Tuesday, December 6, 2011

{thinking out loud} lighten up, it's just fashion!

Guys, according to my mom as a child I would walk into a room, ask a question, and then leave. Without waiting for a response. Because I liked the sound of my own voice. :)

So this is basically that. I mean, you're probably not going to get much helpful out of this.


Um you guys, thank goodness for Pinterest. (Here's me on Pinterest.) I swear I did not know how to dress myself beyond T-shirt and jeans before this website came about. But as I have slowly pinned things onto my fashion board, I have realized that I have a sense of style! Holy vintage dresses, Batman!

Here's what I like:

Neutrals, jeans, layers, and a nice pop (or two!) of color.

Flirty vintage (or vintage inspired) dresses.

Layers for interest.

(How gorgeous is her hair, too?!)

Retro lines, bright colors.

I could never pull off this bathingsuit, by the way. Toooo many curves.

(Too late at night to post all the photo credits, but you can find them all here.)

important (?)

Here's the thing, though, you guys. I mean... Should I buy leggings? Leggings are so in right now. I think you wear them under dresses and with boots and such, but guys, my thighs. In leggings. The world has not seen the likes of that since I was in about 6th grade, with my oversized shirt tied at the hip. You know what I'm talking about? There's got to be a small small gap between the bottom of the shirt/dress and the top of the boots for me to dive into the leggings trend.

But Santa is for sure brining me a skinny belt for my layers.

Okay that's all I have to say about fashion. Hopefully I start looking like I can dress myself soon. Before I'm 27. Seems like you should be able to dress yourself by then.

also p.s. did you get the PR quote as the title?

Thank you, Santino, for our favorite season of Project Runway ever (it was like 5 years ago) which we watched on DVD and still quote on occasion. ("Where's Andre!?")

Friday, December 2, 2011

{Money Smarts} Anatomy of a (Mostly) Money-Saving Grocery Trip

I'm not a hardcore "couponer." I mean, I use coupons, but I don't devote a good portion of my day to searching, clipping, organizing, and driving to several stores with kids in tow. I use them, but there are actually a lot more ways to save on your grocery bill. Most of them are pretty easy, so I thought I'd share, using today's real world, average day shopping trip example:

Total Spent: $31.65
Total Saved: $29.88


The Receipt

This is the receipt from an everyday grocery trip. You'll notice that I paid a reasonable amount ($31.65), not $1.75 for everything. But you'll also notice that I saved almost as much as I spent ($29.88! Are you wondering where that number came from since it isn't on the receipt? I'll tell you later.). And most of it was pretty easy. Read on and I'll break it down for you.

Buy On Sale.

We've talked about this before. Store sales go in 6-week cycles, so the best way to buy is to grab what you need at the lowest price point. Glancing at my receipt I found only 3 things I bought that were not on sale--sour cream, salt, and our favorite salad dressing--added up to about $5.

I could have saved that $5, but these I felt were worth spending the few extra cents on because we had things at home waiting for them (like, for the dressing, 6 heads of lettuce from Costco that would spoil) and we are picky about our brands of a couple things. Also, my dressing stockpile had run out.

Use a Store Rewards Card.

The store I shop at--Harris Teeter, we'll call it HT--has a rewards card AND a bonus online program called e-VIC. If you sign up for their card and bring it in, you get discounts. If you sign up for their online program, you get unadvertised discounts! They have great deals on the weekends that they email to you, and I was able to score a freebie today because I had some coupons & my e-VIC card. Oooh!

So sign up for it.

Oh! And it also helps with those coupons that get printed out for you at the end with your receipt--they track what you buy so they can print relevant coupons.

Store Card Coupons.

Guess what? Some stores allow you to load online-coupons right onto your store card (no printing!). Those will work in conjunction with paper coupons, so you can get a deeper discount! Woo!

Paper Coupons.

Don't be afraid! They help. More discussion of non-scary-coupon-tactics coming up.

Find Out About Additional Discounts.

My brilliant friend Nicole recently wrote an AWESOME post about dozens of ways to save money (on all kinds of things). You should read it; it will blow your mind. One thing she mentioned was that she got stores to let her use her husband's student discount even when he wasn't there.

HT offers a 5% discount to students, but I'd always missed out on it because the hubs is usually at school when I shop. Today I tried Nicole's suggestion and just told them (honestly! Don't lie guys--keep your karma clean) that my husband was a med student and asked if I could have the discount. They gave it to me no problem, even without his ID.

Soooooo check if your grocery store has discounts that apply to you! Military, Hospital/Government/Teacher, age relevant (HT also has an Over 55 discount on Tuesdays), etc. Just ask at customer service if they do discounts.

Paying with a Rewards Card.

I mentioned before that the hubs and I use mostly credit cards (which we pay off in full at every statement, so we carry no balance and pay no interest charges) because they offer rewards per dollar like miles or cash. So every time I pay a bill or buy groceries, I'm getting a little of it back.

Did I mention Online eCoupons?

Okay so the bottom of my receipt says $27.88 in savings, but I wrote that my end number was $2 more. That is because I used an eCoupon from SavingStar. (FYI--Upromise has a similar program.) You sign up with them, register your store card, and then choose the coupons you want online. They get notified after you buy the items in question, and add the coupon amount to your account.

You get a payout of a giftcard to somewhere (Target, Amazon, you choose) at $5. So today I used two of those, 1 for cereal and 1 for crackers, and saved that additional $2. :)

One More Thing... Split Big Deals!

My friend Melissa tipped me off to a great sale on buy-three-get-one-free oranges at Whole Foods--20lbs for $15! I never pay less than $0.99/lb, so 75 cents was too sweet a deal--but there is no way we can go through that many oranges before they spoil.

So I called my neighbor and asked if she wanted in--we split it and each got 10lbs for $7.50.

The hubs will be a happy man when he sees these babies waiting for him in the kitchen. ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

{Check-In} November Fitness Report

Friends: I weigh 108.25lbs.

I am only 3.25lbs away from my goal weight.


November was easier and harder than month one of this. I know you're sick of hearing about calorie counting, but since I'm still working on it, I'm still writing about it. This month it was easier, because I'm starting to get a feel for estimating calories and portion sizes, so I don't have to look everything up or measure/weigh everything quite as much. But I also got tired of watching what I eat. I love to eat. It was hard.

That said, I am kind of shocked that it is still working. I always thought weight loss was this mystical thing--some people exercise and fat melts off, others can't seem to kick it. For no apparent reason. And I was really stubborn about not wanting to count my calories, because lets face it--it sounds intense and obsessive. And kind of like a party-killer. But its not. I was wrong. It is the "magic" solution. Even if I didn't exercise, I could still lose about a pound a week just by knowing how much was going in and how much I used up during the day. It is crazy. Anyway, if you are trying and failing (like I was FOREVER) to lose weight, consider learning more about it.

