Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Starting fresh

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As you may have noticed over the past few weeks, I've been wanting to write about more in life than just my debt. After 2 years of talking about almost nothing but being broke, I'm tired of it. This blog has been a great outlet for me and I will continue to improve my finances and write about it, just not at Clueless with Cash.

I started a new blog, "Slowly but Surely" that discusses all of my goals, including getting better with money and getting out of debt. I will also track my progress with becoming a runner and training for the New York City Half Marathon and other life goals I will have.

I hope you join me at the new site. Become a follower or sign up for e-mail updates. Thanks for reading my story!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Be right back

After a rough weekend I spent the day like this:
I'll have more to post soon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fitness Friday - BIG News!

So I don't have much to say about healthy eating etc. this week. That's a good thing because I want to jump right into fitness. Something pretty cool happened this week and I'm SO excited to share it.

M and I ran around the reservoir on Wednesday night. She does 2 laps while I do one and she finishes just a few minutes after me. Yup, interval training isn't exactly speedy work but that's ok. I stretched while waiting for M to finish and a big group of runners came in right behind me and joined me in stretching. Since I find it difficult to meet new people in this big city, especially interesting ones that share my interests, I figured I would ask if this was a running group with hopes to join them sometime. As fate would have it, I was talking to Team In Training, a group that runs and raises funds to find a cure for Leukemia, the horrible reason for MG's younger brother's death a year and a half ago.
We didn't chat long but I went home and looked at their website. You select a race to participate in, and TNT helps you train and raise funds while building a strong sense of community and friendship. Umm right up my alley, especially for a cause so close my heart.

I dream big so I after a few minutes on the website, consulting with M and MG, I signed up for the NYC half marathon on March 18 and pledged to raise $1600!!

You guys! I can't run 1 mile without a few walking breaks. 13.1 miles is just 3 short months away and I'm training in the coldest months of the year! OMG I'm freaking out! I'm SO excited for this challenge and adventure but yikes!

You can read my story and donate here :) 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Motivational Monday - Not breaking the bank on Cyber Monday

Side note before I get started. I wanted to write this post with Christmas music on Pandora. But I couldn't change the station because the first song to come on was Amos Lee. Pretty sure it's a rule that you have to wait until he is finished. So I waited and now it's James Taylor. The same rules apply. Looks like Christmas music will wait even longer! Anyway...

I'm not a huge fan of Black Friday. I don't like to shop with big crowds because I feel too rushed and it's rare that all of the gifts I need to purchase can be bought at one store. Add in the fact that I don't have a car anymore, it just wasn't going to happen for me.

But I did get to work before my entire department this morning and was welcomed with a slew of e-mails about Cyber Monday. It nearly got the best of me. I am pretty sure 100% of my gifts, or at least the materials needed to make the gifts, have been purchased and I managed to find a sweet deal or two for myself. Sometimes I wish I didn't work at a computer with internet access all day!
Here's what I found:
A lot of stores have free or deeply discounted shipping :) I can't mention exactly what stores I was looking at since that will give away a gift for a loyal reader BUT most stores have at least decent shipping prices today.

There are $6 subscription packs to magazines here. I got a 1-year subscription to both SHAPE and Fitness for $6 total. Yup. There are a variety of magazine packages to choose from and they make great gifts too!


Barnes & Noble has a few goodies on sale. I found The Hunger Games first book for less than $5 on my nook. I'm hoping I can enjoy it more than Twilight! December is a great time to snuggle up and read a few books!


One gripe I do need to make is to Finishline. If you're going to participate in Cyber Monday, re-stock your merchandise if you sold a lot on Black Friday! The Asics I want are on sale from $84 to $27. Yes, please! However, there are only 3 itty-bitty sizes left so they will remain on my wishlist. No business for you, Finishline! Famous Footwear had a BOGO deal, plus 25% off your purchase, plus free shipping. If I bought 2 pair of running shoes (in my size!), each pair would be less than $40 but I wasn't in the market to spend $70 on shoes today so I exited out of the screen before I did something I would regret.

Anyway, my holiday shopping is taken care of and I couldn't be happier. I didn't break the bank and I picked up a new hobby. I can't wait to post about the gifts I've been making for my friends!

I don't think I've ever finished my Christmas shopping and have been able to put money INTO my savings account but just this morning I was able to put $120 more into savings! I had been saving for something but it fell through and instead of going on a shopping spree to spoil my loved ones and myself, I popped it right into savings.
Since moving to New York, this is by far the most I've had in my savings and it feels better every time I see that number go up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fitness Friday - Thanksgiving & George Clooney, YUM!

Food:
I voluntarily bought green beans and ate a whole bunch of them this week. My list of vegetables I enjoy has certainly grown this past year but green beans have never been a huge favorite. One of the boys I babysit for gets green beans for dinner on the regular and for whatever reason they started looking mighty delicious. Cook them, add a hint of EVOO and a tinch of salt and boom, I will scarf them down!
My Thanksgiving meal was delicious! For real. But there is one thing that bugs me about Americans and Thanksgiving. Why do we need to eat SO much? Isn't enough that you have special foods on that day? What is it about that day that makes it normal to eat three or four servings? The average person eats 4500 calories on Thanksgiving. Excuse me?! There is no possible way I could do it. I had normal servings of delicious turkey and a variety of veggies and potatoes. I did go back for seconds but only of veggies because they were just so deliciously prepared. I was still full 6 hours later. Anyway, I don't get it but I hope you all had scrumptious meals!

