December 1, 2012

Studying Abroad and Staying Healthy on a Budget

Studying abroad during your university years can offer several opportunities to grow professionally, academically, and personally while going on a once in a lifetime adventure.

For me, studying abroad seemed unrealistic. I was focused on work-study programs and figuring out the best financial aid options or looking for a part time job while trying to keep my weekly expenditures down.

I think it was during one Christmas feast when my mother's brother, my uncle, told a story about his oldest three children (6 total!) and their experiences studying abroad and how they did it.

My wonderful mother finally talked me into going to the study abroad office and looking into it. It turns out this was the hardest part of starting (until now) my greatest life-changing event. There are several ways to travel abroad with little or no extra tuition payments and reimbursing travel costs, like airfare. In fact, some universities even pay you to go abroad!

I had to decide between Japan (6 weeks for a summer Semester and a separate cost of roughly double my tuition) or Spain (4 months in the Fall and the only paying in-state tuition). Japan's program was more prestigious and I have always wanted to go visit Japan because I find the culture extremely fascinating. I knew nothing of Spain, little Spanish, and Germany, Scotland, or Ireland seemed to be way more "right up my alley."

Ultimately, being here in Spain has been amazing and I recommend to study abroad anywhere you can get the opportunity to and I want to share some of the things I've learned on staying healthy while travelling and living abroad on your own for the first time.

An image that appeared on my facebook during my time in Spain. The Erasmus program is for higher education students that is open to European students. The social aspects of it mirror that of similar organizations back home like Fraternities, and take on the same feel of starting college for the first time. Scary and exciting, to name a few emotions.

Given my past experience with the Freshman 15 (in my case, the freshman 40) I was severely concerned with gaining weight back having to live abroad in a new country and experiencing city-life (Valencia has a population of around 2 million) for my first time.

While I cannot join erasmus, several of the events like free Paella mixers and organized travel to nearby cities in Spain are open to all students of the Universities here in Valencia. Given an erratic daily schedule, Roman Numeral number IX scared me to death. After all, I had worked really hard for 6 months on losing weight!

What to do and what not to do

When you arrive in a new place for the first time, it's natural to explore. Use this natural tendency as an opportunity to find health stores and gyms as well as recreational areas like parks that you can use in a pinch.  Valencia is a beautiful city with several green areas and lots of small parks.

As a student, start looking around school for clubs and organizations that are free to join and engage in the activities you enjoy. If there aren't any, establish a group of friends that like to stay active.

To the right is a picture of our small group one weekend in the mountains just outside the city. We spent all day hiking a trail and got to visit several small towns along the way. We found a small tavern run by an old man that had the best Paella I've eaten in Spain.

A group of International classmates on a weekend trip to the woods for some friendly paintball!

Find out where the local farmer's markets are located. Valencia has several that offer fresh fruits and vegetables, farm raised chickens, and fresh caught seafood (I'm really going to miss living in a coastal city!) not only will you be supporting the locals you'll get some great deals. I bought almost a whole salmon for 9 euros which equals around $12-14. Many stands had whole chickens (medium seized because they were naturally raised) for 2 euros each. That's like $3.50 a chicken!

Living in a city, it's tempting to want to get a bike. I think this is a fantastic idea if you are going to be working there as cycling is a great form of aerobic exercise. However, for the student on a shorter stay, I recommend using your legs to travel everywhere. You get to take a more leisurely stroll and enjoy the sites while at the same time helping break down those pesky triglycerides (especially if you are fasted). I never got around to buying a bicycle saving me 60 euros.

Your first time abroad and away form the family will be scary, but will give you an opportunity to grow personally. Living independently for 4 months means I am now so much better at managing my budget to save up for the things I want to do like Travel or going to concerts. There are several cheap options to travel in Europe. Check out sites like  that offer ride shares. A friend of mine traveled to Madrid from Valencia for 12 Euros using this service. If you want to explore a new city and the hostels or hotels are all booked up, why not try couch surfing?

According to Volume 34 of Society and Economy in Central and Eastern Europe, the most competitive industry today is the discount airline industry. Use companies like RyanAir or Wizzair to make connecting flights. These two companies compete with each other driving costs down. They also compete on service, RyanAir boasts that it is always on time, in fact they will take off early if everyone is boarded (but be careful they will leave people!)! You may have to hop on a train to get to another city to fly out again that night but when you save $165 dollars for that trip to Ireland you always wanted to take, the extra searching is worth it.

