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I Am LeBron James

Cleveland

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

My bags were packed; the car was loaded; the directions – obtained via a map from our local AAA office – were on the dashboard. The four most transformative years of my life were mere moments away; I was headed off to college, and I sure as heck wasn’t coming home.

My Roots

I’m from Cleveland, Ohio; my parents are from Cleveland, Ohio; my grandparents – all four of them – were from Cleveland, Ohio. When my great-grandparents stepped off the boat in New York – one set coming from Wales, the other from jolly old England – they headed straight for the rust belt, straight for Cleveland, Ohio. I have roots here, but at 18 years old, those roots didn’t matter. They didn’t matter four years later when, after graduating from college, I stayed as far away from my birthplace as I could. And even when I started a family in my late 20s, I still didn’t see any reason to come home.

And then something changed. I found myself reading the local newspaper – The Cleveland Plain Dealer – even though I lived hundreds of miles away; I started cheering for the local sports teams – the Browns, Indians, and Cavs – even though they were all mired in decades-long slumps; I found what others might consider superfluous reasons to visit my family and friends who still lived in Northeastern Ohio on a more regular basis. Then one day, somewhat out of the blue, I told my mother – who still lives in the house I grew up in – that we (at this point my husband, myself, and our two young children) were coming home; I hadn’t even discussed this with my husband. I just knew my time away from my hometown had come to an end. I didn’t just want to go home; I needed to go home.

Understanding Lebron James

When LeBron James announced his Decision 2.0 a few weeks ago, I knew exactly where he was coming from – literally. I know the area he grew up in (not a great part of Akron, Ohio); I knew where he’d gone to school (a friend of mine was his 12th grade English teacher, his second year out of college); I knew the home he still kept in Bath Township (literally a stone’s throw from where I live now).

But I identified with King James on a deeper level, too. I knew what it was like to grow up in a part of the country that outsiders consistently look down upon. I knew what it was like to take advantage of the first big opportunity to get away, and to look back on that place that had given you life – and so much support – with nothing but scorn. I knew what it was like to vow that I was never coming home.

And, perhaps more than anything, I knew what it was like to realize that the very same place I couldn’t wait to leave was also the place I couldn’t wait to return.

LeBron is right: in Cleveland, we work hard for everything we have. We endure long, cold, miserable winters, just for an opportunity to bask in the sun. This summer, the sun started shining a little brighter. This winter won’t be so unbearable. We’ve recaptured a little bit of Heat from South Beach.

Our prodigal son – like so many of this city’s sons as daughters, myself included – has come home.

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Payday loans: Worse than overdrafts?

Author – Freda Hewitt is a serial mummy blogger. Her blog on living a frugal life receives thousands of views daily.

Card 300x200 Payday loans: Worse than overdrafts?

Do you think that taking out a payday loan will cost more than taking out an overdraft? If so you’re not alone.

Payday loans have received plenty of negative media attention due to their exceptionally high interest rates. They have been branded as one of the worst ways to borrow in terms of interest.

However, it has recently come to light that overdrafts could actually be a lot worse. Barclay’s has sparked concern over the cost of overdrafts after recently changing its interest rates to a daily fee.

Some overdrafts charge over 800,000% interest

A shocking revelation made by BBC News that some UK banks charge up to 800,000% interest on overdrafts has rocked the industry.

Payday lenders have been criticised in the past for charging up to 5000% interest. In comparison that looks like a pretty small sum compared to overdraft charges. It’s worth noting that this huge interest rate charged by banks relates to unauthorised overdrafts. That is, when you go over the agreed limit of your overdraft.

Santander has been found to be one of the worst offenders with £200 interest being charged on a £100 unauthorised overdraft. This works out at a rate of 819,100% interest.

Banks are arguing that it’s unfair to compare their overdraft rates to those of a payday lender. A spokesperson for Santander told the BBC: “Comparing unauthorised overdraft rates to payday loan rates cause confusion for customers. These high overdraft rates are added to unauthorised use of current accounts, while a payday loan is an agreed credit facility.”

