Motivation Monday: Get Started

Today is my first day at my new work-from-home health coaching job. I’m flying to Texas for training and to meet my new coworkers!

Starting something new can be exciting and nerve-racking. I’m looking forward to a change, and I think I’m going to learn a lot from this company. It’ll be a good fit because I’ll get to help people reach their health and wellness goals. I’m also anxious, and I’m doubting myself a little right now. I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get there and get into the rhythm of the job. I just have to START.

Good luck to all who are starting something new or contemplating getting started. Whether it be a new job, exercise routine, way to manage finances, a new relationship or any kind of goal or endeavor. You can do this because you’re awesome! Now, let’s get started!

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How We Started Our Journey to Financial Freedom

For the past 9 months Rick and I have been working hard at paying off our student loan debt and learning to live within our means. We’ve come a long way, and I want to share a little more about how we got started.

2 copy.jpgOur adventure began with Rick graduating from law school in December 2014. He had a fancy new juris doctor degree and about $140,000 in student loan debt.

Rick wasn’t in a big hurry to pay off this debt because he had planned to go the  –  work for the state, pay the monthly minimum and the rest will be forgiven in 10 years –  route. Starting out, his payments didn’t even cover the interest.

Side note: Not all lawyers make a lot of money starting out. But, oh, that would have been nice.

A little over a year ago, Rick started thinking about leaving the public sector, so the 10-year loan forgiveness deal would no longer stand. We started thinking about different approaches to pay off the student loans.

Soon after we got married in 2017, we decided to pay off a private loan with a high interest rate. That seemed like a logical starting point. Unsure of what to do next, we kept throwing some of our money at the loans and saving some money as well. We brought our debt down to about $100,000 toward the beginning of 2018, but we still didn’t really have a clear strategy.

Enter Dave Ramsey. I had listened to Dave’s talks as part of a wellness incentive program a few years ago, and I decided to check out his book, The Total Money Makeover, from the library.

rawpixel-602154-unsplash.jpgThis book gave us direction regarding budgeting and cutting expenses. We tracked our expenses for a bit, and in April 2018 we started our very first budget! We learned how to spend less, set aside an emergency fund (quite a bit more than the $1000 Dave recommends), and we decided on a set amount for a monthly loan payment.

Our student loan debt total was just under $100,000 that April. Our current total is $51,642.60. That’s about $48,000 paid in 9 months. Not too shabby!

We’ve had some recent changes in our life (new city, new jobs, new salaries, new expenses), and we have adjusted our budget accordingly. If we stay on pace with our projected average monthly loan payment, we’ll be debt-free by April 2020.

These are some things that have helped us so far:

Cutting Expenses:
We thought a lot about our wants vs. our needs and made some lifestyle modifications. Some of the expenses we cut included: Netflix, a gym membership, eating out, vacations, grocery bill, clothes, and other extra purchases.

Ways we made extra money:

1. We decluttered and sold some things we no longer use such as clothes, décor, books, CDs and DVDs.

2. I give plasma at least four times each month.

3. I use cashback apps and ebates.

Ways we stay motivated:img_20190109_102931995

1. Debt thermometer. I drew a thermometer and labeled the bottom of it with our total amount of debt. I put a big “0” at the top of the thermometer and dashes with amounts every $10-15,000 or so. We keep track of our progress by coloring in the thermometer a little bit when we make a loan payment. It’s super easy to make your own- clearly, you don’t have to be an artist. Or you can find plenty of free printables online.

2. This blog. I’m held accountable by my blog posts, especially the Top 10 Thrifty Wins each month. It’s a good review of our progress, and I think of how the next month can be even better.

3. Reading helpful books and blogs—The Total Money Makeover, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, The Power of Positive Thinking, And Then We Saved.

If you’re looking to pay off debt, save up for a house or a fun vacation, or if you just want to get a better grasp on your finances, I suggest beginning by tracking your expenses and creating a budget. See how we created our first budget to help you get started.

**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links, and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.

 

Top 10 Thrifty Wins: December

December is usually a spendy month due to holiday celebrations, travel, gift giving, and being more social, which usually includes eating out. This year we added extra rent, utilities and moving to our expenses due to Rick and me living in separate cities for the month.

Things turned out pretty well. We had wonderful Christmas celebrations, I wrapped things up at my job, and we’re all moved in to our new place. We were able to pay off a student loan with the highest interest rate this month and threw over $5000 at our debt total. I am constantly amazed at how well we do when we think creatively and stick to a budget.

Here are our Top 10 Thrifty Wins for this month:

1. Saved money on Christmas gifts. A lot of our family was on board with either foregoing the gift exchange altogether or simply getting gifts for the little kids. I made a few presents and shopped deals with Cyber Monday, Ebates and other sales.

alcoholic-beverage-anniversary-bar-1246956.jpg2. Skipped birthday gifts.
Rick and I both have birthdays in December, and we decided to skip giving gifts to each other this year. Things were pretty hectic, and we decided to plan a January birthday dinner date night instead. (And we’ll use gift cards!)

3. Used coupons for car work. I had to spend a little more on maintenance this month than anticipated, but I found $20 in coupons, and I got a $20 mail-in rebate.

