Expanded Baby Steps to Financial Peace

I typed up the following overview of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to Financial Peace last year after taking the FPU course. It’s based on an existing expanded baby steps list, some quotes from the DaveRamsey.com site, and some of my favorite related links and resources. If your finances need an overhaul in 2009, check out the steps below and give some thought to giving them a try.

The Expanded Baby Steps to Financial Peace

Both Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course and his Total Money Makeover book are based on the premise of following seven Baby Steps to Financial Peace. These steps are to be completed in order for best results, but inevitably questions like “Where in the Baby Steps should I start saving for a house downpayment?” and “When do I get life insurance?” that are not covered specifically in the original seven steps always come up.

Luckily, the folks over at the MyTotalMoneyMakeover.com forums have come up with a pretty comprehensive list of expanded Baby Steps for us to use. In the unlikely event that your particular situation is not included in these expanded steps, try posting your question in the free Living Like No One Else forum.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the Expanded Baby Steps!

Baby Steps 0.X: Before You Begin

These are the “pre-Baby Steps” that should be taken care of before you begin the official program. Your chances of success will improve greatly if you can set the stage by making sure you are adequately insured, knowing where you money is coming from and going to every month, getting rid of unnecessary expenses and possessions, and completing as many of these items as possible.

  • 0.1 Commit to NEVER borrow money EVER for ANYTHING other than possibly a house.
  • 0.2 Talk with spouse and get him/her on the same page as you concerning finances.
  • 0.3 Do a written budget.
  • 0.4 Temporarily stop all retirement contributions.
  • 0.5 Get current on all bills. (You MUST have Shelter, Food, Utilities, Basic clothing)
  • 0.6 Get Health insurance NOW (chances of getting sick w/ major medical bills are larger than that of death), especially if you have children.
  • 0.7 Get Life insurance NOW if you have considerable debt/your family couldn’t make it financially if you died. Especially important if you have children !! Social Insecurity provides only a small amount of coverage if you have dependents.
  • 0.8 Amputate “toys” (bikes, boats, ATV’s etc) if they will keep you from completing the snowball within 12 months
  • 0.9 Cut lifestyle (Cut CATV, Cellphone, Regular phone “extra’s”, Internet, Eating out, etc) and/or take second job if $1000 EF will take more than 30-90 days. (depending on income)

Tools & Resources:

* If you do not have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you can download OpenOffice.org for free to view the spreadsheet or use Google Docs online.

Baby Step 1: Save $1000 in a starter emergency fund

This is the first official Baby Step. Dave Ramsey states that most families can come up with this amount in around a month. Save only the $1000 for now (or $500 if your annual household income is under $20,000), then move onto Baby Step 2. The $1000 starter emergency fund (EF) should take care of the most common unexpected expenses like car repairs that would normally send you back into credit card use when you are trying to pay down your debts.

From Daveramsey.com:

An emergency fund is for those unexpected events that are not regularly planned for happening in life – you lose your job, there’s an unexpected pregnancy, the car’s transmission goes out, or, or, or. Something like this WILL happen. Money magazine says that 78% of us will have a major negative event happen in any given 10-year period of time. So get a rainy-day fund, an umbrella.

This beginning emergency fund will keep life’s little Murphies from turning into new debt while you work off the old debt. If a real emergency happens, you can handle it with your emergency fund.

It’s also the perfect time to get in the great habit of budgeting. John Maxwell says, “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.” You don’t have to start a household budget with a perfect month. Start where you are. Write down what you have today. Income and expenses. From then on, spend all your income on paper with purpose before the month begins.

No more borrowing! It’s time to break the cycle of debt!

How do you get this $1000 together?

  • Hold a garage sale!
  • List smaller, easily-shipped items (tech items do well) on eBay, Amazon, or Half.com.
  • List bigger items on your local Craigslist for pick up ONLY, and watch out for scammers!
  • Get a second job in the evenings or on the weekends. This isn’t forever–just until you power through Baby Step 2.
  • Cut back on non-essential spending.
  • Cancel subscriptions to luxury services.
  • Visit the IRS Withholding Calculator and see if you have been overpaying your income tax each month. (Hint: If you usually get a big, fat refund every April, chances are you can free up a lot of money by just changing your withholding for the rest of the year.)

Expanded Baby Step 1 Actions:

  • 1.1 Chop up your credit cards (CC’s). You have an EF now, no NEED to keep those CC’s !!
  • 1.2 Amputate cars that you can’t pay off within 24 months (You have an EF to fix the “bondo buggy” if something should happen.)
  • 1.3 Consider raising insurance deductibles to $500 or $1000 and dropping full coverage on paid-for “bondo buggy” (You have an EF ya know!)

Baby Step 2: Pay off debt using Debt Snowball

2.0 Pay off all debt except for the house using Debt Snowball

From Daveramsey.com:

The math seems to lean more toward paying the highest interest debts first, but what I have learned is that personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. The principle is to stop everything except minimum payments and focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, nothing gets accomplished because all your effort is diluted.

You need some quick wins in order to stay pumped enough to get out of debt completely. When you start knocking off the easier debts, you will start to see results and you will start to win in debt reduction.

