Life

TIPS FOR A MONTH OF NO SHOPPING

For those of you joining me in Frugal February – we’re over halfway through! I thought I’d share a few of the tips and tricks I use to get me through a month of no shopping – or really any time when I want to tighten up the purse strings for a bit.

  • Set Parameters: To begin, I set some ‘rules’ for myself so that I know precisely how I want to approach the month. For me – I can spend money on groceries and pharmacy necessities (meaning toothpaste is fine but not nail polish). I also throw in a chai tea about once a week and take-out maybe twice in the month. Otherwise things feel a little too strict. But set your own guidelines here.
  • Find a buddy: Even if they’re not actually doing the challenge with you – I find it’s helpful to tell someone and then you’ve made yourself more accountable. For instance – I’ve told all of you!
  • Calculate Your Savings: Look at your budget and see exactly how much you have in discretionary spending each month – and then you’ll know how much you’ll save. This is such a strong motivator and if it helps, you could divide that number by the number of days in the month and do an automatic transfer to your savings account every day. Each day you’ll see your efforts stacking up!
  • Plan for Future Purchases: For the last couple of years I’ve used these shopping free months as a chance to clear through my closet and identify things that were missing. Then when I was ready to shop, it wasn’t an impulse buy but a calculated purchase I knew I wouldn’t regret. Window shop and save website links that you’ll want to come back to when you’re shopping again.
  • Clear the Clutter: Clean out your kitchen and bathroom drawers. Organize your closets. Donate what you don’t use. It’s a great practice in reminding yourself that you really don’t need so much ‘stuff’ and will make what you feel grateful for everything you already have.
  • Hide from Temptations: Unsubscribe from newsletters, mute accounts on social media, drive home a different route so you don’t pass the shops that tempt you. Tell your friends your plans and that you’ll catch up with them next month. Whatever it takes to not pull focus from your goals.
  • Find Free Treats: When you feel like you need a hit of something “new” – try swapping clothes with a friend, taking out a book from the library or cooking a new recipe at home.
  • Think Big Picture: Whenever I feel like I’m faltering during a no shopping month, I remind myself of the big picture. The amazing vacation we’ll someday take and how this month of savings will cover X amount of it. Or that if you invest what you’ve saved – it will have grown to X amount by the time you retire. It’s easy to feel like you want a new sweater in the moment, but remind yourself of the bigger payoff down the line.

Sweatshirt + Joggers c/o NYDJ

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The days sort of blend together lately, don’t they? Cold weather, waiting for the vaccine, long days… I know a lot of people who feel like they’re sort of hitting a wall after nearly a full year of this all. Reading, as always, allows me to get lost in something new and continues to be such a comfort. With more snow on the horizon, I thought some of you might be looking for your own form of escape – so I’m sharing the 8 books I’ve read so far in 2021.

SHOP MY LATEST READS:

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid – This book was a best-seller last year but for some strange reason I had kept my expectations kind of low. Which meant I was all the more pleasantly surprised when I finally read and loved this modern day story set in Philadelphia about a young mother and her nanny. Nuanced in its portrayal of racism, female friendships, motherhood and more. Don’t wait as long as I did to read this one. (5 stars)

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl – Okay, first things first – I would have largely preferred for Jo to end up completely on her own in Little Women. But that being said, my heart will never not break when she doesn’t end up with Laurie. This book is essentially fan fiction – but I thought it was done really well. It took you right back to that extremely comforting world of the March sisters and had a believable enough story line to change the ending. If you’re a purist than perhaps changing Alcott’s ending will feel sacrilegious to you, but frankly it just felt very heartwarming to me. (4 stars)

The Harpy by Megan Hunter – Sheesh, I’m not sure what to say here. This quick read book is a fever dream inside of a nightmare marriage. A dark and twisted fairytale. A woman seeks revenge on her cheating husband as she also essentially goes mad. Read at your own risk. (2.5 stars)

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – A modern day story about a man in his 40s, grappling with a divorce, raising his children, reconnecting with old friends and balancing it all alongside career and dating. There were times that I really loved this book and others when I felt very frustrated by every single character. I’ve heard some people rave about it though so I think to each there own here. (3.5 stars)

The Mystery of Mrs Christie by Marie Benedict – This was my virtual book club’s read this month and for the most part the whole group solidly liked it. I knew next to nothing about Agatha Christie and this book made me want to go back and read some of her classic mystery novels. Told between two storylines I really loved the ones with Agatha and felt pretty meh about the ones with her husband. Overall good but extra credit for the fact that it made me want to explore some old classics (goes back to my reading goal!). (3.5 stars)