Calorie-Counting-Without-Imploding Strategies

This month I noticed just how crazy I was going trying to stay within my 1200 weight-loss-calories per day, so I came up with some strategies to help me be a normal person but still get these last darn pounds off my body. Here they are:

  • Save Them Up. I love eating with the hubs. I don't know why, I just do. Especially dessert. Seriously, what could be better than eating dessert with a cute guy, right? So I save up my calories for the meals I'm eating with him. I keep it low-cal for breakfast and lunch (under 300 if I can) so that I've got a good 600 calories waiting for me for dinner/dessert.
  • Work Out. Obviously. Earn more calories by exercising. Totally worth it to me to go 30 minutes on the elliptical so I can eat a Ghiradelli brownie. I think I've said this before.
  • Take a Day Off... Sort Of. Some days you need to have a smoothie without feeling bad about it. (Or, okay, a package of Reese's cups.) So on those days, I eat my "maintain your weight" amount of calories, which is 310 more (or even MORE if I exercise!) So like, Thanksgiving weekend? Every day was a 1510 day. I didn't lose an ounce--but I didn't gaine one either. And I got to eat lots of yummy things.
  • Remember Why. When I'm reaching for a cookie and hesitate, I think about why I'm doing this. Part of it is because I want to look good, but most of it is because I've never gone this far before. I've never bothered to take care of my body this well, or been on the track to look & feel this good. Some days I still need the cookie. But most days, I don't.
I don't feel that Kate Moss is a good role model as far as healthy weight goes, but she did say one thing that stuck in my mind, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." We should probably replace "skinny" with "healthy" or "fit" but other than that, its an interesting thought. I think it to myself a lot when I'm fighting my stubborn I-want-to-eat-all-day side.

The Rest

I'm glad I got off my butt and tried to do this, even though I thought I couldn't. It has been really empowering. I'm thankful for a husband who treats this as a real, legitimate goal--he goes to the gym when he can and high-fives me for going on my own when he can't. He counts calories when he cooks so I can enter my numbers, instead of treating that like an obnoxious woman thing that he doesn't want to deal with. I'm glad he's got my back.

I'm glad I started here, glad I've stuck with it, because this first victory is really gearing me up to feel like I can do the other things I want to do. Still scary to stretch, but it feels good once you get past the scary.

Monday, November 21, 2011

{Money Smarts} Saving on Groceries - The No Coupon Edition

With the feast-of-all-feasts coming up, I thought it an appropriate time to talk groceries. I've done a lot of learning-the-hard-way over the years, and many of you shared awesome grocery tips.

I'm going to be sharing your couponing tips in the next post, but this one is just for those days/weeks/lifetimes that you can't deal with coupons, but still want to save!

1. Meal Plan!

I'm using that as a verb. Sorry if that offends you. I started meal planning a few years ago, and now I can't imagine NOT doing it. What on earth would I do at the grocery store before that?!

We are too fickle to plan out what we're going to eat on a specific day, so I just plan for the number of days between shopping trips (usually 7, because we run out of fresh fruit by then). I come up with 8 meals--7 that I'm planning on, and a back-up easy one in case we're fickle AND too lazy to really cook.

For a while before I got pregnant with Charlie I was crazy and would only grocery shop every two weeks. The second week we just ate canned or frozen fruits/veg. Part of it was I wanted to resist impulse buys, and part of it was, I hated Wal*Mart. (Now I just don't shop there.)

2. Plan Around Sales

I'm still not great at this, because we are picky eaters, but some of you mentioned that you do your meal plan based on what is on sale that week--beef v. chicken, pasta v. rice, fruits/veggies. Brilliant! I am adding this my list of financial to-do's. (It is getting long.)

3. Stock Up

From my limited couponing knowledge I can tell you that grocery stores put things on sale in cycles, with the lowest price happening about every six weeks. Sites like Southern Savers are great for this--they only post items when they are at their lowest, so you don't have to track it yourself. When things are super cheap, stock up! We go through cereal and pasta like crazy, so I always snatch a bunch of that up when its cheap, and then it is always in my pantry ready to go.

4. Get a Raincheck

If the thing you want that is on crazy good sale is wiped clean off the shelves, get a raincheck! (Rainchecks are a little certificate the store issues saying they will honor the sale price for you at a later date when they have stock back in.)

This can work out GREAT if you coupon, but is wonderful even if you don't. I bought 6 jars of Prego last week for less than $1 each a couple weeks back, because I had a BOGO raincheck, and then they went on sale. So I paid the sale price of 3 and then got 3 more free. It was awesome.

5. Stick to the Budget

A lot of you mentioned this (wait, do you want your names dropped? Nicole, Jenna, and Madeline!) and I think it is key. First, budget an amount that you think you can actually keep yourself under (not the amount you WISH you could handle--there's time for that later). Then, stick to it. That means if you're two days from the end of the month and there is $0 in the grocery budget, eat out of the fridge, freezer, and pantry.

This is one of those things that I've never done. If we run out of food, I've always just gone to get more. But that makes no sense considering how much we have already. This month, we're going for it, and so far, so good!

6. Batch Cooking/Freezer Meals

My friend Melissa is a mother of 6 kids, all 8 and under (yes, she is amazing), and she is one of my guru's for everything motherhood. (I've emailed her about everything from budgeting to getting a baby to sleep through the night--she always seems to know the answers.) Anyway SHE WOULD KNOW, right?

She said freezer meals save a bunch. I started doing this mostly because I hate cooking at the end of the day, but now I will also do it because it saves money. Two ways: first, it is usually cheaper to buy in bulk. Second, having something on hand to defrost means we are FAR less likely to order pizza instead. Which we did waaay to much in September. Just saying.

What I do is just make dinner for that night, plus 1 or 2 more batches of it, then freeze. Some stuff gets frozen before its cooked (like pizza dough) others after (like I just made a huge batch of chili and we ate it and had 2 meals worth left).

7. WIC

Okay this is a little off-topic, but I'm going to mention it because (a) lots of people don't know about it and (b) it really helps our grocery bill. WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children, and it is a state-run grocery supplement program for pregnant or nursing women, babies, and children under 5. If you are under a certain income level and are one of those things, you qualify.

You go in once every 3 months to get "re-certified" which means they do weight check and an iron-level check, talk to you about eating habits, and occasionally you take a short nutrition class. It usually takes about an hour and a half. Then they give you vouchers for things like fruits/veggies, milk, eggs, cheese, bread, cereal, beans, and peanut butter. For babies, they provide formula, grain cereal, and baby food.

I know some people feel iffy about using WIC, because they feel like they are mooching off the system, but here is how I see it. Right now we are in a situation where it really helps our family. That is what it is there for. I know that I pour my girlie more glasses of milk than I would if I had to foot the bill on my own. It is a great program, and I am really glad it exists. Someday we will not need it--we'll be making more money and we will be paying more in taxes, and I figure some of our tax money will go toward helping someone else get more milk for their babies.

Also, I usually don't pick up things I won't use just because they are on the voucher. For example, we don't eat tuna, so I never got it. Charlie is just about done with baby food, so I probably won't be getting that anymore, either, even if they give me a voucher for it.

Here is the national WIC website if you want to learn more about your state's WIC program.

Phew! We're done.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

{Money Smarts} Generating Random Income, Part 2

A while back I talked about some really random ways that I generate income, like contests, surveys, and cash back sites for online shopping. Today I'm going to talk about how your bank can pay you more for things you already need.

Earn Interest on Savings AND Checking

Banks want your money, and if they're going to enjoy the benefits of having that cash on hand, why should you give that to them for free? Obviously you want to earn interest on your savings, either in a savings account or a CD, but why not earn interest on ALL the money you have at a bank?

Lots of banks are now offering interest-checking. The interest rate is lower than a savings account, but still--every little bit helps, right? Even 1% interest is as good as a lot of credit card reward rates.

