How to Buy a Used Car in 20 Easy Steps

We just got to experience the joy and happiness of car shopping, so I thought I’d share what we learned in 20 easy steps:

  1. Figure out a general idea of what kind of vehicle you want (suv, minivan, sedan, truck, etc).
  2. Go to Carmax and look at every single one of those types of vehicles.  It’s the only place you can see so many year models and options in one place.  Note: salespeople just love this.
  3. While you are there, get a quote from them to buy your current car.  Try not to cry in the dealership when you find out your car’s value.
  4. Narrow down the make/models that you are interested in between 3-5 cars.  For me it was a Toyota Highlander, Lexus GX 460, Toyota 4Runner, and Toyota Land Cruiser.  
  5. Research the different options, trim levels, body styles and price points.  
  6. Go look at your short list of vehicles at the respective dealerships to see what they look like/drive like/cost if you were to buy brand new.  Try not to throw up when you see the price tags.
  7. Determine if you like the newest models or an older version.  For me, I did not like the new Highlanders and instead preferred the older body styles.
  8. Narrow down what you can buy in your price range- mainly the year, mileage and trim level.  
  9. Start searching for cars that check those boxes daily- and heck, twice a day if you want.  Search Carmax, carvana, auto trader, Craigslist*, and individual dealerships.
  10. If you see a car you like, check the Carfax (provided for free by most dealerships on their website).  This is when the fun starts. See if the car has been wrecked, where it’s been registered, and if the title is clean.  This is the most time consuming part of your searching. “Oh, that’s a good price… let me check the Carfax. Oh, it’s been wrecked three time and lived in New Jersey for 4 years.  Pass.” This step will help you weed out 85% of the cars in your search results.
  11. Send your partner/family/friends links to any car that passes step #10.  
  12. Call/text to see if the car is still available.  If so, haul your kid and husband to see it ASAP. If car shopping in June in Georgia, bring copious amounts of cold water and a well charged iPad.
  13. Climb through the car to see how many people you can fit in it, set up every possible seating arrangement you could possibly use, check all the buttons/gears, screens, windows, trunks, jacks, floor mats, DVD players, and look under the hood. If this passes, take it for a test drive.  If not, don’t waste your time.
  14. Ask the dealer what they did to the car after they bought it off trade, they should give you a list.  Double check the carfax report to be sure the VIN matches the VIN on the car.
  15. Try to negotiate on the price. Know that dealerships don’t have as much negotiation room as they used to.  Also, know that Carmax and Carvana do not negotiate so dealerships have gotten their advertised prices as low as possible to bring in buyers.  Keep in mind that many used cars only come with one key, if you need/want two, negotiate that in with the purchase.
  16. If you come up with an agreed price, take the car to your mechanic for review- along with a copy of carfax to be sure things are accurate- before buying.  
  17. If the car checks out, know that you can put up to $3,000 on a credit card at most dealerships.  If paying “cash”, they want the rest in a personal or certified check. They offer financing options but you can usually get a better rate at a credit union or bank.
  18. The dealership will do the paperwork to get the car registered before you leave but be sure to call your insurance company to have coverage on the new car before you drive it off the lot.
  19. If you car comes with any warranties, be sure to fully understand them before you leave the lot.  
  20. Drive off in your new-to-you car and try to keep your son from dumping pretzels all in it within the first hour of ownership!

*We had a scammy experience with potentially buying a car off Craigslist.  Don’t buy a car from anyone who has a POA to sign the title to you.  There is no way to be sure it’s legal.  Also, if the mileage seems to be too low- it probably is.

learn & laugh, brooke

Air Travel with Littles

My air travel posse usually consists of my husband, me and our five year old son.  We have taken him on several domestic flights in his short life and one international trip (so far) to Ireland.  I have learned a few things from our travels that I want to share with you in hopes of making your future trips a bit easier too.

Most people who know me, know that I am a planner.  This is very true when it comes to taking trips. I start prepping several days before the trip with to do lists and packing lists.  Then, I start laying out clothes and items to pack at least 3 days beforehand. Whenever I pack in a rush, I forget important things and end up at the beach with only sports bras to wear with my strapless sun dress.


My husband and I are pretty risk adverse when it comes to carseats.  Yes, they can be a pain to travel with and having them beat up by baggage carriers is a risk.  However, the idea of getting into a car accident at your destination and not having your child in a secure seat is very scary.  

