Renewing My Financial Outlook

congressional budget

Since my YNAB reboot earlier this year to get my finances under control, I’m here to report that I’m still trying to get my budget under control.

This is not a failing of YNAB, but simply poor planning on my end. When the mister moved out here in March, I had to get his room ready; I had to purchase a new bedding set, a lamp and a few other items. I was on a time crunch so I charged everything before having the money saved up to pay for them, which is what YNAB tries to get us to do. Also, instead of moving money around to cover the unexpected expenses, I just kept trucking along, quietly digging myself into a financial hole. It took a couple of months to dig myself out of that hole and only after nearly draining my savings account, which in retrospect was a BAD idea.

After that, I continued to spend without reallocating my budgeted dollars. Now that the mister was here, we started to go out a lot more than I was used to doing (read: rarely). We would go to the movies, pick up dinner, or I would purchase items that I hadn’t anticipated buying nor adjusted the budget for and the debt snowballed. It didn’t help that I had started thinking being flexible with the budget was okay; it is but not the way I was flexing. Budgets are a living, breathing thing but they’re not going to be helpful if you continue to overspend and not make any adjustments to cover those expenses.

Whomp, whomp.

So here I am back to working my way out of another monetary hole but I have a clearer plan for escaping and not returning. I’m putting money towards my debt and am starting to see the numbers go down (yes, I have added to it in the mean time but it’s all getting paid!). And while I try to not spend on unbudgeted items, I don’t make myself a prisoner to my budget and have simply reallocated money when necessary. Adding to this was a series of blog post on the YNAB blog this past week discussing savings goals and that encouraged to me actually come up with some tangible goals to work towards that actually has me excited about budgeting again:

Short Term Goals:

  1. Pay down all credit card debt. I’m currently have just over $1,500 worth of credit card debt over two cards. While it’s probably the most I’ve had on a credit card since my internship year in San Jose, I’m already well on my way to paying off one of my cards completely (that will probably be paid off by the end of September). I’m shooting to have this debt paid off by December.
  2. Build a one-month buffer. This is the main goal of YNAB (and rule number 4), living off last month’s income. I haven’t been able to get there just yet but I’m determined to make it happen before the end of year. I plan on setting aside some money (even if it’s just $10) with each paycheck to help me get to this goal.
  3. Save for the wedding. Yes, a wedding is happening sooner than later (more details to follow) and while we have a very nice cushion to start, we still need a few more dollars to meet our new budget. Plus, I’d like to go on a nice honeymoon, all of which cost money.
  4. Save for our apartment. While we’re currently staying with my mom, I know we can’t stay with her forever (though she wouldn’t mind). Once the mister lands his job, we’ll be on the hunt for our first place so we’ll need the funds for the deposit, moving costs, and furniture.

Medium Term Goals:

  1. Create an emergency fund. I started saving for my emergency fund last year but ran into some difficulty but I’m ready to start again. I’d like to have at least $6,000 for emergencies.

Long Term Goals:

  1. Pay off student loans. This is going to take some time but I’m hopeful that I will be able to get these paid off in 10 years. Wow, 10 years sounds like a really long time.
  2. Save for retirement. I’m in my 30s so this is a great time  I really need to get going with this. I already have a Roth IRA set up and have rolled over my 401k from my old job so we’ve got something going. I would like to increase my contributions though and while I won’t benefit from the tax breaks, at least I know I’ll be able to withdraw my cash tax-free later in life.
  3. Save for down payment. While home ownership in the Bay Area isn’t impossible, it definitely isn’t as easy as it could be in just about any other place. I’m sure we’ll be able to find a house we both love in the area that will fit our needs but we will need a down payment. 20% is the gold standard so we’ll see how we do.

While I know this isn’t going to be some quick fix, I’m looking for a sustainable transition and a healthier financial outlook. I know there will be times when I see something I just must have that I hadn’t budgeted for, but I won’t feel constrained by my budget. If it’s important, then I’ll be willing to move the money around so I can get it. If I’m not willing to do that, then on the shelf it shall stay until I’m willing to make those adjustments. I’m simply trying to set myself up for a stronger financial life, not only for myself, but also for my family. If I can create healthy money habits now, it’ll be easier to teach my kids to follow in my footsteps in the future.

