Friday, July 31, 2015

Minimalish: How Did I Do?

A few weeks ago, I shared the chart below and embarked on a 30-day challenge toward more minimalish-ism. I'm not a minimalist and I don't intend to be, but I want my life to be as full of the good, important things and as shy of the distracting, clutter-causing things as possible. I thought this challenge would be a good way to examine those values and make any adjustments.

I set myself some ground rules:
  • Activities don't need to be done in order, but each needs to be done (or at least solidly attempted).
  • Except for ones that can be done several times (1, 2, 4, 6, etc.), have discipline to do one task each day—meaning, don't do five items on one day to "get them out of the way." Each day should be a practice in one of these minimalish activities.
  • For items that I've done already or aren't really possible (I just don't have a junk drawer, and I already follow a morning/evening routine), find some way to connect a task/activity to the intention of the prescribed one.
So after 30 days of attempting to bring more mindfulness to my daily life and become yet more minimalish, how did I do? (Might want to grab a beverage; this one's a little long...even for me.)
1. Stay offline for one day • I did my very, very best with this one on the Fourth of July. I was down the shore with family for the weekend, having the best time as we do every year. I pulled out my phone to text with my cousin who was on her way down, to call my brother for his ETA, and I only checked one Snapchat. Other than that, phone was put away all day. I don't count calls/texts as being online, so the Snap was my one minor fail. Better than I expected, really.

2. Meditate for 15 minutes • Luckily I'm given the opportunity to meditate for a few minutes every yoga class, but that's not always enough. I managed to get a full fifteen minutes in once or twice, but I really need to make time for go for a full hour-long chakra balance meditation.

3. Declutter your digital life • This felt so, so good. I cleaned out my drafts folder, sifted through starred tweets and bookmarks on my computer browsers and my phone, went through the few dozen Google docs and calendars and iPhone notes I use to run my life, and just dumped all the excess. Ahhh.

4. No-complaint day • I was super conscious of pretty much everything that came out of my mouth on this day. I was off from work, or else I never would have done it. And by the end of the day, I was down at the shore house with my family. How could I have possibly complained?

5. Identify your three to six main priorities • It was sort of by accident that this ended up getting done today. I was emailing with a friend about a(nother) potential collaboration, and still processing my decision to take a 40% pay cut for a new job. Without really thinking about it, I was saying it, and I knew it was true. Aside from the incredibly obvious and non-negotiable family and friends coming first, my priorities are words (writing, writing for a living, working on my book, editing other amazing books, bringing good words to good people), yoga (my physical practice, my internal practice, and bridging the gap for others who deserve this wonderful, transformative discipline in their lives), and running (being healthy, pushing my limits, learning how strong I can be, and defying expectations). I did a bit more in-depth exploration with respect to my career, and identified a few things that are crucial for me to have from my work. Still not sure how I will get them all, but at least now I know what I'm after.

6. Follow a morning ritual (x 6) • Most workdays, I follow the same morning routine: Wake up, yoga, shower, find a podcast for the morning, pour coffee, makeup/hair/dressed, make my bed at some point in there, head off to work. I usually skip morning yoga on Tuesdays because I take class in the evenings. I skip parts of my a.m. routine if I haven't slept well and need to prioritize extra sleep instead. The uncounted days here were either weekends, days off work for other reasons, and days I slept in—insomnia got the better of me a LOT this month, and many mornings on four hours of sleep were rough. Also, I left my job and "routine" went right out the window after the 17th.

7. Streamline your reading list • Apologies to anyone who follows me on Goodreads. I merged a portion of my Google Doc list with my Goodreads to-read list, and got some semblance of order there. My multiple lists of books to read are still longer than they should be, but they're much more organized now.

8. Learn to enjoy solitude • I spend a lot of my out-of-work time alone, and I very much like it that way. Living by myself makes it easy. I rarely don't enjoy the alone time I have, and when that happens, I usually just call up a friend and...stop being alone for a little while. On a few July days, I made it a point to really be present in my solitude and appreciate it for what it makes me capable of.

9. Downsize your beauty collection • I like makeup. I like products. I was, at one time, a bit of a product junkie. And then I moved into a studio and got rid of a lot of them. And then I simplified my makeup routine and a lot of stuff sat around because maybe I'd use it for the next fancy occasion. Fancy occasions came and went and I still didn't use the extra makeup. I've tossed a lot over the last few months, but I still found a few items to get rid of.

10. No email or social media until lunch • I thought this would be challenging, but it was actually a super welcome way to start my day once I embarked on my funemployment just after mid-month.

11. Evaluate your commitments • I have my hand in a LOT of things right now: (1) job transition (2) Feather Magazine (3) marathon training (4) yoga practice and preparations for teacher training (5) full manuscript edit of a client/friend's novel (luckily due for publication in September) (6) my book of essays (7) the novel I've just begun and hope to blast through (8) a literary magazine I'm co-directing (9) this blog (10) family and friends and associated commitments. I actually paused to write out this list and identify the statuses of each and considered how to fit everything in. I think I've got this handled, but it's definitely work. Luckily, it's work I love.

12. Define your goals for the year • In conjunction with letting go of a few, I reshaped the ones I still had and set some new ones that align with some new endeavors and developments.

13. Clean out your closet • I really did try to get rid of more clothing/shoes/accessories, but I do purges pretty frequently, including once just in June. As of now there's nothing left to toss.

14. Take a step toward learning a new skill • I was invited this month to collaborate on a project that feels like I was destined for it, and it for me. My co-collaborator and I were certainly destined to work together, as previous successful endeavors have shown. A lot of the necessary work was already in my wheelhouse, but I spent this day doing the research for some new tasks and jobs to make this effort successful. More on this here.

15. Examine your daily habits • I don't really know that I got much out of this, because I'm a pretty habitual person and like routine, as far as my daily need-to-dos go. But I paid attention and "examined" my morning and evening habits this day, and at least I can say I was mindful of them.

16. Don't buy anything for 24 hours (x 10) • Almost every month I set a goal for a couple of no-spend days. This month's goal was 10 days, and I passed! I needed to, for sure.

17. Practice single-tasking • It is so, so rare that I'm sitting down or standing, doing one thing at a time, without a million other things in various stages of done-ness—and without my mind wandering to what else I need to/should be doing. I decided to commit myself to a project and really plugged myself in, shut everything else out, and wrote.

18. Unfollow and unfriend • So long, people I had one class with in college and never spoke to again. See ya, people I went to high school with and could barely stand back then, and don't even know anymore. Take a hike, friends of friends of friends I met at a party and talked to for three minutes at some point over the last decade. It never stops feeling good to remove the extraneous noise from my life.

19. Go for a walk and practice mindfulness • I actually hate walking, honestly. I mean, I don't mind walking to a place that it makes sense to walk to, but if I were going to go for a walk, I'm just going to go for a run. I did, however, have a bit of room left at the end of a run, and walked the rest of the way back to my apartment with music off, checking in on my body.

