Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to lace dress shoes

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Create tiny habits

We've just begun the New Year, the time everyone makes resolutions to change their lives. This year, get professional help developing new behavior by signing up for Tiny Habits with Dr. Bj Fogg.

Dr. Fogg just started this program last month, so he's offering it free of charge. It doesn't require much from you, and you just may change your life.

What it takes

  1. Join the program
  2. On a Saturday or Sunday, spend 12 minutes learning about habits and selecting 3 habits.
  3. Every weekday, Monday through Friday, spend 3 minutes practicing your habits and responding to a message from Dr. Fogg.

It's as simple as that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The miracle cure

This is a good video where a medical doctor spells out the most beneficial treatment money can buy which prevents a wide array of medical problems, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's, and many more afflictions. The video goes through study results and how to implement the treatment in your own life.

The result: Limit sitting and sleeping to just 23.5 hours per day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Investing, it makes sense!

Here a couple of weeks ago my fiancĂ©e and I went to the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover conference. It was a huge wake up call for us. Not that we live extravagantly, or (always) spend unwisely; but there is much more to finances, and a lifestyle of debt than either of us had thought about.

In the past 7 or so years I've become a big proponent of investing. In simple terms, it is making your money work for you. And even if you're not a math wiz you can understand the power of "compound interest" (interest that is reinvested).

Without getting into the "to have credit or not to have credit" debate; let's say that instead of buying that brand new slick car with a monthly payment of $400, you opt for a different but nice and reliable car that has a payment of $250 a month. If you were 20 years old when you took on this new car payment, and invested that $150 difference in a mutual fund with a modest return of 8%, for the life of the car loan (say 60 months). If you didn't touch your investment, and never even invested in it again after those 60 months, at age 65 your $9,000 investment will have become $269,314 !!!

Here is an example that Dave Ramsey gave regarding the power of compound interest:
Ben starts investing $2,000 per year at age 19 and stops at age 26. Arthur starts investing $2,000 per year at age 27 and keeps investing that until he turns 65. Both receive a return on their investment of 12%.

Ben only put in $16,000 but started early. Arthur puts in $78,000 over the course of his life. You'd think that Arthur would have more money right?! Nope. The magic of compound interest benefits those who start early, and have patience.

When Ben turns 65 his investment is worth $2,288,996!
When Arthur turns 65 his investment is worth $1,532,166.
Seeing numbers like this make me think about my spending habits, and even my "investment" in buying a house. They say that real estate is a great investment, and even though I have a 5% interest mortgage, about 90% of my monthly payment doesn't even go towards the principle. I'm losing thousands of dollars a year to interest. I bought my house when the housing market was hot, and sure it's expected to come back around. I got a house that was more than I needed and in a costlier area to live in because I expected to sell it right away and make some quick money. My next door neighbor, who has a similar house is selling his for $50,000 less than I paid for mine.

What if I had been wiser? What if I had purchased a used home, or a more affordable one, and then started putting money away in my investments? What about thinking in smaller terms, How can I cut corners, or get by on less so I can invest?

It's your money! Make it work for you! Stop giving it away!

Dave Ramsey's Investment Calculator

Monday, April 11, 2011

Make a Healthy Menu Plan on a Budget

For years people have asked me how I am so organized with planning meals, and say they wish they could do the same. I must admit that part of it is my personality type: I am a list maker, I like to be organized and have a plan. Also, I have cultivated a love for cooking which motivates me. All that said, I think some basic tools can get almost anyone started with menu planning.

Why Should I Make a Menu Plan?

Many people fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to grocery shopping and putting food on the table. If that works for you and you can stay within a budget, eat healthy, tasty meals and not wonder at 7:30pm what to make for dinner, then you may not find menu planning helpful. But if you are like me and most people, menu planning will save you time, money, stress and help you eat a more balance diet. It will help you make a grocery list to stick to when at the store to keep you from spending too much and buying junk food. And ultimately, you will have the satisfaction of being organized and making good meals.

