Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

Maybe my year wasn't quite as great as Adele's,
but close.
We have to end the year on a high note, so after completely Debbie Downering this blog yesterday, let's take a look at the stuff that happened this year that is awesome (it's a much longer list).

1. Paid Vacation!
This year, I went on vacation to Sweden, Denmark and Minneapolis and still got paid even though I wasn't working! One positive about working in the non-profits is that you may not get paid much per hour, but they give you a lot of vacation.  I started out with 21 days vacation + personal time that accrues.  It's just silly, but I am not complaining--at all.

2. Free Yoga!
This year I started getting into yoga for the first time in my life, which has made me stronger overall, and possibly slightly more flexible (though I really don't think so).  If I was paying for this yoga, I would not be able to afford it, but the studio allows me (and a few other people) to exchange light cleaning duties for unlimited free yoga!  Being in the hot room makes winter much easier to bear, and I think I'm getting some ab definition...  maybe.

3. Free Bike!
After my bike was stolen, I had the sads big time.  I still wander back behind our house where it used to be hoping that the person who took it just needed it for an emergency and would return it when finished.  Of course, that is not the case.  BUT, I put an ad on Freecycle saying that my bike was stolen and asking if anyone had one they weren't using that I could have, and someone responded!  I got a new-to-me bike that's in really good shape completely for free.  I need to take it to a mechanic for a once-over, buy a basket and some lights, but then I'll be back on the road in time for spring puddle season!

4. Walking to Work!
Not really much else to say about this one, but the walk to work clears my head, wakes me up and lets me smile at the quirky world I live in.

Walking home from work in the snow, I stopped
to make this tiny snowman and put him on a Stumpchair.
5. Bonus Money!
Though I do make less money working at only one job, I still fill in at two other libraries.  It's a bit of a grind to work those extra hours, but it's also fairly awesome because they don't expect as much of me.  Yes, that sounds really lazy, but I'm basically just a warm body who can do that job, but who doesn't have real responsibilities.  Double bonus, one of the libraries I fill in at still pays time-and-a-half on Sundays.  Bonus money gets split between my Roth IRA and my travel fund, so I know I'm not squandering it.

6. Crock Pot!
At first I was a bit intimidated by the crock pot, but now I absolutely love it and would never want to be without it.  Everything made in the crock pot tastes better--fact!  I can use it to soak beans and barley, which are frequent work staples and doing them in the crock pot is nearly effortless.  I can simmer away delicious healthy soups that not only taste amazing but also make my house smell good.

7. Home Gym!
I have broken up with my gym (though that's still a work in progress--more on that in a later post) but I have also created a highly functional home gym that has everything I need.  For the days when I don't have time to run or go to yoga, I can still get in a good workout without leaving my house.  2013 shall be the year of abs!

8. Friends!
Two of my besties came out to visit me this year for my birthday, and I'm currently making plans to go on a mini-break with two other besties in the spring.  I'm so lucky to not only have so many wonderful friends, but  also to have friends who I don't see that often, but can catch up with instantly, years later, and it feels like no time has passed at all.

9. Learning How to Live Within My Means!
It's my one-year anniversary of my job, and I now know what to expect at work, but also exactly how much I'll make and how to budget accordingly.  Setting up my budget last year was all guesswork, and I was still on a high from the excitement of even getting this job, so I wasn't making great choices.  Now, I have an entire budget from 2012 to refer back to, and nothing should really be changing for 2013 except for the fact that I should buy fewer clothes.

10. Clean(er) Closet
I'm ushering in the new year with a cleaner and better organized closet.  Yes, my closet will never be perfect, mostly because it's a narrow/ deep hidey hole under a staircase, but I think I finally have it sorted out in a way where everything has a place and I can actually find things.  Plus, I only had to spend $16.99 on a six-shelf organizer and I used furniture we already had to organize the rest.

11. Free Holiday Party + Holiday Bonus!
At my library, we have an awesome Friends of the Library group.  Many of them are there on a daily basis sorting donated books, cleaning DVDs and CD, and twice a year they have books sales that make some serious cash.  Apparently, they also give the staff a holiday bonus!  Also, the regular library patrons were coming in every day before xmas and giving us homemade cookies, truffles, donations and cards.  As if that wasn't overwhelming enough, The Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, which is a group that regularly uses our meeting spaces, collected money from their members and gave us $100 for a staff holiday party!  This is the first time in my working life that my holiday party wasn't a potluck, and it was so nice not to have to stress about what to bring.  This is the stuff that makes it easy to love my job.  Like I always say, it doesn't pay in money, but it does pay in warm fuzzies.

What awesome things happened to you guys in 2012?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Worst of 2012

These last two days of 2012 are all about reflection.  Which celebrities had a great year (Channing Tatum)?  Which celebrities had a bad year (Lindsey Lohan)?  Etc. ad infinitum.  But, people love lists, so you have to give them what they want.  I present you with my worst financial moments of 2012.

1. Bartered Away 401k
After the library where I work received news that we were suffering a major budget cut, we did what any other library would do to avoid closing three weeks--we took it out of the employees' already meager pay. Yes, I'm still pissed about this and will remain so.  Silver lining--I got an extra week off-paid, but I didn't really accomplish anything that week.  As I've said before, I love my job, but I don't want to drop dead at the reference desk!  Save for retirement, people!

2. Less Income
I don't know why it didn't occur to me before, but by having only one, full-time job, I'm making significantly less money than I was before.  A friend asked me recently how that could be, and it all comes down to: 1. working fewer hours than before a.k.a. a normal workweek instead of 40 hours one week and 45 the next 2. Making less per hour  3. Paying for health insurance.  Being a grownup is kind of bullshit, but at least I can walk to work!

3. Wanting to go out
Now that I have a reasonable work schedule, I had/have to really remind myself that neither my waistline nor my wallet can afford to go out all the time.  Going out is fun!  Eating out is exotic!  But it all costs money, and I don't have much to spare.

4. Stolen Bike
My beautiful, tricked-out (blinking lights and basket mean tricked-out) bike was stolen by nefarious jackanapes, which left me not only bikeless, but also feeling violated and paranoid.

5. Car Repair
My stupid car keeps breaking!  The windshield wipers keep freaking out on me by not working in sync and getting stuck together.  Presently, only the left one works, but as that's the one I need most, I've been lazy about bringing it in to get fixed (again).  Also, according to the city of Providence, my 2007 Chevrolet Malibu has increased in value from 2011-2012 and will be taxed more because of it.  You stay classy, Providence.
Not my car, but this is basically what happens

6. Parents
My parents and I don't have the greatest relationship in the world, but usually they send me birthday and xmas cards.  Now that I have a full-time job, it seems that I am completely cut off.  When I saw then in September, they didn't pay for anything (usually I get a meal, maybe a little something for airfare, etc.) and this year they didn't even send me an xmas card.  Yes, I am 33 and shouldn't need money from my parents, but see point #1 and #2 above. I actually could use their help more than ever, but I'm also certainly not going to ask for it.

