Monthly Archives: February 2015

Finance Friday – Optimize your Credit Card Rewards

Happy Friday! With another weekend on the horizon, I’m looking forward to spending some time in the ‘burgh, helping my sister move, and catching up on The Blacklist.  But first, it’s time for another Finance Friday post:

#4 – Optimize your Credit Card Rewards

I think it’s safe to say that most people have at least one credit card, and others are deathly afraid of credit card debt.  However, if you can play the system correctly and exercise self control, there is a lot to be gained by swiping that plastic.  Many credit card companies offer various rewards for spending with them.  Whether it’s an airline, a favorite place to shop, or just cash that you are after, there is a card for everyone.

Here are a few with rewards that are worth looking into in 2015:

Citi Double Cash Card – this credit card gives you 1% cashback for every dollar you spend AND 1% again for every dollar you pay.  Now that’s hard to beat.

Discover it – 1% cashback on all purchases plus an additional 5% cashback on the quarterly deal (Jan-Mar 2015 – 5% cashback for gas and ground transportation)

Chase Freedom – 5% cashback on the quarterly deals listed (Jan-Mar 2015 – 5% cashback at grocery stores)

And if you want to search all of your options (airlines, hotels, department stores), the nerd wallet site will help you search for the exact card to fit your lifestyle and interests:

http://www.nerdwallet.com/credit-cards/

Now for the daily line-up:

Workout: I made it to the 5:45am spinning class this morning!

Breakfast: a panera bagel with cream cheese and some raspberries

Lunch: kale chicken rice bowl with 2 clementines and grapefruit carbonated water

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I have to admit that yesterday my day went a little differently than planned (in a good way) and I ended up eating a Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom and a Shamrock Shake for lunch, so I will be eating yesterday’s lunch today.

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Snacks: Chobani yogurt with steel cut oats

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Dinner:  TBD

Have a great weekend!

I am the Poster Child for White Coat Syndrome

Happy Thursday!  Is this week dragging or what?  Thank goodness we are almost there.

If I could sum yesterday up in three emojis, it would go a little something like this:

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Yesterday I had a full scale physical.  I honestly can’t tell you the last time I went to the doctor that wasn’t to address an immediate issue.  I’m ashamed to admit that I had not even sought out a Primary Care Physician.  (Yes, that’s right.  My last PCP was my pediatrician.)  For someone who cares so much about their health, it is a little confusing (even for me) how reluctant I am to see a doctor.  I didn’t realize how severe my anxiety about seeing a doctor was until this week.

That’s when I realized I have a severe case of white coat syndrome (and an intense phobia of blood).  According to wikipedia, this is a phenomenon that sends your blood pressure through the roof as soon as you step into a hospital setting.  Considering that I had to have my blood pressure taken 3 times yesterday before it was even in the normal range, I would say I am the poster child for white coat syndrome.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, I felt the whole time like I was very aware of the effort to keep my breathing regular and I almost passed out 3 times after having blood drawn (my unlucky number for the day must have been 3).  I normally don’t consider myself as someone who is shaken very easily, but something about the doctor’s office had me frazzled and terrified.

Luckily in anticipation of this traumatic event, I took a half day in the morning.  So I had some time to calm down and relax before I had to go into work.  Although I’m pretty certain that physically I was completely fine, I was exhausted from all the mental struggles of the day.  It’s tough work being brave in the face of a phobia.  So naturally, I had half a bag of these delicious Tostitos Artisan creations for lunch (because who cares about the food pyramid during times like this):

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and leftover pizza casserole for dinner.  I was supposed to attend a hot yoga class last night, but I skipped yoga in favor of some couch time and Seinfeld re-runs with the B-dog.

Today on the agenda:

Breakfast – English muffin with Justin’s Vanilla Almond butter and mango/raspberries

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Coffee & a Shamrock Shake (aka – the first sign of spring!!)

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Lunch – chicken rice kale bowl with 2 clementines

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Snack – chocolate banana protein shake

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Dinner – pizza pasta with a side salad!

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Workout – I’m hoping to make it to a hot yoga class this evening.

B has been practicing her downward dog as well…

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Have a good one!

Pizza Casserole Success!

Last night after the gym I hit the treadmill for a quick 3 miles.  I am so behind in my half marathon training, but the weather has just been terrible and I hate running on the treadmill.  I definitely slowed down from last week… maybe it was the funfetti cake for lunch?  It amazes me how much of a difference I see in my running when I eat the right foods.

