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Life, Moving

Home Sweet New Home: Willkommen in Deutschland!

We did it! We moved to Germany! We arrived about 2.5 weeks ago and with the exception of not having found an apartment yet, we’re pretty settled in.

Here are some of the highlights of the move and the last few weeks:

A week and a half of not working was NOT enough to prepare for the actual move itself. Even though we’ve known for months that we’d be moving, we were frantically packing until the last minute and that still was not enough time. We definitely have a pile of unorganized things at Richard’s parents house that will have to wait until we visit them later this year.

Zeke “helping” us pack

Saying goodbye to Stella was the hardest part of the move. She started having seizures in December and we later found out that she had a brain tumor, so unfortunately we had to say our final goodbye to her a few days before we left. We wish we didn’t have to say goodbye, but she lived a good long doggy life and we got to spoil her with people food, walks, cuddles and love until the very end.

Good Girl of the Year goes to Stella!

All of the complicated logistics happened before we got on the plane. The last week and a half included selling things, packing our bags, setting things aside for storage, moving the furniture we want to keep to Richard’s parents, and selling my car and Richard’s motorcycle. We also had to pick up random documents and paperwork. Things felt pretty easy once we got on that plane.

After a hectic 48 hours, we finally made it to the plane!

Zeke was a champ on the plane (for the most part). He cried a bit and only made one serious escape attempt, but otherwise his trip was pretty uneventful. He was really good going through both security checkpoints, too. I’ll be writing a more in-depth post about the experience of bringing him across the pond.

This cat travels!

Hamburg is wonderful, but it’s not that easy to find an apartment. So far, we’re loving Hamburg! Things are definitely different here, but they really aren’t all that different. We’re still looking for an apartment, so we’ll be in an Airbnb for a bit (and schlepping our luggage back and forth). We’re hoping to move to our new (to be determined) apartment sometime next month.

We brought 8 bags with us and are having 3 boxes shipped – that’s all!

Richard has started work already and it’s going well for him. I’m taking a much-welcomed break before I start working again in June. I’ve officially been off the clock for a month now and it’s been glorious! I start on June 1, so I only have 2.5 more weeks of freedom. In typical Nicole fashion, I’ve come up with some goals for my month to keep me accountable:

  • Brush up on German: I signed up for four weeks of an intensive language course. This has been taking up the majority of my time. I spend about 4 hours in class and then about 2 hours additionally studying at home. It’s been exhausting, to say the least.
  • Train for half marathon: I finally started to run again after taking a pretty lengthy break after the Richmond Half Marathon last November. I’ve signed up for the Hamburg Halbmarathon which will be at the end of June, so I have a lot of training to do between now and then.
  • Finish wedding thank you notes: Unfortunately, a casualty in our moving commotion was the thank you cards that I ordered a long time ago. They didn’t make it into any of our bags or boxes, so I needed to order new ones. Once they arrive I’ll be able to finally cross that item off of my to do list.
  • Reorganize digital files: Some of my digital files have becomes very disorganized. I need to go through them and get them organized for my own sanity.
  • Find apartment: We need a permanent place to live in Hamburg! We’ve narrowed down our search pretty well. We know what neighborhoods we want to live in, how much we can spend, and so forth. Now we just need to wait for a property to pop up that works (and chooses us!). I was hoping “move and furnish apartment” would be on my list of things to do before starting work, but it appears that it’s going to have to happen after I start.
  • Take care of visa and moving logistics: This item has been pretty slow going, but we need to register our address, apply for visas, open German bank accounts, and other random logistical items. These should be wrapped up before I start work, but they are still ongoing.
  • Plan our travel schedule: One of the most exciting things about living in Germany is that we’re going to be able to travel to so many places! We need to sit down and figure out where we want to go and when we want to go. We’ll wait until after we get settled into our new apartment, but we’d love to aim to go somewhere new about once per month while we’re here.

Hamburg’s Lake Alster on a beautiful day

So that’s that! It still feels surreal that we actually moved to a new country. I’m so excited about the experiences that await us and looking forward to doing something completely new.

Budgeting, Life, Money

Married Life: Rethinking Your Budget After Combining Finances

As I mentioned in my last post, I got married a couple of months ago! What a whirlwind that was! I’ll be posting about our budget and spending for the wedding in a little bit, but I wanted to talk a little bit about how our finances (and financial tracking) have changed since we tied the knot and decided to jump into combining finances with each other.

Before I continue, I do want to note that every situation is different. What works for us might not work for you and vice versa. Finances, especially when it comes to couples combining finances, are very personal and should be tailored to fit your individual needs.

Before combining finances: Separate accounts and separate budgets

Before we got married, our finances looked a bit like this:

  • Separate Accounts – We maintained completely separate bank accounts. We discussed how much we each had, but we never comingled funds.
  • Shared Expenses Split 50/50 – Anything that was a shared expense was split 50/50. There are a bunch of ways you can slice and dice money when you live with a significant other. We don’t have similar incomes, but we also don’t have similar debt levels. Richard earns less but has zero debt. I earn more, but still have my student loans. It worked out pretty well for us to split our shared expenses mostly 50/50 and the “extra” money I earned (when compared to Richard’s income) went to my student loans.
  • Separate Tracking – We both maintained separate Mint accounts. I would go back every month and make sure that my spending categories were displaying correctly. Since Richard would pay for some things and I would pay for some things, this was a way for me to accurately show how my spending was happening across categories.
  • Separate Goals – As I’ve talked about at length on this blog, I’ve had a goal to pay off my student loans by the time I turn 30. Achieving that goal probably isn’t going to happen, considering I have only 2 months left and $27,000 to go. In addition to that goal, I’ve also set savings percentage goals for myself as well as goals around my emergency fund. Before we married, Richard’s goals were less rigorous and defined.

After combining finances: Still mostly separate accounts, but combined budget

We could have made some changes to our personal budgets and accounts prior to getting married. We know plenty of people choose to combine their finances are different points in their relationship – when they move in, when they get engaged, when they get married or never!

We kept things separate until we got married for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been working towards my big bag student loan goal for a while. Secondly, lack of need. Honestly, we didn’t really see any reason to do it. We decided to combine our finances when we got married because we knew we would be receiving monetary gifts from people and wanted to put those deposits in a shared account and because it would hopefully make things easier from a moving perspective. We’re still not sure what my job situation will be when we move, so we wanted to prepare ourselves to be a one income household.

Here’s how we have things set up now:

  • Mostly separate accounts with a few joint accounts – We opened two joint accounts – savings and checking. We are still working to figure out how we’ll use the joint accounts, since we aren’t planning to get rid of our separate accounts, but for now we’re able to put joint money into them.
  • Shared tracking – I track all of my spending in Mint. I’ve imported all of Richard’s accounts into Mint so I can get a complete sense of our spending as a unit.
  • Shared expenses – Related to the shared tracking, we no longer do our 50/50 split expenses because everything is showing up in Mint. This has been nice, because doing the calculations for our split expenses and then adjusting the categories in Mint did take a bit of time each month.
  • Shared goals – We still need to formalize this one a bit more, but now that we’re treating everything as ours, we have shared financial goals. Priority number one for both of us is still to pay off my loans. The rest is a little up in the air depending on how much job situation turns out and how quickly I can start working when we arrive in Hamburg.

