Why not aim to increase income instead of cutting expenses?

A lot of the self-help books I read and listen to on audiobook stress the difference between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset. I’ll be the first to admit that I have grown up in a scarcity mindset: I saw things like money, recognition, resources, and abilities as limited … if someone else got more, it meant I must get less. That’s why the first time I was introduced to the impact of an abundance (more than enough for everyone to enjoy) mindset, I practically smacked my own forehead with the “why haven’t I looked at it this way before?” thoughts coming into my consciousness.

Life to that point had been meager, with each financial hit meaning I had to find a way to stretch my limited dollar even further in a sort of learned helplessness. Then, a youtube video by someone (maybe Iyanla?) pointed out that when there isn’t enough money to make ends meet, the easier choice is often to find a way to MAKE MORE MONEY. The biggest gains in salary or wages are often gained when we switch jobs (or take on new ones).

I’m sure some of you are saying, as I did, “but I don’t have time to work more hours” or “I don’t have a skill set that would qualify me for better paying work!” This is where, ironically, you can start to engage the dream jobs you have for yourself in a more realistic fashion. Maybe you’ve wanted to blog or vlog about your favourite topic or hobby? Maybe you’ve wanted to embrace your artistic side and try and make money doing that? Maybe you’re already doing something for yourself that other people would pay you for (walking dogs, cleaning house, teaching another language, tutoring, raving about products you could be selling, gardening – be it flowers, herbs, or vegetables). Now is the time to turn those things you’d be willing to do “for free” and start squeezing a few extra dollars from them.

For me, the answer came in certifying to teach the fitness programs I was already paying to attend anyway. Suddenly, I was getting paid to do what I once paid others for the privilege of … and it didn’t even feel like work!

What’s one dream you’ve always wanted to chase that you might be able to begin to explore on a part time basis? Why not give it a go?

Don’t change goals, change strategies!

While life is still far from perfect, I’m currently enjoying something of a renaissance in my life via my interactions and newly defined goals and commitments growing out of a personal coaching experience I’ve been gifted by a newly certified coach and old friend.

Perhaps the greatest insight to grow out of my coaching experiencing thusfar has been that I’ve needlessly been banging my head against the wall in terms of some of my life goals due to a lack of resourcefulness when it came to switching up how I was trying to reach them.

For instance, in an effort to increase my base level of happiness (or decrease my base level of anxiety and depression), I initially embarked on (among other things) a quest to spend several minutes each day “savouring” moments of beauty or appreciation from my day. Yet, even though such an activity was obviously needed and pleasant when I managed, I just couldn’t seem to do it consistently or with much success. I arrived exhausted at the end of my days and had both a tired and insincere attitude that more closely resembled a grudge. It was only once the idea of trying to savour my moments at the start of everyday, before I even arose from my bed, that I started to really gain traction and turn this goal into a habit. Timing and location are indeed more important than I ever gave them credit for!

So, if you find yourself struggling or already fallen off the 2017 resolutions bandwagon, may I suggest you (and a friend, if one is available) come up with all the various *other* ways you could achieve it if you were to start again differently tomorrow!

Simple weekend/date night indulgences

Sometimes, for yourself, or for the benefit or yourself and others, it’s nice to have a showstopper indulgence on the weekend. I love wine-poached pears because they are simple to make (requiring little prep and loads of neglect) and wonderful to enjoy (both during prep for the wonderful scent they add to your abode, not to mention how they effectively polish off any of that bottle of red wine that’s started to go off since you opened it).

Poached Pear recipe

Serve with some ice cream and you’re all set!

Seeding (and Weeding) your friendship garden

I watched a video recently addressing the question of what friendship is for. In other words, asking me to question what the purpose of my various friendships was. The video argued that when we define what our various friendships are for, we focus in on what we should be doing with the friends in our lives.

To summarize, I was informed that the purpose of our friendships generally fall into one (or more) of four categories:

1. Networking (a tribe of folks who share professional beliefs/purpose)
2. Reassurance (friends we can be vulnerable enough with to share our life’s less flattering truths and imperfections with)
3. Fun (people whom we don’t have to guard our dignity with; we trust them enough to be silly with)
4. Clarifying our minds (friends who act as mirrors and gentle interviewers we get to know ourselves through)

Though I’m sure arguments could be made about the exclusion or inclusion of various categories from this list, it did make me start to think about my own friendships and acquaintances, and the kind of friend I am to those around me.

