Friday, May 5, 2017

April 2017 Month in Review

Here's what I bought for myself in April 2017.

Crossword puzzle subscription - $40
This is for a year of puzzle access. It's expensive for an app, but I guess it's about the price of four puzzle books per year, and it's a lot easier to grab my phone than to remember to carry my puzzle book around. I did the daily puzzle every day this month. We'll see if my enthusiasm continues. I really enjoy doing them on my phone, especially on the commute.

Summer running clothes - $50
This is a pair of shorts and a pair of socks.

I've been running in long pants for the last year, and last summer, I simply did not running on warmer days. I'm not sure I want to stick with this defeatist plan. Plus, I feel like the more I run, the less tolerant of heat I become. (And more tolerant of cold. I didn't use my wool-lined running tights at all, all winter. I ran in ordinary yoga pants.)

It's been a cool April overall, but the first day I ran after my near-month of sickness, it was hot and sunny. So I was really glad to have the shorts. I like them so much I want to get a second pair, so I can run twice between laundry days.

Shoes - $206
Why did I buy so many shoes this month? This is three pairs: minimalist-style casual sneakers, a pair of minimalist-style running sandals, and a pair of hiking boots I got barely-used for like half the regular price. The original seller was passing them on because they were too small. They are also too small for me. Just by the teeniest amount, but enough to be uncomfortable if I were to actually use them to hike. But I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. I am looking into how to stretch leather! A project!

The running sandals broke immediately, but customer service has been good and is replacing them - hopefully, it was just a defect, and the second pair is better.

Overall, the jury's out.

Summer Casual Clothes - $100
This is a lightweight throw-over-a-tank-top type button-down, and a simple knit sheath dress which could be worn out, around the house, or even as a nightgown. I feel like both of these are verstaile handy items, but time will tell, since they're intended for warmer weather than we've gotten so far this spring.

Bras - $58
This is only one bra, a sport bra, but I'm proposing it as a category as it's already going to be my biggest category in May, I can tell you now. I'm having another "bra-naissance" after realizing my size and shape has gradually shifted and my old bras aren't working as well as they used to. I also need a new swim top badly, as I don't trust my old one to not fall off.

Anyway, this sport bra is okay. I liked it a lot after I tried it on; it has a good reputation, and it was a lot better than the other ones I'd tried on in the same session. But the more I wear it, the more uncomfortable it becomes. Branaissance, help!

Water bottle - $37
A 17-ounce cute green one I PROMISE THIS IS MY LAST ONE FOR AWHILE


Purse organizer - $11
I became obsessed with organizing my "everyday carry," probably because my summer kit has more pieces than winter - sunscreen, sunglasses, tweezers in case of ticks, etc.

Stuff For Next Winter - $10
This is just one thing, a wool headband-type earwarmer to be worn in combination with a hat when it's really cold, or instead of a hat while running in under 40-degree-F weather. In past months, I've learned the lesson that stocking up for next season is usually a bad idea, because by the time next season comes around, you're invariably not excited about digging it out; maybe the styles have changed, or you realize some fatal flaw in the item but it's too late to return it. But I didn't make a huge investment in this, and it's actually almost still cold enough for this due to weird spring temperature fluctuations!

Total: $560
I'm consistently above my desired outflow, especially since I want to be reducing these days. New resolution: no more water bottles, no more casual summer clothes (I have plenty to wear on the few casual days I have in the week). Unfortunately, I don't think these resolutions will make much difference in May, the Month of Bras.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Easy, light, smooth, and fast": Lessons from Born to Run

Full disclosure: I wrote this about 3 weeks ago, before a brutal and tenacious cold/flu type virus took me down, giving me a persistent cough and breathing problems. I haven't been running since. Jinx, I guess. Luckily, I'm feeling better these days, and hoping to hit the trails this week.

Recently, I read Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run, a journalist's investigation into running. McDougall gets involved in the sport of ultrarunning (super-long races in punishing terrain); travels to Mexico to meet the Tarahumara, a reclusive Indian tribe who run as a way of life and have produced some of the finest ultrarunners; examines what type of shoe is best (and concludes it's no shoe at all); and considers anthropological evidence that humans evolved to run long distances as part of persistence hunting strategy. While I'm not sure I totally buy everything in the book - part of it read like a yarn or tall tale - it's an entertaining and thought-provoking book, and it definitely inspired me to get out and run more.

There are a few pieces of running advice in the book that I wanted to remember later, and what better way than to write them up in a post?

