Cheap Like Me has moved!

Cheap Like Me has moved to its new address:

www.cheaplikemeblog.com

All of the content from this site has now moved over there. Please remember to click the “subscribe” button or reset your blog reader so you don’t miss a post!

We’ll be back on track with regular posting later this week.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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Big News for Cheap Like Me

Over the next few days, Cheap Like Me will be quiet. I’m taking a few days off for spring break with my family.

But while the cat’s away, the mice will play. During this break, Cheap Like Me will be moving to its own domain. I’m working on a bright and beautiful new layout that I hope will be easy to read, easy to navigate, and offer more flexibility for features that will make the blog better.

What does it mean for readers?

Next week, the blog will be back to normal with regular updates. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll need to click on the new blog’s subscribe button to sign up for that blog’s feed. The feed at this address will go quiet. We’ll have a reminder here with the new address.

Do you have requests for things the blog should include? Leave your suggestions here!

Winner of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day giveaway

The winner of an autographed copy of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” is

Cindy Sanborn!

I’m a little bit worried about whether we should give it to her, because she’s the leader of a CULT! But it’s a bread cult, so surely we’re OK.

Here’s her comment:

I love this book! I recently hosted a “bread party” for co-workers and showed them many of the wonderful things that can be made from this book. It was a blast and several that didn’t already have the book ran out to buy it and we are planning another bread get together soon. My daughter calls it our bread cult. I would love to have a new copy because mine is getting dog-eared from being passed around so much.

(Cindy’s comment was picked by the number generator at Random.org.)

Thanks to everyone who entered and shared your experiences, questions and suggestions.

Pain d’epi

I tried another loaf of the bread yesterday — the pain d’epi. They also call it “wheat stalk bread,” because it is meant to look like an elegant stalk of wheat. (“Epi” in French means “ear” or “point.”)  The authors’ blog has terrific detailed instructions for shaping the bread. And of course, their bread looks gorgeous.

Mine? Not so much.

It has some of the shaping, but my dough, which I mixed up earlier that morning, did not achieve the nice, smooth skin theirs has. In fact, without a lot more stirring, I don’t think mine *would* have that. My dough was also taller and more energetic-looking than the blog photos — her dough looks relaxed and a slack, in a good way; a much longer rest in the refrigerator might have mellowed mine. Hopefully, the bread will still taste good — it’s a gift for the teachers’ lunch for school conference day.

In the future, for a more precise same-day loaf like this, maybe it’s worth mixing the dough in the mixer. Meanwhile, I’ll reserve judgment on using same-day dough.

Have you tried this or any of the more elegant breads in the book? How did they work for you?

A good time to buy a house?

If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to buy a house, this might be the year to leap — if you have a job and money in the bank.  Here’s a rundown on what’s good about our housing market right now, according to Bills.com.

“For individuals who have a steady source of income, good credit and cash in the bank, today could be an excellent time to purchase a home,” said Bills.com president Ethan Ewing. “Low prices, a large inventory of homes for sale, low interest rates and beneficial government programs have made this year one of the best ever to buy a home, especially for first-time home buyers.”

Here’s the rest of the information Bills.com sent out today:

The median sales price for U.S. homes was 14.8 percent lower in January than it was a year earlier.  And first-time homebuyers can benefit from the tax credits implemented as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as this year’s economic stimulus package).

Ewing offered these tips for individuals and families thinking of investing in a piece of America this year:

1)    Know your score. Check your credit score before you make any decisions. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The median U.S. credit score is about 693, according to Experian, one of the three main credit reporting agencies. A score below 680 usually results in a borrower being charged a higher interest rate or being denied credit. In this economy, you will need a good score to qualify for a mortgage. If your score is lagging, wait a few months. In the meantime, pay every bill on time, pay down as much debt as possible and increase income if possible to improve your chances. If possible, ask creditors for increases on your credit limits to help out the “credit available” aspect of your credit score – but do not tap into the addition.

2)    Do not stretch too far. Often, borrowers are told they can qualify for a higher mortgage than they can comfortably pay. It is wise to keep housing expenses below 35 percent of your total income. Leave breathing room in your budget so that if something unplanned does occur, you will be able to keep your home. If you are not certain, wait to buy.

