2013 In Review

Every year, I like to go over what happened over the last 12 months and see if the things that I have done/am doing are helping further me down the path to my long term goals of saving more money and living a more sustainable life. I’ve been doing this for a while (since 07) but have been putting them on this site since 2010. (to read previous years, here’s 2010, 2011 and 2012). Looking back, I’ve come quite a long way from that first update in 2010. I had 50k+ in consumer debt at the time, with hardly any savings. I’ve worked hard since then and my finances have taken quite the turn, as you’ll see below.

If you’ve never done a review of your year but are curious, I’d encourage you to do so. It can really help take the guessing out of where you’re going and help identify priorities. I like to start out by listing my priorities, then looking over my assets, debts and spending. Places where my spending doesnt match my stated priorities are problem areas that I need to work on for the next 12 months. For instance, one of my priorities is travel, and sometimes I end up spending more on dining out over 12 months than I do on traveling. Obviously that means that while I tell myself that travel is a priority, I get lost in the day to day temptations of dining out and dont have as much cash as I’d like for travel. So, if you’re looking to do a review yourself and dont know where to start, shoot me an email and I’ll help you out – keep in mind they dont have to be anything complicated. With these processes, it’s more important that you start them than what they look like. Of course, they will evolve over the years and that’s to be expected, but you cant compare where you are to where you were if you dont know exactly where you were.

This year started off great, with a successful elk hunt (after many tries) in January. I really enjoy hunting, as it gives me a chance to get outside and see some great country. I am not always successful, but when I am I get pretty cheap, very high quality grass fed, free range, organic meat. Even though my wife is a vegetarian, it’s a nice way to lower our food bill throughout the year. In February, I was able to take a little down time with my dad and go to key west. Below is Ft Jefferson, Probably the worst fort in the whole country.

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We went on a fishing trip and even caught a few mackrel, but unfortunately I left the bag of fish at the airport on the way to fort meyers dunk city. In march was more downtime for me, mainly to catch up watching basketball and the NCAA Tournament while my wife took a break and headed to the Carolinas with family. Work continued on the house up to this point, but by march we were almost fully finished with the main parts of the upstairs (bathroom, bedroom and kitchen).  Work on the house continued through april (and still continues to this day), and there wasnt much that we did (aside from make our 12th mortgage payment). In may, H and I both ran a half marathon, which was a great time but had  brutal 1k+ feet of vertical ascent over the last mile or so. I also had a good time planning and attending a bachelor party for a good friend in vegas. June brought summer into town full on, and my wife worked hard on the house while off work, and I trained for the death race in my spare time. I worked to secure media mentions, and made sure that I was physically and mentally prepared for what I was about to go through.

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I didnt finish the race, and I’m still kind of annoyed by that fact, so I decided to sign up again for 2014. Above is me and a few other racers (and a support crew guy) at around 8am, 24 hours into the race.

In the second half of the year, my wife and I spent our first anniversary camping around alaska. We were able to make most of the trip cheap, but ended up spending a bit more than anticipated over the last 2 days of the trip, crimping our budget.

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Above is me on the glacier bay tour boat, at our destination (What I think is the Johns Hopkins Glacier)

However, higher than normal spending in july led to the lowest spending month that we have had since we bought our house – which is a good sign for the future. It was heartening to know that we could get so low and neither of us felt like we were missing out on anything during that august. September was another big month for us, as we found out that my wife was pregnant, and later confirmed (after many jokes by me) that we were having twins. After spending over a year trying, and most of 2013 trying hard and going through a lot of testing, it stuck. Naturally, both of us were (and still are) very excited. October brought the financial bloggers conference, which I was able to attend and ended up winning a plutus award for the “best green/sustainability” finance blog. Also in october, we told our friends and families that we were expecting, which was oddly nerve-wracking but mostly exciting. In november we hosted thanksgiving, and december we will be traveling and trying to relax and prepare for the new year.

On the personal side, this year was good for H and I, and we are excited to tackle the challenge of raising 2 kids together next year. I am looking forward to it.

Finances

H and I started to focus on the financial side after we wound down the house work. Last year, because of all the house repairs that we did, our income was only 2% larger than our expenses. Obviously, a lot of that extra spending went to the house, but it left us in a rather precarious position that neither of us wanted to be in. We were able to limit the losses early on, then once projects got finished the amount of money we were spending on the house started to get limited by gift cards, then went to zero in october, november and december. It’s crazy how much my finances have changed since 2010.

Back in 2010, I had 7 different debts, and all of them were consumer debts. Student loans, credit cards and a car. Now, I havent paid interest to a bank for a credit card for years, own my truck (and H’s car) and have 6500 left in student loans – a far cry from the ~$55,000 that I owed back in 2010. This year, H and I decided that we should switch credit cards (we’ve been using the same points earning card for ~2 years). We looked at what else was out there and eventually switched to a new credit card with a different bank. Now, after we have switched credit cards, we are still earning points, just in a different program. I really like credit card points because we pay off the cards every month.

Of course paying off debt was hard. It took a lot of work and working 2 jobs for 18 months, but I can say from (almost) the other side that it was 100% worth it. Now, we are focused on building up various savings accounts and saving for retirement. Here’s where we stand at the end of the year:

Total Debt

Windows: Like planned, we took out a 0% note to replace almost all of the windows in our house. We got the 0% rate for 12 months, and paid the loan off in about 5 months. At this rate, I’m kind of kicking myself for not just doing the last 14 of the windows in the house. Total paid off in 2013: $7,300

Truck: I bought this truck in 2009 when the world was ending. Thankfully, it didnt, and I was able to get a .9% financing rate on a more reliable car than I had (something I desperately needed because I was driving 150 miles/day). After focusing on the credit cards, I made a point to pay off this note early. The balance of this note was $4,380 in january, and was zeroed out at the end of april. Total paid off in 2013: $4,380

Student Loan: This one is really starting to annoy me, and I’m happy to report that we can FINALLY begin to focus on this note. I had the payments at $600/mo earlier this year, but I bumped that back down because we elected to get new windows (far better ROI). This note started at $9,336 in january of this year and unfortunately doesnt go down nearly as fast as I’d like. I’m tired of this loan. Even though I’ve only been out of school for 4 years, it needs to go. I’m pushing for the end of the first quarter, meaning we’d have to pay a whopping $2,180 per month to meet that goal. That could be a bit out of reach, but by the end of the second quarter this should be gone. I’d like it to be gone before the babies get here, which is slated for May 1. Right now, this is at $6,539, and will take a few 1k+ months to slay. Total paid off in 2013: $2,797 (would have paid the extra to get to 3k had I known I would be that close).