For better or worse, I tend to be the friend (in my own eyes at least) who both offers and receives reassurance and clarification. A soft-spoken introvert, for the most part, I highly doubt that people in my sphere of influence look to me for either networking or “fun” purposes (unless they are looking for the real life equivalent of Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun with flags.” Similarly, I don’t possess a large number of friends I would consider as candidates for blazing networkers or “lives of the party” even if I trust that I don’t have to guard my dignity or professional contacts from.

This is all rather dry and seemingly irrelevant until I add that one of my ongoing goals as a soloist is to grow my circle of similarly solo or childless friends. I’ve met lots of great people in this endeavor but have really struggled to build the kind of close connection I seemed to easily fall into during my 20s. However, the list has made me realize that in order to connect with the kinds of friends I both enjoy and can show my “strongest friendship sides” to, I need to start targeting less superficial conversations (interests and networking type gossip, which I rarely contribute to in a meaningful way), and delve more consciously into the warm fuzzies of compassionate listening and caring questioning.

It is, of course, a work in progress, but perhaps one that you, like me, might benefit from considering!

Resolutions 2017: Don’t be, but see beautiful

I struggled with writing my New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’ve made a habit of trying to write something more substantial and committed for the past few years (taking care to avoid the default “lose weight, get finances in order, be kinder” options) and have, to large extent, succeeded in achieving my opening intentions (get fitness certifications, spend more time with close friends, etc) by the end of every calendar year. Still, a rather persuasive youtube video on why resolutions automatically limit us and our achievements had me considering foregoing the act this year. That is, until I came upon the revelation during a conversation with a friend about this hazy decision.

Ultimately, I want to resolve to do things that will make me happy, but if I’m honest, setting myself up to fail with resolutions that don’t ultimately do that, even if I achieve them, doesn’t fit that bill. Budget adherence may give me more money, but that is a weak substitute for the day to day joys of things like cafe coffee breaks, fresh fruit in winter, or seeing the joy in my young nieces and nephews eyes when they open my “surprises.”

“If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure I could be happy with a lush shelf of houseplants and some new artwork,” I concluded. When asked why, I related that these were things that I found beautiful, personal, and peace-giving whenever I looked upon them. Touchstones of happiness, if you will. When I thought back to my happiest years in life, those were the memorable items that surrounded me at the time, and the first things that pop into my mind now when I recall those days.

As luck would have it, just listening to myself say the words solidified one of what will likely be 2-3 resolutions for 2017. I’ve been so stuck on the utilitarian that I seem to have lost the “soft touches” of beauty that make life satisfying. Sure, assigning happiness to “things” is not the wisest route to happiness, but I know that for me at least, there is no doubt that these “things” like music, fragrant teas, houseplants, a comfortable and brightly coloured yoga mat, and abiding artwork, bring me contentedness and peace I seldom find elsewhere.

I don’t consider myself a beautiful woman, but I do consider my body, abode, and life a canvas of possibility when it comes to experiencing beauty. Why not take the year to paint it as I see fit?

Who will tell the story of your life?

Whether you’re a dedicated bachelor or going through a temporary period of soloism, there will come a day when you want to reflect back on these days – this present point – for better or for worse. The conundrum, of course, is how are you going to do so? What evidence will you have to testify to your trials, trails, and triumphs?

This was a question that didn’t particularly concerned me until I’d gone several years into my first established adult solo stretch. Others had albums filled with coupled vacation shots and everyday candids. I, on the other hand, had fuzzy memories but no way to share them with either myself or others who entered my circle. As midlife and the sense that things should “mean something” (at least to me) approached, I became more concerned with how to ensure that I was the one not only writing but telling the story of my life to others.

I was fortunate, in that this all took place during the emergence of social media, and, lacking a well-developed sense of caution or corporate conspiracy, I continued to document memorable outings, events, friendships, and life events on facebook. Friends and acquainatnces added their tagged snapshots at events we attended together. As other friends (both parents and professionals) abandoned this habit for very understandable reasons (from privacy, to maintaining their professional image, to preventing nosy Noras from knowing too much of their business), I continued to post semi-personal information (sometimes only obliquely related to the real events of importance in my life, so that I would remember those days later, if not for the cited reasons, then for their close ties to my keepsake memories).

Now, years later, I have begun to reap the rewards (though I’m sure I’ve also suffered hidden penalties in being perceived as an over-sharer or potential phishing target) in that every day, facebook offers me a time capsule of what life has held for me on the same date for the better part of a decade. Even with no one else here to reminisce, I have a “partner” to share my memories. I am probably the only human on the planet who actually wishes social media had entered my life earlier at the beginning of my adult life.

