Sunday, July 31, 2011

Frugal Recipe

Super easy to do after a trip to Costco:

2 Chicken breasts
2 Cups of Frozen Veg
1 White Onion
1 Cup brown rice (uncooked)

Cook everything, mix it all together. Eat in a wrap.

If you bought all the ingredients cheap (like chicken from Costco), then you've got a really healthy/filling/frugal meal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Which Direction do you Choose?

I got linked to this blog post and it got me thinking. Am I trying to do too much all at once? Cause right now my priority list in no particular order is:

  • My SO
  • Doing good work at work
  • Getting in shape
  • Becoming really frugal
  • Developing more income streams
  • Learning how to program in C++ and Objective C
  • Learn Economics
  • Upgrade EE skills - theoretically and practically
  • Read books/magazines
  • Read technical biotech books

I think this might be too much to take on all at once. At the very least it is far too much to do everything well. Take any weekday. 8 hours of sleep. 8 hours of work. That leaves 8 hours to commute, eat, cook, clean AND work on my 9 other goals.

My normal approach in situations like this is to cut sleep down to 4-5 hours. But you can't get healthy sleeping like that, and you can't get happy.

This is going to take some introspection and hard decisions.

My advice, look long and hard at what you want to accomplish. Then look at what you can accomplish. Make those two line up somehow or else you're going to be stressed and unhappy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Money in - Money out

When most people think about frugal, they think about spending as little money as possible, or alternatively, getting as much value for your money as possible. Personally I'm on the value side of things. For example I'd rather buy a $100 pair of shoes that will last over 1 year than a Walmart brand of $30 shoes that will be toast in less than 4 months. Recognizing value and quality is a skill I'm learning, and it's very important if you want to improve your financial position in the long term.

But this is getting me off my point. To me frugal is more than just getting proper value for your money, it's about increasing your revenue stream wherever possible. There are many ways to do this: get another job, freelance your skills, deliver papers, look for gigs on craigslist. For my current situation, I'm going to try and develop a passive revenue stream. That is, a revenue stream that will keep on giving me money even though I've stopped putting effort into it.

I'm going to try and write an iPhone app. I have no previous experience in Objective-C. But I have a partner and an idea and my brain. I'll post updates as time goes on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Entertaining

Eventually you'll have to have people over to your house to entertain. It's a very adult thing to do and made me feel dirty inside. On the other hand we were playing a board game, so it's not THAT adult is it?

Still, the whole dinner for friends thing will probably happen to everyone and it's generally bad form to serve leftovers/uber frugal food. But it's not the end of the world if you buy some decently nice food (chicken breasts), cook with a recipe that your SO came up with ;) and serve with a low cost side dish (like couscous and zucchini).

And don't feel bad if you don't buy a nice bottle of wine or lay out the Hors d'oeuvres. If you're friends are classy they'll bring something. If they aren't then nobody gets snacks, and you don't get fat.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Doing Good and Doing Bad

Yesterday I forgot to pack a lunch to work. The direct result of this was that I ended up eating at Quiznos. Man, Quiznos is delicious. (I'm not sponsored by Quiznos.)

BUT!

Quiznos - regular sandwich with chips and drink costs $10.51, which is more than I have budgeted to spend on food though the whole day. Ideally I'll get down to a $50 a month budget where my daily spending cap will be $1.60. That...will be an intense day. For now, my goal is <$200 a month, so my daily limit is <$8.

tl;dr Quiznos is exceedingly bad for my budget.

But after work I went to the No Frills next to my work; it's much bigger than the one near my house. They have what I've been looking for: dried beans. I spent about $11.50 and I got enough food for my dinner (and 4 similar dinners), as well as ingredients to make another dish that will probably last 6 meals (at a total cost of $4.50).

Plan ahead, bring lunch so you don't waste money on things that taste good (and make you fat).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Maximize Time

You need to maximize your time in small ways. Watch TV while you cook and eat, but turn it off as soon as your done (for those people who really need to watch TV). Read a magazine while going to the bathroom (if it's mostly fluff and not really informative). Try to wake up in time (that's an important one).

We only have so long on this earth and you gotta squeeze the life you want out of it.

Biking

Making your life more efficient is always a good thing to strive for. For example, I need to get to work and I also need to get into better shape (I'm 25 lbs off my target weight at this point). Solution: bike to work.

You might say that this is a waste of time or inefficient because it takes longer. It actually doens't (which is a pleasant surprise). Between walking to the bus, waiting and then walking from the bus stop, it's faster to bike.

Today was my first day, so I think I can reasonably expect to get faster as well.

