How I Eliminated $5000/year in Spending in One Afternoon

It seems that at the end of every year I do two things: I go through my email and unsubscribe from a bunch of promotional newsletters I never buy from I take More »

A Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Brand Personality

I order a lot from Amazon. A LOT. I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber so I don’t hesitate to order 1 tube of toothpaste on Monday and a roll of tape on Thursday More »

RESULTS: My Salad in a Jar Experiment

As I sit here eating my 7th salad-in-a-jar I realized I haven’t updated anyone on the results! So here goes: Recap: On 7/1 I made 5 salads in jars, based on reading More »

My Salad In a Jar Experiment

A few weeks ago I noticed some blog posts here and here about making salad in a mason jar – and having it last all week without spoiling or getting soggy. I More »

5 Lessons An Emergency Hospital Stay Taught Me About Social Media

Let me preface this by saying I SWEAR this is not becoming a medical blog. Given the last 2 posts and the title on this one you might think so – but More »

 

How I Eliminated $5000/year in Spending in One Afternoon

Dollar Bill Stack

It seems that at the end of every year I do two things:

  1. I go through my email and unsubscribe from a bunch of promotional newsletters I never buy from
  2. I take a look at all of the recurring monthly charges in my accounts and eliminate as many as possible

This year was no exception. When looking at money though, I looked at 3 different areas:

  1. What am I paying for that I don’t use?
  2. What am I paying more for than I need to be?
  3. What spending am I not accounting for, and where is it going?

I’ll break down where I landed in each area.

A Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Brand Personality

I order a lot from Amazon. A LOT. I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber so I don’t hesitate to order 1 tube of toothpaste on Monday and a roll of tape on Thursday and have them all shipped 2nd-day air to me.  Most days, Amazon exceeds my expectations. 2-day shipments often come in 1 day. I get text messages on shipping status. When they screw up, returns are easy.

On Monday I had a unique situation. After 3 years, we’re having a new furnace put in (ours is a floor unit from 1949 and has completely stopped working). Since we have a manual floor unit, we don’t have a thermostat. So, being the tech-junkie I am I bought a NEST thermostat from Amazon – if we’re going new furnace, it’s going to be the latest tech.

On Monday, the box came from Amazon and seemed unusually large for a thermostat. I opened it and saw these:

 

I double checked my order and statement and sure enough, I had ordered (and paid for) ONE Nest thermostat. Amazon sent me ONE CASE which is FOUR total thermostats. A $750 mistake on their part. I tweeted (with the above picture):

@richmackey Amazon Nest Tweet

No response from @Amazon but several replies from friends who all were interested in buying one from me if I decided to keep them.

I’m guessing Amazon doesn’t really track mistakes like this, but I felt the right thing to do was contact them.

I Knew This Kid… (poem)

I was browsing through Facebook today and saw a post from Shelly Kramer that made me think of  a poem I found in high school and kept in a notebook… then eventually transferred to a Word doc.. and I’ve had it on my computer(s) since college. It always along for the ride whenever I upgrade.

I’ve Googled the crap out of each line and group of lines and can’t find it ANYWHERE no the web. I wanted to put it here – in the hopes that it inspires some other kid to be who they want to be. And not what someone else wants them to be. Feel free to share this post with the share buttons. Or share this graphic of the poem I whipped up for easy Facebook sharing. It should be open to the world.

I Knew This Kid

I knew this skinny little kid

            Who never wanted to play tackle football at all

But thought he’d better if he wanted

            His Daddy to love him and prove his courage

And things like that.

            I remember him holding his breath

And closing his eyes

            And throwing a block into a guy twice his size,

Proving he was brave enough to be loved, and crying softly

            Because his tailbone hurt

And his shoes were so big they made him stumble.

 

I knew this skinny little kid

            With sky-blue eyes and soft brown hair

Who liked cattails and pussy willows,

            Sumac huts and sassafras,

Who liked chestnuts and pine cones and oily walnuts,

            Lurking foxes and rabbits munching lilies,

Secret caves and moss around the roots of oaks,

            Beavers and muskrats and gawking herons.

