February 2018

Lately, whenever I do have to make an online purchase, I’ve been checking eBates first before I buy whatever I need – sneakers, flowers for my Mom, a new stationary bike.

It’s pretty simple: it gives you rebates on things you buy from their participating units. The nice part, though, is they start you off with an automatic $10 as long as you make a few qualifying purchases in your first few months.

I find it interesting to use these kinds of sites, since they rely on the idea that once you start using their interface, you’ll end up shopping more: that is not Monday Motivation for me.

Instead, it seems like eBates offers someone the opportunity to receive discounts in moderation, specifically on items they’ve decided they needed without looking at eBates first. My rule of thumb is that I don’t let an eBates deal be the reason I make a purchase; I make the plan and then I find the best deal available on eBates.

Other people really love finding the best deal and snagging a sale item at much less than the original price, before also receiving a rebate check later that month. I can support that too, but I know myself: a little shopping can lead to a lot of shopping and impulse buys!

I have goals to be a frugal person, and on the surface, coupons and rebates help with that. However, I have to make sure that I pay attention to why I’m making purchases, so that I get all the benefits of the item on offer, without compromising on my goals and values.

So this Monday, I encourage you to do one specific thing and one abstract thing: get signed up for your free $10 at eBates (no worries even if you don’t end up using it! You can always unsubscribe.) and try to note how things that are being sold to you (like rebates!) can benefit you without getting in the way of your goals.

And if eBates isn’t your thing, that is a good decision too: it’s in line with your values and goals, after all!

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It’s tough to break out of the mindset of trying to save money, but I’m trying to strike a balance. Hubs and I, for instance, had heard rave reviews of a farm-to-table restaurant in the next town over, so we’d said we would go have dinner there if we made it through out Cash Envelope Challenge. It was pricier than we’d typically do (I think we spent $64 bucks with appetizer and two dishes) but it was SO WONDERFUL. Above is the pic I took of the “deconstructed chicken pot pie” with the amazing sage gravy and puff pastry triangles. We felt full and happy all evening long, and the service was SO warm and inviting. They clearly were people who took the most pleasure and love from the good food they served.

And I didn’t want to feel bad about it! I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted money. So… well, I write extra. When I feel like I’m spending too much, I try to increase my income in proportion. This isn’t always possible, but working a little harder feels like a good response.

Now, Hubs and I are really looking to a much bigger expense: we’re hoping to take a beach vacation this year. This is much more expensive than one nice dinner, but I’m trying to think about it in wise ways, rather than feeling guilty about it.

  • When I work outside of work hours, I’m building up the savings I need to go.
  • When I budget well for groceries and work hard on our taxes to get everything right, I’m adding value to our lives by not wasting money. Every dollar helps to make the vacation worth it!
  • I REALLY enjoy the beach. Me and the ocean go way back, so even if other people think of beach vacations as boring or cliche, I LOVE the beach, and haven’t seen it in years.
  • Going somewhere warm, even later this year, is giving me LIFE for February.

It’s not always possible to take time and money for a vacation of any kind, but this year, if we can do the saving we need to do and make good choices, I think it’s in the books for me. I hope that if there is a splurge in the cards for you, you’ll fully enjoy it, and if there isn’t right now, I hope that working toward your goals will allow you to find a splurge opportunity, even a small and inexpensive one, soon.

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For the first time in a long time, I’ve switched from pocket planners and half-sized planners to a full 8.5×11 planner. I’ve enjoyed having it for a number of reasons, but these are the main ones that have made me notice its benefit lately.

Lie-flat page spreads are huge! I am a big of a sprawling note-taker, so my little planners were already bursting by the time I began taking notes in earnest, necessitating switching to a new page. In the weekly two-page spread, however, I now have room to see how all my thoughts connect and fit together on the same single page, which is pretty great.

People notice a larger planner. I don’t need people to like and compliment my planner, but lately they have been – they love the coloring pages in the Panda Planner and they point out how nice it is to have priorities, goals, and happiness check-ins on each of the days. It makes more of a statement than my smaller ones, and I can write in an actual legibly-large script rather than the tiny letters that fit in some other planners. I don’t mind writing small, but other people seem to be drawn to this one.

Fits with binders and texts I carry. This is a small thing, but I carry a lot of binders and books in my work, and my planner was always the smaller item perched on top of a wider stack. This planner fits perfectly, however, with the size of most of the binders and doesn’t slide around or get shoves to the bottom of my bookbag.

