Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post

As 2014 came to a close, I’m likely one of many people that reflected on the promised improvements they made this time last year.

For me, New Year’s resolutions have always been kind of useless. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really achieved any of the goals I set for myself. I do like considering the New Year as a blank slate, though. I think dwelling on the mistakes of your past can be destructive, but setting broad goals without any sort of infrastructure to help achieve them defeats the purpose.

What good is “lose 60 pounds” if I don’t also include the steps I’ll need to actually lose that much weight? Case in point, losing 60 pounds has been my New Year’s resolution for a good two years, but not only did I not achieve that goal each year, I put on more weight.

Finally shedding 18 pounds wasn’t due to multiple resolutions; my weight loss was due to accomplishing small goals and changes throughout the year (and yes, weight loss medication my doctor prescribed).

It was setting a goal to work out four times a week and including two vegetables with dinner (something we still struggle with). It was trying desperately to avoid eating carbs for lunch and dinner. It was signing up for three 5Ks with a goal to do them without walking. It was striving to go to yoga once a week. Those little goals had more of an impact on my success than the bold statement of “lose 60 pounds.”

So, this year I’m taking a different approach to New Year’s resolutions.

In that vein, here are some small goals to get 2015 started:

Finances

Our paltry savings were wiped out when we moved to Raleigh more than four years ago. Consistent financial insecurity has caused us to put any potential savings toward chipping away at debt (medical, credit card and student loan).

someecards.com

someecards.com

While that hasn’t changed, I decided to build up our savings again by automatically drafting $20 from each paycheck. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to transfer those accrued savings, but in my savings account is where they should stay.

Fitness

The past year, I’ve focused mainly on cardio because I only have time to do one workout each day and the dog can’t lift weights. This year, I want to do at least two days of strength training per week.

I’m not giving up running (or “running”), though. As I’ve written about before, now that I’ve reached my distance goal, I’ll be working on speed to bring down my mile time. Like last year, I’ll sign up for a few races to keep me focused and motivated.

earthporm.com

earthporm.com

I want to continue going to yoga at least once a week, kicking it up to two when it works with my weekend schedule. At the very least, I plan on incorporating yoga into my strength training routine. Sun salutations are like yoga burpees, I assure you.

(They look easy, but do 10 rounds and tell me how your arms feel the next day)

Food

We’ve been half-assing an attempt to include more produce into our diet for a while now. Most of it goes in the compost pile unused and rotten. This year, on top of wasting less, I want to start thinking about our meals a little differently.

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

A recent dinner of bratwurst, steamed broccoli and sautéed radishes and chickpeas / After the Knot

We generally focus on protein and build dinner around that.

Example: We have chicken. What can we make with chicken? Chicken cutlets. OK. What else are we having with it?

Instead, I’d like to focus on a particular vegetable and build the dinner around it, even if it’s still the side dish.

Example: We have spinach. What can we make with spinach? Sautéed spinach. OK. What else are we having with it?

I have no idea if this mental change will work, but it’s worth a shot.

Dog Training

My dog is freaking awesome, but she’s far from perfect. Her recall only works in my yard and she gets so excited when she sees people or dogs that are obviously her new best friend, she lunges and barks until her harness gets twisted and people stare at me with their judgey eyes. This is Bailey’s terrifying way of saying, “I love you and I’m so happy to see you.”

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I'll never see her again. / After the Knot

Let her off leash for a picture on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope. I’ll never see her again. / After the Knot

We’ve already started learning a new cue, “touch,” to help bring her focus back on me. We’re also working on “focus” to keep her attention there. This year we’ll continue working on these cues, along with practicing recall in the front yard, outside the boundaries of our fence.

 

And that’s it. I’m leaving it at that.

I’d like to get more organized, learn how to sew, learn a new crochet stitch, read more books, go hiking more regularly, go kayaking, and paint the hallways in my house. And if I do all that, awesome. But if I don’t, it’ll be OK.

Here’s to 2015, a blank slate.

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Were We on Budget?

Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. That’s my new header. Ain’t it pretty? My brother made it for me. At some point I’ll get around to changing the rest of the site over to the new look/name. Now that I’m officially done with Long Island and wedding planning on Long Island, I figured it was a good time to drop the name. 

Anyways….

Truth be told, I have no friggen’ clue if we stayed on budget.

I did a pretty horrible job keeping track of our expenses even though I had a nifty little Excel sheet that told me how much I could spend on stuff. I’m generally pretty bad with managing money. My brain just wasn’t meant to be dealing with numbers. You would think that my husband, the one that can do high-level math and has a degree in physics, would be the one that deals with money, but for some reason I got stuck with the responsibility.

Because of our lack of income and savings (our savings was washed away with our move) we put most of the wedding on our credit card. Some of our vendors were paid in cash, but the rest was on the Visa.

The Visa that was already full of moving expenses.

When I put everything together, I’m fairly certain that we were pretty on target with our $15,000 budget. We had cash to pay our vendors and our credit card bill was under budget. The credit card bill was paid off with wedding gifts (yes, that’s what we did with the cash our guests gave us. It’s what most people do with the cash they get. I don’t know why people refuse to admit it publicly).  Some was put aside for savings and a little was spent on fun stuff for ourselves.

