Tapping my inner (inexpensive) artiste

This summer, we sacrificed our guest room/office/storage space and transitioned both kiddos into their own rooms. In hopes of doing so as frugally as possible, I sold some of the former room’s contents (vases, candle sconces, an office chair) through an online garage sale page, and put the proceeds toward an IKEA trip, where I got some great storage shelves that will hopefully be useful for years to come.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decorative accessories for the kids’ new rooms, though, seeing as I’d just sold a bunch of home decor items.  I know my kids’ tastes will change even more rapidly than my own.

Instead, I created some inexpensive art projects I wanted to share with you.

First up is Eve’s room, where I put her artistic talents to use. I purchased these super inexpensive NYTTJA frames from IKEA, and framed paintings Eve had made. The two larger pieces she painted on a trip to the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm. The smaller piece  (framed in a coordinating pink) she made at home. They’ll be easy to switch out through the years.

Ideally I’d hang these closer together and closer to the bed, but, well, there were already nails in the wall …

A watercolor masterpiece …

It took me longer to figure out art for Owen’s room. Finally I made a trip to Hobby Lobby, where I found two 8- by 10-inch canvases for $4.

I wrapped the first canvas in a piece of scrapbooking paper I got for 25 cents. I was hoping this alone would create a funky art piece, but as my husband said, it just kind of looked like a present. So I pulled out some scraps of solid-colored cardstock and mimicked the spaceship shape featured in the printed paper, gluing them on the paper and tracing them with a black marker. You could do the same thing with purchased embellishments.

I would have rather created a truck or boat (something more transportation themed than space) but this seemed like the easiest — and only vertical — option.

For the second canvas, I used small bottles of acrylic paint I’ve had in my craft basket for ages (I think they cost about $1 each), and some sponge brushes. I divided the canvas into four quadrants using blue painters tape, painting each corner a different color. Again, I thought this might be all I’d need to do, but it didn’t look that great. I thought about painting a ball or animal in each rectangle, but soon realized I’m not that talented. Instead I used stencils to trace the letters of Owen’s name with a black paint pen. I could have stopped at that point, but decided to fill in the letters using black acrylic paint. At that point the white lines looked out of place, so I painted them black, too.

Considering I made this up as I went, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Other ideas I’ve seen include framing scrapbook paper or patterned fabric (look for frames with mattes at thrift stores or dollar stores), melting color crayons onto a canvas, or using painters tape to write a child’s name on the canvas and letting them fingerpaint over it.

How have you created inexpensive art for your home? What frugal art ideas would you like to try?

Money-Savin’ Mama: Understanding risks key in making money decisions

A friend debating whether to make the leap into home ownership recently asked me if I was frightened when my husband and I bought our house. No, I answered honestly. But that’s only because I was blind to the potential financial pitfalls.

As I look back at our decision-making eight years ago, I realize we made some money moves that could have backfired on us. But we were relatively young – homeowners at 23 and 25 – living in a world yet to enter the Great Recession.

For example, we put 10 percent down, financed 80 percent over 30 years, and took out an additional short-term loan for the other 10 percent to avoid paying PMI. (That’s private mortgage insurance, required when you put down less than 20 percent, and it protects the bank, not you.) As I understand it, lenders won’t even let you do that anymore.

I made the decision to go with the adjustable rate on the short-term loan, thinking it would never get up to the higher fixed rate. I was wrong. It increased more than 3 percentage points in a matter of months.

About that time, my husband received a credit card offer featuring zero percent on balance transfers. We read the fine print, and it seemed like a great idea to transfer the balance of the smaller loan to the card. Even our mortgage agent agreed.

We paid that card off quickly, and didn’t incur another dime of interest.

Zero-percent deals also allowed us to furnish and carpet our new home. We followed the rules, paid extra each month, and avoided the “gotcha” clauses those sorts of deals often hide in fine print.

We were proud of our financial prowess. But in hindsight, those moves were a lot riskier than I realized. What if one of us had lost our job? Or been injured? Or worse?

The 10 percent down payment had nearly wiped out our savings. Would we have been able to make the credit card payments on one salary? Or would have we fallen into their traps, paying 20-plus percent interest all the way back to the beginning of the contract?

Some financial risks are worth taking, but never out of naiveté.

Simply put, we should have had a bigger cushion before we bought, ideally a 20-percent down payment plus three to six months of expenses set aside for an emergency. We should have had additional cash on hand to pay for the furniture and carpet.

Thankfully, none of our decisions burned us. And we were smart about some things. We bought a house we could afford – much less than the bank was willing to give us – and one we planned to live in for a while. We made a double first payment, which can knock months off the back end of a mortgage.

We’ve since refinanced the home to a crazy low 3.375 percent for 15 years, and are making additional principal payments (only after funding our retirement accounts and putting a little away in college savings for the kids).

Our goal is to have the house paid off when I’m 40 and hopefully much wiser than the 23-year-old me.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and employee of The Forum.

Getting the goods home for free

This weekend I discovered something new on WalMart’s website while perusing potential Christmas gifts.  It appears the Mac Daddy of big box chains recently launched a new method of shipping called HomeFree.  If you buy $45 worth of “HomeFree” eligible goods (the site says there are “hundreds of thousands” of them), they will ship these items to your home, for free.

Here’s why I’m mentioning it: Most of the HomeFree items appear to be basic household necessities. Things like laundry detergent, paper towels, deodorant, toothpaste and canned food. I placed a HomeFree order of diapers, baby wipes, underwear and moisturizer.

I’m not one to recommend shopping as a way to save money. I’ll probably say this more than once on this blog: You can go broke buying good deals. But the reality is these are things every household buys at some point, and I see some potential savings by using the HomeFree shipping method.

First and foremost, you don’t have to go to the store. You save the gas to get there. You save the stress of shopping. (For me, this includes needing to bundle up a preschooler and infant, and then haul them around the aisles.) And you avoid the temptation purchases, provided you shop online with a list. (The online shopping format also allows you to comparison shop pretty easily.)

I especially can see great benefits for the elderly and people who live in rural areas. I know my mom hates having to drive into Fargo in the winter, but it’s the best place to get her cleaning supplies and toiletries. Now they could come to her (if she had Internet access and ability, that is, but you get the point.)

You will need to shop in advance.  This method will not work for you if you need toilet paper, like, now. It looks like my items will take as long as a week to arrive. And you need to make sure your order is at least $45 … If you start adding items you don’t need to your online cart to reach that threshold, you’re not saving any money.

But if you stock up on things you truly need, before you NEED them, you’re home free.

Now back to considering Christmas gifts …