Saturday, December 4, 2010

I'm Back....And Living Just Enough for Vacation

 2005: Me on a bridge over the Thames River in London (with Big Ben in the Background)

For a few weeks, I've been contemplating reviving my blog as I finally can see the forest from the trees.  I have been extremely busy as always. What college professor trying to get tenure isn't busy?  But because I work full-time at one university, adjunct teach at another and try to stay somewhat active with my sorority, I'm swamped.  Add to it, being married and maintaining a home and you get the drift. 

I finally came to terms with the fact that until I do get tenure, the notion of "balance" is an esoteric dream for me.  Getting tenure not only saves my job but also ensures free college tuition for our yet-to-be-conceived-children and my husband won't leave me for a younger richer model :)  All jokes aside, for the next 3 years, balance ain't happening.  But for the first time since 2008, the hubster and I are going on vacation in a little over a week to England.  We are spending Christmas and New Year's with relatives and friends and will freeze our asses off.  But we're very excited because at least we get the heck out of here. 

We bought a home in January 2009 and then I experienced a 10% salary cut due to state furloughs so a vacation was the last thing on our list. But after we took down our artificial Christmas tree last year, my husband said to me, "I don't care what we have to do but we have to go on vacation next year." So I worked extra gigs, paid off my car and saved up money for our tickets. And honestly, the other thing that has helped me endure craziness at work, article deadlines, grading papers and so forth has been this trip.  For the next 21 days, I'm not going to worry about work, bills, my nosy neighbors, or how much wine I drink goes straight to my belly. 

When we get back home in January, I'm going back to Weight Watchers meetings, resuming my interval run program, donating unused clothes to charity and finally catching up with a massive paper shred project.  But for now, all I can focus on is Ribena (black currant juice), fish and chips, the British Museum and trying to stay warm.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'm back with dumb choices

After the end of the semester, I figured things would slow down for me and in a way there have but mostly they haven't.  But I don't want this blog to descend into a total abyss of neglect so let's first recap what's been happening with my "Dirty 30's" life.

  1. Somehow I got saddled with coordinating our department's graduation reception, printing the graduation programs, writing and delivering the commencement address.  Basically, I did everything and when I got home, I was beat.  To make matters worse, my mentally ill uncle shows up at my house uninvited.
  2. I stupidly accepted 3 teaching assignments over the summer and an advising gig. Money was the motivator but damn if I'm not swamped.
  3. I have an article deadline of August 15th and I haven't even begun the initial research. Eeek!
  4. To get out of finishing the Couch to 5K program again, I told my husband I was going to do a 30 Day Shred, Zumba, occasional run hybrid rotation for July.  Of course, he's holding me to it even though I've got a bright new shiny box of Turbo Fire workouts to try.
  5. Decided to spend the month of July tracking my spending and OMG, no wonder I'm always broke.
  6. The tags on my car have expired and I got an extension to get my catalytic converter replaced but I don't want to fork over the money since my husband is giving me his car in January.
  7. I'm going nuts being cooped up in this house...but I need to save for our trip to England in December.
So basically, I've never really gotten any rest.  I'm moody, irritable and ready to explode.  I have a spa day planned with some girlfriends on Monday but I really can't justify the expense right now (because I just HAD to get a new set of patio furniture, Turbo Fire, Zumba classes and an Oprah magazine on bargain hunting [WTF?] but forgot to pay my Citibank bill). I also had plans to go to my sorority convention but even that is looking dicey now....


I would like to say that being in the Dirty Thirties was hard because of what life throws at you but I'm coming to realize, my life is hard because I make a lot of dumb ass choices.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Just Another Manic End of the Semester

I am giving my last final exam on Tuesday, May 18th at 7pm and I'm going to be happier than a pig in shit when it's all over.  This was probably the absolute craziest and crappiest (sp?) semester on record to date.  Between my neck injury, bronchitis, death of my grandfather, mental breakdown of my uncle, bringing my mom to come live with us, reduced salary due to furloughs, a side teaching gig and one of the work office fights on record, I had to meet an article deadline (thank goodness I made it), teach and grade papers for 4 classes, serve on committees and a host of other crap.  Basically, I was over-burdened with bullshit and lots of it.  Now I think about it, I'm surprised I haven't been sent to an insane asylum by now. 

Usually the end of the academic year is the time when I get manic because there is so much going on.  Writing and grading exams, writing letters of recommendations for graduating seniors, etc.  But this year, I had the added stress of being responsible for organizing our department's Annual Student/Alumni Awards Banquet and plan all of the details for graduation.  I've been counting down to the end of the semester for at least 2 months.  Everyone thought I was being funny but I've felt like I've been on the verge of a breakdown for weeks now.  The thought of just staying home working on my research and teaching my online classes sounds heavenly to me.  At least there will be no 35-mile commute (each way) nor will I have to deal with students and their whining and begging for a passing grade.  Working from home never sounded better...And to think, when I was in my teens and '20s, a vacation wasn't a real vacation unless you left your home.  Nowadays, vacation is simply an escape from the daily grind of work colleagues you really can't stand, avoiding the commute from hell and surrounding myself with the sights, sounds and smells of a comfortable home.  Damn, I'm getting old.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Renewed Weight Loss Motivation: Biggest Loser Challenge

What's this all about: I'm apart of an online community where we regularly have 3-Month Biggest Loser Challenges.  For the 3rd Challenge, I came in second place and won $50.  I organized the 4th Challenge but was sidelined with injury, illness and the death of my grandfather.  Everyone entering must pay $5 and take before and after photos.  Members vote on the person they thought made the biggest visible improvement/changes.

