Category Archives: Administrative

Diet Update: 2 weeks in

Disclaimer: some of these links lead to product pages, which if you buy them, will not affect the price but will earn this blog a tiny fee, to keep me supplied with kale & yoga pants. I am not a health professional, I am just relaying my own personal experiences and opinions. This is not meant to be health or dietary advice for the general population. 

As I’m finishing up the first two weeks on my holiday diet, I have learned a lot of things about food, myself, and dieting in general.

  • Portion sizes matter
  • Food type/substitutions matter
  • Vitamins & Nutrients matter
  • Exercise matters
  • Balance matters

Before we go into each of these topics, let’s review what the goals were. At a starting weight of 156, and a goal weight of 135, I hope to lose a grand total of 21 pounds in 7 weeks, which is 3 pounds per week. I would not recommend this to most people.

However, I have always been curvier and lead a pretty sedentary lifestyle, though I get 10K steps on most days and am capable of light jogging for 30 minutes at a time. I am young (ish) and in decent shape, so I know this particular diet and exercise plan will not jeopardize my overall health.

Week 1-2 (Nov 3 – 16):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minute walk
  • MWF (or 3x/week) – body weight workout video or run

Having a supportive hubs is the top tool in my arsenal so far. He has been SO helpful in keeping me motivated on days I don’t want to work out, usually even joining me for the short 10-15 minutes HIIT videos. He has been great at not tempting me, and asking how things are going to keep me on track.

I have added workout tracking to our handy-dandy whiteboard, where I add different symbols on days I complete a yoga workout vs a HIIT workout. I have not been able to motivate myself to run, with the changing weather making it so cold outside and dark by the time I get home. I’ve been holding pretty steady to both of my goals, with one or two missed days.

Yoga I normally do in the morning. I use the YouTube series Yoga with Adrienne. This is a good time to breathe, meditate, get a good stretch in, and focus for the day. If I miss it in the morning because I was running late or couldn’t get myself to do it, then I do a video at night before bedtime.

My job is pretty sedentary overall, so having a FitBit Alta now has also helped a lot. It vibrates every hour that I have not yet taken 150 steps to remind me to get up and move a little. The people in my building probably think I’m weird for just walking around the halls doing laps every hour, but it’s worth it. We also try to go for a walk every night, when it isn’t raining or too cold.

You can see from the tracking table above that I’ve gotten in at least 30 minutes of walking on most days. I’ve also hit my step goal of 10,000 per day a little more than half the time, as you can see from the graph below.

Last weekend, my mom was in town and we spent some time at the beach with her friend. There was some exciting news that required celebrating, so we convinced her to go out dancing on Saturday (11/11). It was exhausting, I haven’t stayed up past midnight in a long time, but boy was it fun and totally worth it!

Clearly, the biggest pattern I see is that weekends are far lazier than week days for me. Especially Sunday. Both weekends I barely hit 5000 steps. Though the night we went out dancing was obviously very active, as I ended up with over 16,000 steps! Maybe I should consider joining a line dancing group or something for cardio.  🙂

 

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies

Overall I did a pretty good job of hitting my goal calorie range. This is made much easier by eating a lot of salads, broth based soups, raw fruits and veggies, and my favorite low-cal protein breakfast shake. Go figure, following all the typical dietary recommendations works!

Below you can see a typical days’ meals. Breakfast is a chocolate protein shake with a half of a banana, with the coffee in it as well. This has become my go-to because it is so fast and easy, and I can drink it in the car on the way to work. I also had dried some apples in the oven, with nothing on them at all, to take as a snack with my green drink. More on that below.

Lunch was a salad, with some low-cal toppings of sunflower seeds and craisins for variety, taste, and extra nutrients, and (measured) 3 ounces of boiled chicken breast. I have a small food scale that I’ve been using. I cook a large batch of chicken, steak, or chili and then measure out exactly 3 ounces at a time, or 1 cup servings, and then package them individually so lunch is easy peasy.

I’ve also begun boiling a dozen eggs over the weekend, peeling them, and then packing 2 or 3 in ziplock baggies so I can grab and go as a perfect high-protein snack. I feel guilty about throwing out the yolks but I just can’t with that nasty chalky taste… oh well. And dinner was a serving of my delicious sweet potato and chickpea curry.

I’m gonna be honest here, there’s a little gap over last weekend, because of my point about balance. I didn’t even bother to track the totals. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

As for weight, I’m gonna be honest here too. I haven’t unpacked my scale since we moved… a year ago.

I pulled it out this weekend, dusted it off… and the battery is dead. So no update on weight for you.  🙂  Like I said, weight and BMI is not that great of a way to measure health, but I can tell you that my regular work pants have been feeling a little looser.

On to the lessons!

Portion sizes matter

In general, we do not comprehend or realize how seemingly tiny differences in serving size or food choices can make such a huge impact on weight. As little as 100 extra calories per day can add up to 10 pounds of weight gain over the course of a year (source).

For example, go take a look at the different NIH suggested meal plans for weight loss. It was a little bit surprising, even to me, that as little as 1/2 cup of cantaloupe and banana, less than 1 cup of orange juice and milk, 1/2 oz of roast beef, 1 ounce of chicken, and 1 tbsp of guacamole can change a day’s caloric intake from 1200 calories to 1600 calories.

This is the example meal plan for wight loss using Mexican-American cuisine

If you are not using actual or accurate measuring tools, i.e. food scale and measuring cups, it is SO easy to over-estimate. How many people can accurately measure exactly one tablespoon of peanut butter every time, or 3 ounces of chicken?

 

Food type/substitutions matter

The food items highest in calories and generally not as high in nutrition include:

  • Fats/oils*
  • “White” grains (bread, rice, flour)
  • Processed/packaged goods
  • Meats
  • Dairy products

Of course, in nutrition there are almost no absolutes. I would NEVER recommend anyone go 100% fat free (source). Fat is not the enemy. You just need to monitor the amount very carefully, as one tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories, and it is so easy to over-pour or estimate high.

And you also need to be discerning about your source. One avocado has  260 calories from fat, but so would a doughnut, or 2 small slices of pepperoni pizza. Guess which one is a more sound nutritional choice? When it comes to dairy, I would far prefer a single ounce, one die-sized cube, of a super sharp white Vermont cheddar to a heaping cup of the packaged-with-sawdust-so-it-don’t-stick bagged grocery store cheese.

The same can be said of all the other high-impact foods. Be more mindful of your meats (if you eat meat), including where it came from and what type of cut it is. Check out my post on pig parts  breakdown, and see this post for chicken, this post for the deets on beef, and this and this for all your oceanic questions.

 

Vitamins & Nutrients matter

Basically, any restrictive diet has a risk of not getting all the vital vitamins and nutrients your body needs to function, grow, rejuvenate and repair cells. Don’t know what kinds of vitamins there are or why they are each important? I wrote an article all about it, and a special one for the whole family of B vitamins.

Though this diet has a heavy focus on lean protein, fresh fruits, and vegetables, I want to make sure I am not missing anything my body needs day to day. We tend to crave foods that will fill a need, so I listen to my body (which is made easier through the mindfulness and meditation of yoga) and if I’m feeling particularly drawn to a certain food or food type, I will have some.

But just to make sure all my bases are covered, I also take a daily multivitamin for adults, drink a daily green drink, and make a protein shake on most days. For now I’m using the Centrum Complete Adult Multivitamin. It isn’t a super-huge horse pill, so swallowing it isn’t a problem, unlike some multis I’ve tried in the past.

The daily green drink I’m loving right now is Amazing Grass Green Superfood (30 servings size, or for bulk pricing the 60 servings size). They are all organic greens grown and dehydrated in Kansas. They use a start-to-finish cold processing and packing process to keep as many nutrients as possible.

They also have flavors, like Berry and Orange Dream, immunity boosting and antioxidant packed versions, blends that include protein, as well as one that contains natural caffeine from yerba mate and matcha green tea to replace your morning coffee. All of their products are:

  • Certified Organic by CCOF
  • Gluten Free
  • No Sugar Added
  • Plant Based
  • Non GMO
  • Kosher
  • Vegan

The Protein powder I’m using right now is Muscle Milk, chocolate flavor. The 10g of protein per scoop comes from milk (whey protein isolate) so be cautious if you have a dairy intolerance. My absolute favorite thing to do with it is to combine it with a half of a banana and a tbsp of PB2 peanut powder for a chocolate peanut butter banana shake. It makes a great under-300-calorie breakfast, or post-HIIT workout drink. I even add coffee to it sometimes for an all in one breakfast/caffeine rush on the go.

 

Exercise matters

As I said above, I really do believe that increasing my activity level has helped me have more consistent energy throughout the day. I am noticing, at the 2 weeks mark, that that energy is starting to wane. I am getting sluggish upon waking again, hitting snooze and having to literally drag myself up.