When we flew to Ireland, we had planned to let our son ride in his carseat on the plane. BUT, the flight company said it was against company policy to let children OVER the age of 4 use a car seat.  Our son turned four TEN days before the trip. Thankfully, we had a carseat bag with us so we were able to gate check the carseat. As he has gotten older, we have switched to the Safe Rider vest. We are big fans of it.  It keeps him safe, is easy to attach to a carry on and is easy to install in cars.

Packing Tips

In general, I like to keep like things together.  Huh?  I’ll say it another way… similar items should be packed together.  

Checked Bags

For me, everyone having their own checked bag is the best practice.  I pack clothes, shoes, toiletries, hair supplies, hats, swim suits, blankets/pillows, and jewelry* in this suitcase.  I have tried to pack all of us in one large suitcase but found it unsuccessful. It was hard to keep organized and to find what was needed.  Plus, if we all sleep in different places than where the bag is, I inevitably end up creeping into a sleeping room armed with my iphone as a flashlight to dig out clean pajamas.  I also think traveling with three smaller bags is easier than one large bag.

*I do not pack my rubies, diamonds, and large sapphires in checked bag- I carry those on.

Carry On Bags

My favorite type is a good, ole fashioned book bag.  It’s easy to wear, keeps your hands free and easy to organize.  I do not like tote bags as they tend to get too heavy and hurt my shoulder from extended use.  

Everyone’s carry on bag needs a set of underwear, t-shirt and athletic shorts/pants. This is for your worst case scenario: your luggage doesn’t arrive.  If we are headed somewhere tropical, then I toss in a bathing suit too. If we are headed somewhere wet (like Seattle or Ireland), then I make sure our light weight rain jackets are inside the carry on bags.  All of the “emergency” items get packed first (ie: at the bottom) of the bag.

Entertainment items are packed next- books, tablets, headphones, games, stickers, etc.  Finally, I pack snacks, eye masks, neck pillows and electronics’ chargers so they are easily accessible on top.  

Bring Your Own Water Bottle

I am a big fan of everyone having a reusable water bottle.  Keep it empty until after you go through security at the airport.  Then, I fill them up at a water fountain before the flight.  This is helpful as full glasses of water can easily spill during turbulence on a flight and it’s also to have a lot of water in case of delays.  Yes, you can also buy bottled water but I’d rather save my money for beer.

Also, be sure one of your carry on bags has medicine packed in it (more on this below).  If you don’t feel well during the flight, your medicine being packed under the plane doesn’t help much.

Day Packs

I love using a back pack (aka our carry on) as our day pack.  You can easily wear it around or stick it in the trunk of your rental car when not needed.

Be Prepared

Even though my son is five, he still gets dirty or wet and needs a change of clothing when we are out and about.  I keep a change of clothes (pants, top, undies, socks) in a grocery bag tucked into the bag.  Many times, this is the same bag from his carry on.  When we are out exploring and he decides to run in the ocean or start jumping into rain puddles, I don’t freak out nearly as much.  No biggie. Just change the clothes and restock the bag as soon as we get back to the hotel.  The grocery bag also doubles as a great place to store wet, nasty clothes before they make it back to the laundry room.


We have a bag of meds that we carry with us on trips.  Advil, immodium, cough drops, cough syrup, and basic child meds.  I also keep sunscreen and a first kit in this bag. You never know when you may need something, so keep it with you.  


We keep 6-8 snacks in a gallon sized ziplock. It makes seeing the options easy and prevents Hangry meltdowns- for both kids and adults.  Depending on the length of the trip, I add snacks to it over the trip- a few freebies from the flight, an orange from a hotel, etc. If I need to buy some, I can easily do that at a convenient store.  We also fill our water bottles each morning before we head out.  Much easier/cheaper than buying bottled water.


Keep lots of snacks around, a charged tablet, and clean clothes and you will keep most folks happy on your trip 🙂

What tips do you have to share when traveling with a kiddo?

learn,  brooke

DIY Shiplap Over Mantle

If I were a betting woman (I am not, I prefer to play roulette), then I’d predict that this will be my most popular post in 2017… especially once Pinterest gets it’s little DIY hands on it.

