Summary: Depression is literally no laughing matter. Use these tricks to beat depression once and for all. (Tweet This!)

Today's article is the most serious I've ever posted on Be Better Now. It might be the most serious I've written in my life. As always, remember that I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist and this is certainly not a substitute for their years of expertise. Depression is best treated with professional help.

While depression is literally no laughing matter, as a Red Sox fan, I had to share this 15-second clip from Saturday Night Live:

Even a fake David Ortiz makes me laugh.

All jokes aside, this sadly is how most people react to depression. They simple tell people to just snap out of it. It reminds of these two comics I saw on Twitter.

If you know someone who is depressed it is important to exercise a little understanding and sympathy. If it was so easy to snap out of depression, it wouldn't be an issue. We'd cure it just like shutting an open window if it is too drafty in your house.

Beat Depression

Beat Depression!

  • Exercise - This WebMD article runs down some of the benefits. Improved self-esteem, reduced stress, improved sleep... hey sign me up, right? Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which make you feel good. Since any exercise will do, why not kill two birds with one stone by doing some house or yard work? You'll get the feeling of accomplishment as well. This Forbes article suggests that group workouts can help too. Maybe you'll make a friend after a post-exercise Jamba Juice.
  • Shed Some Light on the Subject - With Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in full effect during the winter season, sunlight has been shown to help others. Since going outside on a 25 degree day is a depressing thought in itself, a good second option is a light therapy lamp. Look for lamps that state their are 10,000 lux, a measure of light. Here's one with awesome reviews on Amazon.
  • Talk Therapy - That's a fancy term for getting a shrink. It can be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist. You can get talk therapy from more than just psychiatrists and psychologists... social workers and counselors would qualify too.
  • Antidepressant Medications - This one should be pretty obvious and may be a natural follow-up to the talk therapy step above.
  • Limit the Alcohol - You've probably heard that alcohol is a depressant. You don't beat depression by adding a depressant to your life.
  • Consider a Multi Vitamin - It looks like a there may a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. That makes sense considering Seasonal Affective Disorder comes at a time when people naturally stay inside more, thus getting less vitamin D from the sun. For around $12 a year these Kirkland Multi Vitamins & Minerals Tablets give you plenty of vitamin D and a bunch of other vitamins too.
  • Other Supplements - I'm always a little skeptical about supplements because it seems like more an more information is coming to light showing that they don't help. However, for completeness, this LA Times article covers a variety of other supplements that are thought to help with depression. The only one that seemed promising to me is the Omega 3s. Like the multi-vitamins above, Kirkland fish oil pills will set you back about $12 a year, which isn't bad. Might be a good place put some of that money you've been saving on this site.

I mention the two suggestions of multivitamins and supplements with the usual caveat of understanding health studies. Don't let snake oil salesmen convince you that some vitamins are crap and not digested and that their brand is a depression cure. Don't fall for the "it gives your body what it needs to heal." I only mention them because at their minimal cost, there is little downside even though there is a little credible evidence they help.

So what's the best way to cure depression? I think building a house with Habitat for Humanity would be ideal. You get outside with some group exercise, while accomplishing something and giving back to the community. However, if you live in a cold weather climate, they probably aren't building houses in snow.

You know what usually works for me. This may sound crazy, but The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun:

Maybe you have a happy song or movie that will help boost your mood?

I realize that some of these suggestions may be temporary mood boosters and they may not cure the underlying cause of the depression. Before you be too mean to me in the comments, please go back and read the introduction about this article not being intended to replace professional help.

This post involves:

Mind

... and focuses on:


Summary: Doing something as simple as keeping a food journal may not only help your diet succeed, but it change your life. (Tweet this!)
food journal

Amazing things can start with a food journal

On walks with my dog I'm currently listening to the audiobook, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. After all that snow, it's great to get some fresh Spring air, a little exercise, while learning some truly amazing stuff.

I hope to review the book, err tape, err audio file... at some point in the near future. Today, I'd like to write about one very brief study mentioned in the book. I'm not even going to look up the study source, because it makes common sense if you think about it.

The book mentioned that the study asked some people who diet to simply keep track of what they ate once a week in a food journal. They weren't asked to change their eating or exercise habits in any way. Just keeping a journal changed how they ate:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit. Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.”