Try running barefoot

One of the memorable characters in Born to Run is Barefoot Ted, a distance runner who insists on running barefoot even in difficult terrain. The Tarahumara, too, wear only light huarache sandals, cut from rubber tires. In a memorable scene, a group of Tarahumara runners who are sponsored by a sneaker company only wear the high-end shoes for the first mile or so of a race, stopping to remove them as soon as they're away from the starting line cameras.

When you're barefoot, you don't run the same way you do in shoes. I can confirm this from experience. As soon as you take off on your bare feet, your body adjusts to a different running style, as if of its own accord. You quickly learn to land on the ball of your foot or the mid-foot, not the heel. You may land on the outside of the foot and then roll inward as you push off. According to the book, the barefoot running style is more efficient and less effortful, so you can run for longer without feeling as tired, and it's also less injury-prone.

McDougall spends some time investigating the history of running shoes as we know them. It seems that a wacky personal trainer had the idea that we could run faster if we took longer strides, landing on our heels, so he designed a shoe that made this possible by putting a lot of padding in the heel. This inventor went on to co-found Nike.

The problem is that the thick heel absorbs enough shock so that you don't feel immediate pain, but it doesn't actually protect you from the kind of injuries that result from this high-impact running style, which stresses your knees and joints more than necessary. And these shoes "protect" you from making use of all the specialized engineering that has evolved in the human foot. One of the most convincing arguments that I read in the book involved the foot's arch. The arch is the strongest shape in architecture. What you don't want to do to an arch is put anything under it. That actually weakens it, and puts all the stress on the support beam. So why are we putting padding under our foot's arch?

This book seems to have spurred a bit of a cult of barefootism. I've heard people claim that all running injuries come from shoes, and anyone can cure themselves if they simply run barefoot. I don't believe that it's that simple. I don't think barefoot running is a cure-all. I think there are some people whose particular body shapes, injury history, or other conditions mean that they do need special shoes, who can't or shouldn't run barefoot, or at all. I think you can still mess yourself up if you run barefoot.

But I've experimented with running barefoot now, and I can tell you that it has helped my style and posture a lot. I do feel like I'm expending less energy, and running in a more light, "springy" style. And it's fun! I like the feel of the ground under my feet, when the pavement is just beginning to warm in the morning sun. Even once I put my shoes back on again, I continue to run on the balls of my feet, just letting the heels touch down as I push off again, and it feels right. I plan to continue training barefoot and with light, uncushioned shoes or sandals. It may not work for everyone, but it's working for me and I want to continue.

So, I have the book to thank for inspiring me to try something new.

Posture matters

I'm not always running barefoot (look, I live near a poorly maintained urban park, there is a lot of broken glass on the ground!). It can hard for me to ensure that I'm maintaining that good barefoot running posture when I'm wearing shoes, even minimalist ones. I know that I should be landing on my forefoot, but your foot moves pretty fast when you run, so it's not always easy to tell which part is touching down first. Some of the other posture tips in the book help me make sure I'm on the right track as I go.
  • Back straight! Just straightening up can help me get rid of neck and back pain from my sport bra as I run.
  • Knees lined up under hips
  • Take tiny, bird steps (the opposite of those long strides that force you onto your heels)
  • Kick off behind you - this is where that extra energy goes when you take small steps.

Self check

While we're on the subject of checking in with yourself, McDougall describes a check-in technique that can save your life if you are a long-distance runner. (I'm definitely not there, but it's still a generalizable technique.) It can be easy to get "in the zone" when you're running and not notice danger signs, so a good technique is to check in with yourself every so often and ask yourself: how am I doing? Am I hurt? Exhausted? Thirsty? Hungry? Make sure you attend to your basic needs before they become emergencies.

Keep a little in reserve

Similar is the idea of always keeping a little energy in reserve in case you need it, not going "all out." This advice is also probably most relevant in an ultrarunning scenario when you may actually need that extra bit of energy to save your life. But I find it useful to remember even on a simple jog near my house. It keeps me from getting so drained by the end of my run that I swear off running forever. It makes me feel like I can do more the next time.

Running is social

Some of the most exhilarating moments of the book are when McDougal, or the other racers, find just a little bit of extra energy and spring in their step when they run into another racer or have company on the trail. Running doesn't have to be solitary - it can be social! Besides, as one doctor tells him, you're running at a good pace for you if you can still carry on a conversation.