For the record, I don't think this counts as a frugal choice because it cost me money to fix my bike up and I get a university bus pass for free. But, this is definitely more rounded thing to do, and outside my comfort zone a little.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Volunteering in your Hobbies

It is fair to say that most hobbies are a pretty big money sink. If you're going to stay frugal, you'll want to minimize these expenses while still maintaining your hobbies. I am operating on the crazy assumption that you want to continue living your life as you build up savings.

So if your hobby has an associated club, volunteer at the club. Chances are you'll make some good friends with shared interests. As you get more associated and make more friends you'll get more opportunities in that field. If you join the exec or spend a significant amount of time helping the club, it's safe to say you'll get that time back in some way. Maybe it's using some equipment that normally wouldn't be available to you or it's getting to go on a trip as a club representative.

No matter what, pick a hobby you are passionate about and get involved with other people who share that passion. It will come back to you 10 fold. And you won't have to buy all your own equipment.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Meals for <$2

Ironically, as I had a conversation about frugality and how significant but not massive steps are sufficient for changing my life, I made a meal that was quite honestly a massive step in that it cost less than 2 dollars per person. The conversation (as we made the food) was about how I shouldn't be concentrating on buying the cheapest food possible, I should be concentrating on simply making food rather than eating out. The logic being that the step from eating out a lot to eating at home a lot is as large as going from eating at home to eating cheaply at home.

Goes to show, you can say one thing all you want, but you might be just wasting air cause you're doing something else.

For the record the meal was:

  • 1/4 bag of perogies ($0.88)
  • 1/4 ring of sausage ($1.00)
  • 1/2 bag of bok choy ($0.75)
  • 2 onions ($0.50)
  • 1/8 container of sour cream ($0.60)

And it tasted really good. Filled us both up something fierce.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fridges are Sneaky

Spoiled food is a huge waste of money. But it is very common for things to go bad or simply go unused and be thrown out. This means that if you are spending $200 a month on groceries, you're throwing away about $50. A month. That money could have been used so much better and you know it ($600 a year).

This is what I do. Every day - every single day - I open my fridge and I go through what's in there. I open every drawer and look behind everything. This is not an overly arduous task because there is rarely very much in my fridge. But it has frequently saved me from having to throw out lettuce, tomatoes or leftovers. It is also handy to always be aware of what's in there so that you can plan around it when grocery shopping.

For things that aren't in your fridge but still perishable, follow the same procedure. It will save you money.

For example, right now I know I have way too many potatoes in my cupboard. So I'm brainstorming potatoey recipes. I hope it works out.

Maintaining Goals

This week I am doing a terrible job of staying up on my goals. I've drank twice this week, ate out twice, haven't gone running, hung out with people instead of working on personal goals and slept late for work. Hell, I'm not even keeping track of my goals this week - normally I keep track of them on a board on my wall.

If I wanted to make excuses I'd say I've been sick since Saturday. But screw that, personal accountability isn't about making excuses, it's about accepting that you did the wrong thing and all you can do is fix it in the future.

So that's what I'm going to do.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Biking

Biking is about as well rounded as an activity can get. You save money by not bussing or driving. You work out by pushing yourself. You are instantly slightly more social (ohmygod heeeey, you ride a bike too? What kind is it?). You learn to plan ahead a little better (I don't think I can carry that TV home on my bike...) Basically, I'm really happy to be riding again.

My bike isn't anything special. It's an extra large (I'm quite tall) 10-speed Apollo from the 70s I believe. Got it of craigslist for $140 and so far I've put about $30 of parts into it (2 new chains and a pair of pedals).

But I want to get it in tip-top condition. The following is what needs to be fixed for the bike project to be "done":

  • Replace the rear gears (I'm sure there's a fancy name for that)
  • Get handelbar tape - the current stuff feels weird
  • Get fenders so I can bike in the rain
  • Try to deal with any rust I can find
  • Adjust the deraillers
  • Adjust the seat - feels a little low
  • Buy lights - night driving is approaching fast

I better got on it.

In other news that spaghetti sauce I made a while back is still around. Gonna get 10 meals out $15 of ingredients. That's a success.

Spending Perspective

I assume everyone's goal here is to become financially comfortable. There are 3 main ways of trying to make this happen.

1. Get a fantastically high-paying job so that your expenses can't home to keep up. This method is pretty much impossible because in our consumerist culture, it is ALWAYS possible for your spending to outstrip your expenses until you change your attitude towards buying things. This change in attitude is whole different discussion entirely.

2. Get enough savings that you can just withdraw from them for the rest of your life and not have to work again. This method is only possible if you change your perspective on spending money while you are making money. Only then will you be able to develop a nest egg large enough to live off of. This way is all well and good but it ignores the massive potential of having a significant sum of money which is:

3. Invest enough money, well enough, to live off the interest. This sort of investment could be many things, personal loans, stock market or own a business. If you do this correctly you can live without having to lift another finger.

