Free Falling

Free falling. This is how bad financial decisions leave you feeling. Completely out of control, knowing you’re plummeting to the ground and when you land, you’ll hit hard and may not survive. So, you close your eyes and wait for it to end, since there’s nothing you can do to stop the free fall. I know that’s how I’ve felt, completely out of control. I’ve felt lost, confused, hopeless and helpless. I’ve wondered why I couldn’t manage to simply control my own actions, why I made the same poor financial decisions over and over again, wondered how I stop the free fall I was in, wondered who around me felt the same.

You feel alone; no one discusses finances. Many behave as if everything is OK, they don’t disclose that they have a car payment that’s too big and more house than they can afford. They don’t tell you how they’re close to maxing out their credit cards while they’re using said credit card to pay for the drinks they’re enjoying out on the town on a typical Friday night. They don’t tell you that they have to use a credit card for groceries, since there’s no money in the bank. They don’t tell you that they’re experts at the credit card juggle; pay the minimum on one and use the other until it’s maxed out. When all of the cards are at their limit, transfer the balances to a new card and start all over again. 

Or, they may disclose that they have NO money, things are dire and they’re close to losing their home; as they stop for Thai food for lunch every Wednesday and pay their gargantuan cell phone bill and of course, cable – gotta keep prime time TV going. They may tell you that they’re in a hopeless situation, so they’ve given up. No, they won’t tell you that getting a second job is off the table because they value their free weekends. 

You feel helpless. You’ve already signed on to take out the huge mortgage that was on the very high end of what you could afford; so now you figure you’re stuck with it. You’ve already maxed out your credit cards, so what the heck, might as well enjoy life. Or, you’ve already received the notice that the bank is starting the foreclosure procedure, so spending a few dollars here and a few dollars there isn’t going to matter at this point.

You feel confused. How did you get here anyway? You got that great promotion with the huge boost in pay. You “ran” all of the numbers and figured you could afford the new house and new car now, I mean, the mortgage payment is about what you were paying when you were renting, just a bit more. True, you didn’t expect to have to repair the furnace so quickly, and you had no extra money saved for repairs, but still. Also, you figured a brand new car would save you from the annual car repairs you had to do on the old “beater” car you used to drive, so you thought you would break even in the end. You didn’t think that the bank would start to foreclose. I mean, they barely nagged you about the late payments, unlike the credit card company and your cable provider; who nagged constantly about overdue payments. You figured, if things were that bad, the bank would be hassling you every day. Since they didn’t, you figured things may work themselves out; you thought you had more time to get things together. 

But the truth is, our finances aren’t to blame for our free fall, are they? We’re to blame. Every single day we have choices, big and small, that determine our trajectory. 

We can live day-to-day with no thought of how we spend our money. We can live solely in the present, and worry about tomorrow another day. We can take on debt without a thought as to whether it’s beneficial to our lives in the long run (like a lucrative school degree, an affordable home or a new business venture) and fail to devise a strategy to pay it off. We can purchase our “dream” home and worry about if we can really afford it later. We can drive off the lot with the car we’ve wanted since childhood because the dealer said we don’t have to put any money towards it now. 

We can make crazy financial decisions and ignore their consequences. Or we can choose differently. We can decide to live well below our means; we can opt to avoid lifestyle inflation, we can choose to pay down our debt quickly or avoid it all together, we can decide early that we’re going to save and invest.

If you made poor financial decisions in the past, you’re not doomed to stay in the free fall until you hit rock bottom. Unlike a true free fall, you can save yourself. You can say enough is enough. You can start to track what you’re spending and cut out unnecessary expenses. You can sell that dream car and go back to a “beater” for a while. You can get your home on the market and downsize to something more affordable. You can get a second job to help bridge the gap. You can make a plan to get out of debt and build a savings cushion.

You may have to make hard choices, but that’s just the thing isn’t it? You have choices. Open your eyes. You can stop the free fall.

Brr! Exercising In The Cold

This past weekend was quite nice. The weather was sunny and perfect, probably the last of the warmer weekends we’ll get; I got to witness the supermoon eclipse (woo hoo) and Mr. MyCountdown and I went for a nice run together on Sunday (we often run separately due to our different work schedules) which was fun.

I’m generally pretty active for a variety of reasons. The obvious, health. Also, I work long hours and regular activity keeps my stress down to manageable levels and makes it so others can tolerate me :). I’m all for the frugal…okay, free physical activities. However, finding the best exercise is difficult depending on the season. I live in the Midwest and spring, summer and fall are great times for exercising outdoors, but winters can be awfully brutal. I hate to admit it, I’m not as hardcore as Mr. MyCountdown who runs outdoors every single day, no matter the weather. When the temps start to drop and the snow comes, I want to hide inside.

The changing weather has me thinking about my winter workout routine. How do you keep up with your exercising and blow off steam in a cramped condo in the middle of winter? This past winter, I tightened my boot straps and braved the cold weather more than I typically do. I figured if the Mr. could do it, so could I. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating and I ended up having a bit of fun out in the cold.

If you’re going to brave the winter elements, it’s imperative that you dress appropriately. If you don’t, not only is your workout likely to be cut short because you’re freezing, but you may also be subjecting yourself to harmful elements. First, dress in several layers and make sure the layers are made of sweat wicking material; you need to stay warm and dry. Avoid wearing any cotton (this is good advice in general when exercising if you want to avoid chafing – ouch!).

Cover up any exposed skin. Put Vaseline on your face and wear a face mask (try not to scare the neighbors since you may look like a cat burglar) to protect your skin from wind, rain and snow.

Wear a light, but water-proof outer jacket. If the wind is really blowing, you may want to take a scarf to wrap around your neck in addition to the face mask and outer layer jacket.

It’s important that you wear a headlamp so you stay visible, always carry your phone (though my iPhone stopped working this past winter when we were out running in minus ten degree weather; I guess there is such a thing as it being too cold outside), cash and your ID. Also, try not to venture too far from home in case the weather gets so bad that you have to abort your workout.

When I’m heading out in cold weather (I’m talking ten degrees or below), my gear is as follows:

  • Two or three thin, sweat-wicking bottom layers
  • Two pairs of socks, the one directly touching skin is wicking material
  • Four tops total; one short-sleeve wicking top, three long-sleeve wicking tops, one thin waterproof outer jacket with a hood and a very high collar
  • Two pairs of gloves; the outer pair is mittens!
  • Face mask, and a scarf if it’s really windy
  • Waterproof trail running shoes for grip.
  • Huge head lamp so the drivers don’t hit me!

One rule of thumb when dressing for an outdoor excursion is to dress for about twenty-five degrees warmer than what it actually is; this takes into account your rising body temperature as you exercise.

But what if it’s just too cold to go outdoors (like that minus ten degree day I did; that’s just crazy)?

I also took advantage of home workouts. There are tons of great workout videos online for free that can make you really work up a sweat. One of my favorite resources is the free Nike Training app. Boy oh boy, this app has some workouts that will make you cry get into shape.

You can also try one of these killer body weight circuits that Alyssa, from My Mixed Up Money, created.

For all the cold weather folks, how do you stay active when the temperature drops?