How to Design Your First Real World Home on a Budget

Budgeting, Other Thoughts, Real World
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Making your first “real world” apartment your own can be a seriously daunting task. For starters, you have no clue how long you’ll actually live there, you’re on a pretty tight budget, and most likely, you’re pressed for space. Yet you still want you’re first home to really feel like a home. Don’t worry! These tips will help you turn your new space into a place you love calling your own, without breaking the bank.

1. Don’t over commit.

It’s not smart to make big-ticket purchases just yet. You’re in the transient phase—spending too much money on large-budget items could potentially backfire down the road…  especially if you’ll be moving in the near future. Make inexpensive purchases that can easily relocate with you on your next move—and if they can’t, reselling them is no big deal. In addition to flea markets and thrift stores, sites like Craigslist, Overstock, Ebay and Etsy are amazing resources for bargain finds. For our NYC friends, check out for Craigslist’s best home items in your ‘hood.

2. Dual-purposed items are your friend.

Desks and tables are not always the least expensive items on the market… but both are pretty similar. If you’re truly pressed for spaced, purchase a dual-purpose surface—something that’s great for both working and eating. A slicker surface, like this simple Ikea piece, is easy to wipe down with a damp cloth (post-meal), while also serving as a great (and unobtrusive) workspace. And it hardly weighs a thing, so it’s so easy to move around!

This Ikea table works great as both a workspace and a spot to sit and eat a meal. Plus, it's only $40!

Photo courtesy of Homepolish.


3. Think UP.

Never underestimate the potential your walls hold. For example, if you’ve got no room (or extra cash) for a nightstand, install a simple wall shelf above your bed. This maximizes space in a decorative fashion. Inserting a dowel rod or stringing a rope between the shelf’s brackets also makes a fantastic magazine rack + bookmark. Throw in a nice book-end and/or a droopy plant (I’d recommend string of pearls or burro’s tail), and you’re lookin’ good.













You can also use wall shelves as storage space. Choosing baskets like this or this make for a good-looking option, while keeping your things nice and organized.

4. Gallery walls are basically the grown-up version of collages.

Framing large pieces of art is expensive. Creating a gallery wall is way less expensive, and way more fun. They’re a great way to mix and match artwork, photographs, wallpaper or fabric samples, and your favorite greeting cards. Ikea sells really cheap frames in an assortment of colors, which you shouldn’t be afraid to mix! Metallic + wood? Black + white? Anything goes. Throw a fun little mirror into the mix if you can—reflective surfaces make your teeny space feel more spacious.

Photo by Claire Esparros.

Photo by Claire Esparros.

To save even more money, pick up colorful washi or artist’s tape from your local craft supply store (apx. $5.99 per roll), and create your own DIY frames. Simple frames (or washi tape frames) arranged in an asymmetrical manner allow you the freedom to add more pieces (and rearrange) down the road.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

5. Stick with succulents.

There are few things better than bringing home fresh flowers. They liven and brighten up a space without taking up hardly any room. Sadly, flowers are not forever. Invest the few extra bucks in a succulent or two. These adorable plants require very little maintenance* and really make a huge difference in your space—they even clear the air of unwanted toxins! They come in varying sizes, and can be found at your local Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, or grocery market. A dash of green really goes a long way—you’ll be surprised at the happiness a little plant can bring!

*Succulents should be watered once a week, and can survive in high or low light conditions. Photo by Claire Esparros.

*Succulents should be watered once a week, and can survive in high or low light conditions. Photo by Claire Esparros.


5 Tips On Negotiating Your Salary

Budgeting, Real World


After getting a new job offer or being in the workforce for a bit, any twenty-something starts to wonder…how can I advance my career? Or perhaps something on the forefront of our basically-broke minds, how can I negotiate my salary the right way? In the spirit of helping you take charge of negotiations here are five tips on how to negotiate your way to higher wages.

1. Ask!

You will not get anything if you don’t ask for it. Studies over the past few years have indicated that women are about four times less likely to ask for raises or negotiate their salary upon first accepting a job. In 2011 a typical 25-year old woman working all year earned $5,000 less than a typical 25-year old man. According to the US Census, at the age of 65 a woman will have lost $431,000 over her lifetime due to the earning gap! Societal problems aside, asking for what you deserve will get you one step closer to closing that wage gap for yourself – I could sure use that extra $5,000 a year.

