Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Free Christmas Decor Ideas

christmas budgetDear Readers,

If you are like many of us, you might not be traveling back to visit family for Christmas, and even if you are, you might be on a tight student budget with little room to really spruce up your house for the holidays.  Check out the below ideas to hopefully help get your place looking festive and bright!  (Even if not on a budget, these are some cute ideas!)

P.S.  I chose these to share because they all cost nothing to make basically, could be made from items already floating around your home, and wouldn’t take hours to complete.  Enjoy!

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1) Pine comb Christmas trees: take a walk, gather, glitter, glue, stick in a votive holder or little jar, done.

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2) Paper cone Christmas trees: The tutorial is lovely and teaches you how to make porcelain cones, however I’d say just use some paper and tada! (I’d be sure to use the battery operated votives for this one!)

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3) Magazine Christmas trees: I can’t get enough of these.  I’ve made them for our home and for the decor for several little events and they are so fun and easy.  I got free (expired) magazines from the local library to make mine.  Fold, fold, fold, tuck under, done!

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4) Paper Snowflakes:  These take me back to childhood!  You can make them into garland, hang them on the windows, make ornaments…these classic and tasteful little guys never get old. And you can even make them from coffee filters to save some cutting!

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5) Good ole’ Garland:  Last but not least, you can’t really go wrong with some lovely, simple, colorful garland to hang on the tree or to deck your halls.  The ones above were done with paint sample swatches, but the possibilities are endless of what you could use.  Get thrifty!  You can even make an advent garland where you take off one loop each day leading up to Christmas.

{click on images for sources}

And if you have kids, check out this adorable little idea! Looks like I know what our afternoon will look like today! :) (although mine won’t appear this fancy)

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Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Old Books turned into Wreaths

book wreath

When my sister-in-law sent me this precious wreath (photo on far left) as a gift (overseas in the mail and it didn’t get crushed!) I was in love!  It’s elegant, simple and the best part about it is that she made it herself with love.  She picked up a dictionary at the dollar store and then dipped the pages in tea to give them an ‘aged’ look and then went to town with the pages.  I think this is the perfect gift/holiday decor since you can basically make it for free and it has such a unique charm about it.  There is a shop in Oxford that has loads of books you can pick up for free and I’m always seeing ‘free book’ piles at libraries, etc.  On the cold winter nights ahead bundle up and get to rolling and gluing!  Enjoy.


P.S. This is the best tutorial I could find online, excuse the eccentric lady and ridiculous music and intro. :)

Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Tips for Renters

tips for rentersAre you moving into another graduate student housing dorm soon?  Are you packing up and moving for a graduate degree or post doc. into yet another rented space?  Or are you staying still, but just oh so ready to have a home of your own?  If you flip through some of our Beauty & the Budget files, you’ll see we have lots of tips and ideas to hopefully get you thinking about how to beautify your space, even if it is only for a few months or years.  You can even read this post on how strongly I feel about the importance and value of creating a home that really  reflects who you are, even though the space might be temporary.  As this is the season for moves and transitions, I’ve done some searching online and below are some of the best ‘tips for renters’ that I could find to pass along.

Even if you can’t paint the walls, have you thought of using tempaper (fancy pants temporary wall paper) or purchasing fun chalkboard or sticker decals, or even painting some furniture to give you some color?  Have you thought of getting new hardware for the kitchen and bathrooms to give the cabinets a facelift or even taking the cabinets off and storing them to have a fun open storage thing going on?  What about embracing bold colors in small spaces through a new rug or curtains or adding more throw pillows to the couch?  Lots of fun ideas below to bring life to a rental space. I hope some are helpful and encourage you to make your new abode your own!


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* Apartment Therapy: 20 Tips, Tricks, & Solutions for Renters; 5 Resources for Temporary Wallpaper

* Better Homes and Gardens: 25 Ideas to Steal for your Apartment

Canadian House & Home: Top Decorating Tips for Renters

* The Daily Buzz: Ten Decorating Tips for Renters

* Salvage Love: Decorating Tips for Renters

Do you have any tips to add?

Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: A Year Round Valentine’s Day Gift

vday image

I’m not a particularly crafty person. I tend to draw my creativity from my friends, even going so far as letting them ‘create’ for me. It’s something I have to work very hard at, so if I do find myself in ‘create’ mode, I usually have to give myself a loads of space and time to finish.

