Tag Archives: finances

Winter 2012 / 2013 To Do List

I’m SERIOUSLY loving having seasonal to-do lists right now. They are an awesome way to try some new experiences or make sure I make time for things I love, AND they’re a great way to set some self-improvement goals. I am flossing like a champion these days… so you know this is a good process. Take a look back at my summer and fall to do lists if you haven’t already.

Winter is an interesting season! It’s not my favorite, but it has its unique qualities that I love. First off… I was born in the winter! WOOHOO BIRTHDAY PARTAYYY. I’m turning 25 this January… quarter century! There’s also the Christmas / Holiday season which is always fun! I love snow and skiing and SOUP and hot chocolate. All those awesome things. But I don’t love the short days, cold temperatures, or lack of outdoor time. So this year I want to fill my winter with fun activities and a little dash of self-improvement.

  • Love Marathon Training – So far so good! I’m two weeks in (I owe you guys a marathon musings actually… later today) and things are going really well. I want to keep up this enthusiasm! I’m working to reframe my mind too. Last time around, I got really negative about all the training I “had to do”. This time I want to keep my eyes on the fact that I chose this goal and it’s going to be totally kick ass when I finish. 
  • Strength Train at least 2 times per week – I actually really already do this but sometimes strength training falls to the back of my mind. With starting up marathon training, I need to be really intentional about strength training (or it will easily fall off my radar). I’m thinking that I want to do my entire body two times per week… but they might mean breaking it up into shorter bouts in more than two days.

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  • Read More, Watch TV Less – Straight up… I LOVE TV. I just do. But Mike doesn’t really watch TV, so it’s not really an easy activity that we can do “together”. I don’t want to stop, but sometimes I think I’m doing it just for the sake of doing it. I also find that when I watch TV less, I enjoy it more (delayed gratification). So instead of always resorting to putting the TV on, I want to increase my time doing other activities like listening to music or reading.
  • Read a classic novel I haven’t read yet – I didn’t ACTUALLY finish Anna Karenina but I read some and I saw the movie. It rocked btw… go see it. I have read a lot of the classics, but the other day I was scanning the Top 100 Books list on Amy’s blog and I realized there are plenty on there I haven’t read. I love to read but don’t always chose books that really “challenge” me. So that’s my goal for the winter. Besides, what better season to spend a Sunday curled up in bed with Fig, a cup of coffee, and a good book?
  • Watch 5 “classic” movies I haven’t seen yet – There are actually a ton of really good movies I’ve never seen. My brother is a huge movie buff, and back in the day I was watching a lot of good movies with him. Recently though, I find myself lacking the ability to commit to a movie. TV is easier for me because it’s shorter. As social hibernation sets in for the winter (it’s inevitable, there are just less things to do socially in the winter than the summer), I thought this could be a good goal. I think I want to start with Dr. Strangelove and Casablanca (yes yes I know I know… I have never seen Casablanca and it’s a horrible sin)
  • Read at least three full news articles per day – I am so a product of my generation. I read news headlines on Twitter and Google Reader all day, but I rarely click through and read the entire article. I also watch / listen to morning news at the gym or when I’m getting ready for work, but that’s such a passive way to get information (especially when you consider that my morning news program of choice is about 10 minutes of current events and then 90 minutes of “who got voted off Dancing with the Stars”). I want to challenge myself to read three full articles of interest every day.
  • Go to Zoolights – I love the zoo… and I love Christmas lights. This combines both. I went two years ago, but didn’t get out to see it last year. I really want to make sure I do it this year.
  • Do at least one additional “Christmas” activity in DC – I had a similar goal in the Fall. I want to make sure I’m taking advantage of everything my wonderful city has to offer. I don’t really know what this will be yet… but I only have a couple more weeks to figure it out so I better get on it.
  • Make 2 new-to-me holiday desserts – I’m not a big baker, and really tend towards savory cooking. I’d like to start getting outside of my comfort zone and improving my baking skills. I’ve been invited to a “Christmas Cake” party this year, so I think I will try a gingerbread cake roll for that. From there… who knows 🙂
  • Play with Fig and Little Mac a little bit every day – I love our cats more than pretty much anything (except Mike, he’s still my #1). I snuggle and pet them every day, but I notice that recently we haven’t been playing at much as we used to. Sure Fig will get frisky and roll on his back and we’ll have tummy-rub time, but they have a whole crate of toys we don’t use! We had a really amazing cat sitter over Thanksgiving, and she played with them every day while she was there. It really made me think… my cat sitter is being better to my pets than I am! I want to take 5 minutes every day to play with crinkle ball or the laser pointer (they LOVE the laser pointer). Playing with them is good for them, but it also makes me ridiculously happy. It’s really a no-brainer.

