bedroom mini-makeover.

(bedroom after: i just can't shake my love of feminine decor.)

Like many other expats, we rent a furnished apartment. This comes with a whole batch of pros and cons...like the pro of not having to purchase sofas, chairs and beds only to leave them behind a year later.

Unfortunately, it also comes with the con of making it work with less than desirable furnishings...and suppressing the urge to paint absolutely every ugly piece of furniture in your apartment. Remember this?

Of course I photographed the ugliness of our bedroom before we started making changes...but my laptop crashed recently and I can't access the photos. So just reference this post about our guest room, because our room was similar. Same curtains, same paint color, close to the same type of furniture in our bedroom. Also the acid-striped comforter WAS the furnished comforter from our bedroom. Delightful.

Anyone who's known me for more than 35 seconds can see how this style of furnishing would kill my soul. So, I threw together a "make it work" box which contained five yards of cheap IKEA fabric, four sewing pins, two unwanted shirts with fun fabric, one needle and a single spool of cream thread. Oh, and a gigantic bag full of Heat 'n Bond.

It wasn't much...but regardless, I attacked our fugly bedroom.

First things first, Gabe and I decided to keep it minimal. Would I love to dash out and purchase all new things? YES. But we have no clue how long we'll be in Kuwait, or where we're headed next.  So, we agreed to invest in light things we could take with us...linens, pillows, curtains, small pieces of decor that could be shipped at a reasonable rate.

Our first investment was quality bedding from Pottery Barn. Our bed here is approximately the same size as our bed in the US, so it really is an investment piece that will stay with us when we leave. We kept everything white in hopes that it will work no matter where we wind up.

Then I took one afternoon and made a headboard slipcover using IKEA fabric. It was quite easy to figure out, and can be sewn sans machine. Here's a set of instructions if you want more thorough info from the fancy folks at HGTV.

I also made a few pillows using Heat n Bond + discarded sparkly shirts + stuffing from old pillows...and bought discount euro shams we both really love. They're perfect for sitting up and reading...or let's be real...eating a late night snack in bed.

Then I tackled the dark nightstand. Some people love dark furnishings and can really make them shine in their home. I'm just not one of those girls. I'm a white or colored furniture girl. So, a $4 scarf-turned-runner covers the top and sides of it.

I removed the dark hinged door from the nightstand, which made for an open shelf to fill with stacks of magazines and a sequined pillow made from an offcast shirt. Finally, I swapped out the nickel drawer pull for a cream, vintage style pull which was less than $3.

Nope, it's not perfect. But I definitely hate it less. ;)

Word to the wise: If you change out the hardware on a piece that's not yours, do yourself a favor and put all the screws, knobs and brackets into a labeled Ziploc. Keep the bag right inside the table or cabinet drawer, so it can be easily reassembled on moving day. The last thing you want to do is lose some of your security deposit because you lost a few screws or knobs!

Yes, it's minimal + girly...and my masculine husband has to sleep here. With limited access to homegoods stores, I just did what I know best: girly + romantic. But Gabe says he doesn't mind since it's not our forever-bedroom and didn't cost much at all. I also think he's somewhat ammenible because there is a 32" TV across from him in this somewhat feminine bed. ;)

Overall, not my dream bedroom, but considering cost and lack of access to my usual budget-friendly haunts like Target, TJMaxx and thrift stores...I'm pretty satisfied with myself.

Okay. Really satisfied with myself. And kitty clearly loves it, too. ;)


dollars and sense: month one.

One of the goals Gabe and I made for 2013 was taking control of our finances.

This was an easy goal to agree on, because 2012 opened my eyes. Having grown up in the US, I was ill-prepared for the cost of living abroad. Whoa. Items in Kuwait are regularly priced 30-50% more than what I paid for them in the US. We're talking clothes, cosmetics, restaurants....even groceries. For example, for the first few months in Kuwait our groceries totaled $180 a week. FOR TWO PEOPLE.

Fun fact: I once cried in the cheese aisle when I realized the mozzarella ball I was holding cost $12. And the bottle of Simply Lemonade I'd passed up was $18. $30 for mozzarella and our fave lemonade? Gabe couldn't hug me, because you know...no-no on PDA in Kuwait. So I just stood there sobbing about cheese.

