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Exercising While Fat

I have a complicated relationship with exercise and my body, as I’ve discussed before. The word “diet” makes my skin crawl, and regular exercise is something I’m still warming up to. However, I was talking with a friend recently about how nice it would be to see more fat people talk about their workout routines, particularly when those routines are centered around feeling good rather than… all of the baggage that makes exercise suck.

So, I figured I should put my money where my mouth is and talk about the kinds of exercise I like, why, and how it’s helped me get more connected with my body. Before I start, though, I want to say that it’s taken me years to create a better relationship with my body and not feel like throwing up and/or crying when I think about exercising. If you are not there yet, I want to assure you that this post isn’t going to attack you for not being a “good fatty” and working out or eating perfectly. I’m sharing my experience purely because I think we need more examples of people being fat and happy in different ways.

Now, my routine is pretty basic, and I am slightly hampered by the fact that I’m dealing with an injury from running cross-country back in middle school. (No, really–did you know you can’t actually fix fractures in your toes? It’s great.) I also have the benefit of having a small, basic gym right inside my apartment building, so I don’t have to worry about an expensive gym membership or buying a bunch of exercise equipment to use at home. The great thing about workouts is that they are easily customized to fit your needs and skill level. Listen to your body and move in ways that make you feel good. If something hurts, figure out if it’s because your form is off or if it’s because that particular exercise doesn’t work well for you. For example, I find that squatting with a barbell really hurts my neck, which it definitely shouldn’t do! After trying to adjust my form a whole bunch, I’ve found that this is still not an exercise I particularly like or find comfortable, so I don’t include it in my workout routines. This isn’t a bad thing! There are a million different kinds of exercises to work out each part of your body. It’s okay if it takes a bit to figure out the right ones for you.

Cardio

In the past, when I wasn’t dealing with broken toe flareups, I used to go for runs. I know that everybody whines about how much running sucks, but I actually really enjoyed the chance to push myself. Especially once I started using Zombies, Run! If you’re at all into zombie stuff or want to try out something a little different, I highly recommend trying Zombies, Run! out. It functions as a run tracker and gives you missions and challenges to complete, all while telling the story of a small group of survivors that you unlock as you complete missions. This works both for running outdoors or on a treadmill. According to the creators, you can also use it while using a bicycle or stationary bike. It’s really immersive and allows you to listen to other music or podcasts while still giving you this incredible story to lose yourself in as you run. I don’t use this as much anymore now because of my injuries, but if you’re up for an interesting, fun challenge, I highly recommend it!

Now, I mostly use a stationary bike at the gym for my cardio. If you also struggle to do more high-impact cardio like running (which, to be fair, is not all that great for your joints), using a stationary bike or an actual bike you ride outside is a really great option. It’ll get your blood pumping and give you the same endorphin rush. I’ve found that I like using a stationary bike a lot more than the elliptical, but that’s just personal preference. Whatever kind of cardio I’m doing, I make sure I get at least 30 minutes of it in each workout, along with a 5-minute cooldown. I prioritize cardio because it’s what makes me feel the best. It helps balance out my brain chemistry better than anything else, so if I only have a limited amount of time to work out, I always choose cardio.

However, I also am not into cardio overkill. Workout advice for those of us who are heavier tends to focus on cardio because it’s “fat-burning.” That kind of rhetoric is exhausting, and I don’t think it’s necessary to promise that you’re going to do an hour of cardio every time you go to the gym. This is especially true if you’re more interested in strength training or making your body feel good rather than weight loss.  I use cardio as a way to ease myself back into the gym and get myself mentally prepared for my workout. I also use it as “me time” where I can play around on Pinterest and listen to podcasts without worrying about interruptions.

Arms

Once I’m done with cardio, I move on to weights. What’s available in the little gym I use is limited, so most of my strength training either requires no equipment or only requires dumbbells and a workout bench.

On the days I exercise my arms, chest, and back, I use workouts that come from this site. I know the basics of arm workouts, but there are times when I want to exercise a more specific part of my body and I’m not totally sure what to do. That’s when that site comes to the rescue. They split everything up into distinct categories so you can focus on specific muscle groups, and they have detailed diagrams and descriptions of each exercise to help you along. It’s a great free resource that can help you build a routine that works for you.

My usual arm routine looks something like this:

  • Bicep curl (3 sets of 12 reps–so, I do 12 bicep curls three separate times)
  • Bench press (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Two-armed tricep extension (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Palms-in alternated shoulder press (3 sets of 12 reps)

Occasionally I’ll change things up, but that’s my standard. It’s simple and I can adjust the difficulty for myself by changing the weights I’m using.

Legs

I really love doing leg workouts! All of these exercises are easily done at home, especially if you have a yoga mat. A mirror that allows you to check your form is also really helpful to make sure that your form is correct and you’re not injuring yourself. If you’re super unsure about your form, ask a friend you trust to check your form. It might also be worth your while to work with a personal trainer who can teach you more about form. Gotta stay safe!

For legs, my routine is pretty simple:

  • Squats (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Lunges (3 sets of 10 reps–lunges are super hard for me, so I have to take it a little easy!)
  • Calf raises (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Side leg raises (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Inner thigh leg raises (3 sets of 12 reps)

Abs

Ab workouts are also something I really enjoy, though I’m still on the lookout for more variety in this part of my routine. Making sure I get an ab workout in is super important for me. It strengthens my core and keeps my lower back from hurting when I’m working at my desk all day.

