Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Letters Vol. 4

Dear Vlogging Plans, I'm sorry I had to abandon you last night. I really wanted to keep our date! But Dr. Magic had to spend a little extra time on me last night (writing beautifully professional notes about my car accident, including using the f-word to describe the state of the car that hit me), and then I had to make a pick-up pit-stop, and then I had to haul my old mattress downstairs to the basement storage area, and then I had to put together my new bed frame, and then I had to fight with 50 pounds of plastic wrapping, and then I had to marvel at the amazingness that is the comfort of my new bed.
Dear Tuft & Needle, Thank you for the new bed, the immensely enjoyable buying experience, the painless pricing, and the promise of decent sleep for a change.
Dear Tuft & Needle Mattress, Welcome home! I've finally upgraded my full to a queen and I'm glad (so far!) that I picked you to be my new Thunder Buddy. Let's make some sweet, restful magic together.
Dear Baby Bro, The fact that you came over last night just to help me haul my old mattress and boxspring downstairs makes me very happy and I love you and thank you for being a good brother to your dear old sis.
Dear Aziz Ansari, Your stand-up specials on Netflix were the perfect soundtrack to my mattress excursions last night.
Dear Nash F.M. Radio DJ, Until you mentioned how difficult it would be to buy toilet paper, eggs, or shaving cream last night, I had totally forgotten it was Mischief Night. I guess I'm #old now.
Dear New Jeep, Your new name is Sirius Black, and I love you.
Dear Chatty Gas Station Attendant, That was a fun game we played after I told you I was filling up my Jeep for the first time. I was expecting it to hurt SO MUCH MORE than filling up my Focus. But it didn't, and you made it the most talkative gas station experience I've had in ages, and for that I thank you.
Dear Half Marathon, I'm still high on you. I can't wait to play again.
Dear Dr. Magic, Three times next week, you say? WELL OKAY THEN.  :)
Dear Girl in My Office Who Moves to Florida This Weekend, Thanks for giving us a reason to have cake at work today.
Dear November, I see you.
Dear Sweater Weather Candle, You are everything.
Dear Everyone, Happy Halloween! What are you dressing up as this year? What are your Halloweekend plans? Hope you have an amazing one!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thanks for the Ride

So there I was. Getting all my last-minute things done so I could head down to my mom's where I was to spend the night before my half marathon. I was on my way to gas up my car and put air in my tires (because for whatever reason, Stella always had a problem keeping her shoes properly tied) when, with a lot of details I'm going to keep off the blog for now, my car is slammed into by another and I am officially in a car accident.

I actually laughed.

Because of course I had just been in a car accident. Why wouldn't I have been? It was just my luck. This car — that already had a scraped up front bumper from a 2013 accident (that was technically "my fault" but still was outside of my control, I'm a good driver I swear), that has been on her way to the great parking garage in the sky as soon as I could get my shit together enough to go car shopping again, that I JUST had to buy a new tire for (after I'd replaced all four back in February), and that I was mere days away from replacing with something new — of course, this car was hit. And of course, this driver was involved in a car accident on top of everything else she has had to stress over and deal with in the past two very hectic, very emotional, very trying months. And of course, it happened the day before my first big race.

Long story short... after seven years of loyal, unflinching service, uncountable bumps in the road (that she navigated like a champ), after thousands of miles, secrets, laughs, tears, trysts, jokes, short stops, long drives, movie scene moments, and traffic lights, I said goodbye to Stella. My first brand new car. My first "all by myself" purchase. The first thing that I could call solely mine, that I earned alone. For years, my escape route, my safe haven, my thinking spot, my sound booth. My girl.
She got me through so much, this one. I had traded in my old, beat-up Honda for my brand new wheels during my first semester of college, and I was in love with Stella from the moment I saw her. Together we carted around 6' high schoolers with their lacrosse gear (my brother and his teammates), brought friends and family to safety after one too many — no easy feat, considering she was a two-door — road-tripped to Cape Cod, Cooperstown, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and all over this great state of NJ. She heard me sing at the top of my lungs, cry my eyes out, laugh my guts up. She saw me fall in love, break up, and fall in love some more. She heard every whispered secret between me and strangers, friends, and loves. The past seven years of my life happened in and around this car.

But in keeping with this year's theme of "change," it was time to let go. Everything has to come to an end someday. This year, I'm seeing more endings — and beginnings — than I have in a long time. I'm an overly emotional person, newsflash I know, and it's hard not to almost feel bad about giving up a car that I've been through so much with. I'm insane, you can say it.

But I guess the best thing I could do for the four wheels that took me everywhere I needed to go, and brought me to this new place I'm in now, the place 24-year-old-me couldn't even see, the place where I'm a different woman than I used to be, the place where so much adventure and even more change lay ahead, more than I'm even aware of I'm sure, is to let her go out in style.

Thanks for the ride, Stell.

And on the note of new beginnings, here's my new addition:
Confession: I've wanted a Jeep since before I had my driver's license. It is literally the only car I've always wanted. (Oh, and whoever said money doesn't buy happiness never bought their very first car equipped with 4WD, heated seats, and remote start just in time for a New Jersey winter.) I can't wait to see where we go together.

One last thing: Since I've found the magic that is the Harry Potter series, (only a quarter through book 6, no spoilers!) I've decided it's right that I spend this time catching up on 15 years of fandom. So I'm thinking it just makes good sense to name my new wheels after a character from the books. I'm thinking Sirius Black, because he's my favorite, but I'm open to any other suggestions. What do you think? (It's a boy.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mile 14

On Sunday, I ran the Oktoberfest Half Marathon in Pennsylvania. In case you're new here, this was my first big race (over 5k). It was also on the 10-month anniversary of my first run. I ran my first half marathon in 2:16:12, crushing my race goal time of 2:30. I'm still flying.
My very first medal!
It was a day 10 months in the making, that I've been training for since I decided to go for it this summer and set a goal I thought impossible even at the time. 

For this race, I decided not to use my usual run tracker (I run with Runkeeper while I save up my pennies for a Garmin.) because I wanted to give myself totally over to the course. Advice from veteran runners encouraged me to leave it on the course, run the mile I'm in, remember that I am ready and trained for this. Sometimes I can get too far into my head, and I didn't want to worry about what mile I was in or how many I had left to go. I wanted to run each mile as it came to me, and finish when I finished.

There were a few mile markers on the course and a couple other dead giveaways so I wasn't totally in the dark. The first few miles were along a paved bike trail through Pennypack Park. The weather was a dream — low 50s and sunny — and the turning leaves gave the perfect colorful cover. We started out with some rolling hills, but nothing that felt insurmountable. I've been running on hills as long as I've been running, so I've come to feel pretty comfortable with them most of the time. 

At mile 6.5 (which I knew from the race info), the halfway point, the trail turned from paved to crushed gravel. There were some rockier sections and I knew this part of the course would slow me down, as trail always does, so I accounted for it when I set my race goal. I made it out relatively unharmed, aside from a small ankle roll that I so very gracefully recovered from and a few stomps through muddy path.

When I came out of the trail at mile 9 and back onto the paved road, I took about a 20-second pause to slam some Gatorade from the awesome volunteers and fix my falling pony. Shortly after this point the course retraced path we'd run prior, so I knew to expect more hills.