Every once in awhile, I do find a project that I want to work on. I saw the below project a few months back (I think on pinterest?), and decided it would make a great Valentine’s Day gift for my better half. We tend to not celebrate Valentine’s Day (Soapbox: I really don’t need a designated day of the year for my husband to tell me he loves me. He does that every day), but this year I wanted to do something that we could have fun with year round.

IMG_0623 I went to a local craft store to purchase a frame, silver wrapping paper, and stencil letters.


I cut a square of the silver wrapping paper to fit inside the frame. Using clear tape, I pasted the wrapping paper  to the back of the frame, making it the background.


I cut the stencil letters out, arranging the message on the frame’s background, still a bit undecided of what the final layout will look like.


You’ll see I left about 2 inches at the bottom of the frame, plenty of space to write a message. I’ll hang this somewhere in our flat, so we can leave little messages to one another year round.


Easy project, costing no more than £10, and I get to write love notes to my man year round.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Project “tea, anyone?”

Beauty & the Budget…it’s been a while!  But don’t be alarmed, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some great tips to share.  :)

So, it recently it hit me that my baby was actually not really a baby anymore and the appliquéd quilt of farm animals hanging on her wall probably needed to go.  Sigh…they grow so fast!

In proper English fashion we decided upon a tea cup theme for her ‘big girl’ room.  On a budget, with hardly any space in the room to actually decorate, one might ask what could be done?  Ah, never underestimate the power of a few simple touches that can totally transform a room, especially a tiny one!  I hope to share more but for now enjoy this super simple project that took me about 15 minutes start to finish.

Classic. Sweet. Simple. Perfect!

Check out the graphics fairy’s (found here) enormous and incredible collection of vintage images.  All images are free to download and can be used on millions of fun D.I.Y projects!  I could spend hours upon hours on this site.  And if you don’t have any sort of design software, don’t fret.  Download something simple and free like Picassa (found here) and just open the images in there and add text at the bottom.  Super easy to follow the icons for adding text, etc.

Beauty and the Budget

All Things New: Part III (Swap Parties)

So, swap parties are pretty much the greatest thing ever dreamed up!

Have you heard of them or attended one? If not, I suggest you get on top of planning one immediately.

Following suite in Beauty and the Budget’s ‘trash to treasure’ series, we wanted to share with you some photos and tips from our recent ‘Swap Party’ in Oxford.

Swap parties are incredibly easy to set up, a great excuse to play dress up and the most rewarding way to ‘shop’ imaginable.  It’s also a perk seeing that top you never wear turn out looking fantastic on a friend!  All you need is a space large enough to host at least ten guests and room to spread out clothing and accessories for viewing.  We did our swap the simple way.  We divided up all the clothes into small, medium and large sections and basically had a ‘free for all’ and let everyone shop all at once, but you might choose to draw numbers or give guests tickets when they arrive to break it up a bit.  Everyone who attended our swap took home something new to add to her wardrobe and no one spent a single pence (or penny)!  I even took home a pair of Joe’s (designer) jeans that fit me like a glove.  Trash to treasure!

Here are some great links to get ideas on planning your own swap party.  Here, here, here, or here.

Happy Swapping!

Beauty and the Budget

All Things News: Part II (storage)

I was inspired by Deanna’s post a month back on  ‘All Things New’ and I decided to share a similar ‘trash to treasure story’ today as the second post for our series.

Just as Deanna shared…the amount of waste in our world is sobering.  It makes me sick to my stomach at times when thinking of all that we throw out and that gets chucked into landfills.  A while back I was working at a big fancy pants event (event consulting is my part-time work) and was overwhelmed at the amount of money and excess that went into this particular event.  Don’t get me wrong; it was lovely and amazing, but indeed overwhelming.  There were gifts for the attendees of the event and an entire hotel room (at a five star hotel mind you) was booked for almost a week straight, just to hold these gifts. No one even used the room…it was used solely to store the gifts.  The price of that room for a single night was more than some people make working part time for a month.  Gulp…

It is easy to point fingers and get angry at the way our world seems to waste so much…but I have learned that doing this doesn’t really get you very far.  I’ve concluded that we can make a difference by the little things we do and the ways we live our lives.  Cheesy but true, change starts with you.  Recycling, reusing and refurbishing, are all incredibly worth it and quite compatible with graduate wife lifestyles as well.  The below project was super easy and took me a whopping 2 hours to complete.  Sometimes it seems easier to just order the newest thing, but I challenge you to look around, see what you can re-use and what treasures you can come up with.  I know on a grad wife budget these opportunities sometimes present themselves, and I hope that even after this season and this budget, I will continue to live with the mindset of re-using and re-creating.