My ab routine:

  • Leg lifts (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Plank (3 sets, hold for 20 seconds on the first rep, 45 on the second rep, and 20 on the third rep)
  • Russian twists (3 sets of 12 reps)

Like I said, my workouts aren’t anything super complicated. They’re fairly easy to do even if you’re not super experienced or are just getting back into the gym. This routine won’t solve all your problems or drastically change your body shape. Still, it’s worthwhile to find out what kind of exercise you like and maybe even try this routine out. Moving your body in a way that makes you feel good is super important!

I love hearing from other fat positive folks about their workouts! What are some ways you move your body that make you feel good? Any exercises you think I should try?  Let’s talk in the comments!

Exercising While Fat

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It has been a very long time since I’ve been able to look at the day ahead and know that it is entirely empty. I can’t really remember the last time I was able to wake up whenever I wanted and know that I didn’t have anything pressing to take care of. Each day is my own to do with as I please… for better or worse.

I’m doing my best to enjoy this time and relax a bit. I’ve been playing a lot of Frostpunk (which is genuinely one of the most entertaining, brutal strategy games I’ve ever played) and digging back in to my Baldur’s Gate playthrough. I went out with a friend this past weekend and enjoyed the sunshine. Once I’ve gotten my fill of gaming, I’m going to start going after my TBR pile and fall into all the stories I’ve been missing for so long. I might even do some of my reading (gasp!) outside! I’m also hoping for some time to reconnect with my partner and give back all the attention and affection he’s given me all these years.

I have a whole host of things I want to take care of. A house deep-cleaning needs to happen soon, along with some decluttering. Blog posts need to be planned and written and graphics need to be made. There are stories I’ve been meaning to write that I have had to bury for years that can finally see daylight now. But the break from the pressure to be as productive as possible is incredibly pleasant.

There is a small part of me that is going absolutely insane without extrinsic motivators. Who am I without a seminar to prepare for or a work project to complete? What is my value if I am not actively contributing to society in some way? My answers to these range from the positive and positively anticapitalist (“I am not my productivity.”) to the terribly dreary (“I am nothing.”).  But rather than allowing myself to turn into a puddle of anxiety and existential dread, I’m forging ahead and reminding myself that I am whoever I choose to be. If I want to cozy up to my desk and play games all day with the aim of relaxing as much as possible, I can. If I make it my goal to whirlwind through the house and dust and scrub and spritz until everything is as clean as I want it, then I have achieved everything I set out to.

I am not entirely sure that I am suited to being unmoored like this. But I figure it’s a new challenge and will give me a new opportunity to grow. Let’s hope I can rise to the occasion.

6 Tips to Help You Save Money When You’re Moving Out for College

Moving out is a complicated experience. You’re all excited because you’re going to be living on your own for the first time, and also terrified because… well, you’re going to be living on your own for the first time. You’re probably looking at every “what you need before you start college” and “what you need for your first apartment/dorm” list you can find. It’s all kind of overwhelming, and so much of the advice is conflicting, not to mention super expensive.  How are you supposed to stay frugal and stick to your budget when you have a list with a million things on it that are supposedly the bare minimum of what you need?

Fortunately, it’s a lot less complicated than most people make it sound. Living on your own for the first time definitely isn’t easy, but you also don’t need to spend thousands to be able to do it. These are the things that helped me out most when I was first moving out, and will hopefully help you stick to your budget and build a healthier relationship with money and the stuff you have around you.

First, make a list of what you need.

While using other lists as guidelines can help, you should really be focusing on what you personally need. If you plan to cook while you’re going to school and are going to have a access to a kitchen, you’ll probably need more kitchen supplies than if you’re going to be living in the dorms and using a campus meal plan. If you’re a light sleeper and you’re going to be living with roommates, you want to make sure you’re bringing earplugs and an eye mask. If you have food allergies, bring a stash of your favorite foods.

There are some things you won’t know you need until you get to school and settle into your new life. There will also be some things that you thought you would need that you never end up using. It takes a while to figure out exactly what you need, and your needs will probably change over time. Don’t go hog wild and buy a ton of stuff right when you move out. Get the necessities and pick up things here and there as you need them. This will give you the time to find the best price and make solid purchasing decisions. Money is always tight in college, and you want to get the most bang for your buck. The best way to save your money is not to buy stuff you don’t need.

Second, bring stuff from home or borrow stuff from family and friends.

The cheapest way to furnish your new living space is to make sure you’re not spending anything on the really big-ticket items if you can hack it. If you’re going to school relatively close to home, this is a little easier. If you’re going to be in a stable living situation where you won’t have to move in and out every few months, this is even more ideal. You can bring some of your furniture from home and set it up in your new place–things like your mattress, bookcases, and other big stuff that’s way too expensive to repurchase on a regular basis. When I moved out, my roommate’s aunt was kind enough to loan us her couch. That was a few hundred dollars saved right there.

And it doesn’t just have to be big stuff. If you’re going to have kitchen access and aren’t going to be relying on a campus meal plan, having your own pots, pans, baking dishes, and cooking utensils is vital. You can get super cheap kitchenware at the thrift store (more on that resource later!), but if your budget is super tight, family and friends will often have extra stuff they can give you. I ended up buying a lot of my kitchen stuff new for super cheap at places like Walmart and the Dollar Tree, but I honestly wish I would’ve asked around more and gotten higher-quality stuff for free rather than cheap stuff I’ve ended up having to replace over the years.

Next, check out Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.

