On Trusting the Universe and Letting Go

About a month ago, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a link to a great deal on an arguably frivolous item that she really wanted. To be honest, this particular thing is on my want-it list too. I understand the desire for something just-because. I sneakily ordered it and shipped it to her.

When I got a delivery confirmation I subtly suggested she check her mail, and there was nothing there. I confirmed her address only to realize that I’d shipped the damn thing to her old address and she had moved.

I emailed the vendor and admitted my mistake, hoping they’d let me re-order it at the sale price. No dice. I resolved to order it again for her the next time they put it on sale and just let the whole thing go. I hoped that the new tenant of her apartment would actually like it and figured maybe that person needed a boost from a new piece of pretty.

Imagine my surprise when I checked my email this week, weeks later, saying that the vendor had received my order back to their warehouse. Just confirm the address and we’ll send it right back out, or we’ll issue you a refund.

I updated the address and away it went to its rightful destination after all.

When I had given up on the thing I thought was over, it ended up coming back and working out.

This is not the first time this has happened recently, either.

Also about a month ago (I was apparently feeling exceptionally charitable in August!) I did a good deed to the tune of $75 and within hours had a new resume client asking for my $75 special for a resume and cover letter. It was almost like the universe said “Hey, good job, here’s something nice for you too.”

I’d chalk that up to cosmic coincidence except that it happened again this month too. Another $75 good deed, another $75 resume gig.

What you put into the universe comes back to you. Giving is receiving, if we let it happen. 

Some more examples from my own life:

I had $200 in resume orders just this week. Last week, I sent my sister $200 to rent a car so she could attend our dad’s birthday party.

When my sister lived with me, she had loaned some money to a friend who later ghosted her and never paid her back. It was about $300. I advised her to just consider it a gift and tell the friend that it wasn’t worth straining or losing their friendship over the $300 loan. She let it go. Over the next weekend serving tables at her restaurant job, my sister brought home roughly $300 in tips – well over her average.

The best part of this is that I am always completely surprised when it happens. I’ve never gone into a good deed thinking “I wonder how this will come back around to benefit me!” But a while after any of this comes to fruition, I realize what has happened. It’s eerie and awesome.

Make Giving a Regular Part of Your Life

While an evangelical Christian Dave Ramsey baby-stepper would be tithing 10% of their income to the church, I prefer to designate roughly 10% of my income to just doing nice things for people.

Whether it’s donating to individuals fundraising on GoFundMe or social media, sending a friend some quick cash just to get themselves a treat, or putting in an order for somebody who ran out of cat litter two days to payday, knowing that I have that type of spending worked into my plan is a huge freedom and my favorite part of my monthly budget.

Even if you can’t give ten percent, I encourage everyone to plan a small kindness into their regular routine. It doesn’t have to cost a cent to put a smile on someone’s face. And that smile will come right back around!

 

 

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6 Tips to Life Hack Personal Finances for Small Budgets

Hi readers! This guest post is brought to you by Jacob from Dollar Diligence. He’s put together a list of simple tips to improve your financial life. These tips apply to everyone, including people on a shoestring budget. So don’t expect tips about skipping your morning latte. These are real, actionable tips that can help you get ahead.

By Jacob, the voice over at @DollarDiligence.

Let’s face it, a lot of financial advice about saving is geared toward folks who actually have some money to save. Of course there are a ton of obvious financial life hacks such as opening new bank accounts just for saving that can work for most people. But what do you do when you just can’t find the extra money to put in there?

Here are 6 personal finance tips for people that have small budgets but are still trying to get ahead.

Know where your money goes. This is the biggest one. Before you can see where you can pinch pennies, you have to take a long hard look at your finances. If you have to sneak in a glass of wine first, go for it, but you really need to take an honest look.

If you’re not sure where to get started, there are budget tracking apps such as Personal Capital, or Good Budget, or Mint that automatically organize your purchases based on where the money was spent. If you want to go old school, save all your receipts for a month to see where you’re spending the most.

Use CASH not your debit card. Once you know where your money goes, you can start budgeting based on that. Say for instance your average money spent on groceries is about $50 a week. Rather than use your debit card when you go to the grocery store, pull out cash and spend that instead.

