Do Your Finances Need A Tune-Up?

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Copyright : Tom Baker

 

This year has certainly been full of surprises, partially from the fear surrounding COVID-19, and partially from the economic upturns which have wracked the entire globe. From long furloughs to unemployment, people everywhere are feeling the financial effects.  We are officially in a recession, which makes it even more important for everyone to review their finances and find ways to protect themselves during the financial downturn.

There are general financial guidelines which should always be followed, such as paying down debt, establishing an emergency fund, finding other means to generate income, and continuing to contribute to retirement accounts.  Another vital component in good financial health is establishing a budget and really examining your spending habits.  Almost invariably, people find out after they create a budget that they are spending money needlessly on frills that they don’t need.  By eliminating those hidden money drains, it becomes easier to cover living expenses, thus reducing some of the stress involved in getting by financially.

I have had a budget in place for over 30 years, and I have seen the power it wields.  By following a budget, I was able to pay down all credit card debt, pay off a car, establish an emergency fund, and put money aside for retirement, so I know it can all be done.  Even at this point, with zero debt, I am acutely aware of my budget, and I review it on an almost weekly basis to make sure I am on track.

Source: pigly.com

 

If you need help in establishing a budget, you can use a budget calculator. I found a wonderful budget calculator on Pigly.com which is very easy to use, and extremely thorough.  It helps you break down all expenses, from the essentials to debts and savings so you can target all your goals and ensure that your income is allocated optimally. All you have to do is plug in your income, and the calculator will automatically generate a low end and high end for all the categories.  So even if you have never established a budget before, you can set one up instantly.

When budgeting, don’t be afraid to contribute to your retirement accounts right now, as long as you have your debts paid down and you have an emergency fund in place.  I am a big proponent of Dave Ramsey’s investing philosophy, and I am grateful that I educated myself on financial wellness and dug myself out of what once seemed like a desperate situation.  It was only after I had paid off all of my credit cards and established an emergency fund back in 2013 that I began aggressively started putting money aside for retirement.

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The fact is, we are living in uncertain times and need to be prepared for whatever hits.  By buttressing our financial health, getting creative with income streams, and following a budget, we will be better equipped to survive the ebb and flow of the current economy.

How Coronavirus Has Changed Our Shopping Habits

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Shopping habits have changed dramatically since the appearance of COVID-19 and the subsequent scramble to socially distance and protect ourselves.  Grocery stores and retail pharmacies now have plexiglass shields at the checkout stands, and there are shoe stickers on the floors as visual reminders of the six foot distance we are urged to keep from each other.

Malls are nearly empty, and many merchants haven’t even dared open their doors.  The days when you could just hop over to a local store and pick up a couple of items have been replaced with long lines of people waiting to get in, and staple items which are perpetually low in stock or completely depleted.  Let’s not forget about all that toilet paper hoarding which defined the earlier part of 2020.

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The new normal when it comes to consumer spending is largely confined to purchasing only the essentials, but there has also been a peculiar yet predictable surge in what can reasonably be described as online retail therapy.  Since we’ve basically been forced to become homebodies, our shopping preferences have changed to reflect this lifestyle shift.  Online streaming services have increased dramatically in popularity, as people search for shows and films to chew up some of their time at home.

Industries which have seen an uptick in their sales since the global pandemic hit include food delivery and takeout services, alcohol, exercise equipment, health supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer, and beauty and wellness products.

Some people have been compelled to stock up on bundles of essentials like pasta, toilet paper and the like, while others have fallen into the habit of purchasing unnecessary items, perhaps a long coveted item which was purchased with the attitude, life is short, might as well buy it.

The following excerpt from an article by Leanne Italie is an excellent description of the purchasing habits which many of us might find ourselves falling into as this lockdown continues:

“Shopping as therapy has been shown to reduce negative moods and boost overall happiness,” he said. “The big downside, however, is that such relief is very short-lived. That good feeling very quickly dissipates.”

Mr. Galak said some research points to “shopping while bored” as a variation with less emotional payout.

“Browsing for things that one doesn’t need fills the time and then clicking `buy now’ just naturally follows,” he said. “Consumers may find themselves on page 20 of a search result for a new pair of shoes, a place that when engaged and not bored, they would never reach.”

Jennifer Salgado, 42 of Bloomfield, N.J., is a shopper with many heads these days.