This is me arriving in Malta, a small island similar to Hawaii. A flight with Ryan Air that cost only 43 euros.
Our group of 12 booked a hostel for 8 euros a night, it just doesn't get any better!

Through studying abroad I've also become better at having better health and making good long term decisions. Because Mom and Dad aren't around to watch your every step or criticize every decision the temptation is there to go do things you never would before, like buy that expensive purse. You also realize though, that you are on your own for the very first time. The path your life takes ultimately rests on your shoulders.

How did your study abroad experience turn out? Where are you planning to study abroad? What are some of the pros and cons to studying abroad? I want to hear you thoughts and opinions.

November 30, 2012

How Fasting and a Frugal mindset helped me achieve happiness

For over a year now, I have been preparing to enter the real world. This preparation has focused mainly on financial planning and lifestyle changes that I want to carry with me throughout my entire life. I grew up relatively poor and fat. I was sad on the SAD (Standard American Diet) diet. While there will be time for my story later (I can remember sitting in the kitchen eating spoonfuls of sugar! YUCK!), I want to explain one habit I changed in my diet and lifestyle routine that has significantly impacted the way I look, how I feel, and how I spend money.

I have been on the fitness and diet journey for a while, several years in fact. The first time I lost weight going from 270-280 (122 kg) down to 200 (+/-100 kg) in a very unhealthy manner. I lost a lot of hard earned muscle mass, but I got my first ever serious girlfriend! Yeah, we were in love, things were great. Until I started gaining weight again. The stress of a long distance relationship, typical first year of college diet, and general lack of knowledge led me down the road that most people all over the world (Im studying abroad in Spain as I write this post and I am seeing the exact same mistakes in the gym and on diets and diet knowledge that invade the fitness industry) take in regards to diet and health, buying into the next big trend. 

So, I got on the web, joined some forums, picked up a muscle and fitness mag and did what everyone does, jumped on the treadmill like an experimental mouse. In fact, as the fasting methodology is beginning to take hold coupled with my time spent living in a city with more daily activity along with my terrible history of diet and exercise I sometimes feel like I am just a mouse being used in these experiments.

Anyway, Financially this was a big mistake for me as I was spending so much money on supplements for weight loss and muscle gain. I was buying trendy diet food items like shakes and bars. Purchasing fad diet pre-boxed meals. This money could have been spent on a nice dinner date or stowed away for a future plan.

Alas, I mindlessly plugged away over training and over eating. Wasting precious time, energy, and money. When I could have been treating my taste buds a delectable fresh salad with chopped turkey breast, ingredients totaling ~$1 I was instead trying to enjoy every last bite of the $2.50 "natural" protein bar.

College budgeting was always tough because I go to school in a typical college town. Desert town in the summer with nothing to do but in the fall and spring traffic jams on the small country highway are frequent during peak social hours. Part-time jobs are seasonal, this may be a reason I turned to blogging and trying to find ways to earn money online. I remember having to forego going out with friends or buying a new whatzit because I had spent it on a textbook 3 days prior. Forced to stay at home and study or play a video game, I'd take a shower, look at myself in the mirror, and wonder why I was still fat and still struggling with money. I was a finance major, this should be easy! I keep doing what everyone tells me, eat 6 small meals, cut carbs, work this, etc. etc. 

No wonder so many of us burn out! Why do we regain weight after "dieting" and return to our old spending habits after weeks of successful planning and budgeting?

I think most of us just haven't taken the time and patience to find out what works for them by doing the research and making the necessary lifestyle changes.

This is me before I started on my final journey in weight loss to where I am now

Weighing in around 250 pounds

In the following, I'm on the very left:

In mid-november, I was making great progress at losing weight and becoming healthy again. I was taking a cross-fit class and really focusing on my diet. I was basing it all on the knowledge I had used before, the same knowledge we all probably use. But then, I hit the nightmarish plateau. This time though, I was ready. I had tried the "muscle confusion" B.S. before and had since found out it was just a sales tactic. This time, like every time, I hit the internet. Scoured the forums. Talked to my good friends in Exercise Science. How to get through it. What to do differently.

