Goal: Accomplished

Last week, I noticed that fast food appeared to be a spending problem for me. [Just typing that I started to have a Taco Bell craving. Argh!] I'm back to say that I didn't eat any fast food at all this week. Yay!

In fact, I cut my against ban spending to less than $25 this week.

  • 1/13 - Amazon - $11.09 - Angela Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle
  • 1/15 - Michaels - $6.42 - some paper
  • 1/15 - Starbucks - $5.13 - chai and cake pops
I'm giving myself a pass on the book I purchased from Amazon. It's for a book club and I couldn't get it from the library in time. Also, it's going to help me learn more about smashing the white cis het patriarchy, which is definitely worth the money.

The paper at Michaels was a definite impulse buy that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't followed my habit of going there every week after getting done with my volunteer time at the animal shelter. I'll be avoiding that bullshit this week.

Starbucks was a mistake that resulted from not checking how much I had left on my gift card. I thought I had $5 or more left. Turns out I had $2 and some change. Oops. That won't happen again - I only go to Starbucks when I have a gift card. And now I have to admit that this counts as fast food. They have a drive-thru. It counts.

So, I lied, there was one fast food incident this week but I got my against-ban spending down to
$22.64, compared to last week's at more than $50.

I'm about to go on an 11-day "Christmas" vacation. Though I've allowed myself a fast-food-while-on-the-road exception, I'm going to get some snacks and try to make the 13-hour trip back to Northern NY with minimal fast food. I've also made plans for what I will be eating when I return from my trip and will prepare as much as I can ahead of time so as to avoid the trap of spending on fast food after being away. I guess we'll see how I do.

13 Days In

I'm not sure if I can even really say I'm on a shopping ban at this point. To wrap my head around it, I'm going to list the things I've purchased so far this year that I've (ostensibly) chosen not to buy.

  • 1/12 - Taco Bell - $6.42 - fast food
  • 1/10 - Jimmy John's - $12.00 - fast food
  • 1/08 - vending machine - $2.85 - trash food
  • 1/07 - Michaels - $3.20 - craft supplies
  • 1/04 - Taco Bell - $6.71 - fast food
  • 1/01 - Joann Fabrics - $5.34 - craft supplies
For a total of $36.52 that I hadn't planned to leave my wallet. This doesn't even take into account the random $15 I got from work that I didn't fold into my budget. I can hardly remember what I spent that on. So, if I'm totally honest, I spent $51.52 over the course of the past 12 days that I hadn't intended to.

This is not an exercise in self-flagellation; it's just something I'm going to do every week or two to keep myself accountable and to better understand where my temptations lie. Guilt over this is useless, so I'm going to acknowledge that this is where I am and commit to doing better over the coming week.

Since my biggest temptation seems to be fast food (*cough* Taco Bell *cough*), I'm going to concentrate on avoiding that over the next seven days. One of the strategies I'm going to employ in this regard is cooking some really delicious food this weekend, including pulled pork and homemade bread. I think I am also going to take my credit card out of my wallet on days that I am not likely to need it, which means every week day because I do my grocery shopping on Saturdays.

Major steps forward include joining Unroll.me, which is helping me clean the shopping spam out of my inbox so that I stop "just looking," and I haven't placed any online orders since the ban started. I wasn't concentrating on avoiding online purchases but it has definitely been a source of impulse consumption for me, so it's a win to realize that, though I've looked around several shops, I've managed to talk myself out of each purchase.

One specific item that I was very tempted to buy was a new case for my tablet. The one I had recently broke, so I got a new one that turned out to be spectacularly awful and I started searching for another new one. Then I reminded myself that I already had one that was uselessly covering my old tablet (to be donated) and it turns out that its nicer than I remembered, though it could use a little cleaning. Instead of buying new, I used what I had and am perfectly content with the result. #winning

Until next week!

Taco Bell: My Kryptonite

Last evening, after work, I tried to go to the library. As I should have expected, there were no parking spaces. There are never any parking spaces because our library has like three total and I'm pretty sure lots of people park there and then go to nearby restaurants. FREE PARKING! And no one can prove they weren't at the library (at least, no one's gonna try). I also didn't have money to park on the street because who the hell carries coins anymore?

