I have usually found in life that when kindness is needed, really truly needed, kindness is received. And I need it now. I mentioned recently that my oldest sister has cancer. This has required multiple surgeries and soon chemo. That's expensive. I am making plans to move back to Texas, which I had been considering before, and am definitely doing now to be closer to my family during this time. This, too, is expensive. I have set up a gofundme campaign for her and for me. If you can help out with one of these, help her. If you can give a little to both, you're too wonderful. And if you can't give money, give a kind thought. Those are worth plenty to me.

Yours Truly, Jen

10 Ways to Stretch Your Beauty Budget

Money has been uber tight this year, and I've been working hard to get my finances in order. When working with a tight budget, beauty is a good place to cut down. Plus, we can all stand to shop a little smarter, right? These are my top ten ways for cutting back on beauty spending!

1. Roll & clip
I'm a squeeze in the middle of the tube kind of girl, which can make it hard to determine how much toothpaste/hand lotion/face mask is left, not to mention getting the darn product out of the tube. Roll and clip is easy. Step 1-push all of the product towards the opening. Step 2-roll the empty top of the tube down until you reach the part fat with product. Step 3-clip the rolled part with a binder clip, paper clip, clothespin, or whatever you have handy. Voila! Keep squeezing, rolling, and clipping until the product is empty.

2. Shop your collection
A lot of women I know (myself included!) have a basket full of beauty products tucked away in their linen closet or bathroom or bedroom. This collection begins innocently and grows beyond belief: things you bought when they were on sale, because you wanted to try them, that were mostly empty and you already moved on to the next thing but can't bring yourself to throw this last bit away, got as samples, got as gifts...and on and on.

Shop your collection has three main functions: 1) you use up a product you already own and save yourself some bucks, not to mention reduce some clutter, and 2) you try out something (in the case of samples, for example) before you go out and buy another one or a full size one, and 3) If you still don't like it (in the case of an abandoned product), you can probably toss it and move on with your life.

3. Don't buy until you run out
When I start to notice a beauty product running low, I start shopping around online for the next thing I want to replace it with. Then, often, I jump the gun, go ahead and buy it, and then of course want to try it out right away, leaving me with the last bit of whatever it is to add to my collection. Or, I buy it, put the new product in my collection, and then that "last bit" of products last for-evah and I could've kept my money in the bank for all that time. Chances are, you're not going to run out of face wash. Just wait. Wait until you really, really need it. Except for shaving cream. You will always run out of shaving cream. Stock up on that stuff.

4. Sign up for a sample service
There are two types of people in this world: people that save money using sample services, and people who don't. If you're the latter, and you know this about yourself, know that you will then need to go in and buy the full size of all of the products you like from your sample bag every month, please kindly disregard this suggestion. For the rest of us, signing up for a sample service (I'm currently using ipsy) allows us to try out some new products and satisfy that itch without paying big money for a full size product. Many beauty sample services are about $10 a month, and some (like ipsy) also include some full size products in addition to samples.

5. Streamline your routine
How many steps do you have in your routine? How many products do you use on a daily basis? Could you have fewer and still be happy? Could you use more multitasking products? If you want to simplify your routine, wait until you run out of your overly specific products, and then replace with multipurpose ones (or simple don't replace at all).

6. Host a product swap
I often give friends and coworkers beauty samples (they can accumulate) or section out some of a product I'm using if I think they'll like it. A fun way to get some new products to try without spending a dime is hosting a product swap. Open a bottle of wine, throw on some tunes, and look through the items your friends brought. Best case scenario, you go home with some new things to try. Worst case scenario, you get rid of some things you weren't going to use and were taking up space.

7. Don't buy before you try
I remember getting my hair cut once and the stylist was telling me that in her search for a flattering drugstore lipstick color, she probably could have bought the most expensive department store lipstick and still saved money. This isn't always true, and it's not always possible to try something before you buy it, but if it is an option, do it. Places like Sephora and beauty counters will usually give you a pretty good size sample and/or put the product on you before you make a purchase. Utilize samples (see #4) and ask friends for samples of their favorite products (see #6). Make sure the products you spend your dolla dolla bills on are worth it.

8. Check the return policy
If you get something home and don't like it, return it! A lot of times I think people don't think about doing this with beauty products because it can't be used by someone else now, but a surprising number of places will actually accept returns, give you store credit, or swap the product for something else. Make sure you shop at return-friendly stores, and actually take the step to return products you just aren't loving.

9. Shop Sales
This, like #4, can be a double-edged sword, so be careful. This is a great video series on snagging drugstore deals and this is a great blog for finding out about beauty coupons and online sales. However, do not forget the other points on this list when shopping sales! If you tend to get swept up in sales, just wait until you run out, pay full price, and know that while this may seem silly, you are actually saving money by not shopping more to get a better deal on this one item. If you have oodles of self control, shop around, wait for a good store sale (or until you have a coupon for the product you need, or drugstore cash back), buy what you'll need (and have tried and know you like), and put it away when you get home until you run out of your current product.

10. Share your wishlist
Asking for beauty products as gifts is a great way to get splurge (or hey, non-splurge) items without taking it out of your own budget. Just make sure you ask for exactly what you want--no one else is in as good of a position as you to determine your foundation shade or moisturizer needs.

A big part of saving money is knowing yourself and anticipating and preventing your overspending tendencies, however big or small they may be. Ultimately, it tends to be a bit more work, but it's worth it!

What are your favorite beauty saving tips and resources?