20. No TV all day, read instead (x 12) • We really never watch TV down the shore, and I've been watching much less TV at home lately too. I've been listening to more podcasts, reading more, and only turn on the TV late at night when I'm ready for sleep, because I'm a loon and need background noise to fall asleep. I don't count this as "watching TV," because, well, I'm not watching it.

21. Journal for 20 minutes • I rarely journal for this long anymore, but it started with my daily gratitude one day and I just let myself keep going.

22. Create a relaxing bedtime routine • I have been a troubled sleeper literally my entire life. Since I was born. (Well, all babies are, but I was a special kind of difficult at bedtime.) When I moved into this apartment back in September, it took me less than a week to identify a few things I have to do in order to have any chance at sleeping well, and I do them—or at least a truncated version of them—just about every night. Makeup off/wash face, brush teeth, peppermint oil on my nose and brow bone, load coffee pot and set timer, check alarms, read, Reddit (I know, I shouldn't before bed, but I do), background noise, sleep mask, sleep. Weekends vary a little bit since my mornings aren't as time-crunched, but this is pretty much every night for me, regardless of what time I'm heading to bed.

23. Go bare-faced (x 7) • I try to do this for a full day once a week, or at least spend a major portion of a day without makeup. Funemployment and beach weekends mean makeup-free faces.

24. Practice gratitude (x 13) • I keep a gratitude journal, where I try most days to write down at least three things I'm grateful for, sometimes with a more thorough journal entry, sometimes without. I don't get to it every day, but try at least a few times a week.

25. Leave a whole day unplanned (x 4) • Generally speaking, this is pretty hard for me. I don't know if I can truly count Fourth of July weekend as unplanned days, because I planned to be down the shore, and I was. But as far as the events that transpired while down the shore, none of that was planned. Ditto my few impromptu days in Cape Cod. I give a pass. 

26. Identify your stress triggers • I have a lot, being that I'm highly sensitive. Luckily, a minimum amount of stress is required for me to function, since it's always been a part of my life. I did take notice of a few particularly stress-inducing events and tried to isolate the actual trigger, so I do think this was successful.

27. Clear our your junk drawer • Honestly? I don't have one. There's absolutely no "junk collection" spot in my house. I barely even have drawers (that aren't home for my clothes). I did clean my entire apartment top to bottom a time or two, so I call this a pass.

28. Let go of a goal • I set a lot of goals (yearly, seasonally, monthly, daily). As the year wears on, some become less important, less possible, or less necessary to describe as "goals." I eliminated one 2015 goal and revised another to better fit with the trajectory of this year.

29. Turn off notifications • After my cousin and brother arrived at the shore house on the Fourth of July, my phone went on airplane mode. I didn't need anyone or anything else than my big, amazing family that day.

30. Evaluate your last five purchases • Figured my last day on salary (17th) would be as good a time as any to look this over. I'm not on a freeze but I am trying extra hard to stick to my budget this month and have been doing pretty good on my no-spend days. My last five purchases are pretty solid:
(1) drink at last night's bon voyage happy hour (my amazing former coworkers picked up the rest <3)
(2) Chipotle for lunch, which feeds me for two days;
(3) chiropractor co-pay (not quite a purchase, but money spent), non-negotiable and always a good decision;
(4) brunch with friends in Philly, that I was able to keep low-cost and was worth every delicious bite;
(5) new running shoes, to alternate with my half-worn pair for the next ~8 weeks of this marathon training plan.
(I give myself an A- for these; I probably didn't really need Chipotle for lunch.)

So how I did was...pretty damn good, I must say. I managed to run out of new tasks before I ran out of days, which meant I was repeating some of the more easily-repeatable ones (gratitude, no TV, etc.) The one-off items felt really good to get done, and I felt a weight lifted each time I decluttered some aspect of my life and mind. It's really all intangible, but I do have to call this experiment a smashing success!

In fact, I think I'm going to make a list of some of these more repeatable items and see how long I can go checking off at least one every day. Or maybe look beyond and try to find or create a new challenge...

If you participated in this little challenge, I'd love to hear how you did! Did it change anything? Would you repeat any of the items or undertake the challenge again?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recent Reads Vol. 2

It's time again for a book chat! At least, it is for those of us participating in Kels' Bookish Side of Life Summer Book Challenge.
The Blonder Side of Life
I challenged myself to read 10 books over the course of this June, July, and August. I picked a conservative number because at the time, I had never read an audiobook and knew I was a slow—if enthusiastic—reader. As of the end of July, I'm almost there!

I read four books in June, and here are the five I've read in July:

Paper Towns by John Green
I fell in love with Johnny like many of us last year after readingThe Fault in Our Stars. Actually, to be more honest, I already had a massive crush on him when I read An Abundance of Katherines first. I thought I might fly through it, but I didn't. I liked it and enjoyed the narrative, although found it a bit slow in parts. All in all a solid YA read from a super talented writer.

Recommend? — You bet!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I wish I had known how much this book was going to make me cry. I love books with multiple narrators, and especially when each voice is distinct and clear and nicely tells the story from each perspective. This book made my heart feel every little damn thing six ways to Sunday.

Recommend? — As long as you have tissues nearby and a heart, yes!

The Martian by Andy Weir (audiobook)
I so did not think this was my kind of book at all—I don't do sci-fi; I barely do fantasy; the concept of "outer space" in general scares the bejeesus out of me. But after hearing so many bloggers say they loved it and it was outside their usual genres too, I gave the audiobook a try. I'm glad I didn't try to read it; I wouldn't have understood the majority of the Martian descriptions if I had. This book was another where the narrative shifted, and I really appreciated the multiple angles.

Recommend? — I think it's worth a shot if you're curious, but the audiobook is definitely the way to go.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Aw. I felt all the things. I wasn't really prepared for how sad this would make me throughout. I didn't cry; it wasn't a painful, gut-wrenching read. It was just sad. But hopeful somehow at the same time. I enjoyed it, and really recognized a distinctness to Rainbow's voice. I can't wait to read more from her.

Recommend? — Hands down.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Just started this one as I finished Eleanor & Park while on this mini-vacation. Will be sure to include it in the next update!
Which brings me to a grand total of nine read so far, with number 10 in progress. I'm also joining in my lovely Literary Ladies in their summer reading challenge, so here's what's next on my to-read list:

What have you read this month? What's on tap for the next? 

Linking up with Kels on the Bookish Side of Life!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Calling it In

I hope everyone will forgive me, but I don't really have a Training for Tuesday post this week.

As you know, a lot has been kind of flipped upside down lately, and I'm a bit "in transition." As I write this, I'm on an impromptu mini-vacation and am finding there are a lot of things more pressing than coming up with and writing a post about my training. (I do do that in small batches every week, after all.)

I hope you'll forgive me for phoning it in this month and link up your posts and visit my cohost Tracy, who surely has something much more worthwhile to share today. As always, I'll pop around and see each and every one of you, and I swear I'll bring the heat times 10 next month.