A shift in mindset

For me, the biggest thing about combining finances has been trying to shift my thinking around the cost of things. When we were doing split expenses, I was definitely thinking in terms of what I had to pay for a certain thing. So if a piece of furniture was $100, I would mentally calculate the cost at $50, since that’s ultimately what was coming out of my pocket.

Now, it’s a little different. The $100 is coming out of our pocket, which probably doesn’t sound all that different, but it feels different to me. It’s almost like the cost of everything has doubled overnight! It hasn’t though, so I’m hoping that viewing things from the lens of their entire price will help curb some of our random spending on things.

A liminal state

One of the things that is weird about our first few months of marriage is that we’re actually preparing for a huge move to another country. We’re also dealing with a terminally ill pet. And we’re also trying to take care of some of our own health items before we leave. This means that our spending is not at what I would consider normal levels.

We’ve been spending a ton on pets and healthcare, and will be spending a ton on moving items in the next month or two. We’re also facing the possibility of me being without a job for a month or two. I’ll probably provide an update on this after we get to Germany, because we’ll undoubtedly have some changes as a result of switching currencies and moving to a more cash-based country.

What do you and your significant other do?

Cost Estimates & Breakdowns, Moving

Should I ship or sell all of my stuff when moving abroad?

One of the big questions for moving abroad that has been plaguing me for a couple months now is: What should we do with all of our stuff? Should we sell it all and start fresh in Germany? Or should we try to ship it over?

I’ve been trying to make this decision from a couple of lenses:

  • Cost
  • Effort
  • Logistics

There are different levels of options: we can sell most things, we can bring most things, or we could find some happy medium. First, let’s start with what amount of stuff we’re even talking about.

What We’d Bring (or Sell)

We currently live in a 750 sq ft 1 bedroom apartment. We have a small storage unit down the hall from our apartment and also keep a number of items stored at Richard’s parents’ house. I like to think that we don’t have too much stuff, but things can really add up when you start to investigate what is in all of your drawers and nooks and crannies. A few months back, I did a sweep of our stuff after reading the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We got rid of a lot of things, but there are still many items that probably could go.

What we won’t bring

There are a number of items that we know right off the bat that we will not bring with us when moving abroad, due to various reasons:

  • Electronics with plugs – Germany and the U.S. have electrical systems that run on different voltages. That’s why you need converters and adapters when you go over to Europe on vacation. Our TV (which is super old anyways), kitchen electronics, scanner, hair dryer, straightener, air purifiers, printer and lamps will not be coming with us. We will sell most, but store a couple of items like our KitchenAid mixer, CrockPot, and wine fridge.
  • Cars & motorcycle – Each of us had one car plus Richard has a motorcycle. We won’t be bringing any of these. We’ve already sold one car and plan to sell the other two vehicles before we leave. We figure that it is not worth the hassle or cost to bring them over. Plus, we are moving to a city that has excellent public transportation. We’ll be living the car free life for a while.
  • Couch – We have a fairly compact couch that we purchased from IKEA when we moved to Virginia a few years ago. We like it, but we have no idea what our new apartment is going to look like. We don’t want to risk moving a fairly inexpensive couch that we might not be able to fit into our new place.
  • Childhood mementos and most photo albums – I’ve been lugging a few boxes around with me that include childhood momentos. Richard is working on whiddling his down to a couple boxes as well. These will be safe and sound at Richard’s parents house while we are exploring Europe.
  • Plants, flammables, and other restricted items – There are a number of things that you aren’t allowed to bring with you to a new country. Plants and flammables are the most relevant to us. Firearms and porn are also on the list of prohibited items, but those don’t really apply to our situation.
  • Consumables, personal care items and cleaning supplies – We don’t need to bring toilet paper, cleaning supplies or things like shampoo with us.

What we will definitely bring

  • Original university degrees, transcripts, birth certificates, marriage certificates and other documents – Germans are big on actually seeing your flesh and blood documents. We’ll bring these with us.
  • Pet – Zeke will be coming with us to Germany! Unfortunately, Stella has a terminal illness, so she won’t be making the trek with us. Now let me go cry a million tears…
  • Plates, flatware, and glasses – We just received some new kitchenware as wedding gifts and we have quite a collection of wine glasses. We’re planning to bring these along with us since they are rather compact and mean a lot to us.
  • Clothes – We’ll probably trim down to the necessities, but we have no plans to trash what we’ve got and start over. We’ll slowly assimilate to dressing like Germans as we buy new items there.
  • Computers and small battery- or USB-based electronics – We’ll be able to bring our computers and a number of small electronics like our cell phones, electric toothbrushes, and a few other items.

What we’re still deciding on

So we have a number of things that will come and a number that won’t, but we also have a number of things that we’re not sure about yet. We couuuuuld bring them, but we could not bring them.

  • Dressers and other small furniture
  • Picture frames and other decor
  • Bookshelves
  • Office chair and desks
  • Bicycles
  • Extra mattress and bedframe
  • Books, DVDs, and other media
  • Wine
  • Mattress, bedframe and bed linens
  • Dining table

Our Moving Options

So that’s all of the stuff we’re talking about. We basically have a few options for moving things:

  • Move stuff by sea in a 20 ft container
  • Move stuff by sea in a small cube (200-300 cu sq ft)
  • Pack everything in suitcases and bring as excess baggage on the plane
  • Ship items in one off boxes through USPS, FedEx or UPS

These options vary in terms of their cost, ease of coordinating here vs. there, and timing that we would receive our options. Let’s take a closer look at each option.

Moving Stuff by Sea

The first two options involve putting all of our belongings onto a ship and sending them over to Germany by sea. The initial quotes that I’ve received have been anywhere from $2,000 – $6,000. The final cost depends on how much you send, what services are included, and various port and agent charges. Logistically, there are some important things to consider:

  • Timing – It can take a long time to ship items by sea. We would need to go a period of time before we leave and after we arrive without the items that we ship. This may not be a big deal for some items that we ship that we don’t use everyday. However, for an item like a bed, that would mean we would have to figure out where to sleep for 6 to 8 weeks. The time estimates are also not guaranteed. Your stuff could arrive earlier than expected, but it could also arrive later than expected.
  • Packing – Packing and inventorying of our items is included in the price. If we ship our stuff, we want to leave the packing up to the professionals. There are a lot of rules and regulations of how you need to document your items for customs officials, so it will be infinitely easier and more efficient for someone else to handle that dirty work.
  • Flexibility for Volume – You have a lot of options when it comes to how much you can ship. We can ship a few of our items or we can ship a larger load in our own 20 ft container. This gives us some flexibility around choosing the most cost efficient option for us.
  • Cost – $6,000 is a lot of money! Plus, if you lug it there with you, you will eventually need to bring it back to the U.S. Do we really think the things we’re planning to ship are worth the $12,000 it would cost to bring them there and back? For the most part, we’re still in the IKEA phase of our furniture lives, so this is a very legitimate question. There can also be fees that spring up when the items get to the new country with customs and the port.
  • Finding a Vendor We Can Trust – If you’ve ever googled an international moving company, you’ll understand that these websites are like the wild west. It’s impossible to get a straightforward quote. No one has positive reviews. It’s confusing. I’m really nervous about picking a mover and then having it turn out poorly because I didn’t think to ask the right question or I just got unlucky.