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  • Participate in another blog related “challenge” – I really enjoyed Pile on the Miles in November. I’d like to find another challenge (I know Courtney is doing one right now but I kind of forgot to sign up for that… whoops. Maybe I can just sign up late?)
  • Participate in at least three volunteer opportunities – I really enjoy volunteering, but right now I only do it when opportunities find me. This winter I want to get a little more active in seeking out opportunities to give my time / work with others.
  • Practice yoga three times per week (even if it’s only for a few minutes) – On my Fall list, I wanted to start a home yoga practice. I’d say that is going “OKAY”. I found a couple good spots in the apartment to practice, but I definitely don’t love guiding my own practice. I’ve been using DVDs and OnDemand videos with much more success. I just like being led through my practice. I feel that allows me to get my head out of it and just let my body move. I’m looking for some new DVDs to purchase so if you have suggestions please let me know! I’m also finally starting to get out of my “all or nothing” yoga mentality. I used to think that if I couldn’t practice for a solid hour it wasn’t worth it. Why not?? Even if it’s just 10 minutes… that’s better than 0 minutes right?
  • Tackle the “little tasks” right away (“One minute rule”) – I am currently reading The Happiness Project (it was my intention to participate in PB Fingers Book club this month but I didn’t finish the book in time. I’m still going to do a whole write up on here though because I seriously think this book might be changing my life). One of the items she discussed was the “One Minute Rule,” where she vowed not to put off any task that would take one minute or less to complete. I am such a culprit of this! I get super overwhelmed my little tasks too… in my personal life AND at work. I’ve already started implementing this rule and it makes SUCH a difference. I want to make this habit really stick.
  • Go skiing at least three times (weather permitting) – I stopped skiing when I was in high school because I was a really serious athlete and skiing wasn’t encouraged by my coaches / Dad (It just seemed like an unnecessary risk of injury). But Mike loves to ski and he took me back out on the slopes last winter for the first time in 10 years. I was literally terrified riding the ski lift up but by the end of the day I was following Mike down a Double Black Diamond (Granted this was at a ski resort in the Poconos .. I wouldn’t be able to do Double Blacks out west or up in VT yet!). I also remembered how much I loved it! We didn’t have a great ski season last year (too warm, couldn’t keep runs open) and could only go once. I’m really hoping for a better season this year so I can go skiing at least three times.

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  • Try three new restaurants in our neighborhood – We haven’t tried THAT many, mostly because we’ve been cooking at home. While I do prefer cooking at home (since it is healthier and cheaper), I want to get to know the area a little better. Three over a season seems like a reasonable goal.
  • Tackle a new ethnic cuisine at home – I took on homemade pasta this Fall, and now I want to get out of Italy and explore some other ethnic cuisines. I’m thinking that I might try my hand at homemade dosas. I’ve made only very basic Indian cuisine at home, but dosas require a whole different level of effort. I think I might be up for the challenge though.
  • Learn more about wine – I literally know NOTHING about wine. Some wines have given me really bad migraines so I’ve been really hesitant to try new wines / branch out. But I’m also realizing that getting wasted on any kind of wine has the ability to give me a migraine. Sipping one glass and enjoying the flavor probably will not. I recently had a glass of Pinot Noir that I loved. I don’t think I’ve drank a glass of red wine in 4 years. I’d like to read some more about different types of wines, figure out what I like, and try some different wines. I’m not going to sign up for a class or anything like that but I am an adult after all. Perhaps it’s time to stop ordering “whatever white wine is the cheapest” at a restaurant 🙂
  • Spend Wisely – I’ll talk more about this when I discuss The Happiness Project, but she had an entire chapter dedicated to money that had me completely enraptured. Yes I still completely intend to look for ways to save money and live within my budget, but I want to focus on spending “wisely” instead of just spending “less”. I want to free up my wallet a bit for buying gifts or making charitable donations. This winter I want to focus on spending money on things that make me happy.
  • Practice gratitude – I want to remember every day how  much I have to be grateful for. I don’t want to start keeping a journal. That’s just not me. I find journals forced and insincere (for me, not necessarily for others). I also don’t want to add another task to my daily to do list, because that will just make me resent it. I decided that every day I’m going to spend a couple minutes of my metro commute making a mental list of things for which I am grateful. It will also have the added effect of making a normally not too pleasant part of my day (metro at rush hour is… trying) a source of happiness 🙂

