Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Highs and Lows of 2011

Tonight I’ll be out with the boy and our friends up in Adam’s Morgan to bring in 2012. And I have to say—I’m ready for it.

At this point last year I was celebrating a pretty successful year. In 2010 I scored not only my first but my second grownup job, I moved out of my parents’ house, I installed a dryer, and really felt progress.  

2011 saw quite a bit of personal growth, but not as much in the personal achievement department. My biggest achievement by far this year was buying Fiona, my glorious little car and sign that I am indeed a grownup gal.

But 2011 was also a drama-filled year.

In February, the boy moved out of his parents’ house and into what can only be described as a stereotypical frat house with three dudes. At first the move was great, but it also began to expose weaknesses in our relationship that we had yet to conquer. In March, shortly after my 24th birthday, we went on hiatus. Only, at the time it wasn’t a hiatus. It was something that seemed painfully permanent.

April, May and June saw lots and lots of running. Running so much that my knees hurt and I started reading about running injuries and ignoring good advice that you shouldn’t attempt to go from nowhere to running 8 miles three times a week because that was all I really wanted to do. I lost interest in my DIY projects around the house and spent way too much money on “going out” dresses. And I started eating Lean Cuisines for like, every freaking meal.  

Those months were also full of self-awareness and reflection. I knew that I had lost interest in things that I used to love, but I had some experience in the department and knew that it was OK—that I would emerge and find those hobbies again, and that it’s OK to dive into a period of both self-preservation and reflection when your life requires it.

Around that same time I looked at the Royal Wedding through an all too personal lens.

Sometime around June, July, August?—I can’t really remember—it’s all a blur—the boy and I decided that neither of us was happy with what we would decide was a hiatus. I missed him a lot, but, like Kate Middleton, I don’t regret the time we spent apart.

Over the 4th of July my family went to see my Grandma in upstate New York. She is in her late 80s and has been so sad since we lost my wonderful Grandpa six years ago. She also has dementia. She still recognizes all of us but is more in-and-out than ever before, and she knows it. The day after we left her house, my aunt moved my Grandma into an assisted living residence about an hour away from where my dad grew up.  When my dad talks to her now she alternates between thinking we’ve institutionalized her and that she’s back in nursing school. I prefer the latter.

In August my old Camry broke down and I bought Fiona Fit. I got the loan myself (never done that before) got car insurance myself (never done that before), and even signed all the papers and everything without the help of my dad. The boy was there for moral support and to keep me company, and I was very happy to have him there.

In November, my mom and the store I grew up working in was featured in the Washington Post Magazine and I campaigned to collect as many magazines as I could from the people in my office who actually get the Post print edition.

I spent Thanksgiving at home for the first time in at least 15 years, and for the third time in my entire 24 years of existence. We used to travel to New York and stay at my Grandma’s house, but that wasn’t an option this year and all my cousins’ are growing up, so we had Thanksgiving with my mom’s family. I was happy to be home and have a bit of time off, but I was also a bit heartbroken. I know that in the next few years I’ll probably have my own family and start new traditions but this young 20-something age is a bit of a no mans’ land when it comes to ending old traditions and beginning long lasting new ones.

In December I bought a new computer and redesigned my little blog. And it is honestly the thing I do besides my DIY projects that makes me most happy. It makes me so happy that I stayed up till 3 am on a Friday night playing in Photoshop Elements just so that my Christmassy header wouldn’t be up too long like my Christmas Decorations inevitably will be (but I love them so who cares?).

A couple weeks ago, my cousin got engaged. I was so excited and happy for her and immediately overstepped my bounds by sending her an invite to Pinterest and the link to one of my favorite blogs, Oh So Beautiful Paper.

So this year has been one of many highs and lows. I think I know myself better than I did at the beginning of 2011 and I hope that to always be the case at the end of every year. But I am definitely looking forward to 2012. I am looking forward to entering a time in my life in which the end of eras will be more tempered by weddings and babies and new beginnings. I am looking forward to turning 25, and to continuing to figure out what I want to do with my life and career. I am excited to celebrate my siblings’ graduation from high school and college, and my dad’s 60th birthday. And I look forward to reading this next year and reflecting on 2012.

Cheers to a New Year! May 2012 be your happiest yet. Thank you so very much for reading and I’ll see you in in 2012—with all the projects I’ve been working on, I swear! 

P.S. Here's a great song to bring in 2012!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Creating Your Own Christmas Traditions

Yesterday I posted about why your 20s are a great time to experiment with non-traditional Christmas decor. While I love the idea of playing with different types of Christmas decorations, I do still like the idea of establishing Christmas traditions while you're young. Establishing your own traditions can be just as comforting as participating in the ones you remember growing up.

This year the boy and I participated in a Christmas tradition together for the third Christmas in a row. And I'm not gonna lie, it's probably one of the most mature things we do together all year.

A couple years ago I was volunteering with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing's (APAH) annual Secret Santa Christmas gift drive. APAH is a great organization that owns 12 affordable housing properties throughout Arlington County, Virginia. I really like them because they build mixed use, mixed income properties, they preserve a lot of affordable housing along transit routes, and they provide community-based services for their residents. Oh yeah--I should mention that I value these things because I work in affordable housing as my day job (but not for a provider) and I very much support the targeted and well-planned work that APAH does.

Anyway, I was helping APAH's resident services coordinator sort gifts that were donated by families in the community who had adopted families in APAH properties. When we finished sorting gifts, we determined that there were three families who were not yet adopted. Although I was working an unpaid internship with another local affordable housing developer at the time, I called up the boy and asked him if he would be willing to adopt a family of three with me. He was down with the idea, so I got information about the family and we went shopping at Target for items together.

