't work out, but it did so then we had both! 
Ice Cream Cake + Cupcakes = A Very Happy Birthday 
Time for more presents with gifts from me. Tom and I are moving away from giving each other gifts, but I did pick up a few things that were needed including J Crew goodies for the office and a ski bag…hopefully there is lots of fresh powder in Lake Placid! 
I also gave Husband a sentimental gift…this artwork of our pup PJ. He loved it! 
The other night he was going on and on about how he would save PJ during the Zombie Apocalypse {yes this was a real conversation} and I was just smiling to myself knowing I had this ready for him.  
In the past, we haven't always been able to be together to celebrate birthdays {#ihatelongdistance}, so this birthday was extra special. I loved spending time with him and making so many treats for his birthday. Cannot wait to continue celebrating in the ADK and Lake Placid. 
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOM!

linking up with stuffthingsetc.//thinkingoutloud

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wanderlust Wednesday

One of my big hopes for this year is to share a bit more about traveling. I truly feel that getting out and seeing new places really puts life into perspective. Right now, Tom and I travel as much as our schedules and wallets will possibly allow. And this is something that will always be true for us. While I love recapping all of our trips, that is such a small portion of the journey. I really want to focus more energy into sharing the details of planning for travel because even a quick weekend trip may have involved countless hours of work beforehand. On that note, I've decided that every Wednesday this year, I will share more about the other aspects of travel…everything from travel tips to where to go to how to pay for it. I will be back next Wednesday with our long overdue recommendations on travel credit cards. 
"I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be to not explore at all." 
-Ernest Shackleton

Monday, February 22, 2016

Birthday Donut Cake

Kicking off the B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y celebrations bright and early this morning!
There is nothing fun about having a Monday Birthday. But at the very least, I think waking up to this donut cake makes today extra special for Husband. He loved my Apple Cider Donuts last Fall, so when I was thinking up a special birthday breakfast to make, I knew homemade donuts would be perfect. Since traditional birthday cakes are either vanilla or chocolate, I decided to go with a combination of both…vanilla donuts with a chocolate glaze. And I figured, why not cover everything in sprinkles while I'm at it?  
 These donuts are the simplest things to whip up. I didn't even have to break out the stand mixer, which was important since Husband was still sleeping while I baked. I needed to be extra quiet as not to ruin the surprise. 

INGREDIENTS 
For the Vanilla Donuts
1 cup flour 
1 tsp baking powder 
¼ tsp baking soda 
¼ tsp nutmeg 
1 egg 
⅓ cup brown sugar 
¼ cup milk 
 ¼ cup vanilla greek yogurt 
2 tbsp melted butter 
1½ tsp vanilla extract 

For the Chocolate Glaze  
(the best part) 
½ cup chocolate chips 
2 tbsp butter 
2 tsp dark corn syrup 
2 tsp water 
jimmies/sprinkles

Cooking Tools 
Donut Pan OR Mini Cupcake Tray 

DIRECTIONS
Yields 6 donuts or 15 donut holes
1.) Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a donut pan OR a mini cupcake tray {to make donut holes} with a non-stick spray. 
DONUTS 
2.) In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg together. 
3.) In a separate bowl, whisk egg, brown sugar, milk, and yogurt together. Slowly whisk in melted butter and vanilla extract. 
4.) Pour the wet ingredients from Step 3 into the dry ingredients from Step 2. Whisk to combine.  
5.) Pipe batter into donut pan, filling ¾ full
6.) Bake ~10 minutes 
While the donuts are baking, it's time to make the glaze…with sprinkles on top!

GLAZE
7) In a medium bowl, combine chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup, and water. Melt in the microwave for 30sec increments, stirring in between. 
8.) Dip warm donuts into chocolate glaze and then dip directly into sprinkles 

 These donuts are quick and easy for a breakfast on the go. And as an added bonus, they are baked (instead of fried), which means not having to feel guilty about eating so many of them. But most importantly, they made for the best birthday surprise!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY HUSBAND 


Linking up with blovedboston//morepiecesofme 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Five on Friday

It's been too long since I shared a Friday Five so here goes!

one…a new area rug. There are hardwood floors throughout the apartment so we have area rugs to make things cozy. The rug in front of the coat closet had taken it's last breath. The poor thing was a resting ground for boots covered in salt and snow. It's where we laid our skis out to dry and PJ used it as a scratching post for his back. We replaced it with this colorful beauty.
The rug is actually a two for one because I'm thrilled about the $$ we saved on it. We had planned on spending $50 for a very basic 4X6 rug, but I found this on clearance for only $30. Definitely didn't expect to find something this large that we would love this much. Plus, I'm always happy to save money. I know what you're thinking…it's just 20 bucks! But I always think of money in terms of travel and $20 buys a museum ticket or ferry rides to my favorite place on Earth.

two...birthday planning! Tom's birthday is on Monday. He is pretty nonchalant about it. Meanwhile, I'm bursting with excitement. Tom reads my blog avidly so I can't share any details yet or I'll ruin the surprise. But let's just say that I'm especially excited to give him his gifts this year.

three…beer bottle caps. This one needs an explanation. Whenever Husband tries a new craft beer, he saves the bottle cap. It's a pretty cool idea, except for the fact that there are beer bottle caps everywhere. I find them in his pockets when I'm doing laundry. There are little clusters of them on his desk, in the kitchen drawers, and on the bookcases. It was like being in a frat house.
I found this glass container to store them all. Tom thinks it looks like a beer bottle so he loves it. And I love it because, all 208 of his beer bottle caps have a single place to call home, with plenty of space for more.


four…Bark Box. When I shared what we gave for Christmas, I totally spaced and forgot to include the fur babies in our life. With the holiday deals, we grabbed up a subscription to BarkBox for PJ. If you don't know, it's a monthly theme box sent with gourmet treats and toys for your pup. We are a little bit obsessed with this month's Chinese New Year theme. 
 The fortune on this cookie squeaker toy reads "I see more BarkBoxes in your future". too cute 

five…rainy runs
I hate running on a treadmill, but the back to back snow storms and below freezing temps have made running outside miserable. This week, snow was replaced with a light rain. When my drizzle turned into a downpour, I didn't even mind that I had to cut my run short because {I was getting soaked} anything is better than running in the snow.  