Bringing Excess Baggage by Air

If we want to completely get around finding an international mover and dealing with all of that, we could try to bring our stuff with us on the plane as excess baggage. Like sea, there are important things to consider with this method of moving:

  • Timing – Our stuff would be with us, so we wouldn’t have to worry about not having the items to use while they are in transit.
  • Cost – Excess baggage can be expensive, but depending on how much we bring with us, it could still be less than the cost of shipping things by sea.
  • Lugging our stuff – Our plan is to fly into Frankfurt and take a day to settle down. Then we will take the train from Frankfurt to Hamburg. We are doing this because we will have Zeke with us and we figured that they will want a break from travel before we make it to our final destination. If we bring our items on the plane with us, we will need to lug them on the train with us. This may prove to be rather difficult, because I do not think any of the trains in Germany have baggage cars.
  • Flexibility for Future Trips – We have the option of bringing a few luggage items with us and then having visitors bring additional ones for us at a later time. This will possibly be a good option for the items that we are fine living without for a few months, such as decor items and other nice to haves.
  • Safety of stuff – A major risk with bringing stuff with us on the plane is that baggage handlers aren’t exactly known for their light hand with handling luggage. If we bring fragile items, we are at the mercy of the baggage handlers who may or may not be throwing our luggage around while we’re not looking. Do we want to take the risk of trying to pack our silverware, plates, and wine glasses in our luggage or just trust them on the open sea?

Cost Analysis

I mentioned that we want to make a decision about what to do based on cost, logistics and sustainability. Cost is easily going to be the biggest predictor of what we do. So how do we measure the final cost? Well, that’s what is a little unclear, but I think I can figure it out. First, let’s start with our known and set costs.

Things We Know We’ll Need to Buy

There are things that we won’t bring with us, so there are things we know we’re going to need to purchase when we get to Germany. Here are some high level estimates to get us started. Most of the prices came from IKEA and

  • TV – ~$1,000 depending on what model we want to get
  • TV Stand – $100
  • Couch – $600 gets us a similar IKEA couch to what we have now
  • Toaster Oven – $75
  • Hair Dryer – $35
  • Air Purifier – $400
  • Lamps – $200
  • Consumables & cleaning supplies – $200
  • Bathroom accessories & toiletries – $100
  • Laundry basket & rack – $40
  • Clothes hangers (wood & plastic) – $50
  • Trash cans – $50
  • Wall & alarm clocks – $20
  • Side tables – $60
  • Wardrobe – $600 Apparently a lot of apartments in Germany do not have a closet. We may need to purchase ourselves a wardrobe. Hopefully we won’t need one of these, but it’s on here just in case.
  • Coffee maker & grinder – $100
  • Drinking glasses – $20

Total: ~$4,000 (I rounded up because I tend to underestimate these types of lists)

Things We Might Need to Buy

  • Dressers – $500 will get us a nice set of Hemnes if we decide we don’t want the bottom of the barrel IKEA options.
  • Desk & Chair – $300 will get us a nice desk chair and a simple IKEA desk
  • Litter box unit – $200 to replace the cat litter station I built for Zeke when we moved to Virginia
  • Bookshelf – $100
  • Night stand – $40
  • Dining table – $200
  • Dining chairs – $200
  • Mattress & bedframe – $2000 for a comparable mattress and bedframe if we decided to just start over
  • Bicycles – $300 assuming we can get some decent secondhand bicycles
  • Rug – $50
  • Decor and other items – $200 to get us started
  • Pots & pans – $300
  • Towels & other linens – $200

Total: ~$4,500

So, what’s the best way of estimating this? I’m not actually sure to be honest. It’s not a clear 1-to-1 on what we will bring vs. not bring and what we will need to buy vs. not buy. We have the option to sell some of our items here in the U.S., which will affect our overall net cost. We also are not planning to replace every item that we sell or leave behind in Germany.

Scenario 1: Ship ~200 cu ft of items

Let’s assume we decide to ship the following:

  • Mattress, bedframe, bed linens
  • Dining table
  • Plates & flatware
  • Wine glasses
  • Pots & pans
  • Winter items
  • Extra pet items
  • Some decor
  • Physics books
  • Computer
  • Speakers

Total cost of shipping: $5,000 (excluding insurance)

We would bring the following with us on the plane:

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Pet items
  • Living essentials

Let’s assume all of these items fit into two large and 1 small checked bag, 1 carry-on, 1 pet carrier, and 2 bookbags.

Total baggage fees: $100 (our first 2 checked bags are free)

With with both scenarios, we know we’ll likely be buying up to $4,000 worth of items, regardless if we ship a lot or a little. Additionally, we would need to purchase dressers, desk, computer chair, litter box unit, bookshelf, night stand, dining chairs, bicycles, rug, and additional decor. This will likely run us another $2,000.

In total, shipping, luggage fees, things we’ll buy regardless, and things we’ll buy because we won’t ship them will be about $11,100.

Scenario 2: Checked luggage and boxes

Let’s assume we aren’t shipping anything by sea. That means we’ll need to bring everything in checked bags. On the way to Germany, let’s assume we bring 1 carry-on, 2 bookbags, 1 pet carrier, and 2 large checked bags, 1 medium checked bag, and 1 small checked bag.

We’d be able to bring the following.

Large checked bag 1

  • Household items

Large checked bag 2

  • Richard clothing
  • Sports stuff
  • Pet food, litter and supplies

Medium checked bag 3

  • Nicole clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Towels

Small checked bag

  • Household items

Carry-on 2

  • Flatware

Bookbags 1 & 2

  • Laptop
  • Chromebook
  • iPad
  • Critical documents
  • Other electronics
  • Travel pillows
  • Kindles

Boxes to Ship

  • Computer
  • Speakers
  • Wine glasses
  • Physics books

To bring four checked bags, we will spend $200. The cheapest shipping seems to be with USPS. We can ship 50lb boxes to Hamburg for $150 each. Let’s assume we need to ship 5 boxes. That’s puts us at $750.

When we arrive in Germany, we would have a lot of things we would need to buy. We’d need to buy all of the things that we know we need to purchase regardless, which will be $4,000. Additionally, we’d need to buy all of the things in the “we might need to get these” category, which is around $4,500. That puts us at $9,450 to bring what we can in checked luggage, ship a couple of boxes and buy the rest when we arrive in Germany.