After I hit mile 10 (marked on the course), the really challenging part kicked in. Like I said a few days ago, I'd only been able to train up to 10 miles, though I really had wanted to get to 13 in my training runs. (Funny how life doesn't give a damn about your plans, huh?) Those last 3+ miles were the absolute longest miles of my entire life.

I'm guessing it's partly because I had no idea how far there was left to go (although I've gotten pretty good at estimating semi-accurately based on my music), and partly because I'd just run 10+ miles on hills and trail, and partly because the wind was kicking in, but the going got tough. At what I assumed was roughly mile 12 and after I'd climed and descended the biggest bitch of a hill on the entire course, I took the advice of my sweet friend Tracy and allowed myself to walk. I walked for about 30 seconds when another runner who I'd crossed paths and shared some sympathy with earlier came up behind me, said we had only a quarter mile to go and kicked my butt into gear.

Determined to finish strong and give the finish-line photographers my best smile, I picked it up and told myself I'd be there in less than one more song. But... the course was long. Or this guy's watch was way off. We passed each other again later and he said we were already at 13.2, but the finish line wasn't even in sight yet. Of course it's possible that his watch was off, but based on how long it had been since I saw mile 10, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me I ran more like 14 miles. 

Either way, eventually, the trees broke and the path beneath my aching feet turned into grass. The sun was blazing, the crowd was cheering, my mom and stepdad were poised and ready with their cameras as I came flying down the chute. And two hours, sixteen minutes, and twelve seconds after I set out, I crossed the finish line. It's still surreal. I still have to remind myself that after months of training and planning, I did it.

The rest of Sunday was spent hearing my parents gush over how happy they were to see me finish, foam rolling my aching legs, eating all the food I could get my hands on, watching Harry Potter, napping, and soaking in a warm bath of Epsom salts and a few drops of peppermint essential oil (thanks, Trace!). 

So now what? Well, now I rest for a few days. I didn't want to think about this at all before the race, but on Saturday, I was rear-ended in traffic and I don't think I can convince myself any longer that it didn't do any damage. My back and neck were sore as I lay down to sleep Saturday night, and now in the aftermath of the half marathon, I can add a weird knee pain (I've always had bad knees and knee pain isn't really anything new to me, but it's still pain) and a hip pain (bad alignment that I've been working on with my chiropractor for months), both of which are sure to be expected. I did just run a half marathon after all.  :)

Within a few days I'll be up and running again, but I'm taking a break from racing and training for the rest of the year. I did want to try and find a 5k or 10k to race in November or December, but the accident was the last straw for my little car so I'm better off saving my pennies (race registrations ain't cheap!) for the new car payment. But I still have running goals for the next two months and I still love running, so I'm looking ahead to 2015 races already — surprise, surprise.

On my mind already are a 10k in March (the race is a 5k/10k, and the 5k was my very first race ever. I'm trying to start a tradition here!), a half marathon in May, and posssssssibbly a full marathon in the fall, though I may just attempt the half. We have a year to go, so we'll see.  :)

I'm also hoping to add some runcations to my schedule for 2015, maybe even with some visits with Tracy, Kristen, and Lisa thrown in (?!), as I work toward the bananas goal I have of running a race in every state. (Two down, 48 to go!)

So that's where I'm at. I'm ready to set the next challenge and clamor toward it, too. 

What are you training for?
alyssagoesbang
Your turn! Link up your posts below with Tracy and me for the second edition of Training for Tuesday! (ICYMI, find the "rules" here. We can't wait to see how you're doing!)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Next Time You See Me...

When I see you on the other side of this weekend, I'll have participated in my first half marathon. My first big race. My first race over 5k. My first solo race — well, me and about 600 other people, but no running buddy of my own.

I'm not freaking out.

So many of you have been insanely supportive and encouraging since I first mentioned signing up for a half marathon a few months back. I can't thank you enough. You may not realize it, and it probably sounds so cheesy for me to say this, but every single "you got this" that comes my way keeps my legs moving and my breath flowing on a run. Honestly, when I reach the point in any run where I want to give up, most often, it's remembering that someone believes in me that helps me keep pushing.

This coming Race Day will be exactly 10 months in the making. I will run my first half marathon, 13.1 miles, 10 months to the day after my very first run. That day 10 months ago, I don't think I even ran for a full minute before having to stop and catch my breath. This weekend, I plan to run for more than two hours.

I'm nothing if not a planner, so of course you know I have had a list of things to do before Race Day to make sure I'm as ready as I can be, both physically and mentally. Running is hugely mental for me, and I think a lot of runners will tell you that it's often that the mind wants to quit before the body needs to. Gaining control over that is as much a part of being a runner as the physical training.

So far, I've spent some time recalling run memories and Race Day victories and motivational moments that I'll want to use as fuel on Race Day.
I've made my Half Marathon Playlist — it's just shy of eight hours long, so I think that should be sufficient.
I have my Race Day outfit picked out, my list of bring-to-the-race-and-make-my-mom-hold-for-me bag items.
I've had my last short, easy, shake-out run.
There are just a few things left to do:
  • Spend as much time as humanly possible in Legs Up the Wall Pose and Pigeon Pose the day before I race and the morning of.
  • Soak my body in Epsom salts and warm water the day before the race to get the last bits of rage out of my bones and joints.
  • Go grocery shopping for fruit snacks (my on-the-run fuel) (because I'm 5) and peanut butter (my pre- and post-race favorite). 
  • Figure out how I'm going to wear my hair during the race. High pony? Power pony? Pigtail braids? These are the important decisions.
  • Foam roll every last inch of my body from the hip down.
  • KT tape my feet and ankles the day before.
  • Stop sweating for long enough to get dressed in race clothes.
  • This quick yoga practice
  • Torture myself until I'm sure I'm not leaving anything out.
  • Try to sleep for like 10 minutes at least from now until Race Day.
Runners, am I missing anything? Any pre-(big)-race tips? Any sage advice for getting the nerves out? Any songs I need to have on my Race Day playlist?

I'll see you guys on the other side...
____________________________________

PS — don't forget that this Tuesday, October 28, it's time again to link up your training goals, progress, success stories, questions, and tales of woe with Tracy and me on Training for Tuesday! Get the Guidelines for Harmonious Linking here, grab a button, and have a great weekend!
alyssagoesbang

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Winter Reading Challenge: My List

I'm guessing many of you are book lovers, read blogs by book lovers, and are generally familiar with books and reading as concepts. So I'll spare you a long-winded introduction about my 25-year-long love affair with literature (which should be abundantly apparent given that I have a degree in English and work as a writer and literary editor) and just move along to the point.

The second I heard from Kristen that Megan would be hosting another book challenge to last us through winter 2014-15, I was pretty sold. You may know that I'm working my way through the Harry Potter series (for the first time), and when I'm done, I'll obviously need something new to read. I have lists on lists on lists, with no rhyme or reason, which can sometimes make it hard to narrow down the titles and pick something new to read. And on the success of this latest adventure with Harry Potter, I want to try to broaden my horizons again and reach out beyond my typical genre. What better way to do it than with a reading challenge?

Here are the rules for the reading challenge, and here are my picks to be read from 12:00 a.m. November 1 — 11:59 p.m. February 28:

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules.
Leaving Time — Jodi Picoult (416 pages)
  • Usually I buy Jodi's books the day they come out (and read them within the first 18 hours) but this year I was really determined to finish the HP series for the first time in one sitting. I can't wait to finally read this book that is supposed to be amazing, as all her novels are!