Happy Weekend!

Linking up with oh hey friday//

Thursday, February 18, 2016

valentine's day 2016

After having to spend last Valentine's Day apart, we were grateful for the chance to celebrate together this year. Even so, we wanted to keep things low-key. We decided not to exchange gifts. Instead we agreed to simply focus on spending time together. Here's how we celebrated Valentine's Day 2016.
Our original plan was to simply go ice skating on the pond, but it was -9 degrees outside, plus wind chill. Not something we wanted to deal with so we decided to ditch our plans and be spontaneous. At the last minute, we found ourselves at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. More details about our day are here, but for now, some of my favorite snap shots are below. 
After spending a few hours walking around the museum, we had worked up quite an appetite and decided to grab lunch. Normally museum food involves bland cafeterias with overpriced chicken fingers, but instead we ended up in a garden restaurant with an atrium full of sunlight. 
 I had duck served over risotto, while Tom had steak. It definitely felt like a fancy dinner out! It was more than we were expecting and it was delicious. 

Also, this is what happens when I ask Husband to take a photo while waiting for our food to come out! 

Later that night, we made dinner together. We much preferred this to fighting off the dinner crowds on Valentine's Day. And I think that we out did ourselves. We had lobster bisque and drunken mussels {we used a whole bottle of wine} over angel hair pasta. 
 Dessert involved homemade chocolate covered strawberries and cherries. 
Plus a bottle of champagne with raspberries and blackberries  This was the best Valentine's Day we've had in years! And while we made sure to get out of the house, most of our day was spent at home. It just goes to show that quality time doesn't have to mean a fancy date out. 
♥♥♥
We were long distance last Valentine's Day and I'm almost certain that it will be the same next year, so I'm thankful for every bit of joy that we squeezed out of Valentine's Day 2016. 

Linking up with thinking out loud//

Monday, February 15, 2016

all you need is love…and art

We have been staying in a lot lately to help fend off this winter weather. But Valentine's Day really pushed us to get out of the house {even if it was -9 degrees outside}. We decided that it was a perfect opportunity to cross another item off our Boston Bucket List by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts. 
We spent a night at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art a few months ago and adored every minute of it. Since we prefer classical art to modern, we knew that we would love the museum of fine arts even more. And it did not disappoint! There were so many pieces from our favorites…Monet, De Gule, Picasso. We were actually a bit overwhelmed.  
We decided to start with one of the museum's many free tours. Our tour guide was a nice elderly gentleman with a Harvard PhD. He was so knowledgeable and showed us some exhibits that we might have otherwise skipped. It was a perfect way to get our bearings {because this museum is massive} and determine which exhibits were worth revisiting once the tour ended. 

These flowers were definitely one of the pieces we revisited…I could stare at these gorgeous beauties all day
 I'm a fan of all things impressionist 
  Me + Monet
A few other favorites included the music exhibit 
and the pieces from the ancient worlds of Egypt and Greece
Plus we were able to see the visiting Picasso exhibit 
But without a doubt, our absolute favorite was this red room that housed some of the Art of Europe. Husband wants the red damask wallpaper in our future home 
while I wanted to take this tea service 
The Boston MFA has been open for over 100 years, which has given them plenty of time to collect thousands of pieces to the art. We loved that we spent Valentine's Day here because now we have something extra special to remember it by. 

The Details 
Time: 3-4 hours 
Cost: Adult $25 (free to Boston students)
Featured Collections: European Art, Egyptian Art, Greek Art, Contemporary, Japanese Art, Art of the Americas 

Friday, February 12, 2016

tips for a low-key valentine's day

Around here, we make a big deal about almost every holiday, but February 14th isn't one of them. It's not that we are cynical about it or anything. Having a day set apart to show how much you care is a good thing. But at some point, the cheesy gifts and over-the-top proposals get to be a bit much. 
The fact that our dating anniversary was at the beginning of February and Husband's birthday is towards the end of the month is what initially curbed our enthusiasm about this holiday. For us, Valentine's Day quickly became the middle child of February. We still wanted to celebrate, but always kept things simple. While we now celebrate our anniversary in a different month, we still like to keep things low-key. 

Skip the Restaurant 
We've all done it. You go out for a romantic dinner, but what you actually get is overpriced specials and an overly crowded dining room. The tables are too close for comfort and your romantic evening involves long waits for your dinner plate. Try making a special dinner at home, but still make the extra effort to dress up pretty. If you must go out, do brunch instead. It will be much less crowded {and less expensive}, but just as romantic. 

Take a Raincheck 
Having spent so much time dating long distance, Tom and I became accustomed to celebrating holidays on our own schedule. Consider celebrating Valentine's Day next weekend. You will be much more likely to have a date night all to yourself. Plus you can have all the discounted Valentine's Day candy that you can eat.   

Ditch the Crap 
On average, Americans are expected to spend roughly $135 per person on gifts for Valentine's Day. A lot of that includes things that will inevitably end up in the trash next week. So ditch the oversized stuffed animals and the tacky cards. Find something thoughtful to gift your love. Or you could be like us and ditch the gifts all together to focus on spending time together. 

How do you celebrate your Valentine's Day?