“Resourceful me has purchased: a pasta roller and drying rack, because now I’m Ina Garten; stuff to make hand sanitizer, because I’m now a chemist; and dog nail clippers that my 76-pound bulldog noped out of real fast and is now looking like Snooki from the ‘Jersey Shore,’” she said.

There’s also “luxurious me,” Ms. Salgado said, snapping up 96 macarons from a bulk-buying store, along with the Jennifer who needed 24 pounds of frozen peas.

“Most of the time, I forget what’s coming,” she said, echoing others who accepted long delivery dates out of fear. “And most of the time, I realize I never really needed these things in the first place.”

Kellie Flor-Robinson of Silver Spring, Md., just may be a combination of all of the above.

“I ordered a case of Moet,” she said. “I’m not sure that it was an accident, though — this thing has me buggy.”

 

 

Green Thumb

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Like many others who have been sequestered at home for the last few months and have gained a  new appreciation for the homestead, I found myself gravitating towards cultivating plant species which I had never grown before.  At first, I thought it would be nice to add a collection of vegetables, fruits and herbs to my side yard, so that is where I started.  I ended up with a small collection of edible plants which are a nice addition to the succulents I have out there.

Evidently, the side yard project wasn’t enough for me, and I slowly began adding numerous new houseplants into the interior of my home towards the end of May.  In the span of less than a month, my indoor plant collection grew from 6 to 35.

A view of my kitchen plants

 

I’ve had this Aglaonema commutatum “Silver Bay” for many years. I bought it in 2003!

 

Before you start thinking that I had suddenly taken on more than I could handle, I once had over 70 plants inside a 1,320 square foot cottage-style apartment back when I was in the midst of my medical training, as well as a whole patio full of outdoor plants, and rosebushes at my front door.  During that time, I proved to myself that I did indeed have a decent green thumb, and thought nothing of allowing my vining and creeping plants to encroach the walls of the place and assert their presence.  Entering my abode was like entering a lush jungle, and people would remark constantly on how many plants I managed to squeeze in that space.

My largest Zamioculcas zamiifolia plant, which threw out all this growth less than one month after I purchased it.

 

My Peperomia shelf…Peperomia scandens, Peperomia caperata rosso, Peperomia obtusifolia variegata

 

Now I am in a 1,632 square foot townhouse, with less than half the number of plants I once nurtured.  These days, I favor more hardy plants like Hoyas, Senecios, and Zamioculcas zamiifolia (aka ZZ plant) which won’t beg to be watered constantly.  Not that I plan to traipse all over the globe anytime soon, but 1) you never know, and 2) I don’t want the responsibility of taking care of petulant plant babies.

Lovely Hoya shepherdii in the master bath…

 

Hoya obovatas are so cool…I’m training this one on a loop…

 

Hoya pubicalyx…I loved this plant so much, I bought a second one!

To be honest, I cringe at the phrases “plant mom” and “plant dad”, but I can see how people would be compelled to fuss over plants in the same way they fuss over pets or children.  Whenever I see new growth on a plant, I get a bit giddy, and tend to monitor it to see how it is progressing.  I now also juggle a staggered watering schedule, which means that some plants are watered weekly, some every two weeks, a few every three weeks, and once every six weeks, my largest ZZ plant gets a drink.  However, other than watering and fertilizing, the needs of my plants don’t interfere with my normal daily life.  I also don’t worry about light needs, because I have intentionally chosen prime spots for the plants which require more sunlight.

The science nerd in me also enjoys learning all the nomenclature, which is no surprise coming from someone who memorized the longest word in the English language (pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis) at the tender age of nine, and who was forced to learn about 15,000 terms while in medical school.  There is something about scientific language which absolutely thrills me and satisfies my constant thirst for learning.

Who has developed a new interest in gardening since the lockdown started?  I’d love to hear what other people have been drawn to plant-wise.

 

 

 

A True Survivor

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Now that we are all settling into a new normal with the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, I’m almost thankful that I grew up in a poor household.  Because I saw my mom struggle to make ends meet as a single mother, I learned some valuable lessons about how to brave any storm.

As soon as the wave of panic and dread began to sweep across the globe amid COVID-19 concerns, my survival instinct kicked up big time. I began hunkering down, planning a strategy, a game plan.  I turned to my childhood comfort food, white rice (I limit my current consumption to a small amount of jasmine rice) to stretch out my meals, a trick I knew all too well from my childhood.