House: This is our mortgage. We live in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in an older neighborhood near our downtown. We bought near bottom in the market, and got a rate in the 3% range. As mentioned earlier, we have a 15 year note, and are making payments monthly. As of now, we have not paid any extra on the note. The balance as of january 1 was $119,073. Total paid off in 2013: $5,974

Since we focused on our savings quite a bit over the last 12 months, our overall savings have increased 3x, spread throughout our various accounts. We now have enough for about a 4 months of living if one of us were to lose our jobs (unlikely, but possible), and are planning on building these accounts while polishing off the last of our non mortgage debt (putting us at baby step 6 – 3 years later).

Financially, this was a pretty good year for us – we stopped the bleeding with the house, and started spending way less and saving way more. In real terms, our net worth went up 40.22%, which is a pretty awesome jump, but not unheard of when your net worth is small like ours. Hopefully, there will be many more years like this going forward, though I’m not sure that will be the case as we could see about a 50% income drop in the next 12 months if H decides she wants to stay home with our children (we will be making a decision by the new year).

Health

This is one area where I try to focus on all the time, and end up not getting really anywhere. I’ve been trying to figure out a solid eating plan and decided on one in september. It went well for about 3 weeks, then totally fell apart and I’ve been trying to climb back on the wagon (and subsequently fall off) ever since. I’ve also been meaning to write a post about my failings (and why I think I’ve failed and what I plan to do differently going forward) but have been to embarrassed to admit it to you all (and myself). I guess now it’s time for the rubber to meet the road and time to fess up in a small amount of detail, and start writing the larger (more detailed) post and stop being a wimp.

I’ve never really cared about what I eat – food goes in, food comes out. I’ve always been fairly thin (I didnt break the 100lb marker until junior year in HS). Unfortunately now that I’m getting older, I cant really go to chipotle or qudoba and eat two burritos in 1 sitting (and yes, I’ve done it). Since I realized this, I’ve been trying to put myself on an eating plan. First I tried eating fewer calories and more meals a day (about 5) and that went OK but was a pretty big pain in the ass. I’d always have to remember to have a snack or two prepared to take with me to work, and after a while that just got too cumbersome. It took up too much time, and I wasnt really seeing any results after about 2 months and as I mentioned earlier I thought it was a hassle, so I stopped and decided to look elsewhere.

After a few months, I decided that I’d give the paleo diet a try. Since this was around the time we found out my wife was pregnant, I decided to make the switch and try paleo and stop drinking for a while to help cover up my wife’s non drinking. (Those who are about my age and female will constantly be accused of being pregnant if they turn down a glass of wine – it’s annoying). It went really well for the first 2 months or so, then I hit a few things that crunched me for time and I kind of caved in. It also was getting to be bothersome preparing 2 different meals because of different eating habits between me & my wife.

So in short, the eating plan has not been going all that great, but more to come on that later (including changes made).

Getting to the gym, however doesnt seem to be a problem with me. I’ve been able to consistently head over to the gym at least 3x per week, and have now incorporated 3 days of weight lifting, 3 days of cardio (HIIT training) and a day off. That’s been going pretty good for the last month or so and I dont anticipate many major changes in this area for next year.

Sustainability

This area H and I didnt really work hard in in 2013, as we were focused on improvements on the house. Thankfully, that didnt mean that things didnt get done and that we didnt decrease our resource usage over the course of the year.

Unfortunately with the move, we lost our compost bin and I have not made time to make another one (I’m also having placement issues with H, so those need to be resolved as well). Despite the loss of a compost bin, we were still successful in the “outside” arena of sustainability, and I was able to build a pretty nice garden over the summer. I planted mostly tomatoes and peppers, but a few eggplants and other odds and ends as well. Our harvest was pretty good, and I learned a lot so that hopefully yields increase for next year. Since the garden went so well, H is letting me expand it by a few square feet for next year, so I’m looking forward to that. One of our favorite things to do in the late summer was pick some tomatoes and basil for the garden and whip up a nice margherita pizza for friday night. Unfortunately, that was about it for our efforts outside this year. Next year, I’d like to get the cold frame set up and the garden expanded, as well as a compost heap.

Inside the house though, we are working hard to reduce our energy and gas usage. We got an energy audit done by the local utility, and they told us what areas to focus in to increase our efficiency. Not suprisingly, the house needed insulation (and bad) so we had r60 sprayed into the attic, and r13 sprayed into the walls. That cost us about $1,300 after all the utility rebates, and has already started to have an effect. We had 8 days in a row where the temp never got above 0 degrees recently, and our bill was under $150 – something we never managed in the colder months of last winter (which didnt have nearly as long of a cold snap). The insulation has been very effective, and our heat is no longer escaping out our attic. Great win for saving money and lowering your resource use!

We also got some new windows. Since there were 20+ windows in the upstairs of our house, we were not able to replace them all but we did get most of them. We even took out a 1 year,  0%  interest loan for them, breaking my hope of no new debt just to get the house a bit more efficient. We have since paid the note off, and now will be saving to replace the last of the windows upstairs, as well as the ones downstairs. Like the insulation, those new windows helped quite a bit keeping our energy costs low last month, and will help well into the future.