What they found is that the people who kept a food journal lost weight. Those who recorded their food more lost more weight.

I've noticed a similar thing in personal finance. Those who track their net-worth tend to have higher net-worths.

The act of tracking forces you to be mindful about the activity. If you are on a diet, you aren't going to want to write down that you ate triple burger with super fries and a thick shake. You not only have that mindfulness, but as the book mentions, you can go back and optimize your weaknesses. In addition you have a level of accountability.

What's even more exciting is that they found that the healthy habit spread into other areas of their lives. Those who ate healthier tended to exercise more. They smoke less. They were in better control of their spending.

A professor explained it as good habits "spill over." I like to say that they snowball.

This snowball effect is a central idea behind this website. If you are having trouble with one aspect of your life, perhaps improving another area will spill over and make the difference. If you start exercising, you'll feel better and have more energy. That will make you more productive. Being more productive makes you more money. Exercising improves your health, which may save you costly medical bills in the future.

One small habit can snowball into many positive changes in your life. Imagine what can happen if you just start with a simple food journal today.

This post involves:

Diet, Health / Fitness, Weight Loss

... and focuses on:


Summary: Perhaps nothing will save you more time than avoiding projects you don't want to do. Let's learn how to say "no."

how-to-say-no

No, no, no...

I say yes to everything.

Someone needs help moving, I'm there. There's a fly in my soup, well that's extra protein. I certainly wouldn't bother someone to go to the trouble of getting me new soup. And now that I have two very young boys, I've got a lot more things that require me to say "Yes."

Today I write about a skill that I really want to work on. My hope is that by doing research and putting my thoughts in writing, I will have a start. At a minimum it gives me something to refer back to as I try to make it a habit.

And if all else fails, I'm going to ask my two-year old how he does it. "No" seems to be his favorite word.

Why You Need to Say No

James Altucher relates a story about "how the power of no saved his life" on his Facebook page:

I started saying "No" to people who weren't right for me. I started saying "No" to everything I didn't want to do.

I started saying "No" to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.

I started saying "No" to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say "No" to and I still do.

...

I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.

The whole story takes many twists and turns and in my opinion goes far off topic, but here it is if you want to waste spend your time that way. Instead, I'll give you the powerful conclusion:

"When you start just saying 'No' to the bad things, the 'Yes' compounds every day. It compounds automatically, the way interest does in a non-US bank."

How To Say "No!"

As I said in the outset, I'm still learning this, but here are some things that I've found interesting.

Say No With a Form Letter

Writer Tim Walker has a brilliantly-worded letter saying no. Here's a sampling of a couple of my favorite quotes in the quick read:

"See, I’m a family man with a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a fun but demanding job, a lifelong goal of writing books, and a firm commitment to achieving tip-top physical condition. Something has to give - many somethings, actually - and unfortunately your project is one of them.
...
But please believe me, it’s not meant to be rude. It’s only done because this life is finite, and when it’s over I’ll be dead a long, long time... Unfortunately, your thing - awesome though it promises to be or already is - just isn’t my thing. And experience tells me that, if I don’t focus on my thing, I’ll go crazy."

I feel like I should steal that first paragraph word-for-word. When you read the whole letter one thing becomes obvious... he lays the compliments so thick that it doesn't seem like he's saying no at all.

Why We Can't Say No

There is a great article on Zen Habits about saying no. It cites 6 reasons for why it is hard to say no. I'm going to generalize them into 3 reasons:

  1. Yes People are Awesome - I want to help you and I want everyone to know how awesome I am for helping you. Plus, I avoid looking rude.
  2. I Don't Want to Hurt You - I don't want to reject you. I might actually like you and rejection hurts.
  3. I Want to Keep my Foot in the Door - If I say no to this, perhaps I miss out an opportunity. Perhaps you don't ask me the next time and it is something that I really want to help with.