Online banks, like ING Direct (who I've banked with for several years) and Ally often offer better rates, but you can easily shop savings, checking, and CD rates at all kinds of banks & credit unions online at sites like BankRate.com.

Wait for Sign Up Deals

Banks are businesses, and they want to attract new customers just like any other business--which is why they often offer sign-up deals. So when I decided to get an interest checking account with ING Direct, I waited until they had a $50 signup deal. I got a referral link from someone, signed up, paid 3 bills in the first month, and BLAM-O, $50 credited to my account, for something I was going to do anyway.

Right now they have a $25 account opening deal through a referral (I will email you one if you want one), but I suggest waiting until Black Friday--they have great deals and bonuses on sale days sometimes!!

Note: Okay while you may be tempted to open a new account any time you see a bonus, keep in mind that in some cases, opening a bank account can effect your credit score, so, you know, do your research, and don't go overboard. :)

Watch for Bill Pay (or New Service) Deals

A while ago two of my bank accounts (yes, we have money at more than one bank... is that weird?) sent emails offering a bonus if I used their bill pay service. All I had to do was pay from there instead of my credit card or using a check, and I got a $10 bonus from each bank. $20 for paying some bills that I had to pay anyway. Are you noticing the trend? :)

A Few More Things

And while we're talking about banks, just in case you don't know this, you should know that:

  1. You don't have to pay a fee for banking. You can make one of those calls to your bank and ask them how to get rid of a charge, or you can switch to a bank with no fees (which is what I did, because our original bank kept sneaking fees back in for other things!)
  2. Lots of banks offer free checks. So look for that if you are a check-person.
  3. Many also offer free ATM transactions. Those add up fast. Online banks, which usually have no physical branch you can go to, usually offer free ATM transactions at ANY bank's ATM.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

{Money Smarts: Saving} Making the Call

It all started out so well.

At the beginning of the month I updated my calendar with all my bill due-dates. We put everything on our credit cards (for points + airline miles) and pay them off every month to skip out on finance charges. Anyway, my calendar said two of those big bills were coming up on the same day, so I transfered $1000 from our savings account to our checking and set up my bill pay for each card. Easy peasy.

Except that two days ago we got an email notification that we'd over-drafted our checking account by $900+.


After a moment of panic, then embarrassment, I hopped online and verified my fears: I had transfered $1000 the wrong direction, from the near-empty checking account to the savings account. Ugh. Oh, and p.s. how about a $20 fee.

Making the Call

Okay, all insurance ads aside, a few minutes on the phone really can save you a bundle of money. Since I'd been a moron and had a (moronic but) legitimate reason for this horrendous overdraft, I called my credit card company and explained. I'll spare you the full dialogue, but suffice it to say I used the words "embarrassed" and "bonehead," both to describe yours truly. I apologized and asked if there was any way they could knock off the overdraft fee. A few keystrokes later Denise (my service rep--I always call people by name, it evokes good rapport!) said yes.

A few minutes on the phone and I saved $20.

Make Some More Calls

The hubs and I are big proponents of phone calls (or face-to-face contact) to save cash. We've gotten lower rates on our cell phones and internet, a free DVR for my parents, and even stopped our rent from rising by hundreds, just by talking to someone about how much we wanted to pay.

If you've never done it, here's how to do it...

Be Nice

Always, always be nice. Call your service provider, and lead in with a compliment about what you like about their service. If you've been with them for a while, let them know you're loyal by sharing how long you've used their service. Let them know you'd like to stick with them, but you're concerned about the cost.

I also like to use the person's name whenever possible, so they know I'm listening to them.

Make a Comparison

Shop around! See if the provider is offering good deals to new customers, or if their competitor is advertising a great price. Offer this info to your phone rep, and see if they will match or beat the offer for you, the wonderful, loyal customer.

"Is There Anything You Can Do for Me?"

This phrase is key. I explain my situation (we're poor), make my comparisons (your competitor is having a sale!), and then ask if there is anything they can do.

Take it to a Manager

If they can't help you, kindly ask if they think their manager might be able to assist you. Keep being nice.

Be Willing to Walk Away

If you're just not willing to pay, and they're not willing to budge on price, tell them you'd like to cancel. They will most likely send you to their Customer Retention department, where you may finally get the price you've been looking for. If not, be willing to move on to someone new. I'd say 9 times out of 10, I get a better price. The tenth time I move on and find a service that's a better fit.


Still not sure how to do it? Here's about what the free-DVR conversation went like.

Me: Hi. My parents have had satellite with you for 10 years. I noticed you're offering free DVR to your new customers. My parents would love a DVR.
Rep: Great. They can get two DVRs for $38.99 per month.
Me: Well, they really don't want to pay anything.
Rep: Oh, I'm sorry. $38.99 is actually a really great price for two.
Me: Yeah, but they really don't want to pay anything. They're really happy with your service, and I don't want to have to switch them over to another company, but it seems like if your new customers get free DVR there might be some way my parents could get that, too. So is there anything you can do for me?
Rep: Let me check a few things. (hold music) I see a promotion that would give them the DVRs free for a year.
Me: Great! What would happen after a year.
Rep: Then they would have to pay the regular fee.
Me: They really don't want to pay a fee. Is there any way we could keep this service for free?
Rep: Sure. Call us back when the promotion runs out and we'll try to find you a new one.
Me: Great, lets do that then.

They sent someone out the next day to install the DVRs. Free. :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Real Quick

Okay people. I'm sorry. I have NOT forgotten about my financial fitness goal, nor about my promise to share all the good advice I got with (from) you. I got a nasty cold last week and nothing really got done until Friday, when I started feeling better. Oh, also the hubs was on night shifts. This may sound very 8-years-old, but I just do not sleep the same when he is not around. My house makes scary sounds at night!

Anyway I neglected a lot of things like cooking, cleaning, doing my hair or makeup or even sometimes getting out of pajamas, working on my book, and blogging. My bad.

Stay tuned this week for my most recent financial EPIC fail, a peek into my new motivational strategy, and tips from you guys that I'm excited to try out.

Friday, November 4, 2011

{Money Smarts} Generating Random Income, Part I

Up until about a month ago, I had a work-at-home job working for the company I started with right out of college. I was in-office until I had Grace, and then they kept me on to work from home, but it started getting more demanding than my mommy schedule would allow. Steve and I also decided that if I was going to really do the whole writing-a-novel thing, I needed to free up some time. So after 5 years, I gave notice, and here we are.

Now that I don't have my little paycheck every month, I'm looking for new, easy ways to generate a little income where I can. It's not steady, but every little bit helps, right?

3 Ways I Generate Random Income

At the beginning of the month I sent an email survey to a few people who had offered to share their money knowledge (and okay, a few who didn't offer, but I wanted to know anyway). At the end of the survey was an open question where I just asked people to share their favorite money-related tips, whatever they may be, and one of the things my clever friend Nicole wrote was:
Play contests! It sounds silly, but I win stuff all of the time. I won a year's supply of Tide and Bounce during medical school! It was an online game on the tide.com site. I did it every day for a month- took 3 seconds a day. Totally worth it. People say they aren't lucky, but they usually never enter anything. In the last week, I won lotion, hairspray, and a nail polish (from allure.com/freestuff).
Couldn't hurt, right? So I decided to add that to my list.