In addition to the insulation, we have been upgrading our lights from the old incandescent to LED every time a new light is put in or when an old light burns out. It’s kind of lame going to buy a light fixture for the hallway and have the light bulb cost almost 2x what the fixture does, but with such a low operating cost and long life, I dont mind paying the extra cash. Our goal for the house is to lower our fixed costs as much as possible wherever possible, and even though the light bulbs seem insignificant every little bit helps. Our energy usage has gone down since we moved into the house and most of it is because of upgrades that we have made. At some point (probably pretty soon) we are going to get the energy use so low that we will have to stop and focus on another area where we can invest our money to save money and go green, but we are not quite there yet. Of course, sustainability isnt just what we are buying that uses energy – it’s also our daily habits and the products that we use (or do not use).

I still am walking to work every day which is nice and saves quite a bit of money on gas and ensures that I get at least a bit of exercise no matter how bad the weather is. Unfortunately, this habit does not really carry over into my errand running, as I usually drive to the grocery store, the hardware store and other places that I visit semi frequently. This is something that I’d like to change in 2014, and am looking at getting (or making) a bike trailer so that I’ll be able to ride my bike to and from these places and carry whatever I’ve purchased home, which is the main reason that I drive to those places anyway. I also would like to start biking to the gym in the mornings when the weather cooperates, but that only seemed to happen in the summer. I use the excuse that I’m kind of pressed for time at that hour, but usually I’m just being a big baby. Even though I do a lot to try and lower my impact and be more sustainable, there’s always more things for me to do – the best part about them is that they usually all save money!

 

Spartan Blues

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I’ll be running the spartan death race.  Despite the fact that it’s taken up a rather large share of my time since then, I’ve been fairly “mum” about it on the site.  I’m not exactly sure why I havent written much about it, other than the fact that as of right now, my training is simply working out every day.  Mostly, I didnt want this to turn into a death race blog, because there are tons of those out there already (I read them on friday nights – for real).  However, I’ve lately been feeling like the workouts that I do are not going to be enough, and it’s starting to bother me.

This race is meant to be a physical, mental challenge and mindfuck.  They publicly tout the fact that only about 15% of the entrants finish the race each year.  When I signed up for the race, I pretty much knew where I’d stand – in the 85% that would get their race packet stamped with DNF (Did Not Finish).  I’m dont think I’m some sort of workout god or anything like that, nor do I think that I’m some sort of superhuman, so I simply trained for 5 months, resigned to the fact that even though I was training, I wasnt going to finish.  The worst part about that is that there was most likely nothing that I would be able to do about it either.

Unfortunately, this developed a poisonous attitude within me during my training.  All of the sudden I began to make excuses about skipping certain exercises while at the gym, in the interest of “time”.  I told myself that I’d do the sit ups and push ups at home, so that I could get out of the gym on time and get to work.  I mean, what difference did it make anyway?  It’s a virtual certainty that I wasnt going to finish the race, so skipping out on a few sit ups wasnt really going to matter in the long run, right?  That logic has been very pervasive, as well as very damaging to my training.  With the results pre-ordained, it gets difficult on a down day to even bother trying.  As I’ve been noticing, this is very common with large, seemingly insurmountable tasks.

This race isnt about finishing or about getting to the top and checking something off of a bucket list.  This is about life.  How you handle adversity, what you do when you’re unsure of things, and breaking limits that you never thought existed or have never bothered to test.  Knowing that I’ll come out of this with something that I cant get anywhere else is assuring, but isnt going to change my attitude now.  Lately, I’ve been pushing myself even more as the race is getting closer, and I’m still having trouble breaking out of the attitude.  Somedays it goes well, and others not so, but still I keep going.  After a while, it hit me – this is just like getting out of debt.

At the beginning, I was very gung ho, and was able to pay off all of my credit card debts and one of my student loans.  From there though, the initial excitement and “can-do” attitude waned, and I fell into a few year long slup with my debt repayment.  I never added new consumer debt  (not counting mortgage) but I didnt make significant progress on the debt that I had already.  After a long spell of not doing much, I slowly started to focus on student loan number two, and was able to get a few wins and feel successful after that.  Once that happened, I decided to make one last push and get it paid off once and for all.

That taste of victory continued, and after a quick slowdown because of cash flowing our wedding expenses, H and I got back on the wagon and started hammering down the truck, which I paid off at the beginning of the month.  This win has ignited both H and I, and we will begin to attack the student loan with the vigor that we attacked the truck, and that I attacked the credit cards with back in 2009 and 2010.

With the race, I’ve been conditioned to fail.  I dont know what’s going to happen during or after – all I know is what’s happening before the race, and I dont mind it so much at all.  It’s easier to stick with what I know than push myself outside my boundaries, which could be fraught with risk, uncertainty and potential failure.  Who wants to experience that, right? No one likes to fail.

The same thing happened with my debt repayment.  Everyone told me at the beginning that debt was just something you lived with and tried to manage.  You couldnt be totally free of debt, you just had to watch the amount that you had and try and keep a lid on it.  You needed debt to buy a house (not totally true, but it helps), you need debt to buy a car (not true) to live your day-to-day life (not true).  I’d been conditioned to accept debt, but to try and keep it at a manageable level.  My dad even told me this when I told him that I was trying to pay off all my debt.  On the side of well managed debt, I was conditioned to find it acceptable, because changing that would take a lot of hard work, and uncertainty and sacrifice during the debt payoff period, and fear about what was going to come after.  Then again, I’d made my wishes of being debt free so public, I’d have to come back and explain to everyone that I failed, and they were right and living debt free was not possible.

While I dont know the outcome of the death race just yet (but I can guess) – it’s nothing more than that at this moment – a guess.  I can absolutely go there and tear it up, or I can break my ankle getting off the plane in vermont and not even start.  But there’s one thing that I do know: No one can stop me from trying but myself.