If you don’t have family who can spare extra furniture or kitchenware, or you’re going to be living too far from home for it to be practical for you to bring any of that with you, start looking at Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist in the area you’re going to be moving to. If you’re moving to a more rural area, the pickings will be pretty slim, but the more urban and populated an area you’re moving to, the more likely it will be that you’ll find tons of great stuff. With both of these, you have to keep an eye on them and check them regularly for the stuff you want. There’s a lot of luck involved, and you have to move fast to get the good stuff, but it’s totally worth it to take a few minutes every day to check and see if someone is giving away something you need.

Nextdoor is a little different in that it’s more community-focused, but people post about free stuff they’re giving away all the time. Join Nextdoor in the area you’re planning on moving to and start poking around to see what your neighbors are getting rid of.

One important thing to keep in mind with all of these: stay safe! Have a friend with you whenever you meet someone to get new stuff, and always make sure someone knows where you’re going. Getting free stuff is only worth it when you’re safe!

Once you’ve exhausted the free resources, it’s time to start thrifting.

Thrift stores are going to be your best friend during this time. Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army tend to have household goods as well as clothes. There are also likely lots of other small thrift stores and charity shops near you. You can find tons of household basics for super cheap, from dishes and frying pans to sheets and home decor. Everything is usually in decent condition.

I’ve actually had way better luck finding interesting, high-quality items at small-town thrift stores rather than here San Francisco, but your mileage may vary. This is a good tool for finding charity-driven thrift stores, so you can feel good about your money going to a good cause.

Timing is also key. Ask about each store’s sales cycles. Half-price items are often marked with colored tags or stickers that are only valid on certain days. Visiting on certain days of the week can make a difference, too. The weekends tend to be a lot busier, and if you go late on a Sunday, you’ll probably find that the whole store has been picked over. Go in the middle of the day on Wednesday, though, and you’ll probably have a whole lot more luck.

Finally, get good at finding good deals.

I wrote more about how to save money in general here, but when it comes to moving out, the most important thing is to get amazing at finding deals. Start learning where the clearance section is in every store. Whether you’re buying furniture, clothes, food–whatever it is, there is probably a clearance section, and it is usually worth picking through.

Use store apps, but don’t get sucked into the marketing! Stuff like Target’s app, grocery store apps, and Ibotta can make it a little cheaper to buy things, but don’t get blinded by all the flashy sales and deals. Companies put things on sale because they know it will make them money. Don’t buy more than what you need just because it seemed like a deal. Always comparison shop, and never assume that just because something is on sale that that’s the best price. Prices on furniture and clothes always drop eventually, and it’s worth waiting.

Lastly, take a deep breath.

It can be scary trying to get everything together as you prepare to move out, but I promise you that you’ll get the hang of it. In many ways, this is a practice round for your post-graduation life. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is making sure that you always have the tools to get back on track.

Make the best use of the resources you have available to you, and always be sure to check in and make sure you’re only purchasing things you actually want or need, not what someone else said you should want or need. The more you listen to that voice inside you that always asks things like, “Do I really need this? Would I really use/wear/enjoy this? Do I already have something like it?” the happier your bank account is going to be.

Have questions about moving out or how to be successful in college? Do you have tips to share about living on your own? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Moving Out on the Cheap

 

Minimalism and Frugality: A Match Made in Heaven!

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You’ve probably read a lot about minimalism recently, and I’m sure you’ve been hearing about the benefits of frugality basically your whole life. Minimalism and frugality are separate philosophies, but they can work together well in order to help you live your best life. (Zero waste can be a nice addition to this mix, but that’s another post!)

But first – what is minimalism?

Minimalism is the practice of ensuring you don’t have excess stuff in your life. The core idea is that you keep the things that you love in your life and eliminate the rest. While this mostly applies to the physical objects we surround ourselves with, it can also be a helpful tool for really focusing your attention on what matters to you in your life and what you really need to achieve your goals.

And what’s frugality?

Frugality is all about living on the cheap while still living well. It means something a little different for everyone. For some people, frugality is all about pinching every last penny. The Tightwad Gazette is a really famous example of this kind of lifestyle. For others, it’s about saving on the little things so that there’s money to enjoy the big things. Living frugally is a necessity for many people, but it is also a helpful way of thinking about making purchases and living life. Frugality isn’t necessarily about deprivation. It’s meant to help you stay in control of your finances so that you can live the life you want.

So, how do they work together?

Both minimalism and frugality force you to think about things a little differently. Our current culture is fast-paced and we’re often under pressure to make decisions quickly, especially when it comes to making purchases. Minimalism and frugality both emphasize slowing down and really thinking about how you’re spending your time, energy, and money.

I talked a bit about the beginnings of my minimalism journey here. I have always been a frugal person by nature, as I just don’t find it logical to spend extra money on things I don’t need to, but minimalism is sort of new to me. I’m a total collector who is slowly trying to get out of a book hoarding habit. But I have realized that most of the stuff I have is just… there. Gathering dust. Making it harder to focus and clean and live. So I’ve stopped bringing stuff into my life that I know I’m not going to use or that won’t improve my life, while also slowly getting rid of the things that are filling up my apartment. It’s completely changed the way that I make purchasing decisions, even when I’m buying things for other people.

For example, I’ve gotten great at regifting things. A well-chosen book makes an excellent gift. Those piles and piles of yarn I have that I’m not currently using for a knitting project? I can use them to fill up the rest of a gift bag for a friend who likes to crochet. If I do need to purchase a gift, I focus on buying consumable gifts like food, wine, soap, or a bath bomb. When I’m shopping for myself personally, I always make sure to have a list, even if I’m shopping for clothes. I also have a 24-hour waiting period for most random purchases. You’d be surprised how many things you realize you don’t actually need or want after mulling it over for a bit.