Looking back, it was destiny. I somehow got referred to Martin Berkham's website and his methodology of Intermittent Fasting. 

"Ok, I'll try it, but I dont like it. It goes against everything I've ever been told."

I was legitimately worried about going into "Starvation mode" and retaining fat being so food deprived during the day that I was going to be no fun to be around.

I was completely wrong. After 1 week, I dropped 10 pounds. The weight loss slowed, but that's because I was still making a few dietary mistakes here and there, but I stuck with it.

Here I am almost a year later before a major milestone:

 In the next few weeks, I would go on to set a new Bench max: 375# Deadlift 495# and Squat 365#

I would later implement reverse pyramid training because these ratios are way off. I am now focusing more on legs and deadlift. 

Not only has leangains worked extremely well for me, Martin's site has been one of the biggest driving forces in my reignited fervor for making Frugal Son a better resource.

My weight loss was further accelerated when I changed my diet even more. On my first year of Intermittent Fasting I was still eating a bunch of crap focusing only on method and numbers.

During my semester abroad in Spain, I injured my shoulder playing rugby. I thought this would greatly set me back, and yes, I did allow myself to binge eat and skimp on the diet just a tad. I gained some weight back, but I would later learn this was due to major glycogen depletion and overtraining. The shoulder injury was a result of going too hard, too long.

During my post injury depression the imagined weight gain drove me crazy. That's when I discovered Mark Sisson's website. After just a month of healthy, clean eating through natural food, yet with the allowance of some junk food post training (this is mostly due to the college/young person lifestyle) I'm looking better than ever before:

Weighing in at 85 kg (roughly 187 pounds)

Due to the muscle atrophy during my 3.5 week hiatus from lifting heavy and I'm still struggling with heavy bench and almost any form of Incline bench exercise. The injury has really been a blessing in disguise. I have been able to slow down and focus on building quality muscle using the Pyramid method Martin Recommends.

I may not be throwing up 375 pounds on flat bench anymore, I'm still much stronger than the other gym-rats (more like gym-mice) I'm definitely looking better than ever and feeling fantastic. Thanks to what I consider the Holy Trinity in Weight Loss and Exercise: Berkham - Sisson - Taubes. Taubes is the least important, he's like the Holy Ghost. You only hear about him once in a while and you know some stuff about him is important, but you largely pay him no mind. I respect Taubes for his (somewhat over-zealous) fight against obesity and his research skills. Sisson and Berkham are the like the Holy Father and Son ( I am not going to prioritize here)

So how does the story relate to Finance and Frugality?

Remember in my hay-day, I was chomping down on protein bars pre-workout and guzzling protein shakes with 3 raw eggs and 6 oz. of whole milk post workout?

Now, I skip both. Opting instead for an easy fast of anywhere from 12-20 hours. Drink 10g of BCAA's pre-workout. Post workout I take a fish oil and multi vitamin with plenty of salad and lean meat. On rest days I enjoy more fat heavy meats and lower carb options. 

I buy several ingredients for my salads: Tuna, Turkey, tomatoes, spinach, cabbage, and nuts. Sometimes broccoli, peppers, onions, etc. 

The greens cost no more than $2 each totaling $6 and through rationing and guess work when it comes to calorie restriction, they usually last me 5-6 days depending on how frequently I eat. That's a $1 a day. We will trade that for the $2.50 vitamin bar I was previously eating.

Tuna in cans is really cheap, and I consider one small can of tuna in water to be negligible in the fact of any mercury content.

Turkey is around $6 for 2 pounds of breast filet and will last me 2-4 days depending on days I eat white fish or chicken or turkey as the main course. It's tough to say what i eat as I ultimately eat primally as possible. We can trade the lean meat and eggs for the sugar rich protein shakes.

Without getting to intensive on budgeting and number running (which probably gets boring to read anyway) 
I haven't been to the ATM to withdraw money in the last week and a half and I've still enjoyed going out to eat with friends and socializing almost every night. The point I'm making is that eating healthy and being healthy is not expensive like the madhouse the fitness industry would have you believe.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Well yes, it is. I never said it isn't! But my definition of breakfast isn't the same that multi-million dollar fast food and restaurant franchises would have you believe. My definition is the concrete term of "breaking the fast" hence: breakfast

Skipping breakfast means skipping the bacon, egg, and cheese McMuffin saving me my health, time, and money (and idling gas expenditure). The $2 coke and $3 sandwich I just skipped let me sleep in or gave me time to take my dog for a walk.

