Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quick tip: free calendars for Telus customers

Happen to be a Telus customer? Want a free 2012 calendar with their adorable animal pics in it? Then click here!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kate Spade sale!

I'm a negligent blog owner, but I'm getting back in the game today by sharing the coupon code for Kate Spade's Friends and Family sale this weekend (fall11ff).


Not a Kate Spade fan? Well, you're likely still in luck. We're hitting the Fall sale season, so now's a great time to pop in to your favourite stores (AND get on their mailing lists if you aren't already) and look for large discounts. For example, Banana Republic is doing a 30% off your entire purchase weekend up here in Canada this weekend.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I just read this blog posting on finding clothes that fit and tailoring and thought it immediately needed to be shared.

I think most people, and especially most women, know the depression and anxiety that can come along with trying to find off-the-rack clothing that actually fits in a flattering way. Even if you have a clearly defined sense of style and cuts that look best on your body type, it's still incredibly easy to walk into a change room with dozens of things to try on and still end up trying outfit after outfit that looks horrific.

I'm not going to lie... I personally find the whole trying on clothes experience completely stressful. It's not to say I don't enjoy shopping (clearly I do), but I don't have the easiest body type to work with (yeah being a pear-shape *smirk*) and sizing and cuts at stores are just insane. When I compare the way I look in a piece of clothing to the way a model in an ad or a celebrity wearing the same piece, I usually come up looking completely sub-standard in comparison.

That blog post, though, reminds me of the important fact that at least a direct comparison doesn't make any sense. These people don't just look better because they're skinnier/taller/more-evenly-proportioned (which they are, but whatever); they look better also because every single thing they wear is tailored for their body, and that kind of tweaking can make a world of difference.

I can't afford to alter everything I own, but at least I can remind myself of that blog posting every time I try something on and start to beat myself up over that fact that nothing seems to fit me quite right.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deal: $5 off bras at Victoria's Secret

Good god, La Senza, NOOOOO!
Victoria's Secret finally expanded into Canada, which is fabulous because up until that point the main two chains up here for bras were either neon (La Senza... seriously, their store is currently a visual assault on my eyes) or fussy/boring (La Vie En Rose). Also (possibly-too-much-sharing-moment), neither store has ever had much that fit me properly. I lived in the US for a number of years, though, so I had already been spoiled by Victoria's Secret's massive options for styles/fits, making shopping at my two lamer Canadian options a bit of a let down.

But anyway, we now have VS locations in Toronto so hooray and cheers and whatever. I popped by one yesterday and, lo and behold, if you go and get assistance with picking out bra styles (this tends to mean a quick bra fitting and then going in to the very pink change rooms to try things on) you get $5 off each bra you pick up. Not a half bad discount, and a good way to get people to try on a number of different styles. I don't know how long the promotion is going on, so if you're interested you might want to check it out sooner rather than later.

While I'm at it, I may as well give out some other bra-related advice (readers who don't wear bras can consider themselves excused):

Get yourself fitted... and get fitted again again every so often
You've probably heard that most women are wearing the wrong bra size. Well, it's one of the few things you've heard repeatedly that isn't garbage advice. I worked at a VS briefly while in university (well, until being paid $5.15 US an hour and having to say "Hello, have you tried our new Very Sexy Victoria's Secret bra?" over and over finally drove me to quit) and I was amazed at how off most people were with their sizes.

There are a number of ways to get fitted including fitting yourself with a tape measure and some guidelines or getting fitted at a store. VS does fittings that are usually reasonably accurate thanks to the cheat sheet on the VS measuring tape (although be prepared to have to try a few close sizes there, just in case the measurement was slightly off... you really only get minimal training on measuring if you work there).

Also, be aware that "the girls" will change sizes over the years. That's right... you'll need you get measured more than once. Suck it up... it'll make sure you're always comfy. Especially be sure to get refitted if you've gained or lost weight/inches.

