Sometimes when you make a decision, you end up with unintended consequences. Sometimes those consequences are bad (for example…you find a parking spot in the Katz lot but you end up with a ticket because your meter ran out before you left the building). But sometimes those consequences can be good (like when I gave up cable TV and my electric bill went down because the cable boxes are power vampires).
My New Year’s resolutions this year included a “healthier living” component. This includes not only exercise (and yes…I’m still winning my StepBet!), but also eating less processed food. Some things (i.e. potato chips and pretzels) that used to be staples in my life are just not a part of it any more. Now when I think of snack food, I’m usually thinking fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, or applesauce. And my one true snacky weakness—popcorn. Popcorn is a true whole-grain snack food that doesn’t have to be bad for you. I recently acquired a microwave popcorn popper. This provides me with oil-free popcorn in minutes that can’t cause popcorn lung. Add a little salt while it’s still hot, and I’ve got a delicious, easy, healthy snack.
But the thing that caught me off-guard about this dietary change is the unintended consequences. I’ve read a million times that the best way to shop in a grocery store is “around the edges” where the fresh foods are kept. And this change to my diet has led to more around the edges shopping and a lot less of picking up boxes, bags, and jars from the aisles. And this is where the unintended consequences come in. I’ve been spending a lot less money on groceries since the start of the year. A dozen eggs, a bag of clementine oranges and a bag of apples costs about the same as one bag of chips and one bag of pretzels (and will make you feel full a lot faster). And a jar of un-popped popcorn kernels costs only a few dollars but will last for weeks on end. While this may not seem like a budget busting discovery, I’m easily saving $10 to $20 per week on groceries by sticking with healthy food. And over the course of a month that’s $40 to $80. Over a year it can be as much as $1,000. And that’s a significant chunk of money.
You never know what unintended consequences may come from decisions you make. But sometimes they’re really good ones.
Lately I have taken to gambling. No…it’s not craps or cards or slot machines or even lottery tickets (which I believe are a tax on people who are bad at math, but that’s a story for another time). I’ve been betting on myself. My latest favorite smart phone app is called “StepBet.” And I’ve been using it to bet on whether I can keep myself moving.
I sometimes have trouble keeping myself motivated to exercise (despite my desire to do a half-marathon in September). But money is a great motivator for me. And if I can get someone to pay me for doing something that is good for me, I’m all over that. So I signed up for my first StepBet last November. The app connects with my fitness tracker to make sure I’m taking all of the steps I need to. Based on my average performance, StepBet calculated that I needed to complete about 8,300 steps four days a week (my “active” goal) and 10,500 steps two days a week (my “stretch” goal). One day a week I get to slack off. And as long as I was able to keep it up for six weeks, I would win. I paid in $40 to participate in the bet. I was one of 125 participants. Only 87 of us succeeded in getting all of our required steps for the full six weeks. So after StepBet took their cut from the money of those who lost, I was paid out $50 for winning. Not a great hourly rate, but a 25% return for doing something I should be doing anyway is not a bad deal.
Now I’m in my second StepBet. It started on Christmas Day and I just finished week 4. My required number of steps are a little higher this time around because the first bet bumped up my averages. And I’m still going strong. So far 20 of the initial 159 players have been eliminated. And I know I can do this to get back my money plus some from those who fail. I won’t allow myself to fail because I don’t want to lose my $40. And it’s not always easy to pull off. There have been many days when I’ve found myself marching in place in my living room to get to my necessary step number (steps are steps, whether they are moving forward or moving in place or dancing to 80’s music, right?—it’s all exercise!).
So, I guess this isn’t really gambling, since it’s not a game of chance. It’s more a game of resolution. If you have a fitness tracker and are confident that you can move on a regular basis, it’s kind of a fun way to make a little extra money without a lot of effort. And if it helps to keep you healthy, you win twice!
