Fitness Challenge and Games

It’s been a few days. I just started my new job and have been super busy with that. I almost forgot what it was like to work 8h a day for five days rather than 12h for three. I suppose the biggest bummer is that it is beautiful weather right now and I am stuck inside a hospital or car for 10h every day. But there it is.

I mentioned in one of my last few posts about the Game On Diet. Just want to remind everyone that it is a book and that you can buy it or probably borrow it from the library. From those few years ago I had made up my own set of rules strongly based off the books rules. I also saved their score sheet, their food lists, and other such sundry that the Game required. Well, I have been drafted into a Game… I know, I know, I said I was unlikely to play again, but considering the group I think this will go better than those other games I played. So here are a few details about what this Game entails and what I will likely be writing about for the next few weeks.

The game requires six small meals, eaten every two to four hours, a day. The science behind this is fairly simple. Eating smaller, more frequent meals staves off binge and over-eating, controls blood sugars better, and sustains energy levels throughout the day. Each meal is supposed to consist of a nonstarchy carb, a protein, and a healthy fat, in correct proportions. Easy peasy. This is one of the biggest challenges for the entire game! If you thought planning three meals was hard, take on six. So, we made a change. Instead of six full meals we decided on three full meals with three snacks. Meals have to follow game rules, snacks have to contain a carb and a protein or a fat. Fat and protein are not acceptable. Again, science backs this up. Fat and protein slow the digestion and absorption of carbs, sustaining energy levels and blood sugar levels. Also, packing two snacks and a lunch is way easier than three meals.

How to track all this loveliness is also a challenge. A great app to use is Lose It! I have used this app on an off for the past five years. You can make your own meals, scan bar codes, and map out your calorie intake for the day. If you were to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks you could feesibly remain under 1800 calories without being hungry throughout the day. One downside is that you cannot track separate snacks unless you make your own and each meal is broken down into its individual components. I would suggest anyone using this app to take the time to figure out meal composition and put in their own foods whenever you are going to use it a lot (like oatmeal and milk) so that you don’t have to pick everything every day.

The second part of the game requires 20 minutes of activity a day. This is not toodling around your house and does not include cleaning, though that can be a workout. This is concentrated physical activity meant to get you to sweat and burn calories. There is no specification on how this is to be accomplished. Some common apps that I use to track my activity, since I enjoy being outside, is MapMyFitness and C25K. I have a personal goal of eventually running a marathon, just to say I did, so I will be doing the C25K app, which gets you from the couch to a 5K in 8 weeks, but I plan on doing it in four. After that I will find a 10k app, then a half marathon training schedule, and a marathon schedule. I know there are apps out there for interval training, and when I find one I like I will post it. Fit Mommy has a nice six day, 16 week workout routine as well. I am planning on coupling the C25K instead of her running idea. Science, because I love it, has shown that cardio is good  but it is better when coupled with weight training, whether that be body weight or lifting, to reduce body fat.

The third part of the game, and really my favorite, is the habit building and breaking. Technically (and according to research) it takes approximately 54 days to establish a new habit, not 21, but 28 days is a pretty good start! Do this right before Lent, if you are Catholic, you are pretty much gold. The idea is to pick a habit you want to start and one you want to quit. I am terrible at flossing (gasp!) so one of my habits to start in one of the games I played was to floss every day. I don’t floss now, but it was a good habit to try and instill. A bad habit to break for me was, well heck, I don’t even remember now, but one I have now is that I touch my face, a lot. As a nurse, this is a terrible habit to be in. Now that I think about it, that will probably be my habit to break this go around. But that’s the idea. My good habit I will form is being prepared for tomorrow tonight. I will pick out my clothes, have my meals prepped, and be ready to go if I need to. Both of these are going to be really hard to do.

I know I said in my Game On post that I wasn’t going to focus on weight loss, and I am not, but that is a Game parameter, so I will have to keep track of it. But my goal for this is much more personal. I want to be a Mama and so far we have been unsuccessful. Mostly I think I was on the contraceptive medication for too long, but my body ins’t bouncing back from it like it did when I was 26. The goal is to get back to a much more healthy weight so that I can provide the right environment for our little ones. Fingers are crossed.

Let me know if you want to play the game! I will be happy to post the rules we play by and you can always use the Google to search out the score sheets, the FYT foods and the FLAAB foods, I don’t remember what they stand for.

Game On!

I am competitive. Not the mean, I am going to kick you if I lose, competitive, but more of a this is fun I am going to win, competitive. But, I hate to lose. Fitness has never been something I win at. I don’t run (usually), I sort of like to lift weights, but I really only like squats, and I find gyms to be boring. Martial arts and pole dancing I enjoy, but I like them more in a class setting, which requires money. I also need added incentive, like money, or sweets I don’t have to make, or alcohol. You can imagine my reaction when one of my sisters invited me to play the game The Game On Diet with her. I get to be competitive, supportive, and, in most games, there is a prize at the end (to be determined by the group participating in the game). All my favorite things.