So list your debts in order with the smallest payoff or balance first (excluding the house). Do not be concerned with interest rates or terms unless two debts have similar payoffs, then list the higher interest rate debt first.

Expanded Baby Step 2 Actions:

  • 2.1 Start car replacement fund (do not PURCHASE car until step 3 is done or old car dies)

Use the Lloyd’s Debt Snowball spreadsheet to plan your Debt Snowball payments. If you do not have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer, you can download OpenOffice.org for free to view the spreadsheet or use Google Docs online.

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Baby Step 3: 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Once you’ve paid off all of your debt except for the house, it’s time to pad that $1000 starter emergency fund up to a full three to six months of basic living expenses so you will be truly ready for the bigger emergencies that may crop up: job loss, extended illness or injury, etc.

Having a fully-funded EF will also allow you to reduce the cost of certain types of insurance (esp. car and medical) by increasing your deductibles.

From Daveramsey.com:

Congrats! Now that you’ve completed the first two Baby Steps, you have momentum! But wait… don’t start throwing all your “extra” money into investments quite yet.

It’s time to build up your full emergency fund.

Ask yourself, “Self, what would it take for you to live for 3 to 6 months if you lost your income?” Your answer to that question is how much you should save.

An emergency is something you had no way of knowing it was coming, something that has a major impact on you and your family if you don’t cover it. A great place to keep this money is in a money market account.

Remember, this stash of money is NOT an investment; it is insurance you’re paying to yourself, a buffer between you and life.

Expanded Baby Step 3 Actions:

  • 3.1 Start furniture or other non-essential stuff replacement fund
  • 3.2 Move up in car if you still feel the need to (must pay cash for it)

Tools & Resources:
Dave recommends keeping your emergency fund in a money market account or other liquid bank account that pays a decent amount of interest but is NOT an investment account. Here are some reliable online savings accounts and a frequently-updated list of high-yield checking accounts:

Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

From Daveramsey.com:

If you’ve reached this step, you have no payments (but the house) and have saved 3 to 6 months of your living expenses.

It’s finally time to get serious about building wealth.

I don’t suggest investing more than 15% because the extra money will help you complete the next two steps – college savings and paying off your home early.

Well, why not less than 15%? Some people want to invest less or none so they can get a child through school or pay off the home super-fast. I hate to tell you, but the kids’ degrees won’t feed you at retirement, and if you throw all your money into your house, you’ll end up having to sell it to eat and buy the book 72 Ways to Prepare Alpo and Love It. Bad plan.

Expanded Baby Step 4 Actions:

  • 4.1 Take your first vacation since finding Dave if you can pay cash for it. (No using the EF !!!)
  • 4.2 Save up 20% for home purchase OR pay down existing mortgage to the point you can drop PMI.

Tools & Resources
It’s possible that you already know everything about opening a retirement account and investing in mutual funds, but on the off chance that you need some pointers, here are some excellent starting points:

Baby Step 5: College funding for children

From Daveramsey.com:

Whether you are saving to go college or you’re saving for your child to go, the important principle is to start NOW! You should have already started Baby Step 4 – investing 15% of your income – before saving for college.

In order to have enough money saved for college, you must aim at something. Your assignment is to determine how much per month you should be saving at 12% interest in order to have enough for college. If you save at 12% and inflation is at 4%, then you are moving ahead of inflation at a net of 8% per year!

NEVER save for college using:

  1. Insurance
  2. Savings bonds (only 5-6% growth)
  3. Zero-coupon bonds. (only 6-8% growth)
  4. Pre-paid college tuition (only 7% inflation rate)

The best ways to save for college are with Education Savings Account (ESAs) and 529 plans.

Remember, college IS possible without loans!

Tools & Resources
Here are a few quick links to education calculators, general information, and low-cost mutual fund companies offering ESAs and 529 plans:

Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early!

From Daveramsey.com:

Can you imagine what life would be like if you had absolutely no payments – not even a house payment?!

You’re not too far from making that a reality! You’ve come this far in the Baby Steps; now it’s time to throw all that “extra” money into the largest investment you’ve probably ever made: real estate.

As you attack this last debt, you will gain momentum much like you did back in Baby Step 2 with the Debt Snowball. Remember, having ABSOLUTELY NO PAYMENTS is totally within your reach!


  • When selling a home, think like a retailer.
  • When buying a home, think like an investor.
  • Never get more than a 15-year fixed mortgage.
  • Don’t tie up more than 25% of your income in house payments.

Tools & Resources:
Check out the calculators and sites below to help you determine the value of your home and how much can be saved by paying it off early!

Baby Step 7: Build wealth and GIVE!

From Daveramsey.com:

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. – Golda Meir

HOORAY! You are now debt free, house and all! Doesn’t it feel… weird?

“What am I going to do now that all this money isn’t tied up in debt and house payments?” you may be asking yourself.

Build wealth and give like never before. Continue to work toward leaving an inheritance for generations to come. Bless others now with your excess. It’s really the only way to live!

