The Cost of Muscle Mass + Health

One thing that has been on my mind lately has been the cost of gaining weight. I have been looking at my budget, trying to cut back where I can, so that I can start investing in a Roth IRA. One area in my budget that I can legitimately cut back in is my grocery spending. In May I spent $350 on groceries. This is quite a bit for one person. The problem is that I am buying a lot more food because I am trying to eat a lot more food in order to gain weight. I also like to buy healthier food – usually more expensive. So the conundrum is should eat less and/or eat less healthy. What is worth more? What do you think?

Instant Gratification Hates Discipline

This article was featured in the canrival of personal finance edition #157 found here

I went to visit my Aunt and Grandmother this weekend and found myself drooling over my Aunt’s new toy, a 14.2 megapixel SLR digital camera. I played around with the camera a bit this weekend and found myself justifying my need for 14 mp of pure greatness. Plus I have enough cash in the bank that I could pick it up. Reality check…I don’t need the camera but I REALLY REALLY want it.

Instant gratification, the conscious expenditure of effort to make the time interval between wanting something and getting it as short as possible, lives in all of us. We must control how much reign we allow this beast to have in our day-to-day spending. Do you have credit card debt? If so there is a good chance that the beast within has control of your spending habits. Maturity is often defined by the willingness to delay gratification. Look at your bank statements. Do they reflect mature spending? Where is your money going? Or more importantly, where is your money NOT going…investments, savings, retirement? As I began the justification process for why I should reward myself with 14.2 megapixels of pure heaven the voice of reason whispered in my ear “You already have a camera that you don’t use, do you really need another one?” This my friends is the process of delay of gratification. After a short internal debate, I convinced myself the camera was unnecessary and would delay my “future house” fund.

Discipline is what separates the strong from the weak, the rich from the poor, the smart from the stupid. Are your spending habits disciplined? If you impulse buy when you see a great deal or you spend too much shopping, odds are you haven’t conquered the art of frugality. Here’s some advice to help cure your impulse buying.

1) Just because it’s “on-sale” DOES NOT mean you have to buy it. If it’s on sale at store “A” now it will be on sale at store “B” tomorrow. Be patient.

2) If you are considering using credit to make your purchase, don’t. Force yourself to save. This has many advantages. First, you don’t owe anyone money! Second, it may get cheaper during the time it takes you to save for it. Lastly, once you save up all that cash you might not want it any more because you realized just how hard it is to accumulate that much money.

3) If it’s not essential, don’t buy it. Plain and simple, the key to frugality is only buying the essentials and saving the rest.

There’s plenty of information on the web offering up advice on how to be more disciplined. My advice…get it together. No excuses, no credit, no financing, no spending when you don’t have the money. No big purchases without talking it out with yourself and loved ones. Don’t be stupid. Make the choice to live your life differently.

Be the solution not the problem,

Total Money Makeover

So I bought Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover” and just recently finished it. If you haven’t read it and you have little knowledge of the financial world I highly recommend picking up a copy. For those that are more finance savvy, you have probably heard everything this book brings to attention. As I continue on my journey to financial freedom I can’t help but disagree with two pieces of advice Ramsey gives.

While I understand why he discourages the use of credit cards, it just seemed too radical for me. If you have read through my earlier posts here then you know I am a big fan of using my credit card for any and all purchases I make. Throughout the whole book, Ramsey instructs everyone to cut up their credit card. Broke like a joke or Rollin’ in the dough, Ramsey says cut up the card and pay cash for everything. I will definitely be ignoring this recommendation. My credit card is free cash for one month and airline miles in my pocket. I’m pretty sure if I went to the grocery store and wrote them a 30 day I.O.U. and requested frequent flier miles in exchange for my groceries the clerk would kindly ask me to leave the store. With my credit card I can do just that. Ramsey and I are both advocates of discipline. He advocates discipline in debt repayment, spending habits, giving, etc. I just don’t get why he doesn’t mention that, with discipline, credit cards are a valuable asset. I wish he acknowledged the fact that credit cards are not a bad thing, it’s the people that use the credit cards that cause problems.

Second beef, paying off all debt (except mortgage) as fast as humanely possible. Again, I understand where Ramsey is coming from, but I completely disagree with this stance. I currently have one, and only one debt to my name. I have a consolidated student loan for $28K at 7% interest. I decided to stretch the student loan out for 20 years to lower my obligated minimum monthly payment in case I ever find myself in a financial bind. With payments of approximately $220 a month my loan will be payed off in 2027…I know pretty crappy. With interest, over 20 years, I will be paying approximately $54k for my education, that’s $26K in interest!!! My education is not worth $54K to me so there is no way I am making minimum payments. I ran some numbers through my calculator to decide exactly how much extra I want to be paying on my loan. I decided I would pay an additional $110 monthly to shorten my loan term and take a huge chunk out of $26k in interest. Making monthly payments of $330 I am able to pay my loan off in half the time and save over $16K in interest.