Why I love running

I just completed a 10K race this weekend and I’m still riding off the high of setting a new personal record; I shaved off 5:16 from my previous 10K time. This race was with the Brazen Racing group, which have become my favorite group to run and not just because they give out It’s-Its after every race.

Summer Breeze finish

 I promise I was not excited because I was seconds away from getting an It’s-It.

While I was running, I couldn’t help but reflect on why I love running so much. This is such an interesting sport with people on every level competing together (and not against each other). There were people of every shape, size, and ability level but there we were, all huffing and puffing towards the same goal of finishing. Finishing was the only thing that mattered.

It didn’t matter if we ran the whole time or crawled over the finish line; we all worked hard and finished. I liked seeing the camaraderie on the course; strangers cheering each other on, high fiving each other and passing on words of encouragement. Anything and everything to keep our spirits up and focused.

Yes, it’s hard to see people heading back to the finish before I even make it to the halfway point and I’m in awe of people who finish half marathons in the time it takes me to finish a 10K but instead of being discouraged by these people, I’m encouraged because they were once where I am. No one is born running; even the most decorated runners had people outrunning them at some point. But they kept at it and, if I’m being honest, while I’m busy admiring them, someone down the line is admiring me. That is quite a humbling idea.

While I love running for a myriad of reasons like: having time to think or not think, competing against myself, having some me time, staying healthy and fit, what I really love about competitive running is the communal spirit. While we’re doing this individually, we’re still doing this together. That strangers encourage and congratulate others because we all know and understand the struggle that is running and the joy of triumphing over it.

The Brazen Racing website has this quote on their homepage:

 We run, not because we think it is doing us good. But because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves – Sir. Roger Bannister

Yes, indeed.

Don’t tell me when I had enough!

justify-social-media-addictionI’m addicted to my iPhone.

I’m constantly scrolling through my phone checking Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, looking at the latest updates even if I just checked it five minutes ago. Because five minutes is practically an eon in Internet-time.

It’s a real sickness and I hadn’t realized how bad it was until the mister started ‘phone-shaming‘ whenever he caught me looking at my phone or even the times he’d pop his head into my room to say good night and see me laying in bed, in the dark, peering at Pinterest with my glasses off.

Folks, it was bad.

Not only that, but I would end up staying up at least half an hour later (or more) just looking at my phone. Because you know how checking your phone ‘just for a second’ turns into an hour of pinning recipes you’ll never make and clothes you’ll never buy and YouTubing old Reading Rainbow episodes.

My reliance on my phone is sickening. It’s the first thing I grab in the morning (yes, even before my glasses!) and the last thing I put away at night (yes, even after my glasses). And so I decided to do something about it and force myself to reach for my phone less each day. It was time for a ‘tech timeout.’

There was no way I’d be able to quit this cold turkey so I’m attacking this in smaller chunks, mainly by forcing myself to wait until a specified time before checking my phone. If I’m out at church or somewhere, I wait until I get home before checking my phone instead of checking it immediately after exiting the building. If I’m hanging out with the mister, I wait until we’ve called it a night. And the kicker: I stand up while checking my phone before bed. This keeps me from wandering through the Internet for a half hour or so because I’ll get tired from standing. Genius.

So far it’s working. The playful shaming from the mister is also helpful (though I admit to sneaking peeks at my phone when he goes to the bathroom or upstairs) and I have been going to bed a lot earlier than usual. I do allow myself to lay in bed with my phone on nights when I don’t have to be up at a specific time in the morning. But all in all, it’s been quite freeing not to be constantly connected.

Anyone else feel like they’ve had to have a technology intervention?

Turning Stuff into stuff

ellie and carl

Confession: Sometimes when reality is too heavy for me to deal with, I cry in the shower. I sit, wallow, and waste all the hot water (sorry Mom) and while crying never actually fixes a problem, it certainly helps me clear my head.

