Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Mythbustin': I'm Starting A Diet

Myth: Diets are something you go on and off of as needed for your weight.

Fact: You're on a diet, whether call it one or not.

"Diet" doesn't mean "strict eating regimen." It means, "Any eating regimen." Whatever you're doing right now, it's a diet. It is The You Diet.

Seem a little like I'm parsing hairs? Like it's not really a big deal? Like it doesn't change anything, but just is a semantic "Gotcha!"?

Well, it's not. Because think about it this way--when somebody says, "I can't stay on a diet," they're wrong. There is some diet they can do perfectly fine, and that's whatever they're doing. It may not be a perfect diet, or a healthy diet, but they still "have" a diet. If someone were to watch over their shoulder with a notepad, they could even give them a pretty good idea of what that diet consisted of.

When someone says, "I can't diet," what they're really trying to convey is one of three things:

The Diet Excuses:

1. "I can't tie myself down to a plan." Let's say that the person with the notepad came back at the end of the week, took out all his notes and said, "Okay, you have to eat nothing but these things this week at these times." The person who holds attitude number 1 couldn't do it. They wouldn't want to restrict themselves. Even though they found the diet perfectly satisfying the week before, the idea of being tied down to it sounds horrible.

"Do I really have to get up at three AM and eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry's?" they'll whine.

2. "I can't deny myself certain foods." This person might be perfectly fine with the above scenario. In fact, they may eat pretty much the same foods every week anyway. They'd grab the list from the guy, grateful they don't have to stand in front of the fridge any more. But if the guy started messing with the menu, making suggestions here and there, this person would freak out.

"But what if it's three AM and I want to eat a half a pint of Ben & Jerry's?"

3. "I do not want to be subjected to the financial and/or physical difficulties that might come from changing my diet." This last group has, either by experience or by word of mouth, come to believe that it would be either too expensive or too physically painful (e.g. they'd have no energy or feel hungry all the time) to change their eating habits. This group would look at any list handed to them and think either:

"How am I going to afford all of this?" or "Is this all? But what if I need more?"

The Excuse Busters:

1. If you're in category 1, here's the coolest thing you can learn about dieting, that will make you able to diet again: You can be in control. There is no guy with a notepad. The only one who will ultimately decide what you eat is you. At no point has any person who has ever subscribed to any diet stopped being in control. They've still had their free agency the entire time.

What I recommend for the controllers is this: Design your own diet. Learn all you can about nutrition. Read a couple of books that you think sound appealing, and then use all that knowledge you gain to create a diet for yourself. Use recipes from each book that sound appealing to you. Plan it all out yourself. Now, when you have to eat salmon and brown rice on Wednesday night, it will be fun, because it was your idea, rather than be frustrating because some guy with a notepad told you to.

2. Number two--here's your deal: You can eat whatever you want and still lose weight. You really can. There's only two tricks you have to learn.

First trick is to learn how to keep foods from being a problem. Plan for pizza night by eating low calorie, high fiber foods the rest of the day. Plan for the church Pancake Breakfast by having a sensible meal to prepare for dinner that night.

And second, learn tricks to reduce the calories of your favorite foods. Use less fatty cheese and meats on your pizza and more antioxidant-rich sauce. Use unbleached flour in the dough instead of white flour. Figure out how to get the taste you like with less caloric cost.

3. If you're the person who's afraid they'll be hungry if they eat better, think about this: Some foods, like asparagus and watermelon, actually have negative caloric value. It takes more calories to digest them than they contain. In other words, you could spend all day, every day, for a week doing nothing but eating watermelon or papaya, getting beyond full, and you would still wither away and die.

Okay, maybe you wouldn't die in a week. And you definitely wouldn't want to ever try this diet, but there still exists a happy medium. Somewhere between starving yourself and eating watermelon all day long, there's a diet that will keep you full and still be nutritious and help you lose weight.

If it's a financial thing--well, I hear you. While I struggle with just about every issue on this list, this one's probably my biggest one right now. We coupon shop, and with coupon shopping, junk food is where the bargains are at. We could be stocked to the gills with junk food for nothing right now, if we wanted to. But we don't. We want to eat healthy and lose weight.

