Frugal Food: Potluck Dinners

Potluck dinners are a great alternative to dining out

One of my favorite things to do in college is making dinner with friends. Frugal and fun cooking with friends is the perfect way to spend a weeknight in or to ring in the newest episode of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (yeah, I’ll admit it). But dinner parties can go downhill if people don’t pony up the cash to pay back the cook, or don’t help cleaning up. That is why I’m a huge fan of the potluck dinner. With potlucks, everyone is responsible for bringing a dish, preventing anyone from feeling like they’ve made more effort than others, and it’s a great way to show off your culinary skills. With that said, there are some guidelines you need to set to ensure a positively perfect potluck.

Potluck Rule #1: Unless cat haz cheezburger, leave him off the diner list

1. BUDGET BUDGET BUDGET: Before anything, establish a per-dish budget for the potluck, and make sure everyone is comfortable with it. Usually I find $8-10/dish is a good price point for the college student.

2. Assign courses: Remember in elementary school at Christmas parties when somehow everyone brought 400 plates of cupcakes or 5,000 bags of chips and salsa? Well, at potlucks it completely defeats the purpose of a potluck if everyone brings the same item. To avoid this, assign different courses to friends, and stick to it.

3. Create a theme: How about Mexican Mondays, Southern Saturdays or Thai Tuesdays? Themes are a great way to experiment in the kitchen and ensure that all the dishes work perfectly together.

4. Make sure it is a team effort: This applies mostly for after the meal. Make sure everyone pitches in a cleans up. Not only will it cut down on cleanup time, but it prevents any one friend from being stuck with a pile of dishes at the end of the night.

5. Keep it small: More people complicates everything. So just keep it simple, and small (about 4-5 people)

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Dorm Room Decorating

Whoever lives here has great taste

Use bright colors to cheer up a gloomy room

My workspace

Decorating a dorm room is tricky. You can’t paint the walls, everyone has the same bland furniture, lack of space, and a small budget are interior design nightmares. Everyday I dream of the time when I can get my own apartment and decorate to my heart’s delight. Unfortunately, that may be a while and so in the mean time I’m making due by getting a bit creative. Having a beautiful dorm room is doable, and having a beautiful dorm room that cost you next to nothing to decorate is even more attainable. Here are a few ideas from my own humble abode to snazz up your space:

Treasure Hunt in your own Home! Before you go out and grab some knickknacks or a trendy comforter, search your basement, linen closet and attic for decorations. While I was snooping I found an amazing antique comforter that was perfect for my color scheme right in my own linen closet. I also brought an old desk lamp that I found in the basement, and repurposed an old flower vase as a pencil holder.

Found it in my closet!

I rescued this baby from my basement. Also, a big thanks to my friend Joanna for the gorgeous flowers!

Swapped out the flowers for pens

 

Incorporate throw pillows! Pillows are a great way to add some color to your room. Look for cheap throw pillows at places like Homegoods, or if you have a sewing machine like me, you can make your own!

DIY pillows

Follow design blogs! I was inspired by a blog post about clothespins (I wish I remembered the blog’s name because I would obviously give them credit for such a genius idea) when I came up with this postcard and quote tags idea. Sites like Apartment Therapy, Made By Girl, A Punch of Color, and Delight by Design are great sources for designspiration.

Inspired by a blog post

Found this old stamp at a book store for 25 cents

Stationary stores have amazing post cards

Hit flea markets, garage sales and street vendors! Many of my knickknacks were found while rifling through a box filled with junk. But like they say one man’s junk is another girl’s desk accessory.

TR is actually an old Avon cologne bottle. His head is the cap! haha

I found this box at an antique store in Lancaster, PA. Because the wood is cracked I only paid $2

Now I use it as a jewelry box!

Have any other decorating ideas? How did you decorate your dorm room? Please share I’d love to hear!