I’m sure with “gazelle intensity” I could pay off my student loan much faster, but at what expense? Ramsey recommends putting retirement investing on hold until all debts are paid off. If I take this advice and I postpone my Roth IRA funding for two years, while I focused on solely on paying off my student debt, my Roth IRA at 65 would have approximately $2,044,000 in it. If I ignore Ramsey’s advice and contribute to my Roth IRA from now until 65 I would have $2,434,000 in my account. That’s a difference of $390K!!! You better believe I will sacrifice paying an extra $10K on my student loans over the next ten years if it means I will have an extra $390K in my retirement account. Now one could argue that Ramsey’s advice is warranted in that the sooner I pay off my student loan the sooner I will be able to contribute additional income to my retirement accounts and can therefore make up for lost time. Need I remind you though, that Ramsey advises only putting 15% of income in to investments. I currently contribute 18% of my income. I guess this is advice that I NEED to ignore.

Overall I enjoyed my read and thought there was plenty of valuable information, but I wish Ramsey acknowledged that, with great discipline, there are alternative ways to acheive a “Total Money Makeover.” Have you read the book? What do you think? Is there something I’m missing or not picking up on?

Making money,

Parkinson’s disease and pesticide exposures – part 2.

The following is brief review of a literature review published in the British Medical Bulletin in 2006 (1). A literature review is a paper that reviews a great number of published studies on a specific topic. This review looked at published articles dealing with the topic of Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure. The review concluded that many studies have shown an association between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease, however; no one pesticide as been consistently identified. The pesticides that have shown a correlation include organochlorine insecticides, maneb and paraquat. (more on these pesticides and where they are used later). One reviewed study showed an almost doubling of risk in individuals exposed to Pesticides! The researcher also notes that it is difficult to single out a specific pesticide because individuals who are exposed are often exposed to several. The current body of evidence indicates that pesticides are associated with Parkinson’s disease, but, as of 2006, more research is needed to improve techniques for estimating specific pesticide exposure.

The next steps in this blog series are to, 1 identify where the previously mentioned pesticides are used, 2 look at studies identifying additional pesticides, and 3 look at studies that have researched specific pesticide effects on animal neurons.

Also – Parkinson’s disease anatomy fact #2 ( the first was the substantia nigra); The basal ganglia is the portion of the brain that contains the substantia nigra. The basal ganglia is interconnected with the cerebral cortext, thalamus, and brainstem. The substantia nigra is Latin for “black substance.”

Substantia nigra also plays a role in addictive behaviors because some drugs, such as cocaine, prevent the reuptake of dopamine, effectively increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. However, the addiction has more to do with the mesolimbic pathway then the substantia nigra, which is part of a different dopamine pathway.

Disclaimer: I am currently in the process of researching this issue – so there is definitely a chance I may post corrections in the future!!!! But am doing my very best to report accurate and concise information.

1. Dick FD, Br Med Bull. 2006;79-80:219-31. Epub 2007 Jan 22.

Is your savings account costing you?

This article is featured in the carnival of personal finance #156 check it out here

It is not only possible that your savings account is costing you money, but it is highly likely! I searched for a while to see what percent of Americans have money in some type of high yield savings account (i.e. online savings account) but I couldn’t find any hard data. However, I would be willing to bet that the majority of Americans don’t have a high yield savings account and stick with the savings account at their local brick-and-mortar bank. Do me a favor right now…quit what you’re doing and look to see how much money you have in your banks savings account. If you can, figure out what the interest rate is on that savings account. If you can’t find that data, a safe assumption would be to estimate the interest rate is 0.5% or less. So lets play with some numbers because that’s what will hopefully make this real!!!

Lauren has $1000 in her WaMu savings account. First, I should commend her for at least having money in savings as many don’t even have that. But on to more important things. Pop quiz… How much does lauren have in her savings account one year from today? If you multiplied the 0.5% interest to her $1000 she would have $1,005 dollars at the end of the year…right? WRONG! Lauren would really have $970 at years end. But how can that be? Sure her account will show that her balance is $1,005, but you can’t forget to include inflation over that year. According to the average for inflation is 3.43% annually. That means, although her original savings increased in number by $5 over the course of a year, in reality it would be equivalent to only having $970 in her account in todays money. If you are confused I will make this very simple for you. Lauren is paying $30 a year to basically keep her money in a bank that is making 5%-10% interest off her savings. The solution to this problem is a simple one that I’m sure most of you already know…High Yield Savings Accounts!

Go to bankrate.comto get an idea of what interest you could be earning on a high yield savings account. You should easily be able to earn a minimum of 3% interest, which will at the very least keep your money pretty close to increasing with inflation rates. I try to keep my blogs simple. If you want to look up more information on high yield savings accounts without getting bogged down by all the bank jargon go to this blogand check out all the information on them.

I’ll leave you with one more example of what your brick and mortar bank may be costing you.