Not all bras fit the same... try on a bunch of styles to find your best fit
Much like sizing in clothes and shoes, bra sizes aren't perfectly the same across all styles and brands. If you're looking for your most flattering (yet not uncomfy... who wants to be uncomfy?!) fit, spend the time to try things on. VS is actually pretty fabulous for this. You just go to the change room and then ask for the bra box in your size. The aforementioned box has one of nearly every style in the store, all in that size. This means you don't have to run around trying to find one of everything you might possibly be interested in. Also, it means you'll try on stuff you might not have otherwise, which can lead to unexpected finds. For instance, did I buy two bra styles yesterday that I might never have normally picked out? Perhaps yes (okay, let's be honest, most definitely yes).

If the size/style you're trying is close but not quite a perfect fit, try a sister size
I don't know if this is just a VC thing, but when I was working there there was a lot of talk about using sister sizes when trying to find someone the perfect bra. A sister size is a bra size where you take one aspect of the bra (cup or band) and increase it, and then decrease the other aspect. For example, if you've been quickly measured as a 36D, but when you're trying on bras in that size the band is a smidge tight and the cups are a tiny bit too big, then the sister size of 38C (up the band size, decrease the cup size) might fit substantially better.

Know your favourite styles before big sales
If you've already determined your best styles before a sale (presumably at a point where the store is calm and you can take your time), then you can just pop in and pop out of a sale without having to try things on. This is particularly good at VS, where the sales are like pretty pink prison riots sometimes.

Victoria's Secret will try and lure you back with more coupons
Announcement to people who like coupons: VS gives them out like candy. After my purchase yesterday I walked out with 4 coupons that can be used over the next few months. They REALLY want you to come back, so, much like Michaels and Bath and Body Works, this can be one of those situations where it pays to stretch out your purchases so you continue to get more coupons and discounts. String your coupons together!

Example: say you need a few new bras/panties/pjs/whatever... you know you need multiple things, but you're not in desperate need to have them this very minute. You don't have any coupons yet though. Start by going in and buying the very cheapest thing you need. You'll likely get a bunch of coupons with your purchase, usually only usable in a succession of small windows of time. Now you can plan your purchase around the coupons you have and their use dates. These purchase will likely get you even more coupons. The whole thing will keep rolling over until eventually you'll have gotten almost everything you need for a decent discount.

Just be careful not to let the coupons tempt you into making purchase you wouldn't make normally. You're not saving money if you're just buying for buying's sake.

Be honest about your size if you're larger
Yeah, it completely sucks that after you get out of the Ds most chain stores stop offering your size, department stores tend to only have grandma-like bras beyond D, and anything beyond that point costs substantially more. These truths can't be ignored.  However, if you need higher than a D and are wearing something smaller for convenience/cost, then you're giving up comfort and a flattering fit. The obnoxious truth is you'll look and feel better in the right size.

For attractive bras, my D+ friends have recommended Secrets From Your Sister if you're in the GTA (they carry a broad range of sizes and do detailed fittings). Online, I've heard great things about Bravissimo too (their stuff is ridiculously cute!).

Who cares if anyone else sees it... wear attractive underwear just for you
Don't just break out the nice stuff for when someone else is going to see it... wear it for you too. Awesomely cute undergarments (as long as they're comfortable) can be a nice confidence booster for some people.

If you want a Joan from Mad Men kind of chest, but need some help...
...try the Miraculous Push Up bra from VC. A good friend of mine and I have both tried this style on. Our reaction was laughter and instant recognition that it was completely work-inappropriate for either of us, but at the end of the day (once we stopped hyperventilating from the laughter), we both admitted that it was kind of awesome in a vintage pin-up sort of way.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Traveling on the cheap

Out of nowhere I seem to have become a person who travels. Okay, I've been a person who travels for awhile now, since I don't live in the same country as most of my family, but now that I have a good job I'm actually going to...


...places where my relatives don't live!