Fitness
George Clooney was my personal trainer this week. I'll explain. I don't babysit on Tuesdays so I really have no excuse not to go to they gym. I had a late lunch and was still pretty full. I had a long to-do list waiting for me at home but with a text from MG saying "You'll thank yourself later", I dragged myself to the gym. The only available treadmill looked like this:
What more of an invitation do I need to work my booty off?! I worked a little harder than normal just for him. Ya know, just in case we meet some day. I hear he's a leg guy.

My shins are still bugging me but I've incorporated cross training with yoga and I'm trying shin stretches that I learned from one of my favorite running bloggers. I have a pretty cool bag of Fancy A Peas that I use to ice them and I'm hoping that all these efforts make them go away pretty quickly.

I've graduated to week 3 of the C25K program and my endurance still feels great. In 2 more weeks I'm supposed to be able to run 25 minutes straight! That simply blows my mind considering I started from zero!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and find some great deals on Black Friday! I'm off to get in a rare outdoor run before I start reading Harry Potter. Yup, I never finished reading the series way back when. Don't judge.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful

 So I had a plan to write each day for the month of November about something I'm thankful for. Didn't work out so much. I know that being thankful for the fortune in your life should happen more than once a year, and for me it does. But I want to show my thanks today, anyway. This post won't include every single person important to me and I left out the long list of superficial things that I also love because that post could go on for days. But here's a start and it makes me pretty happy.
 This is a pretty great family. Near or far, I tell them everything and they're always good for lots of laughs and lots of lessons. My parents celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2012 and I think that's pretty great. My sister is kickin' some booty in the Air Force and I'm pretty proud of her for it. I can't wait for all of us to be together over Christmas.
My extended family is small but I won the jackpot in quality over quantity. It started with my uncle being my buddy and being the brilliant man he is, he picked a pretty cool lady to start a family with. I'm so lucky I've had the chance to get closer to them while living on the east coast. They've opened their home to me countless times and sitting at their kitchen counter chatting with everyone is basically my therapy. I wouldn't be living my dream in New York without them. They are my home away from home and I can't wait to see them all tomorrow. They're always good for a lesson, advice, a new book suggestion or a simple text commiserating about the Vikings.
 MG. My Guy. My love. My rock. No matter how close or how far we are from each other, he is ALWAYS the first person I want to talk to in the morning and the last person I want to say good night to each night. He makes me laugh, he makes me think, he makes my heart smile. He is my partner in crime for any adventure I come up with and he gets me better than anyone. He spoils me and is more than I deserve.
 These girls are pretty amazing, each for their own reasons. Lenka, the blonde on the right, is my oldest friend. We started playing basketball together in 4th grade and have been friends ever since. We get closer and closer and most of our conversations include the phrase "I haven't told anyone this yet but...!" and she is my best ab workout from all our laughter. Tanya, the blonde in the middle, is my second oldest friend, also from basketball. She is my pen pal and a huge source of entertainment and encouragement. Tanya and Lenka make a pretty awesome duo for a night on the town and even though those nights are few and far between with the distance, we always pick up where we leave off. And then there's M (Megan), the one squeezing me in the picture. We were unlikely friends that met on Facebook and now I couldn't imagine my life without her. She is the yin to my yang and also an incredible source of entertainment, advice and support. There is a lot I admire about each of these women and I'm so lucky to call them my best friends.
 Amanda is THE best friend. Since 7th grade we've been through everything together. Distance has definitely taken it's toll on us but I love her just the same. I can't wait to be in her wedding next year!
 The nannies have changed my life. When I moved to New Jersey after high school, I was miserable until I met these ladies. We shared a bond about taking the road less traveled and I'm so glad we were in it together. The year we spent as nannies in New Jersey was full of adventure, laughter, tears, and support. We have all gone our separate ways but we keep in touch as if no time has gone by. I wish we were all rich so we could plan more trips and adventures but e-mails and phone calls work for now.
My southern girls have also changed my life. I have learned SO much from them and they were there for me through some of my hardest growing pains. It all started with Faith (purple sweater) being my silver lining and through her I met Amber and Lindsay. Amber's dedication to her career as a teacher is a huge inspiration for me and Lindsay is always game for a little bit of boy talk. My life wouldn't be the same without any of them. Distance separates us but a simple text is all we need. I'm not sure if I'll ever move back to Rock Hill (probably not but maybe the south) but I will always carry them in my hearts.

"Maybe our mistakes are what make our fate. Without them, what would shape our lives? Perhaps if we never veered off course, we wouldn't fall in love, or have babies, or be who we are. After all, seasons change. So do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you're very lucky, a plane ride away." -- Sex & The City

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm a winner!

I just put $160 into savings. It was a combination of babysitting money and money I received from opening a bank account (more on that to come). Man, it feels good to see my savings at nearly $200 in less than one month.

In other news, I'm out of coffee creamer at work. Here's my conversation with MG:
Me: Boo :( no more coffee creamer. Hello, Starbucks!
MG: Or don't need coffee like me :) lol, kidding. You need it!

