Shoestring Decorating - How a Seattle Couple Saves Money on Home Furnishings

This guest post was written by my friend Stuart Grinnell. He and his wife live in Seattle and have found creative ways to furnish their home. Stuart is a professional photographer and that artistic creativity has given him a great eye for seeing potential in shoestring furnishings. Take some time to visit Stuart's website Stuart Grinnell Photography.

Shoestring Furnishings for your home
By Stuart Grinnell

As a young married couple, my wife and I are always looking for ways to save money. One such way is avoiding the cost of new furniture. With a little time and elbow grease (and a tiny bit of flexibility), it is possible to furnish your home with used pieces that do not compromise style or assault the senses.

Broaden your search

Time to start your search. Thrift stores are usually picked over, but are always worth checking out. Craigslist is a great resource, but always take someone with you. Garage and estate sales can be gold mines if you arrive early enough. Be sure to barter a little with the seller. Start of a little below what you would like to pay, but not so low as to insult them. They are usually just looking to get rid of the furniture, and are most likely willing to drop in price. If you do not find anything your first few forays, keep looking! Your patience will eventually pay off.

Look deep

Part of the key to finding usable pieces that will fit your home is looking beyond the current state of the furniture. This applies to most everything, save upholstery, which is very difficult to modify or restore unless you are a professional. That being said, sometimes all and old armchair needs is a good cleaning and a unique throw pillow to jazz it up. Ugly stains or pealing paint on wood can be easily changed. Don't waste time with laminated particle board that often makes up entertainment centers and cheap desks, as there isn't a whole lot you can do with it. Be open to repurposing furniture from it's original intended use, i.e. an old stool can be used as an end table or night stand.

Grease your elbows

Once you have found a piece that is worth working on, it's time to decide what changes need to be made. A good place to start is color. Are you going to be repainting or staining? Try and choose colors that could potentially fit into another space or theme as wells as something you won't get sick of after a few months. I suggest water based paints, as they are easier thin down, as well as clean up.

If you are going to be simply repainting, be sure to gently scrape off any loose material, then sand lightly with a 220 or finer grit sand paper. If you want a really clean look, I suggest using a chemical stripper to remove everything. The pieces in our home are more vintage looking, so I don't usually fully remove the previous coating. For the clean look, use a primer before painting and light sanding after the primer dries. We shabby chic most of our pieces, so a primer isn't necessary. Invest in a good paint brush if you plan on doing multiple projects. Give the piece a good coat and allow to dry. If you want a unique shabby chic look, one method is to layer on different colors of paint, then sand and distress to bring through the other colors below. I usually just do a few coats of one color, sand and distress it, then give it a good layer of protection with a satin polycrylic finish.

For staining, you will want to be sure to remove everything down to the bare wood. Chemical strippers as mentioned before are good for this. Be sure to always follow the guidelines for safety, cleanup and disposal on all of the products you use. Like before, a good stain brush makes a world of difference, so invest a little and really take your time when applying the stain.

With metal items like file cabinets, the process is similar. If there is any rust, be sure to sand it out as best you can, then coat the entire thing with an aerosol rust stopping primer. Sand again lightly, then apply two or more coats of your choice in spray paint. If you want it to look really new, give it a final coat or two in a glossy finish. The spray paints cost a bit more than your wood paints, but are still cheaper than buying new. Don't forget to wipe clean any sanded debris during any of these projects, as it will come back to haunt you later if you do not!


Be sure to have fun while searching and restoring! After all, your saving money, and that makes everyone smile. Happy hunting!
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Shoestring Meals - Turn Leftovers into a Delicious Peasant Meal

Do you ever have one of those crazy days when you rush in the house from a busy day and realize that you haven't given a thought about dinner? Those are the days that I like to do leftovers. But I don't like to call them leftovers, that's boring. You need to sell a leftover meal, give it some appetizing interest. I like to turn Leftovers Day into a Peasants Meal (don't ask me where the term peasants meal came from. I just like the way it sounds.) To make a Peasants Meal you take out all of the leftovers that are in the fridge, warm them up and serve them with fresh bread, cheese, and whatever fresh fruit and veggies that you have on hand. It's kind of a free for all. Everyone gets to eat what they want and everyone's happy.
The fresh bread is really the anchor to a successful Peasants Meal. Fresh warm bread makes everything taste better. Here is my favorite bread recipe to accompany a Peasants Meal. It is hearty and delicious and best of all quick and inexpensive.

