Sunday, March 13, 2011

10 Ways to Save Up for Your Fabulous Vacation

Doesn't it feel wonderful to go away on a vacation and be able to leave all the cares of the world behind for a while and just focus on enjoying the moment (if you can let yourself go)? In the word of the bard William Shakespeare, it might feel like " sleep, perchance, to dream..." Of course, getting back to reality and coming down from that high might often be the bittersweet aftertaste, but the pleasant - maybe exhilarating - experience mostly outweighs the pain of the readjustment.

In today's world, it is more expensive than ever to go on vacation and this is made worse by all the financial commitments we have with seemingly fewer and fewer resources. But where there's a will, there's a way!

Plan. This might seem like a no-brainer, but too often, many of us decide on a vacation too late or too close to the time. Not only are fares more expensive the later you purchase, but you also miss out on possible deals you could uncover with some research and the luxury of time. Besides, once you have an idea of how much it's going to cost you, you are better able to save up for it. With the benefit of time and planning, one can conduct an objective cost-benefit analysis and decide what kind of a vacation to have. In other words, make a budget.

Review. It also helps to review your spending habits to see where your money is going. And this is useful periodically whether you're planning a vacation or not. Sometimes we realize that we spend money on things that no longer give us as much benefit as we originally thought. Some people people are horrified when they hear I don't have cable. "So what do you do for television", they ask, incredulously, as though it would be impossible to breathe without cable. I have a digital antenna, an internet-enabled TV and BluRay player with access to Netflix, Hulu, Vudu...and an HDMI cable connected to my laptop...who needs cable? It saves me almost $800 a year - almost half the cost of a ticket to Australia!

Carry Forward. Take your dinner leftovers for lunch at work the next day. It often tastes better the next day, anyway. And you know you could make that favorite sandwich of yours for a fraction of the cost you buy it at. It will also be better for your waistline as well....(I'm just saying....)

Bulk up. Sometimes, buying in larger quantities can be cheaper, so buy non-perishable and easily storable items that you use regularly like toilet paper, detergents and stuff when they are on sale. I'm not a big fan of coupons because it requires more effort than I'd like to put in and there are only coupons for the items I don't use or need. However, if that can work for you, take advantage of it.

Drink up. I love meeting up with the gang for drinks after a day at work or, at the weekend, go out for a night on the town. But even with happy hour prices, the cost adds up. Better idea: have happy hour; goof off with your friends, but do it smart: host it at home. Have them bring some drinks, or alternatively, have them contribute the equivalent of of a drink or two. You'll all get more than a couple of watered-down drinks and have a lot more fun.

Automate. For most of us, consciously moving money into a savings account is one of the things that gets put off most often and most easily. When I set a budget goal for a vacation, I set up the transfer of a fixed amount each week from my checking account into my vacation savings account so I don't have to think about it. That way, I don't have to rationalize why I need it more urgently for something else. Neither do I have the option to promise myself that I'll replace the amount at a later date. What I don't see in my checking account, I can't spend.

Earn points. These days, there are many credit cards and some debit cards that you can earn points on everyday purchases and that are redeemable for travel miles. Rack up as many reward points as you can year-round towards your vacation. Caveat: I am in no way advocating for you to go get yourself yet another credit card! If you are already shopping for one, find one that earns you meaningful points. If you already have such a card, make use of it. That's all I'm saying.

Offload. Turn your stash into cash. Look through your hoard in the garage, the basement, your closet and offload the things you have accumulated over the years that you no longer use or have never used. If you haven't used it in a couple of years, chances are you won't. Hold a yard sale and put the cash you make into your vacation fund. As UK grocery giant Tesco's philosophy goes: "Every little helps".

Focus. If you really want to go on your great, fabulous vacation, you need to tend it. Check in frequently to make sure you're on track and make adjustments if necessary. The reward will be well worth it.

Be creative. Think outside the card. I'm sure if you put yourself to it, you would be able to find a great many ways to build your great, fabulous vacation slush fund without financing it on your credit card. Remember, it's not about living a boring life, but about living a smart life to enjoy it even more.

But as I sign off here, I'm curious: If you had one wish for a totally carefree, all expenses paid vacation anywhere in world, where would you like to go? Use the comments feature right below this blog or post it on my Facebook wall.

Also, if you think your friends might like to read this, share it with them on Twitter or Facebook using the buttons below.