It takes some getting used to since it is a larger item to carry when that is the only thing I need for a meeting, but so far, I love having so much space and getting attention from others who are secretly as passionate about productivity and organization as I am!

 

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This week is exciting because it is another Gobble Box Week! Given that shrimps are always a pretty pricey option in grocery stores, I was excited that this week had an Asian stir-fry with shrimp and coconut rice.

The rice has just that tinge of coconut that makes it a little more exotic than usual, but the stir-fry was what stood out. If you’ve never had water chestnuts, they are well worth trying. They are addictively crunchy, but mostly they take on the flavor from other options. The orange sauce on the shrimp and veggies makes it all super delicious, like a fine meal at a Chinese restaurant.

Husband really liked how easy it was to make in one pan and a bowl for the rice; he made it all himself while I was working on my computer, which was really great. I appreciate that he can do all the work without spending an hour doing a ton of cooking and then an hour later doing the dishes. Everything down to the crunchy slivered almonds was delicious.

If you’ve thought about trying a subscription service but haven’t, I’ve now done enough Gobble boxes to actually say I recommend this one, specifically on variety of food and the rapid cooking/prep times. If you want to try a meal for free, this link gives you that chance.

Now, though, I have to go dig in to the last of those shrimps. YUM.

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It is strange that I sweat the small stuff so much in daily life but big changes don’t faze me as much. When something small and difficult happens, my reaction tends toward, “I KNOW this isn’t a big deal, but it is such a big deal to ME and no one else will care!”

Recently though, I have had a big addition to the responsibilities of my job, one that I am not qualified for but also one that no one else can really do. It is an actual big deal. Yet, I am strangely calm.

I think the calm in real crisis comes from a simple fact: this is not the end of the world. We compare crises to everything being wrong, and we see that we are still winning.

On the other hand, I compare small things to everything being right, which makes me feel bad. Strange, right?

It makes me understand why so many productivity gurus advocate gratitude. After all, being grateful is comparison to how much worse things could be, and staying calm. Always expecting perfection makes us miserable, ungrateful, and still imperfect.

So as I muddle through the serious newness at work while trying to stay on top of all my past work, I want to remember that this isn’t the end of the world. I have a lot to be thankful for, and those things can help me get through what ever comes next.

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I know I usually like the big-picture talks on financial friday, but this week I thought I’d do some really simple, really practical tips for making the weekend a little less spendy than usual. If you are like me, it’s easy to let time away from work turn into more expenses than you want. By thinking things through ahead of time, it is easy to keep your spending under control!

Make a Plan

A reasonable weekend looks different for different people, but usually we know better before we are in-the-moment making choices about money. Make a budget, at least roughly, based on what kinds of socializing or activities you know you need to do. Knowing what’s on the list will help you be proud of your choices, especially if they involved a bit of scrimping.

Come Up With Free or Low-Cost Activities

When we are in the moment, it is way easier to choose something that costs money that sounds fun, but if you make a list of board games, movies from the library, or craft projects that are good ways to spend your time but which won’t cost so much. If they are always compared with more expensive options, these ideas can pale, so give yourself a few ideas that don’t cost so much so you aren’t always comparing with other options.

When you can, take the Slower, Cheaper Path

Just like activities cost more on the fly, trying to do things fast is also a lot more expensive. If you have the chance to walk wherever you need to go, try to budget the time for that, and always consider how something DIY or cook-it-yourself might save you some money and give you a more rewarding experience anyway!

Congratulate Yourself for a Weekend Well Done! You’ve Earned It!

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Recently, at a staff meeting at lunch, I tried Sugar Cream Pie for the first time. This is a surprising thing to my co-workers, who have grown up with this concept as part of their lives and as their state pie (who knew that states had official pies?). This pie is a custard-like pie that really just tastes like sweetness, creaminess, and nutmeg, so to me it was like eggnog in a pie.

It made me think about the foods that characterize a place; my coworker talked about how during the Great Depression there was very little fruit available and so people made this pie to be able to have a cheaper alternative to fruit pies. Now, it feels like a can of fruit pie filling is far less expensive than the large amounts of cream and butter needed to make such a pie. It is funny how things shift.

The other aspect is that the pie is very work-intensive; it requires substantial and thoughtful stirring in order to come together in its traditional wiggly and solid form. Many a Sugar Cream Pie has been a semi-liquid. Granted, the liquid probably still tasted good, but just like no one prefers their ice cream melted, there is a bit of risk with making this regional favorite.