Lets say Joe has $40K sitting in his local banks savings account. This is Joe’s Wedding Fund for when he gets married 5 years down the road. Let’s see what Joe’s money does over that 5 years. If he leaves it with his brick and mortar Joe will have approximately $41K in his bank account after the five year time period. Not bad, he made $1,000 bucks off it! WRONG!!!!! That $41K in “Five years time money” is really equivalent to only $35K in todays money. Basically Joe’s money is now worth $5K less than when he began. He could have gone on a SWEET honeymoon with that $5K, but now he will be forced to stay at a Motel 6 in Bakersfield, Ca. That sure doesn’t sound like much of a savings account to me.

So here is what you need to do. Keep some money in your brick and mortar savings account (I keep $300) so you can have access to it quickly in case of an emergency. Then throw all the other money that you are keeping for short term savings (less than 5 years) in a High Yield Online savings account…chances are your current bank may even have an online savings account option that has a higher interest rate than your current account! At the very least prevent from losing value in your money. Don’t put it off. Do it today open up an online savings account!

Be the solution not the problem,

Maybe its time for a second job…

As I have mentioned in earlier posts my income is by no means above average. I make $40k a year and am pretty much able to cover all of my living expenses, investment/retirement accounts, and have a little bit of pocket change left to play with at the end of each month. I currently max out my Roth IRA annual contributions and allot 8% of my gross income to my Government TSP (my 401K plan). Fortunately, since I work for the government I know exactly how much I will be making in one, two, five, and ten years as I am on a career ladder and I know exactly what my annual pay increases will be. I don’t plan to alter my investment account contributions much in the future (maybe a slight increase in my 401K contribution). The way I am investing now even at a meager 40K salary I will have millions waiting for me when I retire, with inflation taken in to account over the next 40 years I will still have plenty of money waiting for me when it comes time to throw in the towel. Like most renters, I hate the idea of throwing away my money in rent every month when I could be investing it in a home that I own. But with me contributing nearly 20% of my gross income in to my retirement accounts I dont have much left at the end of the month to put towards my “Buying a house” fund. There are three quick solutions to this problem…

1) Contribute less to my retirement accounts so I can save more for a house. Not really an option since my younger years are the most important time for me to invest to secure financial freedom in my 60’s

2) Get a job that pays more. Wouldn’t it be nice if life was that easy?! I love the job I have now and I like knowing that I will double my salary in three years with the government. Sure I would be open to jobs that wanted to pay me $70K+ now, but I dont anticipate that happening…its just not realistic, at least right now its not.

3) Get a second job. This is by far the most reasonable way for me to save for a house over the next 5 or so years. Fortunately, I am pretty good at math and science and have discovered most people aren’t. I decided to make my second job be in home tutoring for high school students. I get to make my own hours, charge whatever rates I want, network and meet some rich families (because thats who generally pays for tutoring), and I actually enjoy doing it. I currently charge between $30 to $40 an hour for tutoring. I tutor between 7 to 12 hours per week. That means I basically have an extra $1000 a month that I get to put directly in to my emergency fund and house fund. Its amazing what that money can do when all my expenses are covered by my government salary. I put it in to a high-yield online savings account where i can get between 3%-5% depending on current rates. With my tutoring income, and as I receive my pay grade increases with my job, I will be able to save between $50k and $70k over the next five or so years for a house.

So what about you? Do you wish you had just a little bit more money coming in every month? Why don’t you consider getting a second job? Even if you work at a mall 10 hours a week (two five hour shifts) and make minimum wage thats $3,640(AGI) extra dollars at years end! Go out there and pick up a second job doing something you enjoy once or twice a week and enjoy a couple extra bucks in your pocket each month!

Raise Your Potential,

This article has been featured for the carnival of personal finance…check it out

Pesticides and Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s is a disease characterized by degeneration of dopamine producing neurons in a portion of the brain called the substancia nigra. The reduction in dopamine results in loss of motor control and tremor.

It is known that pesticide and fungicide exposure increases risk of developing the disease. This has been shown in several studies. A study of the small farming community of Fairfield, Montana, revealed that the rate of Parkinson’s in older inhabitants is 1 out of 60, while the national average is about 1 in 272. Further studies have shown a direct relationship. I thought about reviewing several of the studies in this blog, but, to be honest, it would be easy for anyone reading this to google the words “Parkinson’s” and “pesticides” and peruse the results. The point is that we should all think about the contact we have with pesticides. Think about the food you eat, were pesticides used on or around it? Or think about the gardening you may do – what chemicals are you using – what about fungicides – are they used in your home or place of work? What about the house cleaners you use.

I personally have a friend with Parkinson’s and it is a debilitating horrible disease – other neurological disease, such as Alzheimer’s, are equally devastating. It is likely that the neurological damage that characterizes these disease is caused by several factors – but one cause is definitely the environment we live in and are exposure to certain things in the environment – such as pesticides.

I don’t want everyone to be scared, but aware.