Which brings me to my main point, if you own a business you are trying to make a profit off of money that other people are spending (usually). Everytime someone spends money, it makes you happy because you get a cut of it.

But right now you (probably) don't own a business, so you're on the other side of this fence. Everytime you spend money, any money at all, someone else is making a profit. So stop making their lives easier and stop spending money. Right now you're on the outside looking in - this paradise of people just giving you money.

Change your perspective, don't give yourself a pat on the back everytime you don't spend, chastize yourself everytime you give someone some profit - because there are ways around it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Betting on a Brighter Future

It's easy to make a bad decision in the short term because things "will be better later". Why is this so widely accepted? Isn't this exactly what got the US into their massive issues (sub-prime mortages etc.)

The way I see it, right now I have a job, it doesn't pay super well. Once I graduate the odds of me getting a higher paying job or better, but are by no means guaranteed. So when I make plans for the future I assume my current situation or worse. If I looked at it any other way, I'd make the wrong decisions. Fancy dinner out? Sure thing - I'll be able to afford it with the money I haven't made yet.

I guess it realtes quite closely to the whole "don't spend what you don't have" thing. But in a world with so much credit it's now "don't spend like you earn something you don't".

Assume the worst. If it works out better than that - happy day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Frugal Success and Failure

This weekend I made some more progress on the ol' frugal front.

  1. Fixed my bike so that it's ridable again. It's amazing how much information the internet has on everything. Maybe that makes me sound like a luddite, but it's true!
  2. Phoned up Telus and got my plan changed from $57 a month to $30. If there was any way to get the $20 plan with unlimited texting I would, but alas they say it is not in the cards. I'm going to keep trying though. Apparently the Telus policy is if the customer complains enough, give them what they want - but I kinda don't wanna be that guy.
  3. I bought lunch at work on Tuesday. I know. Terrible form.

I've also found quite a few recipes that use beans. When I was in the US there was a ridiculously large bag of pinto beans for less than $20. But I suspect that if I head to some of the ethnic shops near my place I'll be able to find well priced dry beans there as well. Once that happens I'm debating making a massive batch of food and freezing it so I'm not constantly cooking.

I like being frugal, but man, cooking all the time gets annoying.

What kind of Blog is this?

Since this is one of thousands of blogs created in the last month, it is essential to further pin down what kind of blog it is.

For the most part, right now, it's a get out of debt blog. The vast majority of what I'm posting will be about how to minimize expenses. This is not to say this blog is about living like a borderline hobo. I tend to agree with the perception that today's society is consumerism-crazy, too much is bought for absolutely no reason. Maybe minimizing expenses isn't the correct way to think about it, maybe it's about minimizing waste.

Wasted money happens everytime you throw something away or you pay someone to do something you could do yourself. In the basic case this means buying lunch, in the extreme case this means buying tomatoes.

At my current stage, I'm getting adept at the basic case. I am a far cry from mastering the basic case of waste minimization, but I'm not terrible either. Everytime I find something that will save some money and improve your life, I'll post it here. Everyime I find something that will save money and keep your life neutral, I'll post it here. Things that have a negative impact on your life may be posted with caveat of how much worse it made things.

Anyway, as I get past my first hurdle of eliminating my credit card debt (over halfway!), I will probably concentrate more on well rounded life skills (and some technical electrical engineer skills). But for the most part, this is about reducing life expenses while keeping the quality of life high.

An Ode to Eggs

Man, eggs are just straight awesome.

They have protein, nutrients and vitamins. They are cheap ($2.39 for a dozen large where I am) and extremely easy to cook into something decent.

Feeling lazy? Hard boiled egg
Less lazy? Scrambled
Have bread? Fried egg on toast
Have veggies? Omelette/Scrambled eggs with veggies
Have some meat + wrap? Breakfast wrap
Want dinner? Egg drop soup

The point is I feel like death today (missed work yesterday) and I don't have the energy to write a post that I would call "decent".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spending $0 a day

Trying spending $0 a day as often as possible. It's a satisfying feeling to look back at the day before and know that you exercised self control all day. Surprisingly, since I started to be more frugally-conscious I have had very few $0 days. This is mainly due to needing to buy one or two items from the grocery store, or being obligated socially to bring stuff (to a BBQ, a birthday and a housewarming so far this month - ugh).

I can not recommend the practice of recording your expenses as they happen highly enough. It has been invaluable in me determining where the fat in my budget is and where the things I can't prevent are happening. This makes it much easier to make a good budget that you'll actually be able to stick to.

For example, my current budget is unrealistic over the summer because I'm paying $100 a month towards my student loan as well as $30 in interest every month. On one hand I feel bad that I couldn't keep to my budget, on the other hand I can tell you exactly why and try to change those reasons.