Next Steps

We’ve decided to move forward with Scenario 2. We’re going to load up as much as we can in our luggage and then ship a couple of boxes with the rest of our stuff. The cost is cheaper and we have more flexibility to keep the price low (and possibly lower than what I estimated above). Logistically, it will also be easier, because we’ll have our stuff with us and we can bring it through customs rather than having to deal with a port and all of the logistics that come with that. From an effort standpoint, we probably have a little more work since we’ll have to back our shipping boxes ourselves and really make sure we are able to sell, store or donate everything that doesn’t fit in our luggage plus a couple of boxes.

Moving abroad is going to be quite the adventure!


Costs of Moving Locally
Cost Estimates & Breakdowns, Life, Money, Moving

The Cost of Moving Locally

I’ve been in Arlington for what seems like not that long, but has actually been a while! It’s almost time to resign my lease, so I figured it would be a good time to see what the cost of moving locally might be. I really don’t want to move, because I like my current apartment a lot, but I could potentially be convinced to move if it worked out well in my favor financially AND my new place has all of the same pros as what I currently have.

Expenses Involved in Moving Locally

First, I want to see what the costs of moving locally will be. Then, I’ll look at how those map up with the pros and cons of my current apartment. Here are the major costs that I foresee coming along with a local move:

  • Move Out & In Fees: Most of the buildings in this area charge a move in/out fee to reserve the elevator and loading dock, which generally is in the $400 to $500 range. That means I’m going to have to pay $1,000 to move somewhere. If I were to move apartments this year, I would need to pay this fee twice: once to move out of my current apartment and once to move into my new apartment.
  • 1 Day of PTO & Time: In addition to paying a fee to move out or in, I would need to take a whole day off of work in order to do so. Many apartment buildings have restrictions on when you can move in. Spoiler alert: it’s usually on a weekday, hence needing to take a day off from work. Packing and unpacking is also a huge time suck. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too difficult this time around, but these things always take so MUCH time!
  • Security Deposit: Knock on wood, I should get all or most of my security deposit back when I move out of my current apartment. However, you don’t generally get your security deposit back until after you move out and you need to provide one for the new apartment before you can move in. That means that I’ll need to front some additional cash until I get back my current security deposit. My next security deposit could be anywhere between $2000 and $3000, depending on the cost of our new apartment.
  • Pet Deposit: In addition to a security deposit, I’ll also need to provide money for a pet deposit and/or fee. Some places have a non-refundable pet fee while others have a refundable pet deposit. Either way, this will be another $300-$500.
  • Movers: I’ll be damned if I have to move myself again, despite it not being the most frugal move one could make. After such a rough move last year, I’ve sworn to myself that I won’t be doing it on my own again. Renting movers for an afternoon would likely cost somewhere around $500-800.
  • Moving Supplies: We don’t have any boxes or moving supplies left after our last move, so we would need to do that whole shebang again. We were able to save money by picking up free boxes from our local liquor store and would try to do that again, but it’s likely we could spend around $100 on other moving supplies. Things we might spend money on are wrappers for the furniture, bubble wrap, and packing tape.

So, when all is said and done, it could cost anywhere between $1,900 and $2,400 to move locally. On top of that, I could need to front $2000 to $3000 for the new deposit depending on how much my new apartment costs.

Weighing the Pros & Cons of Moving Locally

It will be a big chunk of change to move, that’s for sure. However, could it be worth it? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of my current apartment.


  • Easy Commute for Nicole & Richard: On the best days, I’m only 20 minutes from work. I have the option to take the Metro which is less than 3 blocks away or I can ride my bike to work in about 15 minutes. Richard drives to work, but he’s typically able to do so in about 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic.
  • Pet-friendly: We have two pets and do not pay extra for them on a monthly basis. I did need to pay a pet deposit.
  • Easy Access to I-395/I-95: We are only a couple of minutes’ drive from the highway, which means Richard can easily get to work, we can easily drive to Richard’s parents’ house, we can easily drive to the nearest Wegman’s, and we’re able to easily get to our rock climbing gym.
  • Reserved parking: We have a reserved parking spot that is included in our rent and Richard is able to rent an additional space to park his motorcycle.
  • Building amenities: We have excellent building staff, an ample gym, and a rooftop pool. The gym is a huge benefit, because Richard doesn’t need to have a gym membership anywhere else.
  • In-unit laundry: We have in-unit laundry, which is really convenient.
  • 1st floor unit: It wouldn’t be the end of the world to be on a higher floor, but being on the first floor is really convenient for taking out our dog. It saves a few minutes each day, which is nice.


  • No private outdoor space: In a perfect world, I would like to have a balcony attached to our apartment.
  • Not 100% hardwood: With two pets, we’d prefer to rent an apartment with 100% hardwood. Our bedroom is carpeted, which isn’t too bad.
  • No den or second bedroom: We make do with 1 bedroom and only 750 sq ft, but it would be so much better to have just a little bit more room for a den or second bedroom.
  • Only 1 bathroom: In the same vein as above, we are in a tight space, so we only have 1 bathroom. In a perfect world, we would have at least 1.5!


  • Neighborhood: We live in Clarendon, which is a pretty upscale neighborhood in Arlington. We are VERY close to lots of restaurants, bars, and shopping. We even are really close to some of the doctors and dentists that we’ve acquired since moving here. We really enjoy living in Clarendon, but it would be nice to check out other neighborhoods now that we’ve been here for a bit. We could look in Ballston, Virginia Square or Rosslyn if we wanted to stay in VA, but have (potentially) cheaper rent without going too far away from my work or Richard’s work. Alternatively, we could try looking in DC proper as well, but I’m unsure if we would be able to find something in our desired price point that would be as convenient for our commutes.

What would it take for me to move?

Right now, you can see that the pros of my apartment far outweigh the cons. Looking briefly at what’s out there, I’m pretty sure it would be difficult to beat our current situation. We currently pay $2,075 per month in rent and Richard pays an additional $75 for his motorcycle parking. Our rent cost includes a reserved parking spot as well as our 2 pets. There are three situations that I could see us deciding to move:

  • Extreme rent increase: After doing the math, I know that it could cost up to $2,400 to move locally. That means that any rent increase below $200 could end up being the same as it would be to move locally, if we were to find an apartment with the same rent that we pay now. If our landlord increases our rent by MORE than $200 per month, that is when I will likely start looking at other options.
  • Super deal: I have my eye out at some of the apartment listings just to be aware of what’s going on. If I find a super deal that is either $200 less than what we pay per month or $100 less (assuming rent goes up by $100), it might be worth considering to move as well.
  • No choice: Lastly, a reason I might choose to move is if we don’t really have a choice. We rent from a landlord who owns a condo unit. I think it’s unlikely, but she could always choose to stop renting our her unit.

Fingers crossed that none of the three situations above happen! I’m rooting to stay in the same apartment for another year!

Have you moved locally recently? How much did it end up costing? Why did you decide to take the plunge?