So I found this little guy in a sad, dilapidated state. Wobbly, missing a tub container and quite filthy. “ We need more storage in our tiny living room,” I thought…but this is almost hopeless, not to mention I really have an aversion for Disney princess characters.  Especially when the little tubs have ridiculous phrases written on them like (No LIE!) “One day I’ll ride on a big white horse and wear a crown and of course a gown.” And, “Watch me dance, watch me twirl, there’s a princess in every girl.”  Yes, I want my daughter to feel like a princess…but not quite in the Disney character sort of way. I took another look and thought, “what the heck” and drug it home.

I left it outside and later gave it a good scrub.  I tightened wobbly bits and I brought it inside.

Next I laid out some contact paper (I love this stuff) and then laid the shelf on top of it and traced the siding.  I then cut the paper out and simply stuck it onto the side of the shelf.  I also cut little pieces of the contact paper out to cover the princess phrases that were on the tubs.  You could also choose to spray paint the structure if you have the space to do so, or even decoupage it!

Viola!  I was done in no time and now when you look behind our door you don’t see this eye sore (cardboard box) which used to hold all the toys…

you see this! -M.C.

Beauty and the Budget · Community

All Things New: Part I (Toddler Shoes)

Written by Deanna, a current graduate wife

A few years back our small family crossed the Atlantic and found ourselves living in a tiny, cold and ugly old block of University owned flats and more broke than ever. In the lobby of our building, (right next to the small, usually broken elevator) was a large community bulletin board. Despite several threatening signs warning against it, tenants regularly left the things they no longer wanted or needed in piles against the wall just under this bulletin board. We saw toys, clothes, games, used magazines, computer monitors, office supplies, posters, TV’s, kitchen items, books and tons of other things there. It was common knowledge that anything left against this wall was free for the taking and we acquired several things from the wall ourselves (random plates and saucers, a white serving bowl, a pair of chairs, salad servers, a pasta spoon). Our lack of money kept me on the lookout for cheap (or free!) things I could use and so, I always entered the lobby with a bit of anticipation. You just never knew what you were going to find! My husband deemed it “The Wall of Hope”. The idea being that someone would put junk against the wall one day and hope it would be gone by the next. But I called it “The Wall of Hope” because I always hoped that something great would turn up like a piano or a sewing machine or a Gucci bag. (No such luck.)

My favorite acquisition from the Wall of Hope was this ratty old pair of toddler shoes. They were in pretty bad shape.
But I’m glad no one threw them out.

A quick trip through the washer and dryer and then a little fabric (from an old shirt) and two buttons later, they were pretty cute and the perfect shoes for my little girl to romp around in!

This was a very satisfying project for me and a good reminder of how, as a Christian, I believe God intends to make all things new. You, me, and even this earth (which I believe once was perfect and new but which we’ve all managed to abuse pretty badly.) Ahh, sweet redemption. I am honored to contribute to it, in any small way I can.

Anyhow, I like this kind of recycling. The old addage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is so true. There have been numerous times that I have seen things in a dumpster and thought, “I bet someone else could have used that!” But off it goes to a land fill and someone else is left to spend money they don’t need to. What a waste!

In a world where every advertisement tells me I need more, bigger, better, faster, newer, my budget screams back “Impossible!” And so, I am left finding creative solutions with what I have. I am forced to look for the potential of things, to consider how I can improve them. (It is simply amazing what a good scrub or a coat of paint can do to an old (insert item here). I am challenged to be resourceful, quick to share with others, and grateful when others share with us. And to be honest, it’s good for me. I want those things to be true of my children. I want those things to be true of me.

One of the loveliest things about living among other poor graduate students is the way we share and pool resources. Most of my children’s clothes and toys were once worn and loved by someone else’s children. And, when mine are done with them, we will surely pass those that are in decent shape on to be worn or played with by someone else. It’s a beautiful thing really and I would guess a lot less likely to be found in the ‘real world’ beyond grad school.