Quick Honey Orange Wheat Bread
You will need:
  • 1 1/2 C wheat flour
  • 1 C white flour
  • 1/2 C oatmeal (quick will work but I like the texture of the regular cut better)
  • 1 Tbl oatmeal
  • 1/4 C brown sugar (cut this to 2 Tbl if you want less sweetness)
  • 1 Tbl orange zest
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 C buttermilk (or sour regular milk by adding 2 Tbl lemon juice or vinegar and allow to sit for 2 minutes.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp honey

Easy directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray and sprinkle 1 Tbl of oatmeal in pan. Turn the pan to coat.
  3. Combine flours, oatmeal, Brown sugar, orange zest, baking powder, soda, salt. Blend with a wire whisk until well combined.
  4. Add milk and egg. Stir until moistened.
  5. Pour batter into baking dish.
  6. Bake 50-60 minutes.
  7. Cool 10 minutes then turn onto a cutting board.
  8. Brush top with 1 tsp. honey.

This bread is great when served warm. If you do end up with left over bread, enjoy it toasted for breakfast - Oh, so good!

How does your family like to eat leftovers?

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City Kids Living the Country Life thanks to the Fresh Air Fund

I received information from the Fresh Air Fund asking me to post their informational press release. Being a city girl who moved to the country, I can't think of a better way for kids to spend their summer than hiking and riding and gardening and other county style things. I found an interesting series of articles about the Fresh Air Fund on So take a look at this project and let others know about it, too.
About The Fresh Air Fund

THE FRESH AIR FUND, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Nearly 10,000 New York City children enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. In 2008, close to 5,000 children visited volunteer host families in suburbs and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada. 3,000 children also attended five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. The Fund’s year-round camping program serves an additional 2,000 young people each year.

Fresh Air Fund History

In 1877, the Reverend Willard Parsons, minister of a small rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for children from New York City tenements. This was the beginning of The Fresh Air Fund tradition. By 1884, Reverend Parsons was writing about The Fund for New York’s Herald Tribune, and the number of children served grew. In 2008, close to 10,000 New York City children experienced the joys of summertime in Friendly Towns and at five Fund camps in upstate New York.

News Facts

In 2008, The Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family Program, called Friendly Town, gave close to 5,000 New York City boys and girls, ages six to 18, free summer experiences in the country and the suburbs. Volunteer host families shared their friendship and homes for two weeks or more in 13 Northeastern states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.

The Fresh Air Fund needs hosts for the Summer of 2009

The Fresh Air Fund relies on donations to raise the funds needed to give these children the experiences they deserve.

Host a Child

Thanks to host families who open up their homes for a two weeks each summer, children growing up in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods have experienced the joys of Fresh Air vacations.

More than 65% of all children are reinvited to stay with their host family, year after year.

Fresh Air Fund Host Families

There is no such thing as a "typical" host family. If you have room in your home - and your heart - to host a child, you could be one too.

Learn More

Fresh Air Fund Children

Fresh Air children are boys and girls, six to 12 years old, who reside in low-income communities in New York City and are eager to experience the simple pleasures of life outside the city.

As one child says, "I can’t wait to get on the bus every summer so I can see my family and go swimming and hiking!"

Friendly Town Locations
The Fresh Air Fund NEEDS hosts for this
Summer in these states

Click on the map to inquire about hosting

You can give a child the experience of a
lifetime with your gift to The Fresh Air Fund!

Every year, The Fresh Air Fund gives thousands of inner-city children the priceless gift of fun – and opens the door to a lifetime of opportunities.

Whether it's a two-week trip to visit a volunteer host family, or a fun-filled and educational stay at one of our camps, our programs make for unforgettable memories – and open a world of new friendships and fresh possibilities.

We are a not-for-profit agency and depend on tax-deductible donations from people like you to keep our vital programs flourishing.