He knows me so well :)

If you're traveling for the holidays today or tomorrow, travel safe! My cousin is visiting me tonight so we can go to the parade tomorrow and then head to my aunt and uncles' for dinner! Have a fun and safe holiday weekend!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dear Santa,

I really have been good this year (mostly)! I've done an OK job at not spending money lately. All year, in fact. I stopped getting in more debt. I've been able to afford every expense that came my way, with one exception. And I even have a baby savings account started. For real, Santa. I now stick to my allowance and with only small exceptions do I exceed that budget. So instead of going shopping for myself, I'm posting my wishlist on here to get it out of my system.  I even helped you out with order of importance :)
I lost my iPod on a business trip this fall. I left it in a pouch behind the seat on the plane, forgot to grab it and it was no longer there when I tried to track it down. ALL of my music was on there and it was my baby. I had it for for 5 years. I have a shuffle but it fits 100 songs, which if you know my music collection, it really doesn't work. I don't need a big one anymore since the storage is outrageous and too much for me. The nano still has a significant amount of storage (16GB please), plays radio stations and is adorable.
 I can't believe I live (and blog!) in NYC without a good camera. My camera is older than my old iPod and does not take quality pictures. If I had an iPhone, this wouldn't be a problem. But my phone does not take good pictures either. Something small for on-the-go but that has clear images would be perfect. The red color is pretty sleek too :)
I saw a tutorial on Pinterest about using hot rollers. For $20, I would definitely enjoy that hair style since I'm hardly skilled with a curling iron. Plus these are faster than a curling iron too. I wouldn't have to let my hair air dry and freeze and give me pneumonia when I want it curly.
I got running shoes for my birthday. I love them. But they do not give me great ankle support and especially as a new runner, I should not be using minimalist shoes, in my amateur opinion. Last Christmas I bought myself a pair of Brooks and I love them. I've never worked out more in my life! But as a result, they are a worn-out, year-old pair and fresh soles would be great for my feet and knees.

Until pretty recently, I had a pair of black boots like these from 2 years ago. They seem to have gone missing in one of the 3 moves I've made this year (shocker) but they are great for so many outfits and I want them back!

 My Nook recently told me she wants more books. I've read a personal record number of books this year and I want to keep that going!
Who couldn't use a Target gift card? Cute clothes, cute shoes, cute stuff for the apartment, basic necessities...I swear I could spend a whole day finding things I want and need. It is a huge blessing there is not a Target conveniently near me in New York.
These red flats are adorable. I have no red in my wardrobe beside a skinny belt and accessorizing it with these shoes would be perfect. Imagine skinny jeans, and over-sized white button-up. I love it.
And if I'm really begging, I want a puppy! SO badly. I know I won't get one this year and I shouldn't but it's pretty much eternally on my wish list until one shows up on my door step. How cute is this lil pup?

Thanks, Santa!

Love,
Katie

What if...

...I did a spending freeze?

I've heard of a few people (Smart and Sassy with Sprinkles & And Then She Saved) doing it and I think it's a great idea. This is a daunting task, especially living in New York. S&SwS did it for a month, ATSS did it for a whole year. I think starting with one month and seeing how I do is more manageable, at least mentally. Even week by week seems less scary, but I have to be strong!

I don't have a huge spending budget as it is. It's just not possible on the income and the expenses I have (yes, I pay $1,000/month on my half of the rent for our tiny apartment and I have $500/month in debt payments). But what if I cut down to the necessities only? I could realistically save $200/month. If I kept that up, I would save $2,400 in a year. Even if I did it every other month, it's still $1,200 that can go towards loans and savings. That's a lot of money. Not to mention I could save all of my babysitting money rather than sneak a $10 or $20 here and there for extra spending. And what if I figured out how to make more money and saved that too? 

Now the ladies who I have read about are both married. They have a partner to stay in on a Saturday night with and to eat a meal at home with. My NYC friends are rarely strapped for cash and enjoy going out plenty, whether it be to bars, dinner, lunch, brunch quick shopping trips etc. so my situation is a bit more difficult. I wonder if I can convince them to join me, since I know they all have a little bit of debt they'd like to reduce too? Either way, this isn't about peer pressure, it's a decision I have to make for myself.

Deciding to do this during the holiday season is just plain unrealistic. MG is visiting the first week in December (10 days if you're counting!!) and I'm going home for nearly two weeks over Christmas and New Years. Money will be spent, it's inevitable. But what if I started fresh on January 1st?

A lot of people make vague but extreme financial resolutions and by February (at the latest) their plan is out the window, much like a diet or workout plan. But what if I make a plan and have specific goals and really commit to this spending reduction? I wouldn't be able to knock out ALL of my credit card debt but I could cut it nearly in half, not including my typical monthly payments. That alone seems worth it. OR I could actually have an emergency fund and still reduce a decent chunk of debt.

When I think of putting $1,200 or even $2,400 towards debt it's bittersweet. It's a huge victory but it's also merely a teeny tiny dent in the grand total. It's hard not to get overwhelmed but you have to start somewhere right?

I have a little over a month to create a realistic spending freeze plan and to psych myself out of up for it. I'm excited just thinking of the possibilities!

Motivational Monday - Before the new year...

So I have 13 minutes to finish this post to get it in while it is still Monday. I used to be a journalist, I thrive on deadlines. Anyway, something I realized today was that 2011 is rapidly coming to an end. I know, crazy to think about, right? Along with creating a list of resolutions, there's something pretty major I just realized I need to do. Go to the dentist.