Goal for the day: Get my phone bill down from $59 to $20. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Social Obligations

So far, the most persistent expense that I am unable to escape from is social expenses. I'm fine not going to the bar and not eating out (I've been rather good at it so far this month), but when I'm invited to someone's place, it's socially implied to bring something.

It occurs to me, literally as I'm writing this, that I shouldn't have bought some pre-made crap from the grocery store, I should've bought the ingredients and made something myself. It would be guaranteed to be cheaper and I would have supplies left over. It wouldn't be nearly as cheap but it would be cheaper than buying 7 Layer Dip and a bag of chips.

Live and learn I guess. This is all about noticing what is going wrong and fixing it, right?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Success with Telus

So the $15 of overage charges on my data that I mentioned in a previous post have been dealt with. The first time I talked to their customer service, I was told that the best they could do was halve the charges. I politely declined (mainly because I didn't feel like pressing the issue since I was currently at work).

This afternoon I called back and calmly explained my position. After they talked to tech support and left me on hold for 10 minutes (which I really didn't mind that much), they told me to take my phone to a Telus store to get it checked and that the charges + taxes had been taken off my account.

The phone call was exactly 30 minutes and 19 seconds. Since I effectively saved $15 that works out to $30/hour. This was most definitely worth my time :)

I'm going to wait until tomorrow to change my plan to a bare-bones talk and text w/o data.

Save Money or Make Money

Since we are all aware that time is the limiting factor in life (once you run out a funeral home gets to profit off your rotting ass), the question becomes do you try to save money or make money? There are two ways of looking at this. First, if you are better at saving money, you will need far less money to retire. Second, if you make more money, your savings will be able to grow faster.

So what's the most value-added activity for me right now? Should I study some textbooks to become a better electrical engineer (potentially increasing my future primary income stream), try and make money other ways online (filling out surveys, online poker) or cut my expenses in every way that I can (cutting my cell phone plan, cancelling expensive social obligations).

Ask yourself this question everyday and make sure that you stay on a path your okay with. Personally I'm going to continue reading up on ways to save money so that I can implement them as the opportunities present themselves. After that I'm going to look into these sites where you can make money by filling out surveys.

What can I say? I don't think I can digest EE stuff at 1am.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Month Halfway mark

This month I've been tracking every single expense, and honestly, it's not looking so good on the frugal front.

I'll break down the total into Bad Expenses(things I should have avoided buying), Good Expenses (things I need to/should have bought) and Iffy Expenses (debatable purchases).

  • Rent ~ $500
  • Camping Food ~ $15
  • Groceries ~ $9, $4, $4, $9, $9
  • Hydro Bill ~ $140 (paid once every two months, split with roommate)

  • Student Loan Debt Payment ~ $100 (I'm still in school why am I paying this?)
  • Went to the bar ~ $20
  • Pizza ~ $6
  • Beer ~ $10
  • Food out ~ $14
  • Lunch and dinner out ~ $50
  • Beer ~ $22
  • Cab ~ $10
  • McDonalds ~ $10

  • Camping Supplies ~ $44
  • New Vaccum Cleaner ~ $40
  • Beer(for a housewarming) ~ $15
  • Beer + Snacks (for a birthday) ~ $24
  • Bike Chain ~ $50 (returning it today for a cheaper one)

Definitely a far from successful month so far. Hopefully the student loan payment thing stops soon (applied for a new one and they should figure it out at that point).

I guess the takeaway from looking at things this way is: always write down your expenses so you can keep track and spend less money on beer and eating out. If I cut all the beer and eating out I'm still in budget, factor in returning my bike chain and I even might even have some breathing room.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where's the Line?

Over the past month, since I started this whole frugal/healthy kick to round out my life I've been seeing inefficiences in my life clearer and clearer. Here is a list of the things I've noticed (bolded means fixed).

  • Laptop charger always plugged in - now I turn off powerbar when not in use
  • Cell-phone bill is way too high for what I use it for
  • Eating lunch out a lot - now I cook at home and bring it in
  • Eat out dinner more than I should with the girlfriend
  • Buy too many superfulous items
  • Using too much cheese on food (cheese is expensive)
  • Throwing out ziploc bags after one use
  • Running a dishwasher instead of washing by hand (which is worse?)
  • Leaving the TV on when I'm not in the room
  • Having long showers
  • Bring things to social events I'm invited to
  • I still watch TV

Obviously I need to fix my habits better and faster. I know there are more things on that list, I just can't think of them right now. Ugh, maybe I just had a really crappy sleep.

The point is, which of these measures are too far, which are inefficient. I use ziploc bags for my lunch so I don't have to wash a container. But which is most cost efficient? Bring a bag and throwing it out, bring a bag and wash it or bring a container and wash it? To get a solid answer I guess I would have to time myself washing each one and then give myself a reasonable hourly wage.