Frugality is all about using your money in ways that are effective. Minimalism is all about clearing all the extra junk out of your life. By combining the two, you basically make it your goal to live frugally but well, and you give permission to yourself to ignore some of the less important things in life. You can breathe a little and remember that you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses or give in to FOMO.

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You don’t have to change your entire life, but taking a few moments to slow down and make sure that you’re focusing on the right things can be incredibly beneficial. We gotta take the time to appreciate what we have!

Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke

Frugal Tips for When You’re Actually Broke

Life is rough, y’all. And, for some reason, a lot of personal finance bloggers just don’t seem to… actually get that. I see the same tips over and over, just in a different order and said a slightly different way. The intended audience never seems to be people who are actually legitimately struggling to find enough cash to get by. That’s where I’m coming in, my friends.

I’m in a decent financial position right now, but given that I live in San Francisco and my costs of living are pretty astronomical, I constantly feel like I’m walking on a razor’s edge. If my budget goes absolutely perfectly this month, I’ll have exactly $23.65 left over from my monthly paycheck. I’m proud that there’s anything left over, but that is just too damn close to zero for my liking. I know a lot of you are dealing with even tighter situations.

So, here are some money tips that I hope will help you get through your struggle season the same way they’ve helped me.

 

Make Your Bank Work for You

Make sure the bank you’re using is actually your best option. A lot of us use the really big banks. A lot of us also know that banks seem like they’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of you through various fees. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! I highly recommend thinking about what you want and need from your banking services and searching for the banks that will provide them at the lowest cost. Search tools like Find A Better Bank can help. I also recommend looking into local banks and credit unions.

You often get far better benefits at a smaller institution like a credit union than you would from one of the biggest banks. If none of the smaller banks near you seem more appealing than your current institution, don’t sweat it. If you’re a student, think about signing up for a college account. Many banks grandfather in college accounts so that you’ll never have to pay banking fees. I bank with a Wells Fargo college account and between their robust mobile and online banking tools and the lack of fees, I don’t really feel the need to make a major switch.

I did do some research on high-interest savings accounts last year, though. Paying interest is one thing big banks aren’t all that great about. I use Synchrony Bank for my emergency fund. Synchrony runs entirely online. They also don’t charge me any bank fees, and they didn’t require more than $1 from me to open up my account. Also, they have some of the best interest rates for savings accounts in the country (1.75%! Crazy, right?). There are a lot of other great options out there for high-interest savings accounts and everyday checking accounts. Everyone’s needs are different, and you might require things that I don’t, like easy access to a local bank branch or an ATM close by. Do your research and figure out where you’re most comfortable putting your money. 

 

Budgeting and Organizing Your Finances

Get organized! There are a ton of ways you can track your finances. YNAB (an abbreviation for You Need A Budget) is super popular, but it costs $83.99 a year. I definitely do not have that kind of extra cash for budgeting software. I prefer Mint. Mint is totally free. You link your various financial accounts to Mint–everything from your bank accounts to PayPal to retirement accounts to student loan accounts–and it takes in all that information and tracks your spending each month. I love this because I really struggle with math and numbers. It does require some tweaking to personalize things and make sure every transaction is being properly categorized, but that’s well worth it to me.

Once you figure out how you’re going to track your spending and see where your money is going for a few months, start creating a budget. Sitting down and estimating your expenses for the upcoming month based on your standard spending is ten times more helpful than saying “Okay, we’re only going to spend $X a week on groceries,” with X being a number you randomly pulled out of the air, and then inevitably going over because you underestimated. If I look at how much we spend on groceries historically, it’s pretty stable. You’ll find that’s true for a lot of your spending categories. Use your historical spending to help you figure out your budget and where you can sustainably cut back.

 

Save Where You Can

Be frugal, but don’t brutalize yourself. This ties into tracking your spending above. Don’t scrimp on things that matter to you. Having one-ply toilet paper makes me miserable, so I opt to pay an extra $5 at Costco for the bulk pack of the cheapest two- or three-ply. Make sure every dollar is being utilized wisely for you personally. Sometimes, you have to save every possible penny. But don’t feel guilty for spending a little extra money on things that genuinely improve your day-to-day quality of life. You’re broke, but you still deserve joy. Do what you can to make your journey to financial stability more bearable, but don’t go all “treat yourself” and go completely wild. Enjoy the little things you can afford. (And don’t forget that it’s Treat Yo Self Day, not Treat Yo Self Year.)

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Don’t pay full price on anything you don’t have to. Now, I am aware that we live in the real world. I totally use coupons and discount codes and rebates wherever I can. But I also know that sometimes you need that new pair of work pants, and you have the kind of body shape where thrifting for those pants just isn’t an option if you don’t want to wait 6 months. Still, it’s super important to always check and make sure that you’re getting the best deal possible. Utilizing local thrift stores for a lot of your clothing needs is great, as is digging through clearance racks. Signing up for emails from your favorite retailers is also a great idea. They’ll notify you of any sales that are going on and sometimes give you extra discounts if it’s been a while since you purchased something.

