Savings Goals for the New Year

Each January we get a powerful fresh start in the form of a new year. That clean slate for the year ahead encourages us to set goals, try new things, and improve our habits for the year ahead. Often fitness and health goals get all the attention. Our friends are on social media sharing their new eating plan or marathon training schedule. Health goals are important, but financial goals can be just as important for overall wellness! As we head into 2023, why not try out some savings goals and shift some focus to your financial health?

Changing our behavior is always a challenge. In many ways, our brains aren’t wired to give up the things we want now for something we might be able to have in the future. And as our goals get bigger and further in the future, this gets more and more difficult. We might really want to pay off our car loan or student loan, but those things can take small amounts of money over many years. Spending that money on things we enjoy now would definitely be more fun and using that money to pay down debt can feel pretty anticlimactic.

One strategy for improving our motivation is to create a vision board. Ideally, this vision board would focus on a specific large financial goal. It would include pictures that show:

  • How it would feel to achieve the goal
  • What you would be able to do when you achieve the goal
  • The kinds of characteristics you will have when you achieve the goal

Looking at the vision board reminds us that the goal is important, possible, and that achieving it will change our lives for the better! It helps us visualize that when we say no to something right now, it is because we want to be able to say yes to something else in the future. I made one recently and hung it where I would see it each morning. It was focused on a dream I have always had to travel. After 5 years of saving, my husband and I took the trip I had always dreamed of last summer! I’m looking forward to making a new one for this year because the previous one was such a great source of motivation.

I tried to find my old vision board and include a picture here, but we moved recently and I can’t find it! So instead, here is a picture of my husband and I in Venice, Italy after saving for 5 years to make this trip!

The vision board is an excellent tool for motivation, but it needs to be paired with strategies you can actually use to save the money. One option is to start small because it gives you the chance to create a new habit without having to stick with any really major changes. For example, my bank allows me to use rounding up to increase my savings. With rounding up, each of my purchases is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the rounded-up amount is placed in my savings account. For example, if I bought dinner and it was 19.20 then my bank would round that charge up to 20.00. Of that, 19.20 would go to the restaurant and 0.80 would go into my savings account. The amounts are small, but they add up over time!

If you’re looking to save in larger amounts, it might be good to look into your bank’s options on savings accounts. At my bank, it doesn’t cost me anything to open an additional savings account and I can do it from right within their app. Once I have the account, I can add a label to it. I usually label my accounts with what I want to do with the money in the account. An example would be an account labeled “Emergency Fund” where I save for emergencies, or “Summer Vacation” where I save to take a trip with my family over the summer. Some banks even let you set a goal for your account and give you a status bar showing how much progress you have made toward your savings goal.

Things like this can really help with motivation! It seems simple, but adding these labels can be a powerful way to change the way our brain thinks about money. If I am running short and need to move some money from savings to make a purchase, seeing that label makes me stop and think. Is it really worth it to me to take money from my summer vacation to buy this other thing? Sometimes it’s groceries or an important bill, and the answer is yes. But other times I realize I’d much rather go on vacation than buy whatever it is I’m considering.

These small changes can add up to some major savings over the course of a year. They can help you establish an emergency fund and save for future needs (and wants). Hopefully you try out some savings goals or other financial goals this year! Drop a comment and let us know, do you have a savings goal for 2023? Are there any strategies you use that work for you?

Budgeting Your Holiday Spending

The days are getting shorter and I am starting to get more and more creative with my Thanksgiving leftovers. For me, those are clear signs that we are getting into the height of the holiday season. Looking at my calendar for the next few weeks, there are gatherings with friends and family, gifts to buy, and special meals to plan. Unfortunately, all of these things can add up and stretch an already tight budget even tighter. So, I thought I would share some tips for staying on track with your budget this holiday season. 

Tip #1: Make sure you have an accurate budget

This may seem obvious to some, but I want to explain what I mean here. Many of us are feeling the pressures of inflation as prices rise for all kinds of things. What you may not realize is that many people also engage in “mental accounting.” This means that they try to keep track of their money in their mind. But when prices are rising and changing, your estimate of how much things cost might be off. Additionally, the busy holiday season can mean it is difficult to remember everything we will need to do and buy. This is a recipe for a budget shock. Essentially, it puts us in a position where things are likely to cost more than we expect and we are likely to forget about some things we need. Doing our best to get an accurate idea of what we will need and how much it will cost will give us a better idea of what we need to do to stay on budget. 

