Tag Archives: plan

This Summer, Get Your Life Back Together

This summer is all about big and scary changes for me. What about you? What areas in your life — mental, financial, relationships with siblings or spouses, diet, etc. — need the most improvement? What makes you frustrated or unhappy is the area that needs the most work. Let summer 2013 be all about making healthy steps forward, not backward.

1. Mental Health 

Do you wish you had someone to talk to in confidence? Do you feel depressed, angry, hopeless or frustrated and not sure how to get out of this mess? Gather up your courage and locate a mental health professional. Focus on practical methods of therapy that will help you to focus immediately on the major issues and he or she will guide you to make the necessary changes in life.

  • Find a therapist at therapists.psychologytoday.com and enter your zip code.
  • Choose someone that specializes in areas you need work on (eg: anxiety or substance abuse, marriage counseling) and that accepts your insurance or offers a sliding fee scale — one of the most common reasons for putting off seeing a therapist is the thought that one cannot afford it — not true!
  • Make an appointment for next week.

2. Physical Health

Feel sluggish all the time, tired, and winded going up a few flights of stairs? Recently gained weight? Never exercise? It’s time to change.

  • Start small — 3 times a week for about 30 minutes.
  • Make it easy — take a walk after dinner. No purchases required to get fit.
  • Make it fun — involve your friends/family. Play tennis, play tag with kids, go to the beach and walk along the shore, go swimming, take Zumba, etc. Find something you like.
  • Make it last — attach the habit of exercising with something you already do everyday. Drive past a gym on the way home from work? Keep your gym clothes in your car and head there immediately before going home. Need to watch a certain show every night? Exercise during that program.

3. Spiritual Health

  • If you are religious and have been slacking on going to your church/temple/place of worship, it’s time to recommit. It’s a great place to feel a sense of community and faith like nowhere else and feel like you’re part of a bigger whole, which is comforting. Also, start reading your passages and reflecting silently, too. How can you be a better Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/etc. person today? Can you volunteer, help someone, read a new passage, pray, be closer to nature?
  • If not religious, you can still work on your spiritual health. Practice saying a mantra everyday that makes you feel empowered. Or go to a quiet place of nature and reflect silently.Take steps everyday to remain positive in your life and believe in the magick/karma/The Secret. Meditate. Do yoga. Feel more in tune with your body & soul. Align yourself — become more balanced.

4. Diet/Nutrition

  • This is an important step. Diet has a profound impact on the way we feel, think, and our ability to perform/function in our daily lives. Take this summer to practice eating habits that make you feel better. Journal what you eat, at what time, and how hungry you were. Note how it makes you feel after eating and what emotion you were feeling. Note trends in how you feel hours later or the next day, too — especially if you eat a lot of carbs (sluggish, tired, bloated). Change your habits one meal at a time and become more conscious of the calories you consume — though you don’t have to count them, it’s a good idea if you want to lose weight.
  • Eat cleaner, local, organic foods — search for local farmers markets in your area.
  • Eat more vegetables. Every meal. And try a new veggie once a week or so.
  • Drink water, not calories. An easy way to lose weight and feel better is to drink more water and replace sodas/juices/etc. with water.

5. Social Life/Happiness/Relationships

This is an important one to work on. Ask yourself honestly: How can you be a better…daughter, mother, son, father, wife, husband, friend, relative?

  • What relationships in your life are fading and need TLC? Who can you call that will brighten their face? Catch up with old friends.
  • Ditch the toxic people in your life, as well. If you feel negative when you’re around, make bad decisions like drink/smoke, or if they treat you badly, ditch them. Life is too short to hang around with awful friends. You can always make new friends that align with your goals. Seek them out.
  • Do something that makes you happy everyday. Even if it’s a little bit selfish. If you are not happy everyday, than what is the point of living — seek help if you are feeling depressed, and seek ways to bring happiness into your life on a constant basis.
  • Make an effort to be social, friendly, and confident — even if you don’t feel like it, fake it. It will get easier, I promise.

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If this article helped or inspired you in any way please let me know what you will be working on this summer. I have my own list and I’d like to see what you will be up to.

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3 Quick Tips I’ve Learned This Week

Sunrise
source

1. I’ve been working on my new site for the past week and it’s going swimmingly. Really I just dove in after thinking about a basic plan (basic keyword research, basic content plan, ideas for monetization and promotion). Once I saw a great keyword-optimized domain name, I decided to jump in and start. Is there something that you are waiting for the opportune moment, that perfect time to do it? Well, I’m here to let you know that there is none. Tip: stop waiting, and just do it. The worse that could happen is that you could succeed.