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis – I’ve been hearing about Fiona Davis’ lovable historical fiction for ages – and have had this book checked out from the library for longer than I care to admit – so I’m really glad to have finally gotten to it. 1950s New York theater world, set at the Chelsea Hotel – I did solidly like this but I’m not sure I loved it. I think because I kept comparing it to City of Girls or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo both of which I really loved. That being said I want to read her latest book The Lions of Fifth Avenue now and I’ll report back. (3.5 stars)

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer – One of my goals for the year was to continue to expand my reading – explore new genres, read backlist titles by authors I love, etc. – and so this popular new book of poetry fit the bill. Tackling motherhood, marriage and more in accessible prose there were many of these poems that I really loved even if I didn’t closely relate to. It would probably make a great gift for a new mother. (4 stars)

The Comeback by Ella Berman – After what felt like a bit of a reading lull mid-month I started this book a few days ago and it was an instant page turner for me. A ‘Me Too’ story about a young Hollywood actress grappling with the sexual assault she faced at the hands of the prolific director that was responsible for her entire career. She’s self centered and a mess but also so broken and trying. I couldn’t put it down. (4.5 stars)

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COLLAPSIBLE TREADMILL REVIEW

I don’t know that I’ve ever written such a specific product review on the blog before, but after I shared my excitement over my new collapsible treadmill a couple of weeks ago on Instagram, SO many of you reached out with questions and have followed up looking for the link since then – that I thought it would be easier if they lived in one permanent place.

As a short backstory – I love walking/running but truly hate the cold. On top of that, the concrete can often be hard on my knees and in recent years have found that running on a treadmill at the gym is far more forgiving. Enter – the pandemic. My gym was closed for 6+ months, but since it was spring/summer/fall weather I continued my strength training exercises at home and would take long walks or short runs outside. Although my gym has since reopened, I find running inside with a face mask pretty difficult and the risk of being there just generally doesn’t feel like it’s worth the reward.

As we faced the winter ahead I was feeling really anxious about losing the joy that walking/running brings me. Not in a million years did I think I’d be able to squeeze a treadmill into our NYC apartment – but when I started seeing these collapsible options on the internet I was super game to try them.

SHOP THE POST:

This one in particular has thousands of reviews and a 4 star rating. I’ve had it for about 2 weeks now and probably used it 7-8 times and I’d personally give it 5 stars – with a couple of caveats. First of all, you’re not buying a $3,000 treadmill you’d find at the gym so it’s not going to have all of the same bells and whistles. That being said, for less than $500 and the fact that I can run inside my apartment, I couldn’t be happier.

PROS:

  • Compact – I can’t get over the fact that this fits under our apartment sized couch. We checked measurements beforehand, but like magic it disappears once you’ve collapsed it. Besides fitting in our living room comfortably, you could also use this with a standing desk to walk while you work!
  • Price – For less than $500 this will pay for itself easily over time with how often I use it. And while there certainly aren’t any “frills” to it, I wasn’t looking for those. Despite being reasonably affordable, it feels plenty sturdy when I’m on it and has a really solid weight to it.
  • Ease of use – There’s a lever on the side that collapses that top arm and this thing goes from under the couch to me running in probably 2 minutes flat. Assembly took less than half an hour.
  • Quiet – When I’m walking, it’s super quiet – maybe comparable to the hum of the dishwasher. When I’m running, you can definitely hear a louder hum to it and of course – the sound of my steps. But no louder in the hall than when someone has a radio or the TV turned up with bass. That being said, we don’t have neighbors in the apartment below us right now, so if someone moves in I’ll definitely be conscious of not using it super early in the morning or very late at night.