I know... it's shocking.

Okay, it's not shocking at all... I'm just trying to build up some excitement here. Give me a break, it's Friday.

Traveling a lot AND being a massive cheapskate at heart does give you some serious insight into ways to cut costs, though, so that's at least a bit adrenaline-boosting, right (well, if you're a budget nerd, at least)?

Most people have their own tricks so, with the summer travel season approaching, I thought I'd share my main ones for traveling in a way that's not going to leave you completely broke, but is still reasonably time efficient as well.

Booking your travel
Where loyalty, a lack of loyalty, and flexibility will pay off.

  • Are you great at paying off your credit card each month? Can you put most of your expenses on a credit card? If so, go get yourself a great travel points card (I have an Airmiles one myself), charge everything you normally buy (no buying yourself extra stuff just to get more points!), pay the thing off immediately, and then let the credit card points pay for your travel. Yeah, you may still have to pay the taxes on your flight (although some cards don't have this annoying feature... search them out if you can), but you'll still save hundreds of dollars this way.
  • When I'm looking for flights, hotels, and car rentals, I rely pretty heavily on It's a travel search aggregator, which, in simplest terms, means it collects its data from other travel search sites (like individual airline sites as well as discount sites like and then puts all the results in one place. This keeps you from going mad trying to chase down the best deal across dozens of individual sites. Nifty, eh?!
  • I'm lucky that for some of my travel I can be flexible about airports. For example, my mom lives pretty much directly between two major airports, so I can pick which one to fly into based completely on convenient flight times and cost. Whenever you're flying, do some research into whether there are nearby alternate airports that you might be able to fly in and/or out of... but remember to factor in additional travel times and costs when you're making your final decision. For example, I live in Canada, but if I'm willing to drive an extra 2 hours I have access to a US airport with MUCH cheaper airfares. Looks like a no-brainer on paper, but going to the US has a lot of additional costs, especially now that I live so close to a Canadian airport. If I fly out of the US airport I have to add gas, time, and parking... and as of late the final savings have become so negligible that I've been choosing to go for my home airport instead.
I'm a long time believer in traveling with carry-on only. Not only do you save an obscene amount of time not having to check and pick up your bags, but there's no chance of your luggage getting lost if it's with you the whole way. It takes a few tricks to make it work, but it's worth the hassle, especially now that airlines are starting to charge for every piece of checked luggage. Here's how you can make it work.
  • First, pick a carry-on sized piece of luggage. Not all pieces of carry-on luggage are built equal, though, so be careful. The available volume inside a suitcase can be drastically reduced by features like poorly-designed telescopic handles or oddly-shaped compartments. If you're looking for the most available volume, a light duffel bag is your best bet. However, it's often exhausting to drag a full duffel bag around, so I switched to an efficiently designed roller suitcase like this one. Yeah, it's  got a bit less space, but the ease-of-use makes up for it (I can't say enough about how fantastic roller suitcases with 4 spinner wheels are... splurge on a nice one of these if you can), plus it expands slightly if I need more room in a pinch.
  • Pick what you bring carefully. You need to pare everything down to the basic essentials. For me, that means traveling with only my iPod and eReader and leaving the laptop behind. 
  • When choosing clothing, pack matching separates. Strategic clothing planning is key... if you can mix and match all your tops and bottoms, that means you can bring a lot less. A versatile, comfy pair of shoes is ideal here too as traveling with only the pair you're wearing saves massive amounts of space.
  • Look in to the weather and your events... you don't need to bring two sweaters and an evening dress if it's going to be boiling hot the whole trip and all you're going to do is swim and tan. 
  • Wear the bulkiest things you're bringing on the days you're flying... that way you don't have to try and get them in your suitcase (plus, the damn airplanes are always freezing cold anyway).
  • Leave room in the bag. Come on... you know you're going to buy stuff while you're away. Prepare in advance rather than trying to overstuff your suitcase for the trip home.
  • Bring snacks... the stuff at the airport is ridiculously overpriced and the options for things to buy on the plane are limited at best.
Getting your luggage there cheap
Okay, you've got your luggage down to a carry-on... what's next?
  • Best choice: fly on an airline that offers at least one bag checked for free. Yeah, you're not going to use it, but most people will, which leaves you ample room in the overhead for your bag. You want this room.
  • Second best choice: if you're stuck on an airline that charges for every checked bag, then be aware that people are very aware of this now and everyone will try and do carry-on only. This means that overhead storage is at a premium, and if you don't manage to get your bag in first, you'll end up having to last-minute check it. You don't want to do this if you don't have to. In this case, there's two options. If you can pick your seat and it's a larger plane, pick a seat in the back of the plane. You'll be one of the first people called to board, so you'll be guaranteed a spot for your bag. If you're on a smaller plane with just general boarding (no zones), get to the gate early and then plant yourself as close to the gate line as possible without being a pest. Jump in line immediately after they start boarding and you should be able to grab a coveted spot in the overhead.
Those are my main tricks... anybody have any other good ones?