This could be due to all the excesses of the past weekend, or it could be my body’s way of readjusting to its new normal.

But I am also noticing an increase in my cardio and strength. I can do more push-ups now before I collapse, and more jumping jacks before I’m out of breath. I did yoga pretty often previously, so I can hold a plank for a minute or more. I still struggle with jump squats, but I’m getting better at it. Improvement is the name of the game. And no matter how long I make regular exercise part of my life, I will never like burpees. Never.

 

Balance matters

Now, keeping in mind all I’ve said so far about the positive aspects of these lifestyle changes, I am still a passionate believer in balance. Balance in all things. Eating better, moving more, and regular sleep are all very important aspects of holistic health and happiness. But, so is friendship, adventure, and wine.

I stand firm in my view that the 80/20 rule is the best way to live life. Essentially, you follow strict rules 80% of the time, and relax a bit 20% of the time. The 80% effort is enough to bring you the results you want, while the 20% helps you from feeling repressed and chained to a system and rebelling or “falling off the wagon”.

In this case, I stuck to my diet very strictly, until the day I got to the beach to hang out with my mom and her friends. There, I kept my good intentions in mind, but also allowed myself to taste some of the cookies we made at our cookie swap, and indulged in a few glasses of wine. We went out and danced like crazy, burning off some of those excess calories, and laughed a lot, which also burns calories and makes you feel good.

Will I Keep Going?

Absolutely. Though I don’t know my first two weeks’ weight change, I can say I believe it has been successful. I know this is a very ‘soft’ way of measuring, but I can literally feel my regular pants loosening. The button doesn’t leave an imprint after I’ve been sitting a while, the inseams aren’t pulling at the thighs, and I just feel better overall.

I have also noticed much more even, sustained energy levels. Previously I would have more peaks and valleys (usually tracking along when I drank coffee…) but these past 2 weeks I’ve had pretty steady and consistent levels. I also seem to be sleeping better, with fewer times spent awake in the night. I also love knowing I am increasing my chances for a longer, healthier life.

These things put together equals a general happier me, an overall sense that this is working and worth it, and something I want to continue. Ultimately, I am hoping these changes become the new normal for me, since it takes an average of 2 months to create and stick to a new habit. I want to make regular exercise part of my daily life, along with as clean eating as I can accomplish while still allowing that 20% for fun and letting go.

 

 

Disclaimer: some of these links lead to product pages, which if you buy them, will not affect the price but will earn this blog a tiny fee, to keep me supplied with kale & yoga pants. I am not a health professional, I am just relaying my own personal experiences and opinions. This is not meant to be health or dietary advice for the general population. Please speak with your own doctor or health professional before starting a diet of your own.

Why a $1000 Raise Didn’t Change My Life

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, it’s not a secret that we are now located in the state of North Carolina. It’s been my dream for almost a decade to live in the Research Triangle, and we finally achieved it! I feel blessed every day to be literally living my dreams.

I also happen to have a full time job working for the state of NC. This comes with some lovely benefits like extra paid holidays, pretty decent healthcare coverage, and state-mandated raises. Now, this could be a double edged sword.

As things on the financial playing field of America are in constant flux, and state and federal budgets keeps seeing more and more cuts, the state has the power to enact hiring freezes, salary freezes, or downsize however is needed to balance the budgets. And NC does not have the best history of worker treatment.

However, the good news is, the current Gov. Pat McCrory is supportive of state workers, and knows that to attract and retain good employees state positions must become and remain competitive with the private sector.

In order to keep up with inflation and keep workers happy, NC employees across the board got a small raise in June 2017. For me personally, this meant an extra $1000/year. Hooray!

What would you do with $1000 extra dollars?

For some people, that could be a literally life-changing amount of money. That could get a family of 4 a few months of groceries, or buy all the necessities for a new baby. That could help pay down medical, credit card, or student loan debt. That might be an extra month’s rent payment that you don’t have to worry about. For a lot of people, living at-near-below poverty level, $1000 is a big deal.

Or, you might start planning an epic weekend getaway to a beach to beat the winter blues. That adds up to a whole lot of eggnog and whiskey, or a year’s worth of fancy dinner dates once a month. Some people would scoff at $1000, thinking that is barely enough to make a dent in loan payoff, or their yearly spending totals.

Would you go on a shopping spree? Get some new boots for winter? Or, you know, the holidays are coming, how about getting extra twinkle lights, some cute Santa blow-ups for the front yard, and maybe a couple extra-nice gifts.

You could just let lifestyle inflation creep in, and $1000 higher yearly spending becomes the new baseline. Maybe move into a bigger apartment with more amenities, buy more house than you should, lease a fancier car, and go out shopping every weekend.

But What Did I Do With the $1000?

I did something very boring. Something Americans in general are really bad at doing.

I invested it.

Yup, without even letting it register in my checking account, I funneled that ‘extra’ money right into a target retirement date investment account.

Now, we could argue all day about different types of accounts, tax advantages, Roth vs IRA vs 401K, fees and mutual funds and bonds and stocks etc etc ad nauseum. I am by no means a sophisticated investor. I barely have a clue about the world of finance and shares and dividends. Reading articles about why rebalancing your own portfolio is easy just make me feel sad and defeated.

What I do know?

Having some money invested is definitely better than none over the long term. Will I lose some possible gains to fees over time by using a robo-advisor? Probably. Could I personally do better by choosing my own allocations and rebalancing yearly or quarterly? No way, because I know myself and I just. won’t. do it.

The Moral of the Story

Automate.

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation.

And Know Thyself.

I love automation. I am probably the most forgetful person I know by a long shot. If it isn’t written down, on the calendar, in my phone with at least three alarms set, if probably isn’t getting done. I’ve forgotten my mom’s birthday, both my siblings’ birthdays, the dog’s vet appointments, and more passwords than there are stars in the sky.

To set myself up for success rather than financial crash-and-burn, I automate everything I possibly can. Mortgage. Water bill. Internet. Savings account transfers. Credit card payments. Investments. All set up with a few clicks of a button, and then I don’t have to think about it ever again. Well, okay maybe like once a year or so I make sure it’s still working. But that’s it.

Not giving into lifestyle inflation is really hard. Trust me, I know. I took WAY longer to pay off student loans than I should have, and delayed our now-future-FIRE plans because I chose to take several cruises during grad school, and dropped another 3 grand on LASIK eye surgery (ok that one was actually 100% worth). I know, I’m ridiculous. I’ll tell that story someday.

When you’ve spent several years living in dorm rooms, literal garages and attics, eating ramen and tuna noodle casserole, you desperately want to feel like you’ve “made it” as an adult. You want your own space, your own bathroom, a nicer car, you need “business casual attire” for your big kid job, and on and on.

My husband (then-boyfriend) and I definitely could have stayed in a one bedroom apartment for a few more years rather than upgrade to renting a house for $1300/month, and then $1650/month (CT prices though… that number still hurts my soul).

But those choices were made. That money was spent. And we learned from it.

When we decided to relocate to NC, and were looking to finally buy our first home, we set a very conservative budget range. We knew we did not want to live outside our means. And now we have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that even if one of us lost our job (or chose a mini-retirement?) our monthly expenses would still be covered.

That peace of mind is worth every penny we didn’t spend on a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, or continuing to drive our fully paid off 2004 and 2005 Honda cars. We hope to stay in this house for a very long time, and pay off the mortgage sooner than 30 years. No matter how many raises we may get.

And that is why being given $1,000 did not change my life.

 

What would you do with $1000?

Finding Your Tribe As An Adult in America

 

As anyone who has “become an adult” (meaning has graduated from college/grad school or went straight into the workforce) within the past 2 decades or so can tell you, making friends as an adult is hard. Heck, even your parents probably feel the same way.

When we are young, it seems like all another person really needs is a pulse and to not be a big jerk-face, and we can be friends with them. Kids may have little tiffs and scrape ups and cliques, but generally they get over it quickly and are sharing stuffed ponies and cupcakes by nap time.

When you hit middle school age, true friendships have been formed, and a few may have been lost already. I remember my very best friend Emily moved in 6th grade, and it rocked my world. This is about the age where kids’ mean streak begins to come out too, so making friends can be difficult. But you are still in an environment that is conducive to friends-making.

In high school the good and the bad intensify as popularity comes into the mix, along with the hormones that are part and parcel of maturation. Competition among and between girls and boys becomes more intense, and gender roles and values as society and the media portray them are subconsciously reinforced.

You are still repeatedly exposed to the same small group of people almost daily, and everyone is going through the same life changes and experiences. This creates the ideal environment for bonding.