2. Sometimes the best motivation you can get is by talking with an older and wiser friend. Our conversation far exceeded normal conversation and felt more like a one on one therapy session with a success coach. I hung up my phone with a renewed sense of clarity and focus for my goals. Tip: who is able to help you, even if all they offer is their listening ears?

3. I’ve definitely been working long hours on my new website. It’s in a niche I’m excited in, and I wasn’t going to launch officially yet until I was completed with everything. But I said, Oh, what the hell (see tip #1) and started a double-prong attack of a)creating original content and b)building organic traffic. These take time, but when you do it right, you only have to do it once. I wouldn’t feel right having others write my articles or scraping unoriginal content from the internet (which oh hey, is also plagiarizing). Tip: if you’re going to do it at all, do it right. Don’t half-ass anything.

I’m excited about the future, but I also know that I can’t do it all. I’ve suspended my Fiverr gigs so I can focus on being on the other side of the internet marketing biz. I already have a list of 3-4 other niche ideas that I need to research the market on to find the exact micro niche possibilities that will prove to be profitable, and I have a huge learning curve ahead of me for getting traffic to my sites, but I love it all. Everything about it. Even “working for free” as I spend time writing my content and ebooks.

What brings you excitement this week? Make sure you spend time working on your goals everyday.

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11 Tips for How to Be Productive Right Now

keepcalmgsd

You may be mindlessly searching the internet, looking for ways to be productive, asking yourself, “what is something productive i can do right now?” You might have a huge list of things that need to be taken care of but you are overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, and annoyed at your insane level of procrastination  But that will get you nowhere. You can read all the blogs on the internet about productivity and you won’t learn about how to be productive right now without actually GSD.

The hardest part of being productive is getting started. I love the acronym GSD because it’s a quick reminder to “Get Shit Done.” This is based off the popular and less vulgar term GTD which stands for “Getting Things Done”, a term from time management guru David Allen (and from the book of the same name).

The battle for focus is fierce, but you can GSD right now.

  1. GSD right in the morning. Wake up, get dressed and all that, and then go straight to work. Work first, play later.
  2. Do your worst, most dreaded task first. Get it done first, and it will feel like pushing a huge boulder down a mountain.
  3. Unless your work requires it, disable your internet connection and work offline.
  4. Or move entirely away from the computer.
  5. Blast your favorite music (epic movie soundtracks work great for monumental tasks) and GSD.
  6. Work for 5 minutes. Just five fucking minutes, dude. If you want, take a break after. But most likely you will have gotten the hardest part over with (starting) and will continue easily.
  7. I swear by Evernote — if you are distracted by a link, thought, image, video, etc. just copy and paste in an Evernote page and it saves instantly. Go back to it later.
  8. I make to-do lists on Evernote, too.
  9. Promise yourself something to look forward to (like watching that funny video) after you finish say an hour of that project. It’s good to take breaks. Just get back to work right after.
  10. Sometimes it’s easier to just work for the 2-3 hours full speed, no breaks. Then reward yourself with a sweet lunch or a smoke, whatever tips your hat. Think of this tip as “college finals” mode and you’ll get it.
  11. If you have a huge project ahead of you and you are distracting yourself from starting it because it’s so damn hard to start, spend time just chunking it down: take the boulder and turn it into rocks, and then pebbles. Then take that first step, that first pebble and start it.

What productive things did you just do, or are about to do after reading this article? Share any of your GSD tips!

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15 Ways to Have a Better Semester

stacks of binders with papers

Organize All the Things!

“There’s a word for students who go to class: Graduates.”

I’m a horrible student. I barely go to class, I drop and withdraw, I judge teachers by going on ratemyprofessors.com, and sometimes I never open the books, let alone read and take notes.

But I love learning. I love education. And when I go, I am the best student. I love notebooks. I love the excitement of the first day, and seeing how the class will unfold. When I apply myself.

But I don’t particularly like college. At least the way it’s currently set up. Memorization, the tiny percentage of great teachers, required classes, forced minors, lousy advisors, unorganized registrar, and the senseless work — all these things are not what education make.

With that said, getting a degree is an important, sometimes critical step, to getting a better job. Most degrees lead to higher-pay, better conditions, and a meaningful career. If anything, the process of receiving the degree should leave you to look differently at the world.

So I’m determined, despite all odds that shoot up against me every semester, to have a better semester. To be a better, more proactive student. To increase my GPA. To actually begin summer feeling like I’ve learned something. I was a great student in high school not TOO long ago, and I want to make my family proud — and myself. I CAN do this.

So here’s my list of ways that I’m going to try in order to have a better semester. Past students and current, feel free to add your ideas as well. Hopefully we’ll all learn something.