Vow to never have a fistful of dollars held so tightly that those precious dollars never get away. Some people think if they clutch those dollars tightly enough, never giving, they are on the path to wealth. The real world teaches that the opposite is true.

Just try it. Let me know if it doesn’t work.

Tools & Resources:
While many people will choose to give to their religious organization first, those who also wish to give to secular charities might be interested in the following sites which evaluate and/or provide information about legitimate, registered charities or provide you with investment opportunities that will help disadvantaged individuals worldwide via microloans:

  • Charity Navigator – Impartial ratings of charities and charity search engine
  • GuideStar – Another charity rating site (Free registration required)
  • Zopa CDs – Invest in a guaranteed rate CD and help someone out at the same time!
  • eBay’s MicroPlace – Your investment dollars fund organizations that make loans to the world’s working poor.
  • Kiva.org – Lend directly to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world – empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

RCR W5D3: Free Action Hero Workouts

Celebrity trainer Valerie Waters whose Red Carpet Ready program I am currently following posted a pair of great workouts geared towards creating the Hollywood action babe look she gave to Jennifer Garner in Alias and Rachel Nichols who plays Scarlet in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie–lean and defined, but not quite as in-your-face powerful as a fitness competitor or Oxygen cover model.

These are available for free in her blog, and can be performed at home with minimal equipment: 5-10 lb dumbbells (mostly 10 lbs), a step or low chair, a stability ball, a pair of Valslides, and a fitness band. There is a “Valband” available for $4.99 at the same online store as the Valslides, or you can try to find one locally in the pilates section of your favorite sporting goods store. I also had good luck finding the Valslides themselves on clearance at my local Target for $12.48 including the covers and a workout card and DVD.

If you want to get a taste of what the RCR program is like, give these workouts a shot. Perform them three times a week in the following pattern:

Week 1
Mon: Workout 1
Wed: Workout 2
Fri: Workout 1

Week 2
Mon: Workout 2
Wed: Workout 1
Fri: Workout 2

For best results, throw in 20-30 minutes of interval cardio on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and take Sunday off.

1. Green smoothie (1 c. spinach, 1 c. Diet V8 Splash Tropical, 1 small apple, 3/4 scoop protein powder, 3 baby carrots)
2. 60g oats and raisins, 3 egg whites scrambled with 2/3 c. spinach, 1 peanut butter protein popsicle
3. 1.5 c. shrimp and chicken jambalaya with 1/2 c. brown rice
4. 15g walnuts, 20g raisins
5. 5 baby carrots, 1 T. ANPB, 1 small apple
6. 3 oz. Oriental sesame chicken strips, 1 c. peas and green beans, 3″ Subway Chicken Pizziola sub oh whole wheat with extra veggies (~220 cal)
7. 3″ Subway Chicken Pizziola sub on whole wheat with extra veggies (~220 cal; Worked late night at the office–will count as this week’s 2 cheat items)

* RCR Circuit B2 (60 min)
* Outdoor skate (30 min)

RCR W5D2: Five Important Lessons From The Simple Dollar

Technically, this blog post at The Simple Dollar is about personal finance, but if you replace the finance terms in each one with the appropriate exercise or diet equivalent, it can be applied just as easily to the journey toward fitness and a healthy lifestyle.

Here are my slightly modified versions of the author’s wise words.

1. Every time you opt for an unhealthy meal or blow off a workout, you sacrifice a bit of your dreams.

I’m sure we all know someone who has been trying to lose weight for years but for one reason or another never follows through because they let their immediate desire for a brownie or a break from exercise overshadow their ultimate goal of being healthy and fit. Maybe that person is looking at you from the mirror. 😉

As Zig Ziglar said, “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now.”

I know that it isn’t always easy to do what you know you are supposed to do — pass up the junk food and drinks and get up early (or stay up late) to exercise every day — but some degree of work and sacrifice really is necessary if you want to rise above the norm and not settle for the lumpy bod of the Average American. Just as it takes discipline and commitment to save money, score straight A’s in school, or become skilled at your chosen field, you have to be willing to put in the sweat time and say no to the extra calories with consistency to make it to your goal.

Jiggle-free thighs and rock hard abs aren’t ever going to be handed to you!

That leads us to point #2:

2. There is no such thing as a magic bullet when it comes to fat loss.

Despite what the infomercials and check-out line magazines try to claim, there is no quick fix outside of cosmetic surgery with a fat-sucking vacuum for love handles, belly fat, saddlebags, double chins, saggy butts, bat wings, muffin tops, chub rub, moobs, or any other problem spot of your choice. You simply have to suck it up and WORK for it…and then you have to keep on doing that exercise and healthy eating stuff for the rest of your life if you want to keep it.

‘Nuff said.