Two years later, we still adopt one of APAH's families for Christmas together. This year we got to shop for two little boys and their mother. We have our routine down--we try to get the kids a jacket or sweatshirt, pants or a t-shirt, one "big" toy, and one little one. For the mother, we get a gift card to a store depending on what kind of thing she said she needed. APAH recommends a budget of $25 per person, but we spend closer to $100 for a family of three when all is said and done. We try to shop at Target and get gift receipts because it is accessible by public transit from all of APAH's properties, so it's easy for the family to return things if they need to.

I'm really glad that we're able to give back to our community together every Christmas and I hope we continue to do it in the future. I totally encourage you to establish a Christmas tradition like this with your friends, family, or significant other. Stepping up and making donations to your community is definitely a grownup thing to do, and it is a great way to embrace your quasi grownup maturity together (for a little while at least)!

P.S. Props to Maizie from Chic Done Cheap for organizing a group of friends to donate gifts to the Salvation Army's angel tree gift drive. I was happy to participate in it and meet a bunch of new friends in the process!

Friday, December 16, 2011

(Advent) Calendar Love

I know it's already the middle of December so you have probably either made an Advent calendar or scrapped the idea by now, but I absolutely love the one I made so I am still going to show it to you.

My Advent calendar idea was inspired by a couple things I saw on Pinterest. First, this amazing Christmas tree of vintage ornaments hung on a screen:

pinned here
via my fav bloggers, pinned here
I decided to make a magnetic Advent calendar. At first I was planning to just put it on our fridge, but then realized that the ornaments were likely to get knocked off because our fridge is in kind of an awkward position in our house. So I decided to use a magnetic board and hang it somewhere else in the house.

On my way home from work, I stopped at Goodwill and picked up a 16" x 20" botanical print for $7. Then I went to Target and picked up two sets of colorful ornaments.

Because it was nighttime and c-c-cold outside, I started painting the ornaments first. Using Martha Stewart silver craft paint, I labeled the ornaments #1-24.

After the ornaments dried, I used a hot glue gun to attach a magnet to the back of each one.

The next day, I took the glass out of the picture frame, set up shop in the back yard, and spray painted the frame. Learning from a previous projects, I made sure that I primed the frame.

After the frame was painted, I went to Home Depot to get some sheet metal and have it cut. Much to my dismay, the only piece of metal big enough for my 16 x 20" project was $20! No thank you. Instead of using sheet metal, I decided to go to Target and find a magnetic board that might fit. Luckily Target had a number of 16 x 12" magnetic dry erase boards, and I picked up the cheapest one for $7.

I unscrewed the frame around the whiteboard and pried it off with a screwdriver, which left me with this result:

The frame whiteboard didn't fit snuggly in the frame, so I used a hot glue gun to glue the white board to the backing of the original frame. Once I had my magnetic surface, I cut my fabric to size.

I used spray adhesive to attach the fabric to the whiteboard, spraying both the white board and the fabric.

Once the fabric was attached, I squeezed a bead of tacky glue on the inside of the frame. To make sure the board was secure, I also used upholstery tacks to hold the board in place. 

With the board done, I set out to make fabric pouches for each ornament. Using my sewing machine and some utility fabric I found for about $5/yard, I sewed little 3 x 3" ornament pouches. 

First I cut 24 4 x 7" panels of fabric:

Then I cut a piece of yarn and placed it near the top of the bag:

The first  seam I sewed was the drawstring pocket. Leaving the yarn in there made life SO much easier than if I had to pull the yarn through the pocket.

Then I folded the panel in half with the wrong side of the fabric facing me. I sewed along the two open unfinished edges. I was careful not to sew into the drawstring area so that I didn't render the drawstring useless.

Once I was finished sewing the pouch, I knotted the yarn and turned the bag from inside out to outside in.

Using the same silver Martha Stewart paint, I painted numbers on all 24 pouches. To prevent the paint from bleeding through the fabric to the back of the pouch, I used pieces of cardboard and pieces of a shopping bag in between the layers.

To display the bags of ornaments, I braided six strands of yarn together (3 strands doubled up), hung strand over a nail, and used tiny clothespins to attach the bags to the strand. 

I'm excited about the end result! I even glued the bow at the top of the board to a magnet, so that it's completely removable. That way I can use the magnet board throughout the year!

Has anyone else made a cool Advent calendar this year? I think they're a really fun Christmas activity with so many different way of making them your own. 

You Go Girly Christmas Tree

When you haven't been out of your parents' for more than a Christmas or two, it can be really tempting to copy everything that they did in the house you grew up in to make you feel like you're home for the holidays. I get it, especially if you are living in a city far away from where you grew up.

But I still encourage you to stop for a minute and think about where you currently are in your life, where you'll be in even just a couple of years, and the traditions you'll establish with your own family eventually.

If there was ever a time to experiment with fun Christmas decorations or break tradition, it's now! Sure, you can always have fun Christmas decorations, but when you're living by yourself or with roommates, you likely haven't established any traditions besides going ice skating together or having a holiday potluck. Once you're married and have kids, you'll have other people that will want to stick with traditions you establish, and change will become a group decision. Christmas traditions are great for families and I look forward to establishing them at some point, but while I'm not legally or residentially attached to my boo and am sans children, it's fun to try something a little different.

Which is what prompted me to finally get the white Christmas tree I'd been yearning to have for two years. Yes, I geek out on Christmas and admire trees for years at a time. Partly because I used to work here.

I have long loved white Christmas trees. There's something about the lightness of them, the way they reflect the soft glow of Christmas lights, and the way you can see color so well on them. They're happy and playful and I've always wanted one. So this year I got one.

