Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's Letters

Bella helping mommy vacuum out the Scion!

Dear husband, it's finally here! A three-day weekend with you. I've been waiting all summer for this seeing as you've been missing in action for the majority of it. Time to reap some of the reward for all the hard work you've put in the past couple of months. Dear New Orleans, here come the Winsletts! We can't wait for the father-in-law to show us all the yummy food you have to offer. All diets are off. Dear PaperLark, we officially have our business license. It is either make it or break it now! Please keep my little growing business in your prayers in the next few weeks. It is an exciting, but equally scary venture for me as well as our little family as a whole. Two words - game on! Speaking of, we've got a new line coming out in August that I think will be a big hit with our Greek readers (hint hint). Dear Bentley and Bella, I hope you two have loads of fun at your grand-fur-parents house this weekend. I know you'll come back spoiled rotten and maybe a little fatter than when you arrived. Thanks for watching them! Dear readers, don't forget to enter into my birthday giveaway! It ends July 31st. Hurry and enter! Who doesn't like free stuff?!

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Until next time! Miranda

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me Giveaway!


I've got something special for you to mark a very special event - my birthday! What is better than celebrating with our first ever giveaway?!

Technically, my birthday was yesterday, but we are partying all week over here. We are going to New Orleans this weekend to celebrate so my birthday isn't officially over until next Monday. ;)

What is up for grabs? A Scrapbook Embellishment Gift Package! Check it out!


  • Tote
  • Maya Road Borders Chipboard Sheet
  • Bubble-a-bilities Pastel Glitter Alpha Epoxy Stickers
  • KI Memories Dimensional Alpha Postage Stickers
  • X-ACTO Design Scissors
  • Prima Mulberry Paper Flowers
  • Fiskars Leaf Border Punch
  • 50 Decorative Tags from The Paper Palace on Etsy
This gift package has an estimated value of $25. So, hurry up and enter! The giveaway ends at midnight on July 31st! Clearly, it's a great giveaway because even Bella found something she wanted. 

Good luck!

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grocery Grumbling: How We Only Spend $60 a Week on Groceries

After my How to Buy a House in Your 20s series, I had several readers email and message me on Facebook asking the same thing: "How do you only spend $60 a week on groceries?!"

Well, what do you know?! That question has sparked this mini series I'm going to dub "Grocery Grumbling." What is in store for this mini series? I'll let you know how we grocery shop, we will meet a couponer via guest post to learn her method for beating the grocery grumbles and finally explore the wholesale world.

Let's get to it shall we?

Rethink where you shop.

When we first got married, I shopped at Publix or Kroger where I would spend $90-$100 per week. When we started really saving for the house, we switched to Walmart where I would spend $70-90 per week. Today, I shop at Food Depot. While this is not a nation-wide chain, it offers something that most grocery stores do not - dirt cheap meat.

By dirt cheap meat, I don't mean bad meat. One perk to having a husband who is constantly working in and out of grocery stores is he learns a thing or two about how it works behind the scenes. While grocery stores like Publix or Kroger have a meat prep team, they do not cut their own meat. They only package it - charging you a higher price. Food Depot has a team of butchers who both cut and package the meat - allowing for a cheaper price.

We fed nine adults hamburgers on July 4th with six pounds of ground beef that we paid a whopping $10 for. We had about six patties leftover too which I ate for lunch over the next week.

Buy store brand. 

I think this one is pretty common knowledge, but sometimes we need to be reminded that brand naming isn't everything unless you've got a coupon for it!

Freeze. Can. Freeze. 

My husband's boss was nice enough to pass down a chest freezer from her restaurant to us. We definitely put it to good use!

Right now, our parents and grandparents are sharing their garden surplus with us. I'm up to my ears in squash, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes. I've been sticking it in the freezer. Actually, just last night I tried my hand at canning stewed tomatoes and I'd like to think it was an epic success. Hehe!

Here's some instruction on freezing squash and zucchini. Here is the tutorial I used for canning the stewed tomatoes.

Photo courtesy of Sherelle Christensen Designs
Consider freezer meals. 

Lastly, when I get in a cooking mood and have enough room, I cook freezer meals. These last us forever! Usually, we can eat on these two days in a row. (Remember, there is only two of us!) You can click here and here for my favorite freezer meal recipes. 


Monday, July 15, 2013

Project Life Workshop

Details coming soon!

How to Buy a House in your 20s: Part Two

Welcome back ya'll!

