Tools for House Hunting

We’re definitely still dealing with the stress of house hunting. I thought I’d share some of the tools that have helped us along the way (in addition to our Realtor and loan officer, who have been awesome).

1. Wells Fargo’s “How Much Can I Borrow” calculator

One of the graphs on the “How Much Can I Borrow” calculator.

This nifty interactive resource calculates your debt-to-income ratio in order to estimate how much you can borrow for your mortgage.

It was really accurate for us – after I realized that cell phone bills and the like do not count as debt.

2. Wells Fargo’s “How Much Will My Mortgage Payments Be” Calculator

It’s one thing to figure out what the bank will loan you, it’s entirely different to figure out what you can afford. That’s why we used this calculator. It factors interest, property tax, home insurance, and mortgage insurance into your monthly payment. Your loan officer can verify these numbers. They’ve been pretty accurate for us!

3. Redfin & Zillow

These housing search engines allow you to browse through listings according to your criteria. They are helpful to get an idea of what you’re looking for in a house and to see what is available in your intended price range.

There are some limitations with these resources. A lot of the listings are old and some are off the market by the time you see them. Also, neither of these sites are a comprehensive list of available houses. Once you begin working with a Realtor, you will have a much more inclusive list of options.

4. Apartment Therapy

Looking at houses makes me anxious to be done with apartment living. Apartment therapy (along with my own 5 Ways to Thrive in an Apartment) helps me stay sane in my rented space. 

Do you have any house-hunting resources?

Falling for Young House Love

A few weeks ago while on a girls’ weekend, I picked up Young House Love at Powell’s Books. I already discovered Young House Love, the blog, so I was excited to find a compilation of their DIY projects in hard copy. Being able to hold a book and flip through pictures is much more inspirational (and relaxing) than browsing around a blog.

Get the book through some of their affiliate links: here.

Get the book through some of their affiliate links: here.

Young House Love details 243 DIY projects to update your décor. Three major things made me fall for this book:

(1) There are stunning pictures and diagrams to help the reader understand the instructions.

(2) Almost all of the projects are simple and realistic – even for non-expert DIYers like me.

(3) I can tell the book was written by humans, not a panel of editors. It features an entertaining perspective from Sherry & John Petersik who describe their mishaps and adventures throughout the process of improving their décor.

Though the book came out in 2012, the ideas still seem fresh and relevant. Ideas range from simple and quick (re-hanging your shower curtain at ceiling height to make the room feel larger, p. 140) to more advanced (making a rustic-looking wooden headboard, p. 118).  A lot of the ideas can be easily adapted to apartment life – a must-have for us!

For some great DIY ideas, check out their blog: Young House Love.

Where do you get your DIY inspiration?

Cheap, Chic Placemat Wall Art

PlacematWallart

The space on the wall above our bed was depressingly bare. Since we can’t paint in our apartment, I needed a way to add a splash of color.

I came across some woven green placemats on clearance for $3 at T.J. Maxx. I figured they would come in handy for something – and I’m finally putting them to good use. Along with my eight placemats, I used a picture hanging kit (itty-bitty nails) and a hammer to create my wall art. I set them out first, to decide how I wanted to arrange them.

It could not be easier (or cheaper)!

You could do this with any placemats to match your decor. I love how it brings color and texture to the room. For more apartment solutions check out 5 Ways to Thrive in an Apartment.

How do you put a splash of color in your living space?

Realistic Money Saving Tips: Netflix Instead of Cable

There are some crazy money-saving schemes out there. I’m not going to suggest that you steal ketchup packets from McDonald’s instead of buying a bottle or that you sneak toilet paper from the bathroom at work. These are some of the things we actually do (or are trying to do) to cut back, and hopefully they will be practical and helpful for you too.

If you’re just tuning in, check out the previous posts in this series:

#4 Use Netflix instead of cable

Watch a wide array of top-rated shows and movies whenever you want for $8.75 a month! Netflix frequently uploads new shows and movies for you to watch Instantly on your TV, cell phone, or computer.

I’m going to address the main reasons people still pay for cable instead of subscribing to a service like Netflix:

1.  Live sports.

I consider this to be the main reason to purchase cable. If you watch every game/match of every sport, then you may want to pay for cable. However, if you only follow one or two teams, then you should consider dumping it. You can always go out to watch the game. This football season, Riel and I have been going to different family members’ houses and to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch Seahawks games. It’s a lot more fun to watch live sports in a community setting and it saves us at least $80 a month!

2. Watching shows when they premier.

The one thing I have missed out on is watching shows the minute they air on television. This is only an issue with suspenseful shows that have frequent spoilers on social media – like The Walking Dead. In the long run, it’s better to make friends and attend Walking Dead viewing parties instead of wasting money watching the show alone. However, if you have too many shows that you watch right when they air, Netflix may not be for you.