Remember, the less you spend on travel, the more you have to spend on ridiculous whale Santa hats at Sea World!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shopping Rules: "It doesn't come home unless you love it"

I've decided to start a new feature here: Shopping Rules. It's where I talk about some of the rules that I use to try and get the most satisfaction from my limited funds.

The first rule I wanted to talk about is my cardinal rule: it doesn't come home unless you love it. Basically speaking, you should never EVER buy something unless you're head over heels for it.

This was not always the way I shopped. Back when I was younger I was notoriously bad at passing up a good deal. Maybe it was a sweater that wasn't quite the right colour or a skirt that was mostly flattering or a poster that was pretty, but not quite my style... if it was a decent item at a good price (especially if it was a well-made item), I had a rough time passing it by. Inevitably, though, this led to a closet full of clothing I was never satisfied with and a home full of decor that wasn't cohesive. Once the thrill of the deal was done, I was stuck with a bunch of stuff that wasn't quite right for me.

I wanted to buy beautiful things (there's that expensive taste thing rearing its ugly head again), but I never felt like I had enough money to pull it off. Instead, I settled for cheaper items that were mostly there, but not completely. The crazy thing, though, is that I was actually spending quite a bit of money on clothes, shoes, and home items... it just never felt that way because I was making lots of smaller purchases instead of a few larger ones.

Over the last five years or so I had been dabbling with buying less (partially thanks to getting addicted to John Fluevog shoes... it's hard to go back to other brands once you start wearing Fluevogs, but even on sale they're a bit pricey), but it only stuck more recently.

A year and a half ago I bought a wallet that shook some sense into me. Yeah, a wallet... just go with me here for a minute. It was Boxing Day and, thanks to a massive sale and an influx of holiday money that made me feel richer than I actually was, I bought a stunning green Kate Spade wallet for $50. Yeah, that's not ridiculously expensive, but I should point out that this was more than double what I had ever paid for a wallet ever in my life. The entire experience felt almost shamefully decadent, especially since I was a poor grad student at the time.

I'll tell you what, though... it becomes very hard to spend money on, say, a pair of slacks that are baggy in the waist when you have to whip out the most perfect green wallet ever to do so.

The wallet inadvertently pushed me to wanting other perfect things. However, I had to find a way to outwit my natural tendency to jump on good sales regardless of good sense (and, let's be honest, it's very hard for most people to afford perfect things if you aren't strategic with your purchases).

And so, an internal dialogue was born (one my friends have become pretty familiar with, as it tends to become external dialogue I hassle them with every time we go shopping together... you guys know I only hassle out of love, right?): "Yeah, but do you really love it?"

For example:

Me: "Wow, this grey sweater feels awesome... plus it's 40% off!"
Sensible me: "Yeah, but do you really love it?"
Me: "Well... the fabric is fantastic, but I'm not completely sold on the neckline, and I'm trying to avoid wearing grey..."