  1. GO TO CLASS. Yes, studies have shown that those who attend class get better grades. Who would have thought? Sometimes, life gives us curve balls, and it’s hard to get everything done. My tip is to pretend like you’re waking up for your job — you wouldn’t just not go to work, so bring that attitude to attending every class.
  2. Organize your assignments for the semester during the first week of school. The first week of school is really just time to get the syllabi from your teachers, and plenty of students add/drop. Most let you out earlier than the scheduled time. So take this extra time to write in your planner (YOU HAVE ONE, RIGHT?) all of the assignments on their due dates that appear on each class syllabus. Write, in a different color (like red), if you have it, your important exams, paper due dates, and presentations. Also write it on the day a week before it’s due, to remind yourself that you should start that assignment so you don’t forget.
  3. Track what you do each day to the 1/2 hour or hour, and block out: time worked, class times, and time sleeping. See how you spend your time and make a conscious effort to block time for studying. I strongly encourage you spend your breaks wisely. For example, I have a 2 hour break this semester, so I know that is plenty of time to get homework done.
  4. Go to a quiet place on campus like the library (we have a quiet floor) to study and read/take notes/do your assignments so you don’t have to go home and risk being distracted.
  5. Write realistic goals for what grades you want to achieve, and calculate your ideal semester GPA. If you don’t know how, I will show you down below.
  6. Utilize the campus writing center, learning center/tutors, and counseling centers, seriously! They are free and valuable resources to help you write papers, edit, learn useful studying tips, and have a safe place to vent.
  7. Look at the university calendar and also write down those important dates like last day to drop, advising/registration for next semester, etc. so you’re well aware.
  8. Print out a degree evaluation so you know what classes you need to take still. Most advisors in my experience do little to help you, so make sure you are taking the right classes so you graduate sooner rather than later.
  9. Seriously invest in eating better and exercising. Spend 30 minutes walking around campus briskly, or use the gym – most are free on campus — and use your meal plan to eat the salads and sandwiches at the cafeteria instead of the grill area. Don’t drink monster or soda — but on those days you need caffeine, try the Monster Absolute Zero (I swear by this stuff), Diet Coke or Coke Zero, or switch to Vitamin Water/plain water. A cheap way rather than relying on those vending machines is to carry around a refillable water bottle — it’s also eco-conscious! Bring snacks so you don’t have to turn for the candy machine: try easily portable ones like trail mix, protein bars, pretzels, or a banana.
  10. On exam days, eat brain food like blueberries, salmon, and a good breakfast so you’re alert, not hungry, and don’t forget to study.
  11. After class, immediately review your notes when you have free time (like when you’re waiting for the teacher in your next class). Quickly highlight or underline important pieces while re-reading them. Do this after every lecture.
  12. Every week, I like to re-write my notes. I do this for many reasons. First, I often doodle a lot and write messy, and my papers become a mess and sometimes unreadable. Second, because writing (and re-writing) helps you to remember things better. You also get the chance to reword sentences that you may have copied verbatim from listening to your professor, to a language you may understand. Also, it is another way of studying – you obviously have to read the words in order to write them over, so you are reading the material again and helping it to stick.
  13. I don’t like the weird ways some people claim help them take notes better, like splitting the page down in half, or whatever, but this is what I do: I write important words, phrases/formulas to remember, and anything I want to study further or need to research to clarify, in the margins and on top of the page. This is the same concept. For some courses, I like to write a summary of what I learned on the bottom of the last page in my own words. It helps when studying for a test.
  14. If you actually open the book, you’ll find a lot of great tools to help you study. Most have questions and vocab at the end of each chapter, and a chapter summary! This is gold. Read the chapter summary before a lecture where you know the professor will give you a quiz/make you discuss, and you’ll be more prepared, even if you didn’t read the entire chapter.
  15. Don’t be afraid to drop a class or reduce your work load. College is HARD. I can attest to that 🙂 Sometimes you cannot do it all. Sure, there are people with 4 kids and no husband around to help and they go to school full-time and have 2 jobs, and have a 3.5 GPA, but I’m not her. So don’t compare yourself to other people and feel like crap because you need to realize your personal limit and say, I can’t do all of this. I need to cut down. Because if you don’t, your grades WILL suffer. And your sleep will definitely suffer. And your sanity, well…that’s already gone.

Bonus: Calculate your Goal Semester GPA

It is important to set goals. So a good way of focusing on being a better student is to set a realistic, yet challenging and specific GPA goal for the semester.