CONS:

  • No incline and limited metrics – Again, there are no frills here. Just a simple little remote that you can increase or decrease speed. I’d recommend using a Fitbit or Apple watch to track distance and time. The speed is actually in km/hr and I think the max speed translates to around 8MPH. Again, I wanted this for walking and light jogging so that’s just fine for me. If you’re looking for sprints and measuring your heart rate.. this might not be for you.
  • Compact – For me this is a major perk, but it took a couple of days to get used to the fact that the belt is more narrow and shorter than what you’d find on a gym-sized treadmill. I’m 5’4″ and have no trouble with not having room for a full running stride, however if you’re very tall you might find it awkward.
  • Device stand only fits phone – The small device stand at the top is only built to hold an iphone, but Adam took out a couple of the screws and now my iPad can sit up there too. Otherwise you could simply face the treadmill towards a computer or TV. I usually just listen to music when I walk or run so it doesn’t bother me.
  • Weight – this is partially a pro, because it feels really nice and sturdy. But be forewarned, it’s about 70 pounds total. We live in a 4th floor walk-up and managed to carry the box upstairs, but if you can get help from a delivery person or have an elevator.. all the better. Now that it’s assembled, the front is on wheels so I only have to lift the back end and then sort of pivot and roll it to get it under the couch but it’s hefty. Most mornings I just have Adam get it out for me as it’s easier for him to left.

Voila! Tucked away and completely out of sight under our couch until the next time I want to use it. Shop the treadmill here and happy walking/running!

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HOW TO FOCUS ON YOUR FINANCES THIS YEAR

Hello 2021! If 2020 (and frankly the start to this year) has taught us anything, it’s that there are many things out of our control. For most of my adult life – I felt that my finances fell into this category. Which often led to a feeling of general helplessness and frustration. In January of 2019, finally fed up, I made a huge personal shift in my money mindset (you can read all about that here). To put it plainly, it changed my life.

I realize that for so many, the past year of the pandemic has been crippling when it comes to finances. But if you’re in a place where – due to debt, reduced income or just general uncertainty/fear – you’re not focused on your finances at all, I’m here to try and convince you to make a change. I say this as a person who has made a lot of mistakes with her money, had years where I had practically none of it and now am finally in a place where I’m out of debt, have emergency savings and am investing in my retirement. I promise you it can be done, even with the smallest baby steps.

It sounds counterintuitive, but being strict about my finances actually provides me a huge sense of freedom. The more I understand, track and control my budget and goals – the less worry, shame and guilt I feel about my finances. Below – my best advice for finally focusing on your own finances this year.

Go It Alone

You can only change yourself. If you partner isn’t on board yet or none of your friends/roommates talk about money – don’t wait for them to start the conversation. I can’t stress enough how important it is for women especially to not rely on anyone else when it comes to their finances. A savings account can give you the freedom to walk away from a bad relationship or a toxic work environment. Plus, on top of the fact that women statistically earn less than men.. we also outlive them. So we have more years to save for with less money to do it. It’s harsh.. I know.

The great thing is, once your partner, family or friends see you getting things on track – they just might be inspired to join in.

Become Financially Literate

I was SO intimidated when I first began my financial journey. I was always good at math but I’d never taken a course in accounting or personal finances and had couldn’t have told you the difference between a Traditional or a Roth IRA. It felt like an old white man’s club that I hadn’t been invited to. So I sent myself back to “school”. I found podcasts, blogs, books, Instagram accounts and youtube videos that talked about money in relatable ways. I sought out the voices of women that came from esteemed financial backgrounds, people with careers I admired and young people with similar messy financial starts who had since gotten themselves on track. It made me feel less alone, more informed and ultimately confident that I could figure this all out.

I like the podcast HerMoney and She Makes Money Moves, the info on Ellevest and Instagram accounts @thefinancebar, @babeonabudgetblog and @thefiscalfemme for starters.

Lead With Your Values

Money is SO personal. The reasons why I want to save or what I think is worthy of spending on is likely completely different than yours. And that’s fine! I found that once I wrote out the things that felt important to me and some benchmark life goals it really helped for me to get clear on why I wanted to focus on my finances. It also makes it easier to resist the urge to ‘add to cart’ because in the back of my mind I know what the bigger picture looks like and can remind myself of the “why” behind the numbers.

Lay It All Out

Look at every cent you have coming in against all of your fixed expenses. Make savings, debt repayment and – eventually – retirement investments non negotiable. See what’s left. Is it enough to live on? If not – could you pick up a side hustle to earn extra income? Could you sell unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace? Could you give up some of those monthly subscriptions? If it it enough – could you be saving more? A good benchmark is the 50/30/20 rule. You should spend 50% of your income on fixed expenses, 30% on discretionary spending and 20% on savings. Our budget lives in a Google Sheet so it’s easy to access and edit at all times.

Make Time for Your Money

This is probably my number one tip and my real “secret” if I have one. Make it a habit like anything else. I began looking at my finances as another layer of my health. If I can make time to workout, I also have to make time to budget.