Donate online now

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Shoestring Beauty - Your own personal trainer for free

Spring is here! Hooray!! Bathing suite season is almost here, quick run and hide! That's how I always feel this time of year. I usually seem to put on weight during the winter. It starts at Christmas, (who can say no to all those cookies?), and then just gets worse in the cold and dreary days of January and February. For me, winter days just seem to lend themselves more to snuggling with coffee, cookies and a good book than vigorous exercise and healthy eating. I do go out for an occasional walk in the snow but that's not really enough to keep me in shape. So, here it is almost bathing suit season and I need motivational weight loss help.

A health professional recommended this site to my friend Gayle and she shared the link with me.This site offers tons of just the kind of help, information and motivation, that I need to get me back on the beach this summer. The site is called a Healthy Me,, and it's like having my own personal trainer for free.
The site gives information on all sorts of health issues for adults and children. Two of the areas that I found the most interesting in terms of losing the pounds and getting healthy are the Personalized Home Page and the Cool Tools section.
  • Personalized Home Page: When you register you fill out a simple profile clicking on your areas of health interest. For me I chose areas that had to do with weight loss, exercise, herbal remedies, high blood pressure, heart disease, and healthy eating. Now when I log into my home page I see information on my chosen topics. I also chose to receive a personalized newsletter each week based on the health topics that I am interested in. I can go into my profile and change the topics whenever I want.
  • Cool Tools: I love this part of the site. Have you ever wondered what your body mass was or how to calculate your body fat? How about how many calories you are supposed to eat or what your fitness level is? Cool Tools offers calculators for just about any health issue. You can also take assessments to assess your lifestyle habits, your daily nutrition, your personal risk factors for heart disease, obesity and diabetes, etc.. Each assessment then suggests steps that you can take to improve your health. There is a Nutrition Toolbox that gives information on the nutrition of over 30,000 foods and a whole list of printable health diaries.

I also loved browsing through the offerings of the Medical Library. In the Library you can find information and answers to more health questions than you can probably think of asking. They even have an Ask the Experts section. Of course, a website is never a substitute for a Doctor but it's a good place to start.

Check out a Healthy Me and get your plan for a fit and healthy you. If you need a great exercise plan that you can do right from home without paying for a health club membership, check out my post Shoestring Beauty - 52 Card Workout.

I'll see you at the beach.

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Shoestring Meals - I really should be on the Food Network

Friday night is pizza night at our house. Some times I make the pizza, I have a fantastic pizza crust recipe that I'll share in another post, but most of the time we buy a take and bake. Last Friday buying a pizza was not in the budget and I didn't have the ingredients on hand to make my own. If we lived in town, I might have fudged on the budget and bought a pie anyway but since we live far enough out of town to make a quick pizza run impractical I was forced to say, "Well what's in the cupboard?" The philosophy behind pizza night is that it's a simple, yummy dinner that everyone enjoys and it can be eaten with our fingers as we watch a movie together. What could I find that would still fit that criteria?
Here is how my thought process went:
Looking in the cupboard I saw that I had potatoes - we all like potatoes - so I pulled those out. Hmmmm, what could I do with potatoes? Baked Potatoes are good but sound boring, certainly not a substitute for Pizza. I wondered if we had cheese - cheese is good with potatoes, we all like cheese - so I head to the fridge to look for cheese. Yes! we have cheese and we have bacon. Now the wheels are turning.....what else is in the fridge? I found some green onions and bacon ceasar dressing. I placed everything on the counter and looked at my ingredients thinking that What's in DeeAnn's Cupboard should be a show on the Food Network, I could be the star. Light bulb. How about Twice Baked Potatoes? My family loves them and we can eat them with our hands as we watch our movie.

Here is the recipe for Terrific Twice Baked Potatoes and how I worked in the ingredients on hand to make them extra yummy.

