Gathering News: How Waking Up Earlier Helped Me To Stay Informed Without Burning Out

Sleeping In and The News

I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped listening to the news. It’s not really out of character for me, as I’ve also stopped watching T.V. too. I do watch some shows once and a while, and I read headlines of news stories on my phone, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing both, listening to the news and watching T.V.. I don’t miss it, but this kind of worries me a little. Just because I don’t stay abreast of current events doesn’t mean that they go away. And it also feels good to stay informed. Not just for my sake, but for others as well.

I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the world, but the other aspect of not doing it is, I just don’t have the time. I work two jobs to pay down my student loans and the times I’m not working I’m either cooking for the next two weeks, doing laundry, cooking dinner with family, trying to cram all the tasks I didn’t do during the week into my day off, working out or blogging. It’s amazing how quickly time fills up when you’re busy living your life.

I have another confession to make. On the days I don’t have to wake up at 5:30am to start work, I sleep till around 12 noon and sometimes as late as 2pm. It’s a problem. I think the worst part of me waking up so late is, I don’t really feel that bad about it. Therein lies the problem.

In fact, it wasn’t until I rolled into work 15 minutes late again, and my boss said something about me needing to be on time that I finally felt that something needed to change. You may be asking, how does me being lazy relate to listening to more news? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how I changed both habits at the same time by waking up a little earlier.

Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed? Sleep Less

I was constantly feeling a little tired during the day and not looking forward to certain tasks. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some and I know I’m not alone. My alarm would go off at 5:30am and I would hit the snooze button thinking, “if I can just get 10 more minutes of sleep, then I’ll be satisfied.” But 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes, turned into 30 minutes. I just kept hitting snooze until finally I was showing up 15 minutes late for work almost everyday.

This was a blow to my ego, as I pride myself on my work ethic. I’m usually 15 minutes early to appointments and responsibilities. The times I used to be late for anything were few and far between. So when my boss told me we needed to talk, I knew I had to make some changes.

That Extra Half an Hour Matters

So, I hopped on the internet and started looking up ways to make it easier to feel awake in the morning. The problem I feel I’m having with waking early is, I just need more. I somehow thought, when I was under the impression that I could wake up at a reasonable hour, that my body would tell me when I’ve had enough sleep and that I would wake up feeling refreshed when I met my quota. But the more I slept, the later I would want to sleep. It was a cycle that was feeding into itself, the more I fed into it.

Some of the research I read suggested that I immediately turn on a bright light upon waking up. This sends a signal to our optic nerve that it’s time to start moving and triggers some biological functions in our bodies that help us to feel awake.

I also decided that I wanted to eat a healthier breakfast, without feeling rushed as I usually do. So I came up with a plan to wake a little earlier and start my morning routine off on the right foot. Instead of waking up at 5:30am, snoozing for 20 minutes and rushing to get out of the house, dressed and all my things gathered in 10 only to arrive at work at 6:15am, I set my alarm for 5am. This way I can wake up with ample time to get ready for the day.

Instead of hitting snooze, I get up right away and turn on the light to help my system get acclimated to being awake. I then head downstairs and make my morning cup of green tea and a green smoothie to get something healthy in me to start my day. I can then take my time getting ready for the day while I drink my tea and smoothie, without feeling rushed to get out the door and inevitably bad about being late to work. Win win.

That’s Great On Days I Work, But Can I Still Sleep In On The Weekends? Not If You Want to Stay Up On The News

Short answer, no. Some of the research I was reading suggests that you keep your schedule consistent throughout the week. Waking up at the same time everyday helps to get your body in a rhythm that will become self sustaining. So instead of waking up and wanting to hit snooze, you’ll wake up and feel more refreshed the more often you stay faithful to your schedule. And maybe you’ll just find the time to listen to the news again.

The first day I had off in which I woke early was incredible. The day prior I had slept till 2pm and felt rushed and mildly guilty about the losing so much of the day. I had forgotten about some plans I made with my father to check out the local hardware store to look for lumber to build some raised beds with. So the guilt of missing out on plans, added to the shame of me feeling as though I wasted an entire day and worked to leave me feeling pretty bad about the entire situation. It was not a good state to be in.

So that night I set an alarm for 7:30am, hoping to get a jump on the next day. Things couldn’t have worked out better. I woke at 7:30am, ate breakfast and drank tea, and got started in on my to-do list. I got more done between when I woke that day to the time I woke the day before than I had in the past three to four weeks.