Do you have any ‘trash to treasure’ stories to share? Take pictures and submit via email to us!

Beauty and the Budget · Inspiration


I read a lovely book once by a lady named Ingrid Trobisch and in the book Ingrid talks about the idea of creating one’s ‘geborgenheit’.  Geborgenheit is a German word that means safety or security.  After some reflection, geborgenheit to me means a place to laugh and a place to cry.  A place where there is space to be quiet and also a place that makes room for noise.  A place of retreat at times and at other times a place of welcoming others in.  It means a place of fulfillment and also vulnerability, a place of creativity, a place of continuity, and a place of peace and familiarity that can offer me comfort from a long day.

Funny how we find ourselves in many different places on our grad wife journeys.  We live in rented flats with other people’s furniture around us, we live in college family dormitories with carpets that haven’t been updated since 1975, we live in huts in the jungle for field research and we live in suburbia with small cookie cutter houses.  This journey may take us near or far, but we can almost all be certain it usually takes us to places that we might never have otherwise chosen to call ‘home’.

I can’t really begin to describe how much our ‘geborgenheit’ means to our family here in Oxford.  Our place that we call home, that we feel we can welcome others into and our place we feel restful and at peace within.  It’s not my dream home in any way shape or form…but I guess in some ways it kind of is just that.  It is a small, cozy flat that my daughter learned to walk in and that my husband finds refuge in from his demanding work.  It’s a place that I work ‘from home’ in and it offers me a warm corner that I can curl up and relax in with a cup of tea.  It’s not perfect, but it has become something beautiful and it offers a sense of continuity that is essential on this graduate wife journey.

I’ve heard it said, “We are only here for a year…I mean what can I really do?”  Or things like, “It’s just so hopeless I wouldn’t know where to start trying to make this place feel like home….I just don’t even like being there.”  Or even, “I want to wait for the ‘real deal’ to really invest in making my house feel like a proper home.”  All of these comments make me sad.  Sad, just because I realize the incredible power that a comfortable and inviting space can offer a tired soul and what it can do for one’s perspective and attitude.  I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but go create your geborgenheit!  Create a place that offers a sense of safety and continuity and peace.  Look at some of the Beauty and the Budget tips or scour pinterest and google DIY home décor ideas to find millions of amazing ideas that can help enhance your space without much effort or money. Don’t get overwhelmed.  Just pick a project here or there. It’s worth it.  I promise you it is worth it.

When I was in college, I volunteered some nights at a rescue mission for battered women.  The place was amazing and I would help babysit kids while the women went to career training classes.  The name of the place was called ‘bread and roses’ and it has forever stuck with me.  I honestly believe we need ‘roses’ (i.e. beauty and order) in our lives, just as much as we need bread for our souls to truly survive and thrive.  I encourage you to stop waiting for something better to come along or for some other opportunities.  Make the most with what you have.  Be creative. Buy a £4 scrap of fabric and make a table cloth or runner.  Pick up some daffodils outside and put them in a vase, light some candles, cook some yummy meals, turn on some music that moves you.  If you see a quirky trinket at the market that makes you smile, buy it.  You don’t have to do a ton, start with a corner or nook and try to make it feel peaceful, orderly and comfy.

I have shared bits of this before in some of the beauty and the budget pieces, and I felt like highlighting it today because recently our lives have seemed really busy.  If anyone asks, ‘How are you?’, my immediate response is almost always, ‘Gosh, I’m just really tired’.  We’ve been traveling, visiting and working a lot…and in the midst of it all I’ve been reminded how incredibly powerful it is for me to come back to our geborgenheit.  To light candles at our dinner table, to sit and eat together, to unwind and to be present and at peace.  My home has greatly affected my sanity on this graduate wife journey (and my husband’s as well) and I hope the concept can affect your life too.  Try to pick up some roses next time you run out for some bread and see what it does for you.

 Do you have any tips that you have picked up on how to make your temporary house a home?  What does geborgenheit mean to you? Do you have a favorite spot in your home that offers you sanity and peace?


{Disclaimer: I suppose the word ‘geborgenheit’ doesn’t have to refer to physical space, maybe an object can offer that same sense of security, but in the book Ingrid highlights the idea of creating an actual space for oneself and that is what I chose to go with here.}