May & June Wrap Up

July 3, 2012 - 2 Responses

So, the past few months have mostly involved waiting to see if Chad found a job.  Everything hinged on it – would we stay in DC, would we buy a house, would the numbers in our budget finally be exciting again?  Luckily, a few weeks ago he got an offer and just started work on Monday!

All of this is completely unrelated to the actual topic of this post, which is just to review my performance on goals.  You will note that I haven’t posted about goals in 2 months (worst blogger ever?), but I always set goals, even if they don’t make it to the blog.  In the hopes of slowly easing myself back into the blogging habit, here is a review of how I did.  July goals will hopefully follow soon.

May Goals – how I did

1. Work out 4 times per week. Done.

2. Read 8 books. Fail.
I’m STILL slacking on my 100 books challenge – I got through 5 in May. I confess, I just haven’t made reading a priority this year. Part of it is work stuff, part of it is other interests crowding it out, and part of it is just sheer laziness.

3. Buy Mother’s Day presents. Done!
I can’t really take credit for this one. We got my mom a fancy tea set that she wanted, but my little sister went above and beyond and had a hot dinner prepared for them when they returned home from a sailing trip that weekend. She even made them a pie! I am not the best daughter.

4. Cook using two ingredients I’ve never used before. Done!
I roasted an artichoke for the first time, and discovered: I don’t really like artichoke! Still love the hearts, though.
The second ingredient was quinoa, but I cooked it in the most boring way possible since I’d never had it before and wanted to get a feel for the flavor & texture. The box has sat in our pantry ever since, but I’ve got plans. Oh yes. (Thanks to MPP for the recipe link via Pinterest!)

5. Book travel to California. Done!
We ended up spending a little over $900 on our plan tickets out there, and some ridiculous amount on food and drinks once we got there. We also managed to see the Titanic exhibit, which was neat but probably not worth the $25 each it cost to get in.

6. Take advantage of overtime. Done!
OT has been a no go for most of the year (we’re a government contractor, so I actually think this is a good thing!). I ended up having to charge way more extra time than I’d expected. Turns out, when you’re offsite supporting other activities for a week, you have a ton of crap to do when you get back. July will also require massive amounts of overtime, and you know what? I think I’m going to be so sick of work by the time it’s done.

7. Use massage Groupon. Fail.
I never got around to scheduling it. I still have time (until February of next year), but I could definitely see myself putting it off until I have to scramble to get one of the last appointments!

June Goals – how I did

1. Work out 4 times per week. Done.

2. Read 8 books. Fail.
I made it through 6. Lame.

3. Help D prepare for interviews. Done!
One of D’s interviews involved a half-hour technical presentation and individual interviews with 4 other people. And then he didn’t get the job because of something that they could have known just by reading his resume! Luckily, though, I think all of the work we did helped him on the other interviews he had. He ended up getting an offer, as I’ve already shared.

4. Enjoy California. Done!
This was partly because D received and signed the job offer just before we left, so we were a bit freer with our spending than we might have been otherwise. While more money spent doesn’t alway correlate to more fun, it definitely helped that we didn’t even really have to think about it.

5. Bake something and bring it into work. Fail.
I did bake – mini blackberry pies (I deep-fried some of them, and they were magical), but there weren’t enough to share. (I said as I stuffed fried pie and ice cream into my face.)

How are you doing on your goals?

D got a job!

June 22, 2012 - One Response

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Uncertainty Kills Me

May 10, 2012 - 3 Responses

I confess: I love structure.  I like it when there are rules, when there are set plans, when each dollar has its assigned place.  This is probably why I love math & science, and also why I get such a kick out of personal finance.  There’s the natural order of things, a script.  This is probably also why I like baking more than cooking. Baking, the exact chemical reaction, vs. the freer nature of cooking (and that annoying thing where good cooks pretty much cook by instinct without measuring)? No contest!

By contrast, I’ve often felt stymied by literary analysis and film theory etc. (what do you mean there’s no right answer?).  I ignore investing advice because the stock market is so random – or at the very least, unpredictable.