I dunno, is it crazy to wash those tiny little sandwich bags so you can use them again?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Plan Ahead or Self Discipline

If you want to stick to a frugal/healthy plan you need to be able to plan ahead or have a large amount of self discipline. A huge part of this is the lunch at work problem. If you are working a standard 9-5 you probably don't have lunch provided, so you need to get it on your own.

The worst possible thing you could do is buy lunch. There are literally no options that are both healthy and frugal. Actually, scratch that, there are no frugal options. You can make lunch at home for as little as a dollar and I guarantee that 1 item of the dollar menu and McDonalds will not satisfy you.

So plan ahead. If you're hanging out with friends right after work on Monday and you have a terrible track record for waking up in time to make lunch, make two lunches Sunday night. And don't be tempted to eat one of the lunches as a "snack". Self discipline.

But if you don't plan ahead and you find yourself at work on Tuesday without lunch, well that's your own damn fault. Exercise your self-discipline and don't buy lunch. Get extremely hungry and eat a big dinner. I'm not even practicing what I preach here, in the past 3 weeks I've missed bringing a lunch twice. Both times I bought lunch and I feel bad about it. Just another step farther away from being frugal enough to start having savings.

Unfortunately self-discipline and planning ahead are not the most common skills, and they are hard to develop. Practice both at the same time, use your self-discipline to make a plan :).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dinner on the Cheap

Okay, back to living frugal (and healthy as a happy side effect).

Tonight for dinner I had to cook for two. The fridge/cupboard had enough for a meal but it was mainly lunch stuff (beans, wraps, fruit and veggies). And since my daily wraps at lunch are starting to feel a bit bland as it is, I thought I'd avoid it for dinner as well.

But, I was stocked up on canned spaghetti sauce (bought for .66 or a dollar a can). After a quick walk to the local discount grocery store I had all the ingredients for a large batch of spaghetti sauce.

Whole Recipe:

  • Whole Wheat Spaghetti (on sale) - $1.99
  • White Mushrooms - $0.80
  • Ground Beef - $5.72
  • 2 Cans Sauce - $2.00
  • 1 White Onion - $0.60
  • 3 Cloves Garlic - $0.20
  • Cheese - $0.50
  • Total Cost - $11.81
  • Expected number of meals - 10
  • Cost per meal (predicted) - $1.18

Which isn't bad at all. I could have still made it cheaper by buying the ground beef and the pasta in bulk from Costco or similar place.

I will definitely update on how many meals I actually get out this batch, for the sake of completeness.

Additionally, having this around will give lunches some variety. Open faced sandwich anyone? :D

Fueled by Fire

Becoming an Engineer is hard. I can only assume being an Engineer is hard. Being well rounded is probably even harder. Most of the time I will refer to being well rounded in two ways. The first way is the idea of being a well rounded human, you have your professional skills, your hobby skills, a social life, a decent financial plan for the future and good healthy. The second way is the idea of being a well rounded Engineer, with your directly applicable professional skills (skills you use at work) in addition to skills that aren't used at your job, but are interesting enough to pursue in your own time and could be classified as "Engineer-ish" skills. An example would be a Mechanical Engineer who is also developing team leadership skills or learning a programming language.

Basically, accomplishing things is hard and most people lack the motivation to get anything of note done. If you're one of these people, you need to change it about yourself, and soon. It's hard to make someone motivated and there is a ton of advice out there involving setting goals and yadda, yadda, yadda. Personally I've found that setting goals to be secondary to being truly motivated. True motivation is like having a fire inside you that is driving you forwards. I actually visualize the fire as a furnace, the sort that puts out an amazing amount of heat, but is also capable of smoldering gently when you aren't throwing fuel at it.

The fire gets stoked everytime I look at where I am in life and tell myself that if I just put in the time and effort there is nothing out of my reach. For the most part this is true of a lot of people. If you want to run a marathon, you have the ability inside you, if you want to learn how to be a master programmer, you have an internet connection therefore the resources are available to you. Anything your crazy little heart desires. All you have to do is throw everything on the fire and go for it.

But if you throw everything on the fire won't you burn out really quick? Nope! You have no idea what you're capable of. What you think is your all isn't even close to what you're actually capable of. This kinda works out because everything (EVERYTHING) is much harder than it looks (but don't let that discourage you).

So burn it all. Throw yourself into something and find out what you're capable of. Personally a great fuel for my internal fire is negative emotion (and it lets me think that I'm powered by demons - I'm a crazy person). Take something negative and turn yourself into something better than you are. Or take something positive (like a vision of what you could be) and become that.

