Monday, March 25, 2013

Stitch Fix

A month or so ago, I read a review about an on-line service called Stitch Fix that collects a clothing style profile and then sends you several pieces to try on at home. I was very intrigued, and since I've built up quite a savings in my fun money "account," I thought it would be fun to give this a try. (Clothing needs are paid for with our monthly clothing budget, but if I'm buying something that's more of a want, I use my fun money.)

I filled out the comprehensive but easy profile (In addition to size information, you rate various outfit and style examples.) and I was contacted a few weeks later to select the date I wanted to receive my box. Cool! When the package arrived (a day earlier than scheduled), I literally ran to open it. I was fascinated to pull out each of the 5 pieces. Two of them I immediately did not care for, but I tried everything on--and a couple of them I tried on multiple times. Ahem.

I know Monica is really curious for more specifics, and thought some of you might also be interested, so what follows is a lot of detail . . .

You pay $20 upfront for the "stylist fee," but you can put that towards purchasing anything in your box. If you elect to buy all 5 items, you get a 25% discount. However, I definitely experienced sticker shock when I saw the receipt--the cheapest item was $38, and the most expensive was $68! That is a lot more than I am used to paying for clothes, and I had no idea things would be so pricey. But I wanted to have fun with it, and as I said, I had money set aside that I was willing to use for this purpose. 

I gathered from the site that most boxes contain a piece of jewelry or other accessory, but I specifically asked to not have accessories included. I just don't wear them much. I was a little bummed to receive 5 shirts (and not have a skirt/pants/dress thrown in), but again it was an interesting thing to try.

Here were the contents of my Stitch Fix box (Sorry for the poor lighting and formatting!):

#1 Black v-neck polyester blouse--Had to put on a camisole underneath but I did like the look of the blouse. I did not like AT ALL, though, that the back hemline went past my rear. The sleeves rolled to half-way and button, which is a cool feature. This was one of two shirts I seriously considered.
#2 Gray French terry jacket--Immediately not a fan, and the sleeves were tight. I would never wear this.
#3 Eggplant jersey top--Not my normal "silhouette," but this is the one I opted to purchase. I tried it on multiple times. I don't love the wide neckline but it's super soft and surprisingly comfy, plus I adore the color. And it's cute!
#4 Ivory blouse--Also not a fan--see-through, not my fave color, and just not a style I like.

#5 Seafoam V-neck top--So-so, but not unique enough for $38! Also didn't love the fit or color.

I had three days to decide what to keep (or not) and mail back the prepaid envelope. Each clothing item has a tag attached that gives you two ideas (with photos) of how to wear it with other pieces.

I had a well-timed shopping trip planned during the 3 days of my box and wanted to look for something similar to #1, but with a better pricetag and hemline. Part of the fun of Stitch Fix is getting inspiration! I was surprised to find a nearly identical top on sale for $19. I decided to buy it because I had a gift card, and so I could compare it at home with it's more expensive twin. Upon comparing, the cheaper one was just that--cheap. Definitely not the quality of the first shirt, and it kind of "hung" on me and was static-y, which did not look or feel good. I decided to return both black shirts.

I also found a style similar to the dark purple shirt above as well (couldn't find a link to show you). It has short sleeves, and is a beautiful teal color. Plus, it was on clearance! In the end, I kept both the eggplant and teal shirts. They are cute and comfy, great colors, and a slight departure from what I would normally choose.(You can't tell from the pic that the purple shirt has dolman sleeves, not something I would usually try on.) So I'd consider two new shirts a success!

If you're interested in trying Stitch Fix, you can click here to fill out a profile. (This is a referral link, but NO pressure. I've been honest that it's pricey, and the only way I would consider doing SF again is if I earned some credit.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Frugal accomplishments

I had so much fun the last time around that I made another list of some recent thrifty activities:

*Cooked two pounds of dry black beans--I freeze them in  about 8 two-cup portions

*Made homemade energy bites (a healthy, cheaper, less wasteful alternative to granola bars)--when I'm hungry for a mid-morning snack, I grab one or two of these. Yum!

