shopping on a budget

5 Absolutely Affordable Spring Dresses

affordable spring dresses

Is this annoying? When bloggers start posts with things like, "ooof, it's been a hard week"? And it's only... Wednesday? That's how I wanted to start this post. I'm typing up this post, that I've had ready, at 6:45 in the morning, while Forrest sleeps after waking up at 4am. Remember how I had the flu in March? I heavily suspect he now has the flu. (This is where, if we were speaking in person, I would groan loudly and without end.) 

Anyway, at least the little sick man is giving me a chance to type something up, even if it's... a shopping inspiration post. I always have conflicted feelings when posting things like this, because the emphasis on shopping in blogging makes me quite uncomfortable. That being said, however, we all need a little wardrobe update from time-to-time, especially after the long winter days. 

And you know what? Looking at dresses is fun. So here are 5 absolutely affordable (yes, affordable!) spring dresses. 

1. Contemporary Open-Shoulder Dress, Forever 21 - $17.90

affordable dress for spring

We'll start with the most affordable. $17.90 for a t-shirt dress is still a little on the "hmmm" side for me, but it's still less than $20. Also, this dress is super cute and would be appropriate for almost every body type. And hey, if you don't like the sack look, a cute belt would nip it in at the waist. I normally don't like the "cold shoulder" look, but for spring, it's starting to grow on me. For a day look, top with a leather jacket and maybe some leggings, if you're in a colder climate. 

2. Palm and Collected A-Line Dress, ModCloth - $79.99

cute palm spring dress coachella

I can see the look you're giving me right now. "Michelle," you say, "I thought you said affordable." Ok, maybe $79.99 isn't super affordable for some people. For me, it would totally be a splurge. But... look how cute this dress is. It's so cute! It's appropriate for the office AND a party AND you can wear it into summer. And, hear me out, I think you could even take it into Fall. This is a Long Haul Dress because it's got sleeves, a lower hem, a cute print, a practical style... C'mon. $79.99 is a steal if you wear this dress once a week for a year. Also, consider it with a cute pair of kitten heels and a light cardigan at a barbecue. I think I've made my point. 

3. Angie Shirt Dress, Nordstrom Rack - $24.97

spring shirt dress

Look at this cute print! The minute I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for this post: it's cute, it's affordable, and it has SLEEVES. Is anyone else perma-cold in Spring? As the weather gets nicer, it feels like everyone turns on the air conditioning unnecessarily and I end up just as bundled up as during winter! Shirt dresses are universally flattering and I personally love a rolled up sleeve on a dress. With sandals or pumps (or even tights and boots during winter), this is really another long haul dress at a killer price. 

4. Contemporary Floral Print Dress, Forever 21 - $19.53 (Sale)

floral print spring dress cheap

I really, really love the pajama look top of this dress. I think it's casual and interesting. This is another dress that you can definitely make work for every season, but feels especially appropriate for spring--when the weather can still be chilly and wet, but can unexpectedly turn into a beautiful day. Plus, at a little over $19, it's super affordable and the shirt dress style is, again, flattering on every body type. 

5. Bookmaking Brunch Dress in Roses, ModCloth - $69.99

I know, $69.99... but please see #2 above. Also, look how cute this dress is! The a-line skirt, the nipped in waist, the neckline. Perfect for a spring or summer wedding, or with a jacket at work, paired with some white or nude stacked heels. Are you on board? Good, because I'm already on board. I love a vintage rose print and this one is absolutely stunning. 

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3 Things I Stopped Buying in 2016

2016 was a big year for me in terms of learning to budget and, most importantly, learning to save money. 

I've always been what financial types call "a spender." That isn't to say I didn't save money; I did. I regularly went through phases where I saved more than I spent, mostly because I was lucky enough to not need to spend all my money on boring things like bills. I've also, however, gone through periods of time (especially when I was a teenager and right after college) where I spent every penny I made every single paycheck. 

That's not a super fun way to go through life, but you live and you learn, I say. 

However, 2016 really changed things for us. Why? 

Firstly, Forrest's birth was considerably more expensive than we thought it would be. I was in the hospital for a total of 10 days (that bill still makes me cringe) and Forrest was in the hospital for a total of 7 days. Yeah, you read those numbers right. That's 17 days being billed between us, plus labs, medications, and everything else. 

Secondly, because breastfeeding didn't work out for us the way I always planned, we ended up spending a lot of money on feeding supplies: bottles and sanitizers I didn't buy, a bottle drying tree, bottle drying brushes. And then, as time went on, formula. Have you ever looked at how expensive formula is? A 3-day supply (a single can) costs around $17.99 for the more affordable brands. Seriously. By the time Forrest was 8 months and exclusively formula fed, we were spending about $40 a week on formula. 

All these expenses meant it was time to really get a lock on our finances and start saving money. Mainly, I wanted to have more in savings for a rainy day, plus we have some goals for ourselves. Thanks to some clever budgeting and payments, we're going to pay off our car in half the time. 

When it comes to saving money, however, it's often the big, unchangeable expenses that can blow your budget. Most people spend more on rent, food, and utilities than they would like. Without those expensive payments, it was be easy to save money! However, I do believe there are a few little things that anyone can cut out to help them save a little money. 

So, these are the 3 things I stopped buying in 2016 to help us save extra cash. 

1. Impulse grocery shopping. 

My husband and I both got into a very bad habit of stopping at the grocery store every single day. Oh, I want a soda? It's only $2 at the grocery store! Want something a little extra for dinner? Swing by the grocery store! We were regularly doing our grocery shopping, plus we'd spend $5-20 every other day or so. Individually, that doesn't sound like a lot. But if you spend $5 at the grocery store, or convenience store, every single day, plus do a weekly grocery shopping trip, you're breaking your budget. 