I was crossing things off of my to-do list with excited fervor. I went to the local YMCA to look into a membership, I switched my current credit card to a greener, more sustainable one. I balanced my budget, put my shopping list together and chose recipes for the next two weeks. Blogged for a bit and yes, even listened to the news while I was getting things done. It. Felt. Good.

Okay, I’m Listening To The News Now, But It’s Depressing. Now What?

As soon as I started listening to the news again, I remembered why I stopped listening in the first place. There are so many negative stories happening, that it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed or fatigued by just being informed.

When I was in my twenties, I hopped on the Tom Ashbrook bandwagon and listened to a lot of On Point. I was also watching CNN, listening to NPR and just taking in as much information as possible. I took it to the extreme and my habits were definitely bordering unhealthy. This was also around the time I was mean spirited and forcefully, vocal with my opinions. Not a good combo.

What I’m realizing now is, that I was mean and opinionated to cover over the fear and uncertainty I was feeling while I was taking in all of this depressing news. I didn’t like it, but I chased after it to try and fit in with the image of who I thought I should be. So how am I now reconciling my distaste for the negative bias of the news and wanting to stay informed? Balance.

You Take The Good You Take The Bad…

I first had to find out what my reasons were for wanting to stay informed were before I could subject myself to the negativity that was omnipresent in the world of news. I ‘ve come to the conclusion that staying informed is more than just fitting the image of the responsible man I had in mind. It’s mostly about being support, for myself and others.

Just because I wasn’t listening to the news, didn’t mean those events affecting those whom are closest to me weren’t happening. I’ve come to realize that when I’m actively listening to the news, I can shape my opinions about what’s happening in the world and share them with those close in. We can offer solace to one another when terrible things are happening, as they are with the pandemic and in Ukraine currently. We can plan together when we hear about gas prices increasing or the current supply chain shortages. In short, we can help one another, be there for each other and all thanks to just by being informed.

With So Much Worry, What About The Positive?

But there needs to be some balance to the equation. I’ve recently downloaded an app called “The Good News Network” that sends push notifications with positive or uplifting headlines. This way I can get a balance, with the more sobering news from the mainstream media, paired with the uplifting ones from “The Good News Network”. It’s been a good shift, and really cute at times : )

I haven’t started yet, but my plan is to get my news in the mornings via NPR or a podcast with similar values to stay current, while reading something from “The Good News Network” in the evenings to end my day on a positive note. This way I’ll balance the stressful impact of the more difficult headlines with those of the more uplifting ones.

And there’s also an element of self-care that goes along with listening to the news. No longer will I pump large quantities of negativity into my life without checking in and giving myself the breaks I need from what’s bothering me. I think I used to operate under the assumption that “real men” could handle anything, including listening to an endless stream of horrifying headlines.

Gone are the days where I wallow in the angst and unrest of the world’s pain. Now, if something feels overwhelming I’ll take a break from the news and do some resourcing to help me through the difficult emotions.

Some of the podcasts I’ll be looking into are, NHK’s World News Japan, English News, and Morning Edition from NPR. The NHK network has a different cultural perspective than its American counter parts while NPR speaks to my more liberal-centrist views. Both networks are well respected and deliver quality news stories.

But wherever you get your news from, don’t forget that while you’re in the throws of staying up-to-date on current affairs, it’s okay to press pause if it feels like it’s too much. Listen to some music or just get lost in a crossword puzzle. But equally as important, find a news source that suits your taste. There’s no sense in trying to listen if it’s a chore tuning in.

I hope this has been helpful in some way to those needing a little extra boost to get your day started on the right foot. It isn’t always easy to make changes at first. Especially those that demand a bit of sacrificing your personal comfort. But I think you’ll find that the more you practice these new habits, the easier they’ll become. So if you’ve found yourself in some unhealthy habits when it comes to feeling more apart of the world around you, try these suggestions. You may just end up becoming a morning person : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “The news ticker in Times Square mentions the Occupy Wall Street protest happening on October 15th as protesters gather outside” by TenSafeFrogs is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans, Week Two

Last week I spoke about the situation I found myself in, looking into planning for my retirement while paying down my student loans. This week I’d like to talk about the strategies and accounts I’ll be taking and opening to help detour some of the misdirection I received in my youth. It’s scary to think how much time I’ve lost to just not knowing how to plan for the future. But it’s never too late to start and there’s no time like the present. So let’s jump in.

I’d also like to take the time to state that I am not a financial professional and these are just my opinions of how I’m planning for retirement. If you have any questions about your own financial situation, I suggest you seek out help from a professional financial adviser.