*Made "Better than Pam" pan release when I ran out of cooking spray mid-way through a baking session. I've made it once before but it had been a long time. I like it for muffin pans, even though it does of course take longer to apply than a spray.

*Thrift store purchases take 1: swim trunks for Nathan for $2 (I've been looking for months for a second pair for him), polka dot leggings for Natalie for $2, 2 spring dresses for Naomi (darling and name brand so I can probably sell them for more than I paid) for $2 each, 2 coloring/activity books for Natalie (25 cents each), an electronic handheld game for each older kid for $1 each (for road trips), and a little b-day present for my sister. Emoji Sticker said 50 cents, but it was 75% off! SCORE!

*Nursed Naomi full-time to one year and now beyond. I am so proud of that, especially with the added post-surgery challenges she and I both faced. And what a huge savings to avoid formula!

*Had a rockstar trip to the grocery store. My savings (which only reflects price-matched sales and coupons) was nearly the amount I paid. There was a 6-hour sale one day with some pretty sweet deals and I had a few coupons to make them even better (Examples: 3 bags of Chex Mix for 50 cents each, 5-pound bags of flour for 74 cents, and I  also stocked up on tortilla chips at 88 cents/bag!)

*Made Naomi's birthday cake and frosting from scratch--other than the inexpensive food and cake, I spent nothing on her party. I made the invites from materials I had on hand and the decorations were given to us.

*Received a coupon for a free tub of Oscar Mayer pulled pork sandwich meat (up to $6-7 value!)--Eric's been requesting this, and I've actually never made it. (His mom makes it almost every time here or there.)

*Used a coupon for a free personal pizza that we earn from the school for reading at home.

*I cooked two pounds of pinto beans to make these. I was very pleased with the result and how easy they were to make, but when I did the math, I didn't save much comparing the dry beans to 6 cans. I'll definitely make them again, though.

*Took advantage of a free kids' meal coupon at Olive Garden

*Scored some amazing clearances deals at Old Navy (headband for 47 cents, leggings for $1.97, etc.)

*Got a free ream of paper from Staples using a coupon/rebate

*Purchased a HUGE bag full of marked down bread packages for $1.75 at a local bakery! (Total retail value: $27.51--5 packages of raisin buns, 2 packages of hamburger buns, a baguette, and a loaf of cinnamon streusel bread)
*Thrift store purchases, take 2:
A cute, springy polka dot birdhouse decoration for the mantel--50 cents. 2 black sleeveless tops for $1 each, and a cake stand with cover--$5 for both pieces. (I have a pretty cake stand that I love, but I had been thinking about getting a cover, and this is the tallest one I've ever seen!)

*Found a cute pair of bright pink bib snow pants for Natalie for $3 at W-mart, along with some hats and gloves for a dollar or less each!

*Used coupons for free lettuce and a free Coke 12-pack at the grocery store

*Bought a whole chicken on sale for 68 cents a pound. I really hate de-boning chicken, but for this price, I forced myself to power through it!

*I LOVE CHURCH GARAGE SALES! They are very unusual around here, but I went to one last week and brought home the following goodies: Ruler for 25 cents (ours broke last year and I never remember to replace), new package of stationery for 25 cents (gift or OCC shoebox item), Hanna Anderson little girl leggings for 50 cents (!), little dipper crockpot for $1, and a really awesome birthday gift for Monica (which I will share about later).

This list was compiled over the last month. It sure is fun to track these activities. In fact, Monica, my mom and I have started sending each other a summary at the end of each week, which has made compiling this more comprehensive list even easier.

I'd love to hear some of your recent frugal accomplishments! 

And, completely unrelated, but today marks one year since we came home from the hospital after our 40-day "desert" journey. Eric and I have been intentional during this time to read back through our journal entries, to process what happened, and to specifically contact people* (again) who were pivotal during that time. We'll be celebrating the end of the 40 days tonight by going out to eat as a family!