It's round two of our How to Buy a House in your 20s blog series!

Just joining us? No problem! You can catch up with our first post here.

Just to reiterate, these are tips and suggestions that helped us get into our first home at 22. This is what we did and for us, it worked. Hopefully, it'll provide some inspiration and creative thinking for some.

Note: I am not a financial professional in anyway. The advice presented in this article was gleaned from real-life experience and advice from our parents, financial professional and realtors.

Ditch the bank. Join a credit union.

When we merged our finances together, we decided to bank with Delta Community Credit Union. It offered lower interested rates on home and car loans as well as earning higher interest rates for our savings accounts.

Simply put, banks are for-profit organizations. Credit unions are non-profit. We picked the banking institution which we felt would most benefit us in the long run.

In all honesty, we did not get our home loan for our new house from Delta Community Credit Union. However, we feel as though it was a right step toward our financial future that impacted our ability to get our home. After all, we got an excellent interest rate on the car loan for our little Scion. We actually found the car through a car company the credit union works with and got a better deal than what we saw at the local dealerships.

Got student loans? Pay um!

I know, I know. You go to college, slave away, graduate and get to pay student loans until you are 100. Woohoo. However, they can really help you build some positive credit. If at all possible, do not default on a student loan. Don't be late on a payment either! By making late payments or defaulting, you'll build negative credit. Negative is bad. Positive is good.

Unfortunately, great credit is important in the real world. It'll help you not pay a deposit when you rent an apartment. More importantly, it'll help you get that loan for that house or car you want.

If push comes to shove and you can't pay those back just yet, see if your lender will allow you to defer or forebear your student loan. Deferring or forebearing your loan will not hurt your credit. [Read more here] Just remember: You do have to pay them back at some point so don't get in over your head.

When we first got married, our combined monthly payment for our student loans was what we were paying in rent. It was killing us. After doing some research, we are now paying our student loans back with the graduated payment plan. It reduced our monthly payment by half and is so much more feasible.

Side note: Our lender told us loans such as student, car or personal loans impact your ability to get a house more so than how much you owe on a credit card. Why? Because unless you have a gold card without a credit limit, chances are those loans are a higher denomination than what you owe on those credit cards. It's all about that debt to income ratio people!

Ask a bazillion questions. 

Reap advice from anyone who is willing to give it. That's what we did. While we didn't follow every bit we received, we heard the same under lying advice.

This also applies to any realtor or mortgage broker you work with. I'm sure I drove our poor realtor nuts asking what probably seemed like the same question over and over again.

No lie. I spent an hour or more on the phone with our mortgage broker so they could explain the Good Faith Estimate to me line by line. (By doing this, I also caught a mistake they'd made that saved us a couple hundred dollars...)

Buying a house is a big deal. You are also spending a lot of money. Be wise and do everything you can to understand where you money is going and why.

Hunt for the perfect realtor.

Realtors do get a pay day when they sell you a home. Therefore, make them earn it. Don't settle for one that's letting you do all the house hunting. Don't settle for one who only answers their phone once in a blue moon.

It took us a couple months to find a realtor we liked. By the end of the process, we loved her! [If you are in the south metro Atlanta area, you can find her here. She comes very highly recommended. ;)] Our realtor fought tooth and nail for us. We firmly believe we wouldn't have this house without her. She even had to whip our mortgage broker into shape a few times!

So, there you have it. That is how we bought our house. It wasn't always a fun process by any means, but it was so worth. Planning my wedding was the most stressful thing I have ever done. Buying a home was the most frustrating - mostly because I have no patience. With buying a home, you've got to have patience. You will get there. I promise!

Do you have any tips to add?

See ya!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to Buy a House in your 20s: Part One

Age is a funny thing, isn't it? At least our perception of age is. No matter what age you actually are, yourself or those around you will think you're either too old or too young for some behavior/action/task/etc. For example, I will be 23 in a couple weeks. I'm old enough to buy alcohol, vote and drive a car. However, I'm still waiting for that golden 25th birthday when my car insurance will go down (despite the fact I've never gotten a ticket of any kind or ever caused an accident - I digress).

Throughout our entire home buying process, those we ran into along the road where impressed/surprised/in disbelief that a couple was buying their first home at 22. Naturally, they were curious as to how we were able to do so.

So, here you have it. The good. The bad. The ugly. And the truth about how we bought our first house in our 20s. Be sure to come back for Part Two! [Click here for Part Two!]