Now that I'm getting my financial house back in order, it's time to work on my weight issues.  I've fluctuated from 195-225 pounds since 2003.  That's pretty sad considering I'm only 5'6".  My only saving grace is that I'm fairly muscular so I've never looked like I weigh over 200lbs.  I started running last year and fell off a bit around Christmas time.  I also did Weight Watchers and used a variety of fitness videos although my absolute favorites are The FIRM.

The Plan: The challenge began on April 19 and so far, so good.  My goal for the next 12 weeks is to lose 15lbs and hopefully two inches off my chest/fatback area and waist, respectively.  My eating plan is basically to stick to my calorie range of no more than 1630 calories per day and eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables and drink 8 cups of water.  Nothing is off-limits but of course I need to exercise portion control.  My exercise regimen will be running and FIRM workouts.  On April 26th, I will begin the FIRM Better Body Rotation which focuses on volume, intensity and recovery with different types of resistance.

Motivation:   Well, I will be attending my sorority's bi-annual Boule (Greek for meeting or conference) in Palm Springs in mid-July.  I haven't seen alot of my sorors (Greek for sisters) in a while because I stopped being active in my chapter due to financial reasons.  So I want to WOW them and feel good when I meet scores of other sorors from across the country.  I am a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated and we have a membership of over 90K.  I know I'm going to have a blast and it will be so cool to attend the conference 15lbs lighter.  Plus this will move me that much closer to my end of the year goal of losing 30lbs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Being Honest with Myself About Frugal Living

I am really struggling with embracing frugality as a lifestyle.  As much as I need to pay down my debt and save money for a rainy day, I am really finding it difficult to stay motivated and consistent.  I've already cut out all non-essentials out of my budget including trips to the beauty salon, manicurist and clothing (not really a clothes shopper to tell you the truth).  I gave up being active in my sorority for a year so I could adjust to my shrinking budget and I've recently cut fast food (and the expense of it) out of my diet.  Likewise, I've taken on a side job teaching history online.  So on top of cutting things to the bare bones, I'm busy as hell and tired.

I never learned how to be frugal, pay bills on time, diligent pay down debt or save money at home.  In fact, I've been teetering on the edge of financial ruin up until the day I got my first paycheck from my side hustle this past March.  My motivation to change was brought on by furloughs and wanting to do things that brought me happiness and joy like being actively involved with my sorority and traveling.  But the road to freedom is full of twists, turns and potholes. 

I keep looking at frugal blogs and websites and reading peoples' extreme frugal living adventures and I think to myself, "Although I need to save money, I'm not ready to rinse out Ziploc bags or make homemade household cleaner or stop reading health and fashion magazines."  I'm finally at the point where I'm getting honest with myself about the changes I'm willing to make.  Letting go of my bi-weekly hair appointments was hard initially until I learned how to do my own hair.  Sometimes I have a setback when I try a new style technique but overall, my hair has grown thick and full and I have averaged spending $40 per month as opposed to my usual, $250. 

Since I'm actively trying to lose weight, buying new clothes each week isn't logical or necessary so this was a budget I could readily ZERO out.  Not eating fast food has been challenging to my psyche more than anything but I still have yet to be consistent with making my own meals because I'm still relying on frozen meals to learn portion control. This is definitely a process.   Meh!

With so many approaches to frugality, I guess I was becoming overwhelmed. For some people, it means cutting out all the extras while others think of frugality as finding creative ways to not spend money.  Even after living on the edge financially, at this point, I'm coming to realize that frugality is living with ones' means for the things you need and saving up and sacrificing for those things you want.  I'm not willing to not travel or be active with my sorority sisters but what I am willing to do is to save for these things, finding ways to cut costs on everyday, common expenses and be willing to be patient enough to delay gratification instead of allowing "emotional spending" dig me further into a whole. 

I suppose as I start to see the real tangible benefits of my "small" changes, I'll worry less and less about which approach I subscribe to and instead focus on building upon my successes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Extreme Budgeting Redux: April 2010 Edition

My first check from my side-hustle kicks in this coming Friday and while I wish I could splurge on a new pair of shoes or load up on some new iTunes downloads, the reality is that I'm playing catch up until mid-May.  After getting sick in February (paid nearly $100 in co-pays and medications) and giving my mom money to travel back East for my grandpa's funeral in early March, things will be tight around here for a bit longer.  Heck, after the financial year I've had, a month and a half is really not that long.  Nevertheless, I have to have a plan to get through this month and a half without getting myself into deeper financial doo-doo.  I've decided to review and revise my budget for April to see how much I could save without going absolutely crazy:

1. My normal monthly hair budget (I do my own relaxers, color, maintenance and "dusting" of my ends) will be zeroed out in April.  I am currently in the midst of a 3-month relaxer stretch and I have a bottle of semi-permanent cellophane that I can use to cover my gray until my next relaxer is due in June. Estimated savings: $40 for the month

2. While I'd normally go to Weight Watchers each week and pay $12, for April, I'm going to go only twice (during the first and third week of the month).  If you miss more than 2 meetings, you have to pay for the missed week but by attending every other week, I can keep my membership current and still save $24 for the month.  This does mean I'll need to be extra diligent about tracking my points and exercising though...but I'm up for the challenge.

3. Reduce my advising hours on campus to twice a month.  I have a 70 mile (total commute) to and from work and that extra day on campus generally means I'll use a half a tank of gas.  I estimate that by reducing my advising hours on campus (and being available for student questions online), I can save about $30 extra bucks for the month.