"Easy, light, smooth, and fast"

This is a great quote, so I'll just give it to you. It's from McDougal's running mentor, known in the book as Caballo Blanco.
The problem with most people is they only care about getting fast, and think that once they get fast, running will get easy. They got it backwards. First focus on getting easy, because if that's all you get, that ain't so bad. Once you can run easy, focus on light. Once you get light, focus on smooth. By the time you're easy, light and smooth, you won't have to worry about getting fast--you will be.
Each of these ideas is interesting. Being smooth means "taking what the trail gives you," as water along a creek bed: don't fight it. Being light, as in light on the earth, as in leave no trace, is a nice reminder not to take heavy steps, and has a neat sort of environmental ring to it. But I want to focus on the idea of easy.

This is probably the most revelatory ideas in this book, for me: running shouldn't be work.

So far in my life, I've run because I feel I have to - because it's a frugal and easy way to get in shape - but every step has felt effortful. I've accepted the idea that it needs to be, that fitness is all about trading punishment for health / muscle / lung capacity / weight loss / virtue points. The idea that it shouldn't feel like work is totally alien to me. But, sure enough, when I feel pain or exhaustion (after an amount of running I know I can handle), taking it easy on myself has helped. Trading speed for "easy," finding another way to move so that I can keep going for longer, really works. Pushing past it, "no pain no gain" style, leads to burnout and stopping. Easing up lets me keep going.

"If it feels like work, you're working too hard," another mentor, Eric, reminds McDougal before the big race, knowing that he'll need every bit of energy to finish.

Pain isn't a badge of honor or a test of will, it's a sign you're doing something wrong. Whoa.

My goal for this summer is to keep running regularly, not to get to a certain pace or time, but just to enjoy it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

You don't have to take the GRE

200 points just for filling your name in the bubbles

Coming back from a coffee break at work, I was surprised by a truck parked on the street with an advertisement for the GRE.

Q: Why take yet another test?
A: More options for your future.
Take the GRE!

I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised, given that I work near a college, and it's coming up on graduation season. It just seemed so odd to me. It's similar to my reaction to direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads: "Why are you advertising to ME? I'm not the one who decides these things." I'd never just decide to take a new medication the way I'd decide to try a new breakfast cereal. I'll take Vlasonimex or whatever if and only if my doctor decides it's the best option for my particular medical condition. Similarly, I'd never just decide to take a university entrance exam for my own edification. I'd take it if and only if I were applying to specific schools that required it. The schools would decide, not me.

(I guess they're relying on that idea of "options," bolstering the idea that it's a smart move to take a common entrance test even if you haven't made up your mind whether or not you're applying to a school that uses it. Kind of like checking your coat before you've decided if you're going to the restaurant or not - you know, to keep your options open.)

I've never thought of the GRE, or the SAT or TOEFL or any of those tests, as something that needs to advertise -- at least, not to potential test-takers. As a prospective student, you can choose which school to apply to, but not which test to take: if your school requires the GRE, you take it. To students, the test feels like an institution or an inevitability, not a product.

But it is a product. Seeing that advertisement, suddenly I could imagine a whole ad campaign aimed at schools, persuading them to require the test - they don't have to, after all! These tests are run by companies with generic, official-sounding names like The College Board and Educational Testing Service, which make you think they are federal or perhaps international institutions of appointed officials, but they aren't. They're just regular old companies with bottom lines. They're ubiquitous like Coke, not like the DMV.

In that way, I think, the advertising has backfired. It's to ETS's advantage that students think of their tests as non-optional requirements of the system. The very fact that they're trying to convince me to use their product makes it starkly clear that I don't have to.

The secret subtext of "Take the GRE!" is "You don't have to take the GRE!"

Now, I wasn't planning to take the GRE anyway (I have the kind of hiss-and-back-away reaction to grad school that vampires have to the sun), so maybe I'm a bad sample. But I think this can be generalized to other products, including ones that I'm more tempted by.

Persuasion implies choice. If you have no choice, there's no need to advertise. Ever see an ad for the DMV? (I mean, I have, but they're more like PSAs about how you can now renew your license online. It's not just, "Come to the DMV!")

If they advertise, that means you have a choice. And you can choose "no."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Preparing for Big Budgetary Changes

Time to throw my budget into the sea

I haven't posted here much recently - we've been in the "long valley" of savings, slowly chipping away at big long-term goals without many day-to-day changes. But, recently, something changed. My wife has been laid off from her job.

We are lucky in that, technically, we can live on my income alone. But given our current rate of saving and spending (and the fact that our health insurance came out of her paycheck), we'll be running a deficit of between $800 to $1200 a month.