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When I got home, I had a can of this carbonated water while I worked on dinner.

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When I saw the recipe for skinny pizza pasta on Life in Leggings, I obviously jumped at the chance to make something new containing my favorite food group – pizza.  And it was a success!!

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I followed the recipe pretty closely, except a few additions:

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– 1 clove garlic

– oregano

– crushed red pepper

I used the second half of the green pepper to add to a side salad:

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And dinner turned out awesome!

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I will be chipping away at this bad boy for the rest of the week.  The only thing it was missing was a glass of wine! I’ll be sure to correct that this evening 🙂

A Buffalo Weekend + Some Meal Planning

Good morning!!  It was another successful weekend in Buffalo, complete with playing snow frisbee and hitting the slopes

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The only bad part?  I had to hit the road super early yesterday morning.  When my alarm went off at 4:30am, let’s just say I was not exactly up and at ’em.  So Monday was a little painful, but I persevered and even did some cleaning, made a trip to the grocery store, and did some food prep and planning for the week.

But I wasn’t exactly on my best behavior yesterday.  The morning started out good when I made some Chex instant oatmeal with a pear, dates, and a handful of walnuts.

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But then it quickly went downhill when I had funfetti cake for lunch.  Whoops (worth it).  But to make up for my cheat, I did have some a whole bag of these kale chips from Trader Joe’s:

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Think that evens it out?  We’ll go with that.

On the menu this week:

Breakfasts – Whole wheat English muffin with Justin’s Almond Butter and fresh fruit

Lunches – Chicken & rice kale bowl

Snacks – This new hazelnut chai tea with either a yogurt or a chocolate banana protein shake

Dinners – I’m excited to try this awesome skinny pizza pasta with a side salad (and a glass of vino)

Have a great Tuesday!

Finance Friday – Creating Good Habits

Happy Friday!! This weekend I am headed up to the Great White North once again for some skiing and quality time in the snow.

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But first, it’s time for another Finance Friday.

#3 – Make conservative spending a habit

This may seem simple, but just take a minute to think about it.  When you walk into Target, do you get sidetracked by fun gadgets in the $1 section?  Browse the magazines and snacks at the checkout? (yes. yes.) How many times do you walk into a store and walk out with way more than you planned (or could have ever needed)?  I personally feel like I can relate these items to sugar.  The more I eat, the more I crave… and the more I give in to my random store cravings the more I allow them to take over each time I enter the store.  And let’s be honest… I have no idea what becomes of most of those random buys (they probably end up in a trash can or a goodwill bag).

Speaking of Target, it is the worst (and the best).  I’m not sure what happens when I walk in there but I lose all self control and suddenly end up wanting things I never even knew existed.  I will actually make a loop around the store just to check out sections that are no where near the items I came in for, and by the time I leave I’m not even sure what day it is.

So this is where building good habits comes into play.  I always think back to college and wonder how I kept my credit card bill under control on such a limited budget.  I think the difference is that I made it a habit to get in and get out without even thinking about what else I might want to pick up while I was there.  So if we can make it a habit to work out everyday, or make healthy food choices, why can’t we make it a habit to spend money conservatively?

So I did a little research… the bad news is that according to this article from The Huffington Post, research has proven that it can take anywhere from 2 to 8 months to form a new habit (as opposed to the old 21 days study).  But the good news is, baby steps are OK.  The most important part is perseverance.

Want more Finance Friday Posts?

#1 – Contribute at LEAST the company match amount to your 401k

#2 – How to protect your Identity and your tax refund

On the menu for today:

Breakfast – The last English muffin with PB and berries!

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Coffee

Lunch – 6 al fresco chicken meatballs with a slice of swiss cheese and a side salad (baby spinach, banana peppers, yogurt bleu cheese dressing), and the last of the berries

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Green Tea

Snacks – inner peas and carbonated water (afternoon), and a banana with some yogurt before I hit the road this evening

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Dinner – tbd

On a side note, last night I ran my second fastest 3 miles ever.  While it’s nothing too impressive, it always feels great to start seeing improvements!

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Have a great weekend!

The Puppy Snuggle Vortex

Do you ever have days that the alarm goes off, you actually don’t feel terrible about waking up, and then you see the snuggliest little puppy sleeping next to you… and just like that all you want to do is curl up with your pup and stay in bed forever?

