Home Improvement 101: Kitchen Remodel

IMG_2713 (1)
Our brand new kitchen!

Over the past two weeks, the hubby and I took on one of our more ambitious home improvement projects: we installed a glass tile backsplash in our kitchen. 

The impetus for this project was that we finally replaced our old laminate countertops with a beautiful grey quartz — and compared to our beautiful new countertops, the bare walls were just not going to cut it.

This was our second tile project (we’d previously done the upstairs guest bathroom) so we weren’t total newbies, but there was still a lot of learning on the fly. There are plenty of other tutorials for how to install tile all over the internet, so we’ll just share our top tips that we learned instead:

1. Mix Your Thinset To The Consistency of Hummus
You’ll see a lot of comparisons for how thick you should mix your thinset. Some sources say toothpaste, others say pancake batter, etc. We found that if it set up somewhere between whipped cream cheese and hummus, you generally got the best coverage and it made back-buttering tile a whole lot easier.

2. Silicone Caulk Drys REALLY FAST.
When the hubby went to caulk, he tried to do the entire back wall in one section, smooth the entire section, and then pull up the tape so the “overflow” didn’t dry that way.  Except it was already dry on the surface by that point in time, and so pulling up the tape didn’t actually pull off the rough edges, it just made the surface appear lumpy.

IMG_2714

We ended up having to remove the first attempt at caulk, redo it completely, and on the second go, we just let it dry completely with tape in place, then pulled up the tape w/ a razor once it had dried overnight.  This worked MUCH better.

3. Teamwork Makes Quick(er) Work
As this was our second tile installation, we kind of had a system down by now: the hubby cuts the pieces into the right lengths/shapes using the tile saw, and I lay the actual tile.  Doing these things in tandem allows us both to stay working at the same time, and we finish a lot quicker.  Even better, we don’t have time to “critique” each other’s work — we just stay heads down, focused on our area, until we’re finished.

4. Don’t Run the Dishwasher While Tiling.
Dishwasher = steam. Steam = humidity. Humidity = sweating your balls off the entire time you’re working near the dishwasher. Trust me.

So, without further ado, the before and after:

IMG_20131024_095904_142      IMG_2713 (1)

Share your top tile tips in the comments, and let me know what you think of the new look in our kitchen!

So You Got Laid Off….Now What? (or, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”)

As some of you may know, my former company and I had a parting of ways not too long ago. It happens. And when it did, I did what every good millennial would do – I Googled “what to do when you’re laid off.”

And what surprised me about that was how little the internet had to say on such a topic.  Sure, there were a ton of articles about asking for references or starting a job search, but there was very little else to help guide people through the rest of the stuff that comes with unexpected unemployment.

So, now that my own period of “funemployment” has come to an end (I’ve been gainfully employed again for over a month now, le sigh), I thought I’d try to fill that void with some nuggets of wisdom I learned over the past few months on how to deal best with the overall situation.

What To Do On Day One: Money, Money, Monnnn-ay

The day you leave your old company, you’re likely to be upset, angry, scared, or a bevy of other negative emotions.  That’s natural. But if your first instinct is to drown your sorrows in booze and/or badmouth your company to anyone who’ll listen, it’s time to take a step back.

On Day One, more than any other day, you basically need to turn into a robot and get some logistical shit done in order to make sure you’ll be able to survive financially for however long your non-working period lasts. That includes:

1.  Ask for severance, and negotiate your severance package, if possible. Remember, even if your company has no legal obligation to give you severance, it never hurts to ask, especially if they want something in return from you — like a non-compete or non-disparagement contract. Severance can turn unemployment into “funemployment,” real quick. However, if you feel there was anything fishy with the way you were let go, don’t sign anything until you’ve had a chance to talk to a lawyer.

2.  File for unemployment benefits, stat. In Texas, it takes at least three weeks for the Workforce Commission to even process your claim, so you need to get this going ASAP.  And remember, you’re eligible for unemployment regardless if you were laid off, were fired (so long as you weren’t fired for cause), and even sometimes if you quit — so it’s worth checking out, no matter your situation.

3.  Request a forbearance on your student loans. Losing your job makes you eligible for a 6-month break in student loan payments. The interest will still accrue, but it reduces your monthly expenses in the meantime.

