What’s Up With The Negative Savings Rate?

According to the Orlando Sentinel staff writer Richard Burnett in his article, “Americans spending more, and saving . . . nothing“, Americans are not only failing to save money for the future, they are actually spending heavily enough to dip into their existing savings or home equity. In his article, he states that the savings rate for last year, -0.5%, (yes, that is a negative savings rate), is the third lowest in U.S. history. The experts’ take on this willingness to spend beyond our means is that rising home values have given Americans a false sense of financial well-being.

I suppose the reasoning would follow something along these lines:
– Mr. Smith bought his home for $150,000 four years ago.
– Thanks to the real estate boom, his home is now worth $250,000.
– He is now $100,000 richer, even though he has no emergency fund or savings.

I remember reading in Rich Dad, Poor Dad that popular “assets” such as a home that serves as a primary residence don’t really count as an asset as you gain no income from it unless you are living in just one bedroom and renting out the others for a high enough rate to turn a profit after the mortgage and other bills are paid. In practical terms, Mr. Smith won’t see that $100,000 he thinks he has unless he sells his home and moves into another home that costs $150,000. If he upgrades to a $250,000+ home with the profits from his original home’s sale, he still doesn’t have any more disposable income than he did when he started. Because home values *have* gone up, homes in the $150,000 range would now be a downgrade from his just-sold property unless he also moves to a cheaper part of the country.

Because of this, I prefer not to count the value of my home or any other possessions in my calculation of my net worth. (All right, I don’t actually OWN my own home yet, but when the prices level off I’m sure I’ll be pulling out my VA home loan guaranty paperwork and going home shopping.) With the notable exception of real estate, most purchased items have a resale value that is significantly lower than the original price paid. I just stick to adding up what I have in my IRA, 401(K), savings, and checking accounts each month after the bills are paid and the credit card balances are subtracted, if applicable.

Burnett’s article is about personal savings. I am not clear as to whether this includes retiremement accounts or not, but since he seems to cover both an emergency fund for lean times and a nest egg for future retirement, I’ll assume that he’s talking about both types of savings.

I don’t know about you, but as a single working gal with no dependents, I don’t think there’s been a single month I haven’t been able to at least set aside the maximum monthly contribution for my IRA account since I was a 21-year-old Private First Class pulling in just $11,000 a year. Currently, I am still maxing out my Roth at $333/month, putting aside 4% of my gross income into my 401(K) to get the maximum company max, and saving $200/week into my Emigrant Direct savings account (4.25% APY!) until I hit my $10,000 emergency fund savings goal. After that, I’ll be dumping the extra $200/week back into my 401(K) to the maximum 15%.

Am I deprived of all amusements and eating nothing but rice and beans in order to save $1333 per month?

Hardly.

I eat six (yes six) great meals a day, pay for a monthly gym membership, pick up new clothes when I need them, pay for my cats’ food, supplies, and veterinary fees, go to movies, acquire new video games and software periodically, replenish art supplies, go a bit nuts ordering gardening stuff, purchase books and music, pursue hobbies that interest me, hang out with friends and allot enough money for gifts and vacations.

What I don’t do is lose track of how much I can afford to spend once my living expenses and savings contributions are taken out of my paycheck.

And here are some of the other things I don’t do or buy–no doubt some out there would consider these examples of deprivation, but I can’t say that I’ve even noticed their lack…

– I don’t drink alcohol, except for free wedding reception champagne, and most of the time I just pretend to sip and go back to water. Champagne…blech!
– I don’t use tobacco in any form.
– I don’t get a new car every three years, or even every ten years. I drive my Hondas until the bolts start falling off and I have to keep the car moving by running with my feet through the floorboards a la Flintstones, many many years after the vehicle is paid off. Then I buy another gently-used Honda for several thousand dollars less than what the original owner paid for it new. :whistle:
– I don’t make major purchases without entering a test item in my personal finance program to see if I can actually afford it.
– I don’t eat out more than once or twice a month. This entails a lot of cooking, but I kind of enjoy the sense of self-sufficiency that being able to prepare my own meals gives me.
– I don’t drink much else besides Brita-filtered water.
– I don’t pay full price for anything unless I have no choice. This includes groceries, clothing, electronics, media, travel, restaurant meals (the Entertainment coupon book is my friend here), fitness gear and supplements, medications, and even kitty litter.
– I don’t upgrade unnecessarily (too much) anymore. I try to use things until they are beyond any reasonable expectation of repair or duct-tape patching. This is one I’m still working on since I still feel tempted to upgrade graphics software and computer hardware annually.
– I don’t pay bank fees or interest on carried revolving credit balances.
– I don’t buy premium cosmetics, hair products, jewelry, clothing, or other major luxury items.
– I don’t acquire new books, games, and gadgets without first assessing what I have, if I really need/want the new items, and if I can offset the cost by selling the stuff I already own.

