Tips for a Cash-Only Vacation

Whether you’re a Dave Ramsey Baby Stepper, a frugal person by nature or necessity, or you’re just tired of going on vacation with a carefree attitude only to come home to the harsh reality of your credit card bill, planning a cash vacation is a great skill to have in your toolbox.

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Does anyone else LOVE packing stuff into a car so it fits *perfectly*? This is a thing of beauty. Photo credit: ME – posted on my Instagram @vegan_shedevil, if you want to see cats and selfies.

You Deserve a Vacation

You deserve nice things. Even if you’re in the 99% of people who live life without gilded apartments. Single income families with multiple kids deserve nice things. People on government benefits deserve nice things. People who live paycheck to paycheck deserve nice things. People in the mid- to upper-middle class who have the money to spend deserve nice things. Six-figure income people deserve nice things.

You deserve nice things.

I don’t have a problem with you taking a vacation or indulging in some self-care spending (within your budget and not instead of paying your light bill). But I do have a concern about you doing it by going into debt and perpetuating bad money habits. Not that it’s any of my business what you do, but I figure you’re here for a reason and that reason is because you like something about me. So as your vague internet acquaintance, I’m going to give you some advice about how to plan a vacation you can afford and that won’t follow you home.

What is a Cash Vacation?

I don’t mean specifically that you pay for things only in paper currency (or coins, JEEZ CANADA). A cash vacation means you have the cash (or money in the bank) to pay for your trip. You have the liquid assets on hand for the transportation, the accommodations, the food, the spending money, etc.

When my husband and I travel to the UK once a year to visit family, we buy the tickets several months in advance with money from savings. But it’s money we have on hand for this purpose. We can do an entire UK trip for less than $2500 US, but we stay with family for a good portion of the trip, friends happily drive us around. and we don’t have to eat out for every meal. A vacation that’s NOT aligned with visiting family would probably cost us another $1000-$2000 in hotel, rental car/transportation, and food costs.

A friend of mine is a mother of three in a single income household, and she picked up some extra online work doing surveys and transcription to set aside a few dollars a month to save up for Comic Con. They drove the family car, ate cheaply, and had an amazing trip – PAID FOR, with no bills following them home!

Your vacation details will depend on your budget, obviously. If you have the money to save up for a vacation easily then the world is your oyster (what a weird metaphor… the world is your salad bar!), and if it’s a bit more work to set aside cash, then a smaller weekend getaway is probably more your speed.

Whichever type of vacation you choose, you’re sure to enjoy the relief of knowing you planned for and can actually afford everything you’re doing. There’s no hand-wringing, wondering “should I have spent this money on something else?” because nah, you planned for this and you made it happen! You’re also less likely to impulse buy crappy souvenirs when you only have a set amount of spending money.  There is a freedom in knowing that your trip is a dedicated part of your financial plan. (I could wax poetic about budgets for a whole blog post, and I think I have before, so I’ll stop now).

Pick Your Destination

Your budget will inform the type of vacation you choose, but now comes the fun part. Planning! The first step of any trip is deciding where you’re going. Do you want a day trip? A weekend destination? Anywhere within the driving distance of one tank of gas? Or are we going far and wide, traveling in other countries and seeing the world? Any of these options are fine – but pick your destination and move on to the next aspect of your vacation planning.

Select Your Accommodations

Where are you going to sleep at night? If this is just a one day trip, you’re already done. A one night stay or more, however, and you need to start thinking about where to stay. Here are some ways to save on accommodations:

  • Book your hotels through http://www.hotels.com, and after ten nights you’ll get one night’s stay free
  • Stay with friends or family
  • Arrange a mini-vacation around work travel that’s already paying for your hotel (pick up any extra days on your own tab, of course)
  • Stay in hostels or homes via AirBNB
  • Browse deal sites like Groupon for all-inclusive getaway deals
  • Split a room or rental between a group of people and make it a group vacation

I have done all of these except hostels and AirBNB. And while I did extend a work trip by two days for a vacation, I stayed with a friend for my extra nights away from home. (Are there any tips I missed? Let me know!)

All Aboard! Select Your Transportation

Planes, trains, or automobiles? The options are endless when it comes to traveling. For medium-length trips, I often quote out planes and rental cars and pick which one is going to make the most sense for my needs. Here’s the scoop on the main transportation options.

Train/Bus: An Amtrak or Greyhound will get you where you’re going, and for pretty cheap, but you’re at the mercy of the bus schedule and it can be a little difficult if traveling with kids. It’s not impossible though – I recall a Greyhound trip my sister and I took when we were young while traveling with our dad. My sister has also taken the Greyhound to travel between Cleveland and Washington DC. It’s not the quickest but it’s easy on the budget.

Air Travel: Planes are quick, and there are budget options that make a lot of sense if you are traveling light (Frontier, Jet Blue, Spirit, etc.). The good news about smaller budget airlines is that there’s usually a direct flight to major destinations, if you’re near a hub airport… but they often have flight delays, which eats into your vacation time. Check websites like Kayak or Priceline and set up a price alert notice if you’re hoping for a specific location.

You can also sign up for Next Vacay, a service that costs $25 PER YEAR and emails you amazing flight deals to destinations all over the world. They’re constantly scanning for price drops to interesting locations, and they’ll send you an email when they find something leaving out of a nearby airport.

Here’s an email they sent me two hours before I sat down to write this post:

nextvacay

Obviously if you’re planning a cash vacation you’d need to have a travel fund in the bank to take advantage of last minute deals like this, so it’s not a service that is ideal for everyone.

Check airfare rates early and often, and remember that the ideal time to buy tickets is about 6-7 weeks before your trip (for domestic travel). You can read more on this estimate and other info about when to purchase tickets in this report from CheapAir.

Driving: If your destination is close enough to drive (“close enough” depends on your comfort level on car trips, if you’re traveling with kids, any health issues you have with sitting for long stretches of time, etc.), you can drive your own car or get a rental.

Our general rule of thumb is a trip that’s 4 hours or less one way can be driven with our personal cars, and anything longer than that justifies renting a car. (I kind of wish I’d known this trick before a 3,000 mile round trip vacation to Florida a few years ago). Your comfort levels on renting vs. driving your own car may vary from trip to trip, and it’s really up to you.