As you then graduate and contemplate your future, everyone goes off to the mixing pot of college life or immediately to the daily grind. Some of us even go above and beyond and voluntarily choose to extend these educational years through graduate school.

However, all good things must come to an end, and someday you have to have an income pay the bills. Once you are in a “day job”, things begin to get dicey.

Unless you have a roommate you like, cool neighbors, or coworkers who are also friends after 5pm, it is likely that you would say that making friends is hard. Once you’re an adult, your social world shrinks drastically to essentially where you live and where you work.

We can work remotely, we can order enough paper products to outlast the apocalypse, there are infinite entertainment and social media options for our ‘free time’, at-home yoga, pilates, body weight, and HIIT workouts are the bomb diggity. We can even have wine, groceries, or *gasp* fully-cooked dinners delivered to our door.

Why do we even need friends?

Well, it turns out that close relationships are really good for us on so many levels. A recent review of studies indicates that feelings of loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%.

Though we are the most electronically connected generation of all time, we are experiencing what some call an “epidemic of loneliness“. You may have 550 Facebook friends, thousands of Twitter or Instagram followers, but only spend time with real live human beings at work or when forced to on a crowded bus/train/plane.

study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that young adults age 19 to 32 who spent the most time on social media sites, more than 2 hours a day, reported twice the amount of perceived social isolation than those who reported a half hour per day or less. Those who used social platforms frequently, 58 times or more per week, reported thrice* the amount of perceived isolation than those who used such sites only 9 times per week or less.

Now, this is definitely not a call to delete all your social media accounts. How else will you send snaps of your hilariously misspelled name on your Starbucks drink to your old college roommate, or brag about your BOGO boots deal with an album of matching outfits?

We just maybe should think it and be more mindful of our use, why we use certain sites, and how often we spend time on those sites versus experiencing life.

These bonds remain important all throughout the spectrum of life, from college, to young adulthood, to new parents, to DINKS, to stay-at-home mom and dads, to workin-up-the-corporate-ladder, to middle age and the golden years.

A review of 148 studies in PLOSMedicine showed an overall 50% increase in likelihood of survival among people with the strongest social relationships, consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. This level of influence on survival rivals known death risks like smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity.

Of course, the type of friends you choose also affect your outcome. Jim Rohn, a famous motivational speaker, said that you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose your closest friends carefully. The famous Framingham Heart Study followed 5209 individuals from 1948 to 2003 and asked all sorts of questions along the way. One outcome of this research database was a ‘relationship and happiness network’.

They tracked who each person knew, and how happy they felt, and created a big network where each person was a node and lines between them connected in a web. The color of each node indicated the level of happiness in four reported areas. What they found was that happiness, or unhappiness, can spread from one node to another, creating niches of happiness or unhappiness.

http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2338

To quote their conclusions, “Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people.” Thus the top reason why we need friends:

Healthy Relationships = Happiness

Friends also come with all kinds of benefits. No, not that kind. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about tangible and intangible physical, mental, and financial benefits.

From real-life situations like help with babysitting, cost-sharing at membership club stores, borrowing items like ladders and lawnmowers, and potlucks to the intangible benefits like happiness, better health, better immunity and disease resistance, and emotional stability and support, friends come with great perks.

Having someone with whom you can batch-cook, share costs or services, help you move in or out, and enjoy frugal pastimes like watching movies and walks in the park is great for your savings account. A friend can be your accountability partner, to help you stick with dietary changes or exercise more or quit smoking or coffee for good. Friends can celebrate with you, and cheer you up when you’re feeling blue.

Friends are all around great for financial, physical, and mental health. Click To Tweet

This all sounds well and good, but HOW do you do it? How does one “make friends”, without magical play-dough that comes alive?

For a lasting friendship to form, you need a few key things:
  • Repeated positive interactions
  • Compatible personalities
  • Proximity
  • Reciprocity

If you are finding it hard to create and sustain lasting relationships, take notes from science. Studies have shown that some of the best ways to make people like you and want to be around you include:

  • Be a good listener – this should be pretty obvious, but make sure a conversation goes both ways, and only talk 50% of the time or less. People love to talk about themselves and feel heard.
  • Ask questions – as stated, people looooove to talk about themselves and their lives. If you truly want to be friends with someone, you should want to get to know about them, too.
  • Offer to help – whether it is getting a ream of paper off a tall shelf at work, or helping a new neighbor move in, offering assistance is an easy way to feel good for helping and score niceness points.
  • Smile, use open body language – this is not a case of men telling women they should smile more. This is a case of acting like you are approachable. You can make friends and boost your career.
  • Yes, and… – using negative words like “no” or “but” can make the person talking to you feel belittled, or like the conversation is a competition. Try using “Yes, and…” instead.
  • Make connections – obviously you are listening (see above) and paying attention to what the person is saying. Latch onto details to connect and tell related stories. If they mention an upcoming vacation, ask about it. If they mention they’re bored with takeout, offer to share some recipes you love (see the helping point!)

Science says that persistence pays off with friendships, as well as the concept of reciprocity. This means returning a call or text, and making the effort to hang out in person. Generally speaking, a friendship can be well maintained if you check in electronically or in person about once every other week.

Though it may seem overwhelming, there are infinite people out there in the world. Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. A lot rides on your personal outlook and approach to new people. If you are distrustful, angry, super introverted, or blatantly dislike people, it will be more difficult to find, create, and sustain lasting friendships. But not impossible.

The good news is, though making friends can seem hard, there are many steps and strategies you can use to make it easier. And it is never too late in life to create, rekindle, or strength relationships. After all, every person you meet  is a friend waiting to happen. For ideas to get you started, see below. And feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!

Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. Click To Tweet

Renew & Strengthen Old Friendships

If you are like most adults, you probably have moved at least once if not multiple times, and are likely on your second or third career or more. Along the way, there are people with whom you became friendly, whether from living together, going to classes together, neighbors, friends from clubs, etc. It is easy to lose touch after a few months or years.

The beauty of social media nowadays is that reconnection is as easy as a quick Facebook search or LinkedIn sweep. Reach out to people you once knew and liked, and see what they are up to these days. You never know, maybe they also moved, and now you guys live only 20 minutes away from each other. Even if that is not the case, sustaining a friendship long distance is easier than ever.

Friends of Friends

Before the days when online dating became the top dog (now over 1/3 of all marriages begin online), the most common way to meet someone was through a mutual acquaintance.

If you asked your grandfather how he met your grandmother, the answer is probably “at the sock hop” or “a friend set us up on a blind date”. Even my parents, that is exactly how they met: my dad filled in on a blind date for another friend who had gotten sick, met my mom, and the rest is history.

Though “kids these days” don’t tend to hang out at the drive in or soda shop anymore, you would still benefit by expanding your social circle. Have a dinner party, and ask people to bring a plus one or two. If a friend joins a new club or sport, ask if you can join in too, and meet new people together.

At Work

Depending upon where you work, you may know every single co-worker by name, or be one in a nameless faceless mass of people. There are likely a few people you enjoy, a few you feel nothing strongly about, and perhaps one or a few you just cannot stand or get weird vibes from. I’d recommend you don’t start there.

But there must be at least one person whom you don’t know all that well. Maybe that girl down the hall who always wears a green sweater, the guy you keep running into in the elevator, or the girl they just hired last week.

This will require you to take a leap of faith, brace yourself.

Say hi. Smile. Offer your name and a handshake. Maybe invite them to have a cup of coffee, or lunch together.

Follow the advice above once you are spending time together. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and then make connections and tell your own stories. The absolute worst that can happen is you learn that you don’t have much in common, but now you know where to get hand-knitted tea towels or who to ask for help in case you chair wheel falls off.

The absolute best case? You just wrote the first chapter of a book titled “How I Met My Best Friend”.

It is worth a half hour of your time every few days or every few weeks to invite someone new out to coffee or lunch, or a walk during your break. Statistically speaking, if you talk to a new person every month, you are likely to have made at least one friend by the end of the year. As someone who never took a statistics class, you can trust that what I’m saying is true.

Join a Club or Sport

See above, the Friends of Friends section? Especially if you already know people involved in softball, soccer, or tag football, ask how to join the team. Already knowing someone will help ease any initial anxiety and discomfort. And if you don’t already know anyone in a sport? So what! More potential new friends for you.

Don’t be afraid to Google or ask around, and find a sport and/or a particular club that works for you. Take into account if there are any costs involved (yearly/monthly start up fees, special equipment or clothing you need, etc), the location from your work/home, when the practices and games are held. You don’t want to get close to a team of people only to realize that the championship game starts at 10pm on a work night the day before a big presentation…

Playing sports is a great way to bond with new people, you are learning and practicing skills, and getting some exercise. Happy endorphins are flying all over the place and everyone is on a natural high. You can high-five and fist-bump and butt-slap with abandon. And once you have become friends, you can capitalize on that accountability partner benefit, and help each other become better, stronger, faster.