4. Since I've given fast food the boot, I can't wait to see how much I save now that I'm focused on preparing my own meals.  Estimated savings: $180-$200 per month (and countless inches off my waist)

April (Planned) Reduction in Spending: $94 without fast food savings ($274-$304 includes fast food savings)

Now my husband and I have a joint checking out that we use primarily to pay out joint bills: mortgage, utilities, groceries.  This budget plan doesn't impact any of those bills or that account.  My plan is strictly for my personal checking account.  

Instead of trying to live on a microscopic budget like I attempted in February, for April, I'm cutting out the frills and trying to see how much money I can actually save.  My goal is to have enough money left over in April to be able to use that money to "splurge" on something nice for myself.  There's alot of things about becoming an adult I dislike but budgeting, saving and managing your money has by far been one of the most difficult.  Pray for me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bad Habit - No Excessive Snacking

I did really well with my No Fast Food Challenge this week.  I did have a turkey and ham sandwich from Subway but it really doesn't count as traditional fast food because it's fresh and I didn't have cheese or mayo.  As I was reading another website, I came across this article from the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK about the dangers of fast food: McDonald's Happy Meal Has 12 Month Shelf Life - GROSS! 
This is yet another reason to avoid fast food.  I also managed to lose 1.4lbs this week.  Yay!  And since I only managed 3 runs last week, I know my weight is down because I have been eschewing fast food.  Don't get me wrong I was tempted twice last week but I reminded myself that I had good food at home and if I wanted to indulge, I could only have Subway.  Limiting my on-the-go options to just Subway helped me stay in control.

This week's Bad Habit Break-Up will be excessive late-night snacking.  The reality is, I often have a snack after dinner.  Generally, I only have lean protein and steamed vegetables for dinner.  I started this recently so that I could save my carb for my snack.  And so far, it's working well.  Basically, I have a Fiber One Bar with some yogurt or a bag of 94% fat free popcorn and it's just enough to satisfy my craving without going overboard.  My concern this week is when I am up late working and trying to keep my snacking to a minimum when I'm crazy busy, bored or tired.  These are the times I'm most likely to "snack binge" - or have way too many servings of snacks in one sitting.  So my goal for the week is to rein in the outta control snacking.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bad Habit Breakup: Week One - No Fast Food

I rejoined Weight Watchers about 4 weeks ago and since that time I've GAINED 1.4lbs.  WTF?  Basically, I have been half-ass doing the program and I've slipped back into some of my worst eating and exercise habits.  I've been eating fast food like it's gone out of style and because of my injury/illness, I haven't exercised consistently since last November.  It's no wonder I have gained since I restarted. 

I don't know quite know how to explain this but usually when I go back to Weight Watchers, I try to use the program to address all of my bad habits simultaneously.  Almost like I think the program will help me deal with emotional eating or lack of exercise because I don't want to embarrass myself on the scale.  But since Weight Watchers doesn't prohibit any food, I have been following the spirit of the plan and that's why I'm struggling with gains instead of loses.  Case in point, I had 8 fast food meals last week and not all of them were grilled chicken sandwiches with no mayo either.  I had Jack in the Box tacos on at least 2 separate occasions and although fried zucchini isn't as bad as French fries, it is still fried food.  Add to the fast food frenzy was the fact that I said birthday calories don't count and had 4 slices of Spiced Bavarian Cream cake in a two-day period.  I like Weight Watchers for it's flexibility but I have to be the one to exercise some self-control.

I've identified my 7 bad dietary habits and for the next 7 weeks or so, I'm going to tackle each one.
Dietary Bad Habits List
1. Eating too much fast food (due to failure to meal plan and prep ahead of time)
2. Excessive snacking after dinner (and away from prying eyes)
3. Not enough fruits and vegetables on a consistent basis.
4. Not recognizing fullness; Eating 'till I'm stuffed
5. Drinking entirely too much diet soda
6. Not consistently tracking/journaling food intake
7. Blowing off too many scheduled workouts
So this week, my goal is to follow the Weight Watchers plan but to do it without any fast food.   This means I need to meal plan, prep food and follow through by eating what I've prepared.  It's not like I don't like cooking but it does mean I need to manage my time better. Mondays are my research days at home so I can use the mornings to plan, prep and store meals.  I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do so I'll be sure to post recipes and pictures tomorrow. 

Why address fast food first?  Well, I believe I've developed a fast food addiction.  I'm addicted to not only the convenience of it but also the layering of fat, salt and sugar.  I read The End of Overeating by David Kessler who was the former head of the USFDA.  Kessler says that when his administration of the FDA required food sold in stores to be labeled with nutrition information, the restaurant industry was left mostly unregulated.  This meant that restaurants could use any means necessary to keep customers filling their seats and their preferred method was to over-stimulate the brain's appetite functions with what he calls "layering food".  Layering, for example, is to "double" the amount of fat, salt and sugar to a food to make a person crave it even when they are full.  A real-world example would be Chili Sante Fe Egg Rolls.  Kessler says that these Egg Rolls come to the restaurant already fried and then frozen.  So they are fatty to begin with but the restaurant re-fries them and the unassuming customer is now eating double the amount of saturated and trans-fat they'd normally consume.  Constantly eating foods like this over-stimulates the brain which sends gherlin, a hormone in the pancreas, to trigger a hunger response.