7. Student Loans
My student loans were outsourced to a new company this year, and getting back on Income Based Repayment was a godawful nightmare of a gong show.  All of the progress I had made in reducing my amount owed--years of progress, was basically wiped out in a matter of months.

How about you?  What totally sucked for you this year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Clean Slate For 2013

Can you believe that it's almost 2013?  It's just weird--not that another year has passed, but for some reason 2013 just seems like a weird number to me.  It'll take me a while to get used to writing that.  Anyway, my plan for the new year is to start it with a clean slate.  I've been carrying balances on my credit cards for the past month (no late fees or anything like that, just more owed than I would like).  With my next paycheck I'm paying them all completely off and heading into the new year with nothing owed except stupid student loan debt.

I'm also doing a major overhaul of my closet and wardrobe.  Since my closet is narrow and deep, I lose things in there, never have enough room, and usually just let my laundry sit on top my dresser until I wear it again and it goes in the dirty clothes pile.  I'm working on a new scheme to organize my clothing in a way that makes it easier to find things/ put them away, and that makes me not want to scream with frustration.  I'm also getting rid of a lot of things I just wasn't wearing.  Those really nice pants from Banana Republic that have only fit once three years ago?  Yeah, they're going to Good Will and I'm just going to accept that my huge thighs are unlikely to get any smaller.  Strong is the new Skinny!

As far as my Holiday Challenges, I'm pleased to report that I've been going to yoga a minimum of three times a week, even four some weeks!  My run streak sadly didn't stick as well as I hoped.  There were some mornings when I just didn't get out of bed in time, and doing a single mile on the treadmill just became annoying--it took longer to shower than it did to run!  It's not all bad though.  I have run more miles this month than any other month this year, and I've realized that even if I get a late start in the morning, nipping out for a two mile run really makes the day better.  I used to have the mindset that unless I was running at least four miles, it wasn't worth bothering, but now I love my little two mile runs!

For my Financial Challenges, I've been limiting eating out, I've been walking to work though I wasn't able to ride my bike for reasons I'll explain in a moment.  I've gone over budget in the clothing category, but that's just because I paid my Old Navy bill from the previous month--I haven't bought anything new!  My budget is full of no-spend day stars and I'm pretty pleased about that.

The reason I wasn't able to ride bike to work was because my bike was stolen by some nefarious jackanape!
RIP, my bike that I never named
They also stole BF's tire pump--dicks.  It's not all bad though, I put an ad on Freecycle asking if anyone had a bike they weren't using, and a nice lady gave me her daughter's old one!  I need to get it looked at by a mechanic and buy a lock, basket and lights, but it's a nice bike that should last me quite a while.  I'll also be storing it indoors so no one can get their hand on it!

2013 begins with no credit card debt, a new bike and a new diet plan!  I signed up for Taylor's DietBet, which is a fun little online wager.  Everyone who wants to play kicks in $2, and then if at the end of the month you're at your goal weight, you get to split the pot!  It's a nice little incentive to do what I should be doing anyway.

Things are looking up!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! 
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. 
What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" - Dr. Seuss

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ten Reasons Why Buying Local is Better

I talk every now and then about the importance of buying local, but it's usually in abstract ways like: 45% of money spent locally stays in the community, do you want to live in a world where the only place to buy things is Wal-Mart, etc.  This holiday season, I have shopped 100% local, and I've had so many positive experiences that it hasn't ever seemed like work (shopping almost always seems like work to me).  I'll admit, I don't have to buy nearly as many gifts as other people, this time of year, but I'm not just talking about buying things, I'm talking about just supporting all local businesses.  Even if it costs a little more, the return you get in warm fuzzies more than makes up for it.

1. Customer Service
Obviously customer service is never a guarantee.  Sometimes people have a bad day, or are just jerks, but I have personally had some of the best customer service experiences with local businesses, and it's likely just due to the fact that they actually care.  If you work for or own a local business, you want to be there.  They're not in it for the money, they're doing it for the love, and that is just an awesome thing.  When you see people happy to be doing they are doing, that is a great feeling, and it radiates out.  Sure, local businesses want to sell you something, but they also want you to come back, and they get that by being real people and (hopefully) selling high-quality stuff.

2. Knowing where something came from
If you go to Wal-Mart, you can hazard a guess at where the stuff you're buying comes from, but likely it's just a warehouse in China and no one knows more than that.  If you shop local, you can ask the business owner where he or she purchased an item, and they will actually know.  It might be a local artist or craftsperson, or it might be a company you've never heard of that you end up liking.  Either way, it's nice to actually know what you're taking into your home, instead of just buying a bunch of random crap mindlessly.  And if you're giving something as a gift, it's nice to tell the recipient, "This came from an artist collective in Peru that only employs women who have escaped abusive relationships.  For every item sold, they get 50% of the proceeds."  Knowing where something came from makes it more valuable because value isn't really what something cost, it's how much value you place upon it.

3. Bring able to ask questions
A friend of mine recently posted on facebook that she had seen a dress in a Sears commercial but couldn't find the dress either in stores or online.  I suggested that she email Sears and see if they could help her out, but I haven't heard what happened after that, or if she's still waiting for a response.  (UPDATE 12/16/2012, I have heard, see below)  Recently, I wanted an item from a local store near where I work. They had posted a picture of the item on facebook, but by the time I got there, it had sold out.
Obviously it sold out, I mean, yeah, it's awesome!
I was upset, but the employee I spoke to told me that they would likely get more in soon.  I sent the store a facebook message asking if they would hold one for me when they arrived, and sure enough, they were happy to do so.  They messaged me when it came in, and I picked it up on my lunch break. SCORE!

4. Putting a face on a product
When you buy local, you also know who sold something to you.  It's not a random cashier at Barnes & Noble 2606 (where I used to work), who may never be there beyond the one time you saw her, or who is just punching the clock until it's time to leave (again, me).  You can go into a store and say, I bought this last week from Steve, and it broke right away, or I bought this from Steve and it's so great I need two more!

5. Giving direct feedback
Likewise, in a smaller local setting, your feedback really has the power to make things happen.  If you buy something that really sucks, you can tell the store employees or owner, and maybe they stop carrying it.  You can make suggestions, and not feel like you're throwing your words into a random void where they may or may not be heard.  Certainly the store doesn't have to listen to you, but it's still nice to be heard.

6. Local Commitment
Who do your kids go to when their sports teams need boosters?  Who supports Library Summer Reading Programs and donates prizes?  Who chips in for block parties, 4th of July parties, centennial and bi-centennial events?  Local businesses are owned by members of the community and want to help the community thrive.

7. Unique Items
See above.  You think I could get that kick ass bottle opener anywhere else?  I could maybe get it at two other stores in Rhode Island, and I'm just guessing--I certainly haven't seen it anywhere else.  Wherever I wind up in the world, I will see that bottle opener and it will make me smile and remember a time in my life when I lived in Lil' Rhody.  Do you want to have the same stuff as everyone else, or do you want something you can't get anywhere else?