2. Be Realistic

Do your research and find out what others in your field are making on average. Use and for internet research. If you have a few close friends at your company who are around your age in the same position as you, don’t feel bad about asking them what they make. Money has such a weird stigma around it and I’m not saying shout your savings account numbers at the top of your lungs, but a small inquiry to a friend can’t hurt.

3. Account For Perks

It’s easy to get so focused on the dollar amount that you may forget to account for the value of all the perks your company may offer. Your company may have discounts to local restaurants, or better yet trips to Disneyland and Las Vegas! It’s also possible you may be offered some type of wellness stipend that could take care of your gym membership costs. You may be able to negotiate in a parking spot. That’s saving you easily hundreds of dollars a year. Make sure to look at the full package.

4. Pick Your Moment

If you’ve already been working somewhere for a while and feel it’s time to ask for a raise, pick your moment. Maybe you’ve stayed late the past few weeks working on an important project or your boss has started giving you more responsibility and your tasks have increased a good deal. Don’t wait for a scheduled performance review when you have the perfect opening and can give examples backed up with evidence on why you’re an invaluable asset to the team and you deserve what you’re worth.

5. Follow Up

If your request is denied with the explanation that money is too tight right now simply ask when a more appropriate time would be to check in and then make sure you check in. Perhaps see if a bonus is an option rather than a pay increase. You could also ask for a better title if your responsibilities have increased. It may not bring you more money right away but will make for a better bargaining tool in the future.

What a SOLE-ful Meal

Budgeting, Family, Friends, Healthy Living, Recipes


We all have our favorite dishes, and those we wish we could make. Mine just happens to be the Parmesan Crusted Sole from Romanos Macaroni Grill. However, I do not enjoy paying $18.75 for one dish, so I found the secret to serving four the same delicious, and healthier meal, for the same price.

Parmesan Crusted Sole

Serves 4

4 (6-8 oz) Sole fillets
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup flour
3 eggs
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Lemon Beurre Blanc (Don’t worry its super easy and I included the recipe at the bottom YUMMM.)

In a food processor blend panko, parmesan and parsley until fine. Transfer to a shallow pan. In a separate pan whip eggs and milk until well combined. In a third pan place the flour.

Take the sole fillets and season with salt, pepper and powdered garlic. Dredge sole in flour, then egg wash and finally in the parmesan/panko mix. Pat the parmesan and panko into the sole until the mix sticks to the fish.

In a large saute pan heat butter and olive oil until hot. Carefully place sole in the pan and shake the pan to make sure the fish doesn’t stick. When sole is golden brown, flip over and continue to cook. When sole is done (120° F internally), transfer to plate and top with lemon beurre blanc.

Lemon Beurre Blanc
Makes 1 cup
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon shallots, minced
4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/4 lb butter – unsalted, chilled, cut into cubes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
In a sauce pan over medium high heat, combine wine, vinegar and shallots. Reduce until almost a syrup consistency. Add cream and continue to cook reducing by half. Turn the heat to low and add butter cubes 2 at a time while stirring until all the butter is added and sauce is a creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: If the butter is not chilled it will not incorporate into the sauce. Also if the wine mixture is not reduced far enough the sauce will be runny.
Orzo and Spinach
4 ounces julienne-shredded fresh spinach
1/2 small julienne-cut radicchio
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup sun-dried tomato packed in oil, julienne cut
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons sliced kalamata olives
4 ounces orzo pasta, uncooked
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Juice and zest of one small lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cook orzo according to directions on box, about 9 minutes or until al dente. Heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and stir, making sure to not let the garlic brown. Add the zest and lemon juice. Toss in the spinach and radicchio and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat and add orzo. Mix. Sprinkle with cheese once it is on the plate.

Small Paychecks & Big Adventures

Budgeting, Real World

Im Poor

I keep seeing this quote about being in your twenties that says something to the effect of “this is the time for small paychecks and big adventures.” However, in order to have big adventures while having small paychecks saving money is essential – So let’s talk about a few easy ways that you can add money to your adventure savings fund.


This free and easy application will help you track your spending, and show you exactly where all that hard earned cash goes. You can create goals – like the aforementioned “big adventures”- and Mint will help you save money to go toward them. Who knows, after a few months you may be able to take that beach vacation that you have been dreaming about. Personally, right now I am day dreaming about Hawaii- so I made it a goal!


