I turned 27 last week.

I don’t celebrate birthdays, so there was predictably little fanfare around this one (plus, I had an ear infection, so I was a bit more preoccupied with taking antibiotics and drinking fluids than anything else that day).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw a list of 27 things you have to do by 27 (I could never top this one anyway). I’m also not going to bore you with my list of goals. (BECAUSE I DO THAT ALL THE TIME ALREADY.) The only reason why I even bring it up is because, to be totally honest, I have been super jazzed about 27 for a while now.

Is it just me, or is 27 really the first time people start to treat you like you’re legitimate? For most of my life, the majority of my friends have been older than me. I’ve always been pretty driven in my career, so I often find myself working with people older than I am as well. And the moment that I always dread (because it always comes up) is when someone asks me how old I am.

If you’re 26 or under, answering that question is usually met with the equivalent of this:

SUPER FUN. Not.

But whether it’s 27’s proximity to 30 or just that it takes four full syllables to say, I can’t help but notice that the response is much more similar to this:

Ok, maybe not QUITE like that…but there is definitely more respect there.

And when you’re like me and started acting (mostly) like a grown-up right around the age of 13, 27 is finally (FINALLY) the year when you start acting your age, amiright?

The point is, I feel like this is going to be my best year yet. Yes, I say that every year, but I feel especially good about 2014/2015.

What was the year you really started to feel like a grown-up?

{I want it all.}

{I want it all.}

As per my money simplification goals, I’ve been trying to not only be stricter about what I spend money on, but also more aware of the areas where I tend to overspend.

My Mint account has been really useful for identifying the areas of life where this happens. The biggest offender to my budget? Lack of planning.

How many times have I had to buy a $1.50 bottle of water for the gym because I forgot my refillable one at home? How many times have I had to buy a $12 lunch because I forgot to pack something the night before? How many times have I impulsed shopped to kill time, only to realize later that I only bought what I did because it was on sale or something?

The answer to all three of those questions is “way too many times.”

Joey and I have decided to be really strict about spending for the rest of the year, only really spending money on a pre-planned trip to California in November. The first thing I cut out of my spending plans? Shopping — especially of the impulse variety.

This is especially hard for me as fall (my FAVORITE season) approaches, and with it an onslaught of fall clothing (also my favorite). In order to keep myself in check, I made a list of the things I am allowed to buy for the remainder of 2014:

1. Two pairs of jeans — a lighter denim and a blue denim. I bought these yesterday — one pair was only $18! (Prior to this purchase, I had two pairs of jeans, and one had a broken zipper I still need to get fixed.)
2. A gray t-shirt. This was also bought yesterday (for $8!). I can’t tell you how many times I find an outfit on Pinterest and all I need to recreate it is a gray T-shirt. For whatever reason, I’ve never had one.
3. Underwear. TMI? Whatever. I needed two new bras (bought these for the price of one with a coupon) and regular underwear (yet to buy).
4. A black, semi-casual, sleeveless fit-and-flare dress that I can wear to work and basically anywhere else. It’s really only in the last year that I’ve acquired a few LBDs (a dressy strapless version, a dressy sleeveless version, and a long-sleeved cotton version), and this is the one staple I am still missing.
5. Nice pajamas. One of my coworkers told me I don’t actually need these, but I’ve decided I’ll feel better about myself if I’m not going to sleep in ratty gym clothes every night. I’m weird, but suffice to say this is important to me. And I’m planning to buy them at H&M or Gap anyway, so it’s not a huge expense.

That’s it. You might notice a lack of sweaters, boots, jackets, scarves, and all other fall paraphernalia that brings me joy. (I will allow that I will also probably buy a couple pairs of black tights, though.) It’s honestly a sacrifice for me, but the results (debts paid off and a more substantial savings account) will be worth it.

The biggest thing I’ve found to be helpful in sticking to this list is actually writing the list down and keeping it as a reminder. That way, even if I’m presented with the opportunity to shop, it’s much easier for me to resist because an item isn’t on my list. The more I prepare, the easier it is to keep focused on my goals.

Besides, it’s just one fall season, and if I’m totally honest, I already have an abundance of fall clothing that is still in style and perfectly fine. This should not be so hard!

Do you make shopping lists each season? What’s on your must-buy list this fall?

You may have noticed it was all crickets and tumbleweeds on the blog last week. I never apologize for not posting anymore (hey, how am I supposed to have anything to write about if I never have a life, right?), but last week actually has a good explanation: I was horribly sick.

{my nurse)

{my nurse)

After what I thought was allergies evolved into what I thought was a cold into what I think was a flu into what was diagnosed as a throat and ear infection, I’m now on antibiotics for the next six days and feeling much better. But I literally didn’t go into my office once last week and spent most of the day drifting in and out of naps with Boges and the rest of the time feeling miserable.

Never one to ignore the opportunity to find a silver lining, I realized there are a few things that being really sick teaches you:

1. I have really good friends. My friends texted, called, brought soup, and came over to sit on my couch and watch TV with me. Good friends make being sick feel not so bad.