4. Cancel any unnecessary recurring household services (e.g. maid service, lawn care, grocery delivery, laundry,  cable, etc.) to reduce your costs during your period of no-paychecks.  Similarly, if you have any auto-deposits set up to savings or investment accounts, put those on pause for the time being.  If you have kids that are in daycare, see if you can reduce the amount of days they attend and/or have them go on sabbatical without losing their spot in the facility. (Though realize you may still want them to attend at least a couple days a week so you can get more stuff done.)

5.  Do the math.  The math as to whether you should actually go back to work at all, that is. Maybe read up on some Mr. Money Mustache in the meantime. What you find may surprise you.  Maybe you can afford to only work part time.  Or go into business for yourself.  You won’t know unless you do the math.

What To Do In Your First Week: Begin the Hunt

In the first week after you get laid off (assuming you did the math and it makes sense for you to keep working at all) you’ll do most of the groundwork that will set you up to find your next job – however long that process may take.

1.  Update your resume and your LinkedIn.  I’ve hired a LOT of people in my career, so here are some basic tips: you’re allowed ONE page of resume for every TEN years of work history you have. Under each job heading talk about the IMPACT your work had, instead of rehashing your job description, and include actual metrics if possible.  Finally, proofread your resume at least 10 times, and get a couple friends to do so as well.

2. Create a system for how you’ll apply for jobs. Yes, a system. It’ll help you stay organized, which is something you’ll need when a recruiter calls you three weeks after you sent in your application and you have no idea what position she’s even talking about. I created a spreadsheet that listed the date I applied, company name, position, a link to the job posting, and a section for notes where I could record recruiter information and interview dates. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to work for you.

As for where I did my search, I found Indeed to be the most comprehensive resource, followed by LinkedIn. I like that you can set up saved searches on each, and then, once you’ve gotten through the backlog of matching positions, you only have to check “new” postings for your searches each day.  If you’re in the Bay area, you may also try checking our Hired, but it isn’t widespread elsewhere just yet.

Finally, set a goal for how many jobs you’ll apply to.  Mine was at least 10 per week.

3. Figure out your health insurance situation.  In most cases, your health insurance benefits with your old company will run through the end of the current month.  Which means, if you’ve been putting off any pressing doctors appointments, get them scheduled FAST before your benefits expire.  If you have prescription coverage through your old benefits, see if you can accelerate the date you pick up your prescription so as to get a bit of a stockpile before you’re cut off.

Then, check out your options, which will probably involve choosing between going on a spouse’s plan, applying for insurance through the Obamacare marketplace, or paying for COBRA benefits. If you’re risk-averse and/or have any known conditions, make sure your new coverage is set to start as soon as your old coverage expires.

But, if you’re willing to gamble a bit more…know that you can elect to pay for COBRA retroactively. You have 60 days once you’ve received your COBRA eligibility letter to sign up, so if you’re fairly confident that you’ll be able to find & start a new job within the next 60 days, you can let it ride and go without coverage in the meantime, and only sign up for COBRA if a need arises, like you get sick or are in an accident. Just keep in mind that if a need does arise in those 60 days and/or you haven’t started a new job at the end of them, then you’ll be locked into COBRA coverage which is generally pretty expensive.

4.  Update your social media channels. You may feel like you don’t want anyone to know that you got laid off, or alternately you may want to talk shit on your old company far and wide. Neither are very productive.

Confidently announce on your social channels that you’ve left your old company and are looking for a new opportunity.  Make sure you phrase the announcement in a way that is positive, and doesn’t infringe on any confidentiality clause you may have signed related to your severance, if any.

5. Work For Your Spouse.  If you’re married and your job loss just turned your spouse into the sole breadwinner of the household, a big part of your job just became making their life easier and more pleasant, in order to help them make sure they don’t suffer a similar fate at their workplace.

Wake up when they wake up. Make them breakfast. Pack their lunch. Clean the house and run errands for them while they’re at work. Have dinner ready when they get home. While you may have never harbored fantasies of becoming June Cleaver, if you are no longer bringing home the bacon, you have no excuse not to be a helpful homemaker during your unemployment – and that goes for men and women equally.

What To Do In Your Second Week: Explore New Things

By week two of your newfound freedom from work, you’ll hopefully have gotten through the backlog of already posted jobs available in your desired location, and only have to sort through the handful of new ones that match your search criteria each day.  Assuming that will only take you a couple of hours a day, that opens up a lot of free time in your schedule. But before you give in to the Siren’s call of Netflix, consider that you now have the opportunity to do all the things you always say you wish you could do, but don’t have time to do.