Twice-Baked Potaoes:
4 medium sized potatoes
1 cup shredded medium or sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 milk
1/2 cup sour cream (I didn't have sour cream so I substituted the bacon caesar dressing)
3 Tbs butter
salt, pepper, onion powder or garlic powder
4 strips of cooked bacon 2 green onions

1.Preheat oven to 450. Wash and prick potatoes. Bake them for 1 hour or until the insides are soft. To make the cooking faster start by cooking the potatoes in the microwave on high until slightly soft, about 10 min. Then transfer to the oven to finish them off. When the potatoes are finished baking, change the oven temp to 350.
2. Take the potatoes out of the oven and allow to cool. When they are easy to handle, slice sideways and spoon out the flesh into another bowl. Leave about 1/4 inch of flesh in the skins. Arrange the shells skin side down on a baking sheet and brush them with 1 tbls of melted butter or olive oil then return them to the oven for about 15 min.
3. While the shells are in the oven - finely chop the bacon and onions or, better yet, take them for a quick spin in the food processor. Then mix together the potato flesh, cheese milk, sour cream(bacon caesar dressing), rest of the butter, salt, pepper and onion or garlic powder (leave out the onion or garlic if using the dressing) and bacon/onion. I use my mixer but a hand held potato masher also works.
4. Remove the skins from the oven and spoon the potato mixture into each skin. Return the stuffed potatoes to the oven and bake until they start to brown up. Let cool a little before you serve them.

The Twice Baked Potatoes were a hit. I even got a, "These are just like the potato skins at the restaurant.", compliment. Maybe I should turn pizza night into potato night......nah.
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Be A Shoestringing Princess at the Prom

It's prom time already. I can't believe how fast this school year has gone. My daughter is past her prom years but I still love looking at the dresses in the store window. However I do not enjoy looking at the price tags. Oh my goodness! How do girls afford to go to the prom anymore? I don't think that you should have to take out a second mortgage to help your daughter go to the prom.
There are lots of ways to Shoestring it at the prom and still look like a princess.

  • Make your own dress: For me that's an impossibility, I really don't sew at all. But I have met mothers and daughters who have had a great time working together on a dress and have saved money by buying the fabric at a discount. One girl that I know made a dress out of colored duct tape - very cool. I love the idea of making your prom dress your own personal work of art.
  • Shop discount: Stores like Ross and T.J. Maxx usually have a good selection of formals at this time of year. I found one of my favorite little black dresses at Ross for $16.99.
  • Look online: My daughter bought her first formal online. The price was right and the quality was good. When I googled, discount prom dresses I found pages of sites. If you like auctions, ebay is a great place to look. When I searched prom dresses I found about 42,000 auctions and buy it now opportunities. The prices look good with many starting bids under $20 but be careful not to get carried away with auction fever and stay within your budget. Remember to figure the shipping into your total cost. I actually have listed on ebay a lovely special occasion dress left over from my daughter's wedding , if anyone is interested......
  • Check out Vintage Dresses: We have a really fun and unique vintage clothing shop in the Spokane area called Finders Keepers. They specialize in vintage jewelry and fashion. Formals, shoes, hats, gloves, glitz they've got it all. I recently went to an amazing vintage clothing store in downtown Glendale, Arizona. I can't remember the name but the prices were fantastic. I could have easily restocked my closet from that store. Always try a vintage dress on before buying it because sizes tend to run small. If you are going to buy online be sure and double check the measurements of the dress.
  • Do a dress swap: There are so many formal dances and events - concerts, Christmas Dance, Spring Formal, Prom, etc. Why not have a dress swap party? Invite your daughter's friends from her school and other schools and ask them bring the formals that they've worn to other events. Have a big try on session and end with a fashion show. Chances are the girls will find dresses that they will want to trade. If not, everyone gets to have a good time getting together.
Prom season is a good time to teach our daughters lessons in economy. It's important for them to know that they can be a princess and have an enchanted evening without emptying the castle treasury.
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Shoestring Decorating with Vintage Advertising

I've often noticed that people who are willing to live a Shoestring Lifestyle have the most unique decorating sense. Shoestringers have an eye for the unique and fun. We understand that a little paint, a new shade, a new purpose can turn something that is old and boring into new and exciting. We are the champions of the recycle reuse decorating technique. I believe that Trash to Treasure and Shabby Chic have their roots in the Shoestring Lifestyle. Today I have a guest post from Horace Glump about a unique decorating idea. Please share your Shoestring Decorating experiences in the comments. It's great to learn from each other.