And I wonder what he would have been

            If someone had loved him for

Just following the fawns and building waterfalls

            And watching white rats have babies.

I wonder what he would have been

            If he hadn’t played tackle football at all.

 —Author Unknown

 

RESULTS: My Salad in a Jar Experiment

As I sit here eating my 7th salad-in-a-jar I realized I haven’t updated anyone on the results! So here goes:

Recap:

On 7/1 I made 5 salads in jars, based on reading blog posts here and here. The theory is that you can make your lunch for the week on Sunday and have a self-contained salad (dressing and all) that stays fresh for meals all 5 days of the week. Here’s how things worked out:

Monday – Salad #1: As you would expect, everything was fresh and delicious. Almost as if I’d made it fresh 20 minutes before eating it. Color was great. Texture was great – nothing went mushy.

Tuesday – Salad #2: Pretty much the same story as Monday. The shaved Parmesan cheese was all stuck together and while it tasted good, had a bit of a wet texture that didn’t go over well with me.

My salad from Tuesday, 7/3 – blueberries & tomatoes intact and delicious.

My Salad In a Jar Experiment

A few weeks ago I noticed some blog posts here and here about making salad in a mason jar – and having it last all week without spoiling or getting soggy. I was intrigued. During the work week, salad is one of my default lunches. I eat it a lot. And I can spend anywhere from $8 – $15 depending on where I go and what I get. so I had two questions:

  1. Could I save money by doing this?
  2. Would I really enjoy the taste of salad in a jar on Friday – when it’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a week?

Startup costs are minimal, thank goodness. Just $10.44 for 12 quart-size, wide-mouth mason jars (some bloggers say use a pint but seriously, this is my entire meal not a side salad – I need a little more). In hindsight, I also should get a salad spinner to get the water out of the lettuce. Just not something we have in our kitchen.

I stick with pretty similar ingredients in all of the salads to simplify the first week but the options would be about as limitless as your imagination. Here’s my process.

Step 1: Start with dressing.

You have to start with the dressing and the most important thing to remember is it CANNOT touch the lettuce. Then you get a disgusting sludge. I used 5 different dressings – all reduced fat (but none fat-free. Dressing shouldn’t be fat free.)

From left to right: Honey Mustard, Asian Ginger, Parmesan Asiago, Catalina, Italian.

5 Lessons An Emergency Hospital Stay Taught Me About Social Media

Image © Creative Commons – Kirstyhall http://www.flickr.com/photos/fragiletender/

Let me preface this by saying I SWEAR this is not becoming a medical blog. Given the last 2 posts and the title on this one you might think so – but I promise this post is short on medical and long on life.

Tuesday the 6th I woke up at 11:30 with a slight pain in my abdomen. 5 hours later it was an intense pain that felt like someone was stabbing my under the rib cage and twisting the knife. So off we went to the ER at 4:30 in the morning where I learned I was having a pretty major gallbladder attack. I was admitted and 24 hours later my gallbladder was removed.

Over the course of 3 days in the hospital and 6 more days at home resting and loopy on Percocet I came to a new understanding about these 5 things.

1. Social media connections are real, important and at times, critical.

I only had my cell phone and my iPad with me in the hospital. These were my connections with the outside world. I over shared on Facebook at 2 in the morning when I was awakened to have my vitals checked and people shared back. And responded. I received advice, jokes, feedback and general “news” from friends 24/7 while I was laid up. Without social media and a connected device I would have had to rely on a land-line phone (seriously?) Having my connection to Facebook and Twitter in particular kept my spirits up and allowed me to share what I was going through with people who are important to me… as well as a lot of random strangers, in the case of Twitter.

