Monday, January 2, 2012

Shaping Up...with a plan

Now that we've watched the Badgers lose in a valiant effort to Oregon, Chris and I had time to talk about what it is we want to accomplish.

Of course, in shaping our plan, there are some important things to consider in creating goals (as I've said before).

A good goal should be realistic. It should be measurable. It should have a timeline, and a method of how to make it happen.

To that end, Chris and I began our discussion with the health and wellness aspect. In our minds, health and wellness is an issue of food and exercise. Ironically, food and exercise are often intertwined with the financial aspect of our lives--living healthy can be EXPENSIVE (unless you're one of those Mother Nature types that grows your own vegetables--I was never that woman).

We already have invested for the past two years in a family YMCA membership. We use it as a family, and I consider it a form of entertainment as well as a health supporting part of our budget. It's nice to know that, if we want to do an activity as a family, I can take the kids skating, to the Prime Time, or swimming, and spend no additional money to do it. I also like the access to inexpensive classes and activities, like swimming lessons, etc. It's been great for our family...when we can make it fit our life and schedule.

So, we discussed that we want to begin with exercise. True change cannot happen if you're changing everything all at the same time, so we decided to pick just ONE thing--exercise. Chris and I decided that, for the month of January, we're going to exercise no less than four times per week. A workout is at least 30-40 minutes of sustained physical activity that raises the cardio rate to a healthy workout level (as dictated by professionals). What will we be doing? Well, we agreed we're going to take turns each night taking Flash for a walk (one of us has to be home for therapy, so we can't go together), and the other will work out at the Y or at home. Y workouts are obvious (we've both done the fitness orientations, so we have routines), or we will workout with the Wii--Zumba, Biggest Loser workout, Just Dance, etc. Sweating is, of course, required. :)

So, let's check: Is it measurable? Yes. It's 30 days, it's trackable. Is it realistic? Yes. It'll be a focus, but we're shaping the plan around things we already have or need to do. Is there a timeline? Absolutely. The method? Y, Wii, Flash....pick your poison.

Notice I didn't pick to lose a certain number of pounds, just looking to improve a behavior. And in so doing, it'll likely bring the weight down anyway, or at least replace fat with muscle--always a plus.

On a side note, tomorrow begins the "Choose to Lose" challenge at school as part of our wellness program, and I enrolled. My first behavior change for that is to cut down to one soda a day and replace with water. It's just one thing, one change, one improvement...and when I'm ready, I'll take on the next hurdle.

As for financial goals, we decided to hit it hard in a place where we spend a lot of money: we're cutting out eating out. For the next month (until the end of January), we will only be eating at home. Man, this is going to be hard! However, we spend serious money on eating out, money we don't have, and that's one of the first and most obvious things we can do to improve our financial situation.

And let's be honest--if we're cooking at home and not eating out, it'll improve our health as well. Bonus!

Now, we have a Christmas party on January 28th for my work, and it's at the Roxy. I claim exemption on that one. However, no other eating out for the rest of the month! In order to be successful with this venture, Chris and I are going to make a menu once per week to plan out our groceries. We'll also be planning that menu around the weekly specials at the local grocery stores, and around what's seasonal in the produce department. And if any of you have amazing recipes, feel free to send them my way!

Chris and I will be revisiting the budget this week, and I'm hoping to be able to use the budget more closely and calculate how much money we're saving by only eating in. My hope is that we see the numbers in the bank account go up, and the numbers on the scale going down.

I'll be posting again to keep you updated. In the meantime, this is the plan for January 2012. Wish us luck!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Keeping money "Real Simple"

Happy New Year!

My dear husband is gallantly off working his second job today, so I've decided to suck it up and finally clean our room which has been abysmal for the last 8 weeks. Among the many, many loads of laundry I removed from the room (and have begun washing--oi!), I uncovered a recent copy of my favorite magazine, "Real Simple". My in-laws buy my subscription every year for my birthday (Thanks, Ken and Kay), and I absolutely adore it.