And I hate waiting for things.  I hate not knowing the future.  I hate not having a plan.

D graduates in 2 weeks.  At this point, he’s interviewing for jobs, but not knowing is driving me crazy!  We always said if he can’t find work here, then we’ll move.  Of course, at what point do we give in and look elsewhere?  What do we do if one of us finds a job in a new place and the other doesn’t?  Most importantly, how do I set up a budget without having any information about what our finances are going to look like?

In my saner moments, I know that the worst case is that we keep on as we have, with D pursuing… something, while I keep working at my job.  My job is awesome, it pays me very well, and I’m lucky to have something that can support our family.  Best case is that D finds something here that pays well and we do all the grownup things we’re supposed to do next: house, baby, etc.  And there are a million other possibilities, such as we move to a new state or a new country or we quit our jobs and travel for a few years (not that that last thing is in serious contention, but you never know!).

I know some people would love to have wide open possibilities.  I just find it terrifying. I want a plan!

I guess I just need to wait a few more weeks, and by then we’ll probably know what will happen.  Until then, I’ll just have to be content with making plans for every eventuality.

Do you prefer to plan out the path of your life, or do you like to being freer to do what you please?

To Accomplish, May 2012

May 1, 2012 - 6 Responses

I’ll echo the sentiment I’ve been reading all over the web – can’t believe it’s already May! D.C. has has been having unseasonably warm weather since March, so I’m not sure why the passage of time is such a shock. Still, there are a lot of things that I thought I had more time to take care of, but now the time is almost here.

Also, good thing I didn’t make any blogging-related goals this year. I’d be 5 months into failing them by now.

To Accomplish, May 2012

1. Work out 4 times per week.
So… I’ve lost 10 pounds since the beginning of the year, mostly because D has been dieting. I tend to eat the same foods that he does, in the same quantities, so when he cut back, so did I. This is cool, because I am a girl and thus have unrealistic desires for my body weight. However, my working out has tapered off a bit since we went to Miami. I’m still technically meeting my four-days-per-week, but sometimes I count standalone yoga or Pilates as a workout. I’ve almost given up on running altogether, which is Very Bad. For May, my hope is to get back on the wagon and kick some butt again.

(Also? It’s sort of annoying that I lost weight now, because I sold off all of my smaller-size clothes just last year. Not cool, body.)

2. Read 8 books.
I’m slacking on my 100 books challenge – in April I only got through 4! Hopefully I’ll catch up over the summer when our schedule normalizes again.

3. Buy Mother’s Day presents.
This is one of those things I always leave until the last minute… thank goodness you can just pick a florist 2 days before!

4. Cook using two ingredients I’ve never used before.
I tried brussel sprouts for the first time a week ago (roasted in olive oil) after years of avoiding them because of the negative things I always heard. Guess what? They were awesome! This has inspired me to look for new foods (I’m mostly thinking produce) that I haven’t cooked with before, either because I’m not familiar with them or because I have no idea how to cook them. Hopefully these will be a pleasant surprise as well.

5. Book travel to California.
My big sister is getting a PhD this summer (thus beating me forever in the scholarly competition we’ve had since elementary school), so we’re flying out to California to see it.  Unfortunately, flight prices are higher than I’ve ever seen them, and I used to live in California and flew home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the busiest travel times of the year. Good thing I budgeted $2000 for this trip – we’ll definitely need it!

6. Take advantage of overtime.
My bosses have cut way back on authorized OT this year, which has been a bit of a blessing, really. Still, I have an opportunity to earn a little extra, and I fully intend to take advantage.

7. Use massage Groupon.
I’m thinking some time after I get my overtime, since I’ll probably need the stress relief.  Worth it.

Job Applicants and Interviewees: My thoughts from the other side of the table

April 18, 2012 - 2 Responses

My coworker and good friend moved to a new job in another state and my boss, D, has just begun interviewing for her replacement. I was lucky enough to be selected for the interview panel (I like to joke that it’s because we are also interviewing for the job of being my New Best Friend).  I’ve never been on this side of an interview before, and it has definitely been enlightening!  What follows is hopefully not condescending like this email, just the things that I’ve personally taken away from my experience.