Wow this list is SUPER long… I better get to work!! Happy Tuesday!

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What’s a clever pun involving “Harris Teeter?”

I wanted really badly to have some clever snappy title for this blog post… but maybe it will come to me over the course of writing this post. And then I can come back and edit this paragraph? Writing is such a process 🙂

So last night, I did something totally awesome… I purchased one week’s worth of groceries for $50 (cue the fireworks!!!) After taking a pretty fantastic run around the mall (which, if your not from DC, is the stretch of lawn from the U.S. Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial – yeah it’s pretty sweet here, I won’t lie to you) I met up with two friends who have been staying with me this week while they take in the sights of the city. After a quick drink, I was able to convince the girls to join me on a quick grocery trip to Harris Teeter.

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I had very little food (certainly nothing fresh) in my house after my weekend trip to Charlottesville, and I’ve really been trying to keep up with my “no more than 3 meals out per week” rule (I only have one left… yikes). I had to grocery shop. In the car on the way back from Cville on Monday, I made a painfully extensive meal plan and grocery list. Normally, I only plan dinners and then wing the rest of it, but I knew that if I was going to get to that magical $50 mark, I needed to be much more thorough. Armed with my list, I went to Harris Teeter, and for the first time ever, was able to purchase an entire week of groceries (that is planning for every meal mind you!) for $50. What what…. Operation Spend Less Money, I’m going to own you!

I thought I would put together a list of things that I kept in mind last night while shopping that I found helpful / made me successful. Tips for grocery shopping for (much) less:

  1. Rethink the produce section. This kind of makes me a little bit sad because, if I had my druthers, I would eat nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables all day. However, if I truly let loose, I could easily spend over $50 just in the produce section. I tried to approach the produce section differently so I could still eat healthy, nutritious foods, but keep it under budget. For fruit, I stuck to just a big bunch of bananas (at 69 cents per pound)  and a bag of golden delicious apples ($3.99 for approximately 12 small apples). I try to eat two servings of fruit per day, so this should be fine to get me through the week. For fresh veggies, I stuck to only things I was going to eat raw. Anything I planned on cooking, I figured I could get frozen (read more below). I ended up buying two small bags of HT brand baby carrots and a bunch of celery.
  2. Keep proteins simple. I’m not a vegetarian and I think the term “flexetarian” is dumb (sorry I’m not sorry for that). However, non-meat protein sources can be much cheaper options so I do try to make those the majority of my meals. Some inexpensive protein options I always keep on hand include canned beans (HT has generic cans of black beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, all kinds of beans for 77 cents each), fat free refried beans (89 centers per can, I love these spread on toast in the morning or mixed in with a salad), canned tuna fish, and eggs. I do eat tofu but not every week (I try not to overdo it on soy products)
  3. Embrace generics. Almost everything I bought last night was generic, and that’s pretty much always true. They’re EXACTLY the same at a fraction of the price, I don’t really get not buying them. Some of my favorites include HT brand unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I ❤ unsweetened vanilla almond breeze from Blue Diamond, but the HT version is like $1.50 cheaper), lowfat chocolate milk (for post-run but also because it is delicious), packaged cheese, and spicy brown mustard.
  4. Shop the sales. I love greek yogurt and eat it pretty much every day (either as a snack, breakfast, or mixed up in overnight oats) but it can really add up on your grocery bill. My favorite favorite FAVORITE brand is Dannon Oikos(it is heaven in a cup), but I try to remain slightly flexible on brands and buy what is on sale. Luckily, Dannon is on sale a lot at HT (last night VIC card special was 10 for $10… you best believe I totally stocked up).Source
  5. Don’t forget frozen veggies. Like I mentioned above, I wish I could go nuts and buy tons and tons and tons of fresh produce, but right now that’s just not a reality. Instead of making excuses and just eating macaroni and cheese, I’m trying to make it work. I stock up weekly on HT brand frozen veggies including broccoli florets, spinach, collard greens, chopped onions, snow peas, and many others. They’re usually about $1.50 for a bag. If I have slightly more to spend (more like $2 – $4 per bag) I love Pictsweet brand. They’re SUPER fresh for frozen vegetables (the yellow / green beans are my favorite), and I love the company. Hoping to put a post together about ways to cook / prepare frozen veggies soon 🙂