To save on a rental car, be sure to let them know if you’re a AAA member (same goes for hotels – hey, I did miss a tip!) and check various rental agencies to compare costs. Costco members may also find affordable rental car packages through Costco’s partners! We almost exclusively rent from Hertz, for no particular reason other than we’re always happy with the service and the car, and we have a rapport with the local staff.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Renting a car without a credit card is slightly less simple (I am not going to say it’s harder) than using a credit card, but not impossible and not difficult. You can rent a car with a debit card, but they will put a hold on your account for a few hundred bucks. If you’re renting on your cash vacation, this is just another line item in your budget to save up for. You’ll get the deposit back when you return the vehicle.

Other methods: I covered the major methods of transportation that I have experience with, but if you have further questions let me know in the comments and I’ll do more research to get you money-saving tips for your cash vacation!

Traveling Light

I am a huge proponent of traveling with only a carry-on bag, for several reasons:

  • Quicker exit from the airport (no waiting for baggage claim)
  • The airline can’t lose your luggage if you don’t check it
  • You can walk around town with a small wheeled bag if your hotel isn’t ready for you to check in yet
  • It’s just less stuff to carry around

I always challenge myself to see how light I can pack, because I am a freak. I packed for a 5-day trip to Spain in a backpack (plus personal item). We take one carry-on each for Ireland (plus personal items – his camera bag and my EPIC SNACK STOCKPILE). I went to North Carolina for 4 days with only a personal item size bag and nothing else.

My tips for packing light:

  • Wear your bulkiest items (scarf, sweater, heaviest shoes you’re taking, etc.) on the plane with you, packing the lighter items to save space
  • Pack items that can be worn multiple times as different outfits (a pashmina scarf might be a sarong-style wrap one day, a scarf the next, and a poncho after that)
  • Pack neutral colored clothing – nobody can tell if you wear the same black shirt two days in a row
  • Limit jewelry – definitely leave your favorite jewelry behind, because losing it would be terrible
  • Make a list of the activities you plan to do on your trip and pack for those activities – let go of the impulse to pack a fancy outfit just in case you get invited to a surprise gala
  • Limit your personal care items
  • Pack an inflatable neck (or butt) pillow that you can inflate on the plane if your lung capacity allows
  • If you’ll have access to laundry facilities, you can get away with packing less clothing
  • Opt for moisture-wicking lightweight shirts instead of cotton tees, especially if you’ll be walking a lot and are prone to sweating – tee shirts take up a surprising amount of space
  • Plan to wear the same outfit on your arrival and departure dates – these are your travelin’ clothes, and you are going to be wrinkled no matter what you wear

Remember to pack:

  • Bug spray and sunscreen if appropriate, but make sure it fits within TSA guidelines for air travel if you’re flying
  • A Kindle or book
  • Your own earbuds or headphones, because the ones on planes are somehow terrible and hurt your ears
  • Enough underwear – running out of undies sucks
  • A seatbelt extender if you need one

These aren’t hard and fast rules, and if you’re more comfortable packing more stuff, go for it. It’s especially hard to keep it to one bag if you have medical devices like a CPAP machine, medications to pack and organize, etc. This isn’t one size fits all, just a general guideline for packing a simple suitcase for carry-on travel.

But My Credit Card Points!

I don’t give a crap about your credit card points. If you go into debt for your vacation, there’s every opportunity for it to bite you in the ass later. Check with your bank about fraud protection on your debit card – you probably have it, even if you think it’s only for credit cards.

I am not going to argue with anyone who insists on using their credit card for vacations, because you can live your life and I’ll live mine. My advice is not a mandate – until I become ruler of the world. Avocado toast for all!

Other Travel Considerations

Check with your bank and put a travel notice on your account so you don’t get your debit card declined for fraud. This fraud protection is very handy when it stops actual fraud, but very annoying when you’re trying to get a coffee at Tim Horton’s and Huntington thinks someone stole your stuff and went to Niagara Falls for the weekend. (Ask me how I know).

As far as exchanging cash before an international trip, I typically don’t. I just use an ATM to withdraw in a foreign currency. There’s a small charge (check with your bank to see what it is) for the foreign transaction fee, but it’s worth it to me to not have to handle one more thing before a big trip. Plus those kiosks at the airport are probably going to rip you off.

Is there anything I missed? Let me know and I’ll come back to answer your questions later! Happy travels.

 

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REVIEW & PROMO: Healthier, Non-Toxic Skin Care with Akamai

I am so excited to tell you about my new skin care regime, and this is coming from somebody who used a single tube of Mary Kay moisturizer for most of undergrad. I finally feel like I’m taking better care of my skin, and it’s not even hard. As a constantly-rushing person who needs a low maintenance beauty routine (there’s a reason my head is mostly shaved and I don’t wear makeup), I am super pumped about these new products. Best of all, I didn’t have to spend hours googling the ingredients to figure out if they pass muster with my non-toxic demands.

PLUS – I’ve got an awesome coupon code to share with you at the end of this post. Read on!

Full disclosure: I received an Akamai Essentials Kit in exchange for my honest review. And it will be honest. The toothpaste is a little weird (but worth sticking with – more on that later). 

The Current State of Beauty

The thing about beauty products these days is that companies (at least companies in the United States) can put basically anything they want in a tube and call it cosmetics and it’s A-OK to sell and encourage people to slap on their faces. Even if it’s full of chemicals and ingredients banned elsewhere in the world.

For instance, the European Union bans over one thousand (1,000!) ingredients from being used in cosmetics. The United States bans eight. Not eight thousand. Just eight.

Something doesn’t add up here.

The mindful, healthful, and minimalist among us want to avoid exposure to toxins wherever we can, especially our face and body. The skin is one of the largest body systems we have, and it absorbs everything. The general rule is that if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it on your skin.

Since the FDA doesn’t have our back when it comes to cosmetics, those of us who care to do the digging ourselves have to endlessly google and research to discover what’s really in our favorite products and whether we really want to use them. This problem doubles if you’re vegan or otherwise want to avoid cosmetic products tested on animals or made with animal ingredients. Cruelty free is easy. Chemical free is easy. Cruelty and chemical free? Yeesh. This is the reason I barely have a skin care regimen. UNTIL NOW.