That is a risk I want to take though, the risk of getting to know local foods and trying to make them. Sugar Cream Pie isn’t top on my list, but I am fascinated by the backstory and the recipes handed down over generations. It makes me want to raid my mom’s recipe card box and see if something from my childhood is actually a food that goes back a long way in our family. I don’t want all my food knowledge to be based off recipe sites online; there are other ties that make us find food meaningful.

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It is now officially that time again: grading season. My first batch of student essays is in and the drafts are staring at me, daring me to read them, add comments, and fill out the rubrics. It isn’t hard work, not really, but it does require every ounce of my concentration, and it isn’t perfectly objective, so I feel like if I’m distracted in any way, it might hinder my judgment.

So I end up delaying grading… like many teachers… for longer than is ideal. It isn’t even ideal for me: the feeling of dreading grading is way worse than actually getting some grading done.

Because this is the case, my Monday Motivation plan today is to layer my work. I’ve decided that for every essay I grade in its entirety, I can work on some organization and writing work that I like much more. I am not allowed to lose myself in the fun work; I get 20 minutes of it, max. Then back for another essay.

This way, I do technically grade about twice as slowly as I usually do, but (and this is important) I make SOME progress on grading. After all, the physical act of grading an essay is not enough to leave me sweating and dizzy – it is doable. But I procrastinate, which isn’t good for anyone. I make progress, and I get rewarded, so I look forward to more progress.

This Monday hasn’t been very easy so far, and I’ve got a major meeting that I’m not much looking forward to, but knowing that I’ll get time for the work I like best in between the bouts of work I like least gets me pumped to work hard. I also am giving myself little incentives, like moving out of my office and sitting in a nice common space that I enjoy, and making myself a yummy cup of coffee as a break, to get through it all.

Hope you are all getting things done this Monday, no matter how many unpleasant tasks are ahead of you!

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Husband and I made it to the end of the month with only a little bit of cash left in the cash envelopes, but I’d call the month a rousing success. For one thing, the cash represented less than we usually spend on shopping and restaurants and groceries per month, so we really noticed and avoided eating at expensive restaurants or buying groceries we didn’t need. We delayed a variety of shopping purchases that, by the time February arrived, we didn’t really need any more.

In celebration, we also put some of the savings into an extra payment on the house; while we are happy with the 15 year mortgage we got on the house we own, we are always trying to pay it down a little faster. That extra payment felt great a couple of days ago, and I honestly think it is part of why I’d like to maintain a lower level of spending rather than creeping back up to where we were at the end of 2017.

During the summer, I see beautiful weather and new businesses opening and I just generally feel like spending money is “worth it” in a lot of cases because of the positive memories created. Lately has felt like a lean time – right now, our income is stable but outside is dark and cold and even spending money on nice things seems like it won’t contribute to as good of memories. It seems like a natural time to eat simply, to invest in keeping our home warm enough to be (close to) comfortable, and to dream of spring.

The cash envelopes taught me that I can make very small adjustments and save quite a bit on groceries, shopping, and restaurants, the areas with the most substantial discretionary spending for us. I hope that even without cash I will carry these lessons through and remember that I don’t have to spend a lot of money on an experience just because it might be fun – there are many ways to have a nice time.

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best self two weeks notice

I have been working on my Best Self Journal for 11 weeks now – woohoo! I recently saw the page that reminds you to get another journal if you want to do another 13 weeks. I am indeed going to do so, but I have my mind set on trying Panda Planner, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, so I will have to wait a little longer before I get another 13-week cycle going.

I like that there was a whole page for the two weeks’ notice, because I had gotten into a little rut about my goals. Some of them have become unrealistic (I’m not pitching 10 stories a week because I’m already doing as much writing as I can possibly fit in), and others I’ve just not done so well with (diet and exercise… sigh. Not bad but not good). I stand by the fact that I’ve succeeded on eating a lot of vegetables, writing a ton, and feeling surrounded by great community that we deliberately spend time with.

But when it feels like certain goals are firmly unrealistic, rather than “stretch goals,” it’s easy to just let them go. For instance, I need to find ways to turn my old goals for running 15 miles a week into more manageable near-term goals, like running at all, rather than just seeing everything as failing my original goal. If running once is failing, and running zero times is failing, it is so much easier to justify running zero times.

Starting today, I’m revising that goal specifically to fit what I can do in two weeks time: namely, go to the gym at least twice a week, and one of those times needs to be a run. Sure, I’m not going to win any medals for that, but it means that I don’t have to just twiddle my thumbs and wait for the Best Self Journey to be over to start a new goal. I can pivot to good new actions today.

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