When you’re using cash, you actually spend less. For some reason, it feels so much more real when you hold those bills in your hand. Not only that, but you won’t slip in those extra snacks when all you have is the cash to spend.

Negotiate for better deals. Before you cancel all of those extra services, give the service providers a call and see if there are some better deals out there. I know every time I call my cable provider, I manage to get three free months of HBO!

Usually there is some kind of deal they can offer to basically keep you using their services. If the service is important to you, negotiating is a good option to get lower rates, even temporarily. While you’re on the phone with the service provider, you can inquire about the details of your plan. Sometimes you can find yourself paying for a service you don’t even need!

Reduce the cost of current debt. Regardless of if you’ve been paying your loans diligently or you’ve been deferring them because of monetary issues, you can look at refinancing credit cards and student loans. I believe in paying down debt as quick as possible.

Refinancing higher interest debt to lower interest rates can expedite your payoff timeline. Credit cards can be consolidated, but also if you have been regularly paying your credit cards, you can look at lowering the interest rates or the monthly payments. When it comes to student loans, all types can be consolidated and refinanced together.

When you refinance, you can adjust your term length, and if possible, pay down your student loans faster. But more importantly, a lower interest rate can equal significant savings for the average graduate who is leaving campus with about $28k in debt.

Set a modest and attainable savings goal. Finally it’s time for saving! At this point, you should have a little extra cash flow you freed up. This should start going into savings. When it comes to saving, you can do it two ways.

You can save as much as possible, keeping your budget tight but being able to save a lot more per month, or you can just save a little and just have extra money in your bank account.

Either method works, but if you’re a person that finds it difficult to hang on to money, you’re better off saving as much as you can from the front end. There are even savings goal calculators to help you figure it out!

Treat yourself sometimes! Keeping good finances is like eating healthy. You can eat healthy every day of the week, but sometimes you just need to have a cupcake. When you’re taking care of your finances, it’s absolutely okay to treat yourself sometimes!

Do something that makes the money spent definitely worthwhile, but keep it as an exclusive treat! A cupcake a day is not an acceptable diet plan, just like sneaking in extra purchases regularly isn’t good for your finances.

All of these tips can really help those with modest incomes take control and finally get some money socked away for a rainy day. You may have been putting personal finance off because it’s too depressing to contemplate how broke you are, but things like making a budget and putting away money can also give you a sense of control over your finances and your life.

About Jacob

Aside from his full-time job as a high school teacher, you can find Jacob blogging about personal finance, reading books about history, and figuring out which kind of puppy to get next. Follow him on Twitter to keep up with him!

How to Help in the Wake of Racial Violence

Hi, friends! It’s been a hell of a month. Between rumblings from North Korea, Twitter being full of fast-and-furious news updates, the aftermath of Charlottesville, and Steve Bannon getting Apprentice’d, there’s a lot to absorb. And to top it all off, hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc on an enormous scale. Cities and communities in our country are being devastated by natural disasters and racial violence.

In response to Harvey, absolutely donate what you can. Focus on monetary donations instead of supplies at first, because the postal service doesn’t have boats and the highways aren’t exactly great right now. Check on your friends on the coast, and offer asylum if you are local-ish and on higher ground.

In the wake of Charlottesville, things might be a little more hazy when you’re overwhelmed by wanting to help but not sure where to start. If you’re white and hundreds of miles away like me, you may be asking yourself if there’s anything practical you can do. Because clicking the share button a couple dozen times a day never feels like enough, right?

Now, there’s all the usual stuff. Contact your representatives, at all levels of government, tell them what you think of the job they’re (not) doing. If there’s a march or a demonstration you can get to and you’re able to make it, get off your duff and show up. Share the petitions & donation pages & articles, focus on that signal boost, because it really does make a difference.

Safety pin on the collar? Pass.

Get your phone out and record what’s going on when the local PD are giving your Hispanic neighbor a hard time? Absolutely.

Wear your best interview attire to the counter-protest and park your lily-white self between that group of LGBTQ/black folks/Jewish folks/Muslims/etc? Go for it. Let the white supremacists try to sell *that* photo.

Can’t march, for whatever reason? No problem. Offer to babysit for people who want to go but can’t because they have kids. Offer to make or buy food/drinks for support personnel, especially medics.

