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!

Increased Sign-Up Bonuses @ Capital One 360!

One of the online bank accounts I highlighted in a past post, Capital One 360, is offering up some fantastic sign-up bonuses for July 4th. You’ll receive $100 and $76 just for opening a checking and/or savings account with them. Talk about free money! These offers last until July 3rd, so if you’re thinking of opening an account with them in the near future now is the time.

Click here to open an account, and check out all the awesome offers below:

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Credit Card Caveat

A quick note on credit cards before I continue writing about them. There is one thing that is SUPER DUPER important to keep in mind when entering the world of credit card churning (that’s the technical term for applying for several cards in order to receive the bonuses they offer): never ever ever ever (EVER) charge things that you cannot afford to pay for that very same month. I know this is something people are told when they start living on their own and budgeting for the first time, but it’s even more important to keep in mind when you’re signing up for lots of cards and trying to meet several different spending requirements. If you carry a balance over from month to month – and I mean any balance – you have effectively canceled out the benefits from your bonuses (and then some). You’ll be paying exorbitant interest rates in order to earn miles, and that is not the goal.  imgres2-150x150

So the bottom line is this – if you aren’t sure you’ll be good at budgeting all your new credit card spending, start very slowly with one card and charge only a few things each month to begin with. Take however long necessary to make absolutely certain you will be able to budget properly in order to pay your bills in full each month before increasing your spending. Once you’ve learned how much you can handle and are sure you can control your spending accordingly – that’s when you can really start taking advantage of all the awesome offers out there. But not a minute sooner. Because you know what’s less fun than flying to Asia for free? Coming home to thousands of dollars in debt!

You Just Got Declined – Now What?

I write a lot about applying for credit cards, and how fantastic the benefits are that come with it. But what about the times when you make a decision about a card, apply for it, and then either see the dreaded “decision pending” message or receive an outright rejection? Besides being an ego-crusher (I don’t know about you, but getting declined always ruins my mood), it can be frustrating to know you’ve used an application that dinged your credit score several points, only to end up with nothing to say for it.

The truth is that while many times there isn’t anything that can be done about an unapproved application, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes all it takes is a quick phone call to understand why you were declined, to answer some questions, and then to have that decision instantly reversed. Think about it from the credit card company’s perspective: they only make money when people use their cards, and make even more when consumers don’t pay off their bills immediately and incur interest charges. Why wouldn’t they want to approve you, as long as they know you aren’t likely to go crazy with spending and then declare bankruptcy (or flee to another country, or disappear, etc.)? Of course they want more people using their cards every day!

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uh oh…pending.

First thing’s first – the moment you realize you haven’t been automatically approved for a credit card, it’s time to call the Reconsideration Line. You’ll be speaking with a representative whose main job is to explain rejections and hopefully figure out a way to turn a “no” into a “yes” (or a “maybe” into a “yes” for those with pending statuses). You’ll be calling the bank that issues the card (so not Visa or Mastercard, but instead whichever relevant bank backs the financing). Here’s a list of the current Reconsideration numbers at major card issuers:

  • American Express (yes, they’re a bank): (877) 399-3083
  • Bank of America: (888) 503-6090 (personal cards) & (800) 481-8277 (business cards)
  • Barclay’s: (866) 369-1283
  • Chase: (888) 245-0625 (personal) & (800) 453-9719 (business)
  • Citi: (800) 695-5171 or (800) 763-9795
  • Discover: (888) 676-3695
  • US Bank: (800) 947-1444 or (800) 685-7680

Next step is convincing them that you’re a great candidate for their credit card. There are many reasons you may have been declined, including:

  • You don’t have enough credit: explain to them why, and say you’re more than happy to provide pay stubs or proof of income. And that you’re happy to start with a low credit limit. This reason can be difficult to get around, but it’s worth a shot.
  • You have too many cards with them already: offer to move some credit from one of your already-active accounts to this new one. That way, they won’t be extending any additional credit to you at all. This is a very common reason for denial, and is one of the easiest to fix.
  • You have some sort of negative demerit on your credit history: ask them what it was. If it isn’t accurate, make sure to explain the real situation and do what you can to get that mark taken off your report. Recently, I applied for an Amex card only to be declined because “one of my other Amex cards had had a bill payment returned.” To them, it looked like I didn’t have the cash in my linked checking account to pay what was a very small bill ($12.17 to be exact). In actuality, my bank had declined the request because of unusual activity in my account that day, and called me to make sure it wasn’t fraudulent. After I told them everything was okay, they approved the bill payment. I spent some time on the phone with American Express clearing it all up, but was ultimately approved for the card without a problem (and had the bad note on my account removed).
  • You need to provide more information about something before they decide (your income, your identity, etc.): As long as you’re comfortable providing what they’re asking for, do whatever you can to do so. No reason to not be approved because they want a copy of your driver’s license. Just scan it in and email it to them; it’s worth the effort.