This might seem strange that it has to happen before 2012 kicks in. When I got my current job back in March, I signed up for an FSA program. Flexible Spending Account. A certain amount of money is due to come out of my paycheck before taxes and put into my FSA. I have a credit card that carries this balance and it is to be spent only on medical expenses, such as co-pays, prescriptions, etc. Our fiscal year ends in April but I just discovered the FSA program is based on the calendar year.

The program is a "don't use it, you lose it" policy so I have until Dec. 23rd to use up all the money I have left. I completely forgot how much I set aside each month and never wanted to spend any of the money in case of emergencies. It turns out I have $250 to spend in exactly a month!

It's time to FINALLY schedule that dentist appointment I've been avoiding like the plague. I need to buy contacts. I will stock up on asthma medication. I'll see what else I can add to my tab. There's no way I'm letting that money go to waste!

This morning I submitted my new FSA plan for 2012 and I lowered the amount that I set aside for medical. Not by a lot but enough to have a few extra dollars in my check every other week. New York is just way too expensive to not make the most of every penny.

Maybe you're already on top of this, but if you have an FSA I recommend you make sure you make the most of it and figure it out soon before the time runs out.

Ah, just turned Midnight! Good night!

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Our family is growing!"

After a near panic attack that either my mother or my sister (she just turned 20) were pregnant, I was DELIGHTED to hear the news that my parents were on their way to pick up a new puppy!! We already have an adorable springer spaniel, Abby, and now she gets a new friend.

Meet Maggie:
I love the brown patch over her eye! I can't wait until Christmas time to meet her! I SOOO wish I was heading home in a few days for Thanksgiving!

Now I'm trying to convince MG that whenever we finally live in the same state together we should get a puppy! He's not ruling it out so there's hope!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back to black (or brown)

Guess what I'm doing right now...

Results to come!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fitness Friday

Food
I ate cupcakes for dinner one night this week. Sometimes saving money by not going to the store or ordering take-out trumps a healthy dinner. I'm not the only one who is tight on a budget and has this mind set. Thanks, Anna. Next week will be a bit better, I'm sure.

Exercise
I'm on week 2 of the Couch to 5K program (C25K), which means I do a 5 min warm up, run for 1:30 min, walk for 2 min until I hit min 25 and then I do a 5 min cool down.

The hardest part for me is getting to the gym. As I sit at my desk for hours on end at work, it's so easy to convince myself that going home to relax and make dinner (or eat cupcakes) sounds so much better. Here are 6 excuses I've given myself this week to try to convince me not to go to the gym:
  1. I wore my glasses today and I forgot my contacts. It's never fun to run with glasses, especially when your face gets all sweaty. Plus if I don't wear my glasses it will be blurry to see everything and I might get dizzy and face plant on the treadmill.
  2. I forgot my key card for the gym. I don't want the people at the gym to not be able to find me in their database or something or what if no one is sitting behind the desk and no one will let me in. 
  3. I have too much to do tonight. Like stop at the grocery store, finish my book, make some cupcakes, visit a friend to watch Parenthood...super pressing, urgent things. 
  4. I'm tired. It's pretty likely that by the time I get on the treadmill I will be too tired and exhausted to do anything so I might as well not waste my time. 
  5. My knees and shins will probably hurt and who wants that? I don't want to injure myself.
  6. I forgot my tennis shoes and there's no way I can run in heals or moccasins. 
Fortunately I didn't let excuses 1-5 stop me. It turns out I am in their computer system and someone with my exact same last name walked in right before me. Small world! There really was nothing I could do about #6 but that only happened once. I'm very glad I made it to the gym because once I hopped on the treadmill it felt great! Each interval I ran I wasn't exhausted and during each walking break I was looking forward to a running interval again. My shins did bug me on occasion but it was manageable. Good experiences at the gym keep me motivated and excited for my running goals!(side note: I just typed "funning" instead of running on accident...maybe I'm on to something!)

Here are a few excuses TO workout:

I also like the idea of posting one workout song each Friday. Today is definitely "Gonna make you sweat" by C&C Music Factory. An oldie but a goodie for sure!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesday - The Art of Fielding

For a slow reader, this book took quite a while to finish. It is rare for a lengthy book to keep my attention but this new novel from Chad Harbach was worth all the time and effort. Fortunately, my book club at work extended the finish date so I had plenty of time to finish.

Here's what Amazon had to say,
"At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others."
The plot revolves around baseball but it is SO much more than that. Much to my dad's disappointment, I am hardly a baseball fan. Not even close. I don't hate it but I refuse to keep up with such a busy schedule for typically slow games. I'm much more of a football fan. But I digress. Despite my disinterest in baseball, I really enjoyed this book. Harbach did a great job of weaving in stories for each significant character and mixing up the perspectives to tell the story of one year in college.

Just when you get to the end and you think that the book will conclude with the playoffs like a stereotypical feelgood baseball movie would do, the plot takes a big old twist and leaves you gripped to the book until you get some answers.

Each character grows so much throughout the book that by the end you feel like you've grown up a little bit too. I've always thought a good book leaves you feeling sad when it's over because you can't read more and that really sums up how I felt last night as I finished.

The only bummer about my experience with this book is that it just came out so I couldn't find a used copy for a cheaper price. But I enjoyed reading it on my Nook while I was on the treadmill so I really can't complain too much.