First, a word on shiplap.  This is a term that Joanna Gaines, from Fixer Upper on HGTV,  has made popular.   I believe that Joanna had a specific type of wood in mind.  One that was already covered up by sheetrock in the Texas homes they remodel.  America has expanded the definition to be any type of wood that you attach to a wall to make it decorative.  Since then, Joanna’s trend has led to thousands of trees being cut down and installed in people’s homes.  I digress…

But, if you want to get all technical, here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Somehow, I managed to talk my husband into putting his tools (of the construction variety, to be clear) to use updating some walls in our 1957 ranch home.  I had complained about hauling these tools during three moves in three years and I finally figured out why we have them.  Because he knows how to use them.  Total shocker over here.  He has been holding this information from me for almost 10 years of marriage.  I’m betting he wished he had made it 25 years before I figured it out.

As you know, we had a very tight budget for our home.  Anything that we were able to do, we wanted to do and save the money to pay the pros to do what we could not.  I priced out buying the wood for the first project and it was under $60.  Ok, sold.  Let’s do it.

Here is our before pic:

Click here to see the post on whitewashing a fire place!

DIY Shiplap Recommended Tools:

  • Chop saw
  • Nail gun
  • Air Compressor
  • Small level
  • Large level
  • Finished nails to fit nail gun
  • Pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Caulk
  • Paint


1. Measure the area where you are going to install the wood/ship lap.  You will need the height and the width.

img_3841-12. Determine which type of wood you’d like to use.  I chose a tongue and groove “knotty pine pattern” board.  The top of the board has a groove and the bottom has a lip.  When installed, the bottom lip slides into the groove of the previous board to make a solid joint and appears as a continuous board.

3. Do math.  Many of you know this isn’t my strong suit.  It’s also important to know that even though the board is advertised as 8 inches wide, it’s actually 7′.  There is probably a “that’s what she said” joke in this but it was lost on me because it messed up my math.  So, I guess the second part of this step is measure the width of the board you are using so your math will be accurate.

img_3859-14.  Purchase the wood.  Make sure you check for imperfections before checking out.  One of my selected boards had a long crack in the tongue portion that was causing it to break off.  The nice gentlemen at Home Depot helped me track down more inventory.  The wood for my two projects cost about $60.  Safely load the wood in your SUV/truck.

5. Decide what the “center” is of your project.  For ours, the center of the ceiling, mantle and fireplace were all a bit different.  We marked the center of each then went with a median line for our project.

6. Locate the studs behind the Sheetrock so you know where to install the nails.  An electric stud finder makes this very easy.  You can draw a line over each stud or mark with painters tape.  This will save you time later.  The blue tape on the front of the mantle is where our studs lined up on the wall above the mantle.

IMG_02607. Measure twice and cut once.  We started at the bottom of the wall and worked up.  Since I originally thought I needed 4 boards, I had Home Depot cut two of the 12ft boards in half for me, so we installed those first.  We needed one final board to finish.  The width had to be cut down to fit.  Also, our ceiling is a bit uneven- so we had to specialize the cut to be accurate.  ***Home Depot will cut wood for you.  The first two cuts were free and after that they are 25 cents each.  This seems really reasonable if you are sure of your math and don’t have a chop saw.

IMG_39168. Be sure to use a level for each board.  Being off just a little at the start can cause you to be way off by the end of installation.

9. Finish the edges.  It’s important to know that getting boards the exact same length is hard.  That’s why we did a trim piece on the sides to hide the imperfections.  The wider the trim piece is the more it will cover.

10. Finish the top.  The top is tricky and it’s up to you on your preference of how it should look.  You can tie it in to your current molding, trim it like the sides, or frame it out with it’s own crown molding over your current molding.  We opted to “tie it in” to our current crown molding buy bringing the shiplap right to the bottom of it.  I’m not 100% thrilled with this look- and we may do it’s own crown molding one day.

img_3926-111. Paint the wood.    I’d recommend priming first (kilz is your best friend) then doing a coat of paint.  Next, do some caulking to fill in the gaps.  This will make the look more cohesive.  Don’t forget to caulk between the mantle and wood, along the trim piece and ceiling.  Once the caulk dries, do one more coat of paint.  I recommend a satin or semi-gloss to give the finished product a bit of a sheen.  

We are very happy with the final product!


learn, brooke

How to Save During Home Improvement

I am a big believer in sweat equity for a home. Yes, it’s dirty and hard work but it’s so worth it once you are done!  Plus, you can stretch your budget so much further if you can put the time in and save on labor costs from paying others.