Anyway, I didn't get to park, meaning I didn't get to get the books I reserved, meaning I was very disappointed. And, in my disappointment, I went to Taco Bell and bought myself dinner. Fast food is one of the things I've decided not to buy over the next six months. So, for the second time in 4 days, I broke my shopping ban.

Rather than viewing this as a failure and taking my normal fatalistic, fuck-it perspective, I'm trying to see this as a lesson. One of my triggers for spending (and eating) is frustration and disappointment. Last night, I did both.

Did it make me feel better? No.

Did it help me get closer to achieving any of my goals? Definitely not.

As I contemplated this situation, I started telling myself that maybe I need to ease into this ban a bit more, go easier on myself. The thing is, though, this ban isn't even really hard on me - the things I'm choosing not to buy are things I don't need and/or already have in abundant supply. So, instead of easing up, I'm going to learn this lesson about my behavior and do better the next time.

Also, I'll celebrate the fact that I've talked myself out of many purchases, including the books I'd like to get from the library... if there's ever parking. ;)

Day One

I'm actually on Day Three of my shopping ban, which will last 181 days total, but I thought I should admit that I broke one of my commitments on Day One. I bought art supplies. It wasn't a lot: just some elastic cord and fabric stabilizer that I used in the construction of a traveler's notebook. And it was *only* $5 total (yay coupons!). NBD, right?

It's not really a big deal but NBD spending is one of the reasons I've started this challenge. Going to a store for something "little" every day adds up to not having the money for bigger unexpected expenses. It means saving up for trips or other big ticket items takes longer than necessary or never happens at all. It means feeling too financially strapped to freely give to people I love and organizations doing good work. It also means realizing, as I purge unwanted items again and again, that the reason I'm surrounded by crap I don't care about is because of my NBD spending.

This post is a reminder that the challenge I've undertaken is not some sort of torture or deprivation; it's a way to refocus my priorities and to pursue bigger goals that I've been blocking myself from by constantly dribbling money.

  • Short-term goal #1: Save $250 to purchase bulk quantities of paper and book board by the end of March.
  • Short-term goal #2: Spend within my monthly income in January and February despite travel plans.
    • Sub-goal: Don't buy banned items while traveling.

New Focus

It's been over a year since I posted and, as I restart, I'm refocusing.

Two things that have become very important to me over the past several years are simplicity and mindful spending. Practicing simplicity has been a lot easier for me than curbing my impulse spending, so I'm embarking on a challenge inspired by Cait Flanders, a Canadian personal finance blogger who, for two years, embraced a shopping ban.

During her shopping ban, Cait had very specific rules about what she would and would not buy. I've decided to do something similar. And, for my own benefit, I'm going to write about it here. Making resolutions is easy but, without accountability, mine usually fizzle - like my running habit.

My shopping ban will begin January 1 and continue until June 30.

The reasons I have decided to undertake this challenge are:
  • to be more generous,
  • to stop accumulating and consuming mindlessly
  • to save more money, particularly to build up my emergency fund,
  • to pay down my student debt, and
  • to start bookbinding again.
The things I will refrain from buying are:
  • books, including notebooks and journals
  • stationery and art supplies
  • home decor and furniture (unless something is broken AND needs replacement)
  • bags and totes and wallets and storage containers
  • fast food (unless I am traveling out of Indiana)
  • casual clothes
  • toiletries and cleaning supplies (unless I run out)
Some of these items will be easier to refrain from than others - the toughest will likely be art supplies and fast food - though I will have one outlet for my art supplies fancy.

As you can see, one of my goals for the next six months is to begin bookbinding again. In the past, I've been able to make some extra money by selling my crafts and I'd like to do that again with more intention. So, though I won't be buying stickers and paint and washi tape like they're going out of style, I will need to source and purchase the supplies needed to produce and ship my books and other wares. One of my first challenges will be sourcing paper for the pages and davey board for the covers. If, at the end of six months, I haven't been able to turn at least a minimal profit, I will reevaluate this project.