10% or 15% How Much Should I Save?

There are a couple of different views on this front. Dave Ramsey says to save 15% of your annual income after you’ve paid off your debt and set up an emergency fund. While Ramit Sethi suggests saving 10% and doing so while you’re paying down low interest debt such as student loans.

Dave’s rational is that if you’re in debt, then paying into retirement doesn’t make any sense if it means extending the life of your loans and the interest you’ll be paying on them. This makes sense, seeing how you’re not really making money if you’re still paying somebody else at the same time.

But Ramit’s point is valid as well. His angle being that the sooner you begin to invest, the more time you have to let your money grow. And it’s better to start the process of saving as early as possible. So the question remains, should we invest 10% or 15% and should I pay off debt first or jump right in with savings?

Whether you decide to start right away, while paying down low interest student loans or to pay into retirement after you’re done with debt, that’s your call. My take on the subject is, the more I save the better and the less debt I have, the easier it will be to reach those goals. If I can put away 15%, I’m going for it. Hell, if I can put away 20%, even better. But before I go ape shit and throw everything I’ve earned towards retirement, I want to make sure that I’m not spreading my finances too thin by trying to save too aggressively. Also that I’m able to enjoy my money as well.

The goal of saving for your future isn’t only about surviving, it’s about enjoying yourself. Do I really want to look back in retirement and think, “man, I’m sure glad I missed out on all those fun things I could have done instead of saving so aggressively for retirement”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I’m not going to let saving for retirement get in the way of living my life either. Just like most things in life, there’s a balance to be struck.

The Accounts I’ll be Opening

This one was a little confusing for me when I first started thinking about investing. Should I start with an account that is tax deferred, so I’m taxed when I withdraw my money? Or should I open an account where I’m taxed when I make the deposit, and withdraw without being taxed? This all depends on your situation and I suggest that you speak with a qualified financial professional about your options.

But it’s still good to do some research on the subject before hand, so you’ll know the right questions to ask. Dave Ramsey has a good list of retirement accounts and their specific details here on his website. But as for the accounts I’ll be opening, it seems as though most people are on the same page, and me as well.

401k

A 401k is a retirement account that you can fund directly from your paycheck, allowing you to make contributions tax free. The benefits are, your money grows tax free and Uncle Sam takes his share when you make withdrawals. Also, you’re able to contribute up to 22,000 dollars a year as of 2022. You also have to wait until you are 59 1/2 to start making withdrawals or you will pay heavy fees.

This type of account is often offered by your employer. And some companies offer a match up to a certain percentage. This means that the company will offer you a certain amount of money based on how much you contribute to your fund. This may be a dollar amount set by the company, or a percentage of your annual salary.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs or Roth Individual Retirement Accounts, are personal accounts you take out independently, where your contributions are taxed before being added to the fund and are not taxed when you withdraw your money or while your investment is growing. You fund these accounts after taxes are taken out of your pay, unlike a 401k, and are capped at $6,000 annually as of 2022, $7,000 if you are over the age of fifty.

Roth IRAs are good options because they are available to everybody as long as you meet the income requirements. As of 2022 the limit for a single person is under $144,000 a year. They’re great savings vehicles and the sooner you get started investing in them, the better. Also you don’t have to start withdrawing until you’re 72. Unlike the age limit of 59 1/2 for 401ks.

Social Security

Also, don’t forget about social security! Where this isn’t technically an account that you open, it’s something you’ve most likely been contributing to your entire working career.

How it works is, you pay into it by having it taken out of your paycheck directly. Your contributions are listed as the “social security” line on your paystub. When you’re ready to withdraw, which you can start at age 62 to age 70, the government takes the highest earning 35 years or your working history, and averages them to calculate your payout. If you work less than 35 years, the years that you didn’t work will equal 0. This could hurt your total payout when you decide to withdraw.

This link from The Penny Hoarder goes into detail about how social security works and the questions you may have navigating it. It can be deceptively complicated, so take your time and do some research around this subject.

Other Accounts

The above accounts are what I’ll be using, but there are also a variety of other accounts that may be more suited to your situation. For example, if you’re a freelancer, you may want to open up a SEP-IRA. This is a plan for individuals who are self employed or small business owners. If your employer offers a pension, this is also something worth looking into as well. And again, if you have any questions on what’s right for you in your situation, get in touch with a financial planner who can help you make these important decisions about your future.

What’s My Strategy?