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In the market

For a new pair of running shoes! I know I know, no shopping. But this isn’t exactly the same thing. I need shoes for running and they ware out over time. During my last bout of marathon training, I wrote this post about my current shoe rotation and I haven’t bought new shoes since then. My Adidas Marathon 10s are totally worn out so I only keep them for hiking, gym sessions etc. My Asics probably don’t have a ton more in them, certainly not enough to get me through the fall racing season. My Nikes are still in good shapre, but they’re not very cushy for longer distances. I prefer them for shorter, faster runs (I haven’t used them for over 10 miles yet). I think it’s time to add another shoe to the rotation, especially if I am planning on starting to train for another marathon in November. WOOHOO I GET TO BUY SOMETHING AND IT’S NOT CHEATING ON OPERATION SPEND LESS MONEY!!! Sorry, maybe that was too excited 🙂

Anyways, I was disappointed when I went to my trusty “inexpensive running shoes” source … Running Warehouse and this was all I found in the sale section: http://www.runningwarehouse.com/catpage-SALETHINGW.html womp womp.

The Asics Gel Cirrus 33 looked right up my alley but even on sale they are out of my price range (I just can’t spend $100 on running shoes… say whatever you want about how that makes me cheap but I need to figure out how to be a runner and also still pay my electric bill. Life is about compromises)

The price is just right on the Brooks Green Silence but I was dissuaded by the whole “The faster you are, the longer you can run in this shoe.” Uhhhhhh, does that mean the slower I am, the shorter I can run in this shoe? It says ideal for any distance, but that made me feel like this wasn’t the shoe for me. I like a shoe with a light upper, but full contact soul sounded like it would be more like my Nikes. I’m looking for a cushier sole for longer distances. Hmmm ok. Time to look elsewhere.

Upon further investigation of the website, I was intrigued by the Adidas adiZero F50 2. It fits the bill for a cushy sole, but it also only weighs 8.7 ounces… score! Here’s my only hesitation – the heel-toe drop is 11 mm. My Nikes have a 6 mm heel-toe drop and my Asics 9 mm. I prefer a lower heel-toe drop, but am not ready to go totally minimalist. I feel like I want to stay under 10 mm, but 1 mm is seriously not that big of a difference. Ok Adidas adiZero F50 is still in the running but the hunt continues.

Then I started looking at the Saucony Kinvara 3. Mike has the men’s Kinvara (not sure which version) and I remembered him saying he really liked them. I love the 4 mm heel-toe drop and low weight (6.7 oz). The description seemed to suggest that there was still cushioning on the sole. My only hesitation here is the price. They would be approximately $69 at the end of the day. Compared to the Adidas, which would be about $50. Both are very affordable options, but the Adidas would save me almost $20. Again, call me cheap all you want, but I’m just trying to be real here! 🙂

I need your input folks!

  • Any votes on the two shoes I’ve mentioned in this post? Others I should consider?
  • What do you normally spend on a pair of running shoes?
  • How do you evaluate different shoes?
  • Do you have a go-to shopping source?