Akamai

Akamai Basics is “Personal Care Radically Simplified.” Their goal is to deliver quality performance for healthier hair, skin, and teeth – without the long ingredient lists or funky chemicals in conventional products.

How many times have you heard “Lather, rinse, repeat” and thought about what brilliant marketing that really is? You don’t actually need to wash your hair twice in the same shower, but some people take the advice to heart and before you know it, you’re buying a new bottle of shampoo (or conditioner – that ALWAYS runs out first, even if you are stingy with the portions). Smart shampoo company. Akamai is different. They design their products to be long lasting and you don’t need to use them in excess to reap the rewards.

Akamai realizes that the current beauty market says you need a special soap for each body part, different face products for different days of the week, and fourteen hair products to achieve that effortless “I woke up like this” glam. And then they give you the complete opposite, with three simple products that do basically everything.

The Akamai Essentials Kit

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In the Essentials Kit, you get:

  • Two 3 in 1 Bars
  • Skin Fuel
  • Mineral Toothpaste

The 3 in 1 Bar

The bars are shampoo bars as well as being great for general washing and shaving (I didn’t use it for shaving and my man-beast uses an electric beard trimmer, so I cannot attest to its shaving prowess, but it lathers GREAT). The folks at Akamai told me it can take up to three weeks for your hair to adjust to using a shampoo bar, but I didn’t have the greasy breaking in period you typically expect from switching to a non-toxic, non-chemically shampoo. Probably because I’ve done the baking soda (no-poo) thing in the past and was already using a “cleaner” shampoo product. My hair took to it right away and while I felt it left my hair without its usual softness after a shampoo & condition, using the Skin Fuel as a hair moisturizer immediately took care of my concerns.

I also love that their use instructions for the bar consist of “Wash the stinky bits.” They don’t recommend using this soap all over your whole body. Water actually takes care of most of that without affecting the microbiome of all our little bacterial friends. Wash just the gnarly parts (armpits mostly) and the bar will last you at least a month.

An added bonus: I found that I only needed to wash my hair twice a week with this bar. On my old shampoo I could maybe get three days out of a wash but had best luck and cleanest feeling hair with an every-other-day wash. My hair feels clean and healthy being washed with this bar (and conditioned with Skin Fuel) only twice a week. So I can take a maintenance shower to wash my body more often, but I don’t need to wash my hair as much. (Believe it or not, this is better for your hair).

I also use the 3 in 1 Bar on my face, and it’s actually clearing up my acne, which I thought would be delivering my eulogy someday as my eternal companion.

Final verdict on the 3 in 1 Bar: I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

The Skin Fuel

I had previously been using an Argan Oil hair conditioning oil after a shower, so I know the drill with this. Put a couple of pumps in your hand and run your oily fingers through your hair to moisturize. My hair feels stronger and healthier using Skin Fuel, and I use two pumps on my hair and one pump on my face. Using the moisturizer after washing my face in the shower is new for me, as I typically avoid buying moisturizer because I am cheap and hate having eight hundred bottles of product in the bathroom. Seriously, my husband has more hair and face stuff than I do. (Lots of it for his beard, which I fully support. Long live beards).

With only six ingredients, Skin Fuel is efficient and effective. Coconut Oil, Jojoba Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Argan Oil, Trace Mineral/Fulvic Acid Concentrate, and Rosemary Essential Oil. Have you tried Argan oil before? It makes your hair soft and amazing like little woodland creatures came and washed it for you while you sang a happy song.

My only – ONLY – complaint about Skin Fuel is that the rosemary in it makes me think of food, and I feel like I’m marinating myself. It smells delicious! In a weird way, like rubbing something delicious on your face. Hard to explain, but it’s just a little cognitive dissonance.

Skin Fuel is also a great aftershave, according to Akamai, which I am inclined to believe as it leaves my face feeling moisturized, healthy, and NOT AT ALL OILY. Rub oil on your face so you don’t feel oily. I know, right?

I’ve tried the “Oil cleansing method” in the past, which is where you mix up olive oil and castor oil and jojoba or sweet almond oil if you’re fancy, and rub it all over your face to clean and moisturize. But once again, I have issues with time and having to put together a recipe for my bathroom routine. Skin Fuel delivers everything I need in one tiny bottle, and it’s clear for travel since the bottle is two ounces. You can’t take my soft, healthy skin, TSA!

Ways you can use Skin Fuel:

  • Moisturizer
  • Aftershave
  • Hair Conditioner
  • Beard Oil
  • Scalp Massage
  • Salve
  • Facial Cleanser (like the oil cleansing method I described above, with NO recipe needed)
  • Makeup remover

Final verdict on Skin Fuel: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Toothpaste

Okay, this is where it gets weird. I’ve used clay based toothpastes before. I’ve been interested in trying one again so I was 100% excited to try the Akamai toothpaste. While I love how it makes my teeth and gums feel, I am still not sold on the flavor after trying it for a solid month.

The pros: My teeth and gums feel healthier, there is no more bleeding when I brush, and my teeth are whiter.

The cons: This flavor is so weird. It’s got several essential oils in the ingredient list: peppermint, cinnamon, clove, anise, and tea tree. The result is a very overwhelming flavor profile that kicks your ass the first few times you brush.

HOWEVER: These essential oils are not random choices, they are specifically selected to reduce plaque, freshen your breath, and prevent cavities. They work, and you can tell they work.

The amount of thought that went into designing this toothpaste is amazing. It contains raw coconut oil, which is a natural anti-bacterial agent, along with sea salt that stimulates saliva to help clean the mouth and improve circulation for healthier gums. Trace minerals help remineralize teeth. Natural clays (bentonite clay and kaolin clay) are rich in minerals and are slightly abrasive to help clean and whiten teeth. Liposomal CoQ10 penetrates the gums to help prevent gum disease.

I can’t even be mad at this toothpaste, it is so full of science and health-focused technology. You can also use it as a blemish treatment or on cold sores. Akamai designs everything to be multi-purpose and useful for all your needs.