My ultimate goal is to live well in the present but retire with a tidy 2 million dollars or so in my retirement account to support me very comfortably for the next 30+ years and a home that is completely paid off. Where else, after all, am I supposed to put my posh home gym, invite my young Hugh Jackman-lookalike personal trainer, and raise the 30 or so cats I expect to have acquired by age 65?

Just kidding!

About the cats anyway…

Yogurt Addiction

I gave up cottage cheese a few months ago due to my lactose intolerance issues and haven’t felt any regret, primarily because I’ve never particularly liked the taste of the lumpy white stuff. As I can personally attest in the case of Ghirardelli Caramel Turtle brownies, it is only hard to give up food one actually enjoys.

This reduced my calcium intake a bit, so I tried bumping up my calcium 600 + D supplements to two a day, but I started to miss my fruity “dessert” snack that used to consist of 3/4 c. of fat free cottage cheese and a serving of fruit.

Thank goodness I discovered yogurt cheese.

For those of you who don’t know, yogurt cheese, or yochee, is basically yogurt with the watery whey drained out. You can do this by wrapping some yogurt in a double layer of cheesecloth and letting it drip suspended over a container, or you can, like me, use a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate acquired by using my Amazon.com Visa card for daily purchases, to pick up a Donvier Yogurt Cheese maker unit for $15.99.

I just dump in 2 cups of fat free or low fat natural plain yogurt, let it drip overnight, and voila! Nice, thick, concentrated yogurt with half of the carbs and most of the remaining lactose drained out in the form of liquid whey. Genius!

Last night I took the yogurt obsession even further by making my very first batch of yogurt at home with a Salton 1 qt yogurt maker. I heated up 4 cups skim milk and 1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk to just under the boiling point, cooled it until it hit around 105 degrees, then mixed in 1/2 cup plain lowfat organic yogurt with live cultures and poured it all into the yogurt container and put it into the heating unit overnight.

By 9 am this morning I had a fresh batch of homemade yogurt ready to chill.

So nifty.

I’ll post a taste review tonight.

===========
Nutrition:
1: 3×1 spinach omelette, 1/3 c. (dry) oatmeal, 1 T. raisins, 1 T. wheat bran
2: 3 oz. turkey burger patty, 2 small tangerines, 3/4 c. Mandarin mix veggies
3: 3/4 c. yogurt cheese, 2 T. sugar free grape preserves
4: 3 oz. tuna, 1 apple
5: 4 oz. sauteed tilapia, 3/4 c. cooked brown rice, 1 c. broccoli and B. sprouts
6: Whey and mini-bag Smart Pop Kettle Corn :drool2:

Daily Supplements: multivitamin with iron, calcium 500 + D, 1 T. flaxseed oil or natural peanut butter

Water: 16 cups minimum

===========
Workout:
8:00 AM Light lower body workout with trainer (30 minutes)
8:00 PM 5K LISS Run (6 mph / 30 minutes)

===========
The Awful Truth:
1. Meal 5 wasn’t quite on target.

===========
Brownie Points:
1. Went grocery shopping.
2. Made my first batch of homemade yogurt.
3. Made another batch of yochee.

===========
Short-term Goals:
1. Work on paper doll sketches.
2. Fix remaining issues with Joomla migration at Pinkdumbbells.com.
3. Locate new Events module for PDB.
4. Upgrade Community Builder component at PDB.
5. Set up archived version of The Training Journal forum at PDB from Hershey Girl’s backup.
6. Plant spring veggie garden; find organic solution for powdery stuff on eggplant leaves.
7. Create workout mix based on fave songs from Guitar Hero….yes, I’m that addicted.