3)    Know the full costs of buying. The down payment and principal and interest on a mortgage payment are only the beginning of home-related costs. For a typical mortgage payment, “escrow” payments, or the costs of home insurance, property taxes, and, in some cases, private mortgage insurance, can total hundreds of dollars per month in addition to principal and interest.  Determine the property tax amount – the largest part of the escrow payment – by checking with your real estate agent or county property tax assessor before your buy.

Be sure to not deplete savings or cash on hand when making a down payment, since new home owners often must complete initial work on the home, such as painting, flooring, landscaping or bringing an older house up to date. After that, a rule of thumb is to budget 1 percent of the home’s purchase price per year for home repairs and upkeep.

4)    Understand private mortgage insurance (PMI). Mortgages with less than a 20 percent down payment require PMI in case the owner defaults on the loan. When the home owner pays the mortgage down to 80 percent or less of the home’s value, the home owner can request the lender to cancel the PMI on a conventional mortgage and stop paying the additional amount. Meanwhile, PMI is tax-deductible, at least through 2010.

5)    Check for prepayment penalties and other provisions. If your loan has a prepayment penalty, borrowers face hefty charges if they pay it off early. This provision also can apply to future refinancing, so be forewarned. To determine if there is a prepayment penalty, review the Truth in Lending disclosure or ask your lender to find out.
Prepayment penalties have come under increased scrutiny since the mortgage crisis began, so if you find your loan has one, voice your dissatisfaction directly and clearly to your lender or broker.

6)    Consult a tax advisor. First-time home buyers — including people who have not owned a home for at least three years — qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000 if they purchase a home before Dec. 1, 2009. The credit does not have to be repaid if the buyer keeps the home for at least three years. In addition, all home owners qualify for tax credits for certain home energy efficiency improvements made in 2009.

7)    Buyer beware. Some of the lowest prices on homes today are “fixer-uppers” or homes sold “as is” because of foreclosure. Invest in a home inspection before agreeing to purchase any home. You may even be able to split the cost of this inspection – typically less than $400 – with the seller. The inspection will inform you of any faults in the home and help you determine the approximate cost to remedy those problems. Without an inspection, you could wind up owning a home that requires thousands of dollars of repairs.

***

Cheap back here:

We wish we could take advantage of this market to snap up some of the cheap properties for sale in our neighborhood — but it feels like a bit of a risky time to buy. For those positioned right, it could be great — but others are just trying to hang onto their homes. What do you see in your area?

Remaking a sweater

Yesterday I wrote about storing sweaters. But what if you look at your sweater collection and find a few duds that shouldn’t see the light of next season? Too small, too pilled, too short, too huge, just not right.

You would think sweater projects would be perfect in the fall — but in the fall, you’re going to want to USE those projects. Plus, it’s National Craft Month! Get one or two ready now, and they’ll be all set to use this fall. Store sweater projects as you would store the sweaters they’re made from.

Revamp it

My first step is one I’m going to take with a sweater I just knit myself. I’m new to knitting sweaters, and it turned out waaaay different than I anticipated. I wanted a cute little cardigan. But I couldn’t get the armpits to fit, and the wider you knit the shoulders, the wider the arms. Everything turned out much wider — even though I was knitting at the right gauge, followed instructions, tried it on multiple times as I knit, and got second and third opinions. And somehow, it sticks out in the back, making me look much wider all around than necessary.

I could tear it all out and start over … but I’m tired of the yarn, which did not cooperate through 3 tries with a different pattern, and ready to move on. Mr. Cheap suggested wearing it more like a wrap jacket, and belting it (this advice is a fringe benefit of marrying an artist). I’m going to knit a belt and call it done. It’ll be shaped a bit more like this:

Here are some great examples — and instructions — for other sweater remake projects I found around the Web.

Transform it into a different sweater

If this issue is that the sweater’s shape doesn’t work for today, you have several options.

You can just trim it down into a narrower silhouette, like julie-bird.

You can make it into a cute cardigan (suitable for spring!) a la Threadbanger (click over to see photos).

