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So I haven’t touched this site in awhile. I find that when my life is full and I’m feeling satisfied and fulfilled that my creative juices flow a little bit more slowly. I interpret that as a good thing most of the time.
My life has been pretty great for quite awhile now. It’s not without it’s ups and downs. In fact I’ve experienced kind of a major downturn the past few months. Not that anything is inherently wrong, per se, but heightened stress levels and major bouts of imposter syndrome tend to keep me up at night.
I think I’m over the hump. Though sometimes I worry that I’m not over anything, but am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. A very rough period of double digit months a few years ago affected me more deeply than I realized at the time and I still sometimes deal with the fallout.
But I’m not here to talk about me today. I’m here to talk about Anthony Bourdain.
I fucking HATE the public pile-on we do when a celebrity dies. Pretending we all know a person because his or her work meant something to us.
But dammit, Bourdain was different.
And do you know why?
Because to me his legacy isn’t food or a TV show.
His legacy was seeing the humanity in people.
He was the real deal.
He admitted his past equal opportunity assholery and for the rest of his life vocally called out the misogyny in his industry. He didn’t just visit the places he traveled to, he saw them. When the world ridiculed a nice elderly woman from middle America, he fucking. published. her work. Plus, he HATED Henry Kissinger with the fire of a thousand suns – something this particular gal of indigenous persuasion truly appreciates.
True ally-ship. That’s what Anthony Bourdain was to me.
He had the power and the privilege to be an asshole if he wanted to, but instead couldn’t help but see the humanity in this world and give voice to it. Sure, his style was DGAF off-putting to some people, but he never seemed to treat those with less power and privilege than him with anything but the utmost respect and interest. In fact, he seemed to reserve his real disdain and judgment for the ridiculous aristocratic bullshit that permeated his industry.
Some people have the ability to make everyone they meet feel interesting and important. I believe Anthony Bourdain was one of those people. I envy him that trait. And to me it’s not surprising that he was fighting some demons. In my experience it’s those who are struggling who have the empathy required to view others with grace.
After a consultation with my doctor about my lousy digestion, I started Whole 30, which eliminates many known gut-destroyers. Namely legumes, dairy, sugar, wheat, grains, alcohol, and probably grain alcohol, etc.
I can eat vegetables, fruit, meat, and some nuts.
The saving grace is that I can drink coffee.
It’s been two weeks and I’m doing well sticking to the program, though I ate out a few times and I can’t be positive there were no hidden issues even though I stuck to healthy in-plan options.
I’m wondering if there really is something to that whole “there’s a certain diet that corresponds to your body type” thing because eating high protein and low dairy/grains has definitely made me feel loads better. I’m, like, 25% less puffy.
Hopefully this total elimination and subsequent reintroduction phase will do what it needs to do because I really want to eat cheese again. And yogurt. And rice. And crusty baguettes like the ones that were staring me in the face at Georgetown’s French Market this weekend and why did I even go to torture myself???
The problem with thinking you’re eating healthy is that inevitably every bad decision catches up with you. The problem with actually eating healthy is that when your gut rebels you can’t be sure of the reason.
A few weeks ago I went to the doctor because I had a spate of meals that ended with me curled on the bed in severe pain. The doctor suggested an elimination diet in order to see if the problem persists, and, if not, reintroducing known problematic foods to see which one may be causing the problem.
So I’ve been subsisting on meat, vegetables, fruit, and not much else. Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, but I am probably never going to eat an egg again after this is over.
I’ve been writing love letters to yogurt.
And then today the pain came back after breakfast. So I had tea for lunch. Because it hurt too much to eat.
I suppose this is just another facet of attaining physical health this year.
I used to be a runner. About 5 years ago I regularly signed up for 5Ks and two very memorable times ran half marathons. The Napa to Sonoma half was memorable because wine. The Wisconsin half was memorable because hypothermia blankets.
Then I got sick and fell out of habit.
Well, I’ve decided that one of my physical health goals this year is to run again regularly. So I’ve been using the C25k app to get back into fighting form. Week 1 was a breeze as was week 2. I guess walking so much every day pays off in some way.