And for the less athletically-inclined? No excuses! There are literally thousands of other options of clubs to join. Check your local pubs and bars, most cities will have at least one trivia night or open mic night. Ask at your local library, there may be a book club, knitting club, board game night, or gardening group. Just Google “thing you like” + “where you live” and see what results you get.

Meetups

Along similar lines as above, check Meetup.com for more official meetup groups in your city or nearby. People pay a small fee to set up a group, so you may have to pay a small membership fee, but it is worthwhile.

You can search by type of activity or specific keywords, and set a distance range from whatever zip code you choose. So if you want to find “outdoor adventure” within “25 miles” of “your house”, Meetup will return your 14 results within seconds. Just request to join the groups, RSVP yes to the next event, and show up!

Free Community Events

If you don’t want to go the official route, or don’t trust the internets, try free events in your local town. To find these, look into your local schools, community center, university, fliers at the coffee shops, or newspaper. You may find potlucks, free community dinners, fund raisers, school plays, big-name speakers, hikes, courses, and more.

You will know when you get there that everyone is likely to live fairly nearby, so you should have a lot of local news and history in common! Plus, since they are also at a free community event, you probably share similar values like building a sense of community, and frugality. Bonus.

Volunteering

Volunteering your time is an excellent way to get involved in your community and meet new people, while also getting that warm fuzzy do-good feeling. It is a win-win, you feel great and sleep better at night while someone or some organization gets some much needed help. The ideas for volunteering are pretty endless:

  • a pet shelter
  • your library
  • farmer’s markets
  • Big Brother Big Sister
  • kids’ sports coach
  • museums
  • suicide/rape hotlines
  • Meals on Wheels
  • museums/zoos
  • assisted living facility
  • hospitals
  • Habitat for Humanity

You can check out websites like VolunteerMatch.com to match you with groups looking for people with your skills or experience.

Now get out there and hug a stranger!

 

*I’m excited I got to use the word “thrice” in a post! #wordnerd

Tell me, do you think making friends as an adult is hard? How did you meet your best friend(s)? Any tips for people looking for a new #tribe?

Putting It Out There: Holiday Weight Loss Plan

 

Okay let me say right off the bat, this is a scary thing to publish. I am staring at the finish line of my second decade of life, and am not feeling that great about where I’m at physically. I’ve been able to maintain approximately my same weight/shape since college, for basically 10 years. But time and a love of food catches up to you.

For the holidays, we have a wicked awesome Christmas cruise planned. This is something I’ve dreamed of for years, and I couldn’t be more excited. I love cruises SO much, they are the best bang for your vacation buck in my opinion, but that’s for another post.

The point of this is that in less than 7 weeks I will be in the warm Caribbean, on my 30th birthday, and I want to look damn good. See photo above for my plans that day.

Therefore, as a Type A person, the first thing I did was make some lists, and research. Research like I’ve never researched before. I am already a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and have had training on literally dozens of different diets. I have been interested in food and nutrition for nearly a decade, and have read exhaustively on diets, macros, calories, and more.

What follows is my Plan, of what to eat and how much to move, for the next 7 weeks, to get into tip top shape. This is a plan that I think will work for me as a relatively young, healthy woman who lives a very sedentary life and normally consumes ~1800 calories per day. This is also a fairly temporary plan of extreme restriction, which will revert back to maintenance post-vacation, and forever after I hope.

Starting weight: 156

Of course, health is about far more than a number on a scale. And don’t get me wrong, I love myself the way that I am. But I know I can do better, and I also want to see if I can follow this through to the end. I know weight is not a great measure of health at all; the main way I will really track progress is how my clothes fit and how I feel. But that is a hard thing to measure and report on.

Goal weight: 135

This will be a drastic lifestyle change, especially in the exercise arena. When I think back over my recent evenings, what usually happens is I get home from work between 5:30-6, start dinner, we eat 15-30 minutes later, and then watch TV for 30-90 minutes. Or hubs is playing games with friends while I read on my kindle. At least if it is nice outside, we usually fit in a walk before or after dinner.

By having quick, easy, already cooked meals for myself around, I won’t have to spend much time at all on food. And by sacrificing a half hour to an hour of time spent reading or watching TV, I am making an investment in myself and my health. Breakfasts will also be much quicker, so I can use morning time to complete the yoga or walk portion of the day, or do a workout video.

I am lucky to have an extremely supportive hubs who is behind me all the way no matter what I choose to do. It also helps that he is able and willing to feed himself for the next 2 months. Sure that means burritos basically every day but there are worse things he could eat.

He also will (hopefully) help keep me motivated when it gets hard, because I know it will. I’m not someone who likes eating the same thing every day or week (clearly), so this will be a struggle. I’m also a lazy bones who could literally read for 10 hours straight and not move. Introvert inertia, amiright?

Maybe this is how I should read from now on? I’d get some amazingly toned guns.

Exercise Plan

I do not have any exercise equipment in my house other than 3 pound weights and a yoga mat. I do not plan on buying any, nor do I plan to spend money on a gym membership. I’ve learned things about myself over the years, and most importantly is that those things are a waste of money. I will go once or twice, and then never again. Therefore I am focusing on body weight exercises I can do in the comfort of my home whenever I please.

Week 1-2 (Nov 3 – 16):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 15-30 minute walk
  • MWF (or 3x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 3-4 (Nov 17 – 30):
  • Daily – 20-30 minutes of yoga, 20-30 minute walk
  • MWFSat (or 4x/week) – body weight workout video or run
Week 5-7 (Dec 1 – 22):
  • Daily – 30-45 minutes of yoga, 30-45 minute walk
  • 6 days/week – body weight workout video or run

Over time as your body acclimates to a new workout routine, it is easy to hit a plateau. Those moves that used to be a challenge are quite boring now, or that number of reps you couldn’t get past is far in the rear view mirror. This is partially exciting because, hell, when you can’t even manage 10 full push-ups, the idea that you can now do 25 without even breathing heavy is pretty magical.

However, this also usually means a weight loss plateau.

That’s the opposite of what I’m aiming for, I want at least steady if not accelerating weight loss. Therefore, to avoid a plateau, I’m going to gradually increase the duration and intensity of my workouts every other week. This means I will keep challenging my body as it gets stronger and stronger.

Food Plan

  • 3-5 meals per day, for a total of ~1000-1200 calories
  • Very limited carbohydrates
  • Daily green drink + vitamins
  • One cheat meal or snack/weekday, one per weekend
  • Only snacks allowed are green tea, raw whole fruits, raw veggies (RV) or steamed veggies (SV)
  • Unlimited salad greens or raw non-starchy veggies
Breakfast options
  • 2 hard boiled eggs + fruit
  • 1 egg scrambled + 1/2 cup SV
  • Protein smoothie
  • Tofu scramble + SV
  • 1/2 cup oats + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/4 cup milk + fruit
  • Yogurt + fruit
Lunch/Dinner options
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz chicken breast + 1/2 sweet potato + SV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 2 cups greens + RV
  • 2-3 oz shrimp over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz tofu in miso soup with cabbage/onion
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 1/2 cup beans + 1/2 sweet potato +  SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon over 1/4 cup rice/quinoa + SV
  • 2-3 oz salmon breast over 2 cups of greens +RV
  • 2-3 oz salmon in lettuce cups + RV
  • 1 cup vegan chili or curry + 1/4 c rice/quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable soup

This plan is mostly just an even leaner & cleaner version of how I eat day to day. The biggest changes are a big decrease in the amount of carbs I plan to eat, and I will be using actual measuring cups and a food scale to reign in portion sizes.

We are terrible at estimating portion sizes and calorie counts are (usually inaccurate) averages, so I’m taking out the guesswork. This plan will hopefully re-set my mind so that when this is over and it is back to maintenance, I’m better at estimating amounts again.

There will be significant challenges, i.e. holiday temptations. I’m sure especially at work, I will be exposed to cookies, treats, and other items not in the plan on a regular basis. Plus I have guests visiting soon, a house party in a week, and America’s biggest reason to gorge all year (Thanksgiving) is just around the corner.

My plan for dealing with temptations/falling off the wagon?
  • Remind myself of why I’m doing this
  • Ask which I’d regret more tomorrow: eating it, or not
  • Having healthy snacks/meals available at all times
  • Asking hubs & close friends for help when needed
  • Keeping lots of water around at all times to stay hydrated
  • Self-love & forgiveness; I want progress, not perfection
  • If I don’t follow the plan for a day, forgive and try again

They say the best way to follow through on goals is to have accountability, and a system. My wonderful hubs is part of the accountability plan, this article is another. Putting all this out there in the interwebs is terrifying, but I want to make this real.