There are a few different ways we could address the deficit.

Save Less For Retirement

I put aside $692.30 of each biweekly paycheck into retirement savings before I even see it. (How did I arrive at that number? It's $18,000, the IRS maximum for an individual's yearly 401(k) contributions, divided by 26, the number of yearly pay periods.) I could take care of our deficit automatically by reducing or eliminating these savings.

But there are a couple of problems with this.

Me saving less for retirement doesn't seem like a super great idea when we're already losing the retirement savings that came automatically out of my wife's paycheck. She was saving the same amount as me, so right off the bat, even if I don't touch mine, we're already saving 50% less than before as a couple.

Another problem is that retirement savings are tax-advantaged, and I see those tax advantages right in my paycheck. If I reduce my retirement savings by $1, I don't get $1 back in my pocket. I might get 75 cents or something. The rest goes right into my tax withholding. So cutting our savings might not help us as much as we think - at least, not as much as other cuts we could make.

Besides - recognizing that we have been immensely lucky to have the option of saving so much for retirement so far - it's really hard for me to stomach going down to $0, even temporarily.

Eat Into Savings

We have an emergency fund, the ostensible purpose of which is income replacement in case of unemployment. We could just run a deficit - at a rate of $1000 per month, it would take us over a year to run through our emergency fund. I imagine that my wife's unemployment will not last that long. If she makes the same or more than previously, we'll run a bit of surplus normally, which we can use to pay ourselves back.

I do like this better than saving less for retirement. There's no weird tax stuff, and, after all, it's what this money is for. But it seems a shame to eat up our emergency fund when we could, if we were temperate, basically cash-flow this. I mean, eating into the e-fund while spending at our normal rate is basically using the e-fund SPECIFICALLY to fund new shoes and crap. It feels wrong.

And what if we have a different kind of emergency, like medical expenses or something?

So, because I can't avoid it any further:

Spend Less

This is the obvious, frugal, wise choice. I currently budget $500 for each of us for "fun money" and I frequently go over. (Our individual "fun money" is meant to cover a variety of personal expenses, including clothes, lunches, personal care and grooming, entertainment, and hobbies.)

Simply eliminating our fun money could potentially allow us to totally cash flow this unemployment thing. But, I feel like we need to budget some kind of reasonable target, because it's hard for me to have no escape valve. I know I will spend anyway, so "nil" is basically "infinity." Does that make sense? I feel like without a reasonable cap, it's ALL illicit, so instead of planning and budgeting and prioritizing, I'll just buy first and feel bad later.

Looking at our budget, there are some places we could scale back that's not our personal fun money. Our grocery bill has gotten out of control. Part of that is due to where we live now - it's too far from grocery store to comfortably visit every couple of days, like we used to, so we end up needing a ton by the weekend, more than we can carry ourselves. So, we do Instacart from Whole Foods. But it's an expensive way to get groceries! Instacart has higher prices than in the store sometimes, plus service fees and a tip. And Whole Foods is not the cheapest store to begin with. Even if we stick to delivery services, Peapod is cheaper. We could also scale back on the things we buy, sticking to more staples and less junk and treats. The treats at Whole Foods are way more tempting than Stop & Shop, where we're more likely to stick to just what we need.

We've also been saving for travel, but it may be time to make the call that we're cancelling or postponing some of our planned vacations. Though not costless, another weekend in P-town is cheaper than a big cross-country trip.

Maybe we could cut some corners here and there by getting back to frugality and energy-efficiency in our electricity consumption, heating and cooling, and data usage.

But these are all pretty small potatoes compared to the plump fruit of our personal money. *sigh*

Some cuts will definitely have to be made. While I sincerely doubt our ability to scale our personal spending back to NIL, every little bit helps, in that every dollar we don't spend is a dollar we can keep in our emergency fund. We just need to scale back.

I have to admit that this is mostly my issue. My wife spends a lot less than me anyway and currently has quite a fun money surplus, so I'm not too worried about her.

When it comes to my personal fun expenses, I can do a few things to reduce my habitual spending. Mindful that I'm not going to change overnight, I can make some tweaks. Instead of having lunch out on a daily basis, I could bring my lunch three times a week. And I'm fine with cutting out my ebook buying for the time being - there's plenty at the library.

But most of my spending isn't actually habitual: it's things like clothes, shoes, and hobby gear, which always feel like "one time" purchases. Except there seem to be some of these "one time" purchases every single month!