8. Expertise
When I go into Target, I don't expect to be able to ask a store employee which is the best t-shirt, or if something will last.  Certainly they have people in various departments who can answer some questions, but a lot of the items in major big box stores are not built to last a lifetime.  If I'm going to spend a lot of money on something, I want to talk to someone who knows something about it.  Employees of smaller stores may not know everything about everything, but they are likely familiar with the brand and the standard of excellence that that brand has.  When you're personally choosing to buy something for your store and sell it, there's a higher standard than stores that just buying to fill a niche.  I recently was in Target with BF looking at skillets.  Apparently, both Paula Deen and Rachael Ray have their own line of cookware. I would likely go Ray because they're orange and I find that fun, but they also cost $100+  If I'm going to spend that much money on something I don't know how to buy, I'd like to have a conversation with someone about it.

9. They're Only Still Around Because They're Good
It's much easier to keep a corporate hub going.  New businesses rarely turn a profit in the first year, and for something that's just a one person or partnership operation, that means they either have to do well or sink.  Corporations can support flagging outposts on the hopes that they'll eventually become profitable, but for smaller businesses, unless they're run by people with trust funds, it's likely that they just know what they're doing and have something people want.  Why not stop by and see?

10. Warm Fuzzies
I love my silly small city despite how backward it is sometimes, and I like doing things to make it better.  This is why I go to work every day determined to help my neighbors and this is why I pay a little more for things made and sold around here. We recently went to Yelp's Merry Marketplace, which was a pop-up shopping mall that featured only local businesses and restaurants.  It was possibly the most fun night I've had in a long time.  We got free food samples from restaurants I know and love and places I've never been (but will be visiting soon); and we got to find new and exciting treasures from local shops.  We got to chat with the people making and selling goods and experience firsthand the pride they take in what the do, and the quality of work.  It was held in the converted mill building where the Wintertime Farmer's Market is, and it was just a beautiful and fun night.  I think everyone I went with managed to finish off their holiday shopping lists, and I left stuffed to the gills and slightly drunk (I wasn't driving), which was awesome.

I know there are many more than ten reasons to shop local, so leave your reasons in the comments.  My biggest reason, that I didn't add to the list, is that it assuages some of the guilt I place on myself for buying things.  I keep reading articles about CEO's rate of pay skyrocketing while their employees' remains stagnant, and thought I know that my frugal self can't make a difference in that situation, I actually can on the local level.  It's nice to feel important, and it's nice to live in a land where Wal-Mart is just one of many stores, and one that I can avoid (Wal-Mart is the worst, OMG I hate Wal-Mart).

UPDATE:  Apparently, she has had no luck so far, and posted one of her recent responses to the Sears folk on facebook.  It was too awesome not to share:
"You tell me you know NOTHING about where i can get it?! You are trying to tell me you have NO INFORMATION about a dress you displayed in a commercial trying to get women to spend money on dresses, in your store. UH- HELLO- I'M A FOXY YOUNG WOMAN TRYING TO BUY A DRESS, WHICH, I WILL GLADLY TELL YOUNG OTHER PRETTY WOMEN WHERE I GOT IT. I am simply trying to give you money and buy a dress, from you, in which you decided to put in your commercial. I am just a blue collar girl that takes pleasure in leopard print high to low dresses. So hook a girl up, for crying out loud."

I think that proves my point even better than my long list.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shopping For A Cheap(er) Phone

Sprint has been my cell phone provider for about ten years, and I kind of hate them.  Unfortunately, my hatred for them was only outweighed by my hatred for talking to cell phone salespeople and shopping around for what will likely be an equally shitty deal.  So, I've done nothing, for a long time.  Occasionally, I log onto Sprint's website and try to find a cheaper plan, but for what I want, it doesn't seem like there really is one.  See, I hate talking on the phone, but I like to text.  It seems that Sprint has figured this out, and there is no way to reduce the number of voice minutes I'm paying for, without reducing the texting or switching to a pay-per-text model (hell no).

So, I've been doing a little exploring to see if I can come up with a completely different plan that might better suit my unique cell phone needs.

Contender #1: Ting
Ting is actually powered by Sprint, but it is a pay-as-you-go model and is significantly cheaper.  It also lets you select your own kind of plan based on how you use your phone.  According to the website, you select your plan for the first month, and then after that, they just bill you for what you actually use.

So, if my above calculations are correct, I should be paying about half what I'm currently paying. Double bonus, since this is still the Sprint network, I may be able to keep my existing phone.  If not, a new phone would cost $98.

Contender #2 Republic Wireless
The way this phone works is that it hops back and forth between wi-fi and cell networks.  If a wi-fi network is available, it connects to that, if not, it uses Sprint's network.  According to their website, I'll end up paying $19/month plus applicable fees (vary by location) after paying the initial start-up fee of $10 and the $249 for the hybrid phone that can toggle back and forth between wi-fi and cellular.
The drawback to this one is obviously the initial cost of the phone, and the fact that I don't really want a smart phone, but for $19/a month, I might reconsider.  They do have a 30-day guarantee where you can return everything and cancel with no questions asked.

Has anyone out there had any experience with either of these companies?  The deals do seem to good to be true, but it may also just be that I've been hurt for too long by stupid cell phone contracts.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Retailers Are Shooting Themselves In The Foot

I worked at Barnes & Noble for five years in college and grad school, and because of the timing of that employment, I got to witness firsthand the changes of businesses transitioning to an online presence and dealing with the price undercutting of Amazon.  We, as a BN, were required by corporate headquarters to have all of this advertising up in the store for, but the manager was constantly warning use that was also our competition.  "We need to give excellent customer service, because people can get the exact same thing online" she kept saying, "And to keep our jobs, we need customers to keep coming back into the store."

But here's the interesting thing, you could get the exact same thing online, and often for cheaper, and if you buy enough you can get free shipping.  What you also get, which is the reason I and many other people shop more and more online these days: No upselling.

We were required to ask every. single. person, even in the cafe, if they had a BN member card.  "Oh, you're buying a cup of coffee for $1.40?  Would you like a $25 membership card as well?"  You can imagine how well that worked.  This was not only incredibly irritating to the employees, but also to the customers.  It slows down the line, it annoys people, and regular shoppers who didn't want the card were alienated every single time they chose to spend money there.  For probably every 50 people who I asked if they wanted a card, maybe one person got one.  So that's 49 pissed off folk, and one $25 membership card sale.  Doesn't really seem worth it to me.

I realize that upselling at the register must work  often enough that businesses see it as a worthwhile practice, but what they really should be doing is NOT PISSING OFF CUSTOMERS WHO CHOOSE TO COME INTO THE STORE.

Does anyone like being upsold?  Does anyone actually think, you know, you're right, cashier, even though I told you that I only wanted a medium popcorn, I actually do want a large.  You clearly know my mind better than I do.  I go to Target often enough that I know all about the Target card.  I've had one in the past, and you know what?  The interest rate was ridiculous!  Of course, they don't mention that at the register.