Look for Bargains

I am a huge advocate of flea markets for furniture and home goods, and TheRealRealHauteLook for clothes and accessories – and the same thing applies to other activities like dinner dates, new exercise classes, and trips to the spa. You won’t believe some of the things that you can find on Groupon, and some of those things are a “big adventure” that fit perfectly with our “small paychecks.” Recently a friend of mine was able to purchase a hot air balloon ride for two at over 50% off of retail price.



If you are like me then you probably get many emails from your favorite stores telling all about the new styles for the season, or the life-changing sale that they are having. You can’t help but click the link, because hey – those clothes are so cute, and yes it is a new season. Make it easier for yourself to avoid spending your small paycheck on clothes that you don’t really need after all. Unroll.Me allows you to bulk unsubscribe from these temptations, just imagine the things you can do with the money that you would have spent.


Take a minute right now to think over and easily implement these three money saving tricks. You can take ten minutes right now to set up a Mint account, explore Groupon, and use Unroll.Me to get rid of at least a few temptations – take the jump – your big adventure is waiting!

Tech Talk: Top 10 Must-Have Apps

Budgeting, Friends, Healthy Living, Real World, Recipes


If you’re like me, then your smartphone is probably plastered to your hand during most waking hours. Our generation is the first of its kind in that we have access to unprecedented resources at our fingertips. In matters of money, love, friendship, networking, and healthy living, more than likely There’s an app for that. And so, without further ado, my top-ten list of must-have apps for your twentysomething life.

1) Mint
One of the sure signs of being in your twenties is that money magically disappears from your bank account at an alarming rate. Payday is on Friday, but by the time you account for rent, food, insurance and other miscellaneous bills, you’re desperately searching the couch cushions for loose change by Saturday. Luckily, Mint gives you a better way to manage your money. The app allows you to categorize and track all of your spending and shows you areas where you can save money. You never know, you might actually be able to afford to biggie-size your fries after all. You go Glen Coco.

2) iBartender
Once upon a time, there was a college undergrad who thought that the key to a good cocktail was to grab any kind of liquor and mix it with any kind of juice and ¡voila! mixology magic! It didn’t matter if you put so much alcohol in it that you could barely swallow because hey, drinks aren’t supposed to be fun, AmIRight?!

Umm…many rough mornings later, I’ve learned that the secret to avoiding that “Dear-God-If-I-Survive-This-I-Swear-I-Am-Never-Drinking-Again” feeling is to Know. What. You’re. Doing. The iBartender app provides easy drink recipes to impress your family and friends with. Plus, my favorite feature of the app is that it allows you to choose which ingredients you have available and gives you a list of drink recipes that are actually acceptable for human consumption.

3) Gas Buddy
Say it with me: paying for gas makes me want to cry. I don’t know, just something about spending almost four dollars for ONE gallon of gas just kills me a little inside. Thank GAWD all the stars aligned and somebody created the GasBuddy app. This little gem finds the cheapest gas based on your geographical location! Never underestimate the benefit of saving a few pennies at the pump. Those pennies definitely add up!

4) Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat

Do we even really need to discuss this one? Social media is, in essence, the bloodline of our young adult lives. We are a generation that needs to be connected 24 hours a day (whatever you definition of connected may be). Social media is like one-stop shopping: you can (not so) secretly stalk your exes, keep up with what your high school lab partner had for lunch today (because some things you just need to know RIGHT NOW),  and get the latest news and gossip all in one place. Downloading the app(s) on your phone ensures that you never miss a minute of the action. A few notes: 1) You are not invisible online. You never know who is watching what you like/post/tweet so keep it classy. 2) Snapchat is not an excuse for you to expose your kibbles and bits to the world. Put your clothes back on. 3) Taking selfies is, like, a thing now. I get it. However, please feel free to take pictures of something else. Thanks, Management.

5) LinkedIn

If I had to assign the most important word to the twentysomething years, it would be networking. After four years of undergraduate study, you are the proud owner of a shiny new diploma. Now the question is, what are you going to do with it? The job market is as competitive as it’s ever been and no one is going to know who the hell you are or what skills you have if you don’t market them appropriately. Every twentysomething should create a LinkedIn account, like NOW. This vast network of employers and companies is the perfect pool for you to cast your poor little unemployed net into. Use the app like a mobile resume: update your most current employment, add useful skills, and make connections with people in fields that are important to you.