Sometimes when I’m driving, the road rage words that jump from my mouth, aimed at the car in front of me, will be, “Do something, even if it’s wrong!” (Full credit for this gem goes to my husband’s grandfather, who spouted an abundance of what we call “Wilbertisms.”) But there’s a lot of wisdom in this particular phrase that goes way beyond the driver who can’t figure out what he or she wants to do.
This is still the season of New Year’s resolutions. I made a couple of them this year. One is to make healthier food choices and to run more, with the goal of running a half-marathon in the fall (which I’ll now be held accountable for, since it’s out there in the blogosphere). The other is to create and live by a budget in an effort to pay down some debt I’ve been lugging around with me.
Right now you are likely thinking in wonder about the money lady who doesn’t have a budget and has a bunch of debt. I know….I know. It’s one thing to understand the principle. It’s quite a different challenge to put it into practice. I know that the secret to weight loss is to burn more calories than you consume. But I like cheese! And chocolate! And pizza! And I know the secret to budgeting is to spend less than you earn. But I like restaurants! And music festivals!
So here we are at the start of a new year. And I’m going to do something. Even if it’s wrong. Because doing nothing will not change anything. If I do something, it may lead to a positive change in my life. Or it may be wrong and lead to a learning experience. But either way, doing something is better than doing nothing.
My “healthier choices” plan includes using my fitness tracker’s app to monitor my food intake and calorie burn. My half-marathon dream is right now in week 3 of Couch to 5K. And I’m currently in my free 34-day trial of You Need a Budget, as well as reading the accompanying book by the guy who created it. I’m not sure how this will go (though I’m sure I’ll keep you posted as I progress). But I know that I’m doing something. And doing something (even if it’s wrong) is better than doing nothing.
Winter is here. Full-blown freezing cold and snow. And while you may not realize it, there are some things you can do to help keep your seasonal costs down.
If you are paying for your own heat, turning the thermostat down a few degrees can save you a LOT of money. But it may lead to you feeling cold in your home. There are a few easy things you can do to combat this, however. If you feel cold air coming in around your windows, it’s easy to cover the windows with plastic. You can pick up inexpensive kits at any hardware or big box store that give you what you need to put double-sided tape around the windows, cover it with plastic, and use a hair dryer to stretch it tight. It’s amazing the difference this will make in how much cold air sneaks in! And if you’re still feeling chilly, the quick and easy answer is to add more clothing. Long underwear goes a long way this time of year. Turtlenecks and scarves can keep you toasty. Wool socks are awesome on the feet (and there’s no shame in doubling up on these when it’s really cold out!). And for the ladies, fleece tights are a game changer if you like to wear skirts. I’ve often been heard saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather—only bad clothing.” I stand by that statement.
So you are now warm in your home…but you still have to leave the house. There are things you should know about how to care for your automobile when the temperature has dropped beyond belief. Those stories you’ve heard about how you shouldn’t let your gas tank get below ¼ of a tank? That’s really true when it’s cold. Condensation in the gas tank can freeze and cause you some real grief if your tank is too empty. It’s definitely cheaper to keep your tank closer to full than to repair the car. And while you are taking care of the gas, it’s best to make sure you keep your washer fluid topped off, too. Winter roads can be sloppy and salty and you want to make sure you have some anti-freeze washer fluid available if you need to clear the windshield. Driving around looking through a salt-smeared view isn’t safe for you or the drivers around you. And finally, it’s a good idea to check your tire pressure. Air expands with heat. Likewise it contracts with cold. If the last time you checked your pressure was at the start of fall semester, it’s likely that they are a lot less full now than they were then. And you could be causing undue wear on your tires because of it. Your local Sheetz has an awesome digital air pump available for free. Better to pump them up than to need new shoes for the car sooner than you’d like.
I could go on and on (winter being my favorite season), but I think you get the idea. Be aware that life is a bit different in the winter and will demand different things of you. But if you are prepared, you can safely and warmly enjoy our winter wonderland!