My most recent experience with upselling came at the movie theatre concessions stand.  BF ordered us a medium popcorn. "Do you want a large?" The eager cashier asked. "No, I want a medium, like I ordered," he told her.
If I can't finish a medium, why would I order a large!?!?!

So, upselling is rude because you're basically calling the customer stupid, but in this case too she was so eager to sell him a large popcorn, that she interrupted the rest of his order and failed to ring up the Raisinettes.  We stood there awkwardly until he asked, "Can I have my Raisinettes?"  Then she had to ring them up, he had to dig for more cash, and all the people in line behind us had to wait longer.

In cases like these, you want to be rude to the cashier, who is just doing her job.  She would get yelled at by her boss if she was caught not upselling, but she's also just as likely to get yelled at by customers for being incredibly annoying.  As if cashiering isn't already a thankless, soul-crushing  job.

I didn't go to business school, and I'm obviously not in the business of chasing profits, but I do shop out of necessity and for fun (sometimes).  I can honestly say that stores that engage in aggressive upselling will lose my business, and I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way.  When retailers are legitimately worried about physical stores turning a profit, they should not be irritating the customers who have made the effort to get in their cars and drive there.  Gone are the days when the store was the only game in town, if I have the option of avoiding annoying upselling, I'll take it, and it seems many other people will as well.

Sorry for the rant, but it just amazes me that people who study sales techniques don't seem to think that pissing people off is a poor strategy.  I long to live in a world without upselling, but I'm not holding my breath.

*I do realize that making purchase suggestions like online retailers do is a form of upselling, but it's less annoying and easier to ignore.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Boycott Black Friday

This is my worst nightmare
I have never shopped on Black Friday, and I've never been a fan of this "holiday," but this year I am extra super mad at retail giants and am not only not shopping myself, but actually asking that other people do the same.  I'm not going to just ask and hope that you heed me because you like me though, I'm going to give good reasons as well.

1. Store are opening this year earlier than ever before.  In fact, many stores are not even waiting until it's technically Friday, they're opening up Thanksgiving night.  Employees of these stores won't even have a Thanksgiving holiday.

2. Black Friday is dangerous. Maybe deaths and paralyzations will be down this year if the stores are open longer hours, but it seems unlikely.  Here's a list of the 13 Most Brutal Black Friday Deaths or Injuries.  I love a deal, believe me, but I would rather spend a little more money and potentially not get trampled to death by a bargain-savvy mob.

3. It supposed to be about family.  People get together over the holidays presumably because they love their families and want to spend time with them.  Why not just do that instead of staying up late/getting up early to hang out in a crowded store?  Play a board game, watch some movies, bring some distractions along when you go to your parents house and if you really need to get away from them for the sake of your own sanity, go for a walk.  Also, making people work on the holiday, whether by actually making them work or by appealing to financial need, shows disregard for their families.  I've worked in retail my whole working life, and often these holidays are the only days off that some people get at the same time as other people.  Retail workers frequently work long and scattered hours, especially during the holidays, and while the money is nice, sometimes you just want and need a day off.  Everyone should have that option.

4. Are you even buying stuff you want, or are you just buying it because it's a good deal?  Sure, it sounds great to pay less for a laptop or a plasma tv, but is it something that you actually need?  If it is, couldn't your money better be spent by getting a higher quality version of the same thing?  I'm awfully suspicious of a $200 laptop, and honestly can't believe that it's really a decent machine that's going to last or work well.  If you're buying it as a gift for someone, why do you need to buy something so elaborate?  Even at $200, that's an overly generous gift, and the recipiant would probably (read: should) be just as happy with something less expensive.  After all, it still should be the thought that counts.

This year, all the gifts I buy are going to come from local merchants, even though I may pay a little more for them.  On Black Friday, I plan to sleep in, go for a long run and then curl up with a book and my cat.  After that, I'm going to head down to the Rhode Island Statehouse, where there is a coat exchange taking place for most of the day.  Please Boycott Black Friday with me, and hopefully retail workers can get their holiday back.  There's also a petition at asking Target stores to take the high road and save Thanksgiving for everyone.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Challenges

I don't get super busy over the holidays, which I'm incredibly happy about, but I do still wind up doing a lot of eating.  Thankfully, this year, I only really have one job, which means only one work party, which I'm not actually going to attend.  Don't get me wrong, I like work parties, but they always end up costing far more than I'd like to spend to eat food that I'm never really totally jazzed about.  For those of you out there who have fully catered work parties--I salute you.

Despite not having that party looming, I know there will be others, and treats and large meals, so I am embracing two existing fitness challenges, and creating a financial challenge for myself to carry me successfully through this holiday season.

1. The Runner's World Holiday Running Streak.
This means that from Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day, I'm pledging to run at least one mile every day. Normally, I never run every single day, but one mile is nothing and is only a ~9 minute commitment per day.  Hopefully, I won't stop after just one, but I am committed to doing at least one mile per day. No excuses.

2. The Yoga Challenge.
My yoga studio's holiday challenge starts today, and I have committed that I will try to do yoga at least three times per week until... sometime.  I'm not 100% sure when this challenge ends, but I've been trying to do yoga three times a week anyway, so this is just an added incentive.  Double bonus, my friend who has been away at Bikram yoga teacher training for the last two months comes back this week and I get to take a class with her on Tuesday!  Oh, also, if I'm successful at the challenge, I get a prize.  I do like prizes...

3. Financial Challenge
This is a self-imposed challenge, but I encourage everyone out there to come up with your own challenge and commit to it before Thanksgiving.  I'm lucky in that I don't have a lot of people I have to buy gifts for.  That's lucky because I don't have much money, and also because I'm a pretty lousy gift-giver under pressure.  BF's gift(s) are already purchased/ decided upon, so for the rest of the holiday season, I'm just going to focus on distracting myself with the above fitness goals, eat at home as much as possible, and try to do as much end of the year saving as I possibly can.  I have no idea what to expect from my taxes this year, so should I have to pay in, I intend to have enough of a cushion built up that it's not that big of a deal.

The rules for this challenge:
  1. Eat out a maximum two meals a week.  This is restaurant meals, not house parties or potlucks, etc.
  2. Stay on budget in all categories.  I've been consistently over budget in the groceries and alcohol categories for the past two months.
  3. Limit alcohol consumption.  It's far too easy to get sucked into the festivities and drink too much, which makes me eat too much.  I am limiting myself to two drinks per day, with at least two days off completely from drinking each week.
  4. Walk/bike to work as much as possible.  This is harder to do some days because I have yoga immediately after work, but on days when I can get to work without a car, I should.
  5. Save!  I still need to sock away as much as I can in my Roth IRA before the end of the year.
  6. Extra work.  I have a chance to pick up some freelance work, I just need to discipline myself and actually get started.  Oh why is it so hard to not be lazy after work and on your day off!  At least the days are short and I never want to leave the house, that should make it easier to stay on task.
Anyone else want to take on some challenges?  Or is life already too challenging this time of year?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just Wait!