Happy training, and thanks for linking up!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Sweats 30: Marathon Training Week 4

July 20–26

Monday: flexibility free-flow (10 minutes) + 3.03 mile run (9:11 pace)
I took video of myself flowing out before this run because I knew what postures I was about to flow through, and realized this would be a good homemade video to refer back to on run days. I've said it before but it bears repeating: if you primarily practice at home, take a video of yourself every now and then. You'll learn so much about your practice and your body! (And also, how do you think I get photos like this and this and this?)

I love that Mondays are always my lowest mileage of the week, and downright minuscule in comparison to the long run mileage I'll soon be hitting. It helps me start off a week of training feeling really positive and optimistic. (Let's check in on this again after the weekend, shall we?) I was looking for redemption from an awful long run on Sunday, and I think I found it—as best as you can find redemption in a 3-miler, and on a 90º night. (Yes, night. 8:30 p.m. and still "real feel" 92º. Anyone have a bridge I can go jump off?)

Tuesday: full body flexy flow (35 minutes)
It so happened that tomorrow worked out as the better day to take class, so I practiced at home today. Worked on some hamstring flexibility, opening up the obliques, and got into some deep back flexibility poses. I've only hit king pigeon once, but I'm determined to find it again!

Wednesday: 6.03 mile run (9:50 pace)
I did not love this run. I did not love running under the summer sun (even if it was a brisk 76º with only 50% humidity—practically arctic compared to the weekend). I did not love running in the wind that blew every which way. I did not love the way my chest hurt constantly. But that's the way the cookie crumbled today.

I never did make it to Donna's class this week, unfortunately. I got home from a meeting at about 6:20, and would never in a million years have been able to eat, change, and get to the studio for 6:30 start time. Le sigh.

Thursday: hip & low back flow (28 minutes)
I've been hunched over a computer screen a lot this week, what with all my works in progress in progress, and for me that means low back pain and serious outer hip flexor pain from sitting too long. I had about two hours of driving ahead of me today when I went to my mat so I wanted to treat some of the pain I've been feeling and open everything up.

Friday: 11.03 mile run (10:11 pace) + deep hip flow (35 minutes)
If I could have picked one run this week to be my best, I would have picked this one. Luckily, it was! Not speed-wise, and not even pain-wise (post-run inventory: right outer hip flexor, right knee [typical], left psoas [front hip flexor], right Achilles, intermittent discomfort in right forefoot. It's really not as bad as it sounds; I did run 11 miles). But in the way I BEASTED some hills that I thought I'd have to walk up (I didn't!) and kept my pace pretty consistent after a too-quick 5k start before the hills started rolling. I felt strong and accomplished, the way a marathoner-in-training should (I think...)!

I saved the day's full flow for post-run and was glad I did. Sweet, delicious hip openers, hamstring flexibility poses, and backbends, oh my!

Saturday: "rest"
Today was beach day! Out the door bright an early, and too pooped to do much of anything (besides wash the sand out of my hair) when I got home. We walked a fair bit though and swam for about 20 minutes I'd guess, so it counts for something.

Sunday: mini stretchy flow (15 minutes)
Had to make time for something before yet another long drive that lays ahead of me.

Weekly Totals
Running: 20.09 miles
Yoga: 123 minutes

Marathon Training Week 4 Reflections:
This week marked a milestone: My 11-miler. Believe it or not, even though I've run three half marathons, I've never run over 10 miles by myself—as in, not as a part of a race—ever. Each half marathon training plan came with some disaster—moving, shoes that tried to kill me (well, fracture me, but still), work/time conflicts, etc.—that capped my training cycle at 10 miles. So to break that barrier felt good this week!

Ironic honesty time: I skipped a run this week, a three-miler. I want to say only three miles because it is the shortest distance on my plan, but I can't say only three because obviously it's on there for a reason. But this week kind of flew out of my control before I could say boo, and with this weather (when it's 80º before 8 a.m. or a low of 85º overnight?) forcing me to only run certain times of the day (it's too early to cry), I couldn't fit it in with all the last-minute changes in plans. As you read this, I'm probably in the middle of a five-hour drive and I didn't know until Friday night that I'd be making it today. So scheduling and life things (and fun things, like Blogger Beach Day—those are important too) had to come before a three-miler. It's okay. I always have next week.

OH HEY YOU! Don't forget this Tuesday is the last of the month, which means time to link up with Tracy and me and show us your health, fitness, and wellness goals, wins, misses, and triumphs. Click here for more Training for Tuesday info!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Your Budget Doesn't Work

I've talked dollars and sense before, so you guys know by now, I think personal finance and full awareness of your money situation is crucial. I have been comforted and helped by my (some might say over-)organized spreadsheets and budget documents countless times, and taking the plunge to write a budget and shape up my money has had a really positive effect on my life. Knowing what you have—or what you need—without having to scramble through account statements and documents offers peace of mind in an emergency and can help you make big decisions quickly.

But budgeting gets a bad rap. To a lot of people, "budget" equals "broke," or is just way too complicated to fold into their routine. I'm here to sing the praises of a monthly budget, and set the record straight. If you've tried and failed to stick to a budget, consider that you may be making one of these big budget mistakes.

Six Reasons Your Budget Doesn't Work

1. You're writing amounts based on total guesses. 
How much do you spend on groceries per month, would you say? Now, go get your grocery receipts. How much do you really spend on groceries per month? Better yet, what does going out to bars, restaurants, or coffee shops cost you monthly? I'll bet that one adds up to a bigger number than you would guess.

The art of budgeting—that is, prescribing certain amounts of your anticipated guaranteed income to specific budget categories—needs to be based on real numbers. How do you come up with real numbers? You track your spending for at least a month (ideally, two to three months) prior to writing your monthly budget.

(P.S. – I made my budget template downloadable, if you'd like to try it as a starting point.)

But tracking your spending can have some risks of its own if you aren't careful with it. Which leads me to...

2. You're not counting the "random purchase" here or there.
You got your oil changed—that expense won't come up again for another few months. You had to pick up a gift for your sister's birthday—won't have another one of those till next year. Oh, and you had to replace your bathing suit after you discovered last year's summer left your favorite bikini in shambles—that's another annual purchase.

It's easy to convince yourself that those big(ger), one-off purchases don't come up all that often and they don't need to be factored into your budget. But once you start tracking your spending, you'll see just how often—like, pretty much every month—"something comes up." It's best to anticipate these items when you can, and roll those figures into your tracked and budgeted amounts to be best prepared.

3. You're not leaving wiggle room.
As we just learned, say it with me now, something always comes up. Budgeting down to the penny might work for one or two categories here and there. But stores and manufacturers change their prices, the cost of gas can fluctuate week to week, and sometimes even the best of us leave our coupons at home.

The problem with this can become even bigger, if you're like I was when I first started budgeting: Sometimes, all it takes is blowing a budget category by $1 to blow your entire resolve. A familiar refrain: "I've already gone over budget, what's the use in trying to stick to it now? BUY ALL THE THINGS."