The article also has 7 suggestions on How to Say No. I'll boil them down to these 3 responses:

  1. Just Say No - Simple and easy. You may soften the blow by playing the busy card.
  2. Deflect it to a Different Time - It might be easier to put it off and hope that it gets forgotten. Chances are the person asking you is busy as well (we all are, right?). You can either suggest a definitive time in the future or just leave it open by suggesting that you need to think about it.
  3. Pass the Buck to Someone Else - Often, I'm really not the best fit, so if I can offer better person, I might be doing more of a service in suggestion them.

Overall, I can't say I'm excited by these options, which may be why I find it so hard to say no. I feel like I might be throwing someone under the bus in passing the buck to them.

Can you help me learn to say no? I'd love to read your suggestions in the comments.

Further Reading:

You may have noticed that I referenced James Altucher a bit in this article. That's because he literally wrote the book on The Power of No - The subtitle of the book says it all: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness. That's a message I can get behind. You know what else I can get behind? The 264 reviewers who gave it a rating of 4.4.

This post involves:

Mind, Productivity

... and focuses on:


Every month, I set and review goals that I set for myself. At beginning of the year, I explained how I'm setting goals in 2015. The biggest focus was on setting goals on a monthly basis rather than have new years resolutions.

As I explained in the Monthly Review for February, it was a short month, not just in terms of calendar days. Things got started a little slow due to my hometown Patriots winning the Super Bowl and the aftermath of that. It was also a very busy month with feet and feet of snow that canceled our child card leaving me the duties of my day job, caring for children, and shoveling feet of snow.

That combination isn't conducive to getting any extra work done. It's hard to swim forward when the current is pushing you back with such tremendous force.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep oneself accountable so here are the <a href="goals I set for February.

I set two personal goals and one business goal for this website. Let's see how I did:

February 2015 Goals

Goals - Baby, Funny
  1. Personal 1: Lose 1% of body fat

    The Goal:

    "I averaged the last 7 days of January and had 20.81% fat according to my Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi smart scale. So the plan is to average 19.81% (or lower over the last 7 days of February). It's aggressive. February is a short month and I'm making the goal a week in."

    The results? They weren't good. They were terrible.

    I'm going to blame it on the Super Bowl hangover. My body fat went from that 20.81% average to a score of 23.9% by Feb 8th, 2015. I wish I had some explanation for why it continued to go up by such a massive rate in such a short time.

    I should give myself an "F", but I'm going to cut myself the slightest of slack only because I've steadily reduced my body fat percentage back to 20.6% as of March 12th.

    Grade D- (62)

  2. Personal 2: Track my Productivity Consistently

    As a review, I'm looking to quantify several aspects of my productivity with a spreadsheet. The format is still a work in progress. My commitment to using it isn't much better.

    I didn't give myself a very good goal last month. Here's what I wrote:

    Last month, I only tracked 9 of the 31 days. It's okay to miss a few days, but I need to make missing it the exception rather the rule. Once I build the habit to track it consistently, I can focus in on what areas I need to improve on.

    That's just terrible.

    I only tracked 8 days of the 28, which is about the same percentage as last month. I'm starting to realize that this goal is simply not working. I think I need to learn more about why I'm failing.

    My feeling is that there's something to the motivation/easiness curve in the video at Baby Steps: Start Small and Keep Improving. I currently don't have much motivation for quantifying my productivity. Though it is easy, I think that's why I'm failing to put aside the time for this.

    Grade F (55)

  3. Be Better Now: Write 3 Guest Posts for Other Blogs

    I was able to accomplish this. The guest posts haven't been published yet, but I hope they are soon.

    Grade A (95)

Taking all three things into account, my average score is a 70.6... barely a C-.

While that grade is certainly disappointing, I'm going to focus on the fact that progress was made. I got those guest posts done, which I wouldn't have if I didn't have the monthly goals. I think I learned why I'm failing to complete some of my goals.

I wish I had been more successful, but I'll take the baby steps to keep improving.

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Monthly Goals

... and focuses on:

,


Summary: Want to create a lasting change? Build habits by taking baby steps. (Tweet This!)
Baby steps:  Start small - keep improving

Baby steps: Start small... keep improving

For the last two and a half months, I've been trying to subtly nudge you in the direction of "being better." You may have noticed it in my monthly goal reports. If that was a little subtle, you might have also noticed it in such places as the website's name and logo.