Week 3 was a little more difficult, or, at least, boring. Running a little bit longer wasn’t so bad, but it was harder to keep my mind off of it. I start week 4 tomorrow. Let’s hope boredom doesn’t get the best of me.
In somewhat related news I did manage to make a kick-ass running playlist on Spotify. Check it out and let me know what must-have tracks I’m missing.
As I watch my little orange kitten separate a stack of boxes with his paws and attempt to shred every one with his little tiger teeth it occurs to me that everyone’s gotta have a goal. Otherwise, what are we living for amirite?
Well, this year is the year of physical health and in order to properly track my achievements I gotta start with a goal. Four of them to be exact. In no particular order are 4 attainable, measurable goals I’m setting for myself this year.
Run A Race Again
I miss running. I stopped after my surgery and inexplicable knee injury. It’s far past time to get back into it again, and I’m already way ahead of you so don’t worry. I just banged out Week 1 of Couch-to-5K and am looking forward to dominating Week 2. Turns out walking 3+ miles per day helps build your endurance, which reminds me of my next goal…
Commute on Foot at Least 4 Times Each Week
I live just over a mile from work. Last summer we spent so many days in the 90’s that it was a little too easy to jump on the bus in the morning and skip the exercise in favor of air conditioning. This year I’m laying down a very public commitment to walk at least 4 days a week rain or shine or debilitating heat and humidity. I kind of hate myself already. But this may just be the impetus and motivation I need to hit the gym in the morning before work. Cuz imma need a shower after this commute most likely.
Dedicated Workout (beyond walking) at Least 4 Times Each Week
What I’ve found over the past 2 years in DC is that walking everywhere is not the sure-fire recipe for weight loss now that I’m in my 30’s as it was in my early twenties. Metabolism is a bitch. So I’m going to plan for an actual workout 4 days per week, whether that’s a run, weight lifting, yoga, kayaking, hiking, softball, or some other scheduled physical activity. I’m not looking to Crossfit, I’m just looking to be a little more consistent in regular exercise.
Finish that Damn Canister of Protein Powder Already
I bought a canister of protein powder awhile ago and barely consumed any of it because it just seemed like smoothies were too difficult, the blender was so noisy, then I got a kitten and didn’t want to scare him with the noise, and the ice cubes were too big to fully blend, and on and on. If I’m going to increase the exercise I need to fuel the body and protein powder is the easiest way to get a punch of muscle building superhero strength. Plus, I needed one more goal to round out this post and this seemed like a funny one to add.
I’m going to be blunt. Not because I particularly like sharing every detail of my life (despite the evidence of this blog suggesting otherwise), but because I hope the steps I took to gain financial health may help others who are struggling. It’s not easy to admit that I didn’t always have my shit together and that I’ve made some mistakes. I wasn’t one of those people who was born knowing about amortized assets. And don’t be fooled into thinking I had this all figured out from the start once I decided to turn a new leaf. It took a lot of trial and error to get to this level of comfort and it’s still a struggle sometimes…I still make mistakes. But I hope that if you’re someone who struggles with managing money that even doing one of these steps will help you begin to feel less stressed. So here goes, in no particular order, 7 Steps to Financial Health:
- Get a New Job
- Automate Your Budget
- Get Free Money
- Your First $500, $1,000, & 3-Month Emergency Fund
- Pay Off Debt
- Get a Second Job
- Diversify Your Funds
These posts are an archive from March 2017, and I hope they give you a few ideas to help you reach your financial goals. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not a Wall Street tycoon. I didn’t retire at 30 with 3 million dollars in the bank. I’m just a normal person doing the best I can with a few extra tricks up my sleeve.
And speaking of tricks, I came across a new Free Money app that may also be of benefit to you. Do you like to work out? Are you a runner training for your next big race? Do you track your health in a fitness app? Then Achievemint might be a good fit to help you easily earn a little extra beer money by doing what you already do. Sign up for a free Achievement account, link your fitness tracker and social media apps, and the rest is done for you. You’ll automatically earn points for the health goals you’re reaching. Sign up using my referral link and we each get 250 free points!