Trim it up and create a Nordic capelet like the one featured on this post, or visit the creator, Felted Finery, to buy one.

Or go edgy and cute with something like this sweater-vest-turned-dirndl-vest, featured in Craft’s blog:

Bag the sweater

You can also turn an old sweater into a bag, preferably after felting it, and preferably with a liner. I found several options, from the tote bag created by Perched on a Whim

… to a really cute bag with felted decoration from Karmology Clinic

… to a yoga mat bag made from sweater sleeves:

Make mittens

You can limit yourself to using the sleeve cuffs as mitten cuffs, or turn an entire sweater into sets of mittens. Instructions are here.

Make pillows

I have several sweaters set aside for this purpose, and even have some yard-sale pillows to go in them. Maybe this will be the year! MintBasil has posted a tutorial on her method here, with great tips for sewing the felted sweater.

Make critters

You can turn a sweater into a cute, cuddly creature.

Or you can make a hat with a creature on it, again from Karmology Clinic (and of course, you can add this kind of embellishment to anything!).

And if you’re really, really handy with the felting, apparently you can turn your Roomba into a lifelike marauding creature to amuse yourself and terrify housepets (at the same time). This one isn’t from a sweater, but someone inventive could work something out.

I’m inspired now! Have you made other things from sweaters? Share below!

Apricot blossoms

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Spring is not quite here, but Mother Nature is working on it. This is the traditional day to plant peas in the garden, and I woke up to this:

It’s our apricot tree in bloom. This process is especially exciting this year, because this is our tree’s third spring — the first year we really might hope it could make some fruit. And to make it even more of a hopeful harbinger of the season, last week we had some very cold freezes — in the 10-degree range — just as the tree was budding. I was sure it wouldn’t manage to bloom after that, yet here it is.

Of course, here in Colorado, March is our snowiest month, and we’ve had snow as late as May (or even, on a rare dramatic occasion, June!), so we and our apricots aren’t out of the woods yet. But if … if … just imagine that wonderful fruit.

Sweater storage

Spring is just around the corner. That means it’s time to go through the closet, trade winter clothes for summer ones, and store away old sweaters. It’s also a great time for a flurry of cleaning, getting rid of what you don’t need to make room for a fresh season.

Storing sweaters

Any clothes you store away should be clean, of course. But sometimes with sweaters, storage is especially challenging. Especially for knit garments of wool, alpaca or other animal fiber, take extra precautions:

  • Take each sweater out and look it over to make sure it’s really clean. Sweaters are often worn, aired and put back in the closet because they weren’t next to the skin — but you wouldn’t want to store away that spot of cake on the cuff for the winter.
  • Give it a good sniff test and examination. Even skin oils can attract moths that will want to live the winter munching on your woolen goods.
  • Wash sweaters per the tag instructions. Some wool sweaters can be washed in the machine on cold water, but you do risk stretching the garment out. Don’t wash a wool sweater in warm water, and NEVER, EVER dry it in the dryer — it’s likely to come out sized to fit a child and with the wrong texture — felted! Best to hand wash in cold water (you can use a mild soap such as Dr. Bronner’s). Rinse well. Roll in a towel to dry, then lay flat, shaped as you want it to be when dry (this is called blocking). Be sure sweaters are completely dry before storing.
  • Store sweaters folded, in an airtight container.
  • Do not use mothballs. They are made with naphthalene, which is toxic to us as well as rodents and insects — and of course, they’ll make your clothes smell disgusting.
  • If you are concerned about moths, open your box and check your clothes every month. You’ll see live moths (probably the males) and maybe eggs, which look like little white flecks.
  • If you are REALLY concerned about moths, you can eliminate them by freezing your garments. Freeze the sweater for a week; remove it from the freezer for several days; freeze again for a week, and you will have killed moths and eggs that might be lurking in your wardrobe.

And for my fellow Gen-Xers out there, brighten up your Monday with a video of Weezer’s “Sweater Song.” (Sorry – they won’t let me embed it here.)

Did I forget something? Share your sweater storage tips (or nightmares) here. And tomorrow … ideas to do something with those sweaters you just aren’t that into anymore.