Take a street-medic/first-responder course and be ready if you’re needed. Take a look at what you do for a living, and what you do in your off hours, and see how that can be used to lift up people with fewer advantages than you.

But what else? What about when you don’t have a dime to spare, and you’re already doing all that stuff? Or if you do have cash to burn, you’re doing all that stuff and donating, and still have that nagging sense that you could be doing more. (Hint: we can always be doing more.)

Let’s talk about redirecting money we already spend to businesses owned by the people you want to support. 

According to public data available on www.bls.gov (that’s the US Dept of Labor, Statistics division), black people as a demographic have the highest unemployment rate in the country at 7.4%, followed by Hispanic/Latino folx at 5.1%, and Asian populations at 4%. White people, by comparison, slot in at 3.8% unemployment overall. (Yes, those statistics break down further when you get into gender and education, but that’s another blog!) Are you following me here, readers? The unemployment rate among black people is consistently, over decades of recorded data, twice that experienced by white people.

Why do jobs matter when we’re talking about buying? Per www.thepresidentscouncil.com, black-owned businesses are the second largest employer of African-Americans after the government. Other minorities and marginalized groups follow similar trends. By redirecting our spending (the money we spend anyway on the things we already buy) to businesses owned by the people we’re trying to support, we help to create more stable employment opportunities, reducing joblessness and raising financial security in marginalized communities. The President’s Council site offers a mailing list wherein you can receive news about events & programs, and includes a monthly show-case listing of black-owned businesses. (Yes, they ask for your digits. Entering all zeroes works. Sign up! Go, do it now! No, seriously, faster than that!)

Check out the twitter campaign for #buyblack and the #buyblackchallenge. 

Especially right now, when there’s lots of seasonal shopping going on for school supplies, new clothes, fall & winter gear. When take-out might be happening more often because of after-school activities. When you might be getting hair & nails done for homecoming some other school-related function. Use this time to think about where you spend your money, and how you can redirect it to communities that fight oppression on a scale us white folks will never understand.

“But I do most of my shopping online”, you say? NO problem. Check out https://webuyblack.com/

According to their About page, “WeBuyBlack.com is an online marketplace for Black owned businesses to showcase and sell their products to a global community.” And it is a pretty stinkin’ impressive marketplace, folks. They have an incredible range of products, clothes, home décor, jewelry, books, toys, bath products, school supplies, cleaning products, even shelf-stable foodstuffs, and more.

The point of all of this? Get on Google and find opportunities to use your wallet where it will do the most good. Support minority-owned businesses anywhere and every time you can. And research those businesses, make sure they’re actually owned by the people you’re wanting to support, rather than white people hiring based on race to make it “look” right. (Gross, yeah? Gross.) Ordering lunch for that business meeting? See if there’s a local Mexican place with good reviews. Buying school clothes? Find out who owns the local mom&pop clothier’s. Or the office supply place, the car repair franchise where you get your oil changed, the bookstore, the grocery, the salon where you get your nails done.

And don’t get hung up on trying to shift all your spending to minority-owned businesses all at once. Pick one thing this month. Say, school supplies. Take that money you’d spend at Walmart and try to find a better place to put it. Then next month, add another thing, then another, you get the idea. 

Like it or not, we live in a capitalist society, and money talks. The Almighty Dollar can accomplish a lot, when it’s spent with intent. What’s your intent? Put some thought into where your money goes, and see if you can send it to places where it will help people. Click Share on all those articles and fundraisers and awareness links… and then do the research and vote with your wallet.

Twenty Five Pieces of Life Advice

Today is my sister’s 25th birthday. While I am beyond thrilled that she can now rent a car to come see me whenever she wants (assuming I help throw a few dollars at her for said rental), I’m also stunned that my little sister who was JUST yea-high and escaping her crib at night is a 25 year old who just got a new job and is a high school teacher who lives in a major metropolitan area. Like, what? She takes the subway places like it’s totally not terrifying. (I may have some anxiety around public transportation I should work on).

happy birthday

For this momentous occasion, I have put together a list of 25 pieces of advice for her and for all people, especially people in their mid twenties who don’t have their shit together. (The secret of adulthood is that you never really will have all the shit simultaneously together).