I bought my white 6 foot pre-lit tree from Walmart for $40. The tree isn't the greatest quality in the world and looked pretty sparse when I first put it together, but once I put ornaments on it I was in love. I like that it's girly and on the smaller size, like she (duh, she) is saying, "I am just so cute and beautiful that I don't need to be gigantic and overwhelm your living room." I decorated her with silver, pink, turquoise, and lime green baubles, and then added the personal ones I've collected since I was in college (my nice collection of ornaments that I gained throughout my childhood is still safe at my parents' house where I hope it will stay until I buy a place or have my own rental at least). I also used light blue plastic icicles and silver glitter snowflakes that I bought from Walmart. I topped the tree off with a pink glitter star and used some shimmery batting snow that I bought from Michael's.

One thing I learned when decorating this year was to think more about editing. While our tree last year was huge and very decorated, I wasn't totally in love with it. This year's tree is smaller but it makes me smile whenever I see it, and you can see the detail of the ornaments on it better.

For tips on decorating a tree and information on how to make your tree look beautifully decorated while using your personal ornaments, check out last year's Christmas Tree post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Back in Action

Welcome to my new and improved blog, Savvy Young Something! I’m thrilled that you found it—it’s always a little nerve-racking to make such a big change. But I’m excited about it.

Sorry if you're really confused right now because you were redirected from the old blog. Hope you'll forgive me. Your eyes definitely will.

To answer a few questions:

Why the new name?
To be quite honest, I was never in love with “Young, Hip & Handy”. I used it because I couldn’t come up with anything else and I just wanted to start posting pictures of my projects. As my blog evolved, I knew that the name didn’t do it justice. I also always knew that there is something…well…not very young and hip about calling yourself “young and hip”.  Through some googling I realized that I was in the company of quite a few “Young, Hip and…” blogs, which further fueled my desire to change the name.

I went through a few options and finally settled on Savvy Young Something. Thanks to all my friends who let me bounce my ideas off of them!

Side note: SavvyYoungSomething is too long for twitter, so I’m using SavvyYoungSarah. I’m only telling you this because I came up with it today and it makes me smile. Oh yes, and because you should follow me.

So what does this new name mean?
A Savvy Young Something is someone who doesn’t always know what she (or he) is doing, but is willing to embark on the process of learning and gaining new skills.

As I wrote my blog over the past year, I realized that I wanted to do a lot more than post about how to refinish furniture.  Between posts about crafting and handiness, I found myself writing about establishing traditions when you’re not living with your parents, thoughts on young love and the royal wedding, my experiencebuying a car, and general appreciation of this quasi-grown up state I’m living in.

This realization coincided with thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life. For the first time in my career, I’ve had the same job for over a year. While I really enjoy the people I work with, I’m not totally in love with the work. I’ve talked with a lot of people my age about this and found that most of them feel the same way I do. We’re all trying to be something, but very few of us have figured out what that something is.

At the same time that I've felt unsure about my professional career, I’ve also found myself better able to gain my footing in places that I wasn’t able to even two years ago. I can go out partying one night, stay at home the next with a book and a glass of wine, and not remotely feeling like I’m going to miss out on something. More now than ever, I can put on an outfit and know immediately whether it’s “me” or not. While I don’t feel completely like an adult, I know that I’m completely capable of growing into one. There are a lot of other things I’m getting quite good at.

I may not always know what I’m doing, but I am getting better at knowing where to look and how to approach challenges of the grown up world. And I feel mega empowered every time I accomplish something new.

My goal in writing this blog is to share my adventures in growing up and let other people learn from my experiences. I’ll still focus on home design and DIY projects—after all, a Savvy Young Something should totally have a sweet place on the cheap—and I plan to keep posting things that I learn (like the buying a car posts) that most young somethings encounter at some point. I’ll also try to expand the information on here to include more “growing up” knowledge, perhaps from other people who are willing to share their experiences with me if I can pull it off.  

Did you design the blog yourself?
Yes! And I’m so pumped about it. I recently bought a new computer and forked over the extra $70 to get Photoshop Elements, which is what I used to design the header. It’s totally still a work in progress, and I have spent a ton of time reading different websites and trying to figure out how to fix certain things, but for now I’m quite happy with the design. And yes, I know I’ll have to tweak it in about a month. Oh well, more fun with Photoshop! 

What happened to all the posts from the old blog?
All of my posts from Young, Hip & Handy are included in this blog. I imported all of them, so they are tagged with all the old labels and everything. I also created a few new pages where I plan to store projects that I’ve completed and topics related to grown up stuff.

OK, I need to stop focusing so much on this redesign and start posting all the stuff I’ve been working on for the past few months! I’ll start with Christmas stuff and reserve a few of the projects I completed over the past couple months for after the holidays.

Thanks so much for making this transition with me!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Mom's in the Cover Story of the Post Magazine, NBD

As I've mentioned before, I worked in a year-round Christmas store for the better part of my young adulthood. My neighbor owns the store and my mom is the assistant manager. This week they were the cover story of the Washington Post Magazine! Check it out! Christmas never ends at the Christmas Attic

Speaking of Christmas, I stumbled upon 97.1 WashFM this morning and realized they are already playing their all Christmas music all the time. I know plenty of people think it's way to early, but it was just too cheerful to turn off on this Monday morning. If you're not in DC, I believe you can find them with the I Heart Radio app that clear channel pushes so heavily (around here at least). They literally play all Christmas music 24/7 through Christmas.

I'll be back later this week to catch you up on some of the projects I've done in the last month, an adventure I went on last weekend, and some of my plans for the Christmas season. Have a great short week!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Map Fail.

Having majored in urban planning in college, I love maps. But sometimes an aerial view can go a little awry.