How to Make a Healthy Menu Plan on a Budget

There are three basic methods of menu plannings. First and easiest is to make a "Master Menu Plan," second is to shop and make your menu plan according to sales, and third is to just make a menu plan of whatever you want that particular week/month, or according to nutritional goals, based upon whatever is in season, etc. Here I will focus on the first method, the "Master Menu Plan."

First, for any method, set a realistic food budget. The question is often, "what is a realistic food budget?." This guide from the USDA is very helpful If you have extra to budget you might fall in the "liberal plan" and be able to afford all organic, more meat, etc. Most of us can only afford the "thrifty plan." I am amazed that this plan is based off the USDA budget for food stamp recipients, and many people resort to Top Ramen on this budget. There is no need for that, we eat all whole foods on this tight budget. Granted, we can no longer afford organic, but it's still important and highly beneficial to eat whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables even if they are not organic.

Next, write down healthy meals the family already enjoys so you can keep staple ingredients on hand. If you are having difficulty coming up with anything try for at least 10, you can go to 20 or 30 if you are up for it. You will use these meals to create your menu plan.

For breakfast, alternate between a few quick, nutritious meals your family enjoys. Think oatmeal, eggs and whole grain toast, whole grain cereal, smoothies, whole grain English muffins with peanut/almond butter and honey or jam, etc. Reserve making pancakes and more elaborate breakfasts for lazy weekends and so they remain a special treat. Saturday breakfast is one of my favorite times of the week.

For lunch, plan leftovers a few days per week by simply making double batches of a few dinners, then keep on hand healthy staples you enjoy (whole wheat with natural PB&J, pita and veggies with hummus, cooked beans, tortillas and fixins for burritos, organic mac n' cheese, salad stuff, etc).

Don't forget healthy snacks! This is key to eating healthy, keep healthy snacks on hand and you will eat them. Don’t keep junk on hand or you will resort to eating junk. For snacks I plan or at least keep on hand: fresh fruit, carrots and hummus, stuff for smoothies (fresh/frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, flaxseed, spinach and kale, etc), yogurt/soy yogurt, rice cakes (plain and flavored), nuts and dried fruit (usually almonds and dates), celery with almond/peanut butter and raisins (a.k.a. "ants-on-a-log"), whole grain crackers like Ryvita or Wasa (I love these with Trader Joe's Olive Tapenade), granola bars, etc.

For dinner have a basic menu rotation of types of meals your family enjoys. Example:
  • Monday: Mexican
  • Tuesday: Chinese
  • Wednesday: (Whole grain) pasta
  • Thursday: Soup and sandwiches or home-made muffins or main dish salad
  • Friday: Home-made pizza (using pre-made dough from Trader Joe's or Fresh and Easy)
  • Saturday: "Fancy Dinner" - chicken/fish or meatloaf/vegetarian loaf with starchy side (potatoes/sweet potatoes/roasted squash/brown rice or other cooked grain) and a green veggie or salad
  • Sunday: BBQ - beef/veggie burger, sloppy joes, grilled chicken sandwich or hot dog and sides.
Don’t forget to plan dessert once or twice per week. Looking forward to it on the menu will keep you from getting ice cream every night.

Now, that doesn't mean you'll eat the same seven dinners every week. Each theme is just a jumping off point: Mexican night can be tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, with meat or vegetarian, etc. Again the menu plan is not meant to restrict you, but to make things easier so you aren't wasting time wondering what to make. Also, customize your rotation to fit your tastes, Steve and I have curry weekly, but that may not be on many people's list of favorite foods.

Try to buy at least 1 green veggie for each day of the week and prioritize working it into your menu. Example: buy broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale, romaine lettuce, brussel sprouts and bok choy. Then make asparagus on the side with Monday's Mexican food, bok choy can go in Tuesday's stir-fry, sauteed kale with garlic can go on the side with Wednesday's pasta, broccoli can go in Thursday's soup, a spinach salad or sauteed spinach can go on the side or on top of Friday's pizza, the brussel sprouts can go with Saturday's dinner and a salad made from the romaine can to go with veggie burgers on Sunday.