In particular, I get the itch to spruce up my wardrobe each seasonal change. And right now, I am sick to death of winter and laser-focused on spring and summer. In the last month or so, I've gotten the urge to spend on cute summer dresses, ballet flats, trail runners, and hiking clothes designed for sun and insect protection (e.g. UV-blocking hat, permethrin-treated hoodie). Generally there's just enough of a whiff of professionalism or safety that I can make a case to myself for why I "need" these things. (It's going to be a bad tick year!!! I JUST KNOW IT)

I have to keep reminding myself that there's time to pace myself. I'll want hot-weather clothes just as much in May, June, July, and August. Even if I got everything I wanted now, I wouldn't be able to use half of it for some time yet.

My current strategy is to fall back on the old Buy With Intention List: instead of buying things now, I slot them into what future month I want to buy them in. It's a meditative activity, although probably an actual meditative activity would be better for me. Maybe I'll get into adult coloring books… I wonder how much those go for?

Monday, April 3, 2017

One Year Purchase Review: March and April 2016

That sunglasses and beanie time of year

Back in my March 2016 month in review, I wrote, "March is an expensive month for me, historically; it's when I broke my frugal streak last year. I might say that I should plan for expensive Marches, since I seem to get "spring fever" and spend ahead for spring and summer in those months--and/or scoop up stuff on winter sales." This pattern has played out for me again this year!

I'm going to try something slightly different with the One Year Purchase Reviews from now on: I'll do the Purchase Review for last year at the beginning, instead of the end, of the month. That way, I can keep last year's observations in mind throughout the month, instead of simply confirming that, yup, it happened again!

So, this is going to be a One Year Purchase Review for both March and April 2016.

March 2016

Hiking pants - $85

I did the thing where you try a bunch and keep one, and I ended up with a pretty good pair! I wore them fairly regularly (at least, on weekends, since they're not work pants). They're not only good for hiking, but for rainy days, since the nylon material is more water-resistant and quick-drying than jeans. The only problem was they ended up being a little loose for me when I lost weight, so I recently bought another pair one size down, but I'm keeping both as my weight tends to fluctuate.

Merino relaxed-fit T-shirt - $80

This is a ton of money for a shirt, but it's basically my favorite shirt, the only merino top I've ever found that's a cute relaxed fit (the kind that would look good with skinny jeans). Most merino tops, being exercise tops, are quite fitted, but I hate the way they cling to my belly, and I prefer loose shirts for exercise anyway. This is my favorite shirt to run in, and it's also a great casual shirt. It's so rare to find an item that works as both (though I do tend to "save it" for running). I liked this shirt so much that when I saw it on sale for $35 a few months later, I bought a second, identical one.

Mint green merino fashion scarf - $40

It's so funny that this was exactly a year ago, because I bought two extremely similar scarves this very month. Enough, no more merino fashion scarves! Three is plenty. Yet, I love them all.

rX Sunglasses - $35

I can see that I had summer on my mind last year, too. These will be my sunglasses this year, too.

Art Supplies - $57

Wow, history really repeats itself. The last time I bought colored pencils was March 2016, and I did it again in March 2017. I also got some pen and ink supplies. I've used these!

Cashmere slouchy sweater - $46

I am wearing this as we speak. (This is the sweater that Practical Cranberry Nut Roll thinks looks like a sweatshirt, but I love it.)

Hemp/cotton T-shirt - $13

I can't believe I only bought this a year ago. I feel like I've had it forever. Maybe it's because I had it in black before that (this is a Color Revolution replacement purchase, it seems). Anyway, it's definitely a summer staple.

Hemp/cotton lightweight pullover hoodie - $14

I didn't end up wearing this much because I got a zip-front merino hoodie soon after, which ended up being a better choice for a lightweight summer cover-up. I've given this away.

Navy linen blazer - $32

I'd been saying to myself that I wanted a navy linen blazer, and not finding one for love or money, for so long that I snapped one up when I found it at Marshall's for only $30, but it was more shapeless than I would have liked, and I ended up wearing light cardigans instead of blazers for most of the summer. I gave it away after I found a better-fitting navy wool blazer at Goodwill for $20.

Overall March Thoughts

Total Spend: $402 (down from my initial estimate of $718 due to massive returns)
Total Approved: $356 (88%)
Total Regretted: $46 (12%)

I have to say that in spite of the amount I spent, and the fact that I got so many things that I couldn't use until the weather warmed up, I'm still remarkably positive about almost every one of my purchases. March's purchases include some of my very favorite items of clothing from the last year.

That said, what you don't see in these numbers is a LOT of returning that I did, so ecologically, I wasted a ton of resources in shipping and stuff.