  • Make a table with 5 columns.
  • In column 1, list your current courses.
  • In column 2, list a realistic yet challenging goal letter grade.
  • In column 3, list the credit hours (most are 3, but some can be 4 and intensive classes can be 6)
  • In column 4, for each class list the points equivalent to your letter grade goal.
    A=4.0      A-=3.7       B+=3.3      B = 3.0      B-=2.7
    C+=2.3       C=2.0       C-=1.7       D+=1.3      D=1.0      D-=0.7        F=0
  • In column 5, multiply the number of credit hours by the points for each class. These are the quality points. Here’s an example:
    Biology |   B-    |   3 cr hrs |  2.7 pts  |  8.1 quality points
  • Underneath this table, add the number of credit hours.
  • Add the number of quality points.
  • Divide the total quality points by the total credit hours — that’s your projected GPA.
    example: credit hours: 15. quality points: 38.1.  38.1/15 = 2.54
    The projected GPA is 2.54

This formula works for calculating a close estimate of your end of semester GPA if you are good at tracking assignments and you have a good idea of the grade you think you’re going to get for each class. You can talk to your professor to ask how you’re doing and to ask for a grade estimate.

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Brainstorm Your 2013 Goals Before the Ball Drops

ResolutionsSo, the end of the year holidays are upon us, and I am left laying in bed or day-dreaming in my commute to work about next year. The year 2013, where we will all gain another year under our belt and hopefully work on our goals. Have you given any thought about the new year? If not, it’s time to start, before you’re left in January 1, 2013 wondering how to make your life not suck.

  • Start small. Most people fail at new year’s resolutions because they dream too big, and have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished in a year. Yes, you must challenge yourself out of the status quo — but do not start out too big or you will just stare out the window, too overwhelmed to begin. Think of your overall goal and pick one aspect, that is workable in your life for one year, and start there.
  • Write in the present. A great trick to shifting your attitude that YES, you CAN do this, is to write your goal as if you are already doing that thing. For example, don’t say, “I want to lose weight next year.” Instead, say, “I am 50 pounds thinner and I feel healthy and more able to do things I love with my children.” Reading the first sentence feels scary, because not only is it an undefined goal (how much weight? what is the deadline? why do you want to do this?, etc), but it doesn’t feel attainable at the moment. When you read the second sentence, you actually feel happy imagining your life through that sentence and can begin shifting your attitude to realizing that very goal. More important, the second sentence tells you non-physical reasons to lose that weight, to be healthier and to play with your children. You feel that motivation stirring you because you have identified WHY you want this goal.
  • Once you figure out the WHAT and the WHY, you can begin chunking your goal into smaller and smaller pieces. These will become action steps for you to work on in regular intervals from monthly tasks, to weekly tasks — as small as what you can do TOMORROW for your goal.
  • Don’t make resolutions. No one sticks to those past Valentine’s Day. Consider these contracts or promises to yourself that you must keep.
  • Find someone to keep you accountable. It can be anyone, even an online buddy from a forum. I love subreddits to find great support and to find lots of information about basically anything.
  • Reflect and re-evaluate every week. Not so good this week? Figure out now what you need to to and change, even if it’s just one thing you focus on each week. Soon, you will see yourself gradually making progress.
  • Accept that you’re going to slip up, fall off the wagon, or lose track altogether. The important part is when you realize it and get yourself back on track. That’s why you re-evaluate, weekly.
  • Be thankful for what you have, everyday. Being thankful for things changes your attitude from negative to positive, and makes you take a look at all the luxuries you possess. I’ll take a wild guess and assume you have: a place to live, a bed to sleep on, heat and/or ac or fan, food and a fridge, a stove to cook food, shoes, a coat, maybe a job, maybe a family, a cell phone, internet connection and computer, money to buy things you like, a car. You’d be amazed at how many people in this world do not even have clean water, let alone any of this stuff.
  • Spend time each week reading something that is somehow related to your goals or inspirational in some way. You do not have to purchase books, support your local library.
  • There’s an app for that. If you have a smartphone, I bet there is an app that can help you keep track of your goals. Try Mint for money-tracking, and My Fitness Pal app for calorie/meal and exercise tracking.

Here is a brief, work-in-progress list of my goals for 2013. Maybe we share the same goals?

  • Lose 50 pounds by June 4, my birthday, which is a teeny bit over 2 pounds per week: I will be 50 pounds lighter and will have established a healthy eating and exercise routine for lasting health. Figure out by January 5 my method of exercise (gym or home? walk around block etc). I will reward myself by buying a new outfit (jeans, shirt, shoes).
  • Promote self as freelance writer on Fiverr and Freelancer and find long-term work to provide me with enough money for rent each month: I will earn enough money for rent each month with my freelance writing.
  • Save at least 10% of all paychecks in savings account not to be touched.
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3 Ways to Immediately Live a More Fulfilling Life

westie painting leftoversHave you ever thought to yourself, “there must be more to this life?”

There is. You just have to figure out what it is.