10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows — J.K. Rowling (759 pages)
  • I'm anticipating the timeline working out so that I'm finishing the HP series in November, so why not start the challenge off by finally finishing up?

10 points: Read a book of short stories.
Naked — David Sedaris (291 pages)
  • I just love this dude. This will be a re-read (three are allowed) but since I forget whatever I haven't memorized, it should be like new.

10 points: Read a book with a food in the title.
The Ginger Man — J.P. Donleavy (352 pages)
  • This title's on the MLA top 100, another list I'm trying to work through before I go blind.

15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you (so no rereads for this one!).
Vision in White (Bride Quartet Series, book 1) — Nora Roberts (325 pages)
  • I've never read a single Nora Roberts book — I know, lunacy. This series has been on my list, so I'm looking forward to getting through it!

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your native language.
One Hundred Years of Solitude— Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gregory Rabassa (translator) (457 pages)
  • I think I was supposed to have read this in high school, but my senior English teacher was retiring at the end of the year and was pretty much out the door the whole time. I've been dying to get to this one — it's been waiting patiently on my bookshelf for ages.

15 points: Read a book written by a local author (either an author from your state if you live in the United States, or from your country if you live somewhere else).
Jessica Darling's IT List — Megan McCafferty (223 pages)
  • I've been a huge fan of Megan McCafferty (a Princeton, NJ native!) ever since I first picked up Sloppy Firsts as an eighth-grader. I grew up with Jess and idolized Megan, reading everything she's written up until this book. It's a middle-grade YA novel (YA FOREVER!), a prequel to the Jessica Darling series I love so, so much, but if I know Megan as an author (and I think I do) it's just as suitable for a twenty-(or even thirty-)something as it is for a tween. I don't know why it's taken me so long to get to this one since it's been at the top of my list since before it was published, but it'll be a great winter read, along with its sequel, I'm sure. 

20 points: Read a "bookish book" (in which books play an important role, e.g. the setting involves a bookstore or library, a major character is an author, or a book that celebrates reading and books. Examples: The Book Thief, The Shadow of the Wind, The Thirteenth Tale, etc.)
The Book Thief — Markus Zusak (552 pages)
  • I've heard such amazing things about this novel, I can't wait to see for myself.

20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title (e.g. north, south, east, west or any combination of those).
East is East — T.C. Boyle (384 pages)
  • This isn't one I'd heard of before I did some searching for this challenge, actually. But the whole point is to discover new titles, isn't it? Fingers crossed!

25 points: Read a book from a genre you don't usually read.
Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn (560 pages)
  • I don't think I've ever read a book (at least not the whole way through) that classified as a thriller. It's not my style, but I've had plenty of non-thriller-readers vouch for this one and it's time I hopped on the bandwagon, I think.

25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title. Be sure to tell us the song name and artist as well!
Yes Please — Amy Poehler (288 pages)
  • I think Amy is just wonderful and have been looking forward to this book since I heard about it months ago. I can't wait to see what she has to say. (Song connection: Yes Please by Muse)

30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, brunch).
Naked Lunch — William S. Burroughs (289 pages)
  • About time I get around to this one, I think!
Breakfast of Champions — Kurt Vonnegut (302 pages)
  • This will be a re-read, but considering I don't remember it (or anything if it's been more than six months since I read/watched it, unless I have it memorized) it'll be like new. Vonnegut is one of my favorites, and all I do remember of this title is that I found it excellent.

What are you reading? Anything interesting on your list for winter reads? Are you joining the challenge too? I'm always looking for more titles to put on my never-ending lists...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breaking Through

Better late than never, amirite?
Today's prompt for the Runners Tell All linkup is "most memorable running experience."

This is hard to qualify. What makes something the "most" memorable? I don't know. I remember a lot of things, and almost every landmark experience in my running journey, which I'm just shy of 10 months into. That's on purpose: I document things. I do this because I always want to remember the big moments — and especially the little ones that don't seem all that big until you try to look back on them years later.

I remember the first time I ran any distance without stopping to walk. It was 1.5 miles and "my trainer" (a.k.a. former running buddy, the guy who helped me run my first steps on December 26, 2013) and I were ecstatic at the end of it. Until then, I'd have to stop a few minutes in every time we struck out.

I remember my first race. I remember my first five-miler. I remember my first 10-miler. I remember my 5k PR.

But one running moment I look back on so often, particularly when I'm running and my legs feel like they're carrying the weight of the world, or when I'm running into the wind that won't relent, or when I almost stay inside because it looks like it might drizzle, is the first time I ran three miles.

It was January 26, a Sunday. It was late in the afternoon and my trainer came to my hilly old neighborhood for this run. We mapped out a route on the main road, which rises and falls in decent-sized hills like a camelback. Feeling daring — I'm not sure why — and determined, we mapped a three-mile out-and-back course. The longest I'd run to this point was just a little over two miles.

It should be noted that when I first started running, exactly one month earlier, I didn't think I would ever be able to run three miles. My trainer wanted me to sign up for a February/March 5k to keep me motivated; I laughed in his face.

We set out and the snow followed right away. The wind wouldn't give us a break. We made it out to the turn-around, me trucking along at a 11:30 pace, ready to give up around mile two as he charged up the hill. He started to tell me a story to distract me from how cold my face was and that my fingertips were starting to go numb. I begged for a break.

He told me I would get one rest for the whole run — we were already halfway through! — and to use it wisely. I was tempted to use it then and there, but we were about to reach the top of the hill. I know I'd recharge a bit on the downhill and wanted to save my rest, if I needed it, for the next uphill.

Soon enough we were passing the big white planter in front of my old apartment that always indicated the end of a run, and I ran right through that line. I hadn't stopped once. On the course I'd never run before, the hilliest one we could find, with snow and wind whipping into my face the whole way, I'd just run my longest distance, hadn't stopped once, and hit a mile mark one month into running that I was sure would take me a lifetime to reach. I didn't stop smiling for days. My trainer was so proud of me, and I was pretty damn pleased with myself too, if I do say so. It was a small achievement in number, but a huge one in every other respect.

This time next week, I'll have run a half marathon. Thanks to some unrelenting chaos over the last few weeks, I've pretty much blown my training plan. I've trained up to 10 miles (which everyone seems to say is "all you need" to run 13.1) and have felt strong in my long runs. I'm nervous and wavering in my confidence. But I know how to pace myself, fuel myself, and forgive myself (sometimes). And even though the length of this race is more than quadruple the distance I ran on January 26, I know that on race day I'll use that oh-so-memorable running moment to motivate myself. All the way to 13.1.
____________________________________

Speaking of next week, don't forget that Tuesday, October 28 will be the last Tuesday of the month! That means it's time to link up your training goals, progress, success stories, questions, and tales of woe with Tracy and me on Training for Tuesday! ICYMI, here are the Guidelines for Harmonious Linking. Grab a button and share your training stories about your yoga practice, lifting regimen, next race or triathlon, attempt to touch your toes and anything and everything in between!
alyssagoesbang

Are you in?

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Forearm Stand & Other Kick-Ass Things

It sort of feels like ages since I've been here. I guess that's what happens when you pack everything possible into one weekend. And while I missed everyone on Friday, no offense, it was worth it. Because for the first time in weeks, I can say that my weekend finished as strong as it started. You know that lately I've been in kind of a funk and there have been things going on over here that have kept me at Stress Level: Midnight (please get it) but this weekend was finally free from all of that kind of thing.

