Monday, June 19, 2017

The DivaCup: Review and Giveaway!


If you're not a human being who bleeds once a month, you may want to skip this post. For everyone else, I have good news: a menstrual cup will change you life. No, really. I swear.  

I've been using The DivaCup since January 2016, and my period has never been better. To put it simply, menstrual cups are a cleaner, greener, and far more frugal way to deal with my monthly flow. You might say I've become a bit evangelical about them - after two IPAs, I'm likely to round up every woman at the brewery, stand on an empty keg, and loudly extol the virtues of menstrual cups. (Okay, I did not stand on a keg, but the rest of that sentence is basically accurate.) 

I've been meaning to review The DivaCup for quite some time, and reached out to the company because why not? They kindly offered to host a giveaway (!!!) so now I get to wax poetic about one of my favorite things, and in return you might win your very own DivaCup! Let's get to it. 


First things first: what the heck is a menstrual cup? 


A menstrual cup is a small cup made from 100% healthcare grade silicone which you insert into your vagina during your period. When inserted correctly (I'll get to that part in a minute) the rim forms a seal, and the cup collects menstrual fluids over the course of the day. When you're ready to empty it out, just remove the cup, dump the contents, and clean it in the sink with soap and warm water. 

Menstrual cups are eco-friendly due to the fact that they're reusable - you're not filling up landfills with feminine hygiene products every month. They're also a great way to save money - The DivaCup retails at $39, and you can use the same one for years as long as you take good care of it. Never again will you have to wad toilet paper in your panties while you run to the drugstore for an emergency box of tampons. 

Is The DivaCup difficult to insert? 


I won't lie - it can take a few tries to get it right. The first few times I wore mine, I was nervous, a bit uncomfortable, and full of fear that I'd spill at any moment. Watching some videos helped, as did experimenting with various folding methods. Personally, I've found the taco fold (or U fold) to be easiest, but every body is different. 

Is it comfortable? 


Absolutely. I often forget my DivaCup is in, mostly because you can wear it for up to twelve (!!!) hours. I empty and clean mine twice a day - in the morning and at night - and it only takes a few minutes. I've taken it camping (nothing to pack out!), worn it during a half marathon (flawless!), and popped it in before a cross-country flight (easy peasy, plus saves so much room in my carry-on). Ocassionally it feels as if it's riding low, and in that case I just take it out and reinsert until it sits right. 


Does it ever leak? 


Every once in a while, but on those days it's more a user-error than something The DivaCup did. Even though I consider myself a menstrual cup pro, nobody is perfect. Just last month my taco didn't quite unfold and... well... let's just say I'm glad I only buy black underwear. (<-- a girlfriend offered up this lifehack a few years ago, and I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. Things happen all month long! Why tempt fate with a pair of tighty whities?) I will say that as someone with a lighter flow, I've never leaked due the cup overflowing, and I've never ruined a pair of pants or a dress. 

How do you clean it? 


Warm water and unscented soap is all you really need. The only drawback is if you're using a public bathroom, since you have to wash it in the sink. This hasn't been an issue for me because I'm generally home at least once every twelve hours, and my workplace has private bathrooms. If you're stuck in a stall, you can simply wipe it clean with toilet paper and pop it back in, then give it a good scrub at a more convenient time. 

Are there any downsides? 


It can take a few tries to learn how to insert it, and also how to remove it. I had some trouble the first time and was convinced my DivaCup was lost forever in my body. The DivaCup comes in two sizes. There's a "small" for women under 30 or who haven't had children, and a "large" for women over 30 or who have given birth. I'm 34 but childfree, and erred on the size of small which has served me well. (Thank you, Kegels.) 

Finally, if you're queasy about blood and bodily fluids, a menstrual cup may not be a great choice. You'll definitely be up close and personal with your body, and the insertion and removal process means your fingers are going places. Personally, I don't mind seeing blood and fluids - you get used to it and even appreciate it. After all, it's a natural part of the body and a sign that things are working as they should. 

Where can I buy The DivaCup? 


You can buy it many stores, order one online, or win one by entering this giveaway - the rules are below! 