I had every intention of grouping like advice together into categories, but I make no promises or guarantees. Happy reading, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  1. Eat More Whole Food Than You Drink Alcohol: Mimosas are not a fruit, so make sure you’re getting quality servings of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other good stuff. Once I turned 21 it was very important to me to keep a few bottles of liquor in the house because I could. I bought this legally! With my IDENTIFICATION! Yes, whipped cream flavored vodka was the pinnacle of adulthood, or so I thought at the time.
  2. Hydrate: Drink some damn water. The going advice is “half your body weight in ounces” meaning a 200 lb person should drink 100 oz of water a day. Not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that serves me well.
  3. Don’t Sleep With People You’re Not Super Excited About: My wish for you is that every sexual encounter in your life is an enthusiastically positive one. Don’t sleep with somebody that’s into you if you’re not also into them back. But also, you can make your own decisions. This is just my two cents. Also, ask for the stuff you like – anybody who is offended by you knowing your own body probably doesn’t fall under the first part of this advice. Use protection. I know you know. But, you know.
  4. Have a Best Friend or Two: Having a handful or more of good friends is wonderful, but have one or two people you know you can count on no matter what. These are the shit-hits-the-fan friends who have your back. You might not always get along 100% of the time, but when you need them, they’re there.
  5. Your Best Friend May Change Over Time: People are in your life for a season. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life, sometimes it’s not. While losing a best friend in a falling out can leave a void in your life, stay grateful for the time you spent together and the positive things you learned, and stay hopeful for another excellent person to come be on your team. (PS. Your big sister is always on your team! Nowadays.)
  6. Be A Good Friend: You have to be on other people’s teams too. Own your shit when you’re in the wrong. Make sure there’s give and take from both parties, because just taking or just giving will not end well.
  7. Take Up Space: Whether it’s on public transportation with a stage-five leg-spreader or taking up emotional space in a relationship, you deserve to take up space. When I feel stressed or like someone might be upset with me, I tend to shrink myself down and become invisible. I don’t want to speak, I don’t want to be seen. I just want to be tiny and out of sight. This is no way to live your life. Ask for what you need and don’t feel bad about expecting people to treat you with respect.
  8. Stick To Your Guns: When you’re standing up for what you believe in, be true to your beliefs and stand your ground. Unless it’s in the comments section on a HuffPo article. I give you permission to just walk away from that trash fire.
  9. Check Your Privilege: This one sucks, because it’s hard to look inward and admit that we have biases and *gasp* privilege in life. Listen to the people who don’t have that privilege and trust them when they tell their story. Change the words you use, if your words are harmful or problematic. Call it out when you see other people use them too. Use your privilege to boost the signal.
  10. Go Somewhere Awesome: While world travel may not be in your immediate future, make it a goal to travel somewhere awesome once in a while. This could be a one-tank weekend trip to somewhere in your area, or it could be a trip to Tibet. I don’t know, man, you just gotta go see something new sometimes.
  11. Dump Toxic People: If someone in your life is sucking the joy right from your usually-joyful bones, notice that. If you always come away from hanging out with someone feeling drained and full of negative self-talk, consider spending less time with that person (or none at all). Peace out!
  12. See a Therapist: Seriously, everyone can benefit from therapy just to check in and make sure you’re handling life’s challenges in a healthy way. There are online therapists now that tout affordable rates, or you can check in with your local college to see if there’s a counseling program that has a sliding scale or free therapy from counselors in training.
  13. Set SMART Goals: Oh god, she’s talking about goals and motivation! Yeah, you need to set goals if you want to go anywhere. Even if that goal is “lose five pounds this summer” or “visit Iceland next year.” Make sure your goal is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to travel” isn’t specific, measurable, or time-based, so you probably won’t achieve your wishy-washy goal very easily without a plan.
  14. Try Outside the Box Stuff: Practice meditation to see if it works for you. Practice positive affirmations, visualizations, gratitude, astral projection, interpretive dance – whatever sounds interesting that might help you focus on the important stuff. Try it out and see if anything puts a little cheese on your mental macaroni. (Weird metaphor, let’s just go with it).
  15. Invest in Yourself: At some point in your life, try paying someone to help you get your shit together. Like a life coach or a personal trainer, depending on what exactly you’re working on. (Or a RESUME WRITER! Did you know I do that? Email me! *finger guns*). Alternatively you can get some personal development books from the library. My favorite is You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. Everyone should read that. It’s even better on Audible. You’re welcome.
  16. Do Something Creative: Whatever creativity means for you, do a little bit of that. You like to paint, or make found-word poetry by crossing out words in magazine advertisements, or do complex math problems? Rock on. Work your brain, especially in ways you don’t do in your main gig. For instance, I’m now working as a full-time writer. Writing for fun isn’t always my jam, since I’ve already been staring at a screen for 8+ hours a day. So I go running and occasionally paint! (Is running creative? Yes, if you’re brainstorming).
  17. Be Generous: Whether you donate hours or dollars, contribute to something that helps someone else. Bonus points if you also get to pet dogs while you do this.
  18. PET DOGS: Unless you are allergic or the dog’s owner is like “Please don’t” then find ways to pet dogs and other animals once in a while. It lowers stress. Dogs are so good for you. +1 Good Boy.
  19. Give Compliments: If you see somebody rocking great hair, jewelry, etc., it’s ok to say something! Note: This is generally cool for women to do, but mostly less cool for men to do. It’s not you, it’s the patriarchy. When we can stop worrying about being assaulted for not smiling or thanking you, then we can talk about the equality of giving a compliment. 
  20. Get Moving: Exercise is important, and I hope that you find a way to move your body that you can really enjoy and get into. Maybe it’s kickboxing, or running, or yoga. Whatever it is, I hope you feel strong and healthy every time you do it!
  21. Wear What You Want: You want to wear a bikini or crop top or skinny pants when the fashion magazines say you definitely should not be doing so? Wear the thing! Walk tall and proud. You look great.
  22. Trust Your Gut: Your intuition is a powerful thing. If everything seems like it’s logically fine, but you still have the heebie-jeebies about it, trust your gut. It’s almost always right. Or you need a Gas-X. But you’re probably right about the thing.
  23. Don’t Forgive & Forget if You Don’t Want to: Forgiveness is great if you want to grant it, but you actually don’t have to do anything. Some things are actually unforgivable, and I don’t just mean in Harry Potter. Don’t let people guilt you into maintaining a relationship with someone who you aren’t ready to forgive. (And you might never be ready, and that’s okay).
  24. Breathe: When everything feels like it’s going wrong, take a deep breath into your belly, then your chest, then empty your belly, then empty your chest. Repeat as needed. You got this.
  25. Write Love Letters: This doesn’t have to be romantic. It can be a thank-you note, a letter to a family member or friend to let them know you’re thinking of them, or a text to your boyfriend/girlfriend/personfriend to remind them how much they mean to you. It can even be a recommendation of a colleague on LinkedIn – anything that lets somebody know that you value them.