Again, though--you can do it, if you plan. Not buying junk still saves us money, and we are able to find creative ways to save money. Buying in bulk, growing vegetables ourselves (did I mention I had the first tomato from our patio garden yesterday?), making things from scratch--they all help. It can be done. We're doing it.

Final Note:

You may have noticed all of these answers had a common word--plan. It's really all about making a plan. So I guess there's one excuse that I don't have an answer for:

"I don't want to have to make a plan."

If that's your reason, well--I can't help you. There is nothing in this life you can accomplish by luck. You have to make a plan and see it through.

I won't say "stick to it." You may find you have to modify the plan as life and circumstances happen. But you just adjust your plan so it still brings you firmly to your destination.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Final Word From Kathryn

10. Now that I have offered you several tips on how to save more money each month, I will tell you how to spend what little you do have. It is a really simple formula, but it has worked for me and I am a single parent with 2 kids making less than $30,000 per year(I am a college student). If it works for me, it will work for anyone!

First start by writing down your TAKE HOME pay. Lets say it's $2000.00.

Use the 30/30/20/20 rule.

- 30% goes to rent or mortgage payment. So for a take home pay of $2000.00, you should not be spending more than $600 per month on your rent or mortgage. If you find that your rent or mortgage is higher than 30% of your take home pay, you cannot afford to live where you live and it is time to move! Sell your house, or move into a cheaper apartment. If it is LESS than 30%, say your rent is only 550, instead of 600, that extra $50 goes directly to paying off your credit cards and bills on your credit report.

- 30% goes to bills and all monthly expenses. This includes car pmt., insurance, utilities, food, gas, etc. So in this case that would be $600 per month. If it is higher because the car pmt. makes it higher, you need to get a cheaper form of transportation. Either sell the car and take public transportation, or get a cheaper car.

- 20% goes to savings, no questions asked-directly from your paycheck into the savings account. For this example, that would be 400 per month, or 200 per paycheck. This money is to sit there. Do NOT touch it for anything. It needs to grow until it equals 8 months of living expenses. In this case, that amount would be $16,000.00. Then after you have saved that much, your credit cards and bills should be paid off as well by that time and you can start investing or using that 20% towards kid's college educations, or whatever your heart desires.

- 20% is your miscellaneous. This is $400 per month for stuff like clothes, gifts, eating out, co-pays to the Dr. office, etc. If you don't use the full $400 in a month, great! Anything leftover goes towards paying off those credit cards and bills on your credit report faster.

I have used this method and nothing I have done before works better. Like I said before, now that I have that down, time to work on the weight loss! I know this email is windy, but I really wanted to share this information with you and your wife because it can and will help you. I have never shared this with anyone before, but since reading your blog, what can I say? I had to put in my two cents...or shall I say my dollar seventy-five? LOL...If you have any questions or want to exchange any ideas or whatever, shoot me an email anytime! :) Meanwhile, I will be reading your blog to see how you're doing. Hang in there!

I'm really glad Kathryn went to the trouble of sharing all of this, and not just because it gave me nearly a week of blog content.

When I read this, my first reaction was to want to nitpick at certain parts of it. "Well I heard that your rent or house payment shouldn't be more than 25% of your paycheck," or "Pay off your debt first!" or other such silly nitpicking.

None of that is the point. The point is, Kathryn made a plan and stuck to it, and now it's working for her. That's exciting. That's inspiring.

We could sit and quibble endlessly over details, but the point is Kathryn is proof it can be done. She's turned her life around, and has guaranteed that her own life, and that of her two kids, will be better than if she had just rode the wave and seen where life "took her." That's like taking your hands off the wheel of the car in moving traffic.

So please, read her post and glean from it all the parts that are useful. Use what works for you. But don't let the details distract you from the big picture--when you decide what you want and make a plan for going after it, and if you go after it with gusto, you can make it happen.