Note: I am not a financial professional in anyway. The advice presented in this article was gleaned from real-life experience and advice from our parents, financial professional and realtors. 

Live poor. 

We adopted this concept from good, ole Dave Ramsey:
"If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."
What did this mean for us? Saving money on our living expenses where ever we could. There are several very nice and new apartment complexes in our town, but we didn't live at any of them. Instead, we lived in our tiny 1970s apartment that we lovingly called "The Craphole."

You might think I'm being a little dramatic, but seriously there was a reason we called it that. The police were a reliable staple around our complex - especially on the weekends. Little children ran around outside shirtless and sock-less in December! If a couple broke up, you saw their stuff on the curb the next morning. Not to mention, we were in a constant war with bugs. While I never felt unsafe at any point, it certainly wasn't the classiest place in the world. However, it was a means to an end. We paid $300+ less a month than we would've paid at the new, nice apartments. We lived in that apartment for a year so that's $3600 I stuck away.

Another great way to live poor? Don't get cable! We paid $120 a month for our Internet and cable. At the new house, we've just got internet ($30 a month). Throw in a Netflix and Hulu subscription with our antenna in the attic and we only pay $45.98 for our TV entertainment (a $74.02 savings). We don't miss those channels we never really even watched and certainly don't miss that bill!

Eat poor. 

Also, we lived poor by not eating out. In January, I got serious about our grocery bill. The old saying goes if you want to know what matters most to a person, just look at their checkbook. Well, if you looked at our checkbook in December, you would see that food mattered...a lot. We'd buy a $100 of groceries, but then go out to eat three or four times a week. Eekk!

With the New Year, I vowed not to eat out unless it was budgeted into the groceries for the week. I also made a menu for the week and made sure I only bought the items on my grocery list. (Resist those impulse buys!) I also cooked freezer meals which I blogged about here. Doing all this, I brought our grocery budget down to $60 (without couponing)! That's $40 more dollars a week I stuck back in savings. $160 a month people!

[NOTE: I've gotten a lot of questions about how we manage to only spend $60 a month on groceries. I wrote a follow up post here that will go more in depth.]

Budget for EVERYTHING!

Last January, I purchased a expense tracker book from Target. I am in LOVE with it! It is made by Mead and called Organizher. It helped a lot to see how much money was coming in and going out every month. It also allowed me to keep track of what money I had sitting where for what purpose.

I budgeted everything (and still do). We have a budget for everything from oil changes to Christmas savings. You've got to stay in that budget. If carrying cash helps you budget better, do that. If having it on your debit helps you budget better like me, do that. At the end of the day, it's your money. Find what works best for you.

Hold onto that income tax

I know it's hard, but stick it in savings and forget about it. It was really hard for me not to just hightail it to Disney World for the week with that income tax return, but we were able to buy the appliances and furniture for our house with it. Those things aren't cheap and you need them to make a home! It'll be worth it. I promise!

Hope part one has given you something to think about and maybe even some inspiration. In part two, I'll dive more into the advice we got from our parents, financial advisers and realtors.

Get to budgeting and living poor!
Until next time,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Project Life Obsessing...


I spent part of my week-long vacation last week catching up on my Project Life album. I had completely missed the entire month of June because of our move. Not only were all my supplies packed up, sitting down to order pictures was the last thing on my to-do list.

While catching up, I was reminded about why I love Project Life so much. Scrapbooking can get overwhelming especially if you get behind. It takes a lot of time and creativity to make a really good page you are satisfied with if creating free-handed. Project Life takes the trial-and-error element out of scrapbooking which saves a boat load of time.

It also offers you the flexibility to change your album format. Let me explain. Typically, I scrapbook on a week-by-week basis. Seeing as I was a whole month behind, I scrapped the whole month of June in four pages instead of going week-by-week.

I promise I'm not getting paid by Project Life to spout its praises. (I wish!) They've actually got a decent sale going on now. I was able to nab the Olive Edition (which I have been eye-balling for a few months) and the brand new Midnight Edition (which I plan on using for next year's album) for the price of one!

How? Through Amazon, if you purchase one of the new editions (Blush, Cinnamon, Honey, Jade, Kraft, Midnight or Rain), you can get 30 percent off one of the old, almost-retired editions (Amber, Clementine, Cobalt, Olive, Turquoise). In my seven months of Project Life, I haven't seen this good of a sale so jump on it if you'd like to dive in. Note: I'm currently using the Seafoam Edition.