Give yourself a spare dollar or two in your categories to account for these unanticipated fluctuations and watch your budget stay in tact.

4. You don't know your spending habits.
Did you know that every time you get on the road you have to stop for a cup of coffee? Have you ever noticed how every time you're standing on line at the grocery store you end up tossing a few backs of gum and a magazine into your cart? What about your habit of ending up with a few extra apps on the table every time you and your colleagues go to happy hour?

When writing your budget, you need to look carefully at your interactions and spending habits, and be honest with yourself. Sure, there is room to be aspirational—but the time to do that is not when writing your first budget ever. That is the time to be blatantly honest. You won't fix or change habits that you don't first acknowledge. Examine your habits and then allow for them, OR, depending on your financial situation, begin a weaning process to change them. But it won't happen overnight.

5. You don't anticipate your month ahead.
Some people find success in leaving their budget categories fixed every month—I'm not one of those people. I change up my categories based on what I'm running out of, what I need to buy, what trips I have planned, etc. For example, this June, I drove to and from West Virginia, to and from Philly and to and from a concert venue twice within that Philly trip, to and from Upstate New York, and to and from the Jersey Shore—on top of all my other usual driving. I would have been absolutely crazy to not change up my gas budget for a month like that. Similarly, I wasn't home on any weekend throughout the month, so my grocery budget looked a lot different too. For another example, this month I had to factor in a pair of running shoes. I wouldn't normally allocate $130 to my running budget, but I certainly had to this month. Most other months it sits at $0-$40 for the errant piece of apparel.

What are you running out of? Will you be replacing your shampoo and razor cartridges this month? Are you traveling for a friend's wedding? Are you planning to pay a race fee? Are you going on vacation and planning to bring home some souvenirs?

Consider all of these and other possible expenses before you write your budget and see how some categories swell and others shrink down to nothing. Some things may stay the same month to month—my "lazy food" category stays the same—but as life presents new things, your budget must adapt if you have any hope of keeping to it.

6. You're not tracking your spending.
This is, to me, the simplest part of the whole thing. But I know that a lot of people have trouble sticking to this practice. The blatant truth, though, is that you cannot hope to stick to your budget if you're not tracking what you spend and checking in periodically throughout the month. You can write down every expense in your phone or a notebook, use an app like iSpending or Mint, or save all your receipts (not recommended as you don't always get them, and they can get lost easily) and count them out every week. 

But the bottom line is tracking your spending is crucial to a successful budget from beginning to end. I use iSpending and take about 30 seconds after each purchase to punch it into my phone, and a few times a week I sit down and transfer those numbers to my spreadsheet. It doesn't take long, and the few seconds it does take are more than worth the peace of mind I have by keeping my finances organized and readable at a glance.

What are your biggest budget challenges? Is there anything you've been battling with in writing your own budgets? Or do you have any awesome budget-writing tips to share with the class? Please do!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Work in Progress

I have officially been not working for one day (at the time of this writing: 9:57 p.m. Monday) and I've learned one thing: it is near impossible to maintain a routine when out of work. I mean, I've had the errant weekday off here and there, but those days have always been treated as extensions of the weekend or celebratory staycation days, purposefully free from obligation.

I gave myself a week between Friday's departure from my former employer of more than three years and my start date at a new job that I was only excited to accept because it wasn't my old job. Did that make any sense? I hope so, because I can't think of a better way to say it. There's a lot more I wish I could say about the state of my career right now, but in deference to professional courtesy, it has to wait. Let it suffice for now to say: This was certainly not where I planned to be. That probably sounds like a doom-and-gloom comment, but I promise you it isn't.

So in the vein of absolute WTF-ery that is my life right now, I thought a little status update of sorts was in order.

/// Today is the day to link up for Literary Ladies this month, but since I'm a slow-poke reader and because I double dipped on my reading challenges this summer, that update isn't worthy of a full post I'm afraid. A few weeks ago I shared what I've been reading this summer in this post as part of Kels' Bookish Side of Life reading challenge. Since then, here's what I've read:

  • Paper Towns (John Green) – I liked this a lot, but I love John Green and can't really think of anything he's ever done wrong. I didn't love it as much as I loved The Fault in Our Stars, but I enjoyed it about as much as An Abundance of Katherines. It was charming and sweet and funny in parts, a bit tedious in others, but I love the way he writes so it's always worth reading, even if it isn't essential. [Category: A book that is/will be a movie/TV show]
  • Wonder (R.J. Palacio) – Oh my god, why didn't you people tell me how many times this would hurt me right in the heart!? I sobbed, I weeped, I cried happy and sad tears. No spoilers, but COME ON, R.J., why'd you have to do that? I love multiple narrators (the book I'm writing alternates between two leads) and I love it even more when each voice feels authentic, original, and distinct. The author did an amazing job with this. [Category: A YA book]
  • (IN PROGRESS) Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell) – I'm 20% through this, according to my Kindle app, and so far am loving it. See previous note about alternating narratives. She does this well too. The pacing of this book is just on point and the characters are so vivid. I can't wait to read more. [Category: A book with a kick-ass female character]
  • (IN PROGRESS) The Martian (Andy Weir) – I resisted this for a long time, because sci-fi is not my thing. But at Kristen's insistence (and generosity in sending me the audio) I've been listening to this—definitely the best way to go; I would have given up in chapter one if I were reading it—for a few days and I really, really like it. The narrative changed up on me, which I wasn't expecting, but which also turned out to be a good thing. I'm about two-thirds through it and starting to get nervous for the ending. [Category: A book that was recommended by a blogger]
(Linking up with Kristen, Kay, and Kari)

/// Speaking of books, I'm plugging away at mine. If there's anything I've learned (and been told, and then been reminded of, and then had shoved down my throat and into my ears and stamped on my forehead), it's that the first draft of anything is shit. Now, that doesn't mean you'll change everything about your first draft, or that sometimes you don't absolutely nail it on the first try. But I'm finding this knowledge terribly comforting as I fly through my first writing. The nice thing about my book is that it has a defined period of stop and start—it takes place over the course of four years—and as of Monday night, I've been writing for 11 days and have written two years worth of story and 32,652 words. Um, ya THINK I was ready to get this thing down on paper?

/// Speaking not of books, New Jersey's hit its first heat wave of the summer. I feel like by this point in the year we've already had quite a few triple-digit-degree days and low 90s feels like a refreshing break. But it's been quite nice, by summer standards, the way we've hung out around the mid-80s. Until this weekend, when the sun decided to bring the hammer down. I broke a sweat taking my recycling out today. No me gusta.