Hello Planet Fitness!

So, I joined a new gym on Friday after receiving a tip on cheap local gyms from the Johnstonefitness.com forums. I had thought that I was set with my family add-on membership at my dad’s Bally, but when I checked my credit card statements, I realized that the Bally manager had never charged me for the membership. In fact, since I’m still not in the Bally database, I seriously doubt that the guy even bothered to call up the corporate headquarters to initiate the membership process.

Theoretically, I could keep on going to the Bally and simply get waved through as long as their card machine is broken, but I’ll be honest–I have deeply-ingrained cultural compulsions to follow rules, color within the lines, and do things properly, correctly, and well. Being in gym membership limbo at Bally made me not want to go because I expected to be booted out at any moment for not being a member with her name officially in the books. I just don’t have the moxie to keep going to Bally now that I know I really was NOT charged for the family-add on membership. It was one thing to sail past the desk with a wave when I thought I was in the right, but quite another when I know I’m not a member, LOL.

Enter Planet Fitness, a little gym located in a strip mall just five minutes from my new place. It’s a single story, no frills gym with a decent cardio deck, two pairs of dumbbells in each weight increment from 5 to 85 lbs, two squat racks, a Smith machine, one of each major type of lever/cable machine, and a Planet Smoothie at the entrance. It isn’t as rock and roll as my old Gold’s, but it also isn’t as fusty and full of lazy sitters as the Bally.

Did I mention that it only costs $10/month, with no contract? (There is a $40 initiation fee, though, but even that isn’t bad considering the monthly rate. If you are into skin cancer, crinkly wrinkles, and looking like papery leather, you can add unlimited tanning booth privileges for an additional $5 a month.)

Five minutes from home (and on the way home from work, so evening extra cardio won’t be a chore)! Ten bucks a month! No one just sitting around and gossiping!

:: swoon ::

Who cares about MTV gym decor hotness when I can roll out of bed at 7:20 am and be working out by 7:30 am for just 33 cents a day?

===========
Nutrition:
1: PWO dextrose/whey/creatine shake
2: 3×1 spinach omelette, 1/3 c. (dry) oatmeal, 1 T. raisins, 1 T. wheat bran
3: 3 oz. grilled chicken with 3/4 c. stir-fried veggies and rice noodles
4: Whey and apple
5: Whey and apple
6: 4 oz. sauteed tilapia, 3/4 c. cooked brown rice, 1 c. broccoli and B. sprouts

Daily Supplements: multivitamin with iron, calcium 500 + D, 1 T. flaxseed oil or natural peanut butter

Water: 16 cups minimum

===========
Workout:
8:00 AM Upper Body workout (40 minutes)
8:00 PM LISS Run (6 mph / 30 minutes)

===========
The Awful Truth:
1. Bedtime was 2 am due to my late start Sunday morning.
2. Fingers on left hand are sore from playing so much Guitar Hero.

===========
Brownie Points:
1. Did YF workouts on Saturday and Sunday.
2. Improved Guitar Hero skills by mastering the hammer on technique.

===========
Short-term Goals:
1. Work on paper doll sketches.
2. Fix remaining issues with Joomla migration at Pinkdumbbells.com.
3. Locate new Events module for PDB.
4. Upgrade Community Builder component at PDB.
5. Set up archived version of The Training Journal forum at PDB from Hershey Girl’s backup.
6. Plant spring veggie garden; find organic solution for powdery stuff on eggplant leaves.
7. Make some homemade yogurt and yochee!
8. Go grocery shopping.
9. Create workout mix based on fave songs from Guitar Hero….yes, I’m that addicted.

Chin Up / Pull Up Bar Links

Since Tiffani (and others) have asked, here are a few sources for those pull up bars that hang from doorways with mouldings:

Everlast bar Door Gym Jungle Jam
Everlast Multifunction Chinning Bar
$27.99 with free shipping from Amazon.com
Door Gym
$42.95 + $2.95 shipping from Karate Depot
Jungle Jam/ P90X Chin-Up Bar
$53.95 + $14.95 shipping

Thanks to a mix up at the Beachbody warehouse last spring, I wound up with both a Jungle Jam AND a Door Gym, so I can give my impressions of both

The Door Gym is a very well-constructed, sturdy piece of equipment even though it doesn’t have as many grips as the Jungle Jam or the Everlast bars. The dense foam padding on the areas that come in contact with your wall and door frame is thick enough to prevent damage to your home or apartment. The bolts that are located on the top bar that hangs right over your door moulding are recessed into the bar and won’t scratch up your wall. All of the nuts and bolts were included, assembly was very easy, and the whole unit pops on and off the door frame easily. At its widest point, the bar is around 37″ wide, so make sure your doorway isn’t too wide for it. Another possible problem is door location; even if your door is the perfect size, if it is too close to a corner on one or both sides, you might not be able to center the bar properly in the doorway.