Thanks, Kathryn, for sharing with everybody. Feel free to weigh in whenever you like!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

More From Kathryn

8. Pull your credit reports from all 3 bureaus. If there is anything on there that is potentially negative, dispute it. You can do your dispute online, and for the reason for the dispute, just say that it isn't your account. That is what I did for quite a few items and they were all DELETED from my credit report because the companies didn't reply to the credit bureau within the allotted 30 days. I have drastically increased my credit score by doing that. Anything negative that remains on your report after the 30 day investigation needs to be paid off because your credit score can't improve with unpaid accounts or collections. So, chip away at any items that are unpaid and they will eventually be paid off. Meantime, do you have current credit cards that you are still using? If you are, your balance owed should never be more than 30% of your credit line because it affects your credit score. For example, if your credit line is $500, you should never charge more than 150 on that particular card. If you don't have a choice and there is an emergency, try to pay it off as soon as possible at least to get that balance down to 150. Hmm..what else? OH, I am sure you already know this, but once your cards are paid off, leave them that way and never charge more than what you can pay off in FULL by the next month's bill. There is a new law regarding minimum payments on credit cards that will be going into place sometime in the next year or so that will dramatically INCREASE minimum payments on credit cards. So, if you have credit cards with balances AND other bills that are unpaid and on your credit report, pay off the credit cards first, especially because of the interest you are probably paying. Then, after the cards are paid off, tackle the other debt, if any. My other old job was working for Visa, so I was fortunate to learn all the in's and out's of credit, credit scores, etc.

9. For entertainment, instead of going to a movie the first weekend it is out, wait til it's in the cheap theater then go see it. Or if you don't have a cheap $1 or $2 theater where you live, wait til its out on DVD and rent it. You will save tons of money by quitting going to the full priced movie theaters.

Entertainment on a budget is sure an issue.

Finding things to do usually isn't--yesterday, since I had to go to Orange County anyway, my family and I had a nice picnic dinner on the beach and then went and watched the fireworks from outside of Disneyland (We sat under the "R" in California) and only paid for food and gas--gas we'd have had to spend anyway, since I already had to go to Orange County.

But as big a movie fan as I am, giving up movie theatre trips has been hard for me. While I did go see the new Star Wars, that's been my only movie trip this year, which is tough for a guy who used to spend every weekend seeing whatever the hot new movie was.

As it is, I'm chomping at the bit about the new Batman movie that came out today--the wife and I might have to sneak out and see a showing after it becomes eligible for Entertainment Book coupons.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

More From Kathryn . . .

The email continues . . .

4. I cut down the cost of my car insurance by changing a few things around on my policy. I have full coverage insurance. I live in Arizona, so car insurance is astronomical anyway, but I did manage to save a few bucks per month by changing my deductible from $500 to $1000, lowering the amount I can use for rental cars from $40 per day to $20 per day, and lowering the medical coverage to $5,000.00 Not to worry about the medical part, because if you get into an accident and your medical bills are more than $5,000, your regular health insurance will cover anything above and beyond the car insurance policy. I used to be a claims adjudicator for blue cross blue shield and saw it all the time-all they will ask you for is a denial letter from your car insurance and the bills will be paid.

That is some terrific advice. My wife and I have not yet looked into doing anything with our insurance. About the time we started this turnaround, we were going to start looking for cheaper insurance, but then two accidents dropped off our record (well, my record) and it became cheaper without us having to do a thing. Because of those two accidents I had in a row, I've always been leary of lowering my car insurance or going with a cheaper provider--I tend to use my car insurance, and I want it to work--but I strongly advocate having emergency funds in excess of $1,000 for stuff like this, and then going for the higher deductible. Great advice.

5. I stopped going out to lunch with my colleagues every day. I used to spend at LEAST $5 or $10 daily on lunch outside. I started bringing my own lunch every day and only going out for lunch on paydays. I figure lunch outside twice a month is OK. Money saved-$100+per month. Another cool thing about this is that it is easier to eat healthy when you aren't in a restaurant!