We’re having some landscaping done at the house and my mom recently informed me that she is considering bartering my Dad’s truck for part of the payment (our landscaper has been eyeing this truck since he first came over). Rationally and logically this idea is an amazing deal (I don’t know where my mom finds these people. We had a mechanic we used to pay in sandwiches for minor work) especially since we haven’t used the truck in months and there are spiderwebs on the side-view mirror. Plus, it helps cut the cost for the landscaping project, and it’s kind of a big project.

But we all know Rational Mind isn’t always driving the bus. When she told me the idea, I felt a little pang. Then she continued and said that bit by bit, there’s not much of Dad left and Irrational Mind hijacked the bus and I just.could.not.deal.

I cried.

My nephew had pilfered my dad’s weight bench the day before, and now the most visible reminder of my dad, his truck, was potentially on its way out and I just couldn’t handle it. It’s such a sad realization when a loved one is gone. They leave behind reminders of their former life and it’s hard not to cling onto those in lieu of them. I know letting go of my dad’s stuff doesn’t mean I’m going to forget about him, but when you no longer have that person, having something tangible that was theirs becomes kind of a big deal.

While I know that these things are just objects and I’ll always have my memories of him even if we got rid of all of his remaining belongings, it’s still a hard pill to swallow. It doesn’t make sense to hold onto something because it once belonged to someone I love if it’s just collecting dust and languishing from disuse. Especially if that item could help someone else. The mister, taking advantage of us having watched Up that weekend, reminded me of Carl and how after everything he did to hold onto the house and Ellie, he realized it was time for him to let go and move forward.

Thanks for the life lessons, Pixar.

And so I’m letting go and moving forward as well. It’s time for that truck to actually be of use to someone other than sitting in front of the house because it makes me feel better. Just because I’m giving up his truck doesn’t mean I’m giving up Dad.

After all, it’s time for new adventures.

The end is only the beginning

Hello (hello…hello…hello)!

See what I did there? It’s an echo. Because…you know…I hardly ever post…Oooooh-kay.

So there has been some exciting changes going on here and I’ll just cut to the chase: the mister has made the move to California!

He’s been here for 3 months now and we’re all settled into our new, normal routine. The transition was a lot smoother than I was expecting (and preparing for) but I’m definitely glad it went as well as it did, especially considering the alternative. The biggest adjustment for me has been not automatically accepting invitations but checking with him first. I’m so used to just deciding what to do but in the beginning I had to remind myself to check first before responding to an invite. And the biggest adjustment for him is, well, being in California.

The first couple of weeks felt like a regular visit so it wasn’t until we hit the third week and realized that we wouldn’t be going to the airport anytime soon that it really started to feel real. It’s been really nice having him here and finally being a regular couple. I love coming home from work to him and spending time together casually. There’s no rush to fit in everything before the other leaves. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, there’s always tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow.

sfo sign

Waiting for him to appear was the longest how-ever-many-minutes-it-was of my life. The anticipation, nerves, and excitement combined to make the most potent mix of almost nauseous excitement. You know that special level of excitement where you feel like you could almost throw up or faint and then you get annoyed and frustrated because you just want it to happen already? That was me waiting for him to appear at the security gate. Oh how I wished we were still able to meet people at the gate!

But I managed to remain calm and carry on, he appeared, we hugged, I grinned like a silly little girl, and here we are, planning lots of adventures, discussing mundane things like budgets and career paths, putting together Ikea furniture, and sitting on the couch on our respective devices while kind of watching Family Feud. This is one of life’s pleasures.

After being together for the past few months, I can’t believe we spent 8 years apart. How did we manage that? Being a normal couple is fantastic and I’m so glad the long distance portion of our relationship is finally over. It’s been a long (long) time in the making.

Don’t call it a diet

Last November I embarked on an effort to get healthier. I had gained a lot of weight and wasn’t happy with that. So my plan was to go back to the gym and start cooking more and rely less on processed foods in an attempt to get my eating under control.