10 Awesome Things That Happened While I Wasn't Here

1. I kicked my weekend off a day early with a Thursday night happy hour with some coworkers. One of our number will be leaving us at the end of the month so we're trying to get all our laughs and pickle-back shots in with the time we have left.
And we eat and drink like such ladies!
2. My grandparents who I just visited in Cape Cod made a surprise trip down to NJ this weekend and were staying at my mom's house. My friend C and I stayed at my parents' house for the weekend too so I got to spend time with my grandparents, parents, and my uncle and one of my brothers who came down for dinner Sunday. It was, in a word, delightful.

3. C and I stayed in South Jersey for the weekend so we could attend all four sessions of Erin Motz's three-day workshop at Princeton Yoga. I've been looking forward to this retreat for MONTHS and it finally arrived!

4. I got to meet and chat with Erin for a couple of minutes each day, which was awesome. I've recommended her videos to a lot of you, so some of you may be familiar with her teaching style and personality. She's just as cool and down-to-earth and friendly and funny in person and she gave us four really incredible sessions.
5. I got to take a picture with my favorite yogi. #fangirlingtodeath

6. I thiiiink I'm officially one bad yogi. The reason I like Erin's videos so much and wanted to take class with her so much is because her yoga philosophy is so similar to my own, but I felt intimidated by yogis for so many years because it was not a popular view of yoga. Yoga should be for everyone — it's not a secret club or society, you don't have to know everything before you walk into a class, and you don't have to have any interest in drum circles or breath of fire to benefit from yoga. You CAN like those things, of course, but the point is that yoga is for you, and your practice should be your own. That's what I've always believed and that's what Erin teaches. I can get on board with being a bad yogi.
7. Thanks to an errant comment by Erin in one of Saturday's workshops, I totally changed up my pigeon pose and it's working even better for me and my tight runner's hips than it ever has before. Oh my GOD it was life-changing. Or at least practice-changing :)

8. Sunday's session was about arm balances and inversions, and though I've got a great grasp on crow and headstand, I have a certain "fear of flying" when it comes to more complex arm balances and inversions like handstand and forearm stand. I've never attempted handstand as a yogi, and my one and only attempt at forearm stand ended with me nearly clearing the tabletop in my swift tumble to the ground. GUESS WHO HIT BOTH POSES ON SUNDAY? (I did, if that wasn't clear.) They both still need work, but I definitely got strongly into the postures. Highlight of the weekend.

9. After three straight days of intense workshops, new poses, longer holds, and double sessions, I'm feeling the sweet, sweet DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in my abdomen. It hurts, but it hurts so good. It hurts in a way that says I earned it and I kicked ass to do it.

10. I'm halfway through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and it is glorious.

How was your weekend? What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?

{Linking up with Biana}

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How I Do: My Monthly Budgets (Part II: Personal Spending)

So I've shared Steps 1–5 of how I write my monthly budgets, and gave you a basic run-down of my money philosophy. (I should have added a debt-management section to my budgeting post, but I didn't think of it because I no longer budget debt payments in. Want another post on that/how I paid off my CC debt? Let me know!) Today I want to talk about how I come up with my allocated amounts for monthly personal spending. That is, the money I spend after my bills are paid and my basic minimum savings goals are met. From gas to groceries to my extensive legging collection, here's how I budget, part two:
For the purposes of this post, we're going to look ahead to November. I haven't finalized my budget just yet — sometimes the previous month's events inform the next month's budget — but it will be set in stone come November 1. Rather than actual numbers I'll use percentages to illustrate what I'm planning to allot for each category next month, so keep in mind that the percentages used below are percentages of the total amount budgeted in Monthly Spending.

Step 1. Assess my remaining balance for monthly spending. This is the number I come up with after I go through Steps 1–5 explained here; after I budget for rent, utilities, car insurance, cell phone, and minimum savings. Simple pimple.

Step 2. Look at my calendar for the month. I start by filling in the definites like:
  • Trips/vacations/day trips that require substantial extra driving
  • Birthdays, events, parties, etc. that will require me to buy a gift, provide a host/ess gift, bring a dish or bottle of wine, buy a new dress, etc.
  • How many weekends are in the month, since I tend to spend more freely on weekend days
  • Doctor appointments that will require copays
  • A deadline to register for something or to receive a certain price on something (like the yoga retreat or a race)
In November, I have (so far) planned:
  • A baby birthday party. I've already bought the gift so there's no expense here, but it may impact my usual weekend spending.
  • A Pub Run. My local run shop hosts group runs weekly and pub runs monthly. I haven't been in a while, but since I'll be done with half marathon training, I may go to this one. It's minimally spendy, but it would be a night of eating out and a drink or two, so it's good to keep it in mind.
  • Two chiropractor appointments. I generally see Dr. Magic every other week, but I might start trying to push it back to every three weeks. I have a new bed on the horizon, so we'll see if that helps. Either way, I'll see him for sure on the 5th and then either the 19th or the 26th.
  • A football game. Not majorly spendy; it's my cousin's college game, but tickets and snacks have to be categorized.
  • A "Girls' Night." My mom's BFF and her two daughters (my age) and I like to get together for wine and some food but mostly wine every couple of months when we can all get on the same schedule. Looking forward to this one for sure! I'll probably bring a tray of spinach-artichoke dip (my go-to) and a bottle of wine, so I'll need to remember I'm buying ingredients and the hooch.
  • An upstate blate. Gas, tolls, and eating out/drinking expenses anticipated here.
  • Thanksgiving. Can go either way — it might be a no-spend day, or I might have to run out for emergency hooch if the bar runs dry or something like that. I'll also have to count on some driving and tolls.
  • Black Friday. My mom and I like to go to a few stores at midnight, but only as long as they aren't out-of-control crazy. If someone throws a punch, we're outta there. Luckily the last few years that we've gone and hit Kohl's (moms of America's favorite store) and Target (my Disneyland) there's been no violence and not even any insane waiting. I've made a few wardrobe scores in the past but I like to get as much Christmas shopping done here when I can.
  • Races. I may do one of these; I likely won't do both. It's a spendy month as it is, but I want to keep myself in check after the half. We'll see.
Step 3. Look at my shopping lists. I pretty much don't buy anything right away, unless its a simple purchase I can always justify like gum or food. But when it comes to clothes, shoes, accessories, running gear, or superfluous beauty-category things (like nail polish, or lipstick when I already have plenty of both), when I start to want something, I put it on a list I keep in Google Drive (so I can modify easily and see it wherever I am).

When it comes to things I use up and need to replenish, I also keep a running list of when they start feeling light. I don't have the space to "stock up" on things, but I like to buy things like toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, paper towels, tissues, vitamins, body wash, deodorant, and the makeup I wear daily like tinted moisturizer and concealer before I urgently need them. So in looking ahead to November, I'm in pretty good shape. October was a three-paycheck month for me and also happened to be the month I started to run out of things, so I did a big Target trip and picked up a bunch of what I needed.

I try to make trade-offs with non-essentials. I don't need new boots, but I really, really, really want them. But I also want to have some fun in the running apparel section. So when it comes to these categories where I can really end up adding to my budget, I trade off: One month I'll let myself shop for shoes and clothes, and the next I'll freeze my clothing spending and treat the runner in me to some new swag.
Step 4. Start plugging in numbers. There are a few that remain pretty consistent. My grocery budget generally works out to be fairly minimal, thanks to cooking at home, freezing meals, and planning ahead. And committing to not buying junk food helps too. My gas budget starts in the same place every month, and then grows depending on whether I have a road trip or something that month. Same for general expense; I'll increase it if I know I'll have to pay for parking or something like that.