Take, for instance, a portion of this year's Marine Corps Marathon course map.

This ridiculously inapprop map can be found here
Nope, that's not a joke.

Happy Halloween weekend! Good luck if you're running on Sunday!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Throwback Costume

Some of you may recall last year's My Little Pony costume, which I'm still pretty pumped about. Everyone knew who I was, and I was right in the area of cute-but-not-skankalanky--exactly where I like to be on Halloween. For those of you who want details on last year's look, check out this blog post.

If I were to do it again this year (which I gave serious thought to doing), I might wear leggings instead of pants. Target has pretty cheap leggings in a variety of colors, and it might have been a little cuter. And you would've been able to see the hearts on the ankles of my pants better. I also would've worn short sleeves because I was HOT last year. Oh yes, and I would have reconsidered the jewels around the neckline, because that very subtly but totally ruined my shirt.

But enough about last year. It's time to move on to this year.

I should preface this by elaborating a bit more on my previous statement--you know, that I like to be in the area of cute-but-not-skankalanky. There's something about going to Party City and buying a super sexy version of Dorothy or Red Riding Hood that freaks me out a little. And it makes very little sense to me. Call me crazy but neither of them really seemed like hobags, so the repeated portrayal of them as such seems a bit off. But to each her own.

While I stay away from skanky territory, I'm also not a girl who wants to throw my femininity out the door when Halloween roles around. I like to hover around looking good but not slutty. (I think this is generally a good rule of thumb any day of year.) What I lack in slut-tasticness I attempt to make up for by being a little bit clever. After all, a conservative cat next to a skanky cat is not cute, it's lame. You have to go a different direction.

This year I'm pulling some inspiration from Jessica Quirk over at What I Wore and going as Carmen Sandiego. What can I say? I love the throwback costumes. I'll be wearing black leggings, a black shirt, red belt, red hat with a yellow ribbon, and black gloves. I used this costume as a fabulous reason to buy a cute rain coat that I can actually wear again, so I'll be sporting that as well. Still deciding whether I should wear boots or my fav black pumps.

photo of this cool cat found here
What are you going as this year? How do you find inspiration for your costumes? I'd love to hear what other people have planned for this weekend!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guest Post at Chic Done Cheap

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being featured over at Chic Done Cheap. Check out my post about the Young, Hip & Handy Toolbox Essentials and explore the other great information that Maizie has to offer!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Projects in Progress...

It's been a while since I posted anything about DIY projects that I've completed at home. That's partially because I have so many project in progress, but not quite finished yet. Many of them involve my living room, so I'll give you a preview of a few things underway:

As you may have guessed, a few of these projects involve spray paint. I also have a project underway to deal with the sparsely decorated wall above the gigantic hand-me-down sectional in our living room...which I would show you if only I could locate my camera cord at the moment. 

Stay tuned for updates on projects that should be finished very soon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Quick Beginners' Guide to Pinterest

It's getting to be about that time when you might see something online and think "I should put that on my Christmas list". Or, if you're thinking ahead, you might be thinking about your Christmas shopping already.

One of the best things to happen to Christmas shopping for the 2011 season is Pinterest. As I described in this previous post, Pinterest is an application that is basically an electronic version of cutting pictures out of a magazine and pinning them to a bulletin board. With Pinterest, you can virtually "pin" images of what you want for Christmas onto a pin board, include price info and size too. The best part? Pinterest maintains the source of the original pin and you can view its original source by clicking on the image.

Never used Pinterest? You have to "request an invite" on the site, but that takes very little time. Alternatively, you can ask a friend to invite you, which speeds up the process a bit.

Pinterest can be a little confusing at first. "Re-pinning" pins from the boards you follow is pretty self-explanatory. You just roll over the image and select "re-pin". Pinning your own images can be confusing. In order to do it, follow the directions at the top of this page. They're a little less complicated than when I first started using the website.

Once you install the "Pin It" bookmark on your browser, you can click on it anytime you see an image on a page that you like. In your window a grid of all the images on the page will show up. Simply roll your mouse over the one you want to pin and click "pin". Then you can add a description/comment and list how much the item costs (if it's something to buy).

One CRITICAL thing to do is try to pin your image from a unique URL. For example, if you see something you like on a blog and you're on that blog's main page, click on the title of the blog post itself and pin the image from there. That way, your image will always go to a page with the original image and content. If you pin from the main page and then click on the image, then you will go to the main page even if the image has been cycled off and is on older pages.

The same thing goes for online shopping. If you see an image on a page that you're browsing, click on the individual item and pin the image from that item's unique URL.

One limit of Pinterest I've noticed is that some particular online retailers don't use image files on their item detail pages. In this case, sometimes it helps to pin it from the list of items but include the URL of the item itself.

I hope this makes sense. If anything in this post doesn't make sense, leave a comment and I'll clarify.

Happy pinning!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sale Alert: Anthropologie Decorating Sale

As I've mentioned in a past post or two, I am definitely one to swoon over anthropologie's home decor selection. Today I got an email about new items added to the their home decoration sale. While most of their beautiful textiles are out of my price range, there are some very affordable hardware options. Here's a few things pretty thing I would pick up if I had any good reason to buy them and wasn't depressed by the credit card bill I paid yesterday:

This industrial/rustic table is really versitle. It would look great in a feminine room with a few rustic elements, or a masculine studio apartment.
Althea Side Table - $99.95, was $198.00
I wish I had somewhere to put a couple of these cool vintage-looking pendant lamps. The reviews say that the wire isn't long enough, but for that price you could easily switch out the wire yourself or rework it so that it's hardwired into the ceiling. From a renter's perspective, I actually like that it's not meant to be hardwired!
Sequoia Cone Pendant - $29.95, was $58.00
You all know my obsession with hardware. This sale is full of gorgeous knobs and hooks that used to be over $10.00 and are now reduced to about $3.00, which means we penny-pinchers can actually buy more than one of them.