Deconstructing the Grocery Budget
Budgeting, Food, Money

Deconstructing the Grocery Budget

If you’ve paid any attention at all to my monthly budget updates, you’ll know that I plan to spend $350 per month on food costs for me only. Since Richard and I split food costs, this means we are budgeting for $700 in food for both of us per month. Clearly, this isn’t a small sum of money. Lately, I’ve been thinking that there is likely a way for us to work to decrease spending in this category. I’ve also been thinking that the number that I’ve put together is pretty arbitrary.

Grocery Desires

Before I get to the numbers, I wanted to articulate what is important to us when we go to the grocery store. I often see people online claiming they spend like $400 for a family of four per month on groceries. As someone who spends wayyy more than that for a household of 2, that seems pretty extreme. It also makes me question: What are you buying? What kind of food are you even making?

The quality of what we are eating is pretty important to both of us, so if $200 is getting us a lot of processed items per month, I’d rather continue paying the $700. So, what is important to us?

  • Minimally processed foods
  • High protein, low carb diet
  • Minimal added sugars
  • No artificial sweeteners (ever!)
  • High quality coffee
  • Quick and easy recipes that can be cooked in double batches
  • Some organic items, but not really a necessity

It actually seems like a pretty simple list, but I know it’s harder to translate these wants into a lower grocery budget.


Each week, we purchase a number of staples that aren’t necessarily incorporated into specific recipes. A typical week (and costs) for our staples includes:

  • 3 half gallons of almond milk – $8.97
  • 3 packages of dry Roasted Edamame seeds – $5.37
  • Wheat fajitas – $2.79
  • Peanut butter – $5 (every few weeks)
  • 1 to 2 packages of crunchy snacks (e.g. roasted chickpeas, lentil chips) – up to $10
  • 8 oz of coffee – about $10 per week

So, each week, we are spending about $40 on staples. Assuming 4 weeks are in a month, we spend $160 on staples. We already get the store brand for almond milk and don’t always get crunchy snacks. The one area I know we can cut back on is coffee. The only problem is that we really enjoy good coffee and haven’t quite found a good place to get whole beans at a reasonable price. The one good thing we have to look forward to is the fact that Richard recently started a new job and isn’t drinking as much coffee at home, which will help reduce our coffee drinking.

Meals Needed

We strive to eat most of our meals at home and try to eat out only one night a week (although, depending on what is happening, it sometimes turns into two nights per week). Now that I’m thinking of trying to really tune our budget and make sure our budget is actually grounded in reality, I figured I would start by figuring out how many meals we need to make from our groceries per month.

Okay, so to break it down, this is the number of meals I need to account for each month:

  • Breakfast: 7 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 56 meals
  • Lunch: 5 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 40 meals
  • Dinner: 6 days x 2 people x 4 weeks = 48 meals

For lunches, I assumed that we need to account for 5 lunches per week to account for each of us having the option to buy lunch an average of once per week and having a weekend lunch out. If we eat all breakfasts at home and have dinner out once per week, we need a total of 144 meals per month.

Costs Per Meal

Now that we know how many meals we need and what our staple costs are, we can figure out what our cost per meal should be. Once I know what our per meal costs should be, I can start to figure out two things: a) what our budget should be and b) which recipes will help stay within budget.

Even Cost Per Meal

Our currently budget is $700 per month. Our staples cost around $150 per month. If we assume that the rest of the budget is going to meal costs and all of those meals will cost the same, we should aim to make recipes that cost less than $3.81 per serving.

To give an ideal of how the cost per serving might be affected by different budgets:

  • $700 – $160 = $540 or $3.75 per serving
  • $600 – $160 = $440 or $3.05 per serving
  • $500 – $160 = $340 or $2.36 per serving
  • $400 – $160 = $240 or $1.66 per serving

Right now, I’m a little skeptical of the $500 and $400 per month budgets. Trying to stay under $2.50 per serving seems a little unrealistic for all meals considering we do eat meat and value high quality ingredients. But hey, this is still in thought experiment and I might find myself surprised by the number of recipes that I find that meet our grocery needs/desires list.

Breakfasts Cost Less

Another approach we could take is assuming that breakfast costs will be less than lunch and dinner costs. This seems like a reasonable way to plan things, since our breakfasts tend to be hearty but lighter than our lunches and dinners. In general, breakfast ingredients also tend to cost less. Lunch and dinner will always have the same per serving cost, because we do not make special lunches. We simply bring leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day.

If we assume that average breakfast costs will not exceed $2.50 per serving on average, we can figure out what our costs can be for our other meals. If we have 56 breakfasts that cost us $2.49 each on average, that will cost a total of $140 per month. Let’s see how that affects the dinner and lunch per serving costs:

  • $700 = $160 staples +$140 breakfasts (56) + $400 (88 meals); $4.54 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $600 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $300 (88 meals); $3.40 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $500 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $200 (88 meals); $2.27 per lunch/dinner serving
  • $400 =$160 staples + $140 breakfasts (56) + $100 (88 meals); $1.13 per lunch/dinner serving

Comparing the two sets of estimates, if we get breakfast down to $2.50 on average, we are given a little more leeway for lunch and dinner when we spend either $700 or $600 total on groceries. However, if we are spending $500 or $400 on groceries, we would actually be spending less on lunches and dinners than we are on breakfasts per serving.

Redefining the Grocery Budget

Now that I have a better idea of what different budgets can get me, it’s time to go out and find some recipes that will help us actually get us there. The most opportunity that I currently see for reducing our grocery budget is in the lunch/dinner category and potentially the breakfast category. I think regardless of where we end up, figuring out the per serving costs of our recipes will be a good gut check for whether or not we should decide to make it and whether or not it aligns with our goal to try to reduce our grocery spending (or at least make it more predictable).

How much do you spend per month on groceries? What do you do to reign in spending?

Finish Line Half Marathon Training
Fitness, Life, Uncategorized

Navy Air Force Half Marathon Training Plan

It’s time to do it again – a half marathon! Since I ran in the Tar Heel 10 Miler, I’ve been trying to build up a running base to prep me for a half marathon this fall. Fingers crossed, this will be my fourth half marathon and my eighth race.

Choosing a Half Marathon

I’ve been waffling for a while about where and when I should commit to a race this fall. I knew I wanted to do a half or 10 miler sometime in September, October or November. The complicated thing is that there just isn’t a lot to choose from in the area this fall. This is pretty surprising to me considering the fact that DC is a huge metro area and the weather is really nice in the fall.

The races I ended up considering are:

Since I’m like Goldilocks, it was really hard to pin a race down. I pretty much wanted to do something in September or early October, with the option to do a second race in November. I’m planning a trip out West with two girlfriends over Labor Day, so that made picking a date in September complicated. I also don’t really want to spend much on traveling for my first race in the fall. That pretty much left me deciding to do the Navy Air Force Half Marathon. Although looking at it again, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon would have been a good choice too.

One of the annoying things about choosing a race is that there isn’t any one listing of all races in the area. Or at least one that I know of. And to really get a comprehensive look at what’s going on around here, you need to consult DC, VA and MD lists. I used and to help come up with this list.