If you do a lot of your shopping online, get the Honey extension for your browser. It tries a bunch of different coupon codes and tries to get you the best deal. It’s saved me a bunch of money over the years. (Also, if you use this code, we’ll both get an extra $5 from Honey!) A lot of people also highly recommend Ebates, but that’s one I haven’t used yet. Ibotta is great for getting a couple extra pennies back from your grocery trips, and they also offer rebates for lots of other things, too. You can cash out once you’ve earned $20 in rebates. If you use this code, you’ll get your first $10 just for signing up, and I get a little cash, too. I’ve never made much off of this, but it’s a nice little extra boost once you’ve made enough to cash out.

Check to see if the grocery store you go to most often has a loyalty or rewards program. I shop at Safeway and have saved thousands by using their Club Card over the years. I select digital coupons in their app each week and it applies them automatically. I know FoodsCo has something similar, though not as robust. Your grocery store might, too. Always worth checking! Also, definitely look to see if wherever you’re shopping has a clearance rack. My local store just started putting out a day-old rack for baked goods and it’s all super cheap. It’s a cheap way to treat myself or get baked goods that are still pretty dang fresh but heavily marked down. There’s also a clearance rack that has all kinds of stuff marked down due to minor damage to the packaging. Little things like this add up over time and can help you significantly reduce your spending, so always keep an eye out.

 

Increasing Your Income

The most important tip I can share: work on increasing your income. Everyone likes to talk a big game about helping you save $10,000 in just a few easy steps! But for the majority of us, that’s just not feasible, and it’s not a productive way to think about money. Sure, you “saved” $2 on that shirt, but you still paid $15 for it. Or, you were able to cut your grocery spending down to $50 a week for a family of 5 (power to you, honestly), but the money you’ve been saving keeps going to other necessities, giving you a net of $0 “saved.” If you’ve been stretching every dollar every way you can think of and it’s just not enough? It’s time to think about increasing your income. This is way easier said than done, of course, and in some cases, just plain might not be possible. But it’s worth taking some time to explore your options. Gunning for a raise or a promotion at your primary job is our best option, especially if you’re dealing with a physical or mental illness. Even an extra dollar an hour can make a huge difference.

If you’re one of those people with boundless energy, or who are just so incredibly determined you can work in all conditions, consider taking on a part-time job. This can be a huge sacrifice if you’re already working full-time (or more!), especially if you have a family. I would also not suggest this as a long-term solution. Working too much is a great way to burn yourself out and make things even more of a struggle. Still, there are a lot of great options out there with flexible schedules now. You can drive for Lyft or Uber, use dog-walking apps like Wag, or make deliveries with services like Doordash and Postmates. Most of these apps allow you to work at any time and don’t have specific numbers of hours you have to work. This can be a good solution if you need money but also need the flexibility.

Make sure you’re utilizing any special skills. Upwork is a vast freelance marketplace that’s perfect for those of us who might want to take on an extra bit of work for a short period. (Note: Make sure to do your research on standard rates of pay in your industry before accepting any job! Your time is worthwhile, and working for pennies doesn’t make sense in the long-term.) Fiverr works similarly, but as someone who has used Fiverr in the past, I can’t say it’s a particular favorite of mine. Lots of people have made it work for them, though, so if you’re willing to put some time and energy into it, it might be worth your while. Crafters and DIY-ers should definitely check out Etsy. I ran an Etsy shop for a while while I was in college. If you can find your niche, market your products well, and price your products properly, Etsy can become a great source of income.

If your response to that last paragraph was “I don’t have any special skills. I’m screwed,” don’t give up hope! First off, refer to the part-time job paragraph above. Second off, maybe now is a good time to further your education. If you don’t have a degree, get one! Even an associate’s degree can open more doors for you. Check out your local community college and see what kind of certification programs and degree paths they’re offering. Keep in mind the kind of jobs that are in demand in your area, or the area you’d like to live in in the future. Also, don’t forget to keep in mind jobs that you’d like to do. It’s probably best not to spend money on learning how to work in a field that’s going to make you miserable. I studied English Literature because that’s my true passion in life, and even though everybody (including me) jokes that getting an English degree is just me begging to be broke forever? It’s simply not true. I got a good job right out of college with solid pay that covers all my basics. It really just depends on how you market yourself and your education. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

As you explore further education, make sure to look into every possible scholarship and grant available to you! Taking out loans sucks and should be a last resort. If you do have to take them out, try to go federal–the interest rates are usually much, much lower. If navigating all that stuff feels too complicated, talk with a counselor or someone in the financial aid department at school. They can help walk you through it.

If your situation ever gets truly dire and you’re really struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to local charities or see if you’re eligible for programs like general assistance, SNAP, or WIC. That’s what those services are for. They’re there to help you get back on your feet. Whatever guilt you might feel, brush that aside. We all need a helping hand sometimes and there’s no shame in asking for it. You’re worth helping.

For more resources, or just a place to commiserate, make sure to check out the Reddit community r/povertyfinance. I also recommend checking out r/frugal and r/personalfinance. Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache are also great resources. Some of these are more helpful than others depending on where you’re at in your financial journey. Use what works for you and disregard the rest.

What are your favorite financial tips for making sure you get by every month? Share in the comments, and link me to your favorite finance blogs and resources!

Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke

18 Tips for College

18 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting College

I feel like I was more prepared for college than most people are. I had been dreaming of a place where I could sit and discuss books at length in an academic setting with other people who were equally invested in the subject matter since I was in the second grade. Once I realized college was where I could do that, I spent a lot of my time researching what I would need to know. Even though I feel like a lot of my life experiences had prepared me for things like living on my own and handling school, from the academics of it to all the bureaucracy.

