See Ya Later, Student Loans! ^ How We Did It

We’re student loan debt free! It feels awesome! The only debt we have now is our mortgage, and that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. (Unless someone wants to give us a very generous donation? Anyone? Bueller?)

I’m going to give you a bit of background so you’ll have a better idea of our situation. I graduated from the University of Illinois in 2011 with a bit over $32,000 in debt. (I know this is way less than a lot of people, but still a lot and above the average according to Google) I started paying on my loans in 2012. Brett went back to school and got his associate’s at Parkland, which we paid for out of pocket. (No loans for Brett!) We were also paying off Brett’s car. In the midst of that, I quit my old job, got a new job, Brett finished school and got a job, we had Lil’ Bit, and bought a house. So it isn’t like we are bajillionaires and just paid for them at once using my extra pocket change. (Sorry, the smallest denomination are hundreds in my billfold…(ho ho ho))

Here’s what we did:

  • We snowballed our debt Dave Ramsey style. The gist of snowballing your debt is paying the minimum payment for all your loans and then adding extra onto the smallest one. You pay that one off then put the extra + the minimum of the smallest loan onto the next smallest loan. Repeat until you’re debt free. If I had two loans that were about the same amount, I paid the one that had the higher interest rate off first.
snowballing debt ^ brettandrachelplus

May 2012 to May 2014 is paying the minimum payment. June to August is paying extra. SNOWBALLED!

  • We paid off our credit card bill every month. No accruing interest on that bad boy. (We still pay off our credit card debt every month.) If you have credit card debt, I’d focus on getting that paid off first since the interest rates on those are crazzzy.
  • We didn’t go on fancy vacations, buy new cars, or live fancily. Our vacations consisted of going to Lake of the Ozarks and staying in the condo free or going to St Louis, Metropolis, Nashville, etc., for family things. I’ve really really really wanted to go to Harry Potter world, but alas. We weren’t going to go into debt for a vacation, use our savings for it, or save up for it. One day. . .One day. . .When my car was totaled, I bought my uncle’s old car and drove that. We were down to just the Santa Fe for a few months and we survived.
  • We used Mint.com to track our finances. Good night! Mint is awesome! It is kind of like Quicken, but it is all online and easier to use. It is also free! You can set up goals there (which is what we did with my loans!), there’s income/debt/spending analytics, budgeting, investment tracking. It really has been an essential tool for keeping our finances manageable.

It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it seemed like that’s all we were doing (which it kind of was) was paying on loans. But man, it was worth it! It is so awesome to know that we don’t have student loans hanging over our heads and how much money we saved on interest.

Your thoughts? Do you have a method for paying off debt that works for you?

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Rachel Makes ^ Poofy Ottoman Cube

A while back I got a request from some friends to make them one of those ottoman poufs. They weren’t finding anything they liked in the stores for a reasonable price and I decided to give it a go. My sewing skills are okay; they’d be a lot better if I sewed more often. Isn’t that the case with everything? “I’d be so good at [insert craft, trade, task, etc here] if I just did it more often.” Sigh…mediocrity with most, expertise with none.

finished pouf ^ brettandrachelplus

Photo courtesy of Ben Bylsma.

Basically it is a giant cube with a zipper on one of the seams. If you’re up to getting an idea of how I made it, read on, brave soul.

The first thing I did was to measure, cut and iron my pieces. I needed the pouf to be 2’x2′ in size, and I gave myself a 1/2 inch seam allowance on each, so I cut out 26 inch squares. Make yourself a good ol’ isosceles right triangle by folding your fabric over with sides a and b being equal length. (My engineering degree at work over here. Or maybe just high school geometry. Either way, a real world math application!) Cut along those sides and you’ve got yourself a square. Use that as the template for the others.

I had done zippers before, but it had been a while. All in all, it isn’t hard, just requires some planning. The tutorial I used I ended up not being a big fan of, but since I’m lazy, I didn’t want to rip out the seams and try again on the zipper. It turned out just fine, though, but I needed to have given myself a bigger seam allowance on the zipper. I didn’t catch the folded over fabric and had to sew it down separately in places.