Now go. Start your fire and find out what you're capable of.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Evil Data Plans

Having a smartphone is cool, there's no denying that. I mean who wants to live in a world where you can't pit zombies vs plants. Or play unlimited games of sudoku. Or use Google Maps to get your ass out of being lost pretty much anywhere.

The trouble is, having a smartphone with data makes you stupid and costs money. Everything about a smartphone is designed to distract you and make you less prepared. I'm as guilty of this as anyone, before leaving the house I should always check a map and write down where I'm going. But no matter what, I never do that and I end up relying on google maps to get there. Even worse is the times I've forgotten where I'm going and I have to open up my e-mail just to find out.

At the end of the day, I can't actually tell you if having a smartphone has added any value to my life. My gut feeling says that it hasn't. It's made a lot of things easier, but it has also made me reliant on it and I don't want that.

There's good news right now though. Or kinda. Well silver lining kind of good news. My phone recently went a little wonky and started screaming through data (500 MB in 24 hrs). I've phoned my provider and told them to cut off my data. So for this week I'm doing a little preview of life without data.

If all goes well I'll be able to cut my phone bill by a decent chunk. Let's hope I can get out of the $15 in overage charges that are my account now :P

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Value Added Activities

Since this blog is called "The Well Rounded" engineer, there should be something about developing well rounded technical skills. It is obvious that finding time to do things is an issue. Without independently developing professional skills any given day is quite busy.
For example:

  • Activity - Benefit
  • Getting enough sleep - healthy mind, healthy body
  • Commuting to work - practice dealing with annoying things
  • Working - presumably developing some professional skill (and being paid to do so)
  • Cooking - the better your food at home tastes, the less you'll eat out (frugal)
  • Hanging out with friends/significant others - social skills are important no matter what anyone else tells you
  • Working out - people like sexy people. True fact.
  • Relaxing - you can't run on full steam all the time

So what can you do to develop technical skills without burning yourself out? My advice is to substitute an activity that is purely useless (like watching TV or surfing reddit) with one that is still reasonably relaxing but actually useful. Instead of watching that episode of House (spoiler alert: he figures it out in the end), read a book about something your mildly curious about and is related to a skill you currently possess or trying to develop.

If you are getting into running and know the basics (left foot, right foot, repeat) then you could read a book about running. This will possibly give you further tips on diet or technique that you otherwise wouldn't have figured out on your own. The point is to keep the activity low stress, but still rewarding.

The best analogy for this that I can think of is that watching TV is empty calories. Avoid empty calories and have an apple instead. It is good for you in the long run and tastes good right now.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Goal Setting Prep

Obviously everyone wants to stick to their goals. I mean, why else would you declare them? Trouble is, it's quite rare for people to actually make a plan. From here, there is the further problem that plans are usually unrealistic and suck. Yes, of course you'll wake up at 6am, go for a run, eat breakfast and walk the dog. The fact that you can barely move before 8am every work day for the past month doesn't matter.

So here's what I've been doing and it's working reasonably well. I mean, I'm human and things go wrong (like flip cup tournaments). Get a notebook of some sort or a google doc and start keeping track of your day. I like to record things like when I woke up, when I got to work, what I accomplished at work (truthfully), when I got home and how I spent my time.

Doing this consistently for a couple weeks will give you a really good picture of your time. And then you're ready to set some realistic goals by looking at your day and finding places that have room for more productivity.

If you don't know which part of your life needs to be changed, it's unlikely that you'll change the right part.

For example, let's say my goal is to wake up 2 hours earlier than I do now. But my schedule shows I clearly stay up until midnight every night watching re-runs of Scrubs. Now I can work on going to bed earlier by watching less Scrubs, which will hopefully lead to being able to wake up earlier.

Every goal should have an attached action and your schedule needs time for that action.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Productivity Tip #1

I've always found that I work quite while when listening to music - I'm sure many people feel this way too (don't worry, this isn't the tip).

The thing I've noticed in the past couple weeks is that I listen to music on the computer (which I may or may not currently be working at) I have the irrestistable urge to find a song I like even if I'm listening to a solid playlist.

So my advice is to seperate your music from your workstation. Ideally, keep it out of arms reach. At the very least make it difficult or inconvenient to change the music. That way you'll just listen to the song rather than go all the way over there to change it. Unless Poison by Alice Cooper comes on.

Then it's time to crank it.

How Valuable is Your Time?

When you're trying to improve you lot in life, either by actively working on a skill or trying to change habit that is ingrained in you, it's going to take some time. Not as in you need to do it for 6 weeks or whatever until it's second nature (although that is probably true), but in the sense that you need to take time out of everyday to self-evaluate and be sure that what your doing is in line with your goals.