3. My lifestyle and eating habits weren’t nearly as healthy as I believed them to be – and neither is anyone else’s.

Yes, it’s true. Before I started my first Body for Life challenge in 2004, I used to think that I made pretty good choices at the dining table. Sure, I knew I needed to move my body more since I had a sedentary desk job, but I figured that I could at least keep my weight at an acceptable level since I was eating well. 😉

Behold my idea of a healthy day of eating in 2003:

  • Breakfast: Big bowl of Raisin Bran cereal (~2 cups) with 1 c. skim milk
  • Lunch: Whopper Jr. with no cheese; BK side salad with Catalina dressing
  • Snack 1: Pack of Starburst or candy bar from the vending machine at the office or a handful of candy from the ever-present candy bucket on my co-worker’s desk
  • Snack 2: Small bag of chips from vending machine
  • Dinner: Beef or chicken and veggie stir-fry with 2 c. white rice
  • Snack 3 (if still hungry): Another bowl of cereal

Erm…yeah. That was my idea of healthy back in the day. 😛 About the only things I did right were eating every few hours, adding a salad to my lunch, and maybe dinner, but I thought I was doing pretty well compared to my peers.

4. Fitness isn’t just for rich or naturally skinny people – it’s for everyone.

There seems to be some kind of persistent misconception amongst the currently unfit that being active, in shape, and strong is something achievable only by those with enough money to pay for expensive gym memberships and personal trainers or the lucky few who were born with the sort of genes that allow them to think about performing a bicep curl while eating a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s and instantly sprout muscle and lose 1% of their body fat.

This, of course, is utter nonsense. Anyone can take (cheap or free) steps to improve their diet and start an exercise program. I’m not telling you to curl soup cans from the pantry — How utterly useless is THAT favorite nugget of advice from women’s magazines? — but you can certainly perform EFFECTIVE bodyweight exercises like squats, push ups, dips, one-legged deadlifts, and planks in the privacy of your own home, and the last time I checked, cardio exercises like jumping jacks, burpees, running, walking, and dancing were all free, too.

Don’t feel too embarrassed if you suffer from this delusion. Until I was 21 years old and had my attitude about this forcibly corrected by 8 weeks of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I thought exactly the same thing.

5. Success is a choice.

This one is the biggie.

Getting into shape and staying that way is, like everything else worthwhile in life, something YOU have to make the decision to do as a mature, functioning adult in our society. Yes, it was probably easier when you were a student and participating in team sports. Someone else guided your training and scheduled your exercise. You just had to show up and work. The same could be said about my time in the Army — morning PT was just something I was expected to do as part of what the Army called “soldier readiness,” and someone else was in charge of planning it. Now that we are out on our own without those external structures to force us to work out, it is up to us as individuals to CHOOSE every day to do the right thing when it comes to diet and exercise if we want to succeed.

You can whine until you turn blue about poor genetics and try to put the blame on the manufacturers of calorically-dense junk food, the lack of outdoor parks and activities in your city, and the video games, TV, and Internet that are turning us all into myopic, sedentary blobs with atrophied muscles…but it still boils down to personal choice in the end. You can choose to take on the deconditioned, overweight mantle (and accompanying health issues down the road) that modern 21st century life in the United States is ready to lay across your shoulders, or you can choose to get off your butt for just 30 to 60 minutes per day, learn how to cook some tasty, healthy eats, and start reminding your muscles, bones, and lungs what they were meant to do.

It’s up to you.

1. 15g walnuts, 20g raisins
2. 1.5 c. shrimp and chicken jambalaya with additional 1 c. peas
3. 2 chocolate peanut butter protein popsicles, 5 baby carrots
4. 2 slices firm tofu, 1 t. Szechuan chili paste, 1 small apple, 1 T. ANPB
5. 3 egg white/1 whole egg curry scramble with 1 c. spinach, 1 T. ketchup
6. 4 oz. tilapia with 1 T. SF apricot preserve glaze, 1 c. green beans and Brussels sprouts

* HIIT Run (Afterburn-style 3.5 & 8.5-10 mph; 30 min)
* Stationary bike (Lvl 8; 15 min)
* Elliptical (Lvl 7; 15 min)

RCR W5D1: Now or Forever?

Why do so many women fear the reading on the scale or a lack of dramatic progress in their photos?

Is it because, despite what our mouths say about this being a permanent lifestyle change and not a temporary diet or quick fix, deep inside we still cling to the belief that all of the exercise and clean eating changes really ARE just for 4, 6, 8, or 12 weeks, after which we can go back to being like everyone else?

If this is the case, no wonder some of us are so focused on those numbers! We only have a few weeks to reach our goals before we go back to lackadaisical cardio twice a month and daily visits to the vending machines and office candy bucket! The magic Fitness Fairy has only transformed us into empowered, active, clean-eating dynamos for a limited period of time. When the calendar strikes 12 weeks, our gym memberships and cottage cheese are taken away, and we are turned back to normal.

Well, normal may be a lot of things these days, but those things don’t usually include being lean, fit, and able to rock any outfit of your choice without fear of the Muffin Top.

If we’ve truly embraced a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise and smart food choices, the scale and the camera lens should hold no terror for us because there is no deadline on our progress. We will be doing this for the rest of our lives, right? So what if we are up a pound or two today from a cheat meal (planned or unplanned, PMS, too little water, or whatever? If we keep on doing what we are supposed to do in the gym and the kitchen with integrity, eventually we WILL reach our goals. There is no time limit on fitness if our attitude is truly one of “Fitness is forever, not for NOW.”