What does this mean for weight loss?  Eating fast food and trying to simultaneously lose weight is like climbing uphill with roller skates on.  Sure, there are healthier options out there but part of weight loss is managing your environment to ensure your success.  I can't have chips and dips in my house and expect to resist them day after day so why continue eating fast food when it causes a similar uncontrollable urge to over-eat response in me?  So for this week, I'm going cold turkey on fast food and building from there.  This is going to be the hardest challenge yet, methinks. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another Year Older

 The Birthday Girl Being Silly at Work (Notice the Hair Decorations From the Cake)

Yesterday (March 11th) was my 37th birthday.  Since my birthday always seems to fall on a weekday, they usually end up being pretty uneventful affairs.  But luckily, I have a great hubby and friends who always make me feel special.  This birthday was difficult because my grandfather Everett was buried in Arlington National Cemetary on March 11th.  But I soldiered on knowing my grandfather is no longer in pain and probably raising hell already up in heaven. 

I woke up to birthday greetings from my husband and then he gave me what I hoping he would get me.  A $100 New Balance Store gift certificate.  Yipee!  Can't I tell you how triflin' I've been about getting new running shoes?  Well, I wore the last pair down so much that after my last run about 2 weeks ago, I could barely walk for three days! $%@#!  After work I went straight to the New Balance Store and got these beauties (and some SuperFeet Inserts for my falling arches).

I understand that most shoe salespeople work on commission but why did the saleswoman offer me some silver shoelaces to go with my shoes?  When I promptly told her I only run on a treadmill, she looked a bit embarrassed for even offering. 

Right before my 10am class, I get a text message from my friend Jen saying there was a surprise for me in the work fridge.  Oh Lord!  Last year, Jen surprised me with a carrot cake that was sinful and divine.  What was she up to this time? :o) 

After class, I literally skipped back to my office to discover that Jen had bought me a Spiced Bavarian Creme Cake that was absolutely delicious.  It was so beautifully decorated though that I was almost (and almost being the operative word here) too afraid to cut it.  I had 2 huge slices at work because birthday calories don't count.

When I got home, my husband asked me if we could postpone my birthday dinner to Sunday.  He just had an oral surgery the day before and could only eat soup so he wouldn't be able to eat anything on the menu and since I wanted to go out and buy the new Sade CD, I was more than happy to postpone it. I went out and bought the long-awaited Soldier of Love CD.  I haven't gotten past the first two songs yet because I keep replaying them over and over again.  Sade's voice is beautiful as ever and I'm mad that she is 52 years old and still looks this damn good:

So although it was a relatively quiet birthday, I'm happy to celebrate another year with close family and friends and though my grandpa EJ is gone, he'll never be forgotten.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Do Over" March: The Art of Juggling

Not only was February the longest month on record for my finances (which didn't go to plan btw), my illness got worse and my beloved grandfather passed away on February 26th.  

This is what I mean that the 30's is a hellified decade fraught with all kinds of challenges.  My diet and exercise obviously suffered as I ended up in the emergency room for breathing treatments and a severe bout of bronchitis.  I was prescribed 4 different medications and told to rest.  Resting was actually a bit more challenging than I had anticipated because we have a vacation planned for July and I really want to hit 180lbs by then.  But not being able to breath kinda put a cramp in my workout plans.  I did stress eat which just made a bad situation worse.

Right after I started to feel a bit better, I got news that my maternal grandfather Everett had developed an infection which was preventing the doctor's from keeping up with his dialysis treatments.  He was 86 years old and lived a colorful life.  I will miss him dearly. I spent a few days after his passing in a mental fog but I vowed that once March rolled around, I was going to get back on the wagon in terms of my diet, exercise and debt management program.

So March is the "Do Over" Month.  This means I will focus on exercise consistency, tracking my Weight Watchers Points and not losing my mind on my spending.  I'm really trying to focus on developing a consistent routine as far as work, exercise and even debt management is concerned.  I am normally not a good juggler.

I have a million things going on at once, of course.  I began my online teaching side hustle on the 1st and I estimate this will take up 10-15 hours per week of my time.  I also have a book chapter deadline on March 10th.  Fortunately, I have a writing partner who is good at editing while I'm good at analysis and content.  I have tons of grading to finish by the 9th....I might have to push it to the 16th.   I have Sorority Softball League try-outs this weekend but I might have to go to the March 27th tryouts instead because I have so much to do.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In Sickness and In Health - Illness, Marriage and Money

I've been out of commission exercise-wise for about a week now.  I finally did get to the doctor's on Wednesday and was told I had neck spasms (aka torticollis) that would only go away with muscle relaxers, high dosage ibuprofen and ice packs.   Today is Saturday and my neck is still giving me fits.  Wah!

To make things worse, hubby and I are going through a rough patch right now so I believe my stress level is partially to blame for my slow recovery time.  I made a grave error in judgment, have taken full responsibility for the mistake and now it's just a matter of waiting to see if hubby is willing to meet me halfway.  There were some good signs last night so I remain hopeful even while I feel deep hurt and pain caused by my actions.

As for the budget, I decided to pull $50 from my overdraft protection budget.  I have about $300 I can use so I'm hoping this $50.00 will help me get through the month without needing to take any loans. I did spend $20.32 in the last 3 days, primarily on food for DH and I since I haven't really been able to stand up and cook for a long period of time without pain (or dizziness from the drugs).

