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Posted on Jan 30, 2014 in Dear Diary | 15 comments

Investing in Me

I have never been what most would call “frugal.” I am not thrifty, I am not a couponer, I am not a price-comparison shopper, I am not a budgeter. I am, to the endless annoyance and bewilderment of my far more financially responsible sister, one of those people that just buys stuff.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be tacky or insensitive or bragging about my privilege or anything like that, I’m just being honest. I recognize that I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can buy most of the stuff that I want without having to plan for it — and, of course, I’m not talking about impulse-buying $1000 handbags or giant plasma screens or any huge ticket items like that. I’m just talking about things like the sushi dog plushie I ordered off of Etsy, or my Stitch Fix (and BirchBox… and Julep…) subscription, or the two pairs of Seychelles shoes that I purchased off Amazon last night.

So, yes, I am very fortunate to be in a place right now where, between my full-time job, my book sales, my blog income, and various other projects (like the occasional photo gig or shooting weddings with Ben), I do have a bit of disposable income. And while it has been important for me to have that buffer, not so that I can shower myself with gifts but so I can afford things like Daxter’s most recent trip to the emergency vet, I’ve recently (or, rather, finally) come to the conclusion that my money could most definitely be better well-spent.

I’m not much of an investor. I mean, I have my 401(k), and I have a Roth IRA set up, and now that I work for Yelp I have some stock option stuff that I still don’t fully understand, but I’ve never devoted too much of my time to figuring out where to invest my money. Most of my extra money ends up going into my savings account, and I’ve always been fine with the 0.004% dividend or whatever I get from that every month, haha. And while, as I get older, I’m sure that being financially-savvy and investing my money wisely will become more of a priority for me, at this specific time in my life, there’s really only one thing that I think I need to concentrate my investments in: myself.

The past year has included a lot of awesome stuff in the life department. I landed a true dream job, I wrote a book that, at least according to the Amazon reviews thus far, isn’t terrible, I’m in a great relationship, I have an awesome family that I am obnoxiously close to, fabulous friends… life’s pretty good. So, unlike the first time I started on this health and weight loss journey, when a lot of those other things were pretty much at their lowest, I’m in a pretty amazing place. Which is why concentrating on my weight loss, concentrating on breaking those terrible habits, instituting some good ones, and generally finding that balance I so desperately crave, is finally a priority again.

I’ve always been a big talker. I talk a lot about all the things I want to be do, the experiences I want to have, and the ways I want to improve myself, but I’ve never been particularly great at follow-through. Like, I want to go hot air ballooning and I want to visit Japan outside of Narida airport and I want to finally eat at Toki Underground, but I never make plans to actually do any of those things. And so, beyond what I’m doing to improve my health and lose weight, I’m in a place where I also want to do all the other things for myself I always talked about doing. And so, for once, I am.

Which is why I finally bit the bullet, and decided to get LASIK back in October.

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And is also why two days ago I got lingual braces.

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You’re welcome for that extremely flattering shot of the inside of my mouth.

I actually had braces back when I was 12/13, but once I got to college stopped wearing my retainer (sorry mom and dad!) and, well, you know how it goes. And while my teeth are not in the worst condition, my top teeth have always bothered me. Some people may be quick to say that I don’t “need” braces, and while that’s technically true because it’s not like my teeth don’t work, it’s something I’ve been wanting to fix for a very long time:

EYEphone Outtake

Ignoring the rest of the bizarre photo (don’t ask), this is a good example showing the off-kilterness of my teeth. So I got lingual (behind the teeth) braces, just on top. My bottom teeth are also kind of messed up, but the orthodontist wanted me to get a tooth extracted and all sorts of craziness, plus you can’t even see them when I smile and I totally admit that this is primarily a vanity thing soooooo… yeah. And my teeth hurt crazy bad and my tongue is super pissed at me for putting metal all up in my mouth, but on the bright side, eating is extremely difficult right now so this should be awesome for my diet. #silverlining

But here’s where my original point about money comes full-circle — finally! — because obviously when you’re talking about stuff like metal brackets in your mouth and laser eye surgery, you’re not talking nickels and dimes. You’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars. But, as I said before, it’s not like I had really been spending most of my money on particularly significant things (Daxter emergencies aside, of course). And this kind of stuff? It is significant, at least to me. Because it is spending money ON me.