I’ve heard a lot of businesses say “I have a lot of Facebook fans that I never see walk through my door.” And that concerns them. I’d challenge them to think a little differently. Have those people said something good about their business to friends? Have they shared info or news recently? Do you have another means by which they may be partaking of your services (web site, delivery, etc.)? Just because someone doesn’t walk through the door doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact on your business in some way or another. We care about our social connections and they impact our lives – and purchase decisions.

Demystifying (My) Lipomas

Since I was diagnosed with lipomas in the fall of 2010, I’ve had to make some major lifestyle changes in things like hair care products and, most drastically, foods I can eat. Every once in a while a question comes up i.e. “Why aren’t you having any edamame? You love the stuff!” or “Why can’t you get a shampoo at a hair salon?” So I thought I’d take a minute to explain my particular situation, what caused my lipomas (as best the doctors know) and how I’ve been combating them by watching what goes into and onto my body – along with some exercise.

As a category, WebMD describes lipomas as:

“… a growth of fat cells in a thin, fibrous capsule usually found just below the skin. Lipomas are found most often on the torso, neck, upper thighs, upper arms, and armpits, but they can occur almost anywhere in the body. One or more lipomas may be present at the same time. Lipomas are the most common noncancerous soft tissue growth.”

Wikipedia is a little more brutal:

lipoma is a benign tumor composed of adipose tissue. It is the most common form of soft tissue tumor.[1] Lipomas are soft to the touch, usually movable, and are generally painless. Many lipomas are small (under one centimeter diameter) but can enlarge to sizes greater than six centimeters. Lipomas are commonly found in adults from 40 to 60 years of age, but can also be found in children. Some sources claim that malignant transformation can occur,[2] while others say that this has yet to be convincingly documented.[3]

My doctor noted there are several different types. She believed (correctly it seems) that the type I have is a conglomeration of plant estrogen and excess fatty tissue. No, being overweight doesn’t cause lipomas – however, they are composed of fat deposits so it stands to reason that excess fat could potentially help them form (WebMD doesn’t believe this, other sources aren’t concrete on the issue). And an increase in fat cells can make you a bit more susceptible. (Honestly, no one really knows a ton about them – they’re non-cancerous so they just remove them and move on). Because mine formed in the chest area, an excess of plant estrogen was deemed a likely contributor.

The solution for me? Get rid of excess fat. Cut back on consumption of plant estrogen. To do part 2, I had to get educated quickly. Luckily my doctor gave me a cheat sheet that showed me foods high in plant estrogen and foods that counteract plant estrogen. (Side note, women in menopause will sometimes do the OPPOSITE of what I have to do to get more plant estrogen into their bodies.)

In short I had to do the following:

  • Give up almost all soy products.
  • Stop using any shampoo with tea tree oil (most salons) or lavendar.
  • Avoid other high plant estrogen foods like apples, papaya, pumpkin, wheat (yep), pomegranate & yams.
  • No more egg yolks.

There are a ton of other things that are lesser evils – and eating things like broccoli, berries, onions, citrus and green beans counteract the effects of plant estrogens.

So, almost 2 years later I have no issues with lipomas. No lumps. No pain. No adverse effects. And I’ve had no surgery. I lost ~50 lbs (which I needed to anyway) and eat better (also not a bad thing to do anyway).

Please note that nothing in this post is medical advice. I’m not a doctor. Not even pretending to be one. Nothing is a recommendation for you. You should do what I did and talk to doctors and specialists. My lipomas were presumed to be tied directly to these things – and making these two changes has helped me significantly (FYI, if I eat a small quantity of edamame I’ll have a small lump within 24 hours – so I take the diet piece seriously). Lipomas are tricky and complex. Your situation is your own.

At the end of the day, the entire experience helped me to make lifestyle changes that have made me healthier and happier. So whatever the cause or potential solution, I’m better off today than I was. I’m not 100% strict on any of these (except no soybeans), but now you know why I order egg whites. Pass on edamame. And avoid wheat as much as I can.

