A new year means a new budget

Budgeting is…not my favorite thing. It may be one of my least favorite things. Why would I want to budget? Why would I want to limit myself in how I spend my money? It’s annoying. It’s restricting. It doesn’t give me the freedom to buy what I want, when I want it.

BUT….it’s very important. And very valuable. For many, many reasons. I am sure that anyone who has budgeted and spent their money wisely would never say that they regret it. How can you go wrong? Saving and spending your money in a smart and responsible way is a huge way to relieve stress. It can also teach us what is truly important in life. Is it easy? Not for most. And definitely not in a society such as ours which is constantly assaulting us with ads telling us what to buy, how much to buy, that what we have isn’t good enough, that a used car isn’t as great as a brand new one, etc. It can be quite hard to budget when the world around us is telling us to “Buy, buy, buy!”

[Here is a great blog about how to think differently in a consumer-driven world.]

I think most people use the new year as a time to start fresh with their finances, and first on their list is attacking the credit card balances that have built up over the holiday season. My husband and I started looking closely at our finances last month right before the holidays and decided that January was the time that we were going to start doing some serious budgeting. December was our last month to spend freely. We didn’t go crazy, but we didn’t stress TOO much over what we spent. Now, the real discipline starts. I’m feeling pretty good about it so far, since I didn’t spend any money yesterday! But it is only January 2nd, so obviously I have many more days to conquer:P

For any of you reading this who are thinking about how you also need to budget and get your finances under control, here are some ideas for you. (My husband and I are big Dave Ramsey fans, and enjoy listening to his radio show/podcasts. He gives great financial advice that anyone can gain from. So, a lot of our practices come from him, as well as wise friends and family who have taught us some valuable financial lessons over the way. And of course, we have learned a lot from our own financial successes and failures).

1) Take a close look at your expenses. Create an excel sheet indicating your income and your necessary expenses (food, rent, utilities, other bills). These are the things you need to live day to day life. I realize this may look different for everyone, as we all can define the word “need” differently, depending on our individual situations. But remember that the basic human needs are food, shelter, and water. So, focus on those things.

2) Create a budget. Mint.com is great place to start. An Excel sheet that you update frequently will work as well. Try to stick to it! Mint.com is great if you have a smart phone, since you can download the app and it will send you alerts when you are close to going over your budget.

3) Consider your luxuries. Make a list of the things you don’t necessarily need, but really want to make room for in your budget. Prioritize these things accordingly. Decide what you want to keep, and what you can live without for a few months (ie – the daily latte can put maybe $25 a week back in your pocket that you can use towards another luxury you’d rather indulge or a bill that is more pressing). Another way to feel less guilty about unnecessary purchases is to add “blow money” to your budget. For example, my husband and I get x amount of dollars to spend each month, no questions asked. This will help you feel less deprived and let you buy or save up for the things you really want but don’t actually need. (Note: I truly believe our luxuries are what lead most of us to crippling debt. Most of what we have we don’t really need! Eliminating just a few luxuries can seriously help decrease your debt and keep you from creating more).

4) Set financial goals. For example, you may want to pay off your credit card in 6 months, or you want all of your school loans paid off in 5 years. Set realistic goals, but also challenge yourself. Think about what you can give up in the short term so that you can get rid of that debt. Once it’s gone, it’s an amazing feeling. #1 on your list of goals should be to build up your emergency fund ($1,000 minimum) and get 3-6 months living expenses in your savings account in case of job loss. Once you have this money set aside, you can feel a lot better about the future, knowing you have that cushion to fall on in case something unexpected happens.

5) Eliminate temptation. Take a close look at the things in your life that cause you to spend more money than you usually would. It may be your credit card. Or, those pesky e-mails from your favorite vendors always taunting you with great deals and sales. Cut up the credit card and unsubscribe from the emails! Out of sight, out of mind. The same goes for television/internet – are ads in the media causing you to spend more than you should? Then try to abstain from these outlets as much as possible.

6) Sell, sell, sell! Go through your house and take a look at what you have that you can get rid of. Start making some money off things you don’t need. You’ll get some extra cash AND your house will be less cluttered.