1. Play Contests. I started simple: just chose three contests of things I actually wanted (no need for a year supply of meatballs over here), added their links to a bookmark folder titled "Sweepstakes", and then just clicked through and entered every day. It really did take only a few minutes. After only three days of this, I clicked submit on one of my chosen contests and VOILA!

That's an actual screenshot, so you know I'm legit. Free full-size mascara! Pretty sweet, right?

2. Cash Back for Online Shopping. A couple months ago I started using Ebates and ShopAtHome, websites that give you a % rebate when you buy online after clicking through their sites. I thought they were kind of sketchy at first, but I just got my first cashback check from Ebates for a little over $7. Not much, but its money I already spent, and enough for a FroYo date. :) You just go to their site and click through to whichever store you want--I have bought from Barnes & Noble, Crocs, and plane tickets through Delta.com. Only downside is they don't give cashback at Amazon. (Um disclaimer, if you sign up through my links I may get a referral credit IF you buy something, so if you don't want that to happen, just google the site.)

  • Shop At Home is doing a $5 referral sign-up incentive right now, where you & your referrer get $5 when you sign up, so if you use my link you get $5.
  • Ebates doesn't have an incentive running right now, but sometimes they do sign-up giftcards, so you could wait for that unless you're planning some big online shopping sprees for Cyber Monday.

3. Consumer Surveys @ Pinecone Research. I did a dumb survey site called MyPoints for a while. Don't do it, it is more work than its worth. I did some research and finally found a legitimate company called Pinecone Research. They only send you 1-2 product surveys a month, and you get $3 per survey loaded onto a little debit card. Usually it is about new product on the market. They ask what you think of an advertisement, and sometimes even send you some of the product (things like soap, diapers, TP, etc.) to try. If that happens, you get another $3 after you review the item, and you get to keep the rest of the stuff. They don't accept new people very often, but they are accepting new people right now.

If you want to sign up, I would be happy to send you the registration link. I do NOT get anything if you sign up for this, but I really like doing it. I just used my earnings since summertime to buy baby boy some winter clothes. :)

What do YOU do to get "random" income?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

{Money Smarts} Our Budgeting Basics

We've always had a budget, but staying on track has been a learning curve.

I'm sure most of you are already in on the basics--you know your monthly income, you know your expenditures, and the second needs to be less than the first.


So, first, income. Since the hubs is in school and I stay home with the kiddos, we have an atypical situation for people our age. Our income comes mainly from three places:

  1. A stipend from the Air Force (we are doing their health scholarship program, which means they pay for school and a stipend, and we pay them back with 8-ish years of service during and after residency),
  2. A scholarship (but this obviously isn't a dependable income source) and
  3. A small student loan (which gets broken up monthly).
None of these things alone are enough to support a family of four, but we've worked out a budget based on these income sources that should be fine. A few factors have contributed to our inability to budget without the student loan, mostly my undergraduate loan payments and our car payment.


Expenditures we've been working on. At first we tried to live an intensely frugal lifestyle, but we noticed that after a couple of months we'd both feel this pent up tension, which usually ended up in a big financial splurge. Not good. So over the past couple of months we've come up with a number of categories and numbers that will keep us honest (so to speak) but still keep the reigns on the spending. We have a LOT of spending categories, but it makes it easy to track stuff without putting anything into a "miscellaneous" category. If you're interested, here they are:
  • Jamie Student Loan
  • Health Insurance
  • Medical Expenses (Dr. visits, Rx, etc.)
  • Rent
  • Car Payment
  • Car & Renter's Ins
  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Baby/Kids (Supplies/Diapers/Wipes/Clothes)
  • Cell Phones
  • Internet
  • Utilities (Water, Trash, Sewage)
  • Electricity
  • Play Money - Steve
  • Play Money - Jamie (we each get an "allowance" each month)
  • Dates
  • Family Outings
  • Gifts/Christmas
  • Household
  • Tithing
  • Fast Offering
  • Netflix
  • Gym Membership
Our Strategy

In theory, I love Dave Ramsey's cash envelope system, but it just doesn't work for us. The structure would be fantastic, but we'd miss out on other money saving opportunities--which for us is points (or miles, depending) on our credit cards, which help pay for us to fly cross-country to see our family. I also have a Target card, because I shop there a ton and it gets a 5% discount.

So right now we mostly use credit cards, except that Steve likes his "allowance" in cash. We pay off the balance each month so there is no interest charge. And I track everything on a kind of intense spreadsheet I made. When we stay on budget, this works really well for us. If we can't get it together over the next month or two, though, we might have to try switching to cash only, just to get ourselves focused.

So here's where we're starting from. If you haven't already told me, I'd love to know your take on budgeting. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

{Money Smarts} The Starting Point & Goals

November is my Financial Fitness month!

Are you guys so excited???

I actually kind of get a rush when I do a good job saving or score a really good deal, so I actually am pretty excited. I'm excited to learn more, save more, and get my butt kicked by budgeting as hard as it did by getting healthier last month (that goal is ongoing, so you'll see stuff about that when I check in on that, too!).


So we did a little trial run last month, just to see how we'd end up if we spent normally. We have had a budget for a while, but when the end of the month rolled around (or if I wanted something extra like a new lamp to replace the one my sweet baby boy broke by trying to climb it) we just kind of let go. So, the final numbers went in yesterday and we didn't do so hot... In fact we were over by about 20%.

Um yeah, oops. Which is why financial fitness needed to be the big next goal. The frustrating thing is that none of this came out of some huge purchase; it was all little things adding up.

The Mini Goals

1. Stick to the budget. If I only do this, I'll be happy. Steve and I have laid out our budget for this month, figuring in some overages, and we should have about $100 left at the end of November, but I will be happy if we break even.

2. Look at the finances every day. Everything is online, this is easy. I want to pay bills as they come in, track spending as it happens, and basically just stay on top of things.

3. Learn more ways to save (or earn). I've dabbled in couponing, but I'd like to do a little more. We're also in the process of changing banks (for better interest rates). I like when I can save on little things, because they add up quickly, especially on a budget as tight as ours. I'm also trying to figure out if we can save on any of our big expenses like heating/cooling the house, cell phones, etc.

That's pretty much it. Basically self-control and getting creative. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

{Fitness} A Personal Trainer's Flat-Belly Advice

I thought this photo of leaves would be better than another look at my non-flat belly. ;)

When I walked in to the Y last Thursday I saw a sign up for free Q & A with their personal trainers. Yay! Except I felt really shy walking up to someone and saying "How come I still have baby fat when even my baby doesn't have much baby fat?"

So I went and did my cardio, came back to the lobby, pretended to read some other signage, and finally went to the member's desk and asked. Trainer-Luke gave me some great advice after I said something almost unintelligible about my belly being "floppy" (classy, I know) and even, if you can believe it, grabbed a fistful of said floppy part to demonstrate. (Hi, my name is Jamie, and I am socially awkward.)

What I Was Doing
  • Elliptical 3-4 times a week for 30-ish minutes, occasionally other cardio
  • 2 sets of 4 different kinds of ab exercises, 20 reps each
  • Counting calories (ugh)
Turns out that was only sort of okay, but not great.

What I Should Do

Here's what you (I) actually need to do to burn belly fat.