Getting LASIK is already the BEST money I could have possibly spent on myself. I know I owe you a thorough post about what getting LASIK was like, but for now I’ll just say that it was totally, completely, 100% worth it. If you’re feeling impatient, you can check out my Yelp review of The Eye Center for a more detailed look at the actual process, but I promise I will update you all here soon.

And there it is! As my sister pointed out when I was speaking with her, I got my LASIK in 2013, and I’m doing my braces in 2014, so let’s start taking bets now on what ridiculously expensive thing I do for myself in 2015, eh? Personally, I’m gunning for a week-long trip back to Harry Potter World (the Diagon Alley expansion opens this summer!!!) or… something else. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In what ways have you invested/are you investing in yourself? It doesn’t have to be monetarily, that’s just the direction I took this post in. Could be money, could be time, could be effort… After all, the things I’m doing to improve my eating habits, exercise habits (kind of…), and overall health are big investments in myself as well!

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Posted on Jan 27, 2012 in Dear Diary | 34 comments

5 Things Friday: If I Had a Million Dollars

I believe I have already mentioned that as part of Chinese New Year tradition, we young folk receive red packets (“hong bao” or “lai see”) from our elders. These red packets are filled with money (score!) and are meant to usher in a prosperous new year… or something. Call me shallow, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to say that this is one of my favorite parts of the celebration, hehe. I mean, hey, money is money, and given my particular knack for being able to spend it poorly, well… yes. Anyway, now that I am slightly richer, thanks to my parents, aunts, and uncles, it got me thinking. Which we know is always a dangerous thing.

Red Packets for the New Year
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What would you do if you somehow got your hands on REAL money? I tried to cleverly name this post after the Barenaked Ladies song, but let’s be honest. These days, a million smackers doesn’t actually get you that far. In fact, technically becoming a millionaire is something that is fairly reasonable for us normal folk if we work, invest, and spend wisely. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. I’m talking about winning-the-lotto, getting-an-inheritance-from-a-secretly-rich-relative, suing-a-company-and-winning money. Big and fast. Boom.

Wi$e-Guy  Money Roll
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Aside from all the boring stuff that you should probably do — pay off any debts, hire a financial adviser, invest, give to charity, blahblahblah — what would you do if you found yourself with cash to burn? I’m not even talking dream-scenario stuff: buying an island or an airplane/yacht/submarine-hybrid or whatever other unnecessary things people might do. Just in day-to-day life, if money wasn’t really an object, what would you do with it? Here are my top 5:

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1. Buy a nice house with a banging kitchen.

I don’t need crazy extravagance. I don’t want a house so big that walking from the living room to the front door makes me winded. But I would definitely go for something nice, a single-family home big enough to accommodate my someday-family and/or 5 – 10 more schnauzers, with a kitchen that even the stylists at Food Network would be proud of. And darn it all if I don’t finally get my Vitamix!

Massage
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2. Hire a personal masseuse.

I don’t think that there is anything more beneficial to both your mental and physical well-being than a massage. However, at anywhere from $50 – $150 for a mere hour of blissful relaxation/pummeling (my massage philosophy: no pain, no gain), getting them more than once every few months is unrealistic for me. If I could afford it, I would get weekly massages in the comfort of my own home.

Where to?
From last January’s cruise

3. Travel.

Well this one is kind of a no-brainer. I literally grew up traveling. Every 3 – 4 years on the dot, my family and I would pack up our things and hightail it to a different international locale. Living overseas provided me with the opportunities to visit places that I might never have gotten to see otherwise: Thailand, Palau, Italy… the list goes on. Now that I’m an adult and on my own bankroll, I really miss traveling. My list of places I still want to go to is long (Greece, Australia, and Japan are at the top right now!) and if I didn’t have to, you know, work to have money, I would have been on a plane yesterday. Still though, whether it’ll be via first-class and five-star hotels or economy and youth hostels, I imagine this is one I’ll be crossing off of my bucket list regardless.


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4. Get therapy.

So I know this sounds like a joke, but I’m serious. If I had the money, I would absolutely hire a therapist. Not for any particular reason necessarily, but just so that I’d have someone to hash things out with, for catharsis, to give myself some perspective… kind of like what I do in writing this blog, only more private. Because yes, there are things that even I, oversharerer extraordinaire, don’t divulge here, haha. I think that therapy is extremely beneficial, and shouldn’t be stigmatized as only being for those who have “problems” (though if that were a prerequisite, I bet my history and relationship with food could still use a few sessions just on their own). I always say that health is about much more than the physical, right? Of course, even without the stigma, it’s still fracking expensive — anywhere from $100 to $500 an hour.