Yes, a solid goal date is a good motivator, but I think that for some people who are more rules- and results-driven, the “X-Week Challenge” format can backfire a little because it puts pressure on them to perform to a certain standard within a certain time frame. Unfortunately, when it comes to individual human bodies and their willingness to drop the chub, things don’t always happen on a predictable schedule. Add to that all the crazy ways that a female body can retain water during the course of 4 weeks and the messed up emotional knots that so many women have tied between their self-worth and their weight, and you have a recipe for major anxiety.

As more of a process-driven, scientific personality type who sees weekly weigh-ins and photos as pure data to be used to tweak my program for even better outcomes in the future, all I can say to those of you who can’t stay so detached is this: Examine your true commitment to fitness and nutrition and be honest about whether you are just in it for 6-12 weeks or if you can envision keeping all of this up for the rest of your life.

Imagine that it is a year from now and you have achieved your goal physique. You are at a festive holiday party in a kickass cocktail dress and looking like a million bucks. What do you see yourself eating and drinking at that party? Are you indulging without limits, or are you picking out a few treats that you can really savor in moderation while sticking to the healthier choices for the bulk of your meal?

What about the next Monday when you are back to your weekday routine? Do you picture yourself getting up early and doing your workout before heading out to work with your lunch bag filled with pre-portioned clean eats that you bulk-prepared yourself the day before, or do you instead harbor a guilty (and unrealistic) fantasy of being able to effortlessly hang onto your exercise-sculpted, nutrition-trimmed body without doing any more of those very things that gave it to you in the first place?

As I said, be brutally honest.

If you have been hankering for that rainbow-filled maintenance nirvana where you can work your butt off for 6-12 weeks, reach your goal weight, and then go right back to the ineffective or nonexistent exercise routines and poor eating that made it necessary for you to take on a fitness/weight loss program in the first place, it’s time to face reality and accept that this is not in the cards for you if you want to hold onto your results. If you were one of those genetically-gifted wenches who can eat 50 pounds of fries, brownies, and ice cream in one sitting without gaining weight, trust me–you’d certainly know it by now, and you certainly wouldn’t be suffering from weigh-in or photo phobia.

Once you truly buy into this lifestyle as a forever thing, you can stop thinking of choosing healthy foods and working out as merely necessary evils — the tedious means to a finite end — and start enjoying the alertness, energy, and bounce that a daily workout gives you and the amazing variety of clean AND delicious recipes available to anyone with an Internet connection or a subscription to Cooking Light.

Learn to love the process itself, and the results WILL come.

1. 1 packet P90X Peak Recovery Drink blended with 1/2 c. frozen spinach
2. 60g oats and raisins, 3 egg whites scrambled with 1/2 c. spinach
3. 1.5 c. shrimp and chicken jambalaya with additional 1 c. green beans
4. 15g walnuts, 20g raisins, 5 baby carrots
5. 2 slices firm tofu, 1 t. Szechuan chili paste, 1 small apple
6. 3 oz. eye of round steak, 1 t. ketchup, 1 c. Brussels sprouts and green beans, 2 t. raisins, 1 protein popsicle

* RCR Circuit A2 (61 min)
* Incline Walk/Jog (30 min)

RCRW4D4: Busting Through Set Points

142.2 lbs this morning, which continues the downward trend that started back up with yesterday’s 142.8 lb weigh-in. Where were these numbers when I needed to take pics and write down 3 week stats on Sunday?

Oh well. Losers can’t be choosers, I guess. I am just glad that I have finally broken through my 143 pound set point. I’ve been here for about a week and a half since my Week 2 weigh-in.

I tend to lose fat in chunks with set points at 148, 143, 138, and 134 pounds. These are weights at which my body historically likes to hang out for a week or two without budging on scale weight when I am trying to drop body fat. If I raise my calories up to maintenance at any of these points, I can easily maintain indefinitely as long as I keep my activity level about the same. I usually have to be nearly perfect on diet and water and bump up cardio (frequency, intensity, and/or duration) temporarily to get things moving again.

I realized I had hit the 143 set point last week when I bounced between 143 and 144.5 for several days in a row with no change to my diet or workouts. That is a large part of the reason that I decided to modify my training for the remaining 3 weeks by cutting out the easy home cardio and doing only the effective stuff at the gym or outdoors. It’s also why I am doing a little bit of carb cycling with regular carbs on RCR circuit days and slightly lower carbs on cardio interval days.

So if you have been stuck for more than two weeks at the same weight after a few weeks on a program, don’t despair. Follow these steps in this order:

  1. Take a look at your diet and make sure you haven’t been fudging it a little too often on your intake.
  2. Drink your water–around a gallon a day. Then drink another cup or two on top of that.
  3. Work a little harder when you exercise. Give up the easy, fun cardio and go straight for the middle to higher intensity stuff that makes you heave. If you’ve been doing the SAME form of cardio for several weeks, switch to something else.
  4. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  5. Work out in the morning to maximize the benefits of your raised metabolism throughout your waking hours.
  6. Add in one to three extra cardio sessions (20-30 mins each) to your program.