How to enter to win The DivaCup: 


There are two ways to enter this giveaway, for a total of two chances per person. Leave a comment on this blog post for your first entry; like Better Than Never's Facebook page for a second entry. Log your entries using the widget below, which will help me choose a random winner. This contest will end on Sunday, June 26th, at midnight, and I'll announce a winner on Monday. Good luck, and thanks for playing! 


a Rafflecopter giveaway * I was not paid for this review; all opinions are my own. 
** The giveaway is only open to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How to Survive On One Income


As I mentioned few weeks ago, my husband recently went back to school full time, even though we swore we were done with degrees. Life, as they say, is full of surprises. 

This means that for the next three years, I will be the main breadwinner. Which is kind of scary, considering I don't exactly make a six-figure salary - far from it, in fact. Plus we'll have to borrow money for tuition, adding to our already crushing student loan debt. It's not a perfect situation, but it was a now-or-never moment, so here we are. 

Obviously we're not the first family to drop down to one income. In fact, we're better off in a lot of ways than other families who take this plunge. Our situation is temporary and will eventually lead to a new income bracket, we're used to living the frugal life, and we don't have a lot of the responsibilities (like children, consumer debt, or a mortgage) that other couples carry. If anyone can live off one income, it's us. 

That said, this transition is still nerve-racking and frustrating. We'd been making such good progress in our quest to eliminate debt and build our savings! While we haven't had to dip into our emergency fund, further progress is officially on hold.

Rather than mope about our stagnant savings account or pout while scrolling through Zillow listings, I'm trying to look on the bright side and embrace this new challenge. Yes, we've been broke students in the past, but that was before we learned how to budget. Things are different now. We're older, smarter, and much more savvy. We have a clearer sense of what we want out of life as well as the sacrifices it takes to get those things. We know how difficult it is to get out of debt, and we don't want to make it even harder. Plus I've spent a lot of time railing against capitalism, consumerism, and class systems. It's time to walk the walk and truly live on less.

As of today, we've been on our one-income journey for two months, and so far it hasn't been too painful. A number of things have smoothed the transition, and I'm sharing them here in the hopes that they may help someone else.



1. Build your emergency fund first. 


If you're dropping down to one income, an emergency fund is key. Not everyone has the luxury of saving up piles of money before a big life change. Sometimes the transition is sudden, and that can be a very difficult thing. That's why you need to start saving right now, this very second, no matter how "safe" or "secure" you may feel. The best money advice I ever read is "The Story of a Fuck Off Fund," and I encourage you to read it, too. An emergency fund - which is what a fuck off fund is - gives you the freedom to make the choices that are best for you, bank account be damned. We were lucky enough to have a modest savings account, which serves as both a safety net and a salve - it's there in case of emergencies, and in the meantime it makes me feel better.

2. Revamp and revise your budget. 


While discussing whether or not we could handle living on one income, we had a year's worth of data from YNAB to help. We were able to look at our bills and expenses and figure out the minimum we needed to get by. I'll admit - once we paid off $13K of credit card debt, we loosened the purse strings. Growlers of fancy beer from our favorite bottle shop. A weekend trip with some friends. Vegan marshmallow pumpkin bars from the co-op. I even bought a book instead of getting it at the library! Once we realized our income was about take a hit, our budget made it easy to identify these areas of lifestyle creep and rein them in. We also had to revise some of our long-term goals. Goodbye, summer vacation in Seattle. I hardly knew ye, Christmas gifts. See you in approximately five years, new-to-us car. Good things come to those who work, and we've got a long road ahead of us. 

3. Pay off your debts ASAP. 


One of the other reasons this was a good time for my husband to go back to school was because we are, for the first time in a very long while, 100% free of credit card debt. In addition, we don't have a mortgage, we paid off one of our cars seven years ago, and our other car payment is tiny and interest free (thanks to our generous in-laws). We don't have kids. Hell, we're even down a dog. (Rest in peace, sweet Seamus.) We'll probably never need or owe this little again, which means if we're going to slash our income, we better do it now. 

4. Apply for Income Based Repayment and/or defer your loans. 


Many people feel conflicted about IBR, but for our family it's the right choice. The majority of our student loans are in my name - we're talking six figures. I'll never pay this off, no matter how many hours I work or how many promotions I receive. (Content marketing and novel writing are not the most lucrative fields.) Thanks to income based repayment, my monthly bill is very manageable and the balance will be forgiven at the end of 25 years. Yes, I'll have to pay taxes on whatever is left over, and yes, that will be huge, but I have plenty of time to save up for it. Meanwhile, Nathan was able to defer his student loan payments while he's in school. While he owes far less than I do (for now, at least) putting those bills on hold has helped. 