The Jungle Jam has a lot of different grips, but the design isn’t as polished as the Door Gym. It is 41″ wide, so the note above about doors too close to corners applies even more here. Some of the bolts also seemed to be a bit too short in my opinion, and the assembly instructions were a bit confusing. My main gripe is that the bolts in the top support bar that goes over the top of the door are NOT sufficiently recessed. There is padding on the support bar, but with regular use, those two bolts WILL dig into your wall above the door. Padding that area with some folded up duct tape might help you avoid creating divots in your wall. Speaking of padding…while there is foam padding on the grips of the Jungle Jam, the parts that come in contact with your home are covered with a black rubber that did leave marks on my door frame. It also wasn’t soft/thick enough to prevent the bar from digging into the wood, so I had faint black stains plus two tubular dents in my frame after using the Jungle Jam for a few months. The metal tubing of the bar does seem to be nice and sturdy; the JJ weighs a ton compared to the Door Gym.

I don’t own the Everlast bar, but there are some reviews from other owners on the Amazon.com site. That one seems to have mixed reviews–some units were shipped with missing parts, but the significant cost savings might make a trip to the nearest hardware store for $5 worth of nuts and bolts worthwhile.

SketchSouth Newbie Report

In “What’s going on with my life” news, I attended the weekly SketchSouth drawing group for the first time last night at the local Barnes and Noble store. There were about a dozen local artists there, most of whom work in the comic book or illustration style versus making high-falutin’ fine art with deep, impenetrable symbols and meanings.

Jokes were told, pictures were drawn, coffee was drunk (though not by me–I stuck with my Nalgene bottle of water), and Animal Crossing: Wild World items were exchanged, at least between me and the uber-talented Joel Carroll. Alas, his equally-talented girlfriend Amy Williams forgot to bring her DS, so I couldn’t visit her town. Damon and Ed (and Ed’s girlfriend Erin), my occasional karaoke partners, were also there.

It was a kick to hang out with other illustrators my own age and a big boot to the backside for my motivation to draw more. There’s nothing like seeing art work that is miles and miles ahead of your own to make an artist’s competitive drive rev up to full speed.

Here’s my doodle from last night. I’ll be making an attempt to ink and color this one this weekend.

Cyber Elf 1/26/06

If it turns out well, I’ll be coming up with some t-shirt designs for PDB as well.

Setting Priorities

I hate to say it, but it looks like the Cheapass Challenge is going to be put on hold until I have the spare time to deal with all of the extra postings, tracking, and menu planning. Right now work is ramping up after half a year of near hibernation, and I am rediscovering my love of drawing. I also have a veggie garden to set up, some graphics courses and projects to complete, and a new home to square away. Moving to a house 25 miles away from work has also increased my daily round-trip commute time from 5 minutes to 90 minutes

Eating right and working out are now so ingrained in my daily life that I don’t need as much of the external reminders and framework anymore. Frankly, on days when I need to finish up concept sketches for work, fiddle around with the backend of Pinkdumbbells.com, complete some home improvement projects or do some sketching or computer illustration for myself, posting my every nibble of food and listing every minute of exercise seems like an egregious waste of limited time.

For the next three or four months, I am just going to take the pressure off my workouts and meals and do mix and match one week blocks of each of the following workout types to keep myself from getting bored:

1) Yourself Fitness (45 minutes/day main workout + 15 minutes yoga workout)
2) Eye Toy Kinetic (45 minutes/day – Personal Trainer Mode + 15 minutes taichi workout)
3) Gym with LISS cardio (Resistance workouts M/W/F, LISS cardio M-F)
4) Gym with HIIT cardio (Resistance workouts M/W/F, HIIT cardio T/Th/Sa)
4) P90X Classic (60-90 minutes/day)

Workouts will be in the mornings before work so I can maximize my art time in the evenings after work. I will try my hardest to get to bed by 11 PM and limit TV time to the weekends. (Alas, I have become addicted to BravoTV’s Project Runway and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. CSI is starting to become repetitive, though. I think I’ve overdosed on the series by watching all three versions–original, New York, and Miami–for the past month.)