So now that we took a quick look at some of the basic retirement accounts and how they work, how do we put them all together to make a comfortable retirement? I’ll walk you through what I’m planning on doing as of now, with my investing. Of course this is unique to my situation so it will be helpful for you to take a look at what’s out there and what works best for you, speaking with a professional when necessary. Hopefully this will help give you some basic info when deciding what’s best for your plan.

And luckily, Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi both seem to agree about some basic money maneuvers when it comes to retirement. Their plans are something I’ve modeled my own after. So if these guys are on the same page, it’s likely that their advise should be taken into consideration. I’d also like to say that I’ll be meeting with a financial advisor once I hit some of my financial goals, to fine tune my plan. So let’s review what I’ve come up with.

Step One: 401k With a Match

The first step I took was to see if my employer had a 401k I could contribute to and if they had a match. Fortunately for me, my employer does have a 401k. Unfortunately, they do not offer a match. If my employer did offer a match, I would most definitely take advantage of this. Reason being, that any match they would give me would be the equivalent of getting free money. And it would just be silly for me to say no to free money. But since they do not offer anything in the way of a match, it’s on to step two for me.

Step Two: Roth IRA

The next step, and the one where I’ll be starting my savings journey is, opening a Roth IRA. You can open a Roth with just about any investment firm or bank. For example, Fidelity has a Roth account you can open with only a few pieces of identification and a bank account with which to start funding it.

As of 2022, you are only able to contribute $6,000 to your account annually and $7,000 if you’re over the age of fifty, incase you need to play catchup for starting late. For me, this means I can max out my Roth IRA contributions with $500 a month. And luckily for me, this fits just inside of my budget for my savings goals with a little extra to contribute to another account. So once I max out my Roth IRA, what’s my next step?

Step Three: 401k, Again?

After I contribute all I’m able to to my Roth, it’ll be time for me to revisit my 401k again. This is where I’ll be putting my overflow from my 15%+ savings goal that won’t fit in my Roth IRA after I’ve met my cap. Allowing my contribution to grow tax deferred is better than letting it sit in high interest savings like a money market account.

My money market account is solely for the purpose of housing my emergency fund and any long term savings goals I have. Such as saving a down payment for a house. And if you still need somewhere to stash your retirement savings after maxing out both a Roth and a 401k, congratulations! Because you are crushing it on your pay rate and planning!

Step Four: Social Security

The good news is, once you’ve established the above accounts, Roth IRA and 401k, by the time you’re ready to collect social security, you’ll be in pretty good shape. Social security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retired individuals. It’s supposed to be supplemental income to your other accounts. And there are benefits to taking out your social security at the later age of 70. So be mindful of how and when you decide to start collecting on all of these accounts. It will literally pay off in the long run.

Some numbers I’ve read are that social security is only supposed to account for 40%-60% of your income in retirement. This means you need a healthy amount in your retirement accounts by the time you start withdrawing from social security. So be prepared and make sure you’re spending time researching what you want your future to look like and how much it will cost to fund it.

Make a Plan and Stay Fluid

When it comes to planning for your future, it’s best to play it safe. Talk with people who know what the market looks like and who have been down this road before. I’ve been lucky enough to have some good role models in this area. One of the most valuable pieces of information being, if you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

There’s a lot of information out there and not all of it good. So be diligent and find some people you can trust to help guide you along the way. Dave Ramsey and Ramit Sethi are two great resources out there for handling money responsibly. Also, The Penny Hoarder and Nerd Wallet are two sites that have a wealth of general information about money matters and ones I visit when I have questions about how accounts, or things money related work.

Knowing we’re in a good place and that we’ll be able to meet our monetary needs for our future is important, and also an act of self-care. Money isn’t the most important thing in our lives, but not being responsible with it can do some serious harm. For example, I just celebrated my 42nd birthday and am $55k in debt. This can be a scary place to be if you don’t have a plan. Luckily for me, there are load of resources at my disposal. And just remember, when it feels like it’s impossible, or your feeling like giving up, know that it’s never too late to start. Just be patient. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Will I be Paying Off my Student Loans When I’m Ready to Retire? What to do About Retirement While You’re Paying Back Your Student Loans

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m in a LOT of student loan debt. I had no idea what I was in for when I started taking out loans for the degree I would eventually get 7 to 9 years after I started. As Melba would say, “sometimes, it’s no easy”. But you’d also know that I’m following the Dave Ramsey method of going all out and paying off my debt with everything I can throw at it.