Amount Spent: 20.32
Total Remaining: 33.11 ($50.00 added from overdraft protection account)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting - Days Five and Six

Day Five

Tuesdays are my 12 hour teaching days.  I'm on campus from 10am to 10pm and by the end of the day, I'm usually exhausted, feet and head hurt and I'm ravenous.  I had a hard time getting up because of my neck pain so I ended up leaving the house later than usual and I didn't eat breakfast which is a big no-no for me.  I ended up stopping by McDonald's when I got close to my job and spent $3.75 on breakfast.  I did pack lunch which was a Lean Pocket, apple and Fiber One bar.  But I didn't eat the dinner I packed because I teach from 4-10pm straight through.  I wanted to go straight to my car so I left my dinner in the office fridge and went to Jack in the Box for a Jumbo Combo (some of the worst shit you can have if you are supposed to be watching your caloric intake).  Spent $4.01 and ended up with the farts for the entire drive home.

Amount Spent: $7.76
Total Remaining: $31.43

Day Six 
I finally bit the bullet and went to see a doctor at Urgent Care about my aching neck. That was $15.00 for that visit.  The doctor said I was suffering from torticollis (or twisted neck) which results in severe muscle spasms.  He said there were any number of causes but torquing my neck seems to be the catalyst.  I was given Flexeril (a muscle relaxer), high dosage ibuprofen and told to use ice packs to help reduce the inflammation and swelling.  The medicine co-pays came to $10.00. Oh yeah, I also spent $4.00 on lunch since I started getting hungry in the doctor's office. Damn!  I've got $3.43 of discretionary spending left.  At least, I didn't blow most of it on junk.  Health and medicine are expenses I can justify so if I have to pull a little money from one budget to my discretionary spending (without borrowing from anyone), I'll consider this move within the guidelines of the challenge.  Normally, I blow discretionary income on magazines, food and other crap.

Amount Spent: 29.00
Total  Remaining: $3.43

Monday, February 1, 2010

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting - Day Four

No spending to report for Sunday (Day Three) as I was laid up in bed with a sore and stiff neck and shoulder.  Today, I had to run some errands which included mailing a book.  I am a member of where I trade used books with other people.  I post my books, mail them via media mail and receive credits to order more books.  Today, I needed to mail off "Bootcamp for Brides" but I was short $1.00 on postage so I dipped into my "fun" budget to scrounge up a buck.  I also had to mail a form extending my reduced payment on my student loans but I searched high and low for a stamp and envelope around the house.  This month's budgeting is making me extremely aware of what I'm spending and if I can get away with spending next to nothing each day, so be it.

Day Four
Amount Spent: $1.00
Total Remaining: $39.19 (spent $10 less on my cell phone bill so I'm adding it to the discretionary spending)

Sidelined with Injury

For the past three days, I've been suffering with intense neck and shoulder pain on my right side.  I thought this was a simple strain brought up by sleeping in an awkward position but now that the pain is lingering (and in some cases, getting more intense), I've decided to make a date with the Not-So-Urgent Care clinic on Wednesday to see if I might have Frozen Neck Syndrome.  Pain is radiating from the back of my ear through the middle of my upper back.  I've tried Advil, heating pads, Icy/Hot cream all to no avail.  Unfortunately, tomorrow is my 12-hour teaching day that I cannot miss and I've got a feeling that I'll be popping pills pretty much for the entire day. 

Lingering pain, muscle and joint stiffness and longer general recovery time from the aches and strains of getting older is no joke.  I exercise pretty regularly but if my body decides to lock up, there isn't much I can do to stop it.  This is really one of the aspects of turning 30 (more like 35) that sucks beyond belief.  I am more acutely aware of pain than I've ever been before.  My recovery time  just ain't what it used to be.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting - Day Two

Not much to report today as I had no discretionary spending.  Yay!  Keep this up and I might be able to survive this challenge in one piece.

I did, however, do the household grocery shopping and made out like a bandit.  I went to Smart and Final, a local non-membership warehouse store, for the bulk of the shopping.  I normally go there to purchase big packs of meat, double sized boxes of cereal and cleaning supplies.  Our monthly food budget is $200 (for two adults) and I'm a serial food stretcher.  I've been known to throw some cooked rice into some scrambled eggs to stretch them.  Or toast some bread ends and make bread crumbs for meatloaf instead of buying a canister of bread crumbs. And I never let anything go to waste.  A half a pound of meat or fish is just as good as a full pound to me.  I just bulk up the meal with vegetables and rice (we basically eat rice everyday although I prefer brown while DH likes white).

Anyway, my goal was to spend under $100 for everything on the list.  I ended up spending $81.18 and got double the amount of meat I normally get (which included 6lbs of chicken legs, 2 whole chuck pot roasts, 3lbs of stew meat, 1lb of ham, 3lbs of polish sausage, 2lbs of boneless beef ribs, and 3lbs tilapia) We now have enough meat, rice and vegetables to last for about 2 weeks or more, depending on how I stretch it.

I'm not a big coupon clipper.  But I do take advantage of savings cards, always on the look out for manager's specials (particularly on meats that I can freeze and store) and scour the weekly ads beforehand for the best deals and do the bulk of my shopping at that store.  Since Smart and Final is a warehouse store, they often don't have everything I need so sometimes I end up clipping some coupons for the supermarkets for the few items I need to get from there. 

Since I'm laid up with neck strain from sleeping funky last night, my husband went to go see some scary movie by himself.  Good thing because the smell of popcorn would have messed with my resolve to eat better and not spend frivolously. 