Finally, go over your menu for the week and make your grocery list. Do a quick inventory of what you already have that you can use, then fill the rest in from there. Consider the quantity you will need of everything. Think of the store(s) you will shop at and how they are laid out, and group things together on your list in the order that you will go through the store. Of course, shop sales, price compare, use coupons if applicable, etc. I don't recommend basing shopping off coupons as coupons are mostly for processed foods, but if it is for a nutritious or treat food already on your menu and list, great!

I usually do weekly menu plans, but for a sample of a full one month master menu plan, see my blog,

Now, relax a little knowing you’ve done most of the work in advance and enjoy the fruits of your labor with your family and loved ones!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The 5 layers of the outdoorsman

When spending an extended period of time outdoors, whether it's a day trip or overnight camping, it is imperative to dress appropriately. The proper way to dress is in layers. This allows you to regulate your body temperature throughout the day and night so you do not overheat nor do you freeze. So what are the layers?

First, a few rules for being outdoors.

  1. Avoid cotton. Cotton, when wet, stays wet a very long time. If you are in a wet situation and stay wet, you can develop hypothermia.
  2. Over prepare. It doesn't matter if the weather forecast says it will be bright and sunny, prepare for weather changes. You can keep the extra layers in your backpack.
  3. Don't over do it. Being too warm is just as bad as being too cool.

Base layer
Your base layer is the layer that touches your skin. Its purpose is to wick away moisture and regulate your body heat. It keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Look for long sleeves and legs made of merino wool or synthetic materials specifically made to wick away moisture. I prefer wool as it is comfortable and is naturally odor resistant.

SmartWool makes great base layers.

Mid layer
The middle layer provides your first layer of insulation. It is what consists of normal casual wear, though it should be functional for outdoor use. Again, stick to wool or synthetic materials. Flannel wool is a good shirt. Find one with chest pockets, as they will get used. Pants are meant to get beat up, so a synthetic material may last longer than wool in this case. I like the convertible pants which allow for even more layering options as the heat rises.

I could do a whole article on socks. Again, wool or synthetic socks. The thickness of your socks will be determined by the season, and how much weigh you will carry in your backpack. SmartWool is the go-to for many adventurous types.

Outer layer
The outer layer provides the greatest amount of insulation, for the coldest times of the day. This will adjust with the seasons. For the warmer months, it can be as little as a thick sweater. As it gets colder, you will add a thick jacket. I like the idea of having a two part outer layer, with a down vest and a jacket. The down vest will keep your core warm, and when the cold begins to bite, add the extra layer provided by the jacket.

Shell layer
The shell layer provides protection from the wind, rain and snow. Some people will combine the outer and shell layers, and that's fine. But for more flexibility throughout the year, adding a poncho and snow pants is a good idea. This will keep you dry, and keep the bitter wind from penetrating your layers.

Boots and head coverings
Finally, you will need boots that will keep your feet comfortable, dry and provide support for climbing up and down hills with weight on your back. This can take a whole article in itself, so I will simply refer you to your local outdoors specialist (like REI or Bass Pro Shop) to get yourself fitted. You will need to wear socks of the appropriate thickness while trying on boots. Consider how much weight you will be carrying, and what kind of terrain you will meet.

They say your head lets the most body heat escape. Whether that's true or not, it is important to keep your head warm. A simple wool cap can keep your head and ears warm, or opt for a balaclava which you can wear as a wool cap, and then pull down to keep your nose and face warm too. In the summer months, a wide-brimmed hat is ideal to keep the sun off.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Have a smaller wardrobe

What do you do when you open your closet and think to yourself, I have nothing to wear? Is it because you can't think of an outfit to put together, or are you just bored with the clothes you have? In either situation, it might help to have a smaller wardrobe.

Why should I have a smaller wardrobe?
A smaller wardrobe will allow you to put together outfits easier, saving you time every day. Sure, every once in a while you might just be bored with it and give up, but if you stick with it, you can be stylish every day, develop your own look without it growing boring, and save time and money in the long run.