I know the feel-good, politically-correct mantra when it comes to fat loss is “Progress, not Perfection”, but when it comes to busting through a set point or plateau where NO progress is being made, I say PHOOEY on political correctness and bring on the tough love.

Suck it up and work on the Perfection (or at least 90% compliance) for just one week and resist the urge to check Progress until that week is over. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Once the fat loss train starts chugging again, you can happily ramp back down and go back to the baseline workout program until the next set point hits you.

1. 3 egg whites/1 whole egg omelette with 1/2 c. mushrooms, 1/2 c. sauteed spinach, and 1/4 c. mashed cauliflower
2. 3 oz. eye of round steak, 1 c. spinach, 1/2 c. five flavor eggplant, 2 corn tortillas, 3 T. jalapeno salsa
3. 15g walnuts, 20g raisins, 1/2 green smoothie
4. 1/2 c. light soy milk, 3/4 scoop protein, 1 peach
5. 1 boiled egg, 1 chicken wing, 2/3 c. peas and green beans
6. 4 oz. tilapia, 1 c. Brussels sprouts, 1/2 T. ANPB

* YF Flex (15 min)
* RCR HIIT Run #3 (30 min)
* SS Cardio – Bike @ Lvl 8 (15 min)
* SS Cardio – Run @ 6.5 mph (15 min)

RCR W1D4: Would you fire yourself?

144.2 lbs this morning, or around half a pound down from yesterday. Gotta love coming off TOM when you’ve been on target with meals and workouts–the weight just feels like it’s dropping off in chunks overnight. I kicked off the day with 30 minutes of Forza sword drills and have completed my lunch break stroll, but the HIIT run had to wait until after work — actually, it waited until after the 8:30 – 9:40 PM EST Red Carpet Ready Club live chat with Valerie Waters and a dinner of chicken and peas, too.

I did eventually haul my butt back out of the house and to the gym to run, though. I’m already down to 93 out of 100 points on the JSF September 100 Challenge and could not bear to report another -1 point for skipping a workout. By the way, in case anyone is interested, sign ups for the October 100 challenge are open now at John Stone Fitness. Check out the link for more information about what it entails.

And for those wondering about my current caloric intake, I have been averaging between 1450-1700 calories per day on both the Muscle & Fitness plan and Red Carpet Ready. My breakfast is relatively low in calories, but lunch, dinner, and my late evening snack make up for it. I also have one planned cheat item (that can be a single off-plan carb or protein) and one full cheat meal per week.

In line with the bonus mini-challenge this week at Pink Dumbbells where we were asked to assess our performance so far on our September 1-October 31 Lean, Mean Halloween challenge through the eyes of a trainer working with a client, I’m using a new mental trick I borrowed from one of Dave Ramsey’s catchphrases about personal finance to keep myself in line during this cut. Here it is, slightly modified:

“If you were in charge of the operations of a company called You, Inc., and it was your job to make sure You, Inc. followed its business plan (program) and didn’t outspend (eat) more than it earned (exercised), would you fire yourself?”

I think of this every day now when I consider going off plan–usually when I get home from work or the gym at night and feel myself wanting to go for some cereal instead of my planned dinner and snack. I am an excellent planner and manager in every aspect of my life sometimes except my diet, even when I KNOW I need a consistent DAILY deficit to reach my goals.

Looking at this in terms of a business I am running or job responsibility puts it into perspective for me. I cannot win if I keep going into caloric debt every day, and I cannot out-exercise too many days of overspending on shoddy food choices.

Or I think of it this way:

If I were an up-and-coming star hired to play a breakthrough role in a new movie that would require me to be in stellar shape because I would be wearing a bikini, a skintight patent leather outfit, and a slinky, backless evening gown during the course of the filming, would the director fire my workout-skipping, snack-sneaking booty because I wasn’t willing to follow a trainer’s proven nutrition guidelines and exercise plans for just six, short weeks of my 4680 week life?

How stupid would I be if I let that happen?

Now let’s address one of the topic of dietary self-sabotage, my main bugaboo with any plan. Here is something I have to keep telling myself:

Psst! Hey you! Yes, you with the guilty look on your face.

Do you really need to eat that right now?

The mint chocolate chip and Moose Tracks ice cream, the slushy drinks with umbrellas in them, the seasoned curly fries, the big bowls of ethnic noodles (Italian and Asian are my downfall) and the Dove dark chocolates will still be there when you look more like Catwoman than the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man’s little sister. Say all you want about America’s economic woes, but I have not noticed any shortage of food of any kind out there on the shelves.

If you don’t eat it now, it doesn’t mean you never get to have it EVER. We need to let go of this asinine and completely unfounded subconscious dread that if we can’t have a treat now, it will disappear from our plane of reality forever, leaving us with nothing but plain chicken breasts and steamed broccoli for the rest of our lives.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

But that is how the silly, female brain thinks when it’s facing what it perceives as long period of deprivation on a diet. Recognize that there is a prehistoric part of your psyche that harbors this goofy notion, and you will be much better prepared to fight it.

And to succeed with whatever program you try.

