My Fear Came True: I Wasn’t Hungry

In a recent post, I mentioned that I would be traveling to Costa Rica to attend a 7-day juice cleanse. I generally prefer to have less information than more. A good example is that I hate trailers, especially when I know I’m going to see the movie. Call me wonder boy, but I find romance in never having seen any of the scenes that I know I will eventually watch. The same held true for this experiment. Once we pulled the trigger, I specifically asked Bella to not give me any more details than what I already knew. That proved to be not all that much.

Green Juice

The Decision

As much as we wanted to escape the mid-atlantic tundra to cold-free Costa Rica to sip on juices in the jungle with barking monkeys, prior to booking our tickets we did take notice that the trip is significantly cheaper between the months June to October. However, given that we have most of our travel plans spoken for this summer, we bit the bullet and decided warm weather in the dead of winter very much justified the market premium.

When it came to choosing how we would go about doing the juice cleanse, Bella had reflected on her prior experiences in Costa Rica, San Diego and at home. Having a few gold stars under her belt, she strongly recommended Hacienda Del Sol in Costa Rica as a haven for holistic health and mindfulness. Our next key decision was whether to do a raw food cleanse, which was awfully tempting when deciding on whether you want to eat for 1 week or not, or simply a juice cleanse. Once again, I closed my eyes, pushed in my chips and said “Let’s go all-in.” Reminder to self: Stop thinking of everything in terms of poker analogies.

The Cleanse

The full details of the cleanse are best described on the Hacienda Del Sol website, click here. Rather than giving you the full play-by-play of each juice, I’m probably better served in breaking down my major emotions in chronological order:

  1. Excitement: There were 11 people who attended our juice cleanse. Eight were women and three were men including myself. The range of ages was from 22 – 60. While you were permitted to come and go as you please, there was a lot of cohesion, openness and support within our group. Almost everyone attended all activities including: juices, yoga, meditation and hikes to the beach. At many times it was the group energy that provided an additional injection of excitement, especially when I was deep in the trenches of the battle.
  2. Headaches: The first strong sensation of emotion came in the form of caffeine withdrawal. Now I’ve fasted for Yom Kippur, worked for several hours without a cup of coffee and pulled late nights writing papers without Red Bulls, but I can’t remember voluntarily going more than a day without a precious caffeinated beverage. There is no need to sugar-coat it either; Day 2 and the beginning of Day 3 were rough. Some of the others in the group began taking shots of coffee to reduce the blow of their withdrawal. Right or wrong, I held out and maintained faith that the epicenter of pain above my right eye would evaporate with each hour passed. And it did. By the middle of Day 3 the headaches were behind me, which was consistent with what many other caffeine enthusiasts experience.
  3. Hunger: My biggest fear going into the cleanse was that I wasn’t going to have enough juice and I would never experience the sensation of being full. Surprisingly, I never felt starved or an overwhelming desire to start chewing on any malleable tree bark that I could get my hands on. I will admit that by Day 4 I was tired of not eating. It’s one thing to give your organs a rest, but not sending the memo to your teeth that you quit food is just rude.
  4. Energy Level: My trip report would not be accurate if I didn’t articulate the rollercoaster that was my energy level. Considering the fact that the average temperature was 90 degrees, the monkeys in our backyard consistently ensured we were awake by 5:00 am and we were consuming about half the calories of our daily average, I’m still astonished that we made it to the beach at all. For a majority of days 2-6 I felt like your average character from the hit show Walking Dead; a zombie struggling in his own existence. However, the staff did an amazing job of providing us with juices that contained a perfect balance of nutrients to keep us operational and clear from flat-lining.
  5. Sludge: If you’re a little bit squeamish, take the option to skip to #7 below. Otherwise, now for the good part! As my body was detoxing and the juice blends were performing their job of bodily “draino”, there was another activity that we had to partake in a few times a day, you know, to get the full effect. I’ll let you do your own independent research, but over the 7 day span in total I had 13 colema(s) which is an advanced form of “exit therapy”. This was the most “proof is in the pudding” activity of a cleanse as you are guaranteed to have some interesting observations and a steady supply of dinner conversation starters. All kidding aside, I was truly amazed at what resides in all of the nooks and crannies of our intestines and other digestive organs. Everybody that goes on a juice cleanse loses weight. The sludge is responsible for a good portion of it.
  6. Detox: When I was 17 years old I had an emergency surgery to have my gall bladder removed due to gall stones. One of my biggest questions about the cleanse was what my options were for Day 5 – the liver cleanse. Luck would have it that people without a gall bladder have even more reason to flush their liver, given they don’t have digestive assistance from the supporting actor (gall bladder). By far, the liver cleanse was the most challenging stage. In terms of aches and pains, the feeling was closest to a solid dose of the flu. However, the result from the 3.5 colemas I would do on day 6 gave me all the validation I needed. Sands and stones just don’t belong in the body and I was happy to force them out. The liver cleanse regiment went as follows:
    • 3:00 pm – Last juice for the day (typically we had 3 juices after 3:00 pm each day)
    • 6:00 pm – Drink 1st cup of Epsom salt water
    • 8:00 pm – Drink 2nd cup of Epsom salt water
    • 10:00 pm – Drink 1 cup of orange juice mixed with 3/4 cup of Olive Oil. Oh yes, Olive Oil.
    • 6:00 am – Drink 3rd cup of Epsom salt water
    • 8:00 am – Drink 4th cup of Epsom salt water
    • 8:00 am – First colema of the day
  7. Eating Again: To break the juice fast we had a medium-sized plate of papaya, which brought every kind of tear there is to the group. For dinner that night we had a basic salad with avocado. I consciously slowed down the rate of my consumption to savor every bite. By the time I finished, I literally felt my belly hurting from feeling satisfyingly full. For the next few days, my body was on high alert. Raw foods gave me energy and were easy to digest. Whereas the bagel I ate in a pinch at the airport when we arrived back in the U.S. laid it down and let me know who is still boss. Perhaps what I value most from the cleanse is the newfound ability to “feel” foods and zero in on the impact that each has on me in the very moment.