1.  Get in an exercise routine. It’s so tempting to sleep till 10 and wear pjs all day when you’re not working.  But if you manage to get to the gym (or just take a walk in your neighborhood, if you cancelled your gym membership to save money), you’ll feel more energetic and possibly even get in a habit that will continue once you start back to work as well.

2. Start a project. If you’re anything like me, you have a mental to-do list of projects that just never seem to get done around your house. Organizing the garage. Making an upholstered headboard. Writing the great American novel. Now’s your chance. Usually just getting started is the hardest part.

3.  Be a tourist in your own town. There’s a whole other shocking world that takes place during business hours that your job was likely preventing you from enjoying before. Check out area museums, parks, botanical gardens, libraries, pools/lakes, etc. A lot of them either have free entrance, or offer discounted entrance on certain days of the week or for locals.  I spent a good part of my summer at Barton Springs. Whee!

4. Spend time with family. Whether it’s staying home with your kids who are normally in daycare, or visiting nearby relatives and friends, taking a couple days in between the job searching to reconnect with loved ones while you have some extra time available to do so is never a bad idea.

What To Do In Your Third Week and Beyond: Interview, Followup, Repeat.

1.  Interview. In my experience it took about three weeks to start getting much response to my applications. But then I got my first nibble, then another, and another, until by the end of my fourth week I had 6 different interviews in one day.

Since so many early interviews take place over the phone these days, it’s especially important that you have your 1-2 minute “elevator speech” down pat.  Review the job description for each job before the interview (using the handy-dandy spreadsheet you created in week one) and then customize your own work history to match as closely as possible to what they’re asking for. Also remember to ask smart questions (almost every interview will end with “what questions do you have for me?”) and always write a quick followup thank you email to every interviewer and recruiter you speak with.

2. Follow Up. Sometimes you feel like you have a fabulous interview, and then just nothing.  You don’t hear from the company at all.  If this happens and it’s been at least two weeks from your interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to email your recruiter (a recuriter is preferable, but the person you interviewed with is an acceptable alternative if the company doesn’t use recruiters) to ask for an update.  It’s certainly better than waiting in the dark.

Also, use your network.  If there’s a job you’ve found that looks like exactly what you want, try to find a friend who has a connection to someone who works there. Then, use LinkedIn to ask for an introduction.  A lot of companies offer their current employees bonuses for helping to find candidates that actually get hired, so you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you get a foot in the door.

3.  Repeat.  When you’re not interviewing, keep up your steady stream of new applications.  It’s very easy to become complacent and think you’ve applied to enough new places once you start getting a good number of interviews, so do your best to avoid falling into this trap.  Nothing is ever a done deal until you have a countersigned offer letter in your hot little hand.

Also take time to research the companies who express interest in you.  Glassdoor is a good resources for company reviews and salary info, and plenty can be gleamed about company culture through most corporate websites.  You can also get a better sense of salary ranges at the company to help you negotiate the best possible package when you do get an offer.

What To Do Once You’ve Got a New Offer: Party Time

  1. Negotiate The internet is chock full of advice on how to negotiate a salary, and a lot of it is conflicting. Here are the basics though: a) ask for time to consider the offer, and get a firm date you need to reply to them by; b) inform all the other recruiters/employers that you are actively interviewing with that you’ve received an offer, and what the deadline is; c) try to determine how much wiggle room there is in your offer, if any.

If you feel there is some wiggle room, a good standard rule is just to ask for 10% more salary. If they balk (and they may) see if they’re willing to negotiate on softer factor like % bonus, sign on bonus, stock, stock vesting schedule, or vacation days. You also should think about negotiating a severance package now — to prevent your current situation from happening again. Try to give your recruiter a few different potential options they can work with, and you may be surprised at how much you can improve your situation.

2. Travel.  Once you’ve lined up your next gig, it’s time to celebrate, and as any regular readers know, for me, that means travel.

Once you start your new job, you’re gonna be at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of how many vacations days you’ve earned, so travel before your start date to make sure you’re rested and ready for your first week. And, if you’re still in the saving money while unemployed frame of mind, man, have we  got you covered  on that front  for traveling  on the super-cheap.

3. Prepare. In the last week before you start back to work, think about all the things you can do to set yourself up for success.  If you need new business clothes, go buy ’em.  (The credit card bill won’t come due until after your first paycheck anyways, and you can only make a first impression once.) Restart any of those household services you cancelled when you first got laid off — you won’t have time to be making a hundred phone calls to do so once you start back to work. Clean your house, like, really deep clean it. Go grocery shopping. Make a few freezer meals. Get yourself on your new sleep schedule.  Basically, just prepare  yourself both practically and mentally for having a lot less free time in the near future.