So, when comparing payday loans to unauthorised overdrafts, payday loans do come out on top.

However, authorised overdrafts do usually work out cheaper. You can see a useful comparison between payday loans, unauthorised overdrafts and authorised overdraft rates on Which?.co.uk.

Barclay’s overdraft rates spark concern

A lot of customers have recently threatened to switch accounts after Barclay’s revealed its new overdraft interest fees. Instead of paying monthly or annual interest, customers will now be charged daily fees.

While it claims this should help its customers pay back less in the long term, it’s actually going to see many customers pay up to 15 times more than they currently do. It’s allowing customers to go up to £15 over their agreed overdraft before fees are applied. However, on overdrafts up to £1,000, they will be expected to pay 75p per day. For overdrafts up to £2,000 this increases to £1.50 per day.

This works out at a similar price for borrowing at Wonga, a leading lender. If banks continue to introduce such charges, it’s bound to have an impact on the amount of customers taking out payday loans.

However, both overdrafts and payday loans can have negative effects on your credit. So if you do plan on borrowing, you need to do so responsibly.

Things to consider

When looking into getting a payday loan, you need to take your time to compare your options. It’s important to choose a lender you know you can trust. Make sure the payment terms are clear and you know exactly how much it’s going to cost to take the loan out.

Also, pay attention to the lending criteria. New regulations have made payday lenders clamp down on who they lend money to. This means various checks are often carried out to ensure you can repay the loan.

If you apply to a payday lender and you don’t meet their requirements, your application will be turned down. This will then be marked on your credit report and it will have an effect on what you can borrow in the future. Other lenders will see it as a red flag and may not give you the money you need.

Overall, when it comes to unauthorised overdrafts, payday loans are definitely a cheaper deal. However, it all depends upon how long you’re borrowing for.

While payday loans can affect your credit rating, an unauthorised overdraft will have a more damaging effect. Providing you borrow responsibly, payday loans are currently one of the best forms of emergency cash available.

Just remember to never take out more than you actually need and ensure you can pay the full amount back at the end of the loan term.

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It’s a tale of three families. On one hand, you have my parents; they’ve always lived well under their means, prioritizing education and career above flashy cars and fancy vacations. They kept their debts – and only responsible ones, at that – to a minimum, and their investments to a maximum.

Then you have the parents of “M,” a lifelong friend of mine. He grew up with spendthrifts for parents. On a whim, his father bought a hot air balloon. A later splurge added an in-ground pool to their backyard, which just happened to be so far up north that it was only usable two, maybe three months out of the year.

The third family is my best friend, “J”‘s. To this day, he’s not really sure whether his parents were savers, like mine, or spenders, like M’s. His parents shared precious little about their financial habits with their children.

Of course, I’ll make the argument until I’m blue in the face that my parents’ money lessons gave me the best chances of financial success. They led by example, often bringing me along to the bank or the broker’s office in my teens to show me the importance of having a strong nest egg and diversified portfolio. But the question tonight is, whose parents did them a greater disservice: M’s or J’s?

M’s Finances Today

Today, M’s financial situation is largely the inverse of his parents’ example. He drives a modest car he purchased, lives in a modest home, participates in modest hobbies.

On the surface, he may appear to be fairly secure with his finances. He has a big emergency fund, his debt is under control, and his credit score is high. But beneath the surface, I see problems others might not.

Why is M’s emergency fund so large? Because he’s terrified about putting the money elsewhere, so he continues to build his rainy day savings bigger and bigger.

Why is M’s lifestyle so modest? Because he’s afraid to do anything big or bold, for fear of being labeled a spendthrift or living above his means, like his parents.

Instead of living life to its fullest, I’d argue that M is living his life to its smallest. He’s taken what he learned about money from his parents – which, at its core, only represents what not to do – and turned it on its head. He’s doing everything right, but not for the right reasons. Rather, he’s making these choices out of fear.