Final verdict on toothpaste: 3.5 out of 5 stars, because I am going to keep using it and my mouth feels amazing but that flavor is still an acquired taste.

Don’t let me scare you – when you try it out, give the toothpaste a solid 2-4 week trial period. My husband did a 1 day trial and then promptly quit, but I BELIEVE IN YOU!

What I Love About Akamai

What I truly love about this company is their commitment not only to healthier, non-toxic skin and beauty products, but to a versatile multi-functional approach. As a minimalist who tries to keep a small footprint, Akamai’s natural products help me do that. I don’t have to buy several different products to keep up with a beauty regimen, and these products are easy to use and are travel-friendly so I can use them anywhere.

Did I mention that you can subscribe to Akamai’s products so you never run out of your favorite products? That’s right – they’ll send your Essentials Kit (or separate items) right to your door at a schedule that works for you. Typically, one 3 in 1 Bar lasts about a month, a tube of toothpaste lasts about two months, and the Skin Fuel lasts about two months. So one Essentials Kit is designed to last two months.

The Million Dollar Question

I disclosed above that I received this kit in exchange for my honest review, so now I need to honestly answer the question: Am I going to continue with Akamai as a paying customer? The answer is a resounding “hell yes!”

  • Healthier ingredients I can trust? Check.
  • Low maintenance beauty routine I actually follow? Check.
  • SMELLS SO GOOD? Check.
  • Whiter teeth without bleaching? Check.
  • Only have to wash my hair twice a week and it looks amazing? Check.

I’m totally sold.

Your Turn to Try!

It’s your turn to try the Akamai Essentials Kit, and I have an awesome promotion that the folks at Akamai put together just for you! The Essentials Kit is usually $38.00 – but when you use this coupon code you’ll get $20 off. Sign up quickly because the offer is only good from 5/9/17 to 5/16/17.

  1. Use this link to sign up for your Akamai Essentials Kit: http://akamaibasics.refr.cc/caitlinherron
  2. Use code MINIMALIST20 for your $20 off – HURRY, this code expires 5/16/17

Limit 1 per customer, valid only on the first order. Subscriptions can be modified or cancelled at any time – no risk or obligation.

Off the Table

No matter what you’re doing in your life, you probably have some fear. The little voice in the back of your head is telling you that you can’t achieve your goal, you can’t make it work, and you are going to fail – hard. For example, sometimes I get through the laundry chores without a problem washing, drying, or folding, but the moment it’s time to put the clean clothes away, I freeze and can’t finish. Something holds me back from finishing a simple task, even though I know better. I usually put this down to being in a depressive episode but it’s so confusing to me that I get so close to finished and then freeze and just can’t go on.

If our subconscious can get the better of us and cause us to fear failure on low-risk tasks, imagine the impact when your fear and ego blocks you from going after even bigger things.

Failure is no longer an option

We default to thinking that failure is an option in our every task. We can either do the thing, or not do the thing. If you believe that there’s an option to fail, then you leave yourself open to failure. To get through this fear, you have to really commit to the fact that you’re taking the option to fail off the table. Somewhere along the way, we were taught that to do it right, you had to do it perfectly, and you had to do it on the first try.

I don’t know about you, but I remember learning to ride a bike and my parents telling me to get back on it when I fell over. Get back on it, guys. It’s not failure, it’s growth.

This brings me to a favorite quote about failure (even if Edison was a jerk):

Thomas Edison "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

 

When you take failure off the table, you cannot help but see every challenge as an opportunity for growth and a step in the path to the right answer and success.

Whether you are facing challenges with business, relationships, finances, health, or anything else in your life – take defeat off the table. Trust in the fact that the right answer is out there, waiting for you to find it. You must take action to find it. Nobody just hands success to you on a plate, but you can and will achieve your goals if you put the work into it.

In relationships

I am constantly trying to improve my relationship skills so that I don’t make the same mistakes that I did in my first marriage. A big part of this is taking divorce off the table.

Barring abuse or dealbreakers like infidelity, if a couple can have an honest discussion and take divorce off the table, it will have an immediate positive effect on their relationship. When you’re worried your partner will leave you, or you’re worried that any fight could be your last, you hold back honesty. You hold back fear. You hold back truth. You don’t want to rock the boat because oh god, what if she leaves? or I don’t want him to be angry because when he’s angry I want to run away from this relationship. 

This was totally me. I was hiding feelings from my husband (at the time, boyfriend) because I was afraid he’d wake up one day and think I was too much work and too much crazy and too much SOMETHING and he’d decide he was tired and couldn’t do it. And I would sometimes have a moment of panic and try to find something wrong that was a signal I was in a doomed relationship again — I was trying to find any way to not end up in my first marriage all over again.

Taking divorce off the table means that you are safe. You don’t have to fear the end of your marriage because you were trying to be a better communicator. If you have a need that isn’t being met, you can tell your partner, because there’s no way they are going to get upset and leave you over it. Failure is not an option. Every conversation, discussion, or argument is now a stepping stone to a more solid, open, and communicative marriage in which both parties are confident and comfortable in sharing their needs and feelings.

It is not enough to simply know in your brain that you’re not going to leave your partner. You need to discuss it together and say out loud to each other that divorce is NOT an option, at all, ever, period. (Obviously leaving out cases of abuse or dealbreakers – GTFO if you need to).

Knowing we never intended to get divorced again actually whipped my current marriage into shape before we even got engaged. We went to premarital counseling to work out our communication issues, leftover baggage from our first marriages, and our basic expectations of each other. Because we knew we had no intention of getting divorced once we tied the knot, we made damn sure we were ready to be with each other forever. When I get anxious and my fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, knowing he’s in it for the long haul with me makes me feel safe. I can talk to him about my worries without being afraid he’ll decide I’m not worth the effort.

In wellness

I have lost count of the amount of times I started to work out or eat a better diet and then stopped because I got derailed. Someone even told me once that I had failed because I had one scoop of ice cream. That single offhanded comment still sticks with me because it came from someone whom I trust to support me.

I didn’t fail. I learned. I learned that sugar is a slippery slope for me and that I need to be very careful not to bring it into the house or else I will allow it to derail my goals. I learned that other people’s opinions about whether or not I fail don’t matter because as long as I am my own cheerleader, I don’t need other people’s approval.