2. I have a really good job. Not only is my job flexible enough that I can get pretty much everything done from home, I also work for people who not only don’t make me feel bad for missing work but who also encourage me to stay home if I feel terrible. I mean, sure, they’re also total germophobes looking to avoid infection, but they also genuinely know how much it sucks to have to go to work when you don’t feel well and didn’t want that to happen to me. That’s pretty dang nice.

3. I have a really good husband. Joey knows that I rarely get sick, and I almost never get really sick. It’s also impossible for me to be home for an extended period of time without doing dishes, straightening the living room, reorganizing my closet, etc. So when I start lying around the house instead of dusting the book shelves, he knows things are serious. He would come home every night with cans of soup, vitamin C packets, and virtually anything else I said I wanted. He even came home a little earlier each night because he knew I was bored after a long day in quarantine. A kind, considerate husband makes just about anything easier to deal with.

So I felt miserable last week. But I’m feeling really good this week. (Minus a little mental fog from the antibiotics.)

I’ll take that trade-off.

So…notice anything new? The blog got an update!

(If you are not actually on my site right now, you might not be able to tell. You should hop on over on a desktop when you can. Because design work is really hard for me, guys.)

I’ve been meaning to give the ol’ girl a little makeover for a while, but this week I finally got around to it. Not too shabby, eh? I also learned how to crop circles and overlay patterns in Photoshop. It was a big week.

Speaking of little updates, have we discussed my book collection? I love owning loads of books. One day, I hope to have a library or at least a giant wall of them somewhere in my home, but for now, I settle for two little shelves in the living room.

The problem? My book collection is often busting at the seams — and my sweet little shelves can only do so much.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few ways to incorporate the books into the rest of our apartment’s decor. This solves the problem of the shelves being too crowded, and provides me completely free decor ideas. Win-win!

Here are my four favorite ways to decorate with books:

books-above-cabinets

 

Anyone who has been in my apartment knows that I am extremely efficient with the amount of space we have. Our apartment is by no means large (heyyyy, NYC real estate…), but we’ve made the most of what we have. A perfect example? Our kitchen cabinets. For whatever reason (cough…they’re cheap…cough), our building owners didn’t built our kitchen cabinets up to the ceiling. That means there’s about two feet of dead space above the cabinets. Dead. As. A. Doornail.

Rather than mourn the lost cabinet space forever, though, I instead choose to look at the tops of the cabinets as a long-lost display shelf. I use it to store my dutch oven, the crock pot, cake stands, and, of course, all of our cookbooks. The best part? The books add a bit of color to an otherwise bland (and dead) spot.

books-as-desk-decor

 

It has to be said: Our desk is really hard to photograph well. I feel like it looks nice in person, but it always comes across a little shabby in photos. But the point is, a few weeks ago I was on a mission to make our desk look a little more deliberate and involved in the rest of our decor. One way to do that (that was TOTALLY free)? Adding a few of our most colorful books to prop up our desk light.

books-on-coffee-table

Another great place for a colorful stack of books? Our coffee table. When we first moved to our apartment, I was totally bummed out that we couldn’t paint. As a result, though, I’ve found a bunch of other ways to bring color into this totally blank slate. (Besides, given how fickle I can be with decor, it’s probably better that I couldn’t commit to one color in the beginning.)

A few of my favorite hardbacked books make a great focal point for the room. Bonus: My bookshelves are starting to look at lot less jam-packed.

books-to-display-perfume

And finally, we mix a little nerdiness with a little bit of girlie-girl by using a stack of books to display perfume on our dresser. (And because I love a theme, obviously I tried to pick a few of my girliest books for this pile.)

How do you store your books?

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As a textbook Type-A individual, I can tell you (in excruciating detail) the exact areas of my home that are not organized in a satisfactory way.

In no specific order:
1. The wooden trunk at the foot of our bed.
2. The file cabinet next to the desk.
3. The desk drawer.
4. The back shelves of our front closet.
5. The tupperware cabinet.
6. The linen closet.
7. The corner of our bedroom next to Joey’s side of the bed that I am perpetually trying to make peace with because the dude needs one corner that his wife leaves alone.

Sometimes, when it looks like I’m spacing off, I’m thinking terrible thoughts about these areas of the apartment. Terrible thoughts.

I bring this up because, prior to this weekend, there was one other thing on that list: my wardrobe.

I’m pretty good about cleaning out my closet regularly. I’ve said before that I try to do this at least twice a year, and it’s always the first thing I think of when I start to get serious about simplifying.

Putting it bluntly, I love shopping. I love new clothes, I love styling outfits. It’s a serious hobby of mine. The problem is when that “hobby” translates into too little closet space and too small of a savings account. Since cutting back on shopping was one of my simplification goals, I decided that paring down what I had (but never wore) should come next.

Of course, when you love shopping, there is nothing less fun that not shopping and getting rid of clothes. So I decided to find a way to make it more fun.

Enter the clothing swap.

About a year ago, I did a cross-country swap with two of my blogger friends, Kayla and Madison. I had so much fun styling the new clothes (and seeing how they styled mine), and I had been meaning to replicate the experience with some of my local friends for a while. Well, after a conversation with five of my pals about how we were all wanting to simplify and spend more money, the swap basically planned itself.