Bonus number 26. This Is Just Beginning: If you feel like your ovaries are crusting over and you’re going to die alone, please try not to roll your eyes when I tell you that there is still time to do things. You are only 25. Even though it has taken 100% of your life to get to 25, you will go so far and do so many things in your life. Twenty-five is nothing. The world awaits you. And you are a blessing, a miracle, and a treasure in my life. You are my number one hero because no matter what life does to knock you down, you get back up with a smile on your face and unconditional love in your heart. Everyone who knows you is better because of you. I hope you know this.

Happy birthday, my darling sister, my best friend, my former-mortal-enemy-turned-buddy. I am sorry about that time I didn’t get sour cream on your Chalupa.

A Choose-Your-Adventure 30 Day Self-Care Challenge

When I usually think of self-care, I think of weekend getaways (which I adore), mani-pedis (of which I have only had one in my entire life), and yoga classes (which are great, but spendy). But I also think of my evening baths “when I make the time” and my morning cup of coffee. Self-care doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t even have to cost much money.

I can more easily identify my ideal forms of self-care when I take the time to understand the choices I make that sabotage my efforts and goals. Like when I stay up much too late when I have to get up early, which in turn makes me skip exercise and reach for convenience foods or go out for lunch since I didn’t have time to pack – thus impacting my budget and my meal plan.

