Monday, June 22, 2015

Back at it

The last several days, I've been focused on getting back on track in all areas of my world. Finance is an especially key one for so many obvious reasons, but fitness is another big one.

I spend much of my time in March-May training for my second half marathon. I was burnt out by the last month or so, and I didn't let myself enjoy it the way I did the first time around. Long runs were a chore, I cut out activities I love for the sake of getting runs in, and I ended up kind of miserable. And to top it all off, the race didn't even go well. After that, I took a bit of a hiatus, and if I'm being totally honest, the hiatus went a bit longer than planned.

Almost a month later, I was feeling sluggish and lazy, and I knew it was time for a change. So last week, I got back on the #freefitness bandwagon, and I'm so glad I did.

technically unrelated picture, but whatevs.
On Thursday, I rode my bike (The Mauve Avenger) to work, and made plans after work to go to a free yoga class on the Boston Common. On Friday, I started off my day with hills for breakfast at November Project, and then rode my bike home at the end of the day - I had left it locked up on campus overnight.

On Saturday, I was sore, but happy. And then I didn't leave my apartment for two days.

I'm going for a moderate approach right now - doing things that sound like fun, and letting myself rest when exercise sounds miserable. I know the baseline I need to maintain in order to feel good and healthy, and I also know that if I push myself just a little, I'll feel like a strong badass lady, and like I can tackle anything. That's the feeling I want, but I can't get there overnight.

That's also the feeling I want when it comes to finances, but again, I can't get there in one go. I need to take my time, give myself breaks and allow myself to have off days occasionally, but generally stick to a plan and keep moving forward. And so far (yes, this is four days later) I am right on track.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Three months later

Did I forget about you, blog? Mostly. Life got busy. I got lazy. Things got off track.

The good news is, one of those things was *not* the payment of my student loans. I've continued to pay $719 per month at minimum toward my loans, and if I'm being totally honest, this is during a period where I let my finances get away from me. Summer has made me want to sit out on a patio with a beer, or go out and get an ice cream cone every day. It's definitely made me more social. If it hadn't been for automating my loan payment I almost definitely would have let myself slide a bit in May and June. Luckily, that wasn't an option. Thanks, past me!

So here we are, getting back on track. It's still early in the summer, and there are still a lot of things I want to do, but I can't keep spending at the rate I have been and expect to come out the other side without a problem.

I'm lucky to live in a city with abundant options for free activities. My plan for the summer is simple to take advantage of them. Most of the activities I want to explore are outside, enjoying the summer weather, and many are fitness-based. I'm already a big fan of the November Project, a free fitness movement that meets outside, year-round, for a weekly dose of sweat and smiles. This summer, I'll be exploring free yoga and Zumba classes, biking alone and in groups, and maybe some outdoor movies to round it all out.

I had a bit of tunnel vision when I started writing here, and I made a rookie mistake - I took on too much, too soon. Now, as with many things in my world, I'm trying to find balance. I want to be able to pay off my loans as planned, but I don't want to sacrifice the next two years of my life to the cause. Life is too short to go without the occasional ice cream cone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Resolution Check-In: February

Does making it through February still thinking about my resolutions mean I'm ahead of the curve? February was, in a lot of ways, a difficult month, but I think I stayed pretty well on track for my resolutions.

Let's take a look:

Get my stafford loans under $9000
I paid a total of $734.33 toward my Stafford loans this month - $35 more than the automatic payment I've set up. Right now, my total amount owed is $19,237.99. With 10 months left to go this year, this feels about right. I'm planning to increase my payments a little over the summer, and quite a bit in the fall. Assuming nothing changes in my income, I should be on track!

Find a way to earn from a creative side hustle
This is crossed out not because I did it, but because I don't think I will anytime soon. It's simply not a priority for me at the moment, and that's okay.

Learn a new skill
The copyediting certificate program I'm enrolled in is going well. Don't get me wrong, the night classes are rough and I'm ready to be done with that part, but it's exciting to be back in a classroom and I'm enjoying the material.

I also took an HTML and CSS Basics workshop that our IT department offered. I wouldn't say I learned too much new information (turns out, I already know a fair amount of HTML and CSS), but it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours practicing.

Don't spend beyond my travel budget
Right on track for this as well. I've continued to contribute to my travel savings with each paycheck, and last month booked my first trip for the summer. It was great not having to worry about where the money was going to come from! I haven't made much progress on planning other trips for the summer, but I'll be getting started on that soon.

