27 August 2011

Fixed up

The framing situation I referred to has been fixed, and I think the solution is as close to ideal as we can get. We get to keep the hallway closet and still have enough room for the linen cabinet in the bathroom. We lost a little room in the bedroom closet, but it was a bit oversized to begin with. Now we'll be able to use our existing doors rather than buying new doors that probably won't match. It wasn't a difficult fix when all was said and done, and I remain on good terms with our contractor. He's completely understanding of those sorts of changes in remodel situations. He says that so many minor adjustments get made because of existing conditions that it's inevitable to have a change like that last-minute.

The framing for the back bedroom is complete, so Tom and I got a great start on running the electrical. Tom is still out there and should be finished in the next hour or so. We'll be hanging insulation tomorrow.

26 August 2011

Worn out

Sorry, no frugal Friday tip today. I'm too worn out from dealing with a cranky, busy baby with a one-track mind for destruction to impart any practical wisdom.

The work crew just left a few minutes ago and I am a little disappointed. They made some changes to the framing that kind of compromise my bathroom storage plan. Right now I'm racking my brain trying to figure out how to fix it without it being too much of a pain. I don't want to be witchy, but I also don't want to be stuck with a crappy storage situation for the rest of my life. Lucky for you, I lack the energy to go into details.

Oh, and he underestimated the amount of lumber - again - so we have to make another trip out to Lowe's. It's a good thing he's got a truck, because I'd be super mad about paying repeated delivery fees for his estimation mistakes.

19 August 2011


(Sorry if you'll have that song stuck in your head all day now.)

Two weeks ago:


Change is good.

Frugal Friday: End of season sales

A simple way of saving a few bucks is stocking up at the end of season clearance sales. Now that the back-to-school season is here, stores are liquidating their supplies of summer items. Now's a great time to pick up bathing suits, flip-flops, and beach towels for a bargain! If you steer clear of trendy clothing and stick to staples and classics, you can pick up almost an entire wardrobe for next year for less than half price.

15 August 2011

A before and after...

Over the weekend, while our construction crew was working hard (pictures of that progress to come), we headed over to a farm just north of Cincinnati for something called a Mudathlon. Their tagline is "Mud. Obstacles. Beer." It involves running, an obstacle course, a couple of mud pits, and a complementary (after your $70 entry fee, of course) beer. A group from Tom's work decided to run in it. Here they are before the race:

And here they are afterward:

Tom was the only one in the group that actually finished all of the obstacles (even though it turns out nobody was penalized for skipping), and he has the blisters to prove it. Their team finished 13th out of 203 - not bad for a bunch of computer nerds! And just to show you how much mud was involved, here's a picture of Tom doing his Terminator walk through one of the mud pits:

My only regret is not getting a picture of Clara chasing the chicken around before the race.

12 August 2011

Frugal Friday: At the gas pump

Gas prices aren't as high as they've been before, but I don't imagine them plummeting to the old nickel-a-gallon days anytime soon, either. Here are a few strategies to lengthen the amount of time between fill-ups and the sticker shock that comes with them.

1. Don't drive as much. Duh, right? If you live in an area where you can walk to work or to your everyday errands, do it! A comfy pair of walking shoes will cost about as much as a tank of gas and last a heck of a lot longer. If you can't walk to your destination, combine trips as much as possible and plan your route to prevent backtracking, traffic, and construction when possible. If you live in a place where they're available, use park & rides.

2. Use cruise control judiciously. Cruise control works best for saving gas on flat terrain. On the uphill, even and steady pressure on the accelerator is more economical than a constant velocity. On the downhill, I often put the car in neutral and let gravity take care of keeping the wheels turning. But whenever I'm on a flat road, even if it's a 35 mph zone through town, it's a good bet that the cruise control is on.

3. Take advantage of loyalty rewards programs. Some gas stations offer discounts for having their reward card. It's not a national policy, but there are many Speedway stations that offer $.06 off per gallon when you swipe your card. The one I use the most is the one at Kroger. Every $100 spent in store equals $.10 off per gallon at participating gas stations (I think that many Shell stations have partnered with Kroger on this, so you're not limited to just stores that have gas stations), up to $1.00 per gallon! Now, with all the couponing that I do, I very rarely accumulate even the minimum $100 in a month for a gas discount. However, Kroger runs special promotions offering double or even quadruple fuel points for gift card purchases. Luckily for us, Lowe's gift cards are available. $250 in Lowe's gift cards earns us $1.00 off per gallon automatically. Of course, rewards programs will vary regionally and by store, so work out for yourself how to best utilize them.

4. Check the junk in the trunk. Don't carry around a bunch of extra weight if you can help it. Every extra pound diminishes your gas mileage just a little bit more.

5. Take your time. That lead foot is costing you money. Leave a few minutes early to avoid being in a rush. Consider taking a less-traveled route that's a longer distance if it's flatter or avoids construction or traffic. Less stop-and-go is better on your mpg (and your brakes). Don't accelerate as you're approaching a red light. Shift into neutral and let the car's momentum continue naturally. Often the light will change as you approach, and you can shift back into gear without having to brake. It takes much less energy for the car to continue from a moving state than to start from a dead stop.

6. Keep your car tuned up. Tire inflation is the big one in this category, but keeping your oil changed and your air filters cleaned help your gas mileage, too.

