Work Out for a Better Mood

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One of the easiest ways for me to boost my mood is by working out. Need to blow off steam from a stressful day? Try breaking into a sweat for a bit. You might have heard it before, but your body releases endorphins, which diminish your perception of pain, while you engage in physical activity. If you’ve ever experienced “runner’s high,” you have felt the affects of endorphins triggering a positive feeling in your body. Exercise also improves self-esteem, decreases anxiety, improves sleep, increases energy levels, and lowers blood pressure, among many other benefits. Any type of exercise can help, so pick something that you enjoy most!

For information on how exercise can improve your mood and help to prevent depression, check out: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

Perform Manicures and Pedicures at Home

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The average cost of a manicure at the salon is about $20, while the average bottle of nail polish costs around $8 and lasts around 40 two-coat uses (according to NAILS Magazine). The average cost of a pedicure at the salon is around $30. Salon manicures do tend to last a few days longer than at-home manicures and the end product is usually noticeably superior, but the savings definitely add up if you practice doing some of them on your own. If you get your nails manicured at the salon once a week, the cost adds up to $1040 a year, or $41,600 over 40 years (excluding interest)!

I personally like to get my nails done in the salon about once every two months and maintain them on my own in-between that time. I haven’t quite mastered the salon manicure and pedicure look and I trust salon employees with my cuticles more than I trust myself. Shellac manicures, while more expensive, last much longer and can be useful for big events, so I tend to splurge on those about three times a year (examples from this last year: job interview, friend’s wedding, my birthday). I would love to improve my own manicure skills to have even less visits to the nail salon each year! I’m just not very good at them…

For tips on giving yourself a manicure, check out: http://beauty.about.com/od/manicures/a/manicures_how_to_give_yourself_a_manicure.htm

For tips on saving money on manicures, check out: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/07/26/savings-experiment-how-to-nail-a-manicure-deal/

Dream. Go. Be.

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“Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be. Because you only have one life and one chance to do all of the things you want to do.” – James Dean

Don’t wait until it’s too late to start doing the things that you want to do most in life!

Turn Off the Faucet While Brushing Your Teeth

Not only does it help the environment, it reduces your water bill. Dentists recommend brushing your teeth for about two minutes at least twice a day. According to an EPA WaterSense initiative, the average bathroom sink faucet flows at a rate of two gallons a minute. If you left the water running while brushing your teeth (at morning and at night), that would average 8 gallons of water per day, or 2,920 gallons per year (11,680 gallons for a family of four). If everyone in the U.S. turned off their faucets while brushing their teeth, it would amount to four times the Mississippi River’s annual flow of water (http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/green-living/things-save-water-10000001717653/index.html). Per person, the annual monetary savings aren’t huge, but can add up if you make a lifelong habit out of it. And it’s an easy change that will benefit the environment!

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Vacation Spotlight: Peru

I returned from an unforgettable trip to Peru last week. This was my first trip to South America, so I was especially excited for it. I purchased the trip on Groupon through Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com); if you are looking for an affordable, reliable, organized trip, I would highly recommend this travel company. Also, if you are hesitant about Groupon trips — do not fret. This was my second trip through Groupon (last year I purchased part of a trip to Costa Rica which just included a few nights at a hotel while the rest of the trip was planned by myself and my friend) and I was pleasantly surprised with both. However, I did try to plan a Groupon trip to the Dominican Republic and the hotel that the Groupon was for gave a lot of problems to me (that’s another story, but Groupon refunded the money because the hotel kept changing the dates on me to the point where I wasn’t able to go — I ended up buying the trip to Costa Rica instead). Two of my friends purchased the trip to Peru with me and we did not have any problems booking with three of us (the Groupon vouchers were sold individually, but there are typically additional costs if you are traveling alone — Groupon and Gate 1 were kind of enough to not charge us the solo traveler fees). The hotels accommodated us by either putting an extra bed into the room or giving an extra room to us at no cost. The purchases included round-trip airfare from Miami, all lodging, most meals (including some tips), bus and train transportation, tour guides, and flights within Peru. I only needed to make travel arrangements to Miami, purchase the remainder of the meals while I was there, and leave tips for the tour guides and hotel staff. There were also optional excursions for sale.

The trip was an 8-day tour of Peru with visits in Cusco, Lima, Urubamba, and Machu Picchu. Our flight from Miami departed around 1:00am and we arrived to Lima early in the morning with a short flight to Cusco. Upon our arrival in Cusco, we were greeted by Gate 1 representatives and were driven by bus to our hotel in Urubamba, part of the Sacred Valley. Our group totaled about 50 people. During the bus ride, we were able to stop at a few points for pictures. The views of the valley and of the Andes were spectacular.