After the zipper was in, I sewed the other two squares onto the ones with the zipper to make a cylinder.

Then I pinned and sewed the bottom square on and then the top. Make sure that you’ve unzipped at least part of the zipper so you can turn it right side out easily.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. It has been filled with beanbag stuffing and looks pretty nice. Since it will hold 8 cubic feet of material, you could even use it for storing stuff that could double as a filler. I fit a comforter and several pillows in it and still had a lot of room in it.

Art Party Studio!

There’s an awesome little place in the Lincoln Square Mall called The Art Party Studio. You’ve probably seen something similar where you live. You find a painting you want to paint from their calendar, sign up for it, then paint it! Super fun!

  Art party ^ brettandrachelplus 

I went with my LTG group from church last Tuesday and we had a blast! (LTG stands for Life Transformation Group. More about that here!) We painted an adorable pumpkin. That way it doesn’t have to be displayed year round.

After you check in, you find your seat. It has your canvas, paint, brushes, and water all ready to go. Once it starts, the instructor shows you what to do step by step. At the end of two hours, you have a pumpkin!

 pumpkin painting! ^ brettandrachelplus 

It was a lot of fun to paint something and I felt like I was in art class. I haven’t been in art class since junior high. I really wish I could have taken more art classes in high school and college. But I didn’t in high school because I took stuff like chemistry, calculus, and physics (dangit, math and science and preparing for engineering. . .) I didn’t take any in college because of my schedule chock full of ECE classes, more math, and other fun. Plus, you’re kind of limited on what art classes you can even take if you aren’t an art major. (Something I think that should be changed! If I want to take an elective drawing, pottery, photography class, I should be able to take one, dag-nabbit! I guess there’s always those community classes at Parkland. . .)

 pumpkin painting ^ brettandrachelplus 

Some tips for maximizing your fun while painting:

  • Do not be anal about getting everything ‘just so.’ You’ve got to complete your painting in under two hours. You’ll just get frustrated.
  • Treat yo’ self! Bring yourself a snacky snack and a drinky drink to enjoy whilst painting.
  • Don’t worry if your painting isn’t turning out exactly like the example one. You’re painting it, of course it will look different. Enjoy the differences!
  • Go with friends!

Adorable Fall Phone Backgrounds ^ Curated by Rachel

So right after I mention I’m going to write twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that doesn’t happen. Sigh. . .C’est la vie. Anyhoo, Brett and I got new phones yesterday! I got the oh so pretty gold iPhone 6s. I also got the 64G version, because I take a lot of baby photos. So many I had to delete apps to keep them all. And yes, I did regularly upload them.

So, like any sane person would do when they first get a new phone, I scoured Pinterest for some new phone backgrounds. That’s what sane people do first thing, right? Right.

Here’s some adorableness I found!

You can never go wrong with an awesome wallpaper from #SheReadsTruth.

The Sweetest Occasion has some links to some pretty adorable ones.

fall iphone backgrounds from thesweetestoccasion.com

from thesweetestoccasion.com

And who can resist a Harry Potter lock screen? No one, I tell you! No one! This is what I’ve got mine set to right now:

harry potter minimalist iphone wallpaper.

This one below is pretty cool. Not sure how the text would work in relation to the date/time placement, though.

So there you go! Hopefully I’ve cited these well enough. I definitely didn’t make them, just passing their awesome along.

Planning Meals

Do you plan your meals for each week?  I’m not really certain that planning meals saves us money. The only way it saves us money is if I buy things in bulk, make a lot of something at once, and make sure that all the recipes have similar ingredients. And do I do that all the time? That’s a big nope.

weely meal plan & brettandrachelplus
However, I do think there’s a lot of benefits to meal planning. One is that we know what we’re eating, and we know what to buy at the store. I like cooking, but it is definitely something that becomes more burdensome than I’d like it to be. Cooking for fun has kind of taken a back seat, and baking definitely has. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

My favorite way to meal plan and do our grocery list for quite some time now is through an app called MealBoard. It has made what meal planning I do easy to stick with. It isn’t a free app, but well worth the money.