My friend Horace Glump from has a unique sense of decorating. He is an artist at heart as well as vocation. Today Horace offers his take on Decorating with Vintage Advertising Art.

Print advertising mediums began in earnest in the 19th century, but spread like wildfire in the 20th century. Each print advertisement became a mini time capsule recording the popular pulse of whatever period in which they were printed. They almost appear to be alive and ever evolving with the twists and turns of society. The more time that passes from the original publication date, the more ironic or down right hilarious the message becomes as it is viewed and read today.
Though some may write off advertising art as kitschy and too commercial to be considered "real art", I beg to differ. You'll find many great artists such as Norman Rockwell, Frederick Remington and Le Roy Neiman, just to name a few, who have contributed to this medium. So as with other pieces of art, why not decorate your home or business with the fanciful advertisement art of yesteryear? Best of all decorating with vintage advertising art is relatively cheap. Where else can you get a emotion-provoking illustration by Norman Rockwell graced with a rich,one of a kind patina from gentle years in storage all for under $10.00?

The Possibilities Are Endless

You'll find vintage advertising available that was pulled from old magazines, packaging, labels, mailers, matchbooks or just about anything that could be printed. Decorate a laundry room with old detergent ads, Frame some old food product or kitchen appliance ads for the kitchen. For the bar or study, find an old whiskey ad. For your bathroom how about razor blade or soap ads? I'm sure you get the idea. I especially like to use the World War II era advertisements because they evoke a feeling of "we're all in this together" and some of the propaganda undertones are quite thought provoking as viewed through the lens of time.

They Make Great Gifts Too!

These old ads also make great gifts for people with special interests. For example, give the seamstress a framed Singer Sewing machine ad from the 40's or how about an old "Desoto" ad from the 50's for the car buff. The possibilities really are endless.

Visit Horace's other Blogs for wit, wisdom and insight into Gardening, Business and Life's Journey.
Horace Glump on Gardening
Horace Glump on Business
Horace Glump
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Would You Like to Plant a Miracle? Plant a Garden.

"There's a mini-miracle patiently awaiting in every seed." Horace Glump

The sun is shining, finally, the soil is warming and the greenhouse is toasty. It's time to put away the seed catalogs that we've been pouring over all winter and get dirty. Gardening is a big thing this year, even the First Lady turned over a shovel full of dirt. I remember when we first moved to the edge of the Northern Rockies we lived next to a very accomplished gardener. Being a city girl, I really had no idea how vegetables grew. I didn't even know how to plant a seed. My neighbor took me under her wing and allowed me to share her garden. She taught me how to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed. She taught me which plants went well together and which ones needed to be kept apart so they wouldn't fight over the good nourishing stuff in the dirt. It was amazing! I discovered where green beans come from and how to tell when a carrot was ready to pull. Since we gardened organically, I could pull nutritious veggies right off the stalk or right out of the dirt and eat a salad. (A little dirt never hurt anybody. Just ask your three year old). Soon after, we planted our own garden and then my husband caught the gardening bug. Now, he is the master gardener and I help harvest - my favorite part anyway.

There are a lot of resources out there to inspire gardeners of any level. My favorite gardening site this season is Horace Glump on Gardening. My friend Horace (pictured below) is from our area and he has learned some valuable lessons in outwitting our finicky summers - we've actually lost an entire garden to a hard frost on the Fourth of July. Along with a good dose of gardening know-how Horace gives tidbits of wisdom in his Glumpisms. Give Horace a visit and share with him how your garden grows. Here are a few of my favorite posts:

Lasagna Gardening Glumpism "Growing a garden is good for your soul, harvesting a garden is good for your stomach."
My Tomato World Turned Upside Down Glumpism - "Unlike a garden, a fertile mind requires no manure."
Leftover Lasagna Glumpism - "Gardeners are the only people I know who enjoy dirty looks."

If you have never gardened before, this is the year to start Shoestringing it in the garden. It's good for your family, it's good for your pocketbook and it's good for your soul.
Leave a comment and share your favorite gardening method.

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