J’s Finances Today

When I met J, he was clueless about money. Whereas I knew how to handle the onslaught of credit card companies peddling their wares on my college campus – because my parents had prepared me for their presence – J was overwhelmed. M knew not to apply for these cards because he’d seen his parents rack up big debts; J, on the other hand, was eager to take advantage of this “free money.” Why? He simply didn’t know any better.

By the time J was preparing to graduate from college, he’d taken on tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Terrified by his high balances, he went cold turkey on debt. He used his high-powered career and $80,000 salary to pay down all his credit card and student loan debt in two years. Good for him, right?

Not so fast. After eight years of failing to use a credit card or take on any type of debt – good or bad – he wasn’t any richer. He’d simply started using cash instead of his credit card to pay for an increasingly lavish lifestyle. He had little savings and even fewer investments. Plus, when he decided to settle down, get married, and buy a house, his credit score was too low to get him access to the best loans and interest rates.

Whose Parents Did Better?

If you just heard the money lessons M and J’s parents taught them growing up, you’d likely think J was in a better place to make wise financial decisions. But when you see the impact those money lessons had on their grown sons, I think it becomes clear that M learned from his parents mistakes – and, perhaps, is overcompensating for them – while for J, the absence of financial input from his parents led him down a path of poor decision making due to lack of knowledge.

What lessons about money did your parents pass on to you? What is the legacy of those lessons?

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Time Horizon

I read an article recently where someone described how they set their budget 3-years out into the future.  I can’t remember exactly where it was, so I can’t link to it.  What struck me about that, is there are a lot of unknowns that go into planning that far out.  Don’t get me wrong, I plan for my future as well.  I just don’t budget my food and other expenses for 3-years into the future.  I do analyze things on three basic time horizons: short, medium and long.

Long-Term

I will start by discussing my long-term items.  The biggest by far is retirement.  In trying to figure out a retirement number, I have to make a number of assumptions.  Assumptions such as how long will I work, what my level of pay will be in the coming years and what can I expect for an investment return.  All of these can have a significant impact on my savings estimate.  The other item in my long-term budgeting is college tuition for both of my children.  Since my oldest is 6-years old, I still have quite a bit of time before the expense comes about, but I have already started planning.  Retirement savings are built into the short-term budgeting, while the college savings will begin in a few years.  Since my wife currently stays at home with our children, our plan is for her to start working once they are both in school.  Most of her earnings at that time will be used for college savings.  The rest will be used for retirement and income taxes.

Medium-Term

In this category, I think of things coming in the next 5-years.  For us, there is only one thing that fits into this category, a Disney vacation.  Our kids are 2 and 6 right now.  In 5 years, they will be 7 and 11, which we feel would be a perfect time to take them.  Since we know the trip will have a significant cost, we are trying to set up a plan now to pay for it in 5 years.  We have received some money this year via an inheritance and we have allocated some of it for the Disney trip.  We figure the remaining amount we can save by using a portion of my annual bonus every year for the next 5 years.  This should allow us to enjoy ourselves on the trip and not have to worry about how we are paying for it.

Short-Term

The short-term budgeting is all about the day-to-day expenses to run our household.  The only time it changes is when there is a change in income.  A salary raise is usually what triggers a change in the budget.  I usually already know if there are any changes to expense categories that need to be made.  Since I track all of our expenses, I know if any category is trending above our budgeted amount and needs to be revised.  For example, with 2 growing kids, I have noticed that our food expenses have been trending upward the last few months.  Nothing too dramatic, but on average it’s probably $25 to $30 or so more a month.  Once the next salary adjustment comes in, I will revise our food budget to take this into account.

Adding it All Up

Those three time horizons make up our monthly budget.  It encompasses our day-today spending, as well as our long-term savings goals.  This way we plan for our future, but are also able to enjoy our present.  How do you think of your budget?

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No Time Like the Present

I came across a quote the other day that I really enjoyed.  “The best time to plant an oak tree is 15 years ago.  The second best time is today.”  It struck me as such a good way to look at life.  I know it’s applicable to me in a few different areas.