Day 2
Amount Spent: ZERO
Remaining: 30.19

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting Challenge - Day One

Well, today was payday.  Under more normal circumstances, this would be cause for a small celebration but I'm furloughed (meaning, my salary has been cut by 10% each month) even though my expenses haven't changed.  I had already put together a spending plan for the month which included my normal bills: mortgage payment and food, car note and insurance, credit cards, student loan payment, cell phone bill, gas for car.  But I also had to add to this list, repayment ofnthe credit card that my husband used to pay for my car repairs in November.  I also have to double up on a credit card payment this month because I maxed out the card on basic expenses like gas and food.  So yeah, I'm up shit's creek right now and my side hustle doesn't begin until March.  In the interim, I will be living off of $40.00.  What this means is that my discretionary spending for the month of February is $40 total. 

I've never spent less than $100/month on discretionary spending so this is really going to be an adventure in extreme budgeting.  However, if I can survive this test, I will be back in the black again and my side-hustle earnings will help boost my payment on my credit cards and allow for some money to go into savings.

I must admit, I've been nervous about this particular challenge because it is forcing me to re-evaluate how I spend, how I organize my time and what's most important to me.  I do know that most of my discretionary spending has gone to eating out.  I am planning to take the bull by the reins and cook  I have a good sized Crock-Pot so that eliminates the need for me to slave over a hot stove all day long.  I have plenty of Gladware and Tupperware containers so portability of my meals to work will never be an excuse and quite frankly, home-cooked meals are better for my health.

I did make two separate discretionary purchases today.  The first was for $5.12 from the Dollar Store.  I needed to purchase some cassette tapes so I could record an interview I was conducting for an article I'm working on.  I found the tapes for $1.60 but the store I was in had a $5 minimum purchase policy in order to use a debit card so I also got some Ziploc bags (which we needed), and a bottle of rubbing alcohol (which we also needed.   The second purchase could have been avoided had I not let myself get hungry.  I spent $4.69 at Jack-in-the-Box on food I have no business eating.  This has to stop.  The reason I have no savings and living pay-check to pay-check (besides this furlough mess) is that I'm not planning ahead which in turns means I'm living by default instead of by choice.

Even though I look forward to coming out of the end of February, more financially stable and happy, I've got a feeling that with this challenge, February is going to feel like the longest month on record.

Day 1  
Spent: $9.81
Remaining:  $30.19

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Closet Shopping (aka Clothes Shopping on an Extreme Budget)

The new semester starts back on Monday and I really need to change my look.  Here in California, professors can sort of get away with more casual dress than our counterparts in other places because we have the weather and a "go with the flow" attitude.  The problem for me is that my casual look made me look like a student that just doesn't give a damn.   It doesn't help that I look no older than 25 years old anyway.  But I'm on a EXTREME BUDGET on crack so I also can't just run out and paint the town Nordstrom's, New York and Company or even Old Navy! 

As I was scouring clothing websites last night, I saw a pair of gray trousers on sale at Target and decided that first thing in the morning, I'd go see if I could find them.  The price was right at $17.99.  So off to bed I went with visions of hitting the bargain clothing jackpot.  But when I got up this morning the closet door was open for some reason when I noticed a pair of my navy trousers that I hadn't worn in ages because they had become too snug in the waist.  But I lost 15 pounds and 15" overall last year (4 of which came from my waist) so I decided to give them a try.  Lo and behold, the trousers zipped up easily and they still looked great.  Excited by my discovery, I pulled out a pair of red trousers and got the same result.  Voila!  Just that quickly, I discovered two pairs of dress slacks that I can wear to work.  I decided to see what else I could find since I was tired of rotating the same 3 pairs of pairs (two of which were jeans; one pair obviously way too big now that I've lost weight).  I ended up finding 3 skirts, 3 slacks, and 5 blouses that I could wear to work.  Yipee! 

I also pulled out my "Imelda Marcos ain't got nothing on me" selection of black shoes and found a pair of kitten heels that I bought while on vacation and never wore; rediscovered the pointed toe ankle boots that my husband bought for me in 2004; and found a pair of Bandalino kitten heel slingbacks that I got for $30 from Marshall's a little over a year ago.  All I really need is a new handbag but I can wait until March to get a new one.

This has to be one of the best shopping sprees ever.  I didn't spend a dime.  I didn't have to stand in a line or hassle with the dressing rooms or deal with unorganized crap that looks picked over a thousand times over.  Some pieces will need to be altered because they're a bit too big in the hips (I'm top-heavy) but I go to a fantastic local cleaners that does amazing alterations and I use coupons to save on my tailoring costs. 

This whole exercise taught me that I really need to slow down and think about the stuff I buy before I run off to the shops fully steam ahead without some thought and a plan.  For now though, I'm just happy I saved the $17.99 and gas and still came out ahead.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Blessing in Disguise - The FIRM VHS Challenge

After nearly a week on my duff, I decided I needed to exercise.  I go into my garage where I normally workout only to discover that my uber-cheap DVD Player will not turn on.  I fiddled with that thing for about an hour before I gave up in frustration.  Knowing that I wasn't in the mood to hop on the treadmill but desperate to get back on the wagon, I turned to my collection of exercise VHS tapes.  I pulled out the FIRM's Basics Sculpting with Weights workout with Master Instructor Tracie Long and got busy.  After 45 minutes of lat rows and grapevines, lunge/squat combos and some ab work, I decided, "why not see what kind of results you could get with just your FIRM VHS tapes and 2 runs on the treadmill?"  I've avoided those VHS tapes not because the workouts are outdated or anything, but those particular workouts kick my butt!