Or how about during the day?  You’re knocking out household chores when suddenly you see your sleepy, furry, little friend curled up in a ball on the couch and before you know it you have abandoned all tasks to take a nap?

This, my friends, is what I like to call the Puppy Snuggle Vortex.  And I am a victim.

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I got out of bed this morning, miraculously, just to end up sitting on the couch with the B dog, watching the news, and struggling to get moving once again.  The struggle is real.

How am I supposed to get anything done on the weekends when this is what I’m working with:

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And now I’m going to use all of my willpower to get off the couch, make some breakfast, and get ready for work (hopefully).

Today on the agenda: out to eat for lunch with a few friends (TBD), wing night!, and hopefully a 4 mile run on the dreadmill to offset all this eating.  I was feeling a little proud of my run on Tuesday.  I increased my mileage and decreased my time since my run last wednesday:

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I kind of let my workouts fall through the cracks last week, so I’m making an extra effort to get back on track.  Now if only this ridiculously cold weather would break so I could bring myself to do a long run!

Have a great day!

Ingredients for an Awesome Hump Day – Yoga & Chocolate Milk

The title of this post says it all.  The ingredients for an awesome hump day pretty much boiled down to 2 things for me today: chocolate milk and hot yoga.

But first, breakfast started out with the usual English muffin with PB and fresh berries:

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I had a mid morning snack of these awesome inner peas from Trader Joes.  They are not the most filling snack, but if you’re looking for something delicious to munch on these babies are de-lish.

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Lunch was the last chicken burger (finally) on an English muffin with clementines:

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The other day at the store we picked up some chocolate milk with the normal grocery run and it was the best decision I have made in a while.  I don’t normally go crazy over sweets, but I have an increasingly serious chocolate addiction.  So naturally, I’ve been drinking it right out of the jug, but then I had a brain storm.  Chocolate banana smoothie: 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1 banana, 6 ice cubes, 1/4 cup chocolate milk, 1/2 cup coconut almond milk = heaven.

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I also made it to a 5:45pm hot yoga class.  I took a break from yoga for a few months and it felt so awesome to get back to it.  Dinner was a lazy one. I was too tired for cooking so I hit the microwave with some chicken meatballs, swiss cheese, and a side salad:

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And now I’m catching up on Shameless, and holy crap! Jimmy/Steve/whateverhisnameis is back!!

Life’s Short, Drink the Wine

About a month ago I came to the realization that I was not going to earn any free flights with my airline rewards points by the time they expired, but as a consolation prize the airline allowed me to choose from a variety of magazine subscriptions with my points. (I’d much rather be planning a trip to the beach, but what can you do.)  As I was reading through my brand new Health magazine this weekend I stumbled onto an article call “Steep This to Skip Cancer”.

As an avid tea drinker, I was immediately interested in this article.  It was based on a study of women who drank black tea daily vs. women who did not, and the correlation between the tea drinkers and ovarian cancer risk.  According to the article, studies showed a 31% decrease in risk for the tea drinkers.  I’ve heard all about flavonoids and antioxidants, but this just further validates my tea and possibly more importantly – wine drinking (also a major source of flavonoids).

So naturally, I had a large glass of the good stuff with dinner last night.  We made an awesome salmon marinate (sesame oil, garlic powder, pepper, brown sugar, sesame seeds) with a side of roasted asparagus.  Not too bad for a Monday.

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Today, on the menu:

Breakfast – English muffin with PB and mixed berries

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Lunch –  Leftover chicken burger on English muffin with swiss cheese, baby spinach, cucumber, 2 clementines

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Snack – Chobani yogurt

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Dinner – leftover salmon

Have a great day!

Valentine’s Day + Cupid’s Chase 5k

Good morning!  I can’t believe how fast the weekend is going.  Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess!

Friday evening started with a nice big glass bottle of wine.  This was the first time I tried this Mountain Merlot (I am totally guilty of buying based solely on the bottle design and name) and it was delicious.  Even though I only had a 4 day work week, it seemed like the longest week ever.

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As evidenced by the fact that I tried my hardest to “uncork” this screw-off wine top.  (oopsie) But hey, I was on a mission – I was getting in there one way or another.