Meals will zigzag between 1200-1600 calories on regular days with two free meals a week. I’m going to avoid all dairy products except for low-fat organic yogurt cheese (basically yogurt with the watery whey strained out); a controlled lactose-intolerance test last week with milk, cottage cheese, and ice cream convinced me that my body is just happier living in lactose-free bliss. Yogurt cheese retains the protein content of the original yogurt, but most of the lactose sugar in the yogurt drains away with the whey when you make it. This means that yours truly can enjoy a fruity yogurt fix without the loud-enough-to-be-heard-in-the-next-state stomach gurgles that usually accompany a dairy snack. I’ll dig up the stats on this miracle food tonight.

Sorry for the change in plans, but, as you always hear, life happens.

The true challenge in switching to a healthy lifestyle isn’t in completing a 12 week challenge when the conditions are right; it is in maintaining your results through week after week of unchanging routine work days, major changes like relocation and job changes, and weeklong visits to Food=Love relatives.

:slappy:

===========
Nutrition:
1: 1 oz. walnuts, 3 T. raisins
2: 3×1 spinach omelette, 2 small tangerines
3: 1/2 c. yogurt cheese, 2 T. sugar-free grape preserves
4: 1/2 Chicken spinach pita pizza
5: 1/2 Chicken spinach pita pizza
6: 4 oz. sauteed tilapia, 3/4 c. cooked brown rice or 2 oz. WW pasta, 1 c. broccoli and B. sprouts

Daily Supplements: multivitamin with iron, calcium 500 + D, 1 T. flaxseed oil or natural peanut butter

Water: 16 cups minimum

===========
Workout:
8:00 AM Yourself Fitness (15 minutes)
3:00 PM 1 Mile Walk (4 mph / 15 minutes)
8:30 PM UBWO (Back emphasis / 45 minutes)

===========
The Awful Truth:
1. Didn’t get to bed until 3 am last night! Ugh. I should have read a few pages from my old Organic Chem book.

===========
Brownie Points:
1. Didn’t skip YF workout even though it was my least favorite: Flexibility.

===========
Short-term Goals:
1. Write up CAC meal plan, basics, and rules.
2. Fix remaining issues with Joomla migration at Pinkdumbbells.com.
3. Locate new Events module for PDB.
4. Upgrade Community Builder component at PDB.
5. Set up archived version of The Training Journal forum at PDB from Hershey Girl’s backup.
6. Plant spring veggie garden; find organic solution for powdery stuff on eggplant leaves.
7. Make some homemade yogurt and yochee!

Free 30-Day Supply of Purina One Pet Food

https://secure.purinaone.com/landing2.html?site=yahoo

Purina is offering a coupon good for a 30-day supply bag of their dog and/or cat food if you fill out their web questionnaire at the link above. This is a limited time offer, so all of you fellow cheapskate animal parents out there should hie over to the site and claim your coupon(s) before they run out!

One more thing–if you feed your pets Nutro brand food (Nutro Max or Natural Choice for instance), you might want to sign up for their frequent buyer club. I did this last year and received a very nice coupon booklet good for a whole year of savings on cat food. Combine the $2 off coupon from Nutro with the periodic $21.99 sale price on 20 lbs of Nutro Natural Choice Indoor Cat formula at Petsmart, and you have quite a decent deal on premium cat food.

Sometimes I wish they’d make kibble for humans. Sure, it would be boring, but every once in a while I dream about having an all-in-one food formula that doesn’t require any preparation or thought. Just pour out your 3/4 cup of perfectly balanced 40/40/20 kibble fortified with vitamins, minerals, and extra calcium and iron for women, and enjoy with 2 cups of water. If they could make it taste like, oh, Kashi Go Lean Crunch (but a bit softer to spare my porcelain crowns), I’d have no problem eating it all day long.