That Moment When All Your Priorities Change

I’ve debated writing this post for over a year. Almost 2 years now. It’s something I’ve only shared with a few people. Ever. And something I didn’t think I’d post or talk about publicly. Three things changed my mind.

1. My good friend Erika wrote a piece for Change This called “The Shattering.” She talks a little about it on her blog here as well. I won’t go into details on her post, you can read it (it’s free) and see for yourself why it moved me.

2. My friend Justin in San Francisco introduced me to this guy on Twitter. Who has cancer. And is blogging about it. And live tweeting chemo. Amazing.

3. A friend on Facebook posted the graphic to the left today* that made me really think about choices I’ve made over the last ~2 years.

So what do I have to say? I’m getting to it. Be patient.

You already know from previous posts that the death of my friend Jason was a pivotal point in my life. It altered my reality. Fractured my soul. But admittedly, after reading Erika’s piece, I wasn’t shattered. Fractured, yes. Shattered, no. That came about a month later.

After Jason died, I took a new interest in my own health. I was approaching 40 and hadn’t had a physical in a LOOOOOOONG time. So it was time. We did a full work up and fortunately, everything looked good aside from two things.

  1. My total cholesterol was fine, though  my HDL/LDL levels were the opposite of what each should be. Diet change. No biggie.
  2. My doctor found some lumps around my right nipple. Yep. That.

His opinion? “This could be nothing or it could be cancer.” Time for a referral.

My Cloud Storage Solution(s) Could Work For You

I’ve talked a lot about my cloud storage. I don’t use a ton of it, but I do seem to be acquiring it. I thought it would be easiest to post a list of what I use – as well as links for you to sign up (and referral links that benefit BOTH of us).

Right now Box is my 500 lb. gorilla with SkyDrive close behind. Honestly, with those two I probably don’t need the others. But I’ll keep them. I store different things in different services, all segmented, which helps me keep it straight.

  • My primary use: Photos
  • 2 GB Free
  • 500 MB additional using the referral link above (referrer gets 500 MB too)
  • Additional promotions have helped me get my storage up – including a promotion for 500 MB of free space for every 500 MB of photos you auto upload with a new feature. So watch for those.
  • My primary use: TBD
  • 5 GB Free for new signups
  • Referral program for people at your work (same domain on the email address)
  • Ran a promotion for a free upgrade to 50 GB if you use the mobile apps (not currently running)

Why I’m Going Back to An Actual Kindle

I used to have an original Kindle (my Dad still uses it actually). It was an amazing piece of technology and went with me everywhere. And at the time, I traveled a lot.  Then I got an iPad. And the tech in my bag started to become cumbersome to carry on my shoulder for 100,000+ miles a year.  So I ditched the Kindle and went full bore to the Kindle app on my iPad. But lately, that just hasn’t been working for me.

Don’t get me wrong, my love affair with my iPad hasn’t changed. But with regard to reading, it’s just not performing as I need it to.  The Kindle app is amazing. I can read on planes, in restaurants/coffee shops, hotels, etc.  It’s also great for reading in bed.  But there are 4 little words that are pushing me back to an actual Kindle from Amazon: I have a pool. Coupled with the fact that I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to, having 2 devices is back in the realm of “acceptable” for me.

All summer I’ve been TRYING to make my iPad pool friendly. I drape a shirt over my head so it gets shaded. I turn the brightness up as high as it will go. I try black background/white text.  But nothing works. Simply put, the iPad is not for use in direct sunlight. As such, I’ve found myself reading on my couch on a gorgeous day just because I didn’t want to deal with the glare on the screen. As someone who loves being outside, this is unacceptable.

So I broke down and bought a Kindle. It arrives today and I’ll promptly charge it, sync it and stick it in my bag for our quick 4-day weekend in Cabo where, yes, I’ll read it by the pool. Or on the beach. Because Amazon’s e-ink just WORKS in sunlight. The iPad, unfortunately, does not.

Anyone else have the same experience? Sporting both an iPad and a Kindle? What are your thoughts?