Because of the weight-loss portion of my goals, I tend to eat up to six small meals a day, which means I eat 3-4 times during the hours I'm at work. My first "meal" is usually a meal replacement bar--whichever one we were able to get coupons for and was on sale. Lately, it's been the EAS Advantage bar. Then a while later I'll do whatever healthy frozen meal had the right combination of sales and coupons--usually Healthy Choice as of late. Then I'll have maybe an apple and a cup of cottage cheese, or maybe sandwich. Sometimes I'll substitute canned soup or leftovers for any one of these meals. All told, I usually end up spending $2-3 on food a day, although I will skip one or two if we're getting close to a payday or far from a shopping trip, so it's sometimes less.

6. I don't know if you are living in a house or apartment, but if you are in an apt. and are paying extra for a garage or cushy parking spot, lose it and save money!

7. Stop using that debt-free service if it isn't free! You can pay your OWN bills if you stay organized. Get a monthly planner or print out a new calendar every month and keep it at your computer and desk. When the bills come in, write on the calendar when it is due, how much it is, and then keep the bills in a neat stack RIGHT next to the computer monitor, like I do. Then, when you have paid the bill, take it out of the stack and put it in a file for your records. Keep doing this until the stack is gone. Same thing for the next month, etc. Also, quit using checks from your bank! That is the fastest way to end up with costly overdraft fees from the bank. If you don't already have it, get online banking, enter in all your bills and their addresses and account numbers. Then when it's time to pay bills all you have to do is sit at the computer and click. No more writing checks, getting postage, etc. If you have a bill that's due on the 30th, for an example, arrange to have the payment go out on the 25th-ALWAYS send your payments out 5 business days in advance. Do that, and you will never pay another late fee. If, for whatever reason, your bank doesn't offer online banking, I would still do away with the checks. Just get 29 cent money orders at your local gas station for the bills and do it that way. Get out your scissors, and those boxes of unused checks and go to town. Cut them all up and never order another box. Checks are nothing but headaches. OH, and not having checks is also another way to ensure yourself of no more costly pay day loans!

I don't get payday loans. I make them--it's actually what I do for a living. I give people loans by day at work and beg them to get out of debt on this blog by night.

To everyone--don't get payday loans. If you're tempted to get one, don't. And then, on your payday, take the $300 you'd have had to give the payday loan company if you'd got it and put it in your sock drawer. Then, next time you need one, you can give one to yourself. Put the $300 back on your payday. Repeat as needed.

I will say to anyone looking to follow Kathryn's advice about checks--see what kind of account you have at your bank first. Many banks, such as Bank of America have "Free" accounts only so long as you do all your transactions by ATM or check. If you start cashing your checks or withdrawing sums larger than what you can get from the ATM each day--like if you need a large amount to pay rent--you can often get charged transaction fees for those. Getting to know your bank's policies is valuable. If you tend to go inside the branch, take note of which teller seems most knowledgeable about bank policy and most willing to share. You'll be glad you did.

And as for the debt consolidation company, I'll post my do-it-yourself debt consolidation plan before this month is out. It's the plan that's got me out of all my debt except for my car and the stuff I turned over to those guys, and if I'd have started it sooner, I'd never turned any of it over to them at all.

Even More To Come! Keep It Tuned In!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Unjumping The Shark

I realize that some time ago, this website jumped the shark. At least, I thought it did. Somewhere around the time my car broke down, this blog went from being helpful to being whiney.

However, I think I've received more comments since I became whiney then I did when I acted like a know-it-all. Quite frankly, the support has been welcome, and lots of the advice has been great!

But I still want this blog to become helpful again. And here to help me do that is Kathryn, who has been going through some of the same stuff I have, and has had to go it alone. She has some great tips I think everybody can use, including me.

I'll be publishing her email, along with my comments, over the next couple of days. Here goes!

Hello Erik,

I have been reading your blog for the past few days. I haven't read through all the archives yet, but I am working on it in my free time. I was going to post a comment, but it wouldn't let me since I am not a blogger. Hence this email. Hmm...where do I start? I have some free advice for you and your wife. I am almost 30 myself and have struggled with the exact same things you are struggling with, i.e. weight loss and financial freedom. I have the financial freedom thing down, but am still working on losing more weight.