Now, without going into the nitty gritty, if you want to play that game I suggest all players read the book and then, as a group, you sit down and has out the rules. Turns out I was playing by some very different rules than the rest of the teams playing. That one game destroyed my husband’s desire to ever play the game again. I played it with minimal success another time and I am not particularly enamored with the game. I think this has more to do with the teams I played with (usually 2-3 people made up a team and your combine points contributed to your score) and the fact that there never was a tangible reward has put the damper on my spirit.

So, where am I going with this? Tony and I have challenged each other to a walking competition. The goal is to walk 30 miles in a week first. The pay off is, the winner gets a bottle of wine and has the choice to either pick the date night movie, or not. I hate deciding what to watch! This is good incentive for me to do what I need to do without the focus being on my weight. Let’s face it, who hates a weight loss challenge? The answer being, everyone.

Come on everyone, let’s kick those nasty “weight loss” goals, the ones that make you feel bad about yourself for no other reason than society (aka the media) has dictated one form is the best. Let go of those numbers that you measure every week (or day) that tell you if you are doing it “right”. Let’s move the focus to something more important, which is actually getting active because you want to move and feel better, you like what you are doing, and you are engaging with others who like it, regardless of your weight and waist size.

I am putting my foot down against working out to get skinny (unless you like the gym and treadmill, then have at it), and gunning for being active because I feel good, like what I am doing, and want to do more. And a bottle of wine!

Let me know what you like doing in the comments and whether it is for feeling better or for getting skinny. As a side note, I am not bashing people who are getting fit so they can get skinny, but I suggest looking for a more sustainable reason. It is really easy to slide back once you reach your “goal”.

Meal Planning 101

Another part to budgeting is getting our food expenses under control. Food is expensive, time consuming to prepare, and if you don’t know how to cook or don’t like to cook, extremely aggravating. You have to go the store and deal with people too. Yuck! I know. I, fortunately, enjoy cooking. It certainly makes the process easier, but it isn’t needed necessarily.

First, let’s get the money thing under control. Then we can talk about the time portion of this. I am still mastering this, so we can journey together. I would suggest you set a good chunk of time aside, possibly an afternoon, or, if you are being really ambitious, a full day. Setting up your meal plan can be a bit time consuming, but it pays off in the end when you no longer have to think about it. If time is money, you are spending more now to make more later.

I use a simple binder with 4×8 index card space pages. Twenty pages have four slots and ten pages have two vertical slots, one horizontal slot, and a skinny slot on the side. I use 5×3 index cards though.

My lovely binder:

190

One of the pages I use. As you can see, the cards are smaller than the slots. I find it easier to pull out the cards like this.

191

My cards with recipes and my pens for writing everything out in color code:

Part of my choice to do a binder is to get rid of the seven thousand cook books I have scattered everywhere. I hardly ever use them, as I will go to the Google for the recipe I want first. So, I have taken on the task or writing down the recipes I will use, or would use, on index cards. I use different colors to denote different types of meals. For instance, red is for Hispanic inspired dishes and green is for Italian. There are hundreds of ways you can categorize your meals, but I broke them down like this:

Soups & Stews are in a dark gel pen blue

Hispanic is in gel pen red

Italian is in dark gel pen green

Assorted World Foods is in ball point pen black

Americana is in light gel pen green

Breakfast is in gel pen maroon

Lunch is in gel pen black

Appetizers are in gel pen orange

Sides are in light gel pen blue

Desserts are in ball point pen blue

Breads and rolls are in gel pen pink (with a maroon star if it can double as a breakfast loaf)

Staples (like pie crust and pizza sauce) are in ball point pen red

Twelve categories seems to be more manageable for me. Your question might be, why go through all this trouble when you can just look up the recipe. I’ll tell you why. I won’t go look them up if I think I remember how to make the dish, for one. Secondly, I won’t look in my pantry when I am making my shopping list if my ingredient list isn’t right in front of me. Third, if I eat a meal I love and ask for the recipe, I don’t have to find a place to put it, as I have my recipe box right there. It puts everything into arms reach when I am trying to plan out my weeks worth of meals.

This has been a lot of work and very time consuming. If you enjoy the hands-on approach to organizing like this, welcome to my complicated world. If you don’t, I would suggest writing down the names of the dinners you like and what page they are in your cookbook, or how to find them on the internet ( I always have a hard copy of the meals I like as I have had recipes disappear from the ether). To give you an idea of how big I am making my project, I want to be able to plan a year’s worth of meals (this is with one leftover day to clean out the fridge and night out every other week, or 78 meals), without repeating any. This is not to say we won’t repeat meals. We love Paella and hamburgers, and steak, and fettuccine Alfredo and, and, and, you get the picture. But if I can have a good mix of about 250 meals we like (I already have 35 soups and stews alone) then I think I will be in pretty good shape and can donate all my cook books.