Instead of a compulsive spender, I've spent years trying to morph myself into a compulsive saver.  Saving gives me the same rush as spending--even a better rush sometimes because I rarely feel as good when I spend, there's often some guilt/letdown.  Unfortunately, the compulsive aspect is still the same, and I frequently find myself checking my bank balance daily; lamenting that I can't pay all the bills RIGHT NOW, and wishing my month away to get to the next paycheck faster.

Case in point:  I got paid last week, paid off my credit cards and then split the remaining money and put it into my various savings accounts: Emergency Fund, Travel Fund, and Regular Savings.  I haven't added to my Emergency Fund in quite a long time because I'm at my savings goal, but I figured I can slip a bit in there every now and then--nets me extra interest.

Almost immediately, I started regretting that there was no money left over to put in my Roth IRA, even though that's what this month's 3rd paycheck is for, and I've been mentally  planning on that for six weeks.  Still got the guilt for just not having/saving enough.

Then, a couple days ago, I went through this whole rigmarole with moving money around so I could send in a payment on my student loans.  My next paycheck is the 15th and my student loan payment isn't due until the 21st, but I started panicking because I always pay it early.  I don't have to pay it early, it doesn't really do me any favors if I do, and it's better that I put my money into savings like I did, rather than send it in to the government.

Still, I had a rather extraordinary mini-meltdown where I frantically pulled money from each account into checking, then realized I was acting like a moron and moved it all back.  Thankfully I get free transfers, but ING's automatic transfer robots must think I'm a crazy person.

Clearly upping the yoga has not made me any more zen, so I'm just going to actively try to stop being such a spaz.  There is no need to always pay things before the due date, unless I have the money and I'm not taking it from something else; and I can't expect to be able to save half my paycheck because I simply don't make that much money!  All I can do is focus on spending less, and saving what I can.  That's my new mantra.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Five Things Friday

This is one of a series of billboards along the interstate in North Dakota.
Others say Be Polite and Be Kind.  I love them.
I don't have much to say about personal finance these days. If you follow me on facebook and twitter, you will have seen this status update from yesterday: "Today I almost placed a $50 order from Old Navy (for free shipping) just because I wanted a fleece vest. Then I went for a run, and decided I can just cut the sleeves off of my fleece jacket instead. Savings!"

That's about the most exciting this to happen to me lately, but that's a good thing.

Since I, and most of Rhode Island got off pretty easy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I'm going to take today to mention five things that I am grateful for.

1. Electricity
We briefly lost power this week when a Noreaster named Athena settled in over the region.  I moved the milk to the freezer immediately, and was just about to fill up some water bottles to set outside to freeze (the one nice thing about losing power during a snowstorm), but then the power came back.  While it was out, I hunkered down under a blanket with a book, flashlight, cold pizza and my kitty.  It was lovely, but I was still pretty damn glad when the power came back on.  So it's a simple thing, something we take for granted, but you sure miss it when you don't have it.

2. Health
My coworker is quite a bit older than me, though I'm not sure her exact age.  She has more health problems than anyone I think I've ever met, and it's constantly amazing to me that she's as cheerful as she is.  Honestly, she never complains even though she takes 25 (yes you read that right) pills PER DAY, has an inhaler that she uses frequently and her husband was just diagnosed with tongue cancer for which he is currently doing radiation and chemotherapy.  I've worked with her less than a year, and it seems like every month she or her husband have some new freak ailment.  It's exhausting to hear about, so I can't even imagine how exhausting it must be to go through.  Either way, it makes me glad that I have my health, and it makes me more determined to do whatever I can to keep that health.
Hell no.
Also, when I get old and inevitably start falling apart, I'm going to try to maintain the same upbeat spirit she has.

3. Wee Watson
Now that it's getting colder out, my little kitty, Watson has turned into a cuddling maniac.  It's always hard in the summer when he rejects my advances in favor of splaying out on the floor or hiding in the back of the closet.  Now that it's colder, it's all Watson all the time, and I love it.

4. Treadmill
Honestly, I kind of hate the treadmill.  It's boring, I go so much slower on it, I always have to plan in advance because I need something to watch while on it, and mine is located in the basement right next to the dryer, which is not a very fun part of the house.  But sometimes, like these days when we've had all this weather going on, and the days are short and getting colder, I am really really glad I have this thing.  It eliminates excuses I would make because of the weather/darkness; it takes away the guilt of watching tv; and if I feel like walking, no one can see/judge me.  Treadmill and I are getting along quite well these days.

5. Crockpot
I am becoming a crock-potting junkie, and I love it!  The other day, I made black beans and rice, which turned out amazing.  I initially froze half of it thinking that I wouldn't want to bring it to work more than two days in a row, but I seriously wanted it again this morning.  I've been scouring the internet for good recipes, and I'm fairly convinced that there is something magic in the crockpot that just makes everything taste extra good (and makes the house smell good).  I'll probably make another batch of the magical cabbage soup soon, and then I think I'm going to make a batch of hearty Bob's Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans soup.  Seriously, if it's not slow cooker--it's crap!  Not really, but everything I've made has been delicious, and dirt cheap.  No complaints from me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Month of Reduction Final Tally

The plan this month was to reduce my spending, reduce my waistline and reduce my number of possessions. Let's take a look back at how I did, shall we!?

  • I reduced my spending quite a bit despite all those stupid car things that I had to pay for.  I had 15 no-spend days total for the month, and I did not go over my grocery budget!  Woot!
  • I also cut down quite a bit on clothes buying DESPITE there being an Old Navy 30% off Stuff and Save event.  Yeah, I'm pretty strong.  I did buy a couple shirts, but I used coupons + sales to get two long-sleeved shirts for $7.50.  Kind of a big deal.
  • I reigned in restaurant eating, which means I saved money and consumed fewer calories.
  • I'm really trying to drink less and drink lower calorie.  I've discovered that the Bota Box Table Red wine is delish, and so affordable!  It's only $18.99 (+tax) for 3 Liters of wine!  I'm so glad that drinking boxed wine is finally (somewhat) classy.  I've been doing it since college, afterall.
  • I've increased my exercise and variety of exercise.  I'm now doing Bikram yoga twice a week, and the outside temperature is perfect for running!  I've run more miles in October than any other month this year! I love fall!
  • I have lost no weight as a result of my efforts.  Highly scientific conclusion: I just can't lose weight.
Just kidding!  I didn't buy any Halloween candy, I'm too cheap

First paycheck of November will go toward credit cards, with just a wee bit for savings.  Next paycheck will be split between putting money in checking for December rent, student loan payment and saving.  Then, magical paycheck number three, should be all savings!

I am staying the course!

The month of November I should be able to maintain my relative austerity.  The days will be getting colder, and I have a ton of sweaters already, I have lots of Groupons for restaurants if I want to go out and the shorter days make me just want to hunker down.  I've also discovered that I don't hate exercising at night like I previously thought.  I can go to the 6:30 yoga class right after work, and the horrible heat of the Bikram room effectively kills my appetite til I get home (plus I can have a late afternoon yogurt if I'm feeling peckish); and the other day, I had a quick dinner, then got on the treadmill and it was great!  Plus, working out at night makes me likely to drink less alcohol (need to re-hydrate), which also saves me money--and calories.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh Sandy Baby!

