5 Free (or Almost Free!) Mood-Boosters:

1. Go for a walk.

I try to take the dogs for a nice long walk around the neighborhood everyday. Sometimes we only get a quick walk in, but I have definitely noticed that the longer walk days tend to be a bit better overall. Causation? Correlation? Who can tell? All I know is, there have definitely been PLENTY of days I’ve been in a funk and didn’t want to go for “walkies” as they are so eloquently called at our house. But 99% of the time I come home in a much better mood. (The other one percent is if Freya is just having a day and acts like she’s never seen a leash before in her life…) The natural light and fresh air and movement are a quick and easy fix for the mental funk and some of those little aches and pains that sitting at a desk tend to bring.

2. Spend time with loved ones.

Pop over to your grandma’s house to visit for a while, or if you live too far away for a quick visit like I do, a phone call or FaceTime is also a huge boost. Have some friends over for dinner one night. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Just set another place or two and fix whatever you were already going to eat. Those are the kinds of friendships to cherish and protect above all others. The people you can have over on a random weeknight for a plate of spaghetti and real, honest connection are such a gift. If you don’t have friends like that in your local community, I urge you to join a small group at church, get involved in a local civic organization that interests you, or find some other club or a like-minded group through the meetup app to get to know people. Developing real friendships beyond the initial acquaintance stage takes time and effort but it is SUCH a game changer. After a good friend dinner, my internal loveometer is off the charts and I feel so joyful that there is no room for anxiety…. and y’all THAT is a miracle.

3. Hot coffee or tea.

I prefer to make it at home for pennies on the dollar compared to a trip to Starbucks or one of the cute local coffee shops. But if it fits the budget, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a coffee out (it just doesn’t fit the free headline then lol). A hot cup of decaf coffee or earl grey tea is such a stress reliever on a hectic day! For a while I mentally scolded myself for needing what I considered to be an “emotional crutch,” but then I learned that it’s actually a very healthy grounding exercise to make a cup of coffee or tea and sit and savor the warmth of the mug, to notice and appreciate the steam and the smell, to feel the hot liquid on my tongue and enjoy the nuances of the flavor. All of that is very meditative and works to pull me into the present. It forces me to be in the here and now and NOT chasing anxious thoughts down briary bunny trails.

4. Jesus time.

This should go at the top of the list! I definitely have a better day when I start with scripture before I even get out of bed. Most days I don’t hit that goal, and I get to it a little later in the day or at bedtime. And there are plenty of days I don’t get to it at all. But all those days without it serve as a solid control group and show me that the days that start with Jesus are noticeably better. Some days what I read will be especially resonant and it feels like passages are speaking directly to me and my current situation. Other days, it’s just good to remember that I am a very small small part of a grand plan. Zooming out to get that eternal perspective before I start my day generally helps me push through the bad or the boring times with more peace and less anxiety. It is so validating to be reminded that it all has a purpose, all the day to day drudgery, even if I can’t always see it from my human perspective.

5. Scream a lil.

I have always thought this Screaming Deer Vine video was funny, but it is starting to take on an even deeper meaning to me lately. I’ve been learning at counseling that all emotions are valid and it’s completely okay to feel frustrated, upset, sad, angry, etc. All those feelings I had been thinking of as “bad” and trying to avoid actually NEED to be felt and acknowledged. (Why is calculus taught in school, but this stuff isn’t?!?) In the appropriate setting, it is totally okay to do a deer scream and let it out!!! Ya know, don’t do this in the middle of a meeting at work or anything… but in the car by yourself a good solid guttural soul-refreshing UUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHH can do a world of good.

Prayers on Fear

I’ve been rearranging and cleaning my office this weekend (see: procrastinating) and I came across the below entry dated 08/11/2015 in a composition book labeled Prayer Journal: 

“Lord, you call me out onto the waters and I know you’ve got me because you always have had me. But I still find myself clutching the boat. Refusing to step out in faith away from what I’ve always known. Deep down (and sometimes not so deep down) I’m still the little girl on the diving board that refuses to jump because I don’t know what will happen. I don’t think the swimming teacher will catch me, I don’t want to sink to the bottom, I don’t want to drown (yes, just from jumping off the diving board because WHAT IF!?!?!) 