:were:

CAC W2D5: Calorie Wise and Pancake Foolish

I have a true love-hate relationship with restaurant-prepared pancakes. I LOVE the pictures of the pancake stacks in the menus of such establishments as Denny’s, IHOP, and Perkins, and I love the very first two bites of fluffy, greasy pancakes when I order them, but by the time I am halfway through the stack, I am already feeling all kinds of regret about not asking for whole wheat toast instead.

So it was once again this afternoon at my co-worker Jeanne K.’s going away lunch. (Jeanne and her hubby Scott–who also works at n-Space with me–are expecting their first child in February, and Jeanne’s maternity leave starts Monday.)

The handheld console game development team piled into three vehicles and took over a corner of the International Drive IHOP. I pored over the menu debating whether I should go for a breakfast meal since I WAS at the International House of Pancakes, or if the grilled chicken sandwich (served with a side of seasoned fries) would be any better. I had a perfectly good grilled chicken salad waiting in the office fridge for my afternoon snack, so the thought of paying $8 for one at IHOP wasn’t appealing.

I finally decided to go with the Harvest Grain and Nut pancake combo with two pancakes, 1 whole egg, 2 whites, and hash browns.
I had the extra egg subbed in for the usual two pieces of fatty breakfast meat. I am running a 5k tomorrow morning with my karaoke buddy Ed (whose birthday, coincidentally, just happens to be January 21, which is why we shall be sporting silly party hats as we do our leisurely fun run), so I figured that the double portion of carbs wouldn’t hurt.

What I SHOULD have done was just order a big fat veggie omelette with just one whole egg and 3-4 whites, no cheese, no sour cream, and a side of plain hash browns, because once I had inhaled the eggs and potatoes, the two little pancakes completely did me in.

How can something that tastes so good with the first bite become so nauseating by the final two? I had the server take away the last two bites before I gave into the sneaky voice from my childhood admonishing me to clean my plate even though I was beyond full.

I just give up. No more restaurant pancakes for me from now on. I will stick to my own WW or oats and cottage cheese low-fat versions at home when I want an Aunt Jemima fix in the future. Even if everyone else at the table is ordering breakfast for lunch, I am going to go for the grilled chicken sandwich and savor the flavor of the condiment of the gods–Ketchup.

It’s been almost 4 hours since I had lunch now, and I’m still not even vaguely hungry.

That just isn’t normal.

🙁

Give me back my appetite, you lousy pancakes!

===========
Nutrition: Non-Training Day Menu (with some free meals…obviously)

1: Sliver of leftover strawberry delight birthday cake, 5 roasted walnuts, 1/2 c. Kashi Autumn Harvest wheat biscuit cereal
2: IHOP Harvest grain pancake combo with 1 whole egg and 3 egg whites
3: N/A (Still in a pancake coma)
4: 1/2 Chicken pita pizza
5: 1/2 Chicken pita pizza
6: 4 oz. sauteed tilapia, 3/4 c. cooked brown rice or 2 oz. WW pasta, 1 c. broccoli and B. sprouts

Daily Supplements: multivitamin with iron, calcium 500 + D, 1 T. flaxseed oil or natural peanut butter

Water: 16 cups minimum

===========
Workout:
8:00 PM Yourself Fitness (60 minutes)

===========
The Awful Truth:
1. Mmm….birthday cakey cake!

===========
Brownie Points:
1. Restocked wheat bran, walnuts, and almonds from the cheapie granola store.
2. Located missing library tai chi DVD.
3. Deposited checks.
4. Mailed Half.com orders.
5. Got unauthorized $60 charge on Discover Card refunded.

===========
Short-term Goals:
1. Write up CAC meal plan, basics, and rules.
2. Fix remaining issues with Joomla migration at Pinkdumbbells.com.
3. Locate new Events module for PDB.
4. Upgrade Community Builder component at PDB.
5. Set up archived version of The Training Journal forum at PDB from Hershey Girl’s backup.
6. Take starting pics, measurements, and body fat.
7. Stop by parents’ house and pick up Bally receipt.
8. Get to bed by 11:00 pm so I’ll be well-rested for tomorrow’s 5k.
9. Help Chris with my birthday present–two newly-dug and filled vegetable patches in the side yard.