If it wasn't completely obvious in either of those places, I'd like to formally write about it today. Many times people make grand, sweeping changes and expect them to stick. Yet, we know that most New Year's resolutions fail. We know that fad diets don't stick.

What does work? Baby steps

Here's a story from James Altucher's Newsletter about Tony Robbins training members of the military to shoot better:

"Specifically, for every student he had them bring the target only a few feet away. Everyone shot bullseyes. Then he moved the target back a foot. Bullseyes. Then another foot. And so on.

This is true for everything in life. I look at the example Mark Cuban told me. He didn't just start Broadcast.com and make a billion. First he started a bar. Then he started a computer business. Then a hedge fund."

For years, I would joke around that I'd simply just get rich picking up a baseball and throwing a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. Throwing a knuckleball doesn't require one to be in the physical condition of a top athlete. Obviously, I couldn't just pick up a ball and throw a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. It took him years of practice. It took him years of study from a previous generation of knuckleballers.

I should have started with baby steps. In reality, I had other priorities and didn't see devoting years of my life to throwing a knuckleball as a risk worth taking.

Baby steps often mean going back to making SMART Goals. You want to break them down and make them attainable. As you achieve success, make it a little more difficult, do something a little bigger. Suddenly you are buying up NBA teams and financing businesses on Shark Tank.

Stanford University research BJ Fogg is one of the world's leading experts on taking baby steps. He likes to call them "tiny habits." A few years back, he had a TED talk that covered how to make lasting change. The concept starts with... you guessed it... baby steps. However, he goes further than just baby steps:

As you can see he covers developing habits, the role of motivation, and triggering change in general. These are all things I'll cover in other articles.

This website itself is an experiment in baby steps. Each day, I'm trying to capture a little bit of knowledge and share it with people. The idea is that in just 5-10 minutes a day, you can learn something. Each day I get a little better at writing. Each day, I go back and rework some piece of writing that I've done in the past to try to make it better. Over time and many iterations, the quality of the website improves. This improvement means it can help more people.

Everything gets a little better... one small step at a time.

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation

... and focuses on:

,


Summary: Automating your money is one tip that can make you hundreds of thousands in just a few minutes. (Tweet This)

When it comes to money, one of the best things I've ever done was to automate everything. It's great for me, but as personal finance expert Phil Taylor points out: automating finances isn't for everyone.

About a dozen years ago, I had an epiphany... if I have to keep shifting money here and there something is going to fall through the cracks. When that happens, I'm going to lose money or incur a fee. I hate fees.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is the father.

Here's a guide of the processes that I automate:

automate your money

Let a robot Automate your Money

Credit Card Payments

It has been years since I manually sent a payment to a credit card company. I let them claw into my bank account and take what they need so that I never miss a payment and never trigger fees. This way, I reap the sweet, sweet rewards of 1-5% cash back.

The downside with this is that many people don't like to give credit cards access to grab money out of their accounts. I totally understand that. I gave it a try to see how it goes and years later, it has been perfect in about a thousand transactions across many cards now. It certainly beats my error rate as a human.

An awesome side effect of this system is that I know I need to keep a good chunk of money in my bank account just to be safe. I'm going to err on the side of caution, so keeping my bank account "safe" reinforces my frugal behavior.

Automate Payments to Retirement Accounts

As we covered in The Guide to Financial Freedom, retirement accounts are one of the best tools available to you.

You may have heard the saying "Pay yourself first." That is exactly what this is. It's paying "future me." I've learned over the years that "future me" becomes "present me" quickly. Let me tell you that "present me" is enjoying the contributions from "past me."

Confused enough? Good let's move on.

Automate Payments to a Savings Account

Just like automating payments to a retirement account, you should automate some payments to a savings account. Some people use this as my emergency fund. When that's got a safe amount of money in it (generally 6 months of living expenses), it can be redirected towards and opportunity fund. It's great to have a good opportunity fund in place, use it well and it can grow your net worth quite a bit.

The important thing is to move this money out of sight and out of mind. I'm testing out a new service called Digit that I love. They automate this process of squirreling money away from your savings account. They do it in small chunks that you probably won't notice, but it adds up over time.