I love the vintage look and gold accents of this flower knob. It also comes in lavendar and ivory.
Sussex Rose Knob - $2.95, was $10.00
This knob is part of the series that I bought for my desk. Which I still have to tell you all about. There was a bit of a change in game plan. And actually, I'm wondering if I should buy these instead, now that they're on sale...
Paterre Knob - $7.95, was $14.00
Another pretty knob. This is the kind of hardware that you would want to use to dress up your inexpensive Target or Ikea finds and make them look more high end.
Morning Glory Knob - $2.95, was $12.00
 Hooks are always a great thing to have in your house. I don't know where I'd put this one, but I like the modern look of it. Maybe hang your dog's leash or an umbrella from it by the front door? Now I'm thinking about how I want a dog...oh dear.
Bashful Brass Hook - $2.95, was $12.00
Simple and pretty hooks are surprisingly expensive, so this one is a steal. You could mount a bunch of them to a 2x4 like I did with my coat rack and hang it pretty much anywhere in your house.
Tarnished Hook - $2.95, was $12.00
There are sooooo many more goodies on their sale site that would be adorable in my home...and yours!Happy shopping!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grownups...sort of

I love being in my mid-20s.

Friday night the boy and I used a coupon to go out to dinner at Mexicali Blues in Clarendon. After dinner we stopped and picked up a bottle of wine, some brie and a baguette, and went back to his place to watch TV and spend our night in, prompting the following conversation:

Me: This is nice. I feel like such a grownup.
Kyle: Yeah, this is nice. But let’s not give ourselves too much credit. Tomorrow we’ll be loading a ton of cheap beer onto a booze bus that will take us to the Brad Paisley concert where we’ll drink more.
Me: Touché.

Right now we get the best of both worlds. Cheers to being sort-of grownups!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rain and Shine

It's been very rainy this week, so I was very happy when I came down the stairs and saw the sun shining through our door. I also loved my roommate's rain boots by the door. Isn't it fun how rain wear can be some of the sunniest pieces in a wardrobe?

Like the coat rack? View how I made it here.

The Completely Clueless Car Buyer's Guide to Buying a New Set of Wheels

I’ve been wondering for a while when I would actually feel like a grown up. I thought it might happen when I got my first real job, but it didn’t. Then I thought it might happen when I moved out of my parents’ house. Nope, not that either. Then last Sunday, I finally found it. It turns out I just needed to buy a car. I guess there’s just something about committing to spend thousands of dollars that feels grown up-ish.

I have to admit, I had no idea where to begin when it came to buying a car. I did a little poking around the internet, but ultimately called my dad and straight up asked him, “What’s the first concrete step in this process?” So I’m giving you my firsthand account and step by step process in painful detail so that those of you that are about to embark on the car buying journey will know just what you need to do.

Step 1: Decide on a Budget

My day job is related to affordable housing, so when it came to finding a place to live, I knew exactly what I could afford (less than 30% of my income). When it came to buying a car I looked all over the place, but couldn’t really find a definitive answer on how much of one’s income should go to a car payment. So I ran my numbers and decided what I would be comfortable with. Here’s how I did the math:

I took my monthly take home pay, subtracted my housing costs (estimating the variable things like water and electric), subtracted other variable costs like food and gas (which I knew would change), and then subtracted fixed costs like my gym membership. At that point I was left with basically two line items: savings and fun. So I determined what amount I wanted my savings to be, how much I would reasonably need for fun (I know my patterns), and then determined what amount I had for a car payment. I determined that I could do between $250 - $300/month on a car payment, but preferred to keep it at $250.

Simple Budget Equation:

Take home pay – rent – utilities – gas – food – gym – savings = car payment + fun*

*fun = reasonable amount and not pipe dream

Note that I was not too focused on the monthly car payment, but I had to use it basically to work backward and determine what a reasonable total amount would be for my budget. At that point, I still didn’t really know how much total I could spend without having an interest rate in mind. That’s when I went to my bank and found out that they were offering as low as 3.99% APR on used cars. I plugged my monthly target, the down payment I was thinking about, and the interest rate, and a projected 4 year loan into a few of the many auto loan calculators online (like this one on and determined I could very reasonably afford a car under $16,000, but I could go up to $17,000 if it was really worth it.

Step 2: Research cars

Once I had a budget, I could more realistically look at potential car options. Many websites offered the same advice my dad had: make sure you give yourself options! You don’t want to get your heart set on a specific model because you’re going to have a much harder time getting a good deal that way. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was originally interested in the Rav4 and CRV, but found out through my research that they were a bit out of my set price range. I did research on hatchbacks on, US News, and a few other websites that came up in a Google search. That’s how I decided that I liked the Fit, but also wanted to look at the Matrix, Mazda 3, and other comparable cars that were on the used lot.

Step 3: Get pre-approved for a loan

I was able to fill out a form online, get pre-approved for a loan, and pick up paper work all in under 4 hours. Frankly it was a little scary how easily the whole process went. I felt like they were handing loans out like candy. But I also know that my credit is spotless and a loan and interest rate are all just formula decisions.

When I applied for the loan online, I actually asked for about $3,000 more than I planned to use. The bank came back and actually approved me for $3,000 more than I asked for, and approved me at 4.29% for up to 5 years (I had asked for four). I didn’t get the advertised 3.99% (I’m assuming) because I don’t have any debt history outside of credit card payments. This is the one time that NOT having student loans comes back to bite me. I could select the original loan amount over the 4 years that I had requested, but I opted for the higher pre-approval amount and longer term, knowing that there was no penalty for not using the full amount or paying the car off in less than 5 years.  