1. 60 g dried cranberries, raisins, and oatmeal; 3 egg whites
2. 4 oz. roasted chicken breast, 1 c. green beans, 1/2 c. garlic cauliflower mash, 1/2 pear
3. 10 almonds, 20 g raisins, 1/2 pear
4. Cranberry walnut protein muffin (8 cranberries, 1 T. chopped walnuts, 1 scoop oatmeal, 1 scoop protein powder, 1/2 t. baking soda, 1/2 c. water)
5. 3 oz. skinless roast chicken leg, 3/4 c. peas
6. 1/2 c. light soy milk, 1 scoop protein, 1/2 oz. walnuts or almonds

Water: 16 cups
Supplements: multivitamin, calcium 600+D, 6 fish oil capsules

* Forza warmup drills (30 min; 250 calories burned)
* 3/4 mile walk (15 min)
* HIIT Run – BFL style (3.5, 6, 6.7, 7.5, and 9 mph; 30 min)

New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Logs

Because some of you asked for it (and I was making this for myself anyway after noticing what a major pain in the butt it was last week to hand transcribe all of the Stage 2 workouts from The New Rules of Lifting for Women book to the blank photocopied workout log sheet), I present to you my brand new New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Log spreadsheet for Microsoft Excel, Google Docs, and/or OpenOffice!

This spreadsheet includes a nutrition calculator based on the NROLFW nutrition plan by Cassandra Forsythe. Enter your age, weight, and height, and it will calculate your body mass index, resting metabolic rate, NROLFW activity multipliers, and the NROLFW suggested calories and macronutrient targets for both maintenance and fat loss at a deficit of 300 calories per day.

Also included are printable workout log sheets for all seven stages of workouts in NROLFW with exercises, page number references, sets, reps, and rest intervals already pre-populated for your convenience. I’ve also included tables to log your interval cardio sessions and bodyweight matrix workouts in the appropriate stages.

Save yourself a lot of tedious pen and paper calculations and confusing blank workout log filling and just download and print my spreadsheet instead.

Hey, you might as well take advantage of my OCD tendencies, right?


It’s come to my attention that one of the authors of the book has objected to the posting of the full NROLFW workout logs in the past since the workouts are one of the main reasons to purchase the book. Because of this, I have moved the spreadsheet to a password-protected directory on my server that will allow access only to folks who own the book and can look up the following in their copy of New Rules of Lifting for Women:

  • User Name: Fourth word in paragraph two of the “A Decent Interval” section on page 26
  • Password: Seventh word in paragraph three on page 121

Download: New Rules of Lifting for Women Diet Calculator and Workout Logs

A final note: Bear in mind that attempting to perform the NROLFW workouts in these log sheets without the actual exercise descriptions from the book which include photos, proper form, and tempo information could result in sub-optimal results and/or actual injury.

Buy the book, ladies! It’s only $17.13 from Amazon.com, and it’s WELL WORTH IT.

Review: Is P90X Right For YOU? (Requirements and Overview)

P90X parent company Beachbody must be spamming the heck out of the TV infomercial channels this month, because I keep getting emails from readers asking if P90X is right for them based on my run with the program a few years ago.

To cut down on the amount of copying and pasting I have to do, I’m going to post my responses here for the edification of all future P90X Googlers. 😉

If you haven’t been working out too much in recent years, particularly with heavy weights, you should definitely try out the P90X fitness test first before you buy the P90X program.

P90X is designed for men and women who are already at goal weight (or at least within a few pounds of it) and in very good physical condition with no major physical limitations or chronic injuries who just want to get leaner and become even more fit. It will increase your strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance and probably decrease your body fat as a byproduct of increasing your fitness, but it was not designed specifically as a fat loss program. In general, it’s not for those who have more than 15 lbs to lose, those who have been completely sedentary for more than 6 months, or those who have only done cardio and yoga and only want to tone up. It’s a hardcore home boot camp system, and while there are a few modified movements shown to decrease difficulty, there is NO beginner ramp up included to get you from 100% sedentary up to the recommended P90X starting state.

The program is pretty strenuous, especially the Chest & Back (almost 100% pullups and pushups), Plyometrics X, and the Legs & Back workouts. If your fitness level — strength *and* endurance — isn’t pretty decent already, you won’t be getting your time or money’s worth out of the program. You also won’t look like one of their 90 day “After” photos in 12 weeks, because if you look closely, most of those guys and gals were already close to goal weight or UNDER it, had decent cardiovascular endurance, and had completed at least one round of Power 90, Beachbody’s beginner/intermediate program, or the equivalent. They weren’t using the program to get into shape from a couch potato starting point; they were using it to build even MORE muscle mass onto already-fit bodies and to burn off the last 5% or so of body fat obscuring their existing muscles.

Don’t believe me? Check out Beachbody president Jon Congdon’s photos and stats here. Notice that he already had decent-sized arms, deltoids, and pectoral muscles in his Before photo, and the beginnings of abdominal definition in his obliques. He was already fit, but slightly soft with a little bit of subcutaneous fat. He was not obese or out of shape, and neither were any of the other success stories used in the infomercials or web site.