I try to plan our dinners to this schedule each week:

  • Monday = vegetarian
  • Tuesday = soup
  • Wednesday = sandwiches and/or something quick
  • Thursday = meaty and delicious
  • Friday = whatevs
  • Saturday = something that takes more time to make
  • Sunday = see Friday, Saturday, or Wednesday

So far it has really helped out with trying to figure out what to cook each week. What do you do to plan meals? Do you think it saves you money? What are your favorite fall meals? I’m definitely making us some chili mac next week. 😀

I’ll talk about MealBoard in more detail later. Toodles!

Consistency

You know what’s really hard to do, but is pretty important? No, I’m not talking about making a resistor that has negative resistivity, because that’s what you were thinking, right? Right. I’m talking about consistency.

I’ve decided that I want to try to blog on Tuesday and/or Thursday each week. We’ll see how that goes. I’m hoping well, because I like writing, but life gets in the way.

It is kind of crazy that being consistent is so important for proper functioning in pretty much every aspect of life. Your heart must beat consistently, you must eat consistently, you must clean your house, discipline your kiddo (lovingly, I might add), put them to bed on time, go into work, you must study and practice to become proficient, etc etc. If things become inconsistent in your life, you start getting pretty edgy and long for things to be ‘back to normal.’ At least, that is what it is like for me.

Even the things that seem like they’re inconsistent follow a consistent pattern. Right now the only thing that i can think of that’s inconsistent is pi, and you could say that follows a pattern of being inconsistent, what with its non-repeating decimals. Oh, pi. You don’t repeat and you don’t even care.

So, I’m thankful for consistency.

Stitch Fix No.3 Review

stitch fix review no.3 ^ brettandrachelplus
Spoiler Alert: I kept everything! Everything, I tell ya!!! I loved the stuffin’ out of every item I got this Fix. If you aren’t familiar with Stitch Fix, take a look-see at my earlier post about how it works. They even have maternity styles! (Say what??) Since it is fall and I’m not super thrilled with what the Gap has been dishing out clothing-wise for women recently, I went ahead and ordered myself another Fix. I’ve also been in a clothing rut in regards to work clothes. It hasn’t been terrible, but I needed a new blouse. That’s one of the handy things about Stitch Fix; you can mention what kinds of clothes you’re interested in or if there is an event you’re needing an outfit for. They’ll listen and accommodate! (Shameless plug: try it out and use my Referral Link! I’ll get $25 credit and you’ll get awesome clothes!)

Anyhoo, onto what I got!

Item No.1 ^ Pixley – Bixby Bird Tab Sleeve Blouse $48

Pixley - Bixby Bird Tab Sleeve Blouse ^ brettandrachelplus 

Pixley - Bixby Bird Tab Sleeve Blouse ^ brettandrachelplus

This blouse is so cute! I love the hummingbird print and how soft and lightweight it is without being sheer. I don’t have a blouse like this and I love how it adds some more variety into what I’ll be wearing to work. Plus, aren’t the sleeves adorable with the cuff and pearl button?

Keep!

Item No.2 ^ Look By M – Timber Vintage Plaid Infinity Scarf $34

Look By M - Timber Vintage Plaid Infinity Scarf ^ brettandrachelplus 

Look By M - Timber Vintage Plaid Infinity Scarf ^ brettandrachelplus

The texture, dahling! The TEXTURE!

I lurrrve this scarf! I love the vintage pattern and colors! It is so snuggly and soft. I am really looking forward to wearing it a ton this winter. As a matter of fact, I’ve already worn it once. It got to be over 80 outside and I ended up taking it off, but it was great inside!

Keep!

Item No.3 ^ Market & Spruce – Colibri Plaid Printed Tab-Sleeve Shirt $48

Market & Spruce - Colibri Plaid Printed Tab-Sleeve Shirt ^ brettandrachelplus 

Market & Spruce - Colibri Plaid Printed Tab-Sleeve Shirt ^ brettandrachelplus

I had mentioned in my Fix notes that I was interested in some flannel. This shirt isn’t made of flannel, but I love the print. it is very soft and will be great for layering.