7) Get the most out of what you already have. Consider what you can hold off on purchasing. If you think you want a new car, but you don’t really need to get rid of your old one yet, drive it for a few more months. Who really wants a car payment? It’s a hassle and it’s stressful. If your current car is in decent condition and gets you from A to B, keep driving it until it no longer works. My husband and I are doing just that with our ’98 Corolla. I won’t lie, there are certainly times we would love a newer and nicer car. But not having an unnecessary car payment definitely makes it worth it.

8) Practice the two week rule. When you’re shopping and come across something you want, don’t buy it right away. Wait two weeks and see if you still want it. If you still do, go back and buy it – it may even be on sale by then! You might find in some cases that after two weeks have passed, you don’t really want the item anymore or you forgot about it altogether. This is a tip my mom shared with me growing up (thanks Mom!), and I found that it is really helpful, especially in regard to clothes shopping.

So there you have it. Eight tips to get you started. And trust me, it’s worth it to get started! Once you have more control over your money, you will immediately feel as if you have more control over your life in general. It’s a good feeling!

~

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

As 2012 comes to a close

I am a bad blogger. It’s true. There are so many times over the past year that I wanted to blog about my weight loss, my life, my goals, my thoughts, etc…and then, I didn’t. And I am ok with that.

But something about the end of a year and the start of a new one makes you want to put pen to paper (so to speak) and start reflecting on your life as of late.

So, for a quick recap, here’s some of the things I’ve wanted to blog about (but didn’t) since my last post.

After losing 30lbs for my wedding in 2010, I was ready to enter into maintenance, as I was pretty content with my current weight. However, the weight slowly started to creep back on, and with a little urging from my gym’s manager (now my personal trainer) and seeing myself in a friend’s wedding pictures, I was ready to lose some more weight. The initial goal was 10 lbs. I lost 20. I was definitely thrilled with the results and even more happy with how strong and toned I had become. I ate right as often as I could, I worked with a trainer once a week to learn new routines, I took classes at the gym so I didn’t get bored, I tracked my results to stay on track, etc. So, as of December of 2011, my weight was probably the lowest it has ever been in my adult years. I did a decent job keeping it off, but I noticed some of it gradually coming back (about 5-10 lbs, give or take); this made me a bit anxious, but I was reminded by my trainer that it’s not healthy to stress about your weight, because that will make it even harder to lose weight and you may continue to gain. At this point in my life, I can say I am very close to fully accepting how I look, how much I weigh, and how I may have a little extra around my midsection. My goal in 2013, and my overall lifelong goal, is to remember that being healthy and fit is far more important than having a flat stomach and very little body fat. I am curvy and always will be. I will never be stick skinny. And it feels good to finally be able to embrace my body and be thankful for how healthy it is. I am thankful for that. And no matter what my jean size, that is truly all that matters.

*If you have more questions about my weight loss journey, I am happy to answer them! Just message me or leave a comment

In August of 2012 I dealt with back pain that started in my lower back and then spread to my upper back, right hip, and down my right leg. It kept me from going in to the office, going to the gym, attending activities that required me to sit for periods of time, and generally just made me feel like I couldn’t live my life the way I used to. It was a difficult time for me – after x-rays, an MRI, doctor visits, chiropractic care, and physical therapy, I still felt stuck – nothing was working and nothing really appeared to be wrong with me. After my last PT session (btw, I love my physical therapist and would highly recommend her – she helped me in many ways; if you need a physical therapist, let me know), I came home and laid on the couch (in pain of course, because the only thing not causing me pain was standing and walking around), and I began googling the experiences of others, desperately trying to find some sort of solution. After much browsing, I came across the PDF of a book called Healing Back Pain  by Dr. John E. Sarno. In short, the book is basically about how the pain is all in your head (there is more to it than that, but that is the gist). Sounds crazy, right? Well, I thought the same thing. Then I read it. And it made SO much sense to me and my situation. I know it may not apply to everyone, but I encourage you, if you’ve ever dealt with any sort of body pain that does not seem to be caused by a structural issue (my MRI did not indicate any sort of serious structural problem), then read this book. It’s free, and you can download it on your iPad or eReader. I read it in about two days. Once I applied the principles I learned in this book, I started seeing improvement in just a few days. I do still deal with the pain some days, but overall, I am much better than I was. I am back to sitting normally, going to the gym and working out as I used to, and resuming my other activities as usual. I am confident that God works in mysterious ways, and I do believe He led me to this book – I believe He has used this book to help me see the true underlying issue that was/is causing my pain.