Still, there are a few things that I wasn’t prepared for, and I think they’re well worth discussing. These definitely aren’t the only insider tips about getting through college in existence, but they are the ones that kept me sane for four years and still help me keep it together now.

18 Tips for College

 

 

1. Be flexible. Sometimes, you don’t get the class schedule you wanted and you have to scramble to find something else to take. This will not ruin your semester. Nor will realizing you’re crunched for time and can’t complete assignments with the level of quality you usually consider your best. Do what you can, and move on.

2. Use your syllabus to ground your schedule. This is extremely helpful if you regularly use a calendar or a planner. When you get your syllabi, start penciling in the dates assignments are due and when exams are supposed to take place. You’ll be thankful later when a paper is due in two days and you completely forgot it even existed, but your calendar reminded you.

3. You are allowed one major screw-up with each individual professor. Use it wisely. Some professors are tougher than others, so this may not always work, but I’m adding it here because I think it’s important to let all of you know that I screwed up pretty badly more than once while I was in college… and everything was fine. Did I forget the day of the final for my Comparative World Lit class and not go? You bet. Did I not realize I was supposed to turn in my Human Sexuality paper on the last day of class? Of course! But despite these mistakes, I passed both classes with flying colors. Why? The professors knew I cared about the coursework, and I reached out immediately to ask for help. They were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. Be consistently good and people will forgive your mistakes.

4. This one is super important. Never forget that your professors are people. If you’re struggling, talk to them. Not every professor is flexible or willing to work with you, but the vast majority of them are, especially if you’ve proven yourself to be trustworthy and consistent. (See #3 above.) Your professors are there to teach you specific material, yes, but they are also available when you need extra guidance, whether it’s with coursework or other life stuff. They are people, and most of the time, they care about you and just want you to succeed. Most professors aren’t trying to set you up for failure.

5. Write your schedule and to-do list down regularly. I’m not a huge fan of pre-organized planners, but I always carry a notebook everywhere to write down assignment details and notes that would help me compose a to-do list. When I was working shift jobs, I always put my shifts into Google calendar, along with my class schedule for the upcoming semester and any important due dates for different papers. Whether you use bullet journaling, a day planner, a calendar app, or just a plain old composition notebook, getting stuff written down somewhere you’ll see it is hugely important. Figure out what works with you and do it consistently. Organization often feels like half the battle in college.

6. Create a class schedule that works for you. I lived super close to campus, so I preferred to have my days really spread out. 2 hour breaks between classes were ideal, because I could walk home, eat, gather my notes for my next class, and then walk back. I also liked loading most of my classes into one or two days because that made scheduling work a lot easier. And, after I stupidly signed up for a 9 AM class my very first semester, I promised myself that I would never take a class before 11 AM again. Your freshman year, experiment a little to figure out what’s best for you. This is your education. Figure out what kind of schedule will help you learn best.

7. If you have to take out student loans, start paying them down ASAP. Future you will thank you. I put a significant amount of money toward my loans while I was still in school. I made a small dent in my loans and kept my loan interest in check, and I also created the habit of paying my student loans regularly. Now that I’m in repayment, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal since I’m already used to putting a significant portion of my income towards my loans. Even if you can only afford to put $10 toward your loans and it all goes to interest, I’d say that’s worth it. It’s a super important habit to build!

8. Consider a more minimalist lifestyle. I’ve been in the same apartment since I moved into it before freshman year started, and I’m grateful to my past self for not buying a bunch of crap I’m just going to have to get rid of once I move. Really think about what you’re bringing into your space, especially if you’re living in a dorm and have to pack up at the end of every semester. Check out this post I wrote about the decluttering challenge I did last year. I highly recommend trying one of your own if you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed by stuff. Clutter makes it that much harder to succeed in school, and it makes life ten times better not to have it around.

9. Your local library is an extremely valuable resource. If you’re an English major, the library will probably have all the books you’ll need for the semester, along with tons of other helpful resources. Many libraries (especially if you’re in a large city) put on events pretty regularly. They also offer classes on everything from budgeting and money management to coding, making your own lip balm, and yoga, all for free. You may also be able to get into some local museums or other local attractions for free with passes obtained from your library. Most libraries also have extensive resources online. I’m able to get tons of audiobooks, movies, music, comics, and video games for free through my library. Take the time to get a library card. It’s free and it could save you a ton of money.

10. Speaking of libraries, your school libraries literally have degrees in how to research things. Ask them for help. I had more than one professor take advantage of the awesome library we had on campus and sit us all down with librarians who taught us how to use the university’s databases properly, as well as the basics of research. Even though I considered myself a strong researcher at the time, I still found a lot of their tips helpful and continue to use some of them to this day. If ever you’re working on a research paper or another project that requires finding X number of sources or that you just need to know more about, go talk to your librarians. They can help you find everything you need and then some.

11. Learn how to research! This goes hand in hand with #10, as your university librarian can probably teach you a lot of basic researching skills. This will save your butt in the future, both in college and in the rest of your life.

12. Good writing covers a myriad of ills. Knowing how to write and communicate well can sometimes cover up the fact that your paper’s argument isn’t all that strong. Taking the time to learn how to write well will help you so much, through college and beyond. But work on those arguments at the same time, though. Critical thinking skills are also super important.