5. Find budget-friendly hobbies and friends. 


Here is a short list of free or almost free things I'm looking forward to doing this summer: weekly wine tasting at Wilmington Wine; beach days; joining the local bike club for group rides; going to the dog park; free Shakespeare plays at Greenfield Lake; weekly board games with friends; my annual backyard birthday bash, complete with cornhole tournament; front porch happy hours; book club meetings; free summer concert series every Friday night downtown; writing dates with my BFF at the coffee shop; $5 movie night on Tuesdays; writing this blog and maybe even my novel; reading books in the hammock. Depending on where you live, your mileage might vary, but this is a good place to start.

6. Look for part time gigs and side hustles. 


Nathan has a part time job that brings in some money each month. I still freelance on the side, writing articles for local magazines and the occasional essay. Since this income is not guaranteed and varies month to month, we didn't count it in our original round of number-crunching. When we do get a check from outside our main source of income, it's a great buffer and helps fund some of the "fun" stuff we originally cut. We also hosted a yard sale at the beginning of the month, and we continue to sell extra eggs to our neighbors. Every little bit helps. 

7. Adjust your expectations.  


Because we were already super frugal and accustomed to living on less, dropping down to one income hasn't been a huge adjustment. The only aspect I've found truly difficult is the mental and emotional side of things. I hate that our savings rate has slowed, and that many of the dreams we had (like buying a house!) have been put on hold yet again. For example, at this time last year I was regularly putting $800 a month towards our financial goals. Last week I was able to put $30 into savings, and it felt like a goddamn miracle. As much as I celebrate being a late bloomer, there are times when I wish we were further along on our journey. I try not to spend too much time thinking about what could have been - it's not productive, and it's better to use my energy making what is as good as I can.

If you have tips for living on one income or hacks I haven't considered, feel free to share in the comments or on my brand new Facebook page. I'll take all the help I can get! 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fast and Easy Pesto for Pennies


Everyone has at least one culinary superpower. By "superpower" I mean that one dish or meal you can prepare at any moment, no matter how bare the cupboards may seem. Say a few magic words, snap your fingers, and voila - dinner is served. (Okay, fine. In reality, you make something from ingredients you always happen to have on hand, you probably trash your kitchen in the process because you're starving, and no one truly appreciates the miracle you've conjured out of supposedly thin air. But that's okay. Superpowers often have to be hidden under a secret identity. And no, I haven't seen Wonder Woman yet, why do you ask?)

All of this is to say that my culinary superpower is pesto. Not only is it fast, fresh, and flavorful, but it feels fancy even though it takes approximately five minutes to throw together. Magic, I tell you. Pure magic.

The traditional way to make pesto is with basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese, but this can get pricey fast. I don't know if you've purchased pine nuts lately (I sure haven't) but they're about $10 a pound. If you eat pesto every week like we do, pine nuts will cut into your budget big time. 

The good news is that pine nuts aren't required for pesto - you can use any nut you want. I've experimented with almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, even peanuts (though that one was kind of weird, I'll admit). My favorite nuts for pesto, though, are walnuts. They're a good source of healthy fats and protein and you get a lot of bang for your buck, which my weekly meal plan appreciates.


The other reason pesto is so fast, cheap, and easy? Our garden is about 25% basil. I always plant too much, and I never regret it - basil is easy to grow, doesn't require a ton of sunlight, and produces all summer long. Even when the tomatoes languish or the chickens tear up the broccoli, my basil chugs along, helping me to feel less like a gardening failure. At least once a week I walk out my back door with the colander, fill it with loosely packed basil, and presto - my pesto is already half done. 

And lest you think we're just eating pesto straight from the food processor, our favorite ways to consume this versatile spread is on pasta (throw in some roasted cherry tomatoes and rock those bow ties) and pizza (sub pesto for red sauce and layer on every leftover vegetable in your refrigerator - this is clearly an end-of-the-week tradition). Every bite is a tiny taste of summer.

Here's the "recipe" I use when making pesto, more or less. Amounts are estimates, since I usually eyeball it. Pro tip: always err on the side of too much. Worst case scenario: your pesto is way too garlicky, which is actually a blessing in disguise.