The January issue's theme is "How to Break Your Bad Habits"--absolutely fitting! Inside there's an article about debt, what causes us to get into debt (beyond the obvious--spending money we don't have), and an editor's note explaining it is the first in a series of articles the publication will be running over the course of the year to help readers address the growing debt plaguing our country.

Looking at the Real Simple website (, they also have a number of other articles and tools available to support responsible money management. I have had a number of tips roll in as of late (and I'm personally a huge Dave Ramsey fan), but I like what Real Simple has to offer as well. Among a smattering of offerings, these are the ones that piqued my interest:

Here's a link to the article:

A "Get Out of Debt" Checklist:

Seven Ways to Reach Your Financial Goals:

Your Guide to Saving Money:


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where to begin?

Sitting here on New Years Eve around 5:30 p.m., I'm caught up in my own thinking over the changes we're about to begin. I know why they call them baby steps--our first efforts are sure to be as shakey and unstable as those of a toddler first venturing out into the world. Still, those first steps can be equally exhilarating and refreshing, each one an opportunity to explore something new.

One of my first steps was to share this blog with Chris (he didn't know yet I had created it), and he was amused as he read and listened to me talking it through (he's an incredibly patient listener). He's agreed to try, agreed to write a bit himself (yeah!), and now all that's left is to figure out where to begin.

A writer's for Oprah penned an article about the difficulty of change, and she wrote: "So instead of waking up New Year's morning and saying, "I'm going to do X now," then berating yourself a month later when that resolution didn't work, remember: You're doing nothing less than rewiring your brain. Approach change as if you're learning a new language or a new instrument. Obviously, you're not going to be fluent or play symphonies instantly; you'll need constant focus and practice. Overcoming an unhealthy habit involves changing the behaviors associated with it and managing stress, because stressing about change (or anything else) will knock you off the wagon faster than you realize. Above all, get that dopamine system going: Find rewards—make them instant, and don't be stingy. Your brain needs them. And I promise (well, Volkow, Schlund, Wexler, and Fleshner promise) it gets easier. That's not a bunch of self-help nonsense. It's biology." Read more:

So, change doesn't happen by simply deciding that you want things to be different, nor does it happen by simply cutting "bad habits" our of your life. It happens when there is consistent, concerted effort behind it, when the goals are real and solid and measurable, when we find a way to feel a reward or a payoff instantly, when we provide ourselves the necessary resources, and when replace the bad habits with positive ones that fuel that feeling of a reward or a payoff.

See, that wasn't so hard, was it? (Whew!)

I already know my goals are to be healthier and wealthier by this time next year, but what does that mean? How do I define "healthy"? How do I define "wealthier"? By many definitions already in existence, I am already both of these.

So, to make this work, I need to decide my working definitions and I also need to decide what steps I'll take to make this work. Some consult with the hubby is needed, and I'll report back.

Until then, New Years blessings to one and all.


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rest of the Story: I Got Myself in This Mess

Like most Americans, there is no "easy answer" for why I am overweight and in debt. But here's what I think I know:

I'm a very impulsive person. I'm also a very industrious person, and I try, most of the time, to be a generous person. As such, I learned that I found great pleasure early on in buying something for myself or, even better, for someone else, RIGHT NOW. I loved that credit cards made it possible to do everything I wanted to right away, no delay of gratification necessary! I also found that I felt better somehow, more powerful, more real, more alive, and, perhaps, more valuable, when I bought something. Looking back, I think the early years were their own form of self discovery. I remember buying a lot of different things, studying how they worked together in my room or in my wardrobe; it was kind of like exploring who I thought I'd become. It never occurred to me that I was already in possession of everything I needed to be the person I wanted to be.

I also found tremendous pleasure in buying things for people. I loved watching their faces light up, and somehow it made me feel more secure in the relationship. I realize now, of course, that this was unnecessary and a complete fallacy. After all, a number of those friendships later fell apart, and the ones that didn't weren't there because they were looking for presents--at least not the tangible kind.