See. "Do you really love it?" plants fantastic seeds of doubt unless you're 100% sold on the item. As long as you can make a commitment to be totally honest with yourself when you ask the question, then you can be assured that nothing comes home that you aren't delighted to have. And if you're spending less money on things you don't use a lot, then you can reallocate that money to things you're going to want to use all the time (or, alternately, other things like travel or a car or... well, if you become overwhelmed with a sense of fiscal responsibilities there's always your crippling student debt, home loan, or retirement savings. You could pay my student loans if you're running out of responsible categories... *sigh*).

So you save money (well, in my case you reallocate that money and spend it on fewer, but higher quality things, but that's a topic worthy of its own blog entry), but that's not all You also save space in your home (no more trying to find space for yet another t-shirt you'll never wear), make getting dressed easier (no more weeding through your closet trying to find something to wear that you dislike the least), and have home decor that actually works together (no more uncomfy office chair that doesn't match your ugly couch).

What's not to love? I'll be honest, it'll feel godawful awful for awhile when you start. If you're anything like me you'll likely be seized with crippling anxiety at first for fear that you're leaving behind something fantastic... but after awhile you realize that if you rejected the item because you didn't 100% love it, then you don't end up missing it... if you even remember a week later that the item existed (this will happen. A lot).

Trust me, the anxiety lessens.

Eventually one day you'll look in your closet and realize everything in it brings you obscene amounts of joy. I'll tell you, it's worth the nausea-inducing stress you originally felt at the start (oh... the nausea... it's horrifying!).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mini Project: Organizing My Makeup / Cost: $$

Hey.... guess who still doesn't have a functioning camera?!

I've been Captain Indecisive with what I should do about a new camera (do I pick one up or just hold out for the next iPhone?), and so I've got absolutely zero photos of the projects I've been up to lately. Thankfully I still have some mini-project photos kicking around that I haven't posted yet. Hooray for procrastination.

This project is absurdly simple. Basically it's just about organizing things better. If you're trying to decorate on the cheap, reorganizing more efficiently is your best friend. It doesn't usually take much cash (well, unless the reorg requires new furniture... I'm sure I'll be posting on THAT issue in the future) and it can make your place seem substantially more pulled together if you do it well. Generally speaking, it's good bang for your limited buck.

In my case, my makeup collection was getting a bit out of hand. At the time I was storing it in two places: a small makeup bag I kept out in the bathroom and a messy makeup section of a drawer in a storage dresser I had in my hallway closet.

Yup... this was where this always lived. Not repulsive, but not a particularly attractive design element either.
Overflow. Some of this stuff I barely used, but some of it I used all the time. DEEPLY inefficient system. Also, DEEPLY ugly.
At the end of the day this was a terrible system. The makeup bag in the bathroom was too small to hold everything I liked to use regularly, plus the bag had to go behind the faucet because:

  1. If I put it anywhere else it would fall over because of its shape.
  2. I was too lazy in the morning to put it away somewhere sensible, like in a cupboard or closet or something, once I was done with it.
  3. Did I mention being too lazy to put things away in the morning?
So I needed a better system that was also attractive so I could get away with leaving it out all the time. Did I also mention that my bathroom was small at the time? Yeah... no big MAC or Sephora makeup case for me :(
*sigh* I lovededed you cupcake... um, I mean "Sephora makeup case"!
Guess what they make these days, though? Little fabric train cases!

So cute... and WAY cheaper than a traditional train case.
Yup, a mini train case. It had more room than my old make up pouch, a wide base that allowed it to be stable (without help from my friendly neighbourhood faucet), plus it was attractive enough to leave out (thus enabling my lack of cleanliness in the morning). Also, the fact that it was fabric meant it was cheaper AND lighter than the metal cases I'd been looking at. I picked this one up at my local grocery store for around $19. I also eventually purchased the matching travel pouches which, as it turns out, make excellent containers for the craft projects I occasionally tool about town with.