In previous posts we talked about budgeting and how we can save, pay down debt, and contribute money into a retirement account all at the same time. To recap: pay yourself first (i.e. automatic deductions into retirement at least up to company match), then take care of high interest debt first and as quickly as you can while saving a little something. Re-calibrate these percentages as you pay off debt and have more to put into savings.
The next step, once you start saving your first $500, $1,000, and 3-month rainy day fund is to consider diversifying your assets.
If you already have a 401K consider opening a Roth IRA account for a second revenue stream when you’re older. If/when you leave your current organization you can roll your 401K into a Traditional IRA. The difference between the two is that, with a Traditional IRA, the money will be taxed when it’s taken out in retirement. With the Roth IRA the money is taxed now. Depending upon your tax bracket now and your projected tax bracket once you retire, it may be in your interest to tax the money you’re saving for retirement now. The idea is that you may not be in a top income tax bracket now, so there’s a benefit to paying at that lower percentage. Either way, it’s always good to diversify your assets.
Now, there are a lot of unknowns here – how your money will grow, what income tax bracket you’ll be in when you retire, what inflation will look like, etc. And this is my disclaimer that I’m not a certified financial planner and any investment you make comes with risk and zero guarantee that you’ll make any money. But in my humble opinion it’s good to not have all of your eggs in one basket. This may not be something you can do right away, but it’s worth considering if you have extra money in your budget. My bank, for example, requires at least $500 to start an investment account. I used an old Traditional IRA I had from a previous job’s 401K rollover. I simply converted it into a Roth IRA and, like my initial savings account, I just transfer a small amount into it every month until I have more in my budget.
Turns out you don’t need to be a bajillionaire to invest some cash. I’ve mentioned this before in another post, but the only thing you need in order to make your money make more money is an app called Acorns. Acorns takes every transaction you make with a registered card/account and rounds it up. It takes those extra pennies and invests it into their fund. I started last June and have received, over that time, a 5.18% return. Not too shabby. That app also allows you to divest any time. It’s an easy, mindless way to save an extra thousand a year, and if you use my referral link to sign up we both get some free cash.
If you’re just starting to save, then building up your emergency fund should be your first priority. However, if you already have a solid emergency savings consider diversifying your automatic deductions into multiple savings accounts. Keep building your emergency to equal 6-months of expenses, then consider the big ticket items you’ve always wanted to afford – a new car, a family vacation, a new house, etc. Chip away at that goal by opening a second savings account and diverting some of your budget there. Just like your first savings account it will start slow, but build up bigger when you’re not paying attention.
In the last post I talked about setting up your budget so that you can save for retirement, build an emergency savings plan, and pay off debt all at the same time. What I didn’t mention is that when I have a plan I am a very impatient person. And even with my budget designed to do all three magical things at once I wasn’t paying off my debt as quickly as I would like, which led me to…getting a second job.
The real reason I’ve been able to save so much money by not going out as much is because I don’t have as much time to go out since getting a second job. To be honest, I was just getting sick of chipping away at my debt and I wanted to get it over and paid off as quickly as possible. I considered several options until I got a kitten, and then I wanted to find something where I wouldn’t have to be out of the house 12 hours a day. Luckily, it was just around this time last fall that I started following The Penny Hoarder on Facebook and learned about opportunities with Appen Global and Leapforce. Both of the opportunities are very similar, but I ended up going with Appen because they contacted me right away and the on-boarding process only took a few weeks. For comparison, I only heard back from Leapforce about a month ago and their compensation was 25 cents less per hour than Appen is paying me.
So what’s the job? My official job title is “Social Media Evaluator,” and while consultants sign an NDA when they start – so I can’t reveal too much – I’ll share what’s in the job description.