Thrifty Thursdays

I loves clothes and shopping. Know who doesn’t? My bank account.You may have limited means in the financial department, but there’s no excuse to let your wardrobe reflect that. It just means you have to get creative and wander off the beaten trail.¬† Each Thursday I’ll feature a few great little numbers from some unlikely sources with every piece under $50 (and much, much less). This week’s finds are from the Haus of Kmart. Oh and they’re all less than $20 a pop.

shirt dress on sale $18.74

rt. 66 heart ring: $2.99

tunic top: $18.74

jaclyn smith bracelet: $15.00

Do you have any unexpected fashion sources? I’d love to know about them!

Budgeting 101

Cher was clueless when it came to budgeting

So before I post another fun-filled blog, I decided I needed to talk about budgeting. As a college student (or anyone really) it is important that you not only budget you money but understand your spending behavior as well. Establishing a monthly, weekly, or even daily budget early on in life will allow you to manage your money much better down the road. Plus, its kind of a challenge to see how much bang you can get for your buck! Here are some tips on setting up a budget.

1. Set up monthly and weekly budgets with some wiggle room. And by wiggle room I don’t mean “new purse” wiggle room, I’m thinking more along the lines of “the last bus left so I had to pay for a taxi” kind of wiggle room. For example let’s say you have $400/month to spend, which equals to $100/week. Instead of allotting yourself the entire $400 for the month, put away fifty or so. As many of you may know, expenses in college have a way of creeping up on you when you least need them, so leave yourself some emergency cash. Also, if you didn’t spend what you put away, don’t spend it the next month, perhaps put it in a savings account, CD or invest it. Or if you are feeling oh so generous, donate it to a worthwhile cause.

2. Track your spending for 1 month. This may seem tedious, but it is necessary if you are going to budget effectively. You can use a checkbook, online banking, or simply a pen and a pad, but you must ensure that no expense goes unaccounted for. When the month is over, write a list of your biggest expenses: Rent, Utilities, Food, transportation etc. From that list break your budget down into categories starting with monthly expenses: $800 for rent, $100 for utilities etc. Then onto weekly expenses: $50 for food, $30 for weekend activities, $20 for transportation. Sometimes this may change from month to month for example: you don’t need as big of a book budget in November as opposed to September, or you’ll be at home for half the month of December so your food budget may shrink (don’t forget those Christmas presents though!). However, your budget shouldn’t vary too much. You want to get into the habit of only spending a certain amount on certain items.

3. Always make sure you are checking your account balances. Keeping a close eye on your finances will not only keep your spending in check, but will help you spot credit card fraud quickly.

4. Know when to say no. Before you buy something new, take a few seconds to reflect on if you really need that item, if you have something that will do, and in some cases, do you actually already have it? If you can say yes to any of these questions, put it down and walk away. I also like to follow the two week rule. If I am still thinking about something two weeks after I last considered purchasing it, I’ll consider buying it if it fits my budget.

5. Get creative! Want to go out for dinner and drinks on Friday? Find other cheap/free activities to do the rest of the week. Need to save money on food? Look for meetings, talks, hall programs and get-togethers around campus, they often have food for free, and who knows? You may discover a new passion! Want new accessories? Have an accessory swap with your friends. Everyone can participate regardless of size and you might find the perfect necklace to glam-up an old top.

If you have any more tips, feel free to leave them in the comments!

No Money, Mo’ Problems

this guy's a mind reader

Living on a strict ramen noodle diet? Are you on a first-name basis with employees at the neighborhood blood plasma center? When people on campus talk about the day that will live in infamy, are they referring to your legendary 2010 meltdown at the ATM? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Okay perhaps I’m being a bit over-dramatic.

College is expensive. There is no getting around that. So if you can actually relate to the first paragraph or simply wish to stretch your dollar a little further, the Economic Academic is here to help. It’s my goal through this blog to aid cash-strapped coeds in their quest to find the best in fun, fashion and food all while on a shoe-string budget.