Official Race Recap: Hood to Coast Version

It's been a really long time since I've even considered writing a blog but I recently ran the Mother of All Relays and have received some requests for a recap. So, here goes. I apologize in advance to my teammates because after re-reading what I wrote, I realized it's so ALL about me. For a great recap from Bavana 1, check out Amy's blog.

If you don't know what Hood to Coast is, you should watch the documentary. It doesn't give a perfect representation of the course but it certainly shows the spirit of the event. I arrived in Portland on Tuesday afternoon and the race didn't begin until Friday. I'm going to skip over the sightseeing and get directly to the race.

Our team wasn't completely assembled until Thursday at 10:30 p.m. but most people arrived earlier on Wednesday and Thursday. That gave us some time to prepare the vans and hang out together. Our team name was Neon Banana Hammock, so we tethered inflatable bananas to the top of our minivans and wrote all over the windows with neon yellow. We also had a stock of banana runts to share with other teams.

Thanks to our wonderful hosts, Lonnie and Roni, most of us were able to stay under the same roof. It was like overnight camp for adults - air mattresses filled the first floor.

Regular HTC teams have 12 people, split into two vans. That's how ours worked except that my van, Bavana 2, had a designated driver. Many teams rent 15-passenger or party vans; we were in minivans. Though it was necessarily comfortable to have all seven Bavana 2'ers in there at once, minivans were much more maneuverable along the narrow roads and in the crowded parking lots.

Our teams were as follows and this is the order we ran in:
Bavana 1: Amy, One-Hour Sheri, Cathy, Susan, Lonnie, Christine
Bavana 2: Jim, Jennifer, Michelle, Two-Hour Sherri, me, Jamie, and David (our driver)

Bavana 1 had to get up and out of the house at about 4:30 a.m. for the 7:15 start at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Since van 2 wasn't allowed at the start line, the rest of us got to sleep in. As with most races, though, nerves and adrenaline and time zone differences woke the rest of us much earlier than necessary. So,we got a good breakfast and were at the first exchange several hours in advance.

It was a lot of fun to see how creative teams had gotten with their names and decorations. One van was sporting a giant, lit up tiara. Another was inspired by "All Your Base Are Belong to Us." Bavana 1 had already lost their car-top banana. Ours was hanging on but wouldn't last very long into our first leg.

Since I was Leg 11, I didn't start my first portion until 6:25 p.m. It was 4.5 miles along a mostly flat paved trail. Considering the ascents and descents some of my teammates encountered, I was grateful that my untrained body got an easy one. Even so, it took me well over an hour in 90F temps to cover the distance. When I handed off to Jamie, in his purple running get-up, I was grateful for icy water Jim brought to the exchange and the knowledge that we'd get to sleep after Jamie's run.

Jamie's run brought us into the city. After he handed off to Amy, his wife, we hopped into the van and headed toward our next van exchange near St. Helens, where we were also hoping to get some food. As it went, though, there was very little open - even Burger King only had the drive thru - so we ended up raiding Fred Meyer's deli section, where I got the driest chicken bits in the history of the world.

By the time we got to the exchange, we had about 4 hours before our next runner needed to go. The plan was for most of us to sleep outside but then the rain came. Let me tell you, seven adults attempting to sleep in a minivan is a volatile situation. When you're already tired and uncomfortable and hungry, trying to sleep sitting up as the heat continues to build is bound to set someone off. Eventually, some people decided it was more desirable to lay down than to be dry, so they ventured into the intermittent rain for some horizontal time.

We struggled to get rest until the exchange was made around 4:30 a.m., in a downpour, then we left Bavana 1 and headed to our next exchange. It was as we were waiting at the next exchange that tired giddiness hit me, Jamie, and Michelle. We were giggling like schoolchildren in the back of the van. This did not make for great sleeping conditions for our other vanmate, Sherri.

I felt bad for our runners who were going out on these legs because driving up and down the curvy roads in the rainy dark was nerve-wracking enough. But Jim, Jennifer, and Michelle made it through.