April 2016

Here's the month I'm interested in, since if my March 2016 resembles my March 2017 so closely, perhaps the pitfalls here are the ones I'll be most prone to in the coming month.

Beanie - $7

Although I ended up replacing this beanie this year (with the same model in a youth size, because my head is so tiny), this was and is a good hat. My wife wears it now. Anyway, it was cheap so it's worth the few months of wear I got out of it. In cool months (which include April in Boston), I wear a beanie on a basically daily basis.

Jeans - $16

After a lot of rigmarole and sturm and drang earlier on trying to find good jeans, and returning them or Goodwilling them after only a few months at a time, I ended up finding a pair I loved on a discount site for only $16. A few months later, I bought the exact same pants in the next size down, but I keep both pairs for weight changes. Recently, I bought yet a third pair in another wash.

CVS pajamas - $24

Good thought - I did end up getting and using soft clothes like this later on - but of course, the shit I bought at CVS was not the best quality, nor did it look the best. As it turns out, I really value feeling like I look OK in my clothes, even when I'm wearing PJs at home. This was an attempt to be frugal gone wrong.

Suspenders - $13

I hate wearing belts, so I thought, hey, I'll be the cool weirdo wearing suspenders! It was an attempt to be dapper, I guess. What I didn't think about was that, if you wear suspenders, you really need to tuck in your shirt. The physics of it just didn't occur to me until I was trying to put them. I hate tucking in my shirt even more than wearing a belt. The real solution would be to buy pants that fit me.

Shorts - $30

A hopeful summer purchase, way too early! It was definitely not shorts weather in April, but I relate, because I'm looking at shorts again these days (despite the snow outside). I didn't end up wearing these too much. My wife looks better in them, so I might shuffle them off into her drawer this year.

Cuttoffs - $6

More shorts! I actually ended up wearing these more than the $30 pair.

Flannel popover shirt - $23

I made a mistake and got what I thought was a flannel button-down, but it was actually a popover shirt (where the buttons go halfway down). "Well, maybe I'll keep it anyway," I thought, liking the colors a lot, but turns out I just don't like popover shirts.

At least this was a shirt I could start wearing right away, since April was and is flannel weather.

Summer linen short-sleeve button-down - $19

This was from eBay, so it would have been a hassle to return, but it turned out to be the wrong colors for me. Darn unreliable monitors! For awhile, I had a plan to dye it, but I never did, and eventually gave it away.

Actually, even if it had been the right colors, I'm not sure how much I would have worn it. Similar to the linen blazer from March, the problem with this purchase was that it seemed to check off the boxes I had in my head for "thing I am looking for," yet by the time I found it, I didn't want it as much. That summer, I ended up wearing a lot of linen knit oversized T-shirts, and didn't return much to my previous summer "uniform" of a button-down over a tank top.

2 layering tanks - $31

I got a fair amount of use out of these, but a few months ago I started wearing T-shirts instead of tanks under my work sweaters to keep them less sweaty for more re-wears, so I don't wear these so much anymore.

Running belt - $30

I got this hoping it would enable me to run more and easier, and I have to say, it did. It's just a stretchy tube with seams sewn in to divide it into pockets, some of which are zippered and some open, so you can carry your keys and phone close to your body without having them bounce in your pockets, or having to come up with some sort of wristband system if your running pants don't have pockets. I wear it every time I run.

Lounge Bra - $42

This was custom made for me on Etsy. I really liked it at first, although I eventually began to feel that the fit could be better (or maybe it just stretched out or something). Still, it's a good thing to have, better something than nothing. I might replace it at some point if I can find anything remotely good.

Work Throw Blanket - $28

This was a post-winter clearance purchase, but I got it for summer, actually, because I remembered getting cold a lot in the air conditioning the previous year. I haven't used this that much as a blanket (I feel a little silly wrapping in a blanket at work), choosing to put on a sweater or a blazer when I'm cold instead, but I do sit on it as a cushion, so there's that.

Work Picnic Blanket - $16

This is more useful, actually. I used it a lot for eating my lunch outside last summer.

Work Flats - $44

I got these in the wake of my disappointment that a $150 pair I'd been saving up for didn't work (the foot shape was just totally different from mine, which sucked because they seemed like a super high quality and comfortable pair of they work for you). I still have these and they are fine, pretty handy to have in the office when it's summer and you wore sandals on your commute. I can imagine a more comfortable pair, but for now, these are acceptable.