Is facebook the best or only social media tool to do this with? Certainly not!! Yet, I’ve come to recognize the value in having documented the days of my life on a semi-frequent basis to look back upon later. The same could have been accomplished with a paper journal, written and exchanged letters to dear friends, a blog, or more private sites with other (baby book/child-rearing) intentions, but the value is the same. Additionally, I can now take the highlight reel portions of that life and have them printed as albums/yearbooks to be enjoyed whenever I so choose, by myself or with others.

I guess the real question is, if you don’t take time to tell and share the story of your life, who will?

Recipe: Weekend Toaster Oven Eggstrata

This is a scaled-down, full-fat, toaster oven version of a family sized recipe from the Looney Spoons cookbook. Makes enough for about 4 servings (a weekend with a friend or several weekday breakfasts) and is scrumptious!

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups herb seasoned croutons
4 oz (115 g) Italian sausage
1/4 cup minced onions
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
4 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/8 tsp salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Spray casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread croutons in bottom.
2. Spray a non stick skillet with cooking spray and add some olive oil. Remove and discard sausage casing. Break sausage into small pieces and add to skillet. Cook under medium high heat oil no longer pink. Add onions and red pepper. Cook for 3 minutes till vegetables soften.
3. Spoon sausage evenly over croutons. Top with shredded cheese. Wish eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour eggs over casserole and let stand while toaster oven preheats to 350 F.
4. Bake uncovered in toaster oven until egg sets. Let stand 5 mins before serving.

“You are what you love, and not what loves you”

I’ve been listening to a lot of motivational speaker Kyle Cease’s work on youtube lately, and this has got to be one of my favorite videos. It’s applicable not only to people we love, but also those irrational things we love in secret, fearing judgement and becoming dependent on the opinion of others to rate their worth. Watch and enjoy!

Ostrich Budgeting (when you can’t handle doing the math)

I’m into my third month of using mint.com to track and automatically (90% of the time) categorize my expenses and have come to a startling realization. This is budgeting made painless – not just because I don’t have to save receipts and calculate and categorize every penny entering and leaving my pocket, but because thusfar, it has not involved any attempt whatsoever on my part to control spending (deprive myself), just occasional log-ins to become *aware* of where and how my money is being spent.

Until this point, though I had done enough to pay bills on time and squirrel away a tiny next egg that has indeed seen me through financial crisis and educational/vocational retooling, I had never actually sat down and drawn up a budget. Sure, I had a rough idea of how much I made a year and what my major expenses (rent, utilities, and to some extent food) were costing me, but as to where and how the rest of it disappeared, I didn’t (and didn’t really want to) know.

While I had stable jobs with salaried incomes, this didn’t matter as much, but in the transition to a series of variable income streams, life got more “interesting.” I never knew month to month when or how much I was going to be paid. While it was relatively easy to set up automatic savings deductions of 10-20% of my paycheck when that paycheck was predictable, it became difficult, and even risky to try using the same strategy with my new work. Though I always made rent, the worry that one month I might not, merely on the basis of poor planning/spending habits made the idea of creating a budget even more anxiety-provoking. How was I supposed to find anything but further indication that my new jobs were not financially viable in the long term, and that I was going to start having to cut out what I considered “life quality essentials” like morning coffee shop purchases on my rushed or overtired days, or outings to entertainment events (or just Netflix subscriptions) on my few free evenings. The prospect was enough to make it an avoided task for years. Budgets in mind were simply about deprivation in a world where there was never enough cash security.

Yet now, what a difference a couple months make. Without any work or extra anxiety on my part, by simply sticking to buying the majority of my purchases using debit and credit cards, as opposed to cash, I know exactly how much I am spending and where. I am finally starting to get an idea of how much I need to survive with a survivable level of creature comforts. I even have made brainless, painless changes to my spending habits that will contribute to a greater amount of cash in hand long term (who knew I visited convenience debit machines with additional service charges so much?).

This is budgeting for the osterich who just can’t bear to look. In fact, it’s not budgeting (depriving) for me at all. At this point, it might be better to call it financial awareness, gradually transitioning to financial mindfulness. There is comfort in knowing what I need to make to enjoy my current standard of living. It’s even spurred me to find more financial help in budgeting for a variable income (zero sum budgeting) and find a method that, with some of the savings I’ve managed to squirrel away, I can begin using at the end of my current contract. And it only took me 40 years 😉