People slip up and make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from it and find a way to correct and focus on the goal again. For example:

  • If I don’t work out in the morning, I tend to skip my workout and this can snowball into days at a time without exercise. Correction: make time to schedule morning workouts.
  • If I eat something sugary, I go into a mad sugar binge. Correction: Don’t make sweets and don’t bring sugary food into the house.
  • If I participate in a diet bet program or “Biggest Loser” competition, I stress out and go crazy and don’t win anyway because I’m too busy flipping out over every pound on the scale. Correction: Stop participating in these programs.

If you don’t like the workout you are doing, don’t give up on exercise! Find something else you like to do. Keep your focus on the goal: improved health and wellness. The rest will fall into place as long as you continue to take appropriate action.

“Never working out again because this sucks” is off the table. Do something, anything, to move toward your goal. Even if it’s tiny.

In business

How many people have had a great idea for an invention, a service, a product, or a business but didn’t know where to start? Of those who do start, how many actually achieve their goal? There are a ton of books out there to motivate business-minded folks and keep them focused on the goal on the horizon instead of the stumbling blocks on the way.

Let go of the fear of failure. Failure is officially off the table. Instead of failure, you’ll have experience and research. You’ll find your own 10,000 ways that don’t work. Get back up, dust yourself off, and try it differently next time.

I start and stop business ideas all the time, finding my own groove and what works for me. What works for me might not work for you, just like what works for you might not work for me. But when we both keep at it over time, we’ll find what works for each of us to succeed. Or we’ll move on and find the next project.

A word to the wise: Don’t go into debt to start a business. That is the one way I can see a failed outcome. If your business doesn’t succeed and you have debt, that’s one big mess you’ll have to clean up, and you’re more likely to rush into the next deal without thinking about it rationally. Don’t be broke and desperate. Work at your own pace and at the scale your business can handle with the resources you have.

Keep Moving Forward

No matter what aspect of life you’re working on, take failure off the table. See how freeing it is to know that each challenge will be overcome. It will take effort and time, but you will overcome.

How to Set Realistic Financial Goals for 2017

The most effective way to achieve your goals is to set 90-day objectives instead of looking at a looming annual goal or even a 5-year plan. You need to take small action steps so you don’t get overwhelmed and lose your motivation. This applies to anything from losing weight to planting a garden to renovating your bathroom to planning your finances.

I’m a huge proponent of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps program, which includes saving for emergencies (steps 1 and 3), paying off your debt (step 2), investing for retirement (step 4) and kids’ college funds (step 5), and paying off your home early (step 6). The reason this program works is that it breaks things down into small steps. You need to focus your energy – and money – on one goal at a time. People have their consumer debt paid off in an average of two years using the snowball method, which frees up their income to save and invest more freely rather than trying to win by nickel and diming every aspect of their financials.

I’ve been working on my first quarter goals for 2017 and even though it’s already March, I want to reach out and share some financial goal-setting advice you can use as you plan your 2017 financials.

It’s important to understand your finances no matter what you’re doing. There are the basic things you should know: how much money you make, how much you have in savings and checking, your monthly budget, etc. Then there are bigger-picture items like investments and debt payoff goals. As you’re evaluating your financial goals, this Money Saving Challenge infographic from Earnest can help you make a useful goal for each month of the year. Earnest is a company that offers refinancing of student loans, which can be useful if their rates will save you money over the remaining life of your loan (assuming you pay it off early using the baby steps). Every penny counts!

I added a minimalist twist on a few of the included months. In March, you’ll see a recommendation to declutter your home and host a yard sale, which helps you minimize the amount of “stuff” in your house and can also help you make a few bucks. In June, I recommend evaluating your subscriptions and services to once again reduce your commitments and add money back to your bottom line.

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Which of these financial tips are you already working toward, and what new ideas can you add to your goals for the next 90 days?

Deciding What To Do Now

I love self-help and personal development books. My mom always had books by Edgar Cayce and Wayne W. Dyer on the bookshelf, and I was reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” in high school. I probably learned more about being a functional adult from books than from life. I know some books like this make the general population roll their eyes. In all honesty, I love personal development books that a lot of people would consider “woo” or overly gimmicky in their spiritual “you can do it all” and “the only time you have is now” motivational techniques. I don’t love all of them (in fact, I found myself reading one lately and thinking even I couldn’t possibly transcend to the level of one-with-the-universe that this book required), but I do consider myself pretty open minded and I believe that we can change our life by changing our thoughts and habits, through the use of meditation, affirmations, and visualization techniques.

Being Zen About It

I often try to “be zen” about things that are stressing me out. It’s hard with anxiety, since my brain has a tendency to zoom headfirst into the worst case scenario and freak out about things that haven’t happened yet and probably won’t come to pass. Despite knowing that thinking positively helps my mental health, I get stuck in loops of extremely negative thoughts that are almost inescapable. I’ve written before about how I have used jewelry to help refocus my anxious thoughts, and that’s one coping mechanism that works for me.

The downside of believing that positive thoughts bring positive effects is that you also have to accept that negative thoughts can bring negative effects. It’s the classic self-sabotage cycle. Maybe you do this with weight loss, thinking “I don’t have the self-control to resist the donuts at work.” Two donuts later, you’re mad at yourself. But what else could you have done when you hold the fundamental belief that you’re no stronger than a donut? It is a task that’s nearly insurmountable at times, but you have to break the beliefs that hold you back.

I don’t go as far as some gurus and motivational writers, who say that everything in your life is your responsibility – including global affairs at large. Joe Vitale’s The Attractor Factor: 5 Easy Steps for Creating Wealth (or Anything Else) is one such book. I’ve listened to the audiobook two or three times and continue to pull amazing inspiration from it, but I have trouble with some of his larger concepts. I can take responsibility to work on my own maladjusted belief systems, but I have a hard time believing I can impact war or the epidemic of drug addiction or the lottery.

I mean, maybe it’s possible. But I am not that zen.

Why Do It?