This part is important: I track my spending. Every dollar I spend is recorded so I know where my money has gone. It may seem daunting to you (it actually takes about 15 seconds, tops), but I can assure you I'll never over-draw my checking or over-charge my credit card. And I'll never miss if a fraudulent charge is made on my accounts either.
Anyway, as I mentioned here, I've been tracking my spending with a super simple iPhone app called iSpending for a few years now. (You can also try Mint.com or YNAB!) This is important because it's pretty much impossible to create realistic numbers when you have no idea what you spend. I can tell you, my "dining out" budget is less than half of what I used to spend, and I still eat out plenty. The thing is, you WILL be surprised by how much you spend monthly on certain things (coffees out, gas, groceries, bar tabs, bank/ATM fees, cabs, clothes, makeup... whatever) when you first start tracking it. And that's when you start to make some changes in your budget.

So these categories are generally based on the knowledge I've gained about how much I spend in a typical month on what. Occasionally I'll even look back to the same month last year and see how things looked then.

Step 5. Debate with myself and commit to the numbers. It's not always easy to look at my budget and say "Okay, I cannot spend ANY money on XYZ this month." But in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn't be hard. I have my needs met. I don't ever NEED to buy clothes or nail polish or fruity hand soaps. Just look at how great Cait is doing on her year-long shopping ban. This is cake.

So now we're going to fill in those numbers on what's coming up this month.
Category Breakdown 
(Check here for a refresher on how I categorize purchases.)
  • Clothes/Shoes - I have one pair of Ugg boots... that I got when I was 17. They are in bad shape. I thought a lot about whether I really wanted Uggs, what with their price, and I decided that I really do. And that's the only wardrobe purchase (other than running gear) that I'll likely make until January. (Unless I find some Santa patterned leggings, maybe.)
  • Dining Out - I'm going to try and keep this to a bare minimum this month. I'll have some T-giving leftovers to help out and will meal plan to make sure I always have lunch. (This category is so simple to reduce drastically when I have a spendy month to keep things balanced.)
  • Entertainment - Not sure if this is an everywhere thing or an around here thing, but Thanksgiving Eve can be a dangerous night. I keep it light since I'm not a big drinker.
  • Gas - I'll have some longer-than-usual drives to make, and I've left wiggle room while I adjust to a (hopefully) new gas tank.
  • General Expense - I pay for Spotify (so I can listen when I'm running/driving without killing my data, mostly) and am hopefully getting a new car in the next few weeks. The registration fee may be in October; we'll see how the timeline shakes out.
  • Grocery - Pretty standard. Leftovers and the extra dishes I'll have to make should cancel out.
  • Beauty - Time to finally get a haircut! I haven't had one since March and my ends are looking shabby. Plus I need to pick up a new spot treatment soon (any recommendations?).
  • Health - Simple stuff that I'm running low on.
  • Homeware - Can't think of anything I need or will need. I'd love some new candles, but I do have more than enough and I know they'll be pouring in for Christmas, because when people ask what to get me I only tell them "candles and tea." 
  • Car Maintenance - New car should mean nothing here for a little while.
  • EZ-Pass - Usual replenishment in time to pay some tolls for holiday driving.
  • Gifts - Christmas shopping! 
  • Donations - Since I'm planning to have a new bed (FINALLY) by the end of October, I'm scheduling a pick-up of my old mattress and box spring so they can be donated to charity. I probably won't get around to this until November.
  • Medical - As noted, two adjustments and a pill refill
  • Blog - Trying to keep it low to balance out the expensive month, but I'm planning to sponsor one or two great blogs next month.
  • Running - I'll need some gloves as it's gonna get chilly next month, and I'm leaving room to register for a race, if I decide to.
  • Other/N.C. - I need a new winter coat, and I'm counting this as a one-off expense rather than a clothing one. Mostly because I'll probably cry if I see a number that high in my Clothing category, to be honest.
And there you have it: How I write my monthly budgets! I love talking about this stuff, so feel free to ask any questions about how I do XYZ or float ideas around about your method of budgeting. I'm an open book!

A few final thoughts on monthly budgeting:
  1. This probably looks like a lot of work, and like I have a major you know what up my you know where. Now that I have my system down, it doesn't take me long at all and it all makes perfect sense to me. I'd rather take a few minutes to do this (rather than comb through statements later trying to figure out where my money went) but you may be different. I'm not telling you to do it my way — I'm just sharing my way.
  2. I rewrite my budget every month because my spending changes every month by category. Some people put the bulk of these categories in one big "personal spending" pot and can keep their budget the same every month. Find what works best for you!
  3. My budget spreadsheets used to look a lot different. Personal finance is personal, so as you grow and change, so will your finances and needs. Be open to adapting and changing things up to best meet your needs.
  4. Yes, I go over budget sometimes. It happens. Of course, I try to minimize, but there's only so much you can plan — and only so much I want to plan. When I go over budget in one category I try to pull back in others, but the fact of the matter is that I'm human and humans err. Budgets are not fool-proof.
  5. That said, budgets are a great guide. I don't let mine control me, I still spend my time how I like to. Things come up that you can't control, but having a budget helps me know I'm making good choices and being responsible and setting my present and future self up for success and security.
  6. Question: I know this is not a personal finance blog, and I don't intend to turn it into one, but would anyone be interested if I started doing monthly budget posts? I would share my budget for the coming month as well as how well I stuck to the previous month's budget, sharing the breakdown similar to how I did here. Just a thought — any takers?
Do you have a budget? Would you start one using a method like this? Happy budgeting!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Steam and Tea

There aren't a lot of things about life and the world that I'm sure of. I mean really, really sure. Not "sure" like I'm 99% sure I heard or read it somewhere or "sure" like it makes a lot of logical sense to me so I say it with a lot of confidence and hope it makes a lot of logical sense to other people too. I mean sure in a "death and taxes" kind of way.

I had a great mom growing up. Well, I have a great mom now too. (She's the same one I had growing up, in case that wasn't clear.) But I've also always been pretty independent, partially, I believe, because due to circumstances beyond our control (ah, divorce) I wasn't always able to be with her. I did a lot of taking care of myself as a kid and teenager and now, obviously, as an adult. Sure, I still call my mom to whine about my scraped palms or ask her if you're supposed to bake a lasagna covered or uncovered. (I still don't remember and have to ask mom every time, so don't ask me.) But for most of my life, it's been me taking care of me — and I like it just fine that way.

I also got sick a lot as a kid. This was, I firmly believe, due to an undetected gluten intolerance that I didn't fully realize until I was 23 (the source of many stomachaches and migraines for a little Italian girl who basically lived on bread and pasta) and high levels of anxiety that always manifested physically. So suffice it to say, we learned a lot about home remedies in my years as a kid.

All these things are connected, I swear. Just bear with me.

When I get sick now — whether it's a virus (rare, knock on wood), a migraine (more frequently than anyone deserves, though significantly less since I started seeing my chiropractor), a stomachache (I'm mildly lactose intolerant and I have an addiction to cheese, life is hard), or just a general under-the-weather feeling (stress doesn't stop when you're an over-scheduled, over-analyzing, over-extended Type A with OCD and anxiety) — I pretty much want to be left alone. I'm not a great patient and I don't need to subject anyone else to Sick Alyssa. I also am pretty gross when I'm sick, so there's that too.