The opposite of this subconscious sabotage is having an evening routine to wind down (an epsom salt bath) with an early bedtime (by 9pm), thereby ensuring that I’m set up to do the things I do in the morning to care for myself.

Sometimes Self-Care Surprises You

I inadvertently upped my self-care game when an item I had been eyeing on Amazon was on sale for Prime Day a couple weeks ago. I bought a hammock for my front porch. The day it arrived, I set it up and spent over an hour in it with my laptop, working on a writing project. I used it every day for a week. Then I didn’t use it for a couple days and really missed it.

Relaxing in my hammock turned out to be what I needed to help me do lots of things, like:

  1. Reduce Distraction: When I am in the hammock, I have to go outside. So I’m not distracted by the TV or the cats getting into things or my phone ringing (when I choose to leave it inside). I do bring my laptop with me, which can be distracting, but not always, because it helps me…
  2. Write: I wrote every day for a week straight, partly in thanks to wanting to get outside into the hammock in the evenings. I always appreciate when my husband wants to spend time in the same room together, working on two different things, but the truth is that even just having him there can distract me, so it’s not always ideal if I’m on a deadline. The hammock allows me to get my work done (while relaxing and enjoying some alone time) so we can spend un-distracted quality time together at other times.
  3. Go Outside: It turns out it’s actually really nice to go outside and get some fresh air. I can even move the hammock around on the porch to get a little sunshine or stay in the shade. Our porch has some bushes in front so I have a pretty view of greenery, and I have a vague notion of getting a hanging basket or two to add some colorful flowers.

When I ordered the hammock, it wasn’t for self-care purposes. But it turned out to be just the self-care I needed. Sometimes I just go set it up for a few minutes to drink my morning coffee, which brings me to my next point.

Five-Minute Self-Care

The biggest challenge when prioritizing yourself is thinking that you don’t have the time. I understand. When self-care is driving to spend the afternoon with a friend, or take yourself to a movie, or go for an hour-long run, or take an evening bath, it seems like self-care takes up a lot of time. Time is something not everyone can spare in their busy schedule.

But what if self-care could take just five minutes?

What if self-care was five minutes you took in the afternoon to savor a square of high quality dark chocolate? It’s the ONLY thing you do for five minutes. That chocolate experience would be unlike the normal one of reaching for a candy bar and crushing it without even realizing it.

What if self-care was a five-minute guided breathing exercise that helps you center and prepare for your workday? Could you do it in your car in the parking lot before you go into the office?

What if self-care was a home-brewed cup of coffee in the morning, made before the rest of the family wakes up and starts needing you? Could you get up five minutes earlier to start this routine?

What if self-care was a yoga sun salutation in your pajamas before you make your bed? Just a quick check-in with your body to let it know you appreciate it and want to give it a good stretch to start the day.

Even people who don’t have time for self-care have five minutes. What could you do with yours?

#365DaysOfHammock

I’m committing to sit in my hammock for a minimum of five minutes per day, every day, for one year. And I’d like to invite you to join me.

Since not everyone has a hammock, the money for a hammock, or the space for a hammock, this is a choose-your-own-adventure self-care challenge. Commit to a five minute something that you can do for a whole year. It can be anything! It can be to read Harry Potter for five minutes a day, or to doodle or color for five minutes a day, or to meditate for five minutes a day.

But please, join me for five minutes. See what life looks like in a year when you give yourself five minutes.

I start my challenge tomorrow, because it turns out that July 22, in addition to being my sister’s birthday, is also National Hammock Day. You can start yours whenever you’re ready.

You can follow my hammock adventure on Instagram when you follow the #365DaysOfHammock tag. Look for me tomorrow!

What’s It Gonna Be?

Share your own five minute self-care challenge choice in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

PS. Mailing List in the Works!

I realize many of you want to subscribe to an email list, which I keep meaning to finish setting up on MailChimp. My goal is to have that set up by the end of July to share with you so I can keep in touch outside the blog!

 

 

 

Food Doesn’t Make You Fat

Whilst I was eating a Lara Bar at my desk one summer afternoon, one colleague mentioned that Lara Bars have nine Weight Watchers points. Another agreed and said that they were a fattening food.