/// It's downright amazing how fast a week can fill up when it's your first week off in....ever, and when you haven't been home on a weekend in seven weeks. This week's agenda: three professional meetings, edit a friend's resume, edit stories for Feather, hit prescribed word counts on my book (one down three days early, 3k words to go for the second), run a whole bunch, do a whole bunch of yoga, take a class, meet friends for happy hour, FaceTime Jessi, write a Bad Yogi blog post, visit my cousin (whose May 2016 wedding I am the maid of honor in—we gotta get planning), visit my parents, clean my bathroom, work on the lit mag I'm co-producing, and maybe sleep for like five minutes.

/// I went to see Inside Out this weekend, and I was absolutely blown away. (Don't listen to that one guy who said that ONE "easy" joke made the whole thing archaic and misogynistic; he's throwing a tantrum.) The concept and the journey this movie takes are impressive, to say the least, and so, so, so crucial. It was profound, and it was wonderful, and NO WE DID NOT CRY okay just kidding our entire section of the theater including my friend and me were sniffling and dabbing our eyes at a few points. The creativity that lives inside some people never ceases to astound me, and the people at Disney & Pixar have it in spades. I was awed by the entire thing, and I can't wait to own the movie. Seriously. Go see it.

That's pretty much what's going on around here right now. What's up with you?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Sweats 29: Marathon Training Week 3

July 13–19

Monday: 3.2 mile run (9:13 pace)
GOODNESS did I sleep in this morning. No yoga and I felt the pain. But! in better news, my new shoes arrived and I put the first three miles on them tonight! I'll be rotating these with the shoes I've been wearing since April, which now have about half their lifetime mileage on them. This run felt good, easy, and comfortable. Can't ask for much better on a Monday.
Tuesday: studio yoga class (75 minutes)
We had a nice, small(-ish) class tonight, and luckily it wasn't as hot as last week. Still hot, but not hot enough to get me into king pigeon pose again. I did feel incredibly open though, and Donna went out of her usual sequencing for some fun tonight. I always appreciate a crow – headstand – crow – variation option flow!

Wednesday: hip & hamstring yoga (13 minutes) + 3.09 mile run (8:44 pace)
If the flow works, the flow works, know what I'm sayin'? I saw my chiropractor this evening (and shuffled my mileage because I got home pretty late and storms were coming!) and got a lot of the tension worked out of my hips before hitting the road. I have no idea where this speed came from, but this sure was a fun run.

Thursday: rest
I've been sleeping awfully this week. No time for morning yoga for me...again. My coworkers took me out for drinks after work and it was a late one; I'd planned in advance to rearrange this week's miles. I'll tell myself I did tons of core work with all that laughing at happy hour and call this day a win, regardless of miles run or yoga practiced.
Friday: side body yoga (13 minutes) + 5 mile run (9:16 pace)
I had a stomach/belly cramp from my very first step of this run, and that made it a bit challenging. I stopped and took deep breaths and side stretches every now and then to get through it. I don't know what that was about but it was a fluke, so I won't waste my weekend worrying about it.

Saturday: rest
I spent hours cleaning my apartment today and sweated enough doing that to make up for a lack of formal practice, but I didn't do any actual yoga beyond some hip-loosening stretches. Oh, by the way, GO SEE INSIDE OUT.

Sunday: full body flow (16 minutes) + 5.48 mile run (9:41 pace)
I think today is the hottest day we've had all summer, honestly. Usually by now the temps are hitting triple digits, but it's stayed around the mid-80s lately. Today it was in the upper 90s by 11 a.m. and even last night I don't think it dropped below 75º. It was hot. And shocker, I didn't get up with my alarms at 6 a.m. and it wasn't even supposed to get below 85 after dusk.

I free flowed to open up my whole body before I started to hopefully make this scorcher as "easy" as possible. My legs felt fine, but oh my god, this sucked. I was supposed to run 8 miles, but I didn't even feel bad about cutting a few off. I had another awful side stitch that none of my breathing tricks would get rid of (I think I have to swear off the pre-run PB sandwiches) and then the pain dipped low into my ovaries because endo is a mofo. I wasn't in the mood for crying today.

Weekly Totals
Running: 16.77 miles
Yoga: 117 minutes

Marathon Training Week 3 Reflections:
Went on quite the rollercoaster this week, didn't I? Just...good thing it was a drop-back week. I felt solid in my shorter runs and confident in the course of my training, even despite the last two suck-fest runs. But lighter mileage this week means next week is a big surge ahead, and it's finally really heating up outside here. Oh, and today I learned that apparently I can't forget to put bug spray on the backs of my ears before heading out. That was a fun discovery.

Here's to next week.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Deep Affection

You had to know this was coming, because I have FOMO like a MOFO and all of blogland is playing this game and if I knew the original creator of it, I would certainly give credit, but I don't. Also, it's a Friday, and my last day at my job, and it's been a bananas week, so a fun post is warranted, right?

I went ahead and asked a couple of people what they thought were the five things I'm most obsessed with. Some people took it a little bit too literally so I had to nudge them in the right direction and asked them what they think I have "deep affection" for, or something similar. Here's what my nearest and dearest had to say:

Writing (and/or blogging and/or words in general): 10
Everyone could agree on this one. It came as reassurance with perfect timing for the giant leap of faith I'm about to take in my chase after a career in doing what I always believed I do best.

Yoga: 9
Believe it or not, my mother was the only person who didn't say this. (She also didn't fully understand the assignment at first. Hi mom.)

Running: 8
Shockingly, not 100% on this either. The red onions (see below) probably took up the spot for running from that one respondent.

Books/reading: 6
I did expect this to be a bit higher, but I'll still take it.

Sushi: 3
It's true. In fact, my (second-to)-last-day-of-work lunch courtesy of my bosses was sushi. No tempura, but beggars can't be choosers, amirite?

Grammar: 2
Two coworkers said this. They've heard me groan audibly about misplaced em dashes and improper usage for several years, so this is not a surprise.

New Jersey: 2
Almost surprised that this didn't come up more, but the only two people who said it are the two people I asked who aren't from New Jersey. I talk a bit more about how awesome NJ is to people who don't already know it themselves, I suppose :)

Puppies/dogs/fuzzy four-leggeds: 2
Well. Duh.

Makeup/Nail polish: 2
I mean, I did used to have "nail polish addict" as a descriptor in my Insta profile. But I kept forgetting to take nail polish pictures so I decided to remove it. Still true though. And my Naked 2 palette is a prized possession, even if I don't have as many opportunities to use it as I used to.

Runners up, including these from a person who surprisingly knows me really, really well:
Er... I meant to say #3.

Not taking shit from people, independence, One Direction (true), tattoos, music, coffee (shockingly only said once!), tea, disco fries (French fries with melted mozz and gravy—I take my gravy on the side; I'm a dipper), red onions (This one was kind of a joke. My yoga class friend said this because the day before I asked her, I showed up to class warning her that I'd just eaten a whole lot of red onion for dinner [summer salad: cuke, onion, tomato, basil, drizzle of oil, pinch of salt. Yum.] and apologizing in advance of the Lions Breath we always do in class several times).