Why do I make time to practice meditation, affirmations, and visualizations? Honestly, I don’t. Many many days have gone by without meditation, because I believe I’m bad at it and can’t do it right. So I never bother. (Hmm…maybe I should work on this). However, affirmation and visualization have become second nature to me and I perform them without even thinking. I’m also in the habit of a gratitude practice, especially when I find myself getting upset at something outside my control.

For example, I left for work a few minutes later than normal this morning, so traffic was more congested than usual. I saw the backed up rows of cars on the highway when I was turning onto the on-ramp and thought “Ah, crap!” but I followed that up immediately with, “That’s okay, I am grateful for more time in the car to listen to my audiobook.” What choices did I have? I could have left on time, but the time had already passed. At the moment of my decision to be grateful, the only choice I had was how to respond to the traffic jam. Despite heavy traffic, I got to work on time anyway. And I was in a cheerful mood!

To receive a blessing from the universe, you must be attuned to what you desire. It’s like we’re all humming threads on a universal guitar. If we want something, we have to be humming at the same frequency of the thing we desire in order to match and receive it. If we’re humming at a low vibration filled with self-sabotaging thoughts and doubts, we’re not anywhere near the level of vibration we need to match the thing we want. On the other hand, there’s a balancing act between wanting something and being desperate for it. When you’re desperate with a blind need for something to bless your life, you run the risk of over-pitching yourself and missing the vibration you need. (At this point I am going to have to name our firstborn child Zen because of how often I have to remind myself to not be desperate).

Even skeptics have found positive results from meditation, affirmations, and gratitude practices. Many professional development and leadership books tout the benefits of these small habits that can make a big difference in your day to day interactions and overall behavior.

If you’re worried about the time commitment, incorporating these practices doesn’t have to take up hours of your day. Start with a few minutes per day and work up from there when you feel the positive effects on your life. An excellent guide to get started is Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM). He has since come out with several related titles targeted for specific industries and other areas of life. This book is great for everyone from the skeptic to the believer.

How These Practices Help Your To-Do List

I’ve been swamped with projects and goal setting and to-do lists for the past several months. Currently on my plate are the following:

  • Three book or ebook ideas
  • Consistently publishing blogs on this website
  • Boosting my social media presence for this blog
  • Increasing my freelance writing income
  • Home organization and design projects in essentially every room of my house
  • Planning a vacation
  • Making a financial plan for 2017

What’s keeping me from completing all these tasks? The fact that I’m trying to do a little of everything every day. I should have learned from my Dave Ramsey expertise that the best way to get traction is to take baby steps to make progress. Just like Dave’s advice isn’t to save for emergencies, buy a house, invest for retirement, and pay off debt all at the same time… my plan of action for these projects simply can’t be to chip off a tiny bite of each one at a time. I need to prioritize.

Motivation and priorities have also been an issue at work, where I have a similar spread of high, medium, and low priority projects that all need to be completed. For a while I tried using the urgent/important matrix to determine where to spend most of my time and effort, and then I just made lists of high, medium, and low priority tasks. I made sure to complete the high priority tasks each day but would often lose steam and save the medium and low priorities for the next day. But the next day, there were always new urgent priorities that made it to the high list. Chipping away at things wasn’t helping, once again. So I devised a new way to prioritize my to-do list.

Eat The Frog

When I say new, I mean new for me. This certainly isn’t an original concept. Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time is celebrated for its advice to start your day not with the easiest tasks to build momentum, but with the biggest, hardest, or most agonizing task you have. This is the frog.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” While I don’t think anyone should actually be eating live frogs as part of their to-do list, the advice is sound. Do the thing that sucks.

I now organize my work to-do list with the following four categories:

  1. Frog: This is the thing that I must do before all other things today. Maybe even before I check my email. Certainly before I eat lunch.
  2. Today: These are the high priority tasks that I need to do today, whether they are assigned to me by team members or my own goal list.
  3. This Week: These are important but don’t need handled today. I need to make time during the week to get them completed.
  4. Radar: This is something important coming down the line that is not urgent.

I Don’t Have Time

What if you don’t have time to only do one big thing until it’s done? Spoiler alert: You do. Jen Sincero points out that “not having time” is a lie we tell ourselves in her book You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.

I don’t have time to find a real parking spot so I’ll park in this loading zone. Oh, look at that, I just spent three hours I don’t have getting my car out of the tow garage, another two getting lost on the way home, and forty-five minutes complaining about it to my wife…

When we’re forced to do something, suddenly the time is there. Which means it’s there all the time, but we’ve just chosen to limit ourselves by believing that it isn’t.”

I highly recommend Ms. Sincero’s book. I buy a copy of it for somebody roughly 4-5 times a year. Somehow I still haven’t bought myself a hard copy, but if Audible books could have a conversation, my audio copy of Badass would probably ask me why I’m not as zen as I should be after listening to it SO MANY TIMES.

You have 24 hours in a day, and the only time you can actually control is what you are doing RIGHT NOW. Everything before now is gone, and everything after now might change. So RIGHT NOW, do something that is important to your goals.

How to Prioritize

Regarding your time management, it comes down to figuring out your top priorities and then concentrating your efforts on 1-3 main goals, rather than shooting for a whole giant list of goals at a time. I follow Chalene Johnson’s 30 Day Push program, which used to be a video coaching series and now has been upgraded to a comprehensive 30-day journal system that walks you through setting 90-day goals and setting small achievable daily tasks to move yourself forward. Chalene’s program starts by having you rank several aspects of your life including physical health, mental health, relationships, friends and family, career, finances, etc., and then you choose the top three areas you should be prioritizing (these are the areas with the lowest scores, which means they need the most focus).

My three key areas for the first 90 days of 2017 are physical health, mental health, and my environment (aka my cluttered house that is driving me up a wall). I have 10 goals for this first quarter of the year, but my top three priorities focus on health and home. My “push goal,” or the goal that acts like a domino and helps you achieve more of your goals, is to create a daily to-do list with non-negotiable self-care items. This includes exercise, a bath, and a 9:30pm bedtime. Do I achieve these every day? No. But I am doing them a lot more consistently than before, and that has already made a huge difference in my daily life.