I'd give this book at 5/5. Definitely put it on your Christmas list!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Motivational Mondays - Shopping for the holidays

When cash is tight, shopping for holiday gifts can be a huge challenge. Financial experts suggest that you plan for holiday shopping all year since it is an expected expense. Budget a small portion of each paycheck all year and by the time the holidays roll around you have a decent chunk of change to spend on gifts. It's a great idea.

But if you're like me and have only just recently started thinking about presents, it's a little too late to save. That doesn't mean you can't find great presents at reasonable prices. It just takes a little bit more work and creativity. So far I've been able to knock out 3 presents for less than $10 total and the rest of my presents for friends will be less than $5 each.

Here are a few ideas that I've found for inexpensive present ideas:

1. Start early. If you wait until the last minute you will probably have to pay more for rush-shipping. If you come across great deals, take advantage of them, even if it seems too early. You won't regret it. Some online picture sites, such as Paper Coterie, SnapFish, and ShutterFly will start offering discounts such as 50% off, $30 off any purchase or free shipping as early as Nov. 1 so start looking early! You can get great, personalized presents such as calendars, posters, photo albums, or Christmas ornaments for almost free if you work at it.

2. Do your research. Before you find something to buy, always research to find coupons and to discover special promotions. You can shave off a lot of money from your purchases if you take the time to simply Google the company's name followed by "discounts" or "coupons" or "sale". Worst case scenario, you find nothing and pay full price (or wait until you can find a coupon!). Best case scenario, you find a valid coupon that saves you a lot of money. It never hurts to check and it only takes a few clicks.

3. Do it yourself. Pinterest has been an amazing source of ideas for presents you can make for cheap. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
 Rinse out a Pringles can, fill it with yummy cookies and wrap it with pretty paper and a bow. Adorable and an awesome excuse to eat Pringles.
 In New York we have a lot of street stands that sell different things like scarves, purses, jewelry, books, even drug paraphernalia...If you buy a scarf for $5, use a fabric marker to spice it up with your favorite quote, you have a unique, personalized, and attractive scarf. 
This might be my favorite present. You can find inexpensive picture frames most places. Target, GoodWill, anywhere. 1 sheet of colored paper is less than $1. Frame that piece of paper and boom, you have a white board. You can even personalize it with stickers before you frame the paper. White board markers are pretty cheap and you can wrap them with a bow. I made this for my bff for her house warming present and she uses it all the time for meal planning, love notes to her fiance or simple reminders.
Last but not least, I saw this and love the idea. Write the lyrics to your friend's favorite song on the rim of a plate with a porcelain pen, bake and voila! You can get a set of 8 plates for $20 at Target and I'm sure you can even find cheaper. A porcelain pen is roughly $4. Let's say you have 8 friends to get presents for, that's less than $4 a present and they can keep it forever. I want to make these for myself!

Since a lot of people that read my blog are those that are getting presents from me, (hi mom and MG!) I can't give away ALL of my secrets but I hope some of these get your creative juices flowing instead of your money.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fitness Friday

I have been looking forward to this post all week! The second-ever Fitness Friday is under way. I'm going to start with food and save the best for last (I know, food is awesome but the exercise part is much better this week!)

Food:
For at least the past two weeks I have cut out Diet Coke from my routine. Not on purpose at first but because I was sticking to my strict allowance and I wanted to save my money for better things. I used to take $1 nearly every afternoon, go to the vending machine and buy a Diet Coke. It was a nice little afternoon pick-me-up. I love me some Diet Coke. And not for the Diet part, I genuinely think it tastes better than regular Coke. Either way, that adds up to $10 per paycheck. That adds up to nearly $260/year!

I started filling up my water bottle in the afternoons with water to go with my lunch and then I would just sip all afternoon. Piece of cake. If I needed a little caffeine boost to get me through the afternoon, especially on the nights I went straight to babysitting, I would just pour myself an extra cup of free coffee and it was all the same to me.

Not only is this a much healthier option but each one of those dollars adds up to a pretty big number that I am in no way comfortable spending each year on pop (yes, I'm from Minnesota, I call it pop and regardless of living in NYC and SC, I will never switch to "soda" on a regular basis).

I will still get the occasional pop when I'm out to dinner or lunch but when I'm in a money crunch, I always resort to water. It's kind of interesting to see what other money-sucking habits I have. The first step is awareness, right?

Exercise:
The ING New York City marathon was on Sunday! Oh my goodness was it cool to watch! I live on 90th & 1st and the route goes straight up 1st Ave so I had a prime viewing location. Around 10:30 I grabbed a mug of coffee (Yes, I made it. I did not stop at the Starbucks on the corner. Little victories!) and bee-bopped down to the corner to get my viewing on.
 I was a little early. Who knew most people don't run 18 miles (I was 6 blocks from the 18-mile mark) that quickly. Plus I forgot to factor in different waves and their start times. Either way, there were a lot of people ready to cheer all 45,000 runners on! The guy in the picture above was one of the MANY pedestrians trying to cross the street DURING the race. Once it got more crowded with runners it became a nightmare. Is that common for races?!
The first few runners I saw! I didn't know this but they also had a wheelchair division, a handcycle division and many runners with prosthetic legs. I definitely got a bit emotional seeing the determination and dedication these athletes have.
I can't believe I got a picture of this. It's blurry (because my camera phone sucks they're running so fast) but those are the first men running. One of them in the green, Geoffrey Mutai, ended up winning the race and shattering the record with a staggering 2:05:06 time! I was about to head back to our apartment to wait until more runners were around and then I saw a motorcade that rides in front of the runners so they can film the race. I had a little bit of time to get my camera ready before the men passed me. What fortunate timing!
M joined me a bit later when the big crowds of runners started. There were So.Many.Runners! I tracked my favorite running bloggers SkinnyRunner & HungryRunnerGirl so I could make sure I looked for them at the right time. Despite SR running a different marathon THE DAY BEFORE this race, and despite HRG having just recently recovered from 2 fractured femurs, they were both too speedy and I must have just missed them! They ran it in an impressive 3:36! I so wish I could have met up with them afterward at CRUMBS but I had to be responsible and babysit. Fingers crossed I'll meet them another day!