Speaking of diving in, I'm trying to piece together a Project Life how-to class. I plan on running it through the blog to open it up to a larger audience. If you are interested, keep your eyes open for more details coming soon.

My new dream is to design a Project Life Core Kit now. I'm swooning! 

Enjoy some inspiration below or check out my Project Life board on Pinterest by clicking here



Love the idea of a 4x12 split photo on the bottom of Design A. I especially love this pic with the little girl's adorable chalk drawings.

this and that: Project Life January 2013

Check ya later!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday's Letters

Dear husband, it's the second week in a row I've been missing you. I know this is your busiest time of year at work, but I need some us time! Our anniversary trip cannot get here soon enough. Dear anniversary trip, you are officially booked! Biloxi and Destin here we come. These next nine weeks are going to be torture as I try to wait patiently for you. Along the same accord, anyone interested in puppy sitting my two adorable fur babies? Dear Bella, you have completed your first full week of potty training. You are doing pretty good so far. I'll definitely admit you (so far) have been easier to potty train than Bentley was. Dear Bentley, I'm sorry you had to get your man surgery on Monday. You've been a trooper though! The next day you were back to your normal antics. Dear work, I really enjoyed having this past week off. I had no idea how sleep-deprived I had become. Can't we just have next week off too? Dear PaperLark Studio, I'm one step closer to getting you official. You now have a federal tax ID number. Next step - business license. Dear family and friends, please keep myself and PaperLark Studio in your prayers as I work towards this next goal for my business.

Until next time!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The House Warming Party

Our house warming party was last Saturday and I've got pictures galore to share!

First, let's talk about decor! Since July 4th was the next week, I wanted the house decorated for it. 

I spray painted an old picture frame that has long since been missing its glass. I ran across the print on HMH Designs for free. You can find it here. The flowers behind the picture frame are Queen Anne's Lace placed in water with red and blue food coloring (my mom's brilliant idea!). In Georgia, you can find these simple, but beautiful flowers all along the sides of the road which is where mine all came from. Ha!

In our house, baseball is king and what is more American than baseball?! The game ball given to Coach R.J. after the championship win became my finishing decor item on this side of the mantle.

 On the left side of the mantle, you will find more Queen Anne's Lace in two tin cans each dyed their respective colors. I'm in the process of making a July 4th fanned wreath which should slightly resemble this:

I wrapped some of my leftover paper around paper towel and toilet paper rolls to make my firecracker display you see there to the right of my tin cans. 

 I'm sure you've noticed the bunting hung on the mantle too. I cut 1/2 inch x 6 inch strips out of fabrics left over from various projects. (It sure pays to be a craft supply horder sometimes!) After I had all my strips cut, I tied them in that pattern on about four feet of jute.

 Outside, I had two wind socks made from spray painted tin cans and some of my fabric strips from my bunting project.

Of course, your July 4th decor is not complete without some good ole American flags to line the walkway!


I designed a welcome banner (also my mom's idea!) that coordinated with our house warming invitations.

Inside, the food and drink cards also coordinated with the invitations which officially brings me to the food and drink!

(click for recipes)

Roasted Garlic Hummus
Gourmet Cheese Spread -8 oz. of cream cheese mixed with 8 oz. of feta cheese
 shaped into two logs, rolled one in pepper and one in fresh chopped parsley

(click for recipes)

When we moved in, we replaced the mailbox. The old one was warped and hanging by one nail to the post. When we replaced it, R.J. put the old one in the garage for me knowing I'd find some purpose for it...and I did! I beat it back into shape the best I could with a hammer and spray painted the outside with what was left over from my wall mirror turned chalkboard project

Considering I sure don't intend to have another house warming party any time soon, I'm hunting for an idea of what to do with it now. Any suggestions?

Lastly, we had small potted Jade Plants (also known as Friendship Trees) for guests to take home as a thank you.

Our house warming party wouldn't have happened without my mother. A HUGE thank you to her. Seriously, ya'll probably would've been drinking Coke out of a can if it hadn't been for her. Thank you mom!

OH! One last thing! Bentley and Bella would like to give a special thank you to the Bogs family for their present. As you can see they both loved their toys!

Bentley knows what a present is. He stuck his head right in the bag and got his out!

After getting it out, he promptly killed it by shaking it around and growling.

Mommy had to help Bella get hers out, but she loved it too.

Then mean brother stole it from her...

But, no worries. Mommy got it back for her. :)
Until next time!