I didn’t even make my first quarter goals until the beginning of February, but making a small daily to-do list has helped me (in the last two weeks):

  • Lose four pounds
  • Maintain a consistent exercise routine
  • Re-establish care with my therapist
  • Make a doctor’s appointment to discuss anxiety medication (something I have procrastinated for years)
  • Put considerable work into a book proposal (which I’ve been scared to write for months)
  • Clean out and organize my closet
  • Listen to a self-development book
  • Pay off a credit card

I know some of those things don’t seem very monumental for most people. But for me, this is great progress. All things going well, you’ll be seeing a lot more content from me this year.

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this post, thank you for your readership, and thank you for all the positivity you put into the world. I am grateful for you.

The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

I was in graduate school when I first heard the term “millennial.” It was at a conference. The session was about how to serve millennial students, because they have different characteristics than the Generation X students that went before them. It was here that I first started hearing things like “millennials need to be recognized for participation,” “millennials feel they are special,” “millennials are sheltered,” “millennials are likely to have helicopter parents,” and more. Society as a whole loves to hate on the millennial generation (those born between 1980-1999), calling us “special snowflakes” and sarcastically referring to us as “social justice warriors,” calling us out for “being offended by everything” and, everybody’s favorite, pointing out how very entitled we are.

Here’s the secret: We’re not.

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The negative opinions directed at millennials are a perfect example, on an enormous societal scale, of cultural gaslighting.

What’s Gaslighting?

Glad you asked. I learned about gaslighting within the last couple years as I explored topics surrounding emotional abuse and narcissism. Gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of making someone question their own sanity. It’s an emotional abuse tactic. It can also be described as “the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality” (as defined in this article from Everyday Feminism).

Have you ever gotten into an argument with a parent, boss, or romantic partner about something they’ve done that upset you, but by the end of the argument, YOU’RE the one apologizing for hurting their feelings? This is often a result of gaslighting. They flip it around and become the victim, and your original feelings never get resolved because the conversation always descends into the other person’s victimization.

As one example from my life, when I first faced up to the fact that my first marriage was in real trouble and I was considering divorce, I (very calmly) asked my ex-husband if he’d consider marriage counseling. His response? “I cannot believe you can even ask that of me.” He was so offended by the suggestion that something was wrong that I questioned the validity of my feelings. “Oh my god,” I thought, “I must be terrible. Is anything even wrong or are my expectations just crazy?” This is an example of gaslighting.

Now imagine a similar scenario where you are applying for a job, but the job requires a college degree, but you can’t pay for a college degree without a job so you end up taking out massive loans. Then when you graduate, you still can’t get a job without experience. So you end up in a minimum wage job (or three), making ends meet and barely making your loan payments. You say something like, “the minimum wage needs to be raised, people can’t live like this,” only to receive a barrage of old, crotchety white people yelling at you about how gosh-darn ENTITLED you are, and how THEY got a college education working part time and how it’s your fault for taking out the loans in the first place.

This is what I’m talking about. Generations before us completely drove the bus into a lake and it’s somehow our fault everybody’s drowning.

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What are Millennials really like?

So if millennials aren’t a bunch of spoiled brats with an entitlement mentality who need a trophy just for putting on pants in the morning, what are they?

I am in a Facebook group of geeky women (mostly moms) from around the world, and our group is capped at 500 members. When it was discovered that two of our members were actively fighting to get out of physically and emotionally abusive marriages and needed money for legal help and deposits for moving, the group arranged a massive auction and hundreds of members donated their belongings and purchased in the auction to raise thousands of dollars.

When another member of that same group was faced with an unimaginable loss and an enormous bill, we had more auctions and helped her get through the worst moment of her life as best we could.

I have shipped pet supplies, groceries, books, clothing, and more to broke friends whose kids and cats were hungry, who have experienced loss and just couldn’t get up to “adult,” and to people who needed to receive a message to pull themselves out of a bad place.

I see us raising money for funeral expenses, medical bills, emergency surgeries for beloved pets, and more. I see us trading services or goods for other services or goods. I see us sending money via PayPal to make somebody’s day a little easier. I see us buying things from work-at-home-moms on Etsy or Facebook rather than support large corporate stores.

Once, I could feel a cold coming on but I was out of grocery budget, and a friend shipped me a box of tea from Amazon. I’ve sent her groceries and pet supplies when her budget was tapped. This is our generation.

We barter and trade, we lift each other up when we need it, and we empower each other. We have each other’s back.

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But what are they reeeeally like?

Anecdotal evidence aside, here’s some science.

First of all, it’s important to note that there are some 80 million people in the millennial generation, making us the largest cohort in history. This makes us very fun and easy to study. I pulled some data from a 2012 report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Millennials are tech-savvy, having been raised in the most technologically advancing decades of recent human history. We are optimistic (41% report satisfaction with the way the country is performing, compared to 26% of people over 30). Please note that this data was from 2012 and if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that fewer millennials are pleased with how the country is doing at this particular moment in time. 2016 has been rough.

“Young people are more tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47% vs. 19%) with 45% agreeing with preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.” Not only are millennials the largest demographic, we’re also the most diverse. We are 60% non-Hispanic white (compared to 70% for older generations), 19% Hispanic, 14% black, 4% Asian, and 3% mixed race. Eleven percent of us are born to an immigrant parent. So the generation that hears “Why are you kids so offended by everything these days,” is offended because we’re sick and tired of seeing minorities vilified and punished by systemic racism within the system.

Millennials are multi-taskers. Multi-tasking is actually harmful to the brain and leads to a huge decrease in productivity. But, you know, we gotta work all these jobs and get everything done, lest we die penniless in the gutter.

Millennials are engaged and expressive: 75% have a social networking profile, 20% have posted a video of themselves online, 38% have 1-6 tattoos, 23% have non-earlobe piercings. The research indicates a trend toward “self-promoting,” which some skew to mean that millennials are self-confident (OH NO, THE HORROR) and self-absorbed. Others take this data to conclude that millennials are identifying their passions and making their own path instead of following others’ paths for them.

Millennials get their news from TV (65%) and online sources (59%).

Millennials may be the first generation in over 100 years to have a decrease of their average lifespan.

Millennials have a high graduation rate from high school (72% in 2012) and college enrollment rate (68% in 2012). Over half (58%) of millennials that enroll in a four-year college graduate within six years.

