Picture yourself browsing through the food section of a bookstore. You pick up a cookbook and it is perfect. The recipes are easy to make, varied according to your tastes, and miraculously you like every single recipe in there! Therein lies the concept of the custom cookbook. All you need is a binder, some sheet protectors, and a few cooking magazines to get you started. The concept is simple - rip out recipes that sound good to you and stick them in your cookbook. If you're feeling fancy you can get dividers and create sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert. You can also print recipes online (see the recipes section for websites). The magic is that every time you pick up your cookbook, it's chock full of recipes for things that look good to you (and that you've pre-screened for easy preparation)!
As mentioned in the food section of this website, if left to my own devices I would eat power bars, cereal and mac n' cheese for dinner every night. Partly out of laziness, partly out of being exhausted after a long day at work, partly out of not owning a single ingredient to cook with (all perishables are banished from my fridge and pantry), and partly because I just don't know how to cook or what to make. One of my peers from High School recently got in touch through this blog and let me know about Dream Dinners, an amazing business she co-owns that "helps busy working professionals solve the question of 'What's for dinner?' without going out to eat every day." I've heard about these types of services before, and am so excited to share the concept with you! In Krupa's own words:
Dream Dinners helps busy working professionals solve the question of "What's for dinner?" without going out to eat everyday. Basically we're cheaper than Safeway and the same or better quality (the food is all natural). Every month we have a new menu with 17-18 items. Our customers will choose which of those they'd like for that month and within two hours they can assembly up to a month's worth of meals, or if they wish, we can do it for them. We provide the ingredients, we do the prepwork, and we provide the recipes and cooking instructions. We've recently had a surge in younger people in their 20's and 30's coming in because as they realized, they don't know how to cook. Customers don't have to deal with spoilage because the dinners are good for up to 5 months in the freezer and taste really awesome (the recipes are created by professional chefs)." --Krupa Patel
I love the efficiency of it all, and that you can learn to cook in the process.
I came across this poem and immediately felt it was something worth keeping. You may have read it before - if so, it can't hurt to read it again. Gratitude is something I work to cultivate every day (not just around the holidays), but it's during these weeks when I'm spending a lot of time with family and away from work that it seems particularly prescient. Be Thankful Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire, If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you’re tired and weary Because it means you’ve made a difference.
It is easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings. -Author Unknown
A friend of mine, Adrian Klaphaak, recently sent out his December newsletter. In it he tells a story about the wars we fight with ourselves. The questions he posed in the third section were particularly striking to me, and I encourage you to read the full post and take some time to reflect for yourself. Some highlights:
Ask yourself...how am I fighting against myself? Invite the two apparent enemies to have a conversation: what are you fighting for? What am I afraid of? ... How can I make peace in 2008?" --Adrian Klaphaak
Yes, envy is one of the seven deadly sins. It can also be a powerful tool to help figure out what you really want, and how to go after it. The other day I was googling something and came across a former co-worker's website. I was immediately hit with a pang of intense jealousy! She left corporate life to open a yoga studio with an accompanying blog and website. I knew I was jealous, but I wasn't quite sure why. It helped me to write it down and actually verbalize why: she followed her passion, she started a business, she's sharing her passion with the world and she's practicing and teaching yoga for a living! I was intrigued. For me, envy applies to many other aspects of life as well, like envy for those who have advanced degrees, own a house, are compassionate and patient, and for more surface-level things like having a stylish wardrobe. Here's the exercise: Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left, write the names of people you envy (whether its for something they have, something they do, or even qualities they possess). On the right, list all the reasons you are jealous of them. It sounds strange to highlight jealousy or envy when its something so often associated with being negative. But you can put that jealousy to constructive use by honing in on things you want in your future. I encourage you not to censor yourself - write down everything that comes to mind, whether it's something frivolous (like a fancy car) or more substantial (like generosity). Keep this list with you and add to it throughout the next two weeks. At the end, pick-out five common themes, or five things you envy the most. The good news is that you already have a list of people you can speak with to learn more about how each of them got there!
By the time I was done with this exercise, I had almost all of my friends, family and mentors listed on my sheet of paper. I found that for almost every person in my life, there is something they are doing or that they have that I admire and want to strive for. And that's what makes them great people to have around!
One of my new favorite financial blogs, TheSimpleDollar.com, has a featured post called '31 days to fix your finances' that I wanted to share here. While I realize that many people don't have much of a system to "fix" yet, this can certainly help you start to think critically about how (if at all) you are currently tracking your finances, and set some goals about what you'd like to be doing in the future. Check out the article for the full 31 tips/days. Here's what stands out to me as three areas to start with:
1. Breaking Down Your Expenses - How can you spend less than you earn if you don't first determine what your monthly, recurring expenses are? One strategy that's worked for me is to list every bill (including rent) and subtract it from my paycheck. In its most simple form, the remainder is my "budget" for the month. Note - I also include my automatic savings account contributions as part of my expenses. That way I make sure to save before I spend.