Retirement

With retirement, I should have started saving the moment I started working.  That savings should have been untouchable and allowed to grow until retirement.  However, I didn’t have a good firm grasp of personal finance until the last few years, so I didn’t really begin saving until the last few years.  Sure, I could dwell in self-pity, but what’s the point.  Since I didn’t begin saving years ago, I need to begin right now.  I have set up a plan that should allow me to retire someday, probably in my 60’s.  Early retirement is unlikely, unless I dramatically change my lifestyle, but that’s ok.  I have started to save and know that the retirement savings are completely off limits.  So, how can you apply this to yourself?  If you are not saving currently, there is no better day than tomorrow.  To give some numbers on what saving might look like, let’s assume someone makes $50,000 a year.  1% of that amount would be $500 a year.  Some people might say that’s a big number, but let’s break it down.  On a monthly basis, that’s only about $42 a month or about $10 a week.  Can you think of one recurring expense that you could cut that would save you $10 a week?  If you can think of one, then you can start your retirement savings tomorrow.  Sure, you won’t fully retire by saving 1% a year, but you need to start somewhere.  Maybe the next time you get a raise, you up your amount to 2%, then 3%.  If your company offers a matching contribution, you’re now doubling your savings.  The thing is you have to start.

Emergency Fund

I didn’t have one until recently.  Those random big expenses that would pop up used to destroy my finances.  I would just be climbing out of a hole when something would put me back in.  But, over the last few years, I’ve built up a roughly 3-month expense cushion.  I’d like it to be 6-months, but I also know it won’t happen overnight.  I started small, with just $25 a month.  Then, as extra money came in, I would always set aside some of it in the emergency fund.  You just have to start.

Running

I was never really much of an athlete growing up.  I just completed my first half-marathon a few months ago, in just under 2 hours.  I had just taken up running about 5 years ago and steadily built up my endurance to run a half-marathon.  My goal for next year is to complete a full marathon.  I run now, so that I can stay healthy and enjoy my retirement.  Point is that I haven’t been running or exercising my entire life.  If you haven’t been taking care of your health before, the best time to start is right now.

It’s Up to You

In the end, it’s all in how you want to go through life.  Do you want to wallow in the mistakes of your past?  Or, do you want to learn from those mistakes and change your life?  Maybe I’m just an optimistic person, but I choose the latter.

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Is It Smart To Pay By Check?

Ever since I can remember, my parents have liked to pay by check for just about everything. Groceries, clothing, vacations – you name it, if the company will take a check, my parents are going to write one to cover the costs. Even as the rest of the world switched to more convenient payment methods, my parents continued to tote around their checkbooks as if they weren’t going out of style.

My parents have always preferred this method because they think paying by check is more secure than other methods. After all, the news is overflowing with headlines about various businesses losing credit and debit card data to hackers; when was the last time you heard about someone having their checking account hacked in the same way?

I sometimes pay by check, too; my daughter’s dance studio, for example, doesn’t take credit card (well, technically they do, but they also charge a fee for doing so) so I make my monthly payments by check. I also prefer to pay for big ticket expenses – like my son’s annual preschool tuition – by check.

But this morning, as I was cutting a check, I – perhaps for the first time – took a good, long, hard look at the information on my check. And that’s when I started to feel a little uneasy.

My check has my name on it.

It has my address on it.

It has my phone number.

My check let’s you know where I hold my checking account.

But, most disconcerting at all, my check has my account number printed right on it.

I don’t know about you, but that’s far more personal information than I want to share with most people I know, let alone a business or company I’m working with. I know you can’t do anything with that information alone, but if you have my check, you’re literally one step away from being able to steal my identity: all you need is my Social Security Number.

So today, my question to you is this:

Do you ever pay by check anymore? If so, how often do you write checks? Do you use them to pay businesses? Charities? Personal gifts to friends? And, perhaps most importantly, do you ever worry about security like I do? I’d love to hear if I’m the only one who’s paranoid about this!