Continue tracking expenses in Mint
Done and done.

There we have it! I'll check back in next month with more updates.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Month-Long Experiment: Dining Out

I mentioned in a previous post that I like to have goals of many varieties. One of my most recent goals was to go a full month without spending any money on food outside of groceries. That meant no restaurant or fast food meals, no stopping at a coffee shop for a snack (although I did make an exception for coffee with my pre-loaded Starbucks card), no popping in to 7-11 to buy a candy bar. I didn't do the best job setting up what my rules would be, but all things considered, I think I did pretty well.

Going into the month, I had one planned exception - a coworker and friend was leaving the office, so if a bar or restaurant celebration was planned, I was going to attend. As it turns out, we're still in the planning stages for said celebration, so crisis averted!

Here's how I did:

From January 21 to February 20, I spent $28.59 on restaurants.

February 5 - $19.30 - this was the day before a major event at work, and although I planned to stay a little late, I did not plan on working as late as I did. I took a break with a colleague and went out for Thai food. I knew at the time that I was breaking my own rule, but I felt like it was worth it. Otherwise, I'd have worked for another hour, taken 45 minutes to get home, and arrived at home hangry beyond belief. I'm a delight.

February 17 - $9.29 - my other "failure" during this experiment followed a three-day weekend where I did not leave my apartment. R was on a trip out of state, and we had yet another blizzard so the MBTA wasn't running and I couldn't get anywhere. I didn't really see another human for three days, so when my regular Tuesday night play date rolled around and we were concerned about getting home (neither of us live on lines of the T that were running at that time) we agreed to meet up downtown for dinner. I know we could have brought food and eaten at one of our offices, as we've done in the past, but after three days of solitary confinement, the idea of sitting in a sad dark office eating soup out of tupperware was too much. Worth it.

So, technically, I failed. That said, I did a lot better on food spending than I have in other months, so I'm not feeling too badly about it.


I realized that with a bit of planning, I never need to spend money on dining out. There are certainly going to be days that I don't plan for, but for my regular routine, I can plan ahead and be just fine. I need to stop using "failed to plan" as a legitimate excuse for dining out.

A lot of my social life revolves around restaurants and bars. There were many reasons that this month was isolating. During the month-long period that I was conducting this experiment, we got about 8 feet of snow. That said, even when things were running as usual, I didn't reach out to people to make plans as I didn't really know what to suggest we do. I'd like to work on this in the future - there's no reason that all of my group outings need to take place "out."

Finally, because I did it a lot less often, the two times I ate meals out felt like special occasions, and it was kind of awesome. I didn't grab lunch somewhere and eat it at my desk. I didn't go out for dinner three times in a week and never really enjoy it. Each time I made a special exception to go out to eat, it felt more special.

So even though I may have failed, I learned a lot from this experiment and will be carrying on with limiting my dining out spending.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How do you value time v. money?

For anyone not living in the arctic tundra formerly known as Boston, you may not be aware of how crazy things have been lately. We've received over seven feet of snow in less than a month, and our aging public transit system, the T, has not been able to keep up. I won't speak to the policy and politics behind all of this - I'm not well informed enough on those issues to speak with any authority - but it's brought to my mind a major question: How do I value my time?

Look, snow!

Rewind to Tuesday night.

I live on an above-ground line of the T, and after our most recent blizzard, the above ground trains weren't running. I run-commuted (ran-commuted? ran?) to work on Tuesday morning to avoid dealing with the transit mess, but Tuesday evening I still had to get home, and running again wasn't an option. Instead, I figured out which busses were running and were most likely to get me home efficiently. I walked to a bus stop, waited about an hour for the bus, got on and rode to the next destination where I waited another half hour or so, and finally boarded a bus that would take me within half a mile of my home. All told, it took me close to three hours to get home.

I commute in style
All the time that I was standing in the cold, in the dark, with one very wet foot (I had run to work, so I didn't have my boots and was instead wearing running shoes. Stepping in a freezing puddle in running shoes is not something I'd recommend, and standing outside for an hour after doing so is what most people would call "foolish."), I found myself thinking about time and money.

On the occasions that I've taken a cab home from the office, it's usually cost me about $20. I haven't done this in many months as I've been focused on getting my spending under control, and it hasn't seemed worth it to save half an hour by spending that much. On Tuesday night, though, I think I should have changed my tune. Admittedly, with traffic as bad as it has been, a cab probably would have cost me a lot more, but I also probably would have been a lot less miserable and that is worth something. Actually, I think that's worth a lot.