This means that your time is suddenly more valuable. Instead of doing what you've always done (TV, sleeping in, computer games, porn) which is presumably at a happy equilibrium of time available vs time wasted, there are new things to be working on. If you're trying to be frugal, instead of taking that time to watch TV, take that time to look into getting a cheaper phone bill, or research where to buy the cheap foods that you want to eat. Nothing that is going to improve your life is easy to do, and you will be used to not doing it.

So look at your time in the day and what you want to accomplish. Chances are you're going to have to cut down on something you really don't want to cut down on. Sacrifices have to be made if you want to improve your life. Set a plan down and do what's necessary to make sure it happens. Wake up earlier. Make sure the people in your life understand you don't have as much time as before. Only watch TV while making dinner. Stop caring what House does this week. Slow down the drinking.

There is actually a lot of time in the day, you just need to find the places where it's disappearing without adding anything to your life.

Just keep on pushing yourself and stop getting complacent. Don't let other people tell you how you're going to spend your free time. Most importantly, if you decide to take some time to relax, relax fully. If you make the call to relax while of sound (and aware) mind, you can reward yourself and spend some of that valuable time on you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Beer.

I don't know how many people are aware of this, but engineers like beer. At least in university they do. Or maybe all university students like beer?

Anyway. I used to be a bit of a drinker. I would not describe myself as an alcoholic, but that is really a matter of definition. The point is that beer used to be a rather integral thing in my life. It's a great social lubricant, a fun thing to do with friends and usually a pretty good time. And since my tolerance was so high, hangovers were only a concern if things got out of control.

But beer does not fit with being frugal and it does not fit with being healthy. In the past 11 months, my drinking has dropped substantially for various reasons. Now that I am truly concentrating on being frugal in all aspects of my life, drinking has dropped off even more.

This makes it that much worse when I do drink, the lowered inhibitions and the memory of how I used to drink can quickly result in too much consumption. And this quickly results in a wasted evening and a hangover.

To make my point absolutely clear. If you're trying to be healthy and if you're trying to be frugal, alcohol is about as destructive as you can get. It costs a lot, it wastes your time as you are doing it, it wastes your time the next day and it is bad for you. Alcohol is technically a poison, just diluted.

Resisting the temptation is hard and getting out of the social obligation is hard. But if it's absolutely unavoidable, drink just one beer, keep your tolerance low and try and enjoy yourself as much as possible.

Even if you are in a career with a drinking culture, you don't need to get wasted to be a part of the culture or one of the guys. As long as you don't give the impression that you think you're better than other people because you aren't drinking. Just make it clear that it's a choice you make and you respect everyones individual choice.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Budget

Everyone says that to get out of debt, you need a budget. Well, I am shooting for a budget at or below $1000.
Here's how it's broken down:

  • $520 - Rent
  • $250 - Food
  • $67 - Cell Phone
  • $20 - Internet
  • $20 - Heat
  • $40 - Electricity
  • $80 - Luxury/Other
  • Total: $997


The rent is surprisingly decent for my area (trust me on this one).

Food can probably get cut back massively. For example, last time I went to US Costco I got 10 lbs of boneless skinless chicken for 20 bucks. That is...pretty damn amazing by Canada price standards. Additionally there are recipes I still need to try out that are low cost and high nutrition. For example, I would love to start incorporating more things from here. And so you don't have to click through, it's a list of 10 healthiest cheapest foods: Brown Rice, Beans, Eggs, Sweet Potatoes, Canned Tuna, Bananas, Whole Wheat Pasta, Frozen Vegetables, Canned Tomatoes and Flank Steak. So far my diet includes only 2 of these things. Not good.

Another concern with food is that I have no problem eating blandly all the time, but that's not quite so ideal for the gf (this may not actually be how she feels, but I feel bad if I ask her to eat blandly all the time).

Cell phone can get reduced by $9 easily, I just need to cut callerID and paper billing.

Internet - $20. Not bad.

The heat in my apartment (basement suite) is shared with the people living above us. There's a switch in the middle of my living room that can shut off the furnace. Maybe I should do that for the rest of the summer?

Electricity is something that I really need to fix. I'm sure there's a lot of money being lost to things being plugged in that don't need to be. For example, my laptop at home is plugged in right now. Balls.

Luxury/Other is for gifts/dinners out and non-essential expenses. This is the category most likely to be violated in any given month. For the record I tried to follow this budget last month and it went...okay. I'd say I ended up $100-$200 over, which isn't too bad by my standards.

I'm going to keep a running tab of what I'm spending money on (hopefully this doesn't make it too easy to steal my identity).

So far (approx):
$15 Food for Hike
$45 Supplies for Hike
$6 Pizza for lunch (mmm healthy)
$9 Groceries for dinner
This puts me at $220 left for food and $35 left for luxury items.
I'm looking decent for my food target, but not so good on the luxury target.