The Aftermath

Many people have asked me “So what now? What are you going to do differently?” As you can imagine, I’m going to continue my nutritional journey and try to incrementally improve my habits. However, I now view food as my medicine and will focus on taking preventative actions to improve health. Now if I could just hate coffee.

And Now You’re Moment of Zen… (click on the image below)

 

Why is this Vegetarianism Still Happening to Me?

In one of my first posts, I wrote about how I fell into becoming a vegetarian. There was no emotional appeal from a relative or a life event which inspired such a drastic lifestyle change. No doctor ever advised me to alter my diet by avoiding animal protein. Nor did I ever feel that a life without meat would make me feel better off.

Instead what started as an unscientific whim to lose weight has become an active quest towards nutritional self-improvement. Nearly 2 years later, I’m still hating [eating] plants as much as ever.

Preparing Juice: Romaine Lettuce, Carrots, Beets, Tomatillos, Cucumbers, Celery (not pictured)

Preparing Juice: Romaine Lettuce, Carrots, Beets, Tomatillos, Cucumbers, Celery (not pictured)

A large majority of my nutritional knowledge is learned through osmosis from my girlfriend. She is currently pursuing an advanced holistic nutritional program through IIN which facilitates a deep-dive into more than 100 dietary theories. While many of these schools of thought often contradict each other, my biggest take-away has been recognizing that everyone needs to go through a self-discovery to learn what the right balance is for them.

Dietitians, nutritionists, gastroenterologists and health coaches can serve as dedicated partners in this journey and I highly recommend consulting with a few. I’ve also had several epiphanies over the last few months that I thought were worth sharing:

1) The Nutrition Algorithm – Think of nutrition as a different formula for each person. Rather than viewing nutrition as a daily prescription from your doctor, think of it as an art internal to your body.