I wasn’t around for the initial resume review, but there were a ton of applicants, even with the specific qualifications.  I’m speculating, but it’s likely that there were keyword searches involved.  The posting requested one particular certification, and anyone who didn’t put this on their resume was probably filtered out without a human even glancing at their resume.

Lesson #1: Read job postings before you apply. Insert keywords if you’re doing the whole tailor-your-resume-for-each-job thing, but really, if the job posting specifically says “Include this on your resume,” you want to do it!

In addition to the sheer volume, D was amazed at the number of very overqualified people applying.  I’m talking people in their late 30s and 40s applying for a job that was most recently held by someone who hasn’t even gone through a quarterlife crises yet!  It actually made me sad, because this demonstrates how very bleak the job market is right now.  We’ve interviewed a couple of the overqualified people, but some of them have specifically asked about chances for promotions. (In the interview! Don’t do that.)

My “favorite” applicant so far has been the one who emailed D, saying,”I don’t know much about [our company, our business, and our project], but I figured I’d throw my hat into the ring.”  He does at least know D, but given the number of times I’ve heard the story, I don’t think that guy is getting an interview!

Lesson #2: Networks matter. Since the job posting was internal, D has done a lot of coordinating with applicants’ current management, in some cases asking these other managers to pick their best workers from the stack of resumes. (Luckily, these managers support the movement of their employees – this counts as a pretty decent promotion & jump in responsibilities!)  Those who were recommended got interviews.  One of my favorites was recommended above and beyond all of the other applicants from one department, and her manager wrote her a letter of recommendation.  That’s impressive.

In contrast, I spoke to a guy who had applied (he didn’t know I was involved in the process at all), and he said he hoped he got an interview.  He also said that his current manager really dislikes him and that they butt heads a lot.  Guess who was not recommended for the job?

Lesson #3: Your work also matters.  This is linked to #2.  A few of the interviewees are people we’ve worked with very closely before.  The ones we’d seen in action and the ones who distinguished themselves, they not only got interviews, but they were probably a lot more seriously considered afterwards.  It’s one thing to say you go above and beyond, it’s another thing when you’ve gone above and beyond to help the very people you’re interviewing with. Likewise, if you tend to do the bare minimum, the expectation is that you’ll continue to do so. D’s goal was to find someone who would work hard (since they’ve had unmotivated employees before and everyone hated them).

Lesson #4: Those boring interview tips are actually kind of right.  You know what?  I’m an engineer, and I understand why people ask about promotion potential and upcoming vacations. These things are important to you, and when will you get another chance? (The answer to this is when you get offered the job, by the way.  I definitely had classmates in college who couldn’t wrap their heads around why they shouldn’t bring this stuff up in an interview!) But I also have read those tips, and I know it’s bad form to ask them.  When I’m asked those no-no questions, I wonder how the interviewee has managed to not read anything in preparation for the interview.

Lesson #5: The interview does matter.  Your resume can be amazing, but if you can’t intelligently talk about all the things on it, it might as well be blank.  Thinking about questions – even if this leaves the room in silence while you speak – is a good thing.  Asking for questions to be repeated is as well!  Relate questions to the experience you can talk about best.  Even if you have something that sounds really impressive, if you can talk more clearly about something that doesn’t sound as cool, go for the boring thing.  Your interviewer can tell when you’re BSing!  And bonus points for those little interview best practices – another one of my favorite applicants wore a suit, brought extra copies of his resume, sounded so prepared every time he opened his mouth, and also sent a nice follow-up email.  His resume was great and he’s a hard worker, but he totally wowed me in the interview!

I’ve given D my opinion on the interviewees, but I’m not involved in the actual decision.  I actually prefer it that way – picking a couple of favorites is easy, picking The One Who Should Be Hired is a whole other thing that I’m glad is not my responsibility!