BF and I just went for a walk by the hurricane barrier to see the storm surging, but it takes a while for the storm to get all the way up to RI, so we're ok for now.  For the rest of the East Coast, I hope you're safe and still have power, but prepare nonetheless (if you still have time).

Providence Hurricane Barrier--closed
My friend Bonnie put together a handy list of tips for hurricane preparedness, which I'm just going to copy and paste while linking back to her more silly list on her blog:

Having lost power and water for a few days last year during Irene, here are my best tips: (Note: these are more for a couple days of weathering an outage in relative comfort and safety, not hardcore survival tips for a week. Though, you'd be surprised how many of these things sound dramatic but really come in handy after about a day.)

1. Shower while you still can. Then...

2. Make sure your bathtub is clean and fill it with water. If you have a Brita or some other kind of filter, you can drink it if you need to. If not it comes in handy for cleaning stuff, including yourself and to have in case of an emergency. Especially if you have a gas stove and therefore can boil it, use it for instant food. (sadly, this year, we don't.)

3. Make lots of ice. Any big container can be a cooler for things you want to keep out. Good in an emergency. Put it in ziploc bags and you have ready-mades for an emergency or you can drink it when it melts later if you run out of water. You can also freeze bags of water.

4. Freeze any freezable food, it will make it through if you only have a minor outage.

5. If you are a coffee or tea drinker, make lots of coffee or tea ahead of time. You'll want it later.

6. If you have a crockpot, make food now, transfer it to the crock pot to finish cooking or keep it warm as long as your power is on. The stoneware part will keep food hot for at least a few hours (probably more) after the power goes out and at least one warm meal will be nice.

Cook perishable foods and wrap them in foil separately and pile them in the crock pot, just as "hot storage" - baked potatoes, veggies, chicken etc. if you don't want to make a hot dish (or just so you have options). Also make easy-prep foods, sandwiches etc. like you'd do for a road trip.

7. Eat lots of protein while you still have power, later on when you don't have power, most easy food to eat will be carbs. Aside from being healthy cause protein now will sustain your energy better later, you are just going to get sick of snack foods, crackers, granola bars and cereal. So eat something different now.

8. Wash all the dishes you can, as long as you can. Dirty dishes will pile up so much faster than you could imagine, once the water goes out. Fill a couple tupperwares or pitchers with water to help wash or rinse for a while after.

And if you still have internet, here's a video of footage from the 1938 hurricane set to dramatic music:

I hope everyone is safe and dry!  Back to your regularly scheduled programming soon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Am An Accidental Culinary Genius

I eat a lot of soup, especially this time of year.  It's filling, it's handy to bring to work, and I can make a big batch of it on Sunday and then eat it for the rest of the week.  People who don't eat the same thing for days in a row are strange, curious creatures to me (what do you do with the leftovers if you don't eat them!?!?!).  I was particularly stoked to discover recently that a pal of mine from grad school started a blog.  If there is one thing that I know about this girl, it's that she loves wine.  If there are three+ things I know about her it's that: 1. She's serious about food  2. She's vegetarian like me!  3. She's a good writer.

All these things add up to create the melange that is my new favorite blog, and after reading her recipe for Cleansing Mulligatawny, I knew I had to try to make it, and incorporate my most beloved kitchen item, the crockpot.

Only problem was, when I went to buy supplies to make the soup, I only bought cabbage, two jalepenos and Bragg Liquid Aminos.  I either forget to get the rest, or thought I already had it (I did not).  The soup that I ended up making, however, was amazing!  Also, strangely, much more similar to another recipe my friend posted: Lonna's Everything Vegan Detox Soup, but I wasn't even looking at that one!  Must have internalized it.

Anyway, that's just a long rambling lead in to tell you that I either invented or copied a fantastic recipe, which I'm just calling cabbage soup, that is both insanely good for you and super cheap to make!

  • 1/4 head of cabbage cored and chopped small
  • 1 jalepeno diced
  • 2 vegetable boullion cubes (or two cups stock)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup either lentils or Bob's Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix (something to give the soup some protein and a bit of fun texture
  • Dash of curry powder
  • Dash of garlic salt
  • Wee bit of Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Add all ingredients to the crock pot
  2. Stir
  3. Cook on High for five hours or Low for ten
Seriously, this soup is so good.  I had it for dinner, and immediately started craving it again.  Tomorrow, I'll probably just have it for lunch and dinner--why not!?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cheap(er) Gadgetry

I say over and over that I am not a gadget girl, and that's true.  Recently though, I stepped a toe into the waters of the future and bought myself a GPS running watch.  This is a completely nonessential item that I have lived without happily for years, but I finally decided that I wanted one after a few things became apparent to me.

  1. Running this year has been hard.  I've been battling injuries, loss of muscle from having to recover from said injuries and gaining weight from being unable to exercise (and, to be honest, from eating too much...).  My stride is off and running just feels like a lot more work than it used to.  Because I just wear a stopwatch watch when running, it's easy to sort of fudge my times and think I'm going faster than I am.  Now, thanks to GPS technology, I know that I have slowed waaaaaaaay down, and I have goals to work toward.
  2. Better/ easier organization.  I've got a pretty good system with using google maps to plot out running routes, but they don't allow a lot of room to mix things up.  For instance, I have a four-mile route, a six-mile route, seven, eight, etc. I do not vary from these routes, but sometimes I want to.  I also still want to hit the miles I set out to do when I left the house that morning.  GPS watch will tell me how far I've actually run if I veer off my usual route for a change of scenery, which also makes running more fun.
  3. Digital record.  I can just plug my watch in at the end of a run and upload everything I just did to Garmin connect.  This gives me my split times (time per mile), and houses all of my previous runs so I can track progress. I just found out (though I suspected) that my six mile running loop is actually 5.8 miles, so I've been cheating myself a bit in training, now I won't let myself get away with that anymore.
So, those are the positives about this little gadget, and I apologize if I sound like a shill for Garmin, it's just that I've been researching these devices for over a year, and most runners conclude that this is the best brand.  Problem is, they are not cheap, there are about a million models out there, and some of them are just huge.
That's like a computer on your wrist--not interested
So I went for the brand new Forerunner 10 because I figure since it's new and Garmin has been doing this for a while, they've now worked the kinks out.  At $129.99, it's much more affordable than other models, and it's small!  It looks like a regular watch.

I could even wear this in real life
 $129.99 is not a price that I scoff at, which is why I've been contemplating buying one of these gadgets for over a year but have been unwilling to shell out the cash.  This time around though, I used the 43 points I had on my Visa to bring the price down to $87.  If I had been more ambitious, I could have brought my change collection to the Coinstar and gotten another Amazon gift certificate.  I do wish I had done that, but I was too lazy/ too eager to place the order.