So, readers, feel free to cheer me on or give helpful advice, and connect with me on Twitter. Here’s to health & sticking with it!

 

For information and inspiration, check out the articles below. A big shout out to Mrs. Frugal Asian Finance, whose articles gave me the inspiration and kick in the pants to put together a real actual plan instead of just complaining about how my pants felt tighter.

How I Lost 36 Lbs With A Cheaper Diet

Forget calorie counting: Try this calorie control guide for men and women

https://www.paleonick.com/articles/7-Healthy-Ways-To-Lose-Fat

On Losing Weight: Comparing Physical Fitness And Financial Fitness

https://lifehacker.com/5950484/how-to-motivate-yourself-into-an-exercise-routine-youll-actually-stick-to

How to Look and Feel Like The Vigilante Without a Hefty Price Tag

Evoolution of Fat

How to Achieve Your Goals Easily

https://www.livestrong.com/article/48248-good-diet-plan-lose-lbs/

5 Similarities Between Weight Loss & Debt Payoff

 

 

 

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a paid health professional; none of this constitutes medical advice. This plan was created by myself, for myself only. Please do not try any drastic dietary or exercise changes prior to consulting a physician, and do not assume any other person’s plan will give you the same or any results at all.

Also, some links are Amazon Associate links, which if you click on them and then purchase the item, it generates a small commission for the blog’s upkeep at no cost to you.

Accepting the Zero Spend Challenge: October Review

For those of you who do not know what I’m talking about when I say “Zero Spend Challenge” or a Zero Spend Day, please check out the article below from ZeroDayFinance.com first. I’ll wait.

The Zero Day Challenge

Ok welcome back! Hopefully now you know what I’m talking about, and maybe are inspired to try it yourself.

Basically, this challenge turns not spending money into a game.

Everyone loves games! The goal is to rack up as many “Zero Days” as possible, meaning days when you spend zero dollars. This should naturally lower your discretionary spending (things you buy which are wants and not needs) and free up more money to save & invest.

I decided to join in the Zero Day Challenge to see how a typical month’s spending works out. I have a set budget of $75/week on food, other than that most expenses are automated. Mortgage, utility bills, phone payments, etc. all come out of my checking automatically every month, so that I’m never late on a payment.

Hubs and I naturally live a pretty frugal life without much shopping or extraneous expenses. Therefore, I expected that I would have tons of zero spend days! I set a goal of a little over half the month for zero days, and a spending limit of $1200 for myself. This is a little high, but I wanted a good cushion to find my baseline.

Not included in the spending is about $2000 or so towards automated payments and investments, as well as any spending hubs did behind my back. Just kidding, we are both allowed to spend freely as long as we discuss anything over $25 first.  🙂  You could also argue that $218 and change that went towards car insurance shouldn’t be included, but since it was a cashed check and not a credit card autopay I added it in.

As it turned out, I didn’t hit my goal for zero days, but I did come pretty close. I learned that there will always be some spending that pops up that I didn’t plan for.

This month, I had my sister’s birthday sneak up on me, and rather than look like a terrible big sis who didn’t plan ahead (reality) I sent her a Target gift card via text message (because it’s her favorite store of all time and we’re both damn Millennials who are all into text messaging and non-real-money) and looked like a rock-star.

We also had a planned date night (NC Wine Fest for our 1 year anniversary!) this month, and 2 unplanned date nights (a new Ethiopian restaurant opened in downtown, and the NC State Fair). This tells me that maybe I need to start putting a ‘dates’ line item in my monthly budget.

Probably the thing that surprised me the most was the fact that I did not ever go a full week without buying something. For someone who claims to never really shop, that was eye-opening.

Going forward, I think I will keep using the spreadsheet tool (it’s free on ZDF’s website if you subscribe! Go get it for yourself). Seeing how my spending changes month to month and what it averages out to over the course of a year will be really helpful. It is also neat to see how your spending is tracking in line with your goals, and I got sad when the zero day number changed from green to red. I found myself trying to not stop at the store just one more day…

But on the flip side, if I already spent money on something, I felt that if there was anything else ‘needed’ I better hurry up and buy it on the same day. So in that way it could be a slippery slope to spending more. Overall, something that makes you pause before clicking the ‘buy’ button or swiping your card is a good thing in my book.

 

Have you ever tried a zero-spend or ultra frugal month challenge? What did you learn, and do you keep doing it? If you haven’t what’s stopping you?

Weekly Eating – 10/16

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Hey y’all, for those who don’t know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (along with a whole host of other causes I’m sure). Though I agree with BitchesGetRiches on how empty the promises of “raising awareness” I do want y’all to be aware that:

  • It is estimated that in 2017, there will be at least 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women
  • 40,610 deaths will be caused by breast cancer
  • A self-exam is the best preventative thing you can do
  • Men can also get breast cancer
  • Mammograms aren’t always the best idea before 40
  • About 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their life
  • Costs of cancer care can easily be in the hundreds of thousands, even with great insurance
  • Diet and exercise can lower your risk of developing cancer

(Sources: Susan G Komen.org, breastcancer.org, cancer.org, MayoClinic.org, The CDC, USNews.com, Washington Post)

Ways you can help:

Save the boobies!

Monday:

Breakfast – I had made another big batch of smoothie in jars for this week, so I had a strawberry banana smoothie. It was also nice and pink!

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad: I brought enough for 3 days lunches

Dinner – Ham & Bean soup. I had some veggie soup leftover, plus some of a pork loin from the weekend. To use them both up and make it into something new I just chopped the pork, added a can of white beans, and simmered it together for about 20 minutes. With the rest of the leftover rolls, it was delicious and perfect!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Smoothie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon Couscous Salad

Dinner – White cheddar shells with pork. I just could not even, Tues was a stressful day. So I said F it, I’m making boxed mac n cheese. Hubs was sweet and took over, and decided to tear up the remaining piece of pork loin and add it to the mac n cheese.

It turned out really really good actually! Since the mac n cheese was a Friday Freebie at Kroger and the pork was leftovers, this was basically a free meal. Not bad for not wanting to cook.

Snack – 2 Cookies & Green tea

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smootie in a jar

Lunch – Salmon couscous salad

Dinner – Ribs with potato wedges & roasted cabbage. I had planned to make stuffed cabbage casserole, but the face hubs made when he saw that on the meal plan board was so sad… since I was grocery shopping today, I decided I’d pick up whatever was on sale and surprise him. And boy, when I saw organic grass-fed ribs on sale for $5, you better believe I snatched that right up!

Even better, when I got to the checkout, the sale price rang up wrong, about $2 more than it should have been. I politely pointed it out to the lady, who checked the sticker and saw I was right. Turns out, if something rings up incorrectly and you catch it, you get that item for free! So we had FREE ORGANIC RIBS! Best day ever.

Of course, having ribs meant having bones leftover. And I’m not one to waste an opportunity, so of course I tossed the bones into the small crock pot overnight with some spices and odd and ends, so now I also have a quart of organic beef broth!

Snack – a coworker brought in pumpkin oatmeal bars, so I had one of those with some green tea. Delightful. I’m trying to cut back from 2 cups of coffee a day to only one, plus it is finally getting chilly around here, hence all the green tea this week.

Thursday:

Breakfast – (free) Raspberry Noosa & my homemade tropical granola. Noosa was another Kroger Friday Freebie, and I already know I love this brand, so I was pretty excited about it. I used half the container and added about 1/2 cup of granola for a perfect and tasty breakfast.

Lunch – Peanut butter and banana sandwich, (free) peach cottage cheese, mason jar salad. The cottage cheese was another Kroger Friday freebie (I really love these things) and it sounded interesting. I love cottage cheese, and I love peach yogurt. but I gotta say, not a fan of them mixed together. I could only handle about half, and then I threw the rest in the trash. I know, I’m sorry!

Dinner – Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread, and zucchini. I had a half loaf of garlic bread in the freezer, so I pulled that out and roasted it on a pan with some meatballs and zucchini while we went for a nice walk. When we got back I just boiled up some pasta, added sauce, and pulled the pan out of the oven.

Snack – granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – mason jar smoothie

Lunch – Employee Appreciation Day picnic! We got free lunch of bbq pulled pork, baked beans, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and coleslaw. I haven’t had chicken tenders in ages, so that was delightful. There was live music and games and tons of free swag too! You know my favorite price is “free”.

They were pretty good gifts as well, multiple travel sized toiletries which will be perfect for upcoming trips, a full sized bottle of ibuprofen, a tshirt which will probably see many yoga workouts, a nice divided lunch box, and several nice pens. All in all a very good day, I felt quite appreciated.