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I’m not usually one to brag, but I feel like I would be doing the flowers an injustice if I didn’t show the beautiful Valentine’s Day bouquet Kris sent me at work on Friday.  It was a very unique mix of flowers and I really liked the arrangement (communityflower.com coming through clutch).  I used to get really embarrassed about the attention that usually comes with receiving flowers at work, but I seem to have gotten over it real fast. 🙂

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Saturday morning we bundled up and headed into downtown Pittsburgh to run the Cupid’s Chase 5k (check that one off the races to complete in 2015 checklist).  I actually didn’t even check the temperature but I would guess it was in the low 20’s (the warmest it will be here for a couple days) and it was snowing.  To be honest it was a little dangerous… the snow was coming down and the trail was covered so it was a little slick in some places.  But we finished in around 31 minutes and we didn’t even stop to walk once (our best yet)!

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For dinner we decided to try a new-to-us Italian restaurant Sarafino’s.  The restaurant isn’t very big, but we arrived just in time to get a table for two.  The atmosphere was very warm and inviting and it was the first time either of us have gone to a restaurant that is BYOB.  We brought a bottle of pinot noir and started with some warm bread with dipping oil and the goat cheese bruschetta appetizer:

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For my main course I got the “Pasquale’s” – a yummy mix of penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, mushrooms, feta cheese, and spinach. (Kris got the “Sarafino’s” and it was delicious as well).

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If you’re looking for a small Italian restaurant that is off the beaten path, I would highly recommend it!

On the agenda today – probably a lot of hibernating and chocolate chip cookies.  It is cold out!!

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yikes!

Finance Friday – Protect your Identity & your Tax Refund

Good morning, and happy Friday!!!! Man, that feels good to say.  With Valentine’s day on the horizon and a possible 3 day weekend, this is certainly a good Friday (as if there is such thing as a bad Friday).  Since it’s officially the most wonderful time of the year, I figured we could take a few minutes to talk about everyone’s favorite subject – taxes!  With company data breaches on the rise, there is a lot of concern regarding stolen identities and falsified tax returns (someone else filing your tax return and receiving your refund).  Which leads me to the second Finance Friday topic:

#2 – How to protect your Identity and your tax refund

Employers are at an increasing risk of security breeches that result in personal employee data being stolen.  When a malicious person has your company’s information and your personal information (i.e., social security number), the results can be devastating.  But there are precautions you can take to protect yourself on a daily basis.

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1. File your taxes as soon as possible

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is the best way to guarantee that someone else doesn’t steal your information and file a fictitious return in your name.  Sadly, if someone else files a tax return under your identity it is not a short process to attempt to correct.  The IRS simply doesn’t have the resources to launch a speedy investigation and get you your refund (and let’s be honest, their business is not exactly driven by customer satisfaction).

2. Make sure you receive your W-2

Companies have until February 2, 2015 to send W-2 tax document information (the statement that tells you how much you earned in 2014), and you should receive one from each company you received compensation from in 2014.  If you still have not received this documentation, contact your employer.  Not only do you need this information to file a speedy return, but if your employer claims to have sent it and it seems to have vanished that may be a red flag.

3. Protect your identity year-round… buy a paper shredder!

One very simple way to protect your identity year round is to be aware of the documents you are throwing away.  An average day’s mail includes many documents with personal information including credit card offers, sometimes even blank checks ready to be signed!!  I cringe when I receive something like this, and promptly shred it to pieces.  It just screams identity fraud risk.  If you have a fire pit – even better.  Call me paranoid, but all it takes is one time.

4. Monitor your credit score

If you haven’t seen your credit score in a while, take advantage of one of one of those obnoxious free credit score commercials and make sure everything checks out.  Ever seen the movie Identity Thief?

5. Do your duty to keep your company’s information safe

If you have the capability to log on to your company’s network from a remote location you are an additional risk to every employee at your company.  Be aware of your surroundings! Make sure you do not leave your computer unattended, always log out and be sure to use strong passwords.  Also be aware of the internet source you are using, there are many malicious individuals and programs out there designed to hack computer information, and logging in from a sketchy internet source is a great way to put your private information at risk.

6. What to do if you suspect identity theft or tax return fraud

If you suspect someone has filed a fraudulent tax return in your name, contact the IRS as soon as possible.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, there is a long list of checks and notifications that need to be performed (and if you ask me it looks pretty terrifying and grueling).  This Federal Trade Commission pdf is a great place to start:

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf

On that note, have a great weekend and file those taxes!