That night M decided she wants to run this marathon next year. M literally does circles around me when I try to run so her goal is actually realistic. I did a little bit of clicking around and entered her into a drawing to get a guaranteed entrance into next year's race! Our fingers are crossed for her!!

My personal goal is to run the NYC marathon by the time I'm 30. Since it's a drawing, I will have to give myself a few years of luck to make sure I can run it, even if I have the training down. Imagine how many people would run this race if it wasn't limited to a drawing? 

With all the running inspiration I got on Sunday, I knew I had to run this week. I FINALLY dragged my butt to they gym and started over at Day 1 of the Couch to 5K program. It's interval training to build up endurance. Day 1 (run 1 min, walk 1.5 min for 25 min) was not too difficult so I'm excited to go back tonight for Day 2. Thanks to Cely I have this song to pump me up!

Happy Friday, Happy Vetrans Day, Happy Birthday to one of my most loyal readers Laura, and Happy 11/11/11 :) I'm getting ready to make my wish in 3 minutes!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The coffee dilema

Every week I buy coffee creamer for $2ish dollars and keep it at work. Every morning I get to work and enjoy a cup of coffee from work's coffee maker. I have nearly cut out Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and the best part is I can always afford a second cup on those days where it's just necessary. Although I do want to drink from the red holiday cups sometime soon.They're just too cute.

This morning I needed coffee. NEEDED. The subway took an hour to get to work because of not one but two different cases of sick passengers that required both the local and express trains to be stopped temporarily. When the trains finally started running we were packed like sardines...or pickles. Watch this movie for a good laugh. The pickle joke doesn't start until 6:30 but I think the whole clip is still pretty funny.

Anyway, I was so happy to be off the train and at work and all I wanted to was to prepare my morning coffee. I went to the break room and discovered I would have to make a new pot. Ok, no problem. I waited a few minutes and finally poured myself a cup of joe, added a little cream and a little Sweet & Low. I brought it back to my desk to sip and to keep my hands warm while I went through e-mails. I took the first sip and BLAH!! It is potentially the worst coffee I've ever tasted. There's almost a sour taste to it. Definitely not ok. I'm not sure if it's the coffee or some bad creamer but I just opened the bottle of creamer this morning so I can't imagine it's expired already.

I have $1.23 left to spend before I get paid again tomorrow so Starbucks is not an option. I don't even think the 7-11 has a small coffee for that cheap. What should I do?!

Don't Buy Things You Cannot Afford

Last week Saturday Night Live did a skit about debt. It wasn't their funniest but I appreciated the obvious humor. Like so many people, I got into my debt mess because I bought things I can't afford and I still do it on occasion. Maybe next time I want to buy something I'll have Steve Martin in my head to remind me not to be like him :)

This clip doesn't show it entirely so here's a link to Hulu as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Motivational Mondays - Plan ahead

I think most people would agree spontaneity is fun. For the past year or two I've been on a big kick about being spontaneous and fun. Random outings with friends, last-minute trips to visit friends, finding coupons for great deals that "I just couldn't pass up". But also for the past year or two I've been digging myself deeper and deeper in debt. Some people associate planning with being boring but you can't be fun while being in serious debt so we have to determine priorities.

I came across Trent at The Simple Dollar Blog and he has the most accurate article on planning purchases that makes today's Motivational Monday even more relevant.

A lot of people naturally plan for big purchases like a vacation, buying a house or car or paying for school. It's just necessary. But a lot of us don't account for smaller, "minor" things like dining out or buying a sweater.
"Let’s say you go shopping with a friend. On a whim, you buy a new dress, then the two of you go out to dinner together and head out to a movie. For many people, this is a nice, fun evening.
The worrisome side of it comes later. You go home, look through your credit card statements, and realize that the $50 you spent tonight – previously unaccounted for – has now completely tapped you out. You haven’t got enough money to cover the electric bill. So you pay it late – and there’s a late fee on next month’s bill. But by then you’ve moved on to another completely unplanned expense."
Trent suggests putting a set amount of money ($100) in your wallet as cash for the pay period. Be as spontaneous as you want with that money but when it's gone, it's gone until payday. 
"One big danger when people follow this idea: they put their $100 in their wallet and then find it’s gone by the ninth of the month. Then they spend twenty one days miserable, thinking that this plan is stupid or talking themselves into getting more out of their checking account.
Don’t. Live out the month. Then, sit down at the end of the month and take a serious look at the month as a whole. Did you give up anything vital during those twenty one days? Did you do anything during those nine days that didn’t really add any value to your life?
You might find that by taking a real look at your spontaneous spending that you’re doing things that you don’t really find valuable. The next month, that money might hold out until the twenty seventh of the month, simply because you’re a bit more selective in what you do with your mad money – and there’s no adverse effect on your happiness at all."
I have successfully put this plan into effect last payday and it has been an big eye opener. I've always tried it, found myself running out of money after the first few days so I would dig into my savings or any extra money I could find and it would be a vicious cycle.