Note that you don’t need to be pre-approved to get a car loan, but it is nice when you can walk into a car dealership with your own financing ready to go if you need to use it.

Step 4: Get out there and look

I felt the same way about the car buying process as I did about finding a place to rent: I had to get out and see a few things I knew I didn’t want in order to really know what I did want. To that end, last Thursday my dad and I went down to Woodbridge to see a few cars before everyone closed. First we went to Carmax. I wasn’t impressed. The problem with a “no haggle” sticker price is that the prices, at least in our area, were kind of unreasonable. I suppose by agreeing not to haggle you also forfeit the ability to haggle a good deal for yourself. Also, they really didn’t have much in stock. I heard the Carmax out by Dulles is bigger, so maybe it’s a different story there. But used car inventory is down, so who knows?

After we looked at Carmax we went over to Hendrick Honda. Looking back, I should have approached the first dealer differently. Instead of telling them that I wanted to look around at their used cars, I told them right away that I wanted to see the Fit. Rookie mistake. Once you tell a car dealer that you’re interested in a new car, you’re really going to have a tough time getting them back onto the used car lot. Honestly, you really just have to walk over there yourself and leave them following you. This process requires a certain tolerance for being assertive almost to the point of rude, but once you’ve done it a few times you feel a lot more comfortable having taken control of the process.

I test drove a Honda Fit on Thursday night, and that’s when I realized that I wasn’t totally prepared for the negotiating process. It was also almost 9 pm, and I had hardly seen any other cars. I knew I wasn’t ready to buy. So we took the salesman’s card and went home. No love lost. It was valuable going out and looking at cars. It really prepped me to zero in on what I was most interested in and begin to think about what I should aim to pay on each various model.

Step 5: Determine what the dealer paid for each car and how much you should offer

When calculating what you should offer on a new car, you first want to figure out about how much the dealer probably paid for the car. lists MSRP, invoice, and “true market value”. MSRP is what the factory is suggesting the dealer should charge for the car. Invoice is theoretically what the dealer paid for the car (although often the car cost less). True market value is about what you can expect to actually pay for the car and falls somewhere between invoice and MSRP.

The prices on the Honda fit were:
Invoice: $15,340
MSRP: $15,900
True Market Value: $15,701

You may have noticed that I mentioned that a car doesn’t actually cost the dealer the “invoice” price on the car. The dealer may have had rebates from the factory that knocked $100-$300 or more off of the cost of the car. They also have this thing called “holdback”, which is basically a rebate that the dealer will get something like quarterly, so that it looks like they paid more for the car, but they’re actually getting money back on it eventually. I read online that for Honda, holdback is about 2% (about $300 on the Fit). So while the dealer invoice price is $15,340, a dealership may end up paying less than $15,000 on a Fit Base.

Once you determine about what a dealer paid, you have to start adding expensive crap back into the equation. Once of the most expensive things is the freight fee, something I’m a little ashamed to say I knew nothing about when I started this process. Freight on Hondas appears to be $770 across the board. I still think it’s a little silly that the price a dealer pays to get a car to the dealership is considered an extra fee, but oh well.

Then you have to add in profit. I know, I know, those scummy car dealers don’t need profit! They’re scamming you already! OK, let’s be reasonable. This is still a money-making venture so you really do have to factor profit into the equation. I read that 3-5% is reasonable, so I added about $500 to the price.

Once you have the purchase price that includes profit and freight, you have to think about tax, tags, and fees. Tax is about 3% on cars in Virginia, tags run about $100, and many dealers charge $350-$400 in document fees. Once you add all this in, you have your “out the door” price.

In my mind, the “out the door” price is the only one that really matters to me. It’s the amount that I have to come up with between loans and a down payment—how it breaks down between the purchase price and fees is really the dealer’s problem, not mine.

If you’re following my math, you probably realized that we’re up to about $17,000, which was way too high for me to really consider. I determined along with my dad that I really wanted to be out the door at $16,500, and we used that number in our negotiating process.

The math on a used car is slightly different (and less complicated). Basically you go to Kelly Blue Book and and use their tools to determine how much the car in front of you is worth. Both have apps for iphone and Droid, so definitely download those and charge up your phone for use on the car lot. Once you know what the car is worth you can determine whether the price on the car is completely unreasonable or right on target. Based on that information, you can make an offer targeting to pay about, or slightly under what that car is worth. Keep in mind that you won’t (or rather shouldn’t) pay freight, but taxes, tags and doc fees will still apply.

Step 6: Get quotes

I read on a discussion board that one buyer gathered quotes from a bunch of dealers via email, and then used the quotes they each gave her to negotiate the best deal. I figured it wouldn’t hurt, so I went to a bunch of different Honda dealers and requested a quick quote on their 2011 Honda Fit Base. Warning: when you request quotes online from dealers, you are letting the lions loose. They will hunt you down, email you auto emails, personal emails, and call you twice in one day and leave you two messages. They want your business. What they will not all do is give you a quote. With the exception of Hendrick Honda in Woodbridge, any dealer that gave me a quote pretty much quoted MSRP, some with freight included and some without. From what I could tell, they wanted me to talk to them really badly, but they didn’t want to give me a number. This is hilarious to me because I could’ve sold THEM the Fit at this point, I liked it enough. All I really cared about was the price they would give me and whether they had any Fit Bases in stock.