The same goes for you and your debt.  You may be facing a mountain of debt yourself, living paycheck to paycheck and feeling comfortable about your situation.  If you are, and you feel like debt is something that you can never completely eradicate, then go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing – that’s more than fine.  However, if you’re willing to sacrifice and work hard the common logic of debt needing to be managed does not apply to you.  You can be one of the many that is afraid to try, content with the way things are going for you or you can be one of the few that is curious about what’s on the other side of debt, and do anything in your power to get there.  No one but you can stop you from trying to pay off your debt.  You also dont need anyone’s permission to pay off your debt, you just need  a plan and some spare cash to start.

You most likely cant pay off all of your debt in 1 day, 1 month or even 1 year – it took you a lot longer to build it up than that.  Get ready for a long, hard slog and a lot of sacrifice.  But I promise you, it will be worth it in the end.  I am not even finished with my debt repayment yet, but I’m close enough now that I can taste it.  I didnt make much progress for the better part of 2 years, but I didnt stop trying and my balances kept going down.  When I started, I had 55,000+ in consumer debt, and I made about 32,000 per year.  Things have changed since then, and now I’ve got just $8,800 in non mortgage debt left to pay off.  Despite what everyone says about debt, I’m closer to being debt free (without the mortgage) than I have been since I was probably 19 years old, and it feels swell.

Remember, the things that always make you feel the best (and the best about yourself) require an effort that you’ve never put forth before that point.  I had never made more than $6,600 in 1 year when I started trying to pay off my debt.  I didnt let it stop me and right now, I’m almost out of the woods.  Use the hardest thing that you’ve ever done in your life for motivation, but know this will be more challenging – just not in the same way.  Grab on to the chair you’re sitting in and it’ll be a rough ride, but you’ll get through it, and you’ll be so happy with yourself on the other side.  You’ll also be ready to take on a task that you never would have dreamed of starting before you paid off your debt.  What will it be?

The death race may get the best of me, but it wont be for lack of me trying.

Readers: Have you been talking yourself out of debt repayment for one reason or another?  If not – congrats, if so, how can you get yourself back on track?  How do you treat the naysayers in your life, and how do you deal with yourself when you join them?  

February 2013 Monthly Review

I had a pretty productive and busy february, as H and I worked a lot on the bathroom.  We are now basically able to use everything up there.  The shower, the loo and the sink are all functional, the room just does not have a door quite yet.  We still need to do some work with the door frame (that we dont really know how to do) before guests would feel comfortable using it.  Hopefully we can get the door put on soon.

Debt:

These are all of my debts. Right now, that includes a vehicle loan, a mortgage and 1 student loan. When I started, I had 3 credit cards, 3 student loans and no vehicle loans. Everything that I’m still paying off now (with the exception of the student loan) has been incurred since I’ve tried to become debt free. Funny how that works out, eh?

House

Mortgage $118,001 ($537) – Same monthly payment here.  Approximately half of our payment goes to interest, which I’m oddly ok with.  In normal times of higher interest rates, it’d be closer to 75-80% and we’d hardly be making any headway.  Low interest rates and a low amount borrowed really helped us here.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $9,077  ($134) I bumped this up to 175 a while back, but this is going down slowly.  I think it’s about time I start to treat my debt like the emergency that it is, instead of the waffling I’ve been doing since 2010.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $3,109 ($646): H and I have a goal to pay this off at the end of Q2, and it looks like we are doing just fine.  We are trucking along on this, I sent them a double payment again this month.  As of right now if we keep going the way we are going, it will take 4.7 months to pay it off, so we are going to have to bump that up a touch at some point to knock it down by the end of june.

Total Debt: 131, 504 ($766) – This is a lower per amount reduction than normal, but it’s because of the timing of the mortgage payment.  High, but I’m still OK with it.

Health Goals

This year, I’m working 1 month at a time on my health goals.  In january, my focus was on going to the gym and working out consistently.  That went pretty well, though lately I’ve hit a bit of a plateau that I’m working my way though.  In february, I focused on changing my diet so that I’m eating 6 meals per day.  I’m still adjusting to that, and it’s required some focus.   I need to pack meals & snacks for when I go to work, and I need to watch myself when I’m having dinner out with friends (with middling success, I may add).  In march, I havent decided what to focus on quite yet, but i’ll let you know as soon as I find it – most likely it will be running (though that could prove difficult.

I’m still carrying my pack to work to train for the death race, and I add weight to it at the beginning of every month.  I’d guess it’s about 30 lbs right now, but I’m not sure – our scale at home doesnt work very well.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Workouts: 35

Still didnt figure out a new metric for this, but basically I’m working out in the morning at the gym, and I’m running tuesday, wednesday, thursday, saturday and sunday.  I thought I was going to do a 50k race in late may, but i’m having second thoughts.  I’m not sure I want to beat my body up that much that close to the race, and I’m also having a difficult time training.  Winter here is much worse than it was last year – we’ve gotten lots more snow, and it’s been a lot colder and windier.

2013 Health Goals

Last year, my health goals were the ones that fared the best out of all my other goals.  I was able to keep a consistent training routine from January to mid april, often going to the gym in the morning and running in the afternoon and one day on the weekends, usually amounting to around 10 workouts per week.  Once we moved into our new house though, my plan really fell by the wayside – there was just too much to do at the house, and I didnt carve out time to go to the gym.  Lots of this is obviously my fault, so enough with the excuses.  I was able to get back into the routine in fits and starts once we got back from our honeymoon, but nothing really ever stuck the way that it did early in the year.

After reflecting on the year, I realized that this was probably because I had no goal to aspire to.  I’m well aware that being healthy now and later in life will save me all this money, allow me to spend more time with loved ones in the future and get around better.  Unfortunately, those things (like retirement) are a very long way out, and it’s difficult to set aside time to work on them or deal with them.  I’ve realized that with all my goals, it’s best to have a timeframe to stick to, and for exercise for me it means some sort of race or challenge.  This year, I’ve got a few races planned (though not many at the end of the year) to make sure that I stick to my training plans.