And all the things I’m scared of are silly things that I know I shouldn’t be worried about at all. But there it is anyway: WORRY. Ever-present even though it adds nothing good, nothing positive, nothing beneficial to my life. 

Will things work out in spite of my worries? They always have. My attempts to control my life point me in a direction much less rich and much less full than the life you’d lead me to if I’d just get out of the way and let you. 

Help me open my ears to hear your instructions and open my eyes to see the path you’ve set out before me. And open my heart to want you more than me. Help me be less stubborn but still be strong. 

Even as I am asking for your help, I am resisting. External change is so much easier than internal change. I’m waiting for change to come, but not really working to change myself. Waiting for the switch to flip rather than getting up and taking steps towards becoming the woman I know I can be. The woman you call me to be. Even if I’m not ready for the big picture, help me see the small steps and start taking those.”

Wow. How completely relevant is this prayer to me still. Today. Almost exactly 4 years later. Which is a bit . . . frustrating. How am I still standing on the diving board, hesitating to jump, even after all this time?  

And in another notebook I found this entry from 08/24/2017: 

“What do you do when you know what the answer is, but you’re afraid to do the thing? (Short answer is you do the thing). But how? Why is it so hard? Why is it that KNOWING what you’re supposed to do is NOT easier? 

What do you do when your “comfort zone” is predicated on not knowing what you want to do, when in reality you know EXACTLY what you want to do, the part that remains an unknown is whether or not you’ll succeed. 

Think about the thing that scares you. The project you’ve had in the back of your mind that you keep pushing off. Keep managing to shy away from. 

It’s probably the thing you need to start working on right now.”

And here I am, a few more years later, still afraid to show up. Still worried I’m not good enough. Still running. Still hiding from God and the plans he has for me behind the fear and the worry and the crippling self-doubt. 

So what if this time, instead of praying to be less afraid, I pray to be made stronger? The fear clearly isn’t going anywhere. But what if I pray to be more confident, more willing to move forward, even in the midst of the anxiety that comes so easily to me. What if I change my prayer to something more like this. . . 

“Lord, thank you for seeing me even when I try to hide from you. Thank you for your patience. My prayer in the past has been to be less afraid. Today I ask that instead of taking away the fear, you give me strength and courage and the faith to trust you through the next small step that is right in front of me, regardless of the fear. I can take the next small step even if I am afraid. I can do what you have continually called me to do even if I am afraid. Maybe one day, with practice I will learn to be less afraid. And maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life scared. But I don’t have to let fear keep me from living the full, rich life you have called me to. Because no matter where on Earth the next small step in front of me leads, I know it will bring me closer to you. And the scariest thing of all is the thought of walking the other way.” 

First Saturday Goodwill Haul

My local Goodwill features a 50% off sale the first Saturday of every month, and even though I’m not one for crowds, a deal like that is hard to pass up. I made a rookie mistake this trip and went in the mid afternoon. By that time, the clothing racks were so sparse I only took 3 things into the dressing room when normally I take a whole cart. Luckily for me, everyone else was focused on back to school clothes shopping and I had the run of the book section! I was able to scoop up this whole stack for only $9, which puts even my dearly beloved thriftbooks.com to shame!

Several of these are duplicates of books I already own and really enjoy. (I’m looking at you, Man’s Search For Meaning and Bubbly on Your Budget). I love the idea of being the kind of woman who excitedly recommends a good book, and then sends you home with a copy of it for keeps. I’m also one to write in my books and tend to get attached to the copies that have my notes, which makes having extra copies on hand the way to go.

So thank you, Goodwill, for helping me move one step closer to becoming the woman I want to be.

Good, Cheap, Fast: Choose Two

The good, cheap, fast triangle of trade-offs has many names depending on the application.  For my own purposes, I have generally called it an acquisition triangle since I think of it most in terms of acquiring a product or service, and this happens to be the most relevant application to everyday budgeting.  The acquisition triangle is an important framework to understand and keep in mind when making choices regarding spending. Most of us are working with finite financial resources at any given time, and have to make informed choices accordingly.  There are trade-offs made in every decision, which is where the acquisition triangle comes in handy.