Overall April Thoughts

Total Spend: $329
Total Approved : $119 (36%)
Total Regretted: $109 (33%)
Still Undecided: $101 (31%)

April was a much less successful month than March. There were a lot of small purchases, not really any majorly big ones (that I kept). It was a mix of hopeful summer purchases and right-now purchases, and some from each category succeeded, while others failed. Some of my attempts to cheap out worked great (Goodwill shorts, discount jeans), while others were mistakes (CVS pajamas).

I'm not sure I can draw any real lessons from this. Huh.

Friday, March 31, 2017

March 2017 Month in Review

Much of what I bought this month was due to outdoor gear anxiety inspired by the three citizen science volunteer projects I've signed up for this spring and summer, which will all involve outdoor work. Specifically, I attended a training for the project that's the most mental and physical stretch for me. The manual had a list of things to wear or bring to the field, and although most of the items were listed as "optional" except the basics (water, snacks, map and compass, etc.), I felt I needed most of it. I particularly felt I needed the insect repellent gear, since the manual had all these things about tick-borne illness, and I've read that it's going to be a bad year for ticks.

Sun Hats - $90

I have very fair skin and, this being a year I'll actually be working outdoors, I figured it was time to get a broad-brimmed sun hat. The only problem is that I'm convinced I look bad in 99% of hats. So, I knew it might be kind of a trial to find a hat that I felt looked reasonably good on me, so I'd actually wear it, while also being practical in all the ways I wanted: broad enough to keep the sun off my face and ears, UV-blocking, lightweight enough not to make me sweat on a hot day, crushable and packable so I can easily carry it with me when I'm not wearing it, maybe even rain-resistant.

So, I did that thing where I bought like five hats at once, to try them on and keep only the best one. This Zappo's-inspired move allows me to try on a bunch of things and only pay one return fee. The downside of this move, as I learned, is that sometimes, you find two things you like! Which wouldn't have happened if I'd tried things one-at-a-time. I would have stopped after a "win." After eliminating some hats that confirmed my "I don't look good in hats" opinion, I ended up unable to decide between the shockingly good-looking hat, and the extremely practical hat that met all my other requirements and had B+ looks.

So, I ended up keeping them both and spending double my "hat budget." D'oh. Yet, I feel very well-supplied with hats. I'm honestly not sure which one will end up getting worn more - the Looks hat or the Functionality hat. I'll let you know at the end of summer!

Summer Layers On Sale But Nonetheless Pricey - $90

Immediately after my training I began browsing for bug-repellent stuff and found a permethrin-treated lightweight summer hoodie in one of My Colors on sale, so I snagged it up. I also used a coupon for an organic long-sleeved chambray shirt which I'd been eyeing. It seemed like a good way to keep the sun and bugs off my arms, while still keeping cool. As a bonus, my wife thinks I look great it, and it goes well with my new hat.

Again, I don't have much use for these yet - as I write this, it's 35 degrees, sleeting, and bug-free. But I imagine they will be useful.

Small Outdoor Things - $30

Misc. small items for my field kid: tweezers. Measuring tape. A hand lens, which never actually arrived (I'll probably end up getting refunded, but I still need to get one, I think!)

Merino Scarves - $90

In December, I bought a lightweight merino wool scarf, sort of a cross between a fashion scarf and a light functional scarf. I adored everything but the color, and ended up reluctantly giving it to my friend who looked way better in it. The website said they'd stock the new spring colors in March, so sure enough, on the first of March, I checked again and found the model I loved in an aqua and gray stripe. They also had a new, even more lightweight and chiffon-y model, in plain aqua.

This ended up being a kind of similar situation to the hats, in that I couldn't decide between the two scarves so I ended up buying them both to check out in person. I liked them both, so I didn't return either one. But, it being the beginning of the month, I felt flush and was kind of OK with that.

So far, in practice, I prefer the stripey one, but since the aqua one is lighter weight, it may come into its own in the summer. (Are you sensing a theme? I am obsessed with summer this month, probably because it's so cold and gray, and has been for such a long time. It's like I'm trying to convince myself that summer will happen.)

Free weights - $15

I had this idea that I was going to tone up my arms (FOR SUMMER, what else?) So far, it hasn't happened.

More Merino Exercise Clothes - $85

This consists of a muscle shirt (for my arm toning, obvs) and a sport bra. I know that I should just buy cheap exercise clothes, but I hate the feel of polyester and nylon and all those sports materials.

Colored pencils - $20

This was a purely "I'm here so why not" type of purchase, since I was in an art-supply store. I haven't actually used the new pencils yet.