This was fun, honestly. I wasn't sure if I'd play the game until Kristen volunteered her answers for me, and I thought to myself, "What would others have to say?" Hearing the different responses from people in different corners of my life was interesting for sure. So I extend it to you now, how do you agree with these 10 friends? Anything you'd add that they didn't include?

Also, today is my last day at my job. I'm taking a huge leap of faith as I leave, and I think I'm equal parts nervous and optimistic. If you happen to have a positive, encouraging, life-affirming proverb or quote in your back pocket, I think I'd really love to hear it right about now. What have you got??

Also also...please go have an amazing weekend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Putting it Into Words

I've always been an avid reader. I remember picking up my brother's Boxcar Children books as a kid and reading the chapter books cover to cover, before entering first grade. I don't really remember how I learned to read, but it happened before I was in kindergarten. I think my life was always destined toward books and, really, words in general, and my still-developing mind knew it needed to get a head start if I had any hope of accomplishing everything I would come to hope to accomplish.

As the years wore on and I tore my way through the entire Little House set, learned about friendship from the Babysitters Club, dabbled in my mother's old Nancy Drew novels, and learned how to let books comfort me with anything (and everything) by Judy Blume, I found my niche. I just loved literary fiction. Good stories. Stories that could be real, about people who could feel real, written well and told well. I read to feel related to, and to learn that I wasn't a freak. I poured over YA, fan-girled after the Lost Generation of authors, and found dubiously kindred spirits in the Beatniks.

My college years were largely characterized by a relationship that maybe never should have been, but that happened anyway. To put it fairly and judiciously, I would be very different today if that person had never come into my life. I have oscillated between wishing I'd never met him, wishing we could have turned out differently, and feeling satisfied with this place we've finally settled into.

But while we were in the thick of things, off and on and back off and then on again, I had no sense of guidance about where we could go next, or what my life could look like without him, or truly and fully with him. Friends and family told me one thing, he and my heart another, and round and round we went.

For my whole life, books had been there for me—in ways Kristen explains more thoroughly than I could here—when no one in my life really knew how to be, or I didn't know how to let them. But I never read anything about young love that made me feel comforted about my situation, or gave me any hint that any person in the world had ever experienced what I was going through. There was a specific kind of book I was wanting to read, that I felt was a real representation of love in your early twenties, but even to this day I've never found it.

So I decided long ago that someday I would write it.

But did I want to be a novelist? That's where it got complicated. I have always, always loved books. I have always loved writing, and known that my living would be made on it. But there aren't enough words to adequately express what a journey that's been for me. I'll be candid right now: I still have no idea what I want to do with my life. I just know that I should be writing. But a novelist? I always get mad when people asked me what I do for a living, and then follow-up to my response ("I'm a writer.") with, "Have you written a novel?" It's frustrating. Novels aren't the only form of professional writing. I never wanted to be a novelist; hell I never even wanted to write fiction for fun or career. Until I did, of course. And "writing a novel" is seen so incorrectly by so many non-publishing industry people. Writing it is just part one. Publishing it, the part that matters if you want to make a living as a writer? A whole different beast.

Very shortly, I'll be leaving the niche publishing company I've worked at as a writer and editor for over three years. I will (ostensibly) become an editor and reporter at a local newspaper, which was never, ever part of my plans or part of my dream until it became my only route of escape from a soul-sucking, dead-end job. I've worked as a freelance writer, and still do. I've worked as a freelance literary editor, and still do. I've been working on (and then abandoning, and then finally picking up again) a collection of essays for five years, which I've made plans to complete this year. Throughout all that, I've been memorizing lines of the novel I would someday maybe convince myself to write, if I could ever get over myself enough to just sit down and put it into words.

Friday, I got over myself—sparked into action, finally, by a podcasted conversation between Hank Green and author Maureen Johnson in combination with a new level of insult and disrespect from my soon-to-be-former boss—and started writing a novel. By the time I left for Philadelphia Saturday morning, I'd written nearly 8,400 words.

So here it is, the declaration "they" (who?) tell fledgling and hopeful novelists to make if they hope to have any chance of completing it: I'm finally writing on paper the novel I've been writing in my mind in the shower, on the run, in the car, and in my daydreams for too many years. The formal announcement of something I already brushed on yesterday but felt the need to be incredibly dramatic about anyway today. (Have you ever met a writer without a flair for the dramatic?) I feel like a massive cliche just saying this, but every novel that's anyone's ever read (and loved) has had to start with a writer writing it, right? Anyway, let's just hope my writing process doesn't go the way of Nick's zombie novel, ya know what I mean?

Monday, July 13, 2015

As You Do

I'm in transition. I don't really love being in transition. I like my feet on the ground, my heart soaring in the clouds. But as I'm moving through spaces and chapters and epochs of life, career, and (as it feels sometimes) sanity lately, I'm...

readingBooks on books on books. (Right now: Wonder.)

writing • Finally, a novel, after years of memorizing the lines I wanted to one day write. Decent posts every now and then here, I hope. An editorial guide, style guide, and to-do list for a new and amazing project I'm collaborating on. (See below.)

editing • My book of essays, in between spurts of his book. My five-year plan. (Just kidding, I don't have one of those, which is probably shocking.)

loving • The faith my friends and family have in me. The support and encouragement from all corners of my little community. My life, imperfect as it is.

listening to • Dear Hank and John, a podcast from Hank and John Green. Hozier. Fresh Air, another NPR podcast. Mystery Show, one of my favorite new podcasts. (More eps, please.)

eating • Summer salads and avocados as much as I possibly can. Spinach and romaine salads with every bit of produce I can stock my fridge with. Cucumber, tomato, red onion with a drizzle of olive oil and few shakes of Italian seasonings. Fresh basil with tomato and mozzarella. The Garden State really shines in the summertime.

creating • A literary magazine. I'm collaborating with an author I've edited twice, who happens to also be a friend I've admired for years. This is going to be incredible. If you want to be involved, I would love that. Do you write fiction? Do you write creative non-fiction or exploratory essays? Do you make art? Do you take photos? When I tell you people that my collaborator Yvette is a creative genius, whose dreams dwarf anything I could imagine imagining, I'm not lying. If you create, come join us.

What are you up to?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Sweats 28: Marathon Training Week 2

July 6–12

Monday: posture fix yoga (12 min) + 3.01 mile run (9:01 pace) 
Despite the holiday hangover, I scraped myself out of bed for a quick practice. I should do this video more often than I do; it always feels like a treat when I remember how good it is.

Then I went and gobbled up some hills for an after-dinner snack. Got quick in mile 1 (8:35—a feat, considering my weekend of debauchery), slowed way down adjusting to the headwind in mile 2 (9:32) and eeked out a sub-9 mile 3 (8:58). I now declare Mondays speed days for this training cycle.