Stop living your life absentmindedly, going through the motions, and self-medicating with food, alcohol, or illegal drugs. Stop hating your life each morning, swearing under your breath as you brush your teeth. Stop yelling at your spouse or kids because you are so stressed at work and stop being disgusted with yourself. The time to act is now. Grab a pen and piece of paper, and find out what you need in your life to be happier.

1. Do what you love. Stop what you don’t.

There’s no point wasting your time being miserable. Focus on what you enjoy in your life and make a strong effort to replace time-wasting activities with activities and hobbies that make you smile or lose track of time.

DO: Try drawing in a sketchpad, painting on a canvas, reading a good book, hand-writing in a pretty journal, taking pictures with a real camera (not your iphone), going outside and laying in the grass. What makes you happy? Munching on chips probably makes you (temporarily) happy, but choose a more spiritually rewarding or creative task. The key is to replace a negative aspect of your life (what is harming some aspect of your life in any way, big or small, literally, morally, spiritually, or mentally), with something constructive and positive.

STOP: Get rid of mindless web surfing, bad television show-watching, sitting on the couch, sleeping in, toxic friends, smoking, over-consumption of alcohol or indulging in high-caloric food, social media….and anything else that bring no worth to your pleasure or career, things that give you anxiety or are tedious, and things that are not critical to your life and have no sense being in it.

Consciously remove yourself from that negative situation (caught yourself in front of daytime TV again?). If you cannot leave the room or environment (you hate your job, but you need to pay bills? See number two), use some quick relaxation exercises to calm yourself down and bring yourself in the present moment mentally. Stop shutting out your emotions and realize what behaviors or feelings are bringing you to desire this harmful activity.

Example: I mindlessly surf Facebook when I am bored.
What is at the root of this activity? What am I feeling? Boredom.
Why do I feel bored? Because I have no one to talk to, and I feel lonely. Because I can’t sleep, so I’ve logged onto the computer to waste time and distract myself.
What am I distracting myself from? My current financial situation.

This example shows how to write out and get to the root of your stress/worries that is causing the negative behavior. Free-write uninterrupted until you hit the gold-mine.

The next step, of course, is to figure out proactive ways to solve your problems. But first:

  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Calm yourself down and get back in the present. Realize why you are doing this behavior.
  • Physically get up, change gears, and begin doing the activity you’d rather be doing — the one that brings you joy, is productive and creative, and more fulfilling to your life.
  • Keep consciously changing gears until you replace the bad habit completely.
  • Feel infinitely better and more creative.

2. Get a job you love – the smart way.

It is easy for self-help books and blogs to say, “if you don’t like your job, QUIT.” But seriously, we all need to pay the bills. Sometimes the only job out there is one that is mind-numbing, below your pay rate or skill levels, or has a horrible and stressful work environment or co-workers. The smart way to do this is to look for your dream job — on the side. Keep your job for the necessities in life: utilities, rent/mortgage payments, car payments, gas, food, clothes, and insurance. But when you’re out of work, fill an hour or so per week hunting down that job. Update your resume, make an account on Linked In or SnagaJob, search Indeed or Monster for open positions, practice job interview questions. Glassdoor is a great resource for getting the inside scoop on job interviews, salary levels, and workplace satisfaction. Discover companies in your area and contact them.

Make a deadline for when you would like to quit. If you find it hard to work without pressure, type your letter of resignation now, and seal it in an envelope addressed to your manager. Bring it to your manager in the two weeks before your previously chosen last day.

Note: you may be tempted to find a job and rush in there, tell off your boss and stick up the middle finger and waltz out the door. DON’T. Remain professional and civil, and you will keep a reference for your future jobs. Also, most managers will not provide a positive reference to your employers if you do not provide the two-weeks-notice or more; please see your employee handbook for specific information for your job. Do not lose out on your reference, especially if you’ve been at the job for more than six months. Consider this a stepping stone to your true job.

If your employment relationship includes either an explicit or implied contract that says you must give two weeks notice of resignation and you don’t, your employer might have the right to take punitive action. For example, your employer might legally have the right to deny you termination benefits, such as accrued vacation pay. (source)

You may consider taking this hour or so every week to contribute your time to starting the business you’ve always dreamed of (see youngentrepreneur.com), starting a website to monetize/sell products/blog, or advertise for handy man work or cleaning positions on your local Craigslist. These side endeavors, with some hard work, and time/money investments (dependent on the nature of the project), will lead to a decent side income or may even a replacement to your paid-per-hour or salary job position. (See SmartPassiveIncome.com)

3. Be a constant learner.

A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.
~Chinese Proverb

One of the greatest joys of life is that there is much to be learned — everyday. Seek out opportunities to learn something. Whether it’s a new word (like this one), a new language (great list of free language learning tools and sites), a program (like Photoshop), or something extremely out of your element (for me, it’s politics), the most fulfilling life is one that is full of constant learning. Here are just a few amazing online free resources.