You do not have to make this project so large! I have been meal planning for a while and this is my next step. My suggestion to you is to write down roughly thirty meals your family likes to eat on a regular basis. Thirty is not so tough, even if you only list the names. This gives you basically a months worth of dinners that you know your family will love and eat without much complaint. You also don’t have to be so ethnically diverse if you don’t want. The point is to make this easy on you, so don’t over think it with roasted lamb in mint sauce with Au gratin potatoes and homemade ciabatta bread with sea salt. That does sound really good though.

An example of a basic week worth of meals for us; Paella, spaghetti, hamburgers, baked potato soup, stir fry, dinner out, left overs. A week we don’t eat out, chili, pollo rosa maria, fajitas, shish kababs, steak, leftovers, leftovers (we usually have plenty left over). Two weeks without repeating meals, except on leftover days. You can make it so you don’t have left overs, but I have yet to find a family who doesn’t cook too much for at least one meal.

Why do them on index cards? You can mix them up! Like I said, I have 35 soups and stews right now. Some will get the ax after I make them, they were just soups I found in a book that I would be willing to try. If I have an equal amount of recipes in my other categories I can choose one from each stack and not repeat for months! I can also make my husband pick, which takes the burden off of me. Or, if you have kids, let them choose a card or two. Make it a game. Index cards also let me shift meals around according to schedule. If I am working 12h, I can’t and won’t cook for three hours (most of my meals don’t take that long but some do). I schedule longer prep meals on my off days, make ahead meals on days I work. Leftover day cleans out the fridge and means I don’t have to cook on Meal Prep day or shopping day.

One final note on the dinner cards. Make sure you note what side dishes you are going to make. If it is a packet of microwaveable veggies (we use Green Giants and they are yummy) and some store bought rolls, write it down. You will need to know what to buy to go with that steak. I usually write the sides I normally cook for a main course on the main courses index card.

The next step is to do your lunch meals. I work backwards, from dinner to breakfast, since breakfast is usually cereal or eggs and bacon. When we get to the bottom I will list some blogs that have great mason jar salads and some sandwich ideas. I pick one or two salads, one or two sandwiches (which can also be made into wraps for a bit healthier option) and use my left over soup one or two days for meals. This means I can prep them on Meal Prep day (think deconstructed sandwiches) and have them ready to go the day I need them. Supposing I have a moment to eat them when working… This also cuts down on your shopping list if you double up days. Like our leftover dinner days, I use whatever is left on the last day before shopping (usually Sunday). This helps clean out the fridge and means, again, no additional cooking on Meal Prep day.

Finally, breakfast. Like I said, I am a cereal girl, or oatmeal, because it is fast prep and I don’t eat a lot in the morning. Pretty much if I can put it together in under 5 minutes, I’ll eat it. Tony eats more than I do though, so a little bit of thought goes into this. You can see in my picture above that I have 7 different breakfasts listed out. Three of them are grab and goes, the yogurt, the oatmeal/cereal, and the banana bread.

Side note: I make little loaves of bread (about 32 of them) and we freeze 24 and eat the remaining 8 over the week. I love my baby bread loaf pan. I will do this with zucchini bread and apple bread too. I just found a lemon poppy seed loaf I want to try too. If you like cakey breads for a breakfast dish, I would suggest these baby loaves.

The other four meals take prep time, especially the blintz and chopping the Brussels sprouts, but they are all still under 15 minutes. About the sprouts. I know that seems like a really odd choice of breakfast fare, but I promise, slice them and pan fry them in some butter and garlic, then top it with an over easy egg. You will be pleasantly surprised.

I am going to start looking at mason jar breakfasts, smoothie recipes for breakfast, mason jar salads and all that coming up soon. They look delicious and if I can prep it all and have it ready to go in one day, that means I can work the other six and make up for lost income.

Alright, steps to meal planning:

  1. Set time aside to meal/menu plan. If you are brand new, set aside a good 2-3 hours (or a day if you are feeling ambitious). If you have been sort of, kind of planning for a while now, set aside an hour or so to get organized.
  2. Get your supplies together that make meal planning fun. If you are doing the binder method that I am, get fun pens, stickers (if you want to mark favorite meals) and such. Also make sure you have the binder, the page spacers, and index cards. I know they sell index cards in a bunch of fun colors, so you might go that route instead.
  3. Figure out how far in advance you want to plan. Do you want to do it a week at a time? Do you want a projected monthly plan, split down into weeks? Do you want to plan for the next three months? Choose your time frame. Much like your budget, stick with this time frame for 3 months then reevaluate. It will be hard, but it gets easier.
  4. Write down your first 30 or so dinners, about 10 different lunches and 10 different breakfasts. This includes meals you could make in your sleep. I know it seems silly to write down how to cook your steak (it’s not because you can make it perfect every time) but remember you have your sides listed on there as well. Yes, even the cereal. Write it down.
  5. Select your first weeks meals! Ah, perfection. You are ready to make your shopping list now. You know exactly what you need to buy and will only have to make the trip to the store once. Now, go look at your Ibotta, Checkout51, coupon apps, and all other sundry to save even more money on the items you know you need to buy.