There are loads of cute fabric train cases out there. For instance:

This version from the Container Store runs at $18 and even has a separate section for your brushes.

This case from is a bit pricier at $32, but it comes with an extra travel pouch and would be a gorgeous accent piece in a bathroom.

As part of my Milly for Clinique binge from the other week I managed to get both the train case and makeup pouch from this set on eBay for under $10. Search for "Milly Clinique" to find your own if you're interested.

In the end, it's really all just about packaging your supplies efficiently in something the right size that actually looks attractive.

Final project cost to me: $19
Time to complete project: About 15 minutes to reorganize

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When you just want one part of a set

Friday I was out perusing the mall and by pure accident I bumped into this:
Ah pouch... I'll find you yet!

Yeah, so the makeup set is nice and all, but it's not like I really need more eye shadow right now. No... what caught my eye was the little Milly pouch the set came with. While first and foremost I'm completely obsessed with Kate Spade stuff, my interest in Milly comes following not so far behind. My weakness for retro clothing lines knows no end!

So the dilemma: do I leave behind a completely enchanting pouch or do I spend $45 (plus tax) on makeup I don't need just so I can get my paws on a freakishly adorable pouch?

Thankfully, my fiscally responsible side won out and I left the store with no pouch... which, of course, I still felt pretty pouty about. Then I remembered... people get those "gift with purchase" makeup bags and such all the time, so every person like me who wanted the pouch but not the makeup there's likely also a person who liked the makeup set but was indifferent to the pouch... and since the pouch was name brand there was always a chance someone might be selling it on eBay.

Ah eBay. So different from those early days of people just selling random stuff, yet still occasionally useful. The site is infested with professional sellers and counterfeit goods, but there's still some good deals there in certain cases. Lucky for me, there were quite a few Milly for Clinique bags available for a song. Alas, not the exact pouch that first caught my eye, but some other great designs that included a different pouch in the same fabric.

In the end I picked up several makeup bags for a few bucks each... way cheaper than buying the makeup set I originally saw.

Moral of the story: if there's something in a set that you're keen on, check on eBay or other auction/classifieds sites before you blow a metric ton of money on a bunch of stuff you don't actually care about just to get one or two things you're lusting after.

Alternate moral: if there's a set of something that you only want a part of, buy the set and put the stuff you don't want up on eBay for someone else to pay for. Goodness knows I might thank you for it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Link: IKEA Hackers Earring Display

The IKEA Tolsby frame is pretty impressive-looking for something that costs under a buck.

IKEA Hackers has managed to find another use for it... an earring display.

The concept is pretty easy, and you could probably do it with almost any frame. Basically, you just install a piece of cheap plastic cross-stitch canvas (yeah, the stuff you might have been subjected to in grade school where you "cross-stitch" with yarn and a monstrous plastic needle... you can pick it up for under a buck a sheet at craft stores) in where the picture would go. On a Tolby frame this takes a whopping 30 seconds to cut the plastic cross stitch canvas to the right size and drop it in the top of the frame.

I just made one earlier tonight for about $1.25. Oh boy... I'm a big spender! There'd be pics, but I dropped my camera the other week trying to get some photos of another project I'm working on and I completely busted my fabulous Canon point-and-shoot. Just... just take my word for it, okay, while I go sit in the corner and sob over the corpse of my beloved camera that I'm feeling too cheap at the moment to replace.

You know, for something that took less than a minute and cost about the same as a chocolate bar, it's pretty damn spiffy looking.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Link: "What I Learned From Wearing 6 Items For a Month"

The Globe and Mail just featured an article called "What I Learned From Wearing 6 Items For a Month". Apparently, as a means of showing that you can actually make do with way less clothing than the average North American keeps in their closet, the writer challenged herself to only wear 6 different pieces of clothing (not including accessories and undergarments) for 30 days.