And you know what? It was actually way more fun that just shopping. We ate snacks, chatted, and had fun trying on things we might never have purchased on our own. Everyone got rid of at least a bag or two of old clothes, and almost everyone walked away with a few new things.

Here are a few tips for planning your own clothing swap:

1. Start with a clean space.
Between the six of us, we had about eight bags of clothes to go through. I was so glad that I had gone through my own clothes in advance and made room in my bedroom for us to spread everything out. Plus, if you’re working in a messy space, things that you don’t want to swap are bound to get mixed in. Bonus points if you have a movable clothing rack to display everything on and help keep things organized.

2. Size up your guest list.
GET IT? But seriously. Your entire guest list does not have to be the same size (odds are you are not only friends with people who share your pant size), but everyone should be close enough that exchanges can be made. For example, one of my friends is busty-er with a narrow waist, another is smaller on top with a curvier booty, another is slender all over, another has a perfect hourglass, etc. The idea is that everyone shares at least one size (whether it’s dresses, skirts, tops, or whatever) with at least one other person at the party. Plus, if you are like my group, some of the things are getting tossed because they don’t fit anymore, so they will probably fit someone else.

3. Have a full-length mirror handy.
You are essentially turning your home into a dressing room — good lighting and a full-length mirror or two are crucial.

4. Mind the menu.
This might be over-thinking things, but consider serving a healthy-ish meal with more decadent treats after everyone has tried on clothes. Maybe it’s just me, but I never feel my best after I eat something high-calorie or fattening, and I certainly don’t feel like trying on clothes. So instead of pizza, we had a giant salad with grilled chicken and veggies with hummus. Then, when the clothes had been doled out, we ate cookies. Because we’re only human, you guys.

5. Have a plan for what gets leftover.
Fortunately with this group of girls, no one was offended if any of their clothes went unclaimed. Prior to the swap, we just agreed anything leftover would get donated. The bonus of the backup plan is that no one is tempted to take home anything they don’t love just because they don’t want to see it thrown out. SOMEONE will benefit it — it just won’t be someone from our group.

Post-swap, I’m pretty pleased to report that I have three new skirts and a top — AND a super-organized closet that makes it a million times easier to decide what to wear each day.

Have you hosted a clothing swap? What tips can you pass along?

Gosh there has been a lot of my face on the blog lately. That’s awkward. And annoying. If you hate my face. (Though, if that’s the case, masochist much? You should really stop coming to this site. For your health.)

Instead of my face, let’s talk about my money, shallllll we?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’m taking the idea of simplification to all aspects of my life. For Joey and me, that includes our budget and finances. While we wiped out our credit card debt about a year ago, some of it has managed to creep back in the last few months. Never ones to say die, this is at the top of our to-do list when it comes to simplifying our lives.

For me personally, that journey started with taking an honest look at my own spending and saving patterns. Then I could determine what needed to change. Two things were a huge help in beginning this process:

1. Mint.com
I’m going to talk about my experience with a specific money tracking website, but really, there are a bunch of these out there that can help.

While a quick once-over of my debit card statement could probably give you a good idea of where my money was going, I decided to join Mint.com to get a more accurate breakdown. Using Mint, I was able to get an immediately clear picture of what percentage of my income was going to various categories, like rent, shopping, food, etc.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.49.08 AM

That’s a peek at my July so far. Besides getting an up-to-date analysis, I can also compare previous months to see how I’m doing at cutting down on spending. For reference, here was June:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.51.15 AM

The two things Mint immediately showed me I was spending way too much money on were clothes and food. I mean, come on, Justine. Get a grip. 

Instantly, I had two specific goals:

– Stop shopping for a month. I mean, seriously. I have all the clothes I need and then some. (I also had a few ideas for making this more fun — more on that later.)

– Bring my lunch every single day. Joey is a really great cook, and we’ve gotten much better about cooking most of our dinners at home. Plus, I love leftovers. There is really no reason why I can’t make this work — and still be enjoyable.

The other thing I love about Mint is that it gives you a schedule of credit card payments once you tell it how much you want to contribute to your debt each month. Mint determines how much you should allot to each account based on how much interest they’re charging you. For example, I created a budget (aptly titled “Pay Off the Dang Debt”) that will end in October, and Mint tells me the percentage I should pay to each card based on its APR. I literally just have to check the budget and schedule the payment each month, easy-peasy.

2. Automatic Savings Account Contributions

I used to be really good about regularly contributing to my savings account. But then life got in the way, blah blah blah excuses.

The point is, my savings account has been pretty pathetic as of late, and that’s not good. Now, every pay day, I pay myself first with an automatic transfer through my bank from my checking (where my direct deposit goes) to my savings. This “forced” savings takes out any opportunity for me to back out or change my mind. Plus, it’s kind of fun watching that little number grow every couple of weeks.

I’m also planning to put any freelance checks I collect straight into savings once the debt is paid off. It’s extra money for us anyway since our budget is designed off of our 9-to-5 income, so there’s no reason not to squirrel it away.

It’s amazing how much of a difference these two little changes are making to the health of my finances (not to mention my peace of mind).

What are your best budgeting tips?