A quick note on snacks. I don’t tend to buy them because we are two people. All I really have on hand at any given time are apples, clementines, string cheese, and Chobani’s raspberry and chocolate dessert yogurts. If you love your snacks and desserts, plan those into your meals as well. For a while I was making little packets of chopped up veggies, fruits, trail mixes, and other grab and go things. Then I threw out a bunch of them because we didn’t eat them fast enough. It all depends on family size, how much work you want to put into it, and how likely you are to eat it. Nothing worse then spending $130 and throwing out $40 work of food because you didn’t eat it.

Here are some blogs I found on meal planning:

Kalyn uses a similar style to me. It’s less complicated in that you don’t have to write down all your meals and organize, but it is more complicated in the fact that you have to look everything up, multiple times if necessary. She has helpful printouts too.

Rosemarie has some great tips for meal planning. This simplifies it nicely and explains a bit about different methods for food prep and types if meals.

Angela has some helpful ideas about breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Not really a guide to meal planning as a whole, but if you are stuck on the meal most of us eat out for (lunch), this could be helpful to kick-start that plan.

Here are a few blogs/pins on meals to make:

Thank you RedBook for this little list of nummy breakfast mason jars.

Clean Food Crush also has recipes for breakfast mason jars. Added bonus if you have your own dehydrator to make your own fruit!

Today’s Frugal Mom has a way to make freezer breakfasts! Smoothie packs and baking mixes are also listed!

Popsugar has a good post for ideas of mason jar salads.

Ms. Cassandra has a great post on not salad mason jars. I personally love the instant noodle idea.

Imgur has this link to a list of sandwiches you can make. Just some ideas.

Happy Deal, Happy Day has a great post on two things I love, freezer meals and crock pot meals. Time and energy saved!

Last but not least Melissa has what we all need, 25 minute meals.

This is just a short list. There are tons of ideas on Pintrest. Next up will be meal prepping for the week. That should be a much shorter blog post.

Ah the Fresh Smell of Envelopes!

Yesterday I started my series on budgeting. This is a big thing for me! Everyone who did yesterdays exercise, please pull out your pen and paper. If you didn’t read yesterday’s blog, please do. If you already have a budget and are looking at implementing the envelope system, welcome.

Like I said yesterday, cash is king in your world right now, and because cash is king, you need a good way to track it. This is money you have left over after covering all of your bills… if you have that.

I will use my finances for the example. Yesterday I laid out our monthly expenses, which total $3266. My loans are an additional $1200 and our gas and food for the month is $900. This totals $5366. My income (if I were working and picking up one extra shift) is $5200 and Tony’s is about $640. (we took a pay cut when he quit his first job and then another when we moved). Our total income $5840. Yay, we make more than we have in bills! So, what is left? About $500.

If, like us, you have more income than you do bills, first and foremost, put aside $1000 for an emergency fund. This is one of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. I do believe it is his first baby step. With our income, this took two months to accomplish. Last year we had to break into our emergency fund because one of our cars took a pooper. We were able to replenish quickly but we were happy we had the fund. So far, with me being off work and Tony getting so few hours, we haven’t had to break into that, and hopefully we don’t, but it is there. Knock this baby step out as fast as you can!

On to the envelopes. Envelopes are things you would like to buy, or put money aside for, that fall into expenses you don’t have all the time. The exception to this is gas and groceries. You need both of those, but we tend to over spend in those categories, which is why you are only using cash for them. Our envelopes, in addition to gas and groceries, are hobbies, entertainment, fun money, clothing money, travel, medical, car repair, house items, pet, and miscellaneous. We made this list when Tony was making a lot more, so we had a lot more disposable income. Fortunately, when I start working again I will have the ability to pick up a lot of extra shifts, so I can make up for lost time and income.

Ninety percent of the time I treat these just like I do all my other monthly bills. The exception has been this stretch of lack of income. That means each envelope gets its cut, regardless of my debt status. I know, I can hear the screeching too. How do you plan on getting out of debt faster like this?!?!?! Simple answer, I don’t. The amount of my debt is a long haul affair and there is still life to be lived.

I have read countless blogs where people have given up just about everything in their quest to be debt free. I salute those people! If you can whittle it down to just a few categories and use your emergency fund for emergency purchases (my scrubs got a huge hole in them type purposes) then great! You do that. I won’t.  Does this mean I will pay more in the end? Yup. But there is an upside. I can go to dinner and a movie with my husband and know my bills are still covered and I am making progress towards being debt free. I can fly home to be with my best friend when she walks down the aisle and know that it’s okay, we saved for this. I also have a lot of FAT in my budget that I can trim when time gets tight. Tada!