Fast and Easy Pesto for Pennies


Ingredients: 

2 cups loosely packed basil 
3 cloves of garlic 
1/4 cup raw walnuts 
Juice of one lemon 
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese 
2 glugs of olive oil 
Salt to taste 

Instructions: 

Place walnuts in food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add garlic and nutritional yeast; pulse again. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth. Add more olive oil or a little water to get the consistency you want. (If I'm making pesto pizza, I like to keep the pesto a little thicker and chunkier; if I'm using it on pasta, I'll thin it out a bit with a few tablespoons of pasta water.) 

Friday, June 09, 2017

My Minimalist Mantra: Wash Your Bowl


A few years ago, I read a tiny story - a fable, maybe, but I like to think it's true - about a monk seeking enlightenment. I stumbled across it in the middle of an internet bender, one of those rabbit holes where you click link after link and end up in the wilds of a random website, with no clear idea how you got there or where you were going. Usually this sort of bender ends with lost hours and nothing to show for them. Other times, such as on this day, it yields life changing advice.

Over the years I've searched in vain for the original source, but haven't been able to find it again. Luckily, many people have written about it, linked to it, and felt moved by it, which isn't surprising. 

The story goes like this
A monk told Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me."
Joshu asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?"
The monk replied, "I have eaten."
Joshu said, "Then you had better wash your bowl."
At that moment the monk was enlightened. 
You're probably thinking, "WTF?" You might also be thinking I've been doing too much yoga (on the contrary: I haven't been doing enough), or drinking too much wine (ditto). Here's the thing: I love this story, and I think about it all the time. To me, it's about so many things I strive for and struggle with. Finishing the things I start (always an issue). Personal responsibility (wash your own damn bowl). Putting an end to procrastination (why is this so difficult?). Mindfulness and minimalism (doing one thing at a time and doing it well). How all of us, even if we're enlightened, or privileged, or have a fancy college degree, or would rather spend our precious time writing novels and drinking rosé, still have to make time for mundane and un-glamorous things like washing our bowls. 

I also love the metaphor of the bowl. In my world, the kitchen is the heart of my house. I have a hard time focusing if I know there are dirty dishes piled in the sink, or crumbs scattered across the counter, or tomato sauce dried to the stove top. It's no coincidence that the kitchen descends into this state whenever I'm feeling too busy or overwhelmed, rushing from one task to the next. The dirty kitchen kicks off a vicious cycle - I don't want to cook anything because the kitchen is a mess, so we go out for dinner and spend money we don't have, which makes us feel stressed about our finances, which requires us to work more hours, which leaves less time for cleaning the kitchen. Okay, it's not quite that linear, but you get the idea. A dirty kitchen is a bad thing in my home, indicative of deeper issues. And while a clean kitchen doesn't mean my life is perfect (ha!) it is a step in the right direction. 

Ever since I read that little story, I remember it each time I approach a task, whether it's reading a book, or working on a short story, or running five miles, or slogging through work emails, or writing a blog post, or, yes, eating breakfast and washing my bowl. And it's helped me focus and see things through, stay present and mindful and rush through life a little less. Maybe it will do the same for you. 

(A version of this post was originally published in March 2013.) 

Monday, June 05, 2017

How to Host a Multi-Family Yard Sale


For about a year now, there's been this bookshelf in the corner of my home office. A hand-me-down made from particle board, it didn't match our style and served no real purpose except to collect all the items we were going to sell at our future yard sale. A box of various literary magazines. A pair of rubber flippers I got for free at work. The juicer we never use. Random office supplies purchased in a fit of organization. As the shelves filled I began to grow impatient. Did we have enough stuff yet? Was it time to plan the yard sale? Could I finally get rid of this damn bookshelf once and for all?

As it turned out, we didn't have quite enough stuff to warrant a yard sale. What we did have, however, was even better: like-minded friends. And thus our multi-family yard sale was born. We held it this past weekend, made some cash, and learned a number of lessons along the way. The result? This blog post, featuring my best tips for hosting a multi-family yard sale.