These past two weeks I've planned. There have been situations that I've made big changes but I haven't really missed out on anything. I have money in my accounts, I'm building my savings and it feels great.

This past weekend I had fun. Friday night we visited a friend who was dog sitting to keep her company. M and our friend ordered take-out but I decided to bring my own dinner from home. I ate something equally delicious and missed out on nothing. I wanted to bring a little sweet treat for dessert and thought about going to the store to pick something up. Instead, I saved $4 by looking through my cabinets and combining an old jar of Nutella and some graham crackers. It worked just as well.

Saturday I wanted a night out with the girls like we used to. I gave myself $20 to cover cabs and drinks and that was it. We bar hopped and managed to stay out late and even grab a slice of pizza and I spent exactly $19. I didn't owe anyone drinks and I didn't over pay for anything we shared. We had a blast and although I was very aware of how much money I had, it didn't hold me back.

Sunday the girls wanted to watch the Packer game at a bar (yes, all my friends here are from WI, it's not easy being a Viking fan!). I didn't want to stay home but I needed to plan ahead because as payday approaches, funds are pretty low. I had exactly $30 left for the week, leaving $15 for food and $15 for fun. Normally we each buy a pitcher of beer ($12) and food ($15). On Sunday morning I looked at the bar's website to see what their menu and deals were like. An order of fries were $5 and I could drink unlimitted Diet Coke for $2.50. With tip, I spent $10 and still had fun and didn't waste a Sunday evening drunk. Yes, it was difficult to be smart but I don't regret it one bit.

I bought groceries for the week, which also made me plan ahead. I bought a box of cereal to last me 4 breakfasts this week (we get free breakfast at work every Friday), I bought a carton of eggs, coffee creamer and a rice side. I made thai food to bring for my lunches this week and will be resourceful with what I have in my cabinets for my dinners. With all that, I still have $3 left over, just in case a little something comes up.

I think I've finally realized the theory of "when the money is gone, it's gone" and it has become somewhat of a fun challenge for me. How far can I stretch this money? How much can I do with it and still have some left over when the next payday rolls around? Knowing that retaining money is for such a good cause and that there can be some really great benefits if I keep at it is all the motivation I need.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.-- Alan Lakein

Friday, November 4, 2011

Scarf Swap!

A few weeks ago I participated in a scarf swap over at Sweet Tea Diaries. I've been on a huge scarf bender this fall season and I thought it would be fun to mix it up a little. I was paired up with Danielle at The Beginning of All Wisdom and I had fun both giving and receiving!


I saw this picture on Pinterest and wanted to recreate it.
Fortunately for me, Danielle has a great quote on her blog that I could use to personalize it for her, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." - Aristotle.

I bought a beige scarf and used a brown Tee Juice marker to write out the quote in big cursive letters.
I should have taken a picture of the final product but maybe Danielle has one if she links up today. I liked it a lot and plan to make one for myself!

A few days later I received this scarf in the mail from Georgia!






I forgot to take a picture of it on me before the link up today but I love the look of infinity scarves so I was excited to receive my first one! Thanks Danielle!!

The first ever Fitness Friday!

Well howdy! TGIF :) Pull up a seat with a cup o' joe or a can of 'dew (as my dad calls Mountain Dew) because this is a pretty long post today.

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to incorporate new weekly segments into the blog and this is my third and final addition. I have been wanting to talk about fitness (both exercise and nutrition) for a while and I didn't know a good way to do it. Do I start a whole new blog to manage separately? Do I keep a private journal of my goals and progress? Well, I love to blog and I think staying fit on a budget is definitely a challenge so for me it is relevant.

I will be making specific pages dedicated to both reading and fitness but every Friday you can expect to have some sort of fit talk. I may talk about healthy meals (especially affordable ones!) or I may talk about my journey of becoming a runner with asthma and some Fridays I will write about both.

For the inaugural post, you get a does of both food and exercise. Let's start with food, shall we?

I use pinterest a lot. If you haven't heard of this new site, it's a great way to get fresh and creative and useful ideas on most areas of your life. It is a virtual vision board and you can make a different one for each area of your life. There are so many great ideas! Anyway, on Pinterest I saw lettuce wraps. Yum yum yum. 
Lettuce wraps are typically healthy so I was really excited to learn how to make these at home. However, I wanted to use the ingredients I had on had so I changed it up a bit. I had taco seasoning and ground turkey so I could make the lettuce leaves act like tortillas and cut out a lot of carbs and unnecessary calories. I'm a pretty plane Jane so I don't require too many toppings on my tacos. Typically it's meat, lettuce and sour cream. Meat, check. Lettuce, check. Sour cream...not so healthy and not in my fridge.