I’ll be running the Wyoming Ultramarathon in late may (it’s a 50k), and in mid june, I’ll be traveling to vermont to race in the spartan death race.  After I heard about the death race 4 years ago, I really wanted to give it a try, and this year I’ve decided to stop screwing around and waiting and just go for it.  There’s about a 15-20% completition rate for the race every year, so odds are I’m not going to finish, but I hope to be in shape enough by the time the race rolls around to be happy with my performance.

Like my financial goals, I’ve broken the main goal (the death race) down into smaller things that I need to do every day, every week and every month to get ready for it.   Here’s the list:

  1. Carry my pack to work every day.  Early last week, I filled a backpack with a bunch of heavy objects and have been carrying it around when I walk to and from work.  Right now, the pack weighs about 25 lbs, and I’m hoping to increase the weight to 40-50 pounds gradually.  There’s nothing really in the pack but heavy stuff, so this should be relatively easy.
  2. Take the stairs at work every day.  Once again, another daily goal.  I work on the 4th floor, and the walk with the pack gets a tad tiring when I’m all the way up at the top, but it’s getting easier every day to walk up the stairs.  Hopefully soon I can be running up the stairs with my pack!
  3. Follow my gym routine.  I’ve developed a specific plan for each day of the week with what exercises that I will do.  I think this will work better than last year because last year I did what I wanted and ended up really neglecting my deltoids/hamstrings workout because I thought it was an annoyance.  This year, I’ve got a workout for each day, and all I have to do is roll out of bed and head to the gym.
  4. Run 3x per week.  At the moment, my 50k training program has not kicked in (it will at the end of the month) but right now I’m trying to run about 10 miles per week (with my pack) to prep for both races.  I have a schedule for my 50k training, and I havent decided if I’m going to run all those runs with the pack or not yet though.
  5. Change Diet.  After about a week of this program, I have noticed one thing: I’m starving all the time.  I’m eating more for breakfast than normal, eating a snack before dinner and more food at lunch and dinner, and I’m still hungry.  I dont know what the deal is, but I’m pretty sure that something’s got to give with my diet.  I have never really tried to change my food intake in my life, so there is going to be a lot of learning going on here before I figure out what exactly I’ll be doing.  I’ve looked into a few programs, but I think I need to eat 5 meals per day instead of the normal 3, with reduced portions.  I’ll let you know what I figure out though.

This may seem like a lot of goals, but unfortunately it will only get me through mid year.  I’ll probably take the end of june and some of july off from running (but still go to the gym) and re-assess at the beginning of Q3 how I’d like to finish out the year.  There is a winter death race, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to do that or not.  There are always other races that I can do that are much shorter and require less training, but I’d have to look into more of those as time goes on.  Right now though, I’m set until mid june and will re-assess later.

Readers: What are your health goals for this year?  How specific are they, and do you have a plan to complete them?  

July 2012 Monthly Review

 

Debt:

This has been up and down for a while, but now that we have closed on the house it’s going to shoot up – I’ve also got a bit more on my credit card than I usually do, which I’m hoping to get most back because of (another) tax mix up.

House

This account has not yet shown up in my online banking screen, so I cant really monitor it quite yet, which is frustrating.  I’ve put in a request to have them add it, but it’s still pending.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $ 10,584 682 ($98)  I’ve increased my withdraw off of this account, and am pretty happy with the result of that so far.  It’s nice to at least see the balance go down almost $100 every month (no real benefit, all psychological).  This will come to recon after the truck.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $5,918  +14: I’m glad that I do these reviews or I probably would never have caught this.  As you can see the balance went UP between june and july, and it took me a few seconds to figure out why.  I made a second full payment towards the end of june because I had some extra cash, and they took that as the payment that was due in july – while I wanted the july payment to auto-withdraw on its own, like it always has.  The payments will start back up regularly in august, so I think I’m just going to let this ride.  I dont really want to add another thing to my list of “stuff I need to mess with”, so I’ll just continue

Total Debt: 16,502  This does not include the house but is still awesome.  A long way down from where I was in at 56,500 in December, 2009.

Health Goals

Continued on a streak of epic fails for this, actually.  H and I did a lot of walking on the honeymoon, but I dont really count that as exercise.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Workouts: 0

Food Challenges:

This month, in an effort to save some money and start eating what food H and I have, I started a Meat Challenge.  This has gone well, as we havent really bought any meat for quite some time, and our grocery bill has reflected that.  I got my new hunting tags in the mail for when I was gone (Im going for 2 antelope, 1 deer and 1 elk this year) so I will probably continue this on into next year as well.  If I fill all these tags – possible, but i’m not counting it as likely, we will probably need a chest freezer or some sort of deep freezer.

The Grocery Store Challenge has been a bit harder to pin down.  H is on summer break right now, and she has been doing most of the shopping, whereas when she’s in school, I usually do it.  She’s bought some things that I may not have bought, but stuff with the house has been so crazy that when we go to the store the mindset is “what can we cook with in our current situation” , and not really worrying about much else.

We are back now, and dont really have any pending travel plans (though we will need to make a visit to upstate new york sometime between thanksgiving and christmas.  Other than that, it will just be time to get everything in order and focus!

How was your june?  Did you make any debt progress?  Are you trying to complete anything else this year?

 

6 Lessons I Learned from Training for A Marathon

As of Sunday, My marathon is less than two weeks away.  Running a marathon was something that I listed in my 2012 goals, and slowly but surely I’ve been working to make it happen.  Much like my savings goal, this started with small, consistent progress.  I started training at the end of January (that seems like forever ago!) with a 3 mile run, and last weekend, I completed my longest run of the program, which was 20 miles.  In between, I’d run anywhere from 20-40 miles (or more) per week, typically over 3 days.  I never really felt like anything was out of my reach or totally unattainable, but that’s because the program took me up in steps.

One of the best ways to fail at a goal is to not try, and another great way is to try and do too much, too fast.  There would have been no way I would have kept up my training if I started with a 8-10 mile run and tried to keep going from there with the program.  I would have hated the goal, hated myself for making the goal, and then just to make sure, I would have hated myself (again) for failing the goal.
Lesson Learned: Start small, you’ll thank yourself for it.