Christmas Shopping

5. Shop. (Duh.)

Well, c’mon. I’m still ME, after all! If I had disposable income, I would obviously have absolutely no problem disposing of it. I would just be raising the bar in terms of where I was spending all that easily-earned cash, of course! Between Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma, Kate Spade, Sephora… well, I think you get the idea. And these are just the places that I have at some point bought something (on sale) from in the past! When I start to think about opening the door to all the places that I wish I could shop at but can in NO WAY afford… oy. Louis Vuitton, Saks, Neiman Marcus, Christian Louboutin, Dior, Tiffany… okay, I need to stop. This is just getting depressing now.

So go on, tell me. If you had a million dollars (a couple times over), what would be on your list?

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Posted on Oct 25, 2011 in Dear Diary | 53 comments

The Worst Four Letter Word

I have what one might call an indulgent personality.

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Er, to say the least.

While we already know where that particular personality trait (flaw?) has landed me when it comes to the food side of things (does 246 lbs ring a bell?), what I don’t often touch on is how being self-indulgent has affected other areas of my life. I don’t like to talk about finances because I come from a very fiscally responsible family, and it’s embarrassing to admit how far I let myself slide. But hey, I figure if I can post pictures of myself at my highest weight in a bikini on here, I should be able to openly discuss what is probably the most taboo term in the Powell household: credit card debt.

Credit Card Tombstone
(source)

I’ve talked about my issues with disordered eating many times over. What many people may not initially realize, however, is that beyond the physical, emotional, and mental toll that binge eating takes on a person, it takes a huge financial toll as well. After all, it’s not like “binge food” was an item on my grocery list. No, instead I would drop $15 a pop at drive-thru windows (give yourself a second to calculate just how much fast food $15 can buy), charging pizzas and chinese delivery to my credit cards, and the costs, just like my weight, simply continued to rise.

Mo' money, mo' problems

Of course, while I spent a lot of money on food, that wasn’t the only culprit for my unabashed spending. Unfortunately, gluttony begets gluttony, and it isn’t just reserved for things of a culinary nature. Once I was out of college and making my own money, food therapy ceased to be enough to fill the emotional void on its own. Between going a little crazy with my holiday gift-giving and my obsessions with Sephora, pedicures, and designer shoes I never actually wear… Well, suffice it to say, retail therapy became the name of the game.

Footish
Yes, you’re reading that insole correctly. These have gotten one wear. ONE.

Seeing several of my fellow bloggers be so honest about their sordid financial histories convinced me to do the same. After all, I’ve always said that honesty is what you get here whether you like it or not, haha. So I’m going to stop beating around the bush: I accumulated over $6,000 in personal credit card debt before I could even begin to admit that it had become a problem. It’s okay, family. You can judge.

Now, I realize that compared to the kinds of debt that many others are dealing with, $6K may be a mere drop in the bucket. That being said, I hope that everyone realizes that carrying ANY credit card debt from month-to-month is too much. After all, we’re not talking school loans or mortgages here. This is not good debt. This is you’re-throwing-your-money-away-kind of debt. This is the kind of debt that comes back to get you. And I can tell you now from personal experience that being stressed over credit card debt is not exactly what I would call a boon to weight loss.

I'mma getchu!

Fortunately, not too long after I made the decision to salvage my physical health, I resolved to do something about my rapidly declining financial health as well. Unfortunately, life did not take a break while I was getting to that point. In order to leave my horrible, soul-crushing post-college job, I actually had to pay the company in order to quit before my 2-year contract was up (can I get a “WTF?”). Daxter had a life-threatening accident when he was 14-weeks-old, putting him in the doggy ICU for three exorbitantly expensive days (and of course, I hadn’t gotten pet insurance yet. Fail.) My father generously loaned me some money to help me out in the interim, so that’s an entirely different debt that I’m working towards paying off.

While these things may have slowed down my progress slightly, I am still moving forward. Er, downward. My credit score is still high, since I have never defaulted or had a late payment, and I’m continuing to whittle down at the balance I owe. It’s taken a while, but over the past eight months I’ve managed to reduce my credit card debt by two-thirds. By the end of 2011, barring any surprises, I should be free & clear of all non-mortgage debt (holy crap, just typing that out feels amazing!) And that’s all in spite of my lingering penchant for purchasing unnecessarily expensive things, haha.