Alternate different types of cardio. You can't target-reduce fat, so cardio is it for fatburn, people. And your body adjusts to exercise if you do it too frequently, growing more efficient (and thus burning fewer calories. DOH!). He suggested alternating between bike, elliptical, and treadmill, and there are also some great classes I could do.

Count calories. Booyah. Still trying to do this. I forgot to share my strategies; I'll have to do that later.

Strength train. I have been ignoring it, because typically it doesn't burn a lot of calories. BUT apparently muscle mass increases your metabolism which burns more calories! There are also many other benefits, obviously. So, need to do that, either with machines (they'll show you how to use them for free at the Y) or classes like Muscle Max.

Work out 5+ times per week. He said typical recommendation is 5x week for... I think he said 30 minutes. To burn this off faster, he said I need to do more than that. I'm probably not going to. But I could definitely log more time at the gym when I go, so maybe that will help.

I'll keep you posted as I go along. :) Right now my weight loss has flatlined at around 111ish. (I am short. Remember this.)

Oh! And November's focus is finances! I've got some really great tips to share (my own and a bunch that people submitted via a little email poll I sent out). If you have some, too, please email them to me!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

{Fitness} Recognizing Why We Eat

This past month of diet change and exercise has been eye opening for me. Not only have I discovered that I like (what????!?!?!) exercise (once I let go of pressure and found the things I enjoy), but also I discovered that my eating habits are not solely hunger-based.

Finding My "Tell"

Last month I was perusing a website and found this post about finding your "tell"--the thing you do outwardly that shows inner turmoil. As I read the post I recognized some of the things that I do when I'm upset--snuggle under covers, watch TV instead of doing my chores, and eating.

The past month has been an interesting test of that, because watching my calories has made me stop to think every time I reach for a snack. And I noticed in the first week that when something went wrong in my day, I immediately thought of grabbing a handful of chocolate chips. Baby woke up early from nap and is screaming for no reason? Man, I need a pudding cup. You see where this is going?

A sudden chocolate craving is one of my "tells." It actually freaked me out a little bit, because instead of dealing with the problem, assessing the situation and how to deal with it, I added this weird crutch of food-will-make-me-feel-better. Instead of thinking that I should make myself feel better by focusing, planning, or accepting whatever was happening.

Other Reasons I Eat

So then I started thinking about other reasons that I eat:

  • Boredom
  • Socializing/peer pressure
  • Relaxation
  • Because I just like food
  • Oh, and hunger.
A couple of these are okay on occasion (like socializing at a baby shower or whatever), but should I really be eating because I'm bored? Or stressed?

I just found it interesting that there were so many reasons other than hunger that I strolled my little tushka over to the fridge.

Food for thought. (...get it? Sorry. That was a bad one. :p)

Friday, October 28, 2011

{Fitness} Tools: Scaling Back

Steve and I used to eat pizza while we watched the Biggest Loser. Terrible. It was a "healthy" pizza. But still. And many, many times while they were cooking in the kitchen I watched them weigh food on a scale thinking WHAT a pain in the butt! I would NEVER weigh my food!

I've got to learn not to say I will never do things that are good for me. Because I end up eating crow.

Anyway I finally realized that I was going to have to weigh my food if I didn't want to eat solely pre-packaged calorie-labeled stuff, so the kids and I made a pilgrimage to Macy*s to use the last of a gift card I had and I picked up a shiny silver food scale. (It is not the pretty and expensive one pictured above. That is the one I wanted, but I got the one I could get for free-with-my-giftcard instead. It is not cute enough to share a picture of it.)

The Verdict

Thumbs up.

It is a little more work, yes, but I am getting used to it now. It has become part of the cooking routine, and it is pretty fast. (It doesn't take as long as that 1-minute-to-weigh-a-human Biggest Loser scale. That thing drives me crazy.) It has made calorie counting way easier and more intuitive.

And the BEST PART is that I was over-estimating some things. A chicken breast I thought would weigh like 6oz, but it is only 3! And 1oz of cheese is enough to make a nicely cheesed grilled cheese sandwich. So that means I can eat more than I thought I could, and that is a big relief.

Because I love eating.

...wait, did I already mention that? Like 12 times?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

{Food} Summer Salad, 248 Cal

Summer Salad (even though it is Fall) 248 Calories

7 oz raw spinach
1 oz strawberries (about 3-4, cut up)
2T Black River Blue Cheese crumbles
1 Jonagold apple
1T Ken's Light Poppyseed dressing

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

{Fitness} Why I'm Finally Calorie Counting

Okay, first of all, I'm not going to be talking about calories all the time. I do not like it when women obsess about "their" calories. So don't think we are going to be having real-life conversations about how many calories are in things for the rest of forever. I am still just figuring this all out. I would much rather talk about your baby, a book you're reading, how you scored a sweet deal on your super fly jeans, or whatever.

So this is just for the purposes of learning how calories feed our bodies energy and how weight loss happens. And I will get to that. But first let me show you WHY.

Why I'm Calorie Counting

So, before we had kids, I weighed 111 pounds. Right now I am swinging between 111 and 112, which is great post-10lb-second-baby. That is in the healthy BMI range for my height (crazy, crazy short: 4'10") but it is at the upper end of healthy. I want to be more in the middle.

Also, I may have gotten down to my pre-both-pregnancies weight, but I have NOT gotten back to that body type. I know that my weight distribution has forever changed. But I would like to NOT look pregnant when I'm not sucking it in. So here, at long last, are those before pictures the hubs was teasing me about because I don't look happy. I think I was just focused on trying to get the right angle so you could see the weird poochiness in all its glory.

9/30/11 - 113 lbs, no regular exercise

There it is. I am to embarrassed to show you the stomach itself, at least until I have a better "after" to show you. You're not missing out, though, I promise.

Anyway, that view in the mirror was my why. I decided it was worth the work.

Calories & Weight Loss

You probably already know this, but basically to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you expend doing exercise and your daily activities. I've been learning healthy ways to do this, but I didn't start out doing a very good job.

Here are some basics:
  • Bodies need a baseline amount of calories just to function, that means your heart beating, breathing, all that stuff your body does even when you're sleeping, requires a certain amount of calories. This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and it is basically the number of calories your body would burn even if you stayed in bed all day. You can calculate it here or if you sign up for a calorie counting program, it will probably have a calculator there, too. I did mine at MyFitnessPal.
  • Burning more calories than you take in USUALLY means weight loss. If you take in 1700 calories, do 200 worth of exercise, and your BMR is 1500, you break even. Sweet! Your body will need to dip into its energy reserves (aka fat!) to fuel your body. But...
  • Taking in less calories than required by your BMR is STARVING. You don't want to do that, not only because starving is obviously unhealthy, but also because it is bad from a weight loss perspective. When your body goes into starvation mode, it freaks out and starts holding onto fat even harder, because it thinks you are in some crazy Hunger Games situation and have to forage for food and might die. So it is really important to get your baseline amount.
  • Calories aren't everything. Your body needs nutrients: vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, etc. to be healthy. So eating a bunch of low-calorie junk food isn't going to cut it. You need real food, healthy portion sizes, and reasonable calories.
Calorie counting has been a humbling--very, very humbling--experience. I love food. I look forward to eating; lunch alone while the kids nap is a big treat for me. So finding out how many calories are in the food I thought were healthy was really a blow. Cereal and milk? Surprising number of calories, when you realize how many "servings" is in a normal sized bowl of cereal.