Dinner – Stir Friday! I found 2 pork chops in the freezer, which I took out and thawed. I also got a marked down bag of chopped cauliflower rice for myself, and made regular brown rice in the rice cooker for hubs. With a cup of frozen mixed veggies, some garlic and soy sauce, it was a perfect simple meal.

The Weekend

This weekend I am super excited to have found a Triangle FIRE Meetup group! So I’ll be making some pasta salad to take to that, and hopefully learn a lot and make some new friends. We are also contemplating going to the NC State Fair, since Sunday is the last day to do so.

I need to make another batch of peanut butter granola bars since I’m running low, and maybe a few more mason jar salads for next week. If we find the energy, we might find a pumpkin patch or go apple picking. I also acquired a Singer sewing machine, which I need to look up the manual for and try to get it working.

Food Total: $55.13

I was very pleased with this week’s food shopping. I had an offer from Kroger where you get 200 bonus fuel points if you spend at least $50, but I didn’t want to go very far over that. Especially since last week I inventoried the freezers and have the rest of October already planned out. So hitting just over $50 was perfect, I got the bonus fuel points which will help keep gas costs down, but didn’t over-spend on my food budget.

Lessons Learned

It is SO GOOD to have a flexible meal plan, backup meals in the pantry, and knwo how to cook several simple meals. On days where work is stressful or you’re upset or whatever and you just cannot think about cooking something, having a pantry with options you can just make happen in 20 minutes or less is so critical. It saves us from the expense of ordering delivery or going out to get food, food that is probably not very healthy (because it would be either pizza or Firehouse brisket and cheddar subs, I guarantee).

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Weekly Eating – 10/10

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Ha, do y’all remember those commercials for 10-10-220? This week’s date made me think of it. Sheesh, I’m old…

Wow, there is so much going on in this with the grungy guy, the flirty lady, the cops and donuts routine… we won’t go there. Has anyone actually used this? Does it still work? No I kind of want to make a call to, say, Ecuador or Kazhakistan just to see.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – Buffalo chicken grilled cheese & soup

I saw this recipe online somewhere last week, and knew I had to have it! We had plenty of shredded cooked chicken from a whole one I roasted in the crock pot. I added in some Ranch and Yum Yum Sauce too, because why not?

I had mine with some homemade chicken noodle soup, and the boy had some tomato soup with his. They were quite tasty!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs on toast

Lunch – Cabbage vegetable soup, actually very flavorful and like, 20 calories per bowl! I may have had a few…

Dinner – Burritoes. Because there is never a bad time for a burrito.

Snack – M&Ms, peach yogurt

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Chocolate peanut butter bar & yogurt

Lunch – Black beans & rice. I had made about a half pound of black beans from dried over the weekend, so combined with some leftover brown rice this is a super simple lunch I pack quite often.

Dinner – Lemon Honey Chicken Breasts in the slow cooker with steamed veggies & potatoes. I didn’t get a picture of this one, mostly because we were hungry and ate it too fast, but also it just wasn’t pretty. But it tasted good! Just 2 chicken breasts on low in the crock pot all day with a dash of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

Snack – raw veggies & blender hummus

Thursday:

Breakfast – 2 scrambled eggs on toast. For whatever reason, I’ve been in a scrambled eggs mood this week.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Lunch – Homemade chicken noodle soup <3

Dinner – Stir Fry! Stir Thursday… Stursday? I sorta cheated and used a pre-packaged mix for this. But ya know, sometimes you just don’t want to chop a bunch of veggies, and it would also be more expensive for me to buy a tiny quantity of snow peas, carrot, broccoli slaw, etc. So when I saw this on sale, of course I snagged it.

I had some shredded chicken still left from my whole chicken, and between  the veg and chicken it was the perfect amount of food for the two of us. I made a big batch of brown rice in the rice cooker, and kept the rest in the fridge for later meals.

Snack – Granola bar

Friday:

Breakfast – scrambled egg wrap with salsa

Lunch – Rice & beans, mason jar salad

Dinner – Friday the 13th party! This is the only Friday the 13th all year, and it just so happens to be in October. So we decided to have a fall/Halloween dinner party for the occasion. It was a small affair, with good food, corn hole, good conversation and a lot of laughs.

I roasted 2 big pork loins, along with some potatoes with rosemary and acorn squash with nutmeg. Some homemade stuffing, homemade sauerkraut, and whole wheat dinner rolls rounded out the meal. It was quite tasty, if I do say so myself!

I also had made some rosemary lemonade (since I have a gigantic rosemary bush by the mailbox that needs harvesting), and a special spooky rum punch.

The Weekend

I decided to finally stop procrastinating and bake something to welcome a few new neighbors. In the past 2 months, 3 houses on our block had been sold, and I desperately wanted to welcome them to the ‘hood. So I took some applesauce I had made last weekend, and turned it into cinnamon apple muffins! Everyone knows the quickest way to befriend someone is to feed them. 🙂

Sunday was quite productive too, I did some recording (potentially some exciting announcements coming soon…) and along with the muffins made a huge batch of my #1 recipe: Buffalo chicken potato bake.

Also prepped several mason jar salads, and a pitcher of smoothie for quick breakfasts. Cleaned out the refrigerator of some very old stowaways (green tomato salsa… from Connecticut? Ew!) and took everything out of the freezer, reorganized it, and made the rest of the month’s meal plan based off of what we have. Phew!

Food Total: $166.04 (less booze = $67.35!)

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

Ouch… But we were having a fall/Halloween/Friday the 13th party, so I stocked up on several seasonal and variety packs of beer and some wine. I also picked up some dry ice, to make the punch extra bubbly and spooky. There was also a good price on honey, and since we want to dabble in making mead I grabbed some, so about $20 of that is honey. Without the party costs, food this week was actually way below budget!

There were some great sales on chicken breasts, so even though they weren’t on the meal plan I snagged a few. We can adapt the weekend or next week’s meals or freeze as needed. I also found a great discount on 70/30 ground beef, which we ALWAYS need, so I grabbed that too and froze it.

Lessons Learned

Honestly, in terms of what was on my grocery list this week, the cost was under $40! Not bad. But stocking up ahead of time when there are great sales is one of my favorite grocery tricks to keep overall spending and cost per meal low.

Another lesson here is that alcohol is not a frugal beverage! Of course, the best beverage choice is free: water. But we both enjoy a glass of red or a cold beer now and then, and especially in social situations. Sure, we could tell everyone to BYOB and maybe even get a few free leftover 6 packs, but I prefer to be generous when hosting. And hubs loves variety!

It did bring up the conversation of homebrewing again though. We might have to follow Mr. Picky Pincher’s lead on this one!

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

My Commuting Mistake

Once upon a time, we lived in a cold, dark place called Connecticut, where in the winter even a $600 electric bill couldn’t save you from the cold. Then we wised up and decided to move south of the Mason-Dixon line.

When we moved, we estimated that anywhere within 20 miles of my future workplace would be okay. What we didn’t realize is that 20 miles does not necessarily translate into 20 minutes in morning city traffic… and that a long commute is one of the number one money wasters in our modern American life.

Therefore, when we found a great bargain on a house that fit all our specifications, we didn’t even think about it, we just jumped on a plane to sign the offer papers. And even though I am only 16.5 miles from door to door as the crow flies (or as the highway meanders, whatever), it takes 30 minutes on a GOOD DAY with no traffic to get from home to work and vice versa.

Heaven forbid there is a wreck or construction, or even “unusual traffic along your route”, then dinner won’t be until after dark. And I get hangry around 5:30pm.

When I first began working at my current location, there was a ‘park-and-ride’ option. I tried all the things, from 4 different lots in different places and 2 separate bus systems (Chapel Hill Transit and the Go Triangle transit). I tried each system for a week, to see which saved the most amount of time in driving to-and-from, as well as the on-the-bus portion.

Having 15-30 minutes on a bus is nice in a way. It gives you stress-free time to think about life, go over the day, plan ahead, craft blog posts, or read a book. It also introduced me to a few other fellow bus riders, at least two of which became friends. And it helps that some of these fellow riders are really good humans. It also helps that the bus options are far cheaper, from $0 for the Go Triangle pass to less than $100 for the Park and Ride.

However. I must admit to a shameful truth. I am a spendypants when it comes to commuting.

I know Mr. Money Mustache may revoke my frugal card and never return my phone calls (HAHAHA), but I then applied for a waitlist for an on-campus parking pass. And I got one.

GASP

Yes, I paid double the money yearly to try out a parking lot on campus. I tried two different lots, 2 blocks apart. Now I walk the minimum distance from my car to my building per day, and have 3 different escape routes from campus at 5pm. A quick check of Google maps tells me which way to turn to avoid the most traffic. And now I get home in about 30 minutes, reliably, every day.