Froofy
Because we all know they aren’t buying their own sweaters and designer dog beds.

Okay, okay. I jest, but believe it or not I really am trying harder than ever to stick to an actual budget and watch my spending. I use Mint.com to track my purchases and accounts, and have the app on my phone as well. I’m also tracking my debts and payments in an Excel spreadsheet to make sure I am not overspending the funds that I need to keep in my checking account for things like, oh, my third of the mortgage. But it’s difficult. Not only is it hard to restrain myself from spending mindlessly, but it is challenging to maintain my healthy lifestyle while on a budget. Eating locally, organically, and/or healthily is relatively expensive. Race registrations are expensive. And let’s not even get started on my sushi requirement. I know that I don’t really NEED to buy organic apples or new running shoes or my own juicer, but it doesn’t mean I don’t WANT those things. And that whole indulgent personality thing? It just makes it hard to tell myself “no”.

need

I’m working on it.

Do you feel that a tendency to overindulge when it comes to food sets you up to overindulge when it comes to spending? Please don’t feel pressured to share, but if you feel comfortable doing so, I’d be so, so interested to hear from others who are going through or have gone through anything similar when it comes to debt.

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Posted on Jun 22, 2011 in Food, Weight Loss 101 | 39 comments

Weight Loss 101: Eat Real Food, Not Your Savings

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So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating healthy and finances. As in, how do you eat REAL food without going REALLY broke? And then yesterday Ali tweeted at me that she had similar concerns: How do you eat healthy without going bankrupt at the grocery store? Which obviously got me thinking about it even more. I’ll be the first to admit (and I’m sure that my sister will be the second, haha!) that I am not exactly the most frugally minded person. Sure, I can appreciate a good deal as much as the next person, but for the most part I adhere to the mindset that I would rather pay more for better quality, faster service, or convenience, than have to deal with the opposites of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a rockin’ deal as much as the next person, but some things aren’t worth the hassle to me. Hence why it’s more likely you’d find me leisurely perusing the displays at Nordstrom than getting sweaty and harried pawing through the racks at Marshall’s, haha.

That being said, I’m not exactly rolling in it over here. And real food is expensive! Ramen is cheap, produce is not. So while I often ignore my own advice, I do feel like this is an area where saving money really matters. And I feel there are some surefire ways to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to healthy eating.

Number 1: Eat at home.

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Uh, duh. This should probably go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: If you want to save money, don’t go out to eat. Shop for your own groceries, and prepare your own food. I spent just over $20 at the store yesterday and will be covered for meals for three days. When you break that amount down, you’re talking about something like $2 – $3 a meal!

Number 2: Meal plan.

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I’ve admitted in the past that I’m not very good at creating and following meal plans. I try to pretend it’s because I’m all spontaneous and like to be creative with my meals, but really I’m just lazy and unorganized hahaha. This week I tried to make an exception, however, because I’m taking off for the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference in Boulder, CO on Friday morning! So going grocery shopping mid-week, while a complete necessity given the state of food options in my house, wasn’t the most ideal situation. I didn’t want to buy things that were just going to spoil when I left! I feel that the biggest money-suck when it comes to eating real food is having it spoil because you weren’t able to utilize it in time. Meal planning is the absolute best way to avoid this.

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Number 3: Make (and stick to!) a grocery list.

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My list yesterday was super short because I was literally only shopping for a few days’ worth of food. But if I hadn’t done up a list, I would have walked out with so much unnecessary, unusable food.

Number 4: Buy generic.

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Stacy’s pita chips are priced at $2.99 a bag. Giant’s Nature’s Promise brand pita chips at priced at $2.49 a bag. Which product should you purchase? Seems like it should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, sure 50 cents might not seem like that much, but it adds up. Fast. And this rule applies across the spectrum: groceries, pharmacy items, etc. People will pay a lot more just for a particular brand slapped on the packaging, when the generic version is just as good (and oftentimes, the same manufacturer makes both products anyway. So you are LITERALLY just choosing between a branded and a generic version of the exact same thing.)

Number 5: Stretch your meat.