So all of this boils down to a few simple facts I've learned about being sick. (I can never remember if it's feed a cold, starve a fever or the other way around, and Googling is much too hard when you're sick.) Through much trial and error and more than enough practice, I know this much to always be true:

1. 
(Unless you're gluten-intolerant,) There's no fix for a rumbly stomach quite like pastina. My mom used to make it for me with an egg and a little bit of grated cheese. (Not recommended for phlemy sicknesses, for obvious reasons.) Cooked in chicken broth instead of water with a little bit of salt works too. Best when eaten piping hot out of a gigantic mug like the ones they use on Friends. (I have four in my cabinet; I live alone.)
These days I swap out the pastina for brown rice and use the chicken broth since I always have it on hand. When you're not about to be waited on and aren't up for preparing a pot of soup yourself, this second best thing ain't half bad.
2.
For some, there's no way to cure a migraine. But a hot shower for as long as you can stand it followed by a strong mug of full-caf tea is the best treatment there is. This may seem redundant of the two that will follow (spoiler alert) but the difference is the importance of the caffeine. The only thing really separating OTC migraine meds from regular OTC pain killers is caffeine. You could take an ibuprofen with a shot of espresso and get pretty much the same effect. So go for the caffeinated black tea as soon as you step out of the steam.
3.
For absolutely everything else, stand in the shower under hot water until it runs cold. Heartbroken? Take a shower. Hungover? Take a shower. Nerves killing your stomach? Take a shower. Need to reset? Just take a long, hot shower. I think this works for physical and mental ailments like nothing else. We can all agree we get the best #deepthoughts in the shower, right? Indulge in your shower thoughts and let the steam and the heat scare away pain or frustration or that god-awful way the smell of vodka seeps out of your pores and makes you feel the worst kind of drunk all over again the next morning.
4.
When you get out of the shower, find yourself a book that makes you laugh or cry and make a cup of tea. Caffeine optional.

Nothing fancy here. Simple enough right? But I'm telling you, unless you're struck down by Ebola, this is all you need to feel better next time you're sick.

I'm linking up with Melissa for her very own and very fabulous October blogging challenge today.
Making Melissa
What are the home remedies you swear by?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Too Little, Too Late

Happy Monday, friends.

Here's the part where I tell you you're excused from reading the rest of this post if it pleases you, because from here, I have no idea where we're going.

I just sort of felt the need to come here and let my fingers move over my keys as the thoughts that have been racing through my head for the past 36 hours look for a home and a sense of order. That's part of the reason I wanted to blog to begin with — so that when I felt the need to write, I had a place to do that and a sort of sense of obligation to carry out the process of putting word to page that I know is so cathartic for me.

Today though I'm not sure how much positivity is going to come out of this exercise. I clearly have no problem presenting my real self here on this blog. I make no efforts to hide my identity or hide from my real-life people the fact that I blog. But I feel very strongly about keeping private the lives of the people who never asked to be part of this experiment in over-exposure I've chosen to embark on. 

But that effort becomes undoubtedly more difficult when the very people whose privacy I'm trying respect out of the goodness of my heart are the very reason for this feeling of disfunction I'm experiencing, which is why I hadn't been able to prepare a post for today, and why I can't muster enough creativity to write something better now.

It's just very, very difficult when you have made every effort to be good to someone, and have sacrificed your own sanity and happiness countless times to try to make them happy, and then not only is that effort unnoticed or at least unappreciated, but they also then go out of their own way to make you hurt as badly as they can possibly manage. And for reasons that are truly nonexistent or at best incomprehensible to a properly functioning human being.

I'm trying my damndest not to sound like a martyr or like I've done no wrong in my life. God knows I've made mistakes, but I've also admitted to them as best I can and tried everything to remedy them when possible. And I'd be crazy to say I respond to conflict in the healthiest way every single time, but at least I try to always be better next time. And I know I'm not perfect and I've never claimed to be... but I try to keep my demons my own and not punish other people for the injustices I feel I've experienced in my life. 

And I have never intentionally hurt anyone, least of all a member of my family, for sport. Or because I feel like I've been dealt a bad hand. And if my actions or words have hurt someone inadvertently, I've apologized, owned my mistakes, and tried to make things better.

So it makes no sense to me that I should be approached with a complete opposite intent. It makes no sense to me that there are two particular members of my family who hurt the ones they love for fun and then still expect any degree of love and support from those they've wronged, especially without ever admitting culpability. I know life is not all about what you do or don't deserve, but I know damn well that no one deserves to be abused in any sense by a person they love. Or anyone at all. And yet, my attempts at removing the sources of abuse from my own life have resulted only in more abuse — primarily, unnecessarily hostile chastising for putting myself and my safety before the happiness of my abuser(s), people who seem to be by all accounts incapable of happiness by their own doing.

I love when I hear people say "blood is thicker than water," as if it's meant to suggest that family ties and a bloodline give a person some special standing or privileges to treat another however they want without repercussion. But quite frankly, I find that absurd. I have friends who have no bloodline obligation to be kind, generous, compassionate, and helpful to me but who choose to do so anyway. And I have family members who think they don't need to be those things because the simple fact that we share lineage ensures I will always be around, ready to take another round of slurs and slights.

And I love it also because most people have no idea what they're saying. The full proverb they're quoting is: "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb." Which actually means the exact opposite of what they're trying to say. The proverb tells us that the family you choose — your friends, the family members you mutually nurture relationships with, the spouse you choose — and those ties you decide to strengthen are stronger than those you simply enter into by happenstance at birth.

I've spent a very long time shrugging off my own needs because of a sense of guilt I have — a guilt that does NOT belong with me, to be sure, but that I shoulder anyway because of my highly sensitive nature — for other people's unhappiness. But their unhappiness is not my fault. And I can't keep letting toxic influences impede my own happiness and goals in life. Right?

I'm 25 years old. Fully capable of determining what kind of influences I want in my life. What I find so ironic is that people would line up to tell me to "dump that asshole" if I were dating a person who treated me the way these family members do. But because they're family, I'm supposed to forgive and forget. But please, someone explain to me — how do you forget an endless pattern of destructive behavior that shows no sign of stopping? And how do you forgive someone who is unapologetic and unable to admit any fault?

You can't. Or at least, I can't. Not anymore. And I think I've earned the right to have some say-so in who I let be a part of my life, even though others may disagree. In this respect, I have to remain strong enough to put myself first and take care of the only person I am guaranteed to have for the rest of my life. Moreover, strong enough to handle the backlash that undoubtedly ensues when you tell people... it's just too little, too late.

The holidays should be interesting this year.