  • Khan Academy – online courses/videos.
  • W3Schools – learn HTML, Javascript, CSS, ASP, PHP, etc.
  • Codecademy – interactive code-learning program for beginners.
  • Reddit.com – millions of amazing subreddits with opportunities to learn everyday with user-uploaded content and interesting debates like r/psychology, r/science, or this question/answer format r/IAmA (posters claim they are some interesting person, prove it, and answer reader’s questions). You can literally search anything and they will most likely have a reddit for it.
  • Tell me why? – random tidbits of knowledge and facts in a blog format.
  • DumbLittleMan has this great list of free online resources for learning something new everyday.
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7 Things I Learned about Packing for a Move

MovingMy boyfriend and I finally scored our first apartment. Being together for over 5 years, this has been a long time coming. I lived at my parent’s house with my family for 20 years and then moved in with my boyfriend for the previous two (out of force…but that’s a personal story). Ever since then it’s been hard to truly feel like I’ve been living independently, since I still technically lived with “parents,” even though they’re not mine. I never thought I would ever be excited to pay rent and utilities! So I am ecstatic to move into my first “real” on-my-own type deal, but I certainly learned a few things — the hard way!

1. Apartment Hunting is HARD
Apartments are expensive, and the ones that aren’t expensive are in well…questionable areas. It takes a while to find a winner. Keep a mental list of your standards, and keep an eye on the budget range you (or you and your roommates) will be able to afford. Look everywhere — newspapers, Craigslist, etc.

2. Finding roommates is even more difficult
Luckily, I had a friend going to the same college me and my boyfriend were, so we decided to look for places together. We found a three bedroom apartment, and needed to find one last person to fill in the last room (since me and my boyfriend were obviously sharing a room). Easy, right? Wrong. July ended up being a stressful chaos that nearly consumed me and threatened me to opt out altogether. Luckily, our landlord helped us to find the last person, but without that help, we would have been “shit outta luck.” Make sure you are looking for an apartment that just houses what you’ll need (2 br for 2 people) and no extras, because finding a stranger to live with you is very difficult and could be time-consuming.

3. Packing takes up far more time (and boxes) than you’ll originally think
When the time came to start packing, I brought home a couple good-sized boxes from my job, assuming that we didn’t have a lot of stuff. We have only been living in one tiny room, I thought. WRONG. I was so dead wrong. Always bring home at least 3 times the amount of boxes you’ll think you need (and try not to buy boxes — there’s plenty of stores who throw out plenty of good sized ones that will be glad to give them to you — just ask!). And set aside a good couple of hours each day (and a couple of days) to pack. If you’re living in a 2-br or house, plan to pack at least for a week — and bring some helpers.

4. Pack heavy things in smaller boxes, and bulkier items in larger ones
Think it’s a good idea to use one large box to store all of your books? Think again — all that weight will be impossible to lift. Keep heavy things in smaller boxes, like books. Keep fragile things cushioned with paper or bubble wrap. Pack heavier things on the bottom, and lighter things on the top to prevent damage.

5. Label all your boxes!
You don’t want to end up with an empty place full of unlabeled boxes. What a mess! Always remember what you’re putting into each box and label or number each one as you go, right after taping the top shut.  Keep like things together (books with books, kitchen utensils with others, shirts with shirts, etc).

6. Plan ahead of time how you’re going to move your stuff from Point A to Point B
You can prevent a lot of last-minute headaches by planning ahead of time — call a truck-owning friend, or rent a uhaul truck. Always try to do it for free or cheap, first, and then use the companies as a back up, since moving costs (and apartment costs) will already destroy your budget. Also, if you do end up needing to rent, make sure you reserve your truck/van a week or two ahead of time, especially since move-in days tend to be on the first of the month and other people will be competing for that same truck.

7.  Wake up early on your big move-in day!
My move-in day is Monday, August 1, and I plan to wake up very early to move in all day. This is important, because I hate waking up early. But I know it’s completely necessary. Think about how far your new place is, plus the estimated time to take moving all the boxes from your place into the trucks, cars, and vans, and then going there only to unload the cars/trucks/vans and then UNpack everythng into the house. Don’t forget moving hefty furniture, and figuring out where to put everything. This will easily take all day, so you want a giant jump-start. The night before, make sure you go to sleep early, and have everything packed. Keep the most essential items on you only — change of clothes, deodorant, make up for girls, phone, wallet, keys. It may also be helpful to write a to-do list before bed so all those details about the move won’t be keeping you up all night.

Stay tuned for a post on my experience with new roommates, and how to save money while on a strict budget.