The rules of the acquisition triangle state that there are 3 variables at play in every purchase situation: good, cheap, or fast, and you can choose a combination of any 2 out of the 3. If you need something good (whether that’s objectively high quality or just something very specific) and need it fast, it won’t be cheap. If you need something good, but on a tighter budget, it won’t be fast. And of course, if you need something fast and cheap, chances are, it won’t be very good.

My main financial goal right now is to cut back my consumer spending so that I can pay off debt and eventually build enough savings to be able to invest. These longer-term goals lead me to prioritize the cheap corner of the acquisition triangle in a lot of my recurring purchase decisions, such as food and clothing.  Having a clear preference for inexpensive purchases is where things start to get interesting, because now things are going to be good but sometimes very slow, or fast and generally disappointing.

Food is a clear example of the acquisition triangle at work in everyday purchase decisions. While everyone has different taste and preferences (and different skill levels when it comes to cooking), a fresh homemade burger with a perfectly runny fried egg on a toasted bun is an undeniably higher quality experience than a soggy, paper-wrapped fast food hamburger. The former just takes considerably more time and effort to prepare, especially when you factor in the time it takes to shop for groceries in addition to the time it takes to prepare the meal itself.  A smart shopper can make the previously mentioned eggy cheeseburger for about $1.50 whereas a quarter pounder with cheese from McDonalds will cost more than twice as much at $3.79. The trade-off of course being that a fast food burger is theoretically easy to get quickly.  Convenience always costs more. Further, the quality of two meals when measured by the overall experience as well as nutritional value are vastly different. In this case, fast becomes the enemy of both good and cheap.  

Clothing is another line item on the budget that can benefit from a long-game approach.  Fast fashion is at its peak with micro-seasons currently being pushed onto the sales floors of stores like H&M and Forever 21 on a weekly basis. These clothes are easy to get inexpensively and are often considered disposable due to their cheap materials and poor construction as well as their trendy designs that are out of style almost as soon as they are purchased.  Since disposable fast fashion must be replaced so frequently, it is more economical to stick with classic pieces that can be the foundation of a versatile wardrobe with some staying power.  A $10 top that is worn once is more expensive per wear than a $50 top that is worn 100 times.

Shopping retail sales off-season is a classic and proven technique for saving money on clothes, it just takes some planning ahead to be sure you have what you need.  In addition to shopping sales at regular retail stores, there are ever increasing options in the second hand clothing market. From brick and mortar stores like Goodwill and Clothes Mentor to online only Thread Up and even app-based C2C platforms such as Poshmark and Mercari, the wisdom of buying used now extends far beyond the car lot. 

The catch of course, is that if you like a specific pair of pants, the fastest way to get exactly what you want is to purchase them now no matter what they cost. If you are focused on the cheap corner of the triangle, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. That could mean waiting out the sales and hoping the specific pair of wool dress pants you like are still available at the end of the season and also get marked down.  Or it could mean scouring consignment and thrift stores hoping to find something similar in your size at a more reasonable price, with the very real possibility that you could spend a long time searching and still come up empty handed.

Now that I am focused on cutting spending and trying to optimize the cheap corner of the acquisitions triangle, I find that I almost always also choose good as my secondary priority in hopes that higher quality purchases will last longer and therefore cost less over time.  Which means most things just tend to take time to research and shop around for a suitable combination of quality and price. Are there situations when a cheap solution is needed quickly regardless of long-term quality? Of course. And while the triangle follows hard and fast rules, my real-life application of the principles is not always so strict.  But overall, I try to do my best to plan ahead and avoid those situations, since just like fast fashion, a quick solution purchased cheaply will have to be replaced sooner rather than later and end up costing more in the long run. Planning ahead requires slowing down, considering the ultimate goals, and in this case sacrificing instant gratification more often than not. Which happens to align perfectly with the long-term investment goal that brought me to study the triangle in the first place.