Tip #2: Consider modifying traditions, especially expensive ones

Tradition is a powerful force in many of our lives. It can feel comforting to know that some things will stay the same, even as time passes. Additionally, we may feel that others are relying on us to keep certain traditions alive. But if maintaining a holiday tradition means that you are going to have trouble affording things you need, then it makes sense to reconsider. Communication is key here. It can be difficult to talk about money, but it could help explain to family and friends why a particular tradition might need to change. For example, you might host a gathering with friends where you typically provide all the food. But you might be able to talk with friends and let them know that, especially with inflated food prices, that won’t be an option this year. Your friends might be willing to switch the tradition to a pot luck meal. That way, you can still spend time together without breaking the bank. I know thins year I will be thinking about why certain traditions are important to me and trying to get creative with finding ways to achieve the same goal, but at a lower cost. 

Tip #3: Manage impulse extras

This may not be true for everyone, but for me the holiday season encourages impulse spending. Since I am spending more time in stores where I am browsing for gifts, rather than shopping with a list, it makes it more likely that I will throw some extra things in my cart. But these small purchases can quickly throw my holiday budget out of whack. I have a few ideas for how I can limit this extra spending:

  • Know when I’m done shopping for each person. If I see something I think my dad would love, but I already have a gift for him, I need to encourage myself to leave it on the shelf. I could always take a picture and save it for his birthday or Father’s Day. 
  • Whenever possible, have a list. Instead of wandering from store to store and increasing the chances of buying random things, I am planning to go out when I have a list and an idea of what I really need. 
  • Avoid the “Buy Now” button. If I can give myself a day or two to consider purchases, it might help me avoid buying things I don’t really need. When I’m online shopping, adding something to my cart rather than buying it immediately will give me time to truly consider my purchases. 

Especially during the holiday season, there is pressure to spend money. We tend to feel like there are so many things we have to have so that we can make memories with family and friends. But I think there are ways to create memories and enjoy the holiday season without overspending and making life more difficult for ourselves in the New Year. So, this year I am going to give it my best shot and I hope you will too. 

Happy Holidays! 

Important Student Loan Updates

Do you have federal student loans? Then you might have some forms to file this October. My name is Carrie Sorenson and I am an Accredited Financial Counselor who writes for Breathing Room (although I usually write about physical activity and health topics). I wanted to share this important information to make sure you can take advantage of these programs if you qualify.

There are two main programs you will want to pay attention to:

  • Federal Student Loan Debt Relief
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

Both of these programs have important things happening this month and you’ll want to pay attention to make sure you don’t miss out. Here are the important details about both programs:

Federal Student Loan Debt Relief

In August, the Biden Administration announced that they would forgive up to $20,000 for some federal student loan borrowers. Over the weekend, the Department of Education announced that the application is live! You can find it here: https://studentaid.gov/debt-relief/application

The application is available in English and Spanish, is very brief, and only asks you to provide some basic information about yourself like your name, social security number, date of birth, and contact information (it WILL NOT ask for your FAFSA ID). It also asks you to self-certify that you meet the income guidelines. In order to qualify, you must have income that is under $125,000 for an individual or under $250,000 for people who are married and file taxes jointly or with one person listed as head of household. If you are unsure, go back to your 2020 and 2021 tax returns. If your income was under the limit for at least one of those years, then you qualify for the forgiveness. You may be asked to provide proof of income in the future, but not at the time you submit the application. 

You have until December 31st, 2023 to complete the application.

On a personal note, my husband and I both have student loans and completed our forgiveness applications this weekend. We were impressed with how simple and easy the application process was!

One note of warning, be careful of scams! Filing for forgiveness is free and the Department of Education will never ask you for any money in order to process your application. If someone is asking you to pay to file the application, that person is trying to scam you. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness 

This program is for people who are working in public service (typically for a nonprofit, the military, or in federal, state, tribal, or local government). Under this program, your remaining loan balance is forgiven after you make 120 qualifying payments. This is usually 10 years or more of payments and often makes sense for people who are making payments under an income driven repayment plan.