What really surprised me was how a number of extremely wealthy people I know completely buckled under the pressure, lost all their coping mechanisms, and allowed their businesses to evaporate because they didn’t want to think outside the box and re-strategize.  It was astonishing how the same people who used to intimidate me and make me feel inadequate were so quick to give up.  All the shiny things don’t matter when one suddenly has to think about how to keep a roof over one’s head and put food on the table.  Food, shelter, and essential items will always be more important than driving a fancy car or buying designer clothing.

Everything has shifted profoundly, permanently on this planet, and we are all being forced to pay attention and shift our priorities.  We miss the people we cannot see in person, which hopefully means that we will hold higher value for those friendships and bonds.  If mankind is being forced to reinvent itself, then let’s get this done!

Home Sweat Home

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Copyright : Katarzyna Białasiewicz

 

When I first decided to write a blog post on this topic, it was a couple of years ago, and I sat on it, procrastinating. What finally prompted me to complete this post was the inevitable, terrifying lockdown which washed across the globe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Times have certainly changed in a heartbeat, and many of us find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, being forced to remain within the confines of our homes, socially isolated, concerned about a very uncertain financial and economic future.   Gym rats like me everywhere have been banned from alighting daily upon gyms and fitness facilities which have provided much needed iron therapy, daily “me” time, and a chance to clear up all the mental clutter which our frenetic society has thrust upon us.

Whether you are stuck indoors without much more than a list of streaming shows to check off, or you have had the good fortune to remain gainfully employed during this difficult time, you might be interested in some exercises which can keep you lean and mean.

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Copyright : Marcin Balcerzak

 

Throw in a few quad stretches during your day to keep soft tissues limber!

 

It may seem to be a daunting task to devise a workout routine outside of a gym or health club, but it is absolutely possible to get decent workouts in on a daily basis whether you are at home, or away from home with limited equipment. Whether you take a few minutes to exercise at your desk while at work (just remember the safe distance rule), throw together a calisthenics routine in an open outdoor area, use your living room floor to eke out a workout, or use furnishings in a home office area to crank out a sweat-inducing regimen, you honestly have ZERO excuses to avoid a workout. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need fancy gym equipment to move and challenge your body.

If you truly are new to exercising on the fly, here are some suggested workouts which can get you going.

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Copyright : Andriy Popov

 

Got a stability ball chair?  It’s great for balancing on while you get a good rib stretch!

 

SUGGESTED EXERCISES:

CALISTHENICS/PLYOS for full-body:

Star Jacks:  These are similar to a jumping jack, but you flair your arms and legs out, while jump explosively from the ground. To make it more challenging, touch the ground at the beginning of the move.

Try 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

 

Jump Squats:  Start in a crouched squat position with feet shoulder width apart.  Then jump up quickly Upon landing, return to squat position again.

3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

 

UPPER BODY BLAST:

Tricep Dining Room Chair Dips:

You can perform these triceps burners on the edge of a chair or a firm bed, or a bathtub.

  1. Place your hands at the edge of the bed with palms facing down so you are supporting your upper body.
  2. Bend your knees at 90 degrees so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Dip down slowly, keeping elbows in line with your shoulders.
  4. Push down against the support to raise yourself back up to the starting position.

 

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

 

Incline Push Ups (use the floor or chair):

  1. Place your hands on the bed or a chair with your feet on the floor behind you in a push-up position.
  2. Slowly lower yourself down to the bed while keeping your abdominal region tight and squeezing your glutes.  Don’t round out your back!
  3. Push back up to the starting position and repeat.

 

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

 

Decline Push Ups:

When you are ready to get more of a challenge from your push ups, move to this exercise.

 

  1. Start with your feet on the bed and your hands on the ground. Keep your body in a straight line and your abdominals tucked in.
  2. Slowly lower your chest down to the ground while keeping your elbows in close to your body.
  3. Push back up to the starting position and repeat.

 

One Arm Milk Jug Rows:

Use a milk jug or similar weighted item for this exercise.

  1. Start bent forward at the waist, placing opposite hand on low table, chair, or sofa.
  2. With other arm, bend at elbow and bring weight up near ribcage, squeezing muscles in mid back to bring weight up.  Return to start.