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When Angry Customers Strike

If you’re a small business owner, you know more than anyone else that your clients are the lifeblood of your business. For as long as you keep your customers satisfied, then you should not have any problems getting people through the door. The moms and pops establishments of the yesteryears were able to flourish because the owners, themselves, worked the counters and interacted with the customers. That age is long gone though, replaced by online businesses with the help of the Internet. However, the dilemma remains the same – that is dealing with unsatisfied customers.

The Psychology of Angry Customers

For a small business owner, nothing could be more terrifying than an angry customer. While there may be a lot of tutorials on how to start online store, what new entrepreneurs should likewise load up on is information on how to appease and engage with upset clients. In the past, one single scorned customer can ruin a heavily protected reputation by talking ill about the business and having the word passed around. Entrepreneurs may not have had any problem controlling the damage back when everything was done offline. However, the advent of the Internet has, unfortunately, sped the entire process up. A single damaging review online could make the rounds in a New York minute, putting off prospective clients and destroying a reputation that you’ve painstakingly and slowly worked hard for. This is why it’s crucial that individuals with online businesses be equipped with the right skills and information to deal with not-so-happy customer.

Surveying the Internet for Complaints

In the case of online businesses and unhappy customers, ignoring the problem does not solve the problem. And this goes the same way for not knowing that you have a problem in the first place. The Internet is a huge place full of opportunities and, also, dark alleys. You need to constantly search the Internet for any blemish that could be riding on your business and its reputation. With the help of Google Alerts, you can arrange so that you’ll receive an email whenever certain keywords you specified anywhere in the cyberspace. For instance, if you arrange it so that you would receive updates whenever the name of your business was mentioned in the Internet, then you can monitor the things being said about you and your business online.

Responding to Comments

So you’ve finally encountered an unpleasant comment about your business online. What do you do next? While it may seem tempting to crawl under a rock or berate the person making the comment, you need to keep things in perspective. You want to send a message to your clients, without sounding very defensive, that your business is transparent and approachable. There are two factors that you need to consider when responding to comments – how soon you were able to make a response and how polite you were in your response. In the same way that individuals hate it when they’re placed on hold for what seems like ages, taking too long to respond to an online complaint also elicits the same reaction. Travel Market Report advocates letting your customer know that you’re processing the complaint as soon as you can. Lastly, never forget to be calm and polite, as according to Forbes. What good is a response when it only serves to make you and the customer lock horns?

 

Take It to the Right Medium

If an angry customer storms in your brick-and-mortar store, you would naturally lead that customer to your backroom office, sit that person down and talk with the customer face-to-face. What is the equivalent of that scenario in the online world? If the post is really prejudiced against your business, then you had better take the matter offline. You can e-mail the person and ask for a landline number or a mobile phone number. You can then explain your side of the matter and how you are going address the complaint without any prying eyes and eavesdroppers. The reason for this is simple – the process of negotiating, especially with someone who is fumed, starts off very messy before things can get better. You do not want prospective clients to see all that.

One great tip is to tell your customers where they can lodge complaints in the first place. Create a special e-mail address which processes all customer-related inquiries and complaints, and make sure all of your customers know about this e-mail address. You can likewise create an account in one of the many social media platforms to handle customer service issues.

Know What to Say

Now that you’ve gotten through to the unsatisfied customer, you need to know exactly what to say. Evaluate the nature of the complaint. If it seems like a legitimate complaint, then you need to reassure the customer that you are on top of things and are doing something about the issue. Don’t skimp on information, instead fill in your customers on as much information as you can provide. If the damage cannot be undone, like a terrible inconvenience, offer the customer something worthwhile which shows your degree of remorse over what happened such as a discount card or a gift certificate.

On the other hand, if the complaint is questionable in nature and seems like an demolition job than anything else, you can ask the administrator of whichever site the comment was posted on to take it down. However, make sure that you only reserve this option for the most heinous of complaints. When you go on deleting every negative comment made about you, you’re actually doing yourself more harm than good.

