Sunday, September 28, 2014

No Job? No Problem! (Or at least silver lining to being laid off.)

Note: I started this Thursday, and actually just forgot to post it, so the part about yesterday was referring to Wednesday. That is all. ;)

About three weeks ago (exactly three weeks ago yesterday actually), Husband and I (who work at the same place) both received "Pink Slips" informing us that our office was closing and that we'd all be laid off between November 2 and December 31. This didn't come as a surprise since the parent company closed another of our offices just before Christmas last year.

We do, however, regret not finding other jobs on our own timeline instead of a forced one that was thrust upon us by impending unemployment.  We actually both had been looking earlier in the year but didn't necessarily find things or have luck when we did, so knowing we had this job to go to, kind of became placated and stopped looking as hard as we maybe could have. But that's life. Just have to get back on track.

I would have perhaps liked the opportunity to take a few weeks of unemployment to focus on personal projects and decide what I want to do, but since our savings are not nearly sufficient to weather the storm (most experts recommend 6 months basic living expense for this very reason, and we have about 1 months worth ) since we really only started to save again this year, I did actually go get another job that I will start on Monday. It may not be a "Dream Job", necessarily, but since the idea of unemployment puts me in the "Physiological" and "Safety" tiers of the Self-Actualization Pyramid, it also means doing what's necessary for a while.  But it is a job that will pay the bills, and that I would at least be happy to go to, so that's always good.  And has a nice bonus of being a bit more money than the job I am leaving, so that when Husband also finds a job, we can save a little more.

While being laid off almost always sucks, and breeds a negative situation, there was a lot of good that came from this that I hadn't thought of before we got the letters. So it got me thinking and doing, and here are some of the most positive things that came from it (or will come from it, hubby has been laid off yet) that I can think of:

-Finally Opened a second checking account so that bills can come from one and spending money from the other, so there will be no more accidental spending of money that is meant for something else. This will also allow me to more finely tune/correct the due dates/autopay for things.

-Since I got a nice payout for accumulated/unused PTO of about $500, I am going to apply that to the Principle of my car payment. Currently, it sits around $1300 left, so this will bring it down to around $800 and make it paid off that much faster. My husband, since he is staying till the end of the company, will also get a severance that will also be applied to the car. His severance will be more than the remaining $800 by a few hundred dollars, so we'll officially be free from the car payment which will also officially make us COMPLETELY debt free! It was a goal to pay off the car by the end of this year, but due to other circumstances, we knew we weren't going to be able to. (It wouldn't have been much farther off though-we were looking at around February, which would still have put us about 20 months ahead of the contracted loan date.) But now, with severance and PTO, we will. And this frees up the $180/month ($160 contracted plus $20 for principle) for savings--which since the car payment is on Autopay,  I will just set it up to be auto-transferred on the same day it would have cleared so we don't even see it. Automation for the win!

-Since my husband will stay until the very end, unless he finds something he can't pass up, and we can maintain our finances with my job and unemployment, this will give him a chance to spend some time on personal projects and decide what he would like to do. I think this is really important for him, and had we been able to keep up with us both not working, I would have done the same for a short while.  We figure that since unemployment is for 6 months, that gives about 3 months where he can look for only things that interest him, and complete personal projects/go to the gym/etc. At the 4 month mark is when he'll start to apply more broadly, but doesn't need to accept a job for the sake of a job right away. We are both hoping this strategy will work well for us, but we will have to see where it goes.

-Technically, I gave myself a raise with the new job since I'll be making about $1/hour more.  It may not seem like a lot in the moment, but that extra $40/week is an extra $2080/year toward savings and/or retirement/investment funds, and therefore, a chance to be a millionaire that much sooner. I know what you're thinking: "But people tend to blow their money when they get raises. You won't even see that extra money." Wrong! It is important to maintain your standard of living when you get extra money, and this is where automation of finances really comes into play. If you can't SEE that extra money in your checking account because it is automatically deposited in savings, you can't SPEND that extra money.

-And finally, one more positive that I could think of was that I will finally be able to correctly automate via direct deposit so I don't have to transfer money from checking to savings. With our current company, the payroll system has been kind of messed up/complicated to make changes to for a while. So, this gives me a chance to start completely fresh with the correct amounts needed for each thing, so I am actually excited about this part.