    There are many other possible reasons a person may not be approved, but the majority of them can be explained or worked around. Of course, there are times when you simply aren’t a good candidate for a card, and that’s okay. But don’t take an initial no for an answer – you may be losing out on a great credit card and (I’d hope) an awesome sign-up bonus.

 

Mason Jar Bud Vase & Jewelry Holder – How To

Way back when, a few of my favorite design blogs ran a quarterly “Pinterest Challenge.” Unfortunately they’ve stopped doing it (come on YHL…bring it back!), but I did participate in a few and loved what I made. Since my blog disappeared into thin air a year ago, the original project post was gone. But because I loved this particular challenge so much, I decided to repost the tutorial and pics in case anyone find it of interest.

My original inspiration was found here – it’s a jewelry holder and mason jar vase combined, and I absolutely loved it. Even better, I was pretty sure I could make one all by myself.

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The only question I had was how to connect the ring to the wall backing. So I headed out to Lowe’s and bought:

  • A 2′ x 4″ piece of wood which I had cut into two pieces, one 13″ and the other 11″ (I used the 13″ for the project but can make another with the shorter one if I want)
  • A pipe clamp, something used to attach pipes to walls
  • Some screw-in hooks
  • Metal screws

I used lefover stain from a pervious project and a pint-size mason jar I already owned. The total came to $11.62. If you had to purchase stain and other supplies it might run you closer to twenty dollars, but you’d have tons of leftovers afterwards.

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I stained the plank, which too about 5 minutes, on a piece of newspaper and let it dry overnight. Because this was the same stain I’d forgotten to mix properly last time, it was a little thicker then I would’ve liked. All I did was wipe over it with a paper towel (you can see it in the top of photo below) to get it to thin out a little.

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Then I attempted to attach the ring to the board. And failed about 29,038 times. It all boiled down to not having the right drill bits – I was trying to drill the screw directly into the ring and no matter how hard I tried or what special screw I used it wouldn’t even leave a mark. So I resorted to a measure I’m certain will end in disaster very soon; I super glued the heck out of that ring and let it dry for about 12 hours. For now it works, but  I’m hoping to purchase the proper tools and secure the mason jar with screws later. When it’s filled with some water and a few flowers it gets pretty heavy, and I’d rather not be woken up in the middle of the night to a shattering mason jar. {UPDATE: I’ve now had the holder hanging on my bedroom wall for over a year with no issues. I never got to reinforcing it, and have had flowers and water in there multiple times without issue. But I still don’t recommend it by any means!}

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I made small indents with my drill before screwing in the hooks, and measured to make sure they were spaced out correctly. I then added holes for where the final screws will go when attaching the entire jewelry holder to my bedroom wall in my new apartment.

photo-4-1-1024x764I’m more than happy with the results; it’s been hanging on my wall for the past year holding tons of necklaces and bracelets. And it’s not just great for jewelry – keys, scarves or anything else you can think of would work. I still can’t get over how easy it was to make!

 

How to Travel for (Almost) Free – Part 3

Jumping right back into it, below are my choices for newbies in the credit card / travel / points world. Drumroll please…

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. American Express Starwood Preferred Guest 
  3. Southwest Airlines Rapids Rewards

I could go on and on about why these cards are the best ones out there, but it really does boil down to the sign-up bonuses they offer. They each have spending requirements in order to receive said bonuses (spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, etc.), which must be kept in mind before applying. Once these requirements are met, you’ll be surprised to see what you receive. The Sapphire Preferred gives you 40,000 UR points, redeemable for 1:1 transfers to many airline partners; the Starwood card provides 30,000 SPG points, good for 35,000 airline miles or awesome hotel stays; the Southwest option awards $800 in Southwest travel, or $500 in gift cards. And all you did was use a credit card to purchase things you would have anyway!

{One very important caveat – the three cards mentioned above aren’t particularly easy ones to get if you have little to no credit history. They’re by no means the most exclusive, but if you happen to have fewer than two credit cards currently and spend close to your credit limit each month, I may not apply for any of them right away. In that case I’d recommend the Chase Freedom card. While you won’t get quite as much for signing up, the card pays 1% cash back on all purchases and 5% on quarterly bonus categories. Once you’ve established your credit a little more, you can apply for the Sapphire Preferred and take advantage of the awesome combination the two cards offer.}

Imagine what you could gain from applying for four cards each year. With just one new application every three months, you could earn enough to travel first class to and from Europe and stay in 5 star hotels while you’re there. Or fly across the country and back 6 times!  The opportunities are truly endless.

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