2) Experiment –  According to WebMD and several other sources, almost everyone will encounter a food allergy or intolerance at some point in their life. Isolating and eliminating certain foods out of your diet can have a substantial impact on your energy, sleep and other vitals. If you feel sluggish after eating bread, try to go a day without it. Then go another day and then another.

3) No Magic Bullet – The optimal amount of a certain vitamin or nutrient, could be deadly for someone else. Don’t buy into the idea that a single multi-vitamin or prescriptive drug is your bulletproof life-hack. Instead, try to understand your nutritional double-helix by monitoring how your body reacts to certain foods.

4) Tools Can Help –  There are many free, useful websites and apps like http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ and http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ with a smorgasbord of objective content about nutrition. The first step in making changes is becoming aware that a change is worthwhile.

5) Hit the Reset Button – Those looking for a fast-track should consider a 3, 7 or 21 day cleanse. There are all different kinds from raw food to green juice only. I’ve been told it is without a doubt a life-changing experience and that a cleanse can assist in jump-starting a health transformation. To put that to the test, I’m planning to attend my first 7-day cleanse in February, so I’ll be sure to spill my juice findings.

-Josh

Spend Less on Everything

One of the simplest things you can do to keep more of your disposable income is to recognize when you should use paper to pay for purchases versus when you should charge them to the plastic. While on the surface the cost of products is typically the same, often times there are some more creative options worth exploring.

Cash Back Credit Cards

This one is my favorite. There is no shortage of credit card rewards programs offering airline miles, cash back or points to spend on items within an extensive catalog. As to not re-state NerdWallet’s fantastic breakdown of the many credit card options offering cash back, I recommend reviewing them by clicking here. The program that has been most suitable for me is the American Express (AMEX) Blue Cash Preferred Card, which has an annual fee of $75.

It may seem a little counter-intuitive to pay an annual fee for a credit card, but I promise that using this card will likely earn you more cash back than any other card, certainly off-setting the annual fee. The most important factor is to use the credit card at literally every opportunity you get.

American Express Blue Cash Comparison

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a lot of people look at me funny over the years when I’m paying with my AMEX for a small purchase like a pack of chewing gum. At the end of the day, we should be agnostic in how we pay for our purchases, even incidentals, if we want a bigger piece of our disposable income pie. For those that still gravitate towards cash for one reason or another, I posit that you prefer more cash to less cash, right?

Lastly, but most importantly, credit card debt is the worst form of debt, so please don’t carry a balance from one month to the next. With credit card rates historically averaging around 16% (Source: BankRate) carrying a balance beyond your 30 day interest free window will absolutely kill this deal.

Cash Discount

While credit cards are great for us and oft despised by merchants, there are some places like gas stations that will offer different prices depending on whether you pay cash or credit. Don’t just assume that paying cash is better. This is going to take a few quick calculations, but depending on the cash back rate of your credit card, it may actually be advantageous to use your credit card even if you have to pay an extra $.10 per gallon.

To apply this theory, let’s use my AMEX Blue Cash Preferred card as an example which provides 3% cash back on all purchases at gas stations. For every dollar I spend at a gas station, AMEX is going to credit me $.03. Currently, prices for regular gasoline in the DC metropolitan area average $3.36 which means I’m generally indifferent with a cost difference of $.10. So if given the option between paying $3.26 in cash or $3.36 using my credit card, the economics truly do not favor one over the other. To take it a step further, if the cash option is less than $3.26 per gallon than its a better deal for us to pay in cash. However, if the cash option is say $3.27 or more than we should use the credit card at this point, since the cash back will lower our effective price per gallon.

However, not all gas stations are perfectly priced. In fact, gas stations that offer cash discounts sometimes intentionally provide a discount, but not quite the amount that would motivate you to use cash. Look for this subtle pricing variance the next time you’re buying gas and don’t fall for the trap, regardless of which side it is on.