Consolidate Your Banking

When I was 20, I signed up with every bank that offered a free T-shirt and a single with a B-side song of Blink 182. All the banks were at College Fest. I must have picked up dozens of credit cards for free stuff.

What I didn't realize is that I'd now have all these zombie accounts out there... and they are all looking for delicious brains.

In chasing the best rate and the best perk, my financial information was everywhere. It took some time, but after seeing how my wife had consolidated most everything USAA, I saw the light. It is so much easier to have everything in one place.

Set Your Financial Calendar

I'm going to give you some work to do right now while you read this. Don't worry, it'll only take a couple of minutes. Open up your calendar software.

I'll wait.

Got it open? Good.

Now flip ahead one month from today and put an entry to check your credit report. Make it a recurring entry and set it to go every 4 months. You can get a free credit report from Annual Credit Report every year. So why every 4 months? There are three credit bureaus you can get them from. Get a different one every four months.

If one of the credit bureaus is off it may take you a little time to notice it this way. However, this way you get to view what is 99% likely to be an accurate report. It is better to catch identity theft after 3 months than it is after 9 months.

Next, flip it ahead another month and make another entry. This time we are making an appointment for checking our net worth. Depending on what stage in life you are, this one can recur 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 months. I personally like to calculate it every 3 months.

It may seem very complicated and tedious, but it isn't. If you consolidate your banking and use a spreadsheet, it can be knocked out in under a half-hour. The first couple of times will take longer, but as you get in a flow it will be much, much easier.

There's one final calendar entry to make. This one is going to be every 6 months. Every 6 months, I want you to do an audit of necessary expenses and subscriptions in your life. Many of these things like your mortgage and car payments won't change. However, you may be able to get a discount on cable service or a cheaper cell phone plan. You may find that you don't use that Netflix very often. Maybe you subscribed to HBO to watch True Blood and now that the series is over are left paying for nothing?

Conclusion and Further Reading

I can't begin to estimate how much automating my money has done for me. When I look into my retirement and see 6 figures starting with a crooked number, I can't help but think, "Would I have really saved this otherwise?" I know the answer is no.

So I guess I can begin to estimate how important it was for me. It is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the power of compound interest, it could be millions down the line.

That thought brings us right into:

Further reading: This is an easy one... The Automatic Millionaire. Personal Finance guru David Bach has earned a 4.2 star rating with 460 reviews a great value for the current price of $8.12.

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance

... and focuses on:

Summary: Here's what's going on at Be Better Now including the next charity update and Posts of the Month

Each month, I give readers a sneak peak at what goes on behind the scenes at Be Better Now. I've only done this once before, so your feedback in the comments below is always appreciated.

Overall February was a busy than expected month for me. We got about 17 feet of snow, which lead to our child care being canceled. When that happens, I suspend work to watch the kids and try to squeeze in time to shovel snow. February is a short month to begin with, so losing another 4 days really takes a toll.

What's New at Be Better Now

I've updated several articles that form a core foundation at Be Better Now. Many were small changes, but The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom got a solid makeover. I also made some changes to How To Save Money on Almost Anything!

The other big change is that after publishing more than 40 articles over almost every business day since launch, I'm taking one, sometimes two days off. With my current schedule, it is unreasonable for me to deliver the highest quality of writing five days a week, while updating older articles, and writing guest posts for other websites. It is biting off more than I can chew. For that reason, I'm looking at publishing three or four articles a week with the other days marked for other articles.

Traffic & Charity Update

Last month's charity was for the Washington Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. You can read about: why I picked that here.

Last month, Be Better Now had 587 visitors, a growth of 128%. Our mail list grew to 10 people and there are 7 RSS readers. These numbers are small. The money I donate to charity is a percentage of these and it would add up to $0.86 cents. However, I give at least $25 and I put the charity back in queue for when the traffic is better.

This website is new and I've given almost no promotion. It is almost like a garage sale in the middle of a desert. Traffic is going to understandably be small.

However, I expect traffic to continue to grow for some time. I built another website where I have 100,000 monthly visitors, 500 people on the mailing list and nearly a thousand RSS readers. Using the same charity formula on that website, I'd have donated $118.

Personally, I think this website is a lot better than that one, so I have high hopes it can do even more traffic.