After the credit card bill was paid, we were debt free (for the time being anyway). I have no idea if we stuck to our budget, but I do know that we aren’t still paying it off. For us, that was the ultimate goal. We didn’t want to be stuck paying for our wedding years after it happened. Even if our friends and family were less generous, we still wouldn’t be paying for our wedding when our kids were getting married.

I would advise you to be much more careful than I was because spending can get out of control quite quickly, especially in those last few months of planning. Keep your receipts to help keep track of how you’re doing. Use any budget program you wish and keep up with it. Enter in the amounts regularly and for the love of Zeus try to do whatever you can in cash. Credit cards are dangerous things.

I wish I had some other wise words of wisdom, but I don’t. Really, just don’t do what I did. Be more careful than me. In fact, do the opposite of everything I did.

Happy budgeting!

Goodbye 20’s

I’m turning 29 today.

I’m officially entering the last year of my 20s. 30 is quickly on its way and I’m not handling it very well.

My friends who are already 30 or turing 30 this year tell me to STFU in one way or another. My friends who are in their 40s also tell me to STFU. But, truth be told, I’m not handling it well.

I can actually feel my body aging and most of that has to do with being overweight. I’m sure if I get myself down to a healthy weight, the feeling of getting old won’t be so bad.

Not to mention that because I’m agnostic, I don’t believe in an afterlife. Death is totally more scary when you don’t have any place to go after you stop breathing. Aging is therefore scary as effing hell (ya know, the one I don’t believe in).

Most of my 29 anxiety stems from my current life status. I’m light years behind where I thought I would be. I think the only thing that did go according to “plan” was being married. I figured by now I would have gotten hitched and enjoying married life before starting to have children, which I wanted to do at 30.

The idea of attempting to begin trying for a baby a year from now is a scary effing prospect and probably won’t happen.

I’m in this weird, but awesome position right now where I absolutely LOVE what I do. I love my writing gig and I love the organization that I’m doing it for. I love my tutoring job and I love the company I’m doing it for.

Unfortunately, as happy as I am doing what I’m doing, I’m making very little money doing it. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve actually become OK with living a low-budget lifestyle. I’ve never been one for luxury or labels, but I’ve reached a point that I’m OK doing with less material things.

But, I wish we had more money for things that I think the general population is deserving of.

  • Healthcare
  • A home of their own (whatever that means for you. For us it means a house.)
  • Healthy food, grown in a sustainable, responsible way
  • The ability to travel to see friends and family who live far away.
  • And a social life

I don’t care that we don’t have cable, but I’d like to be able to see my friends and family more often. I don’t care that I buy my clothing from Goodwill, but I would like to be able to go to the doctor when I’m sick. I’d like to be able to buy new sneakers when I need them and I’d like to be able to get by without help from my parents. They don’t help us a lot, but just the fact that I need the help makes me feel guilty and ashamed.

I figured that by the time I was 29 I would have made it to a mid-level position where ever I was working. Despite having been a professional reporter for almost four years, I still feel very “entry level” with so much to learn. I figured I’d be further along in whatever career I had.

I’m often told that I need to cut myself some slack considering we’re in the middle of the Great Recession. Jobs in media have been tough to find since I graduated and things have clearly just gotten worse. Jobs in the media are also traditionally low-paying so I never should have expected to be making a living wage as a writer anyway.

Sometimes I wonder how much my own work ethic came into play with where I am in life. I think I work pretty hard, but I’m no workaholic. I value my personal time that I spend with my husband or doing things that I enjoy. Sometimes that doesn’t leave time for networking or taking on an extra story. I know I’m easily distracted and can sometimes be downright lazy (which is why a job with deadlines is perfect for me) but I still feel like I work pretty hard.

Sometimes I think I should have tried harder. But, I don’t want to give up that personal time that I find valuable. Who cares if I’ve advanced my career if I’m constantly stressed out and don’t have time for my family? I’ve gotten to a point that I’m unsure if I can do both without sacrificing my personal life.

It’s not all bad

As much as a Debbie Downer as I often feel, I try to remember the awesome things that I have going for me at 29.

I have not one but TWO jobs that I enjoy doing. I don’t mind going to work every day. And I go to the most boring meetings on the planet, so you’d think I’d absolutely hate my life on those days, but I don’t hate it. I love the news organization that I’m a part of and I love that I’m in a position to help it grow and become something even more awesome.

I love teaching my students.

I love to watch them progress and get better at reading and writing. I love that I only do it part time so that when they finally start to stress me out, I leave for the day. I love breeding a new generation of young writers. I love making sure they know the difference between there, their and they’re because if they can master that, they’re already smarter than most adults (I definitely checked that sentence multiple times to make sure I used the right they’re).

And I’m happy and thankful that both my employers see some sort of potential in me.

I hate that my parents have to help us here and there, but I’m so thankful that they can and that they do it because they want to. I’m thankful that they recognize how far we’ve come and that we don’t take their help for granted. I’m thankful that they don’t see us as slackers who are looking for a handout. I’m glad that they were responsible and successful so that they could help me when I needed it. I hope I can get to a point that I can do the same for my own children.