If you've made it here to the bottom, thank you for reading, kind soul. I guess I did need this space more than I thought. And now you know where my mind is these days.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Letters Vol. 3

Dear Cotton Candy Sunset, Thanks for showing up yet again to make my dusky run even more delightful.
Dear Legs, Thank you for being on your best behavior as of late. We're gonna crush this half, baby.
Dear Sidewalk, I get that you might not like your current lot in life — what with people walking all over you day in and day out — but was it really necessary to attempt escape in such a fashion that led you to trip me? Eating concrete and nastily skinning both palms in front of easily a dozen cars last night was not my idea of a good time. And now that I've got a fun feeling in my right wrist and arm, as well as two absolutely burning palms, I'm really disappointed in you.
Still finished with a race pace though, so I'm good.
Dear J.K. Rowling, I really don't know why you and I are connecting so much now when I could never get on board with you before, but oh. mah. gah. I just finished Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire last night and my jaw was on the floor for a good hundred pages or so. OMG.
Dear Blog Readers, Thank you for letting me talk money with you. I love you for it.
Dear To Do List, I want to break up.
Dear Mom, I love that I'm 25 and even though I knew what I had to do (wash, peroxide, rinse, aloe, antibacterial cream), I still was able to call you and tell you the Saga of my Skinless Palms and get a virtual pat on the head. Sometimes daughters just need to talk to mamas. We've all been through a lot over these last few weeks. It was kind of nice to have the reason for our latest urgent phone call to be something simple like skinned palms.
Dear Nadia, Thank you for suggesting the Sleepytime Vanilla tea; it's been my new best friend all week!
Dear Netflix, Providing us with Gilmore Girls on Instant is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Now when in frog's name are you going to let us have Friends, Will & Grace, The Mindy Project, and Modern Family? Get your life together.
Dear Family, I can't wait to see you this weekend!
Dear Coffee, Sometimes I really think you might be one of the great loves of my life. Remember back when I was a good writer who actually wrote things and I wrote that little ode to you for a writing challenge? I think I'll have to dig that up.
Dear Long Run, It's just you and me this Sunday. After that we're gonna have to take a little break, but don't worry — we'll be back together in two weeks on race day. We're only just getting started anyway. Love you like XO.
Dear Weekend, Come here often, hot stuff?

Have wonderful weekends, all of you. What are you up to?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How I Do: My Monthly Budgets

(Find Part II here!)

I usually try to keep things PG-ish here, but today... I'm going there. Talking about something dirty. Filthy. Downright terrifying to many, even. I'm talking about the B-word.

Budgeting.

That's right. So toughen up, buttercups, because it ain't pretty, but it's important. We're gonna learn how to get a grip on our dolla dolla bills y'all right here, right now.

BUT FIRST! Let me take a selfie. Read this: How I Do: Dollars & Sense.

The Clif's Notes version of that intro to dollas goes something like this:
  1. SAVE MONEY. Yes, you can. No matter how much you make or how high your rent is. YOU HAVE TO SAVE SOMETHING. And I swear, you can.
  2. MAKE A BUDGET. There are different kinds and different ways to do it. I'm going to show you mine, but there's a whole personal finance blogosphere out there that can teach you about other methods.
  3. MAKE A SYSTEM. Whatever works for you, use it. It may be totally different from mine, and that's okay. Just come up with a system you can use and use it.
  4. KNOW YOUR STUFF. Research. Read. Don't be dumb about money. Think critically about your future. YOU CANNOT START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT IN YOUR 40s. I'm sorry for yelling. YOU CAN'T. Also, debt is not "normal." Travel, toys, a wedding = all horrible reasons to rack up debt. Don't do it. Save and budget so you can afford it. Don't fall for the crap people tell you about this being the best time in your life to go for it, no matter the cost. NO. This is the best time in your life to create a solid financial-and-otherwise future for yourself and loved ones. Live within your means
(Sorry for getting riled up on that last one. That kinda thing really grinds my gears.)

Anyway. So I've been hearing and seeing a lot of talk about budgeting lately, some of which I agree with, some of which I make note of and promise to use myself, and some of which I could not disagree with more and want to banish from the Internet. Now, I'm not saying my way is right, but it is undoubtedly right for my situation. So I'm just thinkin', if you find yourself in one similar to mine, this might be for you.

'Budget' is not a dirty word. Budgeting is not a bad thing. It's not meant to be restrictive or to ruin your life. It will, in fact, when done right, make your life less stressful, more financially independent, and more deliberate. Budgeting helps.

So without further ado, here's How I Do: My Monthly Budgets
(Buckle up, this might be a long one.)

Step 1: Calculate guaranteed monthly income. This generally stays the same, as I only take into account income from my full-time job. I do make some side income through freelance projects, but since timelines for billing and payment are more fluid, I generally treat this as "extra income" for the month.

Step 2: Estimate extra income and designate a location. I like to make a low-ball estimate of extra income I'll make for the coming month and decide, before I even receive it, where it'll go. Depending on the amount and the way my month looks, it'll go into one of the following categories:
  • Long-term savings
  • Retirement fund (I am 100% responsible for my own, as I have no retirement account through my company.)
  • Emergency fund (I had kept mine fully funded at $1,000, but I recently decided I wanted to increase it a bit more and am working on funneling more cash into there.)
  • Credit cards (I don't carry balances and I generally only use two cards — AmEx for travel rewards and Target because duh — on a monthly basis. I don't charge what I can't afford to pay off, but sometimes having more cash to throw on the card frees up more of my paycheck for something else.)
  • Cash (I almost never have cash on me which is rarely a problem, but sometimes it is. If I know a certain cash-only/preferred event is coming up or something like that, I'll tuck a few bills away to keep for cash emergencies.)
Determining where this money goes before I get it helps prevent me from feeling like it's a windfall of some sort and spending recklessly.

Step 3: Start with what I know. I like numbers to stay as static as possible — I hate trying to budget around fluctuating numbers, and I don't like money-related surprises. Because of that, I have a rather strange system for my utilities.

I have a separate checking account, called my Utility Fund, that earns a very small amount of interest. I have this account linked to my cable and electric companies (gas heat and hot water are included in my rent) and I pay those bills right out of that checking account. Each month I transfer the same amount of money into that account, no matter what, generally even before I've received the bill. This tends to leave me a surplus often enough to balance out the months with higher than expected bills, and I can budget easily knowing what's coming out of my paycheck each month.

My static expenses each month are:
  • Rent (including parking, heat, hot water)
  • Car insurance (my car is paid off, so no payments on that for now)
  • Cell phone
  • Netflix
  • Internet (Utility fund)
  • Electricity (Utility fund)
These are due on the same day every month and in the same amount, no questions asked.