March 2012 Wrap-Up

April 5, 2012 - One Response

Did March feel incredibly long to anyone else?  Even though I was on vacation and traveling (which usually makes me feel as though time is flying by too quickly), last month seemed to drag.  It was also an incredibly spendy month – my shopping ban ended, so I bought some new workout clothes (I get really exciting about moisture-wicking clothes, apparently), my best friend moved away, so we spent a lot of dinner out and buying drinks, and all of the travel expenses very nearly blew our budget.  Luckily, it was a 3-paycheck month, and I also got a decent raise at work, which offset our gluttonous spending.

So from a money standpoint, everything is cool, but how did I do on my goals?

1. Work out 4 days per week. Done!
The most impressive thing about this is that I actually managed to exercise while we were on vacation, although I think the credit goes to D for this one.

2. Read 8 books and review. Fail.
I got through 6, and 5 if I don’t count the copy of The Richest Man in Babylon from our work library, which inexplicably turned out to be a British book about tRMiB instead of the story itself. I don’t know how that even happens at an American company, but there you go.

3. No bread or refined sugar for 1 week. Kinda?
This was really hard.  I actually have a terrible sweet tooth and crave sugar all. the. time.  Have you ever eaten something and felt sick afterward because it was TOO sweet?  I have never felt that way ever. My downfall was making cake balls for my friend’s going away party – I “taste tested” (read: justified eating) one, and I ate one from stress the next day.  I also ate one peanut M&M, which sounds like a crazy thing to even remember or care about, but I took it from a coworker’s candy jar sort of mindlessly as we were chatting, and I think that was the worst violation of all.  After all, willpower is one thing (and willpower against cake balls isn’t even a real thing), but mindlessly eating candy is a habit I should not have.

Bread, surprisingly, was not that hard to give up (I made lettuce wraps or salads out of sandwich items), but I definitely gorged on French toast after it was all over!

4. File taxes. Done!
We shoved everything into TurboTax and let it go.  We ended up with a huge refund due to my poor planning and not changing my withholdings after D left his job last year.  I won’t pretend the money isn’t a nice surprise, but still feel sort of silly for letting it be so huge.

5. Apply at the animal shelter. Fail.
I have no excuses, other than being a terrible person.

Overstuffed

March 19, 2012 - 2 Responses

If you asked me on laundry day, or on Day 78 of a shopping ban/wear everything challenge, I would tell you that I have too many clothes. If you asked me at 7am on a weekday, I would tell you that I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear to work today.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it on the blog or just on Twitter, but I repeated my challenge to ban all shopping until I’d worn everything in my closet. I’m getting down to the wire (although technically I’ve broken the ban by buying emergency underwear when I forgot to pack panties for a weekend vacation), and both the itch to shop and the itch to purge are in full force. Yes, I am aware that those 2 things are somewhat contradictory.

Here is part of the problem:

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Those are my 3 magenta clutch purses. Not shown is a larger magenta tote. I would say that 4 magenta purses is too many, especially when 3 of them are so very similar!

In my defense, 3 of said purses were gifts (2 of the clutches were from the same person!). And they do all serve slightly different purposes: one is fancy, one is casual, and one is a luxe suede that could go either way. I’ve gotten compliments on all 3.

It’s clear that I need to let at least 2 of these go, but I tend to be really sentimental about gifts. If someone put thought and effort into choosing a gift for me, how do I just throw it in the Donate pile?

My sentimentality made sure these purses made it through my last purge, but decluttering my closet for real means being a stone-hearted biatch.

And the worst part of all of this? I don’t even really like the color!

Do you hang onto gifts, even of they’re no longer “right?” What would you do if you had my purse problem?

To Accomplish, March 2012

March 8, 2012 - 4 Responses

I can tell March is going to be a great month!  I get 3 paychecks, we’re going on vacation, and I have a sorority reunion coming up as well.  Sadly, my best friend is also moving away this month, so I’m also going to try to pack my schedule with time with her.