How To: Budgeting

So I basically had a stroke last week when I reading through a chain email among my girlfriends from college (two of us are in DC, two are in NYC, one is in Philly, one is in Vegas, and the other is in California… we are dispersed to say the least and we use the email to keep up to date on what is going on in everyone’s lives). One of my friends actually requested that I write abut something on my blog!!! (I DIE!). So here goes nothing… my first requested blog post 🙂

The topic requested was budgeting. Wow, I know. Try to resist the urge to stop reading right now… I swear this is going to be fun. As I have mentioned several times here… my budget is tight… really tight. I want to live a full, amazing, meaningful, and healthy life while also being responsible about money. It takes a certain amount of finesse. What has always worked well for me is meticulous budgeting. I was first keeping my budget in a steno pad and doing it out by hand, but then a friend told me about how she kept her budget in an excel spreadsheet and I was like… GENIUS! Why didn’t I think of that? Excel does all the math for you. It’s brilliant… and it makes manipulating your budget easier. We all know that life happens, and sometimes I need to shift things around in my budget to accommodate an unexpected expense (like a lost cell phone or an unplanned trip to an outlet mall… don’t judge me). I now keep mine in Google Documents so I can access it / update it from any computer.

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My spreadsheet has two areas: money coming in, and money going out.

Money Coming In: This obviously includes paychecks but I also include if people reimburse me for things. Let’s say I charge a take out order on my credit card for a group of people. I put the whole amount in my budget spreadsheet and then include how much people reimbursed me. For me, this was a more accurate accounting of money actually spent (because let’s be honest… 9 times out of 10 you don’t really break even in these situations).

Money Going Out: I break out expenses by the following categories: Standing Expenses (this includes my rent, insurance, cable, gym / yoga studio memberships, Netflix, stuff like that. Anything that is a regular expense every month), Incidental Expenses (this includes gas for my car, doctor or vet bills, pet supplies, anything that isn’t a standard amount month to month), GroceriesEating Out (I keep groceries and eating separate), Personal Care / Maintenance (this includes  products, trips to CVS, pedicures, and things needed to maintain my apartment) , Sporting Goods / Running Expenses (I realized that I was spending a good amount of money on this stuff so I decided to make it’s own category), Entertainment (this includes drinks out or if I buy alcohol for home, movies, concerts, activities, stuff like that. I do not include eating out here), and finally Shopping (I try to keep this to a minimum, but I do love to shop so I needed to make sure I was staying within budget while still feeding my habit. I also include things like birthday / anniversary gifts here).

How to start a budget: I took the standard amount of money that comes in every month (not including reimbursements, just paychecks), reduced it by my standing expenses, and then split the remaining amount across the other categories to create my baseline budget. Money is not split evenly across all categories. For example, my budget for groceries is bigger than my budget for shopping. I initially was including running expenses (like race fees, gear, shoes, etc) in with entertainment, but I decided to split them. It’s still the original amount that I spent on entertainment, just split. Some months I spend more on running, less on entertainment and vice versa, so I often move money around between those two categories. If I ever go over in any of my categories (like I spend a lot more on gas in a given month), I take money first out of my shopping budget, then entertainment, and if necessary personal care / maintenance.

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Savings and Credit Cards: I budget in a set amount of savings every month, which I move out of my checking account into my savings on the first of the month (when I pay my rent). I  set my baseline budget to spend about $200 less than I make every month to give myself a little safety net in case something big happens. If at the end of the month I have money unspent, I move that into my savings account as well. I try to update my budget at least once a week using my online account statements for my bank accounts and credit cards. I do not individually track cash purchases. For me, once cash is out of the bank it’s as good as spent, so I just track cash withdrawals under “entertainment” (that’s typically where my cash is going). This also means I don’t have to keep receipts, which I find make my wallet a complete mess. I charge pretty much everything on credit cards, but only because I want the perks! Credit cards can be very dangerous, I am completely aware of that! But by budgeting so meticulously, I never charge things on my credit cards that I don’t already have the money for. I pay all my credit cards in full every month, and I get SWEET rewards like cash, airline miles, and Amazon credit. It’s pretty awesome.

This post got pretty wordy and long but hopefully you find it useful!! As a reminder, this is just what works for me! I fully admit that my situation is not going to be exactly the same as anyone else’s. Everyone feels differently about money too… my budget is just a reflection of my personal values! This is the no judgment zone 🙂 Money can be really difficult and sometimes it TOTALLY SUCKS. I’ve had my fair share of rough months… but luckily I have been able to create enough of a safety net for myself that I can handle those.

I always try to remember that… LIFE HAPPENS. Happy Monday ❤