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

 

LEG BLAST:

Wall Squats:

  1. With your back to the wall, lower down so that your legs create a 90-degree angle.
  2. Hold this position for as long as you can.

3 sets of 30 to 60 seconds

 

Bodyweight Squats:

  1. Start in squat position.
  2. Squeeze glutes and backs of legs to raise up halfaway.
  3. Return to start.

4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

 

Front Lunges:

  1. Start standing with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Step forward with right foot into lunge position, knee bent at 90 degrees, with right thigh parallel to ground.  Make sure knee does NOT extend past your toes!
  3. Return to start position by pushing off right foot and squeezing left glute.
  4. Repeat on other leg.

4 sets of 10 reps each leg

 

Walking Lunges:

  1. Start standing with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Step forward with right foot into lunge position, knee bent at 90 degrees, with right thigh parallel to ground.  Make sure knee does NOT extend past your toes!
  3. Now advance by stepping forward with left foot into lunge position, knee bent at 90 degrees, with left thigh parallel to ground.  Make sure knee does NOT extend past your toes!
  4. Keep moving forward, alternating legs.

3 sets of 10 reps each leg

 

Diagonal Lunges:

  1. Start standing with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Step forward with right foot out at a 45 degree angle from the center line into lunge position, knee bent at 90 degrees, with right thigh parallel to ground.  Make sure knee does NOT extend past your toes!
  3. Now advance by stepping forward with left foot out at a 45 degree angle from the center line into lunge position, knee bent at 90 degrees, with left thigh parallel to ground.  Make sure knee does NOT extend past your toes!
  4. Keep moving forward, alternating legs.

3 sets of 10 reps each leg

 

Single Leg Deadlifts:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Lean forward at the hips and shift your weight onto right leg while extending left leg straight behind you.
  3. Lift your extended left leg while leaning your upper body forward until your body is almost parallel with ground, arms hanging down or with hands at hips.  Slowly return your extended leg to starting position.
  4. Repeat with other leg.

3 sets of 10 reps each leg

 

Assisted Pistol Squats:

  1. Start by balancing on right leg, toes pointed forward.
  2. Straighten out left leg in front of you while you crouch down.  Lightly lean on chair back with your right hand as you crouch down to assist with movement, until your extended leg is parallel with ground.
  3. Press back up by engaging muscles in your right leg, pressing away from the floor to return to start.
  4. Repeat for designated number of repetitions, then switch legs.

3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per leg

 

Leg Kickbacks:

  1. Get down on all fours on the floor with an exercise mat or towel under you for cushion.  Align your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Without changing the angle of your knee, extend your right leg back and up until your thigh is parallel with the ground with the sole of your right foot facing the ceiling.
  3. Contract your glute at the top of the movement and hold for a count of 1-2.
  4. Return to your starting position without touching your knee to the ground and repeat.
  5. Do 12 to 20 repetitions, then switch sides.

4 to 5 sets of 12 to 20 reps per leg

 

Hip Bridge:

  1. Lie flat on your back, with knees bent and arms by your hips, palms down, and feet hip distance apart with heels a few inches from your glutes.
  2. Push through your HEELS and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up so that they are in line with your torso.
  3. Pause at top for a count of 2 to 3, then lower back down.

3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps

 

ABDOMINAL STABILIZERS:

Basic Plank:

  1. Place forearms on the floor with elbows aligned below shoulders and arms parallel to your body at about shoulder width.
  2. Feet are about 6-8 inches apart, with toes ground into floor.
  3. Squeeze glutes and make sure your entire body makes one long line.
  4. Neutralize your neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond your hands. Make sure your head is in line with your back.
  5. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds.

One Hundreds:

  1. Lie on back with knees bent at 90 degrees and hips at 90 degrees from floor.
  2. Reach arms down along torso parallel to floor, then lift head and engage your abdominal muscles with shoulder blades off the mat.
  3. Move your hands in a repetitive percussive motion about an inch or so off the floor then down while you inhale for a count of 5.
  4. Exhale for a count of 5 while continuing the same percussive hand motion.
  5. Repeat for 9 more full breaths with same cadence.

V-Ups:

  1. Lie on your back and extend your arms above your head. Keep your feet together with toes pointed.
  2. With legs straight, lift them up as you simultaneously raise your upper body off the floor. Keep your core tight as you reach for your toes with your hands. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

How To Do V-Ups