So, how's that for a silver lining to a dark rain cloud?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Buff Dudes' 12 Week Challenge

I've  been meaning to write this for a while, but as always, sometimes life gets in the way. Oh well, here we go now...

My husband recently decided to re-commit to fitness, so a couple weeks ago, on September First (convenient that a Monday is also the first day of the month!), we started The Buff Dudes' 12 Week Challenge.

Technically, this should be week three for us, but we were so sore after the first week, that we could barely do more than walk-and even that was a challenge. (I even missed Zumba last Tuesday because I was too sore. *Sniff, Sniff*) So with that, we made this week two and got our exercises with walks and whatever we could do last week.

(Side note: if you are sore after the gym or any workout, make sure to stretch and do what you can while recovering. Moderate movement like walking is actually really helpful to feel better. Don't overdo it--work within your limits and respect that your body may need to heal after an intense workout-especially if you are just starting or it's been a while. But "Don't overdo it" does NOT mean, sit around on the couch like a lump. Lack of movement is likely to make your pain worse.)

Husband and I somewhat modified the program because I have somewhat different goals than what's laid out, and we both have limitations in some exercises so we have to do others (Can't do pull ups yet, so work a lot on lat pull-downs, etc.), but this is a great program we can both do that is closest to our individual goals, that still allows us to work as a team. Which is great because we can help keep each other going and kick each other's butts, which is why we like working out together, but gets hard when people have totally different goals.

Since it is only week two for us, there's not much that we can report on in terms of progress. But I will periodically make updates on how we're doing, any changes we are making to the plan, etc. In the meantime, here are the "Before" Pictures (which are technically "progress" pictures for me):

 Until Next Time, as the Buff Dudes say: STAY BUFF, DUDES (and BUFFETTES)!*

*They call women "Grrls", but Husband came up with Buffette, and I like it way better so that's what we use. (And you can feel free to use it, Buff Dudes!)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pom-Cran-Bluberry Smoothie Recipe

Last year when I was doing a fruit and vegetable cleanse with juicing, smoothies and fruit/veggies as my only source of food/nutrition for a week, I went to Emerald City Smoothie near us, and got an all fruit version of their Eternal Energizer.  (So, no soy milk or alternatives, as their menu offers.) Since the first time I had it, I loved it, and had several more (of course) here and there.  I wanted to recreate the recipe at home, but had forgotten to look for cranberries for the longest time. I finally had some cranberries a few weeks ago,and after some experimentation, I've come up with a pretty good emulation of it, and wanted to share it with you.

-1 cup frozen blueberries
-1/2 cup frozen cranberries
-1/4 cup concentrate (100%) pomegranate juice (I used POM Wonderful)
-3/4 cup water (you can use less if you'd like a thicker smoothie)

Toss everything in your blender and mix until it's your desired consistency.*  Pour into a glass and enjoy!

Nutrition Info:
150 Calories, 0.4g fat, 4.3g fiber, 38.1g carbs, 5.1mg sodium, 1.1g protein

* You may need to use less or more water, depending on your preferences. I also use frozen fruit, so if you use fresh fruit, you'll probably need to forgo the water since you'll add ice.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fitbit One Review

My husband got me a Fitbit One for my birthday 2 weeks ago, and after more than a week of wearing it and debating about it, here are some of my thoughts on it.

If you're not familiar with it, Fitbit is a company that makes various body trackers. They come in various styles, including bracelets and, like mine, one you clip to yourself via a holder, and they track things like steps, stairs, calories burned, and sleep.

-Sleek, compact design makes it so I don't notice when it's clipped to me. (I keep it clipped to my bra, but you can wear it at your hip, etc.)

-It does keep me moving since I am always trying to get at least the daily goals (10k steps, etc.) or badges, and will find creative ways to do so. I have been known lately to walk around and around and around my kitchen to get more steps, or run up and down the stairs, and have also started taking walks on my breaks at work. So this is very, very good.