Yours Truly, Jen

Two Month Update: My Year of Happiness

In January, I felt compelled toward the question of happiness. When I thought "I should," I did. I was proactive and on top of it, at least in the areas I focused on. In February, I found myself slipping some. This was, in part due to external factors: the dreadful weather (so cold! so much snow!) and finding out one of my sisters has cancer being chief among them. This month, I've been feeling a little low, and reminding myself to take action toward happiness has been harder. However, in place of it, I've found myself trying to do things that would reduce/help manage my stress level, which is off the charts lately. And that is, after all, one road toward happiness.

Some things I've learned:

  • Making an effort to look nice when you're feeling crappy pays off. You feel more confident, people give you compliments, are you start to feel the way you look: good.
  • When you're having a hard time, tell people. They'll cut you some slack and your stress and anxiety will reduce some.
  • Tire out the dog and your life will be easier. 
  • I feel good about myself when I'm reading regularly.
  • Tackling nagging tasks makes you feel amazing, even if the task itself is unpleasant.
  • Yoga is a good source of spiritual growth.
  • I am not a minimalist, but there are a lot of areas in my life (and home) that could be simpler, and I would be much happier.
  • Shopping leads to more shopping, so better to do it as little as possible.
  • Finding healthy ways to reward yourself is challenging and necessary.

Some things I've tried:
  • Doing things daily. This is an ongoing effort that I certainly haven't mastered yet, but I became really mindful of it in February. In January I worked on locking down my morning and evening routines. In February I worked on figuring out what tasks should really be done every day, and that I usually do much less frequently. This, too, is a way of building routine into my days: things like washing the dishes, scooping the litter box, playing with Olive, wiping off counters. Not deep cleaning or difficult things, just small things that help life run more smoothly.
  • Letting my to-do list reward me. I've been using the Carrot To-Do app and it has been really good for me. The beauty of this app is that it's part to-do list and part game. You level up for crossing things off your list, get rewarded with bits of trivia and a digital cat pet (90's babies especially, this will appeal to you!). Plus, the Carrot robot talks to you so it makes the whole to-do list thing more personal. I use this list primarily for household duties (dishes, etc.) and small tasks like scheduling appointments; things that can be a nuisance but you don't get much recognition for completing. 
  • Giving myself credit for making an effort. This goes along with the previous point. In the past, I've felt I couldn't cross something off until it was 100% done. This is due to my perfectionist nature. Now, I'm allowing myself to cross things off my list and give myself credit for making an effort. For example, dishes are a constant struggle. So if I wash a load of dishes, I cross it off my list. There may still be dishes sitting on the counter, and that's okay. I just put dishes on my list again, and cross it off again when I've done another round. This gives me a better visual picture of the efforts I've made, which helps me feel like I've gotten more done and encourages me to keep going. It's a mind game, really, but half of life is figuring out ways to make things work for you.
  • Going to the dog park. I have found that Olive is so much calmer in the evenings after she's had an hour to run around with other dogs and expel her energy. This makes it easier for me to get things done and/or relax, and also reduced my puppy frustration. Finding ways to make Olive's schedule and tendencies compatible with my own is an ongoing process that helps me achieve greater happiness and productivity at home.
  • Keeping my Goodreads up to date. I have been off and on with Goodreads, but now that I'm reading books for pleasure on a regular basis again, I've been using it as a way to keep track of books I want to read, books I've read as I finish them, and a way to get recommendations from my friends. When I go to the library it's really easy to pull of my to-read list on the Goodreads app and take home a new book to read.
  • Purging. I know a move is in my near future, so I'm doing a little early spring cleaning and going through one room at a time, filling boxes of things I no longer want or need. I like to start on this early--usually I'll end up pulling a few things out before it's all said and done, and going back and adding more from certain areas of the house. It's amazing how much stuff you can accumulate in a year!
  • Incorporating even 5 minutes of yoga into my day. This doesn't happen every single day, but I'm trying to get there. I have realized that I feel so much better after I do yoga, and that goodness is a combination of physical exertion, mental clarity, and deep breathing. As a non-religious person, this time spent with me thinking about and working on my mind and body in productive ways is my own form of spirituality. Against the general hustle and bustle, this time, be it 5 minutes before bed or an hour and a half class, reminds me that I am here and I am human.
Looking back, I think I did better action-wise than I initially thought I had, but my state of mind was not where I wanted it to be. While I was working toward happiness, I wasn't thinking about it. I was complaining and dwelling in negative spaces. Working on positive thoughts and positive attitude will be something to focus on next.

How is your year and your resolutions going so far?

Yours Truly, Jen

New Look!

If you haven't noticed already, the blog has a new look! I'm still working through some kinks and cleaning things up, so please kindly excuse the cobwebs. I wanted something cleaner and easier to work with, and this look was the winner.

It's amazing how making things prettier, cleaner, and more organized inspires you to do more with them. This weekend I cleaned and organized my home office space, and I've probably spent more time at my desk since then than I had in the rest of the days I've lived in this apartment combined. The blog needed a little love, and now that it's got it, I'm so excited to share new content with you.

I found my template on Etsy from Mlekoshi Playground. Luk responded within a couple of days to a bunch of questions I had before I'd even bought anything from him. He provided a really great, detailed response, and after purchasing the template, I felt comfortable going back and asking more questions. They have been awesome about provide code snippets, giving mini tutorials, and pointing me in the right direction. Highly recommend if you're looking for a clean, quality layout.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. What are some of your favorite Etsy shops (does not need to be blog related!). I'm really exploring Etsy products and services right now and looking for recommendations.

UPDATE: After getting the new look up, I contacted Mlekoshi Playground several times to help work out kinks with the template and get information on how to customize different aspects of the layout. They were super helpful and accommodating on every front and event sent me an updated template file which included some small changes to get the look that I wanted when I spotted a bug. I continue to support them 100%!