So have a happy vacation this year, wherever you go, whatever you do!

The Lifestyle Maven™

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Get your upper arms toned for summer!

Hello y'all! (In the style of my sweetheart Paula Deen)

Summer will soon be with us and it's probably about time to start thinking about getting rid of the winter flab and getting your body ready for your bikinis and trunks! Definition goes a long way when there's little left to the imagination. Here's a video to help you with stretching and working those upper arm muscles!

Send me your workout ideas and tricks!

Enjoy your workout!
The Lifestyle Maven™

Thursday, March 3, 2011

10 Ways to Make a Small Room Appear Larger

I'm sure we've all had the experience when we walk into a space - maybe someone's home or bedroom - and it feels like we're in a cave and the walls are closing in on us.  In other places, it feels like you can't move without bumping into something or tipping something over. Maybe it's your space we're talking about; maybe you're beginning to feel like you've outgrown your space - or rather, the space shrunk on you.....

There are a few tricks to help you out here, so breathe easy. If you're moving into a small space and you're not quite sure what to do, this is for you too:
Start from the beginning. The best way to de-clutter de-clutter! Start with a blank canvas, take everything out so you have a better idea of what you're working with. Personally, it also helps me think and create better. It's difficult to think clearly in a cluttered space. Besides, once you have everything cleared out, you might be more objective about what you really want back in that space.

Lighten up. You've probably heard that lighter colors make a space look bigger. It's true. And doesn't have to be a stark white either. I once used a color called French Heirloom by Behr, which looked almost white, with the faintest hint of purplish color. Other 'cool' colors in the cream, blue or green family also work well. Just make sure the color is pastel and a light enough shade. And please paint the ceiling a light color as well!

Coordinate. If you can, have at least one major piece of furniture close in color to that of your walls. It has the effect of almost blending in. You will also want to keep to a simple color palette with clean, crisp lines and little ornamentation. My preference is to go for a monochrome look - different shades of the same color with a dash of an accent color.
Keep things in perspective. Albeit an incredible machine, the eye can always be tricked. You can make the walls of a room appear farther away by painting accents such as moldings or wainscoting in a shade lighter than your walls. Also, the longest line in any room is diagonal (go ahead, try it!), so you can set some of your furniture at angle to trick the eye into noticing the long lines instead of the short ones. If you have low ceilings you should also consider using lower-profile furniture, so there appears to be more room vertically as well. The closer your furniture is to the ceiling, the lower is appears - aka, small room.

Seeing double? Mirrors, are a great way to create the illusion of a bigger space, so use mirrors on the walls. Mirrors will not only reflect the light, they will reflect the space as well. Hang a mirror perpendicular to a window to reflect the most light. Bigger mirrors will work better than smaller mirrors.. You can also use other mirrored elements to create the illusion of space.
See the bottom line. One of the most important factors for the appearance of a larger room is how much floor is visible. The more floor is seen, the bigger the space appears to be. Use furniture with slender legs, furniture that is raised and furniture that is see-through. Glass dining tables, coffee tables or end tables are very useful for this reason. Keep larger furniture items against the wall and keep an area open for traffic flow. There's no need to walk around objects in a large room, is there?

Let there be light. Lighting is invaluable in mood setting and is just as important in creating spaces. Getting in as much natural light as possible does wonders for a small space. Replace heavy drapes with lighter ones and keep them drawn. If privacy is an issue, use sheer blinds during the day. Recessed lights are great because they seem to disappear into the ceiling and take up so little space. Track lighting is also a good alternative. If that is not possible, get a variety of lamps that need little standing real estate.

KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. When it comes to fabric, less is more. Keep the colors plain, and the fabrics light. Of course, do feel free to jazz things up with splashes of color to pull everything together.

Mutitask. To avoid cluttering up your space with lots of furniture, find furniture that can pull double- or triple-duty: An ottoman that can be used as seating, storage or as an end table, for example. A set of nested tables will also take up less valuable real estate.

Share the joy. Now that you've redone your space and it feels bigger and cleaner, go on and invite your friends over!  Let them see your genius and pay you all the wonderful compliments and you'll feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But that's not the best part: once they leave, you'll truly appreciate how much space you REALLY have now!

Have you done any redesign project you're pretty happy about? I'd like to hear about it! Send me pictures too, if you like. Feel free to send me your questions as well.

Happy redecorating!
The Lifestyle Maven™