Next Month's Charity is...

APhA Foundation

This month is the annual American Pharmacists Association (APhA) meeting. In high school and college I was a pharmacy technician. My wife is a pharmacist. The APhA Foundation is a highly-rated charity according to Charity Navigator. Thus they are a very worthy recipient of our support.

This month they are hoping to make people aware that they can sync their medications. Some people have different doctors with different medications and their refills are due at different times. The program at Align My Refills is designed to help people sync them up. This way consumers don't have to make many trips to the pharmacy. It also makes the pharmacists lives easier too. Win-win. I'll let their video explain it:

They also have a very cool infographic here.

For the most part, the charitable cause is to just make people aware of the service. However, we'll support the APhA Foundation with the monetary donation just like we do with all the charities we support.

In Case You Missed It...

Of course all the articles on Be Better Now are awesome. Some are just a little more awesome than others. For that reason I thought I'd use this space to highlight a few of the articles that you might have missed last month:

I'll let those articles be the final word on February 2015. Let's make March 2015 awesome!

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Charity, Monthly Review

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Parkinson's Law prevents you from being productive. Here's how to fight back. (Tweet This!)

Parkinson's Law

In a couple of days, I'll be doing the math on this website's traffic to add up the money I'll be donating to Washington Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. However, today, I'd like to bring up the topic of a Parkinson's that you probably never heard of... Parkinson's Law. Wikipedia's definition is very brief: Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands to fill the time available."

Three Ways I've Been Impacted by Parkinson's Law

If you read a little more into the Wikipedia definition, you'll see that a more general definition is "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." I've found this to be true of nearly every project I've tried to accomplish in life. Specifically it applies to at least three areas, work, space, and money.

Parkinson's Law of Work/Time

This was the base case mentioned from the outset. Have you ever had that book report that you put off until the last minute? I always choked it up to procrastination, but maybe it was Parkinson's Law. In my years as a software engineer, I've rarely seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work. (This is theme that's prevalent in Frederick Brook's The Mythical Man-Month.) It almost always takes until the end.

Sadly, I find that this continues with my writing today. In fact, it's several times worse, because I have some long term projects that have no definitive due date on them. When there is no due date, the work expands indefinitely.

One idea I'm thinking of is enlisting my wife as a project manager. I'd explain to her each week what I'm looking to accomplish. At the end of the week, we'd go through and make sure that I have it - instant accountability! If she's not interested in such a thing, perhaps I could make commitment contracts to motivate me to get it done. I'm also setting monthly goals, which help me get things done.

Parkinson's Law of Space

Sometimes, I think if I only had more space, I'd be free of clutter forever. I've come to realize that Parkinson's Law applies here as well. My clutter expands to fill the space. When I lived in homes with small kitchens the counters were crowded. Now that I live in a kitchen with a big kitchen... guess what? The counters are crowded.

Parkinson's Law of Money

Have you ever gotten a tax refund or raise? Was your first thought to run out to buy a pair of Christian Louboutin? I hope not, because that's the perfect opportunity to save money for financial freedom.

Too many people don't think to save this money. Instead, they buy nice things and create what many call "lifestyle inflation." If you make more money, the demand for your money rises. Take this story on a banker not being able to live on a million dollars. Here is a juicy quote:

And I don’t mean to sound like a snob or anything but I do have a housekeeper, babysitters, gym memberships, therapists for me and my wife, plus our couples therapist.

How to Fight Parkinson's Law

Here are a few of the things that I've found help me kick Parkinson's Law to the curb:

Like many things, defeating Parkinson's Law is a work in progress. I find that as I get older and wiser, I have more knowledge.

This post involves:

Mind, Productivity

... and focuses on:


Summary: These simple tips on how to save money at restaurants can keep thousands of dollars a year in your wallet. (Tweet This!)

Today, I thought I'd write about some more ways to Save Money. In the past I've written about how it is important to spend less than you earn, which lead to me writing about these high level tips on how to save money on almost anything. One of the items that I mentioned were the cost of "outings..." and the obvious example is the cost of going out to restaurants.