*If you do decide to read this book, let me know what you think – I am eager to have a conversation with someone else about it and see how their experience compares to mine.

In 2012, our church lost a dear man. Roscoe Adams died suddenly in April and it was such a tragic loss. It was, and still is, hard to understand why he was taken from us; he was in his 60s, but in good health, and the cause of his death still remains somewhat unknown. Roscoe was a gem – the type of person you only meet once in your life. I was inspired and encouraged by such a godly man. He is so greatly missed, and I pray that in 2013 and for the rest of my life, I do not forget the amazing things he taught me in the few years that I knew him.

[Here is a great post my pastor wrote about our dear Roscoe.]

When you lose someone, or when you experience great tragedy, it really puts life in perspective, doesn’t it? It makes you think twice about the things you stress about – your weight, your looks, having nice things, keeping up appearances, making lots of money, driving a nice car, having a big house etc. We worry about so many things that don’t matter, don’t we? As Americans, we have the luxury to stress about the pettiest of things. And in our present world of Facebook, Pinterest, fancy blogs, etc, we are so quick to compare our lives to others and become discouraged because we think we don’t measure up. The day to day life can get bogged down with stressors and worries that take a toll; then, something tragic and life shattering happens (Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook shooting, Aurora shooting, serious illness, loss of a loved one…), and we are brought to our knees, realizing that the things we thought mattered don’t actually make that big of a difference. People are what matter. Things are just…things. We can’t take them with us and they aren’t worth stressing about.

A present theme that persisted during my 3+ months of dealing with back pain was this whole idea of what matters and what doesn’t. I was constantly asking myself this. I made some mental lists, but I also want to keep these ideas in mind. So, here are some of the things on my list – what are some of yours? This will be an ongoing list for me, as I am sure I will continue learning of things to add.

What I think matters: being skinny, looking good, fitting into a smaller jean size

What actually matters: being healthy and fit; doing my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle

 

What I think matters: what people think about me; how people perceive me

What actually matters: what God sees. what He thinks of me. what can I do to please Him and make Him happy? how can I honor Him with my life?

 

What I think matters: working toward the next big promotion at my job

What actually matters: doing my best to work hard in a way that honors and glorifies God. being an example of God’s love to my coworkers. not allowing myself to become cynical and bitter when I don’t get my way or get the accolades I feel I deserve.

 

What I think matters: enjoying life’s luxuries. spending my hard-earned money on things that will make me more comfortable

What actually matters: meeting my most basic needs and using the rest of what God has given me to bless others. realizing that, if we all helped each other, the world truly would be a better place

 

Remember – learning is like healing; it happens over time.  Though it sounds cliche, life truly is a journey, and we are figuring it all out as we go.

My Weight Loss Journey: Maintenance

As I said in my previous post, I did not reach my goal weight by the date of my wedding. Since returning from our Mexican honeymoon (where the endless chips and guacamole no doubt did some damage), I have still not reached my ultimate goal weight; this is mainly because I have little incentive/motivation. Well, I suppose there is incentive (I’d love to go down a size or too and work on some trouble zones, and really, losing weight is always an incentive since you usually end up looking and feeling better), but ultimately, there isn’t a looming event date that keeps me motivated.

So, if I have no motivation and lack some focus, how have I maintained my weight? To be honest, I have gained a few pounds since the wedding, but nothing too major. For the first few weeks of marriage, I realized I did enjoy eating what I wanted and not having to count calories anymore, but I also knew that gaining the weight back was absolutely not an option. So we joined the local gym (less than a mile from our house, which is awesome), and I now work out 4-5 times a week. I’d like to say I also eat whatever I want, but to be honest, my diet will never be what it was before, since my stomach has shrunk since last year and I don’t require as much to feel full. But, I am definitely a little more lax with my diet.