Tuesday: studio yoga class (75 min)
What do you get when you cross literally as many yogis as you can possibly fit into a small, non-temperature controlled room with an outside temperature of over 90º? A whole bunch of yogis literally dripping sweat. BUT, though the heat was so real, I hit a milestone! For the first time ever, my left hip and back were open enough for me to transition from mermaid into king pigeon pose, which I've been sorta working on for a few weeks!
Side note, I went into this class a grumbly grouch, and came out with a total mood makeover. The power of yoga is strong, you guys.

Wednesday: yin-ish hip yoga (11 min) + 5.03 mile run (9:47 pace)
I didn't sleep well, so I didn't have energy for much more than reclined poses this morning, but hip work is never a bad start to the day if you ask me. This run was a serious effort, given the humidity (87%) and dew point (73º) when I set out after afternoon and evening thunderstorms. On a positive note, it made my heart really smile super big when I ran past a neighborhood church waving the rainbow flag from its front sign. I like where I live.

Thursday: yin-ish hip yoga (11 min)
Not sure if it was last night's run or doing this pose sequence yesterday, but I woke up aching a bit in the hips. So I did it again, of course. It's definitely hip work, but it feels so good.

Friday: yoga for runners (17 min) + 9.03 mile run (10:24 pace)
I feel like I haven't done this video in ages! I shuffled my week around so today is my long run and I like to prepare as early as possible—even if that means 12 hours before I start running.

But this run ended up hurting more than I thought it would, and that's my fault. I didn't wear my knee strap or stretch even remotely enough beforehand, and my aching knee and angry hip weren't happy after allllll those hills—which took me from low 9s to mid 10s in the middle three miles, and I never quite got my momentum back.

This wasn't the kind of tough run that makes me hate running though. It was the kind that makes me demand more, dig deeper, and know I'll be proud of myself when I complete each mile, without stopping, and without turning on myself. It kinda felt like the kind of run that'll make me a marathoner, ya know?

Saturday: rest
I left early for Philly for the weekend, again. I'm actually really glad that my plans for the next two weekends have changed somewhat and I have fewer places to be and things to do. I need a bit of a break from going places. I did some yoga-inspired stretches but no formal practice to speak of.

Sunday: 3.01 mile run (9:59 pace)
I can say two good things about this run: a) it got done, despite the long contemplation to skip it after another debaucherous weekend in Philly and much-needed Sunday afternoon nap; and b) it wasn't quick, but it all felt really good. I had trouble catching my breath a bit in the middle—effects of last night and bad sleep since last Thursday is my guess—but my body felt good and pain-free. Definitely a win.

Weekly Totals
Running: 20.08 miles
Yoga: 126 minutes

Marathon Training Week 2 Reflections:
I felt the difference in marathon training this week. Not in the mileage; not in the length of my long run. But on Wednesday. We had on/off thunderstorms all afternoon and evening, which meant two things: oppressive humidity and swampy roads (and, of course, the chance of getting caught in a downpour). My back hurt, I was tired, I was cranky, and I had a million other things to do. But not one single part of me let the thought of skipping this run even register in my mind. THAT's the difference for me in marathon training: This plan is my bible.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Art of Spending

One of the most important takeaways about personal finance is this: It's personal. Sure, there are some general guidelines that work for most people in most situations, but the amazing thing about it is that you can manipulate your financial plan, set goals, write a budget, and save for your own life based on whatever works best for you.

All it comes down to is some awareness of your finances, your spending habits, and your spending triggers.

One thing I love about personal finance too is that it isn't static. As your situation (income, expenses, goals) changes, your budget changes. Or, it should. "Budget" doesn't mean limitation. A lot of people hear the b-word and they thing it is synonymous with tightened pursestrings and scraping the bottom of the bargain barrel. It doesn't have to be. Writing a budget is simply how you give each dollar you own a home. It's management.

So yesterday, I shared the non-negotiable part of my budget. The part that comes first, the part that changes minimally—if at all—month-to-month. But here's where the fun part begins: personal spending.

If you remember from last year, I used to keep this portion of the budget categorized like crazy. Here's the reason: I was still not that great at curbing impulse spending, or remembering my budget when out shopping. In the last year, I've come to grips with the fact that I really don't enjoy shopping (though I love Target, but that's a different kind of thing). And even moreso, I don't really enjoy spending money.

Here's what my personal spending budget looks like now:
And here's how it gets made:

1. I look at my calendar for the month and calculate what I have planned and what those plans will cost me. Birthdays? More in gifts and entertainment. Travel? More in gas and EZ-Pass, less in groceries. Need to buy an outfit for an event? (Rarely do I make a special purchase like this.) More goes to personal.

2. I look at my shopping lists. I keep a list of what I'm running out of or what needs replacing. These things are pretty much all that I buy. I don't like clutter, I don't like clothes shopping. I really just buy what I need to replenish (shampoo, dish soap, mascara, etc.) and replace (running shoes, worn-out clothing). 

3. I think about treating myself. Sometimes I'll pad my Personal budget a little bit and let myself buy a new nail polish. Or I'll leave extra room in General Expense and give myself permission to buy a book, if I want. (This sounds contradictory to #2, but life is about the small joys.) At the end of the winter, I'll get my car washed. 

Writing in the budget is the easy part. I do these calculations and usually start filling in my budget numbers about halfway through the previous month and adjusting as things come up, plans get made, invites get received, and products run out. By the first of the month, it's usually such a relief that my budget has finally turned over and I can start fresh!

And here's how I (do my very best, but sometimes fail to) stick to my budget:

1. I track my spending. Listen, your budget is useless if you don't track your spending. I use a very simple, clean, no-frills iPhone app called iSpending, and I've been using it since 2013. It's perfect, and it's free. All I do in it is log my pennies in and my pennies out. (Side note: As Michael pointed out yesterday, I don't have debt. I do use credit cards though, for absolutely everything. At the risk of this becoming a personal finance blog [it won't], would you want to see a post on how I use credit cards and how they factor into my budget/tracking? I fear it's too much for this post.)

Tracking spending means I need to come face-to-face with what I do with my money twice, or even three times: Once when I buy something, again when I put it into iSpending (takes 5 seconds), and again when I put that figure into the spreadsheet and see the calculation made. There are only so many times where you can think to yourself "How the hell did I just spend $240 in Target and have no idea what I bought?" before you become a bit more discriminate in your spending.

2. I budget in fun and enjoyment. There's no planet in which I can have a $0 entertainment budget. Sure, there's plenty to do for free. But my friends aren't all like me, and sometimes if I want to see them on a Friday night, I gotta go to the bar. (Which I also, in fact, have been known to enjoy.) Sometimes, I swear, a new nail polish will make me ridiculously happy. For a while. I can't buy five a month, but I can buy a new one every couple of months.

3. I make myself think it over. I never, ever checkout of online shopping without leaving the item(s) in my cart for a day or two. This has saved me hundreds of dollars in impulse purchases. And if I want to buy something from a physical store and it's more than a couple bucks, I put it on my list. If, when I'm making my budget for the next month, it's still on that list, I'll consider budgeting for it. Or, I'll see if I can hold off another month because I'm certainly living fine without it now, aren't I? I am.