Initially, the program required specific documentation and had strict rules that made it difficult for many to achieve loan forgiveness under the program. However, recently a waiver was passed that makes it significantly easier for borrowers to make qualifying payments and have their loans forgiven.

In order to take advantage of this waiver, you must complete an application before the October 31st deadline! So, if you think you might be able to take advantage of this program, you can visit https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service. There, you can check to make sure you qualify and apply for forgiveness. 

If you have questions about your specific student loan situation, check out https://studentaid.gov/ for additional resources on a variety of topics!

Roll Out the Mat and Try Some Yoga

Here at Breathing Room, we are all about helping people find ways to improve their lives and reach their goals, whether they are physical, nutritional, mental, financial, or any other type of goal. One way to work on both the physical and mental or spiritual side of wellness is through the practice of yoga. Yoga, which has been gaining popularity in the U.S. lately, focuses on movement, breathing, and often meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Manage anxiety
  • Improve balance

For more information about the benefits, check out this article https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know

I got into yoga in high school because I was having a hard time getting to sleep at night and my doctor suggested it as a way to relax before bed. I bought a book that came with a DVD (I know, its been awhile since I was in high school. We had DVDs then) and started practicing some basic yoga movements before bed. For me, slowing down my breathing to match the movements helped me to relax my body and calm my mind. I still find it to be an effective way to get to sleep if I’m having a hard time.

For me, one of the hardest parts of yoga is convincing my dog, Dakota, that I am on the floor to exercise and not to play with her.

After college, I would occasionally go to yoga classes at a local gym with my mom and sister. I really enjoyed exercising with them and felt my balance really improving from the exercises we did in class. But as life got busier, it became more and more difficult to get to the gym for the in-person classes. My sister then introduced me to some online resources where you can find free videos to guide you through many different types of yoga practices. One of these YouTube channels, Yoga With Adriene, has become very popular. The channel currently has 11.4 million subscribers!

For me, yoga has been an on and off journey. Some months, I will do several classes or workouts and some months I might not do any at all. While doing it more consistently is a goal of mine, I really appreciate that I can always find a way to jump back in when I’m ready. There are so many different options out there, so I always feel like I can jump back in without it being too difficult to get started again.

So, if you’re interested in seeing if yoga might be a tool you can use for reaching your wellness goals, give it a shot and check out some of these resources to help you get started!

  • https://www.doyogawithme.com/ – Do Yoga with Me is a website where you can sort yoga videos by length, type, and level of difficulty. It is really helpful for finding something that meets you where you are.
  • https://www.youtube.com/c/yogawithadriene – Yoga with Adriene has a ton of different videos and options, but I like her monthly playlists. There is a different video for each day of the month which range in length and focus. They are a great way to get started with building a habit of practicing yoga.
  • Senior Centers and Recreation Centers – If you check with your county or city, you might have a local center with free or low-cost classes available. They are usually led by a professional who can help you learn the movements. Also, it can be fun to workout with others in your community!
  • Local Gyms – Many gyms offer yoga classes similar to those offered at Senior Centers and Recreation Centers. But you might even have a local gym or studio that focuses exclusively on yoga. This can be great if you are looking for something more advanced or specific to your needs.

As with any exercise, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor before jumping in to a new exercise program (especially if you have any health concerns). But even if you are a total yoga beginner, there are some great benefits to incorporating yoga into your life. So, roll out the mat and see what yoga can do for you!

Try Golfing – Or Anything New – This Month

August is National Golf Month and in honor of that, I thought I would share with you all a little bit about my own golf journey. Much to the surprise of many people who know me, I’ve recently gotten into golf. My husband has enjoyed playing for many years, but I had not played before. I starting walking the course with him as fun way to spend some time together and get in some physical activity. After walking along for a few rounds, I wanted to try it myself. So, I started going to the driving range to learn the skills I need to start playing. It’s been really enjoyable and a fun way to keep myself active, especially on a Saturday morning.