So, that’s it.  A layoff is certainly not the end of the world, unless you let it be. Hopefully, by following these tips, you’ll find your next opportunity at a better company, making more money, with better coworkers, and better perks, just like I did.  Good luck!

What tips do you have for the recently job-challenged?  Share ’em in the comments.

Read Me on The Points Guy!

points

Well, hey there Unintended Domesticity readers. What? Ah, no. Don’t give me the cold shoulder like that, baby. I’m sorry. I know I’ve been neglecting the blog a little lately, but if you’ll bare with me just a bit, I’ll tell you why.

You see after a glorious period of fun-employment, it was time to come back down to mere mortal status. So I got a job. In fact, I got TWO jobs.

The first job is with yet another tech company.  I probably won’t talk too much about that job here on UD, because there are like, 8 ka-trillion blogs about tech marketing, and, uh…they’ve got it covered.  Except for when that job sends me fabulous places for work, which brings me to my next job:

I’m also now a contributing writer for The Points Guy, the biggest, baddest miles and points travel blog in the game. (Sayyyyy whatttttt?!)  So if you’re not already a reader, check in for me there about once a week, and I promise to keep posting stories of my own travel here as well.

In the meantime, check out my Points and Miles Guides to New York, San Francisco, and London.

How To Save Money/Points Even After You’ve Booked Your Stay

The Hotel 1000 in Seattle

So you’re planning a trip. You’ve researched. You’ve squirelled away points or (gasp!) actual dollars, and now you’re ready to book your vacation.

Now you might think that once you press the “confirm stay” button on your booking method of choice, you’re done, with nothing left to do but count down the days til you get to leave, but in fact, a smart traveler isn’t quite done.

Even after you’ve booked, you can save money & points by continuing to check up on your trip.  Here’s how:

1. Periodically Check Your Hotel Rate For Decreases
We’re going on an Alaska cruise next year that departs out of Seattle. Since we always like to get to our departure city the day before a cruise leaves, that means we needed a 1-night hotel stay somewhere in the city.

After looking at my options, there was one hotel that stood out above the rest — the Hotel 1000 Seattle.  With all the newest high tech hotel gadgets, bubbles upon arrival, complimentary luxury car service, a highly-rated spa, and much more, we just had to check it out.

One problem – the Hotel 1000 isn’t a member of any hotel loyalty programs, and we hate having to pay cash. But, of course, as we have a healthy stash of Chase Ultimate reward points, even that wasn’t a problem – we exchanged 25,694 UR points for a nightly room rate, inclusive of taxes of $321.18.  Not a bad deal – still a redemption rate of roughly 1.2 cents per point.

But a month later, the hotel rate had fallen to $294.99.  And as the Chase points redemption rate is tied to actual cost of rooms, the points rate had fallen too. So I called up Chase, and within about five minutes, my original points had been refunded, and I was able to book at the new lower rate of 23,599 points — saving myself 2,095 points that I can now use elsewhere.

And you can generally use this trick even if booking with cash, though if you book a non-refundable rate, you’ll generally do better asking for an upgrade than a partial refund. A particularly good use of this tactic is on cruise bookings, where they’ll happily rebook you at the lower rates (or upgrade you accordingly) all the way up until the time final payment is due. In fact, it saved us over $400 on our last cruise.

2. Sign Up For Additional Promotions

If you’re booked on a cash stay, you should spend the weeks or months leading up to your stay keeping an eye on any special promotions that you can find from your hotel’s loyalty program.

IHG in particular often has a number of promotions running at once, as does SPG. And as long as you’ve signed up before you’re stay, you may be in store for extra points just for clicking a few buttons.

Once you’ve already got a stay or two booked and upcoming is also a great time to request a status challenge – it’ll make it easier to meet the minimum stay requirements and pick up a snazzy new elite status along the way.

3. Check out the Hotel Upgrade app

I don’t know how this app really works, and I sure don’t get how it makes money.  But it’s dead simple to use. Choose your location, and if your hotel is listed, you can sign up for a little bonus gift – like extra points or an automatic upgrade.

Like I said – dead simple. Unfortunately, they don’t have too many properties included, but if they do happen to have yours, why not pick up a little extra?

What tips do you have for saving money even after booking?  Tell us in the comments.  Header photo courtesy of Hotel 1000.