So how do we handle what goes into our envelopes and when. Like most of our bills, we are working towards them all getting paid on the 1st of the month. It allows us time to rebuild our depleted stock, and hopefully a little extra, so we come out ahead the following month. The eventual plan is to live on LAST months income. So many plans!

I get paid every two weeks and Tony gets paid every week. Currently we stagger our payments into our envelopes according to when our bills are due and how much we have in our account. This allows us to control which envelopes get money and which don’t as well. Important ones to us to get money every month are pets, medical, car repair, and house items. The rest we can forego if we needed to.

Now, this part is really important. All of our envelopes have a cap. This includes our gas and groceries envelope. Remember how I said I put $150 away a week for food? Our cap for our groceries is $600. If we were to not buy food for 4 weeks, we would cap out our groceries envelope. Highly unlikely, but follow me. Say we do eat in those four weeks, but I am thrifty and only spend $75 each week. By the end I will have $300 left in my envelope. Pretty nice. Then I do it again. Now I have $600 in my envelope! Yay! Now I don’t add any money to that envelope the next week. WRONG. I add the $150 that week, and use it. If I still only spend $75, the additional $75 left over will be put into another envelope. This is how I max out my envelopes, which is really important for saving money. Eventually, if I am frugal enough, all of our envelopes would be maxed out, we would be set, and all the extra envelope money can go to pay off debt.

The biggest question I get is why? Why do you not focus paying down all your debt? Because I like to shop and eat out. That’s why.

So, here is the basic overview of our envelope system and how it works.

  1. Pick categories you would like to put money into, with gas and groceries being non-negotiable. Be specific on what those categories are going to be used for, too. No willy-nilly I will use my entertainment for movies this week and my household items for DVDs next week.
  2. Decide how to divide you remaining income into these categories. Which ones are most important. Medical, in case of emergencies? Travel, when you life far away from your family? Car repair because you have a beater?
  3. Set caps for your envelopes. Be reasonable. If you have a beater, set your cap at $10000. Doesn’t matter when your car dies, you will have either a nice down payment for a new car or totally buy a better used car.
  4. When an envelope reaches that cap, add the next week or months money to it. At the end of the week or month, move the excess to another envelope.
  5. I would highly suggest you hide this container of money somewhere. I used regular envelopes and left them in the envelope box. Thieves don’t usually look there for extra cash.

This is probably the biggest rule to this whole game. You cannot, I repeat CANNOT, dip into another envelope if one zeroes. NO EXCEPTIONS. Robbing from Paul to pay Peter gets you nowhere, and you are already there. Use your system for three months, then reevaluated. Do you need more funds in one area and not as much in another? Are you putting too much into your envelopes when it would be better to go to debt, especially if you aren’t using the money? If your system is working after three months, great, if not, revamp, but under no circumstances do you take money from one envelope to cover another.

Alrighty-roo, that’s my take on the envelope system. Some resources for you.

This lovely lady has her take on budgeting and the envelope system and even has a free printable template for you to make your own snazzy envelopes.

This thrifty mama uses an accordion file folder for her system and has a little bit of info on Dave Ramsey.

Tomorrow I am going to chat about one of the biggest money sinks we have… Groceries! If you want to make a serious dent in your debt without starving to death, well my friend, meal planning is in your future!

Start Budgeting… Eesh

Yesterday I talked about my bad habits and mentioned sticking to a budget. Much like working out, this tends to be a try and try again until you find where you are happiest. It took me a year to develop our budget and make it work for us. This is an individualized thing and you can find hundreds of blogs, pins, and websites on the topic. So let me add my two cents to the million dollar question. This is going to be lengthy so I might split it down into several posts.

Let me start with the why we budget. First and foremost, we want to get out of debt. I see a lot of posts like “How we cut $27K in a year off our debt” and “Save $1000 with this simple switch”.  It seems so easy! I can do that! It wasn’t but I was right, I can do it. We are still in a large amount of debt. Big breath, people. $157,000 is how much I owe in student debt. This is after consolidating. I owe about $1200 a month just in student loan payments because we make too much to adjust it down. Sallie Mae’s quote to my girlfriend, “You can make these payments so long as your rent doesn’t go over $450.” My head just exploded.

So, if you are sitting somewhere in the dark forest of misery called debt, let me help you with this simple guide :).

First, you need to get a handle on your expenses and your income. Grab a notebook. The physical act of writing this down will help you understand just how important all this is. At the top of your paper, write down everyone who is bringing in a paycheck that contributes to the family budget. For instance, Julie and Tony are the two names I would write down at the top of my page. Under those names, write down any other income sources you have, such as investments, annuities, etc. Next to those names and any other incomes write down the minimum income each would make in a month. This minimum is basically your budgeted amount you can spend. We will talk about extras later.