I’m happy that despite living close to the poverty line, we are still able to pay our bills and keep a roof over our head. As much as I sometimes hate this drafty, old apartment, I’m thankful that I have it.

Most of all I’m very happy for being able to go through all this and not have it affect my relationship with my husband. So often money, or lack thereof, strains a relationship, but Chuck and I are doing fine. Our relationship is still fantastic and we’re taking everything one day at a time. Going through this together has aligned our priorities and helps us focus on what is really important to us and in our lives.

I thought I would be doing better, but I never expected to be super rich or successful by 29. And clearly I’m not. But, in all the important ways, I think I’m better off than many people.

Penny Pitching

On top of having all those wonderful bills to pay, Chuck and I are attempting to put money away for  this wedding that, according to my Knot.com counter, is happening in 276 days or roughly 9 months.

Do manage this, we’ve tightened our purse strings and it seems to be paying off already.

Saving Change

I started pouring my loose change into a Carlo Rossi wine jug about three years ago and when I left for North Carolina it was about three quarters full. It never made the trip (my mom had made an offer to roll it, which I took her up on), but we continue to put our loose change into a bank that I made for Chuck last Christmas. I don’t have hard numbers, but I’m estimating I’ve accumulated a few hundred dollars in cold hard cash.

Putting a dollar aside

I got this great idea from Self magazine. Every time I use cash and get a dollar back with my change, I take that dollar and put it aside. I started doing this about three years ago and saved about $200.

Going off the grid…sort of.

Aside from all my favorite wedding shows on WE, Chuck and I didn’t watch too much cable TV. Most of the television we watched was in the form of Netflix. When we moved, we signed up for an internet plan but went without cable. Between Netflix, Hulu and other internet-based TV watching, we get enough of the boob tube. Sure I’m WAY behind on a lot of the popular shows and need my Twitter feed to keep me in the loop of daily events, but we’re saving about $30 a month.

Hello? Can you hear me?

Who really has a home phone anymore? Most people just use their cell phones. Chuck and I would do that, but our apartment is a dead zone and I only get service when I sit outside. My mother invested in a Magic Jack for my brother while he was at college. She paid $70 for five years of service. Now that my brother is home and doesn’t have any use for it, she passed the gadget onto me. It’s not perfect and it can be annoying to keep the computer on all the time, but I can’t complain seeing as though we are phone bill free. I even bought another one to use for my freelance writing work. We save about $40 a month.

Is it cold in here?

I grew up without air conditioning. My summers were spent sitting next to multiple fans. I’ll admit, I went a little crazy with the central air when I first got here. After our last electric bill, which amounted to a whopping $103, Chuck and I have been a bit more conscious of how cold we keep the apartment. We generally keep it coolest at night and when I wake up I increase the temperature about five degrees. When Chuck goes to work he increases it even more, putting it up to 80. Since our apartment is shaded by a lot of tall trees, it never actually hits 80 degrees. I’ll have to tell you next month how much keeping the temperature up has helped our electric bill.

No frills

In a perfect world, I would buy my groceries from local farmers who grew their produce organically. I’d buy organic toilet paper and natural shampoo. Since the things that are good for you are inherently more expensive and Chuck and I struggle to pay our rent as it is, we head to Walmart to do most of our shopping. Personally, I think Walmart is one the most evil corporations in America, but it’s hard to be idealistic when you’re broke.

Anyway, last week Chuck and I bought Walmart brand everything, with the exception of bacon and my bottle of wine. We spent $66 and got almost enough groceries to last us two weeks. We had to supplement some of our food from Kroger because Walmart doesn’t carry everything. Chuck and I like the frozen mixed vegetables, which are actually Kroger brand. Between about five packages of those, some Kroger brand frozen shrimp and some frozen ravioli, another $56 completes our shopping until my next paycheck. Not bad for $60 a week.

Embracing the dollar store

When Chuck and I need aluminum foil, plastic food storage containers, paper towels or any other odd product, we head to the local dollar store. Dollar stores vary from store to store, but take a walk through one and see all the things you could buy for a fraction of the price. You’d be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the special tonight?

The few times we go out to eat, we take advantage of the specials. On Fridays I treat myself to pizza at my favorite pizza place. I get the lunch special, two slices and a drink for $5. I’m going to have to cut back on my pizza habit, but I considering all the other sacrifices I make, I try to do something that makes me happy.

Spoiled by our favorite half priced sushi place, Chuck and I are still adjusting to paying more for our favorite food. But, we always make sure we head to a place that has a buy-one-get-one offer to keep the cost down. We end up spending about $10 more than we did back on Long Island.

When we can, we also get our food to go. Getting our food to go cuts down on the tip and the drink. (I know there have been arguments about tipping if you get food to go, but sorry, you taking my order and handing me my food doesn’t make you any different than the girl at the pizza place or the guy at Wendys. Generally, I’m a great tipper, but to-go orders is where I draw the line.) Doing this saves us up to $10 on our dinner.

How did you save money for your wedding? Tell me in the comments or shoot me an email at LIBudgetBride@gmail.com.