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Are You Happy? No? Then Change Something

are-you-happy-infographicvia

I found this awesome infograph and it inspired me to write a brief post. The graph asks, Are you happy? If no, then change something. If yes, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not happy, but don’t want to be happy, you can also keep doing what you’ve been doing. I think this illustrates very clearly that you are responsible for your own happiness, and that change begins with an awareness of the need to do something about it.

You’re not going to wait around and become happy. You’ve got to put a little work into it, and deserve that happiness. So how to do this?

Step One: Change your Attitude.

Happiness is an emotion, just like the hundreds of other emotions we have the ability to feel and comprehend and put into thousands of words. Instead of thinking negative thoughts, think positive ones. Instead of being upset about something, think of something that you can be happy about. Even if it’s, “Well, I could be dying or dead.” Because some people are dying or dead. You still have an entire life to live, so don’t waste it.

Step Two: Realize that Change is Possible.

You’ve also got to seriously believe that you can change your life. It is YOUR life, and although there are some things we cannot change (the economy, the climate), there are lots of things that you can change. This is called your locus of control. What things inside your locus of control can you change? You, your relationships, your job, your education, your location, your inner thought processes, your behavior and your actions.

Step Three: Decide What Your Goals Are.

You cannot start on a road trip without knowing where to go, can you? Sure, you can just kind of jump in the car and go, but you’ve got to at least know where the highway is, which direction you feel like going in, and where your keys are (damn!). Write down what it is you’d like to change about your life (see If Your Life Sucks, Do Something About It), and why. Then figure out how you’re going to do just that…

Step Four: Make Action Steps and DO IT

You can’t be WINNING if you’re not even trying. So once you figure out what your goals are, then you have to figure out exactly how you’re going to do it. This can take a bit of research, but it’s totally worth it, especially if you want to avoid wasting time (and probably money) through trial and error. These are action steps – your to-do list from here on out. But just writing it down isn’t enough, you have to do it. You can’t change your life without actually changing anything, duh. So don’t look stupid (even to yourself) by not following through. Don’t you care about your own life, and think you’re worthy of being kept a promise? Then don’t break your own promises to yourself.

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Pay Yourself First Part II: How to Save Money and Keep a Budget

Save Money So in Pay Yourself First Part I we discussed how to make a budget. Now we’re getting to the juicy stuff, how to actually keep that budget and save money, which is the point of all budgets. If you haven’t read part one yet, go there now. It opens in a new window, so I’ll be waiting for you. It outlines how to make the budget which we’ll be working with today.

Let’s review before we continue, okay?

-you made a budget which outlines your income and your bills
-you included variables and their estimated monthly amounts, such as for gas or shopping
-you probably have little money left over

I’ll show you my budget, which will help in two major ways. First, it forces myself to make a budget, which is beneficial to myself, and second, it helps me illustrate to you what a budget looks like visually. Click on the thumbnail to view a screenshot image of a simple budget worksheet I made. You can mimic this style, too, by downloading the document and inputting your own information.

Since it is a table, you can add new rows and columns as you please. Note: in the variables section, I used three estimates of the three previous months to see my spending pattern, and then the far right column is the amount to stick to, or the budget amount. You can see that all the rows on the far right add up to my income total, which is $1,000.

The savings section is the one we’ll add in today. I broke my savings into two categories.

  • One is for a specific goal that you’re working for financially, such as getting an apartment or paying off a loan. If you don’t need this, save all money into the emergency fund, which should be a savings account and relatively hard to take money from (such as not linked with your checking account).
  • The other is one everyone should have: emergency fund. It is recommended that everyone have 1-2 months of income saved at all times to guard against emergencies, like car repairs or injuries, or other necessities. It also protects when one loses a job or hours. Even if you can only put in $10-50 a month, do it. Over a year you can either have $120-600, or nothing.
So, how do you set aside money in your budget? You can do this two ways, depending on your priorities and situation.
  • You can fill your money with set expenses first, variables next, and savings last (whatever’s left over goes straight into savings.)
  • You can start with how much money you’d like to save each month, and take that away first. Then fill in the set expenses section, and divvy up whatever’s left into your variables.
Either way is up to you. You may also find another method that works better. If so, go right ahead – nothing is set in stone here. Your budget should work for you, and it should be simple and easy to read. I completely estimated my numbers so they end in zeros and fives. You can be more exact than me, or you can keep it simple. It really depends on your personality.
Now that we have set up a cool budget and a plan to save money, the obvious next step is to put that plan into action.
  • Follow your budget. See how it works in practice now, not just theory. Test out your numbers and see if you can live with the changes. It might be hard not to party 2 times a week for you at first, and you might have something huge pop up unexpectedly that takes up a large chunk of money. It’s okay. Budgets are meant to be flexible.
  • Try out your budget for at least a month, and reflect on how it worked for you.
  • If you need to make some changes, cross out the numbers and edit.
  • The point is to keep finding a plan that works without feeling like you need to survive on ramen noodles and beans.
  • When you have racked up a comfy amount in your savings or you have met your financial goal, make a new one. Living in a rental but really want to own? Start putting away for that down payment. When you start putting away money for things that matter, saving won’t feel like work. It will truly feel like you are paying yourself, especially when that savings gets you that cool digital SLR camera you’ve been saving up for 3 months.
  • If you ever have to dip into your emergency savings, remember to work on building it up as soon as you are back on your feet. You’ll never know what else may happen, so it’s safest to be prepared.
  • An easy method to get used to budgeting for different categories is to put the exact cash amount you decided in your budget into different envelopes marked with the category, such as “food” or “clothes.” When you run out, that’s it. Combine this with online bill paying, and you’ll keep your two different types of expenses separate  (the fixed from the variable) and avoid the urge to use bill-paying money for new shoes or what-have-you. Paying bills online, especially automatically, is a great way to avoid late fees!
I hope you learned something on my first two-part series! I hope to do many more series, maybe even a week-long one. Happy saving!
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Pay Yourself First: How to Create a Budget