I started and it kind of fell off in December (the cooking; the gym thing held on). For the most part, I’ve been hitting my twice a week goal. There were some weeks where I only went once or didn’t go at all but for the most part, I’d make it to the gym. Now that Daylight Savings is here and it’s still light after work, I’m hoping to add a day of running during the week which is important since race season is upon us.

So I’ve been working out, eating more healthily, and planning my meals. I’m trying to snack on fruit more often and even reduced the amount of sugar I consume by simply changing my tea cup (I switched out my 16 ounce cup for a 10 ounce cup) and enacting a one-cup maximum per day. Before, I had been drinking upwards of 2 cups a day, which was technically 4 cups. So it’s like I cut out 3 cups of tea per day. Isn’t math fun? One of my newest obsessions has been steel cut oats. The best thing is you can make a big pot on Sunday and eat them all week long. And the even better part is you can make a big pot in your slow cooker (I have one of those now. Best thing ever!).

So far my efforts have been working. I’ve really cut down on the amount of processed meals I’ve been eating and I feel much better. Combined with the workouts, I’m feeling pretty unstoppable. I’m down 11 lbs so far (and even kept off some of the weight I lost during my church’s annual fast at the beginning of the year) and I’m about 8 pounds away from my goal weight.

There has been some happy changes to my routine so it’s been a little bit of a struggle to maintain my gym nights but I’m encouraged that I’ll be able to keep things up. I like the small changes I’ve made and after almost 5 months, they’re still in tact. I look forward to my gym nights and while trying to figure out what to cook everyday is pretty hard, I enjoy cooking (though I still have my occasional bowl of cereal for dinner).

I’ve made a lot of small changes but do feel this way is more sustainable. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to lose those last few pounds but mostly I’m excited that I’m on the road to a much healthier lifestyle.

On a scale of 1 to try again…

Survey2

A couple of weeks ago I received a survey from the School of Kinesiology at Michigan. Go Blue! (It’s a habit). Now, I LOVE filling out surveys. I have no idea where I picked up that habit but I love doing them. If you give me a survey, there’s a good chance I’ll fill it out.

Since taking some market research classes, I’ve become critical about surveys. I’ll read a survey and then silently critique it in my head. So I get this survey from my school and they were asking for prospective students and alumni to fill it out. A lot of the questions were related to how the school is now, which is in a completely different space than where it was while I was attending, 14 years ago (what?! Lies!) and it’s been 15 years (WHAT?! SHENANIGANS!) since I applied to the University so everything has changed. While I was in school, Kines was still considered a ‘Division’ despite the fact that we were the third largest school after LS&A and Engineering and you applied to the school/division directly as a freshman and that was it. Now they have a secondary admissions process for its upper level Athletic Training, Physical Education, and Sports Management programs (and apparently SM students can pursue a dual degree with the Ross School of Business). That’s some pretty serious stuff.

But I digress, I had a problem with the phrasing of some of the questions so after I finished, I emailed the person who sent the survey and relayed my issues. And yes, as I was writing the email, I couldn’t believe I was THAT person. But I have very valid critiques.

Here’s the issue: you’re reading the questions and a lot of them were “How do you think your study of Kinesiology prepared you for your career path?” and being the literal thinker that I am, I can’t answer that because I didn’t study Kinesiology; I studied Sport Management and Communication. I know you’re sending this survey out to a wide swatch of alumni, but at least phrase the question, “How do you think your study in the School of Kinesiology prepared you for your career path?” and so the semantics issue has been eliminated. Because technically, I can’t answer these questions because I didn’t study that. So you have a flawed survey and suspect data.

Yes, I was being nitpicky, but if you’re in market research you need to have your stuff down. And if you’re letting questions like this go through, then really? I’m supposed to take this seriously? Because I won’t.

So moral of the story? Don’t send me a survey unless you’re positive your questions are air-tight.

Because you’ll hear ALL about it.