Training for this race required a huge time commitment (obviously), but it was something that I really had not anticipated as I started.  Once the first two weeks had passed though, I knew that I was going to need about 1.5 hours a day for 3 days during the week, and about 3 hours on the weekend.  Those times ended up increasing as the distance increased, but I quickly eased into a schedule of leaving work having a small snack such as an apple or granola bar and changing into my running shorts and shoes and hitting the pavement.  It quickly became routine and I started to enjoy the runs with H and the dog, exploring the city on foot in what was unseasonably nice weather.
Lesson Learned: If you want to succeed, you have to put the time in to reach your goal.

One of the other great parts about this was that I got to train with H – training is always more fun when you’ve got someone that is working with you trying to accomplish a similar goal (H is doing the  half marathon).  Even though my thoughts about the running itself would be all over the map, I really enjoyed this time spent with H and the sustainable house.
Lesson Learned: Get a training partner – it will keep you consistent and you’ll have a better time.

Unfortunately, not everything about this marathon training program has been sunshine and roses.  Since H and I closed on our house, my training has taken a drastic pullback.  I have been logging everything to mapmyrun, which a pretty sweet website and app for android and iphones.  I have made “house things” a higher priority than running for the last 4 weeks, and have been hardly doing any of my weekday runs, but have managed keep on track (for the most part) for my weekend runs.  It was surprising how easy it was to continue missing runs after I missed that first run, and this week it’s already thursday and I havent run at all.  Early in the program when I was ambitious about the marathon (and afraid of not finishing) I ran in gale force winds, and now when the clouds go just a bit grey, I use that as a handy excuse to not run at all, saying that I’ll make it up later.  Well, later eventually did come, and I had to run 20 miles with what was essentially 1.5 weeks off right before hand.  It hurt afterwords, a lot.
Lesson Learned: Don’t miss a run, but if you absolutely have to, dont keep digging yourself into a hole.

During this whole training period, even though I felt a bit tired after some of the long runs (and sore) and had to squeeze in some of the weekday runs, I never really felt like they were that big of a burden or too much work.  I knew that I wanted to run a marathon, so I just decided to make a plan and go for it.  Never once did it seem like I had to drag myself out of bed to run – when I knew I had the time and had already blocked it off, I was usually pretty amped to go, even though I knew it would be hard.  But, because I wanted to do this pretty bad, it never really got to be something that I ended up dreading doing.  Sure, I ended up sore and tired at the end of lots of my weekend runs, but it was a good tired – one where I felt like I accomplished something that took me 1 step closer to a big goal I have.
Lesson Learned: If you actually want the goal, the hard work you put in wont seem like work at all.

Though I didnt really pick a goal pace until later in my training (whenever I run races,  I always miss the mile markers and dont really know how far I’ve got to go in the race) it has been super helpful in training so far – ensuring that i’m keeping on pace and not going too fast at the beginning or too slow at the beginning and leaving too much in the tank at the end.  This will make sure that I dont get caught up in trying to keep pace with the more experienced marathoners at the race and end up having to cross the finish line in a wheelchair.
Lesson Learned: Don’t worry about what others are doing, focus on doing what you can.

All in all, I’m pretty happy that I decided to take on this goal – it was little more than a 15 months ago that I ran my first race ever (a 5k) and I will certainly be happy that I’ll be able to make this big of progress in my running.  I’m not sure how much running I’ll be doing after the marathon training is over, either.  This summer looks busy as it is, and if the last few weeks are any indication, the answer will be not too much for a while, but I’d like to at least get into the habit of running a few times per week.  One of my goals for next year may be to do the spartan race in vermont, but it costs $600 to enter (!!!) but I’m not sure, and I know I’ll need to be in top shape for that.

Readers: What lessons have you learned from training or working towards a goal for a few months before accomplishing it?  Did you find more value in the process of preparing for your goal, or more value in the goal itself?

The ABCs of Sustainability

Just like everyone, I have trouble remembering all of the things that I can do in my day-to-day life that will help me become a more sustainable person (and help me save money or get healthier).  To help me out, I developed this post – sustainability from A to Z.  Here you’ll find tips beginning with each letter of the alphabet that can help you out in your day to day life.

A is for Air Dry.  Lots of dishwashers have a heated dry cycle that uses a lot of energy.  When you have dishes in the dishwasher, typically you’re not in dire need of something that’s in there, so you won’t need the heated dry to speed things up.  You can just turn off the dry cycle all together and let your dishes air dry in the dish washer.  If it turns out that you do end up needing something, just open the dish washer and pull it out and dry it with a towel.  Air Drying dishes can help you save money by using less heat when operating your washing machine, and  can help you save the earth by using less energy.

B is for Buy Used.  Buying used is a rather simple process:figure out what you need (or want)  and find a store that sells it used.  You can check local antique or consignment shops in your area, your local craigslist, or even ebay.  Don’t worry if you think that what you’re looking for is too off of the wall or crazy, sites like ebay have everything.  Buying used can get you what you need for cheaper (and possibly better quality) than buying new, and you’ll keep something out of a land fill as well.

 

C is for Clothesline.  This is probably one of my favorite sustainability tips as everyone who wants to can do this (even you’re apartment people!)  Many of those in homes can easily string up a clothesline or may already have one that just needs repair. H and I had to make our own by buying some clothesline string and stringing up a few lines over the corner of our fence.  If you live in apartment, you can always use one of those clothes drying racks.  Clothes dried out on the line smell so good and feel so fresh when they are done too!  You can save money by using less electricity, saving wear and tear on your dryer, and you can save the environment by reducing emissions from   your local energy generation station.

D is for Driving.  There are plenty of things that will burn gas at a higher rate than normal, such as constant jackrabbit starts (gunning it off the light) constant stopping and starting, and speeding.  It’s pretty simple to avoid these habits (once you graduate high school) by paying attention to how fast you’re going and watching the lights to make sure you don’t have to come to a complete stop before your light turns green.  Of course, this will help you save gas, which will save you money and will help out the environment by using less petroleum based resources.