Again, thanks to Pinterest, I discovered that a great substitution for sour cream is plain Greek yogurt. I had never had Greek yogurt so I was skeptical but willing to give it a try. It comes in servings like yogurt (obviously), which is a win for me since I'm only cooking for myself and won't use a tub of sour cream before it goes bad. One container of Greek yogurt was less than $2, decently affordable for 8 oz.
Let me show you some nutrition comparisons for 2% yogurt vs. sour cream:

8oz of Greek yogurt is 1 serving. For that much yogurt, it's 150 calories, 4g of fat and 20g of protein.
8oz of sour cream is 8 servings. For that much sour cream, it's 480 calories, 40g of fat and 8g of protein.

Considering no one in their right minds would use 8oz of sour cream on a serving of tacos (I actually got 3 servings out of one jar), you can cut those calories down even more! That's incredible!

And guess what?

IT TASTED EXACTLY LIKE SOUR CREAM!!

I made sure to be skeptical for any differences and honestly, I indulged in delicious "sour cream" toppings guilt free. I could easily try the non-fat kind and probably still enjoy it a lot. I'm guessing I would hate eating Greek yogurt as actual yogurt because I imagine it would be like eating sour cream out of a tub but I'm thrilled to find an alternative to a very fattening habit of mine without any sacrifice. I plan to use this "sour cream replacement" for baked potatoes too!
My final product was delicious!
Now on to the exercise portion!

I talked a little bit yesterday about having asthma. It really has been crippling some days and walking out the door is hard work. Growing up, I played basketball but could never make it up and down the court as quickly as everyone else and I never dreamed of exercising on my own because of my terrible lungs.

Recently, however, I learned that despite the initial pain that asthma can be, if you work at it, you can exercise with it and still be a decent athlete. You just have to work at it. Then I realized that the feeling of being out of shape is similar to the breathlessness that you get with asthma and I had been using the two feelings interchangeably and blaming asthma every time. That excuse has now been thrown out the window and I refuse to let asthma be a crutch. It's not always easy to work through it or live with asthma regularly but I won't let it stop me chase my goals.

Upon these realizations I began to imagine a world where I actually enjoyed physical activity and what I would want to accomplish if I knew I could. The number one thing on my list was becoming a runner. Someone who wakes up in the morning and enjoys an early morning run. Someone who had a training plan to work on, who ran races and had running buddies. I wanted to have runners legs. The second on my list was to be good at yoga and to have a toned, strong body. It was never about being super skinny or losing weight but being in shape would help me fit into my clothes better so it seemed like a win-win.

So last night I ran. It wasn't pretty and it was in intervals of running and walking around the reservoir but I got out there and I did it. And it felt great. Really great. I'm really excited to get out there again tonight.

When I talk about exercise in this section, I will talk about goals, progress, races, new running buddies (if I make any as slow as me!), athletic gear I'm enjoying, or cool new info about workouts etc.

What would you do if you knew you had nothing holding you back?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thankful Day #2

Today I'm thankful for inhalers and modern medicine. 

I don't think I've talked about this much but my asthma has been pretty nasty this fall season. Since 2nd grade I have become nearly crippled by this condition every fall and spring. My asthma can be induced by exercise, allergies, any flu or cold, cold weather or stress. Most people grow out of their asthma by the time they become an adult. I most certainly have not.

I came down with a terrible bout of allergies that turned into a cold about a month ago. A few weeks later my lungs slowly but surely started to decline to the point where I was gasping for breath without constant breathing treatments. Not cool. I couldn't work out and I couldn't stray far from home for too long since I couldn't breathe without a nebulizer treatment (yeah, look it up. No one knows what they are.) It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest and my lungs were exhausted from trying to get a breath in.

I finally managed to get a doctor's appointment last Friday and since then my quality of life has improved drastically. She prescribed a 4-day steroid to give my lungs a break from working overtime to breathe regularly and within 12 hours I was nearly good as new.

I will still need my inhaler before I work out and on rare occasions but I am just very thankful that I can lead my life normally with the minor help of a doctor and medicine. Starting tomorrow I can get back to the gym and start working toward my running and fitness goals once again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thankful Day 1

There are 24 days until Thanksgiving. Yes, I think ahead by only one holiday. I will not be listening to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving.

I always love realizing what I'm thankful for so I'm doing a countdown. I will post each day until Thanksgiving about something I'm thankful for.

Day #1 - I am thankful my sister gets to come home for Christmas.

She is in the Air Force and lives in New Mexico so I rarely get to see her. Her time off is limited and typically approval is unknown until shortly before she can leave. I thought that going home in July was really important because it would be the only time our family would be all together for a whole year since getting time off around Christmas time is very difficult for her. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I received her flight information yesterday! We will have at least 3 or 4 days together and I really can't wait. 

Growing up we didn't get along the majority of the time. We are very different and as kids we just rubbed each other the wrong way. We've had our fair share of fights both verbally and even physically (although those were more like funny wrestling matches) but as we've grown up and moved away, we appreciate each other much more, even with our differences. Especially after MG lost his brother, I have learned the importance of siblings and I hold my sister near and dear to my heart. 

After an hour with Sarah I am bound to be crying from laughing so hard and after a few days with Sarah my abs hurt from all of the laughter. I'm looking forward to all the laughs we have this December. 

Yes, she is taller, skinnier and has better hair than me.

Our ladies trip to Paris.

Visiting her in Albuquerque last fall.

Just one look and we're laughing.
Love you sissy! I am thankful for you!