Either way, it's a win/win for me!  I don't super love Amazon, but I do love that you can buy from a third party through amazon, and save money plus get extra points.  After listening to a co-worker go on about waiting in line for hours to buy an Xbox 360 just because it was painted red (he already had an identical Xbox--what is up with people?), I started to feel pretty damn smug about being a discerning gadget shopper.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Got Cocky

The month of reduction is going really well so far.  I've been much more sensible with spending in general, clothing in particular, and have had many a no-spend day.  Also, my recent student loan payment took a cool $3.50 off the principle! Chipping away!

November is a three-paycheck month, which I'm totally stoked about.  I was planning to refortify my savings accounts and stick a lump sum in my Roth IRA.  Maybe I'll pay ever more toward my student loan, I thought!  I had all these great ideas and was doing tabulations and feeling pretty damn smug.


I keep running into the unexpected and un-fun expenses.
  1. Car tax of $84 was due end of October (I paid it early because I do not trust Rhode Island to not stick me with a late fee).
  2. My windshield wipers broke necessitating a $65 repair
  3. I still need to get my oil changed (ugh)
  4. I just got a bill for my car registration
  5. Car insurance is due December 6th and I haven't saved up anything for it
  6. I needed to get two pairs of shoes re-soled, which is going to cost $80.  It's worth it because they're great shoes and now I'll be able to wear them that much longer, but it sucks to pay that much!  BUT, I'm supporting a local business and being green by repairing what I already have.  I'm also supporting an industry that needs to exist and is rapidly dying off (I assume, but I've been actually waiting a while, so maybe they're really busy).  Still sucks though.
Aside from the cobbler expense, it's all car stuff, which leads me to believe that karma is paying me back for telling some people that I didn't have jumper cables on Sunday when I totally did. In my defense, we were in a packed parking lot (bound to be someone else with jumper cables), I'd just run a half marathon, and I was feeling sick and bedraggled.  I didn't want to hang around and be a good samaritan, and now I have a bunch of unexpected car expenditures to make--not the fun kind.

Remember last year when I failed to help that woman stuck outside of my apartment and then immediately broke my power steering? Well fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  Yes, I know that my registration would be due regardless, but this doesn't seem like some simple coincidence.

If you need me anytime soon, I'll likely be changing someone's tire in the pouring rain, or driving around looking for someone with a dead car battery and no cell phone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It's Not That I Can't, It's That I Don't Want To

Doesn't this look lovely!?!
This is something that I noticed the other day, not a new thing, but just something that caught my attention.  I was locking up my bike at work, and the custodian, who was taking out the trash did a double take before he waved at me.

Once I got inside, he asked, "You can't afford gas?"

"It's not that I can't afford it," I told him, "It's that I can better afford the calories and don't want to pay for gas."

Likewise, I kind of got into it with a library patron one day when he asked for help downloading a book to his smartphone.  I referred him to my older co-worker for help, because she actually has a smart phone and downloads books all the time (in return, I field the patron questions about eReaders--it's a nice balance).  This patron looked at me and asked, skeptically, "You don't have a smart phone?"

"I can't afford one." I told him. This has been my go-to explanation for years, and I've never had issue with it before.

"But they're only like $50 a month!" he told me, "You'd pay that much for a regular, non-smart phone."

I didn't want to debate with him about the cost of the actual phone, data plan, etc., but it really got me wondering: why do people find the need to try to spend your money for you?  I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, and I'm sure if I hunted around I could find a decent deal on a smart phone, but I genuinely do not want one.  I should have just said that instead.

I'm sure I'm guilty of this as well.  I worked with a few cellphone holdouts back in the early 2000s, and even though I can't remember specifically, I'm sure I said to at least one of them "you should get a cell phone."  Is this a distinctly American trait, or does this happen everywhere?

In the small town where I grew up, almost any time you saw someone out walking, you offered him or her a ride.  I remember one night, a friend of mine just wanted to go for a walk, and she got stopped several times by people offering her rides and who seemed confused when she said "I just want to go for a walk."

It's kind of a Catch-22 because people do these things to be nice (kind of), but it's also a bit condescending.  I guess it's similar to people telling you that you have to watch a certain movie, or you must like the Beatles  Am I overthinking things?  Has anyone else encountered this?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Give To Panhandlers?

I grew up in a very small town, and went to college in a medium-sized town, so I never really ran into the phenomenon of panhandling until I did study abroad my junior year of college.  I went to college in Oxford, England, and we were warned from practically the second we stepped off the plane never to give any money to panhandlers.

We were told, at least in this situation, that people who operate in Oxford near the shopping district and universities are 'professional panhandlers.' They sit on the sidewalk all day collecting money, and then get their Lexus (it was always a Lexus) out of the parking garage and drive back to their stately home.  This was an image that was pounded into my head by not only people associated with my school, but by locals I befriended over the course of the semester.

Personally, I'd rather go to a regular job than sit on a sidewalk all day, but I'm sure that the story that I was told can't be the whole story.

Certainly I've encountered panhandlers in other situation as well and I don't think I've ever given them anything.  There are tons of professional beggars all over the major cities in Europe, and if they pick you out as a tourist, they're actually rather rude if you don't give them anything.  I almost gave leftovers from a restaurant to a man in Washington DC, but I was worried that that would seem condescending.

Since the economy has been in this downward spiral, with Rhode Island hit particularly hard on the unemployment front, I've seen more and more people out at intersections holding signs and saying 'anything helps.'  I always feel guilty and avert my eyes, but I also had it drilled into my head by my Republican mother that if you give people who are down and out cash, they just spend it on booze.  So what to do in these situations?

I want to give something, but I almost never carry any cash, and I also don't want to be an enabler/ get taken advantage of.  I feel very bad for people outside in all weather just asking for help.  I can't imagine that it's very easy, psychologically, to stand up and beg for help, but maybe I'm just thinking like a sucker.  I'd rather give food than cash, because I'm sure that even if they're going to a soup kitchen, they're still probably hungry, but is that a rude thing to do?  I'm genuinely curious--do other people give?  Sometimes?  All the time?  What's your personal philosophy when it comes to people with signs and a hard luck story?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Update: New Car Insurance Scheme

A while back, I mentioned that I was starting a new discount program through Progressive where I plug a little gadget called a snapshop into my car, and it records the number of miles I drive, what times of day, etc., and could potentially get me a discount on my policy.  After 30+ days of collecting data, I'm pleased to report that my projected discount is 10%!

Since I did way more driving than usual in that first 30 days, I'm fairly confident that I can get that number even lower before my policy is set to renew end of December.

One thing that I have found frustrating with this little gadget is the penalty for hard braking.  Every time you brake hard, which they define as reducing your speed by more than seven miles per second, you get an angry beep that lets you know you've done wrong.  I'm not much of a lead foot, so I really didn't think this would be an issue, but I've still gotten dinged a few times.  Problem is, most often, I brake hard to avoid running into another car or killing a pedestrian.  Unfortunately, there's no way to tell the Snapshot that, so I have to listen to the awful three beeps and just shake my fist in futility.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the program.  Since I'm someone who doesn't drive much, I'm guaranteed to save money, which I'm a huge fan of.  It also makes me think a bit more about those times when I do take the car.  I'm even more vigilant about clustering my errands and biking when I can, and I haven't bought gas in a month (though BF has filled up since I last did).  I'm on track to save ~100 per year, possibly more, and I can think of a lot of things I'd rather do with that money than give it to Progressive.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Home Gym

Winter is coming.