Keep! 

Item No.4 ^ Just Black – Dean Skinny Jean $78

Just Black - Dean Skinny Jean ^ brettandrachelplus 

Just Black - Dean Skinny Jean ^ brettandrachelplus

These ankle length jeans are so soft and comfortable! I have a pair of red shorts, so I’m super excited to have a pair of red jeans for the fall. The zipper detail is super cute! Plus, there’s real pockets, which I appreciate.

Keep! 

Item No.5 ^ Market & Spruce – Denver Cable Knit Elbow Patch Cardigan $58

Market & Spruce Denver Cable Knit Elbow Patch Cardigan ^ brettandrachelplus 

Market & Spruce Denver Cable Knit Elbow Patch Cardigan ^ brettandrachelplus

Market & Spruce Denver Cable Knit Elbow Patch Cardigan ^ brettandrachelplus

This cardigan is the thing dreams are made of. It is so incredibly soft, the color is amazing, and the details are spot on for a snuggly fall sweater. It is structured enough to be flattering, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable. Love this cardigan!

Keep!

Overall, this Fix was very fun to get, try on, and write about! Definitely my favorite one so far.  Plus, originally it was all $266, but with some referral credit and the buy five discount of 25%, I ended up paying just under $150 for it all. Not too shabby.

So if you’re itching for some cute clothes and don’t want to go out shopping, sign up using my Referral Link! I’ll get credit, you’ll get clothes. Win win!

P.S. I’m not getting paid to write this.

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Creamer ^ The Best Thing EVARR!

homemade pumpkin spice creamer ^ rachel cooks brettandrachelplus
So it is Pumpkin Spice everything right now. And you know you love it. Even those fussy, “I’m not going to eat anything pumpkin spice flavored because everyone is right now, and I want to make people think I’m so different and original, but I secretly love pumpkin spice and every day I don’t eat it to make a point, I get sadder and more bitter at life” kind of people. And so like anyone who is true and authentic to themselves, those who want to appear original with minimal effort (ho ho ho…), I went on Pinterest (last year) to find myself a homemade pumpkin spice creamer. Because, you know, that’s how you do.

PSL Pinterest ^ homemade pumpkin spice creamer brettandrachelplus

I like the suggestions given to refine your search. #nailedit

My story begins there. Last year. Oh, if only I could go back and warn myself. Of the deliciousness. Sweet, sweet, pumpkin spice deliciousness. Golly gee, it was so rich, creamy, sweet, pumpkin-y, spice-y. I did not want to share. So I didn’t.

The recipe made a bit more than a mason jar worth and I naively brought that whole mason jar to work. Because what could be better than a whole jar of homemade pumpkin spice creamer at work?! It was pumpkin spice heaven. For most of the morning. After about 3 cups of coffee and approximately one third to one half of the jar later, I was wired like none other. I’m guessing it was due to the fall spirit it puts you in. I really needed to go to a bonfire right then, but I was at work and I didn’t think accounting would have appreciated me burning papers to get my bonfire fix. Needless to say, I had a massive crash in the afternoon and decided I needed to stop drinking that sweet, sweet elixir.

pumpkin spice creamer ^ rachel cooks at brettandrachelplus

This year was different. Learning from past mistakes, I divided the creamer into four smaller mason jars and gave three of them away to those in my LTG. I also did not take it to work with me, but I did put some in my morning, going to work coffee.

If you’re interested in partaking in this deliciousness, please indulge your eyes and keep reading!

pumpkin spice creamer ^ rachel cooks at brettandrachelplus

I think there’s a rule that you’re obligated to stand next to a mum and a pumpkin or two while drinking your pumpkin spice coffee.


Pumpkin Spice Creamer

  • 1 1/2 cup half and half, divided
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup pure pumpkin
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup half and half, the spices, and pumpkin puree. Simmer over a low heat 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

When cooled, whisk in the remaining half and half and sweetened condensed milk. Pour into mason jars.

Keeps up to a week in the refrigerator. SHAKE IT before using.