As Brad Pilon says in Eat. STOP. Eat.

"The fitness industry doesn't want you to fast, they can't bottle it up and sell it. How can they sell a habit?"

A habit that leads to naturally reduced calorie intake, better mental awareness, and the following straight from Brad Pilon's book, which I highly recommend:

In dozens of published peer reviewed scientific studies, short-term intermittent fasting has been found to have the following health benefits:
• Decreased body fat & body weight
• Maintenance of skeletal muscle mass
• Decreased blood glucose levels
• Decreased insulin levels & increased insulin sensitivity
• Increased lipolysis & fat oxidation
• Increased Uncoupling Protein 3 mRNA
• Increased norepinephrine & epinephrine levels
• Increased Glucagon levels
• Increased growth hormone levels.

I never want to hear the excuse "Losing weight is expensive!"

It isn't.

I spend less than one hour in the gym and for only a few days per week. Allowing me to save time and energy. This extra time has allowed for me to pursue my passions and increase my knowledge. Im able to spend more time now doing what I want, which is figuring out a what I want to do with my life after college.

That's becoming more and more clear every day, and that's why this post exists...

I eat less food. I don't have the urge to spend $1 at the coke machine anymore. I skip the drive-thru. No more late night eating after a night of drinking with the amigos.

Not only that, during the lunch hour while everyone is clamoring to find a place to sit and eat, I'm in the library brushing up on the latest trends in utilizing Social Media for E-business, one of my current consultancy jobs.

Several resources exists to help you get a better understanding. My recent favorite is the Salk Study that took two similar groups of mice and fed each group a diet comprising of 60% calories from fat, this is like eating potato chips and ice cream for each meal! One group was allowed to eat ad libitum all day while the other group was restricted to a feeding window of 8 hours, when they were allowed to eat ad libitum. Control groups were fed a diet consisting of 16% calories from fat. Groups generally ate around the same amount of calories daily and after 100 days of observation the fasted group showed better health markers and remained 28% lighter.

What are your ideas on fasting? What sort of diet choices do you make to help make the end of the month a tad bit easier? 

November 29, 2012

Financial Freedom Milestone: A Major Step in Making a Million from Nothing

It’s been quite a journey thus far. Starting small with “Making a Million Dollars from Nothing: part 1” and “Part 2.” We’ve been working our 9 to 5. Blogging our butts off. Side Hustling until coach calls for a water break. We’ve established a Mutual Fund, and like kids on Christmas Morning, we eagerly open our monthly earnings report when it arrives in the mail. For some of us, we have reached Financial Freedom with the help of financial gurus like Dave Ramsey or even your favorite internet shaman like
Even if you haven’t, you still have a large chunk of change and maybe you want to celebrate (atleast do it Frugally!) or you are ready to take the next step and take a risk!
Now, more than ever before, is an amazing time to invest the stock market. While I was in New York for the QUINNEPIEC GAME Forum, one of the Wall Street workers gave an amazing speech but one tid bit I remember him saying was that market trend analysis shows that it is safer than ever to invest, yet companies and people are still scared because of the 2008 financial crisis. With the Eurozone crisis how it is, this fear is undoubtedly grounded in well-reasoned fear based logic. For others, the logic may not be there but the fear of the impending December 21, 2012 apocalypse might be just enough to keep your neighbor from taking the risk. I’d still go with the longer term option of selecting a few mutual funds for the long term and using whatever you deem as disposable income into a stock portfolio. (You are keeping atleast a simple excel spreadsheet, right?)

I’m thinking of something even more long term though, something that could be turned into a business if you so pleased to. But for now, should be a side-hustle, or atleast a very, very long-term investment.
I’m talking real estate.[url=] Home prices are starting to rise [/url] and I know you keep hearing that real estate interest rates are “Lower than Ever!” atleast I did, on the radio ad the other day. But a quick google search shows that, as of November 29th, 2012, a 15-year fixed rate is 2.84% (Uh… yeah I’d love to have my house paid off in 15 years at under a 3% interest rate!)