My first reaction was to think (and say out loud to this colleague), “I’m RIGHT here.” As in, “Are you calling me fat?” And then I started launching into an explanation of calorie-dense foods like dried fruit and nuts, why they’re good for certain reasons, and that in the context of a healthful diet and a regular exercise regimen, they’re perfectly fine. Blah blah, the moment had passed. I was slightly miffed, but not really surprised.

Food in our society is demonized and deified. We blame food for our unhappiness and we seek it when we need comfort. We use food to define if we are “good” or “bad” on a given day. Our society’s relationship with food has more than a few issues and a lot of baggage.

To someone with a budget of 30 Weight Watchers points per day, a 9-point snack that doesn’t even provide a meal’s worth of satiety would of course be considered a decadent indulgence, or even “fattening.” It makes sense to point the finger at a food product and accuse it of something.

There are no fattening foods.

As I was thinking about this exchange later in the afternoon, I realized that there really is no such thing as a fattening food. Food is energy for the body. Whether or not you need that energy is not the food’s problem. The food simply exists.

Food doesn’t put fat on your body. Behavior does.

If you eat a few Lara Bars in a day and don’t exercise at all, you are going to tend to overeat (because let’s be honest, they don’t fill you up for long). Unless your day looks like a pile of green leafies alongside your pile of Lara Bars, you’re probably over-consuming.

But if you consume calorie dense foods in moderation (the favorite word of dieters everywhere!) and in the context of a healthful and mindful lifestyle, you’re probably fine.

Being totally clear, I packed a Lara Bar in my lunch every day this week. They are a go-to afternoon snack, especially if I attend a yoga class after work. No way am I commuting home while hangry. I bought an 18-pack at Costco. I love Lara Bars. I also work out 6+ times per week and track my food in MyFitnessPal to make sure my calories stay within a healthy range for my activity level and basic metabolic needs.

The compound effect adds up.

One of my go-to easy reads for personal development and a quick reset for personal goals is Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect It boils down to this idea: your day-to-day actions will add up over the course of your lifetime, even (or especially) small actions.

Let’s say you want to write a book. If you get up each morning and write a page, what will your book look like in a year? If you get up each morning and don’t write anything, what will your book look like in a year? Something as simple as writing one page (or one paragraph, or one sentence) will compound over the course of a year and lead to progress. Even small progress.

Likewise, let’s say you want to run a 5K race in three months. You can either get up in the morning and run (for a mile, around the block, whatever) or you can skip it and not train at all. Which version of you has the better 5K time? Which version of you will up the ante and work harder and smarter over time to reach the goal? The one that’s making any progress at all.

So on and so forth. You guys get this, I don’t need to deconstruct it any further. (But you should read the book, it’s a good read!)

“Fat” is not a bad word.

While we’re here, I want to briefly touch on the fact that fat is just an adjective. Or a noun. I describe myself as fat, and people around me have the instinct to say, “Aw, no! No, you’re not. Look how much weight you’ve lost!”

I know. I am making amazing changes for a healthier lifestyle. I run, I lift weights, I even eat vegetables. But I’m also fat, and that’s okay. It’s a descriptor. Have you seen my thighs? There is some jiggle happening. Because there’s fat on my body. Gasp! 

This is such a touchy subject, and something I hope to explore more in future posts. On the one hand, fat isn’t necessarily a bad word that’s demeaning or mean or hateful. Unless you use it that way. I can describe myself as fat with no baggage attached to it, but if someone said it to hurt me, the intention and impact would go far beyond word choice. Also, being totally honest, I still do have some baggage attached to my body. Lots of body shaming in my past – but I’m recovering splendidly. 

More to come.

The choice is yours.

Think about where you want to be in a year, and ask yourself what small behaviors you can choose that would put you on a course toward this more ideal version of yourself.

If you want to lose ten pounds, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Walk around the block
  • Replace one serving of bread or pasta with a salad
  • Replace one soda per day with a glass of water

If you want to start a blog or website, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Write for ten minutes each morning
  • Journal your ideas before bed
  • Write an encouraging email to a friend

If you want to meet the love of your life and get married, what can you do each day (or more often than not) to get there?

  • Say hello to someone on a dating website
  • Go out into the world and say hello to someone you meet
  • Attend regular meetups for singles in your area

Life is what you make it. Eat the fucking Lara Bar.

 

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.