Time is money?

I’m not sure, I haven’t run the exact numbers. But I guess what I’ve learned is that, for me and at this point in life, I am comfortable sacrificing a small amount of money per year, plus a not-negligible amount of money in repair/maintenance/gas costs in order to have the convenience and time returned to me in the form of driving.

What brought me to this conclusion? What might tip the balance back to the bus system?

Flexibility in when I leave

Right now, our hours are ‘set’ at 8:30 – 5pm. But that isn’t how real life works most days. Sometimes I have to be in office earlier, sometimes stay later. Projects happen.

But we are limited to a strict 40 hours per week, so once you hit that, you’re done for the week, get out. So being able to leave earlier on a day of my choosing to make it all add up is really great. If my schedule became rock-solid for some reason, I’d probably consider other options, like carpooling.

I am the primary dinner-maker

See above? I’m the primary dinner-maker, and grocery-shopper, and errand-runner. My wonderful, generous, hilarious hubs is basically a hermit (has he left the house since August? Not sure…), whereas I love being out and about in the world. So if we need milk, a package dropped off, dry cleaning to do, or a vet to visit, I am pretty much the one to do it.

And having more time in the evenings is key to adulting. If another commute option arose which gave me MORE time, or proved more convenient (like being next to a place I shop) I’d consider it.

Gas prices are reasonable right now

Even with Harvey and Maria and whoever comes next, gas prices this year have been mostly below $2.50 per gallon. That means that I fill my tank for about $20, and pretty much only once every other week. See below as well. If this changes and gas prices rose, I would definitely consider other ways of getting where I need to go.

A paid-off, older model vehicle with great gas mileage

Both our cars are reliable Hondas, 2005 and 2006, with less than 120,000 miles. They are both fully paid off, and have newish tires (within the past 3 years). Though mine has been giving us some issues lately, overall these should have another several years worth of driving left in them.

Our insurance is super cheap, maintenance is negligible, gas mileage is stellar, and Honda engines run like a dream. When one or both someday bite the dust, or if Tesla magically creates a 10K car, we are definitely going to be in the car market, and I would re-evaluate.

We bought a house, and the mortgage is great

The house we bought fits our needs right now and for the foreseeable future. A similarly sized house closer to work would easily cost twice to four times as much. We do have alerts set for a specific mile radius and price range, but barring a huge housing market downturn I highly doubt the ‘hot spots’ of the Triangle will become MORE affordable in the future. However, if the perfect diamond in the rough house comes on the market, you better believe we will be all over that. And turn ours into a rental. Bonus.

 

What do you think? Is the trade-off of driving worth it? How far do you commute? Should I hang up my PF Blogger Pants and never write again, you terrible non-bike-riding human?

Weekly Eating – 9/25

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

I spent part of the weekend making ahead breakfasts and lunches by making a pitcher full of smoothie and putting it in mason jars, as well as mason jar salads. That way all I had to do was grab a jar from the fridge every day and lunch was ready to go! It is a great way to save money and time (buy in bulk, make 5 days lunch at once) and to get my daily greens & veggies.

My aunt and grandmother were also in town all weekend and through Wednesday, so we got to hang out a lot. We went to an Oktoberfest in downtown Durham, played games at the Atomic Fern, sampled all the things at the 10th Annual Pepper Festival, and explored Lafayette Village in Raleigh. It’s always fun spending time with family, but even moreso when ALL your family lives 1000 miles away, and you only get to see them a few times a year. 🙂

Side note, holy what it’s October?! Ok, Bye 2017…

Monday:

Breakfast – Toast with peanut butter. Not gonna lie, a cold smoothie just didn’t sound good, and whole grain toast with peanut butter is one of my top easy go-to breakfasts.

Lunch – Mason jar salad. Super delicious, healthy, and surprisingly filling. The trick is to put the ‘heartier’ things on the bottom, like cut carrots, broccoli, and olives, and then things like peppers/ cheese/ beets/ red cabbage and delicate greens on top. Come lunch time, just dump it all into a bowl!

Dinner – We were supposed to go to Myrtle Beach today, but my grandmother wasn’t feeling up to the long drive. So instead we took dinner to them! Hubs made some chicken thighs while I was driving home, then I fried up some chopped cauliflower and baked some biscuits. Paired with a simple salad, it was a perfect, relaxed dinner.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – oatmeal from my desk oatmeal jar, another easy breakfast go-to that’s healthy and frugal

Lunch –  I took a half day in lieu of Monday, and we went to CowFish in Raleigh! They were both amazed at the wacky decor, and the crazy fusion menu. This time I got The Big Squeal. With a bison patty, BBQ pulled pork, fried onion rings, bacon slaw, and chipotle aioli, this massive beast was a big, delicious mess!

The burger was basically bigger than my head, and those sweet potato fries are SO GOOD. My aunt got the Hamandegger, which features a burger layered with a fried egg, cheese, and sliced ham. It looked quite delicious, and there wasn’t much talking once the burgers showed up, so I’m thinking it was good! And Gram got the plain baby burger with Swiss & tomato. We had to pay extra for the cheese, by which she was outraged. It was kinda funny.

Dinner – We had a good time shopping all afternoon in Raleigh, and were too tuckered out to deal with going out again. Plus cooking at home is fun for me, and way cheaper! We stopped at a Kroger to get all the ingredients for our family’s famous Fettuccini with shrimp, broccoli & carrots.

Snack – Oh, and while we were out we found a place called Duck Donuts… and holy crap are they good! It might be worth driving the 30 minutes to get these made-fresh-when-you-order, totally customizable doughnuts! The maple bacon was AHmaZING.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – smoothie in a jar

Lunch – salad in a jar

Dinner – This was their last night in town, so we went big for seafood at Full Moon Oyster Bar. This was a fun spot, with open seating, you just walk up to the bar and pick a spot. They have dedicated “shuckers” to get your fresh oysters to you and take your order. We had a bunch of apps and dishes, plus Wednesday is half off wine bottles! The seafood pasta was oh so tasty.

Snack – peanut butter cookie

Thursday:

Breakfast – raisin oatmeal at my desk

Lunch – mason jar salad

Dinner – I had a great time making pepperoni rolls 3 ways! As rolls, as biscuits, and as sandwiches. I got most of the ingredients on sale, which made total ingredients cost about $8 for 2 rolls, 16 biscuits, and 10 sandwiches. With even more pepperoni leftover to freeze.

I made 4 big batches, so that we can take some extra with us this weekend, and freeze a few for later too. They make great snacks, and keep hubs full when its time for “second dinner”.

Snack – 2 tbsp Ranch & raw veggies

Friday:

Breakfast – Mango Peach Smoothie. We finished all the pre-made smoothie jars, so I just whipped this up in the morning with canned peaches and frozen mango and split it with hubs. It was quite delish!

Lunch – Mason jar salad. I was very pleased with how well these held up all week long. I was a little concerned that the salad greens would get wet and mushy, but they were still crisp by Friday after making the jars on Sunday. This is a weekly trend I plan to continue. The Green Goddess was probably my favorite dressing this week too.

Dinner – Leftovers buffet! We are headed out of town this weekend, so we need to finish up anything that won’t last until Monday.

The Weekend

This weekend we are heading to a friends’ cabin in the mountains! It will be a mix of people we know and people we don’t, with a dozen of us and five dogs in the mix. There will be mostly hiking and game playing, we are taking turns making meals by couple, and there will likely be no or spotty cell phone reception. All in all it should be a super fun, disconnect-from-the-world, very frugal weekend of making new friends and getting closer with friends we already have! I’m very much looking forward to it.

Total: $97

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

We spent a little more than usual this week due to family being in town and eating out more than normal, plus extra groceries to cook for 4 a few times. Totally worth it though, to spend time with family! Plus they paid for eating out far more often than we did, so it was an overall win for sure!

Lessons Learned

Make-ahead smoothies and salads are AMAZING! This is a super quick prep that saves me SO MUCH TIME in the mornings. I get together the jars and ingredients, toss them in layers, using about 15 minutes. Then all I do is grab a to-go jar in the morning and toss it in my work bag. Maybe I can actually get around to doing yoga in the mornings now with all this free time?!? (HaHa)

Also, eating out a lot makes me feel like blah… I don’t regret it, the time spent with family is totally worth it. But after so many years of cooking for myself at home, I can really feel the difference. First of all, the portions are insanely huge compared to what I eat at home, which is sort of a perk because I almost always have leftovers. But then that messes up the meal plan a little bit, by having ‘extra’ meals around.