The total comes to $420, which is less than my $500 budget, but (a) my budget should be smaller now for reasons I'll explain a later post, and (b) I either can't or haven't actually used hardly anything that I bought! (The exception is the scarves, which I wear to work.)

I need to get better at getting things I can and will use right now, not things I think I may need in the future (which has burned me in the past). I mean, I got all this stuff for a hot summer, but what if it's a cool, drizzly one? What if I don't end up going "into the field" nearly as much as I thought, or I realize once I go out once that I need totally different things that I thought?

I also need to get better at using the things I've gotten. Nothing is stopping me from putting on my merino exercise clothes and lifting weights, or drawing with my pencils. April Goals, I guess - especially now that I'm done with Stardew Valley!

Friday, March 3, 2017

February 2017 Month in Review

What did I buy this past month? Let's find out!

Clothes & Accessories - $256

Flannel nightgown - $45
Somewhat matronly but very comfortable, this was invaluable in the days following my surgery, plus a few days where we had no heat at home. I haven't been wearing it as much in the last couple of weeks, but I wore it a LOT in the first weeks of February.

Plaid tote bag - $16
I didn't really need this! My wife thinks I buy too many tote bags. They're useful for lots of things, like replacing shopping bags (provided I remember to bring them shopping), and this one is better than the cheapo ones you get at the grocery store because it's durable and cute and has a zipper. But yeah, I don't really need more of these.

Hiking pants - $80
This is a different-size version of something I already have. I have the size 8 pants and I love them, but they kept sliding down, so I tried to size 6 at the store and they fit way better. I'm keeping the size 8's in my "larger size clothing" box, since my weight tends to fluctuate.

Polish dresses - $115
The weather was warm for one (1) day, and I got the urge to buy dresses! (It's cold again now, but it will be warm in the future, I'm told.) I've had such good luck getting bras and dresses from Polish big-bust clothing companies in the past, so I'm trying another one. I haven't received these yet, and I'm a little nervous about whether I got my sizing right. If they don't fit, I can probably sell them, since I know a lot of people in the Bra That Fits community are interested in trying these companies but are hesitant to make international currency transactions with high shipping fees and long ship times.

Misc - $56

Thermal mug - $26
I had previously gotten the 8 ounce version of this and love it, so this is the 16 ounce version. I knew when I bought it that the 8 ounce version would be a little too small for most things, but I always get hot coffee in size small. However, a warm snap prompted me to go for the larger version because I usually have iced coffee in 16 ounces, and a thermal mug would be great for icy drinks as well as hot ones. I probably don't need the smaller one at all now, but oh well. It's nice to have one at home and one at work.

Bottle brush - $8
For cleaning the mug.

Cute outdoorsy things - $22
A bandana and an enamel camping cup. I admit that I buy into outdoorsy style more than I actually hike or camp. I keep daydreaming about all the hiking I'm going to do, but I probably won't need these items even when I do go. I still, I can still use them in my noncamping life as an accessory, and a normal cup. (I ate granola out of it last night.)

Hobbies & Entertainment - $165

Art supplies - $29
I got two sketchbooks and some micron pens, hoping to do some nature sketching as I've recently joined a few citizen science projects relating to plants.

Reference books - $52
Though I've bragged in the past about getting rid of all my books, I've been expansionist about plant books lately since I'm trying to teach myself about botany for my volunteer work. I think eventually I'll figure out which of these books I actually find useful and get rid of the rest, but for now I'm still looking for my ideal plant library. I also have to admit to buying another bird book because it called to me in the store!

Ebooks - $24
I keep buying these, even though I also get a lot of reading material out of the library.

Video games - $30
I bought the $30 Freedom Bundle which donated proceeds to the ACLU, and I've already gotten far more than $30 worth of entertainment out just one of the games, Stardew Valley. It's a cute 8-bit farming and romance sim and is MY IDEAL GAME.

Running app one-year subscription - $30
This is kind of silly to get, since the app works fine without the pro upgrade. But I've used it a lot and I was hoping that the extra features would help me run more frequently in the coming year.


Total: $477
I stayed within my $500 goal, barely! This doesn't include eating out for lunch and stuff, but also doesn't include a +$90 from returning a pair of boots that I never actually managed to wear.

I'm okay with most of these purchases. Some stand out as real winners (Stardew Valley, some of the more approachable plant books), some I haven't used yet but expect to get more use out of later (dresses, hiking pants, mug, some of the more technical books). Time will tell!