I’m not sure when I’ll decide to do the second race, but I have my eye on the Richmond Half Marathon or the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November. Clearly, those will require travel, but I think I would try to use points for my hotel stay to help reduce the cost.

Race Cost Estimates

No post here would be complete without an estimate of what it’s going to cost. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Race Entry – $108 / divided by 2: Race entry for the Navy Half Marathon is currently $100 plus tax. I get a fitness subsidy, so it will be $54 for me when all is said and done.
  • Clothing – $20: I purchased a new pair of running shoes after the Tar Heel 10 Miler and I have a good stock of running clothes for both the summer and the fall. The only thing I can see myself buying is more running socks.
  • Gear – $20: I recently purchased a handheld water bottle for my long-short runs. Basically anything over 4.5miles, but under 8 miles. It’s getting super hot and humid and this is something I need to stay safe out there on the road. I would purchase it regardless, but figured I would include it here. The good thing is that I already have a four water bottle belt for 8+ mile runs, so no need to buy any additional hydration gear!
  • Food – approx. $20 – $30: I don’t usually bring nutrition on a race with me for anything less than 7 or 8 miles. If all goes to plan, I’ll be needing nutrition on about 6 or 7 runs leading up to the race and then again on race day. Generally, I like to use something like CLIF Shot Blocks, GU Chomps or GU Energy Gel, and it will really depend how much I actually end up needing.
  • Travel – $10: Gotta get to race packet pickup and to the race via Metro!
  • Cross Training – $0 additional: I already have a membership to my rock climbing gym, which is my strength cross training method of choice. I also plan to do some cycling as another form of cross training. Now that I have my bike tuned up, I don’t expect any additional costs there.

So, all in, this local race should cost around $124 – $134. I’ve already started training and will be training for the next three months. If you consider the costs on a per month basis and the fact that it’s not just about the race, it’s about training for the race, my costs come out to about $40 per month.

Half Marathon Training Plan

To give you insight into what my next three months will look like, I’ve put together a training plan. Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be running 207.1 miles if all goes as planned. Assuming I average a pace of 11:00 for all runs, that’s around 38 hours of running. Add in 1.5 hours of cross training per week and that’s around 56 hours for training all in.

Considering the amount of time that I’m going to be spending preparing for this race, this is some good bang for my buck. If I train for 56 hours and my total costs are $134, my training will cost be about $2.40 per hour. Think of all the other things that I could be doing that cost more money per unit! Not bad, if you ask me.

Connecting this to my overall costs, I’ll training will cost me about $2.40 per hour. Not bad, if you ask me.

Navy Half Marathon Training Plan
Week Date Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Total
1 6/29 4mi 0 3mi 0 4mi Long 0 0 11 mi
2 7/6 4mi 0 3mi 0 4mi Long 0 3mi 14 miles
3 7/13 3mi 0 3mi 0 5mi Long 0 3mi 14 miles
4 7/20 3mi 0 4mi 0 6mi Long 0 3mi 16 miles
5 7/27 3mi 0 4mi 0 7mi Long 0 3mi 17 miles
6 8/3 4mi 0 4mi 0 8mi Long 0 3mi 19 miles
7 8/10 5mi 0 4mi 0 9mi Long 0 3mi 21 miles
8 8/17 5mi 0 4mi 0 10mi Long 0 4mi 23 miles
9 8/24 4mi 0 4mi 0 7mi Long 0 3mi 18 miles
10 8/31 0 11mi Long 4mi 0 5mi 0 0 20 miles
11 9/7 0 3 0 0 0 0 9 Long 12 miles
12 9/14 4 0 3 2 0 0 13.1 Half Marathon! 22.1 miles

A couple notes about my schedule. Since it’s so hot during the summer, I plan to do my long runs on weekdays so that I can get it out of the way before it gets too hot and so that I don’t have to get up extremely early on the weekends. I’ve also tried to plan around my Wild West trip at the beginning of September. My plan is to do my longest run before I leave and get in a couple of short runs while I’m on vacay. Then one last long run the week before the race.


So, there you have it! A half marathon is in the works for me in September! I might provide an update about halfway through, depending on what happens, but otherwise, an update will be coming on the flip side.

Do you have any big fitness plans for the fall?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission for referring you. As always, all of my opinions are my own!

Built-in wardrobe using IKEA Malm
DIY, Life

IKEA Hack: Built-In Wardrobe Using Malm Dressers

A long long time ago (or what seems it), I did a lot of DIY around the house that we lived when we were in Rochester. Our house was pretty old. Like 1890s old. And the house needed a lot of love.

One of the main challenges that we faced once I moved in was storage space. The house, being as old as it was, had only one closet. One closet! And it was not in either of the bedrooms. Richard had been using a dresser and a wardrobe for his storage needs. When I moved in, we brought up another dresser from the basement for me to use. We were still pretty space challenged, so we decided to do something about it. We had a lot of ideas floating around, but ended up doing an IKEA hack to build a built-in wardrobe using Malm dressers.

Before: Tight quarters

Our bedroom was only about 8′ x 12′. With the bed and storage on both sides of the bed, we had about 6 inches of clearance for getting around the room.

Before: two dressers

We wanted to figure out a way to try to consolidate all of our storage onto one side of the room so that we could free things up a bit. That’s when I schemed up the plan to build a built-in wardrobe on one side of the room.

Before: Large wardrobe

Fast forward through a lot of brainstorming and planning and I successfully completed an IKEA hack and built a built-in wardrobe along one side of the bedroom. I don’t miss a lot of things about Rochester or the house we were living in, but this is the one thing that I get a little misty eyed over. We just didn’t have enough time with the fruits of our labor!

Materials I Used

You’ll likely have different room dimensions, so you may need to alter what you need. However, for your reference, here are the main materials I used:

  • IKEA Malm 6-drawer chest
  • IKEA Malm 6-drawer dresser
  • Glass Top for Malm Dressers
  • Lots of Paint (I used Behr Satin Interior)
  • Behr All-in-one Primer & Sealer (or your favorite bonding primer)
  • 2 x 6 boards for the base
  • Plywood or MDF (More on this later)
  • Caulk
  • Lattice strips for trim
  • Closet rod and hardware

One thing to note about the IKEA dressers: I had contemplated approaching this built-in from a number of angles. Should I try to build my own drawers? Can I find something off of Craigslist to get the job done? Is there some sort of pre-made thing that I can buy? I went with Malm because this IKEA hack gave me the best of both worlds – I was able to tailor it to exactly what I needed, but I didn’t need to build anything from scratch.

A number of tools were pretty pivotal to the success of this project:

Putting it Together

I completed this project over the course of three months. That was because I hit a couple of snags and I was working on it intermittently. If everything goes well, you could have this done over the course of one or two weekends (since there is a lot of down time due to painting and caulking and whatnot).