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There are lots of creative ways to make the expensive items you buy, like meat, last longer. Cara gave me the tip of adding ~2 cups of mashed chickpeas (which you can snag for about $0.89 a can!) to turkey burgers to bulk ’em up and stretch ’em out. I took that tip as inspiration for my own dinner last night, which involved bulking up my T-burgers with tons of veggies that I already had!

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I chopped up green onion, red onion, button mushrooms, and grated baby carrots and added it all to the mix. Not only did it make for big, thick patties, the mushrooms kept the meat SUPER moist (often a complaint when it comes to turkey burgers — thanks for that tip, Aunt Lynda!), but the meal was healthified with the addition of extra veggies, AND it helped alleviate that whole food-spoilage thing mentioned previously by letting me use up more items that were just waiting to spoil in the fridge! Win-win-win.

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With the addition of asparagus that I subbed the grocery-listed bibb lettuce for because it was a much better deal, and potatoes that I already had lying around, we have a complete meal, with enough leftovers to last me for lunch today AND tomorrow (and would have lasted another dinner, too, if I hadn’t been a piggy and had two patties last night. Whoops! Hahaha.)

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I really need to get on this meal-planning train much more regularly. That way I’ll have more money leftover for the massages I apparently desperately need! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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What are your tips for saving money but still eating healthy? Another thing I should probably look into doing more is deal-shopping (going to different stores for specific items) and couponing, two things I’m terrible at! Any advice on those fronts?

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Posted on Aug 12, 2010 in Food | 9 comments

You gotta spend money to makeโ€ฆ weight loss?

Hello blogosphere! First off, let me just say thanks to all my new readers and commenters! And thanks to Anne @ fANNEtastic food for sending all of you my way! Everyone is being so supportive and helpful, this is really turning out to be a far less horrible experience than I was initially dreading! ๐Ÿ™‚

So for lunch today, I banged out a rockin’ salad at work: spinach and mixed greens, red onion, mandarin oranges, green peppers, avocado, and goat cheese. Delish!

The killer was definitely the poppyseed dressing that I was keeping in the fridge at work from before this whole endeavor. It is REALLY bad. Like 170 calories a serving (which is only 2 tbsp!) and lots of fat. So I only used 1 tablespoon of it and it went quite a long way, which is good I guess, but still pretty bad calorie- and fat-wise. The salad was also really big, since I was trying to use up some ingredients, but overall I consider it to be fairly healthful (maybe less goat cheese next time, and I’ll try to go sans-dressing.)

I went to the gym after work (!!) and did 25 minutes on the elliptical. Yay! I also did a 3 sets of front presses – 12 reps each. Whew! My arms are sure to be sore tomorrow, but it was good. I stopped at Whole Foods on the way home and ended up spending WAAAAAAY too much money (hence the title!) Because I stayed very strict on what I was buying, but I gotta say, healthy food is EXPEN$$$IVE! Got a pretty good haul though:

And I got a huuuuge thing of nonfat Fage greek yogurt, too, only to find out that my roommate had bought the exact same thing earlier today at CostCo. So I guess there will be no shortage of yogurt in this household in the near future! And yup, that’s right: You’re looking at scallops and a piece of wrapped salmon at the bottom right there! Which brings us to the next part of the post… my super delicious and amazing dinner!!

Salmon and scallops and spinach – oh my!

I took some pictures of when I was cooking it as well, but then I realized that it wasn’t anything special, and so didn’t really deserve a recipe post. Basically I just sauteed the spinach with 3 cloves of garlic (a lot of garlic, I know, but yummm), seared the scallops and salmon with a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice all in a little olive oil.

I made double portions of the scallops and salmon, so I have enough for lunch tomorrow, too! Success, I think. I hope. Overall, a pretty good day, and I think it’s been a really great week so far in terms of my goals (it’s always easy in the beginning though!)

Tomorrow will be the real test – we’re having some friends over and my brother invited them all to come for a potluck dinner. So I’m sure there will be tons of delicious and terrible food that will be a challenge to abstain from. I’m pretty worried. What tips do you have for me to hold my resolve through tomorrow night? My sister suggested eating dinner beforehand so I don’t eat anything at the potluck. But I feel like if I eat beforehand I’m just more likely to eat my dinner and then eat MORE at the potluck on top of it, you know? Just because it’s, well, there. Ideas? Please – your input is not only valued, it’s necessary! ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks again for the support, love, and lessons, everyone! Keep ’em coming – I need all the help I can get!

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