Now, on that sheet of paper, write down your credit cards and loans, their current balances, and their minimum payments, as well as the dates they are due. Take a moment to admire them. I know I do every time I log onto Navient. In a similar column, write down your monthly bills, like electricity and gas. Same as the debt, write down the date they are due. Some of these, like cell phone bills and rent, will have fixed amounts. You can write those down like you did for your debt. Other’, water and electric, have varying amounts. If you can, look back over your bills for the past few months and find your highest amount for that bill. If you know it could go higher, put down your payment is higher (our average electric bill has been $50 but I budget $100 a month, just in case).

This is what our exact budget looks like right now:

Expenses               Budget                  Actual                      Difference              Due Date

Rent                      $1400                  $1345                        -$55                        1st

Roth IRA               $484                    $484                               0                       8 draws

Electric                  $100                     $44.16                     -$55.84                  8th

Cable                      $100                    $55.47                      -$45.53                  11th

Phones                   $200                  $189.93                     -$10.07                   10th

Renter’s I              $43.83                 $43.83                          0                          5th

Life I                       $119.17               $119.17                         0                            1st

That is our budget for this month. As you can see, I budget extra money in a few categories. One, they can change. If we go over our data our phone bill could be more, but it usually isn’t. Two, it is easier to budget extra than try to make up the difference. These are my monthly expenses. They don’t change and I have them every month. My apartment is all electric, so I don’t have gas and my water and waste is added into my rent. Make sure you are listing all of your expenses. I also have four loans and seven credit cards. Because we were so diligent last year, we have no credit card debt! Yay us! Again, if you do have debt, write it down like your monthly expenses. Now that you have your fixed monthly expenses and your debts figured out we can get down and dirty.

Secondly, chop up all of those credit cards right now and put your debit cards into a block of ice. I am only semi joking about the ice thing, though I read somewhere that someone did do this to help keep her from using it. But really, get rid of your credit cards. All of them. Bye bye Victoria Secret card. See ya, Amazon card. Toodles, Chase card. You do not have to cancel your accounts. I would actually advise against that, but you should not have access to your cards except to pay the balances. In addition to this, remove you cards from your Amazon accounts, your iTunes account, and anything else you are currently paying with a credit card.

The reason for this is very simple. After several studies, researchers found that people will spend more money faster with plastic than the will with either cash or check. You don’t have to think about it, just swipe. Not only will people spend more, which is not bad by itself, they borrow more than they can pay back. There is a reason the average credit debt is about $15000 for the average household. So, the very first step of your budgeting goals has to be living without borrowing money you don’t have.

I also toss debit cards into this because most people are terrible at keeping track of their bank accounts. Money is very important to us, one of the biggest things couples fight about, but I can’t tell you how much I have in my checking account (insert $30+ overage charges for not knowing and buying that $5 coffee.). The only thing I suggest using debit cards for at this point is to withdraw cash, deposit checks, and to do online bill pay.

But, Julie, how am I going to pay for things? Cash! Cash is king at this point in your budgeting career. This is the next part of your budget. I use the envelope system. Your two basic items that you need to have covered, other than your monthlies, are food and gas for your car. These are just two things, and they need to be non-negotiable. I put $150 a week into my budget for food and $75 for gas. I do not go over budget (that’s a lie)! You shouldn’t go over budget anyway. These two should pretty much go into your monthlies, but I have them in envelopes for a reason. The amount you spend is not an option, which is why it is a monthly. All food, including your vending machine snacks, go into this budget. All gas, including that extra trip to nowhere, goes into this budget. BUDGET ACCORDINGLY TO WHAT YOU NEED.

Good job. You hit the bulk of your monthly budget now. Do you have it all written down? Add up your incomes and your projected, necessary expenses. Hopefully, you have at least broken even with this project. Maybe you even come out ahead since we didn’t take into account all the extra stuff you spend money on! More likely than not, you don’t currently make enough to cover your expenses, which is why you are building on your credit card debt. It is a nasty cycle. But there is exciting news! You now have a handle on what is going on with your finances. You have just taken your first step to being financially free! Good job you!

Whew, that was a lot. Check back tomorrow and I will talk about the envelope system and how I don’t follow the traditional “Cut it out” budget plan.

Some good blogs to check out:

The Dave Ramsey Plan. I read the book and this is how I got a start to handling our budget. She gives you a blip on why to use the plan, what the plan entails, and some links to various budgeting tips.

The Budget Mama goes over what I did and has a free printable to help you out.

Busy Budgeter goes into more detail as well, and takes you all the way through. I do minr differently, but here is another option for you.