As we were waiting for my second leg to begin, the sweeper van arrived at the exchange and started taking away all the race paraphernalia. It was simultaneously fun and anxiety-inducing to realize we were the very last team on the course. As I almost got hit by a car within the first quarter mile of my second leg, my anxiety didn't seem unfounded. Just after the unobservant car passed me, my team slowed down. I was rattled and feeling quite unsafe. They said, "Get in!" I'd like to say it took more convincing than it did but I was genuinely scared of being out on the course completely alone, so I jumped in.

By this point, we were also so behind schedule that we were hoping the HTC staff would let us "leapfrog," which means putting multiple runners on the course at the same time. Our teammates spoke to some race volunteers and officials but, despite terrible rain and 70 MPH wind gusts, they took some convincing. We finally got the go-ahead around 1 p.m. (I think... time moves weirdly during a relay race.)

If they had made us finish with one runner at a time, we would have been on the course until midnight or later. Problem is that the course closes at 9 p.m. Not to mention that the high winds and rain had completely shut down the party at the end, blowing away tents, merch, and maybe a few runners.

Now that we were officially leapfrogging, we put most of our team out at their last legs. Jamie, our last runner, was the only one who stayed in the van with David.

As we approached the coast, the wind became almost unbearable. It wasn't particularly cold but it was intensely strong. The first mile or so that I ran was significantly uphill along some windy, beautiful roads. The remaining 5.5 were along a straight gravel path with very gradual ascents and declines. All of the runners were trying to stay on the most worn, flat track, so except for the occasional pass (a.k.a. "kill"), everyone was in single file. It reminded me of the scene in Call of the Wild with all of the miners climbing the glacier in a row. Except for some very brief respites, the wind made it feel like someone was holding me from behind to prevent me from moving forward.

My team thought I was going to take longer than I did, so as I was going into the exchange point, I passed our last runner, Jamie, and Bavana 2 stopped to pick me up so we could drive to the finish line. I was completely out of it. All I wanted was food and a comfortable chair (a.k.a. a bed). I don't really know how we all made it through the two hour drive home but we did and there was pizza and beer and apple pie moonshine waiting for us there.

Surprisingly, most of us managed to stay awake until after 10 p.m. Not sure why we did that other than that it was a lot of fun. Then we all slept like the dead.

Nothing New Under the Sun

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past week or so. That's not unusual; sometimes too much of my life takes place inside my head.

I started running just a little less than two years ago. Over the past eight months, my running career has been spotty, at best. Every time I try to get restarted, life gets in the way or I hurt myself and I stop almost as soon as I've started.

So, I started thinking about how I got back on the road to fitness. It didn't begin with running, it began with healthy eating.

After I'd been doing well with that for a few months, I decided it was time to start exercising. Still, no running. In fact, I wasn't even considering running because I'd always hated it. Instead, I jumped into cardio, strength training, and yoga.

I tried running after about two weeks of consistently exercising and still hated it. So, I started walking for 60 minutes, 3 mornings a week. The routes I chose were hilly and challenging.

After two weeks of that, I gave running another shot with a new strategy. It stuck for 16 months.

For a while, I've been telling myself that The Runner's World Half and Festival, in October, is my goal race, wanting to cut a full hour off my time from last year. That would mean needing a PR in at least one of the races, which are all run on very hilly, challenging courses.

So, I'm changing my goals:
  1. As of now, I am commencing my month of six-days-a-week cardio with no running. I need to build some lung capacity and muscle strength before I hit the road again.
  2. At the RW Half Festival I want to have as much fun as possible with all the friends that will be there and get below 5 hours total for all three races. (Last year's time was nearly 5:30:00 total.)
  3. In November, when I run the Across the Bay 10k, I am going to try for a PR. My 10k times have been some of my slowest, so I don't think this will be a terrible stretch.
  4. My new half marathon goal race is the Frederick Half in May 2015. It's my current PR. I had to defer my entry for this year because of my lack of training but I have the time and I know what I need to do.
If I reach my June goal, I am going to allow myself to buy $50 of running gear, $20 of which will be covered by a gift card given as a birthday gift by some generous friends. I could really use a second pair of workout capris.

Thanks to everyone who's continued to support me as I've dragged a bit for the past few months. Knowing that people believe in me has made a big difference and kept me from falling into what have previously been years long exercise breaks.