Having too many garments in your closet or drawers means you have a lot more clutter, and so many options it's difficult to make decisions. When I go to The Cheesecake Factory, their menu is so big it could take an hour to read through it all, and I would still have no idea what to order. At Chipotle, everything on the menu is built to go together, so you start with a form, add the base, accessorize, and enjoy. It's the same with a purposeful wardrobe.

Building a structured wardrobe also saves you money. Only buy items that will supplement your wardrobe, and only buy it if you love it. Of course not everything in the wardrobe has to match, but you should have an idea of what you're looking for before you get to the mall where you may buy something that is cute but ends up in your closet for three years before it goes to Goodwill.

How to build a smaller wardrobe
A smaller wardrobe doesn't have to mean less options to wear, it just means your wardrobe has to be thought out in advance. You won't look like you belong in an animated cartoon where everyone is always wearing the same outfit, but you will develop your own unique style.

I've already hinted at how to build a wardrobe, and I'll just call it a "structured wardrobe." This means everything in the wardrobe has a purpose. You've put your creative juices to work when you researched new styles, when you tried on different garments in different arrays, and then when you decided on what to ultimately purchase. Using my silly Chipotle example above, you will pair down your wardrobe to a few different basics, and then build on each of those with different options.

Dress for the occasion
This is where you start. What occasions will you find yourself in over the next six months to a year? Make a list if it helps. What is appropriate for these occasions? Start with a base for each.

Give yourself options
From your starting basics, find a few garments that all coordinate with each of your bases. With separates, you can have 9 outfits with 3 bottoms and 3 tops. Add 2 sweaters, and you now have 18 outfits. How many outfits you need should be determined by what type of occasion.

Add flair
Accessories provide depth and  life to any outfit. Belts, hats, necklaces, bracelets, watches, shoes, etc. These are things you can add to most any outfit at any time to dress up any outfit not called "yoga pants."

Dress for the season
We don't all experience drastically different seasons, but even if you live down south where the summers are hot and so are the winters, you can still change your wardrobe up for the seasons. In some parts of the world, you may have 3 or 4 wardrobes, and in others, 2 will suffice. At the beginning of each season, go through your wardrobe and take out what won't work in the season and put it in storage. Take out of storage what you have put away for this upcoming season. This will clean out your closet, making dressing less daunting, and it will also provide variety in life. By the time you're bored with your summer wardrobe, you are now entering your autumn wardrobe.

Only buy it if you love it
You can save money by purposefully shopping for a structured wardrobe. You won't throw away money on garments you wear once or twice and then ignore because it doesn't go with anything else. But since you're not buying 12 pairs of pants, maybe use that budget to buy higher-quality garments. Instead of 6 cotton sweaters, maybe you can live with 1 cashmere sweater and 2 lambswool sweaters. If you don't absolutely love something, or if you're not 100% sure about it, just put it back on the rack and move on. If you change your mind next week, it may still be there.

By it on clearance
When you plan ahead your wardrobe, you are able to buy items on clearance to wear next year, or from a clearance store like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, etc for wear right now. Often times I'll find something I like, and then two months later buy it half off when it goes on sale.

Dress for business
Dressing for business may be the easiest way to dress. It's easier than dressing casually even. Of course many companies have relaxed, casual dress attire which confuses everyone, but don't let that dissuade you, just dress for business and you should do OK. Business attire means neutral colors. White, gray, black, navy, brown, green, and blue. Add color with accessories. You can do with 5 shirts, most of them white, 2 pants in dark gray, and a blazer or sweater in navy. You can decide the colors, but remember that black is moribund, and provides too much contrast for most complexions - opt for gray. You will look serious, and you won't have to think about what to put on so early in the morning.

These tips work equally well for both men and women. Of course a woman's wardrobe is generally bigger because while a man can wear the same suit to work or a wedding, women have different dresses for different occasions. Like I said before, dress for the occasion.

Do you have any shopping tips that help you decide what to buy?