-The Fitbit interface makes it very easy to track calories in and out. So easy, in fact, that I actually care and remember to do so every day (so far), as opposed to my maintaining my ideal of "not counting calories, but make each calorie count". (Which, by the way, I think is very important for people who are not trying to lose weight, but maintain. You don't need to stress about every single calorie, but you should work on making the calories you consume count and be productive.) Fitbit interface keeps track of most logged food and recently logged food, so if you are a creature of habit like me and can eat the same thing every day, it is right there and easy to click on to log it. It also allows you to create meals to track multiple foods at once-for example, husband makes turkey wraps for me and after I created the meal and logged the food the first time, I no longer have to find/click every ingredient when I need to log it.

-As mentioned above, the Fitbit awards badges for activities, such as 10,000 steps or 10 flights of stairs,  and increases the amount you need to earn the badge as you keep earning them. So, if  you like to make a game of things, this is a great way to get extra movement.

-Syncs very easily, as long as all things are working correctly. It syncs approximately every 15-20 minutes when you are within 15 feet of the USB and have internet connection.  I have sometimes had to refresh the dashboard once or twice to see the new steps, but otherwise had not had problems.

Updated 09/05/2014 to add: Last night, I could not get it to sync automatically. I followed the trouble shooting steps in the help, including removing USB and reentering, etc. I was able to finally manually sync it by reopening the main platform and "Restarting" it, and then it did automatically sync on it's own after that. So I am glad for that, but it does make me a little twitchy that it had to have that done so early on. We'll see how it goes.

-It sometimes has questionable accuracy. There was an instance last week that, from 6:30pm to 8:15pm, it said I took zero steps. I knew this was inaccurate because I had just come from an hour long cardio class, and to get home required walking down stairs, to my car, out of my car, up apartment stairs, and I was walking around the apartment during that time (grabbing dinner, using bathroom, etc.) So it should have tracked at least 200-300 steps during that period.  It occasionally also goes in the opposite direction and, depending on where you wear it, may pick up extra steps than actually occurred. I mostly see it pick up less than actuality though, which is OK.  For the most part, it seems accurate within reason. (No device will ever be 100% accurate 100% of the time.) But when it's off, it seems to be off a bit, as demonstrated above.

-Stairs are not accurate. There is no way around this, at all. Since it is elevation based, and not actual stairs based, it will record flights very differently than what stairs you actually climb. In the Help/FAQ for Fitbit, it shows that it equates 1 flight to 10 feet in elevation gained. So if you are walking in a hilly area, you get credited with flights of stairs, which is awesome. But it's annoying when you spend time climbing up and down stairs over 20 times in a row, which I have done, and get credited with only one or two flights.  So, realizing that, I kind of of gave up on the stairs thing. If I see that I am close to the goal (10 flights/day), I will still go climb a few times to get those in, but don't really rely on the stairs part.

-It is very inconvenient to have to put the tracker in the bracelet it came with at night to track sleep, and then back into the carrying clip in the mornings to track steps, etc.  It requires finagling with Velcro wrist strap at night, which occasionally falls off during the night, and then fidgeting with it in the morning to get it back in the clip in the morning. This is specific to my device, but there are others, so if you get a bracelet style (which I believe is named Fitbit Force), you don't have to worry about this issue.

-Sleep tracking is not accurate. While it is kind of fun to set the timer and then see the numbers, it is not an accurate way to determine sleep patterns. Nor can it be. The Fitbit devices "track" sleep patterns by movement. So if you toss and turn in your sleep, it will track that as restless, which can be good to know, but does not actually have a way to track sleep vs. awake, since you can be wide awake but if you are lying perfectly still, it will count it as asleep.  I do not know if you stopped and restarted the timer each time you awoke, if it would count it as awake.  I was thinking that I would test this soon to find out, but is a matter of remembering to do so during the night. If I ever test this, I will update this post with that information. In the mean time, I will say it's good to get a general idea of sleep times, but would not recommend someone with sleep problems to rely solely on the information you get from the Fitbit devices.

Though it does have some things that are...quirky...about it, I did decide to go ahead and keep it.  It did, after all, get me moving more and help me track calories in a convenient way so I knew I wasn't taking in too few or too many. And because of those things, it allowed me make this exciting statement:

I finally broke my 2-month long Plateau and lost just over 5 pounds last week! Hooray!!!

So that's where I stand on the Fitbit One. I hope this helps if you are deciding if you should get one or not.  Do you  have any cool fitness tools that have been helping you? Please share below!