Coffee Stirrer Art

When it comes to DIY, I’m always looking for inexpensive and fun projects. After seeing this one on the Make & Do Girl I figured I’d give it a try. After work last Thursday I drove to AC Moore to pick up the supplies – 6 small bottles of acrylic paints ($.69 each), a few wooden frames ($1 each), some foam brushes (5 cents each!), a paint tray ($1 or so), glue (already had) and some fallback craft sticks if the coffee stirrers didn’t work ($1.50). The total came to about $12 after a coupon. Plus I had four of the frames, a few foam brushes & a ton of paint leftover.

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The first step was to paint the wooden frame white – I just thought it would be a better border than the natural wood. I also painted the backing of the frame since I knew it might be partially viewable in the end. Then I took coffee stirrers I picked up at a local coffee shop (and by picked up I mean stole. And yes, it was awkward when the barista saw me doing it) and used a pair of kitchen scissors to cut off one rounded edge. This project would have been much quicker and easier with falt-edge stirrers, by the way; but can’t exactly be picky when you aren’t paying. Next I set it in the frame and cut it to fit.

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After making sure the first stirrer was the right length, I used it as a guide and lined it up to the rest of the stirrers to cut them all to size.

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I definitely got a little impatient during the cutting stage – the stirrers were a little thicker than I had hoped (the craft sticks were way too thick to even cut, so they headed straight to my craft cabinet), and it was a pretty tedious process. Some sticks cracked halfway through cutting them and others were just super stubborn. But after almost a full episode of “House Hunters” I had enough for one frame.

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Once I had all the stirrers cut to size, I laid them out on an old magazine and, using the same foam brush from painting the frame, I started on the stirrers. There really wasn’t a method to it, I just dipped the foam brush in a color and swiped over a few at a time. After a while the foam brush got dirty, so I threw it out and moved onto a new one. At five pennies each it was easier than washing and reusing…sorry environment! I had to pick up the sticks sometimes to make sure I was getting them completely covered on each end, since they’d be fully visible. I purposely made them to look weathered and sort of watercolor-y because it was the look I was going for. It did get a little messy, but was tons of fun and realllllly easy. I have NO art skills whatsoever, so truly anyone can do it. Including young children, as long as the stirrers are pre-cut for them.

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I moved the painted stirrers to a paper towel to dry – I was afraid they might stick to the magazine and break. Why a paper towel seemed like a better option I couldn’t tell you. But seeing them laid out next to each other got me pretty excited for the final product.

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I waited less than 5 minutes for everything to dry – the stirrers seemed fine and I couldn’t wait to see the art all done. I spread out some glue on the back of the frame, started placing the sticks down & sliding them next to each other one by one. Note: the picture below is showing what turned out to be way too much glue. It was seeping out between the stirrers, so I wiped a lot of it off after the first two were in place.

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Drum roll please…

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I lurrrrrrv it. Like a lot. And don’t worry, I fixed that random blue dot on the 5th green stick. Here she is in her current spot on my bedroom dresser. Love how it blends in well with the color of my earrings and other jewelry:

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I’m SO proud of myself. I realize it’s only a tiny piece of art, but I’m not the artsy type and this project makes me motivated to do even bigger ones.

What are these Points Worth?

When you sign up for a purely cash back credit card, what you’re earning for your spending is pretty darn straightforward. If you get 1 point per dollar spent, and 100 points equals a $1 statement credit on your account, then clearly you’re earning 1% cash back on that card. If they bump that up to 5 points per dollar on special categories, like the Chase Freedom card does, you’ll be earning 5% cash back on those purchases. But what about airline miles? Points that can be transferred to other accounts? Hotel points? Are they like the cash back cards, and worth a penny each? Or are they worth much more than that?