Not for a while, obv, but eventually, and I have decided to be prepared.  Every year I feel somehow surprised when it gets bastardly cold and all I want to do is hide under a blanket.  Every year I convince myself that I'll be able to run outside in January, and every year I make myself sick.

No more.

Since I now know the value of cross-training and since I am breaking up with my gym, I have decided to create the perfect home gym that will carry me happily through this winter and the winters to come.  I do still have a plethora of winter outdoor running gear including yaktrax:
Looks like a murder weapon, doesn't it
But, even my stoic Scandinavian heritage fails on the coldest days, and honestly, who am I trying to impress?  Sometimes, it's just too cold to go running, and on those days, I have my home gym.

We live in a pretty large apartment, and have a room that we don't really use for anything.  It was supposed to be BF's office, but it's too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter (and personally, I think he just prefers to work in front of the tv), so I'm turning it into a workout space.  I spent a small amount of money on some gear:
And BF and I already had some freeweights of varying weight, and I have a yoga mat. We also have an area rug to put over the hardwood floor (thank god), and I bought a carpet-sized lint roller to get the cat fur off of it.

Then I went online and downloaded the complete collection of Zuzana Light's ZWow workouts.*  The reason I downloaded then is threefold:
  • Now I can get right  to the workout without having to watch commercials
  • If she ever takes them down from youtube, I will still have them
  • If, for some strange reason, our internet stops working, I will have no excuse not to work out!
She uploads a new workout every week so there's always something new, you don't need much, if any, equipment to do them, they only take 20-30 minutes and they are HARD.  I'll probably only do one a week because they're so tough--much harder than I would be on myself if I was going to the gym.

So, for the low-low price of $77, I have a pretty good home gym.  I have everything I need to get in a good workout at home and my own trainer to keep me motivated.
Yup, her boobs are ridiculous, but I would like those abs
If I ever get bored of the 36 workout videos I have (which is doubtful because I've never even owned that many workout DVDs), there's a new one each week, and they're all free!  Isn't the internet great?!

*If you want to download and save videos from Youtube, you just need to download and install a free program called aTube Catcher.  It downloads videos from the url, and then you can store them on your harddrive or a flash drive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Month of Reduction

That's what we're going to call October.  I'm going to reduce spending, reduce my waistline and reduce my possessions.  Do you ever feel like I'm always working on the same goals month after month?  Yeah, me too.

September was a strange month.  I had a forced week of from work, during which time I failed pretty spectacularly to accomplish any of the lofty goals I set for myself.  Then, I went to Minneapolis for a week to hang out with my little brother.  That was possibly the best week I've had in a long time.

I went to the Renaissance Festival:
Minnesota Renaissance Festival!  Since 1971!

And discovered that I don't think I'm a Ren Fest type of gal.  I can see that it might be fun with friends, but my parents were not super into it, and it seemed to me like a dusty shopping mall full of people wearing costumes.  So now I know, and I will save money on future Ren Fest admission!

I ran in the woods:
Fall comes early to the north country
My brother lives right next to a small State Park, and I spent a major part of the week exploring the network of trails that run through it.  It was a fantastic sporty adventure, and I discovered a Nature Center, an Outdoor Gym, a boat launch and other woodsy wonders.  Good stuff.
Outdoor Gym!  How cool is that!?!?
I also spent the week lazing around (recovering from running, um, yeah), catching up on True Blood, seeing old friends and eating a lot of chips and pizza.  Seriously, when I got back and went to a hot yoga class, I smelled like sour cream and onion.  Sorry you had to read that, but honesty is important.

Therefore, my October goals are as follows:
  • Get back on an exercise routine.  My next half marathon is October 14th, and I want to do well.  The weather is perfect running weather, and I just need to get out there instead of sleeping in all the time.
  • Get back on budget.  My vacation to Minneapolis was actually quite frugal because I stayed with my brother for free, he paid for pretty much everything and I had $200 worth of Southwest vouchers to pay for the plane ticket.  So that was the cheapest vacation of all time, but I'm still feeling a bit off, and need to get back into a money, as well as exercise, routine.  I'm not carrying a balance on my credit cards, but I haven't really been saving.
  • Do more reading.  I've been a total tv whore and have woefully neglected my beloved books.  I'm currently reading Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  Anyone read it?  It's really, really good (so far) and if you haven't, you should.
  • Explore crock pot recipes.  I feel like I've been eating out forever, even though I bought a bunch of groceries when I was at my brother's.  Here's the rub though, he doesn't eat normal food.  I had to think of foods that I could prepare in his house with his limited supplies.  Example: I bought eggs thinking I could scramble or fry them.  He doesn't have a frying pan, so I had to boil them.  I had to buy instant coffee because he doesn't have a coffee maker, and he didn't have a knife sharp enough to slice a cucumber.  So, I'm looking forward to more home cooking.  Last night I made vegetarian chili in the crock pot, and it was awesome.
What do you have planned this month?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How To Have Cancer

Today is the four year anniversary of my friend Bri's (rhymes with dry, not like the cheese) cancer survival.  In order to celebrate, she made this fantastic photo album that made me laugh and cry all in the course of a few minutes.  I asked her if I could share it, and she said yes.

Hopefully everyone who sees this will never need this information, but most of it is just solid life advice regardless.  Thanks, Bri, and Happy Anniversary!

Note:  if you hit play, the slideshow goes super fast--too fast!  Hit play, then skip picture to picture.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Week Off: Day 3

Yesterday's to-do list:

  • Cross Training workout--see below
  • 2pm meeting
  • Trip to Target
  • Bring Shoes to Cobbler
  • Start Cleaning Basement
  • Writing
  • Mop Floors
  • Cocktails with J (different J)

That workout was brutal-- holy crap.  It's amazing how exhausted you can get in only 20 minutes, but I was certainly feeling it, and I really wonder what downstairs neighbor thought of me doing burpees over his head.

And yes, I didn't do the four least attractive things on that list, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  I was way too ambitious when I made the list, let's be honest.

Today's agenda includes:
  • Shorter run, 4-6 miles depending on how springy my legs are feeling
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Meeting with Bikram instructor about getting free yoga!! That's right!  A friend of mine had worked out a deal with the yoga studio where she traded light cleaning duties for free yoga.  Now she can't do that anymore, and she gave them my name! This is perfect because I've been wanting to keep up with yoga--especially over the winter when I can't run as much, but I really couldn't afford it.  Win/win!
  • After the run and yoga, I'll probably want to laze around for a while, so I'm totally giving myself permission to do that.
  • Writing--I can write and laze
  • Light cleaning around the house--perhaps venture down to the basement and asses the situation
  • Home-made dinner, and a walk with B.  Probably watching a movie/tv show with dance and/or gymnastics to follow.  Like you do.