3. New movies on demand.

How will you watch movies fresh out of the box office? Red Box! While Netflix doesn’t have movies until a couple months after they exit theaters, Red Box does – and you can rent them for $1.30 a day and return them to any Red Box. Sweet deal, and convenient.

4. News.

The internet. Duh.

You may have noticed that if all your friends and family followed my advice and got rid of cable you would never be able to watch live sports or television premiers. I suggest that you make friends with a few people who (as described in #1 and #2) are ridiculously into sports or television show premiers and thus cannot part with cable.

Happy Netflixing!

The major down side of Netflix!

The major down side of Netflix!

5 Gifts to Give your Husband for Valentine’s Day

There are a lot of DIY Valentine’s gifts you can make for your hubby. Just look on Pinterest – knitted socks, beautifully decorated cards, and jars of pink and white candy. I appreciate the loving sentiment behind these handmade gifts, but are they things your husband would like? He likes socks with hearts on them?

No. He doesn’t. Though I’m sure he would appreciate the effort (if he knows what’s good for him) you put into knitting him socks, there are some other options that he may enjoy a bit more.

photo source

1. Cook him breakfast. You don’t always need to spend a lot of (or any) money for Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s a slab of bacon or a stack of pancakes, most guys love breakfast foods. I know this is a bit cliché but I’m positive it would make Riel’s day!

2. A manly bouquet. Like a traditional bouquet except it’s filled with whatever he likes: beef jerky, potato chips, and maybe a few scratch tickets (see a few examples I pinned).

3. Take him out. Plan a date especially for him. Mini-golf, bowling, a movie – whatever he would like. It will be nice for the pressure to be off of him for a change.

4. Movie night. What are the movies he loves that you can hardly tolerate? For us they are cheesy sports and Kung-Fu movies. Watch his movies with him! Make sure you have plenty of his favorite snacks. (Check out some ideas to make it special from The Dating Divas)

5. Gear for his hobby. For Riel that would be an Xbox Live subscription or Microsoft Points. Don’t get your husband fishing gear if he doesn’t fish. Don’t get him a watch if he never wears one. Show him that you know what he likes by getting him gear for it. The best gift is one that’s tailored specifically for your unique spouse.

If you’re feeling really adventurous you can check out this idea on East Coast Creative Blog.

Riel and I try not to get too wrapped up in Valentine’s Day consumerism. We make a point to focus on the time spent, instead of the money. Last year we had a romantic dinner at home and went to see the movie Warm Bodies (which we loved). I hate the idea that we would need to stress out and spend a lot of money for a holiday that Hallmark invented to make money (I made that up, but you get my meaning).

We haven’t really decided what we are doing this year, since there are no good Valentine’s date movies in theaters, but there’s no need to stress out. Valentine’s is just an opportunity to spend time together – like any other day.

Do you have any Valentine’s traditions?

Realistic Money Saving Tips: Leave Your Card at Home

There are some crazy money-saving schemes out there. I’m not going to suggest that you steal ketchup packets from McDonald’s instead of buying a bottle or that you sneak toilet paper from the bathroom at work. These are some of the things we actually do (or are trying to do) to cut back, and hopefully they will be practical and helpful for you too.

If you’re just tuning in, check out the previous posts in this series:

#3 Leave your card at home

Consider making a habit of carrying cash instead of your card. The best thing about a credit card is also the worst thing. It allows you to spend all kinds of money you don’t have in an instant. Not only can you spend money you don’t have, you can build up interest that you’ll have to pay back as well. Debit cards, while not as dangerous, also allow you to spend large (maybe) amounts of money instantly, depending on how much you have in your account.

We’ve found that as a young (rather impulsive) couple, a debit card can be a perilous convenience. We once went to Walmart for groceries and returned with a 55” TV. Really.

You may carry a credit card for emergencies. Carry cash instead. There aren’t going to be many emergencies that require hundreds of dollarscreditcard with no opportunity for you to go home and grab your card or run to the bank (unless you’re traveling). There is a chance that you may be in an emergency where you need cash instead of a card (power outages, internet failure at the gas station).

Cash is also better for small businesses. Have you noticed that many small businesses charge you more to use your card? This is because credit card companies like Visa charge around 75 cents per transaction. At the coffee shop where I used to work, this took a large cut out of our profit. If you only spend $1.50, and 75 cents go to Visa, it barely pays for our materials and labor. So, many small businesses have to pass on the fee to you. Avoid this by paying with cash!