I recommend using this formula to see the true value of a point (consider a point as anything, other than actual currency, used to purchase something):

[what the purchase is "worth"] / [points redeemed]

=

value of each point, in dollars

Let’s use a concrete example – you have 25,000 United miles you’d like to redeem for a round-trip flight from JFK to LAX. You find great tickets and book them, using all 25,000 miles. If that flight would have cost you $500 to book without miles, then you redeemed your miles for a value of 2 cents each: $500/25,000 = .02 = 2 cents = the same thing as 2% cash back, assuming you’re earning these points at a rate of 1 per dollar spent. If the flight value was more like $300 (and always use the lowest price you would have paid had you not had the miles, so that you’re not overvaluing them), you would have gotten $300/25,000 = .012 = 1.2 cents per mile.

Something to always keep in mind here – deciding what is a “good” and “bad” use of points/miles isn’t straightforward. While there are worse ways than others – I’d arque that using 25,000 miles to get a sweatshirt from some weird online mall would be a terrible, terrible move – everyone has their own idea of what’s best. A lot of people hate the hassle of using miles to book flights, which I can understand, so they’d prefer $250 cash for those 25,000 miles than a round-trip ticket somewhere. And it isn’t as simple as figuring out a numerical value of a point or mile, because certain factors that have no concrete dollar value are often involved. Just because a plane ticket is worth $200 doesn’t mean that using 25,000 miles for it is a bad move – maybe the time works way better for you than the cheaper flight, or it’s nonstop vs. one with a layover, or it’s on an airline that you need to unload miles.

There’s a lot more to all of this – I only covered how to figure out the value of your points assuming you’re earning them at 1 per dollar. So if you’re earning 1 mile or point per dollar spent on a credit card, it’s as simple as it gets. But if you’re earning 2 per dollar, it changes. That 25,000 mile domestic ticket only took you $12,500 of everyday spend to earn it, so if it’s worth $500…you’ve just earned a 4% rebate on your spending. Imagine a case where you’re earning 5 points/dollar…now you’re looking at 10% “cash back” value. See how it can get much more confusing, very quickly?

Chicken Arrabiata: A Recipe

Welcome to my first recipe! Adapted from one of my favorite food blogger’s, Budget Bytes, I made this delicious Chicken Arrabiata recipe last night and can’t say enough good things about it. Not only was it tasty, but it was super easy, had very little prep work, and only had one real pan to clean (I say “real” because there’s also the pasta pot, but that doesn’t count in my opinion). Check out the recipe below!

Chicken Arrabiata

Serves about 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • About 1/4 cup flour
  • Salt & pepper, for seasoning the chicken
  • 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes (with or without basil)
  • 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon basil
  • LOTS of red pepper (I used at least 4 tablespoons)
  • Fresh herbs, if you have any (I used parsley from my garden)
  • 12-16 oz. favorite pasta (I used linguine, any would work)

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Instructions:

  • Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Place flour in a shallow bowl and dip the chicken (both sides) to coat with flour.unnamed-1
  • Heat olive oil in a large enough skillet on medium heat (this works best if you have a lid for the skillet). When it’s hot, place the chicken in the skillet and brown, about 7 minutes on each side. Don’t worry if the chicken isn’t cooked completely, it shouldn’t be; it will finish cooking in the sauce later.unnamed-3
  • Remove the chicken from the skillet and add the garlic. It will brown very fast – possibly in 30 minutes – if you’re using a stainless pan like I was.unnamed-4
  • Once brown but not burnt, add in both cans of tomatoes, basil and red peppers. I love spicy, so I added a lot of peppers, but you can adjust to taste. Remember, you can always season your own dish later!
  • Place the chicken in the pan, and cover with the sauce. Make sure the chicken is covered as much as possible. If you must, add a little water.unnamed-6
  • Bring everything to a simmer. Once there, cover the skillet and continue to cook everything for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a lid, be sure to flip the chicken halfway through to ensure even cooking. You may need to add more liquid as well.
  • With 15 or so minutes left, boil the water for your pasta. Cook according to directions on the box.
  • Combine the pasta and chicken with sauce, top with any fresh herbs you have, and enjoy!

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Pennie Post: A Review

I love getting things in the mail. I also love surprises. So while I know it’s counterintuitive given my obsession with saving and frugality, I am a huge fan of monthly subscription boxes.

Subscription boxes are all the rage right now – whether it’s beauty productscoffeeartisan giftspocket squarescraft kits…the list goes on and on. They all work in similar ways: you sign up and pay a monthly fee and the company mails you a box full of goodies every 30 days.

If I could get a box in the mail with surprise crap in it every day I’d be the happiest girl on earth. The thing stopping me is pretty simple, and probably obvious if you’ve been reading the blog at all – spending that kind of money (between $10 and $50+ a month) isn’t something I take lightly. Not to mention sometimes the boxes are packed with just that…crap. And honestly, if you break down what buying these items would cost outside of the subscription it oftentimes isn’t more than the price of the subscription itself. I can’t pretend that I don’t have the ability to order almost anything online with a discount + free shipping (hello Amazon Prime). So usually what ends up happening is I see a blog post or article about a new type of subscription box service, click around on their website, find a promo code for a reduced first month somewhere and sign up. Then I get the first box, like it, but not enough to pay full price into the future. So I cancel.

Recently I came across a review of Pennie Post. I’d tried out Nicely Noted many times in the past and absolutely loved it, but was having a tough time justifying $20 a month for some pretty cards. The $11 monthly price for Pennie Post was tempting, and I loved what I saw from the company’s first month. I signed up for 3 months (only $33!) and receive my first package today.

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How cute is that envelope? Inside was a great note explaining July’s theme (Farmer’s Market) and listing the included items.

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Above are three postcards, with adorable prints of strawberries, grapefruit and avocado. There were also two full-size cards included as well.

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Everything in the package was perfect. Another great perk of Pennie Post is that it encourages you to send snail mail to friends and family, something I always want to do more of but never seem to. I’ve already mailed out two postcards, and I know who’s getting that rad birthday card.

All in all I absolutely recommend Pennie Post. For $11 a month, including shipping, getting 3-5 stationary pieces is fantastic. And the quality of them all is top notch. Can’t wait to get my August selection in a few weeks!

What’s Your Credit Score?

As you venture out into the credit card world, and – assuming you’re listening to my life-changing advice – start applying for new cards, it’s always valuable to know your credit score. The annoying thing is that it’s not easy getting your hands on a legitimate credit score without paying. And honestly, I don’t think it’s worth paying for that sort of information.

There are a bunch of online services that provide free credit score estimations, one of which I personally use: Credit Karma. Another popular choice is Credit Sesame. I’ve read nothing but good things about it and would love to try it myself, but I’ve had some weird issues getting an account set up and it isn’t worth the hassle right now. Do keep in mind that when using these websites the results are not going to be 100% accurate, but they are excellent indicators of how good your credit is.

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It’s really very simple. You sign up for an account (and yes, you do have to enter in personal information including your SSN. if you don’t feel comfortable doing that I understand, but you’ll have to enter that sort of stuff when you apply for a credit card as well. without this info they won’t have a good way to grade you) and they provide you with three different scores – TransRisk, Auto Insurance, Home Insurance & Vantage. The TransRisk and Vantage scores are both meant to reflect your desirability to credit card companies, while the Auto & Home Insurance score apparently displays how “insurable” you are.

The score that’s most indicative of what the credit card companies see is your TransRisk score, so naturally it’s the one I care about most. Yay for having “Excellent” credit!

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While I’m happy with my score of 787, until I cross that 800 threshold I won’t be satisfied.

Credit Karma also provides you with a bunch of other stuff like a breakdown of your “Report Card” and recommendations for cards to sign up for. I wouldn’t personally sign up through their site, since their links usually don’t give you the best bonuses available, but it’s certainly a great tool to find new cards and learn about them. So check it out…you might be surprised at how high your score is!