6) Netflix

There is nothing – NOTHING – like being able to watch your favorite movies and TV shows while you’re dying of boredom in the waiting room of your doctor’s office. For just a few dollars a month you can have access to unlimited OMG moments wherever you are. Because sorting out that super awkward love triangle between Olivia and Fitz and Mellie all of a sudden makes sitting in that waiting room not so bad after all.

7) *insert your favorite smartphone game*

Candy Crush. Flappy Bird. That is all.

8) Pandora

This is one of my favorite apps for two reasons. For one, it saves me a ton of storage space in my phone because I can have all the music I want in one app instead of downloading my entire music library (complete with notable Miley Cyrus throwbacks before she was, you know, Miley Cyrus) to my phone. And secondly, Pandora stations are perfectly suited to whatever mood I’m in. I can switch to 2 Chainz radio when I wanna twerk somn’ giiirl, or throw on some John Mayer when I want to eat junk food and cry about why I’m not rich and famous like Beyonce. Either way, it just works.

9) Epicurious

This app is one that I just discovered recently and, let me tell you, this app was MADE for people like me. There are those of us who are…ummm…challenged in matters of culinary technique, and that’s okay! Because now, there is an app full of recipes broken down into every category imaginable. For example, the home page right now has recipes for chocolate desserts, spring cocktails, mother’s day dinners, quick breakfasts, and Easter desserts, just to name a few. Now, with just a click (tap?) you can find a list of ingredients and instructions to create actual real life meals. Because although Cinnamon Toast Crunch fulfills all the desires your twentysomething heart and stomach could ever have, I think we can do a little better.

10) My Fitness Pal

Rouding out my top ten is the My Fitness Pal app. Y’all..this thing is incredible. Some of us can remember a time when we could fold into a pretzel with no problem. Nowadays, climbing the stairs is the world’s greatest struggle and trying to bend over and touch your toes is just…not gonna happen. Luckily, this app is for all the fitness backsliders of the world. It allows you to keep a daily journal of food intake, calories consumed, and exercises performed. It also keeps you on track so that you can get healthy and lose weight in a safe and appropriate amount of time. Plus, you can add your friends and help keep each other on track. Summer is fast approaching-time to get it right, get it tight!

P.S. all of these apps are FREE! So, since you’re probably on your phone right at this moment or have it within a six inch radius of your hand, go ahead and download some useful apps! Your phone battery is going to run out too fast anyway – might as well spend it on something productive 🙂

Italian Shrimp Portofino

Budgeting, College, Healthy Living, Real World, Recipes

Are you contemplating going out for dinner tonight? Maybe Saturday night dinner on the town with friends, or maybe even a date?

Have you made your decision? Saying, “How about Italian tonight?” Picking your local Italian restaurant- it is your favorite after all. Your dish of choice just happens to be Shrimp Portofino.

What if I told your that instead of spending 17.00 bucks on that one dish, you could take that cash and buy these ingredients and making enough Shrimp Portofino at home for you and your friends, at a better price? You can – let’s try it out tonight.

Here is your grocery list- It serves between 4-6.

24 jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined, cut in half
3 cups sliced mushrooms, sliced
1-½ Tbsp roasted pine nuts
6 handfuls fresh spinach leaves
6 cups cooked vermicelli pasta
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced

Lemon Butter Sauce:
1 Tbsp shallots, minced
1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup lemon juice
⅛ tsp white pepper
2 sticks salted butter, cut in Tbsps

Preheat oven to 350 deg. Wash spinach and remove stems before drying leaves between paper towels. Set aside. Spread pine nuts over bottom of sheet pan and place pan in oven on top rack. Roast until golden brown, approx 2 to 4 min. Remove from oven and set aside. Prepare pasta according to pkg directions, drain and set aside.
Prepare lemon butter sauce. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in lg skillet over med-high heat. Saute shallots and garlic until translucent. Add white wine and reduce slightly more than 1/2, whisking occasionally. Add cream and reduce by 1/2. Add lemon juice and reduce by 1/2. Add white pepper. Reduce heat to low. Add remaining butter 2 Tbsp at a time, whisking continuously after each addition to completely incorporate butter.
Continue to simmer, whisking until sauce just coats spoon. In lg skillet over med-high heat melt the 4 Tbsp of butter. Add garlic and saute until garlic is translucent. Stir in mushrooms, shrimp, and pine nuts. Saute several minutes or until shrimp are done and show color. Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in spinach. Place warm pasta on plate with shrimp mixture to the side. Pour lemon sauce over pasta, permitting a bit of sauce onto shrimp.