E is for efficiency.  Specifically, I’m talking about fuel efficiency.  You know that your commute is going to be X number of miles to work and back home, right?  If that’s the case, then why wouldn’t you want to maximize the amount of miles that your vehicle can operate per gallon of gas?  Well of course you would, because you want to be more sustainable, and you know that getting a more fuel efficient car will help you save money by using less gas than you would with a less efficient vehicle, and will help save the environment by lowering emissions and using less petroleum based resources.

F is for Full.  Many things operate better and use less energy when they are full.  Freezers use way less energy when they are full because the things that are already frozen will help freeze the newly put in things.  Many other home appliances work in a similar way.  Why run the dishwasher or washing machine when it’s half full, simply wait a day or two until you’ve got a full load and you’re on the road to sustainability.  This can help you save money by using less energy (on freezer, dishwasher, washing machine and other home appliances) and saving on wear and tear, and will help you use less energy or water depending on the appliance.

G is for Garden.  Most food that you eat has traveled 1500 miles (on average) to get from the production area to the shelf of your local store.  Clearly that’s a lot of miles and a garden is a great way to cut down on food miles.  Even those of you with apartments can plant a pot full of your favorite herbs like basil and mint and avoid buying some things.  Starting a garden will help you save money at the store by lowering what you’ll need to buy, save the earth by cutting down your food miles, and could help you become a bit healthier by removing additives and pesticides from your food.

H is for Homemade.  For just about everything you buy, you can do it yourself.  People just think that it’s cheaper to buy what someone else has made (while it does happen sometimes, it’s far less often than you think).  I haven’t been into the homemade movement for long, but since I started digging in, I’ve found tons of things you can make at home that I’d typically buy, like dryer sheets, drain cleaner, food, cheese and so much more.  When you make things yourself you can control what goes into the product and how it tastes at the end – and you also get that great feeling of having done something productive that day.  You can save money and the environment by going the homemade route.  This tip provided by staff writer Beatrice.

I is for Information.  The more information you have about something (be it a service or product) the more you can decide if it’s as sustainable as you would like it to be.  Don’t like how many miles your food travels?  Get some information and figure out how you can start producing some of your own food.  There’s plenty of ways to become more sustainable, you just have to look around for them. Honestly, I didn’t know you could make your own laundry detergent, dish soap, etc until I started this site.  This can save you some money by cutting down costs of things you’d normally buy but start making instead, and can help save the earth (and your heath) by using less toxic ingredients.

J is for Join. If you look at the definition of join in the dictionary here is what you will read, “ the shape or manner in which things come together and a connection is made;  make contact or come together.” Use this to your advantage in living sustainable. See if there are community programs you can join that work on green projects, like community gardens for example. Or, join a Community Supported Agriculture Progam (CSA) and use it to source your fruit and veggie groceries. Or, bring your friends together who think like you and ‘come together’ to form an environmental advocacy group. The sky is your limit when it comes to connecting with the planet.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

K is for Knowledge.  There are a ton of things that you can learn about from a sustainability perspective.  You can learn about life cycles of products, how things are made and how the inputs used are harvested, mined, or otherwise created.  There is sustainability in each one of those steps, and the more you know about the most sustainable methods, the better you can make decisions on the day to day.  For instance, when I bought laundry soap I would always buy the powdered kind in the box because all of the fancy designed bottles are wasting a ton of space in the truck.  Less space wasted = more room for product = less trips.  So, there’s sustainability everywhere, you just have to know about it and make decisions based upon what you know.

L is for Low Flow.  Low flow showerheads and toilets are awesome.  Simply purchase a low-flow showerhead and install and it will regulate the water flowing out of the head.  Low flow toilets work a bit different – some use less water per flush and some will have two buttons – one a half flush for number one, and the other a full flush for number two.  You can cheaply lower the water in your toilet by filling a few jugs with water and placing them in your toilet tank, lessening the amount of area the water has to fill every flush.  Low flow treatments can help you save money and the environment by using less water.

M is for Mindful Spending.  A lot of sustainability can be boiled down to resource use.  If you buy things that you don’t need just to buy them, you’re wasting resources.  When you think about what you spend, you’re giving thought to what’s actually going to happen to the item when you take it home.  Is it something like a tiddy bear (full disclosure: I didn’t know about this before I started writing this post) that seems totally useless and will only be used a few times before it stored away, or will you use it a couple of times every week?  Think about your purchases, if you do this, you’ll end up saving yourself some money and stopping resources from being used for no reason.

N is for New Life.  Anything that you feel like you’ve outgrown or no longer have a use for, consider donating to a local chairity.  Even though you may not have a use for it anymore, there very well could be someone who has a need for it and would be more than happy to have it.  This could be anything from movies to books to old clothing.  You’re keeping things out of the landfill helping you become more sustainable and saving the person purchasing it some money because they are getting it secondhand.

 

O is for Overboard.  Don’t go overboard with your sustainability measures needlessly, as it could cost you money that you’ll never recover.  When I was in college we got assigned a task to try and figure out where we would save the most money if we could only replace one incandescent with a compact flouresent bulb.  Obviously, this meant replacing the light that was on the most for whatever reason.  Think about it – should you put the light in a high traffic area like the living room where the light is on 2 hours a day, or the closet in the basement that gets turned on once a week.  You can save some money by not buying needless bulbs and still be exponentially more sustainable.

P is for Programmable Thermostat.  Programmable thermostats operate pretty simply – you tell them what time and what temperature to turn the heat to on any given day and they do the rest.  They take probably an hour to install and cost about 50 bucks, but can easily make that back during the winter, and then some.  Once you’ve got this done, you can sit back while it saves you money and helps out the earth by using less energy than  you would if you heated/cooled your house when you were not going to be there.