Oh well, better keep working on that self-discipline thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

OpenCV 2.3 for VS 2008 from source

I've spent the last 5 hours at work trying to get OpenCV 2.3 (which was officially released within the past week) to mesh correctly with Visual Studios 2008. I had to do it from the source files because I wanted to include IPP.

First, check you're using the right architecure for everthing. Yes it's basic stuff but I had to re-do the whole thing because I forgot that this machine has Visual Studios setup all 32-bit like.

  1. Download the OpenCV source files here (the one that has "src" in the name).
  2. Download CMake from the CMake website.
  3. Install CMake
  4. Extract the OpenCV files from the .zip
  5. Open CMake and set the source code to the folder you just unzipped and the build location to be where you want the files to end up. I used C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3 because I'm original like that.
  6. Hit Configure. Choose the compiler you're going to be using, in this case VS 2008 or VS 2008 x64. Look at all the pretty options and choose what you want. I included IPP and excluded CUDA, EIGEN and NEW_PYTHON_SUPPORT.
  7. Hit Configure, make sure no lines are red.
  8. Hit Generate. Now you have most of the libraries where you want them to be (that build folder you chose earlier in CMake).
  9. In the build folder, open the "OpenCV" solution. Build in Debug mode and build in Release mode. When I did this, it skipped 3 projects each time. For the record, I'm not sure you actually need to build in both modes.
  10. Go back to your build folder and open the "include" folder. If things went the same for you, there is almost nothing in there. Open the "INSTALL" project, and build it (I built in Debug and Release).
  11. Do the same for the "INSTALL" project in the "modules" folder. There should now be folder in your build folder called "install" containing "lib", "include" and "bin".
  12. Add the "C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\bin" and "C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\bin\lib" folders to the PATH system variable (Computer->Properties->Advanced System Settings->Environmental Variables->PATH, seperated by a semicolon).
  13. Make a new VS 2008 project. Tools->Options->Projects and Solutions->VC++ Directories, add:
    C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\bin under Executable files
    C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\include
    C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\include\opencv
    C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\include\opencv2 under Include files
    C:\OpenCV\OpenCV2.3\install\lib under Library files.
  14. Edit the Project Properties, under Linker->Input->Additional Dependencies include:
    opencv_core230d.lib
    opencv_highgui230d.lib
    opencv_video230d.lib
    opencv_ml230d.lib
    opencv_legacy230d.lib
    opencv_imgproc230d.lib
  15. Now find an example program (I used this one) and give it a shot.

Yes, I'm aware there are probably parts of this that are massively redundant. Hope this helped save someone the frustration that I went through.

Inaugural Post

Going into the last year of my university education (fingers crossed), I decided to start making large changes in my life. I am definitely not an expert on these changes, so this blog will be more of a journal of me attempting to live up to my own expecations/goals.

First of all, where am I now?

  • Partially in debt (about to get another student loan)
  • Slightly Overweight (220 lbs @ 6'3")
  • About to finish an Engineering Physics degree with average grades
  • A lack of standout skills

Where am I trying to go?

  • Get substantial savings (and pay off all debts)
  • Reach a healthy weight
  • Finish my degree and get a quality job
  • Develop some career relevant skills
  • Develop some non-career relevant skills

A lot of this is inspired by reading this blog (the only blog I've ever read actually) ERE and by Summer being half over. To accomplish my goals, I've made some changes in my life including:

  • Quitting Caffiene: that $2.52 for a Venti drip at Starbucks every morning adds up. Over a year that's $919.80. If I'm $10,000 in debt (which I may be by the time student loans all add up), the means I am wasting 1/10 of the money it would take to pay that loan back. And anyway, I don't drink one cup a day. I drink up to 6 (of various sizes). I have had 3 cups of coffee in the past 2 weeks and I'm not planning on having another for a while.
  • Running 3 times a week. Yup, it's hard on my knees but I'm still young (23?). And it doesn't cost anything to do, except for a pair of shoes. In the future, I also plan on fixing my bike so I can bike to work. But ideally biking would not replace running. Doing both would be good.
  • Setting Long-Term, Weekly and Daily goals. It really helps focus your day. I send myself e-mails throughout the day while at work reminding myself of things I need to do. From what I can tell, I need to add monthly goals. It's pretty hard to take a long term goal like "Get Full Time Job after Graduation" and find a reasonably weekly goal that works towards that.

As time goes on I know I'll remember more things that I'm doing to improve my lot. As it stands, I think this blog is going to be primarily a frugal/health blog. When I finally get time to start my own projects, it will probably have a bit of electrical engineering/design stuff too. But that's not for a while.

For now. Get rich. Get sexy.