How I'm Doing

I'm doing okay. My weight loss has kind of plateaued the past two weeks at about 111.75 lbs, but there could be numerous factors contributing to that including:

(1) not drinking enough water
(2) hormones (we love them, right?) and
(3) inconstant eating, especially on the weekends

I am, however, doing great at my 3x week gym goal, sometimes I even hit 4 times. And things there are getting easier, so I'm having to increase intensity to keep it challenging.

I'm also learning to estimate calories in my head, which is making my eating habits a little easier.

And I'm doing crunches. I hate them more than most any other exercise, but there was no way around it. Baby bellies don't disappear on their own.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

{Fitness} Falling off the Wagon

So I weighed myself on Monday, and I was up by 1/4 of a lb. Which was depressing after losing a pound a week the two weeks before. I could claim that it is my muscle mass growing, but I know that I wasn't stellar with my calories all weekend. We had Chipotle on Friday night, Saturday we road tripped out to Blue Ridge Parkway, and Sunday we had a picnic, and I just wanted to eat what I wanted to eat.

And this gal, who was my best friend during pregnancy and nursing, I have heartlessly abandoned the past couple of weeks, only picking her up to go to the gym. Seriously, I was drinking 8 cups a day easy for months, and suddenly I'm down to maybe 3.

The calorie counting thing is a straight shot to weight loss, but I have to admit, I miss my carb-and-dairy heavy diet. Yesterday I had a salad for lunch. Don't cry for me, Argentina. It was a good one at least. But still. I used to have a bagel an apple and some cheese, and I prefer that.

Anyway, though I did go up a teeny bit, I guess I didn't fall off the wagon completely. Because I did go to the gym four times and track my calorie intake enough that I was only taking in my "maintain weight" calories instead of my weight loss.

So I guess I'm sort of holding on to the tail end of the wagon for dear life.

But I'm not going to lie, it felt bad to see the scale go up.

And though I've been doing crunches 160 crunches (4 different styles, 2 sets of 20 each) after every workout, I still look pregnant (but squishier).

That said (or whined) I have noticed some cool things. For one thing, I am usually in pain at the gym, but I suddenly don't care. I have always cared about that. But now I almost feel separate from the pain. And another thing, I am actually noticing that I have to step up my game to keep things challenging. More crunches, more intensity on the cardio equipment. So I may not be getting skinnier right now, but at least I am getting stronger.

I think the hardest part sometimes is knowing that this is not a goal that is going to be over at the end of October; it is a lifestyle change. And though I know a lot of it will get easier and more intuitive, it is kind of exhausting to think about doing this for the rest of my life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

{Fitness} We Can Work it Out

Can we, really?

So far, yes.

I really don't know what it was, except, like I mentioned before, just being sick of letting myself fail. But I am driven. For the first time in my life exercise is part of my daily routine during the week. Here are some things that have helped:

I Work Out How I Work Out

What? Yes! I like going to classes with my friends, but I am never out the door with the kids in time to make it, or I am mean to them because I'm trying so hard to hurry. So that was too stressful. And I couldn't guess my calorie burn, so I wasn't working as hard as I could. So I do not do it.

I do not like running. Even though everybody else does. So I do not do that either.

What I do like is dropping my kids to play at the Y's childcare, which they love and get excited about, and having some time to myself on the cardio equipment, either reading a book or watching HGTV. That is what I love. It feels like a break. And they track my calories, and I now know what I can burn in 30 minutes, so if I'm not hitting my numbers, I know to work harder. And I like that, too.

So, that is what I do.

The only exception? Ab work. I hate ab work, but I had a 10lb baby in me, and I should really only weigh about 105-ish, which means a baby about 10% of my size. So I had to suck that one up, because my stomach will need some work if it is going to look non-pregnant ever again. ;)

I Make it Me Time

See above. Childcare. HGTV. Book. Yes.

I Embraced the "Pain" Thing

Um, working out? Yeah, it hurts. I am not a fan of pain. But that is too bad, because I've decided to exercise, and that is part of the deal.

I Track My Progress

Kids like sticker charts. I have a mental one. Gold star for going to the gym today, Jamie. You earned some extra calories, you can have dessert. Oh, and step on the scale. Wow. A lower number. Okay, so this must be working.

Makes it easier to keep going.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yay for You

This is just to say thank you for your comments so far--you guys are seriously so helpful and I really appreciate the new insights & the solidarity! :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

{Fitness} Checking In

So I have been calorie counting for about two weeks and it is, surprisingly, going pretty well.

And by "pretty well" I mean that I have been stressed out, overwhelmed, hungry, and extremely emotional, but I am figuring it out. Let me tell you about it, really quick. (Meaning I will ramble for a while and you can skim.)

The Number

Remember how I told you about MyFitnessPal? Well, it calculated the calories I need to take in to be healthy and lose weight. And since I'm small, it was a very, very small number. 1200 for the whole day. 1200. For the whole day! Snacks included!

1200 calories is not much. There was lots of dessert-skipping going on, and that was very sad. In fact, there was no dessert at all for about a week. Go ahead and ask the hubs how that made me feel. ;)

The Experience

Seriously, the first day I kept almost crying. I know that sounds maybe a little stupid, but I just felt like none of the foods I was eating that were low-calorie were making me feel full, and my pitiful 1200 calories were disappearing fast. And I love to eat.

After a couple of days I started shifting things around, eating more veggies as snacks, switching my breakfast from Life or Special K with 1% milk to Cheerios and non-fat milk, that kind of thing. Then I started seeing that I could save up calories so I could have a higher calorie dinner with the hubs who gets to eat--wait for it--2300 calories per day. Yes. Almost twice what I eat.

But last Tuesday, I saved a little too much. I ate so low-calorie during the day that, though I had a ton left by dinnertime, I was exhausted. I had a dinner of low-calorie soup (240 for the whole can) and a piece of toast to dip in it. We had two types of bread, and I chose the lower calorie one. It was gross. But the soup was pretty good, and I felt full, and I got to have a Snickers ice cream bar with my remaining calories.

The Sandwich

This is the lunch I had last Wednesday, after a little over a week of watching my calories. Two pieces of bread, some turkey, an piece of provolone, and thinly sliced apples, with the rest of the apples on the side. It was REALLY good! I loved it. But it took me a while to figure out that I could actually eat real food, and "use up" some calories during the day. I would not have eaten this last week because I would have thought that 100 calories per slice of bread wasn't worth it.

So this week has been better. No gross bread. Less crying. And I am getting more comfortable with being mindful of what I eat. No mindless snacking while I'm fixing the kids' meals. (A lot of times I get something halfway to my mouth, though, and then stop and put it back down.) I use a measuring cup for food portioning, and am now the proud owner of a kitchen scale. I log every bite online, and I am okay with that.

What I've Learned So Far

Okay, so it has been almost two weeks. This week I am feeling more full on less calories (I can tell you how now, if you care). I have still had some crying jags, but I am feeling a little more in control which--unfortunately--is important to me. I have averaged 4 trips per week to the gym, and about 1lb per week of weight loss.

When I stepped on the scale for my weekly weigh in, I was depressed. I honestly didn't think that even with all that work any of this would melt off. But a pound a week. That is pretty good. And thank goodness because reigning in my diet has been crazy hard.