I had one dealer email me and say “many dealers will probably quote you a price that doesn’t include fees, so it will look artificially low.” Um, excuse me, but no shiznit, Sherlock. I asked you for a quick quote online, you think I didn’t read all about the pricing on these things? Sure, some of them quoted me under $16,000, but I could tell when the price of freight was included and when it wasn’t. Also, this was a dealer that avoided giving me a quote via email.

Sorry, I’ll stop venting. The only thing that getting the online quote really did for me was help me determine 1) who actually had the Fit Base in stock and 2) just how high some of these dealers wanted to start. It did not really get me anywhere in terms of haggling a price down, but it did help me determine where everyone was starting. It also gave me a contact to email at each dealer when I finally did get an offer from another dealer. It was good practice and prepared me for the aggression that comes at you when you walk through the doors onto the lot of a dealership.

Step 7: Get out there and mean business

There are various tips online that say the best time to shop is on a weekday, or at the end of a month when the dealer is trying to meet a quota or earn a bonus and therefore has a greater incentive to sell you a car. Well, I went on a weekend at the beginning of the month and still got a good deal. Granted, it was Labor Day weekend and car dealers are clearing their lots for 2012 inventory. But more than anything, getting a good deal is all about knowing how much the car is really worth on the market, and being willing to walk away. So it’s alright to get out there and shop at the internet-determined non-optimal time. As long as you know your stuff, you should be fine.

Last Saturday afternoon my Dad came over and we headed out car shopping. I decided to hit up Honda of Tyson’s Corner because they were supposed to be getting 5 Fit Bases in that day, and it was close to other dealerships. Before I stopped there, I went over to Koons Tyson’s Toyota so that I could look at their inventory of used cars. I actually found a 2008 Toyota Certified Used Matrix there with about 39,000 miles on it for about $15,000. I liked it, but I wanted to get a firm price on the Fit as a basis of comparison, so we went across the street to the Honda dealer.

Having learned from my experience Thursday night, when I arrived at the Honda dealer I started on the used car lot to see if they had any options. When I determined that they didn’t, I mentioned to the salesmen that I had been looking at the Honda Fit. They had literally just received a shipment of them, so I actually went into a garage and saw the car before it was prepped for the lot. I knew then that I definitely wanted the Fit and I was ready to make it happen if I could, so we started the deal negotiating process.

Step 8: Negotiate a deal

Because I haven’t mention it enough already, getting a good deal is all about knowing what price you should reasonably expect from a dealer. Don’t expect to be able to negotiate a good deal without doing your homework first.

The salesmen at Tyson’s Honda could tell we liked the Fit in the garage, but this was the part in the process that felt most awkward to me: throwing out a number. So I stood there looking at it for an awkward minute or two. Thankfully my dad stepped in and threw out my number, which I suspect made the offer sound more credible. He told him that I wanted to be out the door at $16,400. The salesman looked a little shocked and told us the usual “we don’t make much of a profit on these units” but went inside to talk to the general manager to see what he could do. The manager offered me $16,887 on the car, about $400 more than my high goal. I told him sorry, no can do, I had to draw my bottom line somewhere. He told me it was a great value and I told him I respected that, but ultimately I have to keep my finances in mind and look at significantly less expensive used options. So I walked away, just as I had been prepared to do all day. I took the writing in offer and the salesman’s business card and went on my merry way. On to the next, on on the next one.

Step 9: Make a freaking decision

Next, I went over to another Honda dealer near my house. I did the same thing: looked at their used cars, saw a few Matrixes (Matrices?) that were more expensive than the new Fit. I could probably have knocked at least $1,000 off of them according to Kelly Blue Book, but they still would’ve been a little pricey.

Then I went over to the new lot where, I’m sorry to say, a nice but painfully awkward young car salesman attempted to sell me on a car I already knew everything about. In fact, he didn’t even believe me when I told him the car has 10 cup holders. He told me he thought I was confusing it with a different vehicle. Here’s a tip for you, car salesman trying to bond with me over our mutual attendance of UVa: Someone who graduated from that fine University probably doesn’t enjoy being told she’s wrong about something that she appears to have studied more than you did. I know I sound mean, but dealing with these guys all day was like fighting off piranhas. Only there was way more awkward silence involved.

All that aside, Bill Page couldn’t offer even close to what I was willing to pay and what Tyson’s had offered me. When I told them I wanted to be out the door at $16,500, they brought me back an offer that was still well over $17,000. Having my other offer in hand, I considered this laughable. Also, I didn’t really want a black or bright blue car, and that was all they had, so I didn’t feel bad walking out on that either.

At this point, I didn’t quite know what to do. $16,887 seemed high, but it was so far my only option on the Fit. And according to the math I’d done earlier, it wasn’t completely unreasonable. My dad and I decided to come back to my place to run the numbers on my options. My only other real option was the 2008 Toyota Matrix I had seen at Koons Tyson’s Toyota. This is where the kind of cooler (yep, I’m a dork) decision making came into play.

We looked at Kelly Blue Book and determined we probably couldn’t knock much off the price of the Matrix. So we estimated that I would be lucky to get out the door with $15,500 on that car. There also weren’t any financing deals on it, so I would be using my preapproved 4.29% loan to finance it.

Although the Fit was over $1,000 more expensive, it was being offered with a .9% financing deal. Once I calculated how much I would save in interest over both 4 years with the lower financing rate, the difference between the Fit and the Matrix was only about $400. Keep in mind the Fit was brand new and the Matrix had nearly 40,000 miles on it.