And then the restaurant food is saltier, fattier, and generally lacking in vegetables compared to what I would cook. This makes me not feel my best for days afterwards. Good thing weeks like that are only occasional treats. It blows my mind that SO MANY Americans live like that, on a daily basis. I couldn’t do it.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

A Day in the Frugal Life

This post is an example of all the little frugal things we do throughout a typical day. They are just a part of our normal routine, but these tiny things add up to big savings over time. Disclaimer: some of the links are Amazon associate links. If you click them, and choose to buy something, this blog gets a tiny amount at no cost to you! Thanks for reading, we hope you find some things to think about.

 

6:00 am – Mrs. BE is up-an-at-em… errr, I mean, probably hitting the snooze once or twice… or staggering downstairs, brewing some coffee, and falling back asleep on the couch. I usually prep it the night before, filling the machine with water and coffee so that I just have to push the “on” button. We use store brand coffee, bought in bulk when it’s on sale, and just ordered this reusable filter to cut costs even more.

By making coffee at home, we save $2-8 per day, for two of us. It costs about a quarter to make 12 cups of coffee, and we each drink 2-3 cups. The rest we put in the refrigerator, and heat up the next day. This way we also only have to make a pot every other day. We sometimes doctor it up with fancy creamer, flavorings, or protein powder, but most days I just add enough 2% milk to make it beige.

6:10 am – Let the pups out; our house choice was influenced by the large fenced in back yard. This is a personal choice, we both value yard space for pups, as well as playing and relaxing. Plus, we’re lazy and like to let the little darlings get their own exercise. They each get 1/2 cup of dog food out of a giant 50lb bag we buy on Amazon once every 6 months. Yay little dogs = little food $$

We got two because then they will keep each other company, and we don’t have to feel guilty leaving them alone all day. Of course, this is less of a problem now that the Mr. can let them go outside midday, but still it is nice for them to have each other. And that way we don’t need doggy daycare or other pet-sitting / walking services.

6:30 am – Breakfast is a rotation of cheap, healthy options including smoothies with whatever fruits are on hand, eggs in various ways like bagel sandwiches, microwave poached, or scrambled with veggies, or oatmeal.

Making your own breakfast is a huge frugal tip because not only is having breakfast a key to energy all day long and maintaining a healthy weight, but you can make your own at home for FAR cheaper than any restaurant, even drive through.

Eggs are crazy cheap right now and a great source of protein. A loaf of bread costs $1-3 depending on your ingredients, and toast is a good on-the-go option, add a tbsp of nut butter and/or sliced fruit to up your game. You can also meal-prep by making a big batch of breakfast burritos or muffins and freezing them to use throughout the week.

6:40 am – Mrs. BE takes coffee upstairs and leaves a cup for the Mr., usually in addition to a smoothie. Yeah, he’s spoiled, sorry boys I’m very taken. 😉 Hubs is a lucky man, he works from home, and also starts work about an hour 1/2 later than I do. Good thing I’m the morning person in the relationship!

**You’ll notice, there is no “do hair and makeup” line item here. That’s because I don’t wear makeup. Any, ever. Unless I’m like, going to a wedding or about to be professionally photographed. By eating a whole foods plant-based diet and drinking loads of water, my skin is pretty darn healthy and I don’t have to hide it. This saves us boatloads of money year over year. Hooray for natural beauty!

I also have never been a fan of hair products. Curlers, crimpers, blow dryers, straighteners… these are terrible for your hair. And mousse, gel, spray, net, etc. are also bad for your hair, your respiratory system, and the environment. Save your self craptons of cash, space in your cabinets, and stop polluting the world with empty metal canisters and just don’t buy it.

7:20-7:30 – Mrs. BE leaves for work. It’s a sad fact of life that I have a 35-minutes commute, but in better, frugal news, I do have a 12-year-old, fully paid off (i.e. no car loan) Honda which gets fabulous gas mileage, and a parking pass to take a bus into campus.* (*this post)

This is great because it helps save gas and the environment by taking advantage of public transit, it gives me a chance to meet or talk to others who work on campus, and it gives me some down time where I can relax. I usually read, but occasionally I’ll type up some blog post ideas.

8-8:30 – 4:30-5  – Mrs. BE is a little worker bee, makin that bacon

8:50 am – Mr. BE cracks open an eye, slugs the coffee I left for him on the bedside table, and hits snooze

8:59 am – Mr. BE drags himself into his home office, boots up various computer(s) and his work laptop, and gets to work making and fixing apps. Being a programmer from the comfort of home gives him the world’s best commute of: approximately 1 minute!

11/noon – Lunch is nearly always leftovers from home. Brown bagging it does not have to be boring! I’ve brought my slow cooker to work for delicious soups, and a George foreman for hot tuna melt sandwiches. People often comment on how good my lunch smells or looks. Try getting that reaction from a boring $7 cafeteria salad.

Lunch hack 1: Make large batches (either all at once on the weekend, or cook double batches of dinners) and store them in reusable individual sized containers. You’re already cooking dinner, why not make double and keep a lunch-size-serving ready? You can use meal prep ready plastic, or I personally love these tight seal glass ones.

Lunch hack 2: Pack lunch the night before. If you already have a sandwich or salad made or tupperware ready to grab, it makes your morning easier and your lunches cheaper.

Lunch hack 3: Keep an emergency stock in your desk/cabinet/purse. I always have a rotating stock of a few cans of soup, rice cakes and peanut butter, tuna, and trail mix on hand in case I forget lunch.

Lunch hack 4: Bring a reuseable water bottle/cup and your own beverages/snacks to keep at your desk. Drinking water all day is good for you in a million ways, and also helps keep you full.

Mr. BE also has leftovers at home, or there are plenty of freezer options to keep his belly full. We have frozen ground turkey for burritos, ingredients for quick sandwiches or soups, and the always-an-option homemade yogurt.

5:30-6pm – Mrs. BE gets home, signaling the end of Mr.’s workday (usually, sometimes there are more issues and emails to attend to, it varies). I immediately pull out whatever is on the meal plan for dinner that night and heat it up, bake it, or do whatever needs done.

Usually dinner is ready in 30 minutes or less, and always using homemade, whole food ingredients that were planned for and purchased earlier. I also check the meal plan to see what is coming up for tomorrow, and take something out of the freezer if needed.

We have also recently been working exercise into our routine. Monday/Wed/Friday the Mrs. does a 20-30 minute yoga video. Tues/Thurs are run days, and the Mr. joins me for these, depending on the weather of course. Worst case, we almost always find time for a nice after-dinner walk together (sometimes dogs too).

Staying fit and exercising regularly is a huge frugal tip, for so many reasons. By staying in a healthy weight range, you keep your body functioning in top shape. You are avoiding a slew of medical bills, lab test, and medications. You are less likely to incur debt from hospital stays and chronic illness. You may qualify for better payments on health insurance, and your employer may give you perks for quitting smoking or seeking preventive care. And you spend less on clothing by staying about the same size season to season and year to year.

7-9:00 pm – Sometimes we work on individual projects; I will write blog posts or read while the Mr. works on VR. Both of us are pursuing several avenues for side income, or we will play (free) video games together. Usually we will watch 1-2 episodes of our latest TV fling on Netflix. We have never had cable in all our 4+ years of living together, and don’t feel like it affects our lives in the least.

9-10:00 pm – Showering & getting ready for bedtime. We save money in multiple ways with our personal grooming. I use conditioner as my shaving cream rather than pay the pink tax and buy $5 per bottle shave cream. We also both use changeable razors that we buy in bulk from some off-brand place once a year. Total cost per razor ends up being about 20 cents! Compare that to the ridiculous price of razors in the store. For really indulgent showers, I use my homemade body scrub.

We also both cut our own hair. We got an electric razor set for $20 and it has been the best idea ever. Hubs will get in the tub, and I buzz his hair, poof, fresh new haircut in under 10 minutes. For me, I just trim the ends every 3-4 months with regular scissors. I go for a “real” haircut maybe once every other year.

10:00: Bedtime! Getting 8 hours of quality sleep is a huge frugal tip because it is good for not only your health but also your focus and productivity. Getting your “beauty sleep” can in fact make you more beautiful as your body has time to repair DNA damage and reboot your physical systems overnight.

Enough sleep will also help you in the working world. You are a more attentive driver, meaning less likelihood of expensive mistakes. You don’t need as much or any help from caffeine and chemicals in coffee and energy drinks. You can focus better and longer, making you more productive and thus more valuable. You may be able to justify a raise, or seek a promotion or new job with all that energy!

 

And there you have it, the typical daily life of the Budget Epicurean family. Through years of trying different frugal tips and keeping what works for us, we have figured out the best ways to maximize our dollars and our time. 

 

How about you, what’s your typical day? Any frugal tips or routines to share? Any ways in which you think you can improve?