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This Is Why You Plan for Retirement

My grandmother is part of the greatest generation. She was born at the tail end of the roaring 20s, was entering kindergarten as the Great Depression struck, and came of age during World War II. Her husband attended school on the G.I. Bill; her children challenged social norms during the 60s; she and my grandfather watched their personal wealth expand rapidly during the bullish 80s. All the while, my grandparents were scrupulously planning for their retirement.

My grandfather never lived to enjoy it.

Six months after retiring from his job in the automotive manufacturing industry, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given six months to live; he died seven months later, never having taken even a single trip with the retirement savings he and my grandmother had so meticulously stashed away.

My grandmother was now alone; she was also very wealthy. The combination of the two made her exceedingly frugal, and she’s spent the last 20 years of her live pinching every possible penny. She was convinced that if she didn’t live a thrifty lifestyle, she wouldn’t have enough to see her through her golden years. And even though my parents – and her financial adviser – told her she had the resources to live comfortably for several decades, she forged her own path and spent well below her means.

In some ways, my grandmother’s plans for retirement were dead on. Today, she’s living in a very expensive senior care facility; she doesn’t even remember – she literally can’t comprehend – how much money she has. She hasn’t been in charge of her finances in over five years, after she got swindled by a magazine salesman who convinced her that 100 monthly subscriptions to magazines like ESPN, Hustler, and Ebony would be a good deal. Her monthly care amounts to more than $6,000, most of which she pays out of her vast estate because she has too much personal wealth to qualify for Medicare coverage.

This is why you plan for retirement; this is why you save money, pinch pennies, live frugally – so if serious health problems arise, you can pay for the very best care without a second thought.

But at the same time, I feel badly for my grandmother. As secure as she is (though unknowingly) in her finances, I know this isn’t what she envisioned. She wanted to travel to Europe with my grandfather; they planned on buying a condo in Honolulu, so they could winter on the island my West Coast cousins called home. She wanted to see the world, indulge in all it had to offer. My grandfather’s death changed everything for her – not because she could no longer afford it, but because she lacked the … I don’t know what, courage? audacity? … to travel on her own. In my respects, her life ended the same day my grandfather’s heart stopped beating.

She never got to enjoy the retirement they’d planned. It’s kind of a double-edged sword – her frugality ensured that she has enough to live on comfortably now, even though that “now” is spent inside a nursing home, where she re-introduces herself to her nurse every morning as though they’d never met. When was unable to enjoy spending money back when she was healthy; now that she’s finally putting some of that wealth to good use, her mind isn’t strong enough to appreciate it: on the good days (when she actually remembers who my mother is), she asks my mom and aunts to take her away from that place and let her go home. My grandmother’s serious health concerns make it impossible for her to truly go home.

All this makes me wonder: what am I doing today to ensure that I can not only live comfortably, but enjoy that comfort during my retirement years? Is it possible to have your cake (travel around the world, visit the grandkids, lavish them with gifts) and eat it too (being able to afford quality senior care)?

What do you think?

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Finding yourself unemployed is one of the scariest situations to be in. While many of us are fortunate enough to have family and friends to lean on in hard times, sometimes there aren’t a whole lot of people who can lend a hand. If you find yourself unemployed, there are a couple things you can do to get yourself back on the right path.