Now, I set a grocery budget ($70 a week, usually) and stick to it. We're lucky in that we only have one, small toddler at the moment, so it's easy to stick to $70. And if we need something at the store that I forgot, well, that's just too bad! I put it on the list for next week. 

2. Take out.

Another bad habit: picking up dinner on the way home. Lots of couples do this and it's easy to think, "Oh, this $10 pizza isn't a huge deal!" But if you're buying groceries plus spending $10+ on dinner every night... then why are you buying groceries again? One week, we ended up spending something like $120 on food and I put my foot down! There is no way two people need $120 worth of food in a week! We were wasting groceries and wasting money. So now, we eat at home and that's it. Once in a while, we will have a planned treat, but we budget for it and I don't buy groceries for that day. We've saved so much money this way! Plus, we aren't throwing out food anymore. We use what we buy. 

3. Lunches. 

My husband and I got very used to buying lunch every day at work. But once we had Forrest, that just wasn't possible anymore. I was the first to stop getting lunch every day, which saves us an extra $15+ a week. Then, finally, my husband relented. Every week, I make him 5 breakfast burritos and 5 lunches to take to work; this saves us over $25+ a week, considering my husband would often stop to get breakfast and then get lunch!

It's amazing how a little thing like grabbing a sandwich or a donut in the morning can add up, but it really does. It's also very easy to get into patterns of going to the bagel shop for lunch every day. Now, I make my coffee at home and I pack something small for lunch (usually a cheese stick, an apple, and a bit of leftovers from dinner), and I don't have to worry about spending the extra money! 

My Top 5 Budget Buys

I haven't always been good about saving money. I used to spend money as soon as I had it: I paid my bills, yes, but I also bought new clothes, new shoes, new make up, almost every week. When I think back to it, it was really fun, but it was really irresponsible. I had a tiny savings account and no idea what I would do if something really big happened. I was more than breaking even, but I was still limping the closer I got to pay day. 

My big wake up call came when I had Forrest. My husband and I had been saving pretty effectively for a long time, but at the tail end of my pregnancy, we were using our savings to occasionally pay off credit card bills (I needed a new crib set and swing, ok?). Forrest was born premature and our hospital bill was huge. The amount that was sent to our insurance was $12,000 just for Forrest's stay. We ended up paying over $8,000 total for my preeclampsia stay, labor & delivery, and our stay after Forrest was born. That's a lot of money--which we didn't totally have. 

I was lucky to have help paying off that monumental bill, but many people aren't so lucky. That's why it's so important to save. With our next baby, I don't want to be blindsided by another huge hospital bill. That meant starting a strict savings plan and cutting our monthly expenses. 

As a result, there are some things I just buy cheap or in bulk. These are my five favorites. 

1. Buy Formula at Costco

Costco is one of the easiest places to stock up on supplies, but realistically, not everyone has the income that allows them to drop $200 at one place. As well, storing that much toilet paper and paper towels can be a challenge, even in the biggest homes. However, if you're a mom who is formula feeding an infant, Costco is the place to buy formula. Why? They take the manufacturer checks AND they have their own generic brand of formula. They sell the major brands as well. A $50 pack of formula from Costco saved us about $20 a month and I didn't have to rush out and buy formula without a coupon. Total win. 

2. Use Cartwheel at Target

If you have a smartphone and you shop at Target, do yourself a favor and download Cartwheel immediately. It took me forever to start using it, but it's genius! I scan everything in my cart as I'm walking to the register and add any deals. I usually save $3-5 per trip, which isn't a ton (although I also use my Redcard to save 5%!), but it does add up. Staples like cotton balls, q-tips, household cleaners, etc. are almost always on Carthweel, as well as discounted in the store. You can get some amazing deals! 

3. Use Amazon Prime

I'm not a fan of subscription deals. The only one I really use is my Honest diaper bundle, but I'll be honest (har har): that saves me time, rather than money. However, Amazon Prime is my go to place to find affordable, household items that I don't feel like trying to track down in stores. That means, picture frames, bulletin boards, bookshelves, bins to hold items in the pantry... all those little things that are hard to find in stores for affordable prices. 

4. Shop the Dollar Store

"Oh, I loooove those vases in your window!" A friend cooed to me several months ago. News flash: they all cost about $1 a piece. I saved up beer, wine, and other glass bottles, spray painted them with leftover spray paint I had around the house, and used fake flowers from the Dollar Store for the flowers. Easy. Cheap. Quick. 

Whenever I need something decor related, I go to the Dollar Store. I made cake platters for Forrest's birthday party out of candle holders and plates from the Dollar Store; my pantry is organized with bins and labels from the Dollar Store; and whenever I need cheap table clothes, napkins, etc., I go to the Dollar Store. There is literally no need to spend tons at party supply stores. I can make or find almost everything at the Dollar Store. Really. All the decor for Forrest's party cost me about $15, not including spray paint. 

5. Shop on Fridays (or whenever your favorite grocery store has deals)

Our local grocery store has $5 Fridays. What does that mean? Along with any coupons they have from the Sunday insert, they also have special deals on certain items. One Friday, I got boxes of Wheat Things for 3 for $5 (a bargain). Or packages of pineapple (which you can freeze) will be 3 for $5. There are multiple $5 deals every Friday throughout the store and it can save us a ton of money. Most grocery stores do things like this--it might be Thursdays or Saturdays as well. Find the best time to grocery shop and you can save big. (And remember--shopping early in the morning might be a pain, but it's when grocery stores are least busy!)