Step 4: Save. For the sake of this section, I'm going to use some fake numbers. Let's say for example I bring in $2,000 every month and, up to this point, $1,000 is already "spent" or at least accounted for in my static expenses. Now I have $1,000 left that has to get me fed and clothed, put gas in my car, let me have a little fun, and be put away in savings. My base, no-questions-asked, not-up-for-debate savings rule is 10% of my salary. So in this case, $200 will go into savings at the minimum. I tend to break it down like this:
  • 25% into retirement
  • 25% into emergency
  • 50% into general savings. My general savings is kind of everything (long-term stuff and cushion) + whatever I'm working on right now: an upcoming trip, a new bed (soon, I hope!), a new car (even sooner). I may end up breaking them off into separate funds one day, but for now I keep track of how much I'm saving for what in that account with a simple spreadsheet.
Step 5: Make some decisions. Now, I have $800 left for monthly spending. Here are my budget categories:
  • Clothes/Shoes — Accessories included here; running/yoga clothing not included
  • Dining Out — This mostly means just "lazy food," takeout dinners or lunches when I don't feel like grocery shopping or cooking. Meals with friends generally go into the next category
  • Entertainment — Bars, tickets, cover charges, meals, booze for BYOB events, etc.
  • Gas — For the ol' vehicle
  • General Expense — A sort of catch-all; here I put the charge for Spotify (yes, I pay), the random takeout coffee, parking fees (very rare), and other purchases that don't fit elsewhere
  • Grocery — Girl's gotta eat
  • Beauty — Makeup, hair care, skin care, nail polish
  • Health — Vitamins, mostly, but I'll add in things like band-aids, OTC drugs, etc.
  • Homeware — EVERYTHING for home. Some people count paper towels, etc. in grocery, but I put it (along with tissues, toilet paper, cleaning products, etc.) here. Candles, new decor, etc. all go here
  • Car Maintenance — Oil changes or scheduled maintenance like brake jobs, new tires, etc.
  • EZ-Pass — I have to use my EZ-Pass to get to my mom's, my older brother's, my best friend's house, NYC and a lot of other places I go so I give this a good fill-up every other month or so, and monthly in the summer when shore trips increase
  • Gifts — Birthdays, holidays, new babies, weddings, all that fun stuff
  • Donations — I made a deal with myself that I would "give back" in some way every month. Sometimes it's volunteering time, sometimes it's a physical donation, and other times it's a financial one to a charity I support
  • Medical — Pretty much the chiropractor category. Also included here are doctor visit and prescription copays
  • Blog — Sendin' y'all my dolla dolla bills
  • Running — Race entry fees and running gear
  • Other/N.C. — Other stuff and, swear to god, I can't really remember what I initially made N.C. stand for. Oops. This is generally if there's a big one-off expense for the month, or a trip that I budget differently. (For example, on a weekend trip to Cape Cod, I just put everything I spent in this category, rather than itemizing out the takeout coffees or lunches or whatever else. It's way easier to budget this way.)
These amounts change every month, pretty much. I look ahead at what I need to buy (oh yes, I have a system for that too) and what trips, events, parties and the like are coming up. I generally begin filling in my budget categories at the beginning of the previous month and have it all firmed up by the last day before the month starts. Once the 1st rolls around, that budget is set in stone.

In our fake number example, I would take the remaining $800 and break it down so each of those categories has an appropriate number. In real life, I do this too with whatever my balance after basic savings is. When there is extra cash that I don't need in the above categories, into savings it goes. In this practice of zero-based budgeting, every single dollar I make every month has a designated place to go before it goes there. Impulse spending is (mostly) a thing of the past, as are buyer's remorse and the month-end panic where I'm days away from payday with not a dime left to spend for gas or groceries.

If you want me to share how I designate monthly amounts to each of the categories in Step 5, leave me a comment or say so in an email! This post is long enough already without me adding that part in here, but I'm more than happy to share my system if you guys are interested! Just let me know and I'll let you know how I plan ahead for monthly spending and keep track of my various "To Spend On" lists. It involves a lot of careful planning and a couple of lists (who's shocked?), but I rarely feel restricted and it helps me to meet my goals of deliberate, purposeful spending and living by my brand of "minimalism"*.

*Also another post for another day, if you're interested!

So there you have my budgeting basics. Remember, my way is what works for me, and it may not work for you. BUT doing your research is crucial in all matters of money. You can start here, and let me recommend some personal finance (PF) blogs I love that are brimming with great, useful information:
Do you keep a budget? Have any tips of your own to share? Do you think you'll look at creating your own monthly budget now in the near future?

Happy budgeting, happy spending!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

All in a Day's Work

Confession: Last night, instead of tackling the five or so things I had put on my to-do list for the evening, I went to pub trivia with girlfriends. I regret nothing.

Confession: Writing a post for today was one of the things I wanted to do last night. Clearly, I did not, so I'm writing this at work before I even go through my emails. #employeeofthemonth

Confession: I went for a run and then straight to pub trivia without a shower. I changed out of running gear though, and it's not exactly a "fancy" pub, and we had a table in the back, and I only ran four miles and it was cool out so I wasn't that gross. But that's still pretty gross.

Confession: It wasn't the first time I've done that.

Confession: We sucked so hard at trivia it's not even funny. Usually we have at least a fighting chance through the end of the game, but no.

Confession: The salesman was a sleazeball, but the car was pretty good. So I'm sort of thinking about going back to the dealership with a disguise on and requesting a different salesperson and buying the car from him or her just to make sure that guy doesn't get a dime off me.

Confession: I had a bundle of fun that time I wrote about money management, because I don't believe anyone should be held hostage by their money. I hate money, but understand a) it's a necessary evil and b) it's better to control it than have it control you; freedom from it comes only when you understand it. So I kinda wanna do it again and talk about budgeting because that's a topic I could talk about for hours (I <3 My Spreadsheets) BUT I'm worried you'll be bored to tears and not want to read about budgeting. Thoughts?

Confession: Upon waking to my alarm this morning, I had this series of thoughts (for real): Wednesday already. Ugh it's only Wednesday. ... Wednesday.. is chiropractor day. IT'S FINALLY WEDNESDAY! And then I realized I was a freak and got out of bed smiling.

Confession: At some point last night I got out of bed, went to the kitchen and took a few paper towels off the roll and put them on my dresser. I vaguely remember having a dream in which I spilled something and then it was one of those in-between-sleep-and-awake dreams and yep, that happened. I have weird dreams every single night, but I rarely wake up and react to them. Weird.

What do you have to confess today?
Linking up with Kathy

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Currently

I don't do these types of posts often, but when I do, I weirdly and inexplicably remind myself of the post-Teen Mom season recap episodes — you know, the "Check-Up with Dr. Drew." Which is upsetting because I guess then I'm aligning myself with either a train-wreck of a teenage mom (come ON, Janelle.) or a pretty universally regarded quack of a doctor. You didn't need to know all that whatsoever, but now you do, and maybe I'm sorry but maybe also you're welcome, who even knows anymore. Here's what I'm currently..

Making // Time. Decisions. Compromises. And turkey chili tonight. This time of year is my favorite time to get in the kitchen — a pot of chili or soup pretty much every week. Nothing like warming your body and soul from the inside out.

Anticipating // My chiropractor appointment tomorrow. After two 5-hour drives in a stick Jeep to and from Cape Cod, plus sleeping two nights on a mattress older than me, plus the weight of the world that was pushed onto my shoulders last week, I'm kinked up. Need that magic touch, ya know what I'm saying? Besides that, I'm anticipating this weekend of football, family, food, and fun!

Learning // To let go and relax. At least, I'm trying to. Learning to be more present and take care of what's in front of me right. now. rather than look ahead to everything I have to worry about in the days to come. There's nothing to worry about. There's nothing else to plan. There is only to enjoy now.

Listening to // My latest Spotify creation, a coffeehouse-esque type playlist. I told you guys I particularly love smoky-dingy-back-room-at-a-club singer/songwriter type stuff. On repeat now are the musical stylings of Norah Jones, Michael Buble, The Sweet Remains, Boy & Bear, Ben Harper, James Morrison, Jack Johnson and others of their ilk. It's a fun time.

Wearing // Patterns on patterns on patterns. I don't really know or very much care if it's "done right." I haven't worn jeans in ages and I'm more comfortable than anyone I know. AND you can always spot my legs in a crowd. Monday's ensemble:
Plotting // The rest of my October adventures. November ones too. Some medium to large changes that are looming on the life-as-I-know-it front. An outline, because every year I get thisclose right before I talk myself out of NaNoWriMo. (I'm definitely not doing it this year. I'd probably die if I did. But at least that it's coming is lighting a fire under me to do something with my creative writing. Because I totally needed something else to do.)

What are you up to?