I know there are a million strategies out there, but these are the ones that are the easiest (for me) to do with the biggest payoff. What are some of your gas-saving tips?

06 August 2011

Progress report, part 1

I have been meaning to update the progress on the other two bedrooms since the weekend. I don't have any true "before" shots, but here's what it looks like now:

I know it doesn't look like much, but the crew really did a lot of work. First they demoed all the existing framing. I based my plan on the walls that the previous owner had built, but they weren't really built very well. They used a lot of twisted studs which would have made hanging drywall very difficult. They also didn't put headers over the windows. Structurally that isn't a problem (since the bricks are the load-bearing structure, not the studs), but Harry pointed out that it is helpful to have headers for hanging curtains. Anchoring into a stud is much safer than anchoring into drywall. Anyway, they spent Friday doing demo and cleanup, including moving stuff around downstairs to make room for our lumber delivery.

On Saturday, they unloaded and sorted the delivery from Lowe's, which miraculously arrived first thing in the morning, right on schedule. They then turned their attention to the ceiling. The joists are solid enough, but they're not terribly even. Since the ceiling was originally plaster and lath, the unevenness didn't matter much, but solid wallboard like drywall is difficult to install on such a substrate.

They're about 1/3 of the way done with the ceiling work. Having done this before, we know what a process it is to measure, mark, and cut each piece of lumber individually. Once they finish the ceiling (probably this Friday), they'll reframe the exterior walls and we can get a start on running the electrical.

While the crew was at lunch and the hammering and banging had ceased, I put Clara down for a nap and did a little bit of work myself. I sprayed a bunch of foam insulation around the windows, so at least you can't see daylight around them anymore.

I still need to caulk around the outside for water protection, but the spray foam is a good first step toward a draft-free room. I might be kicking myself or laughing at myself later on, but the goal is to have at least one of the bedrooms substantially complete (maybe not fully designed and accessorized, but hopefully we'll have at least electricity and drywall) by the time I have baby #2. That gives me about 7 weeks. It's simultaneously a lot of time but also a flash in the pan, so we'll see how much we can accomplish!

05 August 2011

The bathroom

Now that we're gettin' 'er done construction-wise, I can let myself think about finishes and furnishings without quite so much guilt. First, here's a floor plan:
Never mind the different hatching patterns. They indicate new vs. existing walls so the framers know what's what.

And here's my bathroom inspiration:

Not sure of the source on this one.

I guess "inspiration" isn't really the right word, since these are what I had in mind before I sought out pictures. They're a pretty good representation of what I'm going for, though. If Tom approves, this will be our flooring:

On clearance for $4.39/sqft at Lowe's

Wall spashability seems like a good idea in a kid's bathroom, so we're going to wrap plain white subway tiles around the room up to a height of about 4 feet. It will be capped off with a chair rail tile, much like in the photos above. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect light fixtures - perfect meaning pretty AND cheap, a combination that seems very hard to achieve.

I'm not sure about the vanity yet, but I'm pretty sure I want something that looks more like furniture than your standard vanity. I really like these:

The second one obviously offers more in the way of storage, but I have allotted space for a large linen cabinet on the wall opposite the vanity. I don't know if I'd prefer something built-in:

Or something freestanding:
Built-ins are appropriate for the age of our house (if done correctly, of course) while a piece of furniture would give us flexibility in the future (because I can never seem to make up my mind). Maybe even a buffet or hutch, which would provide more counter space. Any recommendations or suggestions?

And if I decide that we simply need more storage than even the linen cabinet can provide, I will just have to suck it up and do a standard vanity. My crazy brain craves creative and custom solutions, so even "standard" doesn't necessarily mean out-of-the-box. This is completely wrong aesthetically, but I like the idea:

And once the kids are tall enough to not need a step up, this could easily be turned over and used as an extra drawer. If you were designing a bathroom from scratch, what would be on the top of your list?

Frugal Friday: Knowledge is power

When doing your grocery shopping, it's helpful to know the regular prices of staples and family favorites, and what store has the best prices on those items. That way, you'll know a good sale price when you come across it and can stock up appropriately. This will keep you from having to run out for last-minute items that will inevitably be full-price when you need them. A lot of produce items can be purchased for great prices during the peak of their season and then frozen to use when they're out of season and more expensive. I keep this price list mentally, but the way my memory is lately I might start keeping an index card or two in my coupon binder.

04 August 2011

Celebratory stomachache

A few months ago we got an estimate from a local contractor to see what it would cost to get our other bathroom and two bedrooms finished. The estimate was a little steep (especially considering it did not include materials), but the guy is willing to work with us to keep our cost down. He and his crew will be finishing the framing for us, leaving us to do as much as we are willing to do ourselves after that. If we need help later on, he'll come back. This will allow us to do the electrical and plumbing and insulation ourselves, greatly reducing our overall cost. Anyway, he dropped off a material list this morning, and I put in the order this afternoon. Knowing that we're actually going to get something substantial completed almost took away the stomach pains I get when I spend four figures at Lowe's. Almost.

NB: To be fair, not all of the purchases were for those rooms. Because I can't haul much in our car, I included several other items I've been putting off, mostly crown moulding and baseboards. And moulding ain't cheap.