Q is for Quality.  One of the most important things I have discovered on my eco-living journey is the importance of quality over quantity.  I have discovered, in terms of food, I prefer an approach that is less about how cheap and easy to make the food is, and whether or not the food is of good quality. Quality over quantity, in this sense, means going slightly against your natural spending habits, at least on the surface, and embracing an added short term expense to minimize a long term one. Investing in your health and the planet now by modifying your diet to include organic and humanely-raised animal products will benefit you in the future with lower health care costs. It also benefits the planet through sustainable farming practices. Already eat sustainable? Then here is another example.  Think of the consumer marketplace. How many people buy a cheap, plastic item and eventually have to take it to a landfill because it no longer works, or the plastic cracks, sometime not long after they bought the item? The numbers are staggering. Don’t believe me? Go and pay a visit to your local garbage dump. In my experience, not many consumers in general question the quality of the items they buy. They just buy them and forget about the origins of the product, or the sweatshop conditions of those who laboured to make them. It often doesn’t enter into the consciousness of everyday people. Do the planet and yourself a favour and start paying attention to quality over quantity.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.

R is for Reuse.  I used to want to buy a lot of stuff – something for every purpose and something crazy for some far fetched idea I had at one fleeting moment.  Thankfully, I didnt do 98% of these ideas, but a lot of people do buy a lot of stuff for one reason or another.  Eventually they’ll tire of the item and will be willing to sell you something perfectly good for cheap, or even better, FREE!  Of course, this doesn’t have to include a friend – you can find something in your house that you no longer use and re-use it for something different.  It doesn’t have to serve its original purpose, it just has to serve a purpose to be reused.  You can turn old shirts into dishrags, hand down clothing to younger children or just about anything else you can think of!  This will help save you money by preventing you from buying things you don’t need to buy and will keep stuff out of landfills by extending the lifetime of the product.

S is for Shower with a Friend.  We increasingly hear about water and electricity becoming increasingly scarce while subsequently increasing in value.  Rolling brown outs in the northeast a few summers ago and a quick look at the water resources in Arizona are no longer isolated resource deficiency stories – the problems are getting larger and more wide spread.  Solution? Shower with a Partner!  The dial on your water meter (if you don’t have one now, you will …) will slow and you will save electricity heating (and keeping warm) a large tank of water in your basement.  That and the quality time with your partner – can’t put a price on that!  Tip provided by Simon at Sustainable Personal Finance

T is for Trees.  Who doesn’t like trees, right?  They are there when you need them to sit under in the shade on a hot summer day and they are there to fall on top of your car when the snow comes too early :).  In all seriousness though, trees are great for saving energy in the summer – they can protect your house from excessive heat by providing shade if they are planted nearby.  This will help you save some money on electricity costs and help the earth by planting trees to fix nutrients into the soil and remove CO2 from the air (you can also solidify your sustainability cred by taking a photo of yourself hugging said tree).

U is for Utility Usage Data.  Some utilities providers don’t offer this yet, but some do.  You get a website to go to that will tell you how much energy you’re using and at what time of day.  I think some of them can even tell you what appliance is using the energy!  Knowing all this information can allow you to tell the utility companies to cut power to your house on days where they have high demand (usually in the summer when lots of air conditioning is turned on).  This can save you some money because you’ll be using less electricity (and some companies give rebates for joining a program like this), you can also help the environment by delaying (or preventing outright) the construction of a new power plant, and reducing all the not-so-great things that comes along with new power plants.

V is for Vampire Draw.  I’ve talked about vampire draw a bit before, but for those that missed it: it’s when something is plugged into the wall but not connected to something charging on the other end.  One of the common culprits is cell phones – you leave your charger plugged in to the wall, but carry the phone with you.  The charger will still draw energy.  Obviously, this won’t cost you a lot of money but waste not, want not, right?  This will help you become more sustainable and save you money by saving you energy and lowering your electric bill.

W is for Walking.  All throughout high school, I thought that you had to drive everywhere.  When I got to college and my dad said I couldn’t take my car, I quickly learned I didn’t have to drive everywhere.  Once I started walking everywhere I had to go, I realized how much I enjoyed it and wanted to do it after I left school.  Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way for me right away, but after switching jobs, I’ve been able to walk to work for 9 months.  I’d prefer never to drive again.  This helps me save money on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle, stay healthy by getting you to walk more, and be more sustainable by driving less.

X is for Xeriscaping.  Xeriscaping is mostly done outside, and involves planting plants and native grasses that would naturally grow in your area anyway, to reduce water use.  Native grasses and plants are used to the conditions and won’t need any special treatment, making them fairly hard to kill if you’ve got a black thumb like me.  You can save some money and help the environment by using less water – gotta love 2 birds with 1 stone!

 

Y is for Yearn. When we yearn, we have affection for; feel tenderness for something. Yearn for our home, our planet. Be eager to experience mother nature’s beauty; to connect with her on a deeper level. Look around you and see what she has to offer- how beautiful she is. One of the ways I do this is by camping. I pack my tent, hike into the forest and escape into the wild. I listen to the sounds of the breeze touching the trees. I see the birds and squirrels playing. I awake to the brightness of the sun. I soothe myself to sleep with the glow of the moon. I take in the peace of the fresh air and heal myself with the silence. I yearn for my home.  Tip provided by Miss T from Prairie Eco Thrifter.
Z is for Zero Waste.  While this may be out of reach personally (but maybe not!) lots of events are beginning to head this direction.  I have been to multiple events that have forks, cups and spoons made from corn products, plates made out of recycled paper, and composting for food and paper waste.  While I personally don’t think they can get to absolute 0 waste, I’m glad they are trying.  Even though you may not be able to get to total zero waste in your household, even trying will help you become a far more sustainable person.  You can help the earth by looking at the whole lifecycle of your purchases, and figuring out what you’re going to do at every step.

Well there you have it – 26 sustainability tips.  Do you have any that I left off?  If I get enough tips in the comments I’ll put them together for another post.