1. Remove the “crown moulding”

Removing trim from the room

Whoever put up the “crown moulding” in the bedroom was kind of a dummy. It was basically just a 1×2 nailed to the ceiling. It didn’t look good and I knew I would need to remove it to put up the wardrobe. So off it went! As part of this project, I added new crown moulding in the bedroom, but I didn’t really document that process.

2. Paint the wall

Starting to repaint the wall

The built-in wardrobe had an open back. I didn’t put any sort of material on the wall (like a bookcase would have). Since I was going to have the built-in be gray, I started by painting the wall gray. I figured this would be easier that trying to navigate a small space with more corners after the built-in was assembled.

3. Lay the base

Laying the wardrobe base

Once I had the wall painted, I was ready to start laying the base of the built-in. I created the base from a number of 2×6 boards. One of the challenges that I faced in building the built-in was the placement of our heat register. The base helped elevate the dressers and left room for the air to still flow out.

4. Paint all of the pieces

Painting all of the pieces before assembly

As I was working on building the base, I was also busy cutting and painting all of the pieces that I would be using to assemble the built-in. Painting ahead of time makes it much easier, because flat surfaces are much more pleasant and easy to paint when compared to surfaces that have a lot of corners and such.

5. Figure out that I chose poorly

Plywood fail

Like any good DIY project, I experienced a number of bumps in the road. I assembled the dressers, had the base ready to go and then realized that the plywood that I purchased was going to be a showstopper. I had tried to pick a plywood that was flat, but ended up with a piece that was faaarrr too warped and curved. As you can see, there were huge gaps between the wall and the plywood. The gaps were so big that I wasn’t able to put plywood between the two dressers as I had planned.

6. MDF to the rescue!

Wardobe skeleton assembled but not painted

I ended up deciding to scrap the plywood that I had purchased and purchased MDF instead. With MDF, I knew it was going to be straight. If I could do it again, I probably would just start with MDF. With the MDF, I had room for the piece between the two dressers. I also attached a piece at the top to add some stability to the three vertical pieces.

7. Painting and touching up

Skeleton of wardrobe assembled and painted

I ended up using a lot of caulk to smooth out the various cracks and crevices. I also painted the dressers, since they were white and I wanted the built in to be gray like the wall. Since the dressers were laminate, I used a base coat of Behr’s All-in-one Primer & Sealer. I didn’t like it as much as Zinnser’s bonding primer, but it did the trick and it is not oil-based so I didn’t have to deal with the fumes in the bedroom.

8. Ready for use but not done

Wardrobe ready to hang stuff but not done

This project took a long time to complete. Partly due to the setback with the plywood, partly due to my laziness. I eventually got to a good enough point and took a break for a couple of weeks. At this stage, we could store our clothes, but the built-in didn’t look as good as I knew it could.

9. Trim it up

Trimmed added to IKEA hack wardrobe

When I finally got around to finishing up the project, I added trim around the shelves and the sides of the built-in. This made it look so much more cohesive and finished. I also eventually got around to painting the faces of the long dresser. You’ll also note that I added the crown moulding around the bedroom.

10. Touch up the trim

Caulking the trim on IKEA hack

I can’t stress this enough: caulk makes a huuuuuge difference for these types of projects. It seals everything up. You just need to make sure you’re good at caulking, because it’s easy to have the caulk dry up too quickly and you don’t get as smooth of a look as you would have hoped. My trick was to use a wet rag and run it over the freshly applied caulk every few inches or so.

11. Paint it all up


The last step is painting everything. And obviously let it dry for a while. And you’re done!

Finished IKEA hack built in

The Skinny on the IKEA Hack built-in wardrobe

It’s been a while, so I’ll do my best to give you the skinny on this project.


3 of 4 money

Since it’s been so long since I did this project, I don’t have exact numbers on how much this project cost. Since it’s likely that you’ll be having to customize it to your particular needs, I’m not sure how helpful this would be. However, I can still give you some high level details/estimates for materials:

The only tool that I needed to purchase for this project was an air compressor. I purchased the Porter Cable 3-Tool Combo Kit which included the compressor, a nail gun, a brad gun, and a staple gun. This was useful for a number of projects around the house including an upholstery project and installing board and batten and moulding throughout the house. I can’t remember how much I paid for it unfortunately, although I think it was around $200.

All said and done, I spent around $611 on materials and supplies (excluding tools). Of course, this is an estimate so your mileage may vary. One thing that is a bummer is that we couldn’t take this with us when we moved! We had to buy new dressers instead. I like to think that this expense helped contribute to the quick sale and selling price of the house though, so I don’t see it as a complete wash.

If you are looking to cut costs from what I did, you could try to find the dressers on Craigslist. I like Malm because they are boxy, look modern, and can blend in with a lot of things.


I’m not really sure how to accurately estimate time for this project. Let’s just say it took a lot of work! I started in February and didn’t really wrap up the finishing details until April. Over the course of those months, I probably spend anywhere between 60 and 100 hours. I really don’t know! Just assume that it will take a while.


3 skill

This wasn’t the most technical project in the world, but it did require a lot of planning and thought. It also required the use of multiple power tools that require a bit of skill and safety precautions. For that reason, I rate this as a 3 of 4 skill level.

What do you think of this IKEA hack? Have you ever done anything similar?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission for referring you. As always, all of my opinions are my own!

Cost Estimates & Breakdowns, Fitness, Life

Race & Budget Report: Tar Heel 10 Miler

I’ve talked about the Tar Heel 10 Miler a number of times around here. I was on the fence about going when I wrote up what I thought things would cost to participate. Then I committed! And I was able to actually train to the point where I felt like I was ready physically.

And then, of course, because this is how these types of things happen, I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning five days before the race! It was a dark couple of days and I wasn’t sure I was going to feel up to driving down to Chapel Hill, let alone running in a 10 mile race. Spoiler alert: I was able to fully rebound and I completed all 10 miles on race day!

So, I decided to write up a race report (kind of like how I did when I ran the Color Run in Philadelphia a couple of years ago). This time, the write up comes with a twist of budget breadown!

Continue Reading

DIY, Pets

How To: Hidden Cat Litter Box

For the majority of his life, Zeke (my cat) has had the luxury of ample room for running, playing, napping, and using his litter box. His litter box was always in a basement, which gave him ample room to do his business and plenty of privacy to do it.

Unfortunately, now that we are living in Arlington, space is at a premium and we no longer have a basement. In fact, in our apartment, we barely have any extra room. When we moved, I knew that finding a place for the litter box would be a challenge. We were battling a couple of issues:

  • We don’t have any extra closets or out of the way places to store a litter box
  • Stella (our dog) likes to … um… snack on Zeke’s unmentionables, so we can’t just have it sit out
  • Zeke needs some privacy do to his business
  • The idea of having a litter box just out in the open in our living area grosses me out

So, I decided to figure out what I could do to create a hidden cat litter box storage unit. Maybe I could build something. Maybe I could hack something. Maybe I can do some other creative thing. I wanted the end result to be not extremely expensive, multi-purpose, and easy to put together. And, as luck would have it, I think I accomplished all three goals!