Fortunately for me, I’m in a situation which allows me to make large payments on my loans. This isn’t the case for everybody though, and I recognize how lucky I am. But I also took out a little more than 2x the average person takes out in student loan debt. No bueno. Also, my situation will be changing soon leaving me with a sizeable amount of debt still to repay with less income to allocate towards it. And with the Biden administration not making any progress towards some form of loan forgiveness, it seems like it’s going to be a long haul.

So with all these financial uncertainties floating around in my life, my question is, “will I be paying off my student loans when I’m ready to retire? ” The short answer, no. Hopefully I’ll have my loans paid in full in the next few years, but this was only possible due to my circumstances being favorable to me paying off debt. I could have easily found myself in over my head with just over 100k in debt, with no plan or financial resources to begin to dig myself out of the hole I dug for myself. Let alone the foresight to plan for my inevitable retirement.

So now that I’m in a place where I’m able to concentrate on my financial situation while making calculated decisions on how to proceed with the future of my finances, what am I going to do with the mess I’ve created? How do I move forward with what seems like an impossible task? Take a deep breathe, relax and take it one step at a time. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. Let me show you what I’ve found.

Some Resources

I’ve just started reading “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by, Ramit Sethi on a rec from a friend of mine and it got me thinking about my situation. His book is a great place to start if you’re looking for a brass tacks way to understand your personal finances. Especially if you’re new to the world of investing and taking care of your future monetary needs. Some of the tools he introduced me to are:

Bankrate

This financial website has a lot of powerful tools you can use to get a handle on your personal finances. They have an array of calculators you can use to find out when you’ll be out of debt, like this student loan calculator. They also have an investment calculator as well. Helping you to more clearly map out your future by showing you how far your money will get you into retirement or while paying back high or low interest debt.

They also stay up to date with the latest news about the state of different aspects of finance. For example, they post weekly about the highlights of what’s changing with student loans. This way you can follow what’s happening with the department of education and if their decisions will effect you in anyway. All in all, a good tool to have that specifically deals with the subtle nuances of the financial world.

Doing Away With Fees

Ramit also goes into great detail about how to choose the right bank for your needs. The main takeaway for me was, pick a bank that’s not going to nickel and dime you to death. I remember having a bank account in my early or late twenties, where it seemed as though I was accruing an overdraft fee almost twice a week. And they really added up quickly at $30 a pop. This was mostly due to having overdraft protection, which I ended up using like a line of credit. No bueno.

Since then, and nearly a decade later I’ve finally got savvy enough to switch to a credit union that not only doesn’t have overdraft protection or fees, but reimburses me for ATM fees I incur when I use a foreign bank’s cash machine. No fees while banking is something that has been long overdue and I’m able to appreciate all the more for having to pay the exorbitant penalties I had in the past.

Credit Cards

When I took control of my finances for the first time about seven years ago and realized the mess I had made, I was more than a little concerned. I’ve said before on this blog, my credit card debt was over $20k. Add that to the rest of my loans and bills and I was just north of $100k. And what really blows my mind is, that I just stumbled my way into that massive hole. How was that even possible?

Regardless of how I got into debt, it was me who had to get myself out. I had four credit cards that I paid off in order of lowest to highest balance. This took a while. “The snowball method” was what I used and as Dave Ramsey teaches, gives you the emotional accomplishment of paying off a balance and the added bonus of adding that minimum payment from the last paid off card to the next one.

So when I started my debt free journey, I had four minimum payments to make while I was hammering away at the smallest debt. No matter which angle I look at it from, it took me a while to build momentum enough to start making real payments on my debt. I believe I started my debt snowball with my biggest payment being around $800 towards my smallest balance. Every time I paid off a card, I was able to free up the minimum payment of the card I just paid off, and dump it onto the next target.

I’m now making close to $2k payments on my loans every month. This is psychologically empowering, to see how far I’ve come from my max payment of $800. But I still have a ways to go. And now I have the past experience, as well as the habits that I’ve been building to consistently pay down my debt. And those habits will help me to save for my future once I’m done giving my money away to other people.

I now have one credit card that I treat like my debit card. I only spend what I know I can pay off at the end of each month, aka what I’ve budgeted for. I cash in on the rewards they give me for using their card and thanks to Ramit’s advice, set my card up to pay my statement balance automatically at the end of each month. So I don’t accrue any interest on purchases made. It’s been working well so far, but I’m ready to cancel my card if things change for the worse. I’m done paying high interest rates and would happily go to an all cash system.