As for my weight, that's a different story. I was never a pixie, never one of those girls who could wear the trendy clothes and make them look good. I was always, always sturdy, big boned, and for many years, a poodle head (I have the permed-hair pics to prove it).  I have very early memories of comparing myself to others, wishing I looked more like some of my friends, wishing my legs didn't jiggle. I still remember, to this day, boys in middle school calling me "Twinkie." Some of that had to do with a certain outfit I wore (hey, it was one of the few trendy items I had), but I was also pale and puffy, and often made the connection (rational or not) that Twinkies make people fat, hence the name.

I never, ever liked physical activity, and I never found myself exceling at anything physical. My accomplishments were largely linguistic and artistic, a fact that continues today. So, I never believed that I had any real capability to be truly physically skilled or fit. There were, as I recall, only two girls in our class who could hang on for minutes on end, their arms shaking, for the chin up/pull up test on physical fitness testing. I was never that girl. And I never did well on the testing. I did play volleyball and basketball, I was a cheerleader for four years (including middle school), but I resisted the physical fitness training. Somehow, my readiness to invest in hard work did not translate to physical fitness in athletics.

Ultimately, both issues, in my mind, point to the fact that I wasn't ready, I didn't understand the impact or value these things would have on my life over time, and I didn't truly believe I was capable of those achievements.

So, what changed? Well, I'm 36. I'm a wife, a mother, and a professional. It is a source of serious shame to me that I'm more than halfway through my 30's, and I still haven't grasped any sort of control over my own antagonists. (Wait--I can earn a Masters Degree but I have no control around cheesecakes? What the heck?!) I am very aware that everything we do is a choice (thank you, William Glasser), but forcing yourself to make the right choice every time is damned hard.

Shame alone is never a motivator, though, and I'm now motivated primarily by my children, as well as my own need to prove to myself that I am in control of my own life. As for the children, I'm particularly aware of how my choices now impact my children. There's nothing wrong with the word "no", and I believe it's healthy for children to learn it. But I don't like that, because of our debt, I have no choices about money. And I don't like that our children are a bit overweight largely because they are following my example. I keep wondering what's going to happen if I let this continue, and I'm terrified to think of what I've led my children to, a future that is less than bright.

When two of our children were diagnosed with autism (another reason my husband and I often felt we should spend money because we "deserve it"), it changed everything. We're blessed that our marriage is happy and in tact, and that we've had the resources needed to support the children as their diagnoses require. But lacking financial freedom means that we're completely unprepared for their futures beyond school, and worse yet, if we're not in shape, will we be alive to see their futures and be there to continue to support them as long as they need us (and we're here)?

In short, continuing to make the wrong choices means that we choose to sentence our children to a lifetime of no choices and, perhaps, a lot less time having us around. How is that remotely acceptable?

It isn't. It just isn't.

So. Here I am...the starting point. And it only gets better from here--it has to, for everyone.


They Do This in AA

I'm Wendy. And I'm overweight...and in debt.

(Audience: "Hi, Wendy.")

It has almost become a cliche of American culture. Step One: Admit you have a problem.

That part's never been an issue for me, admitting I have a problem. Changing, however, is a far more tedious and arduous undertaking, even (or perhaps especially) for someone like me, a counselor, a wife, a mom, a sister, daughter and friend. I've often said that counselors can't afford to "lose it"--we're the ones who are supposed to "find it", but ironically I can do this for everyone but myself.

In the 12 years my dear husband and I have been married, many things have happened that have made taking care of ourselves and our finances much, much more challenging. The current situation we're in, both health-wise and financially, is entirely of our own making. We've taken steps in the past to turn things around, and yet it seems almost impossible to make those changes sustainable over time.

Hence, this blog. I can't afford right now to attend Weight Watchers or something like it, but the way people will be more likely to actually follow through with eating healthy because they KNOW they have to weigh in, so, too, I'm hopeful that sticking to keeping a blog of this process toward permanent health and financial improvement will encourage us to make it stick.

You, the few readers who might actually be out there, are our scale, the ones who will know the "truth", for better or for worse. In the coming weeks, we'll share how we got here, what we're doing to turn it around, and try to uncover the pitfalls to lasting change along the way.

This is merely a babystep, but I have to start somewhere.