Millennials have an average of $25,000 in student loans. There is more student loan debt than credit card debt in the United States. Tuition rates are rising faster than inflation. However, enrollment continues to increase and there is a trend that jobs are paying more for more educated applicants.

On and on and on and on. Read the full report linked above for more statistics and research.

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Millennials struggle with mental health

Most millennials I know struggle with mental illness to some degree. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more. I wonder how much of that anxiety comes from being told that wanting a living wage, affordable college, or adequate healthcare means that you’re being a spoiled entitled brat. It really doesn’t. The generations before us HAD a living wage, affordable college, and adequate healthcare. But now, inflation has far surpassed the minimum wage, college tuition and loan interest rates are through the proverbial roof, and medical bills are the top cause of bankruptcy in America.

These things were not caused by millennials, but after being raised on a steady diet of “you’re entitled,” we don’t even need to hear it from other people.  We believe it about ourselves. As a society, we now romanticize struggle, busy-ness, and “the hustle.” If you’re not losing sleep and working two or three jobs, you must not want it enough.

What if we’re actually not crazy? What if wanting to work one full-time job and have the ends not only meet but actually overlap a little is NOT an entitled pipe dream?

The sheer stress of existing in today’s world is enough to give anybody an anxiety disorder. Add  the fact that we’re told over and over again how we need to just bootstrap it, because generations before us handled life just fine, and you have a recipe for disaster. The generations before us could afford college tuition on minimum wage and didn’t have bosses who expect us to be tied to our devices at all hours.

I often feel this way about our financial goals. I have a full-time job and bring in extra income from freelance marketing work and resume writing. I make “good money” by most standards. And I catch myself thinking I should be working a part time job in the evenings or on the weekends to make our financial goals happen faster. But at what cost? I know for a fact that my mental health would suffer if I did that. I can’t even imagine the psychological stress of people who have to work multiple jobs just to meet their basic needs. We’ve got people working two or three jobs to feed their families that they barely see. That’s not even getting into the cost of child care.

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More reading on millennials and mental health:

Conclusions (for now)

The millennial generation has been tasked with fixing the broken system we inherited and chastised for not doing it right or for daring to suggest improvements.

If you think we’re doing a bad job, ask yourself how it got this way in the first place.

The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

Your Mission Statement, Should You Choose To Accept It

I’ve been working on some budgeting and financial planning resources for a personal finance group I help run on Facebook. In the guide, I made a brief activity for participants to create their own financial mission statement. The big “WHY” that can remind them of their long term goals when they want a short term pleasure. I’m all for building in a steam valve so you don’t get money stress ulcers, but that’s why budgeting is important. You need to know your limit on how much steam you can blow off, before your whole long-term plan goes up in a sea of cute shoes that were on sale, soy lattes, and even Redbox rentals. Don’t nickel and dime yourself out of a secure financial future.

The mission statement approach can also help you stay mindful and in the moment when you’re having anxiety or stress about something. If you’re not happy at your job, think about your long-term mission. Put today’s annoyance on a scale against the long-term achievements and goals associated with more tenure in your position. Is today’s gripe going to ring a bell in a year? If you’re really miserable, start looking for new work that is more in line with your mission. (Your career mission can be “to have a job I really love,” which makes job shopping not only an option but a responsibility to your goals!)

Mission statements can be for the long term or they can be a short term mission. A mission for one hour, or one day. A to-do list is sort of a mission statement of how you plan to spend your day. I’ve started making my to-do lists in three-item chunks. The top three priorities of my day (usually more difficult or grudging tasks), followed by a quick and easy list of 3 things I can accomplish in a few minutes. By the time I’m done with those 3 big tasks and 3 little tasks, I’ve gotten a lot done and can either rest or make a new mission of 3 top priorities.

By making a really specific mission statement for my day, I’m able to reduce my anxiety. A giant to-do list of all the things I’d like to accomplish on a Saturday is overwhelming and I tend to get so caught up in not knowing where to start that I just procrastinate or do things that are “sort of productive” but not actually things that need to be done that day.

A recent list of mine looked like this:

Top 3 Priorities Today

  1. Work out
  2. Grocery shop
  3. Finish freelance project

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Send freelance invoices
  2. Send freelance pricing information
  3. Take laundry to basement

Next 3 Priorities

  1. Write budget guide
  2. Write a blog post (hey, it’s the post you’re reading right now!)
  3. Scoop litter box and clean up in the office

3 Easy Tasks

  1. Clear the living room table
  2. Take out trash and recycling
  3. Put away the clean dishes

If I had just put all these things on a list without prioritizing or putting them in any order, I would have very likely done all the little quick items first, then pretended I had gotten *so* much work done, and sat on my butt, wondering when I would get around to doing the bigger tasks. By arranging them in order like this, I could pull out the top 3 things that MUST GET DONE and make sure I do them before anything else. Doing the dishes would be nice, but not a top priority. Dishes can wait. Work needs to get done.

I am a list person, and I am a goal person. A list of goals is even better. The better to craft my mission statement, my sweet!

Here’s a breakdown of some of my current short- and long-term mission statements. Most of them are financial but one is related to health.

  • My mission is to pay off our next three debts by the end of 2016, at a rate of one debt per month. (This helps me keep my budget on point. I am less likely to find other things we “need right now” to take out of the budget when I’m focusing on something like this. This goal is really big, those debts are between $1600 and $2000 each. And even if I only get two of them done, that’s amazing!)
  • My mission is to weigh between 150-165 pounds and live a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise and a healthful diet without binge eating or obsessive food behavior. (This is a much more long term mission statement that encompasses not only a weight loss goal but also goals related to my mental health and relationship to food. This helps me to not overeat and also to allow myself indulgences without a guilt trip).
  • My mission is to be debt free by the time I am 30. (This is another big goal! That’s only 18 months away, and we have quite a pile of debt. Over $60,000.)
  • My mission is to become debt free so that we can afford for one of us to stay home with our kids when we start a family. (THIS ONE is the overarching mission. The mission driving all other missions. Nothing makes me reconsider buying a pair of leggings or a burrito bowl like imagining how fast I can get out of debt to be a stay-at-home-mom.)

What are YOUR personal mission statements, and how do they help to keep you accountable?