Enter IKEA Ivar


Source: IKEA

I decided to utilize IKEA’s IVAR storage system, which is a totally customizable system for creating shelving storage units. You can choose how wide you want your shelving, how tall you want your shelving, and a number of different add-ons like cabinets, shelves and even a wine rack!

In the picture above, you can see that they set up their IVAR with a cabinet on the bottom and shelves on the top and it’s two columns wide. I decided to do something a little different: one column, cabinet on the bottom, tall enough to reach nearly the ceiling in my apartment. So, let’s walk through the process in case you ever find yourself needing a hidden cat litter box!

Materials You’ll Need

If you want to replicate what I did, you’ll need the following items from IKEA:

My apartment has pretty tall ceilings and I wanted to maximize my use of vertical space, so that is why I went with the 89″ side units. You can of course go with the shorter ones and less shelves, if that fits your space better. However, the key to this project is getting the 20″ deep side units, shelves and cabinet – the litter box sits in the cabinet, so it needs to be deep enough to fit that!

Other materials I used were:

Putting It Together

Once you’ve gathered all of your materials, you’re ready to start making your hidden cat litter box storage. It was pretty simple to put everything together, but I ended up assembling everything over the course of a few weeks. That was mostly due to me being lazy, so it’s likely you can put everything together in a much quicker fashion.

1. Assemble the IVAR cabinet base

Cat Litter Box Storage - Cabinet Assembly

The first step you need to take is putting together the cabinet. This is fairly easy to do. Just follow IKEA’s directions.

2. Map out a cat door

Cat Litter Box Storage - Draw Hole

Once you have the cabinet put together, determine which side of the cabinet your cat will use as their entrance/exit. Be sure you don’t accidentally put the door on the botton of the cabinet floor or at the top of the side (rather than the bottom). Triple check this.

3. Drill holes to start cutting out the cat door

Cat Litter Box Storage - Drill Holes

Cutting out the cat door hole is a two step process. First, you need to drill a hole in each of the four corners that you drew out. Make sure you use a bit that is big enough for you to put the blade of your jig saw through. You’ll use these drill holes to guide where you saw and to get the hole started.

4. Test out the waters with a dry run

Cat Litter Box Storage - Dry Run

Zeke had never had his litter box in an enclosed space before, so I wanted to ease him into the experience. The last thing I needed was him doing his thing in places that he shouldn’t. To help ease him in, I left out the cabinet without doors and not in the rest of the unit for a while.

5. Line the cabinet with light panels

Cat Litter Box Storage - Light Panels

One sucky thing about wood for this project is that is sucks stuff up. To help reduce damage for the inevitable accidents, I decided to line the interior of the cabinet with plastic light panels. All I did was cut the panels to size and line the interior of the cabinet (walls, floor, doors) and then caulk around all of the edges to seal everything up. You could probably use a number of different materials to line the cabinet, but this was the best solution I could find.

Use a utility knife to cut the light panels, but be super careful. The panels are very brittle, so it’s easy for them to snap in a direction that you don’t want them to snap.

6. Assemble the rest of the cabinet

Hidden Cat Litter Box - Put It Together

Eventually, you need to actually assemble the storage unit. The cabinet is pretty chunky, so it took a bit of effort to get everything juuuuust so.

Hidden Cat Litter Box - Full Unit

Eventually, we were even able to put stuff on the shelves above. Multi purpose? Check!

7. Test out the waters again

Hidden Cat Litter Box - Dry Run 2 Once I had the cabinet assembled, I placed the litter box inside of the storage unit. I left the doors to the cabinet open for a week or two so that Zeke could enter through the cat door or through the front of the open cabinets. During this time, it became clear that Zeke was having some trouble aiming into his litter box. It seems that the enclosed space made him feel like he didn’t need to be as careful. To help combat more accidents, I decided to get a high-sided litter box. Luckily, this did the trick and we haven’t had any issues since!

Also, I used one of the two shelves that comes with the cabinet. This created a perfect space to keep all of the other cat litter stuff – cleaner, bags, scoop, and hand broom.

8. Add in the cat door, if you want

Zeke sitting by window

I thought I would end up using the cat door, but I never really got around to installing it. Also, I discovered that since the cat door was designed to be installed in something as thick as a door, there is a large gap between the plastic and the cabinet. If you’re interested in installing the door, it would be pretty easy to get some scrap trim and line the door to fill the gap between the cabinet and the plastic on the cat door. As you can see from above, Zeke is kind of a chunky dude, so I think for now it’s okay that we don’t have that extra bit making the entrance/exit smaller.

The Skinny on Making a Hidden Cat Litter Box

So now that you know how to make your own hidden cat litter box, let’s go over some details about the project itself.


Tools & Materials Costs:

  • IVAR Storage Unit: $160
  • Light Panels: $30
  • Caulk: $9
  • Cat Door: $20
  • High-sided Cat Litter Box: $11
  • Jig Saw: $30

Total Tools & Material Costs: $260

Overall, I spent $260 on making this custom hidden cat litter box. The majority of the cost came from the storage unit itself. I could have reduced cost in the following ways:

  • Buying less light panels (I purchased one more than I ended up needing)
  • Not buying the cat door (I had already purchased it a long time ago and thought I would use it, but didn’t)
  • Not upgrading litter boxes (Maybe you have a cat that is capable of aiming)
  • Borrowing a jig saw from someone (Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone else in the area who has a jig saw)

When I look at it all added up together, I’m tempted to feel sticker shock – kind of like how I did when I built my workbench in Rochester. However, the hidden cat litter box storage unit has become a pivotal part of our apartment. It does the crucial task of hiding the litter box, it keeps the litter box away from our dog, it helps minimize smell, and it acts as a storage unit for a bunch of other stuff. This is also something we’ll be able to take with us to future apartments, because it’s unlikely that we’ll end up in a place with a basement (or extra space) for a long time.



I took a long time to put this together because I had a lot going on and I kept having to go back to the store for supplies. However, over the course of a few weeks, I only really put in a few hours of work onto this project. If you’re motivated, you could easily have this entire project done in an afternoon or about 3 to 5 hours.


2 of 4 skill

This is a really simple project. You need to know how to use a drill and you need to know how to use a jig saw. Since there is some dexterity needed with the jig saw and some power tools involved, I give this project a 2 of 4 in terms of skill needed.

Have you ever made a hidden cat litter storage unit? Would you?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them, I receive a small commission for referring you. As always, all of my opinions are my own!

Moving across country with a cat
Life, Moving, Pets

Tips for Moving Across Country with a Cat

I am a proud mom to two angels: a cat named Zeke and a dog named Stella. They (along with Richard) are the lights of my life. Since we are a tight family unit, Zeke and Stella (obviously) moved with us this fall.

Richard and I really wanted to move and were excited that it was actually going to be happening. However, when all of the pieces started to come together this fall and all signs pointed to “this is it!,” there was only thing on my mind: How the heck am I going to get Zeke from point A to point B? Moving is already stressful as it is, without the whole moving across country with a cat part.

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