While I’d love this blog to be full of my sage advice and suggestions on how to best maintain your weight loss, all I really can offer you at this point is my current plan: work out. a lot. If you want to eat whatever you want (within reason) then you need to put in the time at the gym to burn those calories. However, I realize this is not ideal for most people. With my schedule, I’m able to make it to the gym this frequently, but some people are not. So, here’s what I can suggest:

1) Start every day with a fresh perspective – realize that everyday is a new day, a chance to start over. Remember that just because you may have eaten a bit too much the day before, today is a chance to eat a bit less and get back on track.
2) Don’t let the scale be your guide. Sure, you may have put on one or two extra pounds one week, but if your jeans feel fine, then you’re doing ok. I always judge how I’m doing by how my clothes fit. Once the jeans get too tight, then I know I need to do some extra work.
3) Plan ahead for big events. If you know you’re going to a wedding this weekend and want to eat/drink more than normal, be sure to squeeze an extra workout in somewhere. Or, eat a little less the day before
4) When I was dieting, I had one cheat day a week. I was really good for 5-6 days, then I would cheat a bit on the other days. This keeps you from binge eating, because you know that you can eventually have what you are craving. The fact is, the “bad” foods we want to eat everyday are so much more enjoyable and tasty when we eat the on occasion – we appreciate and savor them more that way.
5) If working out five days a week (or even one day a week) sounds unreasonable, then consider how you can fit a workout in during the work day. Take the stairs. Walk around the parking lot on your lunch break. If it’s rainy/cold, get up and walk around the office. There are definitely ways to fit in exercise if you’re willing to restructure your day a bit.

Most of you are probably not new to these ideas/suggestions. And maybe I’m writing this blog for my own benefit more than anyone else’s – because I know that one day, I won’t be able to work out five days a week. One day, I may have kids who keep me insanely busy and don’t allow frequent exercise or help with normal eating habits. But, for now, I do have time to maintain this weight and to work towards developing good, healthy habits. I’d love to lose ten pounds before I get pregnant. It might happen, it might not. So today, I focus on what I have accomplished: 30 pounds of weight loss that I intend to keep off for as long as I possibly can.

If you’re in the same boat as me, what are your suggestions for maintaining weight loss? How do you get back on track when you’ve steered off in the wrong direction?

As I’ve said before – it’s all about the journey. This is a lifelong struggle, and everyday presents new challenges – it’s all about how you handle them.

My Weight Loss Journey: Getting Motivated

To those who do not know me that well, it may seem that I just started dieting last year, but my weight loss journey is one that I started many, many years ago. I have struggled with my weight since the age of 8, and I first started dieting in middle school. Most of my crash diets worked, but once I went off the diet, I ended up gaining even more weight.

In the spring of 2002 at the end of my 11th grade year, my mom took me to Weight Watchers. When I stepped on the scale for the first time and realized I had reached my highest weight of 194 pounds, I could not believe it. I had always struggled with overeating, and I knew I had put on some weight, but I could not believe how much I had gained since my last diet. So, after 8 months on WW, I had lost 54 pounds. I was ecstatic and so proud of myself. Though I was not yet at my goal weight of 135, I knew I had accomplished something great. I was even more thrilled at how I looked in my prom dress. I was determined to keep the weight off…and then, I started college.

College was tough on my weight for many reasons. I was no longer counting WW points. I didn’t have a car to drive to WW meetings so I could stay on track, nor could I afford to pay for the membership. I had an unlimited meal plan at school, so food was always readily available. And as we all know, socializing in college involves a lot of eating (and drinking, for some, but that definitely was not my problem – i did not drink excessive amounts of alcohol in college); and large amounts of stress usually lead to more eating, as well.

I gradually gained weight over the first three and a half years of college. By fall of senior year, I was probably in the 170s. And then, for reasons I will not mention, I became depressed. And I couldn’t eat. Usually, depression pushed me towards food; but now, most days began with nausea, and I didn’t want anything to do with food. So, I lost weight. A lot of weight. Probably close to 30 pounds. But I looked healthier, and most people who did not realize I was depressed commended me for my weight loss. I enjoyed the compliments, but deep down I knew the truth – I did not lose the weight in a healthy way. And though I was happy to be skinnier, and hoped it would last, I knew that the happier I became, the heavier I would become. And I knew weight gain was inevitable.