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Our first hotel was beautiful, clean, and peaceful with great views all around us.

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We were secluded at this hotel, with only a dirt road that would eventually bring us into the main town. Nothing was within walking distance, which was fine since cabs were available if we wanted to explore on our own a bit. After arriving at the hotel, we had the rest of the day to relax, followed by a group dinner that evening. All of the included meals on the trip were better than expected, with plenty of options (I am a vegetarian and ended up completely full each time).

For our first full day, we were brought to the Pisaq Incan ruins and Pisaq marketplace. We had plenty of time to hike around the ruins and to shop at the  marketplace later in the day.

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After a busy day in Pisaq, we returned to our hotel and several of us arranged a taxi for a ride into town for dinner. The following day was our big day at Machu Picchu! We had about an hour bus ride to the train station, where we would catch a train to Machu Picchu. The trip by train was about another hour and a half. Machu Picchu was the purpose of the trip for many of the travelers and no trip to Peru would be complete without a stop there!

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Our group split into two, with some of us (myself included) branching off to hike up to the Sun Gate for a better view. The hike was mildly strenuous, but worth it.

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Our group reunited for lunch and we then boarded the train, ready to catch a bus to our next stop: Cusco. We arrived to our hotel in Cusco around dinner time. We had the evening free and there was an optional tour the next day. Some of the group and I found a spot for dinner the night of our arrival and a few brave souls dared to try “cuy”, or guinea pig, which is a local favorite. For our free day, most of us just explored the city. We were fortunate enough to be there during an Incan festival in the main plaza.

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DSC_1611We then explored the marketplace a bit and found a chocolate museum to sample some delicious Peruvian chocolates. After that, a couple of us decided to try out bungee jumping! Cusco boasts the highest bungee jump in South America at 400 feet (and #14 in the world). Only three of us dared to take the jump, but it was a ton of fun. I will probably go again if I ever make to New Zealand, the home of bungee jumping.

DSC_0115We needed a break for a bit after such an adrenaline-pumping activity, so we returned to the hotel to get ready before meeting with the rest of the group for dinner. A few of us went out to a pub that night for drinks and headed home relatively early to get some sleep before another big day.

The following day, my friends and I signed up for an optional tour to Saksaywaman (a Quechuan word pronounced almost like “Sexy woman”), an Incan complex on the outside of Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire. How the stones were so perfectly constructed is still a mystery.

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We also had a great view of Cusco from the top of Saksaywaman.

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Our group then visited a local elementary school to deliver school supplies to some of the children. Before the trip, we were told that a visit might be possible and to bring school supplies if we wished. The children were so grateful and we had such a rewarding visit with them.

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Following the school visit, we stopped by an alpaca factory to see how the infamously soft alpaca wool is crafted.

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This was our final day in Cusco and we were on a plane to the capital city of Lima the next morning.

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We stayed in the town of Miraflores, which wasn’t too far from the ocean. In the afternoon, we joined on a tour of the city, which included stops at “Lover’s Park” and the main plaza.

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We only had about a half day in Lima, which was plenty of time, in my opinion. I preferred the cultural aspect and scenery of Cusco to the big city feel of Lima. At the culmination of the day, our group had a nice farewell dinner and a few of us exchanged contact information to stay in touch. One thing that I really love about group travel is meeting a variety of interesting people.

I would definitely do a trip like this again.

Bring Your Lunch to Work

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on how you can save money by making your coffee at home instead of purchasing it on the go. Well you can save even more by packing your lunch before heading to work. According to a survey by Accounting Principles (summarized here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/american-workers-coffee-spending_n_1219579.html), over 2/3 of Americans buy their lunches while at work, averaging about $2000 per year! That’s more than the average cost of commuting to work (~$1500). According to a recent Canadian survey, the average cost of a meal at work is around $7-$13. Let’s say that the average cost of a meal made at home is $3 — you can save $1040 to $2600 if you bring your own lunch every day at work. That’s around $55,000 in 30 years (excluding interest), which is a lot of money for retirement!

You’re more likely to eat healthier if you bring your own lunch as well, since you’ll be less likely to make impulse food purchases. You may also be more productive, since finding a spot to eat may take up more time. I tend to work right through my lunch break and eat at my desk for better productivity. This usually means that I leave a little earlier at the end of the day, though some might prefer to utilize the extra time on their lunch break to exercise, run errands, or catch up on the phone with family or friends.

If you regularly buy your lunch during the workday, try substituting 1-2 lunches a week with meals made at home; you’ll find that you can gradually shift to bringing lunch every day and saving plenty of money to do the things that you enjoy!

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