*One of the most significant exchanges occurred when we contacted a former nurse. We had a favorite nurse who took care of me before Naomi was born, and Eric wanted to call her. Beating all odds (not knowing her last name, work schedule, there are 200+ nurses in that department, etc.), we got in touch with her at the hospital on the first try! She was thrilled we called, and it was really neat to thank her again and to tell her how great we're doing now. It reminded me of the importance of going back and saying thank you both in the short-term and the long-term.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fairy party

Thank you for all your kind birthday wishes to Natalie! We started the day with our tradition of breakfast in bed. Natalie chose cinnamon rolls, apple juice, and strawberries with whipped cream. Yum!
We had a small party in the morning--it was really important to me to have a friend party for her since we were away last year and her birthday was not what we'd been planning on. (Though family and friends still helped make it very special!!)

I landed on the party theme when, over Christmas, my aunt referred to Natalie as a "sprite." This seemed very fitting to me, and Monica and I let the brainstorming begin. =)

For refreshments, we had star-shaped cheese on flower/butterfly crackers, pink lemonade, and then each girl got to decorate her own star cookie wand. I set out three colors of frosting and 5 colors of sparkly sugar. Fun!
Even Naomi got into the theme, dressed in her fairy print sleeper! Natalie's showing off her fairy tattoo--I put one on the front of each invitation, and asked the girls to wear them to the party.

I printed off a fairy coloring page for each girl, and otherwise just wanted them to have plenty of time to play together. At the end of the party, each girl got a bag filled with goodies: fairy fruit snacks, fairy hairbrush, Hello Kitty chapstick, flowery fairy headband I made, sparkly gel pen and a piece of fairy candy. I spent about $7 on all of it by scoring some great deals! My biggest splurge was the darling paper plates and napkins. When I saw the super-cute fairy design, I just could not pass them up, and thankfully I had a partial credit at the store.

The party went great, but unfortunately the day unraveled after lunch. Natalie gave up her nap about a month ago, and it has been a rough adjustment for all of us. We've been putting her to bed earlier each night, but the change is still taking a toll. She has been whining, crying and talking disrespectfully a lot more, which is of course disheartening! (Of course, this is not all sleep-related, but I think much of it is!)

Though the evening wasn't as pleasant as the first half of the day, we definitely still celebrated. I let Natalie choose the supper menu, and initially all she said was cornbread and applesauce. At my encouragement, she then added chicken with noodles and a side of carrots. We had cupcakes for dessert.

She opened her gifts and we tried playing with them but she had hit her limit by that point and going to bed was the best solution. So that's the re-cap of her mostly happy birthday!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy 4th Birthday, Natalie!

Here are some words that describe Natalie:
Natalie, we love you and hope you have a *fairy* wonderful birthday! (The pic above was taken on our mother-daughter date to the "big" city this past weekend.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Charles F. Cheddar, take 2

Remember this from two years ago? It was so successful I wanted to make it an annual tradition, but it just didn't happen last year. (Wonder what else we had going on?!)

I finally pulled it off last weekend, and we had a great time. Once again we started off with (homemade!) pizza for supper. Then we headed downstairs for the really fun part.

I'd set up the games earlier in the day and decided to stick with what had worked last time: bowling (using a kid's set we've had for years), timed basketball shooting, and Skee-ball (using a super-cool toy*  pictured below that I got for free in the toy swap I coordinated a couple years ago).
I'd been collecting a fun array of prizes including books, games and art supplies. The hardest thing for me was predicting the number of tickets each kid would earn. The hardest part for them was choosing since I made sure there more prizes than tickets so that it was more like real shopping. Natalie earned 7 tickets (out of 9--we were fairly generous, I thought!) and chose a bracelet, some princess magnets and a book. Nathan had 8 tickets and selected a baseball card game and an I-Spy book.

This is one of those activities that took as long if not longer to prep than to implement, but it was definitely worth it, and they asked immediately when we could do it again. Success!

*Yikes--$160?! That's got to be a joke. Maybe I could try selling my used one for $50? HA!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fit to Burst

"It is Christ's faithfulness that enables ours."