The weight really piled on when I started dating Andrew in March of 2008. At this point, I weighed about 150 lbs, and I felt good. I wasn’t really eating healthier or exercising, but I was happy now, and I was eating regularly. And I was eating a lot. (Some may call it the “fat and happy” syndrome – when you’re happy, you tend to eat more.)

In less than two years, I had gained close to 30 lbs. When Andrew proposed to me in November of 2009, I weighed 179 pounds. Overall, I was happy with my life – I had fallen in love and was about to marry an amazing man (who, by the way, did not even notice I had gained weight since we started dating – one of the many reasons I love him:p). But even though I was generally happy, I was not content. I was often irritable, I was usually tired, and I was sick of buying clothes in bigger sizes.

In January of 2010, I went wedding dress shopping. Most dresses I tried on were in the 14-16 range, and most fit ok – I was pleased to find a size 14 dress that fit me well, and overall, looked nice on me. But there was still a small part of me that knew that if there was a time to lose weight, then now was the time. Afterall, what bride doesn’t want to look her best on her wedding day?

The final clincher was a new dress that I found a few weeks later and loved. My mom and I had gone to a different bridal shop and I tried on a dress in a size 14 that did not zip. It was a fitted type of dress, which I never thought I could pull off, but if we ordered it in a bigger size, I knew it could be altered to fit me well. So, since the dress was discontinued, we ordered the only size they had left – a size 18. I was relieved, since I knew there was no chance an 18 would be tight on me. Imagine my surprise when I picked up the dress, tried it on, and it was SNUG. A size 18 was snug on me. I was shocked. Angry. Sad. Depressed. I was not happy when I tried on my dress and did not feel like a beautiful bride. My mom assured me we could make it work, but I knew I would not feel the way I wanted to feel in that dress until I lost some weight.

Size 14 dress in February 2010

Size 14 dress in February 2010

So, in March of 2010, I jump started my weight loss with the Scarsdale Medical Diet, one that a friend and I tried in high school that I knew worked. After two weeks, I lost 3.5 lbs, and I was ecstatic . But I knew I didn’t want to do this diet forever, since it wasn’t practical nor easy. I needed something that allowed me to eat pretty much whatever I wanted, but in moderation.

I stumbled across the website http://www.livestrong.com/myplate, a place to track my daily caloric intake. I set my goal and started tracking. I worked out 4-5 days a week – usually walking outside for 40 min and/or using Jillian Michael’s 30-day Shred workout. And gradually, the weight came off; usually only 1-2 lbs a week, which is the healthy expectation, but I did get a bit impatient at times. Fortunately, I had seven months to lose the weight; but I was doubtful I would get to my ultimate goal weight of 140. And I didn’t.

On my wedding day, I didn’t care that I hadn’t reach my goal weight. Because on my wedding day, I weighed about 151 lbs and I felt amazing. I had lost nearly 30 lbs in 7 months. My size 18 dress hung on me like a bag before I had it altered to fit my now size 10 body. The size 14 I originally tried on at the dress shop now zipped up and fit me like a glove. Had I known I would have lost the weight, I would’ve bought the size 14 to begin with (which my sister originally suggested). But, I knew I didn’t want to take that risk, and I’m glad I didn’t (mainly because this one was still a bit snug in the midsection and would’ve had to be taken out, anyway).

Size 14 dress after weight loss - October 2010

If you’re starting a weight loss journey, ask yourself – what is your motivation? For me, it was my wedding day. It was that size 18 dress that was a bit too tight. It was a challenge that, once I began, made me feel good about myself, my body, and my life. My mood improved, and my overall outlook on life was drastically enhanced.

Ask yourself: What is pushing you to lose weight? What confronts you everyday, stares you in the face, and taunts you about your weight? If you don’t know why you’re losing the weight, then chances are, you are not going to stick with your diet plan.

