Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Routines or Ruts?

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, and I’m an idiot.  Especially if I'm fooling myself.  Well, maybe I'm not an idiot, but sometimes we allow ourselves to get so caught up in our routines that we fail to see how they may possibly adversely affect our lives.  We just keep doing the same things over and over and over, perhaps even never realizing that a different option may exist.  We fool ourselves into thinking our solution is the best.  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again?  Well, what happens if you’ve tried, succeeded, and have stuck with that same method forever—never realizing that a different approach may lead to better success and more substantial rewards?

Take, for instance, my love of iced coffee.  I know this sounds like I'm going off on a tangent, but I'm really not.  I’ve been drinking iced coffee stuff for as long as it’s been popular.  I love Starbucks, although I more frequently (daily) would go to McDonalds and pick up a sugar-free vanilla iced coffee on my way to work.  Occasionally I’d stop at Sheetz and get the Sheetz brand canned stuff, but McDonalds was always my restaurant of choice.

And wouldn't you know it, but every month I’d blow up my personal meal budget.  I allot myself a certain amount of money to spend on breakfast and lunch every month, and every month I’d go over by $20 or $30 or $40.  Not a lot, but enough to make a dent in my overall finances.  And I’d been doing this for YEARS.  I know I probably should have increased my personal budget, but I never did—instead trying time and again to stay below it.

Of course, each and every time I got my iced coffee, I’d get a breakfast sandwich with it.  Sometimes a hash brown.  Occasionally I’d get two breakfast sandwiches if they had a 2 for $3 deal.  Those times were always great for my budget, but they weren’t very good for my waistline.

Again, I must stress that I’d been doing this for YEARS.  Long before my son was born.  Even before I bought my house—back when I rented a townhouse a decade ago on the other side of town.  When you are doing something that long, it just becomes part of your normal, everyday life.  Like putting on pants or shampooing your hair, you do it daily and forget about it.

For the past week, I’ve not visited McDonalds.  The drive thru employees who practically know me by name must be wondering if something happened to me.  No, instead I’ve been making my own coffee.  And, my lovely wife, who daily has made breakfast and lunch for herself and lunch and snacks for our son for years, began making breakfast and lunch for me as well.  What takes her three extra minutes in the morning now is eliminating an 8-minute detour on my way to work.  And $10-$15/day spent on food.

That’s 225 work days out of the year when you subtract holidays and paid time off in 2013.  Taking the $10/day low estimate, that’s $2250 in a year.  Yes, our grocery bill may be a little higher, but we were buying the food anyway for my wife and son, so it’s not going to go up by much.  Maybe $250 over the course of the year?  That’s still a savings of over $2000!

My wife’s prepared breakfast, which is typically a large scrambled egg and some turkey sausage on an English muffin, with the addition of my coffee, comes to about 390 calories.  A medium sugar-free vanilla iced coffee, Egg McMuffin, and hashbrown from McDonalds is 540 calories.  That’s a 150 calorie deficit for breakfast.  My wife’s prepared lunch, typically a turkey sandwich on a multigrain bagel thin with yellow mustard and a slice of provolone cheese and, my indulgent need, a can of Red Bull comes to 450 calories  And sometimes I'll even swap the Red Bull for a Diet Coke.  But even opting for healthier options at fast food restaurants, I’d been consuming somewhere between 500 and 700 calories at lunch.  So on average, I’m saving 150 calories at breakfast and 150 calories at lunch, or 300 calories on the day.

So this seems like a no-brainer.  Pack my breakfast and lunch, save 5 minutes each morning, $2000 per year, and 300 calories a day (or 19 lbs in a year if you add up the calories for all of those work days and divide it by 3500—with 3500 being the total amount of calories burned to equal 1 lb lost).  Pretty amazing, right?

Sometimes our routines can be detrimental to us, and often times we don’t even know it.  It seems to be a repeat theme for me over the past week and a half—since I got my Fitbit activity tracker—because my past routines had me sitting on my butt way more than I should.  Now I’m up and walking around as often as I can—even using a timer to help me remember to get up.  I’m consciously making an effort to get in 10,000 steps a day, which is not easy for a desk jockey, but I’m doing it.  And hey, wouldn’t you know that I’m already down 4 lbs since I started last week.  Really amazing, huh?

Maybe we all need to take a step back and examine our lives.  If you drive all day for work, maybe you should plug in your route on Google or Bing Maps—you never know how much time or gas you could save.  If you are constantly having problems sleeping, maybe you need to make adjustments to your schedule.  Or maybe you just need to talk to someone about what is keeping you up at night—rather than letting those thoughts bother you (and you alone).  If you have financial problems, maybe you need to go over your monthly bills with a fine-toothed comb rather than just paying them month after month.  Because you never know—that cable or cell phone bill may be hiding unused costs like unnecessary HD cable boxes or a too-large data plan.  One example: for about two years I was getting billed every three months on a credit card for Xbox Live—and I’m not a gamer.  We used the service maybe a handful of times when we first bought our Xbox 360.  I finally cancelled the service (which was a bit of a pain), but now I’m saving $100/year.  All because I made some changes to my routine.

I’d guess 99% of us have some routine in our lives that needs to be examined for alternate and healthier/better solutions.  Even something as simply innocent as our parking places could be part of our problems.  Park close to the door, and it takes you twenty-five steps to get inside.  Park on the other side of the parking lot, and it takes you a hundred and twenty-five.  Walking that extra hundred steps four times a day (once in the morning, once out for lunch, once back in after lunch, and once out at the end of the day) will really add up over time.  Because 2000 steps is roughly a mile, so in a single day you are adding 1/5 of a mile to your daily activity level.  And in a 5-day work week, there you go, you just walked a mile.  Congratulations!

The point is, we need to switch up some things in our lives a little to take full advantage of them.  Why?  Because our innocent daily routines could really be ruts, and getting stuck in a rut is never a good thing.

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