Buy Gift Certificates

This is going to require a combination of planning and patience, but sites like CardPool and GiftCardGranny serve as secondary markets for buyers and sellers of gift cards. I’ve actually used each of these sites when making major purchases from hardware stores like Home Depot. If you can hold off for a few days until you receive your physical gift card, you could conceivably save 10-20% at a lot of places. It’s worth mentioning that some cards can be transferred or downloaded digitially, but make sure you look for those before buying if you’re in a time crunch.

Cheap Financing

Conventional wisdom tells us to spend within our means and only buy what we can afford. This is a good guiding principle and one that makes us think a little bit more critically about what we indulge in. Make no mistake, I’m not suggesting that we should take on debt when it is avoidable. However, there are many circumstances where you may be presented with some extremely attractive financing terms.

Electronic stores like Best Buy and many furtniture stores may offer you 60, 180 or even 365 days of interest-free financing. What this really means is that they are giving you a free loan for said amount of time. While your instinct may tell you to just pay in cash and be done with it, you’re going to be leaving money on the table when you don’t take the favorable financing. This is due to the time value of money (aka inflation) which in a nutshell means that a dollar is worth more today than it will be tomorrow.

Let’s walk through an example where we are getting 0% financing on a new bed that we’re purchasing for 12 months. The bed costs $1,000 and we don’t have to make any payments until the end of the year. In this scenario, we are getting an interest free loan of $1,000 for one full year. You could take this money to the casino, loan it to a friend or put it in the bank and still have your bed. However, you’re likely to look for a conservative investment with little to no risk. You’ll likely look for a large, reputable bank or a short-term government-backed security.

With today’s interest rates paying historic lows, you probably won’t find many banks offering more than 1% on a one year certificate of deposit (CD). Nonetheless, your assumption is that this money costs you nothing and you may as well make something off of your interest-free bed loan. If we deposited the $1,000 that we would have paid in cash for the bed into a CD account, than we would earn $10 after one year. So at the end of one year our initial $1,000 would be worth $1,010.

As an added bonus, $1,000 in one year would only be $990 in today’s dollars. To compute this I used a Time Value of Money calculator, where Future Value = $1,000, Rate = 1% and Payment = 1%. As you can see not only do you earn money through the duration of the term, but you effectively pay less further decreasing the cost of your purchase.

Getting 0% financing is not the only time that you should defer from paying from cash upfront. Often times when buying a car from a dealership you may be offered rates as low as 2-3%. My general philosphy is that if you have any other debts like student loans or a mortgage, definitely take the car loans. When you think about it, it is the cheapest money you will have access to. Again, it may seem counter-intuitive to take on more debt, but anytime you are offered an opportunity to take debt that is lower than your other debts, you will be reducing your overall effective rate. Another rule of thumb is to borrow money that is offered to you that is less than the current inflation rate. The rationale here is that you are being offered a discount over the fair market value.

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, look for inconsistencies in product prices or ways to shave costs. It may seem like these incremental decisions are trivial, but the truth is through the course of a lifetime it will have a huge impact on your wealth and let’s face it – it’s not that hard to simply change the way we pay for stuff.

 

-josh

Want to Lose Weight? Sell Everything You Own

Perhaps you thought this was going to be a conversation about slimming down before we go into winter hibernation. Sorry for the false advertising. Actually, instead I figured I’d offer some ideas for those of you that feel heavy from, well, stuff.

Over the past several months, my girlfriend Bella and I have liquidated a lot of our under-utilized assets in an attempt to feel more liberated and mobile. Inspired by the minimalists, what we’ve found is the less cluttered our environment is, the less cloudy our minds are. In fact, sometimes owning stuff puts us into a vicious cycle of having to care about or maintain our stuff. Or worse, owning stuff that is never even being used.

As more and more sites like AirBnb and Lyft prove that the shared goods and services model is cost-effective and here to stay, I think we should begin to rethink what we need to own vs. what we can rent. All preferences aside, I think that most household goods can be rented just for the period of time that we require them. For example, things that are temporarily needed for infants like a stroller or baby carriage. Now some of us may feel that we want to purchase these as new because after all who knows where they’ve been. But what about after you’ve decided you will not be having anymore children? What mechanism is in place to prevent your basement from becoming a really expensive storage unit or that you are recouping some salvage value from your neglected and over-priced Fisher Price collection?