4. I plan no-spend days and shopping days. It usually happens that on the first weekend of the month, it's time for me to do a good grocery shopping and make a Target run. I try to do these and any other spendy errands on the same day and get a whole lot of spending out of my system. I don't usually go to Target again until the next month (this used to be my biggest problem—weekly trips). I carefully write a list and bring it with me, and almost 100% of the time end up with everything I needed to replenish and restock or replace in one day. It usually feels good to have a few no-spend days after that.  :)

5. I think ahead. I don't really know what my future will look like, but I know I don't want to be surrounded by stuff and unhappy that my goals haven't been met. There's almost always something on the horizon that needs some funding, and if I'm on the fence about a purchase, I weigh it against the thing. Do I really need these running shorts exactly like the three pairs I already have, or is this money better off in my Yoga Teacher Training fund? It's the latter. Do I need to pick up lunch today because I'm feeling too lazy to throw together a salad, or should I put my spare change toward my marathon traveling (to North Carolina) fund? It's, again, the latter.

Of course, I slip up. I make impulse purchases and honestly, usually regret them. I go over budget because I'm having too much fun to close my bar tab, or I feel too happy not to buy a round for my friends. Because personal finance isn't about perfection, and budgeters aren't infallible. But with a budget in place, it's always way easier to see where I stand after a splurge or before a big-ticket purchase. What it comes down to is really simple: budgeting brings freedom.

If you're interested, I've made my budget template (with formulas!) downloadable, in case you'd like to give it a spin. (I'll be happy to help you navigate some of the categories and line items if it's at all confusing!) Remember though, I have a degree in English, not finance, and I don't own any property. I'm not a financial guru. I just know what works for me.

Tell me, what works for you? Or ask me, what hangs you up about personal finance? How do you budget?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Art of Budgeting

As most of you know by now, I recently accepted a job that, while a massive step up in my career, is a drastic step down for me financially.

As some of you know, and I want all of you to know, I am not a person who gives a crap about money. I am not motivated by it. I don't want a lot of it. It cannot be substituted for love, support, or quality time. All it does is afford me the lifestyle I feel comfortable in. It is not a lavish one; it is a comfortable, safe, and independent one.

Even given that philosophy regarding money, taking a 40% pay cut is terrifying. Because it means that if I do not bring in side income through freelancing or a second job, I will not make ends meet without burying myself in debt—and since I climbed out of it and cleaned up my financial act a few years ago, debt is not an option for me.

I wrote about money—specifically my money rules and how I budget—last year. I still keep a monthly budget and an incredibly detailed account of my finances. This may not look like the work of a person who doesn't care about money, but hear me out: Taking a few minutes a day to make sure all my pennies are organized or accounted for saves me from feeling stressed or confused about my money, keeps me from being surprised by my account balance, and keeps money from having unnecessary control over my mental space.

This has never been proven more true than when I was told what my new (non-negotiable; I tried, I promise) salary would be. I did some quick calculations to estimate my take-home pay, and went right into my the folder where my monthly budgets live to compare that number to the top half of my budget—the monthly no-questions-asked bills.

Having an at-a-glance understanding of my financial situation allowed me to think quickly on my feet and start formulating a plan for taking this job and what that would mean. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that I truly felt waves of gratitude for my financial organization system that allowed me to think quickly and removed what could have been an additional stress of mental math and missed calculations.

I truly believe that financial awareness and a clear understanding of one's own financial standing is a crucial component to self-sufficiency. Hence why I'm going to talk about budgeting again on the blog today. More specifically, I want to share how I've changed things up since last year, and how it's working for me lately.

How I Budget: 2015 Edition

Starting checking/cash: This is the cash or checking account balance I start the month with; anything held over from the previous month. Usually just rent money and a couple of bucks, since everything else usually goes to savings.
Salary: my calculated guaranteed income.
Other income: Sometimes this is a lot; sometimes it's a little. I add in everything here: Swagbucks, freelance writing/editing income, the errant cash gift, any side work income.
No spend days: I try to set myself a number every month of "no-spend days" and keep track here. No-spend doesn't apply to bills on auto-withdraw or usage of things that cost money. It means I didn't stop to pick up lunch or a coffee that day, or I wasn't tempted to grab a bottle of wine on my way home from yoga (it happens more than you'd think).

Monthly Fixed
Rent: because living in an apartment is better than living in the Jeep.
Cell phone: because I need something to instagram from. In seriousness, I'm grateful my mom and stepdad let me remain on the shared plan, because it wasn't too long ago that I had a single-phone plan and payed double what I pay monthly on the family plan.
Netflix: because Gilmore Girls. And Friends.
Car Payment: because Jeeps ain't cheep, yo.
Car Insurance: I actually pay this bi-annually, to save myself a monthly transaction and a total of like $8 per year. I don't count it monthly, and pull it from either general savings or a monthly paycheck, if I can, when that time rolls around.
Utility Fund: So I do this strangely, probably. I have a separate checking account just used to pay my Verizon (Internet; I don't have cable) bill and my electric bill (gas heat & hot water are included in my rent, praise.) I don't like estimating monthly budget numbers, and obviously the electric bill varies. What I used to do is transfer the same amount into this fund monthly, and pay these bills from that fund. I would have a little left over to compensate for the months that the bills were a bit higher.

A few months back, I landed a decent-sized freelance contract and shoved all that money into this fund so I didn't have to think about it. I still manually pay these bills and keep track of all transactions each month, but I won't have to worry about feeding this account until January. And, it's a CapitalOne360 account, so I get a couple of cents back in interest every month, which certainly doesn't hurt.

Savings: This is just my general savings account. When it's juicier, and I know more clearly what I want to do with it in the long- and short-term, I'll split it into a property fund, maybe a business fund, what have you. For now, it's general savings for Alyssa's life.
Retirement: I have never in my life had employer-sanctioned retirement savings like a 401k. I started my Roth IRA last year when I realized that 25 is a good age to maybe start thinking about 65, or something like that. This doesn't get a lot from me every month, because I just don't make that much, but it does get a non-negotiable monthly deposit (as does my general savings) but that money does not exist to me, and it won't until I am at least 55.
Emergency: Most financial smart people will tell you to have 3-6 months expenses in this account. I do not have that. I have one month's rent. This is because I always felt safe in my job, and renting affords me a bit of flexibility that home-owners don't have. (My boiler breaks? My landlord's problem, not mine.) I'm not saying this is the smart decision for everybody; it's probably not even the smart decision for me. But it's what I feel comfortable tucking away in this place while I let my other money move around where I need it most.

If you've read this far, kudos to you. If you've read this far and are wondering about the personal spending portion of the program, fear not: It's coming at you in a separate post, because this is long enough as it is, don't you think?

In the meantime, please tell me if you hate me talking about money, because I know it's kind of a niche subject of interest. But if you're down with it, let's get some chatter going. What are your major money rules?