Here are a few ways we helped our budget by doing updates ourselves or making purchasing decisions to keep costs low:

Savings Ideas

Cabinet Hardware 

If you go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, they have a decent selection of hardware but it’s expensive. Most of it is sold individually and that adds up quickly especially when you have 11 drawers and 16 cabinets. Some of the options are sold in “contractor” boxes but it’s only 10-20% savings. My tip is to shop Amazon. In my experience, that’s the best place to get bang for your buck for cabinet pulls. Be sure to measure the distance of the pre drilled holes so you get the correct size for handles. By shopping Amazon, I’d estimate that we saved ~$40.

This is what I bought

Ceiling Fans

My theory is if you have a working fan, it’s better than no fan. But, obviously you don’t want to have something really ugly nor in my case, did I want to spend a fortune (especially since I needed to buy 3). I settled on something very basic from Home Depot for about $42 each. They were an 80% upgrade from what we had. I just couldn’t justify the price jump to $150/fan to get to 100% upgrade.  Plus, I feel like stylish fans go out of style in just a few years, so sticking with something basic is always a good idea.

Tip: Be mindful of the blade length when you are buying fans. I didn’t think it mattered that much if the room was small, but I am glad I went with a less fancy fan but with longer blades (52inch). It may not be super pretty but it works really well!

Sweat Equity Ideas

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

This is the THIRD home we have owned that I have painted it’s kitchen cabinets. Every time I do it, I swear I’ll never do it again… but it makes SUCH a big difference! The lower cabinets were black and I just felt it was too contrasting between the granite color and dark parquet floors. Plus, they weren’t painted well (think silver hinges painted over with black paint). Long story short, they needed a face lift. I’ll do a later post on my cabinet painting technique, but for now, I’m guessing we saved a few hundred dollars in labor costs.


An inexpensive exterior upgrade to your home is to paint the front door and shutters. We spent $50 on a good gallon of paint (Chelsea Grey by Benjamin Moore) and had plenty left over after these projects. It took a few hours to sand, prime and paint but I’m super happy with the result! I’m estimating that we saved ~$250 on labor paint costs.

For more info on our shutter refresh, click here.

Pressure Washing

This was a pretty big undertaking for our dirty house. My husband and I divided up the house to conquer it all. He worked hard on the exterior- cleaning the gutters, soffit siding, brick and patio. I tackled the driveway, carport and wood walkway. Our generous friends lent us their pressure washer. But, I’d happily rent one to see the house sparkle! I’m guessing we saved about ~$700 in labor costs for this project.

Air Vent Covers

We had the air ducts professionally cleaned and a anti-microbial spray applied to drastically improve the air quality of our home. Once they were done, I asked them to leave all of the vent covers off so I could spray paint them with a fresh coat of white gloss. This was a really nice face lift for most of the aged vent covers. Next, we were able to easily re-install them. 

Vent covers range from $6-20 each depending on size and material. I’ll estimate that we saved $75 by buying a $4 can of spray paint.

I’d love to hear your sweat equity projects!  Please share!

learn, brooke

DIY Updated Lighting

Updating Recessed Lighting

Y’all, these are the coolest things.  They replace your old, outdated recessed lights with clean, white, insulated LED bulbs.  

We had old, nasty recessed lights that all looked different.  Some had black lining, some were alabaster and others were “fish eyed” to point on to a decorative wall or piece of art.  Needless to say, they did not match, they looked old and the bulbs in them put off LOTS of heat.  Time to go.  I had never even heard of them before but thanks to my awesome electrician, he showed one to me during our initial consult and I was sold.  

I’d recommend buying the contractor multipack for the best deal.  We ended up paying ~$12 per light.  Since this wasn’t in the initial budget, I scaled back on our ceiling fan budget and added these beautiful little upgrades!

My electrician wanted $10 per light just to install.   Thankfully, my husband found a good YouTube video to watch and figured it out to save us $160!

It’s also good to know that you can buy dimmable ones.  I’m not a big fan of overhead lighting (can give me a headache) so dimmers are my best friend.

Tip:  if you are painting your ceilings, remove the old fixtures before painting so that if the new ones are smaller, you won’t have a ring of color difference.  

Bathroom lighting

Both bathrooms had these tulip style globes.  I tried to twist them off and was unsuccessful and I thought I was stuck with them because replacing them wasn’t in the budget.  Thankfully, my electrician showed me how to get them off:

-To start, I’d recommend turning the light switch off during this activity.  

-First step is unscrew the light bulb and then carefully unscrew the ring around the socket.  Hold on to the globe while you unscrew because that’s what holds it on.  

-Once it’s removed, you can replace it with whatever globe you’d like (that fits).

-Screw the ring back on then add the light bulb.  And wahlah, you are updated while still staying in budget!