I’m not suggesting that you don’t own a credit card. There are some pretty sweet rewards programs out there. And if you plan carefully and pay your bill every month, it will also improve your credit. But consider leaving it at home unless you have a purchase planned in advance. 

Take it from the proud (not really) owner of a 55” impulse TV.

How do you cut down on impulse purchases?

Check out the next post in this series: Netflix Instead of Cable

Money Saving Strategy for Spring Textbooks

This is the process I go through for each of my text books. It is labor intensive, but it’s worthwhile because it allows me to find least expensive option for each book.

This semester I’m taking a media ethics class (among others). I’m using the textbook to show how I find the cheapest option.

Here is my process:

If you know anyone who might still have the textbook, check with them first – they would probably be happy to help you out! I haven’t been able to find anyone who has this one. So here it goes:

First I check out my options on Amazon:

This is the offending textbook

This is the offending textbook

  • $63.03 new, eligible for free shipping
  • $43.25 used, plus $3.99 shipping ($47.24)
  • $22.72 hard copy rental, plus shipping
  • $43.79 Kindle edition
  • $25.52 Kindle rental

Then I check BookRenter:

  • $54.43 rental, free shipping

Then Garfield Bookstore (Lots of universities have their own bookstore, this is PLU’s):

  • $64.95 new, plus shipping unless you buy it in person

Renting vs. Buying

Renting typically has the lowest up-front cost.

Buying an eBook has the next lowest up-front cost. Pro: it allows you to search for keywords on your laptop or Kindle, which helps you skim readings and find answers to questions. Con: it has no resale value. Note: you can read kindle eBooks on your laptop even if you don’t have a kindle.

Buying a hard copy gives you the option to re-sell (you can usually get back about half your money).

My general rule: I get the rental or eBook if it is half the price of the hard copy.

In this Case

It’s cheapest to rent a hard copy from Amazon ($22.72)

If I buy the used copy from Amazon ($47.24) I will be able to get around $20 back when I re-sell it (figure in Amazon’s fees). That leaves me with total out of pocket cost of $27.24. In this case it’s better to rent!

Unfortunately, after all that, I still had to spend around $200 on textbooks for spring – Yikes!

How do (did/would) you handle the ridiculous expense of textbooks?

Realistic Money Saving Tips: Eat Before You Shop

There are some crazy money-saving schemes out there. I’m not going to suggest that you steal ketchup packets from McDonald’s instead of buying a bottle or that you sneak toilet paper from the bathroom at work. These are some of the things we actually do (or are trying to do) to cut back, and hopefully they will be practical and helpful for you too.

If you’re just tuning in, check out the previous post in this series: Don’t Coupon

#2 Eat before you go grocery shopping

According to Dr. Lisa Young, studies have shown that people buy higher calorie foods when they’re hungry:

Subjects went food shopping when they were more likely to be hungry (during the higher hunger hours between 4 and 7 p.m.) and when they were less likely to be hungry, (during the lower-hungry, after lunch hours, between 1 and 4 p.m.). Those who went food shopping during the higher hunger hours purchased fewer low-calorie foods relative to high-calorie foods compared with those who shopped in the earlier period.

This means that you may make impulse purchases that you wouldn’t normally choose. Extra chips and pizza pockets are not only hard on your health – they’re hard on your wallet!

Young suggests a few healthy snacks you can eat before you go shopping (here). I tend to go shopping right after breakfast or lunch on my days off. That way I’m not hungry and the grocery store won’t be a zoo like it is around dinner time.

What grocery shopping habits help you save money?

Check out the next posts in this series:

Realistic Money Saving Tips: Don’t Coupon

There are some crazy money-saving schemes out there. I’m not going to suggest that you steal ketchup packets from McDonald’s instead of buying a bottle or that you sneak toilet paper from the bathroom at work. These are some of the things we actually do (or are trying to do) to cut back, and hopefully they will be practical and helpful for you too.

#1  Don’t Coupon

This may seem counter-intuitive to the current trend, but unless you are a superb couponer (like ThriftyNorthwestMom), you are likely to lose money. Coupons were created to get you to purchase new products. Maybe you will try a new cleaner for 25 cents off – but you’re actually buying a product you wouldn’t normally buy thus spending more money. Unless you’re into extreme couponing and you can manage to get stuff for free or you only clip coupons for products you already buy, cutting coupons is not likely to pay off. On top of that, it is extremely stressful. You may find yourself at the checkout stand with a coupon that expired yesterday or the wrong item. Or the store may be out of the item in question. It’s easier and often cheaper to buy the store brand of the product you need.

Have you had any luck with couponing? Do you find it to be worth the effort? What are your best money-saving strategies? Let me know!

Check out the next posts in this series: