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I’m on a podcast!

Recently, I had the awesome experience of being interviewed for a podcast. I was super nervous, but my interviewers did a fantastic job of editing out my “umms” and likely panic-induced mouth breathing (I’m sure THAT’S why my boyfriend often calls me a dragon…) Anyway, we primarily chatted about my experience owning and managing clean and sober housing, but we also delved into construction projects gone wrong and building wealth at an early age.

Check it out here and let me know what you think!

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My SIBO Story

SIBO- What in the heck is that?

Often diagnosed as IBS, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is a gnarly condition. Essentially, people are not really supposed to have bacteria in their small intestine. Large intestine, sure, but the little guy should be basically bacteria-free. What happens with some people (particularly those who are more apt to get food-borne illnesses, including food poisoning, norovirus, salmonella, etc- yes, you can have a genetic susceptibility that makes you more prone!) is that the infection in their gut kind of sticks around after clearing the majority of the infection and you start feeling better. This is officially known as Post-Infectious IBS (IBS is basically a trashcan diagnosis for “your gut sucks and we don’t really know why”).

The signature characteristics of SIBO are bloating, especially after meals, digestion trouble (I used to say that I felt that I just couldn’t digest anything), sometimes nausea, and often either diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of the two. Those with SIBO will often physically bloat to such an extent that they may look pregnant, no joke. SIBO also causes malabsorption of nutrients, particularly iron, B12, and vitamin D. I actually got so anemic that I was sleeping 16+ hours a day, could barely function, and ended up doing a 20 hour sleep study because my sleep doctor thought I had narcolepsy!

SIBO is super uncomfortable. I had it for two years before I was officially diagnosed, and then about another year before I got the right treatment. Unfortunately, it is a very “new” (relatively speaking) diagnosis, and the majority of gastroenterologists don’t even know it exists. Funny enough, one of the gut doctors I met with prescribed me the antibiotic I ended up taking a few times because “some studies had been done showing that it cured IBS”. But he didn’t know WHY it worked. And it worked great! …for the 2 weeks I was on it. I ended up going to a primary care, two gastroenterologist clinics, AND an IBS specialty clinic before seeing a naturopath who thought I should take the test. My results were pretty dang bad.

My naturopath prescribed me the antibiotic again (Xifaxin), and I was feeling much better. We then did a natural treatment for a few months, where I felt somewhat better, but then started getting worse and worse again. We did another round of Xifaxin (for the record, insurance companies do not like prescribing it. It is about $1,500 bucks because the US doesn’t have a generic version. However, you CAN get a generic version from Canada for about $100 and a few weeks of waiting!). We did this regimen a few times over the span of about a year. We were also treating my anemia and B12 deficiencies at the same time, but because I still wasn’t able to absorb them, it wasn’t getting a ton better.

I started trying to do my own treatment based off of what I learned on the internet. Allison Siebecker, known as the “queen” of SIBO, put together a diet called the SIBO-Specific Diet. It is a mix of the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet), and FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols).  It is insanely restrictive- I could pretty much only eat chicken, seafood, hard cheese, and a small handful of vegetables. I was exhausted and starving, all the time! Being hungry all the time made me super angry and moody, and it was pretty rough for those close to me. I decided to continue searching for a doctor who could help me.

Finally, I found an ND who specialized in SIBO. I was immediately blown away by her insane knowledge on the subject- this is someone who is reading all the research out there, like the second it comes out. You can listen to her podcast about SIBO here. As it turns out, there isn’t much research to support the SCD or SIBO-Specific Diet. There is a lot of confusion between the two diets as well, because something “legal” on the SCD often isn’t on FODMAPs. Dr. Kimball took a look at my test results and immediately pinpointed the problem. There are two types of gas produced by the bacteria (a third is being discovered/researched right now). Some people have hydrogen-dominant SIBO (more common, easier to treat, and linked with diarrhea). Others have methane-dominant SIBO (harder to treat, less common, and constipation-based). Some lucky characters are lucky enough to have both- like me! Luckily, the hydrogen was more prevalent, however, even a small amount of methane is significant, as it is more resistant and trickier to treat.

Once again, I went back on Xifaxin. This time, we added in another antibiotic- Neomycin. While Xifaxin has been super easy to take, with literally 0 side effects, Neomycin was a b*tch. I felt fairly sick for the full two weeks I was on it, and quickly learned that a normal breakfast was not enough food in my tummy to absorb the drug without some serious nausea. However, once I got off both and started a strict FODMAPs diet, I felt better than I had in years. It’s now been about 6 weeks off the drug, and I can’t even believe how good I still feel. I have been following the FODMAPs diet quite closely, drinking tumeric tea almost every day, taking pancreatic enzymes after I eat, and doing a lot of cooking with bone broth, and it’s been amazing to feel like I can actually digest food again!! I know that there is a good chance that I will have a relapse at some point in my life- in fact, I have been told that if I get another food borne illness, I probably will relapse. However, I feel confident that I can get through it again, now that I actually know what to do to feel better.

What’s your experience with SIBO or gut issues? If you have a lot of bloating, I highly recommend taking the SIBO breath test- proper treatment will change your life! Though I’m not a SIBO expert, I have done a buttload of research, so feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

 

Free Education- How To Go To College for FREE

To be fair, this is only about how I got my Associate’s Degree (two year) for free. And I still had to pay for books and some fees. Not every state does this, but based on a little googling, all states except AK, MD, MA, MS, NV, NJ, NY, and SD have a similar program. They are usually called Running Start, Dual Enrollment, or Concurrent Enrollment.

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Basically, if you are a high school junior or senior, you can apply to be a part of this program. It seems that in some cases, there may still be a small amount of tuition, but parents and students who end up paying something may qualify for a $4k tax deduction. In my case, the school district paid 100% of my tuition.

Because I only know details about Washington state, I will be writing specifically about that. However, you can google “your state dual enrollment”, and get a pretty good idea of what is required. I rented all of my textbooks through Amazon, and got a pretty good deal. Textbooks are crazy expensive- so when you can rent a $200 textbook for $20, it saves a TON of money. No, you can’t sell it back at the end, but you generally will come out well ahead by renting them instead of buying. Buying used can be a good option, too, but still pretty pricey.

The majority of people who did the Running Start program in my area just did it part time. Out of the nearly 815 eligible students in my school (assuming 48% of the student body was in the last two years of high school- my school had a 96% graduation rate), only 70 kids participated in Running Start, and out of that, only one other student and I went full time. Both of us received our degree at the same time we received our high school diploma, and I probably set foot on my high school campus a grand total of four times while I was attending college (and only because I had to get the counselor to sign off on classes). For the record, this is a school where 83% of students take AP (advanced placement) classes- it was not a school of dummies. And truth be told, I thought my first two years at community college was way easier than my first two years in the high school.

Why did so few graduate with their AAS? One of the biggest reasons is that it takes very careful planning- from the start. The school district will not pay for more than 15 credits a quarter (which is 3 classes), and only 6 quarters total. And since you are only eligible for the program if you are also working towards a HS diploma, you must meet the requirements for that as well. My school gave me a list of equivalencies, and since a quarter in high school was 7 classes, and a quarter in college was 3, I had to be extremely careful in how I planned my schedule, cross-referencing the equivalency sheet frequently. I also planned two different options for the full two years before I signed up for my first quarter of classes, so I knew what I would take my last quarter of my 2nd year before I even started going.

I won’t lie to you, that was challenging. They didn’t give me a set plan of what to do, the HS counselor didn’t know much about the college, and the college counselor didn’t know anything about high school graduation. My parents actually didn’t want me to go- I’m not really sure why. I think my mom was worried that I would miss out on friendships and the “high school experience”, and while she was 100% right, that isn’t something that I regretfully reflect on missing 😉

I didn’t go to prom, I wasn’t in any clubs, I didn’t get to take any “fun” classes. No easy As or automatic grade boosters. My little brother is just about the graduate from normal high school, and I do kind of wish I got to take some of the cool classes like Ceramics, Cooking, and Marketing. I actually ended up getting a concentration in Psychology at the college, which is basically a major in a two-year degree program. Because I was focusing on graduating from two programs, which occasionally had wildly different expectations, as well as meeting the 25 Psychology credit minimum for the concentration, I definitely didn’t get to take any really cool classes.

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However, I got to enter a university as an 18-year-old junior, with a grant for making the Dean’s List at community college with a 3.8 GPA. If I had stuck to my original plan, I could have graduated with a BA at 19!! Which wouldn’t have affected things on a financial scale (except for an extra 2 or 3 years of pay and IRA contributions), but it sure would have been cool to brag about 😉

 

CREDIT: How to Build It, Fix It, & Crush It

Credit card debt… Ahh. In 2017, Americans owed $931 BILLION. The average household owes $15,983 on their cards, $27,755 on their cars, and $47,047 on their student loans. The average amount of interest paid over a lifetime is nearly $280,000. That is over a quarter of a million dollars on INTEREST. Yikes.

Yet, we need it. You can’t buy a house, car, or often even rent a place without it. So how do we make credit work for us, instead of against us? There are lots of ways to “beat the system”, like travel hacking, standard cash rewards, and taking advantage of new card deals in order to get a sweet rebate. Though this is focused on the basics of credit management, I will discuss a little bit about how to choose a card, and using new lines to your advantage for major purchases.

1. Understand how credit works. This is super important. Many people think that if they open a line of credit and never touch it, they’ll have great credit. Debt can’t count against you if you don’t have it, right? Actually, this is incorrect for two reasons. 1) the credit bureaus and banks want to see that you can have debt, and manage it responsibly. And 2) banks won’t make any money if you never pay a dime of interest 😉 Also, bank cards have a little bit more weight than store cards, your payment history is hugely important (even one missed or late payment can make a big difference), and length of credit counts for about 15% of your score. See more here. On the other hand, if you max out your cards, only pay the minimum, and open 10 at once, you are going to see a massive drop in your credit. Not only that, but you are going to pay soo much in interest. Banks will approve you for ridiculous amounts that you are not actually qualified for. With one click of a button, you can get approved for 10 or 15k. Say you maxed that out, and you’re paying a 23% APR. That is nearly $3,500 a year in interest- an obscene amount! Don’t fall into the trap.

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2. Keep a small revolving balance. Say you have a line of credit for $3,000. It’s actually quite healthy to never pay off 10-15% of that. Credit utilization accounts for about 30% of your score, which can count towards or against you, depending on how much you use. Obviously, if you max out your cards all the time, that’s going to hurt you more than never touching them. And yes, you will pay some interest on the amount owed. But if you truly keep it around 10%, it won’t be a lot. It shows healthy debt management, and that’s what credit bureaus are essentially looking for.

3. Never miss a payment. Missing even one payment is a huge red strike against your credit. Banks want to see that you are reliable and responsible. Minimum payments are typically quite small, so it is not hard to miss them.

4. Always pay more than your minimum payment. I think my minimum payment is typically around $35. I usually pay $1000 per month. Interest is expensive! Set up auto pay if you are forgetful.

5. Cash rewards cards are great! I get 1-3% back on all my purchases, so I use my credit card(s) for just about everything. That being said, I am diligent about paying them off, because interest payments can and will eat into your cash rewards faster than you can blink! I am currently working on travel hacking- opening new cards to get large amounts of points that I can redeem for airline miles. ChooseFI.com has a very detailed series on this (link above) that I highly recommend reading if you are at this point.

6. Use an app to monitor your credit. I have used Credit Karma for years and really love it. Most bank apps/websites will give you your score now too, though you can also pull your score yearly through Experian or thereabouts. I would recommend keeping tabs on it at least once a month, though. Scores can change 10-30 points in the span of a couple weeks. I.e., if you max out your $10,000 card and your credit is pulled the next day, your score will take a huge hit. If you then pay off the entire balance at once and your score is pulled, it will jump right back up.

7. Be careful not to get in over your head. If you are new to credit, or have had really bad credit, I recommend a secured card. It kind of sucks because you have to pay your limit in advance, but it can be a really good way to learn how to use and build credit without actually taking much risk. As always, do your research and read the fine print before signing up for one, since each bank may do it differently.

8. Cut it up! Another way to build credit without having to pay a large deposit on a secured card is to open a card, make a couple purchases to get you to a very small balance (10% or so), and then cut that card up and throw it in the trash. You can hang onto it forever without ever using it (just be sure to sign up for online banking so you can keep tabs on what you’re owing on interest/make payments and pay it off in full if need be). This can be a great method. Personally, I would shop around until I find a no-fee card with a long 0% APR period (12-24 months), and then pay it off and cancel the card once I get to the end of that period.

9. Open up credit to finance a large purchase. One of my favorite methods! When I was remodeling my kitchen, I wanted to get some new, non-white appliances. I spent a lot of time price and model shopping, and finally found the fridge and stove set I wanted. Prices were about the same at Home Depot and JC Penney, but if I opened a card with JC Penney, I would get $200 off my purchase of $1,000 or more (easy), and not have to pay interest for 18 months. They also had a deal where if I bought a fridge with a JC Penney card, I could get an additional 10% discount on any other matching appliances. Awesome! I also knew that there was a big sale coming up- Labor Day- so I waited to buy until the sale started, which ended up saving me $410. I bought my fridge ($829 retail), stove ($699), and range hood ($199: $1,727 worth of appliances) for $1,199 including tax, shipping, and installation- a whopping 69% of face value. Plus, I got to finance them over 12 months, with no interest. Clearly, these are not top-of-the-line, restaurant quality appliances, but they look fantastic (slate: smudge free!) and have worked perfectly.

*I just googled rebates on JC Penney appliances and found out that I am eligible for a $400 rebate, 6-ish months after my purchase, through GE. This brings my total appliance bill down to $799, an astounding 46% of face value. WOW. This is cheaper than used! Though to be fair, you can often find fantastic deals on lightly dinged appliances by asking a store/warehouse about their damaged or floor models. Moral of the story- always look for rebates.

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Maybe not the world’s greatest pic, but you get the idea

I think that’s about all I have for you regarding building credit. I’ll add things as they come to mind, and of course, please feel free to comment your questions or reach out to me via Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever other social media platforms you may find me on. Enjoy your day!

Buying a House- And Why You Should, ASAP

Buying a home is something many Americans dream of. Sounds like the life, doesn’t it? A home with a fantastic spouse, great backyard, maybe a kid or a dog running around… #goals, amirite?

Wrong.

Now, I don’t know where you live, and maybe rents are $200 a month while the average home price is $750,000 in your area. I have no clue. But in the vast majority of cities and suburbs, it is quickly becoming much cheaper to buy than to rent. Of course, the closer you get to a downtown area, the more expensive both rents and homes will be. However, in many areas (Seattle certainly included) you can rent a place 10 minutes from downtown for not a heck of a lot more than the same place 20 minutes from downtown. Or worse, you have to drive 15+ miles away (and around here, that’s about 45 minutes with traffic) in order to get something affordable. If you’re really lucky, you have a nice landlord or you’ve been in the same apartment for years or you have rent control and have a great place for a great price.

Closing day!!

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When I moved into my old two bedroom apartment with my old roommate, we were pumped to pay $1,450 a month to get a crappy 1950s apartment with terrible parking and 0 amenities about 10 minutes from downtown Bellevue (a city/suburb of Seattle) and 25 minutes to Seattle proper. Long story short, she ditched me and the lease a few weeks after move in, and by the time the year lease was up, I knew I needed to renew. At that point, I was starting to think about buying a place, and didn’t want to have to deal with moving, losing my deposit (who ever gets their deposit back?!) and being locked into another year long lease. They informed me that they were raising prices, and the new lease price was $1,950 for month-to-month, or $1,850 if I wanted to sign up for 6 months or more. WHAT?! Well, at that point, I had no choice (and no roommate!! Eek). I signed for 6 months (thought I would save money, I did…. hmm. Not so much). I was able to rent the spare room on AirBnb and stay with friends/family a few times to make ends meet, since I couldn’t exactly get a new roommate for the 2 or so months I would be living there and then say hey, sorry, you either have to take this monster lease over or leave.

Right off the bat, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to live in the location I wanted. Even at $1,850, my apartment was pretty cheap for the area (it’s a place where you can easily pay $2,000 for a crappy, 250 square foot studio), so I knew there was no way I would be able to buy something and keep my payments lower than that. I wanted something well under $1850, with a spare room or two so I could rent it out if needed. I ended up moving about 30 minutes north (which was actually nearly equidistant between Seattle and Bellevue at 25 [no traffic] minutes). It’s an area that is slated for a ton of development in the coming decade, but has a somewhat higher crime rate (still well under national averages, lucky me) and affordable housing.

Guess what my mortgage is? $981 per month, including property taxes. Yep. And guess how much I rent my spare room for? $675 a month. So I am essentially living for $300 a month, compared to the $1,850 I was paying before. Not only that, but I actually have a third room that I can use as a tax-deductible office. And I can write off a reasonable portion of my electricity bill and other costs as part of my rental expenses, to keep my taxes even lower. I could live this way, eventually getting paid to live in my house (thank you rent raises!), for the rest of my life. If I want to, I never have to pay more than $300 a month to live. If I really wanted to, I could rent each room for $600, and MAKE $300 a month. But I don’t like roommates.

This is maybe my favorite chart ever… SO SCARY.

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To be fair, I got really, really lucky with this place. I bought it right before the market in my city blew up- the same day we went pending, the sellers received a full-price CASH offer (thank goodness I had already signed everything and they were stuck with me!) I paid 5% under market value, and got the seller to cover my closing costs, which actually paid for most of my remodel (this is why it is so important to have an awesome real estate agent- like me!). The seller also agreed to pay one year of HOA dues, so in August I will have to start paying my own WSG. My final purchase cost on my three bedroom, two bath condo was $175,000- while I realize this is a lot in many markets, around here, it’s unheard of. The neighbor’s identical floor plan condo (last remodeled in the early 1990s and filthy) just went pending for $220,000+, just 9 months later. I have made $55,000 in 9 months, just by living. If I were to rent my condo out right now, it would be worth about $2,000 a month.

buying v renting

Like I previously mentioned, I pay about $300 a month to live in my remodeled, lovely, spacious condo, 25 minutes from two major downtown areas, 15 minutes from the ocean, 5 minutes from stores and a giant shopping mall… I am so happy! My apartment was great and I often miss being so close to the city, but I would happily pay the amount I was paying in Bellevue to have the same set up I have here, and again, it’s less than $300. And I don’t have a landlord! No one is ever going to raise rents on me, or evict me, or kick me out, or say I can’t paint the walls. Sure, I don’t have anyone to call when there is a maintenance problem, but I’m pretty handy, and I have yet to encounter any issues, to be honest.

But Briana, I don’t have any money for a down payment!

I totally get it. With rent prices so high, it’s really hard to save money. But, did you know that you can get an FHA loan (more flexible on credit and income restrictions) for 3.5% down!? And conventional loans are as low as 3% down? Did you also know that many states have programs for down payment assistance, so you may not have to put any money down?

Crazy.

A year outdated but still super useful. Note: interest rates are rising.

home buying myths

Briana, what if the market crashes again!

I feel you. It could. BUT, here’s why we won’t experience something like 2008 again:

*disclaimer: I am NOT an economist, lender, or financial analyst, and I have had no formal training in any of those topics. But I do a lot of research and am in the industry 24/7.

  1. Lending standards have drastically changed. Back in the day, just about anyone could get a loan. You could tell them you made 6 figures and they’d pretty much be like okay, cool. You’re approved up to a million. This is subprime lending. That is super not the case now.
  2. Many of the loans that were given to people prior to 2008 simply didn’t exist. I’m not kidding. The money wasn’t there. The Big Short is a pretty fun way to understand this.
  3. People are scared. No one wants to be caught in an underwater mortgage.
  4. And nor do banks! Appraisers are a lot more conservative now.
  5. The market is cyclical. This means that yes, we will see prices at the very least, level out. They may dip. This isn’t anything to be afraid of. This just means that we’re restarting the cycle.

Yeah, but you forgot how much you are going to pay in interest.

Aha, you’ve invalidated my entire article! Kidding, you didn’t. Yes, right now, I pay a lot in interest (the longer your loan goes on, the more you pay towards your principal [actual price] and the less you pay in interest [what the bank charges to loan you the money]). Yes, interest adds up. But rates are lower now than they have been in decades, or pretty much ever. If you plan to buy at any point in your life, you will have to pay interest. This is a good reason why it’s important to not over-leverage yourself when you buy- if you pay less for your mortgage than you are paying for rent, it’s much easier to make additional payments towards your principal and pay less in interest.

Well I would rather just keep renting and invest in the stock market instead.

Someone actually told this to me once. Are you planning on living in a box? Because if not, this is not a valid argument and please re-read this entire page. Kthxbye.

I like to travel/don’t want to be tied down/am only going to live here for a couple years.

Some or all of those may be very valid. It is definitely case by case. If I were going to move every two months, I would not buy a place. But if I were going to live in this area, and travel for six months out of the year, or travel one week a month, or whatever, I would put it on AirBnb or use it as a traditional rental. You can easily hire a property manager (for both long and short term rentals) and use the extra income to help fund your worldly lifestyle.

Overall, I like to plan for the worst case scenario. But if you let your fear keep you from doing something that could be really great for your future, you will likely regret it. What I recommend is to have a back-up plan- can you rent out a room if times get tough? (For this reason, I don’t recommend a one-bedroom condo, unless you are buying it for a rental or with cash, or it is significantly less than you are paying now). Are you paying a premium for new construction? (It’s important to realize that a building devalues over time. The land and space the building is sitting on goes up. The steepest decline is in the first couple decades- i.e. no one will pay the same price for an identical 2018 build and a 2004 build, but they may pay the same or very close price for identical 1960 and 1974 builds.)

There is a lot that goes into home buying. And this is a lot of information! I hope it is easy to understand and helpful for some of you. I am a huge nerd and this stuff is my forte. It just makes sense. If you have any questions, especially if you are in the Seattle area, feel free to contact me here and I will help you however I can. I love making the dream of home ownership a reality!

 

 

Eating on a Budget

I am a total priss about food. And I LOVE takeout.

But you know what doesn’t love takeout? My wallet. And honestly, neither does my gut (more about that later). One day, after listening to this awesome podcast from BiggerPockets Money (if you aren’t familiar with BiggerPockets, it may change your life- especially if you are interested in real estate investing), I stumbled upon this Frugalwoods article. I decided that I would cut out takeout- not an easy feat for lazy ole’ me! Coincidentally, a couple days after I decided this, I had to start an extremely restrictive diet, and I would have had to mostly remove takeout and restaurant dining from the situation anyway.

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For fun, I decided to tally up my grocery and restaurant food bills from February. I was beyond shocked. My grocery bill, which I thought would be maybe $200, was $430.18. Even worse, my restaurant charges (which I, again, thought would be small- I only ate out once or twice a week!! Or so I thought…) was a whopping $478.29. I was spending nearly one thousand dollars a month on food. When compared to the national averages, this was appalling, even given the cost of living in my area. And remember, this was me thinking I was being conservative with my food spending. I buy on sale! I buy extra large meals at restaurants so I can have it for lunch (and dinner!) the next day! I am frugal, dangit!

Given that the average American spends $605 a month on food, my $908-and-some-change was not looking too hot. And I have no excuses- I have a wide variety of grocery stores to choose from within 5 minutes of home, I work from home, I have a decent cooking space, etc. I am signed up for all the gas/grocery rewards programs (side note: if you haven’t done that, make sure you do!! Discounts on both gas and groceries.) So I decided to employ a two restaurant meals per month policy and cut back both my grocery and unnecessary expenditures for March.

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And let me tell you- I failed. BUT, I did save about $317. And that is not a small amount! And like I said earlier, I am massively prissy about my food. I only eat organic, cage-free meat and eggs, and my unfortunate diet right now means that I am eating almost exclusively protein. I don’t eat red meat, so I am eating a lot of chicken, cheese and fish. I can’t have much in the way of carbs, including wheat, corn, potatoes, rice, and whatever else is actually tasty. Many vegetables are off-limits, as are most fruits. (Yes, SIBO sucks!!) This is the SIBO Specific Diet, which is essentially FODMAPS + SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet). I’m at the point now where I can eat small amounts of wheat, rice, and potatoes, but still no garlic, leafy greens or dark green vegetables, fruit, onions or garlic, etc. It’s rough! But I’m getting there. I did learn how to make amazing gluten-free Red Lobster copycat biscuits with coconut flour, which was delightful! I have also purchased a yogurt maker, and make probiotic-rich 24 hour yogurt.

Anyway, back to the budgeting! My total spending on non-home cooked food was $136.20. I ended up getting takeout/delivery twice and having dinner with friends or lunch on the go three times. Not great, but soo much better than $478! My total grocery spending- amazingly- only went up a few bucks, to $454.65. Whaat, so I can spend almost the same amount on groceries and cut my takeout bill by 72%?! Sounds like a deal. My goal for this month is to cut back on both groceries and restaurants. I do feel like I’m doing okay so far- I spent about $13.50 at Trader Joe’s to make turkey and bell pepper burritos, and I ended up with five meals. That breaks down to $2.70 a meal for organic and cage-free ground turkey, organic avocados and three types of bell peppers, tortillas, and goat cheese. I did use some of my 24-hour probiotic yogurt in place of sour cream.

What do you currently spend on food every month? If you don’t know for sure, keep track for a month and find out. I bet it’s more than you think! If you were able to cut that bill back by 64%, what would you spend that extra money on, or save it for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For The DIY Remodeler

This is my first post! Hopefully it is somewhat coherent and interesting. I did originally publish this on my other site back on January, but am adding some new pieces after a few more months of reflection.

After going through a self-directed remodel of a condo I purchased in August, I thought of several tips that might be helpful for any aspiring DIY/budget remodeler out there! This was a lot of work fun, and I probably wouldn’t do it by myself again would totally do it again. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to look at your house and think to yourself, “I made this!” None of it was inherently “hard”, though all of it was a lot of work and some pieces took some googling/youtubing and research. There is definitely more that goes into a remodel than you expect. And now, without further ado, the meat and bones of this post!


My pride and joy…

The hideous disaster prior to beautification

The 90s mess that I FIXED

Note: I did a fairly involved cosmetic remodel, including tiling the kitchen and bathrooms, painting almost every wall in the house, removing the laminate floors and carpet in master bedroom; replacing with a gorgeous espresso engineered hardwood, adding quartz counter tops in the kitchen, re-painting the kitchen cabinets, and scraping the popcorn ceiling in the master bedroom (popcorn ceiling = my nemesis).

I am really happy with most of it, and I love thinking about how much money I’ve saved by doing it myself. However, there are several things I wish I had done differently, which I’m sharing here in the hopes it will save you some heartache.

1. If you are removing popcorn ceilings, just hire someone to do it. Get it done before replacing flooring or moving anything in! Seriously, get a few different quotes, but in looking back it would totally be worth the money. The DIY lesson here is not to DIY lol. I HATE popcorn ceilings but I ended up giving up after the master bedroom. If you absolutely must conquer the popcorn ceilings yourself, put plastic sheeting up on the walls, and then two layers on the floor. Spray the ceiling with a garden sprayer: lukewarm water + a couple drops dish soap. Let that soak in for 10-20 minutes, and then scrape off with a metal putty knife (which is 10x easier than using plastic… learned that the hard way 😉 ). Be sure you don’t spray too much at once or you could damage your drywall. Also, keep the putty knife as parallel to the ceiling as possible so you don’t create holes. No biggie if you do, they can be patched easily with joint compound, but it’s easier to just avoid creating holes in the first place.  It’s easy, but the clean up is real rough. You can find lots of tutorials and how-tos on google and youtube. If you hire someone, definitely get multiple quotes. I had someone quote me $2,500 and another person did it for $600.

2. Plan to spend 10-20% over your budget. The little daily stops at Home Depot for screws or grout mix or hinges definitely add up. I also regret not taking advantage of their credit offers… I didn’t think it would really benefit me, because I bought my floors online (builddirect.com) and didn’t account for the thousands of dollars I spent on paint, drill bits, equipment rentals,  screws, etc. I don’t love opening up random credit cards, but at the end of the day, if I had opened one up and paid it back off before the APR kicked in, I could have saved 10% on my purchases, or whatever the offer was at the time.

3. Get a good paint brush cleaning solution, and buy mid to high-quality brushes. Take care of them. I probably bought (and tossed) 50 cheap paint brushes, and I also removed untold amounts of little brush fibers out of the paint on the wall. Not ideal.