In my next entry, I’ll write more about how to stay motivated, and tips for maintaining weight loss. Remember, weight loss/maintenance is a journey – a lifelong one.

it’s been awhile…

so, i did not post one blog at all in 2010. which is quite interesting, considering it was quite a big year for me.
i married andrew on october 10, 2010. it was a beautiful and perfect day and i could not have asked for anything more.

we are now enjoying married life, and i have to say, it’s pretty darn awesome:)

i have debated where i want to take this blog/what i want to focus on posting about. i’ve considered doing recipes again, but mainly healthy ones, since i’ve been on a weight loss journey since march 2010. i think my next entry will be about dieting tips and tricks. stay tuned….

Julie & Julia: A Book Review

julie and julia As most of you have heard by now, there is a new movie in theaters, “Julie and Julia”, based on the book written by Julie Powell. I had not heard of the book until seeing the movie preview, and immediately decided to read it. Being a food blogger myself (albeit a sporadic and quite inexperienced one), I had an inkling that a book like this would be right up my alley. So, after obtaining my large type copy from the library (the normal size type copies were all checked out. guess i wasn’t the only one intrigued by this story), I set out to read about Julie’s quest in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I was not all that impressed. It could have been Julie’s crassness and frequent vulgarity (ie: constant use of the F word, which may have been used to show her true personality, but was not really all that necessary, and will definitely not appear to the more reserved, conservative reader group), but the story itself was a bit hard to follow, since she often jumped back and forth between present and past events. In some ways, I could relate to her – a young woman looking for purpose in life. But mostly, I was not all that inspired by her story. There were a few gems of promise here and there, and while a quick read, it wasn’t necessarily a book I found myself looking forward to reading every evening. I do have quite a bit of admiration for her stamina, though, and her endurance. I once vowed to make every recipe in my cookie cookbook, The Cookie Bible (I have made several recipes, but am nowhere near done!) but let’s face it, cookies and French cooking are two very different animals. The fact that Julie stuck it out til the end AND blogged in detail about it is quite a feat in itself. Ok, so in truth, maybe it did inspire me a little bit. I know that it definitely made me want to bake and blog more. But it also made me want to see the movie. I’m pretty sure it will be better than the book, or at least more entertaining. I’m wondering whether readers will also find the movie better than the book. Has anyone else read the book first and is hoping the movie will be better?

grief and loss

on saturday, may 23, my boyfriend’s good friend Bobby died in a motorcycle accident. when i heard the news, i was in total shock. Bobby was not only Andrew’s good friend, but he was my friend, too. he was like a big brother to all of our friends. he was the ringleader of our group and kept us all together. he was truly a unique, special and genuine person. he will be, and already is, greatly missed.

this is the first time in my life i have experienced such sudden loss. it’s hard. it’s excruciating at times. it’s confusing. in times like this, i am reminded that our human minds are not able to fully comprehend the tragedies and complexities of this world. and as much as i want to understand why this happened, i find peace knowing that Bobby is with the Lord in heaven and yes, one day, i will see him again. praise God for that.

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Bobby and me, February 2008

Awakening
by: Mae

When I close my eyes to this paradox place
I’ll fly away, far away from here
I’ll get away and dream, dream of you

When it’s all said and done
And the night has come
I’ll disappear, take flight on the wind of wishing you were here
Fading light, like a star whose life has been gone for years

And I’ll fly, fly across the sky
And I’ll leave, I’ll leave it all behind
If you’ll be here, here with me tonight
I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine
I’ll be fine

*Bobby Rambo//8.21.84-5.23.09*

Spring has sprung…finally!

After a cold and damp April that never seemed to end, May is finally here, and today, I woke up to a glorious burst of sunshine brightening my bedroom. It has rained here for the past 5  or 6 days, so to wake up to sunlight was a beautiful thing.

My baking posts have been lacking as of late, partially due to laziness, and the rest due to my attempts to eat healtier and avoid those decadent baked goods that make dieting even more difficult than it already is. The sad thing is, I cannot even remember the last thing I baked! But, I assure you that I will eventually come up with something to post – I’ll be sure to make it a good one, since my baking posts are not so frequent as of late.

All in all, my life has come to this – I’m ready for an adventure. Who’s with me?

Good Friday

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

-Victor Hugo