2. Pay for your Dreams First - This is one of the central concepts of Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad: pay yourself first. Set aside money (again, helps to automate this process as monthly deductions from your checking or savings account) every month before you have a chance to spend it. I have two accounts in a high-yield bank (EmigrantDirect.com or ING.com are good places to start) - one is called the 'Emergency Fund' and the other is for a frivolous goal I've set (to buy myself a diamond ring in 2008). Both serve a purpose. The former account is pretty obvious - saves money for an unexpected car repair or other emergency. The latter keeps me motivated to save money and gives me something to look forward to.
3. Get Rid of Debts (Slowly but Surely) - Even though I have enough money saved to pay off my student loans, I've made the conscious choice not to pay them all of at once. Why? Because the interest I earn on that money through stocks and index funds is more than the interest I pay on my loans (student loans typically have very low interest rates). I did step up my monthly (automatic, might I add) contribution to my loans so that I don't feel like I'll still be paying them off when I'm 40. (More on paying off student loans here.) However, the decisions about paying off student loans are VERY different from something like credit card debt, which you should try to avoid and eliminate at all costs (given credit card companies' astronomical interest rates).
Lost among the financial jargon? Check-out our money-related definitions.
I have a feeling this will be a recurring post. Earlier this week I told you about Jott.com, my new favorite personal assistant. There are so many other free innovative web services out there, and I wanted to share a few more of my favorites: Google Bookmarks Google Bookmarks are a feature of the Google Toolbar. The feature allows you to add and view Bookmarks from any browser on any computer at any time (as long as you are logged in to your Google Account). You can start by importing your existing bookmarks from Firefox or IE (or any other browser). The other nice feature is that each bookmark can have more than one label, so you can find your bookmarks in multiple categories.
Doodle.ch Event Polls Welcome to the democratic version of Evite. Doodle.ch allows you to create a poll (in under five minutes) that you can send to guests before an event to gauge who is available and when. For example, you provide three options for the day/time of your party, then Doodle will keep a running tally of the most popular choice as people fill in their name. Once the poll is complete, you can make a much more informed decision about when to hold your event.
Mint.com In their own words, Mint.com is a "free, automatic way to manage your money." If you don't already have a system for keeping track of your finances, I highly recommend this one. It can help you see where your money goes each month, complete with beautiful graphs and easy-to-read reports. For those worried about privacy, when you create your account they never ask for your name or bank numbers, just the log-in info for your online accounts.
Got a web service you love? Add it to the comments so we can all benefit!
"Joy is not in things, it is in us." -Charles Wagner
Practically since the beginning of civilization, philosophers have pondered what it means to be happy and to seek happiness. Recently I've taken time to ask myself the same question: What is it that truly makes me happy? When I'm financially strapped, the first thing that comes to mind is often money. But then the question becomes "if I could do anything with that money, what would it be?" I wouldn't be happy sitting on a pile of cash if I wasn't doing any of the things I love. For this reason, I decided to make a list of 20 (simple, low cost) things I love to do, and I encourage you to do the same (in fact, leave them as a comment if you're up for it)! It's refreshing to have handy for a rainy day, or when I need a pick-me-up.
Here's a list of activities that make me happy: 1. Reading the newspaper 2. Reading a book in my favorite coffee shop 3. Going to brunch with friends 4. Watching football on TV/Going to football games 5. Yoga (at home or in class) 6. Walking along the Marina 7. Thinking about my dreams and goals 8. Talking to friends 9. Going out to a nice meal and having a glass of wine 10. Volunteering 11. Dancing 12. Perusing used bookstores 13. Walking my dog 14. Watching cheesy reality tv shows 15. Going to baseball games 16. Going to the movies 17. Listening to music 18. Traveling 19. Camping 20. Making websites
So what is it that makes you happy?
First, thanks for visiting the site! Second, I want to ask you a question. How many times have you thought of an idea, errand or task while driving or otherwise out-and-about and completely forgot what it was when the time came around to make it happen? I do carry a notebook for these sorts of things, but given that most of my work is in front of the computer, I've found something even better. Earlier this year my co-worker introduced me to an amazing service called Jott, and I haven't forgotten anything since. Here's how it works: you sign-up for a free account, program the toll-free Jott number into your phone, and voila! Next time you think of something while you're away from your computer, call the friendly Jott operator. She'll start by asking, "Who do you want to Jott?" and you'll say "Self" (sign your friends up so you can harass them too). When you hear the tone, leave your message. Jott takes it from there and transcribes your message into an email, waiting in your inbox for the next time your ready to take action.
I can't tell you how many times this has helped me remember and be proactive about ideas I have at random moments. Plus, it feels like I have my own personal assistant!
Hi Everyone, I'm excited to announce the launch of LifeAfterCollege.org! It's still in the very early stages, but I wanted to send this announcement so you could take a look, spread the word and send any feedback you have my way! I thought of this concept two years ago, and by now realize many of my friends are past the point of "needing" a site like this. I'm hoping those of you who are can send me tips and words of wisdom you may have for those following in your footsteps. And if you're feeling generous, fill out a My Life After College form! I promise to only post your initials to keep it anonymous.
Have a great week!