Like many other types of physical activity, there are mental and physical health benefits to playing golf. We’ll get to those in a little bit, but first, I want to talk about the growth that can come from trying new things. I think for many of us, life gets busy and we might not feel we have time to learn a completely new skill. I know for myself, there are times when I want to try something new but am worried that I won’t be good at it. But, this is where we can benefit from a change in perspective. Focusing on learning, growing, and small improvements over time can encourage us to think more about how many new things we are learning and how much we are improving. I’m by no means an expert golfer, but I can hit the ball further and straighter than when I first started, and I’m proud of that improvement!

Josh Sorenson (Carrie’s husband) on the course. Photo by Carrie Sorenson.

According to this NPR article, the process of learning a new skill and improving over time can be very important for brain health. When you challenge your brain to learn something difficult, you help strengthen the connections your brain needs. So even if it isn’t golf, challenging yourself to try a new (and difficult) activity could be great for your brain in the long run! My husband recently decided to learn to play ice hockey, and although it has been difficult to learn, he has a great time playing on a local recreational team and improving his skills. For me, learning golf has been challenging, but also a great way to relieve stress and get outside. Whatever your interest may be, stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a new skill is a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age.

Even if golf isn’t a new skill for you, there are still benefits to hitting the golf course. Walking the course, carrying bags, and hitting the ball are all forms of physical activity. If you walk an 18-hole course, that is usually five or more miles of walking (depending on the size of the course). Even folks who use a cart when they play end up walking a good amount over the course of a game. Additionally, the time spent playing is that much more time we are spending outside. In a previous post I explained many of the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, so check that out if you want more information about why time outside can be so beneficial. But in general, adding any physical activity and time spent outside is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. So, there are some great potential health benefits of getting into golf.

So, for National Golf Month, consider heading to your local golf course or driving range to try (or continue) playing golf!

Just Keep Swimming (Safely)

In the heat of summer, there is nothing more refreshing than heading to a pool, beach, or some other cool place for a swim. As a kid, I loved going to my grandmother’s house to play in the pool with my cousins. We would hold diving contests, play games of “Sharks and Minnows,” and enjoy the occasional popsicle as well. My husband and I recently moved into our new house, which has a pool, and it has brought back many of these fun memories. But, it also got me thinking about making sure that people enjoy my pool safely. So, today I thought I would offer some tips around making sure we can all be safe and have fun at the pool!

Having fun in the sun means being prepared for everything the sun brings with it! The warmth from the sun can turn dangerous without the right protection. There are a variety of options you can consider, although the most popular and common one is probably sunscreen. The most important thing when using sunscreen is to make sure you are following instructions for the sunscreen you are using. It will tell you how to apply it and how often you’ll need to reapply to make sure it is protecting you and your family.

But you should also consider sun protection options like protective clothing, umbrellas, or going inside. If you have children who make the putting on sunscreen a difficult process, protective clothing might be a great option. My husband recently bought two shirts that protect against the sun and he found it much easier than trying to remember to reapply after swimming. Although it isn’t always an option, if you are able, going inside during the hottest part of the day can also be very helpful. Anything to avoid a sunburn, right?

Children sitting by the pool. Images by rawpixel.com.

Another important aspect of staying safe at the pool is following any posted rules or clearly explaining your family’s own pool rules. For example, many pools have a no running rule, which can be difficult for kids to understand. Talking about this rule ahead of time might help. You could even do a science experiment to show kids different surfaces and how they change when they are wet. Having kids participate and understand what it means for something to be slippery and dangerous might help them understand why that rule applies at the pool. Discussing rules like this ahead of time can be a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, you might have a rule that your kids can only be in certain parts of the pool. You can talk to young kids ahead of time and explain how the depth can change in some pools and that it isn’t safe for them to be in deeper areas. Explaining why the rule exists might make the kids more likely to follow it.

As a parent, there are many other things you can do to ensure pool safety. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website dedicated to sharing this information. You can go to https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/ to check it out. It shares information about making sure kids have appropriate supervision, teaching kids to swim, and installing protective barriers and other equipment. Be sure to check out the information and resources on the website to see if there is anything that will be helpful for you and your family.

Enjoy some safe and fun pool time this summer!

Celebrate Senior Health and Fitness Day Today!