Try not to drink it all up at once.

(recipe adapted from shugarysweets.com)

Historical Breakthrough ^ Make Instant Pudding Taste Like Homemade!

You guys.

I made a discovery. About pudding. An amazing, wonderful, tasty discovery.

So you know how instant pudding just tastes different than homemade? Because you just can’t get that kind of delicious from a box. Right? Wrong!

My discovery was discovered like most discoveries, being resourceful when you don’t have enough milk to make instant vanilla pudding. What you do is instead of using just milk, you use milk and . . . half and half! (yeah, yeah. . . Half and half is fatty, high in calories, blah blah. Well, you’re eating pudding. It isn’t exactly a health food. Life is short. Eat full fat dairy.) I didn’t bother with it at the time, but I bet it would be even tastier if you added a bit of vanilla extract or if you were super fancy, a bit of vanilla bean scrapings. But I’m not that fancy. Nor do I keep vanilla beans hanging around. I don’t cook for the queen, sheesh. I just cook for Brett and Baby Boo and they don’t care if I have vanilla beans on hand or not.

make instant pudding taste like homemade ^ brettandrachelplus

Yes, we do buy half and half by the half gallon, thank-you-very-much.

What I did was grab a box of instant vanilla pudding and replace 1/3 of the milk with half and half. Make it just like how the package tells you to. Except you really don’t have to whisk it as long as they tell you. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

You get is much tastier, creamier, homemade-ier tasting pudding. All in 5 mins. I will say that even though it is way closer to homemade pudding, you still need to go the long route if you want that kind of delicious.

Also, I do plan to fill everyone in on Miss Boo’s birthday party, but I’ve been sick and pretty much everything was put on the back burner.

before cleaning ^ brettandrachelplus

Rachel Reviews ^ Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Washer

rachel reviews ^ hoover steam cleaner ^ brettandrachelplus
Usually when we need a carpet cleaner, we rely on the kindness of the Daniels to lend us theirs. However, theirs is broken and we own a house with wall to wall carpeting in almost every room, so after some research I decided it would be the most cost effective for us to buy our own steam cleaner. So like any millennial would do, I toodled on over to Amazon.

I ended up ordering the Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe Carpet Washer, FH50150. Reading the reviews and looking at the specs, it looked pretty good. It came in the mail today (thanks, Amazon Prime two day shipping!) and I immediately put it together and put it to good use. Here’s my thoughts on assembly and quality feel, usage, and cleaning ability.

Assembly: Super easy. You just screw the handle on the top. It isn’t super heavy, which is nice because the water adds to the weight when it is loaded up. The plastic quality is fine, but feels more lightweight than I was expecting in the handle area. It is definitely not flimsy, but feels lighter than our vacuum. I have not tried to deal with the attachments because I have no furniture that warrants steam cleaning. It looked straightforward, though and they all came in a nice mesh bag that hangs on the cleaner when not in use.
Usage: Filling up the clean water tank is simple and attaches without problem to the machine. I was unsure at first how much cleaner to put in (they give you a 16 oz bottle which I used up), but there is a fill line on the water reservoir that is just for the soap. Overall it was easy to push and maneuver while operating. I had to rinse and fill up the water tanks three times to wash and rinse the hall and living room floor and it took pretty much the whole 16 ounce bottle of soap. Dumping out the old water and filling it with new didn’t take more than a few minutes. The picture below shows how gross the water was…after rinsing once!

dirty carpet water ^ brettandrachelplus
Cleaning Ability: It got the carpets looking pretty nice! They are still drying, so we’ve been staying off of them as much as we can. The highest traffic area still shows some discoloration, but it was like that when we bought the house, and I have a feeling that’s how that spot is going to be.

before carpet cleaning ^ brettandrachelplus
after carpet cleaning ^ brettandrachelplus

Overall, I’m very pleased with how well it cleans and how easy it is to operate. It would be nice for the water reservoir to last longer, but not a huge deal. We don’t have that much carpet where that would be a major issue.

A Note ^ I’m reviewing this to review this and I’m not getting compensated or anything.