What's Left to Learn

Oh. Lots of things. I need to work on my weekends, when date nights or evenings with friends lead to me blowing my calorie count BIG TIME. I need to find more options for eating, because I love to eat (did I mention that?). I need to make sure I am taking a vitamin, and that I am eating a variety of healthy things, not just the things I know are calorie-cheap. So I'll be working on that. And preparing myself for the holidays, because that is basically like running a calorie-counting 10k while bricks of fudge are being thrown at your mouth. :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

{Fitness} Tools: MyFitnessPal.com

As a teenager I swore never to count calories. But I guess you can see now how well that is going for me. But really, it sounds like a pain in the BUTT to try to figure out how many calories you need, how many you should take in if you want to be healthy but losing weight, and then track your daily intake of food. And I bet it was a pain before the internet.

MyFitnessPal: Dumb Name, Good Tool

When the hubs got his fabu new iPod Touch he got addicted to downloading free apps. Though he doesn't need to lose weight, he was intrigued by the fitness apps and found one called MyFitnessPal, which also happens to be a website (for those of us who aren't yet toting around one of those shiny silver pieces of machinery, but have at least entered the internet age).

Here's a peak at what my food log there looks like:

About a week ago I logged in, entered my stats (age, height, weight) and my weight loss goal, and it spit out a calories-per-day goal for me to follow. I actually really love it, and here's why:

  1. It has a database of foods already set up so I don't have to look up the nutrition facts of every food I eat. It also saves foods I eat a lot so I can just click and add to track my meals. You can also add your own recipes of meals you eat or enter new foods with their nutrition facts if they don't show up.
  2. It does the adding and subtracting for me so I don't have to add and subtract in my head, which I should never do, I am terrible at it.
  3. It focuses on more than calories, showing if I go over or under my ideal protein and fat intakes, too.
  4. It calculates extra calories for exercise and has a database of exercises so I can just look up what I did and get an estimate. Or if I do a machine at the gym, I can just enter in the calories I burned.

It also has space to track your water intake, and gives you an estimate of when you'll reach your weight loss goals. I'm not really into forums, but they have those, too, which I'm sure a lot of people would find helpful.

So the calorie counting thing has actually been pretty straightforward with this. It's the actual eating part that has been hard.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fitness Goals

I have never been good at "fitness." I don't like running, or really very many exercises, or being uncomfortable, or having to take more than one shower a day because I've just been to the gym. On the other hand I love dairy products, chocolate, avocado-bacon-cheeseburgers, and that delicious caloric bomb, the Chipotle burrito.

Maybe I look okay (I'm not going to lie, though, I am usually "sucking it in") but I have never been able to stand in front of the mirror and feel really proud of my body: how it looks, feels, and works. Because I have never done a super great job taking care of it. (Yep, those are a pair of "His & Hers" burritos about the size of our second-born. Also, looks like its time to wipe down those invisible-to-the-naked-eye-but-awkward-on-camera cup-rings. Clearly we haven't hit that housekeeping goal yet.)

So for October I'm focusing on getting healthy. This is going to start with slimming down--my baby boy is almost 10 months old, we're done breastfeeding, and there are no more excuses for this post-baby ponch to be hanging around. Unfortunately, it doesn't want to just melt away on its own.

But aside from slimming down, I want to learn how to eat better, healthier foods on a daily basis: what to substitute to lower calories and fat, what kinds healthy fats, proteins, etc. I need for my body to be not just functional, but nourished. (I'll probably have to take another month somewhere to focus on nutrition alone, but I'm going to get started now.) I want to be trim, but eat real (not processed, "lite," aspartame filled) foods.

I'm not sure what has finally spurred me on except that this year I just feel tired of failing. Of letting myself fail. Of letting that be okay. The other day I just jumped on the bandwagon, and I'm holding onto that thing for dear life.

So here are the goals, bullet-list style. (I know we all love a good bullet list...)
  • Learn how food fuels the body (so I know I am eating healthier, not just cutting calories)
  • Get to a more mid-range BMI (I'm on the heavier-end of healthy, I'd like more wiggle room, so this means getting down to about 105-ish lbs... Remember I am VERY short, so this is an okay weight.)
  • Tighten up the floppy post-second-baby-belly
  • Go to the gym at least 3x per week
  • Learn to eat well & feel full on less calories
  • Eat real, healthy foods (avoiding overly processed foods for most meals)
If you have insight on any of these things I really want to talk to/email you and pick your brain, so let me know!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October is Fitness Month :)

Okay, friends. I am steadily working away at little bits of each goal, but this month my big focus is going to be on fitness.

I am 10 months post-partum and I still look a little bit pregnant in the belly region... Except more saggy. Thank you in advance for telling me I don't look pregnant, but trust me, I am sucking it in. ;) In fact, I took a few photos of myself from the side to prove it, but Steve confessed to me last night that he laughed when he found them because I look so before-photo-depressed in them. He told me, "Those are NOT pictures of my wife" and thanked me for being more cheerful in real life. Haha. I took that as a compliment. So I will take some different, less emo photos to share as my "before" I guess.

Anyway, I'm planning to get myself in gear (and to the gym), focus on healthy eating, and hopefully feel healthier and more energized. If you're interested in joining me, or have any tips for getting started I hope you'll email me and/or leave me some love in the comments!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Time Management: Stay On-Task

So I haven't updated in a while, first because I was on vacation (just me! I visited my sisters-in-law in AZ and it was fantastic, as were the solo kidless plane rides). I got back on Sunday, and except for a couple of naps to reset my internal clock, I've been working on getting myself in gear.

Report: Black holes

I'm doing okay here. I definitely still get stuck on Pinterest a little more often than I should, but I am pausing to think before I take the computer out of hibernation. I used to get on first thing in the morning to check my email, but lets face it--nobody has anything that important to email me about. So now I'm eating breakfast with the kids, getting dressed, and checking my email (quickly) later.

I'm also following my rule that if I start trying to think of things to do online, it is time to get off.

New Goal: Stay On Task

Now that the black holes are getting a little more in line, I've added staying on task to my time management goals. My friend Jenna, who I find very efficient, suggested this to me--to just do one thing at a time.

This is really hard.

Part of being a stay at home mom is being frequently (constantly?) interrupted (unless the TV is on) and I think that combined with my natural multi-tasking tendencies has made me a little ADD. Which means I'll get halfway through folding the laundry and get distracted by a messy bedroom. Then I'll get halfway through that and give up and start on lunch.

So I'm trying to start--and then finish!--tasks before moving on to something else. I still get off track often because of that ADD thing, and because I do have to stop doing things sometimes to disentangle a kiddo fight or something, but I think this is going to make me much more productive.

Already I have noticed that cutting out internet time and trying to stay on task have made me feel like I'm getting more done, because a finished job is more visually pleasing (and emotionally rewarding) than several partially finished ones.


I know blogs are supposed to have pictures... Are you needing a picture to feel more into what I'm writing? I won't take offense, I'll just probably start adding a picture. ;)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Organized: The 3 Month Food Storage Plan

Okay, I realized now that I am too impatient to focus on just one goal at a time, so I think I'll focus on bits of each goal and share as I accomplish them. I know. I am ADD. Sorry. Anyway...