4. I got a new job! I worked at my previous job through the end of the month before joining Rick at our new place, and I was able to nail down a new health coaching job to start mid-January. That was a big weight lifted off my shoulders, and I still get two weeks off to get settled in to our new place. With the PTO payout, I’ll really only have a couple days unpaid in January before I start my new job.

5. Extra income. Moving is a great time to declutter, and we were able to make $20 by taking some of our unwanted stuff to a thrift store. I also received $165 for my time donating plasma.

6. Fairly inexpensive move. Rick visited each weekend in December and took a load of stuff back to the new place with him. We borrowed a truck and took the rest of our furniture down before Christmas, so we only made one extra trip between apartments.

art-bright-design-8964077. Used gift cards for apartment purchases and eating out. Our apartment is very dark, so we purchased a bright new lamp with a birthday gift card. Also, we had just moved in and didn’t have much in the fridge so we thought it was the perfect time to dine out with a restaurant gift card we received.

8. Spent just over half of our eating out/entertainment budget.
We budgeted much less than usual for this area in December, and we still only used half of it. I think we had tried to cut back on our spending where ever we could because we figured this would be a pricey month.

9. No spend girls day. My friends and I got together the day after Christmas to chat and do a holiday craft. It was so nice spending time with them, talking about our family Christmases and doing a simple wine bottle craft.

10. Made a $5760.86 loan payment. We were able to make a hefty loan payment which paid off our loan with the highest interest rate. We’ve paid close to $50,000 from when we started in April.

Happy New Year, all! Best wishes for a financially fit 2019!

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**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links, and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.

Favorite Recipe Friday: Easy Enchilada Skillet

Here’s a great low carb substitute for chicken enchiladas.

Ingredients

1 tsp. olive oil
2 c. cauliflower rice
½ c. diced green pepper
2 c. chicken, cooked and diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 4-oz. can of chilies
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. garlic
½ tsp. oregano
½ c. black olives, thinly sliced
2 c. cheddar cheese, grated, divided

Instructions

  1. Add oil to pan and heat on medium-high.
  2. Add cauliflower and green peppers and sauté about 2 minutes.
  3. Add all other ingredients except the cheese. Stir to combine and cook 3-5 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 c. cheese and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add the rest of the cheese on top and turn the burner off. Cover and let cheese melt for about 2 minutes.

 

Favorite Recipe Friday: Mediterranean Cabbage Steaks

I love this easy vegetarian Mediterranean recipe. The melty cheeses with pesto and the artichokes… so mouth-watering.

Play around with the ingredients –Kalamata olives and mozzarella might be tasty, too!

IMG_20181215_112926124.jpgIngredients
1 small head of cabbage, sliced into steaks
3 oz basil pesto
½ c. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 oz crumbed feta cheese
Approximately 8 grape tomatoes, sliced in thirds
1-14 oz. can of artichoke halves

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400 and cover two baking sheets with aluminum foil.

2. Arrange the cabbage in a single layer on the sheet pan so the edges are all touching. Spread pesto on the steak halves.

3. Top with cheese, and tomato, and artichokes. Bake about 20 minutes.

7 Tips for Healthy Holidays

Want to maintain weight, stay healthy, feel good, and enjoy the holidays? Follow these tips for your healthiest holiday season!

adorable-animal-animal-photography-7918621. Get sleep and rest. Have some wind-down time each day. Read, take a bath, watch a light TV show, do some yoga, meditate. Stick with a regular sleep schedule.

2. Stay active. Go to the gym, try skiing, walk, snow shoe, ice skate, or do some indoor youtube workout videos. Caution: don’t use your exercise as an excuse to binge on Christmas cookies or 5 glasses of egg nog. It’s not likely you’ll burn that many calories. But it certainly helps with stress management and keeps you away from food for a bit.

buffet-chicken-cooking-5938.jpg3. Bring a healthy dish to pass at holiday parties. That way, you’ll KNOW there’ll be something healthy there that you can eat. There’s always the classic salad or veggie tray, or you can try one of these ideas.

4. Limit alcohol. Save yourself some calories, embarrassment, and a hangover.

5. Focus on faith, family, and friends, not food. Watch a movie with the fam, craft with friends, play a game, go to church, share stories, go for a walk, play in the snow. Unhealthy food is not required to have a good time!

drink-drinking-female-14586716. Drink water. This will keep you hydrated, fend off cravings and make you feel more satisfied.

7. Make it a holiday meal, not a holiday month. You might have 10 Christmas parties to attend, but that doesn’t mean you need to go hog-wild at each of them. Strategize your splurges. Maybe you wait all year for Aunt Mary’s Christmas cannoli, but you’re not too keen on office party cookies. Leave the cookies alone and enjoy the cannoli.

Favorite Recipe Friday: Creamy Potato Kale Soup

This Whole30 friendly soup makes a creamy, filling meal.

I did another round of Whole30 with a friend over the last few weeks (mine was Whole20 this time). It was fun to experience this diet at a different time of year with different kinds of foods.

This soup really hit the spot. These are some of my other favorite Whole30 recipes.