The last time I did FIRM Volume 4 - Time Crunch Workout, my thighs and butt was sore for at least two days.  My pecs and shoulders got serious DOMS from The FIRM's Maximum Body Shaping.  Surely, if I don't have to spend the money on a new DVD player right away, why not use what I've got to see how far my VHS workouts could take me.  Given that my miscellaneous spending budget for next month is less than $75 bucks, I think it only makes sense to focus on tough, effective workouts that work with my good and faithful VCR.  Here's the list of the FIRM workouts I have on VHS that I plan to work my way through for the next couple of months (with 2 runs interspersed in between):

1. FIRM Volume 1 - Body Sculpting Basics
2. FIRM Volume 2 - Low Impact Aerobics
3. FIRM Volume 3 - Aerobic Interval Training
4. FIRM Volume 4 - Time Crunch Workout
5. FIRM Volume 5 - Abs, Hips and Thighs Workout
6. FIRM Volume 6 - Complete Aerobic Weight Training
7. FIRM Not So Tough Aerobics
8. FIRM Tough Aerobics Mix
9. FIRM Standing Legs
10. FIRM Upper Body
11. FIRM Tough Tape
12. FIRM Tough Tape 2
13. FIRM Tortoise
14. FIRM Hare
15. FIRM Cardio
16. FIRM Strength
17. FIRM Fat Blaster
18. FIRM Maximum Body Shaping
19. FIRM Better Body and Buns
20. FIRM Basics Sculpting with Weights completed 1/21/2010
21. FIRM Basics Fat Burning
22. FIRM Basics Abs, Buns and Thighs
23. FIRM Total Body Shaping Mix
24. FIRM Cardio Burn
25. FIRM Cardio Sculpt
26. FIRM Body Sculpt
27. FIRM Abs Sculpt
28. FIRM Cardio Sculpt Blaster
29. FIRM Body Sculpt Blaster
30. FIRM Super Cardio Sculpt
31. FIRM Super Body Sculpt
32. FIRM Lower Body Sculpt I
33. FIRM Complete Aerobics and Weight Training completed 1/28/2010
34. FIRM Maximum Cardio Burn
35. FIRM Total Sculpt Plus Abs
36. FIRM Upper Body Sculpt
37. FIRM 5 Day Stretch* (will use as an add-on only)

This list should keep me busy and yield great results.  One way for me to think about my journey through the 30's is to look at life's little issues as opportunities to find a blessing, rethink an old pattern or come to terms with the mistakes of the past and move forward.  My DVD player is probably a blessing in disguise.  I'm just glad I was open enough to receive it as a blessing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Right now, I don't feel like doing shit.  It's raining like cats and dogs, my husband is home sick and I'm moody and irritable from my monthly visitor.  Still, these aren't totally legit excuses because "excuses are the skin of the truth packed with lies" as my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Leslie used to say.  Nevertheless, I'm finding it challenging to get my head into the game.  After losing 15lbs and 15 inches last year, I thought I could jump back into this with the same enthusiasm and vigor.  But nope, I just don't feel like it.  I guess because my weight hasn't jumped up yet or because my clothes are still pretty loose on me, it hasn't hit me that I really need to get off my ass and move.  The other thing is that I'm rebelling against running.  You read right.

Running (or should I say jogging) was the primary reason for my weight loss last year.  But I hated just about every minute of it because my cardio endurance is low relative to my muscular strength.  Plus, I hate most cardio (besides dance and kickboxing) on a good day.   So why stick with what you hate, you might ask?  Well, my husband bought a new treadmill for both of us to use after I told him that I would most definitely use it if he paid for it.  Dammit!  I should have known he'd take me at my word and go buy the darn thing.  I used the treadmill pretty faithfully from April to October before the love affair died. 

From November through the end of December, I used the treadmill sporadically, only to keep my husband quiet.  I didn't want to hear him going on and on about how he spent this money for both of us or how I never follow through with my fitness goals because he has said things like this before.  He talks shit because he knows it will light a fire under my ass, in most instances.  But now, I really don't know if I give a damn what he says.  Nevertheless, things would be different if I was actually doing some form of exercise on a regular basis but right now, I'm doing nothing. Zilch, nothing, nada. I just haven't been in the mood nor have I been able to convince myself that I need to exercise right now.

I already have exercise ADD where I change my mind about the activity I'm doing every other day (or hour or minute) so this total lack of motivation is just making things worse because I know if I let things go too much further, it's going to be hell to get started again.  One of the lessons I had to learn in my 30's is that I have to be consistent with my diet and exercise program or else "things fall apart" even with the best intentions.  I think it's time to break out my before pictures for a little motivation.  This laziness trend cannot continue....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Purge Project - Part I

I can recall as a kid/teenager that I loved receiving mail.  I thought I was so grown when I got a birthday card from my grandpa EJ who lives in West Virginia or a letter from my cousin Deni who was in college.  I thought getting mail meant I was special.  Little did I realize that as I got older, most mail meant I was special alright...especially prone to being sent tons of junk, bills and little surprises that could sometimes send me into a full blown meltdown. 

I hate receiving mail now.  It is the bane of my existence and often I let it pile up high until it's falling all over the place.  Now if I'm expecting money, I'm all over the mailbox but otherwise, I hold my breath each time myself or my husband opens the mailbox waiting for the imminent doom or depression brought on by more bills and more offers for a credit card I don't need.  So extreme is my angst over mail that my husband is the one to routinely get the mail for us.  Part of it is because I've been known to hide bills from myself only to have to make a mad scramble around the house for the payment coupon to pay our property tax.  My husband is good about putting our "community bills" in one place and then dividing our individual mail amongst us.