Oh my word does food storage intimidate me. I know we have been counseled to prepare for a rainy day (figuratively AND literally) by everyone and their mom (if by "their mom" I mean church leaders and FEMA) but hi, I can barely think of something to eat for one night, so THREE MONTHS OF ENTIRE DAYS? Yeah, I don't think so.

Then for our anniversary, we went to see Contagion (so romantic, I know--we felt so germaphobic while watching it that we didn't even hold hands! haha) and there was a scene where FEMA ran out of food to distribute and everyone went crazy.

And I just thought... Well. Maybe we should have some food storage, because it looks like FEMA might not have that handled for me for some reason.

(And for the record, we did go out to a nice romantic dinner beforehand, just so you're not worried about our marriage or anything.)

The Strategy

We are picky eaters. We are also on a super tight budget. So I didn't want to just buy a bunch of random stuff we'd never eat, like random cans of chili or what have you, because (1) I didn't want us to hate eating our food storage and (2) I wanted most of it to be able to rotate through our normal meals.

For some reason when I sat down to finally make my meal and shopping list Saturday morning, it seemed easy. I just did two things:

  1. Made a one-month menu of meals we regularly eat, following the example of a friend-of-a-friend. Some of the meals were repeated more than once (for example, pasta + veggies is one of our staple meals, and we don't mind eating it every week, so I put it on there four times).
  2. Used an auto-populate spreadsheet from Food Storage Made Easy. I just put in the meal and the amount of each ingredient it would need for a month, and it calculated what I would need for 3 months.
I tried to choose meals that had mostly shelf-stable or freezable ingredients. For example, I had a lot of things that required canned corn or black beans, and things I could freeze like shredded cheese or chicken breasts. I tried to avoid eggs or milk or anything else perishable (that I wouldn't have freezer space for), though I do plan on some powdered or boxed versions of each of those just in case.

HOT TIP: If you're looking for recipes that don't require those perishables like butter, eggs, etc. try googling "vegan" + whatever recipe you are looking for. I found some great muffin & cookie recipe ideas for my food storage this way!

Anyway, I have my list now, so once I print it out I can start adding things to my weekly shopping trips. I'm actually kind of excited! :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Time Management: Black Holes

I do good thinking at breakfast, so while the kids and I dined on cereal (dry Cheerios only for Charlie) the other day I wrote up a list of things I could do to help me my days in order:

And since Photobooth took this mirror style for some reason, here is what it says:

  • eliminate black holes (metaphorical, not literal)
  • have a (flexible) schedule
  • make a list
  • say no when you need to
  • stay on task (or don't multi-task)
  • plan ahead
  • finish what you've started

After I wrote up that list, I left it sitting on the table because I really didn't want to deal with step number one very much because it is just so fun to click around on Pinterest all the time! But today I'm ready to get started. (Well tomorrow I guess, since today is already part-way over?)

Eliminating Black Holes

Design Mom has been posting about having a good Work-Life Balance, and the tip that hit me was to get rid of what she calls the "internet black hole." The internet is definitely a black hole for me--it sucks me in and before I know it all the time I'd mentally allotted to doing the dishes has been spent perusing blogs and window shopping for new bedding for our room (still haven't found the one for our room anyway...).

So my goal for this week (and part of next, I guess) is to really limit my internet time. I'm going to pick a few times a day that I can surf, and other than that, no dice. Here is how I'm planning to accomplish that:

  1. Keep my computer closed except during the appointed times.
  2. Keep a pen + paper list of things I want to look up/email/etc. so I don't feel pressured to do it right away.
  3. Replace some of my "fun" or "bored" time on the internet with other fun things like working on my stash of crafts, taking the kids out, or reading something fun.
  4. Get off when I find myself searching for things to look at (no need to check facebook more than once!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Goals & the Rules

After I clicked SEND on my email re: this blog to a few friends a few days back I felt the inevitable hot blush of fear that follows a public (or even semi-public) announcement of life change. Because now you will ALL know if I FAIL!

But that's not what this is about, right?

This is about trying, and I feel like even trying to do better will make me feel better. Because trying is hard!

So, really quick, here are my rules & goals!

The Rules

1. No guilt. This is not about feeling bad about yesterday. If I miss something, I'm not allowed to feel bad, I just have to do better today.

2. Report. I have to report once a week. I'm hoping to do it more often, to share my mini-steps in each goal, but I didn't want to put pressure on blogging when the point is progress, so my requirement is only once a week.

That's it. :)

The Goals

  • Manage my time more effectively.
  • Enjoy my children.
  • Become a better housekeeper.
  • Write a book.
  • Make and (really) keep a budget.
  • Learn more about nutritious eating (& put it into practice for our family)
  • Lose the baby fat around my waist. :)
  • Get organized.
Most of these things will take time to accomplish, so I'm going to start by focusing on improving my Time Management. Hopefully that will free me up a little more time to spend on these other fun goals.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rock Bottom

So this stared when... Wednesday?

It had been a hard day.

I'd started with the best intentions--to not yell or snap (nasty habits I'd picked up over the past few weeks; not something I want my kids to remember about me), to pause and really be with the kids, to enjoy rather than be annoyed, to get things done instead of languishing in discouragement (or laziness).

So when Grace threw a tantrum about getting her underwear on and I snarled at her and then Charlie began an hour or so of nerve-grating, endless tears (probably because he was teething) while I was trying to get the house and dinner ready for Steve to come home, I lost it. I started crying--not just a little bit, to myself, but hard, sit-down-on-the-floor head-in-your-hands crying, right in front of Grace. Empath that she is, she burst into tears. So we were all sitting there--me on the floor, Grace in the throes of agony, Charlie distraught in his high chair--crying.

And I felt again the terrible emptiness of defeat.

It wasn't just the parenting-fail moment that brought this on, though. That was just the cherry on top of a massive guilt-over-underachieving sundae. (Sounds like the worst sundae ever, right?) Because I thought that by this point in life I would be able to keep the house clean and make it feel more home-y, cook dinner (or at least think of something to cook!), take care (physically, emotionally, spiritually) of my children, pay the bills, eat healthily and affordably, spend quality time with my children & husband, and, of course, exercise regularly so that I can both feel more energized and maybe let go of the spare tire I have leftover from being pregnant.

Oh and did I mention I am trying to pursue my ultimate all-time lifelong (or at least since I was 5) dream of writing a novel?

Maybe this seems silly to you, to worry about these kinds of things, but I hope it doesn't. We are all engaged in a constant battle to become better versions of ourselves, and I've just hit a spot where I look at where I thought I could be by now and see where I am, and the gap between those two places is dishearteningly wide.

Which is why it is time to make change a process instead of an afterthought.

So here I am. Feeling rock bottom. Ready to start fresh. I've been reading a lot about the things that I want to change, and about how to be happy, and I've decided to take the same approach Gretchen Rubin used in The Happiness Project: I'm going to do a month by month (or maybe bi-monthly) breakdown of the things I want to accomplish, and then chronicle how I am accomplishing them. I'm going to be asking for help and opinions, experiences and shout outs, so I hope you'll come along for the ride. :)

We'll lay out the rules and the goals next, and then we'll get started from there.

If you are interested in participating & pursuing goals with me, please fill out this SUPER quick form!


"And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life." - J.K. Rowling

The Fringe Benefits of Failure (via YouTube) - J.K. Rowling's Harvard Commencement Speech 2008