13. Don’t feel stifled by research paper format. Whenever I read the papers my peers wrote, I was kind of stunned by how… boring a lot of them were. They were super formulaic and even if their arguments were strong, they just weren’t discussing them in a compelling way. I’m here to tell you that you’re allowed to have fun and be creative while getting your point across! You’re allowed to your own opinions! (Caveat: some professors really just want you to regurgitate what they taught you about the material. Those professors suck, but do what you gotta do. That said, most professors don’t really care what you’re arguing so long as you argue it well and have evidence to back it up.)

I highly recommend figuring out what argument you want to make and then just rolling with it. If it’s enjoyable for you to write and research, it will likely be enjoyable to read. Also, play with your papers’ formats and structures. The five-paragraph essay is a great starting point, but by the time you’re a sophomore in college, you should have moved beyond that. Look at the papers you’re reading in your field, especially the ones focusing on theory. (If you’re majoring in literature, that’ll be most of what you read anyway.) They don’t follow the five-paragraph format. They use whatever format it takes to make their argument. Those are the kinds of examples you want to try and emulate.

14. Learn how to study in a way that works best for you. Experiment with different methods. Different courses and exams may require different tactics, but overall, you should have a basic study method. I preferred to thoroughly read the material and make notes (even if they were silly, like writing “omg” in the margins when I was annoyed with a character) so that I knew I was staying engaged. Class discussions would allow me to cement that knowledge. My partner struggles more with that kind of intense focus, so he uses a method called junebugging. This method involves jumping around from one task to another, but knowing he always has to come back to his main project. There are tons of different study methods out there. Figure out what works best for your brain and your courses.

15. Avoid unnecessary shortcuts. You are paying to learn (or, at least, someone’s paying for you to learn). So learn the material. Don’t just learn it for long enough to do well on the test. If you actually take the time to absorb what you’re learning long-term and put it to use, you’re ten steps ahead of most of your peers.

16. When you’re giving a presentation, remember that no one wants to see you struggle. Everyone is rooting for you. Watching someone stumble and shake through a presentation is hella uncomfortable. I shake really, really bad when I present. It always helped to remember that even if people noticed, they weren’t judging me for it. I could just take a deep breath and keep going.

17. In the same vein, make sure to practice your presentations out loud, preferably more than once! This is extra helpful when you’re working in a group. Even if it’s right before the group presentation, meet up and take a few minutes to run through it together. All of you will be so much less nervous. If you’re going solo, practice it to yourself in the shower or while you’re doing other mindless tasks. Then practice it in front of your roommate or someone else you trust a couple times. Actually moving your mouth and saying the words before you get up in front of the class will greatly improve your presentation technique and soothe your nerves. You got this.

18. Know your limits. Don’t take on too much. You will burn out, which makes everything ten times harder. Yeah, I worked 55 hours a week and took a full courseload at school and lived. My depression and anxiety also got really bad and I was stressed to my limit all the time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still recovering, even though it’s been over a year! Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many commitments. You need time to relax, spend time with friends, and recharge however you need to.

That’s all 18 tips! There is so much more I could say, but these tips are the most important. If you take nothing else from this post, remember these three things: ask for help when you need itlearn how your brain works and work with it, and make time for self-care. College can be hard. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Do you have any questions about college or tips to share? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

18 Tips for Surviving College

North Carolina: Sightseeing in Topsail, Wilmington, and Durham!

It’s been three days since I got back to California. While I definitely missed the San Francisco fog while I was in North Carolina, now I’m missing being able to walk across the street and onto the beach.

It was my first time in the south, and my first time getting to dip my toes into the Atlantic. I’d never heard of Topsail before this trip, and if you haven’t, either, just know that it’s like every cute little east coast beach town you’ve seen in the movies.

I went with family to go visit more family, so most of our time was spent visiting, but we did see a few places that blew my mind in a variety of ways.

The first was The Copper Penny in Wilmington. Now, I wasn’t expecting much, since my North Carolinian relatives called it “pub food,” but then they mentioned that they just wrapped filming part of an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives there a short while ago and I started to get excited.

Y’all.

It was so good. We ended up getting an order of their handmade spring rolls and chose the “get both” option, so we got 4 southwest black bean rolls and 4 cheesesteak rolls. I thought I’d died and gone straight to heaven. I only got to have one of each, and both of them were so amazing I would honestly go back to North Carolina just to pick up a few orders of The Copper Penny’s spring rolls. The egg roll wrapper was crispy and perfectly fried without being greasy, and the insides of both kinds of roll had this amazing creamy texture.

I also ended up getting a spring mix salad because I was hungry but not starving and needed some greens, and it did not disappoint. I don’t tend to order salad in restaurants because I find it tedious to eat, and if I’m paying for food, I usually want there to be a little more protein in it. But that didn’t matter, mostly because the candied pecans absolutely stole the show. I don’t know how to describe them, but they were so crispy and delicious and filling that I actually felt completely satisfied by the time I ate my last bite of salad. The raspberry vinaigrette definitely helped tie it all together.

What I’m saying is, is that if The Copper Penny can make a salad that makes me swoon, you need to go. Wilmington is a fun town with tons of beautiful historic buildings and I’d love to explore it more, but if I ever get a chance to go back to NC, I’m hitting up The Copper Penny first thing.

On our last day on Topsail (pronounced Top-sull by locals, which is weird, but whatever), we drove to this donut shop that every single one of our family members and friends who live anywhere near Topsail wouldn’t stop talking about. Now I know why.