Home Depot had a great selection of globes (sold individually).  We got lucky and were able to reuse three globes off a ceiling fan that we replaced.  Then I bought the other four globes at HD for ~$5 each.  So, I spent $20 to update two bathroom lights!  That’s so much less money than replacing two entire fixtures.  👍🏼

Matching Light Bulbs

When we sold our last home, our agent’s awesome marketing pro came to our home to make suggestions on things to do to get our home ready to sell.  One thing she pointed out was to put matching bulbs in light fixtures.  Ever since that realization, I’ve become a light bulb snob.  I pretty much dislike any “bulb color” that’s not soft white.  Personally, I think compact fluorescent bulbs should stop being made.  And they definitely should not stick out of a chandelier to see.  But I digress…

You can imagine my horror when I saw this in our “new” guest bathroom.  I am pleased to say that the offending wallpaper is no more and the bulbs all match.  👍🏼

Hopefully a few of these inexpensive DIY lighting tricks can help update your home without blowing the budget!

learn, brooke 

Old Chairs New

When we bought our house, it was an as is purchase.  This means that the owners were not going to do any clean up, repairs or removal of personal items at the home.  Obviously, we had a home inspection done to find out the condition of the home.  A lot of the personal items, we planned to just toss but I decided to give these old plastic chairs a second chance rather than tossing them.  

None of them were cracked/broken so I thought it might be worth a try to clean them up.  Enter the pressure washer.  

I managed to get completely soaked in this process.  But it’s worth it!

This chair I planned to toss because the stain was so bad but after seeing how the first 4 turned out I decided to try.

Excited to keep these cute chairs out of the landfill for a while longer!

learn, brooke 

DIY Emotions

Anxiety 😬

Which contractor should we hire? What unforeseen issues are going to come up? What’s wrong with this house since no one else bought it? Is my budget going to be busted? Will our timeline work out? Will my painter bail on us? Which color should I choose? Will those fixtures get shipped here in time? It rained so much last night, will the basement be dry?

Relief 🤗

Thank goodness that paint color matches the brick. I’m so glad the handyman showed up today since he was a no show yesterday. Whew, I only needed one gallon of $50 paint after all. That repair cost less than what was expected, So glad that wall we demo’d didn’t have an unexpected pipe running through it. Yay for the rain holding off today so we could work in the yard. Woohoo for the electrician working with us on the budget. Thank goodness the county yard waste workers picked up all our yard trimmings. Yay the basement is dry!

Excitement 🙌🏼

I can’t wait to make this house a home. All of our planned projects are going to turn out well. This yard is perfect for our son to play in the sprinkler with friends. I can’t wait to have our housewarming party and have all of the work behind us. I wonder what memories we will make in our new home. We got so much accomplished this weekend!

Annoyance 😫

I’ve done four coats of paint on the inside of these cabinets and they still need another one. We measured twice and cut once but it still need lots of caulk. The one spot I missed on the shutters is right next to the front door and I look at it each time I walk in the house. I’ve bought the wrong light bulbs twice for this fixture and have to return them again. This house is 60 years old and I feel like I’m putting lots of lipstick on a pig.

Pride 💪🏼

After three hours of sweat, the yard looks so nice! We really can DIY a shiplap accent wall! The shutters turned out so well. The cabinets I painted look so much nicer. Our neighbors are so happy we are cleaning up our curb appeal. This house is looking so much cleaner and updated.  

Exhaustion 😴

If I never go to that house again, I’ll be ok. I didn’t know I had muscles in that part of my back. Is it ok if I go to bed at 8 pm? I didn’t know my feet could hurt this much without doing a half marathon.  

Endurance 👊🏼

I just slept nine hours… I’ll jump up and be at Home Depot when it opens to beat the crowd!! Oh, painting without climbing a ladder?!… I can do that all day! I only have three more yard waste bags… let’s go ahead and fill them! Even though I’ve been pressuring washing for an hour, I really want to finish the driveway today, so what’s another hour?! My arms are about to give out but I want these painted shutters up NOW. So what it’s dark outside?!… I can still finish painting the mailbox with the flashlight on my phone.

Hangry 😡

It’s 4pm… why am I starving?! Oh, because I didn’t eat lunch. Who ate the last granola bar?! WTF!! How long will it take Papa John’s to get here?? I should probably wash my hands before eating… but I need pizza in my belly NOW. Why did I just eat half of a pizza?!

laugh, brooke