Thursday, July 9, 2015

Goal 3: Financial Freedom

Last night I spent a few hours going through my finances and looking at projected costs of my doctoral program, living expenses, etc. Goal 3 of my happier challenge is to find financial freedom. After moving across states for my new job, just 18 months after purchasing a house, I had racked up substantial credit card debt. House repairs, moving expenses, a devil-may-care attitude about decorating the new house, and a crushing repayment penalty to my previous employer for tuition reimbursement all left me wondering how I'd ever pay it off. Living in Los Angeles is not cheap, so though my new job is a step up in salary it is NOT going to solve my problems. It was time for a hard look at what was happening in my bank account when I was not paying attention. Yikes.

But I find that whenever I feel things are getting out of my control--whether in school, work, or my personal life-- I like to make a plan. If there is a plan, then I regain some of my control--and my sanity. I dug into the finances, looked at interest rates, my student loans and upcoming loans, my spending habits, and came up with a plan around 4 goals: paying off the credit cards, paying off the student loans, buying a house in California, and beefing up my savings account. With the help of a family education trust, I'll be able to focus on credit card payments first, and then student loans thereafter. With some discipline, I can accomplish all of these goals and be ready to start a new chapter of my life about when I finish my doctoral program. Big sigh of relief. 

I love infographics. I've been trying to use them more at work to convey information in a simple and eye-catching way. I'm not great at it yet, but the practicing is fun. So, when I started looking at solving my financial issues, I thought a great way to keep the info fresh in my mind would be to create an infographic for myself. Here's my plan:


There will still be student loan payments beyond the scope of this timeline, but the interest rates on those are fairly low, thank goodness. So, when I reach house-buying time, I'll re-evaluate those loans and set up a rigorous payment plan. Who knows? Maybe I'll be able to pick up an adjunct professorship at that time and the extra money can go straight into the loan payments. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Happier Challenge: Cooking Light Recipes

One of my favorite sources for great recipes is Cooking Light magazine.  Everything I've ever made from them has been yummy. They magazine has recently branched out into a meal plan website which has a low subscription cost ($30 for three months) and allows you to make weekly meal plans of Cooking Light recipes to fit your calorie goal. Today was my first day (though I did a Cooking Light recipe for dinner last night), and it was a day of filling meals, real food, and actually fun preparation.

Breakfast was a frittata with cheese, onion, and ham, with a cup of sliced strawberries:

The recipe calls for the frittata to be made in a muffin pan, with three frittatas being one serving. But I don't have a muffin pan so I just made the whole thing in a glass 8X8 pan and divided per serving size. The other three quarters are in zip-locks in the fridge, waiting to be warmed up--or eaten cold-- later this week.

Lunch was a Greek wrap, but I decided to forgo the tortilla. Tuna, mixed greens, feta, balsamic vinaigrette, and olives made up this dish, with a side of cherries. I forgot to add the tomatoes, unfortunately. Next time...
And dinner was strip steak with mushrooms and onions in a balsamic reduction (the recipe called for a wine reduction, but I had the balsamic already), accompanied by green beans and a red potato.
This was my first attempt at a balsamic reduction, and I think next time I'd do just a hair less of the vinegar. It didn't quite thicken like I wanted--or maybe I took it off the heat too early for fear of burning it-- but overall it was a really tasty meal that totally filled me up. I made twice as much of the steak and toppings, so I'll likely be duplicating the meal tomorrow night.

I discovered while in Philadelphia that I might actually like tomatoes. I never used to, but when paired with the right cheese, they can be very delicious. So tomorrow I'll be doing caprese sandwich for lunch, a la Cooking Light.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Happier Challenge: Sometimes you just have to order the crepe

You're on a business trip. Your company is paying for your meals--a dollar amount higher than you would normally spend on yourself for a meal out of the house. You are in a new city, and have no idea where any good restaurants are. Your hotel room has no microwave, and no fridge. And you're in a different time zone, so you are hungry at all the wrong times. It's a meal planner's worst nightmare. It would be so easy to hop across the street to Maggiano's and eat a family-sized entree alone. Or order room service and burn 0 calories in the retrieval of your meal.  Or to eat all day as you try to straddle two time zones.

I've given into all of the aforementioned temptations in the past, but not this time. I'm in Philadelphia for ISTE, and I refuse to let the business trip mentality lure me into lazy choices for my health. There's a Panera a quarter mile from my hotel, and I'm currently sitting inside having just completed my third meal here in two days. This has been my first experience with Panera, though I have friends who are big fans.  So far, I've tried the strawberry poppyseed salad, broccoli cheddar soup, chicken noodle soup, caesar salad, and bbq chicken salad. While I had high hopes for the strawberry poppyseed salad, I found that the dressing didn't appeal to me as much as a more bitter dressing would have. Also, I have a weird pineapple allergy, and so I'm not sure the pineapple slices were the best choice for me. But everything else here has been stellar...and relatively low cal and/or otherwise a healthy choice. In fact, I am able to stick to my meal plan (if I don't go off script and pick up the odd cookie at the Reading Terminal Market). I also planned ahead and packed instant oatmeal packets for breakfasts, and bought some snack bars at CVS upon my arrival here because woe betide the poor soul near me when I get hangry. (See end of the post for today's meal plan.)

Of course, not every day looks like this. Yesterday, for example, was a taste explosion in two parts. Lunch was a duck confit salad with toasted almonds and some weird pickly things at Fork. I was momentarily speechless upon the first bite, the duck played off the bitter dressing so perfectly.

This was followed by the obligatory dinner/dessert at Max Brenner (a must-visit if you are in one of the few cities where Max Brenner exists).  It was an arugula salad with chicken and goat cheeses served on a corn waffle--what!? amazing-- and consisting of the most magical combination of yummy things. Dessert was a love story of peanut butter, chocolate, banana, and caramel in a perfect union within a crepe. OH MY GOSH, PEOPLE. Those little vials are melted peanut butter sauce and chocolate sauce, and the ice cream was dulce de leche. I can't even.

So, yes, dessert alone yesterday was an entire week's worth of nutrition. But I tell you, I savored every bite.Totally worth it. So, I think sometimes happiness is found in the now-and-then indulgences. After all, if I ate like that every day, would it be as transformative an experience? I think not. If looking like a supermodel means never having that crepe, I choose the crepe. Every. Time.