Basically, my task is to help “improve the relevancy of the newsfeed for a leading global social media client.” It’s pretty easy and somewhat mindless once you get the hang of it. You can be contracted for 1, 3, or 4 hours a day for 5 days a week. Appen provides a training program (unpaid) and will test you on your ability to follow the guidelines before you begin work. If you can consistently meet their standards, keep pace, and fulfill your contracted hours you’re good to go. This onboarding process took me a few hours over one week, so don’t worry too much about that part not being paid.
The only caveat to this opportunity is that you’re technically an independent contractor, not an employee. So while the pay is quite good, you must remember to sock away some of it each month for taxes. I didn’t last fall since I was only being paid the last 2 months of the year, but even that small amount affected my 2016 tax returns. My refund was quite a bit less because of this extra work. On the other hand, if you’re doing your taxes and withholdings correctly you don’t want to see a huge refund every year anyway since it means you’re just giving the government an interest-free loan. That money could be put to better use in your own investments over those same 12 months.
Stepping off the tax soap box now. If you’d like to know more about the Appen or Leapforce opportunities, I’ve linked them above. My plan is to take the next two years and pay off all of my debt solely with this income.
One thing I struggled with when I set up my budget is deciding how much money I put towards debt and how much I put towards emergency savings and retirement. As I said before, I automatically set up my retirement deductions based off my company match. That money leaves my paycheck before I see it, so it’s easy to make a budget without it.
The next thing I did was start a savings account. Knowing I had more debt to pay off I started small each month just saving $50 per paycheck ($100 per month). If I needed to raid it to make ends meet at the end of the month I did (a few times at least), but I kept the automatic transfer so that, eventually, my savings would automatically grow.
Next I tackled my debt. I was able to consolidate my student loans a few years ago when I wasn’t making as much money. My income-based repayment plan, therefore, is not a huge amount each month and my interest rate is low enough that it won’t hurt to keep paying the minimum until I get the higher interest debt paid off. Check and see if your loans can be consolidated if they haven’t been already. And remember, if you set up auto-payments each month your lender may lower the interest rate a bit.
High interest debt, on the other hand, should be tackled as quickly as possible. After your monthly expenses, small savings plan, and any other essentials (e.g. food) put as much of your discretionary income as possible toward getting a zero balance on your credit card. Cutting cable and not going out to eat as much helped me shave quite a bit of cash from my spending (seriously, happy hour is a budget killer). I now put that toward my debt and find I can take a pretty good chunk off the principal each month.
So when you’re setting up your budget and asking if you should be saving for retirement, saving for emergencies, or paying off debt, the answer is, “Yes.” Do all three but change the percentage of your budget you spend on each as you first eliminate high interest debt.
This one is short and sweet, because I covered a bit of it before. Today we’re going to talk about savings and budgeting.
Step 4: Your First $500, $1,000, 3-Month Fund
When you’re making your budget and building in a savings plan it can be daunting to think about starting small and getting to a 3- or 6-month emergency fund. Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Studies show that only 28% of Americans have saved a 6-month emergency fund. If that’s not depressing enough, that same study says 66 million Americans report having no savings at all.
We’re always told that it’s smart to have an emergency fund in case anything happens, but when you’re looking at your paycheck versus expenses it’s easy to put it off in favor of other spend.
The key is to start small.
Sock away $10, $25, $50 a paycheck…whatever you can afford. Reevaluate how much you’re putting away every six months. If your bank offers it, use a service that rounds your purchases up and puts the difference into your account (this would counteract the use of the Acorns app to round up into an investment account).
Work towards saving your first $500…then your first $1,000…then a 1-month emergency fund, and so on. Work your way up to a 3-month fund that would cover your essentials. It may take many months, but you’ll love watching that number grow. This little guy wants to be fed.
If it helps to have an example, you can use my experience. I started my new job by automatically deducting $50 every paycheck into my savings account. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but there were still a few times I had to raid my savings to fix a cash flow problem at the end of the month.
Overall I was saving $100 per month.
Each year I’ve received a cost-of-living increase and raised that automatic deduction by $25 per month. Again, not a lot, but enough to notice the number in my savings account getting higher every time. I even have a chart on my online banking dashboard that tells me what my expected savings will be over time. It’s become a personal challenge to see or beat that number.