Habits

My mother sent me an e-mail today detailing our “fight” with dieting and making healthy food choices. This one e-mail has sparked several conversations about habits, healthy living, and the choices we make on a daily basis. For instance, my morning habit is to wake up, get dressed, flip on the coffee pot, take the dog out to do his business, feed the dog, take my vitamins, and drink my cup of coffee while I play on my phone until 9am. Around 9am I eat a light breakfast and get started with my day. I am usually up around 8am, so this gives me about 40 minutes to diddle around. This is a habit, a routine, and a choice I make. It took me a little over a week to get it down and soon it will have to flex when I start working nights, but it is likely this habit will remain intact.

Another habit I have is making excuses as to why I don’t workout. My muscles are sore, it’s an off day, I took Maddox for a long walk, I’ve been busy with work, I have been busy cleaning… you get the idea. All of these excuses are valid and each one is important to me in it’s own way, but that does not negate the fact that at some point I spent an hour watching videos on how to make human heart cakes, which celebrities have totally cracked, and random silly animal videos. I could have worked out, I chose not to.

I use these examples to illustrate the fact that I am making a choice on what I want to do and what I don’t want to do, sometimes with little conscious thought behind it. It is the biggest problem behind munching. I could mindlessly munch my way through a box of Ritz crackers, because it is habit to put food into my mouth when it is close at hand, or I could choose not to. BEHOLD THE POWER!

Not all of my habits are bad. I brush my teeth and shower regularly, I get plenty of sleep like I am supposed to, and I do my work to the best of my ability. Heck, I even make learning a priority and attempt to curb my cursing (sometimes it works), but there are plenty of habits that I need to change. So, here are the highlights of the habits I am trying to change, or get back into, right now.

Sticking to my budget. This is a pretty big deal, considering how tight money is right now. I did pretty well last year, even though we had a wedding to pay for. Our families were very generous and I was diligent in how we managed our money. It has made these last two months possible. I had developed a good habit! And then Christmas, that dastardly holiday. I love giving and getting presents. While our budget didn’t go down the tubes, it did spin around the tank for a moment. However, these last two months have shown us just how precarious our situation can be. I have shifted our money plans from paying of a larger chunk of our debt off to having enough money saved for 6 months of being out of a job. Gulp. That’s roughly $50,000 to save… But it is a choice we discussed at length. A choice. Now we are back to a very strict budget. Ooo, I feel another blog topic coming on!

Working Out! I know, I know, this seems silly and EVERYONE needs to work on this, but it is still a habit I want to ingrain into my body. I think the biggest thing is finding the things I like to do and mixing them together so I get a workout schedule I don’t dread. Please, no more lunges. This is my biggest hurdle to cross. Some of the things I like to do, like Tough Mudders and pole dancing classes, are money dependent. Other things, like training for Tough Mudders and pole dancing (I own a pole) are completely free. I need to think on this and set up a schedule… All in all, my habit is to sit on my couch and talk about how I want to be fit, instead of actually doing it.

Eating better. Haha, just kidding. My diet isn’t so bad, all things considering. I meal plan and eat foods I like without usually going over board. It is harder for me to find the balance when eating out. I could always make it healthier though. If you are struggling with this there are little choices you can make to help you out. Drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies, cut down on unhealthy beverages. Don’t try all of these at the same time. Most people won’t make lasting changes if they try to completely overhaul their intake at one time. This past month I cut down on my coffee intake to to cups a day, in the morning, the switched over to tea or water for the rest of the day. This month my focus is drinking at least a liter of water, if not more, a day. Baby steps make more lasting changes!

Better skin care. This is probably the most taxing non-taxing habit I am trying to implement. I love skin care products. I love soap and lotion, body sprays and lip balms, bath bombs and nail polish. You name it, if it suggests a spa I want it. I use shampoo, soap, toothpaste and deodorant. Hold the phone! My skin has been a mess for a while now. It is dry and flaky and my face is oily and, and, and… I just wasn’t taking care of my largest organ like I should. I wasn’t protecting it from the elements or giving it the treatment it deserves. So, now, after I shower (I use a natural sponge for light exfoliation and I condition my hair twice a week) I have been using body lotion, face lotion, and body spray. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it has been a chore! However, my skin has thanked my, my feet especially, and it is getting easier to crack that bottle of lotion open.

Well, those are my big four. Let me know what your bad habits are and how you are breaking them, or what your good habits are and how you are making them better!

 

The Search for Free Money

I have been off work now for just shy of two months. I have no kids, but my husband works part time, and our savings is dwindling. Problem is, I know I will be starting my new job in two weeks, so there is no real reason to look for a different one. So, my solution, look for places to make a few bucks for little effort. I have always been on the look out for free, easy money. A few places deliver with little problem, but beware. I’ve got a list of the Apps I have been using to make a little bit of side money and warnings about a few.