Let's assume a cab would have taken about half an hour to get me home, and cost $40. It would have saved me two and a half hours. I would have paid about $16 per hour saved. So the question becomes, would that be worth it?

I don't have an answer for you. This is a question that's been on my mind a lot this week. We have student employees in my office who are so desperate to get to work they're paying $60 for Uber rides, when they'll only earn $30 during their shift. We have other student's who've opted to get to work 3 hours early to avoid the morning rush, or who have walked 4 miles through the slush to be on time. None of it is necessarily wrong or right, and after living in this mess for a while, none of it seems crazy to me. It just makes me think.

What is your time worth? These days, I think my time is worth more than $16 per hour, especially if it means getting me out of the cold. That said, I still haven't been willing to bite the bullet and pay for a cab, and the T is slowly returning to normal.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mid-Month Mint: February

Let's take a look at my Mint pie chart for February so far:

As you can see, this month looks a little different than previous months. First off, it's worth mentioning that my student loan payment hasn't happened yet, so that will shift things around significantly. Second, there's a category here that I haven't seen in a while: travel.

I've mentioned a few times that I have a dedicated travel savings account, and this month was the first time that I put it to use, as I booked a cross-country plane ticket for May! I think this was the first time I've booked a trip with dedicated funds set aside to pay for it, and it felt pretty great. I don't have to worry about cutting down in other areas to pay my credit card bill this month; instead I can focus on continuing to contribute to my travel fund for the other trips I want to book and the expenses outside of the literal travel to get places. This feels like a huge step!

Health and fitness also makes an appearance here, as I've signed up for my second half marathon, taking place in late May. It was a less expensive race than my first one, and I think it will be fun. If my travel fund allows, I might even go a day early to the town where the race is taking place to avoid having to rent a car and deal with driving and parking. I'll have to see what work looks like that weekend, but it would certainly be more enjoyable that way.

Food and dining is a smaller piece of the pie this month, as I've been focused on not eating out for any meals - I'll talk more about that in a later post.

In all, February is going well spending-wise, and I'm hopeful that I can keep up the good work!

Friday, February 13, 2015

What I've learned about risk aversion by playing Farkle

When I was a kid, I went to the after school program at my elementary school every day through fourth grade. By the time I stopped going, I was almost always the oldest kid there, so naturally I had developed something of a rapport with the day care teachers. Basically, I was super-cool and awesome because instead of playing tag at recess (I was way too lazy for that), I played Farkle with the teachers.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was learning a lot about myself, and my comfort when it comes to risk.

Farkle, for those of you who maybe think I'm talking about a made up game, is a dice game. Played with 6 dice, you roll at the start of each round - any 1s are counted as 100 points, and 5s are 50 points. For three of a kind, you get 100x that number (three 6s would be 600 points), and there are additional rules that can earn you more points. The risk comes in next. After you've rolled once, you can either take the points you've earned and stop playing, or you can set aside at lease one scoring die and roll again. When you go that route, you can either win big, or lose all your points if you don't roll any more scoring dice.

When we play, R and I play to 10,000 points. I've noticed a few things about both of us in playing Farkle a lot over the past few weeks:

  • We're both pretty risk averse. If we have five dice that we can roll, and we're only gambling 50 points, we'll probably go for it, but if there's only one die left, we'll take the points we have rather than risk them 9 times out of 10.
  • When we're falling behind, we look for big wins. This is probably not the right move necessarily, as we lose a lot of smaller point accumulations in the process!
  • We'll also take bolder risks when we have a comfortable lead, but comfortable means something different to each of us. To me, a comfortable lead is when my score is around one and 1/2 times his!
  • We're both very competitive.
I can't speak to R's attitudes outside of Farkle, but I'd say that mine are pretty much in line with my attitudes in the game. I don't like to take big risks or gamble with any quantities that I'd be upset with losing. I'm a "what if" kind of thinker, and I know that can do a lot to both help and hurt me, in Farkle and in life.

One thing that I can absolutely point to in Farkle that relates to my attitude toward finance is the idea that I want to get as far ahead as possible, as quickly as I can. Right now, that means paying off my loans, but in a couple of years it might mean saving aggressively for retirement or other goals. The more I do now, when I know what my circumstances are for the immediate future, the more opportunity I'll have later on down the road to take reasonable risks. If I have a 8,000 point lead, I'll probably roll the one die left over, even if it means I might not score any points that round.