Mostly standard goals this month, but I’ve also got to do my

To Accomplish, March 2012

1. Work out 4 days per week.
Keeping up my vanity 5x per week workout until we head to Miami!

2. Read 8 books and review.

3. No bread or refined sugar for 1 week.
This is going to be hard – I love my pasta and bread.  I also love sugar, which is why the second half of this goal is so key.  My plan is to implement this the week before we leave for vacation, just so I can completely undo it while we’re on vacation.

In all seriousness, I hear such great things from people who give up sugar, and I really think I eat sweets at work without even thinking about it.  I will allow myself a small amount of dark chocolate a few times, but nothing else!

4. File taxes.
This is going to be a hard one – we don’t even have some of our forms yet!  Also, D’s system of filing new mail is to throw it all in a bin so we can look at it later… Want to guess how well that worked?

5. Apply at the animal shelter.
This is a repeat from last month, and I’d really like to get it done, no matter how busy this month ends up being!

February Wrap-Up

March 3, 2012 - One Response

This felt like a very full, exciting month.  One of my friends is moving away, so I’ve been trying to spend more time with her, either by going out for girls’ nights, or just by going to the gym together a few times a week.  D and I also planned two vacations, and I’m finding that planning vacations is almost as fun as actually going.  I’m spending my personal budget on more random stuff, like drinks at the bar and massage Groupons. My wear-everything challenging is still (!) going on, but I’m down to the dregs of my closet, down to the stuff that doesn’t fit quite right or that just doesn’t align with my style.  It’s hard to believe that my closet cleanout last year didn’t fix that, but there you go.

Goal-wise, this was a decent month! I didn’t achieve one of what I thought was my more important goals, but I got a great bonus at work and checked a lot of languishing items off my To Do list.

1. Work out 4 days per week. Done!
I’m averaging slightly higher than this (2 weeks until bikini!) due to our trip to Miami + a sorority reunion we have planned for March. Who knew vanity was such a motivator?

2. Read 8 books and review. Done!

3. Send in last 2011 FSA form. Done!
I actually had to do this one twice since the first set was rejected, so yay for failing at paperwork!

4. Sign up for a yoga class. Done!
Classes started on Monday, and it’s nice to practice with a new teacher! I might have to have her look up what “vinyasa” means, but I’m hoping that was just because it was the first class and she decided to take it easy on us.

5. Food goal: cook only from scratch for one week. Maybe?
Probably should have put a spoiler alert on my last post.  Actually, we might have made this, depending on how creatively I define “from scratch.”  I liked seeing all of the comments on my last post about how people define cooking from scratch, because I had such an all-or-nothing mindset.

6. Apply to be a volunteer at the animal shelter. Fail.
And I have no excuse. It’s written on my whiteboard at work, it’s in my notebook, it’s on the blog. I just didn’t get it done. Definitely on my list for next month!

How did you do this month?

Setting Stupid Goals

February 24, 2012 - 8 Responses

So, I set a goal for this month to cook everything from scratch for one week.  This has turned out to be really stupid goal.

It sounded OK when I wrote it down.  Yeah, just don’t eat chicken fingers or canned soups! Easy!

Then I start planning and I realized that we use a lot of convenience food, as well as the fact that I didn’t define the boundaries of “cooking from scratch” very well.

Do crackers count?  Who makes crackers from scratch?  What about cereal? Can we buy pre-sliced steak strips for our burritos, or do we have to buy actual steaks and cut them down (this is not hard, by the way)?  And what about chicken stock, or pasta, or hot chocolate with marshmallows? Can we not go out to eat at all?

Every time I had to question whether or not I could use pre-chopped nuts in homemade granola or if I could drink a beer with dinner, I wanted the answer to be, “this is OK.” My having an opinion, however, meant that the answer was suspect.  Of course it’s OK, because otherwise I have to try again tomorrow!

This is actually why I do very well with money and with engineering.  Numbers don’t lie, and they’re rarely vague.  If I spend $100 on a trip, that’s $100 that doesn’t go to savings.  Steel is stronger than bubblegum.

 

Of course, as Stacking Pennies noted earlier this year, you really should set goals you care about.  Maybe that was my problem all along.