It’s called The Fractured Prune and they do donuts differently than anywhere else I’ve ever been. They make each donut to order and fry it right as you ask, so when you bite into your donut moments later, it’s still the warmest, freshest donut you’ve ever had the pleasure of taking a bite of. I’m a big fan of maple bacon donuts, so that’s what I got. It ended up being the best cake donut I’ve ever had, with maple glaze and cinnamon sugar topped with crispy bacon bits. I could’ve eaten a whole dozen of those alone. Everybody else raved about theirs, too, and we got a pretty wide variety of flavors. The experience of eating a fresh, warm, deep-fried cake donut is stellar, and if you’re near any of their other locations in other parts of the US, please take advantage of that fact. For me.

Our last major stop before our trip was Duke University, specifically the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. I’ve been to quite a few botanical gardens and arboretums, but I was still absolutely blown away by these ones. I really enjoyed the historic gardens area (the ponds are so pretty! So many cool trees! The really cool and slightly ominous Patrick Dougherty art installation!) and the tulip gardens were absolutely stunning.

It was a short trip, so I know there’s still a ton left that I want to explore in North Carolina, but I’m so glad I got to see what I did!

Where are your favorite spots in North Carolina? Also, what is Waffle House like?? I couldn’t convince my family to stop at one and I’m still a little bummed.

Pushing Through a Reading Dry Spell

In the final months of my undergrad, I was dying for the freedom to read whatever I wanted. I dreamt of a day when I would go back to all those books that had been collecting dust for years, waiting for when I had the brain space to read them. At the time, it seemed like the only thing missing that would allow me to fully dive back into reading was free time.

Well, I have free time now. So what have I been reading?

Not much.

I’ve been able to delve into some nonfiction books. I’ve really been digging Come As You Are over the last couple weeks. I listened to a good portion of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before 428374928 different life things got in the way. I was also really enjoying What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You on my commute to and from work, but my phone battery just isn’t what it used to be. The point is, I never quite seem to finish the books I start. The last book I finished was Turtles All the Way Down (which I reviewed here), which felt like a weird exceptional blip in this reading dry spell I’ve been having.

A huge part of the problem is that I read for a living. I read books as I look for writers to reach out to, and then read those books again as I proofread them. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reading dozens (or potentially even hundreds) of submissions to the writing contest I’m running for work.

When I’m not working, the idea of reading seems entirely unappealing. I’m much more interested in curling up on the couch and watching/yelling at Mad Men or attempting to take over the world in Europa IV for the 574356th time of just sitting quietly on my phone and scrolling through Pinterest. This feels like a moral failing to me, having been an English major and a voracious reader since I was a toddler.

So, what’s a proofreader and webnovel manager to do?

I don’t have a plan in place just yet, but once I start figuring out how to get out of my tech- and work-induced reading funk, y’all will be the first to know.

How do you handle reading dry spells? Any tips for keeping up a reading habit? Leave a comment below!

March Update

I finally feel like I’m out of the weeds and able to breathe more easily. Literally.

Back in September, I started complaining about just generally feeling gross. At first I thought it was just my generally terrible immune system, which likes to fall apart for about 6 months out of the year, leaving me with bronchitis that lasts for months and a constant feeling of malaise. From September through February, I had three or four low-grade fevers and could not stop coughing. Strangely, it didn’t seem like the bronchitis I usually get after a cold. It was mostly due to a constant tickle in my throat that never seemed to go away. It started getting hard to eat certain things because I felt like they’d just end up getting stuck in my throat the way popcorn kernels do.

I went to urgent care twice in about five weeks, and they were scratching their heads over what it might be. I took one strep culture, two rapid strep tests, one test for mono, and was prescribed antibiotics. Nothing helped. In between both those visits, I noticed my tonsils looking almost impossibly swollen, which explained the “something in my throat” feeling. I went to my usual doctor after about three months when it still wasn’t going away, hoping she might at least be able to confirm whether or not it was viral (which still felt weird, since I should’ve gotten over a virus much more quickly). She said my tonsils were really swollen and recommended I see an ENT, because she couldn’t confirm exactly what was wrong.

I finally got to the ENT, feeling exhausted by the whole thing and like a weenie for not being able to fight some basic infection. But I was a little heartened when he told me that my tonsils looked really, really swollen and he recommended I get them taken out, as the infection seemed unlikely to clear up since it just kept recurring month after month.

That led up to me getting my tonsils taken out last month, and I’m now starting week 4 of recovery. The first week after the surgery was pretty awful. It hurt less than I thought it would but also much more than I thought it would, if that makes sense. Drinking water hurt. Eating ice cream hurt. Accidentally eating something spicy was super painful, 0/10 do not recommend.

Luckily, everything is basically normal now except for the fact that sneezing hurts way more than you’d think it would. I can finally sleep properly because I’m not snoring anymore, and can eat like a regular human being again for the first time in almost half a year. You wouldn’t think I’d be super excited to have salad, but here we are!

I’ve been celebrating being tonsil-free for a couple weeks now, but my partner and I  culminated those celebrations this weekend with a few days full of frozen margaritas. (We… may or may not have finished an entire bottle of tequila this weekend.) I’m still trying to perfect my recipe, but I think my favorite of all the different combinations I put together was a strawberry-guava margarita that was absolutely stellar. I’ll have to take pictures next time I make them. There wasn’t much time to take photos this time around because they came out so delicious they honestly didn’t stay in the glass all that long.

After a weekend of enjoying margaritas and being cozy at home, I finally feel a little more ready to attempt to conquer the world again. Expect to hear a whole lot more from me in the coming weeks.

[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.

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Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.