After I calculated the difference with the interest rate, I went on again and used their “True Cost to Own” tool, which factors in and compares the money you’ll lose in depreciation, and how much you’ll pay for insurance, gas, repairs, etc. over the course of 5 years on different vehicles. The price to own the 2008 Matrix was definitely more than the 2011 Fit, but a lot of that was depreciation on the Matrix over the first 2 years. I didn’t have to worry about as much because the car was already almost 4 years old. What I did notice was that the Matrix was estimated to cost about $2,000 more in gas over the 5 year period than the Honda Fit. With math like that, it was clear that while the Matrix would save me $1,000 up front, the Fit was a better value. The Fit also got higher ratings from many different sources, and has more cargo space.

With my value information in hand, I decided to call my guy Guillermo Murillo at Hendrick Honda and see if they could improve on the deal that Tyson’s had given me. “G” said he thought he could, but they weren’t going to get any more Fit Bases in stock until this week. He really did seem like a nice guy and I would’ve liked to work with him. I was willing to wait on the car for about a week, but the .9% financing, an American Honda deal and not a dealer deal, was ending on Monday night. So even though they could potentially bring my price closer to the $16,500 I wanted, I could end up spending more than $200 in interest if I ended up with a higher rate. Even Guillermo said I should take the deal from Tyson’s, which I definitely appreciated.

So I called up my salesman at Honda of Tyson’s Corner to tell him I was still interested in the deal and asked him if he still had any in stock. He did, so we arranged to meet as soon as they opened Sunday morning so that I could buy the car.

As a last ditch effort, I emailed a bunch of other dealers to see if they could give a better price. Had I not been so exhausted from car shopping I would’ve probably called them, but I couldn’t bear the thought of fighting off another salesman. Instead, I sent them all emails that said, “Thanks for following up with me on the 2011 Honda Fit Base. I actually have an offer in writing from Honda of Tyson’s Corner for $16,887 out the door. If you can do better, I’d love to do business with you.” Short, sweet, and to the point.

I heard back from a few of them that said they couldn’t match the price. Rosenthal Honda of Landmark told me that they had sold out of all their Fit Bases with the average price a little over $18,000. One dealer even sent me the following email on Monday, which made me feel great about my purchase:

I did hear back from someone at Pohanka Honda of Fredericksburg on Tuesday, and he said he could knock a couple hundred dollars of the quote I had too. But, the financing deal was over, so it didn’t make much of a difference anyway. It was interesting to note, however, that the two best quotes I got were from dealers somewhat significantly south of DC and right off I-95. I plan to keep this in mind when I have to buy another car.

Step 10: Arrange insurance

You have to give proof of insurance to the dealer so that they can register the car on your behalf and let you drive it off the lot. I needed to get new insurance for this car that was now in my name, so I got online quotes for that too. Esurance and Nationwide both quoted me over $100 a month, but Geico, using my discount as a Navy Federal Credit Union member, quoted me less than $900 for the year. This was definitely the lowest quote I got, and I was able to set it up over the phone with an agent so that when I got to the dealer I could call with my new car’s VIN number and get the car insurance on the spot.

Step 11: Purchase your glorious new set of wheels

My dad didn’t think I needed his help when I went to buy the car, so I was prepared Sunday morning to go alone. Then I realized that because they knew I was coming the night before, they would have the car prepped for me and perhaps ready to drive off the lot. I obviously couldn’t do that if I drove a car there, so the boy was nice enough to come with me. I was really happy he went because it was nice to have someone else “on my side” during the buying process. He was actually the perfect person to accompany me because he was just as foreign to the process as I was, and he just sat there and let me do my thing (which he is always quite good at). I think that had my dad been there, I would’ve been tempted to take a back seat to the process, and I imagine that the men in the dealership would’ve talked to him more than me. Oh yes, Kyle also provided plenty of entertainment and company for me while I was there, which was great because buying a car is not a quick process.

I carefully signed all my paperwork and managed to get out of there without signing up for an extended warranty (which I had discussed with my dad beforehand). Shout out to my car salesman Shabir Baba, who was really nice and helpful and followed up with me today to make sure everything is going fine with the car.

Step 12: Revel in your grownupness and badasschick self

The car buying process is stressful and there are plenty of places to screw it up. I didn’t quite realize it until I went out to dinner Saturday night and, still in car buying mode, was ready to fight off the waiter and see if he’d throw in dessert for free. But this process was amazingly empowering too. In less than a week I got preapproved for a loan bigger than I’ve ever had in my life, determined what car I wanted,  negotiated a great deal, and bought a brand new car pretty much all by myself. I couldn’t be happier with my decision and I’m so pumped about my new car. You better believe I celebrated with a few dranks and dancing Sunday night. Cheers!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Get Your Groupon to Merrifield Garden Center

One of Today's Groupon deals is to Merrifield Garden Center ($25 to spend $50). Not only is Merrifield a beautiful place to pick up fall-friendly mums and pumpkins, they have a gorgeous Christmas shop. In fact, my sibs and I used to go see Santa at Merrifield and I'm slightly ashamed to admit that just as we were on the cusp of disbelief this guy had us leaning towards the side of believing. In our defense, he's really convincing.


Merrifield Christmas
Merrifield Christmas Shop via

Yes, I am buying a Groupon to Merrifield today, September 8, so that I can use it on Christmas stuff (in a few months obviously). I like to plan ahead. For only the second time in my 24 years long life, my fam won't be traveling to upstate New York for Thanksgiving (tear). This means I also won't be able to hang a Henderberg's wreath on my front door like I did last year. But, as I mentioned in this blog post of yore, I love real pine wreaths and I fully intend to hang one on our door again this year. Given that a nice wreath will probably run me at least $25 and probably more, I'm going to stow this Groupon away for a wreath and hopefully a few more beautiful Christmassy things (get excited roommates!).

As for pumpkins and mums, I'll be using my groupon to Craven's Nursury for those!

Autumn Curb Appeal
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