The Plan

So now that I have my finances and spending habits under control, what’s the plan? Well, not a whole lot has changed. I’m still planning to pay off my loans first, throwing everything I have at it. Financially it makes the most sense for me. Until I’m down to zero owed, I’m still paying interest which would be about the same amount I’d be gaining on any investments I’d start. I may switch my loan to a bank with a lower interest rate, but for now, they’re in forbearance due to the COVID relief plan. So until May, 2022 I’m not paying any interest. Bonus!

B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E

So if I’m paying my student loans aggressively, as was the plan since the start, I’ll be able to fund my retirement accounts more fully, sooner. With my current plan, I’ll have my loans paid off in about four years and I’ll be putting close to fourteen hundred towards it each month.

And as I’ve learned with my previous experience of paying down credit card debt, using the snowball method, I can then use those same tactics to start paying myself. First, setting up my emergency fund of six months expenses, and second, maxing out my ROTH IRA contribution and putting any overflow into my 401k through my employer. I’ve built the healthy habits paying off my debt, now it’s time to use those newly acquired skills to make sure I’m taken care of in the future.

And Don’t Forget to Budget!

Above I glanced over a few of the accounts I’ll be using to fund my future. But if you’re like me, and most Americans, you have no idea what these accounts are, or what it means to contribute to them. I’ll be covering some strategies and the accounts I’ll be using in my next post. But for now I’d like to focus on just how important it is to get on a budget and check in with it and how well you’re sticking to it at least once a week.

The $700 Whole Foods Run, AKA I’m going to the grocery, be right back

This was something I said a lot. There’s a Whole Foods about a mile from my house. So inevitably when I would run out of something, I would head down to Whole Foods to pick it up. But while I was there grabbing whatever ingredient I was low on, I would also use this opportunity to pick up a few other impulse items. Candles and essential oil were high on my list of impulse buys (I’m looking at a wooden box full of oils as I type).

Everything was going pretty smoothly until I realized one month, when I was adding up my grocery budget from the previous month’s expenses, that I had spent about $750 on groceries alone! But the real icing on the cake was that this was the second month in a row that I had gorged on my food budget. No bueno.

There were a few contributing factors as to why I was so over my food budget on a consistent basis. One of them being, going to Whole Foods three times a week to be sure. And I’d like to state that I have nothing against Whole Foods. Their products are high quality and I agree with their values and commitment to organic foods. But I can just as easily get most of the products at its more reasonable counter part for less cash. This just makes good financial sense.

Since my realization of how far I was straying from my food budget, I’ve made a few changes to my routines. First and probably most importantly, I’ve stopped frequenting Whole Foods until I’ve paid off my student loans. As I’ve said, I like the store, but as Dave Ramsey puts it, I’m broke. I can’t afford to shop there.

Second, I shop twice a week at the more reasonable grocery store in my neighborhood. Shout out to Market Basket, whose selection is amazing and matched only by their prices.

Third, I’ve upped my food budget. I was trying to live off of $200 dollars a month when I first wrote my budget. This was nearly impossible. Upping my spending in this category allowed me the freedom to buy what I needed without feeling defeated every time I would inevitably go overbudget.

I also check in with my budget once a week, usually more, to see how I’m progressing in the different areas of my spending. This is a step that is crucial in keeping yourself accountable for sticking to your budget. For instance, it’s the 9th of the month right now and I only have enough for one big shop left. So I know that I need to rely on the food I already have in my pantry to help stretch my grocery budget a little farther.

Wrapping Up By Checking In

These quick check ins are invaluable to helping you stay on track with your budget. So set a plan, follow through and check in frequently. Next week I’ll be covering some strategies to help you navigate the waters of retirement. Though I’m not a professional, these are just my opinions of what I’d like to do to plan for my retirement. It seems a little scary and overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics, you’ll see there isn’t much to it. And if you can develop some healthy savings habits, you’ll be well on your way to a comfortable retirement. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Money” by Digital Sextant is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

So Fresh, So Clean: Natural Cleaners to Keep Your Home Tidy (And Smelling Great:)

I was looking up ways to make my own yoga mat spray a few days ago and finally landed on this video from Yoga with Adrienne. She uses witch hazel and essential oils to make her spray and I thought, “I should be taking this off the mat”. Maybe not that spray exactly, but I’m sure there are ways I could be making eco-friendly cleaners for my house.

I’m already using household items such as baking soda and vinegar to do some of my more thorough cleaning. So naturally I was wondering what else I could substitute for some of the harsher chemicals amongst my cleaning supplies. In the following, I’ll be going over some products, their cleaning properties and a few recipes to utilize these ingredients. Hopefully helping you to make the more natural selection for your cleaning choices.