For those of you that have thought about downsizing a bit, whether because you are strapped for space, planning a cross-country move or just want to know what the color of your floor looks like, here is a quick step-by-step overview of how to lose some mental pounds and hopefully make some extra cash while you’re at.

Take inventory of your stuff

  • Write down a list of everything you’d consider exporting from your home and be sure to note whether you’d like to sell it, donate it or throw it away
  • Don’t be so quick to throw things away either; you’d be surprised at how much you can sell through Craigslist, eBay or a local consignment shop. Among the long list of items that I’ve sold for American currency include an unused Swiffer, a pair of jeans that no longer fit and my 7-year-old leather sofa.
  • Decide whether you really want to sell/get rid of it. If you’re not sure, here is some help: get rid of it. To succeed in this process of losing mental weight from stuff, you need to begin to take a hard line and that is to get rid of anything that is borderline or in the gray area. If you really are unsure about keeping something, ask yourself this: will you be using it often or rarely?

Prepare for sell-off

  • Once you’ve identified everything you think can be sold, set aside some time to create your ads on Craigslist or eBay. Consider using Moving Sale ads on Craigslist to get the attention of people that like to buy a lot of stuff at once.
  • Be sure to take a lot of photos of each item and give an honest assessment of the condition. Again don’t be discouraged; there literally is a buyer out there for everything.
  • If the brand is decent and recognizable like IKEA, be sure to include it in the title of the ad and the description.
  • If the product is being sold on Amazon, have no shame and just link to the product website.
  • As a general rule of thumb, I always try to put in the ad the amount of money that I originally paid for items. This will really help anchor your price higher during the negotiation process. However, I usually try to re-coup about 25-33% of my initial investment.
  • Sometimes, when I really don’t care how much money I get for something, but I feel that it still has considerable value, I’ll post an ad on Craigslist to Make me an offer or start an eBay auction at $1 + the cost of shipping. This has worked out quite nicely for things like an old Fossil Watch, a coffee table and an office chair. Even better, most of the time the buyer will come to your house to pick up the goods, so you avoid delivery or shipping charges.

Donate or just throw it out

  • If you’re pressed for time and you don’t want to go through the hassle of moving/taking things to the dump, place an ad up in the Free section of Craigslist. You’ll be amazed at how quickly people will be at your door.
  • There are also several non-profits like the Vietnam Veterans that will happily send a truck to take donations from you or you can go by a Goodwill Center literally any day.

Track your sales

  • While it may be difficult to capture every item you have thrown away or donated, the nice thing about using Craigslist and eBay is that you have a diary of all of your transactions.
  • It’s important to celebrate your successful sales and reflect on how much weight you have lost.
  • To reward those that have read this far, here is a list of items I have sold this year, just on Craigslist:
    • Coleman 8841A949 40° Sierra Madre 2-Person Sleeping Bag – $40
    • Momeni Luster Handmade Posh Charcoal Shag Rug (8′ x 10′) – $200
    • IKEA EKTORP Brown Leather Sofa Couch – $300
    • Diesel Jeans – Zathan Regular Bootcut 33W x 32L – $50
    • Costco Leather Black Computer Chair – $40
    • 3 Budweiser Budvar Czech Beer Glasses Steins – $25
    • Brother Printer MFCJ425W Wireless Color Photo Printer with Scanner – $50
    • Glass Bar Stand/Table – $40
    • Cisco-Linksys WRT54GS Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster – $25
    • VIZIO VSB200 Universal HD Sound Bar – $25
    • SKLZ Pro Mini Basketball Hoop – $10
    • Cuisinart Elite Collection 12-Cup Food Processor – $100
    • IKEA Black Rug in Good Condition with Anti-Slip Underlay – $40
    • Beautiful Blue Glass and Marble Hookah – $75
    • Green Recliner with Massager and Heater – $50
    • Texas Instruments TI-83 Graphing Calculator – $20
    • Like New Gamin nuvi 255w GPS Navigation – $50
    • Set of three black glass side/coffee tables – $40
    • 2 Black Dell S2209W 22 inch HD 1080 Wide Flat Screen Panel Monitors – $150
    • 2 Comfortable Blue Office Chairs – $40
    • Sony Cyber-shot Digital Camera – DSC-S90 w/ Memory Cards – $20
    • 4 Men’s Watches: 3 Fossil, 1 Relic; 2 New / 2 Used – $60
    • Costco Carpet Computer Chairmat – $10
    • Large Black IKEA Bookshelf in Great Condition – $150
    • Large Black Desk in Great Condition – $200
    • 4 Febreze NOTICEables Notables refills – $11