I've mentioned more than once my affinity for Loving the Little Years, which I've read three times in less than two years! Therefore, I was very eager to get my hands on a copy of author Rachel Jankovic's recently-released second book, Fit to Burst.

The bottom line is that I liked Fit to Burst, but I didn't love it. I felt this book was more preachy, and though I appreciated many of the insights, I didn't connect to as much of the material as I did in LTLY. With that being said, I would still recommend Fit to Burst, just not as heartily. However, I still found plenty to think about. Here are some of the quotes I've been pondering:

"We should be blessing others, thinking of others, giving to others. And we should be doing it so freely that we don't remember it, because we are willing to wait to see what is done with it." 

Totally connected with this question: "How can you both work diligently on a to-do list and cheerfully lay it down when you are interrupted?" Anybody have a great answer?!

"Our opportunities to bless our children are often most present when we least feel like it. This is why we cannot depend on our emotions to dictate our actions . .  . Look for how you can use this {wild, tense} situation to bless them {your children}.

"God does not want us to be stagnant, to sit still, to rest on the laurels of success. He has us in training--He is pushing us to grow, to learn, to confess, to rely on Him more, to give more to others, to work harder, to laugh more. This is Christian discipleship."

"If the law is the skeleton, grace is the flesh. Without the law in there, the grace is just a blob. And without the grace, the law can't move . . . Your parenting needs to represent both the law and the grace to your children." And later, she says that the point of both law and grace is "restoration, forgiveness and joy." Love that.

"Obedience is bigger than discouragement, and the two cannot live side by side. When you need encouragement, obey. When you are tired, walk. When you feel lost, remember. The more you discipline yourself to overcome discouragement with obedience, the less discouragement there will be to overcome."

I appreciate that the format of the book is 18 brief chapters totaling 120 pages. Since I'm often reading in quick 10-minute bursts, I liked that I could cruise through a chapter or two in one sitting. (The negative is paying $14 for such a slim book!)

Have you read Fit to Burst? What was your take on it?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Site referrals


I feel a little conflicted when it comes to referral links. As someone who cares deeply about stewardship, I don't want to ask myself or others to waste time or money. With that in mind, I share the links below with you not to encourage needless spending, but rather 1) it seems like good stewardship to me to take advantage of the resources offered by some referral programs, and 2) to share those opportunities with you in case you care to do the same. Take 'em or leave 'em. =)

*I'm definitely glad I signed up for Swagbucks a couple years ago. I do a lot of on-line searching, and it's fun to earn Amazon spending money for doing something I do every day! I checked my account last week and noticed that I've earned $85 in gift cards. I know others have earned a lot more, but I'm still thrilled. I do usually take the daily poll and print their coupons regularly, but I've not participated in other point-earning opportunities like surveys.

*I don't use Groupon a ton because we don't live near a major city, but I have gotten some good deals, and I'm interested to see what's offered even if I don't make a purchase.

*I've been using Ebates for a few years now. Like Swagbucks, it's a great way to earn a little something if you're making on-line purchases anyway. To start earning cash back, all you have to do is sign up for an account and then click on the store you want to browse via the Ebates site. Super easy!

I'm interested to hear if you are signed up (or not) for any of these programs, and how much you use them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Leap celebration

We had a nice time celebrating Naomi's (honorary) birthday. I thought it would be cute to have a bit of a frog theme to acknowledge that she's a LEAP baby!

Per our tradition, we had a special breakfast in the birthday girl's room. Thanks to a visit the day before from my blog friend, Leah, we had delicious donut holes. You should've seen Naomi's face when she tasted her first bite!
We had a casual supper in the evening. Our guests were Eric's brother and his girlfriend, and the college  student we sponsor, Cristina. A friend graciously provided us with all the fun pink first birthday decorations!

After the kids were in bed, Eric and I read through our CaringBridge journal entries from last year, along with the many comments that had been posted by family and friends. I think it is so important to pause to remember and reflect. We are so grateful for God's hand of protection on both Naomi and me. It was indeed a day of celebration!