For starters, why did you buy a Saturn? First things first, I would trade in that Saturn for a Toyota Camry! It doesn't even have to be a new Toyota Camry. I have a 1997 and haven't ever had anything major go wrong with it. After checking the consumer reports, I found out that the Toyota Camry is one of, if not THE BEST, car for families. I have two daughters just like you, so I wanted a good, reliable sedan to haul them around in and luckily decided on the Camry.

I agree completely. My next car will definitely be a Honda or a Toyota.

I'm not going in for one yet, though--my primary goal right now is to become completely debt-free. As crazy as it may sound, I want to pay cash for my next car. That means paying this car off at an accelerated rate, and then starting to save the mileage checks I get from work towards a used vehicle.

The Saturn hasn't been too bad for me, although I have discovered the problem I just had with this one is fairly common (If you have a Saturn, do not, under any circumstances, let it overheat).

I got a great deal on the Saturn--at the time, I looked at Hondas and Toyotas, and they were just a hair out of my price range.

(Actually, there was a Nissan I could have afforded if the guys at Planet Nissan in San Bernardino hadn't tried to pass a 24% interest rate off as an 11% interest rate. But that's another story.)

Next, you and your wife need to start saying NO to everything. I know, it is easy to get suckered into offers, specials, sales. But all those things end up being is another headache. Hence the credit card situation when your wife thought she was only requesting information, but they had to sign her up BEFORE they sent out the information.

Wonderful advice.

In my wife's defense, she's become a master of using coupons and offers to make money rather than just save money. In this case, the way the whole thing was presented to her made it sound like an exploitable system she could have cleared some cash on. Not wanting to get ripped off, though, she requested the information.

I do want to say we did get in writing that those charges are all reversed. Came in the mail today.

Here is what I did for financial freedom:

1. Cut off the cable TV and cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Now, I get about 2 local channels so if I really want to watch the news or something else on that channel, I still can, but without the monthly $43 bill. I rent FREE DVD's at our local library. I was shocked to find out that they have so many titles, for adults and kids. I also have more time to do other things now that the cable is gone. I don't miss it one bit. Get your news online, and take a trip to the local library once a month or so to read your favorite magazines and check out books.

Check! We don't subscribe to any magazines, and we only get the Sunday paper for the coupons (We also bum coupons of subscribing family members who don't coupon shop).

We did cancel the cable, except local channels. For $5.99 a month, we get the local channels from Dish Network (Unfortunately, antennas don't work where I live). We do make extensive use of the local library, including their audiobook section, since I drive a lot.

(Actually, for any locals reading this, I recommend the Riverside library by the Mission Inn. They have lots of free videos and audiobooks. San Bernardino still charges for both.)

2. Cut off all the "extra" telephone services-NO more call waiting, voice mail, etc. I pared my monthly service down to $13 and got an answering machine. Then I cut off my DSL and signed up for $10 a month Net Zero. I hardly notice the difference in the internet service and I could care less if anyone doesn't like the fact that they get a busy signal when they call my house. My Qwest bill used to be around $87 a month, with all the phone features and DSL, Now it is less than $20.


I used to love to brag about my ISP--I was getting dial-up for $6.95 a month. Unfortunately, they've gone under, swallowed up by Earthlink, but I'm still getting $9.95 a month for them.

I also agree about the phone bill. My wife and I haggle over this one, though--she can't give up call waiting and voice mail, partly because I spend so much time on the net, and she doesn't want to miss those messages, and because she really does have people she needs to keep in contact with during the day, since she's starting a child care business in the next couple of months to bring in some extra dollars, and wants to be as accessible as possible. Also, she won't give up unlimited long distance, because she really does use it--her family is from back east.

3. Do you have cell phone service? I used to have Verizon's 1100 min. per month plan, and was paying around $80 per month. I cut my cell phone service down to the 400 min. per month + free nights and weekends and saved myself over $40 per month. I also started being religious about checking how many minutes I have used so far, so I don't go over on the minutes to rack up a higher bill. No problem.

My company pays for my cell phone. Otherwise, I would probably get a prepaid for my wife for emergencies and call it done. Just like you could care less if people who call you get a busy signal, I could care less if people can't get a hold of me when I'm at the park. ;)

More to come! Tune in tomorrow!