  • DAILY: I check my account balance and budget spreadsheet for about 5 minutes every morning. I promise you – your skincare routine or mindless Instagram scroll takes longer than this – your schedule will allow it. And I find that when those numbers are top of mind it stays in your subconscious throughout the day and you’re more likely to make better decisions.
  • WEEKLY: Once a week Adam and I meet for about 15 minutes to check in about our spending that week, talk about anything coming up in the next couple of weeks and look at the month as a whole.
  • MONTHLY: We check in to be sure we met all of our monthly savings goals, make transfers between accounts (like our regular checking/savings and our high interest savings account) and look at how we’re tracking towards our yearly goals.
  • YEARLY: A major review of everything. We look at how we did the year prior (did we meet our goals? If not, why?) and plan for the year ahead (will there be any big purchases like a car or big vacation we want to save extra for? Does one of us want to look for a new job?). We also check in and revise our 2-year, 5-year, 10-year and 20-year plans as needed. Life is not perfectly predictable and these aren’t set in stone – but I think it’s important to have a big picture mentality.

To recap: Commit to starting – even if you’re on your own. Even if you can only set aside $10 a month. Even if you think you’ll never see the end of your student loans. Lean on free resources to get comfortable with finances. Make a list of your values, goals and create a preliminary budget for yourself. Track your income, expenses, spending, savings and debt payments. Check in on those numbers often and remind yourself why you started. Write to me in 6 months and tell me how far you’ve come.

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2020: A YEAR IN REVIEW

They say hindsight is 2020. While I’m not sure that enough time has passed to allow for perfect clarity, the memory of this past year is, at the least, still fresh in my mind.

We’ll all have our own stories to come out of 2020. The silver linings of those that welcomed healthy babies, finally enjoyed their own backyards, relished their lack of commutes. Those that just might look back on the year with fondness. But there are many others, less lucky, that grieved losses and loneliness, watched careers evaporate, were trapped in unhappy spaces with the wrong people, were asked to juggle too much or found themselves, unexpectedly, with not enough to get by. I suspect it will take many a long time to come to terms with the effects of this year.

I find myself somewhere in the middle. Incredibly grateful that our immediate family remained healthy and we had a safe home to weather the worst. Someone to kiss me goodnight at the end of every long day.

And yet. I watched the city I love become the epicenter of a deadly pandemic nearly overnight. Stores boarded up and police barricades built. In April, silence and sirens. By June, the screams of people so tired of the same old shit in this country amidst a year that was anything but the same old. By October, the company I’d worked at for nearly 7 years closed and I lost my job. There was isolation from friends and family, worry over what would come next in my career and what would pay the bills in the meantime, the stress of the election and useless fights with Adam.

When I look back on this year I will remember us lying in bed listening to the persistent drone of hovering helicopters. How we constantly watched the news and some days, never even stepped outside. I will remember kneeling on pavement in the middle of Fifth Avenue amidst a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. A young Black woman next to me holding a baby boy to her chest, as police in riot gear looked on. I will remember the constant stream of moving trucks by summer – offering a way out or a reluctant exit for so many. I will remember scrawling our initials into permanence in freshly poured concrete outside our apartment, when the world beyond our block felt so incredibly uncertain.

I will remember our long talks on the couch that dug deeper than the petty fights and healed past hurts. I will remember catching the afternoon sun on the fire escape, a good book in hand. Watching sunsets and season change from that same perch. I will remember leaning out the windows at 7PM as the city erupted into applause for healthcare workers while the “corner DJ” played our street a song of the day. I will picture the pink whistle that I used to add to the noise. I will remember working the polls on election day, spending 17 hours with a woman named Lena who has lived in Harlem since the 50s. The way she reassured me ‘baby, we’re gonna be alright’. I will remember that as the rest of the world fell away – those of us who stayed in this city held tight to each other. Even from a safe distance. I will remember walking miles and miles – admiring the bridges and bones of New York that have held steady through so many other storms.

I’m not sure what’s to come next year, but I’m thrilled to share that I started a new job at the beginning of December and I couldn’t be more grateful or excited about the position and the company itself. They say that 1 million New Yorkers will be vaccinated in January and we’ll have a new president in a few short weeks. Despite a year that held so much darkness, there are glimmers of hope everywhere.

Wishing you all a 2021 filled with more health, happiness, love and light.

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