White girl crying...aisle 3. Send a mop!

Anyway, by the end of 2012 I was sick to death of falling prey to the price gouging. Every month, we were further and further away from our financial goals. So, we finally sat down to make a budget. Or rather, I made a crazy Excel spreadsheet and Gabe pretended to be impressed. We budgeted for every flexible expense I could imagine: coffee trips, personal care items, gift-giving, groceries, entertainment, transportation, pet items. You name it, there was a column....and I tracked that ish every single day.

One month down, and we've made some pretty big changes.

Here are eight things we learned in the past few weeks:

Nix impulse purchases: We started using this adorable free grocery list printable from EllinĂ©e, which allows you to check off anything you need. Together we create a grocery list prior to heading to the store, and buy ONLY items on the list. Absolutely no impulse buying. And guess what? We've cut our grocery spending in half. Half!

Fun dollars are cheesy but cool: We budgeted separate "fun money" for each of us, aside from entertainment or eating out. This way we don't feel suffocated by our new budget, and can still buy fun things. For example, mine goes toward clothing, accessories and pretty things for our home.  Any unused money gets carried over and therefore accumulates over time. If one of us wants to splurge, it means saving and sacrificing other fun items for a month or two. It really forces us to weigh our wants.

Stay on the same page: Purchases over $75 are always discussed, and there's an open conversation almost daily about where our finances stand.

Plan online purchases: Amazon and online shops get much more business from us. I used to run out of things and simply have to pay Kuwait's prices, because I needed it now. Example, my Maybelline foundation is $22 in Kuwait! Online...$8 with free shipping. Yep, this means taking stock of what we need a few weeks before we actually need it...and that's a little annoying. But it also means saving hundreds of dollars over the course of time.

Say goodbye to Starbucks: A medium Starbucks latte runs $7 here...and thanks to the Starbucks five steps from our apartment we used to indulge every other day. That's $200/month for coffee! Crazy. This month, we nearly cut out all Starbucks spending and opted for instant lattes we love. They're $0.50 a cup. I haven't darkened a Starbucks door in three weeks.

Bid farewell to credit cards: Our credit card wasn't used once in January. Credit cards are the devil. They really are, because you lack the feeling of having spent REAL money. Even if I'm getting a mile for every dollar, I'm just not willing to use them anymore, and don't carry mine regularly.

Build-in rewards for underspending: Any budgeted grocery, transportation, coffee and entertainment money that went unused gets carried over to be used on an agreed-upon purchase. Maybe we'll take a trip with our leftovers at the end of the year? Or buy something nice for our home? Who knows...but it is a great game that causes me to opt for less now.

When in doubt, think about your debt: This sounds yucky, but it's true. Sit down and tally up your debt...all of it. Credit cards, car loans, student loans, mortgage. It might be brutal, but it's your reality. Now sit with that number for a minute and really let it sink in. You owe that money. Scary, huh? Whenever I was faced with the urge to purchase something I didn't need and would put me over budget, I thought about that number. If not buying this trival thing, meant lowering that suddenly very real number? Even a teeny bit? Well, then I choose to live without this silly thing I don't need.


All-in-all...Month One was pretty rewarding. Dare I say...it made our marriage stronger? (Barf. I'm cringing, but it's true.) Seeing money saved at the end of January was worth the planning and small amount of belt-tightening it took to get there.  And it wasn't painful. My biggest fear was that budgeting might influence relationships with others, since we were opting to be less free with our dollars. But, then I stumbled on this quote:
"People first, then money, then things." --Suze Orman
This truly guided our first month of budgeting. I never want to be the friend who refuses to split the check, because my entree was $2 less than my girlfriend. Yiiiikes, that's awkward. I'll still happily split the check or make it my treat. I'll buy reasonable birthday gifts and party decorations with a happy heart, because letting people know they're loved is so much more important than meeting rigid financial goals.

But, I've found that your true friends and loved ones understand if their gift is a little smaller, or if you're not quite as free with your cash as you once were. They get it, and won't let it effect your relationship. And sacrificing a few of your silly "wants" is worth it for your long-term needs.

To anyone thinking about starting a budget...do it. It's surprisingly empowering. And hey, maybe you can buy yourself some pretties with all the cash you save. :)

Did anyone else make financial resolutions this year? How are you fairing?


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