Save Money at Restaurants

Save Money at Restaurants

The average American spends thousands of dollars a year at restaurants. I've got nothing against restaurants. I'll be the first to admit that the food is generally better than I can make at home. However, I don't think it is that much better. I will say that my taste buds and sense of smell (which factor into taste) are, well, defective compared to most people's.

That said, I think for many people, there are ways to save money at restaurants. Here are some basic tips:

Avoid Restaurants

It shouldn't come as a surprise, the best way to avoid spending money at restaurants is to avoid restaurants. It is easier said than done. There are restaurants everywhere - and people need to eat. The combination of the two has made going out to eat an important social aspect of our lives. A lot of people don't go to restaurants for social reasons - they just want the convenience of a quick meal.

It's reasonable to fall for the social value eating out - a lot of people do. That said, it's worth suggesting an alternative such as a pot luck dinner. If your difficulty is in finding time, the answer is easy. You can make a few minor changes to your daily schedule and enjoy great quality food at a great price. I suggest you follow some of the tips in Be Better Now's Productivity category.

You want another reason to avoiding restaurants? It's often difficult to find nutritional information of the food (unless it is a large chain). If you are fortunate enough to find nutrition information, you'll quickly realize that it's next to impossible to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight, if that's your goal.

If you can't avoid restaurants the next best thing is to limit the damage to your wallet. So let's look at:

Top Ways to Save Money at Restaurants

  • Do Lunch Instead of Dinner - Lunch prices are typically significantly cheaper. Not only do you save money, but the portions are usually smaller and you are less likely to knock down a days worth of calories.
  • Save Half Your Meal for Leftovers - I sometimes ask for a take-out dish right away, so that I'm not tempted to eat the whole thing. This is another tip that's about health as much as it is about money. If a restaurant is going to give me 2,000 calories of food or more, I might as well space them out over a couple of days.
  • Split a Meal - Similar to above, the idea here is to split something with your companion. My wife and I do this regularly for lunches. She loves the salad and half sandwich. A half sandwich and fries (or steamed vegetables if I feel like being better) is enough for me. She orders the salad. I order the sandwich. I give her half with her salad. Sometimes a restaurant will charge a "split-plate fee." Some call this tacky, but I think you could just claim it's for portion control.
  • Cash in on your Seniority - If you are a senior citizen, you can often get a discount. You've earned it.
  • Skip the Alcohol - The margins that restaurants make on wine and other alcoholic beverages are tremendous. If you can save the drinks for home, you'll not only save money, but also avoid any nasty DUI incidents.
  • Look for Restaurants with No Corkage Fee - Bringing your own bottle of wine can lead to savings. If you find a restaurant that can't get an alcohol license it can lead to big savings. My wife and I found a pasta restaurant in western Massachusetts that allowed this. Cheap pasta and your own wine is a big win.
  • Take Advantage of Happy Hour - If you can't skip the alcohol and the corkage feeds are high, maybe you can get a half-price or 2-for-1 special during happy hour. They work equally well if your companion wants a drink too.
  • Cash in on the Early Bird Specials - There's a lot of money to be saved by dining at off-peak hours. This can also be nicely combined with the above tip about happy hour. Have a drink at the bar and bring it to your table. While on the topic of early bird specials I'm reminded of this great moment in Seinfeld history from the episode The Cadallac:

    "MORTY: Alright, are you ready to eat?

    HELEN: (glancing at her watch) Oh, right, let's go. Jerry, let's go, it's time
    to eat. We're going to dinner.

    Jerry wanders into the room. He's in a t-shirt and sweatpants, and holding a
    comic book he's been reading.

    JERRY: (confused) Dinner? W..What time is it?

    HELEN: (pulling on a coat) It's four-thirty.

    JERRY: (bewildered) Four-thirty? Who eats dinner at four-thirty?

    MORTY: By the time we sit down, it'll be quarter to five.

    JERRY: I don't understand why we have to eat now.

    HELEN: We gotta catch the early-bird. It's only between four-thirty and six.

    MORTY: Yeah. They give you a tenderloin, a salad and a baked potato, for
    four-ninety-five. You know what that cost you after six?

    JERRY: Can't we eat at a decent hour? I'll treat, okay?

    HELEN: You're not buying us dinner.