-Josh

Facilitating Economic Growth in Sri Lanka

“Does anybody have any questions?” Not a pip as 40 eyes lay frozen on my every move.

Mattie and I with the Industrial Development Board

Mattie and I with the Industrial Development Board

“Is this clear?” I continued while wondering whether the concepts that my partner – Mattie Ressler – and I presented were resonating. Still no movement other than an unintended blink or two.

I was surprised by the collective silence of the Jaffna Industrial Development Board (IDB) Enterprise Development Officers (EDOs) and their reluctance to question or disagree with our subject material. By the end of the first day of what Mattie coined the “5-day MBA Program”, we went home reflecting on whether our workshop introducing entrepreneurship principles and management frameworks had accomplished our goal of level-setting or if we had instead failed to deliver any notable value.

As we sat in the middle row of the 9-seat minivan on our 12 minute safari-like journey back to the Tilko City Hotel, we tried to make sense of the seemingly low level of engagement.

  • Were our icebreakers and group activities too personal or invasive?
  • Did mixing up the ages and genders make the officers feel uncomfortable?
  • Was our content too “American” and were the examples non-relatable?
  • Did we use excessive jargon or make too many assumptions about the working environment?

As MBA’s we were used to frequent in-class discussions where we are expected to challenge our peers and even professors on the basis of applying theories to support viable recommendations. Mattie and I frequently injected false statements or poor alternatives into lessons to observe how the officers would respond.

However, we quickly learned that Sri Lankans have a very different perspective in the classroom environment, where the lecturer is considered to be the expert and it is borderline disrespectful to publicly disagree. We also learned that open-ended questions had a much lower response rate than specific questions and even then only the most senior officers were likely to vocalize their thoughts.

For the next 4 days Mattie and I would meet every morning for an hour over some Dilmah Tea or Nescafe 3-in-1 prior to our workshop to run through the day’s agenda. At the end of the workday in the car ride back to the hotel we would discuss what went well, what could be improved and how we could transform IDB into a collaborative, knowledge-sharing organization. At 9:00 pm we would generally be finishing up dinner with other consultants in Jaffna from the University of Maryland, Joe and Patrice, realizing that we better start on the next day’s presentation before we lather in bugs-spray and retire for the evening.

By the end of the week our survey results indicated that we provided an effective series of workshops that can be leveraged to train the entrepeneurs that IDB serves as well as future staff within the Ministry of Traditional Industries & Small Enterprise Development. Interestingly enough, the area where we scored the highest was in response to the question “Did you enjoy the group activities?” where from 18 responses we scored an average of 9.4/10.

The biggest challenge proved to be that there was only 1 computer among 20+ employees, which significantly diminished opportunities for on-going training and access to external sources of information. While transformation does not happen overnight and certainly not within 1 week of academic training, Mattie and I believe the IDB Officers now have a solid foundation of industry knowledge and business tools to further assist hundreds of micro-entrepeneurs throughout Jaffna.

I’m excited for the IDB and look forward to seeing this fine group of individuals facilitate rapid growth throughout the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

 I leave you with a clip from one of the senior EDOs, Kuna, describing his experience at the end of the week:

-Josh

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