4. Don’t do semi-gloss paint. Except in the bathroom. My hallway wall is almost disturbingly shiny now. On a similar note, keep in mind that each brand of paint has different gloss levels. My “hallway of shiny sad” was Behr paint with semi-gloss, but my bedroom was painted with Olympic (cheaper brand) semi-gloss and it turned out great. How the lighting hits the wall will also impact how shiny it looks. I do wish I did high-gloss on my cabinets, though. And I wish I bough the mid-to-high quality paint right off the bat, instead of trying to skimp with the cheap paint.

5. TAPE. I thought I would save time by “cutting in” the paint on by the edges and the wall-to-ceiling corner. Every time I did that, and I do mean every time, I messed it up. Now I have to repaint some ceilings so you can’t tell … eek! You’d think I would have learned already! Tip: Buy a lot of masking tape in advance. Or, hire your perfectionist friend to do the cutting in for you 😉 Thank you, Nikki!

6. Get samples- for every d*mn color! I thought I’d be soo smart and efficient and wing it … because the way a paint color looks on a little paper sheet in the store is TOTALLY how it’ll look on your living room wall, right?! NOOO. Ohh man, no. I thought I wasn’t picky, I mostly just wanted to cover up the awful yellow paint that was on every wall. But after two coats and dry time, I regretted my color choice – again, EVERY time. I wish I went a few shades darker here, a few shades grey-er there … Nothing huge, but little things like that irritate me every once in a while. A great resource to help with painting is Pinterest, there are many blogs that will show a cabinet or wall color, and then give you the brand and color name so you can go check it out in stores. I desperately wish I had done that.

7. It’s going to take wayy longer than you expect- and you’ll be sick of it by the end. I thought to myself, “perfect. We close on the 7th, and I’ll stay in my apartment until the 30th. I’ll spend 4 hours a day 5 days a week working on my condo, and by the end of the month it’ll be ready to go!” Oh, except I’m not a professional. And I had to “how-to” YouTube half the things I was doing. And- get this- I got a little tired of working by myself in my hot, smelly, and dusty condo, doing things that took me at least twice as long as they would have taken a professional.

Scout was a HUGE help… This was when I was still bright eyed and bushy tailed, believing I would be done in a matter of weeks. Notice the couches out on the porch! Fun anecdote- one day I brought in my little siblings to help, and there was a homeless guy sleeping on my porch-couch!! Luckily, he woke up and left without any fuss. After that, I bought a lock for my patio gate.

8. Little things that you’re not planning for will crop up, and I don’t mean you’ll find broken sub-floor and monkeys in your wall (though I suppose depending on your geographical location, that’s theoretically possible). I mean you’ll realize things like “I don’t know how to transition the new hardwood floor to the carpet,” and “I have no idea how to cut this glass tile,” and “now that the tile is in the bathroom, the floor is half an inch higher than it is in the rest of the house and it looks really weird.” Oh, and my personal favorite, “Why did I cut this floorboard too short and then nail it down? Turns out that the baseboard and door frame do not cover it, and now there is a HOLE in my floor.” But never fear, there are solutions to every problem. (Though the solution to the latter may be replacing the whole dang floor!) Here’s to hoping the next owners won’t notice/care.

9. If you tile, wipe up grout diligently! I kind of slacked here and lived to regret it (starting to notice a pattern yet?!). Eventually it all came up off of the tile, but I had to use a metal putty knife and quite a few rounds of cleaning. Also, don’t use as much adhesive as you think… It shouldn’t come up the sides of the tile very much, if at all. Remember, it’ll squish down further as it sets, and it doesn’t come off easily!

As you can see by the wall, I finally learned what a paint sample was! This is also a pretty good view of the refinished cabinets- for the old look, scroll down.

 

All in all, I’m super happy with what I did to my house. No, it’s not perfect, but I’m proud of the work I’ve done and thrilled with how much money I’ve saved! By my estimates, I had a $20,000 remodel done for about $5,000, which is certainly notable! The value of my condo has increased by about 30k, not including appreciation. If you are ambitious and like a good project, it’s an experience I would recommend.

More pictures of before and after…

bedroom mashguest bathkitchen 1kitchen 3kitcnen 2