If you read Breathing Room regularly, you know that I often write posts about physical activity. I’ve written about my dad and I exercising together, the mental health benefits of exercise, and tips for exercising outside. Since May 25th is Senior Health and Fitness day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about physical activity for seniors in particular. Regardless of age, exercise is important for good health, but for seniors, there are some specific things that can make it even more important (although occasionally more challenging too, but we’ll get to that).

So, why is it so important that we continue to be physically active as we age? Many of them are the same benefits we have mentioned before, but they become so much more important as we get older. To read about many of the benefits, check out this article from the National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60

But, let’s also mention a few important benefits now. First, exercise helps keep bones strong. Since bone density decreases more as we age, keeping bones strong can help prevent serious injuries from trips or falls. Second, exercise can help prevent illnesses that are common for older people like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. And if people already have these conditions, exercising can help manage symptoms. Finally, exercise might help improve immunity, which helps keep seniors healthy.

It is also important to keep in mind that seniors might have more health factors they need to consider when beginning to exercise. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before getting started. Your doctor, or some other healthcare professional familiar with your health situation, can help you determine if you need to avoid (or focus on) and particular type of exercise. For example, many seniors experience joint pain from arthritis or some other condition that can require them to avoid certain movements.

Changes in balance and muscle density can also make seniors feel unsure about exercise. Having a place to sit nearby, good shoes, or some other support can help improve confidence. So, make sure you have what you need to feel comfortable being active! Remember, any increase in physical activity can help improve health so whether it is swimming, walking, biking, gardening, or some other movement, every little bit helps.

If you are a senior who is looking to get moving, check out some resources for seniors in your area. Your local center for aging, senior center, or even AARP might have information about exercise programs that are specifically designed for seniors. You can also check out this link for some online resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise

 If you are someone who knows a senior, reach out to them and see if there is a way you can help them be more active. Having support from a friend or family member can help make it easier to get moving. Physical activity is important and although there can be more to consider when becoming active as a senior, the benefits make it worth the effort!

Everyone Can Celebrate Play Outside Day

I recently learned that the first Saturday of every month is National Play Outside Day! As someone whose family loves to get together and play games in the back yard, I think it is great that there is a day specifically set aside to remind everyone to enjoy playing outside. As the weather gets warmer, there are more and more options for places we can go and activities we can do outside. So, set a reminder for yourself on the first Saturday of every month (like this upcoming Saturday May 7th) and head outside for some fun!

Playing outside was a big part of my childhood and something that I still enjoy. When I was younger, my siblings and I would scour my mother’s gardens for ingredients we could use to create our pretend delicacies. I will always appreciate my mother’s tolerance of our pulling up her plants for our make-believe games! As we got older, we would play games like kick the can, capture the flag, and more. Some in my family might even tell you that the games would get so competitive that some might have cheated in order to win, but those allegations were never proven.  Kick-The-Can was actually a game designed to be played as it started to get dark because we would regularly play well into the evening. Even now, my family and I love to get together for some outdoor games like cornhole. On one occasion, we even made a homemade outdoor putt-putt course in the backyard!

If you are interested in getting outside to play but aren’t sure what to do, here are some ideas to get you started! Keep in mind that, especially for kids, part of the fun is in being creative and coming up with your own games and rules. So, try these ideas to get started, and then see if you can come up with your own even more creative ideas!

One thing you can do is create your own scavenger hunt or competition. You could send everyone out in search of the coolest rock or biggest leaf.  If you have sports equipment, you could also see who can come up with the best trick shot (with any ball and container you have available). You can use that same sports equipment to create a totally new game! Get out everything you have and then see if you can come up with new ways to use those things for a different game. It can be even more fun if you create your own weird rules. Don’t get hung up on the details, just get outside and find something fun you can play!

One last thing before we get outside and play, please consider safety as well. Playing outside is fun, but we want to ensure that we stay safe too!

  • Pay attention to the weather. If the weather is too hot, you’ll want to consider playing at a cooler time of day. Also, summer storms can come on suddenly. Know what to do if it starts to look stormy.
  • If it is sunny, make sure you are protecting yourself! Wear sunscreen or sun protective clothing to make sure you don’t get burned. Also, make sure you have water so that you can stay hydrated.

I hope you get to get your creativity flowing and enjoy some time outside in honor of National Play Outside Day!