It's an interesting read for anyone who either has a closet stuffed with clothing or looks in their closet and, regardless of how much stuff is in there, always feels like they have nothing to wear. There's a great message in it that these types of people need to hear: when you're buying clothing, buy strategically.

It's not hard to keep your clothing budget low by only buying things that are super cheap, but that can be the easiest way to a pile of clothing that isn't flattering, is of low quality, doesn't match, and/or you don't love to wear. The trickier proposition, but the one that brings the most joy (and the least clutter) in the end, is to buy less things, but make sure the things that you buy fit beautifully, are made well so they'll last, make you giddy to wear, and, most importantly, all match each other.

Seriously, the matching thing is the secret to a budget wardrobe. If everything you own can pretty much be worn with everything else you own, then you've got an obscene amount of outfit combinations that all look great. Take a look at the six pieces of clothing picked for the Globe and Mail experiment. Everything in that capsule wardrobe can be worn together in a flattering way.

So why doesn't everyone do this? Well, there's a lot of reasons, but mostly because it's not the easiest thing to do. It's only in the last year or so that I've felt I've gotten remotely competent at this approach to fashion. It's hard, but it's pretty damn satisfying once you get it to work.

I figured an affordable, non-cluttered wardrobe that you love to wear fits in with the more expanded scope of this blog, so over the next few months I'm going to be writing posts about some of the tips I've used to work on building a functional, pared down wardrobe... it's a process, so we'll be taking it one small step at a time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mini Project: Customized Tape Dispenser / Cost: $

More often than not, tape dispensers are boring and utilitarian. Dull as dirt. And when they're not... well, they tend towards the idiotic.
Seriously, Scotch? This was the best you could come up with? I'm embarrassed for both of us.
So, for every one one kinda stylish tape dispenser like this:
Reasonably clever. If you don't understand the joke, then you've just made me feel old.
You get a thousand plain black hunks of plastic and at least one monstrosity. or example:
What the f%$k?! This makes me want to give up on humanity completely.
So, in short, it's tough to get a tape dispenser that doesn't put you to sleep or make you want to pour acid on your eyes just so you can't see the horror anymore.

So what's a style-minded, budget focused girl (or guy) to do? Tweak an existing tape dispenser on the cheap. Yeah, it won't be fancy, but it'll at least match the rest of your office stuff and look different from anything you can buy.

Basically you're going to get a plain, old plastic tape dispenser... yeah, the kind you normally throw out when you're done with the roll of tape.

This'll run you, what, maybe $3 if you spurge for the name brand stuff... less if you go for something from a dollar store (but really, why not treat yourself to the nice stuff... you're worth it!). What's key is that you get the tape that comes in a clear plastic dispenser and that you make sure the plastic is reasonably strong and that the tape cutting edge looks like it's there for the long haul. It'd suck if you do this project and the thing breaks... okay, it's not the end of the world, but maybe a waste of about 10 minutes total. But really, why would you want to do this twice? Are you bored? If you are, come over to my house and do my laundry then, rather than make up busy projects for yourself.

Okay, now that you've obtained an appropriately sturdy clear plastic tape dispenser (and have possibly done my laundry), pop the tape and the label out. This is surprisingly easy to do on a decent roll of tape (if it breaks now, at least you saved yourself from a waste of time. Now go out and buy nicer tape!) and it's the reason you can make what's supposed to be a temporary tape dispenser more permanent.

So put the tape roll off to the side and then toss out the paper label (or, alternately, scrap the rest of this project and then follow the steps from the Custom Post-it Holder project to make a matching tape holder. Look at you, thinking outside the box!).

All joking aside, a small flat craft brush is a good choice for this project.
Now you're going to need some decent quality paint and a paintbrush small enough to paint a tape dispenser, but large enough not to make the process take all year. I used a craft brush and some acrylic paint I'd had since... well, I'd had it for long enough not to remember when I picked it up. The point here is not that I'm forgetful, the point is you don't need fancy paint.