1. Sell the really good stuff on Craigslist. 


The yard sale crowd is notoriously cheap and on the prowl for major deals. If you have expensive items that would appeal to a niche audience, Craigslist is a better bet. Over the last few weeks, we'd been listing and selling some things for a decent profit. This included: two rain barrels made by Nathan, some extra beer brewing supplies, a surfboard, and a pile of old windows (don't ask). Sure, those big items could have helped draw people to our yard sale, but in all likelihood someone would've offer us $5 for that old surfboard, whereas we easily get $40 on Craigslist. The math checks out. 

2. Speaking of Craigslist, post your sale there. 


We posted about our yard sale on Craigslist, Nextdoor, and Facebook. We also made signs and hung them around the neighborhood. While chatting with our various customers throughout the morning, we asked how they heard about the sale. Nearly every single person said Craigslist. It may be different in your neighborhood, but for us that route seemed to be the only one that mattered. Crafting your post is also an art. We made sure to put "multi-family yard sale" right in the title (more families = more stuff = more bang for people's buck). We also mentioned a few key items we'd be selling, such as tools, baby items, bicycle parts, and a crossbow. (As it turns out, our friend was actually selling a compound bow, but you wouldn't believe how many people showed up asking about the crossbow. Truth in advertising is a lofty goal, I guess. Also my bow knowledge is negligible.) 

3. Price your items the night before the sale. 


This tip seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, I'm including it because we failed to follow it. Instead of prepping for our yard sale on Friday night, we drank wine and watched Master of None. "No biggie," we said. "We'll just price things as we put them out." Rookie mistake, mostly because of what happened the next morning... 

3. Be ready an hour before your yard sale actually starts. 


Our yard sale started at 7AM, and at 6:15 cars were already parked on our street, watching as we stumbled out our front door with arms full of items. As soon as we began arranging them on tables, people walked up our driveway, asking about this and that. I wanted to say, "We're still setting up and I haven't even had my first cup of coffee yet." Instead I said, "That dress is a size 6, I'm not sure on price, I hadn't really thought about it - uh, five dollars?" I'm sure I undersold some things because I was caught off guard, and I'm sure those yard sale pros who showed up 45 minutes early knew exactly what they were doing. Also by the time our friends arrived to set up their stuff, we'd already made a cool $50, so I would also suggest letting your friends drop off everything they plan to sell the night before, and maybe even invite them to camp out in your front yard so they don't miss any early birds. Those people do not mess around. 

4. Make sure each family has enough small bills to make change. 


We had four families in our yard sale, including us, and we were all prepared with our own cash registers with plenty of change. No one had to borrow from anyone else, which was my biggest fear. Can you imagine trying to keep track of what you're selling, what you're making, and what you own your BFFs? Me neither. I'm glad I didn't have to. 

5. Give each family their own area of the yard. 


My front yard is not huge, but it does have a shady dogwood tree and a long driveway. The night before, we moved our cars to some open spaces around the block and staked out four separate areas in our yard. So, while there were multiple piles of books and clothes and VHS tapes, it was easy to tell who was selling what - and easy for our customers to figure out who they should pay. 

6. Make a big pot of coffee and lots of mimosas. 


If you're having a yard sale with a bunch of your friends, you're also hanging out with a bunch of your friends. And if the yard sale is at your house, you're also playing hostess. Give the people what they want and make sure the mimosas flow. The only thing that would have made our morning better would have been a box of fresh donuts, especially since we're too busy to eat breakfast, which was a shame considering all the mimosas I drank. Maybe next time... 

7. It helps to have a cute baby on hand. 


My friend Kat brought her six month old baby along for the adventure, and I'm pretty sure his chubby cheeks and leg rolls made more sales than all my wheeling and dealing combined. Many people asked how much the baby cost, and our answers varied from "Free to a good home" to "Four thousand eight hundred and thirty-three dollars and sixty-seven cents." (See: mimosas and no breakfast.) At one point, a woman bought a book from Kat for $1.00 and I said, "Thank you, you're putting food on this baby's table," and then she gave Kat an extra dollar! Sometimes having a baby really pays. 

So how did we do? 


Not counting our Craigslist sales in the weeks leading up to the yard sale, we ended up making $170 over the course of a single Saturday morning. We also brewed two pots of coffee, drank three bottles of champagne, forgot to eat breakfast, got rid of some things we weren't using and didn't need, and spent time with our friends in the shade of the dogwood tree. Overall, we had a successful multi-family yard sale and I sincerely hope we never have enough extra stuff to warrant another one.