  • Find Emergency Funds – Just because your job has stopped doesn’t mean the bills have too. It can be extremely frustrating watching things that you were previously able to afford start stacking up until you’re in over your head, which is why it’s best to avoid the denial that often accompanies finding yourself out of work. Your first stop when looking for money to cover bills should be friends and family because they’re the ones that will be able to help you without the interest involved with loans. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help – we all need it from time to time. But when friends and family aren’t an option, consider finding someone who can help you out for the short term. Loan providers like www.wonga.com allow you to choose how much money and how long you need it when you apply. Keep your loan terms short and you’ll save on interest. By only borrowing what you need and cutting back on the rest, you’ll find it much easier to focus on the important task of finding work.
  • Look for Side Work – While you’re searching for something full time, don’t forget about other opportunities you may be overlooking. Sit down and make a list of your skills, then see what you can find that aligns. There are a lot of jobs out there that are perfect for short-term work like dog walking, house-sitting, even handyman repair (although if you’re like me, you might want to stay away from high-powered tools for everyone’s safety). Try to be upfront with the people you’re dealing with about your time frame but don’t short-change yourself. Getting out and connecting with people may serve some use when they find something that they think fits you in the future. And once you’ve got a full time gig, consider hanging on to that spare time job for nights and weekends to help you get back on your feet.
  • Use Your Resources – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of resources out there for those who find themselves unemployed or underemployed as a temporary means to help you get on track. Search for non-profits that may be of assistance to you or look into unemployment benefits to see if you’re eligible. There’s no shame in taking help, as long as you know to give back once you find yourself in a better position. Your generosity in the future may help someone just like you get back on their feet.

Whatever you do, don’t give up the job search. It’s easy to find yourself losing hope but this only becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The faster you get back to work the faster those past due notices go away.

Stella is a freelance business consultant and part time blogger; successfully running her operation from home where she can stay in her pajamas for the entire day if she feels like it.

 

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Custom Decor for a Fraction of the Price

My husband and I agree on a lot of things. We both like the same kind of food. We have similar parenting styles. We never argue about money. But when it comes to our taste in home decor, we’re like night and day, yin and yang, Pauly Shore and Meryl Strep (I, of course, would be Meryl in that comparison).

While my husband would prefer to live in house designed like a rustic hunting lodge, I’ve got an affinity for all things shabby chic. I like muted neutrals and pastels; he likes dark, strong, “manly” colors. I prefer delicate pieces of furniture and soft fabrics; he likes heavy beams, wrought iron, and leather. He once suggested we buy a taxidermy moose head we saw at an estate sale and make it the focal point… of our bedroom. Of course, honey, because there’s nothing more I’d like to see than a dead moose hanging over my head every morning.

Anyway…

When we moved into our new home, we had a blank palette. The previous owner had left most of the rooms completely bare: no window treatments, neutral carpet, white walls. In our old home, afraid to upset the other’s tastes, we’d stayed blandly, boringly neutral. At times, it felt like we were living inside a candy bar: everything was some shade of chocolate or caramel.

This time, though, we were both ready for a pop of color – what we weren’t ready for was to shell out big bucks to get it. After all, what if our attempt at blending our different styles was one big failure? Instead, we chose to shop at garage sales, consignment stores, and estate sales in hopes of mixing and matching various pieces that would work with our new color scheme.

If you’ve never shopped at these sorts of places, be prepared to be completely underwhelmed. I know the first time I took my husband shopping at a consignment store, he was hesitant to touch anything for fear of getting lice. “How’s this different from shopping at Goodwill?” he asked. (I should take this opportunity to mention that my husband is definitely not a snob; in fact, he was raised in a double-wide. He just has a thing about second-hand goods like used furniture.) I reminded him that we were shopping at this store in particular because it only sold solid wood pieces, meaning everything was a potential diamond in the rough.

After a few weeks of second-hand shopping, my husband got the swing of things. We found a pair of sturdy hickory wingback chairs covered in the ugliest fabric known to man; the chairs were so ugly that the shop owner gave us a steep discount and we bought the pair for $100. It took another $100 dollars – and some time on Pinterest and YouTube – to recover the chairs, and voila, they’re like new only better: because there’s no way I could have ever found such solid furniture with such a fun fabric for $300.

Another secondhand furniture store led us to an octagon-shaped wood table in a very 80s-style oak stain. We had the piece refinished in a crazy teal blue chalk paint. It now looks like a custom piece straight out of a high-end furniture catalog.

My point is that custom decor is everywhere. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars at La-Z-Boy to get a solid piece of furniture in the right shape, size, and fabric. If you’re willing to buy secondhand – and then put in a little research and elbow grease – you can give your home a custom look for a fraction of the price.

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