Yup. I taped the center part.
Now, the trick that keeps this project looking slick and professional is that you're not going to paint the outside of the dispenser; you're going to paint the inside. This makes the spiffy effect of a color with a thick layer of gloss over top of it. It looks much more expensive than just a plain old Scotch tape dispenser, that's for sure. You'll to need to be rather precise so that the paint is on the inside and ONLY the inside. If it gets on the outside the whole effect is lost and it just looks sloppy and accidental rather than like something you paid exorbitant amounts of money for. Of course, you didn't pay obscene amount of money, but why let people know that? Try masking off the edges with tape (I know you have some) if you don't feel you've got the coordination to keep the paint where it needs to be. Goodness knows I needed to.

See... I suck at painting too!
Once you get the painting done, chances are it'll look like ass. This is because you suck at painting. Okay, it's not... it's because a lot of acrylic paint is somewhat translucent, especially if you use a lighter color like the bronze I used here. You'll need to let your first coat dry and then do several more layers of paint (the lighter/cheaper your paint, the more layers you're likely to need. If you used something like wall paint, though, you might be fine with just one coat). Don't get ahead of yourself and not give the thing time to really dry. You'll just end up scratching the semi-wet paint coat at some point and mucking up your hard work. Take some time. I did this project in between other stuff, so I likely waited a full day between coats. You probably don't have to wait that long, but play it on the safe side. Paint often looks dryer than it actually is.

After a number of paint layers you'll notice that the color has become opaque (AKA: "it's not letting light through it anymore" for those of you who skipped art class). Once this happens and the last layer is dry, you're ready to reassemble it.

Many... MANY layers of bronze paint. It was stupidly transparent
Pop the tape roll back in (make sure the sticky side of the tape end is pointing down or the damn thing won't work) and call it a day. You've now got a nicely coordinated dispenser that doesn't look like a stupid plastic shoe. Congrats. That means you're one step ahead of anyone who actually owns the stiletto dispenser, and that's gotta feel good.

A tape dispenser in the wild... well, in the wilds of my old desk, that is.
Remember, it's easy to find the plain tape rolls at office supply store, so just stock up on those when the original roll runs out (this is why I told you to splurge on the nice tape dispenser... so it'll last).

Final project cost to me: $3
Time to complete project: About 10-15 minutes

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A refocusing of efforts

Hey there! Long time no see.

Where have I been? Well, in the time since I last posted I finished grad school, took a contract job over an hour and a half away from where I lived, moved to an apartment closer to work, and then got a permanent position where I was contracting.

All and all, this didn't leave me a lot of time to work on home improvement projects. However, now that I've got less driving to do and a new apartment to pretty up, I'm back to blogging. However, I still don't have the project time I used to back when I was a lowly grad student. Hence a bit of rebranding for the blog. Rather than keeping it as the decorating-focused "My Cheap Ass Home",  I've moved to the broader "My Cheap Ass Life".

So what does this change mean? Well, I'll still be posting about bringing my bland apartment up to snuff for as low a cost as possible, but in between projects (AKA: when, in the past, I didn't have any content to post here) I'll also be writing about other ways I enjoy doing and acquiring the things I love without going broke in the process. Basically, I'll be talking about how to work with the seemingly impossible problem of having expensive taste but a limited budget.

Maybe you're like me and are paying off debt (thanks student loans! *smirk*), maybe you've got a limited income, maybe you're saving for big ticket items (like retirement, a home, children, or say a wedding), or maybe you just don't like paying more than you have to for the things you want and need. Whatever the reason, I promise you that there are loads of ways to have and do the things you want affordably, and this blog will help you discover some of the paths to getting there.

So, to sum it up, there'll more content coming out at a MUCH more regular pace. Or, to make it even simpler, yeah, this blog isn't dead. Hooray!