Now – pour yourself a glass of wine, take out your best plates, set the table and dig in. Good food and socialization in your own kitchen – what is better than that?

5 Tips for a Successful Budget

Budgeting, Real World

I, like many twenty-somethings, have always struggled with budgeting. It seems like there is always a perfect purse, a new restaurant, a happy hour, or a new costly adventure – and I am only semi-embarrassed to admit that I typically fall prey to it. Or if I am being honest, I usually come up with a perfectly acceptable rationalization about how I completely deserve that drink/outing/bag/etc because of what a long week/day/life it has been.

Regardless, I have recently realized- after a particularly painful round of bills- that I need to get this whole budget thing under control. So I went to the source of financial wisdom in my life, my dad.

Here are his 5 tips:

1. Know how much is in your account – spend less than that.

At first I thought – really? This is your advice? But – the more I think about it the more I like it. It’s true, if I always spend less than what is in my bank about I will never have a budget issue. Unless something goes horribly wrong – like when my car was recently stolen. However, the fact remains – this just about as fool proof as it gets.

2. Never buy anything you can’t pay off at the end of the month. If you do buy something you can’t pay off at the end of the month, make sure you pay the minimum. If you can pay more than the minimum, do. 

Carrying debt is a sad reality for most, but if you can avoid it, please do. Endeavor to never have a late or missed payment. If you have a little extra that month your bills are a worthwhile investment.

3. Make a grocery list and stick to it.

Who doesn’t head to the grocery store hungry, pile things into the cart, and scratch their head and say “WHAT THE HELL?!” when checking out? Don’t do it. If you are starving before it’s time to grocery shop eat a small snack, your wallet will thank you.

4. Just because it’s a sale – doesn’t mean it’s a deal.

I love a sale as much as the next girl. Dresses, skirts, Anthropologie home goods, booties – you name it, if it’s on sale I am interested. Plus, sometimes the sale is so good I feel like I’m actually saving money… That being said, I should rein it in. So should you – the last point will solidify this for you.

5. If you want to buy it, think about how many hours of your life it costs- Is it still worth it?

This may have permanently changed my shopping habits.


Spiced Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Budgeting, College, Healthy Living, Real World, Recipes

It’s Saturday, and being Twenty Something you are trying to figure out what to have for dinner… and if you are like every other Twenty Something guy or gal it might be a trip through your local drive through, a frozen pizza, or a restaurant where you will wonder how the bill got so high- that was only two drinks right? Stop. This will happen no more- take that money you spend on your combo and buy the ingredients for this easy, healthy, and delicious Spiced Roasted Chicken and Vegetables.

Lets get started- I’m going to list some ingredients for you to pick up at any grocery store.


  • 4 Chicken Breast (Bone In or Out- Dealers Choice)
  • 4 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds (already ground, or you can be a Super Chef and grind your own)
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds ( same rule applies, I recommend being a Super Chef)
  • onion (finely chopped)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 11/4 lbs fingerling potatoes (or small red potatoes, halved lengthwise)
  • 2 bunches asparagus (about 1 lb. total, ends trimmed)

Directions? Don’t worry it is super easy!

Pat the chicken dry and place in a large bowl. Add 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and the soy sauce and toss to coat. In a spice grinder or mortar with a pestle, grind the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Set aside 2 tsp. of the spice mixture; add the remaining mixture to the chicken. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Arrange the chicken, skin side up, on half of a large rimmed baking sheet.

Place the potatoes in the same bowl. Add 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and toss to coat. Add the reserved 2 tsp. spice mixture, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Arrange the potatoes, cut side down, on the other half of the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on the middle oven rack and roast until the breasts and potatoes are cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the asparagus on a small rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan. Drizzle the spears with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. When you have ten minutes left on the timer pop the asparagus in the oven!

Congratulations! Your healthy, tasty, and easy Saturday night dinner is complete!

Keep in mind you can substitute any cut of chicken you want, you could even try it with a whole chicken. You can bring this recipe out to impress your room mates, friends, family, or dates!