    JERRY: (emphatic) I'm not force-feeding myself a steak at four-thirty to save a
    coupla bucks, I'll tell you that!

    HELEN: Alright, (sitting on the couch) we'll wait. (pointedly) But it's unheard
    of."

    I'm with Morty and Helen. Grab that tenderloin, salad, potato for $4.95 (or whatever the incredible special price is). I'd probably aim to eat closer to 5:30, but other than that it sounds fantastic.

  • Eat on nights with "specials" - Many chains and even local restaurants offer incentives (i.e. good deals) during their slower nights of the week. You won't many specials on Friday or Saturday, but it's fairly common to find a good deal on Tuesdays (as one example).
  • Drink Water - Not only is water healthier than soda it's cheaper. In this case cheaper equals "free."
  • Use Coupons - There are a lot of coupons out there. Many of them offer a buy one get one free meal. You can sign up for Groupon and get free daily deals. You could also buy an Entertainment book an Entertainment Book full of coupons. You might also consider Restaurant.com a website where you can by vouchers for very cheap dinners (though they often come with restrictions).
  • Buy a Gift Card at a Reduced Rate - On Ebay you can often find people looking to get cash for their gift cards. With a quick search, you can save 10% or more.
  • Use a rewards credit card geared towards restaurants - If you can't find a gift card or don't have the time to wait for delivery, this is a good back-up. Some credit cards offer 3-5% or more cash back at restaurants. Some credit cards give you cash back at grocery stores or drug stores. You can take advantage by buying a gift card and using that for your bill.

With any and all the above tips, use your common sense. Don't try to split a meal with your boss. Have an alcoholic drink (if that's your thing) with a colleague. Don't pull out the coupons on the first date. In short, be smart and pick your spots.

Bonus Tip: Though it won't save you money, we like to think about health here at Be Better Now. Americans underestimate the calories in restaurant food by 642 calories (Official study by American Journal of Public Health).

That's another reason to share or save half of your meal for leftovers the next day.

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance, Save Money, Smart Spending

... and focuses on:


Summary: Summary: I set my goals for March 2015. Can I ramp up my exercise, learn the guitar, and double traffic to this website? We'll find out...

Time to Set Goals

Well look at that, it's March already. I'm looking forward to not losing whole days to shoveling. In related news, I am hoping to score a bargain on an end of season snow blower.

Let's waste no further time and get right to the goals:

Personal 1: Work out 7 Times

Over the last two years, working out has been one of my biggest failings. I simply don't get to the gym and do either the amount of running or the amount of weight training I should be.

What do I do for exercise? I walk my dog, Jake. We've gone on some epic walks. Walking is good exercise, but I need to step up the intensity.

Towards the end of February, I took a few minutes in one day to do sets of push-ups. I didn't get too far, before I realized what happens when you don't use muscles in awhile. This:

So the goal this month is to ramp up the physical activity. I'm going to take baby steps and aim for 7 workouts... less than once for every four days.

Personal 2: Re-"learn" the guitar

I broke out my guitar for the first time in more than 10 years. My wife didn't know what to make of it, because she'd never seen me play. I'm sure she never expected me to pick it up either.

So why did I pick it up? My oldest son is about as musically gifted as a 2-year old can be. If he's interested in the guitar, I want to be able to help him with it.

Yes, age 2 is far too young for any kind of meaningful teaching. However, my expertise in guitar comes solely from a 10-class introduction that I took place more a long, long time ago. I'm no Joe Perry.

In March, I'd like to be good with four basic cords. As a stretch goal, I'd like to be able to play the beginning of Weezer's Undone (Sweater Song)... which was the best I could do in my training class.

Be Better Now: Double traffic

March will be the third month of Be Better Now. In February, I was able to more than double the traffic of the first month. Next week, I'll go into the gory details with the monthly review.

Doubling traffic (growing 100%) is easy when you are just starting out. It becomes a lot more difficult once you get bigger.

It's far too early for me to run into the Wheat and the Chessboard Problem, so I'm optimistic that I can double traffic. That will be the benchmark for at least the next couple of months.

Please check back in the first week of April to see how I did. Better yet, why not join me and set some goals for yourself for the month?

This post involves:

Monthly Goals

... and focuses on:

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