The Usual, Unusual Suspects

The Basics:

The following is a short list of basic cleaning ingredients you can use to start making your own natural household cleansers.

Vinegar: This is a basic and one of the heavy hitters in your cleaning arsenal. It’s slightly acidic which makes it great for breaking down stains and when mixed with other ingredients in this list, such as baking soda, it’s a great tool for cleaning up tough dirt and grime around the house.

Baking Soda: Sodium bicarbonate has long been used to absorb odors and clean messy surfaces. And when mixed with vinegar, not only does it do a thorough job of cleaning up messes by acting as a mild abrasive, but it also leaves behind what amounts to saltwater. How much more natural can a cleaner be 🙂

Lemons: Speaking of natural, this article from A Taste of Home says that lemons are a natural disinfectant and due to their acidic nature, are great at fighting stains. You can use them on anything from disinfecting your compost bucket to cleaning wood surfaces mixed with a little vinegar, warm water and castile soap.

Castile Soap: Castile is a soap made from vegetable oils. This article from Very Well Health says it’s safe enough to use as on your produce while also being able to be utilized as an all purpose cleaner as well. This versatile soap is cheap while being safe and effective on just about everything from shaving cream to washing your dishes. Pretty impressive for a simple soap.

Salt: Bacteria and other forms of microscopic life aren’t able to live under the harsh conditions that salt creates. So bacteria and viruses aren’t able to grow or survive on its surface. It can also be used as an abrasive while cleaning. And don’t you just feel cleaner when you get out of the ocean after a soak?

The Essential Oils:

Below I’ll be listing a few of my go-to oils for cleaning and listing their basic properties. Not only will these oils leave your home smelling fresh, but they also have antibacterial and antiseptic qualities as well as other cleansing characteristics that will keep your home clean and bacteria free.

Tea Tree: This industrious oil covers a lot of ground. As well as being known as a fungicide it’s also an antimicrobial, antibiotic and antiseptic. It has a strong pine like scent and can be overpowering if you use to much, so be sparing.

Lavender: Lavender oil not only has a soothing effect on our emotional states, but it also acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antiseptic and disinfectant. This oil has soothing floral notes, subtle and airy with a shade of green.

Lemon: Here’s another citrusy oil that’s packed full of cleansing properties. It’s most common trait may be of disinfectant, but it’s also effective for its bactericidal attributes, as well as antiseptic, anti-fungal, and antibacterial. Plus it smells great to boot!

Eucalyptus: This oil has equally as many cleaning properties. Some of which are, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, antibacterial, antibiotic and antiviral. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most used ingredients in cough drops. One whiff will clear your senses with its slightly mentholated scent.

These are only a few of the oils that are available to use for cleaning purposes. I referenced Lather Lass for this short list of cleaning characteristics of different oils. But there are about 150 listed on their site and worth taking a look at if you’re interested in learning more.

Some Recipes

Now that we’ve gathered the essentials, here are a few recipes to utilize them in your cleaning routines. The recipes are pretty basic, which is good knowing that you don’t need to be a chemist to naturally and effectively clean your house.

All Purpose Cleaner: Let’s start with a basic. An all purpose cleaner that is safe for most all surfaces is a simple combination of water to 1 teaspoon of castile soap. Pour them into a 16oz spray bottle, put the lid on and shake. This cleaner should be safe on wood, tile, metal, glass and painted surfaces. For an extra boost of antibacterial or anti-mold cleaning properties, try adding lemon or tea tree oil to your cleaner. Or both! about 10 drops of each should be sufficient. If you use lemon, you’ll also be disinfecting as well!

Bathroom Cleaner: This combination of 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar, 1 teaspoon of castile soap and 10 drops of lavender oil, does a thorough job of cleaning all the crevasses that could be harboring bacteria in the bathroom. Thanks to the acidic nature of the vinegar and the disinfecting properties of the lavender, your bathroom will not only be spotless, but have a soothing scent as well.

Baking Soda & Vinegar: Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. when the two are combined, they create a chemical reaction that is a powerful cleanser. Baking soda can be used on its own as an abrasive. And the acid in the vinegar works to dissolve the stain, breaking it down and allowing it to be washed away. You can use this cleaner on tough stains in the kitchen, bathroom or anywhere you find stubborn areas that accumulate dirt. For example, it could be used to remove stains on the wall next to your coffee maker. Or that dingy area in your bathtub that doesn’t seem to lift no matter what you throw at it.