Nevertheless, I sometimes go months without opening statements, shredding credit card offers or filing my paycheck stubs.  But in order to get my financial house in order, I took a deep breath this morning and faced the pile of paper (which includes mail, magazines and work-related papers) on my nightstand that had taken on a life of its own.  It took me nearly two hours to come up with two piles: Shred and Save.

 This is the shred pile

This is the save pile

I currently don't have a filing cabinet available for the save pile until I purge my nightstand drawers.  This stuff was the paper sitting ON TOP of the night-stand.  Part II of the Purge Project is to clear out the night-stand drawers and make some space in my filing cabinet in the office.  Part III of the Purge Project is to post a new list of unwanted books on and finally Part IV will be to clean out my car trunk and backseat which is full of paper, books and coffee mugs (though I'm only a tea drinker). 

As you can tell, I have some pack-rat tendencies even though I try to purge at least twice a year.  I think more than being a pack-rat, I bury my head in the sand when it comes to clutter.  It's like the clutter can be so overwhelming that it takes something important for me finally face it.  Well, currently being broke as a joke is important enough for me to face my fear and deal with my mess. Fortunately, the upside to dealing with Part I of the Purge Project is that my mood instantly lifted because there is order now and I have a good sense of my financial picture.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stress Management Technique: Read a Good Book and Have a Glass of Wine

Last year I became enthralled with Alexander McCall Smith's  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on HBO.  I absolutely loved Jill Scott in the lead role of Mma Ramotswe and I adored Mr. Smith's simple but refreshing storylines.  So naturally, I was curious to find out more about the author only to discover an entire series of books that I was unaware of.  Knowing that most film adaptations of books are pretty weak in comparison, I decided to give the first book in the series a try.  OMG, I became hooked and started stalking bookstores for copies of the next installment.  The only problem for me was that each book cost nearly $20 a piece and on my scaled down budget, I couldn't buy the books as quickly as I would have liked.  That's when a friend mentioned a site called  Basically, you list your unused and unwanted books (including hardbacks and audio books) and other people request what they want from the list.  You pay for postage but in turn you can request books of your choice and they are sent to you at no charge. 

I immediately set about getting more No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.  Within a month or so, I got all 8 of the remaining books to get the full collection.  At no cost to me.  I estimate that I saved about $160 not including gas to drive to various bookstores.  I also picked up some cookbooks, trashy romance novels and an exercise book.  Swwwwweeett! 

When I'm not working, I try to carve out a couple of hours to read these delightful, intriguing and funny books with a glass of cheap (but still tasty wine).  I figure if I don't have the cash to spend money on a big vacation with my husband or trip to the spa, a glass of wine (or two) and good book is the next best thing to take my mind off of bills, deadlines and my noisy neighbor with his obnoxiously big, loud truck parked in front of the footpath leading to our front door.

Money Mistakes of the Past Bite You in the Ass

We bought a home in January 2009 - a stunning tri-level townhouse through a short sale.  I personally didn't think that I was ready to take on the commitment of a mortgage payment because I still have so much credit card and student loan debt.  But my husband insisted we needed a home to off-set our upper-middle class tax bracket.  I understood this logic but fear that I would somehow be responsible for missing a payment lurked in the back of my head.  See, my husband has no debt from college because he was educated in England and served in the British Army.  So he came out of college without one iota of debt. 

Me, on the other hand, ended up with well over $100K in student loan debt.  I didn't go to a fancy Ivy League university.  No, instead, I was the perpetual student who wanted a Ph.D. but didn't have the family support to cover my educational expenses.  So over 4 degrees I have a ton of student loan debt, not to mention over $13K in credit card and personal loan debt.  How did I get in so far over my head is the question I grapple with almost daily.  Actually, my personal finances contributes so much to my anxiety that I believe that most of my emotional eating binges are brought on by money stress.

I never learned good money management from my parents.  I remember getting my first credit card thinking how much power I had.  It felt good to be able to buy gifts for family or go out to dinner with friends.  But I never understood that paying only the minimum payment was akin to "death by a thousand cuts".  What's crazy is that I've had at least 3 instances where I've come into a lump sum of money only to squander it all away on junk while my credit card bills remained unpaid.

Now that I'm well into my 30's, the enormity of my financial mistakes is hitting me hard.  Then about 9 months after we got our home, I was hit with a 10% paycut due to state budget cuts.  This meant I'd be losing a big chunk of cash each month - equivalent of my car insurance and cell phone payments as well as my gas and hair/nail budgets combined.  My husband stepped up and picked up the slack paying for our HOA fees and our groceries.  But when this paycut occurred (we weren't given notice exactly when our paychecks would be affected), I didn't have much in savings and ever since I've been living paycheck to paycheck.

I have a side job starting hopefully in the next few weeks but if there is some delay, I want to have a plan in place.  I've already mapped out my budget for February and I had to do a double take.  After I pay all of my bills which includes an $800 car repair bill, I will only have $54.88 to get me through the month.

$54.88 to last me for 28 days

After I regained my composure (it took a while, trust me), I decided to view this as a challenge to take on.  Starting February 1st,  I am going to blog daily about living on $54.88 without a loan from hubby, my momma or those payday loan folks.  Now if some unexpected cash comes my way, I will apply it to one of my credit card bills.  But if I want something from McDonald's or a magazine, it has to come out of this $54.88 budget.  Part of me is scared but another part knows that if I can do this, this will serve as a springboard to a more frugal and ultimately less anxiety-ridden lifestyle.