Lucktastic- This is an android app. I don’t know if you can get it on Apple, but I do know the Apple iPhone is a no go. I am a zero risk gambler. Yes, if the powerball gets to $500+ million dollars, I am going to buy a ticket. I can spend a little bit of money on that pipe dream. Thankfully $10 won’t make or break us. With that said, Lucktastic is a scratch card game. You get x amount of scratch cards every day and earn tokens from them. You do have an exceedingly small chance of winning money. I don’t bank on this. You can earn tokens off of the cards, watching videos, and downloading additional apps. After saving up 130000 tokens, you can get a $50 Amazon gift card. This is not a speedy way to earn gift cards, but I have also won a little over $10 in the last 6 months as well. I project that playing every day will garner me roughly $100 in gift cards in a year.

M+Places- I got tuned into this from The Weather Channel app, which can also earn you m+points. Pretty much all you do is click on it and every hour you can open a present and check into places (25 a day) to earn points. Checking in earns you additional gift boxes that you can open for additional points. Surveys, video clips, special offers, etc. can all earn you more points. Coupled with the points you can earn through The Weather Channel, you can earn about 400-600 points a day. When you get 62500 points, you can redeem gift cards worth $25. Rough projection of money, ~$300 an year.

Vegas Slots- I learned about this from Lucktastic. It was a download for extra tokens and it offers real life rewards in Las Vegas. If you aren’t going to go to Vegas, bypass this. If you are, you can earn comped drinks, Cirque du Solei tickets and a few other goodies. It isn’t going to earn you money, but it might save you some money during an awesome trip to the strip.

Shopkick- I just picked this one up this year and I need to be more attentive to it when I go shopping. This app awards you points for walking into stores, scanning items in stores, and purchasing items. I tend to go shopping once a week, to various stores depending on what I need. 500 points equals $5 in gift cards. I made 500 points in my first month and so did my husband. If it had just been me it would have been close to 1000 points, or $10 a month. Not bad for doing something I have to do anyway. Beware, if you are low on mobile data (thank you no internet for 2 weeks) this app can get a bit glitchy. You have to scan the products in the store. Projected additional income ~$120 a year.

Swagbucks- I use this sporadically. You earn bucks by participating in offers, surveys, watching ads and downloading apps. 1 buck equals about $.001. You aren’t going to break the bank very quickly, but there is on perk to it. When you download their TV app you can let the ads run and walk away. It is helpful when you have other stuff to do, a good wifi connection, and want to make sort of passive income. The problem is that it takes 6 videos to earn 2 bucks. Again, if you aren’t using your phone, or tablet, let it run, but if you are, not the best use. Also, it can glitch out, so I would still check it every hour or so to make sure it is running (maybe when you are getting your prize box off of m+?). That was a lot of punctuation. if I were much more focused on it projected income could roughly be $100 a year.

RealBucks. I picked this one up today. Careful, careful, careful with this one. This is a Publisher’s Clearing House app. It is basically the same as Swagbucks but you can get sucked in to giving up info that lets marketers contact you. Avoid the offers! Stick with the videos and the surveys. Big problem with these videos is that you have to babysit your phone or tablet to go to the next video. I will have a better idea at the end of the money about the projected yearly extra this could give.

InboxDollars- Similar to Swagbucks and RealBucks but with the added bonus of reading e-mails for cash. Each e-mail is about $.02. You won’t break the bank with this, and I haven’t focused on it either, so I have no projections for this, but you could make some fairly easy money with this and it is actual money. Several years ago I made about $50 in a month on it and they cut me a check.

Ibotta- I have a love/hate relationship with this app. If you live in a dry state, like Texas and South Carolina, the alcohol rebates are worthless so I am not sure I would recommend this app. If you don’t drink, it isn’t that big of a deal. Basically all you do is check out Ibotta before you go shopping to see if there is anything you were already going to buy, or something that you weren’t planning on buying, but since there is a rebate, you might as well. For instance, there could be a rebate for the laundry detergent you use. You don’t need it this week, but detergent doesn’t spoil and there is a rebate, you decide to grab it anyway. If I hadn’t struggle bussed with this for the last three months, I would have gotten over $200 in rebates. Now that I have it fixed, I am looking at about $300-$400 a year in rebates for things I already buy, am willing to try, or will need in the future.

Receipt Hog- I don’t know how I feel about this one yet. I suspect this will be more useful when I have an income and can shop at multiple stores for the best price (as opposed to buying very few things and making it work with what I have in my pantry). All you do is snap a picture of your receipts after shopping. Boom, done. You get coins or spins on the slot machine for each of your receipts. This works with any receipt. If you work an envelop system for debt purposes and retain your receipts for book keeping, this is perfect for it! Side note, you need receipts for Ibotta and Shopkick (sometimes). After collecting so many coins you can turn them in for gift cards. 1000 coins = $5 or 4500 = $30. If I were consistent with it, and had about 5 receipts each week (make sure your significant other coughs them up too), I project this could make about $60-$100 a year.

That’s it, those are the apps I use to make a bit of side cash. Let me know what you do to make free money or if you have anything to add to the apps I already listed.