Simple Cleaning Hacks

Using these simple ingredients above, you can clean most everything in your house. Below I’ll be listing a few ways of incorporating them in your cleaning routine to make your place shine. Let’s start in the bathroom.

Bathroom:

You can use baking soda to clean your toilet bowl by putting a cup of the powder in the bowl and scrubbing it with a toilet brush. The abrasive properties of the soda will scrub your bowl clean.

And to remove tough soap scum from your bathtub or kitchen sink, make a paste with baking soda and a little bit of water, rub it into the dirty areas of your wash bins, around the bottom where the tub may be a little discolored from the soap scum buildup. Then rinse with vinegar and let the two foam and dissolve while cleaning as it dissipates. This should leave your surfaces refreshed and sparkling.

If you’re interested to go a little deeper in your bathroom, this article from Real Simple has a great layout of how to clean it from top to bottom using natural cleaners. And it’s where I learned how to clean your toilet bowl with baking soda. Def a recommended read.

Kitchen:

The kitchen is where I spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning and just plain living. So naturally this room has a high priority on my cleaning list. These simple tricks will leave your kitchen looking its best.

If you have a large, wooden cutting board on your countertop, try sprinkling it with coarse salt and using the cut half of a lemon to scrub the board clean. The lemon and salt help to disinfect the board while the salt also acts as an abrasive to scrub tiny bits of stuck on food off. The lemon also lifts odors left over from veggies like onions or garlic. Leaving your board fresh and clean.

If you use cast iron in your kitchen, salt can help to get rid of some of the tougher bits of burnt on food on your pan. You can also use a wooden spoon, or they also make bamboo scrapers for just this purpose. rubbing the pan with salt to lift the rest of the oils and food debris while wiping it down with some olive oil will help you to avoid having to wash your pan with soapy water, which could strip the pan of it’s seasoning and do damage to your pan. Also, FYI never leave your cast iron pan soaking in water! They will most definitely rust and it will happen much more quickly than you expect.

Speaking of soapy water, you can use castile soap to wash your dishes. Mixing them with either lemon or eucalyptus oils to help disinfect while you scrub. Win, win.

General cleaning:

If you have hardwood floors, it can be difficult to get the dirt that builds up in the corners of heavily trafficked areas. By using warm water and vinegar, you can loosen the ground in dirt from shoes and general use that slowly builds up. It will also leave your floors looking refreshed. It may take a few passes so be patient, and don’t forget the elbow grease! Perhaps one of the best cleaning tools in our belts ; )

For cleaner air, try burning a beeswax candle. The wax releases negatively charged ions into the air, which attach themselves to positively charged particles like dust and pollutants. So the candle is literally cleaning the air you breath while it burns.

And finally, this isn’t necessarily a cleaning hack, but it helps to make me feel more at home. Using an essential oil diffuser can help to create a calming atmosphere to match your clean house. One of the elements for me that makes a house, feel more like a home. A friend of mine’s mother puts essential oils in her vacuum air filter. So while she’s vacuuming, she’s also freshening the air, leaving the room feeling a bit cleaner.

There are loads more cleaning tips out there for sure. If you have any that you swear by, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. Cleaning isn’t always easy to do. Especially if you already have a full schedule and responsibilities that need your attention. But a well maintained house is satisfying in its own right.

Being organized in your surroundings, helps you to bring order to what’s happening inside as well. So burn a candle, put some music on, grab a cup of herbal tea or a glass of wine and appreciate what you’ve done for yourself. After all, cleaning your surroundings is another way to practice self-care. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Dishes Cleaning supplies” by wuestenigel is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reigning in Your Grocery Bill While Taking Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. Actually, I’m still struggling a little bit. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered the topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been focusing on my budget a bit more closely and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low, but I don’t eat a ton, and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ll spend upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look into my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above, “Shopping from Your Pantry First”. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I know I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I still spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So why was this so?

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child when it came to me learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, trastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now, but when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

After I decided to take the deep dive, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping and how frequently I was shopping there. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entres.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store when I work my long days. These along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work will cost less than the frequent trips to local drug stores.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week and doing it solely at Whole Foods. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month at the less expensive grocery store at $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not to Belong

Now that I’ve decided to change my habits, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in that category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s just like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop and Shop that is equally as close and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting, or shop in line with my ideals.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about spices is, that for the most part they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months and add a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world and spices seem overwhelming, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking should be a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new to you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

And finally, here is a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary journey. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

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