So why not bust out the rusty old Texas Instruments business calculator you had to use for that college level economics course and run a few Payment equations [VGC1] to find out if you can afford it?
So what do you do if you can afford it? If you’re willing to take the risk, I’d say take the plunge, but of course, be frugal and do your research. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme.

Find a property that is either right for you and your family (or your future family) or one that could be easily fixed up in a few months and flipped for a profit, if you are banking on the real estate market to bounce back. Which it will, it will reach an equilibrium. You’ll turn quite a tidy-profit. This same strategy can be used in the future too. Higher education is on the same path as the Tech Bubble and Real Estate bubble took. The key is studying the past to capitalize on the future.
Or, for the Side Hustle fanatic, buying a small property near a college town or somewhere nearby your humble abode and turning it into a rental property is a wonderful way to stay busy on the weekends while earning a nice chunk of income each month.
Real Estate is never a bad investment, especially if you finance the correct loan and never exceed 25% of your take home pay for house payments.
Good luck and stay Frugal!

I would love to hear your feedback about renting properties and your experiences. Tell me about your good and bad tenants! Or have you ever owned more than one house? What were they used for? How did you balance the budget?

Defining the Frugal Lifestyle

Frugality is more than just buying cheap stuff or being a penny-pincher. Sure, I may always pick up a penny off the ground if it happens to catch my eye because I can still hear my Grandmother, Mimi, saying “A penny saved is a penny earned” but that doesn’t mean I’m constantly scouring the parking lot for loose change. Like everything, frugality is a way of life that extends far beyond that of just physical money.
Frugality and leading a frugal lifestyle can be found in every aspect of your life from diet, exercise, work, family, future, time management, and even your hobbies. Behavioral studies show that people who are Frugal have the tendency to acquire economic goods or services in a patient manner in order to achieve a long term goal. While I wholeheartedly agree this is true, we love to save money for that nice new shiny trinket we’ve wanted since we were 7 years old, be it a laptop, car, house, massage, cruise vacation, or whatever your amazing mind can dream up, I believe that frugality is a mindset that transcends mere economic and spending tendencies.
We can extend our frugal tendencies into our diets, for example. Being frugal is what defines us. We can forego the McDonald’s $5 Big Mac and settle with two $1 McChickens instead. But why even stop there? Why not skip the drive-through entirely and benefit from a fast?
 We have the ability to wait a week or a month, maybe even years and go without a T.V. in order to buy the biggest and best. But we don’t stop there, no, we research our big purchase, we wait… Until just the right time and we pounce. We chase what we want with such fervor that nothing can get in our way. If I were an animal, I’d be a Cheetah, waiting, watching, enjoying the sun, then at just the exact right moment a chance to get nice big juicy antelope would present itself.
We feast.
We love getting the biggest bang for our buck. We are disciplined. Frugal folks and families like us don’t follow the crowd. We don’t mind hanging on to that old suit we had when we were fat or stopping to look at the dining room chair on the side of the road, so what if it has a tear in the fabric? I don’t care that someone shot me a funny look or grimaced.
It’s the end of the month and it’s your uncle’s birthday at the Ritzy Restaurant where you can only choose between Filet Mignon and Pan Seared-Salmon none of the main courses are under $25. It’s ok, I’ll settle for the house salad, soup, or split a plate with my brother, we’ve got bigger plans in the works.
We are contemplating and calculating but not devious or mischievous, that would not make us frugal. We do not need to lie to get a better deal. We will happily tip the waiter more because he gave us outstanding service. We don’t complain or argue because this would be a senseless waste of energy.
Whether or not we believe in a higher power, one entity or many, we find happiness in our way of life and we feel more virtuous for it.
Frugal philosophy extends into our work life. We make great managers and leaders. We are patient and forward-looking. We help cut costs and save the company money, but we aren’t brutal or cold. For us, just like any corporation, maximizing shareholder wealth is important. We are the shareholder’s in the happiness of our lives and the lives of those around us.
We are frugal and we are happy. We are free. We care about money and it is important, yes, but it is not main focus of every second of our lives. Because hey, we are Frugal, and we’ve already researched this and know that spending too much time on any one thing will ultimately lead us to failure.
For us, frugality comes naturally, even though we sometimes have to work at it. Check out [url=] The Path to Frugality [/url] if you are interested in more ways on making the lifestyle change to that of a more frugal one.
What do you think? I want to hear your comments about what being frugal means to you.