BillsSince the age of 16 when I got my first minimum wage job as a line cook, I have been exchanging money for other things. Material things, like a cell phone, new American Eagle jeans, an iPod. Part of the fun (and point) of working those 20 plus hours per week was to do just that — sometimes I would go to the mall immediately after and end up spending the entire paycheck in one day. Now that I’m older I have (for the most part) controlled those impulses for instant gratification and new gadget toys, but those checks still disappear almost as fast as I get them. Now that I have entered adulthood (or young adulthood), most of my money is exchanged for recurring bills. Phone plans, cable, credit cards, car insurance, Netflix. Most of the time I barely end up with more than $10 by the time my next paycheck comes. How did I end up this way, and how can I get out?

The problem was that I did not have a plan. I had no inhibition about what to do with my money, or how to organize my bills properly. I also did not keep track of my money. Once I noticed this, I decided to write down my income versus bills and see precisely why I ended up in debt or close to it every month:

INCOME $1000 per month
restaurant job, 30 hrs per week: $250/wk (estimated. sometimes I work more, sometimes less.)

BILLS $920+
3 credit card payments  approx. $250+
car insurance $110
cell phone $60
gas approx. $100+
food approx. $300+
misc expenses (bars, liquor, shopping) $100+

Once you write everything down, it is easy to see where your money goes most of the time.

  • My bills, including variable expenses, only added up to $920 per month in theory, but I said before that I barely end up with more than $10 by each week’s end. Obviously there is a spending problem.
  • I notice that I do not allot set amounts for the variable items I’m spending money on (such as gas and food and going out), and therefore I end up overspending. I also need to figure out exactly what “misc” consists of. An easy way to do this is to put all your money on your debit card and then look at the online statements from your bank. They will list each transaction and most banks even categorize it for you automatically based on the store you bought it from, e.g., they can easily tell that Stop & Shop is a grocery store.
  • Some banking websites have even gone a step further and created pie charts and other visuals detailing your spending habits. Take advantage of these tools to see how you spend your money, and you will see what types of purchases are sucking money.

When you begin to set certain amounts for types of purchases, that becomes your budget.

  • First, write down set expenses that are the same per month, such as your rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment or insurance, or your cell phone (having the right plan can prevent monthly bill surprises for your phone bill). If you typically pay your credit card companies the same or similar amount each month, you can put that as a set expense, too. Don’t forget to include smaller payments, such as a gym membership or Netflix account.
  • Next, write down a detailed list of all the things you spend money on outside of these set bills. This list can include: clothes, groceries, eating out, bars/liquor, movies, cigarettes (or other vices), gas, even magazines. Keeping track of your habits with your debit card (or saving every receipt) will help you decide the right categories.
  • Add up the amount of your total monthly income (after taxes), and find the difference of that from the total of your set bills from the first bullet. This is the amount you have left for everything else, such as the items in the second bullet.
  • Divy up the amount you got into the categories you made based on previous activity and importance. Do you know you need a certain amount of gas every month for commuting? Write that number down next to the “gas” category. Have a severe habit of cigarettes that are nonnegotiable? Don’t forget to add in your vices. Going out to drinks or the club counts too (don’t forget parking fees and cover charges in addition to your drinks). Be strict here, you do not need to go out every weekend. Nor do you need to eat pizza three times per week. Keep writing down numbers to ensure each category has enough money for what you need or want for the month. But save some money. We’re not done yet. We have to add the most important part of a budget: paying yourself! 
Stay tuned for Part II: How to Save Money and Keep a Budget.
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