P90X refines and improves a fit but still slightly fluffy physique in 90 days into a lean and ripped physique, but if you are carrying more than 10-20 lbs of extra flab, your results will not be as dramatic, especially if you follow the calorie recommendations from their meal plan which is geared more towards maintenance of current body weight than fat loss. As with any workout and nutrition regimen, the results you get will depend completely on your intensity and consistency in your workouts, and in your compliance and consistency in the kitchen.

My husband, for example, completed a round of P90X Classic last fall with about 85% compliance to the workout schedule but without following the meal plan. As a result, he lost about five pounds of scale weight, lost inches in his waist, gained some in his arms, shoulders, and chest, and dropped about 3% body fat, but definitely did not achieve dramatic “After” photo results. He was already at a good scale weight at 155 lbs and 15% body fat (he’s 5’8″) when he started, but he had never lifted weights in his life more than once or twice, and had very little upper body muscle development as a result. This made the upper body days pretty challenging for him. (In other words, I could do more push-ups than he could, and we pressed and curled similar weights.) The program added muscle mass to his physique, but not huge amounts of it. In my objective opinion, all of the males in the P90X infomercial started out with more lean mass than my DH did.

Download and take a look at the workout log sheets and try to do one of the workouts as a sample. I recommend the Chest/Back workout. Each exercise is performed for about 30 seconds. If you can only do 25-33% of the reps (or under 10 full pushups) for each exercise, you should probably look at trying the Power 90 program or something more like Body for Life or Turbulence Training for 12 weeks first to get your weight down and your fitness level up.

You can also get up to speed and drop a few pounds first using some of the free at-home workout plans I posted here:

Fitness on a Budget Part 2: DIY, Nearly Free, No Gym Required Workout Plans

If your fitness level is good despite having more than 20 pounds left to lose – i.e. You could probably run 2 miles in under 18 minutes without walking, you regularly lift some heavy weights at home or at the gym, you can do 30 pushups without pause if you are male or 15 pushups if you are female (The official P90X readiness test posts numbers lower than this, but in my experience, a woman who can only do 3 real push-ups from her toes before face-planting in the carpet will not be able to do enough reps on Chest and Back day to get much of a transformation), and/or you have completed the equivalent of one 12-week Body for Life challenge – then you might still get some good results with P90X even if you have to modify some of the moves. You should also be injury-free.

The only caveats if you are in the “heavier than recommended” category when starting the program are that:

a) Your results may not be as dramatic because you will likely have to modify the moves or do fewer reps until your fitness level and scale weight are more optimal.
b) You will probably have to do more than one round of the program to reach goal.
c) You may get seriously bored doing the same workouts over and over for more than 90 days.
d) If you want to lose weight on the program, you will probably have to reduce the number of calories recommended by the meal plan.

P90X Ready

(Go ahead and start the program)

Extra Conditioning Needed

(Complete 12 weeks of Power 90, Body for Life, or Turbulence Training
for Fat Loss first)

  • Self-motivated (can workout consistently alone)
  • Within 20 pounds of ideal weight
  • Have been exercising regularly (strength training with heavy weights
    and performing regular cardiovascular training) for at least 3 months
  • Healthy and injury-free
  • Minimum 3 pull-ups for males; 1 pull-up for females
  • Minimum 5 inch vertical leap (male); 3 inch vertical leap (female)
  • Minimum 15 push-ups (male) or 3 push-ups (female; or 15 with knees
    down, though this is SOOOO lame)
  • Minimum 1 minute hold on a bodyweight wall squat
  • Minimum 10 dumbbell bicep curls at 20 lbs (male) or 8 lbs (female)
  • 2 minutes of jumping jacks, with the final 30 seconds performed as
    fast as possible
  • 20+ pounds over ideal weight
  • Have not exercised regularly in over 3 months
  • Have physical limitations, injuries, or chronic conditions which may
    be made worse by high-impact activity or fast-tempo weight lifting or
  • Cannot make the minimum scores on the P90X Fitness Test

I won’t discourage you if you are completely gung ho about buying and trying P90X, but please try to be realistic about your current physical condition, your actual fitness level today (NOT how fit you were in your prime as a college athlete 10 years ago), and the very real possibility of injuring yourself performing some of the exercises in the program (Pull-ups and plyometric jumping are rough on your joints) if you have been out of the exercise saddle for a while and are deconditioned. If you have any orthopedic knee, back, or other medical conditions that would make fast-tempo lifting with challenging weights or high-impact jumping questionable, please check with your physician first before starting this program. I know that all workout DVDs say this, but in the case of P90X, this warning should be taken seriously. I was in fantastic shape after almost a year of BFL-style workouts with heavy weights and hard interval cardio when I did P90X, and I still managed to screw up my left elbow and wrist for several months between the (too) fast lifting and the large number of pull ups and chins required in the workouts.

With all that said, I DO like the P90X system and had very good results on it (starting from a pretty high level of fitness and sub-20% body fat, however). It’s physically challenging, not too boring for three months, and comes with a decent nutrition plan complete with recipes to help you succeed. If you are in good shape already and want a home workout system that uses minimal equipment but still kicks your butt daily, you can’t do much better than P90X.