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
4 c. chicken broth
3 medium russet potatoes, roughly cubed
Approx. 4 c. chopped kale
13.5 oz. can coconut milk

Instructions

1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add ground turkey and cook on medium-high until browned.

2. Add the onion, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper and sauté for 3 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and stir.

4. Add the chicken broth and potatoes. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

5. Stir in kale and coconut milk. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Favorite Recipe Friday: Mozzarella Turkey Meatloaf

I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for awhile, but we always eat it up before I remember to take a picture of it! It’s so delicious and filling.

A side of roasted vegetables pairs nicely with this cheesy loaf.

IMG_20181202_072843106.jpgIngredients

1 lb ground turkey
1 c. bread crumbs
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 oz. mozzarella sliced
3/4 c. ketchup
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. cayenne pepper

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9×13 glass baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground turkey, bread crumbs, and Italian seasoning.

3. Place one half of the meat into prepared pan and shape to form bottom half of the loaf. Place mozzarella slices down the center, leaving a little room around the edges of the loaf. Place remaining half of meat on top of the bottom half of the loaf, and seal the edges.

4. In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Pour half of this mixture over the meatloaf, reserving the other half for later.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Then, remove loaf from oven and pour remaining sauce on top. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes.

Top 10 Thrifty Wins: November

One thing I love about these monthly Top 10 Thrifty Wins posts is that it forces me to find SOME kind of financial positives when looking back at the month. All wins count, no matter how seemingly small they might be. Reflecting on the past month’s finances motivates me to keep going and do even better the next month.

With Rick getting a new job, moving, and living in two different places, we weren’t really sure how to approach our November budget month. There were a lot of unknowns such as the cost of the new apartment rent, Rick’s paycheck and other kinds of moving expenses. Creating a budget was tricky, and some areas were really difficult to stick to.

But all is not lost. I was still able to drum up our Top 10 Thrifty Wins for November:

1. Found a good deal on our new apartment. We had about three weeks to find a new apartment and move Rick to the city where he is now working. Madison is about two hours away, and we didn’t have a lot of time to apartment hunt. We also weren’t sure about the location because where I will find a job is still a mystery. But we found a nice deal on a temporary lease. It was available right away, decently close to Rick’s job, and it’ll give us time to think about where we actually want to live.

rawpixel-749497-unsplash.jpg2. Saved money on internet. We still need internet in both apartments while Rick is at our new place and I’m at our old place through the end of December. Instead of purchasing or renting a router, Rick took one to the new apartment, and I’m using the ethernet cord or my phone’s hotspot for internet. We’re looking to cancel the old apartment internet altogether and just use the hotspot.

3. Cut moving costs. Instead of spending money on movers and a truck, Rick’s dad let us borrow his HUGE truck to take a load to our new place. We were able to fit everything Rick needed immediately in the truck and move him down in one shot.

4. Saved money on celebration pizza. When we moved Rick to the new place, we ordered pizza from our all-time favorite pizza place. We rarely eat out (and rarely eat pizza), so this was a big deal. And the $2 off coupon made me feel even better about it.
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5. Cutting back on Christmas shopping.
We’ve been downsizing Christmas gifts each year on both sides of the family. Not only is this a big help financially, but it also cuts down on the stress and greed of the season.

Screenshot_20181202-131408.png6. Spending more, saving more. Unfortunately, we’ve been spending more on household items, gas and gifts. This is partially due to Christmas/birthday season and partly due to moving. However, I’ve been getting more cash back with ibotta, Receipt Hog, and Ebates!

7. Still no cell phone payment. Rick’s previous job paid for his cell phone and plan. We anticipated needing to buy a new cell phone and start paying for our plan since he transitioned to his new position. Due to the generosity of family members, we still don’t have to pay for either.

8. Free meals. As a farewell present, Rick’s coworkers gave him a basket full of goodies which included gift cards for: Culvers, Starbucks, and Subway. It’s always nice to eat for free!

rawpixel-740327-unsplash.jpg9. Bought some pants on sale. Since my clothes buying fast, I haven’t returned to my clothes shopping habits. But I did need a new pair of black pants. After checking Goodwill with no luck, I bought some brand new pants at 50% off.

10. Stayed within budget on some areas. Even though we didn’t really know what we were in for when we planned our November budget, overall, we stayed within budget. We blew the budget in some areas, but we cut back in others such as eating out/entertainment and groceries. We didn’t need to spend money on car repairs or cell phones like we thought we would, and the cheap new apartment rent really helped us out.

**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links, and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.

Favorite Recipe Friday: Easy Roasted Vegetables

Roasting vegetables will change your life!

I tossed some of my favorite veggies together with some spices and oil and popped them in the oven. Magic happened, and in 40 minutes I had crispy-tender, decadent morsels of nutrition.

Ingredients:
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 c. mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 c. baby Brussels sprouts
½ small head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 large head of broccoli, cut into small florets
¼ c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. black pepper

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cover large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
3. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss.
4. Evenly spread the vegetables on the baking sheet.
5. Bake for 40 mins.
Optional: Scramble eggs separately and add on top of vegetables. I drizzled a little hot sauce on mine, too!